Computer Programming

I’m taking a beginner course in computer programming so that I understand it well enough to help my son take the same course in the future. In the meantime, I’m really enjoying the course (Programming for Everybody through Coursera), especially how each assignment is a mini-project in problem solving. I also like how it’s either right or wrong – no grey area here! I’ve found that programming has a lot in common with homeschooling:

1. If you want to write a good computer program, you first need to define what you want to do. Although this definition will not be seen in the actual program, if you don’t know where you’re headed then you don’t know where to start and you’re likely to write a bunch of lines of code that don’t get you anywhere. In homeschooling, we have overall goals for our children and then each year we set goals for each of them (with their help). Then we make weekly goals that help them get to their year-end goals. As Stephen Covey talks about in his 7 Habits books, “Begin with the end in mind”. If you write a computer program without a defined goal, you often end up with a page of messy code that makes no sense when you look at it the next day. Try to run it and it will be full of errors that you can’t fix because you don’t remember what it was that you were trying to achieve. So you have to start over. Starting over is easy with programming but not so fun with homeschooling; it’s better to set some goals.

2. When writing a longer program, it works best to check it at the end of each stage because the program will only tell you about one error at a time. If you finish the program without checking it, you may get an error that only occurs because another error occurred earlier that you are missing. In homeschooling, this translates to checking our child’s progress against our goals on a regular basis. I always have to adjust our year-end goals! We either get too much done, or, wait, that has never happened, we often go off into an area of interest and then I adjust our goals to fit what we are currently doing. Or we get stuck in advancing in writing or math and have to pause to develop skills before moving on. This is one of my favourite things about homeschooling; we don’t have to push forward, we can stall wherever needed to master skills.

3. In the programming language Python, you can place a hashtag before a line of programming to remove it from the program without deleting it. It’s very helpful in telling others what you were trying to achieve, it’s also a good way to remind yourself what was happening before taking a break. I also think of it as a check or pause for the program (not in the program – they don’t stop time) that enables me to make sure I’m on track. I think of it in homeschooling like taking a day off to do something fun or not doing math lessons for a week while we play games. A pause is a welcome distraction and a fun break from the daily and weekly routines. Too many #s in the code and it gets hard to see what’s actually happening, just like how too many breaks from routine destroy the routine and become the norm.

4. In programming we can write a ‘function’ and then call that function when we need it. Like in parenting and homeschooling, we have days where we are either distracted or ill and need to call on some old favourites to get us through the day. In our house, that was a few videos when the kids were little, or board games, or colouring pages, or a bag of my old toys. Whatever would help us still have a good day without just lying around in front of the TV. We can’t call a function for everything, and we have to write it first, but when we do need them they are really handy to have around.

If you have found other things that relate to homeschooling, I would love to hear them!


A New Year of Homeschooling

Next week marks a return for me to homeschooling both of my kids. My 16 year old went to high school for grade ten and the first part of grade eleven but we pulled him out before Christmas break because it was becoming a toxic environment for him. This is the first time in eleven years of homeschooling that I have felt nervous. I don’t know if it’s residual anxiety from the process of pulling him out of school or anxiety over the sibling rivalry that I have mostly avoided with one gone all day.

My boys learn in completely different ways. One is a book learner that read early, the other is a hands-on learner that hates to read. Both hate practicing, repetition, and review, but maybe that’s common to everyone (we all just have to learn that we need to do it I guess). The oldest loves history and Shakespeare and is critical of 99% of things he comes across. The youngest is good at math and science but has willed himself to hate anything that seems “educational”. Somehow we had a great homeschool experience and it was an adjustment to only have one at home, but now we’re having to flip back. I’m not sure I’m ready!

I’m also in full-on high school mode, with the youngest turning 15 in March. Time to plan and move into high school credits and documentation and doing what needs to be done for post-secondary. We are lucky to have a great facilitator who will be back in the spring for a visit, this time with both kids. But a month ago I was preparing myself for having both kids gone all day and now it’s a complete turnover to be planning to have them both at home. I’m so grateful! But I’m so scared!

In the end I know all that matters is that we follow God’s plan for us. If it takes the boys four years to finish high school instead of three, that’s fine. If they have to upgrade, that’s fine too. As long as they follow their hearts and continue to learn, then I’ve done okay.

I wish all of you a fantastic homeschooling year!

Fall Planning

With Jack going into grade nine, I have a lot of planning to do. He is really interested in cooking right now so I’m going to incorporate meal planning, budgeting, food preparation, grocery shopping, and gardening into his learning plan. He just finished a cooking daycamp where they did a ‘black box’ challenge (like the mystery box challenges on Masterchef) and he loved it so we’ll maybe do one of those each week. I figure I’ll give him a protein, a vegetable, maybe a grain, and a couple fun things in the box each week.

For math we are continuing with Saxon. I really like the look of Teaching Textbooks but we no longer have a computer with a CD-ROM drive so that’s not an option. Saxon has worked well for us the past few years and I expect this to be the last year before algebra. I like that each lesson has one new lesson and lots of review to choose from. We always do all of the lesson practice and sometimes I add more to that, but we never do all of the review. I supplemented last year with units from Teachers Pay Teachers and he liked those a lot, especially the circle geometry unit. Teachers Pay Teachers is a great way to get a unit for little money, at whatever grade level you need. With Mark just finished grade ten math I have a good idea what Jack will need to know. We need to add tests and quizzes this year, in a more formal way, so that he is prepared for high school level coursework. We’ve tended to do things orally or on paper with help but now he needs practice in test-taking.

History is going to be really fun this year as we continue with Year 4 of Tapestry of Grace: 20th Century History. We ended last year in the 1930s and we will begin this year with the study of Hitler and the rise of fascism. Jack is looking forward to World War II and it will be easy to incorporate Canadian content into our curriculum. We’re reading ‘When Hitler Stole Pink Rabbit’ right now and we will also read Anne Frank and ‘The Boy in the Striped Pajamas,’ one of my favourites. Jack likes to make comics (not cartoons, as they aren’t usually funny) out of historical events and I expect he’ll do lots of that this year. It helps to bring everything together with dialogue and pictures.

Science is my struggle right now as I have not yet picked a curriculum. Cooking will play a role but we need something more concrete to get him ready for Science 10. I’m looking at Apologia Physical Science right now. I know for sure that he needs to do a lab notebook. He is interested in doing the Apologia Marine Biology course but it’s too advanced for him at this point. We may skip Physical Science and go straight into Biology though, since that’s what his brother is doing. I have often left science out and we’ve done units here and there but I can’t do that this year. Science 10 has been a struggle for Mark to get through because of our lack of science leading up to it.

That leaves the study of English, Jack’s weakest subject and my most challenging to teach him. Mark and I love literature and it’s tough to teach Jack, who wants nothing to do with it. We’re going to use Our Mother Tongue for grammar and move from paragraphs to essay writing. Jack didn’t read until he was eleven but he’s just about caught up. I still do some reading aloud and this year he’ll be working on reading for information as well as enjoyment. Again, we will be adding some tests to prepare for grade ten. I love Shakespeare but I think we’ll leave him until next year. I’m considering adding poetry and short stories but our focus is mostly on reading and writing essays.