As we are just about a third of the way into our experimental "Homeschool in a Global Classroom" year, I thought it worth a status update. On the whole, the team effort of educating Tica and Ian has been a good one. We four have fallen into a routine that seems to work and the kids -- for the most part -- seem to be learning quite a bit. Here is a synopsis of the experiment so far -- Brooke
Scholar working at the dinner table
Scholar working at the dinner table
The All Important Routine
We realized early on that Tica and Ian prefer a routine, so we've gotten into the habit of providing them with a To Do list of daily assignments. They receive it in an email each morning. Putting together the list has the added benefit of forcing the teachers to focus and put together a work day that is balanced, interesting not overly strenuous.
Ben and I have found it worthwhile to split our teaching roles between subjects. He will typically work on math with the kids, while I concentrate on the social sciences. We share teaching responsibilities in science. We also switch or double up roles from time to time as needed, like when one or the other of us goes on a grocery run or needs a sanity break.
The system breaks down a little when we have taken a day or two off. We all have a hard time getting back into the swing of things. The daily lesson plan helps a lot though and, barring any motivational battles, we typically manage to have our school work done before early afternoon.
We try to work on a regular school schedule, hitting the books five days per week with a two days off on the weekend. We’ll tweak the schedule to allow for special excursions, such as our recent snorkeling/dolphin watching trip to Natewa Bay. Such exceptions are rare though and Ben and I stress learning on those occasions.
We honor the traditional “breaks” in the school year – like Thanksgiving, Christmas, Spring Break, but we are not afraid to change the schedule around to suit our needs and travel realities. For instance, we will likely shorten our Christmas Break a bit so that we can take a few school days off in early January when my brother and family come to visit. The overall goal is to have school at least the same number of days than Tica and Ian’s classmates back home.
Ian and Tica have learned countless things by just being here in Fiji. We have seen the progress ourselves, particularly in adjusting to “Fiji Time” and the realities of living in a small town with fewer amenities -- like no Pepperidge Farm goldfish crackers. Ben and I nevertheless take the actual homeschooling component of our trip quite seriously – perhaps even too seriously at times. We would rather err on the side of caution though.
Prior to our departure, we had the chance to pick the brains of a number of teacher friends, acquaintances and family members. (Vinaka!) If there one piece of specific advice, it was to stay on top of "maths" as it is referred to here in Fiji. We took this to heart and subscribed to a more traditional curriculum for math than for other subjects.
ALEKS is a Web-based math curriculum, which uses frequent assessments and adaptive questioning to teach math concepts in a curriculum tied to grade level. The course is tailored to include math standards set by school districts in different states, including Washington. Tica and Ian will have to complete a pie chart, the slices corresponding to different types of math (e.g., geometry, fractions, algebra, etc.). He/she can pick the subject to work on but must master certain skills before going on to others, thus assuring that each will have to tackle all slices of the pie at some point. The fourth grade curriculum has an additional segment called Quick Tables, which tests Ian on basic math facts using drills and games.
In order to progress, students are expected to spend at least three hours a week working on ALEKS. We assign 40 minutes of ALEKS per day, which works out to 3 hours, 20 minutes a week, although we usually round up to make each session a little longer. As I write this, Tica has already completed 63 percent of the 6th grade math curriculum. Ian has mastered 65 percent of the fourth grade curriculum. The kids seem to like (okay, tolerate) the interface and the frequent and unannounced assessments give them test-taking practice in addition to assuring their mastery of new math skills. We will continue on to the next year’s curriculum once the kids finish their current lesson plan.
If there is one criticism of ALEKS, it is that we must have a reliable internet connection in order to use it. Losing our connection, as happens from time to time, was cause for alarm at the start as we had to seek one elsewhere or do no math. We managed this problem all right while we were stateside but it turned into a real pain in Savusavu. Catching the bus into town to cram ourselves into an internet “café” (not) just didn’t work. To remedy the situation, we picked up a couple of math workbooks used in Fiji schools. These books provide ample practice for the kids when the Internet is down or when we are traveling. It is a sad statement about Fiji’s education system though that we are using books aimed at students who are two years ahead (classes 6 and 8).
Outside of math, we have adopted a more non-traditional approach to teaching, tailoring our daily assignments to events in our surroundings or new ideas that spring up from a variety of sources. While variety rules, we try to make sure that each assignment includes work on some or all of the "Basics" -- thinking and reasoning, reading and reading comprehension, various types of written and oral communication skills (e.g., narrative, creative and persuasive) and cultural and historical studies. We often use this blog to display their work. They just love to hit the "publish" button and really seem to take pride in their posts.
Science: Close Up of Solar System Model -- Saturn and its Moons
We have had probably the most fun in our science studies. Here we have taken full advantage of proximity to the reef, leading the kids on a number of snorkeling excursions and helping them to learn about Fiji’s rich marine resources. They are also going through the book-learning it takes to gain a junior certification in openwater Scuba diving. These projects slip over into other subjects as well. For instance, walking the reef and negotiating the currents of the dropoff are major components of our daily PE curriculum.
Science and PE
Last but not least, we are all doing a lot of reading. The kids have already finished all five books in the Last Olympian Series by Rick Riordan, a Harry Potter type adventure series which offers background on the Greek mythology. They have also read various Penderwicks' titles, some Hardy Boys mysteries and The Name of this Book is Secret books, among others. We've read aloud The Lightning Thief and The Swiss Family Robinson and are currently in the middle of Jules Verne's 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea. We've had some school projects come out of these readings as well as many spirited discussions. It is also a great way to wind down after a long day.