Gas station without pumps

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.

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.

 

 

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