Common Questions about Lessontrek, and a Sneak Peek!

lessontrekblogimageLessontrek has been a very popular planning and scheduling tool at Schoolin’ Swag! Our friend Jason Pessemier has been hard at work, tweaking and upgrading as he can, to make this valuable tool even more user friendly and seamless.  I asked Jason if he would tell me what the most common questions about the product are, so users could find answers easily here at the blog.  Here is what he shared.

Common Questions

1. Question: How do I add hyperlinks in a lesson? I need to click to websites for my child’s assignments.

Answer: To set up, click a lesson block, paste the URL and click save. To access, navigate to the lesson block and click the Open button, then click the hyperlink in the upper left.

2. Question: How do I print in color?

Answer: Make sure your browser’s Print Settings is set to print in color. Most browsers set their Print Settings to Black & White

3. Question: What curriculum can I use in Lessontrek?

Answer: You can use any type of curriculum or you can create your own. Lessontrek was built to be as flexible and easy-to-use as possible.

4. Question: Can I add weekends to Lessontrek? We sometimes have classes or we like to add household chores to our calendar.

Answer: Yes, make sure to click the Show Weekend check box located inside your Student Home modal.

5. Question: Can I use Lessontrek if I’m a public or private school teacher?

Answer: Absolutely! We encourage anyone to use this if it fits their needs. School teachers are currently using Lessontrek and they love it.

Sneak Peek!

Here is a list of items Jason plans to add, as he is able:

  • Shared subjects/school years across multiple students
  • Bumping subjects/assignments
  • Monthly view
  • Report card printouts
  • Separate student/parent/teacher logins

There is some great pricing available right now at Lessontrek!

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Want to try a FREE TRIAL? Click here!

Got another question for Jason? Let me know in the comments!

When Failing is a Good Thing

failure2We have taken a new direction in our education, and it is more demanding with many more assessments and evaluations (read: quizzes and tests) than what our kids had been accustomed to. To them, it can seem tedious…but it helps me to ensure they know what they are doing before coming to that realization on a big exam.

I’ve often told our kids that failures can be a stumbling block or a stepping stone…the choice is ours. Today, one of the kids had an assessment on a math lesson and failed badly. We were about to see how that plays out in real life.

In going over the answers, I saw that at least half of the errors were simple things like not paying attention to the wording or the symbols in equations. This was not an official quiz, so I cleared all the work, had my student come by me, and we went through the assessment, question by question. We reviewed concepts. We looked up definitions. We worked things out on the Boogie Board. We even borrowed the brains of Sal Khan for one particular question. The result? When the assessment was retaken, the result was well above average. But that is not the best thing.

I didn’t look for perfection. I looked for education. Real learning. Not just the “I think I have an idea, and so I will color in this bubble” facsimile of going-through-the-motions education.

Coming out of this experience, I know my student has a solid grasp on where the weaknesses were in understanding and comprehension. Exactly. My finger is right on that pulse. When we were done with our session, we both knew the material (I’d forgotten all about “multiplicative inverses”…so, thanks Sal!) solidly. That’s important. It’s supremely key if we are going to call what we are doing e-d-u-c-a-t-i-o-n. In the words of a family friend, “Do you understand what you know about that?” 

Getting A’s is all well and good, but if the grade is achieved by skillful guessing, or merely a rudimentary understanding (the “I’ll learn this for a test, but I plan to let it vaporize post haste!” kind), then we need to look more closely at how we are educating and less at the alphabet. Quizzes, tests, and exams are not the end. They can be used as a means to achieve learning, if we choose to grade smarter instead of harder. Grading, if you choose to do it, should be a used as a barometer. It should tell you if the synapses are connecting. It should never be interpreted as a reflection of who your child is. Let’s all remember that.

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Why I’m Educationally “Pro Choice”

doorsI’ve been mingling in homeschooling circles for quite some time. I’ve found that homeschoolers can be among the most opinionated and adamant people on the face of the planet. It’s true. The same resolve that helps us remain committed to our cause can make us prickly and caustic when considering the choices of others. And it can get very ugly. I want to say a word about that.

We love the freedoms we enjoy in our country. Right now, we still have the freedom to choose how we’d like to educate our children. What we seem forget is that the same freedom which allows one person to homeschool (in whatever style they like, as long as it meets state laws ), also gives another person the freedom to choose the public school, or a private school, or a charter school for their child. That should be a unifying idea. But it’s often not. Because we like to think we are right, and if we are right, then it only follows that we are right about everyone else’s kids as well. Like it or not, that can happen.

I’m enthusiastic about homeschooling…most days. 😉 I’ve changed our approach and methodology several times. Switched up our curriculum more times than I can count, because the “sweet spot” keeps changing as our kids change and grow. I’ve considered the public school option a few times (I’m pleased to say our current location has a very small, conservative school with a low teacher/student ratio that is ideal if pursuing this option), but God keeps calling my heart home. My heart.  It’s what’s right for us right now.

Here are the facts:

  • You are the parent of your child.
  • You know your child best.
  • You know what your home life, schedule, financial situation looks like, to make an informed decision.
  • You know what type of environment will help them thrive.
  • You know where your kids are at spiritually, and what will best help them to grow. I’ve seen some kids positively bloom in a public school experience, while for others it was disastrous.
  • You know whether you would thrive as a full-time home educator. Many simply don’t. And that’s okay!
  • You know what type of approach is going to best match their learning style.
  • You are prayerfully responsible for this decision. No one else.

At Schoolin’ Swag, we have parents who have chosen homeschooling as the option for all of their children. We have others who have some at home, and some in a brick and mortar school. We have still others whose children are all being schooled outside the home, and the parents wish to have resources to be actively involved in extending the educational process into their home environment, or need resources to support the academic approach they’ve selected. For instance, asking in the group for ideas for a science fair project that isn’t yet-another-baking-soda-and-vinegar-volcano. 😉

We welcome all of the above. We do not tolerate criticism of any approach. We are not “my way or the highway”. Some don’t like that, and they leave to find a more targeted group for support. Squabbling doesn’t help the cause of education. We are all in this together, in the best interests of our children, helping them to love learning.

I have friends all across the globe, successfully educating their kids using all of the paths mentioned above. I love and celebrate them all. This mom thing is hard, and tiring, and sometimes worrisome.  We really should be supporting each other. We can all get a bit “barracuda” if we choose to, whether the issue is schooling, breast feeding, vaccinations, teaching cursive, having sleepovers, consuming red dye and high fructose corn syrup…the list goes on and on and on.

I think the defensiveness comes from not having our own personal mission statement formulated. Do we know why we are doing what we’re doing? What is the basis of our choices? We have to be well grounded in the whys. This will help us. “If it be possible, as much as lieth in you, live peaceably with all men.” (Rom 12:18)

Make your choice. Rest in it, friends.

Comparing, Choosing Curricula, and Homeschool Mom Cop-Out

appleorangeHomeschooling is a uniquely different-looking journey for each family. Each child is diverse in strengths, weaknesses, talents, interests, aptitudes and perhaps disabilities. So even within one family, there really is no one-size-fits-all curriculum. Susie may have flourished using Sonlight curriculum while her younger brother withered on the vine with a literature-based approach. Truly, to buy one set of curriculum and expect to use it easily and seamlessly as a hand-me-down with all the siblings isn’t very realistic. It will very possibly require tweakage from child to child at the very least. Learning styles vary, and you may even find that through the years your teaching style will change also.

So, if we have this much variance between siblings in a family, it’s a given that there will be differences from family to family. Each home has its own homeschooling approach (and it may even vary from child to child what that looks like). What works wonderfully for a friend and her kids may not at all work for you.  Then again, it might! How do you know?

Evaluate your style.

This is one of the blessings of experimenting with the high quality, free materials we offer at Schoolin’ Swag. You can dabble in things which are structured for a Charlotte Mason style learner (or Montessori, Classical, Eclectic, Unschooling, or School At Home…) without losing much except a bit of time and perhaps some ink and computer paper. When you find a good fit, then you can move on the invest in some books and resources.  Taking a learning style evaluation can also big a big help. And you should take it along with your children, because your learning style will effect your teaching style…and it may not mesh with how your kids learn. I’ve wasted a lot of time and money this way (sort of “winging it” and finding that my student wasn’t “catching what I was throwing”).

So beware of comparison. Remember each child is unique. Celebrate it by choosing methods and materials that can encourage him or her to blossom!

In our home, I have one student who does best with an eclectic approach and lots of one on one personal interaction, while our oldest seems to thrive with a video approach with my personal input only with language-oriented classwork (mainly because of a reading disability).

Expedite learning.

Here’s the thing. I’ve had to teach myself something important before I could educate our kids well. It’s this: Do what is expedient.

What do I mean? I mean that my concept of what school should be like is not the priority. When we first started, we had a school room with desks, a board, maps, all of that. I soon learned that just because it looked like the school setting I grew up in didn’t mean education was happening.  Through the years things have morphed in all directions. The kids can do their schoolwork anywhere they prefer, as long as it is clear that they are in a setting that makes it possible to concentrate. The only exception is that our youngest needs to have a flat, hard surface (read: desk or table) to do her writing assignments, to make sure she is writing well and neatly.

Educate the most effective way possible.

Now, I’m going to be honest. I “feel” like I’m teaching when I am interacting with my students. Reading together, talking about ideas, surveying the work, monitoring behavior. Our youngest is great with that. It is what she prefers. It nurtures the learning process. Not so much for our oldest, who has grown to be more independent. I plan out his schedule and put it on Homeschool Planet, and he completes things, checks off the boxes (which I can see on the parent page), and submits any work I tell him I need to see.  Because I’m a teacher by nature, and did it for years on the college level, I don’t feel like I’m “teaching” our son. I need to be okay with that. Whatever is expedient for him to learn. That is what matters, especially in these upper level courses.

So, I’m choosing curriculum for next year, and struggling. I’m pretty confirmed that I’ll be using the Genesis Curriculum with our rising 5th grader. And I’m reluctantly biting the bullet and allowing our son (who will be a junior) to use an online program (state standard aligned and self grading, with quizzes and tests built into the program…it also keeps records) for his core subjects–for this coming year, that would be American Lit, Geometry, Biology, Geography, and US History 1 (pre-1850). We’ll supplement when needed, with interactive activities, worksheets and experiments.  I’m reminding myself that I’m not copping out in making this choice.

These are the best, most economical choices for us for the coming year. It is also best for me personally because I’ve seen the need to streamline things for my own health and sanity. I need to be resolved in this.  I’ll tell you why.

Establish your choices for your children.

squirrelAt Schoolin’ Swag, we have over 4,500 homeschooling families represented. Every type of homeschooling (and combinations with charter, private and public schooling as well) exists there, every teaching style, every learning style, every preference, disability, and level of giftedness. I’ve learned through the years that homeschoolers tend to be a very opinionated, dogmatic lot, so if you are easily persuaded you’ll soon find yourself in a Slough of Despond. If I am not praying about our choices and committed to them, as Administrator of the group, I will drive myself mad being exposed to all the possibilities I see every day. This awesome unit study, that really cute lap book, the article I post on successfully unschooling, the blog posts on why Charlotte Mason is best…why your child should read McGuffy…why or why not to teach cursive…and the list goes on. My life would be one constant “Squirrel!” moment! The same thing can happen at homeschool co-ops and conventions. Here is a link to a free 40-week printable curriculum planner (it’s even pretty!) that can help keep you sane and focused!

So, in the past few years since the Facebook group has been in existence, I’ve learned to choose for my family, and then put on a pair of blinders. Instead of comparing with what everyone else is doing in their homeschools, I have been learning to watch my kids. What helps them? What has been a total trainwreck? Do we need to back up again and review instead of pressing on? Should we bypass a section because it’s too simple for them? Is the curriculum causing them to feel defeated, or is it just laziness because they don’t want to do something which may be hard an uninteresting to them? I need to have a finger on their pulses. It’s a very proactive thing, regardless of whether they are being “taught by me” or just guided while using a digital curriculum.

I’ve created a free, 4-page “Monthly Debriefing” form (it’s pretty too!) for you to use for each child. There is a place to enter (edit in Word, or print out and write in by hand) your child’s name, the curricula you are using for each subject, what strengths and weaknesses you are observing that month, progress you’ve seen (boy HOWDY it helps to see THAT in print!), and goals for the coming month.

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Go to Schoolin’ Swag to get this form!

Pay attention. Don’t compare. Do what’s best for your kids right now. It might change next semester. You may take a completely different direction next year, as a child matures and grows intellectually. Totally okay. You only need to “measure up” to your state standards and then whatever helps your child succeed. That’s no cop-out.

No Foolin’ Preschoolin’ Event is Shaping Up! UPDATED

playlearnI’m excited about our No Foolin’ Preschoolin’ Giveaway on April 1st at Schoolin’ Swag! We have some great companies and publishers already on board. Take a peek (click the live links to browse their sites and check out their donations!):

I’m looking forward to adding more to the list! These are great helps, to enhance the time you have to invest in your Pre-K student. Life is full of educational moments, whether it is simply investigating nature or developing gross and fine motor skills through play. SO much happens through play in our little ones. We shouldn’t underestimate its importance!  This is not a time to become rigidly academic. This is time for exploration. What feels cold? What smells spicy? Which is big and which is small? What does my name look like? Where does the sun go at night? How many crackers are on this plate? How do plants grow? What color is the sky? How can I say hello to my Spanish speaking friend? Which musical instrument do I like the best?  Oh, so much to learn!

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Teaching a love for learning is of utmost importance at this age, and fun materials can be great tools to use in accomplishing this! Cultivating a love for reading for preschoolers often happens in mommy’s lap, so we hope to offer some lovely books for your snuggle time, too!

Having preschool materials on hand can be of great help to some parents who may need a little assistance in guiding their children developmentally. Sometimes we don’t know where to start…sometimes we have so many things going on in the home, we don’t know HOW to start! I hope this event is an encouragement to you!

 

Of MRIs and Scantrons

mriI have a friend who recently had an MRI done. She mentioned how surprised she was at how any little movement could skew the results. Breathing too rapidly or too deeply could result in needing a re-do. And it got me to thinking…

Now, these are my opinions, of course. I’m not speaking for the entirety of the homeschooling community. This can be one of those “hot button” topics, so bear with me.

I’m not a fan of standardized testing. There. I said it. You may have as well.

I don’t believe that there is any kid who can tick off all the boxes to meet every benchmark of what a 2nd grader, 6th grader, or 11th grader… should be. This is why schools are loaded with kids who are “gifted” or, on the contrary, are judged to be sub-par and require remedial instruction. Are gifted kids gifted in everything? Not likely. They probably have areas which could do with some sharpening. Are sub-par kids underachievers in everything? Doubtful. A child who struggles terribly in writing and reading may be a mathematical prodigy. What I’ve found in over a decade of homeschooling is that kids are really…fluid. Changeable. Growing. Developing. A bit…subjective. 😉

Every child is a mixed bag of variables, all of which are developing at different rates. To suggest that every child should meet certain standards by a certain age simply isn’t fair or realistic.

So here is where my MRI connection comes in with standardized tests.

What if, on the day of your testing event, you have one (or more!) of the following coming into play? (Think of these as the fidgeting and things that blur the MRI results). What if your child:

  • Slept badly the night before
  • Ate Chocolate Frosted Sugar Bombs for breakfast (yes, I know…”responsible” moms wouldn’t serve such a thing on such an important day…but things happen)
  • Has test anxiety issues
  • Has learning disabilities
  • Has chemical imbalances
  • Has behavioral struggles
  • Has had a difficult life event recently
  • Is easily distracted
  • Has processing disorders
  • Is wearing clothes with itchy tags (we have days when we can’t move forward until we get a change of clothes)
  • Hates the pencil he/she has to use
  • And the list goes on…

scantronSo now we have a testing event, upon which this child may be judged, placed, or otherwise assessed. It’s important. It goes “in the records”. And the cards may be badly stacked against him…for posterity. Unlike the MRI, there is no re-do.

So, do we just quit testing? No. I test our kids with the materials we are using at the time. They are evaluated through “formal” tests and quizzes as well as oral assessments, worksheets, and essays. The difference is, I know my kids better than a machine that scans pencil marks. I know what they ate. I know what they are strong in and what they need help with. I know when they are simply not trying their best, and when there is legitimately something going on that messes with their performance on a given day. I know my kids. I can raise the bar (or lower it to a more reasonable level) according to my awareness of their strengths and weaknesses.

teachermoreMy heart goes out to those who are awesome teachers (private, public, or home school) who know their kids, but their hands are tied because they are obligated to subject them to the cookie cutter tests. What’s more, when not only the student is judged by how he colors in the bubbles…but the teacher’s effectiveness is also judged by those results…well, my goodness. Things get very mixed up from there on. Teachers becoming the scapegoat for a child’s poor performance is rarely the right thing to do. We’ve all heard the phrase “teach the test”…and that is what happens in some classrooms, unfortunately. To save everyone’s skins. That’s not education.

I read recently in an educational article that “standardized tests measure a student’s ability to memorize information.” Is that education? I don’t believe so. Helping my kids to love learning and to want to continue it all their lives…that is part of my mission as a homeschooler, and what I believe is the essence of true education.

Case in point? This morning our 4th grader was eating her cereal at the table. Around her were: two reading books, a book on the solar system, a book on the history of flight, a book on antique automobiles, and her sketching pencils. I didn’t make her do that. She chose to surround herself with things that answered her questions. She has an inquiring mind. It wants to know. I believe kids are hard-wired this way, and we squelch it terribly when we reduce school to rote memorization of dates, names, and theorems.

Babies begin to learn before they can ever speak. They touch, they put everything in their mouths. They investigate. Toddlers ask question upon question. Our son asked “Mom, I have a question…” so often that I got him a notebook in which to write them down, so he could learn to find answers for himself…because moms know a lot, but we certainly don’t know everything!

You may be a homeschooler who is required to have your students take standardized evaluations. We’ve been there. All you can do is muddle through, fulfill your requirement, and try your best to help your kids come away from the experience unscathed. Don’t let it affect your passion for teaching and learning. Keep on keepin’ on! Let’s bring the beauty, individuality, and personality back to the educational experience. Let’s kindle that spark!

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New Kickstarter Program With Hoffman Piano Academy!

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Ready for some exciting news? I just got this announcement from Angela Hoffman at Hoffman Piano Academy! Read here:

Are you looking for a piano teacher? Meet Mr. Hoffman!

Joseph Hoffman has always wanted one thing, for more people to be able to learn music and to love it while they’re learning. He spent years developing his own comprehensive piano method based on research in early childhood education and great music teaching methods like Suzuki and Kodaly. After receiving his master’s degree in music and founding a very successful music academy in Portland, Oregon, he wanted to find a way to teach music to children whose families might not be able to afford private music lessons, or who might live far away from a piano teacher.

Five years ago, Joseph and his wife Kelly came up with the idea to create piano video lessons and post them online, for free, so that anyone in the world could learn piano with the Hoffman Method. To support their project, they sold downloadable lesson materials, like sheet music and audio files, to accompany the video lessons. Mr. Hoffman’s video lessons now have over 5 million views, with thousands of students watching lessons every day. But he’s not done yet.

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Right now, Mr. Hoffman has 120 piano video lessons online. He wants to double that number in the next 16 months, then continue to make more. His ultimate goal is to make Hoffman Academy a complete piano learning program, so that a student who completes all the lessons would be ready to major in music at any university and become a professional musician.

The Hoffman Academy team is also working on building a new, interactive, subscription-based website that will include music learning games and online progress tracking. Video lessons alone can’t give personalized feedback, but the new Hoffman Academy will be able to guide students through developing their skills in rhythm, staff reading, music theory, and ear training, and make learning the piano even more fun and engaging.

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In order to fund these projects, Mr. Hoffman is running a Kickstarter campaign through the month of February. Campaign backers can try out the new Hoffman Academy premium subscription for themselves at a great discount. Or, you can contribute to our campaign and fund a Hoffman Academy premium subscription scholarship for a child in need. Come on over and check it out!

Do you believe in music education for everyone? Contribute to our Kickstarter and help make it happen.

Visit our Kickstarter page to learn more.