Friday, October 21, 2011


Last night at supper N. saw Alan Richardson's book Literature, Education, and Romanticism: Reading as Social Practice, 1780-1832 (Cambridge: 1995) lying at the end of the dining room table where various things that various family members are reading tend to pile up.

"Mom," he announced, "I am never going to be interested in that book Literature, Education, and Romanticism because I specialize in the era from 1890-1910."

Thursday, October 20, 2011

Daily Math Practice

Daily math practice is part of the ritual of Tim and N.'s daily school time.  Usually right after their read-aloud and follow-up research (currently this is Ida Tarbell's autobiography), N. does a short 5-problem set in a workbook I bought called Daily Math.  Then Tim makes up a series of problems for N. to work, sometimes building on any mistakes he may have made in the Daily Math book.  Earlier this fall, as you can see at right, they were working on sequences, adding, and subtraction.  They also worked a lot on money recognition and money-related arithmetic.  Lately N. has been doing a variety of types of problems: big addition and subtraction problems, word problems, simple algebra (solving for x).

The workbook made it easy to incorporate some formal math into the daily routine and gives a nice platform for further work.  In addition it is giving N. some good practice in the conventions of typical math problems such as he will encounter when he takes the state-required annual standardized test.  Test-taking is not a focus for us, but it seems good for N. to be exposed to and have the opportunity to practice reading and working problems.  N. enjoys doing his math problems, and I like that Tim can tailor his additional daily problems to whatever N. is less confident in; earlier this fall, for example, that was coins/money.  When he makes up word problems, Tim always uses people and places and objects from our life, to highlight the relevance of math in the real world.  The variety of the problems also keeps N.'s interest.  As you can see in the picture, Tim and N. correct the problems together.  N. likes to report to me what his daily "score" in math is, and I remind him every day that making mistakes is how you learn!  Our assessment so far is that while N. is academically unusual in some subjects, in math he is quite typical for his age.  The second-grade Daily Math workbook is right at his current level.

The first two years of N's homeschooling our approach to math was very intuitive and organic.  We did a bit of formal written practice of math but mostly talked math a lot and provided many opportunities for the play and creative problem-solving that encourages strong numeracy.  We're building on that foundation this year with more formal problems, but we are still always on the look-out for ways to develop N.'s math facility beyond his daily math practice.  I'm feeling good that we're helping N. build his math skills in a gently rigorous way while maintaining a positive attitude about math in general and especially about making mistakes and getting things wrong in order to learn.  When you do a little math every day, it's easy to keep mistakes in their proper perspective.

Wednesday, October 5, 2011

An Ida Tarbell Curriculum

[Source] Ida M. Tarbell
The Autobiography of S. S. McClure, which Tim read aloud to N. in September, led to the book that has been at the center of N.'s studies for the past couple weeks: All in the Day's Work: An Autobiography by Ida Tarbell (1939).  Tarbell was an editor for McClure's Magazine, a biographer, and an influential muckracking journalist.  Every day Tim (and sometimes N.) reads a portion of the book aloud, and then they follow up on subjects and ideas that arise in the day's reading. 

For example, today they read in Tarbell's book about her knowledge of the United States' economic transition from farming to industry and about William McKinley, who attended the Poland Union Seminary in Ohio, where she was later a teacher, as well as her alma mater, Allegheny College.  Then they read in both the Britannica and World Book Encyclopedias about McKinley's presidency.  They also read about McKinley's era in A History of US, the excellent history set I bought for our homeschool this fall.  Then they used the globe to find the territories the U.S. won or annexed in the Spanish-American War.  Later N. told me very clearly about the role played by the U.S.S. Maine in the beginnings of this war.  Tim and N. together wrote out the order of the military ranks from general to private.  N. did some of the reading in the encyclopedias and history books aloud and explored the globe further. 

Last week, they read in Tarbell's autobiography about her years as a student at Allegheny College.  Then they looked up the Allegheny Mountains, looked at images of Bentley Hall at Allegheny College, and looked up Louis Agassiz and the Agassiz Glacier. 

Another day Tim and N. read in Tarbell's book about women's suffrage and followed that up with further reading in the encyclopedia and A Story of US about the suffrage movement and about Victoria C. Woodhull, the first woman to run for president of the U.S.  N. wrote up a math problem to figure out the year in which Tarbell reached age 70.

Tarbell writes compellingly about so many interesting aspects of American culture from the 1870s up to WWI, which happens to be an era that fascinates N.  Her autobiography is giving Tim and N. very rich days of learning together.