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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
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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
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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.

Resources

2013 September 22

Common App transcript

Filed under: home school — gasstationwithoutpumps @ 23:40
Tags: , , ,

As a homeschool parent, I have to do all the “school” parts of the Common App and other college applications, which means I have about as much work to do in filling out college applications as my son does.

The Common App was completely re-implemented this year, which means that there are piles of bugs, poor or non-existent documentation, and a very harried support staff.  Basically, everyone is pretty much on their own to figure out how to get stuff done—the interface is far from intuitive.  I posted earlier about how a home-school parent gets to become the counselor, but that only gets access—figuring out how to fill out all the parts of the application is still daunting.

There are three main things the home school parent needs to create:

  • a school profile,
  • a transcript, and
  • a counselor’s letter.

The school profile is the shortest and easiest.  This consists mainly of simple statements of fact (like the education levels of the parents) and the philosophy of the home school.  Around here, most public schools put their profiles on-line, so it is easy to see what the standard ones include.  A lot of it is irrelevant to home schoolers (number of students, demographics, percentage going on to 4-year colleges, …), but other parts are directly relevant.  Here is what I said on ours:

Mission and philosophy
The purpose of our home school is to provide Xxx with advanced educational opportunities in his passions (computer science, math, and theater) that are not available in the local public schools, while still preparing him for college admission at a top-rank university. We have a particular emphasis on long-term (6-month or longer) engineering projects.
Graduation requirements
Minimum graduation requirements were set to meet or exceed the standards for California high-school graduation and college admissions standards set by the University of California:

Laboratory Science 4 years English 4 years World History 1 year Physical Education 2 years
Math 4 years Foreign Language 3 years US History 1 year
Art or Theater 4 years Government 0.5 years
Economics 0.5 years

Curriculum
Courses are a mixture of ones taught by the parent-teachers, online courses, courses at Alternative Family Education (AFE), which is the local school district’s umbrella school for home schoolers, theater courses from West Performing Arts (WEST), Cabrillo Community College courses (Cab), and University of California courses (UCSC). Some of the high school curriculum was completed at a private high school (Georgiana Bruce Kirby Preparatory School; GBK) in 7th and 8th grades or a public high school (Santa Cruz High School; SCHS) in 9th grade before beginning home schooling in 10th grade—courses are also included on the transcript to provide a single transcript for all high-school work. The provider for each course is indicated on the transcript.
Most STEM courses are honors, AP, or college courses.
Grading
The Home School does not give grades, but ungraded courses have been validated by AP exams or SAT 2 exams when feasible—these exam results are indicated on the transcript for the corresponding courses. Where grades were given by course instructors, those grades are recorded on the transcript. Because most of the courses are not graded, GPA has not been computed.

The counselor letter is used for talking about the student as a person—to call attention to things that may be buried in the transcript and to talk about things that cannot be reasonably put on the transcript.  It is too personal to put on this blog, but I basically summarized his passion for computer science and theater, compared him to college computer engineering majors, talked about his recreational activities, and pointed out where he could be found on the web (StackOverflow, esolang.com, …). The letter is about 2 pages long, and I had it reviewed by my son, my wife, and our consultant teacher.

The transcript has been the hardest to write—partly because it is the longest.  We ended up with 65 courses totaling 45.7 credits listed on the transcript: 10 computer science (7.3 credits), 22 theater (10.9 credits), 7 math (7 credits), 5 science (5 credits), 5 Spanish (5 credits), 4 social science (3 credits), 7 English (4 credits), and 5 PE (3.5 credits).  Many of the courses are less than a full year—classes varied from 0.2 to 1.0 credits.  I could have lumped together some of the theater classes, but then I would have ended up with classes with more than 1.0 credits, which I wanted to avoid. A typical AP-intensive curriculum involves 28–32 credits, so the 45.7 credits is a rather large load. Of course, 5 credits of it was taken in middle school, we are giving credit for things that might be extracurricular on other transcripts (like theater, robotics,  and being a TA for a Python course), and a lot of the theater happened as intensive summer camps.

The listing of the courses with provider, credits, grade (if any), and validating exam (if any) takes just over 2 pages.  The first page is just the computer science and theater classes, the next all the other academic classes, and the third page the PE classes.  Also on the third page is a listing of all standardized test scores and awards.  As a footer on these three pages, I list the 9 abbreviations used to indicate the different education providers.

The next 14 or so pages of the transcript give one- to two-paragraph descriptions of each course, including the instructor name, textbooks used, topics covered, and so forth.  The course descriptions are in the same order as the courses on the short course list.  Where possible, I copied course descriptions from education providers, adding textbooks (when we could remember what they were) and changing the tense of the descriptions to use past tense consistently.  For courses that we did at home, I had to create course descriptions—I’m still waiting for course descriptions from my son and my wife for some of the humanities courses—a list of readings would be most helpful.  It has probably taken me in excess of 40 hours to create this transcript and list of course descriptions, and I probably have a few hours of work left, incorporating the humanities course descriptions.

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