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 http://florida-homeschooling.org/evaluator/ 

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!!!

Wednesday, March 15, 2017

The Socialization Nightmare

As we've prepared to homeschool, we've run into the Socialization Red Herring.  However, it is nearly always other homeschoolers explaining the issue isn't an issue! But it is an issue, just not not the way most talk about it.

Most public school teachers and administrators want to fix things and get them right, but the system has gone so far out of control with bureaucracy, politics, statutes, and regulations that they cannot pull the reigns back in.  So sad, for everyone involved.  Hats of to the teachers and administrators that continue the good fight to help the kids get what they need.  Enough of the rant.

We believe Socialization is important.  In fact, it is so important that it is another critical reason why we believe homeschooling is the best way to go if you can.

Wait? What?!? One of the reasons you homeschool is because of Socalization. Yes Sir.

Here is the Wikipedia definition of Socialization:
"Socialization is the term used ... to refer to the lifelong process of inheriting and disseminating norms, customs, values, and ideologies, providing an individual with the skills and habits necessary for participating within their own society."

"inheriting and disseminating norms, customs, values, and ideologies"
Who is to do this? The teachers? Principals?  In reality, it is the kid's peer group that ends up doing this.  There is no child my child's age that can be entrusted to share norms, customs, values, and ideologies.   Period.

"providing an individual with the skills and habits necessary for participating within their own society."
It is my personal experience that the common school environment does not provide an environment that is like society and its professional working world, so the skills and habits acquired in navigating a public school are for a situation that doesn't actually exist in our society.  There are numerous points of deviation between school and the real world, but here are my top 3:

  1. Segregation by age.
  2. Weakest links dictate pace.  
  3. Knowledge kept in silos 

1. I've never worked in a place that segregated by age, that would actually be against the law.
2. In offices where I've worked, the slowest person is ultimately the one who gets fired
3. At work, it is the fusion of knowledge across all domains that makes things possible.  Accountants, for example, use math and business and English and computer science and history.

So, if Socialization is important to you, find or create an environment where ages are mixed, weak links fall to the wayside, and knowledge is not artificially segmented into neat groups.  Find or create an environment where the norms, customs, VALUES, and ideologies match what makes our nation great. Oh, wait, that's homeschool. Cool.

A final thought.  Look around at society today ... are you happy with what you see in its behavior?  I'm not, so to me ... it isn't working.  As a society, we've screwed up big time. It is our fault, we citizens.  There are too many theorists pontificating ways of how things should be versus how they really are, and they inhibiting those undervalued public servants who have to everyday help get the kids ready for the real world.

Wednesday, March 1, 2017

School Toxicity Geiger Counter - Monitoring The Common/Public School Environment

If you're on the fence about homeschooling, or looking for a way to monitor when it is time to pull that trigger to start homeschooling, maybe our model would be of some use.

You may recall from an earlier post that we were watching our girls in the public school environment very closely, ready to extract our kids before our target grade (6th) should things go really bad.  But what is really bad, and how would we know?  There is so many things going on, some good and some bad, some matter and some don't.  To this end, we created a School Toxicity Geiger Counter that helped us watch areas that mattered to us.

We decided that there were three primary dimensions that we would monitor:

1. Values - Standards of Behavior
2. Attitudes - A Perspective or Viewpoint
3. Academics - The study and acquisition of knowledge

In each of these dimensions, we would monitor what our children perceived as coming from their school environment (*) as well as the actual adjustments to them we observed, and then compare those who what we wanted for our children.  The larger the deviation, the more frequent ping on our School Toxicity Geiger counter.

[*A subtle, but important, point is that it what the children actually receive and become Attitude wise may not be what the school intends, and this could be from two sources.  It could be that the school professes a particular Attitude, for example, but the children themselves don't get the message.  Put another way, if the Golden Rule is expressed in Chinese, it doesn't matter because we don't speak Chinese.  Secondly, it could be that the policies and procedures of a given school have resulted in the inmates running the asylum.  That is, the culture of the school's students has become more powerful and influencing than that trying to be expressed by the teachers and administrators.  This is another unfortunate reality. Since it is our children we care about, whatever message they actually receive is the important point regardless of the source. ]

In the category of Values, for example, we believe in Individualism, Equality, Self-Reliance,  Competition, and Patriotism.  As you can see, our Values are concepts that you may or may not be able to rationalize as to why they are important, but they are important to us none the less.

In the category of Attitudes, for example, we view life as a wonderful, happy experience, to be tasted and enjoyed in every way.  We view actual experience as more meaningful than theoretical mental jaunts.  We view consumerism as a key mechanism that powers the nation, but view materialism as a dangerous path.  We view all knowledge as being fair game for consumption. We view intellectual engagement (when the mind has to work with it) as good when information is sent, while its antithesis (just knowledge pushing) is bad (e.g. watching TV is primarily bad).  We view learning as a natural, life activity that doesn't have boundaries of when it starts or stops (school, home, whatever, always always always learn) and all opportunities to learn should be taken.

In the category of Academics, we monitored factual accuracy and completeness of comprehension of the basics.  That is, did the information dispensed at school match the commonly accepted facts within the discipline, and if not, was there a good reason.  For example, I listened to a lecturer dispense to my daughters class that there was no gravity in outer space because there is no atmosphere.  This is factually incorrect and hence, a ping on the School Toxicity Geiger Counter.

With our School Environment Geiger counter in place, we simply kept tabs of incidents when things deviated from our Values, Attitudes, and Academic expectations. For example, the girls had a fundraiser at their school.  It was one of those big productions where they had a team of people come in  to do a rah rah event, to charge the kids up to go out and peddle those widgets! Oh Yeah. Not.  Anyway, those that sold a certain amounts got charms, and bracelets, and stickers, and ... oh ... got to attend a special BMX bike trick show.   yeah.  Anyway, the girls came home and were puzzled by something.  They shared that if their class sold certain amounts, then their class would have any homework for the next night.  My girls didn't understand why this was a reward.  They had the Attitude that homework is a good thing, an activity that allows for learning to be bridged between home and school, an opportunity to dig into the material on their own at home at their own pace.  They were actually disappointed.  They knew other kids didn't like homework, but they didn't understand why the teachers/school shared the "homework is a thing to get out of" view. Big Big Big ping on the School Geiger Counter. For our family, this was the wrong Attitude. It was fundamentally opposed to our view.

You no doubt can imagine how many times our core values have been bumped into.  Self-Reliance was a common Ping.  The school system teaches a lot about relying on the system, both directly and indirectly.  Many times, this isn't even an overt intention, but because of our litigious society, school environment and rules have evolved this way.

So, if you're looking for a way to monitor the situation at their school and want to have a trip-line to pull them out, my advice is to codify your Values, Attitudes, and Academic standards if you haven't.  Watch for any deviations only to those things that fall within them.  There is simply too much going on to see everything, so focus on what matters to you.

Wednesday, February 15, 2017

The Ole Switchero : Dude Transitioning To Domestic Duties and Daddy Afterschool School

Following our plan, 24 months before we were to begin homeschooling my wife returned to full time work.  This meant that we were both earning an income, but adjusted to live off what she earned.  At 18 months out, I left the working world behind and assumed the domestic duties life full time.  My wife was earning more than enough for us to maintain the quality of life we wanted.

It was very strange at first, being home all day in this new world of no meetings, phone calls, client ass kissing, no co-workers, and such.  I'd wake up with no pressure.  I'd go to bed at night with no pressure.  There were no deadlines to drive me any more.  After more than two decades of marching to the corporate world beat, I felt like I was in outer space, free floating.

With the kids still in their public charter school, I had plenty of time during the day to reflect, settle into my new role, think things through, and get ready for the homeschool phase.  There was a lot to learn, such as the regulations governing homeschooling in my area, what support groups were available, what program options I have, and what kind of learners are my girls.  

Every week, in addition to the laundry, dishes, clean up, etc., I'd accomplish one exterior house thing, like pressure washing, or mowing the yard, or trimming the hedges, etc.  I've also been able to indulge in various interests of mine, ones that I never seemed to have time to do before such as concrete sculpting.  My love of Martial Arts has also seen a major boost as I can commit more regular hours to it.  I also get to read more, as well as listen to more podcasts of interest (space science, eastern philosophy, and so on).  The cherry on the cake is hitting places off peak hours, like the gun range.  LOVE IT!

The transition has been phenomenally smooth.  One area that I've still not internally found settled involves asking for money.  Now that I'm not the money maker, I personally find it tough asking for anything.  It is an internal hang up for sure, but one that I do face.  We have an auto deposit into a private account for me, from the wifie's paycheck, that we call the "Mad Money."  That is an amount of money that I can go crazy with and spend on anything I want, no questions asked.  It is my pocket money as it were.  It is more than enough to sustain my hobbies and interests.  However, there are times when I want to do more than my Mad Money will cover, and I have to ask, and I don't like to.

In preparation for the Full Monty homeschooling, one of the things I have practiced is to ensure that when the girls come home from school that they have an hour of academic work from me.  This is in addition to whatever they have from their public charter school.  Of course, what I'm giving them fits well with what they will be doing at their regular day school, mostly covering materials that I suspect they will need later in the school year.  This has paid huge dividends for all of us.  I've continued to learn how they each individually learn, how I can best serve as their learning guide, and they've gained mastery on subjects ahead of their classmates.

Wednesday, February 1, 2017

The Middle School Way

Happy New Year!

Val and I always knew we would probably home school our kids.  The question always was, when.  When and what grade would we start.  For us, that really depended upon what we were seeing in their school environments.  That is, we would have them in public schools for as long as we thought it was to their benefit and that no major damage to them was being done.

With very cautious eyes, we enrolled our eldest into school; we found that were very happy with what was going on.  The teacher was a delight, and kindergarten for KJ was great.  Then we moved to Florida and put the kids in a new school.  It wasn't just any school, but one of the "best schools in the state" and "number one in the county" according to the standardized testing.  Wham! Not so good, at least in our opinion.

This particular schools great testing achievements were at a huge cost: our girls were not only being homogenized but their zest for learning was fading fast.  The cruel, slow pace Baton Death March of intellectual development carrying every child forward together was grinding out their natural joy of learning.  Our youngest, in particular, was having a very hard time going so slow.  We met with their teachers, and we were told point blank that this was the pace and that the class would be going together.  Yep, sure, eventually everyone will make it together, but at what cost .... and where, ultimately, were they going?

Within 2 months, we pulled our youngest out and put her into a very small public charter school where they adjusted to the child's level.  As soon as the school year ended, our oldest was also pulled from the "great" A rated school and joined her sister in the small charter school.  We've been there ever sense (finishing 4th year there now).

With the move, we began discussing the right transition time into homeschool. We were in a much better place in the small charter school, but it was clear that short of a middle school charter of the same type, our girls would be screwed.  The Education System is engineered for the masses.  Period. So, it was decided that we would begin homeschooling in 6th grade, the start of middle school, for each of our daughters.  Sooner, of course, should the environment at the small charter school change in a bad way.

Our working modeling for the past 4 years has been that once a daughter hit 6th grade, she would be in Daddy School.  Amazingly enough, that starts in 6 months! Time sure does fly.

With all the discussion of homeschooling at our dinner table, the youngest has made it clear she wants to homeschool too.  She really wants to explore things at a much faster pace, and in areas of deep interest to her.  So, we've decided that both our girls will begin homeschooling at the same time.   This is an adjustment to the plan, but plans change so we will simply flow with it!

They have made friends, enemies, did school talent shows, faced bullies, worked with home room moms, participated in fund raisers, experienced incorrect gradings, enjoyed group work, did big group field trips, and more.  Lots of wonderful, good experiential things.  Now it is time to switch gears, and allow each of our daughters to unfold at their pace, in their way, and in their own direction.

Sunday, January 15, 2017

Not Sure You Can Do It? Do a Summer Homeschool first

Nope, I didn't breastfeed my kids. I'm not built to and, I don't want to.  In fact, until I watched a particular Family Guy episode, the thought never crossed my mind.  However, I do want to home school my kids and the question is, can I?  Can I serve as a perpetual intellectual lactation machine?

I'm not worried about if I can teach them.  What I'm worried about is being with my kids all day long, every day, providing providing providing.  I love my girls, but operating in this role, ensuring the nectar of education is flowing is definitely a sustenance providing role that has to come from some place very deep within.  Even with self-driven kids, which I have, every single day helping them along all day long may prove too much.  If you believe the commonly male/female role accepted history, it is the woman who stays with the kids while the man goes out to hunt down the food.... so maybe like breast feeding, I'm simply not wired for this stuff.

So, how did I test the waters? Glad you asked, because that's what this post is about: how to try out homeschooling before jumping in

I had learned from a different major family lifestyle shift that it is best you sample the new scenario for a prolonged period before you go for it (another story for another post, but it involves living on a sailboat!).  For homeschooling, what I decided to do was do school for an entire summer with them.  That is, put them in Daddy Home Summer school.  I wanted to see if I could handle their education for the entire period, 11 weeks.

I looked at it this way, worst case scenario is that it totally sucks and we were miserable.  If that happened, we could just stop and they would go into regular summer mode, knowing that they would be back to their traditional school with no interruptions.... no harm no foul.  Any case better than that, then at least the girls would have a good start on the next years school material. All this, and I got time with my kids.

In June of 2016, as soon as the school year ended for my kids at their public charter school, they entered Daddy Home Summer school.  This would be a trial run for all of us.  We knew that they would be going back to their regular public charter school in September (see The Middle Way post), but for the summer it would be daddy school all the way.

I had work packets ready, ideas for field trips, proposed daily schedules, cool projects, evaluation criteria, and more.  We would be attacking material from every area of study that they would face when they returned to their public charter school the next school year, 3rd and 5th grade stuff.

Over did a dune buggy engine once,
making long distance driving not feasible.
This test summer run provided a tremendous amount of actual feedback and, like the time I designed an engine for my dune buggy, I found that not everything worked as my mind had planned.  Some things better, some things worse, but that it was all about balance.

Doing the Daddy Home Summer school before going Full Monty tested the waters in a number of areas, allowing me to refine my operating model.  However, the most important learning and the main reason I even did this trial run was to ensure that I could, in fact, do this week after week after week.

So, nope ... I can't breastfeed, and I really don't want to.  I can, however, homeschool for weeks on end, and totally enjoy it and myself.  Wahoo!!

Sunday, January 1, 2017

Our Homeschool Charter

Before upgrading my life to become a homeschool dad, I spent a lot of my time in the active and formal creation and application of "Strategy" to help target and guide organizations. So when I read a blog post about constructing a charter for your own homeschool, I thought "well damn, that makes a lot of sense!"

The homeschool charter becomes a formalized outline of your strategy.  That is, at a very high level, in the universe of all things that could be done, what will you do and wont do.  It also helps capture the fundamental beliefs that drive your approach to homeschooling and education. It becomes a way of keeping decisions aligned so that you can achieve and reach a goal, when there is uncertainty and unknowns before going in.

Below you will find the homeschool charter that I've developed thus far.  It will no doubt morph over time, as all good strategies do.  Oh, I've named our school Exerevno Academy (I thought naming the home school and having a mascot was a good idea too!)

Homeschool Charter of Exerevno Academy

I. Vision 
 - A world of Self-Sufficient, additive members of the human race

II. Mission
 - To Create Self-Reliant, effective members of society who better the human race 

III. Philosophy
 1. Each human being has a right AND obligation to grow to their full potential. This is only accomplished by pushing on ones perceived boundaries to see if they have reached their own true limits. 

 2. Leveraging the natural tendencies of curiosity, creativity, and resilience, Exerevno Academy provides an environment that cultivates a behavior of  reaching beyond the individuals perceived constraints of the mind, body, and soul thereby enabling the individual to  grow throughout their life time in pursuit of their maximum potential.  

 3. Exerevno Academy provides a challenging environment that cultivates a fearless love of the exploration of life.  Exerevno students enter the world Intellectually, Physically, and Spiritually stronger than most, ready to carry humanity forward.

 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. 

IV. Colors
 - Silver, Gold, and Purple

V. Mascot
 - Dragon

VI. Strategy of Exerevno Academy
 1. Aggressive development in the Student an appreciation and application of feedback loops
 2. Emphasize the perspective pillars of Philosophy and Strategic Thought
 3. Favor learning techniques that are pragmatic over those solely borne of, and use only in, the academic world

VII. Tactics of Exerevno Academy
 1. Encourage self-driven exploration allowing the students to dwell in areas most interesting to them
 2. Foster self-driven analysis of an area under consideration through Science, Spirituality, and History
 3. Cultivate self-driven inclusion in the human race with extensive travel
 4. Grow self-driven problem solving skills by posing challenges, questions, and the like through scenario and word problems 
 5. Improve self-driven knowledge consumption with the exploration of a variety of learning models and memorization techniques

VIII. Operations of Exerevno Academy
 1. Daily practice of Martial Arts, Writing, Problem Solving, and Creative Pursuits
 2. Require each student to create and operate their own business throughout their tenure at the school.
 3. Frequent game play with games requiring strategic thought

IX. Fundamentals
 1. Feedback Loops
 2. Regular Daily Movement 
 3. Metrics and Analysis

(Copyright 2016)