Friday, December 9, 2011

lessons learned

I just wanted to take a few minute to jot down some notes from this past semester in regards to how it will effect our homeschooling going forward. Sorry, don't have the energy to dig up any cute photos to go with it! So those of you who are just here for pics of the kids, you can skip this. I know there are some folks that actually like to read my mind's meanderings, so this is for them (and to help me get it all straight in my head).

As I went along with this semester, I learned quite a bit about the way a long cultural block like this should work (which is important, given that this is pretty much how our homeschooling life with be structured from this point until high school). The Enki Education guides set these blocks out by starting with general humanities/language arts, then shifting to either science or math (with the topics arising form the cultural epic), then shifting to the other, then shifting back to humanities/LA to wrap up the block. I chose to run things a little differently (based on my perceived needs for my kids, and how I thought things would move along best for my family), and I overlaid the cultural science (with weekly get-togethers with a little co-op, plus our little Science Fridays chemistry co-op) and the math (in a weekly class that I taught to yet another co-op). I've since discovered that the way Enki lays it out would have worked MUCH better for us.

First of all, we've done too much strictly LA work. Working these stories through the entire 3-fold process (intake, artistic digestion, written output) week after week has been grueling, as much for me as for the kids. I had decided to do it this way based on several assumptions about my kids. First, I assumed that Zoo Boy still needed daily handwriting practice to keep from resisting it (which had been my experience up until this school year). But kids change, and their needs change, and I discovered, after giving them 2 weeks off during our power outage situation in early November, that he came back without the resistance he used to show, and had actually made gains in his penmanship during that rest period. Another reason I had done it this way was because I felt my kids needed the stories in smaller chunks than they were offered (one main theme per story rather than combining them), and in order to accomplish that, I needed to make enough progress each week on the epic (which stopping for science or math projects would not allow). Again, I discovered that my assumptions were wrong -- I've been combining stories these past couple of week simply because we're running out of time to cover everything before I want/need to end for the semester, and it turns out my kids are just fine with it (in fact, it's helped us streamline the whole summarizing process quite a bit).

Next, not only could we have used a break from the Story process with a bit of science or math focused work, it would have been much more beneficial for us to work those topics in more concentrated doses. Starting with Science, we discovered that it was VERY difficult to keep consistent progress with our larger curriculum-based projects by only working on them weekly. First of all, the group we tried to get together with was plagued by scheduling conflicts, illness, and other issues that undermined our ability to work regularly as a group. We also discovered that we were inviting the bad-weather-gods to kaibosh our plans (seriously, it rained at least 80% of the days we got together!). And finally, the general momentum was lost by trying to fit in our projects once a week. If we had just dedicated our main lesson time for a couple of weeks to the projects, they would have flowed much smoother, steadier progress would have been made, and the whole thing just would have "felt" better. That's how we'll do it from now on. That weekly co-op time in the afternoon can be used for cultural crafts instead, which I think will be a much better use of that time.

(Incidentally, I really love our little Science Fridays chemistry work, and will continue with that as is -- it's not connected at all with the epic or cultures, my kids love it, I love it, and it's really more about enjoying combined lab experience and social time with our friends, growing the kids' love of and enthusiasm for science, and feeding J's request for more organized physical science learning. And the curriculum we're working with is so outrageously age-appropriate. No reason to change anything there!)

As far as math is concerned, I actually liked how our math class (fractions this semester) went, and would do that again, but in addition to a couple weeks to actually focus on math each semester as well. Initially (up until the time of the blackout) we were getting in math practice work every day, but that has fallen by the wayside as the ballet rehearsal schedule picked up (meaning later nights, so getting started later in the mornings, so less time before having to leave again in the afternoon for our various commitments), and my pregnancy has progressed (causing me to "push" our rhythms less, so there's been a looser feel to everything around here). As a result, we've had almost no organized math since that fraction class ended in mid-November. Also, just from a personal perspective point, as I moved along with the epic, I could really see how I could have brought out various math concepts within the body of work we were dealing with, and I think the holistic feel that would have created to our math work would have been very beneficial for all of us. So I feel like I "missed the boat" with that this semester, so will want to pay more attention to that into the future. I will probably offer more weekly group fractions work in the spring, because not only did my kids love it, but so did the others in the class and everyone wants more. But that will be in addition to the topics we raise from our cultural epic, not in place of them.

At the same time, I'm pretty sure I don't want to spend as long in each type of block as the Enki materials lay out. Two weeks of science project work, and a week or two of concentrate Math is really going to be enough for us before getting back to a heavier concentration on the epic and LA work.

So here's the rough plans for the rest of this school year:

January and February (aka, our "baby moon" period): Independent reading and math practice work (mostly worksheets, but some games as well), including long subtraction and addition, and geometry and measurement. We'll also do a read-aloud book or two just for fun. With the independent reading I am going to introduce book reports (basically the sort of story work we've been doing all along, but completely on their own and with whatever books they want to read). We'll also prepare for a Science Fair hosted by our Monday Homeschool Classes for late Feb, probably with some sort of chemistry theme.

End of Feb/beginning of March: one or two week Maple Sugaring science block with a very light touch on Native American culture in terms of the discovery of using Maple sap.

March through June: Haudenosaunee cultural unit and epic (as per Enki Education 3rd grade curriculum package). My plan is to start with a week of creation painting, followed by 2 weeks of focused humanities/LA work to get the epic established, then alternate between 1 to 2 week science blocks, math blocks, and LA blocks through the end of the epic. Our two science project blocks will be building a Long House and planting a 3-sisters garden (when the weather is appropriate for that). Math will primarily be focused on introducing the times tables and work with multiplication and division, and further work with place value.

Now that I've worked through an entire cultural block, I feel much better prepared to tackle the next one! I wish I could have known all that prior to muddling through it (there's SO much I would have liked to approach differently!), but I really do think a lot of this is "discovery learning" for the teacher as well as the students, and what I've learned this semester is going to serve me very well throughout the rest of our homeschooling journey.

No comments: