Well, we made it through our first official year as a homeschool high school family! Here are all of the grisly details.
Algebra 2 –[2 semesters, 1 credit] We used a wonderful lecture program called Math Without Borders (David Chandler, lecturer) and combined this with the recommended text, Algebra and Trigonometry: Functions and Applications by Paul A. Foerster. If someone had told me a year ago that my son would be able to read and follow a textbook on math, I would have called them out on shenanigans. As it stands, he did a wonderful job. By the end, though, it became apparent to me, math phobic math avoider that I am, that I had reached the limit of my math skills. Luckily for us, it was my husband the math professor to the rescue! I have gladly passed the math teaching baton to him.
Physics (plus project) – [2 semesters, 1 credit] We began our year of physics with a summer project. Sir Talks-A-Lot built a working person-sized trebuchet and tested a variety of projectiles to discern how modifications in the design of the trebuchet or changes in terms of weight and shape affected the trajectory and distance of the projectiles. We used the plans at How to Make a Trebuchet in case you'd like to build your own. The video instruction was incredibly handy! Once the project was over, my son was fired up to begin studying physics. We began our formal studies using PLATO Physics, and it was a dismal failure. The lectures were boring and, to add insult to injury, still managed to omit crucial information that he needed to be able to pass the tests and get to the next level. Fortunately, I discovered the amazing course taught by Berkeley Professor Richard A. Muller along with the textbook written by him Physics and Technology for Future Presidents: An Introduction to the Essential Physics Every World Leader Needs to Know. If allowed to, I think my son would have happily done nothing but watch physics and read the book all day. He loved to regale me with all the information he was learning from the class.
Chemistry (plus project) – We were supposed to be finished with chemistry last summer, but it soon became apparent that Sir Talks-A-Lot just hadn't retained anything from his class. We struggled to find the Goldilocks curriculum that fit just right. We tried Chem Guy, PLATO chemistry, Khan Academy Chemistry, and assorted books. Still, every time he got bogged down in equations and couldn't move on.We finished out the year using the Georgia Public Broadcasting Chemistry lectures along with the Clifford C. Houk book, Chemistry: Concepts and Problems: A Self-Teaching Guide. The book features informative, brief sections followed by problems and questions which become progressively more difficult. This was just what Sir Talks-A-Lot needed.
Our lab work for the course was somewhat spotty. We mostly used online, interactive resources and viewed videos. I just couldn't seem to get myself together enough to consistently have the supplies we needed to complete our hands-on labs. The best resource we used for lab instruction was the Illustrated Guide to Home Chemistry Experiments: All Lab, No Lecture by Robert Bruce Thompson. Just be forewarned, if you live in a small town, "easy to find" supplemental supplies might not be so easy to find. Sir Talks-A-Lot finished out the year with a summer project which combined a bit of chemistry, biology and herbology. He cultivated bacteria, distilled the essential oils from yarrow, peppermint and basil and then tested their antibacterial properties against antibacterial soap, hand sanitizer and bleach.
Archaeology and Anthropology – [2 semesters, .5 credit] Sir Talks-A-Lot discovered a new love this semester. He took two online classes, Introduction to Archaeology and Anthropology: The Cultural Edition, with Stephanie Prahl (4 Little Penguins) via Currclick.In addition to the courses, he also went on a 9th grade trip with Unitarian Universalist students from the entire Front Range area to visit the Hopi and Navajo nations. He spent 6 months preparing for the trip and was gone for 10 transformative days. He completed a photojournalism project based on his trip and wrote a very nice article on his webpage.
Botany (Honors: includes special projects)– [1 full year, 1.5 credits] Sir Talks-A-Lot has spent the last couple of years taking courses with the most magnificent Gloria Brooks of Natureglo eScience. This year, from summer 2014 through fall 2015, he took a 2 semester course on trees which he found absolutely fascinating. His study of botany began with his completion of a project on wildflowers of Wyoming last summer. He collected photos of as many types of flowers as he could find, identified them and then made a hand-stitched hardback book featuring the pictures and information. His work became a family hobby as we all tromped through fields, parks and roadside turnoffs, having fun in the sun, all over Wyoming. Both last summer and this one, Sir Talks-A-Lot volunteered to help with the community garden. He loved working with his hands and teaching all of the little kids who came to the gardening workshops. As an added bonus, this year he got to attend the WYRED (Wyoming Resource Education Days) summer camp where he learned about range plants and collected a number of plants and pressed them in his herbarium. The camp used a college level curriculum, and the participants worked from sunup to sundown learning about range plants and about the science of maintaining and managing livestock on the range. At the end of the camp, there was a competition and Sir Talks-A-Lot won an award for Most Improved. He was very proud of this because he had no prior knowledge of the various plants he discovered coming into the camp (most of the other kids had ranch experience), and he learned a semester's worth of material in a week. His final project for botany involved building an herb spiral feature in our front lawn. He researched the materials for building, found a design, studied the sun patterns, researched different herbs and their soil and sun needs, made a soil blend for each section of the bed and planted and maintained the herbs.
Herb spiral that Sir Talks-A-Lot built for his summer project this year
Model Sir-Talks-A-Lot made of the herb spiral
Literature – Dystopian Literature and Film [1 semester, .5 credit] – This course was my first attempt to create a space for other kids to come and learn with us. I designed it for students to be able to grapple with eight big questions which seem to be at the heart of dystopian and speculative fiction. Newer works of Young Adult fiction were paired with old classics and films to address the following questions: 1) What are we becoming and what is the role of genetic manipulation in this process?, 2) What should be the response of the individual to totalitarianism?, 3) What kind of power negotiations occur in group identity formation and how does self-definition lead to segregation?, 4) At what point does awareness constitute humanness and who determines what is or is not life?, 5) What should be the government's role in the control of sexuality and do our bodies truly belong to us?, 6) When humanity is tested by a power larger than ourselves, who do we reveal ourselves to be?, 7) Are we doomed to self-destruction?, and 8) How do we know what is real and who controls access to knowledge? Sir Talks-A-Lot loved this class, and we plan to continue it next year, and I will continue to post as we go.
History – The Enlightenment and the Age of Reason [2 semesters, 1 credit] We finally finished up our study of European history with this unit on the Enlightenment. It was an extremely philosophy intensive course with readings from and about Donne, Pope, Swift, Voltaire, Descartes, Bacon, Hobbes, Locke, Rousseau, Wollstonecraft, Franklin, Paine, Kant, and Hume. Sir Talks-A-Lot also took 2 online classes, Baroque Music and Classical Music, with Lindsey Schwindt (Musical Thoughts) to learn about the music of the era. Surprisingly, this history course dovetailed quite nicely with our study of dystopian literature since many of the explorations of personhood, citizenship, the essence of the self and the proper place or role of government were issues in those texts as well.
Language Arts: Writing, Grammar, Vocabulary, Public Speaking [2 semesters, 1 credit] – We used a potpourri of resources for language arts this year. The stand out among them all was the Cover Story curriculum. Although it's rated as a middle school curriculum, we found that the writing exercises themselves were easily adapted to a high school level. The appeal of the course for us was the fact that the student was working toward publishing a magazine. Sir Talks-A-Lot used to publish a magazine when he was younger, and I hoped that a return to that would encourage him to want to write more. I really like that the journal element of the curriculum is designed to promote daily creative thinking. The lectures are short, humorous and engaging, and the writing assignments are all reasonable. That said, we abandoned the curriculum about half way through because Sir Talks-A-Lot decided that he wanted to put together a webpage and write a short story instead. My plan is to pull it out again for next year along with some new resources. We used Editor in Chief and Think Analogies from the Critical Thinking Company for grammar, vocabulary and punctuation practice. EIC is a great concept, but the program can be a bit buggy. In addition to TA for vocabulary, we also used the online version of Wordly Wise. His least successful course was a debate class he took for the public speaking part of language arts which was designed to use the speeches of Abraham Lincoln as a model for getting kids to write and deliver a variety of different types of speeches. I can't tell if the instructor was unprepared or if it was my son, but the course is no longer being offered.
“A good speech should be like a woman's skirt; long enough to cover the subject and short enough to create interest.” ― Winston Churchill
Latin – [2 semesters, 1 credit] We've been slogging on with the Ecce Romani books. I still like the Latin immersion format, but it became apparent by the end of the first semester that Sir Talks-A-Lot needs a lot more practice and vocabulary review. I bought the corresponding workbooks for 1A and 2B, and his progress has been a bit better. We took the summer off, so we'll see where we are in a couple of weeks when our new year officially begins.
How I see Latin
How he sees Latin
Photography – [2 semesters, .25 credit] Two amazing things happened on the photography front for Sir Talks-A-Lot this year. 1) His grandparents got him an SLR and 2) he enrolled in an online photography class called SCPhoto with Keith Willis. Mr. Willis is a photography teacher with almost 30 years of teaching experience at the high school level. And while learning photography online is not optimal, the well thought out assignments and great feedback helped Sir Talks-A-Lot make a lot of progress this year.
Photo assignment from class
Minecraft/Programming – Like almost every other gamer kid in America, Sir Talks-A-Lot is quite fond of Minecraft. So, I decided we might as well capitalize on this interest. He took two courses which used Minecraft as a platform for teaching. The first, Mysterious Mayans, was a history based introduction to the Minecraft game through Minecraft Homeschool which taught students about Mayan history and the game itself. The second, Mod Design by Youth Digital, was a programming course in which students learned the Java programming language by learning how to develop mods for Minecraft. He was not a big fan of the history course because he felt as though he didn't learn enough history and, since he is not much of a joiner, he also didn't enjoy the group building projects. The jury's still out on the programming course. He was enjoying it until Windows installed an update that obliterated all of his previous work. Youth Digital (which, by the way, has phenomenal customer service) helped him to restore what files they could, but he's finding starting over a bit disheartening. Update: Sir decided that he did inded enjoy the Youth DIgital course a great deal, and it has motivated him to find other programming opportunities for his sophomore year.
Music – Sir Talks-A-Lot finally grew enough to be able to play a full-sized viola and after much research, we bought him a viola of his very own. This was his third year participating in the Strings Project program at the university, and it quickly became apparent that the bloom was off the rose for him. He had approached his instructors last year about wanting to learn a particularly difficult piece of music. Rather than their hearing that he was interested in learning more, he was told to just stick with the basics and give up his ambition because he would never be able to play the piece of music he was interested in. From then on, it was a struggle to get him to practice or participate. He coasted doing the bare minimum (for which there was no consequences) and basically learned very little last year. By their measure, however, he did quite well since he was as good as all of the other students in his class. We are currently in the process of seeing if his passion can be revitalized. He's taking private lessons over the summer, and we'll see what autumn brings.
Leadership – Sir Talks A Lot ended his school year with another trip. This time, he was off to Washington DC to serve as a 4-H delegate for the Leadership Washington Focus conference. He met kids from all over the country, got to explore our nation's national monuments and history, and learned all about leadership.It was the first year for the conference to be held for kids his age. He had a great time and enjoyed being able to express his viewpoints and learn from others.
Since he was one of the tall kids there, he was in the very back. He's the dot that is second from the right.