Wednesday, November 13, 2013

Gifted, Normal, or Handicapped??!!

Like many homeschool moms, I am a part of several online homeschooling groups.  We all share ideas that work and ask for help when things aren't working.  Some advice is great (which I frequently save in my head to use later, whether or not I have had the same problems) and some advice is exactly the opposite of what should be done.  When I have the inclination, I put in my "two cents," but frequently I just read what has been said and keep my comments to myself. 

Sometimes, though, something in a question or comment catches my attention and sticks with me. There is one phrase which I see very often and it is much worse than fingernails on a chalkboard (sorry, that reference is not for the younger generation of moms - fingernails on a white board just don't have the same effect. I mean it is extremely irritating.).  Every time I read this particular phrase, my teeth grit and I feel myself getting irate at a person I don't know and will probably never meet.  In the past two days, I have counted at least 6 times this one group of words has been in posts from moms who are either a few months into their first year homeschooling or those who are seriously considering homeschooling. Sometimes it is part of the question, sometimes this phrase is part of the information building up to the question, but my irritation (and sometimes outright anger) is still there. 

I am referring to a very proud parent talking about their child as one "who was tested by the school and found to be gifted."  They then ask for curriculum recommendations for this special child. 

Now, I have pause to say that every child is special.  I honestly am not discounting that.  Actually, every child was uniquely created for a special purpose by the one and only living God.  That makes every child infinitely valuable.  So please realize I am addressing this post to academic performance, not to the child himself.  Having said that, however, I will continue my rant.

Parents who say their child is "gifted" do not understand the reason why schools give these tests, nor do they understand what these tests entail or why the school gives them.  As a teacher in public schools for 12 years, I gave this test many, many times and saw which students were identified as "gifted," and I also saw how these children compared academically with other children.

The gifted test was given at some point to every child in the district where I worked.  They tried to give it to everyone in (I think) 1st grade, but if a child transferred from another district, or if they changed the test slightly, I had to give the test in another grade. 

The test is simply identifying patterns.  There are not many directions given before the test, basically telling the children to find the best match. I had a child who was in 4th grade and didn't even know all of his alphabet score as "gifted."  I've had children who truly were gifted score within normal range. It is simply a test. That is all.  I would look down the list every year (at least the years we were able to see the list) and it was like someone randomly selected a certain number of students. 

Let me tell you a couple of case studies.  I had one student who was tested "gifted," and he actually performed well on other academic tests. He could read on a 12th grade level in 5th grade. This child had almost straight Cs for grades because he did not apply himself in any way.  He was more interested in playing than in reading. He did his work too quickly to be accurate.  He did not care to "re-do" assignments and used his incredible gift for math to figure out how many he could miss and still get the grade which he felt was acceptable. This very talented boy either dropped out of high school or was expelled permanently in high school (I've forgotten which).  In any case, I do not think he finished.  Another student who scored very poorly on this test and was very low academically in elementary school.  He was unkempt and would rather stare blankly at the wall than attempt any assignment, no matter the academic level.  He worked hard as he got older and graduated with his class, getting himself out of the "special" classes and into "regular" classes with his hard work.  He was joining the military, the last time I spoke to him. 

Based on my experiences, I would say the "gifted and talented" test has no real correlation to academic success at all.  Don't give me Einstein - there should have been some pattern in the results if the test were valid, which there wasn't, so it isn't.  Don't give me the "he is bored" speech, either. I had some fabulous experiments and projects and still had students come to me in the middle of them and say, "I'm bored. Are we done yet?"  Student curiosity is what has been lost, not the fact that there aren't enough pictures in their AP History textbook.  I hate to burst your bubble, parents of "gifted and talented" children, but it was never real in the first place.  The real gifted and talented children use inquiry skills to discover things they are interested in, not just memorize facts which they spew back on a multiple choice annual state test.

So, why give the "gifted and talented" test at all? 

Money, of course.  The school districts get additional funds for every student classified as "gifted." The stated purpose was to get assistance to the gifted children for enrichment purposes, but most of the time the money never made it to any program identified as gifted.  Usually a reading specialist or a teacher in one of the arts classes was given the money and told to get something for the gifted students.  The years teachers were given more money for supplies, we all got things which could be used by the entire class, not just the "gifted" students.  When a gifted program was started, they usually just pulled the students out of the classroom during instruction time to play games, so when the child returned, he either had to figure out for himself how to do the work or the teacher had to teach a special lesson for that person, which is very difficult to find time for.  Most of my students just asked if they were required to go, then added that they preferred to remain in the classroom.

Another reason this phrase of a parent wanting special work for their "gifted" child bothers me is that homeschooling IS a gifted program.  You, as the mom, get to teach your child in an almost ideal teaching situation.  My daughter, who is academically delayed, has highly THRIVED in an environment where she is the only student.  My daughter gets the full attention of the teacher (or half of my attention, when I have another student here).  She can ask anything she does not understand and get immediate feedback.  She gets the opportunity to discuss what she has learned.  If she discovers something she wants to research further, she does it. You can't do that in a classroom of 27 students!  Homeschool IS a gifted program.

Yet, most of these moms who are "crowing" about their child's "giftedness" are also looking for a curriculum that they, as the mom and teacher, do not need to be involved with.  That, I do NOT understand. I ask moms occasionally what their child is studying in Science or Social Studies, and most of the time the mom doesn't know.  THAT, I do not understand. You want to pull your child out of a classroom WITH a full-time teacher (good, bad, or otherwise) and put them in a situation where they have NO assistance with their learning??  You take away any opportunity for your child to share what he is learning, and therefore removing a vital component to the learning process. Really??!! 

I know what schools mean by a "gifted and talented" student.  It means in 1st grade, he could randomly select squares that the test designers said held a pattern.  Even the truly "gifted" student needs a teacher sometimes. The real question to me is: What do these moms mean by a "gifted and talented" child?  I don't think even they know.

What curriculum will help a gifted child?

Any curriculum which encourages self-discovery, discussion of academics, and presentations of revelations found by the student will develop a gifted child. Yes develop them.  These three elements encourage a depth of thinking which most pre-made curriculum cannot provide.  This is why I LOVE the style of education called "A Thomas Jefferson Education," based on a book by that name by Oliver Van de Mille. Their website is: .  I love their website for resources and ideas for the teaching parent. 

It's really not that hard to encourage your child to think. Get rid of the worksheets and have your child come up with both the problems and the answers himself.  Don't give a worksheet of 25 x 73.  Instead, tell your child to make up 10 story problems where he is solving two-digit by two-digit multiplication problems. Then he has to solve the problem. That sounds very simple, but it's really a great test to see if he understands the problems. 

Get a list of questions designed for Blooms Taxonomy.  Let him pick one question to answer out of each "step."  You as the parent thinks he will pick the easiest problems.  You can't. The problems are stepped in depth of thought and understanding. My students learned more from creating a booklet with 6 pages (each page answering one question from Blooms) than they ever got with a pre-designed multiple choice test. If they didn't read (or understand) the material, they couldn't do the work.  It was just that simple. If they read it but didn't really care about it, by the time they finished the 6 questions, they had learned a lot.

Make your child think, research, and discuss academics. Put "Captain Underpants" and "Harry Potter" away (yes, I did say Harry Potter.  More pages doesn't mean the child is becoming a better reader).  Have your child research things in the real world around them or that they are reading about.  Develop curiosity and encourage the child to experiment. Believe it or not, they were designed to explore, and they end up loving studies on actual events and existing objects or creatures.  Take field trips regularly, even going back to the same museum many times in the same year.  Personal experiences are necessary for a well-rounded understanding of a topic.

Then, once your child has learned, let him discuss with someone who has similar experiences or who has researched the same topic.  Mentors in the Thomas Jefferson program cannot just be lazy teachers and pull out a teachers manual.  If a public school teacher had no idea what a child in his class were learning about, he would be fired (okay, not really, but parents would be upset - it's harder than that to fire a unionized teacher).  Why do some homeschool moms think they are exempted from involvement because their child was "tested to be gifted by the school"?  If you aren't letting your child tell you what he learned at least once a day, then he isn't learning it.

A child will be what you expect him to be.  If you expect your child to be successful, he eventually will be.  If you expect your child to struggle, he will.  Forget the labels of "gifted" or "better than the other children" (that phrase HORRIFIES me!! but I also hear it a lot).  Let your child be a child and not worry about being compared to other children. If he is interested in quantum physics in 6th grade, let him study it.  He will probably satisfy his curiosity and spend his junior year in high school studying the dietary habits of earthworms, or some such thing. Help him to learn and develop a depth of thinking which is missing in most school rooms today, as well as a curiosity to learn about the world around him. Even a developmentally-delayed child will become successful if she is given the right encouragement.

Don't tie your child down to be "better than others."  Let him soar in his own space and enjoy the heights and depths that only real education provides.

Thursday, October 31, 2013

Grading Records

I do not keep individual grades. I am not required to by law and I do not see them as being of value. Think of it like this:

On Monday, I have the students write words 3 times each. Each day we do a different activity and then on Friday we take a test.  Traditionally, I would average all of the grades, sometimes weighting the test by counting it as 2 or 3 grades compared to the others.  My question is this;  If the student gets a 60% on Monday's assignment, but then works hard to learn the words and gets a 100% on Friday's test - what would the 80% average tell me?  The child knew the words by Friday - they proved it on the test.  So why average in the other grades?  Also, now if my daughter does her work and I make her fix mistakes, she will always have 100% on her grades.  What value is it to keep track of a bunch of 100%? 

Keeping track of lessons learned would make better sense, though I personally do not see any reason to report what my daughter learns to anyone. Last time I checked, my husband and I still have custody of our daughter and the State does not, so why do they need to keep track of her learning??  I am thankful that we live in the only state where we have a constitutional right (written in our state's constitution) to homeschool our children. 

Having said that, however, I realize some parents do not use the same philosophy and want to keep track of their child's grades (also in high school, some programs require it).  So here is a word document which can give you an idea of how to create your own records for your child. Feel free to use it and change it as you need for your family - just don't sell it.  :)

Who knew it was so hard to upload a Word document??!! Sorry about that. I had to make it a pdf file, but you may still use it.

Wednesday, April 24, 2013

What are They Thinking??

The Waitress

Last night, my family ate out for the first time in a couple of weeks. We hadn't eaten at our favorite restaurant for several months, so that was where we went. The waitress, one we hadn't seen before who was either in her late teens or early twenties, greeted us in a very friendly manner. When I asked her how to pronounce her name, she told me and said she was from Indonesia.  She then, quite chattily, admitted that she had grown up in the US, and that most people could not pronounce her name correctly.  She then said that kids can be mean and that, because she was of mixed races, children were very cruel to her.  She said in school they had teased her about her heritage, calling her "shrimp and rice" and other names based on traditional foods from her parents' separate heritages.  After telling us this, with no prompting from us at all, she casually shrugged her shoulders and said matter-of-factly, "Kids can be so mean."  Her attitude showed that she had heard this many times.  Even though she was out of school, she was obviously still hurt by names she was called while growing up.


The last year my daughter was in public school, in first grade, she was in a "special" class which only had 10 children between grades 1 - 3 but had a certified teacher and two adult aides.  Her best friend was a boy named Matthew.  One day in the spring of that year, she came home very upset about something. After much questioning, I discovered that an incident had occurred on the playground that day.  She and Matthew had been playing on some equipment, as usual, and some older boys had come over and started teasing my daughter.  Matthew (also a first grader) had stood up to them and got knocked down for his efforts, but they left after they did it, so I guess he had some success.  I e-mailed the teacher and found out that none of the aides or teachers on duty had seen the incident.  A week later, we had a pre-scheduled play date with Matthew and his family.  I mentioned the incident and found out the dad (a single parent) had no idea anything had happened.  He knew exactly which day it had happened, though, because his son had come home ready to fight anyone and everyone and hadn't stopped fighting, even at bedtime, but the dad had not been able to find out anything that had happened.  We thanked him for his son's bravery in front of the bullies in our daughter's defense.  From what he said, even after the teacher was informed about the incident, she had not done anything or even told Matthew's dad that it had occurred.  At that point, we had already firmly decided to homeschool before this happened, but it only served to reinforce the "right-ness" of our decision to homeschool.


If you are like most parents today, you probably just scanned over those two stories of two completely separate people, two separate ages, yet both bullied.  Most people (myself included, unfortunately) dismiss incidents such as this as being normal, commonplace. I've even heard some parents describe bullying like this as a type of modern "rite of passage," something which must be suffered before being a proper adult.


Why are bulling incidents such as this expected in our day and age?  We should be horrified at the treatment these two young people received, yet most of us just shrug it off.


Incidents of teachers being the instigator of bullying raise a little more ire, but still not enough. When I was teaching, I had a student whose experience clearly demonstrated a normal reaction. 

I was teaching 5th grade and in March, the students came back from their Strings class in a very agitated state - all of them.  Since it was time for their Art class (held in the regular classroom), I was only in and out of the room, but I noticed that everyone was unusually "snippy."  Finally, I came back and found the class in an uproar, everyone telling the art teacher that something had happened and she was fiercely denying it.  I immediately pulled two trusted students (separately) into the hallway to get their telling of the event.  Apparently, one of my boys (a very large 5th grade student) had been tightening his string on his violin's bow in the previous class.  He had tightened it too tightly and it had bent, though not broken.  The teacher walked past him and noticed.  He then grabbed this large 5th grade boy boy on the sides of his neck, using the backs of his hands, and picked him up out of his seat.  He then let him go and said, "Now you know how the bow feels when it's squeezed too tight!"  The story was the same, as well as the wording of the teacher, whoever I called out.  When I called the boy out, he told the same story, though he was highly embarrassed about it.  His mother was the type who was very involved in her son's life, so I knew she would take action.  I spent the rest of my plan time (Art class for the students) speaking with the principal about the incident.  She was shocked because, even though she didn't really like the strings teacher, she had not heard anything even remotely similar.  When I returned to class, she asked me to send students to her.  We discovered several things had happened in that class (students threatened to be locked in closets, fingers intentionally being smashed painfully to put them in the right place, etc).  The principal told me that she needed backup from the parent, because this teacher had more tenure than she (the principal) had with the district.  I told the student to tell his mom that night what had happened and that she needs to come to school the next morning to talk to the principal about it.  The next morning, she was waiting outside the office when I arrived.  She came over to me and said, "How should I react when I talk to the principal?"  I was shocked! For a few moments, I couldn't say anything.  Her child had been picked up by the NECK by a TEACHER and she was asking how she should react???!!!  I finally said that the principal was on her side, so don't personally attack her, but she needs to be furious about the event. 

As the principal investigated further, she asked the other 5th grade teacher (there were only 2 of us) if her students had said anything about abuse occurring.  She said no, nothing had happened.  The principal came by her room later in the day and poked her head in the door.  She publically asked if there were any events from strings class that the students needed to report, and no one said a word. She officially concluded that it was only my students who were being abused.  Of course, this other 5th grade teacher is the teacher who proudly did the "Rip-Rip Dance" (as she called it) when a student in her room wrote their name on the wrong line on their papers, dancing around the room in her stilletto heels, tearing their paper to shreds.  I had already stopped rotating classes with her when I looked into her room one day when it was time to trade classes back and found six of my students standing stiffly in front of the chalkboard, having her using military-style berating techniques to scream at each student about mistakes they had made when writing an essay (did I mention she was formerly military?  She was).  Keeping this in mind, I wasn't sure her students would recognize abuse anymore.

By the way, for those of you who are curious, this strings teacher was investigated by the school district. Events of abuse came up at other schools where he taught, though none had been previously reported.  He needed one more year of teaching before he could fully retire with all benefits.  He finished the school year (though with my students, an aide or the school secretary was present in the room at all times) and then he spent his last year working downtown, receiving full teacher salary but only having to copy papers and do other "gofer" work so that he could honorably retire. 


Parents today have forgotten that they have a choice.  None of these events were the reason we decided to homeschool, which is a sad testament to me.  Many incidents of bullying, whether from students or teachers, go unreported.  It hurts my heart today to hear parents of students in public schools who talk about bullying that their child has been going through.  Yet, most of them do not even talk to the staff at the school when they hear about others are being cruel to their own children. They excuse it as being "normal." 

No, no it's absolutely NOT normal to allow your child to be degraded or bullied, and it should never be accepted.  However, parents are too busy in their own lives to take time to talk to school staff even when they do hear of things.  If your child is in public school, when was the last time you walked down the hallways when students are there?  Are you seeing what your child sees every day?  Or were you bullied so much that you don't want to spend any more time than necessary in the location where your child spends his day.  You might be surprised at the changes since you were there.

"I can't homeschool."

I realize that being a certified teacher, I don't have the fear of teaching like other moms do. However, I recently heard a statistic that I want to share with you if you have decided that you aren't capable of teaching your own children.

If you have done any research at all, you know that the average homeschooler scores higher than the average public and private school student.  That is well documented.  However, think about this (also based on the strongly scrutinized studies which have yet to be disproven):

Take two women who did NOT graduate high school.  One decides to homeschool, while the other puts her child in public school.  According to data collected over the past couple of decades, the homeschooling student will outperform the public school student on every measure used, whether academic, social, or emotional, even though the homeschooling parent never graduated high school herself and the public school student had certified teachers educating him. In fact, and this surprised even me, the homeschooling child of a parent who never graduated high school herself will score higher than the average STUDENT in either public or private school, no matter the education level of the parents. WOW!

Let me say that again in another way. According to statistics (yes, you can always find exceptions), a homeschooler who is taught by a parent who has never finished high school will score higher than a public or private school student (yes, private school students are included) whose parent is very highly educated!

Why is homeschooling different?  Children are not bullied.  Children are encouraged to think.  Instruction is personal, not just "feeding the chickens" as is done in a school setting, where the teacher throws out the knowledge and expects the students to "gobble" it up on their own. 

Statistics of Faith

One last statistic I want you to consider.  95% of homeschoolers follow the religion of their parents when they become adults.  Only 9% of public/private school children follow the religion of their parents after they leave home.  Which statistic do you want your children to be in?

Thursday, April 18, 2013

Write Your Own Story Problems

The purpose of Math is to teach people to think.  It teaches patterns that people can use in real-life situations to resolve problems.  Unfortunately, I think a lot of that purpose is lost in today's world of worksheets and lists of isolated "math problems."  Children (and adults) do not connect the value of higher level math to everyday life.  It is important that you teach your child (or children) how to connect what they are doing to the world around them.

If you are using the Concrete-Pictorial-Abstract method of teaching, you are well on your way of teaching connections from "school work" to the "real world."  When I teach parents how to teach, I separate the 3 angles into separate lessons.  When I am using that method to teach children, however, they do not even notice that I've changed gears.  They just know I am asking them to do the next step.  Here's an example of a lesson I used this week with both my daughter and a 2nd grader whom I tutor.

I gave them the (abstract) problem of 17+26.  I write it vertically on a piece of paper (small paper, actually - a note pad).  I then asked them to solve the problem.  Both girls struggled a little, even though we've done similar problems in the past. 

Not waiting long for them get frustrated, I pulled out some dimes and pennies and had them show me 17 cents (one dime, seven pennies). Under those coins, I had them show me 26 cents (two dimes, six pennies).  I then asked them to put the pennies together and see if they had enough to trade for a dime. They, of course, could and I physically got a dime to trade for ten of the pennies. We stopped and marked on the paper that we now had 3 pennies (in the answer spot) and added one dime (over the tens place in the problem).  I then had them count the dimes and they added that answer (4) under the answer bar so that the answer was 43. 

I then took it a step farther.  In the past, we stopped at that point, but now we needed more to develop the concept.  I had both girls write their own story problem for the math equation I had given them. I did the writing (no reason to make it more frustrating - they can do the writing after we've done this a few times).  I asked them each to name something that there could be 17 of.  My daughter said stuffed animals, my tutoring student said diamond rings.  I then asked them to tell me who has the stuffed animals or rings. My daughter said they were hers, my student said her grandmother had them.  I then asked if the addition symbol meant they needed more or less of the toys or rings, and they both said more. After writing 2 sentences, I told them the answer bar meant we needed a question.  They both needed help coming up with a question related to the problem, but I happily helped them at that point by giving them 2 different questions which would be acceptable and let them choose which one to use. I know that in the near future, I will not always need to help them so much, but it's okay to give a lot of help when learning a new concept.  Here are the Math problems we ended up with:

(1)  I had 17 stuffed animals.  I had 26 more in my tent.  How many stuffed animals did I have in all?

(2)  My grandmother had 17 diamond rings.  She had a girl party and got 26 more.  How many diamond rings did she have for the party?

(hmmm...If it's going to get me 26 diamond rings, I might want to figure out what this girl party is and have one myself -haha!)

We then read over the problem a couple of times, allowing the girls to each read aloud the story problem she had written and making sure they saw that it matched the numbers in the math problem we had solved first.  After that, we did one more problem in the same way, though for my tutoring student, we chose a subtraction problem (with regrouping).

NOTE:  these lessons were separate for each girl, but it would have been educational, also, if they had been at the same time so they could compare their story problems.

That was the entire Math lesson.  It took about 20 - 30 minutes, but I believe they got much more out of it than if I would have given them a worksheet with 25 addition problems on it.  I want them to understand how math connects to the real world, because when they become adults, I want them to be able to think for themselves, and math is a monumental piece to that incredibly complex problem of developing reason.

Thursday, March 14, 2013

Regrouping with Addition Problems

Teaching some math concepts can be difficult.  If you have read this blog much, you know that for Math skills, I like to use the concrete-pictorial-abstract pattern for every skill.  Some basic math, though, needs a creative method to be able to make an idea "stick."  Regrouping, in both addition and subtraction, is one of those skills.

 Regrouping is a better word to describe what we used to call "borrowing" or "carrying over."  It is used in both adding and subtracting where you have to exchange values.


One thing I learned early on when I was a teacher is that children have to value something before they want to learn about it. I have also found that children (as well as adults) value money.  I use money often as a manipulative to teach difficult skills.  As much as possible, I use real coins.  This was very difficult to do when I had 27 students, as it was hard to gather enough coins needed and not worry about theft, but as a homeschooler or as a tutor, I just grab some coins out of our "change cup" which we keep on the refrigerator.  (My husband will never miss anything except the quarters!  And besides, they usually go right back into the cup when the lesson is over)  I discovered that before the child sees the skill itself as important, s/he will value the coins and/or bills that you are using to teach the concept. Either way, it gets their attention and, therefore, makes the skill easier to teach.   Also, when I had to reteach this skill to 4th or 5th graders, they did not feel embarrassed that they did not understand something which they should have picked up in 1st or 2nd grades.  In fact, the students who did not need to relearn this concept were often jealous that they were not included in this lesson! 


Before using these coins in your Regrouping lesson, make sure you have taught your child that a penny is worth one cent and a dime is worth ten cents.  Also help them understand that you can exchange ten pennies for one dime.  They don't have to fully understand that, as this lesson will have the added benefit of helping them understand that also, but it helps if you are not teaching two different new skills at once.  They also need to understand how to add two digit numbers without regrouping.


THE LESSON - Addition with Regrouping


Write the problem on a piece of paper:



Then pull out dimes and pennies.  I usually make sure I have 20 pennies and 10 dimes (per child) as a general rule.


Have the child show you 34 cents using dimes and pennies.  Have some divider to put the dimes on the left side and the pennies on the right side.  (I use the line down the center of my expandable table, but if you don't have that you can use a ruler, a licorice stick, a long toy- anything that is straight). 


About an inch below those coins, using the same dividing line as the 34, have your child show you 28 cents. 


Explain that they just showed you the problem. To add them, push the pennies together and the dimes together.


Now ask if they have enough pennies to trade you for one dime (which you take from the "extras" pile).  They should carefully count 10 pennies and push them to the penny "extra" pile.  You give them a dime, but put it on the dime side.



Tell your child that you have changed the number of pennies and dimes you have, so you need to change the problem to show what you now have.   You added a dime, so you have to write a 1 to the dime side of the problem to show what you just did.


Now count how many pennies are left. Have your child write the 2 under the 8.  (for younger children, or even some older children, they have had hard time lining things up. Draw a line on the problem to separate the ones from the tens, extending it into the answer space.  This will resemble the separating line on the table, which helps).  Tell them you now have 2 "ones" because pennies are worth one cent.  (When I say an important lesson, I usually make them repeat it verbally a few times to make sure they heard me and know it's important). 


Now remind the child that they added a dime and point again to the 1 he added on the paper.  Then have him count the dimes.  Have him write the "6" in the tens column.  Tell him he has six "tens" because each dime is worth ten cents.  


Have him tell you how many "tens" he has.  Then tell you how many "ones" he has.  Then have him read the answer.  Many children, especially at first, will say something like "six and two."  Help them see that if you take away the line, it is "sixty-two."  You write the word "sixty-two" under the answer.



Now go back and solve the problem you just did together.  I use "touch math," so at this point, I or my child writes the dots on the digits of the problem.  (you can skip that step if you do not want to use touch math.  If you don't know about it, look it up.  It is a fabulous method of teaching counting, and it ends up being much more accurate than fingers.  They have some free materials so that you can see where to put the dots, which for me is all that I used from the program). 


Then have them add the ones.  I usually say this several times, trading out the words "pennies" and "ones" so they can connect them in their brain.  Do NOT use the actual pennies at this stage unless your child is completely lost, in which case you probably need to spend more time counting single digits instead of going on to double digits.  Remind them you traded ten pennies for one dime, so they should trace over the 2 in the answer place and the one that you added above the dimes.  Get them to explain to you why that "1" was added.  (Even if you just said the answer, the more your child can explain, the more you know he understood the concept).  We put the dot in the center of that "1" for touch math.


Next, add the tens.  Talk about what they are doing, using the words "dimes" and "tens" often and interchangeably. 


Have them read the answer (which you already wrote in words).  Then have them copy the words below where you wrote them.


Do 3 - 4 more problems, then stop for the day.  You want to give your child time to "stew over" the method of solving the problem.  This should be done  3 - 5 times per week for at least 2 weeks (about 5 problems per day) before you use problem with hundreds in them.  After a few days, you can start having problems with a hundred in the answer, but you will need to have a dollar to trade for ten dimes.  Use the pennies and dimes every day, but as your child understands the concept better, you will find that they are using them less and less.  It's okay for them to like playing with the manipulatives (the dimes and pennies), as long as they are using them correctly to solve the problems.  He will stop playing with them as he gets excited about solving the problem correctly.  It shouldn't be rushed because this will actually hurt the learning process. 


Don't use the virtual money (meaning the programs on the internet) until AT LEAST 2 weeks of successfully using the real or play pennies and dimes.  Anything online requires a higher level of understanding and your child will lose a lot of the value of this type of learning if you ignore the physical money and go straight to the virtual world.


Have fun!

Monday, March 4, 2013

Fighting in Schools

In my twelve years of teaching public school, I found that many teachers and administrators had very strong, unshakable philosophies of fighting, and many differed from each other. Now, none that I knew of encouraged it. While I have heard a news story here and there where a teacher wanted children to fight, for whatever psychological reason they had, I did not know anyone with that idea.  However, some stories recently in the news brought up some memories of discussions about fighting, and they just make me all the more glad I am homeschooling.


One principal at a school where I taught made the most sense from any other principal I've known.  She said that if a child is hit by another child, they get one "free punch" to protect themselves.  At that point, they need to leave the situation or they will be in trouble also.  Now, this sounds strange to many people, and I heard her defend her position to many, many parents and teachers who thought any child who punched another child was in the wrong, but she knew why she said it and she stood by this philosophy numerous times in my presence.  She said that a child has a right to defend him/herself.  I agree.  She said that if someone punched her son, she would want her son to stand up for himself.  Now, if he stayed and egged it on or continued punching, that was a different story.  I have to say that I agreed with her then, a little hesitantly, and I fully agree with her now.

Most schools, though, have what they call a "no tolerance" policy on fighting.  I hate any blind "policy" which ignores facts before the punishment is given.  I do not agree with fighting, I think there are many situations where it can be avoided, but there are times when another person is focused on a fight and there is only one way to get out of it - one good, solid punch, then run.

About 10 years ago, my husband (a black belt in Tae Kwon Do) had a friend who was either a 2nd or 3rd degree (I forget which) black belt in TKD.  He was also a teacher at a local high school, and he frequently was assigned detention duty.  One day, he said a teacher actually put two bullies in detention (most of the teachers were afraid of them so it did not happen often).  They came in and sat down with no problem, but they decided that it was time for them to leave about five minutes early.  Our friend, while an extremely tough fighter, is only about five foot six, so when these two six foot "plus" guys surrounded him on their way out the door, he had to look up to them to block their path.  He calmly told them they weren't going anywhere, to which they told him differently.  Knowing a fight was likely to happen and that most of the staff had already gone home, he immediately dismissed the rest of the detention students and distracted these guys as they left.  He said as the others left a little early, they continued arguing and he instinctively turned his body, automatically lining them up for one good, swift kick a piece, in weak points.  Then, he said, he planned on running out the door as fast as he could before they got up! Fortunately, these guys were a little smarter than they seemed and something in the teacher's stance told them that he had a plan and they would not be happy if they tried anything.   As the last students left the room, they sat down.  He kept them the remaining five minutes and another minute or two, then let them leave.  Our friend said he did not breathe a sigh of relief until he was in his undamaged car, driving away from the school. 

Other teachers, though, feel differently about bullies.  Teachers of the same philosophies tend to group together.  I have taught in schools, or just met teachers from schools, who refuse to stop a fight.  They say that they do not want to be hit, so they will call the office and wait, watching while the weaker student gets pummeled.  Unfortunately, I've talked to parents of those same schools (in events having nothing to do with education) who say they know the teachers are there to protect their children if needed.  Some teachers will - I did, and I know many others who have done it or who are perfectly willing to if needed - but many teachers will not. 

The last example I want to share is what started all of these thoughts this morning.  In the news last week was an incident on a school bus in Florida.  The event and the school's response completely and totally infuriates me to the point that I will just let the local news tell the story, as I can already feel my blood pressure rising and I'm not even telling the story!


While this real hero was punished, we also have these stories for school suspensions:

That 5 year old is a terrorist??!!

Then there was this 5th grader, suspended for her "dangerous weapon":

Oooohhhhh!!!  I can feel my blood boiling now, so I will stop, but I know that you know other news stories that would easily fit in this.

My daughter, who has special needs, was once threatened when she was in 1st grade at recess.  Another special needs boy (also in 1st grade) stood up for her and was pushed down for his trouble.  The bullies eventually left.  My daughter told me about it that night, so I called the teacher the next day to get the entire story.  The teacher had no idea what had happened and neither did the assistants.  A week later, we had a play date set with this family and I was able to talk to the boy's dad.  The dad (a single parent) still had no idea about the incident, but he knew his son (not as verbal as my daughter) had come home wanting to fight with everyone. that day and for a couple of days after that.  Even though I had told the teacher, she still had not told him about the incident.

These events were not the reason why we started homeschooling, but they are just more reinforcement that I'm glad that we are.

Saturday, February 16, 2013

Best Math Method

My favorite method of doing math is to use the concrete-pictorial-abstract method with every problem. Concrete means they use something they can move around to show the concept. Pictorial means they draw a picture showing the concept. Abstract means they use numbers and symbols to show the concept.


When they are first learning a concept (at the beginning of the year), you do all or most of the work in the concrete stage. As they progress, you add the pictorial and abstract stages, doing less with the concrete stage but not eliminating it all together, even after they show they fully understand. This type of learning is not a quick "how many can you finish in 2 minutes" type of learning. I tried to never do more than 10 problems per day, sometimes only doing one to three problems. The children will spend a lot of time on whatever stage they are most comfortable with. In the concrete stage, all they want to do is play with the manipulatives (whatever you are using to demonstrate the concept). When they start to understand the concept better, they will get very detailed in their drawings for the pictorial stage. They want to put whiskers on the cats or make the "x" representing the dogs have a face to match that animal in the concrete stage. That's okay. It means they are progressing in understanding the concept. When they start to feel comfortable in the abstract stage, you still want them to demonstrate the other stages, but you will want to start using story problems rather than just the raw numbers and symbols. If a child understands the basic concept, go on to harder numbers but don't change the overall concept you are working on for the year. Also, don't forget to include learning about money at each stage. That will have to be after they've worked with the concrete items and are starting to feel comfortable with the pictorial or abstract stage. Measurements can also be added, but be careful not to go too fast. If you're teaching the counting concept that year, think about using other objects besides rulers, etc., when you measure. "That couch is 10 of Daddy's shoes long!" Don't introduce fractions of a measurement before you have talked about fractions, for example. It will be very frustrating and your child will probably regress.

As a teacher, I couldn't believe how many 4th and 5th graders did not fully understand counting! Teaching it this way ensures that they know what they are doing it and can use these basic math concepts when they get to harder problems. Let me give you a couple of examples at different ages.

(1) When my daughter first stayed home, she could count but she could not match the numbers with objects (one-to-one correspondence). For the "concrete" step, I gave her a small box and had her fill it with stuffed animals. She lined them up in the living room (this took an excruciatingly long amount of time because she had to explain to each one why he was chosen before the others, but that was okay because she needed to do that). We then took some store-bought number flash cards and put one number next to an animal, in order. Then we went down the line, counting them as we went. I would do things like trade the places for the animals and we would count again to see if the total changed. That was math for the day (it took about 30 - 45 min. to do it). We did this several days using My Little Ponies, Barbies, Noah's Ark animals, etc. so she could get the concept. She would never have gotten tired of playing with her toys, so I had to decide when to change the activity - which was about 2 weeks. (I was bored, but I wanted her to really understand so I had to find a way to be excited about it). At the time, she had a severe fear of writing (thanks to public school), so we had to skip the pictorial and abstract, but if we didn't skip it, the pictorial would have been to draw a circle or an "x" for each animal and write the total number next to it. The abstract step would have been to write tally marks (teaching her to bundle them together) and put "=18", or whatever the total was.


(2) Addition was done with the same toys. Concrete: we got 3 plush dogs and 2 plush cats and put them side by side. We counted how many dogs we had, then how many cats and then talked about how many animals there were total. (I picked out the toys we used this time). Since my daughter was still afraid of writing, I did the drawing of the pictures, but I was just very basic. I used circles for dogs and x's for cats. Then I wrote the number 3 under the dogs, the number 2 under the cats. Then I circled them and wrote 5 outside the circle. It would have been better if she had drawn it, but with her fears, I had to take what she was willing to give, so she leaned against my arm and we talked through everything I drew. On the same page, I wrote 3+2=5. We talked about the problem, I had her point to the right animals, the drawings, and the abstract numbers so that I knew she understood the concept. I think 5 was the maximum we did. As she learned how to add, I let her pick the toys we would use. For subtraction, we did the opposite.

For multiplication and division, I will use what I did when I taught school (my daughter isn't there yet). We would take objects and group them.

(3)   Multiplication is simply repeated addition (3+3+3=9 or 3x3=9). I taught them that the "x" symbol meant "groups of," so 3x3 should be read "three groups of three." Then we used these objects (we used much smaller items in the classroom than stuffed animals because we're dealing with large numbers) to create the problems. 7x8 meant 7 groups of cheerios with 8 in each group. Then we practiced counting by multiples to find out how many of the items we actually had. Pictorial stage was shown by putting an "x" inside a circle for each group, separating the groups and writing the numbers outside each circle, then drawing a large circle around the entire group and putting the total number near that circle. Abstract would be to write a multiplication problem. After they understand this concept very, very well, then you can teach the entirely abstract concept of larger multiplication. Look into Lattice multiplication when you get to this stage. I taught both the traditional method and Lattice Multiplication. Every problem had to be done twice. We only did 10 problems per day, but they knew what they were doing!

(4) Division is taught just the opposite of multiplication. Division is simply repeated subtraction (9-3-3-3=0). You start with the total amount and divide the manipulatives into smaller, equal groups with remainders. Draw the pictures by drawing the total amount and then circling groups out of the whole. In the abstract stage, though, you will want them to write every division problem 3 different ways.

 54√‾₆‾ (sorry, this one didn't come out on Word well)

54/6=9 (should look like a fraction)

Go on to "long" division only after they fully understand the basic concept. I did not teach "short" division to every child because it should only be taught if they fully know what they are doing with long division.

(5) This method can be continued with the higher math skills, as well. In Singapore, they require all three stages (concrete-pictorial-abstract) to be used through the top grade in High School. One vital concept in algebra is to make sure both sides of the equation are equal. Use a balance scale to get this concept across. The pictorial stage is very important, because it's hard to find different weights to show these concepts. You can use different lego blocks sitting on a scale drawn on paper to show the concept