Saturday, March 5, 2016

Experimenting with Time

This first week of agile homschooling has been quite the roller coaster. We'll hopefully get into a variety of the factors and how we are managing them but in the interest of keeping each blog post focused on a single topic, I'd like to turn our attention to the topic of time.

Time is a key resource when considering schooling. J's brother K is in public school so I'm trying to keep them on roughly the same schedule. J gets the same holidays, breaks and early releases. We have set aside 6 hours a day for homeschooling which is inline with the local standards. Given J is behind in core subjects I want to spend a lot of time, at least at the outset on reading, writing, and math. Each of those subjects is quite broad and we will hopefully go into how I explore that breadth in a later blog post. My goal is to get to a point where we spend half the day on what I call "Core" activities and half the day on "Secondary" activities.

Core activities are those that are focused on reading, writing, or math. Secondary activities are everything else. Science and social studies are the main focus of secondary activities, I'd like to do some of at least one of those each day. Then there is the pile of everything else: health, PE, music, art, computers. And other topics that he has expressed interest in organized in a more structured way: entrepreneurship and service learning related to homelessness.

Looking over this list is quite daunting. What I try to remember is that J will still have high school after this. When I reflect back on middle school the most important thing was to gain skills and gain an appreciation of learning. What precisely I learned in middle school was less relevant as all the essentials were re-taught in high school. So start the day with Core and when we finish Core we look at what else we can do to fill the remainder of the 6 hours and move forward on our goals.

In setting up Core I wanted to do an hour of each of the core subjects. An hour straight is a bad plan for learning so I split up the time into half hour chunks. So he would have 2 segments of reading, 2 segments of writing and 2 segments of math. We were on this plan Monday-Wednesday this week.

Given the coping skills that he has learned to defend his identity and psyche while in public school, J shuts down when things are perceived as too hard, too baby-ish, too annoying, or if he's just running out of steam. His stamina for learning is quite low at the moment. In order to ensure that Core gets done each day I have a deal with him. If he gets through Core then he doesn't have homework. In order to make this about time and effort and not about achievement I have a stopwatch that I use for our school segments. If he breaks down and refuses to move forward then I stop the stopwatch and wait for him. This is teaching him that he can't just stall to avoid things he doesn't want. I am flexible with him to get his needs met. He can ask for a break at any time but we will get the full 60 minutes of educational value for each of the Core subjects every day.

This week there have been very few days where we have made it past Core and into other subjects. We have however completed Core every day which was more than he had been able to do in public school so we are making progress.

Wednesday was particularly rough for us. In my view when things are particularly rough that is when Agile says to take a look at what isn't working for the people involved and see if there are things we can do to make it easier for everyone. One idea that I came up with was to change the length of time that was for each segment. I know that J can do will in 15 minute chunks but I do want him to experience some of the frustration and challenge in order to help him grow in both his coping skills and his endurance with academic tasks. So I chose 20 minutes. On Thursday and Friday we used 20 minute chunks for our Core subjects and things were somewhat smoother. We will continue this experiment next week to see if 20 minutes continues to be a better choice moving forward.

How do you schedule your homeschool time? How many hours a day or week do you tend to do homeschool? How do you break up your subjects and your time? I'd love to hear from you in the comments.

Wednesday, March 2, 2016

Getting Started!

To kick off this blog I feel it would be best to provide an introduction. Likely you have found this blog while poking around the internet for homeschooling resources much like I have been. Having a context for the content you are reading is super helpful however. 

Starting in January of this year I have been homeschooling my nephew whom I will just call J. J is in 6th grade. He is social, intelligent, autistic, athletic, empathetic, perfectionistic and struggles with the core subjects of reading, writing, and math. He loves science and social studies. I am also autistic. I have a bachelor's degree in math, a minor in Latin and a year of graduate work in education, including a successful practicum. By day I now homeschool my nephew but by night and weekend I  am continuing my job as a web developer at NIRD (Northwest Independent Ruby Development). 

Agile is a paradigm in programming that involves applying the concepts that were outlined in the Agile Manifesto to the process of software development. When I was introduced to Agile while learning to code, I fell in love with it. It was a philosophy that really jived with my intuitive philosophy of life, or at least the one I strive for even if I usually get scared and run back to rigidity. 

When considering how I wanted to set up homeschooling my nephew I wanted to keep this Agile philosophy in mind. J has been indoctrinated in a school system that isn't working for him. He takes this as a personal failing and judges himself harshly. He also sees learning as extrinsically motivating as opposed to intrinsically motivating. For this reason I felt that unschooling was a poor choice for him at this time. Given that his gaps in knowledge and skill are a patchwork of issues and he is concerned with being treated as not knowing something he knows, I felt like a straightforward curriculum approach was also a poor fit. So instead I'm leading the adventure in learning with resources that I can cobble together and trying to remain aware of the course corrections required as they come up. 

 This blog will be a log of various learning adventures and challenges. What I try and how it works. You may see several system changes or just a few. You may see a lot of resources or tools or just a lot of feelings. You may not see as many blog posts as you would have otherwise liked. After all it is hard to homeschool and work and write and maintain personal connections with folks. But it is my intention to provide some value to others who are struggling in this task of educating children.