We knew from the outset that our first semester, if not our whole year would be shaped by Hubbybear's sabbatical on the east coast. If I could be thought of as coming from anywhere, I come from there. We usually have mad dashes as a routine part of our lives, and our leaving for sabbatical was no different. Sir Talks A Lot returned from Peru a mere 4 days prior to our planned departure date for our grand journey. He had gotten sick over there, and his illness plus Lady Chatterly's dental surgery (planned departure date T-1) made us reconsider. By the time we rolled out, we were late, late, late and there was much driving to be done. Not a lot of school got done while we were vagabonds, nor did much get accomplished once we arrived and had to settle in, We finished the old year by the skin of our teeth, which cast a pall of frenzy and panic on the new year. Perhaps as an antidote to that, the skills that have taken a front and center position are note taking, listening and following directions. Sir has completed much of his coursework for the year by means of MOOCs. These online courses, taught by amazing scholars and researchers, have expanded Sir's horizons.
Science (Social and otherwise)
Once we got settled, Sir confessed that his passion had grown cold for botany, but he thought he might just want to spend a little more time with anthropology. Meeting with an ethnobotanist helped him to realize that he enjoys the ethno far more than the botany. As a consequence, he signed up for this course in paleoanthropology.
Dr Donald Johanson is world renowned for a very good reason. Not only did he discover Lucy, his more than 45 year career as a paleoanthropologist has been full of discoveries as he investigates and explores exactly what defines being human from an evolutionary perspective. His passion about the topic infuses every word he speaks, and Sir found him to be a great lecturer. Nevertheless, while Sir admired the man, he soon discovered that hominin anatomy was just not as thrilling for him as it is for Dr. Johanson.
Sir Talks A Lot took both parts of this 2 part course which used supermarket tabloid fodder to spark serious debate about the science behind the headlines. The content was broad and ranged from hot button issues like GMOs, Cancer, Immortality and more. Taught by Berkeley professors Jasper Rine and Fyodor Urnov, the course was enthralling and made molecular genetics look sexy. Sir came away from the course feeling inspired about the possibility of using genetic research to help transform the world for the better. He also understands what a weighty responsibility it is to do such work.
Because Sir is a gamer surrounded by people who swoon over all things programming, he feels like there is something missing in him since he finds computer programming to be fascinating in the same way that nuclear physics is interesting to a 5 year old. He is fascinated by it, but also frustrated by the knowledge he lacks. So, this year he decided that he wanted to delve more deeply into Python and build upon what he had learned last year while doing robotics. In order to accomplish this goal, he signed up for An Introduction to Interactive Programming in Python (Part 1) taught by Joe Warren, Scott Rixner, John Greiner, Stephen Wong – Rice University.
The course is designed to serve as an introduction to programming in Python for students who already have a little experience in programming. The content is taught by having the students develop simple games like Pong, Rock/Paper/Scissors and Asteroids using the materials they learned that week in class.
Sir Talks A Lot really enjoyed the class, but he found it to be highly challenging. Each week he put in a good 20 or 30 hours into figuring out and solving the challenge. He learned a lot about programming, but he learned more about perseverance, determination and hard work.
While he did well in the class, Sir has decided that he likes programming as a mild interest not as a vocation.
We stumbled on this course by accident. I was searching for a course in essay writing for Sir Talks A Lot and came across this oddly compelling introductory video for the course Gravity! From the Big Bang to Black Holes. Even though Sir was already overloaded with work, he decided he just had to add one more thing to learn to his schedule.
Pierre Binétruy, the Director of the Paris Centre for Cosmological Physics at Paris Diderot University, is a quirky, but fascinating lecturer who has the ability to explain very complicated material so that a lay person can understand it. Sir definitely enjoyed the course, but decided that being a rocket scientist is definitely not in his future.
We have been spending a good portion of the year focusing on skills like taking notes, prioritizing tasks, making and following schedules, and listening. It was, therefore, a particular boon for us to find a class which both addressed how the brain organizes information so that it can be retained and also provided techniques to enhance learning. Barbara Oakley explains the content of and rationale for the course in this TED talk. For Sir Talks Alot, this class was particularly helpful. He came away from the class with tangible strategies to improve his retention of course materials.
This course looks at how memory can manipulated and how, as a consequence, eyewitness testimony is not always reliable. This course is particularly concerned with the psychology of eyewitness testimony and how different techniques of interrogation can dramatically impact the information gathered.
Sir Talks A Lot enjoyed this class a great deal. One of his concerns over the last year has been the relationship between race and social justice. He has been reading about cases in which there is clear race-based bias in sentencing or in which there is bias in dealing with a suspect often leading to death or injury. Sir was able to extrapolate from this course how a particular mindset might be generated through exposure to cultural discourse.
I usually look forward to doing Language Arts with Sir. As a former English teacher, I get a special thrill when considering all the possibilities of genres and themes -- so many arguments to make, so many worlds to explore. Unfortunately, we didn't have much chance to do anything fun this year. After a month or so of missed paper deadlines, I made good on my promise (threat?) and signed him up for the Getting Started With Essay Writing course offered through Coursera and UC Irvine. Don't get me wrong. Sir is an excellent writer. All of his beginnings are great! That said, he struggles with the whole concept of completion. I decided, therefore, that he needed a greater incentive to finish.
UC Irvine offers what they call a Writing Specialization in which a student may take sequential classes to learn the craft of writing. Sir joined the aforementioned class, and although he was bored and miserable, actually finished his essays in a timely manner. That was the good news. The bad news was the peer review process. Often, the people grading his papers were under the mistaken impression that they needed to either agree or disagree with the content of his work rather than assess the quality of it. Other people were annoyed by the fact that peer review was part of the process at all, and they wanted him to stop defending his arguments so that his papers would be shorter even though he never went over the word or page limit. Nevertheless, since he was actually producing papers, we signed him up for the next class in the sequence, Advanced Writing. He found this even more miserable, although at least it allowed him to review MLA format. After that, miracle of miracles, Sir found that he could indeed write an essay in about an hour from start to finish without having to be enrolled in an awful class. I call that a win.
SIr Talks A Lot had high hopes for this class, but they were not realized. The stated purpose of the class was for students to consider the question of how emotional state is captured by texts and how they produce similar responses in readers.Unfortunately, the course was uneven and never seemed sure of whether it wanted to talk about the literature, its impact on others, or the mental state of the authors covered. In other words, it could never quite decide if it wanted to be a psychology course or a literature course, so neither content was done justice.The nice thing about the course, though, was that he got to take some time and explore poetry. The following is a poem we found particularly striking about the aftermath of and acceptance of loss.
We started our study of American History last year and, as the year progressed, the curriculum that I developed became richer, broader, and more in depth. This was a difficult year in American politics and culture, and Sir learned how our past continues to inform our present.
Math has always been a struggle for Sir Talks A Lot. He has a history of finally grasping the topic, and then losing mastery of all of the information. These episodes were always a mystery to us. One second he would understand what he was doing; the next, every bit of information was gone. As a consequence, he has covered the same classes over and over again in different ways to make the information stick. When we returned from sabbatical this year, we decided that Sir would take a dual enrollment class at the community college next year. To do so, he needed to take placement tests in reading, writing and math. He had been having some difficulty in math beforehand, making a lot of mistakes when solving problems, but he blustered his way through with excuses and ire. The test showed that he had experienced a catastrophic brain burp, and every bit of math he had ever learned was just gone. We have always known that Sir has learning disabilities, but we decided that it was time to get him tested. It took over a month, but it was well worth it. We confirmed that he does indeed have a math disability which affects his ability to retrieve math facts. So, Sir is back to remedial math, relearning pre-algebra skills.
This time around, we decided to use Aleks math. Aleks is an adaptive online math program which provides both math instruction and problem solving practice according to the needs of the student. We thought this prudent, particularly since the community college uses this program for testing and remediation.
We didn't find this solution until wasting the whole year on math programs that didn't work. So, we'll start off next year behind in math.