"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..."

Thursday, December 20, 2012

A fork in the road...

The last month and a half have been fraught with worry and much self reflection.  I've kept my posts to reviews of late because I needed to reassess where I wanted to go with this blog.  For the most part, this blog is about me and my journey of self-education and the homeschool education I am helping my children attain.  But I've reached a fork in the road.

I learned early on in my career as homeschool teacher is that I can't teach my kids anything they don't want to learn.  My talk on motivation covers that in spades and I've got the research to back it up...they will learn something they don't want to learn to earn a grade or pass a test, but will most likely forget it if it is not of interest or not made of interest to them.  We, as a race, are pretty selfish in that respect, but it is all part of God's plan, I think.  He gives us all different interests for a reason.  We all can't be interested in the same thing or we wouldn't survive.  We can't all be doctors or engineers.

One thing I was not prepared for, in this homeschooling journey, was hurdles.  BC (Before children) I taught adults and developed curriculum.  I figured I had this "teaching thing" down pat.  Kids must be easier.  I faced difficulties that I assumed were much greater teaching adults, like being a very young diminutive female teaching men in a positions that were predominantly occupied by older male know-it-alls.  I taught UNIX system and network administrators at the upper level of their professions.  Remember the SNL skits done by Jimmy Fallon as the system guy, Nick Burns?

That's the type I'm talking about.  To be fair, not all my students were like that, but many were.
Who knew that teaching kids would be/could be harder than THAT?  Certainly not me!
But, that's good.  I love a challenge.  I just wasn't prepared for so many.

So, you may ask what those challenges were?  For many homeschoolers, they were just normal things like morning sickness that lasted all day and pregnancy fatigue that made me not want to do school - at all! Or, a parent who was terminally ill and had no one but me in town to care for them.  Or unemployment which made schooling the way I wanted to not easy, requiring creative curriculum methods, and illness and health issues on my part that knocked me on my backside.  But those were my challenges...more difficult were things that affected my kids learning like learning disabilities, mindset issues and boredom.

Why am I writing ALL this?  Because I've reached a fork in the road and the tone of this blog will be changing.  Up until now, I've purposely not explained my interest in special needs, though I've gotten lots of experience with it over the last ten years.  My son, who is 14 1/2, has had vision problems since he was one.  He's had surgeries, glasses, vision therapy, occupational therapy, and neurological therapy to work through issues he's had that have affected his vision and fine motor skills.  I've done a lot of accommodating, correcting, adjusting curriculum and environment to make learning easier for him.  It's paid off.  He's a smart kid who loves to learn and is a hard worker, but I can't take too much credit for that because he's the one who has chosen to learn.  I had chalked up his need for lots of different learning accommodations to his vision issues.  When your eyes don't work, other senses try to make up for that difficulty.  My son is an auditory/tactile-kinesthetic right-brained learner for whom adjustments have been made to meet his distinctly different and individual needs.

I knew that as college testing loomed ahead of us he would need some accommodations for testing.  I knew, even after all the work we've done, he might need more time to finish his tests and the written essay portion would be next to impossible for him.  A good friend of mine who is an Orton-Gillingham professional, recommended that I have him tested for learning disabilities before he started taking ACTs or SATs.  They will not give accommodations without a clinical diagnosis.

So last month he endured twelve long hours of neuro-cognitive testing as well as filling out several questionnaires outside that in-office testing time.  I spent time filling out forms, finding copies of previous years' standardize test results, and pouring through all his medical records and therapy records to provide the psychologist with a complete picture of his academic and neuro-cognitive development.  Then we waited three long weeks for all the tests to be scored and a diagnosis to be made, if necessary.  And in that time, I worried and questioned my methods and made myself and my husband crazy, wondering - did I do enough, could I have done more, what would the psychologist say, how would my son score?  During that time of self-reflection, I also worried how my son would handle any news he received.

Two weeks ago my husband and I met with the psychologist to receive the results.  We purposely chose to take some time to reflect on how to share the news with our son and to decide how best to adjust things as we continue with the challenge of high school before sharing that news with him.
So, if you have read this far, God bless you for your patience. 

Here's what we found.  While my son is gifted in some areas, he was diagnosed with AD/HD, a diagnosis I, up until now have despised.  I'll get to that in a minute.  The other diagnosis was dysgraphia.  That was no surprise.  When he works at it, his penmanship is legible, but large.  With lots of work and concentration, he can do copywork well.  However, he just can't write extemporaneously.  But, he can type.

The funny thing was that my husband, who has had to deal with my anxiety over all this, realized that as he listened to the psychologist's recommendations, that I was doing almost all those things he recommended.  On the way out, he said that if we didn't need that "clinical diagnosis" for our son's benefit during ACTs and SATs, he would have wondered why we were there.  I needed to hear that.
Yesterday, I had the conversation with my son.  We talked about what will change in his schooling to make things better for him and allow him to better reach his potential.  We will also be making different accommodations and I will learn to embrace AD/HD.  I asked his permission to write about it here.  He said that if it helped other people, he was okay with it.  He's my hero.  This kid will do great things.  I know it.

By the way, the reason I hate the AD/HD label is because it's used as a derogatory term,  not as a clinical term, by people not qualified to make that diagnosis.  I have one acquaintance that I remember saying ALL boys have AD/HD...like it was the plague.  She has only girls.  I have kids with AD/HD besides this kid, boy(s) and girl(s) and some that do not...it's not the plague.  I also hate it because I know I have ADD and, while no one ever told me, I knew something was different about me and how I went about things.  Reading the book You Mean I'm Not Lazy, Stupid or Crazy?! made the world of difference to me because I've gone through life feeling out of sync and constantly trying to adjust my organization skills to fit in with the normal people.  I used to beat myself up over not being able to organize my kitchen like my sister or keep my house clean the way my friends do.  I have other gifts.  I still struggle with it, though.

So, I will be changing the tone of this blog.   You will find plenty of blogs about homeschooling normal kids.  I will be embracing my smart 2e kids (Twice Exceptional is the clinical term, 2e the short hand).   And, I will be writing more about adjusting things in the homeschool to better accommodate those kids who don't learn the same way other kids do, but are just as smart, and just as important as the rest. 

Monday, December 10, 2012

Review of Macbeth - A Video Enhanced iBook from Providence eLearning

This was the fourth book I reviewed for Providence eLearning as a consulting project, and the fourth I will review here.

My daughter just finished a student review of this book for Providence eLearning.  I didn't want to review it before she finished because I didn't want my review to influence her opinion of the book.

I love Shakespeare.  However, I've read Shakespeare for pleasure and not because I was required read it in school.  One disappointing aspect of my education was that I really read very little GOOD classical literature in high school.  I had more good literature in Catholic middle school I attended (thank you, Mrs. Schlub!)  I grew up in the age of Judy Bloom.  Instead of reading Shakespeare, we read Rumblefish.  I don't despise Youth Literature.  However, I think it should be pleasure reading, not required reading.  Shakespeare should be required reading.  The reason Shakespeare isn't required is because people fear it and because there are not many good literature teachers out there that can bring Macbeth to kids in the way Mr. William Lasseter does in the iBooks available from Providence eLearning. 

Providence eLearning's Macbeth utilizes many of the great features of iBooks.  All iBooks have auto define, highlighting, note taking, etc.  However, added features of Providence's iBooks include narration by Mr. Lasseter as well as video interpretation of the text. His voice and teaching skills are truly showcased by this book. There is also a hypertext glossary of many of the more difficult or archaic terminology as well as character descriptions and relationships.  Also, the video production values are great. There are also questions to "Check Your Understanding" after each video interpretation.

And, don't think that technology spoils the beauty of a Shakespeare tale.  Besides being able to listen to Macbeth as if it were a play (because Mr. Lasseter changes his voice for different characters), it features some old illustrations that I really enjoyed. 

This month, I was struck by how much my kids really need iBooks like this.  I am a big fan of Socratic discussions.  However, I can't always get other homeschooling kids the same as my kids on board to read the same books we are reading at the same time.  And running four different book clubs while leading a group of high school students through the Iliad and the Odyssey, I just didn't have the bandwidth to cover these titles with my kids.   So we don't have discussion groups for the extra books.  The kids appreciate Mr. Lasseter's reflections and interpretations of the text.

I highly recommend this iBook for high school students because of the level of vocabulary and dark themes.   

Monday, December 3, 2012

Classically Catholic Memory - Memory work worth doing


A friend recently emailed me asking what I thought of doing CCM (Classically Catholic Memory) in terms of Anthony Esolen's most excellent book Ten Ways to Destroy the Imagination of Your Child that I reviewed a few years ago.  I love Esolen's work for many reasons, but mostly because he was able to articulate many things I thought and felt, but could not properly put down on paper.  That's why I read books like his.  I knew I would agree.  His book gave me the words and arguments to support my opinions.

Now, one must remember that Esolen's book is ironic, like Screwtape writing letters to his nephew, Wormwood, in the Screwtape letters.  So, it requires you to look at his advice as contrary to your desired goal.  In the first chapter, he talks about Mr. Gradgrind in Hard Times.  Mr. Gradgrind asks Cissy (who is a horse breaker's daughter) what a horse is.  She is unable to answer him.  Mr. Gradgrind declares she knows no facts about horses.  Esolen warns about the danger of facts :-).  In fact on page 8 he asks,"of what use to us now are Facts? Surely in the case of homeschooled boys, we have seen Facts run amok."  He spends the entire chapter bemoaning anyone learning facts, because once you learn a fact you might actually learn more about the subject!  Oh no!  So the danger he is really pointing out is memorizing the facts only.
If you have a right brain kid, memorizing is hard work.  The way you get it to work is to explain the big picture and drill down to the fact they are memorizing, which not only helps them (whole->parts learning) but also give them the context about why they are memorizing this information.
CCM is not focused on just memorizing the facts.  It's learning the why's and what's about the facts. So, our CCM classes are not simply rote memorization.  They are not just about reciting the facts.  Our class time each week is spent explaining why we are memorizing these things and in what context the facts exist.  We are not just chanting and reciting...
This week, in fact, WEEK 7, if you are wondering, we were able to make many connections about things the kids have learn within the context of Religion, Timeline, Geography and History.  The Science class, the most interesting so far, keeps building on fact they have already learned, broadening their horizons in areas I've never approached with my kids on my own.  How many homeschoolers do you know have dissected an earthworm and lived to tell about it?  We have.  And, really looking at the earthworm hearts wasn't nearly as interesting as the looks on all the kids' faces.  The kids really will remember that forever.
So, is CCM just about facts?  No.  It could be, but with the right teachers and kids with the right attitude, it is not.
"A fact may not be much, by itself, but it points toward what is true, and even the humblest truth may in time lead a mind to contemplate the beautiful and the good..."

Monday, November 19, 2012

Why Boys Need Scouts and Other "Boy Only" Groups

This just in on boys...
"Boys also need to imagine themselves in heroic situations. When girls are asked about Vimy Ridge, they say, “Whew, it must have been horrific.” When boys are asked, they imagine what they would have done if they’d been there. “Our most powerful assembly is on Remembrance Day,” says Mr. Power. “Every boy is thinking to himself: How would I have measured up?”

Boys long to be part of something bigger than themselves. And the bigger and more challenging the task, the happier they are. “If you tell 10 boys you need volunteers to go downtown and work all night on a big, dirty, tough job, and you still expect them to show up at school the next day, they’ll all jump up and volunteer,” says Ms. Gauthier.
Boys love rituals, trophies and tradition. Those also make them feel part of something bigger than themselves.
But, in the modern world, boys are often treated as a problem. The dominant narrative around difficult boys – at least in the public school system – is that they’re unteachable, unreachable, disruptive and threatening. Many commentators – men as well as women – blame male culture itself for the problems with boys. In their view, what we need to do is destroy the death star of masculinity and all the evil that goes with it. What we need to do is put boys in touch with their emotions and teach them to behave more like girls."
This is one of the reasons boys need organizations like the Boy Scouts of America.  Where else do they get the opportunity to challenge their boyness?  I'm sure you can imagine how worried I was when my boy (then 12) and my husband slept outside in -12 degree weather.  They survived and he came back a different, better kid.  How about the Order of the Arrow ordeal?  I have not idea what it entails, but I'm sure it's tougher than roasting marshmallows over a campfire.  The Boy Scouts of America continue to give boys a chance to be a part of something bigger than themselves, enjoy rituals, trophies and traditions.  They also push the boys to step outside their comfort zone.  They also are constantly in service to others.

My Eagle Scout husband continues to amaze me in that he still does "a good turn daily".  Last night at dinner time, he thought he'd dash out quickly to put our garbage to the curb for pickup today.  A truck pulled up in front of our house on our cul de sac street.  An older gentleman, probably in his eighties, was lost and disoriented and asked for help.  My husband skipped dinner and led the man to his destination (in his own car).  He's my hero and that is what Scouts does to a boy.  He makes a man that is willing to skip his dinner and help someone in need.

The Boy Scouts are under fire, as usual.  But here's what I think is beautiful.  Outside normal society (the messed up one that includes many schools that are failing our boys), there are still men that feel this is important.  Eddie, who is 83 this year, realized that is true.  While his boys were in Scouts in the 60's, he realized that what the Boy Scouts offered to boys is something important and he stuck with it for 50 years.  My husband is drawn to it, too, because he sees the war on boys.  Luckily, because of homeschooling, my son is not affected (as much) as his schooled peers.  I say as much, because I had no brothers and this whole "boy" business is so foreign to me.  Thank you, God, for making us different!  However, what has happened?  Why is it that we now cater to women and not men.

Go read the article and go find a way to challenge your boy.  He'll thank you for it.  Society (and his future wife) will, too.

Tuesday, October 9, 2012

Review of Sir Gawain and the Green Knight: An iBook from Providence eLearning

Sir Gawain and the Green Knight

This was the fourth book I reviewed for Providence eLearning.  These books are available via the iTunes store for use in the "iBooks 2" application. 

The last contact I had with the infamous Sir Gawain was with a boy's book club three years ago when we tackled some medieval literature, including King Arthur and His Knights of the Round Table by Roger Lancelyn Green.  There was only a chapter about this tale, so I was anxious to hear the real story written by the Pearl Poet, rather than a retelling.

Sir Gawain and the Green Knight is an alliterative verse poem written in Middle English  in the 14th century.  The Providence eLearing version is enhanced with more than forty interpretive videos to guide the reader through the story.  This is incredibly helpful because of the language and imagery used throughout the story. 
Probably as useful as the interpretive videos is the audio narration that accompanies each page.  The narrator's voice is so easy to listen to and helps the reader through the difficult words and names.  This is so helpful for me, who slaughters names.  My kids jokingly pick on me whenever we are working through literature from a different time or country.  For example, when we worked through the Iliad, I continually slaughtered the names.  It's embarrassing, but true.  This is also a great feature for kids with reading difficulties as they can follow along with the narrator.

There are quizzes littered throughout the story and the artwork used in the text and videos is beautiful.  

My son is anxious to read this, and I will be letting him even though we don't cover Sir Gawain until next fall.  He's seen how the Providence eLearning textbooks work and is really excited to tackle this book in this innovative way.

Sunday, October 7, 2012

Our Little One Room School House Experiment

This summer a dear friend posted to our homeschool support group a request to find a Catholic version of Classical Conversations to which she could bring her kids.  Seems the nearest thing was about 45 minutes away and they were taking a hiatus this year.  I sent her some suggestions of Catholic memory programs, my favorite of which is Classically Catholic Memory.  I sheepishly called her and asked her if she was up for putting together a small group to do it together.  She was.

I put my money where my mouth was, ordered the curriculum, and we all got together at our church's family camp in August and pow-wowed about how we could pull it off.  I offered to do ANYTHING but find space.  I knew that was a tough job.  I also knew I couldn't open my house up for yet another thing.  I already run four book clubs out of my house each month.

We started with seven interested families.  Only five were able to make it work.  We all bought our own copy of the curriculum so that if we miss, we can all keep up with each other.  We're splitting up the teaching, too.

Well, after lots of calls and contacts, we ended up meeting at a home.  One of our families' grandmother graciously offered her basement to us.  We now, 13 pupils, 5 mentors, 4 teachers, 7 toddlers and 2 nursery teachers, all meet three times a month in her very large basement to do Classically Catholic Memory.  We are only one week in but can I just say, "Wow!"  My 5 year old, along with all the rest, has memorized 8 subjects worth of material this week.  I can't wait to see how it goes.

We are doing this as a one-room-school-house experiment.  All kids 12 and under are pupils and kids over 12 are mentors.  The mentors are required to know the material right along with the pupils.  We go through each subject starting with recitation (all the kids stand and say what they memorized) for each subject.  The teachers go over the new material.  Then, the mentors break off into teams, which one boy came up with creative, Catholic names for and they all get busy practicing.  Then, in about 20 minutes a day, the kids practice the material for the rest of the week.

I'll keep you posted on how it's going.

Monday, September 24, 2012

Review of Beowulf: An iBook from Providence eLearning

 Beowulf Video Enhanced Edition

I'm sorry in the delay in getting these reviews out to you.  Reviewing these textbooks has been guilty pleasure for me and I've been delinquent in sharing them with you. 

This was the third book I reviewed for Providence eLearning as a consulting project, and the second I will review here.

I haven't read Beowulf in over thirty years.  And, when I read it as a ninth grader, I really didn't care for it because I thought it was for boys.  Ha! 

Two years ago, I was reintroduced to Beowulf when we read Mary Pope Osborne's Favorite Medieval Tales for my boy's book club.  Whatever was lost on me in the ninth grade was found!  I enjoyed her exposition of the story and promised myself to go back to it.  This summer, I participated in an adult book club on-line and our first read was none other than Beowulf.  That was about two weeks before I got to review Providence eLearning's version of Beowulf. 

Providence eLearning's translation was very close to the Tolkien translation that I read for the book club.  I was very surprised by how much more I got out of the book after listening to the video lectures that followed every few pages of text.  Not only were the videos useful, but the audio narration with the names pronounced correctly was more helpful than almost anything.  I really don't do very well guessing pronunciations in other languages. Just not my skill.  Mr. William Lasseter, the English Chair at Providence Academy, is the instructor and narrator.  His voice and teaching skills are truly showcased by this book. 

The video "enhanced" textbook is a boon to homeschoolers.  Any student that doesn't have a discussion group or is working through this text on their own will find great value in this iBook.  The lectures and video production are well done.  Old book illustrations were used along with other great artist renditions of the tale.  The video production is a beautiful synthesis of new technology with a medieval tale and fine art.  Having the ability to look up words on the fly, check the glossary, check your understanding and have the text narrated to you all enhance your experience.  While the video piece is wonderful, I would be doing you a disservice not to mention all the other perks of using an iBook.  This textbook would be helpful to high-schoolers assigned the task of reading Beowulf.

This epic tale is wonderfully told and explained in this rendition of Beowulf.   I highly recommend this engaging iBook. Bonus - it's on sale right now at the iTunes Store for $6.99.

Friday, September 7, 2012

Review of The Poetry of William Blake: An iBook from Providence eLearning


This was the second book I reviewed for Providence eLearning as a consulting project, but the first I will review here.

I had no idea what to expect in reviewing this book as I didn't know much about William Blake other than one poem, The Tyger.  That was quickly remedied as the instructor spent time in the Preface giving information on him (Authorship and Context) that was extremely helpful in understanding how to approach his poetry and art.  Blake was not just a poet.  Blake was a particularly precocious child who was educated at home by his loving mother.  His artistic temperaments and interested were fostered by his parents.  He actually was trained in a trade as an engraver at a young age, which paid off in his later work when he would not only write poetry but illustrate it as well.  He would create prints, writing the poetry backward on the plate.  Then he and his wife would come back after printing with the engravings and hand paint each page with water colors.

Blake's poetry is beautiful and many poems touched me deeply, especially after the instructor's skillful interpretation.  This book also included other artwork by Blake.  The book is a beautiful balance of poetry, interpretation and appreciation of Blake's work.  I highly recommend this iBook.  Currently, it is on sale on iTunes for $6.99!

Wednesday, August 29, 2012

The Next Generation in Digital Learning...iBooks From Providence eLearning

First of all, I apologize for my absence.  I've been busy with health things, family activities and a short-term job!

I feel blessed to have fallen into a consulting gig that seems too good to be true.  This consulting gig involves critiquing several great works of literature via an iBook format.  It's no secret I love using the iPad and iPod in our classroom, so this was a great opportunity for me. 

DISCLAMIER:  My employment with Providence eLearning was not contingent on marketing their books here on my blog.  I did ask permission to talk about their products after I review them and was given their go-ahead. My compensation is not dependent on a favorable review.

As you all know I love literature and base much of my homeschooling curriculum on Great Books and Good Books as well as Classics.  I run book clubs because I feel that children get the most out of reading great literature from discussing it and as a result learn more.  Socratic circles allow children an opportunity to not just discuss the book, but to explore other people's opinions and develop critical thinking skills.

Here are the titles I've reviewed so far and here is a link to what is available:

The company producing the iBooks is Providence eLearning.  This group is taking classical literature and enhancing it; making it accessible to all learners, regardless of whether they are in a classroom or not.  They will be tackling other subjects in the future.  So far, I am extremely impressed.  This is a boon for home educators as this makes difficult literature approachable to all and at a really, really reasonable price.  What is that price?  Only $9.99.  Amazing low price and there is so much content!

First, let me tell you about the advantages of using an iBook format.  The iBook format allows the publisher to include audio narration, audio foot notes, video, photo galleries, hyperlinks, the ability to take notes and mark up the book with highlighting.  So what happens when technology meets Classical Lit?  Amazing things!

The books offer features that our homeschooled kids might miss not going to a traditional school, to whom lecture and discussion are not readily available. Providence eLearning has done a great job providing a self-led approach for great literature.
  • They get a video lecture from a professor of Literature, specifically, William Lasseter, the English Chair at Providence Academy, a Roman Catholic K-12 College Prep school here in the Twin Cities.  He's not just a Lit Prof.  He also has experience as a Shakespearean actor, which means he's a dream to hear.  
  • There are many questions to "Check Your Understanding" along the way.  
  • They get audio narrations.  Can I just say hurray?  I have a kid with some visual difficulties.  One of the reason he loves the Kindle is that he can resize the text and/or turn on the Text-to-speech function.  However the nasty computer voice drives me up a tree, so he uses ear buds.  Now, the iBooks do not allow for easy text resizing.  That is an issue with the iBook format, not the Providence materials.  However, I would trade that for being able to listen to a Shakespearean actor read classical literature any time.
  • They have the ability to look words up on the fly by touching the word.  A definition pops up automatically, allowing the student to not lose their train of thought while in the text.  This is one of my favorite parts of all e-reading devices.
  • They get a hyperlinked table of contents that allows them to easily go to any section.
  • They get a glossary that is not only text based definition, but often a "Wikipedia-like" entry for each term.
  • They get photo galleries.  Providence eLearning does a nice job of using the photo galleries to show pictures of the authors, and classic works of art pertaining to the material.
  • They get introductory material that prepares the students for what they will learn before the learn it.
  • They can highlight text in a variety colors and make notes that can be translated to flash cards.  That's a feature available through iBooks.
I heartily recommend these for advanced middle school, high school, college and adult learners.  I picked up many things and was reminded that "Great Books" and great literature are timeless.  I hope they continue on this project.  The books are a wonderful value.

Being a picky homeschool mom, the only thing I wished they had was more questions.  Providence eLearning has informed me they have a Moodle site they are considering making available to iBook users for a fee.  Considering the cost of the iBooks from Providence, I have no beef with the smaller volume of questions than I would like.  There are questions often throughout the text.  I would just like to see more end-of-section questions.  However, to get those things, I would pay more.  The amount is more than adequate for the price.

On a personal  note,  when I had a free moment here or there, I was drawn back to working on my reviews of these books, not because of a time constraint, but rather because I enjoyed it so much.

Check back soon as I will give a review of each of the four books I've read so far.  My current read is Macbeth.  I will do that review last.  But in the mean time, check out Providence eLearning's web page for the books I'm reviewing and if you have an iPad, go download a sample of the iBooks.  They are available for free.  Just put Providence eLearning into the search tool in iBooks.

Tuesday, July 31, 2012

Kindle Fire: How My Kids See It

I was telling my kids about my last post comparing the iPad to the Kindle Fire.  One had already read some of it and one of the kids wanted to defend the Kindle Fire a bit.  I told them I wasn't getting rid of it, just that it wasn't serving our needs as well as the iPad and hadn't quite lived up to our expectations as a home school "tool."  Once they realized I wasn't ditching it, the real truth came out about it. So, I thought I would share some insights from their perspective:
  • The kids prefer the touch screen of the iPad over that of the Kindle Fire.  It doesn't feel the "same" as the iPad.  The iPad is more reactive than the Kindle Fire.
  • My older son loves the text-to-speech feature on the old Kindle.  When we got the Kindle Fire, we were really disappointed to see that feature GONE.  It is also gone on the lowest end Kindle.  He's a multitasker, like I am, and would often listen to his books while working on Legos, riding in the car (he gets motion sickness) or doing the dishes.
  • My youngest son loves the Kindle Fire, but that, I think, is for two reasons.  1) Since we don't have many education apps, there are more "recreation" apps (like Angry Birds, Where's My Water and Puss-in-Boots Fruit Ninja.  2) He's tiny.  The Kindle Fire fits better in his hands than an iPad.  He told me he gets tired holding the iPad.
  • My middle girl said she likes the iPad better because it doesn't crash and that it hold more apps.  
  • My eldest girl likes the iPad better because she can control the volume and she likes the screen better.  When they use Kid's Place (the parental control-timer app), they can't change the volume within the app and there is no external volume control on the device.
So, there you have my kids' perspective on the iPad versus Kindle Fire.

Monday, July 30, 2012

iPad vs. Kindle Fire

This post is for Sherrylynne and Margaret.

UPDATE:  I've been told that this is too long to read by members of my family.  They're beautifully honest and I'm not bothered by the feedback.  Here's a tip.  If you don't want to slog through my narrative, scroll down to the bottom for a handy little table where I scored the iPad and the Kindle Fire on features I felt were important.

I have a problem with technology.  The problem is that I love it and so does my husband, which tends to make us fairly "early adopters."  That means we tend to be ahead of the curve when new technology comes out to the public.

I have had several people ask me to explain the differences between an iPad and a Kindle Fire with respect to homeschool use.  So here goes.

Oh, and for the record, before children, I was, ahem, a UNIX snob.  I disdained PC's and Macs even more!  For a long time, I had a New Hampshire state automobile license plate.  The state motto "Live Free or Die" was on the top and the license plate said "UNIX."  That was how seriously I loved UNIX.  All other operating systems were chopped liver to me.  I loved it so much, I created a Post Secondary Degree program around a version of UNIX I loved.  A Technical School actually paid me to develop the curriculum and teach that Degree Program for three years.  Then I quit because I was pregnant with my third child.  I taught up until two days before she was born.  But I digress...

So, we had a Kindle here fairly early on mainly because my husband got his hands on an ebook back in 2004, before they actually were available on the market when he managed a product testing lab for a major consumer electronics retailer.  We all fell in love with it, but there were so few books available at that time, it was not viable as a product when there was no materials to read on the device.  So we loved the Kindle.  My three eldest children have used the Kindle before we purchased the iPad.  I have reservations about even the regular Kindle.  Here are the reservations:  There are no parental controls.  None.  They have a "experimental browser" that is horrible to navigate, but there are no controls to prevent accessing unsavory web sites.  Also, many "free books" at Amazon available are not suitable for children.

When the first iPad came out, we were not quick to jump.  It was, after all, an Apple product (horror of horrors!)  All it took was a visit to the Apple store at the Mall of America to quickly change my mind.  While Angry Birds did have appeal (I swear that must be how they get most people hooked), what really did it for me was the number of free and low cost apps available.  Apple totally understands how to make a product appealing, doesn't it?  We didn't have the funds to get one as soon as we would like as our technology budget has dwindled to practically nothing since braces hit our house.  Three kids have some type of orthodontia!

It wasn't until about six months after their release that I got a refurbished first generation iPad.  Being that I needed to do "research" I got to use it the most the first week we had it.  I learned how to use iTunes and played with setting up parental controls.  Then, I went in search of apps.  Did you know there are over 500,000 apps in the Apple Apps Store?  So, cheapo that I am, I downloaded free apps first, just to see what was out there.  Even the free apps are great.   Many free apps are there to tease you, get you excited so you'll purchase their full version.  The iPad because so useful in our homeschool, that seven months later, we invested in another refurbished first generation iPad.  A month later, I got a Kindle Fire for Christmas.   When I did some work this Spring, I opted to use the money I made to purchase an iPad 2 with 3G.  So, I set out to try to use the Kindle Fire the same way we had been using the iPad, which I will outline next. 

Each day, my kids are required to do some school activities on their own, even my younger kids.  It's not like I'm some great mom. In fact it is the opposite.  There often isn't enough of me to go around quizzing flashcards and the like, so we've used the iPad for much of that type of activity.  We started out using the iPad just for educational games. Then we branched out to using it for actual school.  Here are some of the things we did with the iPad:
  • Used the free Kindle App to read CK-12 textbooks
  • Practiced Math Facts via many different apps
  • Learned States and Capitols
  • Learned Countries and History
  • Followed the Church Calendar, read Saint-of-the-day biographies and daily readings
  • Practiced cursive
  • Praciced Phonics
  • Did Spelling tests and played apps that improved vocabulary
  • Listened to Audio books
  • Watched some Khan Academy content
  • Used apps that help with memory, concentration and attention
  • Read Google books and iBooks
I knew I was not using it to its full potential, but even at that level, it was helping my kids enjoy drills.  I'm now totally fascinated with the concept of Game Theory.  I loved doing games in my homeschool, but this took me out of the picture. 

So, element by element, I will take you through the features that are important for me as a Catholic homeschool mom of six.

First and foremost is parental controls.  I love Apple's approach to restrictions.  It's actually pretty granular.  I can first put on a screen lock to prevent access to the device.  Period.  Next, I can set up restrictions by app type.  For example, I can turn off the web browser Safari, which I do, and then decided to allow access to Youtube, Camera and Facetime for second generation and newer, iTunes, Ping, Installing and Deleting Apps.  Further, I disable location services, change the level of allowed content for Music and Podcasts, Movies, TV Shows, and Apps.  I can also disable In-App Purchases, which I recommend, disable Multiplayer Games and Adding Friends.  My older children have iPod touches because we've now exceeded the demand for the iPads.  Their age restrictions are different on their iPod touches than on the iPads.  The Kindle Fire handles parental controls differently.  First of all, they didn't add them until people screamed to them about it.  They were finally added in May.  Like Apple, there is a screen lock to prevent access to the device.  However, their interface is not as seamless as Apples.  Like Apple, the Settings feature has many choices.  All apps, books, video, etc, is accessible from the "Carousel" on the home page.  When you go into the Parental Controls, you may disable web access, therefore turning off browsing, apps and book purchases and downloads.  However, there is no way to limit access to certain apps.  Now, here's a disclaimer.  I have a personal bias against how Amazon decided to do their interface.  I have an extreme dislike for the Carousel.  Everything is accessed from the Carousel.  Above the Carousel is a selection of functions like:  Newstand, Books, Music, Video, Docs, Apps, Web.  If parental controls are set, the user will get a pop-up saying the feature is disabled.  I find the Settings Interface more cludge-y than the iPad, so I don't care to mess around much with the Apps.  One thing I will point out.  I will allow use of Safari for a school project if my kids ask, but I won't for the Kindle Fire because I have figured out how to set up OpenDNS on the iPad, but not on the Kindle Fire.  I also find the pinch and squeeze is less receptive on the Kindle than the iPad, so inputting data is not nearly as easy.  One last thing, I promise.  There is a Kindle Fire app called Kid's Place that allows me to set a timer and select which apps are used.

I've already mentioned cost.  On the whole, I'm not afraid to purchase refurbished items.  It's like buying a used car versus a new one.  I compared the costs below, but used only new prices because refurbished prices vary wildly.

I've already mentioned Apps.  There are many Android apps, but there are not many great Education Apps.  The Android platform is really intended for smartphones.  Tablets started using the Android platform as an afterthought.  I have not found much I would use for my older kids other than things like SAT prep apps.

Both devices have the Kindle Reader, which is my favorite interface for books.

The Kindle Reader, however, does not readily support ePub.  That is an issue for me with because I often check out books from the public library.  Their supported format is ePub via the OverDrive application.  Apparently it can be done, but I just haven't gone there yet.

Both devices are great for video and audio playback.  However, the Kindle Fire lost a point because it doesn't have a physical volume button like the iPad.

I love having a camera on the iPad 2.  Married with the 3G capability, I can go places like Oliver Kelly Farm, a historic farm and take pictures or video and mail it right away or Skype with someone to show them something cool. I can also do online classes.  I teach several classes to kids other than my own and we use Skype.  I can do it from anywhere now.

I love the Kindle Fire's form factor.  The iPad is roughly the size of a sheet of paper.  The Kindle Fire is roughly that of a large greeting card (or about a half a sheet of paper.)  However, the Kindle is thicker than the iPad.  The Kindle Fire weighs  almost 15 ounces and the iPad weighs in at about 21 ounces.

From a stability perspective, the iPad has never crashed and it's used often.  The Kindle Fire, on the other hand, has had several occasions where it has frozen up so badly I've had to contact customer service.

My iPads have held their battery charge through about 8 hours of use.  We do a lot to try and conserve that battery life like turning off Wi-Fi by putting it in Airplane Mode, dimming the screen and disabling  a lot of the sounds/alerts.  The Kindle Fire, on the other hand, has an advertised battery life of 8 hours, but we are lucky to get six.  We disable the Wi-Fi there as well, but that hasn't bought us much for battery life.

The iPad storage capacity starts at 16GB and goes up to 64GB.  The Kindle Fire only has 8GB.  Now, that being said, you won't use that space up until you have had lots and lots of books and memory stored on it.  It can go quickly on the iPad if the iPad has a camera.

Here's a little table I put together scoring the features.  I multiplied each * by the weight.  So, if the weight is 10, three stars means the device scored 30 points.  I added them up for you at the bottom.

Please feel free to comment and give my your experiences because I am basing mine totally on the use in our homeschool.

Feature (weight)
Kindle Fire
Built-in Parental Controls (10 x *)
Cost NEW (10)
(Remember I buy refurbished!)
Educational Apps (10)
Kindle Reader (10)
ePub Reader (8)
Video and audio playback (8)
Camera (for things like Skype) (5)
(2nd Generation)

Form factor (5)
Stability – crashes, locks, updates, etc.  (5)
Battery Life (5)
Storage (5)
(8 GB)
Cumulative Score (243 possible points)

Sunday, July 15, 2012

Sensory Diet - Keeping Toddlers (and Everyone Else) Happy

It's important for toddlers and preschoolers to touch and feel many different textures.  It's part of what occupational therapists call a "Sensory Diet."  One part of my kids' sensory diet is "GLURCH."  Glurch is a weird substance who's name is derived from the first three letters of each of its components:  1 part glue:1 part liquid starch.  Just pour glue into a cup or bowl.  Add an equal amount of liquid starch.  Stir.  Then, you might have to get in there with your hands to knead.  Store it in an air tight container.

I  was cleaning out a craft cabinet in which I found several very old containers of pearlized and gel glue from five years ago.  I really didn't expect it to be usable, but it was just fine.  Apparently I had closed the containers tightly when I stored them.  The result, several batches of glurch that my younger kids call "slime."

First, we have pearlized green glue turned into green slime that looks like, well, a bodily fluid that comes from the nose, which is the boys' favorite.

I also found red and pink gel glue that became lava slime.  The plastic dinosaurs find it much more pleasant than real lava.

The last thing we tried was a combination of clear glitter glue and blue gel glue.  It's more blue than clear and the glitter makes it really shimmery.  The girls seem to like that one the best.

We especially like to keep this around on days when the older kids need mom and the little people need to be distracted and entertained.  This works splendidly.

And, it's great for covering toys and finding them, wadding up and blowing into with a straw to blow "bubbles" and letting settle down your arm, just for the eek effect.

It's also a great science experiment, if you want to explain the science behind polymers.  Here's a nice description compliments of www.science-class.net:
A POLYMER is unique because it has qualities of both a solid and a liquid. It can take the shape of its containers like a liquid does, yet you can hold it in your hand and pick it up like a solid. Solid molecules are tight together, liquid molecules spread out and break apart (drops) POLYMER molecules CHAIN themselves together (they can stretch and bend like chains) and that makes them special. Jell-O, rubber bands, plastic soda bottles, sneaker soles, even gum are all forms of polymers.

We also let them make and play with OOBLECK which is 1 part cornstarch to 1 part water.  You can add food color as you like.  Adjust the proportions and you have sidewalk paint when you add more water.

Oh, and don't be surprised if your older kids get in on the fun.  My 12 year old daughter can't stay way from either substance!

Friday, July 13, 2012

More on your "calling..."

Since my previous post is a cross post and I did a follow up, you can read my follow up here.

Cross Post: Being Comfortable With Your Calling

NOTE:  This is a cross post.  I originally posted this on my other blog, but decided it was applicable here, too.

I'm a personality test junkie.  Since I took my first Myers-Briggs personality test back in 1989, I've been hooked.  I love learning about myself, helping to explain my idiosyncrasies, and learning more about others so that I can better understand how to relate to them.

By far, my favorite personality test is called Strengthfinders.  My husband introduced me to it when, as a manager at a corporate retail company, he was required to take the test along with reading the book Now Discover Your Strengths by Marcus Buckingham.  Since then, I have read several books on using our strengths for success.

I found this book while doing a Google search.  It's Living Your Strengths - Catholic Edition.  It was just the book I needed to read this summer.

Now, let me tell you about how this whole Strengthfinders test works.  You answer a series of questions (so this is self-reported) in an on-line test.  What is revealed to you are your "Signature Themes."  Donald Clifton PH.d. , who created the test, had a very optimistic philosophy.  Instead of working really hard at correcting our weaknesses, we better serve God and humanity by using our strengths (or talents).  There are 34 signature themes.  Statistically, the chances of meeting someone with your exact themes is 1 in about 275,000.  The chances of meeting someone with your exact themes in exactly the same order is about 1 in 33,000,000.  So, while God made us in His likeness and image, He gave us a wide variety of strengths with which to work.

At a used book sale this summer, I also picked up another Strengths-based book, StrengthsQuest, which is for students.  It takes the 34 signature themes and shows how they apply to working in school and determining a career that would best match your strengths.  I bought this because I think our kids are failed by our schools (and us, too, sometimes) in career guidance.  Just because someone is interested in something does not mean it would be a good career for them.  As my eldest approaches high-school, I hope to use it to help him find his strengths and use them for the greater glory of God.

Here's a personal confession:  I am not always comfortable in my own skin.  Strangely enough, I am most uncomfortable with my strongest strength.  Actually, I think it might be fairer to say most people are uncomfortable with my strongest strength upon which I become uncomfortable.  People become uncomfortable with my busy-ness. 

So, I will just lay out my signature themes in rank order, just in case you want to understand me just a little better:

People especially talented in the Achiever theme have a great deal of stamina and work hard. They take great satisfaction from being busy and productive.

People especially talented in the Communication theme generally find it easy to put their thoughts into words. They are good conversationalists and presenters.

People especially talented in the Ideation theme are fascinated by ideas. They are able to find connections between seemingly disparate phenomena.

People especially talented in the Strategic theme create alternative ways to proceed. Faced with any given scenario, they can quickly spot the relevant patterns and issues.

People especially talented in the Input theme have a need to collect and archive. They make collect information, ideas, history, or even relationships.

Perhaps, for me, one of the biggest realizations I had in learning these things about myself, was that discontent is the norm.  The other big ah-ha moment I had was realizing that because Achiever is my top theme, I put work before everything.  Things need to get done, in my book.  So much so, that I often add things to my to-do list that I have completed, that weren't there so I can cross them off, giving me a sense of "achieving."  Here's the wierd thing...that theme is my theme, not one I necessarily expect of my kids or husband.  Anyone who has seen my house can attest to the fact that I also do not apply "achiever" to my homemaking skills!

There are so many beautiful nuggets I could share with you from the Catholic Edition of Living Your Strengths but I just don't have the room or time.  But, I will leave you with two things.  If the statistics  gave you weren't enough, here's what St. Paul had to say about it in Romans 12:6-8 (from the USCCB website):
6 Since we have gifts that differ according to the grace given to us, let us exercise them: if prophecy, in proportion to the faith; 7if ministry, in ministering; if one is a teacher, in teaching; 8if one exhorts, in exhortation; if one contributes, in generosity; if one is over others, with diligence; if one does acts of mercy, with cheerfulness. 
 And second, the parable from Matthew 25:14-29 (which I won't quote here for brevity) that Jesus told his disciples before his passion, death and resurrection about the master who entrusted "talents" to his servants while he was away.  Of course the word "talents" here represents money, but because this is a parable, you can think talents.  The point of the parable, which some people find harsh, wasn't about investing huge sums of money but rather about using the talents God places within each one of us.  God expects us to develop those talents and use them wisely.  In the parable, not every slave was given the same amount of "talents"; each was given "according to his ability."  So, it is with God and the distribution of talents and gifts among individuals.  In the parable, the master was furious with the servant who did nothing with their talents.  The master wanted the servant to take a risk and grow their talents.

Developing our talents into strengths requires risk.  We must step out, try new things or take a chance by doing something we may fail at, at first.  But if we do not take some risks, emotionally, physically, and spiritually, we will never grow.  God expects no less from us.  So, get out there and serve the Lord.

Wednesday, July 11, 2012

One Room SchoolhouseTo Go!

+ McGuffey Readers (along with millions of free titles) + iBooks + Kindle Reader for the iPad/iPhone + iTunes U + a digital media library (on a 500Gb portable drive)+ Apps for Education (like Khan Academy, Dragon Box, Math Ninja) + iCloud = One Room Schoolhouse To Go!

This year we are embarking on an experiment.  I bought the three older kids Generation 2 iPod Touches for less than $85 each.  After futzing with the settings, restrictions, iTunes, loading up the digital medial library and loading apps, I have the 9th, 8th and 4th graders ready to do much of their school on a mobile device.  That means we can all be more portable.   That makes the kids happy.  I will have to "let go" a little, but we will be doing lots and lots of discussions around how it is working .  We started with a few things this summer to see how the kids take to it (duh, they love it) and how I feel about them holding a device in front of their face more than I'm accustomed.

Here's a partial list of what they are doing on the iPod Touch:
Latin for the older kids will still be old-school, low tech (ha ha) via Skype with support from the interactive CD we use to support or curriculum.  The 4th Grader will finish book two of Minimus (with the audio on her iPod).

My older kids are doing Calligraphy this year along with Art History.  Yes, there is an app for both.  My 4th Grader will be watching the Leonard Bernstein "Young People's Concerts" with others and discussing them via Skype.  Her art will be working with different media (chalk, pastels, colored pencils, charcoal, and paint.)

Just an aside:  When I configured the iPods, I enable a screen lock to protect the iPods from the 5 and under crowd :-), enable Restrictions.  I turn off Safari, YouTube, Ping and Deleting Apps.  I also set the age restrictions for Apps, Video and TV.  I disable wireless as a battery saving technique.

I'd love to hear of apps you LOVE as well as techie things you are doing in your homeschool this year.

Monday, July 9, 2012

A pretty good reason to not let your kid have a Facebook account...

Just found this...
Social networks like Facebook and Twitter make people feel inadequate and increase their anxiety, according to a study of about 300 people by the University of Salford in England. More than half the people surveyed said the sites changed their behavior for the worse. Many said their confidence fell when comparing their achievement to others... 
I think that is a good enough reason. 

Thursday, June 21, 2012

"Save the Relics!"


     My post secondary training is in lasers and fiber optics.  I entered the field under the advisement of my Chemistry teacher, Mr. Rhode. He suggested it based on my apparent comprehension of Science.  I wasn't great at Science.  I got A's, but that's because I loved Math and much of what it took to make it in Science in high school was the ability to apply Math to Science.
     I got out of the laser business in 1991.  I moved from working in a photonics research lab to becoming a Unix System Administrator.  While that might sound like a step down, it was the career that led me into training and curriculum development.  Even better, I actually got to talk to people.

     Fast forward 14 years and I got into the laser business again, but this time I was offering a laser class for middle school students of my homeschool group.  The first class was right before I had my fourth baby.  I had seven kids attend and it was a lot of fun. I've overhauled the curriculum each time I've offered it.  Then, this spring  I found teachengineering.org and saw they had a curriculum. I did make one change to the curriculum, which was to change the premise of the story.  The original curriculum was protecting a mummified troll and the students were required to build a security system to prevent its theft.  We just changed it to protecting relics on display at the Cathedral. Other than that, it was perfect for my needs, so I chucked what I had written and offered this new class to my two middle-schoolers and one other high school bound young man from our homeschool group.

     Yesterday was the "project day" they had earned after enduring demonstrations and lectures about lasers and light from me (based on the teachengineering.org curriculum.)  Their job was to design and build a laser security system in a three dimensional space in order to protect a "relic."

     I dumped  a laser, twelve mirrors (nine of which were on adjustable bases), clamps, rubber bands, painters tape and duct tape (which holds the universe together) and cardboard on the floor next to the enclosure frame they were to use and told them to have at it.  Oh, and then there was the photo-sensor.

     Just a tip if you decide to use the curriculum...I ordered the photo-sensor recommended on the teachengineering.org website.  Be forewarned that there is "Some Assembly Required" or more like TOTAL Assembly Required.  I have to admit it was a little bit of fun assembling and soldering all 50+ parts on the circuit board.  And, I'm proud to say it worked without any "rework."  I was a little worried since it had been at least 22 years since I've picked up a soldering iron.  I guess all of my time spent in Mr. Worden's electronics lab paid off, finally.

     They did a great job and they tried some interesting things like trying to expand the beam to make it easier to get into the tiny photo-sensor.  They had a lot of fun illuminating the beam with cornstarch to see the laser grid produced by using 8 mirror surfaces.  Even better was when they realized they'd gone just a little overboard with the cornstarch, getting the mirrors so dirty that not enough light was reflecting into the sensor, thus setting off their audible photo-sensor alarm security system!

    It's days like these that I am thankful I get to teach my kids at home.  To see the thought process, the cooperation of all, leadership of some, comedy of errors that occurred at times and the sense of pride and success when they accomplished their task is amazing.  And they had a really good time.  That, my friends, is what makes this job worthwhile!