Wednesday, January 28, 2015

Outsourcing High School Math on a Shoe String

I admit it.  My 9th grader has switched Algebra 1 programs twice this school year.  Why, oh why, is it so hard to find a solid math program that I can teach well?  If I were a mathematician, maybe that would help?  Or if he was particularly mathy (he’s definitely not), that would help. 

Outsourcing High School Math on a Shoe String @Homeschooling Hearts & MindsBut alas, I am who I am and he is who he is.

David started in September using Discovering Algebra, because it had been recommended to me for its exploratory qualities (he is a creative soul).  This text proved to be:

  • too slick (hip pictures that have nothing to do with the actual text and so distract my easily distractible boy---he was too busy smirking)
  • too dependent upon graphing calculators
  • too little math (really, even my math hater said so)

So we switched to an old Algebra 1 text from Dolciani.  Now, when I first introduced my son to this serious looking, dense text…I worried he would run away.  But he actually kinda liked it.  It didn’t have any distracting nonsense in it---it was simply a math book.  It was a nice change from the previous text and he grooved on that.  My husband, who has taught some math to college students, gave it a thumbs up, so we went forward.

We stuck with Dolciani for a few months (right up until Christmas) and were making ok progress, but here’s the thing---I can’t get a teacher’s edition for this book.  I tried, but it’s old and the TEs come at a premium (a high premium) and are hard to find. 

The book does have answers to the odd problems in the back, but no solutions.  That’s ok, because I can work the problems myself.

As we got deeper into the text, my son was able to do less and less independent study for the lessons, which was also ok, because I can teach from the book.

But then I was finding that even with me explaining it to him, he wasn’t getting it.  He became discouraged.  He did poorly on the next test, so we went back and reviewed.  And reviewed.

I started pulling my hair out.  It was taking too much of my time and energy to teach this one subject to one child and he seemed to have hit a brick wall that he couldn’t climb over. 

That’s not to say that my oldest child doesn’t deserve as much of my time as he needs.  He does.

But the reality is that there is only one of me and I have four kids and they all need to learn math and other things.  Those other three kids are no less deserving of my time.

And we weren’t getting through the course.  He was good and stuck.

Then a little light bulb went on.  What if the problem is not really the text or the material, but the limited way in which I am presenting it to him? 

We live in the new millennium, y’all. 

We aren’t limited to chalk, dry erase markers, and red pens.  We aren’t even limited to physical manipulatives (although physical manipulatives are wonderful). 

We have technology at our fingertips.  Someone can produce a dynamic video online that actually interacts with the student.  They can create a system that automatically grades the student’s work and gives them instant feedback (so the poor kid doesn’t have to wait until mom has time to grade the problem set).

And so, after talking it over with my husband, I decided I needed to outsource this subject---it’s been awesome!

Let me step back a minute…

As I said, we were at midyear and I had already tried two different math programs with this kid. 

My homeschool budget was spent.

I COULD NOT spend a couple hundred dollars (or more) on a live online course.  Even if I could have, many of the year-long courses started back in September and used a different text/sequence than what he had done so far, so he couldn’t jump in midstream.

I really couldn’t afford over $100 for Teaching Textbooks or one of the other self-paced cd-rom or online options.  After already having two programs fail on me, I couldn’t take that big of a gamble, anyway.

I was also a bit leery of using an expensive video-based program, because I have tried a couple with him in the past and the fit had been…well, not great.

So I started looking at free options.

I was feeling desperate.  I looked at a lot possibilities, including Khan Academy and videos that had been put together by teachers for their classes.  None of these was quite what I was looking for (he does use Khan for other things, including Java programming).

We settled on using the Saxon Algebra 1 course on Virtual Homeschool Group.

VHSG algebra 1 screenshot

I purchased a used copy of the text on Amazon, but the actual work is done online.  We can refer to the text for extra practice or for review.

There are video presentations of the lessons, some have an interactive element to them.  The problem sets are completed online and instantly graded.  There’s a test after every 4 lessons. 

The site keeps records of what has been completed and grades.  There’s a checklist that shows my son what he has finished.  You can even contact them for more help if you get stuck on a lesson---VHSG is dedicated to help homeschoolers.  How cool is that?

I do nothing except keep tabs on whether or not he’s completed the lessons and how he’s doing, but he can always come to me if he has problems.

This has been great for both of us

He is able to do his math independently and on his own schedule (he doesn’t have to wait for me to be free).  He doesn’t have to wait for me to grade his work.

I don’t have to tell him that he flunked a test (so far he’s getting As on VHSG, but if he ever flubs it, the computer can tell him that, I don’t need to break the news).

Either one of us can go in and see exactly what he got wrong on a test and why.  It even gives partial credit on some things (one minor quibble we have is that sometimes this is inconsistent---on a test he just took he got one wrong when he left the units out of his answer, but partial credit on another where he did the same thing).

Using this site has removed the frustration and I think it is helping to preserve our relationship.  Not bad for a free resource.

Of course, he’s only completed the first 3 weeks (which is mainly review for him), but I foresee us continuing to use this site for high school math and possibly for science also next year if he continues to do well with it.  They offer some live courses as well.

So, while outsourcing in many cases may not be affordable, this is one high quality possibility that will fit a shoe string homeschool budget.  Give it a try if you are struggling in the high school math department.

Have you ever made a midyear math switch in your homeschool?

Monday, January 26, 2015

The Art of Organization… or How Clutter Almost Ruined My Homeschool!

Welcome to week 4 of the Virtual Curriculum Fair!  Today we are talking about:

Seeking Beauty: the Arts and Everything that Brings Beauty to Our World---includes any of the arts, handicrafts, but really ANYTHING at all that adds beauty to your homeschool.

How Clutter Almost RUINED My Homeschool @Homeschooling Hearts & MindsMy co-host this week is Lisa @ Golden Grasses and we have 13 other homeschool bloggers joining us.  If you’d like to join the conversation, use the linky at the bottom of this post to link up your own posts pertaining to Seeking Beauty in your homeschool.

When I invented week 4 of the VCF as a way for families to talk about the beautiful things, whether that be the fine arts, religious studies, or really whatever brings beauty and joy into their homeschools, I made it open-ended and flexible for a reason.

Real life doesn’t fit in a box. 

Right now, what is bringing beauty, joy, and PEACE into my homeschool is the lack of clutter.

It is freeing my mind and spirit of a lot of unnecessary conflict.

At the beginning of this school year, we set up a “school room” for the first time in our home.

I had resisted that for a long time because I didn’t want to recreate school at home. 

But school was exploding all over my house.  And while learning everywhere is a good thing, having to clear books and art projects off the counter every time I wanted to prepare a meal was a drag.   Tripping over projects and books was not pleasant, either.

So we set up a school-room-slash-library-slash-office.  And for a while this was a good thing.  It gave the kids a place to put their school work when they were done with it so that I didn’t have to deal with it every. minute. of. every. day.  There was peace.

The walls were lined with 6-foot high book shelves with most of our educational resources.  Desktop computer. We have all our school supplies.  Maps.  It was a good thing.

Until the school room became a pit.

It became a dumping ground for every new school book, every considered curriculum, every catalog, every book I might assign to my high schooler.  At some point.  In the next few years.

It was a mess.  Fortunately, this is an old house and that particular room has pocket doors, so I could shut the doors and not look at it when we weren’t doing school.

But it was getting so I was avoiding doing school in there.  And it was hard to do school elsewhere because all our stuff was in there.

It wasn’t just the mess.

My mind was plagued with unrest.  I kept second-guessing my plans and what we were doing each day.

I would look around and see all these wonderful things we could be doing, but weren’t (at least not at this moment).

I had Chronic Grass is Always Greener Syndrome.

What I was actually doing seemed so…well, SMALL.

There’s a reality that I think every homeschooler has to eventually accept:  We can’t do ALL the good things.

There isn’t enough time.  If we did try to do them all, we probably wouldn’t do any of them really well and we’d spend a lot of energy hopping and skipping from one thing to another.

If we’re really honest with ourselves, we can realistically only do a small fraction of the good stuff---and each year we can only do a small fraction of that fraction.

For every educational path I choose for my kids, there are thousands I’m saying “NO” to.

And that path is made up of a myriad of individual possibilities that I have fit together for a cohesive whole.

For every math book I choose to use with a particular child, there are dozens others that I am saying “NO” to.

For every language arts program I choose, there are dozens more that I am saying “NO” to.

For every library book I choose as a part of our history studies, there are dozens more that I am saying “NO” to.

Now, it is true that many of these resources I would not choose anyway for a number of reasons:

  • Don’t fit my philosophy of education
  • Anti-Catholic
  • Too expensive
  • Would drive my child right up a wall
  • Would drive me right up a wall…

You get the idea.  I can narrow down the choices some, but typically for any given year (with 4 very different kids to educate) there is still lots to choose from…and many of those choices are already gracing my homeschool bookshelves. 

That’s the beauty (and curse) of a robust homeschool market and a homeschool mom who is been a reviewer for a number of years. 

Trying new stuff is fun and exciting…but always trying new things can ruin your focus.

I would look around my school room.  Every day.  And see all the great (wonderful!) things I wasn’t doing with my kids right this minute.

And it wrecked my focus.

So we reinvented our school room. 

We moved those high shelves into our upstairs hallway.  We put low, inexpensive bookcases into the school room---this is important because part of the reason I didn’t do this sooner was the expense of buying sturdy, wooden bookcases.

New home for books we are not currently using

We moved out ALL the books we aren’t using this school year upstairs or onto some other bookshelves we have in a downstairs hallway.  My husband helped me cart and sort of these books---he said, “Wow, you have a lot of cool stuff!”

And this is key---I have a bad memory.  I forget stuff.  I forget things that aren’t in front of me.  Making lists is not good enough.  I need to see it. 

My mind likes to work on possibilities for next year or the year after that.  And I do want the option of pulling something I have if we are doing a unit study and the topic comes up.

So packing up my books into boxes was a no go.  Period. 

So this was my solution:  having the books available if needed, but not in my face all the time.

School room picture 1

Even the encyclopedia and other reference books are upstairs.  The kids can go up there to look something up or I can browse those shelves if I’m looking for something in particular.

schoolroom picture 2

All our math manipulatives are now easy to reach. 

Art supplies are there for the taking.

schoolroom picture 3

That table is huge when opened fully and it used to be at its full-size so we could accommodate the world and US maps I had on it because I didn’t have ANY wall space due to the high shelves.  There was a clear vinyl table cloth over them to keep them in place and clean.

The trouble was, the kids would have all their school stuff on top of the table, so we would have to move stuff. every. time. we wanted to look at the maps.

And the clear vinyl would wrinkle and get in the way.

Now the maps are on the wall where every can refer to them.  There’s a whiteboard between them.

Love Command picture hangers by 3M---they are perfect for plaster walls, y’all (tape will not stick to my walls), and perfect for hanging lightweight things like maps and whiteboards.

What you don’t see:  my high schooler’s desk at the lower left corner of that first picture and a desk with our desktop computer in the lower right corner.  There’s also a highboy in there that needs to be cleaned out (ahem), but it has paper, more art supplies, and computer/printer supplies.

Because the bookcases are lightweight, this forced me to NOT overload them. 

I’m a gal who thinks that if a few books is great, a few hundred is even better.  I had to whittle down to what I really needed to have at the ready, but I didn’t have to actually give up anything---if I didn’t want to, I am going to be giving away some books to those who need them.

We do plan to add some pictures and artwork to the wall, and some nicer window coverings.

Our “new” school room is new and untested.  But, I already feel great about it.  My 11-year-old daughter was seen jumping up and down in it this morning, because…happy!

What is making you happy in your homeschool?

Now, take a few minutes to visit my friends as they Seek Beauty in home education:

The Shadow of Divine Perfection by Lisa @ Golden Grasses

Relaxed Homeschooling: Fine Arts in the Early Elementary Years by Brittney @ Mom's Heart

Fine Arts {Art Appreciation, Art, Composer Study Hymn Study} for 2015 by Chareen @ Every Bed of Roses

Adding Sparkle to Home Education by Sarah @ Delivering Grace

And All the Extras by Christy @ Unexpected Homeschool

Teaching Art Using the Bible by Tauna @ Proverbial Homemaker

Art In Every Subject by Kym @ Homeschool Coffee Break

Letting Art Just Happen in Homeschool by Amy @ One Blessed Mamma

Missing Art? by Kristen H. @ Sunrise to Sunset

Do YOU Have Time for Extracurriculars? by Michele@ Family, Faith and Fridays

Fine Arts in Our Classical / Charlotte Mason Homeschool by Sharra @ The Homeschool Marm

The Science of Beauty for a Delight-Directed Daughter by Susan @ The Every Day of Education

Seeking Beauty: How we Tackle the Arts in our Homeschool by Joelle @ Homeschooling for His Glory

Learning To Appreciate Beauty With Fine Arts Resources@ As We Walk Along the Road by Leah@ As We Walk Along the Road

Friday, January 23, 2015

The Virtual Curriculum Fair is Coming to a Close…

The topic for our final week of the 2015 Virtual Curriculum Fair (VCF) will be:

2015 week 3 button-001Seeking Beauty: the Arts and Everything that Brings Beauty to Our World---includes any of the arts, handicrafts, but really ANYTHING at all that adds beauty to your homeschool.

I hope you’ll join me and my blogger friends as we talk about the beauty of learning on Monday, January 26th.

You can see previous editions of week 4 here:

2014 VCF:  44 Awesome Free Resources to Study Art & Music

2013 VCF:  37 Free Online Art and Music Resources

2012 VCF:  The Art of Exploration

The past 4 years have been great, but this is the last year that I’ll be hosting the VCF at Homeschooling Hearts & Minds. 

If you are a blogger and may be interested in hosting this month-long event next year, please message me through my FB page.