"Intellectual distinction is a necessary but not a sufficient condition for election to a Rhodes Scholarship. Selection committees are charged to seek excellence in qualities of mind and in qualities of person which, in combination, offer the promise of effective service to the world in the decades ahead. The Rhodes Scholarships, in short, are investments in individuals rather than in project proposals..."

Wednesday, June 22, 2011


As some of you may know (or not), I'm speaking in Denver, CO at the Rocky Mountain Catholic Home Educator's Conference in July.  I'm giving four talks.  I'll be updating the sidebar (of available talks) after Denver, but I thought I'd give you a preview.

I'll be adjusting my Beginning Homeschool talk to remove the Minnesota demographics and Minnesota reporting requirements.  I'm also giving my very favorite talk on Learning Modalities (How to Get Your Kid to See the Light).  I'm updating it with a new style.  My husband and I produced our technology talk using the Presentation Zen method.  I then upgraded my Beginning Homeschool talk to that format and I'm SO hooked.  Love the method.  I hope my audience does as well.  I'll write more about that later.

My two new talks are exciting for me.  The first one I've been working on for about three years, even though I haven't had a gig at which to present it.  I am so in love with using the Socratic Method for literary analysis.  I have been having Socratic Dialogues (also known here as book clubs) since 2007.  For the last four years, I have anywhere from six to sixteen kids here on Fridays discussing books.  I have done entire series of books on many topics. I love picking Catholic books, but it has not been my primary focus.  Mostly, we've done author studies.  I pick an author and we spend the year reading books by that author.  It's actually great for the kids to do this because the concepts of "authorship", "context", and "literary style" become so evident after reading four or five books by the same author.  In fact, many kids have thanked me for the opportunity to do that very thing because they then begin to see patterns.  They understand how the time an author lived, and their very life influences the "setting", "theme", and "conflict" in the story.  I struggle between making them really think things out about a particular topic and wanting to go through the book chronologically.  So, my talk "Socrates Meets Homeschool Mom" will be a lot of fun.  It involves not just Socrates but also Tomie dePaola and Robert Frost.  How's that for a cliff hanger?

My second talk is something I've always talked about with my family.  That is how my homeschool is really a one-room schoolhouse.  I've always sought advice from my mom, grandma, mother-in-law and others that attended one-room schools about how classes were managed, discipline, curriculum and character development.  I've gotten great feedback and now I get to tie in about 50 hours of research on top of that feedback.  I also get to share real data I have from my grandmother-in-law who was a one-room school teacher before she married my grandfather-in-law.  I have found some great examples of curriculum from the 19th century that actually puts some current curriculum to shame.  And, I will be talking about the 8th grade examination and how kids would fare these days taking that very test. One of my greatest finds is a book written in 1922 called _The Rural Problem and the Catholic School_ by T. Leo Keaveny which talks about what Catholic schools in rural areas.  I will be talking to Catholic homes educators, so there are many tidbits I can take away from this on running Catholic schools in rural areas that apply to our Catholic homeschools.   One of the many sources sited is Archbishop John Ireland, the founder of the Archdiocese of St. Paul (my home diocese.)  I can't wait to present this topic because there is so much great that we can learn from those one-room school teachers!

So, with all this said and lots of fun stuff ahead of me like refreshing the slides for my learning modalities talk and finishing hand outs for my other talks which are due in eight days, I will be taking a short blog vacation unless something so fabulous pops up between now and then.  Okay, I MIGHT have to give a report on Saturday about the class I'm taking Friday night (taught by a Latin professor from Temple University), but other than that I'll be off finishing off my handouts and making my presentations minimal (really.)

Saturday, June 11, 2011

I hesitate to tell you the truth, but it must be told.

Have you thought the books of Plato are above you?  Perhaps you thought it would take too long?  Maybe you don't think you need to read Plato, but have you given him a chance?  If not, why?

A Classical Education encourages one to understand our Western Civilization from the roots up and that includes the writings of the Greeks.  I thought I would have a hard time understanding it.  I thought "what would I learn that I haven't read somewhere else?" 

If you have not read Plato, I implore you to take one hour and read, what I believe to be the most important piece he's written, as it pertains to our vocation as home educators.  You should read Plato's Apology.  What is stopping you? It is not an apology in our everyday understanding of the word.  It is apologetics, the defense of a belief.  This very brief writing is an account of the trial of Socrates in 399BC.

Plato’s account of the examination of Socrates have so influenced thought in the more than two thousand years since Socrates’s death, that Alfred North Whitehead said the entire history of western thought is nothing but a series of footnotes to Plato.  It is by this careful, questioning examination that we learn and influence our souls and minds. 

Socrates didn't write.  Any accounts we have of Socrates are from the writings from Plato.  From these writings, we learn the methods of Socrates and his main contention:

Men of Athens, I honor and love you; but I shall obey God rather than you, and while I have life and strength I shall never cease from the practice and teaching of philosophy exhorting anyone whom I met after my manner, and convincing him, saying: O my friend, why do you who are a citizen of the great and mighty and wise city of Athens, care so much about laying up the greatest amount of money and honor and reputation, and so little about wisdom and truth and the greatest improvement of the soul, which you never regard or heed at all?  Are you not ashamed of this?  And if the person with whom I am arguing says: Yes, but I do care; I do not depart or let him go at once; I interrogate and examine and cross-examine him, and if I think that he has no virtue, but only says he has, I reproach him with undervaluing the greater and overvaluing the less.  -Plato, Apology

The Socratic method is Socrates' gentle way of respectful questioning to search for the truth and to achieve an improvement of the soul.  This method can be applied to any subject.  
“The unexamined life,” Socrates said, “is not worth living.” 
Mortimer Adler, in his "Paideia Proposal" (Paideia means "nurturing the whole child") suggests taking one entire day per week for nothing but Socratic Seminars.   A Socratic Seminar is dedicated time to ponder and question a particular subject, topic or literary work.  If you could employ one tactic to ensure your children learn to care about wisdom and truth and the improvement of their souls, take time for a Socratic Seminar.  I recently spoke to the headmaster of a prestigious, Catholic high school in our area.  He firmly believes the capstone of a Classical Education is the Socratic Seminar.  So you wonder, how do you, a homeschool mom pull it off?

Perhaps the possibility of getting a group of students together to discuss a topic or work of literature just doesn't exist for you.  That would be the ideal way to pull off a Socratic Seminar.   Maybe you could employ the Socratic Method within your regular school day instead.

If you are unfamiliar with this method, I would encourage you to take the time to read Plato's Apology.  Read it twice.  Read it three times.  It won't take you long.  It's only 30 pages in it's entirety.  You won't regret it and you will understand why it's imperative to use the Socratic Method with your child.  If I can't convince you, let Socrates.  The next time your child asks you a question about something they are working on, even a Math question, instead of giving the answer, take the time to ask questions and help the child find the answer on their own, with your gentle guidance.  Like Socrates.
 I hesitate to tell you the truth, but it must be told. - Plato, Apology
p.s.  If you would like to see the Socratic Method in action, watch the 1973 movie "The Paper Chase."
p.p.s.  A copy of the Apology is available on line here.

Tuesday, June 7, 2011

iPad NO Disorder

This is all in humor.  Really.

One child, tonight at the dinner table, started displaying this problem.  When asked a question, to which the answer was no, he proceeded to swiped one finger across his face, drawing his head to the side.  He let go and then wiggled his head side to side.

On the iPad, if it thinks you are moving an icon, all the icons will wiggle side-to-side until you hit the back button.  My kids sometimes do this in error and have named that the "no" function because you can't do anything while the icons are "shaking their heads" back and forth at you.

So, after this, all the kids over 5 are now doing the one finger sweep across their face and the side-to-side wiggle to indicate no.   iPad what have you done?

Monday, June 6, 2011

Alternatives to Wikipedia

Those that attended our workshop on Technology in the Homeschool know we don't recommend Wikipedia for use by kids.  If you didn't attend, perhaps you are wondering why.  Let me give you a "lite" example. 

Let's say your child hears the word "fetish" and puts it into Wikipedia.  We must first remember that Wikipedia is maintained by the world, so it is therefore, worldly.  I don't know about you, but I don't feel comfortable with my kid reading the world's perception of fetish.  What is more dangerous than that, though, is where the information will lead them.  As you know, you can keep clicking and clicking to delve deeper into subjects as you go along.  Do you really want your child to dig deeper into what that means?  I don't. Period.  The End.  They can do what I did with words like that when I was a kid...sneak the dictionary and look it up themselves.  At least there aren't hyperlinks at the end that SHOW what a fetish might be about and look like.  Yikes!

Now, a parent mentioned to my husband that he uses Wikipedia at the table during dinner discussions.  He had no idea.  That practice would be okay to me, if the parent was driving and sharing the information rather than the child driving the computer and following link after link.  So, when Wikipedia is used by a parent for the purpose of sharing information, that is a different story.  Kids shouldn't be using it by themselves.

So, when asked if I could give alternatives to Wikipedia, I suggested Encyclopedia Britannica Online.   We jokingly suggested we needed a Catholicpedia, but something close does exist.  I decided to look up alternatives. Here they are:
  1. Conservapedia
    Conservapedia is a conservative, Christian-influenced wiki encyclopedia that was created as a response to Wikipedia's worldview. The information found on this site is free of foul language, sexual topics and anything else deemed offensive by the site's editorial staff. If you feel that Wikipedia shows a strong bias toward liberal views, then this site may suit your needs. All Conservapedia users are asked to follow the site's seven Commandments.
  2. Scholarpedia
    Scholarpedia is a site made from the same software as Wikipedia. It almost appears like a mirror site, but there are some significant differences. Scholarpedia is written by scholars. Experts must be either invited or elected before they are assigned certain topics.  The site is still editable by anyone like a wiki but updates must first be approved before they are made final.
  3. Encyclopedia Britannica Online
    This is my "for pay" recommendation.  When it comes to trusted and unbiased facts, this site is your best option. Every volume of the Encyclopedia Brittanica has been transferred to Web format. All updates to the site's entries are made by professionals.  This is not a wiki community. Unfortunately, it's also not free. A subscription fee of $69.95 a year will give you full access and is cheaper and easier to store than a set of book encyclopedias. Major universities will accept the site as a reliable source when citing information in a research paper, something unlike Wikipedia.
  4. MSN Encarta
    MSN Encarta is another online encyclopedia. All entries have been written and fact-checked by professionals. It, too, requires users to pay a subscription fee. For $29.95 a year, you can access MSN Encarta in its entirety, including the site's accompanying thesaurus, world atlas and other research tools for students.
  5. Infoplease
    Infoplease is a free online encyclopedia that is a part of Pearson Education, the largest educational book distributor in the world. All of the information found on the site is gathered from trusted sources. Although entries may be limited in size when compared to Wikipedia, you can be sure that all the information is accurate and incapable of being influenced by outside users. Also, Infoplease has many multimedia features that assist researchers, particularly students who are attending distance education courses.

Sunday, June 5, 2011

Challenge Based Learning

My husband, an Eagle Scout, and I were talking last night how much the Challenge Based Learning is like an Eagle Scout Project.

Eagle Scout rank is earned after completing a series of merit badges, various other ranks and completion of a project.  The project is community service based.  They have no other guidance than it needs to be community service.

They have to pick a project, research how to do it, plan its execution, manage the execution, document what was done and then present the project to a board of review.  That, in a nut shell, is what challenge based learning is all about.

So, the next question is - what can my child do as a challenge based learning project?  Well, there are a variety of community service projects that would qualify, and there are religion/social justice projects galore.  The beautiful part is getting your child started and letting them go after something that is of interest to them.  When they are personally invested, they take ownership and want to succeed.

We're going to start some challenge based learning here.  Their first attempt will be small scale.  It must be something they can accomplish on their own.  After trying it solo, I will be having the kids work with others (either through BSA, AHG or other homeschoolers) to develop their collaboration skills.

What could you have your kids do?

I've started a list which is based on the Corporal Works of Mercy.  This would also be a great confirmation service hour project.

Corporal Works of Mercy
  1. Feed the hungry
  2. Give drink to the thirsty
  3. Clothe the naked
  4. Shelter the homeless
  5. Visit the sick
  6. Visit those in prison
  7. Bury the dead

Saturday, June 4, 2011

Technology in the Homeschool: To Boldly Go Where No Homeschool Has Gone Before

Kevin and I would like to thank those who attended our presentation today on Technology in the Homeschool.  As promised, here are our links.  Enjoy.

Digital Citizenship

Research and Information Fluency
Creativity and Innovation
http://w3schools.com/ - learn to program in almost any language

Technology Operations and Concepts
Communication and Collaboration
Critical Thinking, Problem Solving and Decision Making

Textbooks free online:

10 Digital Commandments for Kids
I promise to follow these commandments while using gadgets, phones and the Internet to keep my family, my friends and myself safe:
1)       My parents will decide when I am allowed to use the computer, cell phone, gaming system and the Internet.  I promise not to nag or ask for more time.  I will only visit places they say I can and do things we agree are appropriate.
2)       I will never tell anyone that I am home alone, give out my last name, home address, phone number, parent’s work or work phone numbers to anyone without getting my parent’s permission first!  I will also keep this information about my friends as private as I keep my own information.
3)       If anyone does or says anything that bothers me, I will tell my parents.  I will not use bad language, say bad things about others or send mean messages.  I will tell my parents if someone does any of those things to me.  If I use code words online, I will tell my parents what they mean.
4)       I will never post or send pictures of myself, my family or friends when I use email, instant messaging, chats or on web sites.  If I set up a blog or online profile, I will tell my parents where it is and how they can read it.
5)       I will never, ever meet with anyone I’ve talked with online without first talking to my parents.
6)       If my parents ask for my password, I will give it to them.  I will never give out my password or any others that I know to anyone, not even my friends or others besides my parents.
7)       If I want to download anything (applications, games, music, movies or programs), I will ask for permission FIRST.  I know I must pay for these things.  If I take them I am stealing.
8)       I will not try to win free things or buy things on my phone or on the Internet.  If I get a message that I have won something, I will show my parents.  If I ever get an email asking me to enter my password or other private information, I will ask my parents FIRST.  I will not forward emails or messages that tell me bad stuff will happen to me if I do not forward them.
9)       I will not open any of my parents’ files.  I will not change any settings or install any new software without my parents’ permission.
10)   I give my parents’ permission to look on the computer, at my phone or any other device to see where I have gone on the Internet, what emails and text messages I’ve sent and received, the things I’ve downloaded or what I do.  I will not erase my browsing history or record of sent messages.  If my parents install programs that track what I do on the computer or limit where I go online or on my phone, I promise not to turn them off or alter them.  I will not close a window when my parents come into the room to hide something I’m viewing.

Child’s Signature
Parent’s Signature
I have read the above and follow these rules.  If I do not make good choices, I understand I will lose the privilege to use electronic devices and the Internet based on my own decision not to follow the above rules.
I agree to let my child use electronics so long as these they make good choices and follow these rules.

10 Digital Commandments for Kids modified from www.KimKomando.com where you will find LOTS of great resources for parents keeping kids safe on the Internet.  http://www.komando.com/kids/parent-tips.aspx

10 Things You Can Do Right Away to Use Technology Safely
1)       Start using Opendns on your computers. Install monitoring software like McGruff Safeguard. Lock down YouTube and Google with SafeSearch.
2)       Have your kids read and sign the 10 Digital Commandments.  Explain Good Choice, Poor Choice and Your Choice.
3)       Password protect all PCs and make sure they are in a public location where everyone can see (not in bedrooms).
4)       Create accounts for your kids separate from yours.  Give your account admin rights and don’t give admin rights to the kids.
5)       If your kids have Facebook accounts (or any other social networking accounts), get one yourself, friend your kids and get their account info and passwords. 
6)       Find a smart friend in your support network who can help you make your equipment more secure.
7)       If you have Internet anxiety, set up a pc for your kids to use that is not connected to the Internet for typing software, word processing, and other computer software.
8)       Have your kids start using Microsoft Office, OpenOffice or GoogleDocs to do their homework.
9)       Consider using a service like www.mediafire.com to back up your data.
10)   Set up a Yahoo! Group to get your feet wet in collaborative schooling and invite another homeschooling family to join you.