Every truth has four corners: as a teacher I give you one corner, and it is for you to find the other three. Confucius

03 February 2014

Assessment

Hello,
Today I will talk about assessment, grading, results, feedback, whatever you choose to call it. I have returned to tertiary study in a subject I dearly love (visual art) and I LOVE the process of reading, learning, preparing for and executing a response in written form to a test, essay or whatever is required. What I don't enjoy is having someone else pulling it to pieces positive or negative.If you would like to see a little of my genteel word therapy whizz across to my writing blog to the poem entitled    A Beguiling Covenant.

These are not the rantings of a bitter student who can't keep up...the whole process just irks me. Even though the Alfie Kohn philosophy of intrinsic trust in the individual, and John Holt's reassurances to trust the learner to find what they need to learn has been ingrained after so many years of homeschooling, I found myself becoming anxious that my second essay wouldn't match the first grade. How would I keep it up?? Scary stuff to me as an adult, how do our kids handle it? I have talked to several of my daughters teenage friends and many felt the same as I did. It's not just kids who are struggling who dread the number at the top of the computer screen (yep,  2014 it's all electronic baby...I had to get my head around that too), it's the 'good' students who just don't want to fall below the imposed (self or external) benchmark of a 'good' grade.

 I do get the long term benefits of a tertiary degree and understand the necessity of doctors, nurses, pilots etc having testable knowledge for safety and performance reasons. I also get the value of discipline and sticking at a project until completion. What I don't get is the obsessive focus on formulaic detailing and paranoia about plagiarism and referencing. Yes, most ideas have been deconstructed and written about before...so what?? I wonder how our older kids can be creative in any academic sense when they're so terrified to play around with ideas in case somebody accuses them of 'cheating'...I thought it was called collation for individuals and in a group collaboration(??) Also, essay lengths have shrunk since I was last a uni student...easier you think, no it just means squeezing more evidence of concept and practical knowledge into fewer words...another pressure on our students.

On the other hand, I spoke to a 19 year old university student the other day who was raised in a wonderful natural learning environment until entering a specialised high school at 16years of age. She spoke of each stage of her education being "just right at the time". She loved the freedom to learn at her own pace in her younger childhood, then loved the challenge and delightful reward of entering formal education and earning acknowledgement after working hard on an assignment. She spoke of the value of constructive feedback, and generally helped to put it all beautifully in perspective for me. I must say I did feel a little bit pleased when she shared she hated referencing as much as me.

I will say today that I am still not crazy about the overemphasis on grades in many schools, I feel that they stifle creativity more than many people care to consider. I believe we are absolutely blessed to have the opportunity to homeschool or school our children in their childhood years and beyond  as we/they wish. I also concede that if a kid wants to go the school/tertiary route, their love of learning will not be crushed provided they are nurtured with a solid, gentle basis for learning in the formative years.

As for me, I have decided to read, write, submit and enjoy the process. I will aim for joyful learning, striving for my own indivdual best and role-model wholistic learning to my kids, rather than just banging on about it..that's the theory anyway.

Talk soon, Cynthia
Grover says it better than anyone...





01 January 2012

A New Homeschooling Year

Hi Everyone, New Year is a time when I tend to get refreshed about homeschooling and have time to sit and think about where we have been and where we are going with on our homeschooling journey (I say journey rather than planning deliberately because I believe education is a lifestyle journey not a fixed destination to arrive at...a cliche maybe but so true...). Anyway, I digress....I have been sitting on the deck in the 42 degree (!!!) heat planning what we will be doing this year and have come up with a myriad of possibilities which I have narrowed down to (I think) a manageable number of activities.....


We have purchased an annual membership with our local zoo which I heartily recommend if you are wanting a relaxed, informative visit rather than a rushed 'lets make this huge outlay for one day worth it' visit to the zoo. The children have a much more satisfying experience if they can linger at five or six locations in a day, and I find I can research and answer their questions much more thoroughly if we have time to linger and appreciate each animal without rushing onto the next thing. We plan to spend at least one day a month in 2012 at the zoo, and to provide the children with a different medium for drawing an animal each time. We will start with pencil sketching and go onto charcoal, pastel pencils, oil pastel crayons, water colours, clay, nature collage and so on, which the children can use at the zoo or finish later at home from a pencil sketch. We will also look at sustainability and endangered animals as part of our visits, and give the children a grounding in social responsibility to our environment in a relaxed, pertinent way. A lot of zoo memberships also provide members with special access to activities such as Zoo Youth and other volunteering opportunities, Zoo Snooze, education sessions etc.






We will also be doing monthly Nature Journal entries, again using a variety of mediums. I use Keeping a Nature Journal by Clare Walker Leslie and Charles E. Roth as a reference as it's accessible and provides a lot of ideas for recording in various forms, using colour, the seasons, recording factual information and so on....



Story of the World will take us to Ancient Egypt, India, China and Africa this year, and we made a start in December last year with some clay tablets symbolising the children's names in Cuneiform and Hieroglyphics to recreate the first writing in Sumeria and Egypt. We also did a comparison of paper and clay for longevity in the weather which explained why so many tablets remain while ancient paper records are relatively rare.


The kids and their Dad will be working through Richard Hammond's Blast Lab , which has some awesome experiments you can do at home, and which cover principles such as energy, light, gravity, particles, germination in a fun, simple way which won't overwhelm a younger learner. We'll go onto his Can You Feel the Force?(putting the fizz back into physics) book in the last half of the year... sounds like lots of noise and fun will be happening around our place on Saturday mornings for a while :) !!


I'll be looking for interesting ways to pique Jay's interest in reading...Jolly Phonics (also available at book depository)seems effective as a good solid basis for learning alphabet sounds and grammar now that he's nearly 7, and I have found it's effective to engage Jay in writing something of his own choosing (it's always LEGO) I have sourced some interesting LEGO readers at Book Depository...with titles like Way of the Ninja, Star Wars Phantom Menace and Blackbeard's Treasure, they should provide quite a bit of motivation to read....


I'm going to introduce some poetry reading and writing from Enjoying More Poetry by Sadler and Hayllar. This book has a nice balance of humour, reverence and variety, and accompanies each poem with some activity/question suggestions which you can choose to implement into your experience or not. We will be attempting some shapely poems (where you write a poem in the physical shape of the subject), some humorous verse inspired by Pam Ayers and Spike Milligan, and maybe some animal poems inspired by our trips to the zoo...


I've been looking at ways to make mathematics fun and have decided that in conjunction to Family Maths i will encourage the children to count and classify their piggybank savings each fortnight on pocket-money day and record their total savings, the denominations which make up the total, and eventually turn this into a graphing project using a variety of graphing techniques in a relevant way. We'll continue with board games and cooking as hands on mathematics activities.


For Design and Technology we'll be introducing some basic sewing projects like finger puppets and a bag. We'll be doing some cross stitch on gingham after making a pattern on graph paper, also looking at basic components of a sewing machine and what you need for a sewing kit. We'll be doing some research on fashions through the ages and the children will choose an era to create a lapbook about and make a basic costume using the basic skills we've acquired through the year. We'll be using an adorable old series of teaching books called Needlecraft Construction Technique written by Jean D. Lane for reference.

This series offers a refreshingly clear, old fashioned approach to sewing, offering a solid, simple foundation for more complicated projects later on. We fortunately found ours in an op-shop, but I have seen them occasionally on e-bay and other used book sellers.

I'll also be giving the children the opportunity to create, photograph and submit their own creation for the LEGOQUEST (an online LEGO enthusiasts newsletter run by homeschooling families for homeschooling families) challenge each month. I will offer guidance through the various stages where necessary, but this will be their project and something they can feel they've achieved with minimum adult intervention and become familiar with basic computer use at the same time.


We've been doing our swimming lessons at the beach this year using a book written by Linda McGill called Teach Your Child to Swim. It covers all the basic strokes from toddlers through to basic freestyle, butterfly and breaststroke and uses simple language and pictures to illustrate techniques. I can see real improvement in the children's confidence in the water since we started lessons and will continue with basic strokes at the beach until the weather cools and we need to head for an indoor pool to learn diving and the finer points/corrections of each stroke, all covered by the book. Other books I have found to be too wordy, with distracting illustrations, so this is quite a find, in my opinion.



I hope you find some helpful points in this lot.....now, time to get on with the business of homeschooling :)


Talk Soon, Cynthia x

Our Story Chair


Hello Everyone,

Happy New Year :)

Well, we've been quite busy this season...with Christmas celebrations shared with family and friends, and finding exciting learning opportunities hidden away in our local park.....

Jay and Freida got new bikes for Christmas and we've been trekking down to the local bike track to give them a chance to ride without traffic. On our first day we discovered a beautiful sculpted wooden storytelling chair and benches for an audience!!! It is situated under an enormous tree and we have simply ridden past without really looking in before as it's partially obscured by trees. Fortunately this time we stopped to investigate, and as you can imagine, the children raced right over and one by one commanded the seat with pride. They each proceeded to tell a tale involving family members, with accompanying gestures, and relished the opportunity to tell a tale without interruption. We have visited many times since that first happy discovery and I have incorporated poetry, story starters and drama into our 2012 plans, all involving Our Story Chair, as the children have named it.

The children's stories are spontaneous, fresh and totally their own creation. Freida is a princess, with beautiful tales of fairies, magic and all things etheral. Jay a brave knight, travelling to the Antarctic to battle fierce snow creatures, and back to England to catch wild boar for dinner in the King's castle, Alexandra told a story that was delightfully 'gross' for the little ones and everyone had a good laugh...I love the fact that children can be so totally absorbed in creative storytelling, and the outdoor environment gives them the opportunity to move and use their voices in such a way that they aren't restricted as they inevitably are indoors.

I'm really excited that we're able to combine a bike ride with some literary experience this way, and look forward to many more tales of adventure and intrigue over the years courtesy of this beautiful space.

Talk Soon, Cynthia x

06 November 2011

Studying Through Open University

Hi Everyone,
I came across a fantastic article written by Sharee Cordes about studying through Open University as an alternative to SACE. I found it incredibly inspiring, and have over time gleaned a lot of information from Sharee's wisdom and experience.
This was published in Otherways Magazine, a valuable, affordable resource for natural learning families. Sharee has just started her own blog at
oflifeandart.wordpress.com
and will definately be worth checking out. So, here's the article, enjoy.....

Teen studying on computer


I think it all started for us when Jayden became interested in linguistics. I was searching on the internet for some way to help him find out more about linguistics when I came across the Open Universities Australia website. Unfortunately they don’t offer any undergraduate linguistics subjects, but there were so many other interesting sounding subjects on the list, so I suggested to Jayden that he might like to have a look at what was available. Jayden was 14 at this time, and I thought that I would like him to get an idea of what options were out there for tertiary study.

He became quite enthusiastic when looking through the list of Open University subjects as well, and decided he would like to attempt one. He chose one from the list of recommended first subjects – Introduction to Human Geography, which was offered by Curtin University. One of our considerations when choosing this subject was the assessment requirements; this subject required 2 long essays but no exams, which we thought sounded achievable for Jayden.

The next step was to do his enrollment, which was online and easy, and to buy his text book, which was expensive, about $120. Soon he received his study materials in the mail and started work.

Open Universities state the each subject requires about 10 hours of study time per week, and we found that this was about right. There was a lot of reading involved, mostly from the text book and readings that had been sent to Jayden.

The biggest challenge was obviously completing the essays! The first part of this challenge was finding resources. I helped Jayden quite a bit with this, as it required searching catalogues on the internet and having libraries send books to us (we are in the country). Jayden used some web sites as resources, but it is really important to use books as well.

Next came writing the actual essays. Jayden has grown up as a natural learner, he had limited essay writing experience; however his experience on our homeschoolers debating team had set him up beautifully for this. He was able to apply what he had learnt when writing his debating speeches to plan and write his essays. The hardest and most stressful part for Jayden was referencing, as he had no experience of this, and we knew that it was very important. Soon after he finished this study, we got the new version of Microsoft Word which actually makes referencing very easy!

After a few very late nights Jayden completed his essays, and his subject, and received a very good mark.

Our overall feelings about this experience were very positive. Jayden found the subject to be really interesting and enjoyed the opportunity to research areas that interested him in great depth. We had some very stressful days when he was writing his essays, but I think a lot of the stress was due to not really knowing what was expected (especially in regards to referencing), and also due to not allowing enough time to get the resources sent. I am sure that next time will be a lot less stressful because we will be old hands!

Jayden is very keen to continue studying at University level. We believe that if students have completed four subjects through Open Universities they are able to apply for entry to a regular university course (although we plan to do more research to confirm this), so Jayden hopes to get into University this way.

We decided that although Jayden had the ability to study at this level at 14 we didn’t see any need for him to be under this pressure at such a young age, so he has put off further studies until next year.

We feel that Open Universities Australia is a great option for homeschooled students who have good thinking and writing skills and are keen to study subjects that interest them at a higher level.

Some facts about Open Universities Australia

  • Open Universities Australia is an organisation that offers university subjects from fifteen leading Australian universities and colleges to the general public on a user pays basis. These are regular university subjects, the same as students enrolled in full university courses would be studying and can be used as part of a university qualification.
  • Subjects are studied externally using the Internet and resources that are mailed to you. There are over 700 subjects to choose from.
  • The minimum age for studying through Open Universities is 11 and there are no entry requirements for first year undergraduate subjects (although some more advanced subjects may have prerequisites.)
  • There are four study periods in the year beginning in March, June, September and December and each subject goes for about 13 weeks.
  • They offer Unilearn bridging units in areas such as mathematics, chemistry, biology and physics for people who wish to improve their skills before attempting a University subject in these areas.
  • They also offer free Quickskills modules which give students information about things like time management and preparing for exams.
  • There is a list of recommended first units for people who are just beginning University studies.
  • Subjects cost between $610 and about $850 (less for Unilearn subjects). Fee Help is a scheme that may be accessed to help pay for this.
  • A student enrolled in two subjects is considered to be a full time university student.
  • Students are issued with a student card
  • For more information, visit the website www.open.edu.au

Update 2010

Back in 2008 I wrote a story for Otherways about the experience of having our teenager studying subjects through Open Universities Australia. At the time I wrote…
“We believe that if students have completed four subjects through Open Universities they are able to apply for entry to a regular university course (although we plan to do more research to confirm this), so Jayden hopes to get into University this way.”
Well, I just wanted to write and let everyone know that it works! Jayden was offered a place in the Bachelor of Arts at MacQuarie University in Sydney back in December – before the year 12 school students even had their exam results – and today he was also offered a place at Melbourne University in the first round of offers.
Jayden went on to study a total of five subjects through Open Univerisities. We were told by a student advisor at Melbourne University that he could apply there with only four subjects, but as places were quite competitive, he had a better chance if he had six. We were also told that because they have an English pre-requisite, Melbourne Uni would need to look at his subjects to ensure that one of them would meet this requirement (they could not tell us which subjects would do this though). Because of this advice, Jayden decided to study ‘Introduction to English’ as one of his Open University subjects – this proved to be his most difficult subject so far!
Completing five subjects through Open Universities was hard work for Jayden, he only did one subject at a time, except for the last study period when he did two, but this still seemed to take a large part of his day (although we still managed to fit in plenty of homeschool camps!). One thing that he found quite hard was that there was no break between subjects, he would finish one subject on Friday and start the next one on Monday, so he was really ready for a break by the time he finished. However, it was certainly preferable to the hard slog that we see so many year 12 students doing, and the advantage is that he has already completed the first semester of his degree.
When Jayden applied for the courses, he just filled out the regular application form. He didn’t say anything about his homeschooling background on the form, relying solely on his University results. The offer from MacQuarie actually came before the results for his final two subjects had been released, so they have offered him the place based on the results of only three subjects.
For Jayden, and I’m sure for many other homeschoolers who wish to go to University, this is a great option – I am still amazed that it worked so well!
I hope that this will help other students to find a path that works for them too.
Wishing you all the best with your homeschooling journey,
Sharee Cordes

Back in 2008 I wrote a story for Otherways about the experience of having our teenager studying subjects through Open Universities Australia. At the time I wrote…

“We believe that if students have completed four subjects through Open Universities they are able to apply for entry to a regular university course (although we plan to do more research to confirm this), so Jayden hopes to get into University this way.”

Well, I just wanted to write and let everyone know that it works! Jayden was offered a place in the Bachelor of Arts at MacQuarie University in Sydney back in December – before the year 12 school students even had their exam results – and today he was also offered a place at Melbourne University in the first round of offers.

Jayden went on to study a total of five subjects through Open Univerisities. We were told by a student advisor at Melbourne University that he could apply there with only four subjects, but as places were quite competitive, he had a better chance if he had six. We were also told that because they have an English pre-requisite, Melbourne Uni would need to look at his subjects to ensure that one of them would meet this requirement (they could not tell us which subjects would do this though). Because of this advice, Jayden decided to study ‘Introduction to English’ as one of his Open University subjects – this proved to be his most difficult subject so far!

Completing five subjects through Open Universities was hard work for Jayden, he only did one subject at a time, except for the last study period when he did two, but this still seemed to take a large part of his day (although we still managed to fit in plenty of homeschool camps!). One thing that he found quite hard was that there was no break between subjects, he would finish one subject on Friday and start the next one on Monday, so he was really ready for a break by the time he finished. However, it was certainly preferable to the hard slog that we see so many year 12 students doing, and the advantage is that he has already completed the first semester of his degree.

When Jayden applied for the courses, he just filled out the regular application form. He didn’t say anything about his homeschooling background on the form, relying solely on his University results. The offer from MacQuarie actually came before the results for his final two subjects had been released, so they have offered him the place based on the results of only three subjects.

For Jayden, and I’m sure for many other homeschoolers who wish to go to University, this is a great option – I am still amazed that it worked so well!

I hope that this will help other students to find a path that works for them too.

Wishing you all the best with your homeschooling journey,

Sharee Cordes

FYI the Open University website is comprehensive and easy to navigate, Cynthia x


12 September 2011

Book Review - The Value Tales Series

Hi Everyone,

I want to share with you a delightful series of books we have discovered recently. The series is called The Value Tales , written by Spencer Johnson M.D.

These books present a range of historical figures who display particular gifts. Some volumes are: The Value of Determination - Helen Keller, The Value of Believing in Yourself - Louis Pasteur, The Value of Understanding - Margaret Mead, and so on.

Besides the obvious effect of teaching history (Society and Environment), these books have opened up a valuable opportunity for discussions on topics such as gender equality (Fairness - Nellie Bly), honesty, protective behaviours (Truth and Trust - Conchise) in a relaxed, child friendly format.

Personally I believe in the necessity of deliberately discussing values with children. Not in forcing our own ideas and opinions down their throats, but in the gentle illumination of how our actions and assumptions may affect others within our immediate circle and in a wider, global sense.

Tolerance for others and an ability to see beyond our own situation can be very empowering and can be a lesson learned hard if not nurtured carefully in childhood.

The series is inexpensive to buy online as it was written in the 1970's. I find the retro illustrations charming, and is hardcover A4 size. The language is simple and engaging, and each volume has an imaginary character who conveys extra information to the reader without lecturing..very cleverly done.

If you would like to buy the series, click on the link above, or visit Australian Used Homeschool Books for your copy (last time I checked they had some available).

Talk Soon, Cynthia x