Friday, September 19, 2014

Is Knowing Obsolete?

I drive literally hours to and from work each week and I find that audio books and podcasts make it not just bearable, but actually enjoyable. A couple of weeks ago, I listened to a Ted Talk Radio Hour called, “Unstoppable Learning.” It was unbelievably fascinating. You have to listen to it yourself, but in essence, the message was that children don’t always need teachers; they need people to not get in the way of learning. Facilitators, if you will.

Sugata Mitra, a professor of educational technology at the University of Newcastle in England, performed a very interesting experiment. He took computers and put them in walls in poor villages in India. The children had never seen computers, never used computers, didn’t have running water and very limited electricity. Their schools were crowded and limiting in what they could teach. The children didn’t speak English and didn’t know what the Internet was.

He put these kiosks in the walls and walked away. There were no teachers there for the children to rely on and no one to help. But they somehow managed to use the mouse (there was no keyboard) and open Paint and Word. Then they found the Word character map and started typing things in mere hours. He did this in an even more remote village and came back after a couple of months to find that the children were playing games on it. In English, they told him they wanted a faster processor and a better mouse. He asked how they knew all this and they said in sort of an irritated tone, “You’ve given us a machine that works only in English, so we had to teach ourselves English in order to use it.”

After doing this in several villages, he determined that in nine months, a group of children left alone with a computer in any language would reach the same standard as an office secretary in the western countries. He decided to try an experiment that was bound to fail. His new question (the answer was obviously NO) was, “Can 12-year-old Tamil speaking children in a village in southern India teach themselves the biotechnology of DNA replication in English 10 years ahead of their time, clustering around a roadside computer?"

He brought a computer to the village and it was all in English with diagrams in chemistry. He left the children for two months with zero answers (they asked and he said, “I don’t know.”). He came back and asked them what they thought and they said, “We’ve understood nothing.” He asked them how long it took them before they decided they couldn’t understand anything. “We haven’t given up. We look at it every single day… [but] apart from the fact that improper replication of the DNA molecule causes disease, we haven’t understood anything else.” In English.

It was fascinating to listen to. There is more from other educational thought leaders in this episode, too, but the last segment is also from Sugata Mitra. I loved this part:

If you look at present-day schooling the way it is, it's quite easy to figure out where it came from. It came from about 300 years ago. Imagine trying to run the show, trying to run the entire planet without computers, without telephones, with data hand written on pieces of paper, and traveling by ships. But the Victorians actually did it. What they did was amazing. They created a global computer made up of people. It's still with us today. It's called the bureaucratic administrative machine. In order to have that machine running, you need lots and lots of people. They made another machine to produce those people, the school. The schools would produce the people, who would then become parts of the bureaucratic administrative machine. They must have good handwriting because the data is handwritten, they must be able to read, and they must be able to do multiplication, division, addition, and subtraction in their head. 

...It's quite fashionable to say that the education system's broken. It's not broken, it's wonderfully constructed. It's just that we don't need it anymore. It's outdated. What's the kind of jobs that we have today? Well, the clerks are the computers. They're there in thousands in every office. And you have people who guide those computers to do their clerical jobs. Those people don't need to be able to write beautifully by hand, they don't need to be able to multiply numbers in their heads, they do need to be able to read. In fact, they need to be able to read discerningly.  

…Is knowing obsolete? We are in an age where knowing is not a big deal. And therefore, the current assessment system of examinations is ridiculous because it relies on the old Victorian concept of knowledge being resident inside the human brain, in a form such that it is reproducible at a moment's notice. But our children are not growing up in that age. They are growing up in an age where everything that humanity has ever known is inside their pockets. And we're telling them, no, don't keep staring at your mobile phone all the time and, you know, don't huddle up with your computer all the time. Read a book. I don't know if we are doing the right thing.

Tuesday, September 16, 2014

New Website

A few weeks ago I took an online class about blogging via Hack Genealogy. It really sparked me to do something I’ve been only contemplating for over a year. REDO MY WEBSITE. Not really the website, but the structure and organization. I still have a ton to do, but here is what you will now find…

If you visit my usual home page (, you will get to my main site, which now actually leads somewhere! All my blogs and information are drilled off of that. This has helped me so much, as I didn’t have a ground before. I had my family webpage and my genealogy one and then wanted to do a homeschool one, as well. But it was disjointed and made me not want to do any of it.

So now you can visit and get to my family blog (, my genealogy blog (, and to my homeschool blog ( In doing this, I’ve also changed the structure of the sidebars and other items. I think it’s much nicer and easier to work with. And easier to write on, as well! So expect some posts.


Sunday, September 7, 2014

How Do We Know Our Kids Are Getting a Good Education?

One of the first questions we hear from non-homeschoolers is how we can be sure our kids are getting a good education.  

For us, it's because of what THIS post shows, that's how.  We research, plan, and then throw away the plan and move on to something else if it doesn't work. Some families don't follow state standards (or common core standards), we try to in general, as I want to always be sure that if something happens and they HAVE to go to school, they will step right in with their grade.  But that isn't a requirement of homeschooling.  As far as I'm concerned about homeschooling, the only rule is that you do what works for you and leave others to what works for them.  

Here is this year's plan (subject to change at a moment's notice or no notice at all, really, because we can).

I am trying out an app for the iPad this year to organize the lessons and then print weekly lessons.  It still needs massaging, but so far, rather than an entire Friday night to work, I seem to have been able to do this week’s in under an hour!  WOO HOO!  The app is called Homeschool Helper. 

Without further ado, here is the Mascot Manor Academy curriculum for this year (for now):

Math- Both kids are using an online math curriculum called Aleks Math.  Signa’s used it for a few years now and it keeps her moving, but stops her when she needs extra help.  This is Will’s first year with it, as they start with 3rd grade.  He’s doing great on it, as long as he reads the directions and doesn’t just guess what the QUESTION is…

Literature- Each kid is going to have assigned reading and we are going to start a book that I read aloud at night before bed.  We’ve done that before and I love it because we have a book in common, but I go to bed earlier than they do, so it makes it hard to remember to do!  SIgna’s starting with Huck Finn and Will with Charlotte’s Web.  Charlotte’s Web is way young for him, but I still think he’ll like it and he’s helping  me do an evaluation of a literature program called Novel Thinking.  So we wanted to start very easy.  We are also doing a Shakespeare project in 4-H with crafts and we’ll learn some of Shakespeare’s works, as well.  For grammar, Signa is reading Elements of Style and Will is doing Grammar Minutes.  Later as things calm, we’ll go back to Warriner’s for both of them.  For vocabulary, we have Words and Their Stories, an online program for Signa and some workbooks for Will.  We need to get to spelling for Will, too, but I honestly hate all spelling curriculum I’ve tried. I may just have him write more and see if it helps.  He seems to learn from his mistakes better than just writing the same boring words over and over again, as the curriculum seem to do.

Writing- With the friends, the kids are in a writing program called Druidawn.  The rules are far too complicated for me to understand, but they seem to enjoy it and I’m super thankful for other mom’s getting it and helping mine!  They also write essays and prepare reports throughout the year.  This week Will is going to write a report on how to brush your dog’s teeth.  We will then turn it into a presentation he can give for 4-H.  I don’t know what Signa’s first will be this year.  She’s really having a good time creating videos for the  YouTube channel she and her friend created for making loom band charms.  I may ask her to turn that into a how-to.  We’ll see. 

Social Studies- Homeschool Minecraft has a class this first session on poverty.  The kids will learn about world poverty and then work in groups to find solutions via their Minecraft worlds.  We also participate in many social activities through 4-H, including community service and leadership activities.

History- We are doing US History this year and using Story of Us, Crash Course, and Adventure Tales of America.  And general movies and things we find along the way, including integrating our family history 4-H project meetings.

Science- Science is with our friend who teaches science for a number of children. We are using REAL Science Odyssey, Biology 2 and then each week, Jenny goes over it and does the labs with them.  This is so fun that the kids don’t even know this is school.  Shhhhhh.

Art- For art, we are doing Meet the Masters online series where we study an artist’s life and work and then have a craft around that.  The kids each also have a musical instrument they practice and have a lesson on- Signa is guitar and William is piano. 

PE- Both kids do karate 3 times a week.  In addition to this, Signa is in the 4-H archery project as a junior leader.

Computer Science- Signa is taking a 3D modeling and printing class and Will is taking a game design class.   They will start these classes this week.

Field Trips- There are a gazillion opportunities for field trips that we will also try to take advantage of this year.  As usual!

Other- Things like home management, time management, project management.  There are also a gazillion other things we do that I should list here, but can't think of.  So I'll leave Other open as a category.

Thursday, August 21, 2014

Science Isn't School

School doesn’t officially start until after Labor Day.  That said, the kids’ science class started this week, but they don’t actually know that science is school, since their science teacher makes it all fun.  We met Jenny when Signa was two and we joined the local homeschool group.   We were in a preschool group together and I think have been together at least once a week ever since. 

Jenny is a scientist and a few years ago started teaching all our kids science.  This year, she had to move it to two groups, which I know is a lot for her, but we are beyond thankful that after 9 or so years of weekly science classes, the kids still don’t know it’s school and think it’s just a fun time with their friend Jenny.

This year it’s biology and they began with cells.  They looked at yeast under a microscope and made it blow up balloons.

I’m working hard at doing some planning for the different subjects and am trying out a homeschool organizing app for the iPad.  When I finish the plan, I’ll share what we are doing for each subject.

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