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2014 January 28

High school senior workload

Filed under: home school — gasstationwithoutpumps @ 22:00
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Shireen Dadmehr, in Math Teacher Mambo: Seniors, Workload, Responsibility, talks about high-school seniors dropping out of her CS course:

The flip side of this is that depending on what courses the students take their senior year, and how they approach their scholarship applications and college applications, and what sports they play, and how far their daily commute is, the amount of time they have for homework and sleep and life fluctuates. Needless to say, there are stressed out little bundles of walking sleepless zombies.

Her dilemma is whether to push the students to stick with what they signed up for or to let them drop courses that are either too ambitious for them or just lower priority in an over-loaded schedule. My advice to her is simple—talk to the students and make sure that they aren’t just scared of the material or not getting it due to things that could be changed in the teaching, but let them make their own decisions about whether the effort is bringing enough reward.

As a home-schooling parent of a high-school senior, I’ve also got to deal with helping my son balance his workload—I have high standards and high expectations for him, and I’d like to have him do everything he started this year, but some things are taking more time than anticipated, so it is time to re-evaluate the importance of different activities.

The second semester is starting now, so this is the ideal time to rebalance the workload.

His first semester was supposed to be econ, AP chem, writing (a mix of college essays and tech writing),  group theory, two computer science/computer engineering projects (the light gloves and upgrades to the Arduino data logger), and theater.  The mix of what was done was not quite what was envisioned—more of some things and less of others.

The AP chem and econ are pretty much where they should be (a few days behind in chem due to illness, about a week to go to finish econ) at the semester break.

The college essays turned out to take far more time and effort than originally anticipated (by me and him—his mother had a more realistic view), which pushed the tech writing out.  The college essays got done, but only at the expense of no winter break. Luckily this problem was seen early enough that the transcript was revised to describe his fall semester English class more accurately.

More acting got done than originally expected (and we originally expected a heavy acting load), as he ended up with 5 roles (rather than 1 or 2) in the school one-acts and he added a 3-day workshop during winter break.  This last month has been crazy, with performances almost every weekend, but things should wind down after the Dinosaur Prom Improv performance this Sunday, to just 2 theater classes a week (Dinosaur Prom and Much Ado About Nothing).  The two going away are the Page-to-Stage theater class (where he was the oldest student) to make room for younger kids on the waiting list for the spring production, and the school production which is once a year and had the performance last weekend.  With 2 theater groups instead of 4, he should have more time for other classes.

He’s been working diligently (often spending more time than he really has available) on the light gloves.  In addition to hours of programming or hardware design he’s been meeting weekly or more with the team and having Skype/Google Hangout meetings with investors and with new, remote engineers thinking of joining the team.  I think that they’re getting their second set of prototypes fabricated this month, and he’ll need to start intensive programming to get the Bluetooth LE chip working and communicating with a laptop or cell phone.  I believe that they are getting 10 prototype boards assembled commercially, rather than having to deal with the surface mount parts themselves—the price was low enough that the time savings (and probable quality) justified the extra price.  I think that they are still planning to have a Kickstarter campaign this spring and go into production over the summer, but that schedule may slip if the programming and debugging takes longer than they expect.  (Note: I’m not involved in this project, except once in a while as someone to bounce ideas off of, so all those “I think” and “I believe” statements are vague impressions not the result of detailed status reports.)

The Arduino Data Logger project was put on hold over the fall, but I really need him to get back to that very soon, as I’ll have to tell the staff whether to order Arduino boards or KL25Z (or KL26Z) boards for my circuits class soon.  The extra features that I requested are not critical, but we can’t use the KL25Z boards unless they are supported by the data logger software, and it would be nice to have the much higher resolution and sampling rate of the KL25Z boards.

Because group theory was always last on the priority list and had only Dad-imposed deadlines, it has lost out.  We’re still in Chapter 3, and I don’t see much hope of our catching up by the end of the year.  I see three choices:

  • Drop Group Theory from the transcript, treating as a nice idea that there just wasn’t time for.
  • Push real hard to try to complete the book anyway—I don’t see this happening, as the group theory is just fun math, not something he “needs”, so it I want it to be something we do together for fun, not under high stress.  It is the lowest priority of our courses in my mind, so I can’t see pushing him hard on it.
  • Reduce our ambition to only ½ or even ⅓ of the book, and reduce the credits for the course correspondingly.

He’s finished with econ (almost) and with college essays, but is picking up government/civics and dramatic literature.

The civics will probably be at about the same effort level as the econ, but it may be hard to find a good source at the right level—the MIT open courseware econ lectures made a nice, rather lightweight econ course, supplemented by a few popular-press econ books.  Government/civics doesn’t have the mathematical appeal of econ, and most high-school or freshman college books on the subject are rather dry and boring.  Oh, well, that course is my wife’s responsibility (as was the econ), and she can undoubtedly do a better job of finding materials for it that I could.

The dramatic literature course is preparation for the trip to the Oregon Shakespeare Festival and should not be a problem for him—certainly nothing like the torture of college-application essays!  He’s done two previous dramatic literature courses with the same teacher (different plays each year, based of the OSF schedule), and knows what to expect.

So this spring semester should see

  • replacement of econ by civics
  • replacement of college-application essays by dramatic literature
  • continuation of AP Chem
  • switch from mostly hardware and app/web programming to embedded software for light gloves
  • two-fold reduction in acting (down to a sane level)
  • addition of data logger project
  • low-level continuation or elimination of  group theory

I think that the spring is likely to be less stressful than the fall, but still a full load.

We’ll have to make a decision on the group theory soon, for the updated report through the Common App.

2014 January 26

Mostly in the Timing

Last night, I watched my son perform in the high-school play for his home-school umbrella school (Alternative Family Education).  The parents’ club hires West Performing Arts to organize the school plays (they had three—elementary, middle, and high school) and provide the performance space (West End Studio Theatre).

The high school production this year consisted of 8 one-act plays, seven of which were from David Ives’ collection All in the Timing,hence the name “Mostly in the Timing”. The one exception was a sketch from the Carol Burnett Show (episode 10.6 in 1976, of two people in an elevator with one-word lines).

I had not seen any of the plays before—I’d not even run lines with my son for this production, so it was all new to me. I enjoyed all the plays, though “Degas, C’est Moi” needed some more rehearsal, particularly for the stage crew. I can see why these pieces by Ives are so popular for high schools and colleges—they are funny, well-written, and fairly easy to stage, relying on the lines and the acting, rather than on sets, costumes, or props for the entertainment.

"Variations on the Death of Trotsky"  Leon Trotsky with axe smashed into his skull.

“Variations on the Death of Trotsky” Leon Trotsky with axe smashed into his skull.

My son was in five of the eight one-acts, with one of them being a last-minute casting after another student dropped out of the production.  He had the role of Frank Mikula, a construction worker in “Mere Mortals”; Horace, the male mayfly in “Time Flies”; Leon Trotsky in “Variations on the Death of Trotsky”; Collin in “Elevator”, and Pedestrian and Unemployment Worker in “Degas, C’est Moi”.  This required some quick changes of costumes and some radically different body language for the different parts.

They had 11 actors and 3 directors (for a total of 13 students, as one director also acted) for a total of 38 roles. My son ended up with the most roles and the most lines, probably as a result of stepping in at the last minute for the role of Frank Mikula.

My wife made the ax-in-the-head costume piece for Leon Trotsky.  They debated for a while whether to shape it like the mountain-climbers’ ice axe that the script calls for, or a more iconic wood-chopping hatchet (which seems to be the more popular choice for staging the play, based on Google image searches).  They went with the hatchet.  It was constructed out of old padded envelopes, cardboard, and duct tape, sewn to a wig.  It ended up looking pretty good, and it did not flop over (which is what my wife was most concerned about).

Victoria and Collin in the elevator

Victoria and Collin in the elevator

Frank Mikula (left) and Charlie Petrossian (right) eating lunch 50 stories up.

Frank Mikula (left) and Charlie Petrossian (right) eating lunch 50 stories up.

Mayflies Horace and May, discovering that they're on television.

Mayflies Horace and May, discovering that they’re on television.

They have another run this afternoon, and I look forward to seeing it again.

2014 January 24

Theater month

This has been a busy month for theater in our household:

  • 21–22 December 2013. My son performed in “Inspecting Carol” as Sidney Carlton (hence, Jacob Marley and Fezziwig) with WEST Ensemble Players at West End Studio Theatre.
  • 30 Dec 2013–3 Jan 2014. My son had a 3-day workshop with West Performing Arts on “site-specific theater” which included street performances downtown.
  • 10 Jan 2014. We went to see “8 tens at 8″, a collection of new one-act plays performed by Actors’ Theatre at Center Stage.
  • 18–19 Jan 2014. My son performed in “Call of the Wild” at West End Studio Theatre as John Thornton, a husky, and a narrator.
  • 20–24 Jan 2014. Tech week for the AFE high school play with 3–6 hours of rehearsal a day.
  • 25–26 Jan 2104. Performance of the AFE high school play at West End Studio Theatre. They are doing 8 one-act plays, mostly from David Ives’ collection All in the Timing, so they’re calling the performance “Mostly in the Timing”. My son is in 5 of 8 one-acts, with one of them being a last-minute casting after another student dropped out of the production.
  • 1 Feb 2014. Going to see “Best of the Rest”, a staged reading of the 8 10-minute plays that did not quite make the “8 tens at 8″ by Actors’ Theatre at Center Stage.
  • 2 Feb 2014. My son will be performing with Dinosaur Prom Improv at Broadway Playhouse.

There was one serious conflict this week, with auditions for “Much Ado About Nothing” (the Spring play for the WEST Ensemble Players) at the same time last night as one of the “Mostly in the Timing” tech rehearsals.  My son really wants to play Benedict in “Much Ado” (he’s never gotten a romantic lead, and Benedict is probably the best-fitting romantic lead for him), so missing the auditions was painful.  Luckily the director for “Much Ado” was at the “Mostly in the Timing” rehearsal the day before, so was able to propose an alternative way for him to audition.

Today he has 6 hours of dress rehearsal for “Mostly in the Timing” plus an hour an half of practice with Dinosaur Prom—I don’t know when he’ll have time to do his AP chem homework. At least the college application essays are over with. One of the big advantages of home schooling is the ability to adjust schedules so that intense weeks mostly dedicated to one activity are possible.

Things should quiet down after next week, with just “Much Ado” rehearsals (3 hours a week) and Dinosaur Prom (1.5 hours a week), though there will be a workshop on doing auditions sometime this spring.

Community-wide the big theater news is that Shakespeare Play On has raised pledges of $697k in a month and only needs to raise another $188k (in the next week) to keep the summer Shakespeare tradition in Santa Cruz alive.  I really hope they make it, as Shakespeare performances have been one of the big highlights of the summers here for as long as I’ve lived here.

 

2013 October 16

Group theory at home

Filed under: home school — gasstationwithoutpumps @ 22:46
Tags: ,

My son’s schedule for this year had 4 requirements:

  • AP Chemistry (needed for entrance to Harvey Mudd)
  • 1 year English (needed for California high school graduation)
  • 1 semester econ (needed for California high school graduation)
  • 1 semester civics/government (needed for California high school graduation)

In addition to that he chose to do the following:

  • computer engineering project: designing and prototyping programmable, Bluetooth enabled light gloves with rechargeable batteries, to be manufacturable in small quantities for a retail price under $75/glove.
  • computer engineering project: updating the Arduino data logger he wrote last year for my Applied Circuits course, with support for the Freedom KL25Z board and various new software features.
  • 4 theater classes (WEST Ensemble Players, Page to Stage, Dinosaur Prom improv, and AFE One Acts)
  • Group Theory

Originally, I was going to do the Chemistry with him, and he was going to do the Group Theory on line with Jeremy Copeland of Art of Problem Solving.

First, we decided that it would be simpler for him to do the AP Chem on-line through chemadvantage.org. (see my previous post), so I was off the hook for most of his courses. He’s doing the econ with his mother, and the English this quarter is writing: college essays, tech writing, and some writing for one of his theater classes—my only responsibility was to assign him some tech writing and evaluate it (and the hard part—getting him to do the writing I assign).

Then Art of Problem Solving cancelled their group theory class, because not enough students signed up.  As an apology, they offered him either a $50-off coupon for another of their courses or books or a free copy of the pre-publication version of the Groups and Fields book that Copeland is writing. He chose the book, so now he and I will work through the Copeland book.  The last time I looked at groups or fields was about 1975, so I’m a bit rusty—but at least I’ve seen the material before, unlike the calculus-based physics we worked on for the past 2 years.

Since the book is not published yet, I won’t be blogging problem numbers or details about the book (unlike what I did for the physics course).  There are 18 chapters, so at a chapter a week I don’t expect that we’ll be done until the beginning of March.  If anything slips in the winter, we may not finish until April. We’ll pick out around 10 problems a week to work on (trying to get all the Putnam problems from the chapter and a scattering of others).

I don’t know whether he’ll be able to maintain the workload, even though over half his courses are ones he chose for fun, rather than required ones. Most of his time so far has been spent on the light-glove project: he’s putting in over 20 hours a week on that.  He’s been keeping up on the econ (2–3 books read, 9–10 of the MIT OpenCourseWare videos watched), the AP Chem, and the theater, but falling a bit behind on the writing and the data logger.  The group theory starts today, and the AFE One Acts start next Monday, so as of next week he’ll be at his full load for the semester.  I think that he may have to delay the data logger project a bit—it would be nice to have some of the new features for the Applied Circuits class in the Spring, but we can manage on just last year’s code.  The college essays can’t be delayed, though, so he needs to get back on schedule for them.

 

 

2013 September 23

Science Fair Workshop

Filed under: home school,Science fair — gasstationwithoutpumps @ 20:45
Tags: , , ,

Suki Wessling, my son, and I ran science fair workshop last week for middle school and high school home-schooled students.  Our attendance was meager (one student other than our two sons).  So that the effort we put into the handout will not be wasted, I’ll put it in this blog post.  The next time I do a handout for science fair, I’ll want to add a section on doing engineering projects also, since those have a somewhat different process than the simplified version of the “scientific method” that we described.

The remainder of this post is the handout:

 

Science Fair Workshop for Parents

Why science fairs?

The science fair is a lot of work. However, it is also a very rewarding project to do with your child. Benefits include

  • Helping your child do a project that has a beginning, middle, and end. This can be very useful for children who tend to be scattered and unfocused.

  • Completing a cross-discipline project, including science, math, language arts, and public speaking.

  • Supporting your child to approach more challenging work.

  • Meeting other families who love science.

The Scientific Method

The scientific method:

  • Is the basis of science

  • Is the opposite of having a belief and finding a justification for it

  • Is not weakened when hypotheses are disproven

The steps of the scientific method are

  1. Observe

  2. Form an investigative question

  3. Read what others have written, and make competing models that explain the observation

  4. Come up with a hypothesis (a prediction that is different in the competing models, not a guess)

  5. Conduct experiments

  6. Accept or reject hypothesis

An example of the scientific method in action:

  1. Observe that a plant in the shady part of your garden didn’t grow well.

  2. Why didn’t that plant grow as well as plants you put in at the same time in the sunny part of the garden?

  3. Read about what plants need to grow, noting that different plants need different amounts of sun and water.

  4. Hypothesis: This plant needs a certain amount of sunlight per day to grow well.

  5. Plant a good number of seedlings (6–8) and subject half of them to sunny conditions, half to shady conditions. Keep a notebook of the plants’ progress, with observations and measurements.

  6. Consider whether the data support the hypothesis.

How to find a project

There are many places to look to find a good project:

  • The best projects grow out of a child’s actual interest.

  • The best projects take advantage of what children like to do (e.g., messy projects, outdoor projects, math-based projects).

  • Try out examples on a science fair project website just for ideas, then try to expand on or change them based on your child’s interests.

  • Don’t just replicate the steps of a project outlined on the web!

Tips for getting through the process

  1. Plan early: Get all the dates on your calendar, and make sure your child has enough time to do all the steps (including writing the report).

  2. Don’t bite off too much: If your child’s idea is too BIG, help him whittle it down to size. Don’t be tempted to finish it off if the child resists finishing—this is also part of the learning process.

  3. Plan to be completely done well before your school’s science fair (if you’re taking part in one).

  4. There is nothing wrong with preparation: successful kids do actually practice their spiels. However, don’t overprep your child so that she seems to be reciting something you wrote. Make sure she understands what she’s talking about and only uses words she really understands.

What do judges look for?

See more details from Kevin: http://tinyurl.com/7n8r3yv

  • Multiple replication of the experiments—generally the more the better, but 3 is usually a minimum.  More replication is generally better than more different conditions.

  • Proper controls (both positive and negative, when possible)

  • Graphical display of the results with correctly labeled axes and no chart junk

  • Correct use of units of measurement

  • Proper (simple) statistics (averages, best fit straight lines, …) High school students may add standard deviation and significance tests (chi-square or Student’s T)

  • Measuring the right thing

  • Measuring and reporting inputs as well as outputs

  • Lab notebook with detailed information recorded as the experiment is done

  • Clever use of simple equipment

  • Careful thought about how the experiment could be improved if it were to be repeated

Homeschoolers and the SC Science Fair

  • Students doing projects involving invertebrate or vertebrate animals, human subjects, recombinant DNA, tissue, pathogenic agents, or controlled substances, need to get approval from their sponsoring teacher before they begin their research. A Certificate of Compliance Form must be signed by both student and sponsoring teacher, then submitted by the registration deadline. (The detailed rules have not been published yet for this year—they will be in the “Science Fair Guide”.)

  • Put the schedule on your calendar, including the awards night.

  • If your homeschool program takes part, make sure your teacher meets the school roster deadline.

  • If you are independent or your program doesn’t take part, fill out the registration form and choose your school if it’s in the list. If not, put your private school’s name in the Other box. Submit a school roster after you register.

Winning and losing

Although it’s a competition, the SC Science Fair does a great job of making all the kids feel like they have achieved something. It’s always good to focus more on the event itself—setting up the display, talking to judges, and looking at other kids’ work—than talking about the prizes.

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