Saturday, March 26, 2011

Classical Conversations- Pros and Cons

This semester we joined Classical Conversations. Ultimately for our family we decided that Classical Conversations would be a postive addition to our home school experience by providing a supportive home education community and by scheduling the survey topics of science and history so that I can focus on the mastery subjects of reading and math.

There are numerous reasons for and against joining Classical Conversations, but here are my top 6 reasons for and against joining a CC community.

6 Reasons to Join Classical Conversations

The Support Group- If having a group of people working on the same material helps you to stay on track, then CC may be for you. If having a group of people to support and encourage you while you all travel a very similar homeschool journey makes you feel more confident and comfortable, then CC may be for you. If you want to be able to ask questions of a veteran homeschooler who has BTDT with the exact material that you are wanting to teach, then CC may be for you. There are a number of if, then statements related to a support group that can be a real help to a homeschool family.

Schedule of Topics- If you have other things going on with older students and would like a schedule of topics for your younger just to remove some of that responsibility from plate, CC may be for you. If you are burned-out on hs and need a year to get yourself energized without losing ground academically, CC may be for you. If you have a family member with medical or other issues going on, etc and want your child to continue on a classical education path, but don't have the time to devote to planning and scheduling, then CC may be for you. If for any reason you would really like a schedule of topics to follow, then CC may be for you.

Inexpensive Tutorial- I keep hearing about the cost, but, when compared to other tutoring services like Kumon or Sylvan, a private tutor, or even the other mom taught tutorials in my area, $13 a week for Foundations is cheap- dirt cheap.

Motivational for the Child- A child can't complain that he is the only child in the world learning XYZ if every week he sees a whole group of kids learning the same material. Also, if you have a competitive child, he will really be motivated to know the material.

Presentations- Every week your child will have the opportunity to stand in front of a group and speak. This is a skill that is best learned young, so that the child doesn't develop an irrational fear of public speaking.

Classical Material for a wide range of learning styles and abilities- Unlike TWTM, CC is doable even for children with reading delays, lower IQ, and a myriad of other learning differences. Auditory learners will really enjoy all the songs and memory work chants. Kinesthetic learners will enjoy all the movement in the timeline song and the speed of the class with all the getting up and sitting down (sit and draw geography, up for science, up to front for presentation, down for snack, move around for arts). Visual learners have not only the material presented in class, but tons of printed material that they can read at home.

6 Reasons NOT to Join Classical Conversations

The Group- If having a group of people working on the same material causes you to continually compare yourself and/ or your child to other families in such a way that is detrimental to your or your child’s home education experience, then CC may not be for you.

Schedule of Topics- If you are the type of person who loves to design and schedule your own materials, then CC is going to be frustrating. At first this was one of the deal breakers for me. When CC first began in my area, I couldn’t fathom letting go of one of my favorite parts of hs in order to follow someone else’s schedule of topics. After all, couldn’t I do it better? Didn’t I have a better handle on what my child needed to learn and when? Isn’t this a huge factor in my decision to hs especially in the K-6th grade years- the same years as Foundations?

Tutorial, Cost vs Participation- Although I do not think of CC as expensive, for some people it can be a real turn-off to pay for tutoring that they (the parent) then must also attend. For me, I tend to think of CC material as being like Kumon and Suzuki violin. My little man does Kumon and violin, and I must be there with him. My involvement is crucial to the way these programs are designed. It is my role to continue with and build on what has been presented by the CC tutor, but I know that for many families the thought of needing to be at a program for which they have paid someone else to teach is a real deal breaker.

Upsetting for the Child- If you have a child who feels overwhelmed by the amount of material, the group setting, having an instructor other than you, or being in a classroom for several consecutive hours, then CC may not be the best option.

Memory Work Issues- Initially another deal breaker for me was the CC memory work. Most of my issues with the CC memory work fell into these 3 categories:
  1. Out of context- Unless they find it interesting or useful my children simply do not remember things learned out of context. They may as well memorize a list of random names from the phone book, because unless it is interesting, useful, or in context they will not remember it the day after they stop reciting it. When we started CC this semester, I knew that I was going to need to spend time at home doing further exploration of the material or resign myself to the fact that we were wasting our time.
  2. Choices of memory work- For example- Why in the world would a child need to skip count for 6 or 7 years unless they had no idea what they were saying therefore it was out of context and they didn’t remember it?!?! Also, for young children I find it more appropriate to memorize things like Mother Goose and other poetry that exposes them to a broad range of vocabulary and syntax.
  3. Accuracy of memory work- I am not a scientist or historian and looking at a few of these makes me scratch my head and feel the need to explain, alter, or add.
Classical Material- Unlike TWTM, CC is light classical. CC just doesn’t have the meat that you will find in other classical programs, particularly in 5th through 8th grade.

Friday, March 25, 2011

Thursday with Mei

On Thursday Mei, who just turned eleven (Happy B'day, Mei!), and I discussed operation words and 2-step word problems and together we finished two exams on Future School. I covered Saxon 65 lesson 92 and a Math Mammoth Division 2 lesson on divisibility. She completed 14 pages in Key to Fractions Book 1, reduced a page of 30 fractions, completed the practice section problems and 12 of the problem set problems from Saxon, finished the Math Mammoth divisibility pages, and read Sir Cumference and the Dragon of Pi.

We didn't sit down in one spot and do all of the math at once. It was broken up by other subjects and room changes, but I don't think that math took over an hour and a half. Of course, I don't know for sure, because I don't time it. Why would I? Math is fun! We have extra time this week, because Classical Conversations and our other activities are on spring break, so of course we used that time for extra math.

Mei began at 10 and we were through with school by 2. During those 4 hours she also did 2 pages in Megawords 1 and a spelling test, finished a lesson on suffixes through Future School, completed a Story of the USA reading comprehension lesson, reviewed 21 weeks worth of Classical Conversations memory work, chomped on a granola bar and two clementines while I talked, moved from the living room to the hearth room to the gameroom, and we hopped in the car and ran something to a friend's house.

I am always baffled when people complain about middle school math taking over an hour. I am baffled, because middle school math often/ typically takes that much time and because why would someone want to cut short such an interesting and foundational subject!

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Winter Quarter- Duncan

Are we there yet? I am ready to play with new curriculum! I admit it. I have had the winter blahs this quarter and have not been updating my blog regularly. However, we have been chugging away at our studies. So, a big thanks to Beth in SW WA for typing her Winter Quarter Wrap-Up and kicking me in the pants.

Duncan is wrapping up the winter quarter of second grade. He is terribly asynchronous in his subjects. His math ability is way ahead of his language arts. I have high hopes that sometime in the next year and a half he will suddenly decide that he likes books, because my mother has reminded me that while I read early I didn’t read for pleasure until somewhere between 9 and 10.

He is also asynchronous in development. Although he is academically ahead of his age-level peers, his emotional development is right at his age level and his motor skill development (both large muscle group and fine motor skills) may actually be below his age level. So, he may figure the tip on the dinner bill, duck down because the waiter embarrasses him, and then fall out of his chair because he has no sense of balance. He went from being a tiny middle schooler, to a normal second grader, to a giant preschooler in the span of a few minutes.

The biggest change for this quarter is that we started Classical Conversations!

Math: Duncan wrapped up Key to Algebra books 1 through 3 and the geometry section of The Complete Book of Algebra and Geometry.

This week we began Foerster’s Algebra with the Math without Borders lectures. About two weeks ago Duncan pulled it off the shelf and brought it to bed. After perusing it he informed me that he already knew everything in the first three chapters. While I think that he is familiar with the material, I want him to go through the lectures and problem sets in order to become familiar with the format and to work with the more challenging problems at the end of the sets.

He really wants the Teaching Textbooks Geometry that I have borrowed from a friend, but I am leaning towards Math-U-See Geometry first. (If I can just remember where I put the stinkin’ DVD set!) Patty Paper Geometry is out of the running, because his lack of fine motor skills would make it more frustrating than educational. However for now, while we get into a flow with Foerster’s, I am having him use Math Mammoth Geometry.

Last night I pulled out Jacob’s Mathematics: A Human Endeavor. Although I know I shouldn’t plan too far ahead, I really think that he will enjoy this book. Maybe, it can be a Friday/ Fun-day book next year.

Reading: Duncan can read. He just doesn’t like to sit still, quiet, and alone. Last night he was reading Percy Jackson on his Nook, but he has started that book before and not finished it.

Around Thanksgiving my extra student began using a reading comprehension book, so in February Duncan started Early Reading Comprehension in Varied Subject Matter Book D. I wanted to start him where he already had complete mastery of skills in order to just work on this type of answering the questions format. When he is finished with this, I plan to go directly into Reading Comprehension in Varied Subject Matter Book 1.

Writing: Duncan has a fabulous Classical Conversations tutor who has scheduled topics for presentations each week. I know that some of the other tutors/ groups/ classes are not as organized about or excited over the weekly presentations, but Duncan’s classmates are fabulous with this. So, our writing and typing this quarter has been built around Duncan’s presentations. I have used IEW with my older two children and in preparation for Duncan to go into Essentials next year I have been introducing him to some of the IEW material through his presentation work.

Grammar: Grammar this quarter has been very minimal. I have been writing sentences on the white board from the beginning of Practice Island for review, but this isn’t happening regularly. Where is the embarrassed emoticon? I hope to get back on the ball spring quarter. On the other hand, Duncan wanted to go back and learn the Classical Conversations English Grammar memory work from first semester, so he has had some grammar through that.

Spelling/ Word Study/ Phonics: In February we started Spelling Plus! This is the first spelling program that Duncan has used. He is also plugging along in MCP Plaid Word Study D.

History/Geography: Duncan memorized the history sentences and geography for Classical Conversations. He also went back and memorized the first semester history sentences (but not the geography). We used our handy Kingfisher History Encyclopedia to further cover the information. (As a side note- my pretty red cover has fallen off of my old handy Kingfisher that my college age son used many moons ago and I am sad.) He has given presentations on Robert Fulton, William the Conqueror, his favorite Bible story, how to build a catapult, the Black Plague, and the Colossus computer. He memorized the Presidents song.

Science: We are using the weekly Classical Conversations science sentence and exploring it using Sciencesaurus and The Usborne IL Science Encyclopedia. He also went back and memorized the science from first semester. We covered astronomy first semester and half of the first semester of Classical Conversation's science covers astronomy, so this wasn't a big stretch. This quarter Classical Conversations did weekly science experiments from Van Cleave’s 201 Awesome Experiments. I didn’t think they were particularly awesome, but they were completed experiments that focused on the scientific method! Also, Duncan’s fabulous tutor is very enthusiastic and in part thanks to this all the kids seemed to really enjoy themselves.

Music: I must say that music just isn’t our thing. Although Duncan likes his violin teacher, music isn’t where his heart is. Classical Conversations covers a little bit of orchestra and music history the last six weeks and so we pulled out the old Calvert music videos and are watching them again.

Drama/ Art: The third six weeks Classical Conversations covers some art history with projects. That was so quick and fun and easy! On Fridays Duncan attends a drama and art program. He loves drama. Art isn’t his favorite thing. Like music, his heart just isn’t in it except unlike music there is also a getting dirty aspect to art that is unappealing to Duncan. LOL

Saturday, March 5, 2011

Friday- Week in Review

Duncan is my 2nd grader.
Mei is my friend’s 5th grader.

Over on The Well Trained Mind forums there is a thread about what you are doing consistently. I thought I would do a weekly update talking about the things that Duncan and Mei are doing consistently.

The Well Trained Mind is a history/ LA focused curriculum. The Latin-Centered Curriculum is of course focused on Latin. We do math, math, and more math. Is there a curriculum that has math at its center? If so, I probably ought to check it out.

The little man is wrapping up Key to Algebra book 3. I had pretty much planned on using Art of Problem Solving beginning in the fall… until I saw Foerster’s Algebra. Now I am the proud owner of the Prentice Hall Classics Edition of Foerster’s Algebra 1. I want to order the Math without Borders lectures to go with it. Instead of waiting until fall, when this arrives, we will go ahead and start Algebra.

Duncan still has quite a bit to go before he finishes the geometry section of The Complete Book of Algebra and Geometry, but this week I pulled out Patty Paper Geometry. I am debating whether or not to do this or MUS Geometry. I own them both and need to look through them to decide where I want to go next. Duncan doesn’t have fabulous fine motor skills and he isn’t very patient with origami, so I am leaning toward MUS.

Duncan is chugging through Kumon Math level G, but we are only doing a few sheets a day and doing multiple reps, so this level may take until next fall.

In language arts we are plugging away. Duncan is still working through MCP Plaid Phonics D. Towards the beginning of February he started Spelling Plus. I started at the beginning doing it orally just to make sure we hadn’t missed anything. A couple of weeks ago he started Early Reading Comprehension in Varied Subject Matter Book D. I wanted to start him where I felt he would already have complete mastery of skills in order to just work on this type of answering the questions format. When he is finished with this, I plan to go directly into Reading Comprehension in Varied Subject Matter Book 1. He finished his beginning cursive book and I don’t really want to start a new one this year, but he is asking for handwriting. Although we are on hiatus from MCT, I am still covering a couple of sentences each week.

Mei is plugging away at Saxon 65. She has completed through lesson 78. She was working in a Kumon division workbook, but this week she began working in Math Mammoth Division 2 and completed through page 16. She also started Future School Grade 5 Mathematics back in January. She will not finish this by the end of the school year. However, through its exams it is a good testing tool to determine if a skill has been mastered or as a quick review of topics that are not covered in this level of Saxon.

Mei began doing language arts grade 5 through Future School in January. I don’t think that it is unreasonable to anticipate that she will finish the entire year before the end of May. She is reading The Story of the USA for reading comprehension and to cover some of the US history that may be included on the 5th grade standardized test that she may take. She has completed Book 2 A Young Nation Solves Its Problems and is now working in Book 3 America Becomes a Giant. I hope to be well into Book 4 Modern America before the end of the school year. Mei is also still working in Evan Moor’s Daily Handwriting Practice: Contemporary Cursive. She is on hiatus from Winston Grammar, but we are still looking at a couple of sentences each week.

Both Duncan and Mei are using Classical Conversations as the spine for their history and science. This has been an easy to accomplish thing. I write the history sentence on the white board and we go through it many times while I erase sections of it until they can say it with the entire sentence erased. Then, we read about the topic in one of the many reference books that I own. We do the same thing for the science. Whenever we are in the car, we listen to the audio CD. I like taking the focus off of these subjects and placing it squarely on math and language arts. (alright, I admit it: primarily math)

The weekly presentation at Classical Conversations on Tuesdays has been great. Mei and Duncan are both talkers and a weekly presentation where everyone must listen to them is just fabulous. This past week Mei had to do a presentation on a prominent historical figure from somewhere around WW2. She did her presentation on Eleanor Roosevelt. Duncan had to do a how-to presentation. He had his class build simple catapults from Mini Weapons of Mass Destruction. (We have been enjoying this book. Thank you, Karen in CO!)

Mei sending a small marshmallow into our common area.

Duncan's marshmallow flying.
All our memory work is now from Classical Conversations and this too has been fabulous. This time the fabulousness is for me, because I no longer need to figure out memory work!

On Friday they both went to their art and drama classes which they thoroughly enjoy.

Duncan went to his individual violin lesson on Wednesday and went (for the first time) to a group lesson on Friday afternoon. Monday wrapped up school year swimming for Mei.

We also do a number of things inconsistently, but I guess if I cared about those things they wouldn’t be inconsistent!