December 13, 2012

September - November Humanities Reading

Below is a list of books read for a 20th Century High School Humanities Course.  These books were read between the months of September and December of 2012 and deal with the years 1900-1930.  More to follow throughout the year.  Order is not relevant.

Brave New World

The Complete Sherlock Holmes

The Hobbit

Animal Farm

The 1920s from Prohibition to Charles Lindbergh

The 1930s from the Great Depression to the Wizard of Oz

The Great Depression

The Great Gatsby

Duke Ellington

The Long March: The Making of Communist China

A Nation Is Born: World War I and Independence, 1910-1929

The Causes of World War I

Winston Churchill: British Soldier, Writer, Statesman

Notorious Americans - Al Capone (Notorious Americans)

The Wall Street Crash, October 29, 1929 (Days That Shook the World)

The Magnificent Ambersons

World History Biographies: Gandhi: The Young Protester Who Founded a Nation

Miss Spitfire: Reaching Helen Keller

Bootleg: Murder, Moonshine, and the Lawless Years of Prohibition


World War I

The United Nations

Titanic: Voices From the Disaster

Nineteen Eighty-Four

Heart of Darkness

Maria Montessori: Teacher of Teachers

Genius: A Photobiography of Albert Einstein

The Russian Revolution (20th Century Perspectives)

The 1900s

Marie Curie

The Wright Brothers: First in Flight

Paul C'Zanne


Something Out of Nothing: Marie Curie and Radium

The Jungle

Kitty Hawk: The Flight of the Wright Brothers

Albert Einstein

Henri Matisse

Henry Ford: Automobile Manufacturer And Innovator

The Naacp: An Organization Working To End Discrimination

20th Century Day By Day

Timelines of the 20th Century: A Chronology of 7,500 Key Events, Works, Discoveries, and People That Shaped Our Time

Art Of The 20th Century   The History Of Art Year By Year From 1900 To 1999

The 1910s from World War I to Ragtime Music

August 17, 2012

Making History Interesting to Teens

Maria made the mistake of telling me last year that she does not like history, she finds it boring.  You would think by now my kids would know better, or at least be able to predict what will follow a statement like that :)

I have spent the last few weeks creating a high school 20th Century Humanities course for this fall.  Each month we will focus on a single decade 1900-1909, 1910-1919, etc all the way through 1999.  We will study historic events, famous people, inventions, science discoveries, art, music, literature, film, television, and philosophy.  The goal will be to prove to Maria that history is fascinating and linked to everything else going on in the world at any given time.  The course will be interdisciplinary and have both breadth and depth.  I have been having a lot of fun putting the class together. 

I have learned through my years of teaching that most learning occurs when students are engaged, interested and having fun.  They rarely realize they are learning because it is just so interesting.  This is the goal and so far I think I will be able to accomplish it with her.  Yesterday I spent the day looking at 100 years of art selecting our works for the year.  You really learn a lot about a culture when you spend a day doing that.  Today the focus was music, the day before literature and inventions.  I can already see trends and patterns across just these few subjects.  Connections will be formed all semester long and hopefully carry with her throughout her life. 

The key is finding the hook.  I thought my way in would be through film and literature.  As I prepare though I realize in her case it will be through science and inventions.  So many amazing things happened and were developed last century.  Science played a critical role and she will enjoy that part being the scientist that she is.  The literature will be interesting and fun, the music telling of the cultural changes but as I prepared I realized there are so many more connections between science, inventions and history this past decade that I am getting excited to discover them all and help her along the way. 

I remember my first interdisciplinary class, my high school senior art class.  We only combined history, art and music but it had a profound affect on my understanding of the world to be able to see all the connections.  I have always approached my kids education with an interdisciplinary/unit study flare but this will be our first year studying exclusively this way.  Only her math curriculum and chemistry class will be outside of this class.  I was tempted to bring my younger kids into the study, it certainly would be easier for me, yet I know this needs to remain just a high school level class.  The 20th century saw a lot of events, art, music, and historical figures that one needs to have a certain level of maturity to grasp and handle emotionally.  I know Maria is ready for this and the others are not, so they will have to wait their turn. 

I was disappointed to discover there was no curriculum already made that could do what I wanted.  Still it has forced me to make it truly what I want as I develop everything from scratch.  There are many wonderful resources available so mostly I am compiling a big spreadsheet of lists and material to study.  We will focus on primary and original sources whenever possible.  Most of the original material is readily available thanks to the internet and the library.  I will report back at the end of the year letting you know if I found a way to make history interesting to teens, or at least to my teenage daughter. 

August 12, 2012

Teenagers are Amazing. Stop Judging Them so Harshly have always loved teenagers.  Everyone tells me that will change when I have my own.  So far we are doing okay but we are only a month into the official teen years.  People told me to hate two year olds and I did not.  I actually found two to be a magical and interesting year for my children.  I will go into the teen years positively and take it as it comes. 

My own teenagers are not the motivation for this post, teenagers in general are.  I thoroughly enjoy teenagers and I am at a loss as to why more people do not enjoy them as well.  Sure they are loud and at times rude and rambunctious but they are always interesting.  Teens are fascinating as they learn to navigate the world around them as themselves and not as who their parents told them to be. The teenage mind is interesting to watch a problem and see their creative ways through difficulties.  Yes they can be impulsive but often that is because we allow excuses for them to fall back on. 

For anyone who thinks they dislike teenagers I challenge you to get to know some teens.  Really get to know them and ask them about their interests, joys and hardships.  Learn about how they balance school, work, sports and friendships.  Ask about their goals and dreams and how they plan to get there. 

I always tell people my favorite age people are 15-22.  So much happens in those years.  The mind is developing, strategizing, understanding, negotiating, and it is amazing to witness that process.  Conversations, debates, and discussions are very rich with individuals in this age group.  Opinions alternate between firm, fluid, unsure and firm again.  People in this age range are trying to figure out who they are, what their place in this world is, what this world is all about and what it really should be like.  They love to engage on issues of religion, politics, sexuality, money and all the world's biggest issues and questions.  Adults are foolish to not engage and learn from them and help teens and young adults learn from them and see the world from other perspectives. 

I am a tutor.  I primarily work with teenagers on their study skills and their ACT test prep.  The first question I ask them is what sports or musical instruments they have played.  I ask about their favorite movies, music, books and video games.  I work hard to find connection points with each of my students and to help them feel comfortable with me.  The only part I dislike about my job is that when I am successful I work myself out of it.  When my students succeed they stop working with me and I miss getting to know them and see their success and journey. 

I watch other adults look at teenagers with disgust or cross a street to avoid them and I am saddened.  Our culture needs more cross generational relationships and the adults in this culture are doing little to connect with the teenagers and young adults and be active parts of their lives.  If I was a teen receiving looks from adults like I observe I would not want relationships with adults and I would likely continue behaviors that were repelling the adults. 

Our home school group meets at the beach every week.  Several times this summer I set up in the middle of the high school/college zone.  It was interesting to see how the teens served as "adult repellent" with no other adults wanting to be anywhere near them.  Yes they smoked, yes many of them swore, yes they gave me incredulous looks at first.  A strange thing happened though after I smiled, returned a football that landed at my feet and they realized I was not going away.  They spoke to me, they smiled, they seemed to have cleaned up their language some and even spoke a little softer.  I did not ask them to, I did not encourage them to, I did not even really interact with them. 

I work with many teenagers and every one of them is unique and interesting.  They are totally amazing and special people.  They are polite, kind and engaging.  They just want people to treat them with respect and kindness.  They want people to believe in them, build them up, support and encourage them.  They don't want to be talked down to, belittled, or prejudged.   They care burdens and walk hard paths.  They want to do hard things, be challenged and will respond to the opportunities laid before them. 

In all of my years of teaching and tutoring I have learned you always teach up.  Students long to be recognized, they long to have someone notice the specialness within them and help bring it out.  Students will always rise to the challenge when encouraged and supported.  I still believe Aristotle was right and work hard to help all my students realize I am only helping them discover what they themselves already knew.  It is not about the teacher, it is the student who knew and just needed a little help getting it out of themselves.

Teenagers want the adults in this world to realize they are just as capable and hard working as fellow adults.  Teenagers want to be treated like adults but also be given some breathing room to be allowed to make mistakes and screw up along the way, they are still learning.  Treat teens with respect and you will be amazed at the results.  You will meet some really interesting and amazing people along the way. 

June 19, 2012

Reflections on Eight Years of a Reader

I have kept journals for each of my children since I was pregnant with them.  Their journal is a place I record important times in their lives, funny stories I want to remember and advice I want to give them years later.  These pages are made up of moments I want them to remember, a picture of their childhood without all the snapshots, just my verbal descriptions.  

Occasionally when I write in these I skim back over past years and see where they have been and where they are now, even in their young lives you can begin to trace paths and see how each experience led to the next.  I was doing that recently when I came across an entry that stuck with me.  I wrote in Maria’s journal on January 22, 2004 when she was 4 years old.  

Today was a special day.  It was as if the light bulb just clicked and you truly got it.  I was so thankful to be a part of it - to be there to help and to see you read your first words and whole book.  Your first book was “Al” by Primary Phonics read on January 22, 2004.  I truly hope this develops into a passion for reading much like your father and I both have.  You love being read to and your excitement over reading yourself is contagious.  You are so proud of yourself as you should be - not many children read at the age of 4.  Thank you for sharing your life passion and learning with me - it truly is a gift I cherish and am so thankful for.  Love, Mommy.”

Part of why this entry struck me was the timing in relation to recent accomplishments in Maria’s life.  In February 2012 she took the ACT (College Entrance Exam) as a twelve year old.  As I drove her to the college where she took her test I was struck by the fact that just eight years ago I was witnessing her learning to read independently and praying for her to have a passion for reading.  

It was this very passion that led her to take the ACT in the first place, to experience a challenge in reading.  As I dropped her off in a classroom of juniors and seniors in high school and walked away I wondered if what she was doing was right for her.  I am not a fan of grade skipping and I am not a tiger parent, yet there I sat with my 12 year old daughter taking an exam to determine her college readiness.  

Of course I knew she was not taking it to try to get into a college and her reasons for taking the test were sound.  I am glad she had the initiative to do so and I was so proud of her for being brave enough to give it a try.  As  I sat at a coffee shop a few blocks away I wrote her a long letter about her journey that brought her to this point.  I shared some of what I hoped would follow which continued with the theme of lifelong passion for reading and being a lifelong learner.  I have no journal entry from this day because I wrote a letter and handed it to her when she got in the car after the exam.  

I asked her reactions to the test and she said “It was fun!”  Not what I expected, though I probably should have.  She said the math was hard because she had not even learned half of it yet and science was too time pressured but the rest of the test was fun.  As I drove away I was thinking about how much can change and how much stays the same in eight years.  Maria has always loved reading and she devours books of all types.  She has had a lot of freedom to read as often as she wants and if the 10,000 hours to become an expert rule has merit I am pretty confident she has achieved that level or is very close to the threshold :)

We recently attended ceremonies on the campuses of Northwestern University and Hamline University to celebrate her accomplishments on the ACT.  Taking that test and her results have opened many new doors and possibilities to her for her present and her future.  She has discovered some new things about herself and her potential and plans to use them well.  She is as excited and motivated as she was eight years ago when she first learned to read.  Her enthusiasm is at times contagious.  Now though my messages to her are a bit different.  

From my journal entry after we received her ACT scores.  

While it is true that your composite ACT score and all your subscores would get you into most colleges now, we would not encourage you to or let you go to college now :)  As I tell you all the time I am pro balanced life.  I want you to excel in school and do well but I also want you to enjoy swimming, youth group, and just having fun with your friends. I want you to keep your whole life in balance even as you pursue your passions and gifts....You are extremely self motivated and disciplined.  You set very high goals for yourself and work harder than almost anyone I know to achieve them.  Set your goals for a whole and balanced life where you still pursue your passions and talents becoming a lifelong learner and person who is happy with the whole of her life.”

I am very proud of Maria but not because of the results of a single test.  I am proud of her bravery, her discipline, her hard work, her passion and talent and her willingness to try new things.  I am proud of how she attacks a problem and faces new challenges.  Her test results show this more than anything else.  Her test results just confirm what we have known about her for a long time.  

Her journey of reading may seem incredible to some from learning to read to a perfect reading score in just eight years and it is quite an accomplishment!  When I reflect though I realize she was given freedom and encouragement and support to explore and pursue her passions and talents at the rate that was best for her individual personality and motivation.  She is very hard working and always willing to try new things and challenge herself.  

Each child has their own bend, talent, passion and motivation level.  As parents we need to encourage and support those passions in our children and give them the freedom to explore on their own and provide new challenges to help them rise to the next level when they seem to be leveling off or stagnating.  This is one of my favorite parts of home schooling.  Having the freedom to give my children freedom and room to grow and become who they want to be.

I have enjoyed walking this eight year reading journey with my daughter and I look forward to seeing what the next 6 years bring.  It will be fun and interesting to see where she decides to continue her journey when she takes the ACT to actually apply to colleges and heads out the door to one, if that is the path she chooses to follow.  A lot can change in six years but then again a lot can also stay the same :)  

Kiss those babies,

May 30, 2012

Teaching Older Kids

When I started this blog so many years ago I was in the middle of the preschool and toddler years.  I threw my creativity into teaching the alphabet, learning life skills and experiencing the world.  Most of my posts were made up of field trips, letter of the week games, and surviving life with three kids under the age of 5 while beginning our home school journey.

Here we are 8 years later and this blog has a very different tone as my life has a very different tone.  I never would have believed I had more time for things like blogging back then but I simply did.  I know someday again I will.  I can not bring myself to close this blog down no matter how little I blog because it is such a part of us and our home school journey.

Yesterday was a great home school day here.  We are wrapping up a school year and getting ready to find our summer rhythm.  Typically at this time of year my responsibility winds down and I have less and less to do with the kids.  This year is a bit different though as Maria has decided to do an independent study in Chemistry through the summer.  She is working through a high school level course with what looks to be a college level textbook.  Yesterday I spent the afternoon teaching her how to outline a textbook and take good study notes.  I actually even used our chalkboard :) As I taught her these skills I thought back to my own educational and my freshman year Biology teacher who taught me the outlining and note taking process I still teach my students.  A great big thank you to her!

Maria thought I was a bit rigid at first and this was a very different experience for her.  I am not often "rigid" or particular in my teaching.  Overall the experience will be good but it is much harder than anything else she has ever done and it definitely challenged her.  Not the reading, not even the material, but rather the concept of taking study notes and keeping an actual notebook for a subject.  I made her start a three ring binder just for Chemistry with sections for Notes, Vocab, Problems, Labs, Questions, and Misc.  The idea of having all those sections for just one subject was foreign to her but she understood the logic of it by the end of our session together.

We worked together on outlining the first chapter of the text and I wrote out her first chapter vocab/definition list so she can see what it should look like each chapter.  She learned the best format for keeping good clear visual notes and is learning how to write in keywords rather than all complete sentences. I demonstrated how she should pick out the key concepts and have her notes follow along with her text.  As we worked together I explained that this system she was learning would be key to both high school and college studies and the difference good note taking skills can make.

Maria is a very cooperative student and hard working so she was a joy to teach, honestly.  As we worked together I found myself getting filled up as well as I watched her learn a new important skill that was hard for her.  It has not always been easy to challenge her as a student so I cherish the moments when she faces true challenges that she has to work her way through.  She is a bright light at those moments burning furiously until she figures out the task and can settle into her new rhythm.

We will continue to touch base throughout this course to make sure her Chemistry notebook is coming along and she is maintaining good study habits.  Yesterday was an excellent start and I am proud of her.  I am excited for moving into this next step of her education with her.  Next year we will be working together on a very cool interdisciplinary modern history course that I am developing for her now.  I am glad she is learning these skills now in Chemistry so she can easily use them next year once they have become habit.

Home schooling her through high school does not scare me, it excites me.  I know there will be challenges to be sure just as there were when they were little.  Somehow I feel more up for the challenges of chemistry and high school history than I ever did for the playdough, paint and sparkles from the younger days.   I have always loved working with older kids and everyone keeps telling me that will change when they are my own, but so far I don't see it and just like the "terrible twos" that we called the "terrific twos"  I believe a lot of it results in how you approach it.  I will not be scared of the teenage and high school years, I will be ready, I will expect challenges, but I will embrace them and be excited for them.  Besides I do love teaching older children, so why in the world would I not love teaching my own.

Kiss those babies!

April 13, 2012

Starting with the end in mind

Lately I have found myself having many conversations about our educational philosophy and how we made the choices we have on our home school journey.  I keep coming back to the same answers.  We started with the end in mind.  We knew what we wanted our kids to achieve and experience in their education and what we wanted them to be prepared for, then we worked backwards.

We wanted our kids to grow up to be life long learners, confident, well rounded, contributing citizens who were ready for college.  Each family will have a different picture of their end for their unique kids an that makes sense.  Each family will then need to find their own path to reach it.  The one thing I would add, stepping up on soap box, is all kids should have the right to be prepared for college.  Over recent years I have heard more and more, well my kid does not want to go to college, or probably will not.  That is fine if they choose not to but as educators and parents it is our responsibility to make sure that option is open to them and to give them rigorous enough studies and schooling experiences to leave that door wide open for them.  Let them make that call their senior year, but make sure they have the option open to them, stepping off soap box now.

Back to our little unique family.  Well rounded life long learners, that is our ultimate goal.   I tell my kids this often and I sometimes remind myself of it daily when their unique learning styles are driving me crazy.  To build life long learners you need to help kids fall in love with learning and knowledge, something that I believe is rarer in our modern educational system.  This does not mean making school "fun", but rather rewarding.  Making the child take ownership and feel pride (the good kind) in their achievements and successes and giving them the passion and determination to see through the hard things and the boring things to make it to the rewards.  A life long learner is someone who loves to learn and just can not help but to continue to learn and grow every day of their life, long after they are required to work on their education.  This is what I want for my children and for my students.

When I talk to my children about their education I often share our overall approach to their education.  I explain how in the end I want to give them three skill sets to help them in their lives.

1. Research
2. Data Analysis
3. Communication

Life long learners need to be able to find information on any topic they want to learn about.  Research skills are important.  Being able to find data now is not hard, being able to find good and relevant data is.  The first goal is teaching the kids how to find out information about whatever they need and giving them the reading skills to be able to understand it.

Having information means nothing unless you can distill it and know how to utilize it.  Data analysis is very important for any life long learner, high school or college student, or any employee who needs to deal with data.  Having the skills to allow you to take raw data and comprehend it in useful ways is essential.  Here I talk to my kids about the skills of discerning fact from opinion, discovering bias, finding connections across disciplines and learning to add new information into your current understanding of the world.  Learning to take the good and apply it in your understanding of a situation, a subject or the world at large.  This is the second skill set I want them to excel at.

Lastly having knowledge is not that useful unless you do something with it.  I want my children to be able to communicate effectively in the world about what they know.  They need to be able to speak, write and present effectively.  In our world that still includes written essay type communication but more importantly it includes things like power point, twitter, facebook, video presentations, and learning to communicate in every available media.  So in our home school we work on our communication skills.

In the end if my children end up with these skills, the classes and schooling they need to be successful in college and they have had a well balanced life filled with friends, sports, service, church, and other activities we will have achieved our goals. 

Remember your goals are different than mine but I encourage you to think through your own goals for your own family.  Start with the end in mind, work toward those goals and the rest will fall naturally into place. 

Story Starters

April 10, 2012

Scope and Sequence

As I sit at my computer today I find myself doing a task I knew was coming but still seems to have snuck up from behind.  Today I started working on Maria's Scope and Sequence for junior and senior high.  Maria and I had a great talk today about goals and paths to achieve them.  We started to talk about how the rest of this year should look and more importantly how the next 6 years will look.  Seems appropriate at this midpoint to begin giving her more choice and control, within boundaries of course.

As of now Maria plans to home school through her first two years of high school and then take advantage of the PSEO opportunity here in Minnesota to dual enroll at a community college as a high school student and to finish whatever else she still needs to at home.  We have begun outside the home classes this year for Spanish and next year she will likely do a few online science and humanities classes through either EPGY or CTY.  Still we need to plan out the overall plan including CLEP, AP, PSEO, online, home school classes and internships. I did not realize how enjoyable I would find this process.

Starting next year we will keep a portfolio of work and complete reading lists, along with service projects and extra curriculars.  I figure it is easier to start with the end in mind and collect more than we may need than to be scrambling at the end to pull it all together for college applications.  We are starting with the high school sequence that we believe will be best for her and working backwards to make sure it all will work out.  Of course there can be some flexibility and changes along the way as needed but it is exciting to think about and begin to plan.  Maria has some big goals and some clear approaches to try to achieve them, it will be fun and exciting to be part of the process and to help guide her through these years and see where her path lies and the journey she takes to get there.

Here's to fun tables, charts, book lists, and getting to research and buy new curriculum.  Always fun :)

Kiss those babies!