Monday, August 31, 2009

Flower week recap & update

This week we focused on the "ow" sound as in flower, cow, and own. It was also our first full time week of having W & C's cousin S with us for daycare. S is 2 so I am trying to give W crafts and projects that he can do and S can participate to her ability level. The picture above was a fun project for all ages, making tissue paper flowers with pipe cleaners for stems, and egg cartons cut up to hold the papers in the shape of a flower. We also got the chance to pick a few real flowers at the garden, and made some flower stamp shapes out of foam. Straying from the flower crafts, he also made a handprint owl which came out really cute.

Here are a few books we read this week which W really enjoyed (I tried to tie in the "ow" theme with different words): A Color of His Own by Leo Lionni, Flower Garden by Eve Bunting, Flowers: 21st Century Jr. Library by Christine Petersen, Me and My Shadow by Arthur Dorros, Cowboy Small by Lois Lenski, The Cow Who Clucked by Denise Fleming (also great for the younger children), and of course the classic Brown Bear, Brown Bear, What do you see? by Bill Martin Jr. & Eric Carle.

W enjoys the chalkboard for writing letters and drawing.

I never updated about the stamps, but more to come on that since this week it is ST week, and we are going to be stamping more. We are going with a star theme this week. W has been very curious about the moon, the sun, stars, and space lately so it should be fun and also very relevant to what he has been interested in. Next week will be a vacation week for our family but we will probably go with the "ch" sound of the week for beach, I am looking forward to that. :)

Friday, August 21, 2009

new uses for upwords

As we have been cleaning out our storage unit, I have been finding some awesome treasures of my childhood, including baby blankets, my favorite Cabbage Patch doll, and boardgames. For anyone familiar with UpWords, you know it is a bit too advanced for preschool ages, yet it is a perfect format for little hands to play with letters, make words and talk about letter sounds.

Today W chose a few words to make into our very own crossword puzzle. Forgive him for a few backwards letters. Puzzle coolness below. See if you can find apple, tree, shape --to keep within our Sh theme of the week, zoo, clue, go, and us (and a couple other unintentional words he made). :)

C is having a ridiculously long nap, due to his top 4 teeth no doubt, so W and I have been making stamps also today, we got the idea from the best kids craft blog out there No Time for Flashcards. More pictures to come later.

Paradigmatic Example (#1) of Education Fail

I am going to post a series of personal examples that I believe serve as particularly good exemplifications of failure modes of the standard education system. After I have posted these, I will provide more general analysis and discussion, culminating in what I hope will be suggestions of how these can be avoided.

Here is my first example:

I was taking a college graduate-level course in computation and automata theory. This was one of my favorite courses because it managed to combine computer science, mathematics, linguistics, and even some philosophy in a coherent, interesting manner. The general idea of the course was to define a computational engine (e.g. a finite-state machine) and investigate what sort of problems the engine could solve, and with what efficiency. Even the most powerful machine with theoretically infinite memory (a Turing machine) turns out to have well-defined limits of what types of problems it can be guaranteed to solve.

Now, this class required us to write proofs and in so doing exercise some degree of creativity. The problems were not mere restatements of earlier theorems or problems, and their solution usually required thinking really, really hard and then having an “a-ha!” moment. I found these to be stimulating, often fun, and ultimately satisfying.

During a class, one student raised her hand and asked the professor something like “How are we supposed to know how to solve these problems?” After a little discussion of what she meant, it was obvious that she was not interested in the details of any particular problem; what she was after was a general algorithm for solving all of the problems we were given! I cannot think of a greater insult to the professor and his beloved subject. To him, each problem was intrinsically valuable. Each problem had its own reason for being, its own lesson waiting to be unlocked by just the right stroke of inspiration on the student’s behalf. But to her, each problem was merely an exercise: at best, an exemplification of some general principle that should have been already given, and at worst, something that just needed to be completed to get course credit.

I cannot overly blame her though. This was, after all, presumably what everyone in the room was used to in math and science classes: start off with being given a set of general rules, then apply them to specific examples in a mechanistic fashion. The solution is produced in the most efficient manner, and with the least amount of thinking. Just figure out where to “plug in” the numbers and turn the crank. Education as the execution of algorithms.

The professor chided her and said “This isn’t high school.” Justice was served.

But that made me think: why does even high school have to be high school?

Monday, August 17, 2009


We are in the very early stages of homeschooling, but one thing I figured out really fast: we needed a system. I liked the concept of Sue Patrick's Workbox system that I have seen on several homeschool blogs so we bought a set of 5 plastic shoeboxes to start out. I put number stickers on them and so far they are just in a pile, but eventually I would like to have it set up on a shelf. As I type this C (8 months) is getting into one of them, so I may need to do this sooner than later. We also need to put the baby gates back up this week, he is crawling so fast now!
Also I found a lesson plan book at Target a few weeks ago for $1, and it has a week by week calendar format which is very convenient to plan themes in, so it has been working out very well so far. Although I would love to be able to do things completely on the computer, it is more convenient for me to have the book to jot things down in and bring with me to the library, etc.

This week we are working on the "sh" letter combination, and the theme of the week is shells. Today after reading "What Lives in a Shell?" by Kathleen Weidner Zoehfeld and looking at a pile of real shells while discussing the animals that once lived in them, W made shell magnets out of foam stickers and glitter (glue + glitter always = a fun time). This morning we went to the library and also found a few other good theme books for our Sh week.

Sunday, August 16, 2009

recap of "ee" week

Last week we focused on the vowel combination "ee" with W. I have been finding very useful information from's letter sounds section, including recommendations for poems, books, crafts, and songs to go along with the theme. Last week's theme was trees. W painted green leaves which I then wrote "ee" words on including bee, sleep, sheep, and green and we reviewed each word as we put our tree page together. Throughout the week I also encouraged him to try tracing and writing the lowercase letter "e". He is starting to put small words together with letter magnets, and is getting good at sounding out small words.

W also painted a wooden puzzle (a paint your own sort of project) that he had gotten for Christmas from Auntie Chris. He chose two of his favorite colors, blue and green, and had a great time painting, it turned out very ocean-like. Then he wanted to make it an alphabet puzzle (which was a great idea because otherwise even I would have a hard time putting that puzzle together) so I wrote the letters for him and he finished it by writing his own name on the bottom pieces using the "gold dust" as he calls my gold colored craft pen.

Other things we focused on was making shapes and scenes out of foam shapes, and he discussed patterns with me and created his own color pattern and remembered the concept. And of course, singing "Head Shoulders Knees and Toes" throughout the week. Next week I am going to also implement a number of the week plan, since he is much more confident in letters than numbers.

Friday, August 14, 2009

Economics for Homeschoolers

I became very interested in Austrian economic theory in college and even went so far as to read Ludwig von Mises' tome Human Action cover-to-cover. I also took a couple of courses in economics but generally found them unchallenging, misleading, and perhaps worst, uninteresting. Whereas the courses were dominated by simple calculus math problems to "solve" contrived (and unrealistic) scenarios, the Austrian approach is essentially without math. Instead of math, there is philosophy, logic, and analysis.

Austrian theory can be expressed in plain English (though occasional graphs can help illustrate concepts), and I believe it is appropriate for high school aged students and perhaps even advanced junior-high students. In particular, I would recommend Gene Callahan's book Economics for Real People as an effective and breezy introduction to economics. Another good choice would be Henry Hazlitt's Economics in One Lesson. One or both of these books could serve as the basis for a first course in economics for homeschoolers.

However, some good news from Bob Murphy, an Austrian economist, is that the Mises Institute is moving forward on a project for him to create a high school course geared especially for homeschoolers. Read about it here. While I am a little concerned about the result being "too mainstream" I have no doubt that this will be a worthwhile course and a boon for homeschoolers.

Wednesday, August 5, 2009

The One Subject Matter for Education

Think about the terms we often use to refer to what a student studies: "material", or "subject matter". These terms suggest that the subject of study is vacuous and dead. When school education is largely the insistence of disjoint facts with no justification for their importance, is it any wonder students are so utterly non-motivated to learn? If you "master the material" and can execute the algorithm for solving a quadratic equation, but you have no sense for why this is important or when it would be useful, have you really learned anything?

Here's Whitehead:

The solution which I am urging, is to eradicate the fatal disconnection of subjects which kills the vitality of our modern curriculum. There is only one subject-matter for education, and that is Life in all its manifestations. Instead of this single unity, we offer children -- Algebra, from which nothing follows; Geometry, from which nothing follows; Science, from which nothing follows; History, from which nothing follows; a Couple of Languages, never mastered; and lastly, most dreary of all, Literature, represented by plays of Shakespeare, with philological notes and short analyses of plot and character to be in substance committed to memory. Can such a list be said to represent Life, as it is known in the midst of the living of it?

The Golden Rule of Education

Alfred North Whitehead has many great insights in his essay The Aims of Education. Here is one:

I appeal to you, as practical teachers. With good discipline, it is always possible to pump into the minds of a class a certain quantity of inert knowledge. You take a text-book and make them learn it. So far, so good. The child then knows how to solve a quadratic equation. But what is the point of teaching a child to solve a quadratic equation? There is a traditional answer to this question. It runs thus: The mind is an instrument, you first sharpen it, and then use it; the acquisition of the power of solving a quadratic equation is part of the process of sharpening the mind. Now there is just enough truth in this answer to have made it live through the ages. But for all its half-truth, it embodies a radical error which bids fair to stifle the genius of the modern world. I do not know who was first responsible for this analogy of the mind to a dead instrument. For aught I know, it may have been one of the seven wise men of Greece, or a committee of the whole lot of them. Whoever was the originator, there can be no doubt of the authority which it has acquired by the continuous approval bestowed upon it by eminent persons. But whatever its weight of authority, whatever the high approval which it can quote, I have no hesitation in denouncing it as one of the most fatal, erroneous, and dangerous conceptions ever introduced into the theory of education. The mind is never passive; it is a perpetual activity, delicate, receptive, responsive to stimulus. You cannot postpone its life until you have sharpened it. Whatever interest attaches to your subject-matter must be evoked here and now; whatever powers you are strengthening in the pupil, must be exercised here and now; whatever possibilities of mental life your teaching should impart, must be exhibited here and now. That is the golden rule of education, and a very difficult rule to follow.

Saturday, August 1, 2009

How I Will Use This Blog

While Beth will handle almost all of the day-to-day management for the little mens' homeschool, I will also be involved in various ways. I have ideas for several projects I'd like to drive (mostly when they are a bit older), and in general I hope to be a substantial influence in their education. We're excited to start a homeschool; perhaps most exciting for me is to have the opportunity to learn alongside our boys. I hope that their homeschooling experience will be largely self-directed with few boundaries, and that problems and projects will be open-ended. That is, I want learning for them to be an adventure, and a collaborative one at that involving the whole family.

There are several topics on which I plan to post. Some will be personal, and some will be more philosophical. I will try to use a labelling system to keep track of the different types of posts:

  • blog updates or thoughts on blogging (meta)
  • ideas for tools, techniques, or projects to use in the homeschool (schoolidea)
  • reviews of books (bookreview)
  • planning or discussion of curriculums (curriculum)
  • reasons to prefer homeschooling to other forms of schooling (whyhomeschool)
  • philosophical thoughts on education and learning (armchairphilosophy)