Tuesday, October 28, 2014

Minecraft Saves My Homeschooling Day

Kirsten is a homeschooling mom and administrator of the PACT homeschooling academy of Natomas Charter School. She loves all things education. Questions about homeschooling? Email her at kspall@natomascharter.org.

One of the questions I get all the time about homeschooling is, “How can you teach your own kid? Just doing homework at night is a fight at my house!” Monday I had one of "those mornings" that made me ask myself the same question. Assignments that usually take ten minutes were taking an hour due to the complaining, whining, and multiple bathroom breaks.

When I whipped out the first and third person posters that I planned on using in the next lesson, I almost slid them back into the binder. I was not looking forward to any more complaining and I was 99% sure that a lesson on a literary term would bring complaints.

Determined I hung them up on the wall and called the kiddo over. “We are going to talk about different ways to tell a story. In one way, we tell the story from the character’s point of view.....” I finished the explanation and we read two passages that used the same events, but told them from different point of views. The idea of first and third person limited point of view still seemed to mystify him.

When I did see the light bulb click on, it was not due to my great teaching or carefully selected mentor texts. It was due to Minecraft. “Ohhhhhhh....Mom, you mean it is like Minecraft? You know like when you are in first person you are, like, in his head. You see what he sees?”

I stayed quiet, stunned. In disbelief.

“Mom, then in third person, you are outside of the person...like...well...stand up.” I stood up and he stood in front of me. “See mom, like you see me now? You see what is going on, but you’re not in my head? You don’t see it happening like I do....you see it from your eyes”.

“Show me.” was all I could get out. Sure enough, he logged into Minecraft and showed me the difference between playing in first and third person. “Who taught you this?”

“Uh...I don’t know. Zack or something. I don’t remember.”

The lesson was over. Only, I don’t think I really taught him a new literary term. Apparently, Zack and Minecraft already did that and now my job is to find out how First and Third Person operate in Minecraft!

Friday, September 26, 2014

Online Hangouts With Authors? Yep, We Do That.

When my colleagues write about the things that they do on their campuses, I am never sure if they will work in my homeschool program. After all, they have a captive audience. They can prepare the kids by asking them to read the author’s books or brainstorming good questions for the author before the skype begins. Would an author even be interested in skyping with us?
Doubts and questions plagued me, but I pushed forward. I succeeded in connecting with two authors and our parent group generously fulfilled my request for funds to purchase books by the authors. I arrived, and started to set up. I had never skyped before. Luckily, two middle students were
there and were kind enough to teach me how to set up a skype session and call another person. I found out that they do it all the time.

As kids slowly trickled in I could not help but notice one boy carrying a Gannon and Wyatt Book and I discovered that another student came prepared with questions for the Sara 
Albee. In fact, he had a full list of them. Doubts flew away as we greeted our first author, Sara Albee. Her gracious attitude and funny stories instantly won the kids over. “Why would you write about poop?” One student asked. “Well, I was studying history and I wondered where Knights go?! Haven’t you ever wondered that? what do you think?” Small giggles rippled through the room. 
“They just rust inside." 
“They have several cloths that they take out after they go.” More giggles. The giggle fest continued as she told us a story of her little boy flushing bouncy balls down the toilet. After turning on her treadmill and showing us how she walks and works all day, we bid farewell.

The second skype was even more interesting.This time we used Google Hangout. This was new to the author, so before the event, I sent him tutorial videos and met on Google Hangout the day before.

Keith Hemstreet writes about two homeschooled children as they go on adventures all over the world. As our students introduced themselves it became apparent that one of them had been waiting to speak to Keith. “My name is Silas, and I am a big fan.” A smile spread of ear to ear and he held Keith’s book up to the computer camera. The audience was full of good questions,
“What inspires you to write?”
“Was the part when they found it under his bed real or fake?”
“How old are the boys now? Do they ever present with you?
“What books do you like to read?”
“Do you know any famous authors?”

Finally, one of our students had a comment. “I have lots of idea for you!” He stated confidently. Keith graciously asked him to share. “I think that you should write about adventures of lots of kids, like us.”

Today we received a package from Keith. It is full of folders, pens, journals, and a copy of their new book. I can not wait to pull aside his "big fan" and share the goodies!

I shouldn’t have been nervous about the kids and questions. Even the students who wandered in, not knowing what was going on ended up engaged and talking to the author. Homeschoolers are often marginalized and finding a story about “us” can be difficult. On this night, we heard about an author who was inspired by a homeschooling family. Our students’ curiosity and guts led them to experience a conversation about inspiration, purpose, and poop. Yep, poop. And it was super fun.

Tuesday, April 15, 2014

One Mom's Reflection on SBAC Testing: The Good and The Bad

Thumbs up to...

  • losing the good ‘ole fill in the bubbles. Instead, students were required to use their critical thinking and writing skills to develop well thought out answers.To do this they need to know academic vocabulary such as “evidence” and “text”.
  • evaluating an understanding of math and it's real life applications. After all, the purpose of math is to use it in real life right?I have a suspicion that this is not news to the homeschooling community! Most parent teachers I know teach math and real world applications on a daily basis as part of life.Recently, we were putting in a new deck and as my husband and son measured out the perimeter and figured out how much concrete to buy, I smugly checked off “math” for the day.
  • moving the test online.This was the part that made the adults nervous! Would the internet work? Would we be able to get all students logged on? When students were asked to highlight the text or scroll through the reading materials, they either already knew how or quickly caught on.For students who have limited experience on the computer, this year served as a great training opportunity for them with limited risk since test scores will not be released.
  • the opportunity to use the online environment to take a test is one that our students will experience again. Many businesses only accept online applications. Most job related and tests for educational institutions will be computerized. SBAC provides a safe place for them to practice online test taking. For students with test anxiety, testing presents the opportunity for us to help students manage their anxiety and develop strategies to cope in testing environments
    Some parents have expressed concern that the computer was somehow recording their student or gathering data. This is false. The computers were not recording students. Unfortunately, this scare tactic only serves to confuse and worry parents needlessly.
Thumbs Down To...

  • anybody who thinks the results matter more than the student. Students are whole people with emotions, artistic abilities, hopes, and skills that can not be measured by a test. Tests are one part of the picture, not the whole picture!

Sunday, March 9, 2014

A Student's Love of Reading

By Brittany Dorr

Are you interested in helping your child develop a natural love for reading?  One of our 7th grade students can be found with many books in her hands. This school year she has checked out 68 books and loves to read! Her reading choices have expanded to more higher-leveled choices so I wanted to pick her brain as to what has made her branch out in her reading and how she would encourage other readers to do the same.  Below is how she described this developing love!

003.JPGMy first books I remember reading are Jigsaw mysteries and Bailey Kids (2nd-4th grade reading) and I liked them because they are mysterious and have weird characters.  After that, I got into the Magic Tree House series because of the time travel, going back in time and saving the day.  My favorite Magic Tree House book was when they met Leonardo Davinci because he was creative and didn’t let his past of having his Dad not there for him get in the way of his future (a challenging lesson for us all).
I currently read various books that have interested me- Fantasy book, poetry, Vampire chapter books, Study of short stories, biographies and Historical Fiction.  I have recently checked out a book on Socrates but the information was too detailed and it seemed like homework.

I recommend to new or reluctant readers to look for books that have to do with the hobbies that they like.  Also look for books with characters that they can relate with.  For me, I relate with the characters like myself, who didn't fit in with the crowd.  These kinds of characters shut out their differences by writing in the diary or creating a space to read.

I appreciate reading for the imagination of what the author writes about.  Through reading I can understand some of my friends by reading about characters similar to them in books.  

Please comment below and tell us how YOU developed a love for reading!

Thursday, March 6, 2014

Start A Co-Op? Who Me?

Co-Ops don’t have to be time consuming or control your weekly lesson plan.  Co-Oping does not mean you have to do an entire unit with other families or become a teacher. You can Co-Op in a way that benefits your student and work with your home school life!

I. Work with a small group.
Choose families that you already know and feel comfortable with. Maybe a family that you sit with in the Great Hall while your kids are in a workshop or someone you sit with at the park while the kids play. II. Work Together on a Small Unit Pick a topic or unit that you are already planning on doing this year. Share what your plan is, what your learning goals are. What do you want your student to get out of it? Share your ideas and resources. III. Pick a small part of the unit to do together and a day to do it. This will allow each family to attack the subject matter in their own way and work the group lesson and plan into their own family's schedule. For science, you may do the lab together, but each family can address the other parts of the unit in their own way and in their own time.
VII. Share your success and challenges! We would love to hear about any families who choose to co-op, let your adviser know how it is going!
IV. To avoid frustration make sure every participant has a responsibility role. For example: those that do not like to lead teach could supervise siblings, make a treat, host the event or sponsor purchasing materials.  V.  Establish clear boundaries in the beginning. If it is in your home and you need everyone to depart by a specific time then state that upfront and adhere to with a gentle reminder if it is disregarded.  VI. Trade co-op roles with others. For example: your a math wiz and another interested co-op parent loves science. You can head up the math and they can take over science.

Friday, February 28, 2014

6th Grade P.A.C.T. Students Discover the Art of Computer Science

photo (6).JPG
By Peggy Chapman

Most people think of computer programmers as people who sit alone at their computers all day.  As our sixth grade students are learning, the art of computer science is much more engaging and collaborative.  

Sixth Grade Students enrolled in the Technology 6 Course at P.A.C.T. are gaining a clear understanding of what computer science is and how it can be helpful in their lives.

On Tuesday, February 25th, students began to learn about bits, bytes, and nibbles as they were exposed to vocabulary unique to computer science.  They began to learn how computers read and store data. It has been said, “the best computer scientists understand what it’s like to “be” a computer.” After students learned these pieces of vocabulary, they were handed a  Binary Decoder Key and taught the method a computer uses to store data.  

Computers format everything as some representation of on and off. The students figured out the binary key and encoded their initials on a 4 X 4 binary grid.  Once they were comfortable on the grid, they encoded their own “secret message” which was shared with classmates to decode. P.A.C.T. Students began to understand what it’s like to “be” a computer.

Even if you are not a computer programmer, your students can be. Lessons that teach your student how to code are available for free on http://code.org/learn.

Sunday, February 16, 2014

Sharing What You're Reading!

Writing Reviews for a Real Audience
Kirsten Spall and Sam O.
Last week, I became aware of the fact that several of our students are writing online reviews. This intrigued me. I am always curious about how our families are using writing in real life. What better way to explore a novel than to review it for an audience of your peers? Below is an online interview that was conducted on a Google Doc.If you would like to create your own book reviews, game reviews, or video reviews you may also submit a review to PACT's very own Review Blog called "PACT Kids Know What Rocks".
Kirsten: How did you get into writing reviews for Scholastic?
Sam: I read a lot of books and my mom wanted to find a new way to teach literature.

Kirsten: How do you choose novels that you read?
Sam: I read the summary on the back of a book. If It sounds interesting, I check it out. If I like the book and it's in a series, I read the series and do a review on my favorites.

Kirsten: What is your writing process? Do you just sit down and write, do you brainstorm? Who edits your work (if anybody!)?
Sam: I guess I just sit down and start writing. When I finish it, I make edits and revisions, and then share it with my mom who makes sure it’s ready to publish.

Kirsten: Do all of your reviews get published?
Sam: So far, I have only done two, and both are published, so yes, they all get published.

Kirsten: Do you read reviews? Why.why not?
Sam: No, I just read the summary on the back of the book. My mom is the one who reads book reviews.

Kirsten: Do you have any advice for PACT students who want to write reviews?
Sam: There is a walk through at scholastic about writing book reviews which I found very useful. It helps a lot, and after reading it I knew what to do and what not to do.

Do you want to write your own reviews for Scholastic? Read this website for tips!

Thursday, February 13, 2014

Music, Movement, and Math

One of the best parts of working at PACT is being able to hear the small stories of success that get passed from Adviser to Adviser. They are evidence of our family's creativity, our parent teacher's hard work, and the growth we see in students everyday.

Last week, Mrs. Valdovinos shared the story of a young guitar player. Like most new guitar players, he did not put his fingers on the strings in the correct positions. Once he learned that placing his fingers in the correct position alters the pitch of the string’s sound, he took off! He could hardly stop playing. He learned to play songs on his own, far beyond what was taught in class.

His success and growing love for playing guitar was exciting for everyone to see, but what took place in the adviser meeting reinforced the idea that linking the arts or using physical movement has an impact on student learning (see “Stimulating Heads and Hearts with the Arts” from the February PACT newsletter here). During the meeting his Adviser asked him about his multiplication tables, something that he has had trouble with.  Instead of making him put down his guitar, his Adviser asked him multiplication problems while he played. The answers seemed to come easier while the student played, the change was unmistakable.

This reminded Ms. Kirsten of her own experience learning  multiplication tables.She was plagued by poor memorization skills. It was not until fourth grade when she started swimming laps in the pool that she finally learned them. To keep her mind busy, she recited them in her head as she swam lap after lap. Something about the rhythmic, physical movement of swimming and the quiet of the underwater world  proved successful.

Another first grade student found skip counting difficult to master until one day out of frustration by an active boy wiggling in his seat, his mom put him on their trampoline and told him to count. He struggled at first, but the normal frustration never came, his body and brain seemed too busy with the jumping and thinking to become angry. Besides, it wasn’t really math, right? He was on the trampoline.

There is research on play, music, physical activity, and learning. However, what these stories show is the power that we have as homeschooling families to explore and implement learning strategies on a daily basis that fit our individual kids.

Sunday, February 9, 2014

Ms. Assante Takes Two Airplanes to the Head

All the materials needed for a fun day of Math and Science!
Helping students enjoy learning math and physics also means using real life models. 

Question: How many times can a middle school class of scientists calculate Speed=Distance x time without planning a revolt against their teacher? 

Answer: As many times as you want them to, if let them throw paper airplanes and chew gum. Last week we completed two labs: Bubble Gum Physics where students completed a Chomper Challenge and Speedy Chompers (how many times can you chomp a piece of gum in one minute?) and a Paper Airplanes Design Challenge, where students design paper airplanes that can either cover the greatest distance or attain the greatest speed.  
We used the scientific process to complete our challenges paying close attention to our independent and dependent variables (don’t forget the control!) We completed no less than 40 math calculations (not including measurement, mass calculations, and time).
This time laughter and joy replaced the usual moans, groans, and  tears that can sometimes accompany multi-step math and science projects. This year, I only took two airplanes to the head! Real life experiences and fun can go together and enhance the curriculum at home or in the classroom.

Extensions and Variations: