Gas station without pumps

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.


2012 August 28

Home schooling restarts

The school year at Alternative Family Education, the umbrella school for my son’s home schooling, starts tomorrow (2012 Aug 29).  We have not completely settled on everything he will do this year, but big chunks of the planning are now in place.  We’ll be meeting with his consultant teacher on Thursday (2012 Aug 30) to tweak the plan a bit.

Here is what it currently looks like he’ll be doing this year for 11th-grade courses:

Computer science

Art of Problem Solving Java Programming with Data Structures
This course is one of the few I’ve found that is Java as a second programming language. It will be more like his 6th programming language, but his most recent programming has been in Python, which is what AoPS uses for their first course. Although AoPS classes are usually fairly intense, I expect this one to be fairly straightforward, as my son has been exploring computer science concepts well beyond what the course covers. It will mainly be a disciplined way to make sure that he has Java syntax mastered and gets a good review of data structures, since he currently has rather scattered concepts in data structures.
Science Fair??
He has not yet committed to doing a science fair project this year. If he does one, it will probably be in computer science—perhaps continuing last year’s project, perhaps starting something new, perhaps taking one of the projects he’s been doing recreationally and turning it into a science fair project.


UCSC Math 30 Mathematical Problem Solving??
This Fall quarter course in math problem solving seems intended mainly for prepping students for the Putnam math prize exam. The course is currently full, but we are hoping that enough students will drop after they find out how tough the problems are that the professor will allow him to register through UCSC Extension.
UCSC Computer Engineering 16 Applied Discrete Math
This Winter quarter course covers the fundamental math needed for computer science (combinatorics, mathematical induction, Boolean algebra). I’ve taught it myself a few times in the past, but I think that it would be worth the money to have him take it in a class environment with a different instructor. If he doesn’t get into Math 30, he might take this Fall quarter. Both the Fall and the Winter professors are good—I think he might get on better with the Winter one, though.

Science and Engineering

Physics C: Electricity and Magnetism
We’ll be continuing with the Matter and Interactions book, doing the second half this year. I think we’ll do a week or two to finish off Chapter 13 on thermodynamics first, as there are a couple of labs that I bought cool toys for but didn’t have time for last year. I’ll continue posting info about what we do on this blog, collecting the physics posts in forward order.
Robotics Club
We’ll continue the Santa Cruz Robotics club, but not enter the MATE competition this year. I don’t know whether this will be a course or just recreational this year. A lot depends on who is in the club and how much guidance they want.


WEST Ensemble Players
West Performing Arts will be doing two teen productions this year: The Imaginary Invalid by Molière and The Outsiders by S.E. Hinton. He plans to be in both.
Dinosaur Prom Improv Troupe
He joined WEST’s teen improve troupe last year and plans to continue with them this year. There is likely to be a large overlap in membership between the WEST Ensemble Players and Dinosaur Prom.


English is probably the subject that my son has had the worst problems with, due to writers’ block.  It looks like there are a couple of courses being offered by AFE this year that should work fairly well for him:

Leadership & Communication

Fall semester only. I quote the AFE ad:

Leadership and Communication is a course for high school students … . If you want to communicate with greater confidence and make a difference in life, join this course to become a more effective speaker, listener, and writer. Learn how your own and others’ communication styles influence your relationships, gain more confidence and skills for job interviews, learn how to present your ideas persuasively, and focus on communication skills that are of particular interest to you.
To receive the full 5 English credits, at least three hours of research and study time outside of class weekly will be an integral part of the course.

Dramatic Literature
Spring semester only. This is preparation for the trip to Oregon Shakespeare Festival in Ashland in the spring. I probably won’t be able to go on the trip this year, but my son had a good time last year and wants to do it again.
Writing Tutoring
He’s been working with a writing tutor/educational therapist this summer on overcoming his writing block. We’ll probably continue that this year, focusing on timed writing (like SAT essays and in-class exams).


He did not finish the world history through history of science course that he started last year, though he put in a fair amount of time (including over the summer). We’re thinking of scaling it back and having him do just the reading for the rest of the material, since it is the writing that bogs him down. He could probably finish the reading in a week or two, without putting in much effort.

US History, Grades 9–12
Rather than trying to create a custom-tailored US history course, we’ll just have him take the one that AFE is offering. He has had excellent US history courses in 5th and 7th grades (more content than the high-school US history course I had), so a standard US history course should not be too onerous, as long as the writing is not overdone. (Actually he wrote better and got better instruction in writing in his middle school history classes than in any English classes he’s had.) I quote the AFE description:

Students will explore the history of our country.
This is a two semester course, 5 credits each semester. It will include reading, writing, and projects in and out of class, as well as occasional field trips.


Spanish 4
He’ll take the community college Spanish course in the Spring semester.

2011 October 7

Satisfying UC’s a–g requirements with home school

One of the biggest challenges we face in home schooling our son is making sure that he is eligible to enter University of California when he finishes high school. Of course, we don’t know that he’ll want to go to a UC, nor that it would necessarily be a good fit for him, but in California, it is assumed that any serious college-bound student will meet the UC admissions requirements.  Meeting those requirements also makes him eligible at almost any other 4-year college.

UC has a strict set of course requirements for admission (the “a–g requirements”) that can be difficult to meet in an unaccredited program, none of whose courses meet the requirements.  For example, the excellent Art of Problem Solving math courses (which I wrote about in Good online math courses) don’t count toward satisfying “c. Mathematics.  3 years required, 4 years recommended”.  We, of course, are convinced that our son is very good at math, but how do we convince the bureaucratic UC admissions officers of that?  For that matter, how do we convince any college admissions officer at any school that is good enough to meet our son’s needs when he goes to college?

Last night, at a “home school to college” information night run by Alternative Family Education, we were given a pointer to a very important document: Options for Satisfying UC’s “A-G” Subject Requirements for Freshman Applicants Applying for 2012–13, [Update 2013-Nov-6: The link is now—UC loves to churn its web site to break everyone’s links] which outlines for high-school admissions counselors alternative ways for students to satisfy the requirements, besides taking courses on the UC-approved list.  This information, though available to all high-school counselors, had never been to shown to us as parents before, and I’d never stumbled across it in my searches for how to satisfy the UC requirements.

It turns out that most of the requirements can be satisfied by exam, and that higher level classes automatically validate lower level ones in most subjects.

  1. History/Social Sciences can be satisfied with the US History and World History SAT Subject exams.  This may turn out to be the most difficult of the letters for us to validate, as his “World History” course is based primarily on Joy Hakim’s The Story of Science series, with only light coverage of what was going on in the world politically.  Sending him into the SAT Subject exam at the end of that course may not produce the required minimum score, even though that score is fairly low (only 540 for World History and 550 for US History).
  2. English was the one we most feared, since he had dropped English 9 last year, and squeezing 4 years of English (the writing for which he does not particularly enjoy) into 3 years looked like a major challenge.  But getting a 560 on the writing part of the ordinary SAT suffices!  Since he got that in 6th grade, despite the lowest possible score on the essay, this requirement goes from looking impossible to looking trivial.  We still have to work hard to get his writing more fluent, since he doesn’t write easily enough to do well in college, but we only need to worry about him learning, not about how we document it.  We’ll probably make him take the SAT again this year, after some light preparation in essay writing, just so he can check this requirement off his list.
  3. Mathematics can be satisfied with SAT subject Math 2 at 480 (he’s already gotten an 800, so no worries there) or with a 3, 4, or 5 on the Calculus AP, which he’ll be taking in the Spring.
  4. Laboratory Science. Again, SAT Subject exams or AP exams can be used.  He had a year of accredited biology last year, and he’ll take an AP Physics C exam this spring (and probably another one next spring), so there should be no problem here either.  An AP Chemistry course may be a bit more difficult for us to arrange, since the labs are messier than physics labs, and so harder for us to cover at home, but he might take a community college class, since community college classes with at least 30 hours of lab also satisfy the requirement.
  5. Language Other Than English.  Here we have a wealth of options: any of the SAT Spanish Subject tests, any of the AP Spanish tests, or just counting the community college classes he is taking.  He will have met the 3-year recommendation with the community college Spanish 3 class at the end of this semester, and we hope he can get into a Spanish 4 class next semester, after which he should be ready for the AP Spanish Language exam and the SAT Spanish With Listening test.  He’ll probably continue into more advanced Spanish classes at the community college, so that he does not lose his fluency.
  6. Visual and Performing Arts.  He satisfied this last year with courses at the public high school in drama and in video production.  He may end up taking a theater arts class at the community college or university as well (assuming he can get into one).  There is no AP exam in theater, but there is an International Baccalaureate HL (high-level) exam in Theater Arts, which might be worthwhile to take (assuming that he can find it locally).  There is an IB program at Scotts Valley High, but they only have Theater Arts at the SL level, not the HL level.  Getting into community college classes (as difficult as that is with the budget cuts) will almost certainly be easier than finding an IB HL course in this area.
  7. College Preparatory Elective.  There are lots of ways to satisfy this by going beyond the minimum in any other category.  For that matter, his SAT Math 2 subject test score is high enough that it alone would satisfy the UC requirement.

I’m very glad that we were pointed to this document, as it has taken us from near panic about how we would meet the UC admissions requirements to relative certainty that we can show that he has satisfied them.  Now we only need to worry about making sure he learns, a much less daunting prospect than figuring out how to convince bureaucrats.

2011 September 7

Home schooling week 2

Following up on Home Schooling week 1, this post describes our second week of home schooling.

The big news this week is that my son finally managed to get into the Spanish 3 class at the community college.  Today was the last class before Friday’s add/drop deadline, and after taking roll, the instructor asked if anyone was still not registered (in Spanish, of course).  My son answered affirmatively and was offered an add code.  He used the add code on the instructor’s computer during break to register, and I paid for the course this afternoon.  The Spanish 3 course so far is mainly review (except for some new vocabulary), but it should be getting into new material in a few weeks.

We now have two courses completely organized and arranged: Spanish 3 through the community college and calculus through Art of Problem Solving. Calculus doesn’t start until October.

The physics book (Matter and Interactions) arrived yesterday and I’ve read most of the first 2 chapters.  I’ve also had some good email conversations with one of the authors, who has pointed me to some useful resources and discussions of the pedagogy of the book.   (More on that in Physics C curriculum.)  I have asked that the consumer decision about what ultrasonic rangefinder to buy be made by noon tomorrow, so that I can order it online (see Physics Lab 1).  We do have a second student for the physics class, and it looks like we’ll have a fun time.

We had a robotics club meeting on Sunday, and they started making some notes in their lab notebook, explaining the project to a new member of the club and prioritizing tasks.  I’ll have to do some shopping tomorrow to get them parts they identified as needed for the “top of tether” box.  I’ll be out of town for the next robotics club meeting, so we’ll see how well the high-schoolers can organize themselves without a coach present—I may prime my son a bit by discussing their next critical task: figuring out how to get wire connections through the walls of the dry box without leaks.  We were looking at IP-68 waterproof connectors, but they are pretty expensive and require pretty big holes in the box walls.  It might be better to reduce the number of them and have the tether, for example, permanently attached to the drybox with cast epoxy to seal the penetrations.

History is off to a slow start, with HTML and JavaScript done to create a framework for the timeline, but no content yet.

Reading is off to a fast start (both Brave New World and Left Hand of Darkness read), but no writing has been done for either yet.  He has an idea of something he could say about LHoD, but hasn’t put anything in writing yet.  We may have to talk with the consultant teacher at AFE to find out how minimal the writing can be for these.

Nothing has been done about the writing (tech writing or creative writing) yet, other than getting him Dragon Dictate (the student/teacher edition) and having him train it.

Science fair is off to a good start, with my son attending a research talk yesterday for the grad students of the group that he’ll be working with. We also printed out a survey article on the hallmarks of cancer, so that he can get a little more familiarity with the data he’ll be working with. He’ll be going to the cancer genomics lab meeting this Friday.

The improv class that he was supposed to go to on Friday has a delayed start, because not enough kids have signed up for it. If it gets cancelled entirely, there is another improv class he may be able to join, with an instructor he has worked with before.  We’ve not checked the schedule on that though.

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