I love fresh starts. A semi-annual house purger, I enjoy clearing out and sharing items that no longer have personal use or meaning. I am a goal-setter and re-evaluator. I constantly question if this or that thing is working, and if the answer is “no,” I have no problem improving it if possible or dumping it altogether if not.
The New Year is of course one of the grander opportunities for this kind of exercise, and for homeschool, it’s a great time to evaluate our year, change things that aren’t working, and make plans for a winter and spring that are going to pop. As in all things – especially in homeschooling – the kids get a say in how things shake out. I ask them what they are enjoying in school, what’s not so great, and then we brainstorm together. This is one of the greatest gifts of homeschooling: you can turn on a dime and make your environment better. It’s this constant evaluation and tweaking process that makes homeschooling work for our family – without it, well, why bother?
For the next few posts, I’m going to share this process for the different elements of our study and our lives. Today I’m going to talk about science.
Ian and Biology
Science was the school subject requiring the most alteration for both kids. Ian had been working with the AP Biology course offered in the online program Thinkwell; he had enjoyed the sample lectures he watched, and we had never really done online education before, so we figured we’d give it a go. But though he started out enthusiastic, things went downhill over the course of the fall. First off, the pace of the class is intense, and Ian found himself pushing through lectures too quickly. There is no opportunity for meaningful discussion about the subject matter, no hands-on exploration or labs, and the quizzes and tests seem to focus on tedium instead of deep understanding. My very bright boy was failing biology; he began to dread it, and felt well, like a failure – like he wasn’t cut out for it.
I know Ian is not a failure – that he has an extreme ability to understand new and complex concepts. I began to wonder if the Thinkwell program was simply not a good fit for him. Over the month of December, I had my dad look at the course and quizzes. My dad, conveniently, is a retired genetics professor, and spent his career teaching college level biology, botany, genetics, etc. After some review of the course and interviews with Ian, we decided that my dad (who lives in NC) would take over Ian’s biology study, connecting through Skype and email a couple of times each week. Ian is extremely happy with this arrangement, and though biology still isn’t something he wakes up jazzed about, he sees a possibility of success.
By the way, leaving the Thinkwell course half-finished is walking away from a sizable chunk of change that I laid down in the fall for the year-long course. But one of the first rules of homeschooling is to be prepared to drop things that aren’t working, even if they were expensive.
Eva and Robotics
Eva and I spent the fall studying cell biology and the human body. For spring, we had laid out botany, zoology, and ecology. But though we had super fun resources to work with in the fall (especially for cell biology), I hadn’t come up with anything terribly exciting for the spring studies. Eva’s only 9, so I don’t feel pushed to necessarily give her all this right away. She and I spent several weeks in December brainstorming: I asked her to consider what she might like to study instead. After many conversations, she presented robotics as her favorite choice. A Lego fanatic, Eva had drooled over the Lego Mindstorms kit for years and wondered if, just maybe, she could do Lego for school. She was so excited, that really the only answer I was ever going to give was yes.
The kit came in the mail on Wednesday, and I swear you’ve never seen someone so excited. Eva tracked the shipping online, and then sat in the front window for hours waiting for the UPS truck on The Day of Arrival. She spun around in a spinny chair all day, alternately reading and drawing pictures of robots and gardens on the front window with dry erase pens. Now that it’s here, it’s all she wants to do, and after just one day Eva is already so competent in the building and programming of her first robot (yes, she’s already completed one), it’s mind-boggling. Every hour or so, I hear a gasp of excitement “I love school SO much!” or “I can’t believe I get to do this for school!” or “thank you so much mom for getting this for me!” Yeah, I think this will work out fine. And don’t worry: Ian gets in on the robotics action too. How can he not?
Of course one of the first tasks for our new shooter-bot was to shoot Kinzy, the family koala that is the subject of many of Eva’s stories and her latest book. Here’s a little peek:
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