Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Crazy for Curriculum

Every year at this time I am busy with two things. The first task is to finish up our current school year. This year I had all of my lesson plans for the year completed about four weeks ago, so we are just down to the nitty gritty of follow through to finish the year strongly. The second task that consumes me is that of choosing curriculum for the upcoming school year. I really enjoy doing this - it is fun to look at all of the catalogs that come in the mailbox and to peruse the various web sites that come to my attention. I usually order materials in June and July so that I can survey them and begin to plan the school year, which we typically start the second week of August.

Each year school becomes more academically inclined as our son's interests deepen and he matures. It has always been a challange to decide how much to push him to learn all that he can without harming his naturally inquisitive personality. Some years I have been more successful than others. The upcoming school year, 2009-2010 will be a 7th grade year. Amazingly, it will be our fifth year of homeschooling. It will also be a change as we settle into new curriculum on several fronts.

Having completed the final course in the Horizons Math series, Math 6, it is time to move on to another curriculum. We have both really enjoyed our time in Horizons (most days, anyway) and found it to be a great balance between reviewing math skills that have been mastered and introducing new skills at an interval sufficient to maintain and even spur on some interest in mathematics. This past January, N. took the ACT Explore test, which is normed to 8th grade. He did very well. The results showed me that he is most likely ready for pre-algebra and does not need another year of general math. At least I have a starting point!

I have not made a final choice for math, I am waiting until I see some of the choices at the convention in June. I do have a top contender for pre-algebra, however. Chalkdust seems like it might fit the bill, providing both clear explanations in the text (I have seen a friends' Algebra I book) and video tutorials. There are more than enough practice problems provided so that the subject can be mastered - in fact, it looks as if on some lessons, only 1/3 or so of the problems are typically completed. I have also considered Life of Fred and Teaching Textbooks, neiher of which have been ruled out, they are just lower on the preference list right now.

Next school year, the focus will be on Life Science, an area that we have barely touched on. N. is so much more interested in the physical sciences and has been exploring a variety of topics that fall within the physical sciences. In an effort to prepare for high school level work, I also wanted to make this study more formal than his previous science studies, but still provide hands on experiences for him. After much research, I have chosen Prentice Halls' Science Explorers Life Science. There is a bit of controversy surrounding this middle school level science program as past editions have recieved bad reviews. I did consider the reviews, but I also had to consider my personal experience - we have two of their topic books that we used earlier this school year and they are very good resources. I also took into the account that the reviews are very old and were reviews of very old editions, published in the 1990's. This curriculum offers basic instruction in life science as well as tools to not only aid in retention, but to also assist the student in developing study skills through their guided reading workbooks. The labs are prohibitively expensive for homeschooling, so I have purchased the Thames & Kosmos Core Science Middle School 1 kit, which includes labs for life, earth and physical sciences. I should be able to use it over the next two years. I also purchased the Genetics and DNA kit for use next year. As a side note, the Prentice Hall sales team has been a great help - assisting my selection of the necessary materials for homeschool while keeping me from wasting money on things that would not be useful in the home environment.

Another transition! Again, I am waiting until convention to make some final choices. The top contender at this time is Analytical Grammar. I have not been able to see a copy of this yet, but will be able to do so at convention. This program assumes that grammar can be mastered and its mastery does not require endless repetition through the years. It also makes use of independent study, which is far different than the second runner up, Shurley English. In fact, I am not sure that Shurley will continue to be in contention if Analytical Grammar doesn't work out - I may have to start from scratch.

I am considering several things at this point. We will probably continue reading the Sonlight reading selections, this year for Core 7. I am also considering adding some literature studies in to begin to familiarize N. with literary analysis - finding the components of a plot, recognizing the importance of setting, dialog, character development, etc. I am considering Progeny Press study guides and Lightening Literature. I am far from reaching a decision on this subject.

For the past few years we have been blessed to use the Institute for Excellence in Writing materials to teach N. different types of writing. This program really hit the spot! We have been able to use what he learned in all areas of the curriculum - last year he wrote about the science he was studying, this year he wrote about the history he was studying. Next year, we will go on our own, using what he has learned and applying the IEW methods to assignments in literature, history, science and maybe even math! We have been pleased with the quality of writing N. has maintained and look forward to seeing what he can do when we turn him loose!

Finally, an easy decision! We will continue with Vocabulary from Classical Roots, using book A. I am considering scheduling this only two days/week, which is a slower pace. If we choose Analytical Grammar, I am considering alternating it with Analytical Grammar, using it on the off weeks.

We will continue our world history study through Sonlight's Core 7, World History in Depth, Part 2 (Renaissance to Modern Times). We are ending our current year after studying Martin Luther and look forward to moving ahead. The Sonlight curriculum has provided a path for us to follow as we use primarily living books for our study of history. While I have sometimes been annoyed at the organization of the program, I have been able to easily make adjustments as we go along to help us meet our educational goals. We will continue to use the 5 day/week program, completing it in 4 days/week so that we can continue our co-op next year.

Next year will be our first foray into this field of study. We will be using Thinking Toolbox and The Fallacy Detective. I would appreciate tips on how to pace and/or schedule this study. Not having any training in logic myself (other than what I have absorbed in the school of hard knocks), I will be curious to learn alongside my son.

Computer Science
N. began learning the programming language, Java, in his co-op class this spring. The class will not be continuing in the fall, yet N. has expressed a desire to continue learning this language. I am leaving this curriculum choice and teaching up to my husband, who is a master at Java!

Fine Arts - Drawing
These were his words - "not that I want anything else to do to make my school day longer, but I would like a drawing program where I can learn a little bit every day." Well, knock me over! I offered co-op classes, and that was accepted, but he insisted it would not be enough. So, I am exploring options in this area. The "art gene,"as we refer to it here in our home, skipped a generation in both my and my husband's families - neither of us received it! Both of our fathers, however, were known to doodle and draw quite well. My husband's father went home to heaven just before N. was born, and my father is losing his eyesight, so we will have to search elsewhere for instruction. I have heard of two programs but have not found anyone who actually used the programs, so again, I must go to convention to check them out. I am consering Artistic Pursuits and Draw Today in additon to Mark Kistler's Online Art Academy. Mark Kistler is the only one that I have had any exposure to, he has several introductory videos on his web site. N. has worked on his Draw Squad books and has learned a lot from them. Additonally, buying through the Homeschool Buyers Co-op saves a lot of money on this subscription. Other than the Artistic Pursuits, I am not sure if these programs are appropriate for middle school.

Fine Arts - Music
N. will continue his private guitar lessons once each week, practicing daily. He plays an acoustic guitar, but has aspirations to play an SG. He will have to save his money for that one!

Don't let the position of this subject on my list fool you! This is the most important thing we do in our home, Bible Study! I hesitate to call it a school subject, as that designation seems to trivialize it a bit. Instead, studying and living out the Bible is our life. We are all a work in progress as Christ sanctifies us more each day (yes, we believe that sanctification has already occurred, is still occurring and will occur - let me know if you want to hear more about this & I'll cover it in a future post). This next school year, we will continue our daily Bible reading - we typically read about three chapters of scripture each day (yes, I said three). Some days it takes longer than others, but at this pace we will be able to read through the Bible at least two times before N. is off to college. It has been fascinating to read and talk about the Word of God and to see it through our sons' eyes, as he hears much of it for the first time. Currently, we are reading the gospel of Luke. Having just been through Matthew and Mark, he is picking up on the similarities and differences between the gospels - how each of them is tailored to address specific concerns or to a specific audience. There are several studies that we want to take N. through before he leaves our nest, but I'll save that for another time.

Middle School Essentials
I am making this course up. It will be a list of things that he is to learn before he finishes middle school. Right now, I have several things on the list, including personal hygene (what 'tween boy doesn't need reminders in this area?); a Bible Study on choices, the Boy Scout First Aid merit badge, the Boy Scout Family Life merit badge (this one includes 90 hours of documented chores - what bliss!) and study skills. I have a bit more on the list, but the details are evading me at this hour.

I am hoping to become more consistant in my posting - I have a lot of goals for my time this summer, one of which is to learn how to personalize my blog layout and how to blog more effectively. We'll see what that brings!

Well, that's all for now! I have probably left something off of the curriculum list, but the hour is late (or early) and my brain is tired. I'll follow up with further posts if I realize that this is the case.

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