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Microsoft’s Missed Opportunity

Microsoft is missing an enormous opportunity.

I’m a little bit shocked, actually, that the company’s PR people don’t appear to have noticed.

What opportunity, you ask?

First, a few statistics:

NUMBER OF HOMESCHOOLERS:

According to the U. S. government’s National Center for Education Statistics (NCES) and the National Home Education Research Institute, approximately 1.7 million students (ages 5-17) were estimated to be homeschoolers in 2016. In other words, 3.4% of the student population.

DIVERSITY OF HOMESCHOOLERS:

HSLDA’s article quotes NCES: “among children who were homeschooled, 68 percent are white, 15 percent are Hispanic, 8 percent are black, and 4 percent are Asian or Pacific Islander.” A quick look at the U.S. Census Bureau site reveals the diversity in homeschooling closely mirrors diversity numbers of the U.S. population.

SUCCESS OF HOMESCHOOLERS:

Chris Weller’s article in Business Insider says, “homeschooled children tend to do better on standardized tests, stick around longer in college, and do better once they’re enrolled.

A 2009 study showed that the proportion of homeschoolers who graduated from college was about 67%, while among public school students it was 59%.

Students from Catholic and private schools fell even lower in college graduation rates, with 54% and 51% of kids, respectively, completing all four years.”

GROWTH OF HOMESCHOOLERS:

Per Dr. Susan Berry, from 2003 to 2012, homeschooling experienced a 61.8% jump. (I couldn’t find a more recent study.)

The increase in homeschooled students from 2003 to 2012 alone (677,000) is greater than the population of Washington, D.C.

-CNS News

Why am I presenting you with a bunch of stats?

To make one point:

Homeschoolers are a rather large demographic to ignore.

Earlier this year, I found Microsoft 365 Education; the program is super and has a number of ways to help struggling learners. Of special interest was the Immersive Reader feature with One Note.

I found a page stating that the program is “FREE for all home-based educators and students…” which, of course, thrilled me.

Unable to find the option to sign up (three web pages sent me in circles, linking back to each other), I spent four hours on the phone and additional time on chat trying to track down a link to join the program.

Bottom line: I can’t.

Although the web page says it is “FREE for ALL” home educators and students, it turns out that’s not actually the case.

Microsoft ran a pilot program announced in 2016 which, according to the Microsoft rep, only accepted 20 families.

The pilot program is now closed and I can only sign up for the educational awesomeness if I have an email address ending in .edu or am teaching in a traditional school (with an official email address), per the same kindly apologetic Microsoft rep.

So, my daughter, who would benefit greatly from the opportunity to utilize the learning tools, is not able to do so. Basically, if I want her to have that access, she has to go back to public school, where they gave up on her ability to learn math (which she aced this year, by the way).

I’m a little surprised at Microsoft, giving up the opportunity to reach 1.7 MILLION diverse, intelligent kids.

Google has recently made some incredible learning features available to the public. For all. For FREE. For real.

Imagine. 1.7 million kids, getting used to Google tools and Google Docs and Google…well, everything.

Soon, they’ll grow into 1.7 million adults, communicating, writing, doing business and running companies. If they’re making decisions, they’ll choose Google products because, let’s face it, most of us continue using the programs with which we’re most familiar.

I’d love to introduce our girl to Microsoft tools, as my mom taught me (seriously; our house was Microsoft Mecca) but we’re already spending quite a bit on core curriculum pieces. Google is making the tools available and free, so I guess it’s time I learn Google Docs…

I hope Microsoft will follow Google’s lead and provide free access to the fabulous learning tools in Microsoft 365 Education for ALL educators and students.

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Testing, Testing, 1-2-3

This week, the girl participates in her first annual testing session since we’ve been homeschooling.

It is less a test of her abilities and more a measure of my prowess as a teacher.

I’m a bit nervous. Possibly more than she is.

I actually had trouble sleeping, which is not unusual, but I don’t usually worry myself awake. Most nights, my brain spins stories or posts destined to never see an audience because I fell asleep halfway through.

Before we adopted, I didn’t understand when my friends bemoaned their children’s test anxiety. You’ve heard the phrase “pulling out my hair” in frustration…I’d never seen it in action until one of our little friends showed up with no eyebrows. He was anxious about testing and pulled them out, bit by bit. (There’s a disorder called trichotillomania, but they ruled that out and said it was just anxiety.)

I’ve always loved school and am a geek-tacular stay-up-all-night-crammer. My test grades were rarely less than stellar. (Not bragging—just explaining why I didn’t understand how tests might be scary. I just saw them as a challenge.)

Might not remember any of the material a week later, but as long as my grades were high, everyone seemed happy.

None of my peers ever talked about test-taking anxiety. On occasion, someone admitted being nervous about passing a certain test or achieving a certain grade, but no one was pulling out their eyelashes.

When my friends discussed their children’s test-taking anxiety , I thought it was hyperbole.

And then we adopted our kids.

The boy has no such thing as test-taking anxiety, mostly because he doesn’t care.

He likes good grades, mostly due to sibling competition. He doesn’t like it if his sister’s grades are higher than his, but he has an innate ability to both put in minimum effort and get fairly decent grades. In general, he displays an incredible lack of concern about school (the exception: history studies…the one time he has the legitimate ability to learn about war in a setting in which discussing weapons is taboo).

Our girl, on the other hand, wants to “get everything right the first time” and doesn’t understand why memorizing information requires so much effort on her part.

She should be able to assimilate it by osmosis, of course.

I’ve tried to help her understand that very few people can view text once and remember everything they need to know, but I am—thus far—unsuccessful.

Her expectation of perfection frustrates her. It often trips her up during testing, because the moment she sees a question she doesn’t know, she starts freaking out. She doesn’t necessarily have any external physical reaction, but she begins making mistakes and overlooking obvious answers.

Any information she might have known flies away like pigeons from a coop.

To prepare her for the upcoming annual test, I gave her a practice test 3 grade levels below her own. I thought it would bolster her confidence.

Instead, she stumbled over one question and spiraled from there. She ended up answering one-third of the answers incorrectly.

She KNEW all of the information.

I asked her the questions verbally and she answered all answers with 100% success.

But put that paper in front of her, and she freezes up.

Hoping to alleviate her fear, I explained the test doesn’t matter. The results are less about what she knows and more about highlighting anything I still need to teach to keep her on par with her peers. (Or, if I have my way, to get her ahead of her peers…but I don’t say this. No pressure. We’re still catching up. But I tell you, this kid is brilliant.)

I keep telling her I don’t know of anyone who takes standardized tests for a living.

None of it seems to sink in.

I am a bit concerned that the test results won’t be accurate because she may miss answers she truly knows after confronting a difficult question.

I’m fighting my own version of test anxiety,.

I want her to do well for her own sake. I want to show her that she can do well on a test. I’m hoping to help her overcome the stress induced by the public school system yearly testing.

I’m not on a witch hunt and don’t have anything against public schools but they put so much pressure on the kids with constant drilling, remedial groups before and after school, prizes for doing well and promises of ice cream for those who participated well in prep exercises.

One mother opted for her child not to take the test, which is allowed, and the school tried to fight her. Her daughter is extremely smart and would have done very well on the test, reflecting positively on the school and raising their scores.

I didn’t even know skipping the exam was an option until it was too late.

Because they drilled the importance of testing into my daughter, her already perfectionist personality can’t handle an error. Once she knows question is incorrect, it’s over.

I’m praying she does well, but to be honest, I have personally seen her growth this year and found that she is much smarter then they gave her credit for.

She just needed to hear things in a different way. Sometimes I have to explain things more than once, but once she gets it, she gets it.

I’d like to instill in her that the point of school is not to get good grades but to learn the information we need to be able to do well in life and to interact with others in a positive way.

Math is important. Most of us will never use trigonometry, but basic math, algebra, and geometry are all important for most careers.

Language is one of the most important subjects. You might be an amazing genius, but if you can’t communicate your ideas, no one will care.

History is her favorite subject and I’m so thankful for this. Learning about history and taking it to heart gives us compassion for others, helps us recognize dictators before they take over, and allows us to see the mistakes we as people have made in order to avoid repeating them.

Hubby and I also want to give our kids a love of science. Curiosity and willingness to problem-solve are key to lifelong learning and success.

We were fortunate to find a fabulous art class this year, in which she studies some of the masters and has an opportunity to try to paint in his or her style. She likes to sketch and color but has never shown much interest in painting until now. She’s very talented.

I was in grad school by the time I realized the point of school was not to cram one’s way to the highest grade possible, but to ingest and comprehend the greatest amount of information to then translate into real-life application.

Creativity, curiosity, problem-solving ability, and the knowledge that you can find the answer to pretty much any question if you look hard enough: this is what I want my daughter to learn.

Testing this week won’t even affect her by next week. The true test will be life.

I’m thankful for the opportunity to find out what she has learned and what she still needs to know to keep up with her age group…or surpass them.

But I know that this test will not measure her ability to live a happy, successful life.

For that, we will have to rely on the test of time.

 

Homeschooling is Fabulous

I’ve been trying to catch up on writing about the craziness in our life. Let’s not leave out the good craziness. 

The kids started begging me to homeschool them almost as soon as they came to live with us. They spent some time in a foster home with homeschoolers, which prompted the begging.

That particular household embraced the philosophy that many of the minutes during a public school day are wasted.

I agree with the logic.

Kids in private school also deal with transitions and lost moments, but in a large public system, the problem is exponentially larger. Time is wasted in transitions, in moving between classrooms, waiting for everyone to get a drink of water at the fountain, waiting for everyone to finish toileting, waiting for everyone to finish lunch, waiting, waiting…

And waiting for at least 80 percent of the class to catch on to ideas.

Kids who “get it” more quickly must wait, bored…and even worse, the child who might understand with some one-on-one attention is left further and further behind.

At least in the U.S., I don’t see a viable solution within the public school system (especially for the child who misses the first step and struggles to climb the second step as his classmates sprint up steps four, five and six).

It’s not a “bad” system for most kids. It’s the best possible education for a grand spectrum of children, targeting the widest possible swath of average kids.

I agree that one-on-one attention can be better, but I didn’t particularly agree with the homeschooling philosophy of the family with whom they stayed.

The mother informed me that her kids (spanning elementary, middle and high school grades) were almost always finished with school in two hours per day. I imagine this could be possible for the lower grades, but homeschool done well in upper grades can’t be finished in a couple hours per day.

I’m no inexperienced snob…our family was one of the first in our area to school children at home (although each of us spent at least two years in either public or private school as well). At that time, the choice to homeschool was unpopular with the school system, county officials and even our church. My mom ensured our education was stellar—and it definitely took more than two hours per day.

All that in a nutshell: Public school wastes tons of time and leaves slower children behind. Homeschool can be a great alternative IF—and only if—done properly.

Sorry, I’m soapboxing. I digress.

Because of their need to learn how to integrate with society, we agreed with counselors and school administration that public school was the best beginning solution for our two.

However, Hubby and I promised them we’d consider home school when they successfully completed elementary school.

Fifth grade finished last year. We decided to take the plunge.

The school had me convinced that our girl required special needs support in math and reading. I had mild concerns about my ability to give her what she needs, but reasoned that I could learn anything necessary to help her.

We purchased the 5th grade math curriculum and completed it over the summer. The ease with which she moved through the program surprised me, but we weren’t studying other subjects.

When we began grade 6 in September, I expected she’d struggle. In some ways, this was true; if she considered a concept difficult, she gave up easily. We worked together and she began to realize that difficult math problems became easier once she learned the strategy. As long as she followed the strategy we put in place, she had almost no trouble.

Finally, I convinced her that the size of the number wasn’t an issue as long as she followed the math strategy (by requiring her to complete a long division problem involving a ten-digit number).

She stopped hating math.

Her handwriting improved.

She slowed her reading, decoding instead of skipping unknown words.

Quoting The Help, I informed Hubby that he is smart, kind and important.

Grinning wildly, she corrected my grammar.

She loves finding facts I don’t already know.

She is bright. She is talented. She is fabulous.

Although we wish he didn’t have to be at the treatment center, our son’s absence has allowed me to spend twice as much time with our daughter, helping her finally catch up academically (due in part to their time in foster care, she’s two years behind).

In December, we completed the core subjects for grade 6. We started grade 7 in January. As long as we stay on task, we should be able to complete 7th by June.

School is cool.

 

The Next Thing

 

After muddling through six years of public school, advocating for services, collaborating (and occasionally arguing) with school staff, stressing out every time the school number appears on the caller ID (what happened NOW?) we’ve finally decided to Give Up.

We used every resource we could find. Brought every possible idea to the table. Suggested successful methods tried by other parents.

Although we have done everything within our power, both kids’ performance and behavior at school has continued to tank.

He doesn’t want to interact with other kids and attempts to get suspended so he can come home.

She’s failing on purpose because she “gets more attention for a failing grade than a passing grade.” (Not kidding. Parenting a kid with RAD is the equivalent of standing on your head and reading backwards. Toss out everything you know about parenting.)

Finally, we’ve reached the last straw. I am going to try the only thing left in my arsenal.

Next school year, I’m going to let Hubby sleep with the teacher. 

No, really.

Because this fall, the teacher will be me.

We give up trying to get our boy to mold his Autistic behind into a hard plastic classroom seat.

We give up cajoling our girl to perform in a classroom, when the attention she craves is ours.

We give up what we’ve held tight for so long.

We empty our hands, holding them open to grasp the next thing.

We are going to home school.

Having been home schooled myself for almost a decade, I think I have a pretty good handle on the realities of home schooling. I’m under no illusions.

Here’s how I would like to imagine our year will go:

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Photo Credit: Susy Morris

But I’m fully aware that this is much more likely:

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Photo Credit: Astrid Budi

It won’t be easy, and some days may not be much fun. In the long run, though, it’s what they need.

And somehow, I’m really looking forward to finding the best ways to help them learn. Researching learning resources is becoming something of an obsession.

Plus, I get to sleep with the Principal.

 

 

 

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