Friday, December 15, 2017

Learning The Most Important Learning Skill: Learning On Your Own

KJ watching another kid play a Grand Champion Chess Player
Self-Sufficiency- I've harped on this a million times because it is a key component of a happy life and an enabling factor for a strong society.  It's so important that it has a formal place in our HomeSchool Charter. One of the keys to Self-Sufficiency is being able to learn things on your own.  Sure, I could distill and dispense information all day long and have the girls simply learn that way, but I will not always be there and I certainly don't know everything.

Further, as humankind evolves, there will be new frontiers where there is no established textbook or knowledge base and those that will thrive will be those that can teach themselves these emerging areas.  I'm giving my girls a HUGE advantage over others by emphasizing the self-learning skill.  Being able to do this was a huge part of my professional success: I could teach myself the most bleeding edge technologies before they ever appeared in common communication channels (when everyone else could catch up), and by the time they did emerge I was already known as the expert and even quoted in common press articles and books (I've even had chapters in books devoted to what I did!)

To help build the "Learn on your own" self-sufficiency skill, I gave KJ a choice of a Strategy Game that she would have to learn on her own.  The choices were Go, Poker, and Chess.  She would have to join a league, and I would determine her "grade" based on how well she did in the league.  Neither her mom nor I would help her, she was on her own (beyond approving of online account type stuff).

KJ selected chess, and started her journey.  She found all her own resources (websites, videos, and even an online chess learning "freemium" platform called ChessKid).

Here are a couple of things that have emerged, beyond her simply learning chess:

  • In the beginning, we would overhear KJ sharing with her little sister,Dy, what she learned. This dialog spawned lots of neat side-effects- KJ could ensure she understood finer points, KJ gained places of further inquiry as some of Dy's questions she didn't know the answer to, Dy picked up the rules of the game, the girls had talking points that were not superficial 
  • The competitive aspect of chess has served as a neat way to goad KJ further, as she hates to loose, even to a "robot." So she works her knowledge and even more importantly, thinks about strategy application (yeah! more strategy!!!)
The hardest part has been keeping the wife component from "Helping" :) That motherly instinct is strong!!! But the Wifie understands that the goal really isn't mastery of chess, but mastery of learning how to learn on your own.

Friday, December 1, 2017

Wildcraft Game Review - A So-So Cooperative Family Game For Learning Strategy

Our oldest, KJ, loves to study the medicinal uses of plants.  It's not my thing, but it is hers.  Maybe someday she will become some sort of pharmacologist spelunking the wilds of the Amazon to find rare and unique plants that could cure cancer.  Who knows!?

So, anyway, while reading posts on a homeschool forum, I saw a number of posts about a game wherein you collect plants to solve various maladies!  HOW DAMN COOL!!! I couldn't wait to order the game, it is called Wildcraft.  (Wildcrafting happens to be the name of foraging wild plants to help with various physical issues or for food).

As is our approach to all new games, each of us read the instructions on our own.  We got together to have a discussion of the rules and make any aggreements or clairifications before we start.  We found the rules to be VERY simple and we were able to get into game play very fast.  As a side note, I particularly enjoyed the family friendly tone and nature of the instructions, along with how the was created.... which was by a family!  It make it feel more genuine to us all, knowing that another family made the game and is seeing success selling it.
The layout of the game is simple, with near zero set up time.  All you have to do is create a pile of tokens, segment the cards, unfold the board, and viola, you're into game play mode.

The game is listed as a cooperative board game.  As a family that plays a lot of games, we love these kinds of games as the mission is all about all of us succeeding together.  It becomes a nice joint mission.

At a macro level, the goal of the game is to get up the mountain, collect some berries, and return to grandma before it's dark.  Alas, you do get some bumps and bruises (and other ailments) along the way that require your skill as a Wildcrafter to handle.  For a basic ailment, like being tired, you (or another member of the party) need to have collected a plant to resolve that issue. The plant is represented by a card, so either you have the card of the planted needed or you don't.  The pictures of the plants on the ailment cards are very helpful.

It doesn't take long, however, to realize that the game is tremendously chance driven.  There really isn't a whole lot of "strategy" thinking.  That is, choices really don't have a huge impact either way and smart choices actually have negligible impact in the game. The creators of the game made it clear in the instructions that really the rules are guidelines and that they expect people to morph and modify as they go.  We've begun experimenting with rule tweaking to help make the game involve more decision making versus blind luck.

As game playing adults, the game is neat the first go around, but after that it is kind of lame.  Our daughters, however, enjoy playing the game and pull it out on their own to play. (the pictures in this post were taken on a Sunday afternoon when they did just this).

As far as ages go, a 7 year old could do this.  I suspect that many boys would find the game too girly to keep their interest.

If you want to teach strategy, I would not recommend this game.  If you want to learn about the basic uses of some plants, then maybe (the biggest common online criticism of the game is that while the game tells you which plant(s) solve an ailment, it does not say what part of the plant to use nor how it should be prepared).  If you have some daughters that like plants and flowers and picking berries and the notion of hiking up a mountain to pick berries for Grandma, then this game is a winner!

Wednesday, November 15, 2017

What time should Homeschoolers Wake Up?

The wifie and I have been married to one another for over 26 years ..... and for the vast majority of things, we see eye to eye.  When we don't, usually one or the other easily slides to the other persons point of view with very little resistance.  However, one area that neither of us has budged on is around what time the girls should wake up in the morning.  Val believes that the girls should wake up at the same time each morning, say 7am, get dressed, eat breakfast, brush their teeth, and then start their day.  I'm of the opinion that the girls should sleep until they naturally wake up, then start their day even if that means 9:27 am or 10:11 am, and that if they feel like doing the first half of their school activities in their sleepy clothes then they can.  Brushing is important for hygiene purposes so that should be done too of course, but pajama clothes are fine.    

As I searched out the homeschool social media sphere to gather more opinions (hoping to find more of mine of course), I've found plenty of arguments and "scientific" reasons for both points of view.  They run from the "get them ready for the real world" perspective to "children need more sleep as they go into their teenage years."  It seems there is no "best" approach, just as there isn't a best approach for any one way of home schooling. 

So, here we are ... Val and I on opposite sides of the matter, with equal say into the approach.  Where did we end up?  Well, the girls made this a non issue by simply getting up and handling everything themselves by 8:30 am!  They make their own breakfast, eat, brush teeth, get dressed for the day, and we are into our martial arts training.  Now, there have been some mornings where one of the daughters is slow to get up, and on those rare mornings (about once every three weeks or so), I don't go pushing them out of bed.  I let them rest, trusting that their body must need it.  There are also some mornings where the youngest likes to stay in her PJs until after Karate training, and that's find too.  They are self driven young ladies, so when they slow down .... there is a reason.

Wednesday, November 1, 2017

Our Homeschool Students Will Start and Run Thier Own Business

As our homeschool charter makes clear, Self-Reliance and Self-Sufficiency are key competencies for our daughters (II. Mission Statement).  Self-Reliance and Self-Sufficiency span every area of life, and one area in particular is woefully underrepresented in school environments (be it public, private, hybrid, or home): how to make money.  Maybe this is by design, maybe this is from ignorance, maybe this is simply an oversight, maybe this is a byproduct of the school's operating constraints ..... I'm not sure, but we will not miss this important societal requirement.

Our Homeschool model requires each of our daughters to have their own business.  This is explicitly listed in the Operations portion of our school charter (VIII.2).  This is to be a multi-year activity and will carom through law, scams, deceptive business practices, planning, public presentations, liability, risk, and so much more.  By having their own companies, in areas of interest to them, they get an excellent crucible to learn both sides of the business game, and in a consumer driven society like ours, this brings forth many powerful lessons that can materially impact their lives as adults.

We are now a few months out from our 11 year old becoming a full time homeschooler, so the discussions of business ideas will gain some weight and dimension as one of the first deliveries in homeschool will be a formalized business plan. This will require her to spend a few months, for example, doing market survey work, analysis, choosing a model, sourcing goods (if needed) and the like to see if her business could be viable. She will present the plan to a few business owners we know to collect their feedback.  Once a solid plan has been created, she will enact the plan, measuring and monitoring its growth and adjusting the business as needed.

We've been speaking with them about business models, marketing, selling, end-goals, operating costs, capital expenses, customers, durability, competitive advantage, pricing, scale-ablity and more ever since they were old enough to talk. Having owned three companies ourselves, we have plenty of personal experiences to share with them making the car ride discussions far more rich and valuable. Now they will get a chance to try it out, and do one their way.  Proving to themselves that they can make money on their own is one of the most powerful gifts we can give them.  Self-Reliance and Self-Sufficiency.  Amen!

Sunday, October 15, 2017

Upside Down Peach Cake from scratch in a Dad Driven Homeschool Environment? NO WAY!

Alright, I'm a home school dad.  I like to do dad things, and dad things don't include cooking ....  unless it involves a grill, an open flame, and some meat.  Only then would cooking qualify as a dad thing.

So what do I do when my eldest asks to bake?  I say, "Sure... go for it! but you have to do it on your own." "Okay Dad" was the reply.

What was the result?

The most amazing made from scratch Peach Upside Down Cake I've ever had!!!  Well done KJ!! Well Done.

Humm.... on second thought, maybe this one was a fluke.  I believe I will ask her to make another just to proooooove  she really knows how to do it. ;)

Maybe I need to re-think this whole, "We don't do baking" angle of Dad driven home schooling.  There are lots of biology, mathematics, chemistry, and physics lessons wrapped up in baking. Amiright? Amiright?  I'd probably gain 50 pounds!!

Sunday, October 1, 2017

How to Pick a Martial Arts School for your kid- Advice from a Martial Arts Dad on selecting a dojo

My youngest, Dy, performing a kata
at a tournament in April of 2016

Two weeks ago, I mentioned that I would share some advice on picking a dojo for your kid, and this post is the fulfillment of that promise.

Please note that picking a school or dojo is different than picking a style of martial arts for your kid, although at the beginning of your journey if you're not schooled in martial arts, you will essentially pick both at the same time.  That is, if you have no clue about martial arts styles, simply pick the best school you can find and go with that.

KJ studying/watching the match that will
determine who she will face in the finals.
The Girl on the left is Traditional Karate,
Girl on Right is Muy Thai Style.
This was in October 2016
We've been doing Martial Arts as a family for more than 4 years.  That is, multiple times every week for 4 years we've schlepped our gear to and from dojos, tournaments, seminars, and private lessons.  We've done homework in our car, eaten many meals outside of dojos, and raced across town right after school to ensure we were on time for various events.  We've spent numerous Saturdays in gyms in other cities watching, participating, and talking with other Martial Arts families.   While I'm a Martial Arts practitioner myself, I'm not a sensei or representative of any particular style or school.  I'm simply a dad who loves Martial Arts, loves the gifts it gives his daughters, and has been doing it as a family.

With this as the background, here are some pieces of advice I'd give anyone who asks me about picking a place for their kid to learn martial arts.
Dy bringing out her inner
Animal with her incredible
Coach, Sensei Li Gonzaelz
before a match
  • The martial arts school you're looking at actively spars (e.g. at least once a week).  Schools that don't spar are like schools that teach words and sentence structure, but not how to have a conversation.  Now, if the school has a rule about not sparring until a certain level is obtained, that is totally cool... just be sure that within a year, your kid is sparring every week.
  • Ensure that the martial arts school's instructors are not paper black belts.  With the online world and paper-mill universities, there are many self anointed Martial Arts experts.  Verify that the instructors at the dojo in question have either earned trophies in open competitions (and can show them) or that they have been trained, anointed, and endorsed by someone in the Martial Arts Hall of Fame.
  • Be sure the head instructor isn't a dick.  The head instructor sets the tone, so if he or she is an asshole, you can bet everyone is too.  Take the time to talk with them, ask questions. We've tried schools, experienced this, and moved on.
  • Avoid Franchise Martial Arts schools like the plague, especially if you -as the parent- don't have a lot of Martial Arts knowledge and you can't qualify the quality of the instruction yourself.  These money models will look polished and slick for sure, but if you really want your child to learn martial arts, you will be disappointed by the end result.  I'm all for making money, but not at the expense of my kid. 
  • Try before you buy. That is, do the free week or month first (if a school doesn't offer this, move on).  We've avoided big mistakes by trying for a week, and never going back.  The school may be awesome, but you or your kids may simply not fit in.  This happened to us.  Awesome school, but our world views and social circles were way out of synch.
  • Ask for ALL the costs for belt/level testing. You would be surprised at how much these tests
    Belt Testing At Our Dojo is No Joke. The Amazing Shihan Gonzalez
    doing his thing, pressing these kids to push push push. 5+ Hours:
    Conditioning Tests, Skills Tests, Kata Tests, Sparring, Board Breaking
    can cost, and how they can go up over time. There is merit in prices going up depending upon the level being tested due to the rigors of the test (when our girls hit purple, for example, it was a 5 hour long test that started at one location and finished at another), but you need to know this going in so you're not surprised.  
  • Find out how frequently belt/level testing is.  Some schools use belts and level testing as a critical part of their revenue stream.  So, they will have a low monthly tuition cost, but just about every other month you're paying for some form of testing.  They may even charge and test for intra belt levels.  Intra-belt testing is the practice of adding stripes to a belt, before allowing the student to test for the next level.  As an example, a white belt may have to earn 3 ticks on their belt before they can test for yellow.  If there is a charge for each tick, you need to know.  We attend schools that don't charge for this, but there are some schools that do.
  • Don't be fooled by belt progression.  If the school brags about how quickly your kid can make it up the belts, you need to show how quickly you can get out of that school.  My girls have been training for 6 days a week, with 2 or 3 days being double days, for over 4 years and they are still years away from a black belt at their home dojo.  It is always funny when they are matched up at a tournament for skills comparison with a Black Belt, who is their same age, from a quick-belt progression school.  The difference is striking (pun intended). While confidence boosting and motivating, quick belt-progression will create an exaggerated sense of ability that will be quickly exposed should they have to apply their skill in a real situation.  As an aside, these quick progression schools are derisively referred to as McDojos in the Martial Arts circles to help highlight that things are quick and hardly worth eating.
  • Find out about the schools tournament schedule.  Like belt/level testing, many schools use
    KJ earning 1st in Continuous Sparring
    At an April 2016 Tournament
    tournaments as a revenue stream and you will be expected to have your child go to certain tournaments (wherein the school gets a kick-back).  If your kid doesn't go to certain tournaments, then your kid doesn't promote (ostensibly because they've not demonstrated their skill in a competitive forum). Be sure you're comfortable with how many tournaments your dojo expects your kid to go to.
  • Find out if the school goes to open tournaments.  Open tournaments allow for the mixing of styles and are open to any school.  If the prospective school only goes to tournaments of the exact same style and only to schools within a certain group or clique or franchise, avoid the school.  Many weak martial arts schools limit their students to only going to tournaments also done by weak martial arts schools... heaven forbid you see that what your kid has been learning is all bullshit. [please note, I'm being very technical with my terms here .... by mixing of styles, I'm meaning that if your child practices a striking form such as Karate, they should be able to compete in a striking tournament that could have Tae Kown Do, Karate, and even Muay Thai with leg kicks restricted]   
  • Does the school restrict you to ONLY study at their school?  If the school says something like,  "you must train only in our school/system", then run away.  Sure, you may hear "it will be too confusing to attend multiple schools" which is true, but what you're really after is if the school restricts you or not.  You may or may not attend multiple schools simultaneously (and in my opinion your child shouldn't if they have less than two years of martial arts training), but you just want to get a feel for how open the school is.  Schools that are closed minded often have something to hide, like their techniques suck.  
  • Watch out for sentiments like, "Our style and approach is unique, and you can only get it by only learning here" or "we've developed our own style."  It is VERY VERY VERY VERY VERY VERY VERY VERY VERY (get the point) rare that you will meet a person who is not only qualified to invent their own system, but who actually has.  Over the many years of my own training, I've only met one such person and he doesn't have a school nor does he teach children.  I could gush on and on about this guy, and what it was like to have him directly coach me (boarding on bromance), but the point is, if you're being told that the school has a system they created, run away!
  • Ensure that the location of the Martial Arts school you attend is a place you are willing to drive to a lot.  Sometimes this point gets lost, but there will be days you simply don't want to drive to the dojo for your kids, so if it isn't convenient or easy,  you will find a reason to not go.  After a few of these "let's skip the dojo" in a row days, it will be very easy just say, "yeah, we're behind now ... we should find something else to do."
    Both Sisters Walked Out With
    Lots of Hardware in this
    March 2016 Tournament.  
  • Do they allow Kids to train with Adults. Our society has made this a taboo in many cases because of all the sickos out there, but it is good for children to have to train with adults periodically.  The power and speed of an adult in a dangerous situation can create fear and panic in a child, so having the opportunity to practice with a variety of adults will help remove some of this.  At my dojo, I'm asked to spar kids in a variety of age ranges and abilities, and of both genders.  I do so for the kids benefit (I'm a 6', 200 lbs, fit, bald, male). In a ground fighting grappling situation, this can be uncomfortable for parents (especially of girls) to watch when their kids have to wrestle a grown man.  Let your parental instincts judge the interactions.  The instructors will also help ensure such sessions are productive and appropriate.
  • Cleanliness is critical. In a good dojo, the students will produce lots of sweat and tears with the occasional drop of blood.  Staff infections are always a possibility, and colds and the flu spreads easily in an environment like this, with all the body contact.  Walk the dojo, touch things.  Are they nasty? If so, move on to another place.   How do the bathrooms look? 
  • Mirrors are important.   Ensure that there are plenty of mirrors in the dojo, ones that allow you to see your entire body and even the entire class.  Regardless of the style, watching yourself in the mirror as you train provides huge benefits. Even in Brazilian Jiu Jitsu schools, where there is a lot of ground level action, you should see mirrors aplenty.  Mirrors also let you watch the instructors from many angles.  As a move or sequence is demonstrated, with mirrors the students will be able to see what's happening from all sides.
  • Ensure the school has at least one female instructor on staff.  This piece of advice applies if you have sons or daughters, and the reasons behind it could be a blog post of its own.  That said, the finesse, grace, and speed of an expert female martial artist is incredible to experience first hand and eye opening.  Regardless of their size or strength, through their skill they can handle other fighters aptly helping to keep egos in check.  You will also find that their demeanor and approach will many times be different than the guy instructors, and their unique approach or view ends up unlocking some skill or technique your child just couldn't get.
Some of our Dojo Family after a tournament.  These are our brothers and sisters.

If you want a real-life example of a martial arts school that does all of the above, you should visit our home dojo in Winter Garden, Florida ( .  The school opened in 2004 and has since brought the hundreds of families the beauty of Martial Arts in central Florida).

Final notes:
      If you decide to incorporate Martial Arts into your life as we have, show your child your commitment by being a full on family member of the dojo.  That doesn't mean you have to take classes too (even thought that would be awesome), but you need to demonstrate your support by doing things like buying t-shirts from the school, asking about private lessons for your kids, and serving as a parent representative of the dojo at local school or community functions.
      Your dojo has financial commitments itself, like rent, insurance, and payroll that has to be made regardless if you're there or not.  If you're going to miss a few weeks or a month, but plan on being back, the school still has to cover its costs so you should still pony up the money to keep the place in business even if you're on vacation.
     You can also help the school  by doing social media posts with pictures of your kids and their martial arts achievements while tagging the dojo or publicly thanking their instructors.  Offer to clean the mirrors in the dojo, or mop the floor for the school and let your kids see that.  You can take the Shihan, Sensei, Head Instructor, Coach, Professor, or whatever to lunch once and awhile.  Most of these folks don't make a lot of money, and your generosity will be appreciated.  I've learned a lot about how to help my girls improve over such lunches.
     Yes, a martial arts school is a business, but it can be so much more.  Find the more, and give your kids a gift that will benefit them the rest of their lives.

Friday, September 15, 2017

Martial Arts is Fantastic for homeschool kids, but they MUST fight to really get its benefit

KJ (in Black) fighting a boy her age in the ring at a dojo about 30 minutes away from ours
Martial Arts is an integral part of our family life.  The way some families focus on gymnastics, or cheer, or band, or soccer, or whatever, we do martial arts.  Well, almost like that as unlike many families that do those other things, I actually participate myself.  That is, I study and apply Martial Arts myself, taking classes, sparing, and work on belts with the same vigor as my girls do.

Dy drilling from Closed-
Guard on Joey..... Joey the
dummy, at one point referred
to as KJ's boyfriend! 
For those uninitiated in Martial Arts, at a very high level Martial Arts can be broken down into two broad level groups, armed (knife for example) and unarmed.  Within these two groups you could categorize based on striking -aka- hard (boxing for example) and grappling -aka- soft (wrestling for example).  Don't let the hard and soft monikers fool you, as they are references to energy transfer approaches between combatants, as both hard and soft styles can debilitate a foe.  Within these categories, you find styles which are collections of approaches with a particular strategic view on, and collection of tactics for, how to win in a combative scenario.

KJ drilling an Arm-Bar
practicing her BJJ
Putting all this together, here is an example:  Brazilian Jiu Jitsu (BJJ) is a very popular style of unarmed fighting that is based on grappling using a strategy of close contact with the opponent while taking a fight to the ground.  The tactics used in BJJ are typically joint-locks, choke holds, and leverage thus enabling a physically weaker opponent to use superior skill to win in a
physical altercation.

Our base, or primary style, is Shito Ryu Karate.  Beyond its unfortunate name, it is an amazing blend of Karate styles that emphasizes a number of things to include copious amounts of Katas (choreographed fighting sequences) and Sparring (controlled fights).  While Shito Ryu is our foundation style, we also take classes and spar in Muy Thai Kickboxing, Judo, Boxing, and BJJ.  These other styles bring in variety, provide interesting challenges, and give insights back into our Shito Ryu practice.  This would probably be akin to a child focusing on the piano, practicing it for hours, taking private classes, etc. but then also branching out to learn the harpsichord and drums.  They may not be experts in those latter two instruments, but they could carry a tune and it helps their appreciation of the piano, and for music as a whole.

Over the years, a number of parents have asked for advice on picking a style and school for their kids.  I will put together a post on this, but the critical element is ensuring that the school actually has the kids spar at least once a week.  Learning moves (locks, punches, throws, kicks, etc) is like learning words, Katas and/or Drills are like learning sentence structure, but sparring is like having a conversation.

While visiting another dojo, Dy (in black) was put in the ring with a girl
her age (8) who was new to sparring, so Dy helped her gain confidence
by keeping the fight controlled and a quality learning experience for the novice
fighter. Such experiences help Dy learn to be a better leader and martial artist. 
Martial Arts provides a huge array of wonderful benefits to anyone who practices them.  The obvious ones are confidence, discipline, respect, health, and the ability to defend yourself.  Beyond these you will find an amazing camaraderie, a pursuit of excellence, loads of physics, leadership, and more!  For homeschoolers, this is an easy way to not only incorporate PE requirements but broaden your kids social circle to other kids who have a drive for excellence and a competitive spirit.

Friday, September 1, 2017

I'm an Ignorant Ass Homeschool Parent

Me as an Ignorant Ass Homeschool Parent
A few months back, I posted a "socialization" blog entry highlighting how stupid the topic is and how much of a red herring it is that distracts from a bigger issue (public schools are a source of societal problems).  I've come to learn that Homeschool Socialization is important for a reason that I was completely ignorant of.  I posted my commentary as an Ignorant Ass Homeschool parent.  The first of many I'm sure.

As shared in multiple other posts, the bottom line in doing this homeschooling adventure is to provide KJ and Dy the absolute best start in life that I am capable of providing for them.  There is no more important mission in my life than helping them become happy, independent adults.

To this end, in January 2017, I shifted my focus from reading blogs of other homeschool parents to reading blogs by adults that were homeschooled themselves  (especially girls).  The posts from adults that were homeschooled are like After Action Reports (AARs) that I did in the Army .... once an action is over, you reflect on what went wrong, right, and what could have been done better.

As expected, there were positive and negative experiences, and lots of great pieces of advice that I'm actively incorporating.  However, what struck me was the vitriol in some of the publicly shared stories.  They were composed of sheer anger, bordering on hatred for their parents at "what had been done to them."  This scared the hell out of me.  Sure, some kids grow up to hate their parents, homeschoooled or not, but this group of posts hinted a much deeper pain, stemming from a sinister plot.

I began to peel back the onion on these anger/hateful posts and learned of an entire sub-culture that I was ignorant of.  A sub-culture that actually subjugates women! What the fuck? Fuck you! Sorry, I had to vent.

Being raised by a single-mom, it has been my mission to help foster the growth of women who can carry on, on their own, as they see fit as my mom did without relying on someone else.  The entire notion of a girl being raised in an environment where they are taught to be subservient to a man is damn sick to me.  Homeschool Environments where this is norm and intent are in dire need of socialization.  This is where my ignorance of an entire sub-culture bit me.  In my ignorance, I just never considered that homeschooling would be used for such a diabolical means, controlling a human being (referred to Totalism).  All of you who do this are sick fucks and should die.

It is heartbreaking to read the stories of this group of homeschooled women.  To them I say, "Thank you."  Thank you for sharing your stories to help highlight a horrible problem that our societal construct makes possible. I can see the rationale, and passion source, behind your push to put more standards and oversight into the home education environment to help protect children from such caustic environments.  However, I don't agree with adding more rules into the system.  What happened to you is child abuse and negligence, and there are already laws and mechanisms to handle such things. Maybe they don't work well, and most certainly they don't work in 100% of the cases (child abuse and negligence happen even to public schooled children), but putting into the hands of bureaucrats the education of my girls wouldn't be best for them.  What is the right solution?  Creating awareness, just as you're doing.  Keep sharing as you feel comfortable.  I wasn't aware of this problem, but now I am and will stay vigilant in my circles for such bullshit, calling it out when I see it.

If you're ignorant of this problem, as I was, here is a good starting point to remedy this:

Tuesday, August 15, 2017

Word Triggers For Learning The State Capitals

Over Christmas break, way back in December, my eldest wanted to finish memorizing all the capitals of the United States.  I told her we could absolutely weave that into her Winter Break Homeschool activities.  We would not, however, be using the rote memorization approach that they had been applying at her charter school.  Rather, we would use a "trigger word to story" memorization device.  I'm happy to report that not only did she learn the remaining 30 state capitals within 5 days, but she has retained them over the past 6 months!

How to learn, how to acquire information, how to build knowledge, and how to apply wisdom are often lacking in an education system.  Many times the student is left to their own devices to figure out ways of doing these things.  Within our homeschool we actively seek out a variety of ways to get stuff into our heads (See our homeschool Charter, VII.Tactics of Exerevno Academy.5).  It is hoped that by doing this, each of our girls will find multiple ways that work for them so that when they, as adults, have to learn something, they can do it on their own, both effectively and efficiently.
The funnier the association the better

As shared, the technique we explored together for her states was "trigger word to story." I have no idea what the formal name is for this approach, but it is the technique of seeing a word in something and building a story out of it that clues you into the answer you want to recall.  It is a simple two step process.

First, I asked my daughter to look at the state name and blurt out the first word that came to mind.  For example, when she saw Nebraska she said "Ask".

Second, I challenged her to build a story that links "ask" to Lincoln, the president.  She shared with me that when she did the debate module at school, she was told the history of the Lincoln Douglas debates.  She then continued on with something like, "and he would ask a lot of questions."

Viola! That's it, when she sees Nebraska, she triggers with "ask a" recalling that Lincoln asks a lot of questions.

Below are 20 of the associations she built. The key point is that the trigger word and story had to resonate with her, not me. My context, my knowledge, my background, etc. would build associations that didn't/wouldn't naturally fit her recall.  For example, she got stuck on Oregon, so I offered that I see Oreo and that is a cookie sandwich, and that she could instead have a Salami sandwich (for Salem). Nope, that didn't work so after some poking and prodding, she came to one that she still hasn't forgotten but doesn't work for me at all ... something about "Sailing"

After we built her list, when she would recall the capitals, she would regal me with the story each time, thus further burning her association into her mind.  Some of her associations were funny, some were crude, and some made no sense to me ... but that didn't matter, they made sense to her and she remembered.

Examples from my daughter:

Alaska - Whats the best month to visit the coldest state? Jeau Know? June, No?
Arizona - Prisoner of Azkaban/Arizona? The Phoenix
California    - Sack Ra Men Toe (I don't get this one at all!!)
Colorado - Where does a DOe live? In the Den of Fur (Den-of-fur, Denver)
Idaho - "I da ho" No you're not, you're a boy, see (Boy-see, Boise)
Illinois - There is no Ill in Spring Field (notice the rhyme)
Iowa         - "I owe a" "these monies"  des monies Des Moines
Kansas - Where is the Kan Of Sauce? At the Top! (Top-E ka)
Michigan - Mich gets rich by land Singing
Minnesota - Mickey was jealous because Minnie had lunch with Paul
Montana - Hanna Montana? No Helena Montana!
Nebraska     - Aska lotta questions? Lincoln debates
North Dakota - Dakota is a good business woman with Mark, Bis-Mark (friends of hers)
Ohio - Oh, Hi!!! O.... What Columbus said when he first came to America
Oregon - Or, go Sailin (Or, go is from Oregon)
Texas - Austin likes to Text (Austin is a friend of hers)
Utah - "ahhhh" from the Salt Lake bath (ahhh comes from U ---tahhhhhh)
Washington - Must being washing tons of clothes for Olympians
Wisconsin - W is on in? Because of his Mad Eye Son
Wyoming    - Why you, Ming? Because of my friend shy Ann

Tuesday, August 1, 2017

Discovering Math Tricks, Secrets, and Facts To Really Learn Algebra Mathematical Principles

"Dy, quick, what is 5 times 484,682?"
[about 1 second later]
"2,4,2,3,4,1,0 ....  that's an easy one dad ... give me toughie"

I love these kinds of interactions with my 9 year old daughter.   It allows her to show off her abilities, add to her confidence, flex her mental muscle, and work on her mental math skills.  But how did she know the answer so quick?  By applying a simple math fact*.

Cool as this is, what is more powerful and important is that an awesome mathematical fact (like the one she applied here) provides a vector for learning bigger, more important Mathematical principles.

To explain this more plainly, let's look at the math fact that Dy used.  You may have already figured it out, based on the way I wrote her response.

Here is the math fact she used:
5 times any rational whole number is simply that number divided by 2, times 10 (which is simply tacking on a zero if the starting number is even)

So, for her I made the problem easy.  First, I led off with "5 times".  At that point, Dy triggered into her 5 times facts.  Then I gave her a number that she could divide by 2 in her mind easily, simply going down the line of the even digits that made up the number 484,682.  So, she retained that number in her mind (a good mental exercise in its own right) and spoke out the result of dividing each digit by 2.  So, 4 ÷ 2 = 2, 8 ÷ 2 = 4, 4 ÷ 2 = 2, 6 ÷ 2 = 3, 8 ÷ 2 = 4, 2 ÷ 2 = 1, and times 10 so 0. So, 2423410.

She knows this fact now, which is cool.... and maybe during some test for college, a problem will come up with a 5 times in it and her speed will be helped if she recalls this fact .... but the real cool part is that in "discovering" this fact and how it works, she has nicely teed up algebra.

Here is the flow of her discoveries.

First, I challenged her to demonstrate her ability to multiply anything by 10 as I gave her a series of numbers (2, 4, 42, 544, 18, 20, 8, 532934, ....), which she did like a champ. Then I asked her to describe for me all the ways she could think of to write the number 10. I prompted her with "Like, 20 ÷ 2, or 10 x 1"  She paused, thought about it, and blurted "100 ÷ 10".  Awesomesauce! I kept poking her to produce more, and then she shared "2 x 5." Ahaha!  The one I wanted.

Second, I asked her to write down "4 x 10", which she did.  Then I asked her to replace the 10 with her example of the 10 equivalent, 2 x 5.  This resulted in "4 x 2 x 5."  We then explored multiplying in different orders, and to her amazement it always worked.  4 x 2 is 8 and 8 x 5 is 40, etc.

Third, I asked her if she could re-write 10 but with addition.  She wrote down 3 + 7.  I asked her to replace her 10, in her 4 x 10, with her 3 + 7,  which resulted in her writing 4 x 3 + 7.  I then asked her to solve, which yielded 19! (4x3=12, 12 + 7 = 19).  "Dad, that doesn't work." "No baby, it doesn't. The order you do this, the operation, matters."  We then launched into a nice discussion of order of operations, parenthesis, etc. for 30 minutes. :)

Fourth, I then asked her to go back to her original equation, 4 x 10 and write it out.
"4 x 10 = 40".  Next, I had her replace the 10 with her 2 x 5 version.  She wrote, "4 x 2 x 5 = 40".  Good.  Now I asked her "well, let's do the 4 x 5 first of the 4 x 2 x 5, since the order doesn't matter."  "That would be 20 then dad, so we have 20 x 2"  Me: "Well, that's interesting because 20 is half of 40, so that that makes total sense."

"Using this stuff, Dy, here is something that pops out that I'd like you to think about.   For any number that you multiply by 5, you could simply multiply it by 10 and cut it in half .... or cut it in half first and then multiply it by 10."  It wasn't instant that she understood it, but after 3 examples, she knew the trick.  After 10 examples, she was convinced. Trick learned.

Fifth, "Dy, let's replace the 40 with 20 x 2"  4 x 2 x 5 = 2 x 20  "Dy, do you see that both sides has the 2?  Does the equation work if we simply pull the 2 out?" It sure does.  

Sixth, "Let's re-write our equation but instead of writing the 2, let's replace it with a star"  Dy then writes out 4 x ☆ x 5 = ☆ x 20.  "I wonder if we can replace that star with anything?" Dy then starts trying numbers out.  2 works of course.  3 works.  How about 10.  Wow, she finds that everything works.  Neato!

Seventh, "We could always simply pull out that ☆ and it would be true right?" Dy then erases the star and sees 4 x x 5 = 20.  Big smile on her face.

A couple of wonderful hours with my little girl, and she now has an amazing foundation start with Algebra.

[Sidebar *: Early in this post, I used the phrase math fact.  I am using the word fact here because my wife hates when I call it a trick.  She likes to point out that it isn't a trick, just an application of some facts.  She is, of course, right (aren't they always! ;)  but many kids like to have secrets or tricks, and calling it a math secret could make your kid even more interested)]

Saturday, July 15, 2017

Forbidden Island Game Review - Great Cooperative Family Game For Learning Strategy

For Christmas 2016, our family purchased a game for the mom component called Forbidden Island.  It has been over 6 months since we started playing it, and it is still the family favorite game.

The basic premise of Forbidden Island is that you and your team-mates have landed on an island that starts to sink, and you and all the team mates have to make it off the island with all the treasures before it is fully submerged to win.

While the rules make total sense now, and are well written, it took us 3 tries (full game plays) to finally get it right.  For example, we were making a mistake about what to do when a part of the island submerges with a player standing on it.  We wrongly played it as, "ooops, you're dead ... we all lose."  This is wrong as the game is clear that you can simply swim to another part.  I guess if we got super awesome at the game, we could make this a "you die" rule to make it more challenging.

The game play actively encourages dialog/table-talk among the players as it unfolds yielding an obvious benefit, then a not so obvious benefit.

Like a real life team, you have to figure out how to work together to pull off the task.  The talking  creates an awesome education opportunity as we discuss the trade-offs, risks, merits, etc. of various approaches during each turn.  After just a few games, I could clearly see the wheels turning in my daughters as they thought through the possible step/game play sequences.  Further, their articulation of why certain approaches may be better has improved too.  This dialog has also another interesting, unexpected, learning opportunity: analysis paralysis.  Our girls can now see so many paths and make so many good arguments for what approach to take as we play that we can simply get too deep into the analysis and be paralyzed.  This has happened a number of times allowing us to discuss the perils of too much too deep and simply not making a choice.

The game is set up such that each player has distinct abilities, which are randomly assigned via player cards, and not all of the abilities are available from game to game.  This particular variable, the
shifting and variance of the ability collection from game to game, helps ensure different approaches to winning are taken each time you play.  This alone gets the girls excited as they wonder which abilities they will get from game to game.

There are so many things that I personally like about the game, such as the names of the island parts (like Bridge of Abandon and Phantom Rock) and the gorgeous/mystical graphic, but I most appreciate is how clever the game flow and rules fit together to create the challenge.  Things get hard at the right times.  Brilliant. Brilliant. Brilliant.

Our 8 year old studying
the rules of Forbidden Island
The game makers suggest ages 10 and up, but our 8 year old does just fine.  Keep in mind, though, she has been playing board strategy games since she was 5.

The difficulty in playing this game is one notch above Monopoly, but two notches below Carcassonne.  Most of our games end in 40 minutes, but could be 20 minutes if we didn't discuss so much! :)

Saturday, July 1, 2017

Aruba, Curacao, and Grand Turk Visit

About to go in the Ocean while on Grand Turk
Freedom is awesome!  We recently used ours and traveled to Aruba, Curacao, and Grand Turk.  As always, we have the girls spend a few months ahead of time building out a knowledge base on the places we will be visiting.  We cover things like location, history, religion, food, currency, government and more.  Each week, each daughter has to do a 10 minute presentation covering some aspect of the upcoming trip.  We've all learned a lot.

Array of some Trip Artifacts
This is a sub-set of the items the girls have produced for this past trip.  You will see an essay, a few maps (including the route taken by our cruise ship, various islands we will pass on the way, latitude lines and longitudinal lines, and the geographic relation to our home state of Florida), and a flag of Grand Turk.

Dy in front of wind swept trees in Aruba

Our Youngest's Talking Point Sheet

For the presentations, we have the girls create powerful intros and closure statements that they have to memorize and deliver to the audience while looking them in the eyes.  For the body of facts, however, we have them create talking point sheets that they can refer to.   We do teach and expect them to deliver the talking points while looking at the audience, not keeping their faces buried behind the paper the entire talk.  A casual glance down is fine.

KJ did great under the water

Thursday, June 15, 2017

Don't Give Allowances .... Pay Them Bounties!

Yesterday, I was sitting in a park and some guy came up to me and gave me $100 for doing nothing!! NOT!  I'm sure if someone offered me $100 in the park, they would want something in return! ;) Anyway ....

Nearly all of the money I've acquired over life has come as a consequence of something I've done.  For a large bulk, that something was working.  So, to help my girls become productive members of society, rather than giving them money in the form of an "Allowance", I pay them for doing extra things.  I'm not talking about doing extra chores, although that sends a good message too, I'm talking about academic pieces of work as well as some Martial Arts/Physical Fitness achievements.  All of these bounties are for activities beyond their normal Academic and Martial Arts expectations, to be done in their free time.

The "Bounty List" can grow over the summer, as the girls are welcome to propose new bounties.  If I like the suggestion, it gets added.  Here is the Bounty List as it stands right now:

  • 6 page, typed, essay highlighting a main theme that runs through the entire Harry Potter Series of books - $20
  • 4 page, typed, essay highlighting a main theme that runs through the entire Star Wars Series of movies - $20
  • 4 page, typed, essay highlighting the Hero's Journey
  • 1 page summary of a book, with a pay out of 1 penny per page of the books length
  • Long Division Problems - 1 cent per digit for each correctly done, and checked, problem (e.g. 8572234 / 324 would be a 10 cent problem)
  • Algebraic Problem Solutions - 1 cent per operator, 1 cent per variable, 1 cent per term (e.g. 3x + 7x - 3 +5 = 15 - 8x would be a 13 cent problem)
  • Poster Presentation - Payout is $2 per hour put into preparation of topic, with bonus possibility
  • Audio Lecture Listened To - Payout is $1 per hour listening to Audio Lecture (audio book, master series, whatever) when they turn in a page of facts covering the audio lecture contents (e.g. listen to a 3 hour show on Greek history, and they turn in a Greek facts sheet covering what they heard, they would get $6)
  • 5000 Front Kicks has a payout of $10 (KJ is currently averaging 100 per day, so in 50 days she will make it)
  • 10 PERFECT push-ups with zero pause time has a pay out of $5
  • 50 Laps Around the Block has a payout of $5 (Dy has done 4 thus far)

The bounty approach has been fantastic in previous summers, so we continue it.  When Dy wants a Slurpee, she knows that all she needs to do is enough long division problems and viola!  Slurpee time!  Or, knock out 10 perfect push-ups (not easy given their builds, gender, and age by the way).

By way of mechanics, I don't pay them per problem as they go. It just isn't practical to give them 8 cents here and there. Rather, they get payouts in intervals of dollars.

Happy Bounty Paying!

Thursday, June 1, 2017

First Day of Homeschool!

Ahhhh, it is finally here!!! Yeah!! We are so super excited.  Today is the very first day of our homeschool!

Wait, what?! It is June 1st? The start of Summer.

Yep, it sure is.

You may recall the blog post about the Try Before You Buy homeschool model wherein you try homeschooling for an entire summer to see if it would really work for you and your family.  What we've done for a number of years is do summer homeschool, the Try Before You Buy model, so our girls simply expect to continue their learning all summer long.

So, what's changing in their daily routines?  Nothing from the previous summer.

Over the years, we've refined our homeschool summer model to fit with what actually works in our family.  Our schedule has turned into something pretty simple.

Today, for example, the girls got up at 8:30AM, and they are now finishing their breakfast. At 9AM, we will begin 30 minutes of morning Martial Arts training, lead by my eldest (she leads on Thursdays), and then they will do their academics.  They already know what to do and in what areas they need to cover.  They have complete freedom in the order they do their work, a lot of latitude in the modes of learning (digital, worksheets, book, dad taught, videos, ....) and how much time to spend in each area.  At 12 noon, the youngest will prepare lunch (she handles lunches on Thursdays), which we will sit down and eat together, and then it will be chore time.  Once chores are done, if they've achieved their personal learning goals for the day, then they can simply play/do whatever but if they've not made their goals, they return to what they need and want to get done. Dinner will be at 5PM, and we will play a strategy board game as a family around 6PM.  At 7:30PM, we will be at our Dojo for an hour long Martial Arts class.

Because we've been doing this for years, both girls know what is expected of them, and they do it.  It is rare that I need to step in and provide a parental push or adjustment.  Both girls love learning, and since it is driven by areas of interest, they go on their own ... and many afternoons will find them doing extra academics/research/pushing of their minds because they are so interested in something.  Eventually, they will make their way outside to bike ride, play with some kids, challenge me to a game of soccer, or play in the pool.  Each afternoon is different and we simply flow with whatever.

Monday, May 15, 2017

Florida Homeschooling Requirements

We're only a few weeks away from our girls ending common schooling.   It has been an interesting journey thus far, and we (daughters, mom, and dad) are very ready to begin the homeschool in earnest.

As they leave the "system", I have the responsibility to ensure we are playing within the homeschool rules framework of our state.  Our state is a good homeschool state, being supportive of this freedom option, and even provides free resources to us including free online classes!

Our state covers homeschooling requirements primarily within its statutes (The 2016 Florida Homeschooling Statutes).  I've been studying them aggressively to ensure that we are doing this right.

The statues covering homeschool are very straight forward, and they don't seem overly onerous.  Here are some of the key things that I have to pay attention to:

1. "notice shall be filed in the district school superintendent’s office within 30 days of the establishment of the home education program."

2. "The parent shall maintain a portfolio of records and materials" that consists of a log of what was done and samples of what was done by the student.  The log is to be created as we go.

3. "The parent shall provide for an annual educational evaluation in which is documented the student’s demonstration of educational progress at a level commensurate with her or his ability."

The first one isn't a big deal.  It is a one time paper work filing that has the kids names, ages, etc.  Back in October of 2016, I had reached out to our county's public school system section leader to ensure that I our counties latest preferred form version.  This person (Toney S) was very responsive and got back to me with a cheerful note appending the form.

The second one, maintaining records as we go, is more a discipline issue than anything else.  I believe I will find and use some sort of online journaling software. Hell, a blog could do it.  That is, each day ensure that what we've done is chronicled in some manner that can be accessed.

The third one, the annual education evaluation, seems fair but brings back in the squishy area of subjectivity that I don't like.  However, our state is great in that the evaluations can be done in a number of ways.  According to the Florida statutes, we can do the annual evaluations by:

  1. Having a teacher certified in the state of Florida review their work
  2. Taking a Nationally Normed Student Assessment Test (aka Standardized Tests)
  3. Taking our School District's Assessment Test
  4. Having them evaluated by an Education Psychologist licensed in the state of Florida
  5. Any other method agreed to between me and the School District Superintendent

Of these options, the one we shall be choosing is a Florida certified teacher yearly evaluation.  I've already found a fantastic link to a directory of Florida teachers willing to do the necessary evaluations.  Prices range from $25 to $50 or so per child per year.  Some of the teachers are earning extra money during the summer months, while others are homeschool parents themselves that happen to be licensed to teach in Florida.  You can find the directory at 

If I combine the online journaling software with a digital capture of my daughters work, then that would mean all the information for the evaluation by a teacher could be done on-line!  And if the evaluator wants to talk with them, a simple Skype session could be established. That may be a great way to manage and handle all this.  By keeping it online, I could also easily handle the two years of records keeping required by the statutes.

Well alright all right! Here we go!

Monday, May 1, 2017

War's Gift To Kids- Learning How To Apply Strategy Through Games

Our 8 year old playing a phenominal cooperative
family game called Forbidden Island where choices
are openly discussed and applied, fitting into
an overall shared strategy.
All parents, homeschooling or otherwise, expect their children to make good choices, but I've never met another parent that teaches the mechanics of how to do this.  Primarily they expect their kids to kind of figure it out through trial and error.  I've over heard some parents say things like "Think about the consequences" but that's the extent of their advice.  There is a whole academic discipline devoted to making good choices and it is called "Strategy."

Many people simply brush off studying Strategy as a war thing.  While it does have its roots in the unknown and chaotic environment of warfare, over the years its application to all areas of life have been studied and applied to great effect, be it business, or home buying, or simply picking out where to hold a party (we did this as part of a course at Stanford on Strategy).  Unknowns and chaos are a part of life and having the ability to formalize decisions in such spaces is a very powerful tool.  Even when to be spontaneous can be analyzed as part of a strategic decision.

Learning about, and applying, Strategic Thought in life is an important part of our Homeschool education.  Strategic Thought enables our girls to make better choices in uncertain and unknown environments, which covers a large swath of actual life .... and an even larger amount if you push yourself into unknown areas. We feel so strongly about this that we've not only formally codified it into our homeschool charter (VI. Strategy of Exerevno Academy.2, VII.Tactics of Exerevno Academy.4, and VIII.Operations of Exerevno Academy.3), but we actively pursue it as a field of study on its own.  We leverage board-games as a laboratory for this topic, and life's choices for the actual application.

The kinds of Board-Games we incorporate in our homeschool life for strategy lessons are turn based, where the pace of the game is regulated by our choice speed.  Our board games are chosen such that neither physical agility nor physical prowess grants an advantage.  What matters is the ability to make good choices.  No, these aren't all war games.  In fact, as I look at our game collection, of the 30 some games in it, only two are explicitly/overtly about war (Stratego and Risk) and two are implicit (Go and Chess).

Some games we play are cooperative, while others are adversarial.  Some are team based, and some are each man for themselves.  Some are perfect information games, while others are not.  Some are 1 player, some 2, some 4, some 6 and up.  The games have various age recommendations, from 5 and up to 13 and up (although we consciously ignore the suggested age range). Some take 5 minutes (Uno, for example), some have taken 5 hours (we once played Carcassonne Big Box and it took 5 hours for a single game), and some take days (Monopoly seems to have this happen more than most games). Some have elements of chance and some require diplomacy, but all require strategy.

These kinds of games also provide for another important part of our homeschool approach, the acquisition of the skill of active feedback (again, see our charter).  You can see and measure how outcomes are unfolding, and because we use turns as a speed regulation mechanism, each person can operate their feedback loops comfortably and adjust if need be.

If you're homeschooling, you probably include games to some degree but do you activity choose, study, and play games that develop specific deep skill sets you want your kids to have in life?  We do, and our girls LOVE them.  We will be sharing examples throughout the life of this blog, and they will be labeled with Games.

Do you have a great strategy board game recommendation? If so, please do share.

Saturday, April 15, 2017

You Suck At Math Because Your Parents Sucked At Math (ispo facto, your kid will suck because you do)

If your kid is awesome at mathematics, please don't read this post.  

If you're not interested in my rants, please don't read this post.

If you're a cry baby and take things too personal, please don't read this post.

If you're a believer in the victim mentality, please don't read this post.

Warnings done... proceed at your own risk.

Let's stop blaming the schools. Let's stop blaming the teachers. Let's stop blaming the genetics. Your kids suck at math because you do. This is true whether your kids are in public school, private school, or homeschool.

You suck at math because your parents sucked at math. Your kids suck at math because you suck at math.

"I can do math in my head, I know math" No you don't. You know how to drive a car, but that doesn't mean you know how it actually works ... and you need to know how it actually works to teach how to build a car.... and make no mistake, the fundamentals of math are all building block items. Multiplications, Fractions, Subtraction, Probability, etc.

"You don't need to teach them math, they will figure out what they need as they go." WHAT!?! Wow. How far does this line of reasoning go with you and into what areas of life? Or is this a selective thing only applying to math? Well, your kids, your choice. I, on the other hand, will most definitely ensure my children understand mathematics before they find they need it (such as with predatory credit card terms, mortgages, insurance rates, etc.)

So, who will break the cycle? You? Your Kids? Or will you continue to allow it plague your family lineage and build in an excuse system?

I was horrible in math in elementary school. The pain! The Pain! (I can hear Paul Mordeeb in Dune screaming in the pain amplifier!)
Memorize this, Memorize that, go faster, wtf is this? Crazy madness. It all made no sense because those who taught it didn't understand it. But wait, that's the teacher, right? Yeah, but parents are the first teachers. Teaching math is a natural part of raising a kid. Basic math is infused in all aspects of our society. I bet you don't understand it so you can't infuse it into a family discussion. I truly understand math. In fact, I can teach mathematics through set theory and numerical analysis (300 and 400 level college), and I know I can step into a college and pass a class in combinatronics.

Am I saying that my kids will be doing this level of mathematics before they leave home high school? Extremely doubtful. Unless one of my girls is very clear that she wants to go deep into some computationally intensive science, our math education will barely, if at all, touch trigonometry or calculus.

What is key is to really understand the fundamentals of computational mathematics and how it works. If your kid knows 6 times 7 of the top of their heads, that's fantastic. But does your kid really know what 6 x 7 means? Can they explain it, can they show it, can they swap in a something other than a 6 and still lay out what is going on? Can they substitute an apple for the six and still get it? Can they add the apple as the unit and get it? Can the explain what the units are implied or not by 6 x 7? Do they understand the place holders that the 6 and 7 represent? Do they really understand that we are simply speaking out, in a short phrase, "six times of a 7"? Do they know that 6 times 7 will never be presented to them that directly in the world? Can they transfer from a real life situation into the 6 x 7 memorized fact? Do they know the answer to 6 apples times 7 oranges? Do you? It isn't a trick question, if you understand mathematics.

If you don't really understand math, go back and study it. I did. As silly as this may sound to you, when I was 20 years old I decided I had to really learn math. So, while I was stationed in Korea, I plopped my ass down in the post library almost every day for six months and started to learn. I started with basic counting. Literally doing 1 plus 1. What was 1 plus 1 really? How does it work? What do these things mean? 1 what? Etc. Etc. I did this for about 6 months, getting into geometry. I now really know math and can transfer that into my children, making it a part of our daily lives. It isn't some vague concept or algorithm sequence to memorize. I can explain and show why, and I can infuse logical thinking steps into our daily lives to help my kids grow and explore through mathematics in real terms. I can have discussions around Miles Per Hour and help them discover how that is a fraction with units and translate that further into distance covered over some period of time. I sure wish I had this comprehension before entering the adult world.... I would undoubtedly have made better financial choices as a young man.

As a nation, we approach mathematics education wrong, and we seem to be suck in this vortex of wrongness. We can either let it perpetuate or fix it. I'm fixing it, what about you?

So, fellow educator, take accountability. Own it. Go back, and really think through mathematics at the basic level. Do it to gift your family tree, as I have.

Saturday, April 1, 2017

How To Make Travel and Vacations Meaningful Education Experiences for Kids

One of the many reasons we homeschool is the freedom to travel.  Our life experience is that visiting the world brings you closer to it, building a deeper bond with peoples of the world. It also puts muscle and color onto the dry bones of book based history, geography, and anthropology.  There isn't anything like talking about WWII with our girls, and then recalling our visit to Dresden.  History gets teeth this way. This, a huge part of our home education model is to include travel.

From our home school charter Philosophy section

III.4: "Actual experience is a far superior teacher to theoretical constructs.  As such, Exerevno Academy aggressively seeks to provide its students with experience based learning opportunities."

and from the tactics section of our home school charter

VII.3: "Cultivate self-driven inclusion in the human race with extensive travel"

Our girls have thus far been to 22 different countries, traveled by train, plane, boat, bus, automobile, motorcycle, bike, and their own two feet.  They've backpacked in Europe, Kayaked in Honduras, rode camels in the Sahara, and more.  We literally started when they were babies, carrying them with us as we explored the world.  All this experience has allowed us to hone our travel infused education model.

What follows are some of the ways we blend our girls education with our passion for experiencing the world.

Folders For Trips
For any trip we take, we start educating ourselves on the place about 6 months out.  In the case of Egypt, however, we started about a year out. Each week we do something related to the trip.  This something is always two or more hours in duration, and can span multiple weeks.

In the very first week, we discuss our upcoming trip in detail.  We talk about what we want to get out of the trip, why we are taking the trip, and the kinds of things we would each like to do.  We build out a tenative itinerary and plan together.  We then create holding folders for the trip.  The front cover is a map of the area to be visited.  These folders not only keep things organized, but are put away for the girls when we are done so that when they are adults, they have a nice keep sake.

Youngest With Her Map
Our first set of activities are always map related, and takes about a month to complete. The girls build out world maps, showing where they are and where the destination is.  If we are going through multiple countries, they mark each country on the map. With the world map done, we then drill in and they build out country maps (one per each country visited).  On each country map, they identify major cities and land features (such as rivers).  In some cases, like when we went to Paris, we had them do city maps too, showing where major things like the Eiffel
Tower and the Louvre were in relation to our hotel.

Our second set of activities is always history related, and takes about about a month to complete.  The girls start building out history time-lines, showing major events in a particular countries history.  We usually build these out using history podcasts from university history lecturers.

Our third set of activities is around the famous people associated with the countries to be visited.  Be they good, bad, or otherwise, we study the major historical people that are associated with a place.   It is neat because the girls have bumped into some of the same characters now multiple times like Napoleon and Julius Caesar. This approach has also let us view these people from multiple perspectives.  Napoleon's quest in Egypt, for example, with his 150 scholars, engineers, and scientists as a major part of his force highlights a different view than we got when we studied him before going to France.

Once we have our maps, history, and people noted, we then go in multiple directions.  We make dishes from the country, we listen to music from the country, we study art from the country and create our versions of it, we do projects related to the religion of the country, we study the political system of the country, we write fiction stories about the people in the country, and so on.  We create fiction stories
Stories, Colorings, and Paper dolls
about people in a country, and we write out own history books on a place.

The results, after years of doing this, have been astonishing. The girls have demonstrated tremendous knowledge about places, people, and history as compared to others their age (and older)  as they whip out facts, opinions, and thoughts based on first hand experience and study.

We have done a few TV shows as sources for material, but have found that the information does not stick as well as when they do their own projects or when the listen to the same information in a podcast.  This probably isn't surprising, but anecdotal evidence that TV isn't the ideal way to gain knowledge (at least not for our kids).
Abu Sunbil July 2016

It is a lot of work for me, to get all this material rolling.  However, the experience can't be beat.  It also helps increase the value of a particular vacation.  For example, traveling to Egypt ended up costing us around $12,000.  We were gone for 2 weeks, coming out to an average of about $860 per day, or about $210 per head per day.  However, looked at another way, we spent a year studying the place before we left.  We built dioramas, listened to songs, ate different foods, etc. that we wouldn't have and that is also time that could count towards the 2 weeks.  If I were to estimate, I'd say we spent 4 weeks of time doing these other things before we got to Egypt.  That makes the entire Egypt trip event 6 weeks (2 there plus the 4 actively preparing).  Now we have a spend of about $285 per day, or about $70 per head per day.  Well worth it!!!