Putting Real Life on Hold

This is the week.  The week of the school year that always makes me cringe and make scrunchy faces and feel like taking more than one shower a day.

This week is STANDARDIZED TEST week.

Hmph!j0439533

Our state is BIG on the standardized testing.  I mean it’s REALLY  important here, for some reason.  I’m pretty sure that if every other child in America got “left behind” the ones in our state would stick their tongues out at them and deride them for not being able to fill in those little circles correctly. 

In our public schools here, they start teaching “Testing Skills” in kindergarten.  I’m not exaggerating even a little when I tell you that recesses were shortened so that kindergarteners could get in their Testing Skills practice daily! (And our state legislature can’t for the life of them figure out why there is so much growth in homeschooling here in the last five years.  I guess standardized testing doesn’t necessarily guarantee brilliant politicians??)

But sadly, homeschoolers are not immune to the testing fetish here either.  Our state homeschooling regulations include a requirement that homeschoolers take a nationally standardized test annually.  As much as I have always detested high stakes testing and all that it represents, I admit that this year it has bugged me more than ever.

Probably because we are in such a terrific relaxed-learning groove.  In fact, neither Uber nor H-T has taken anything close to a “test” this entire school year.  And yet now, they are supposed to stop what they are doing, halt their enthusiasm for whatever it is they are learning at the moment, and prove their knowledge by sitting at a desk for two hours at a stretch and filling in little circles with a specifically numbered pencil. 

I remember back in my public school days when we would have a half day of testing-prep followed by a whole day of testing.  And I’ll never forget one of my science teachers getting up the next day and opening up our text book and saying…”well, let’s get back to real life, shall we?”  The teachers knew better than anyone that what we had been doing for two days was completely ridiculous, highly political, and a huge waste of time.  They knew, and yet they were required to do it anyway.

I feel so helplessly in the same shoes today.  Heaven only knows how anxiously I await “real life” to resume again.

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Friday’s Hardwired Homeschool Hints: Best iPhone Apps For Homeschoolers

fridays hardwired homeschool hints pic Once Uber received his netbook for Christmas – – ahem, should I say his second netbook – – he had no need to share the iPod Touch with me anymore, so it finally became mine – – all mine!!

Oh boy, it’s been like Christmas for me every day because every day I discover some cool and exciting new application that I hadn’t dreamed of before.

Now granted, the majority of them are about as useful as a raincoat in the Sahara, but there are a few that are incredibly handy – – even for homeschoolers!!

  • Amazon Kindle for iPhone – the absolute first application you need to download – – period – – is the Kindle app.  Instant access to books, magazines, periodicals, etc. is an absolute MUST for a homeschooling mom.  Every homeschooling book you can think of is probably available via Kindle, but don’t shell out 300 smackeroos for a Kindle device, just add it FREE to your iPhone and voila!
  • Evernote – The ultimate online organizer is also a terrific iPhone app!  You can create text, photo, or even audio notes of everything you want to track in your homeschool – – lessons, projects, field trips, grades.  You name it – you can organize it in Evernote and then sync it with any computer.
  • Poptiq – If you are a car schooler – – even every once in a while – – you will want Poptiq.  Download educational videos from anywhere on the net, and then take with you on the go.  Why shouldn’t your kids be able to watch Discovery Channel on the way to gymnastics??
  • Classics – for your bibliophiles, be sure they have access to a fun and easy way to read the best of classic literature!
  • Google Earth – you love it on the web and you’ll love it on the iPhone!
  • Today in History – what an incredibly fun way to open up each school day!  Take turns with your iPod touch and let each family member have a day sharing what important events happened on this day.
  • Wikipanion – Free app that provides easy navigation, search, and use of Wikipedia.  Awesome tool!!
  • WorldCat – locate any book in any library, worldwide!
  • Oregon Trail – there is a free and a paid version of this great program which has come to iPhone in all its glory!
  • Brain Quest for iPhone – those cards that every homeschooler had somewhere in the back of their minivan have gone hi-tech! You can download Brain Quest apps by grade and subject.  Still great for car rides or waiting in the doctor’s office.
  • Mathomatic – solve even the most complicated math problems in step by step fashion so you can finally understand WHY you get the correct answer.
  • Narrator – multimedia storytelling platform for the iPhone and iPod touch.  Great for students with learning differences!
  • iVocabulary – perfect foreign language tool for beginning learners.  Learn vocabulary for multiple languages.

If you have a favorite iPhone app for homeschooling that I haven’t listed, be sure to mention it in the comments!

Homeschoolers and Technology

I don’t often combine work with my Topsy-Techie blog, but I am today, so bear with me…

I’m working on an article about how homeschoolers use technology.  My hypothesis is that homeschoolers are possibly way ahead of the curve of integrating technology into their school work (in comparison with the average public school classroom).  So I  am asking for input on how you use technology in your day to day teaching and learning.  I’m particularly interested in hearing about:

**whether you think homeschoolers are ahead or behind the curve in relation to public schools

**how much you use technology in your homeschool, and your main use for it

**any creative ways you use technology in your teaching and learning

**how your kids feel about technology, and whether they are self-motivated to learn more about it

I would also really appreciate it if all you who homeschool would take a short, 10 question poll about how you use technology.  It’s relatively painless, I swear!  Click here to access the poll.  I look forward to your comments and/or poll results…

Thanks for taking the time to give me your input!

It’s In Print…So It Must Be True

Earlier this month, I asked the question “What is a secular homeschooler?”  I wanted to see if I fit in with that classification of homeschoolers based on our schooling style around here in Topsy-Techieland. I got some of the best responses from you guys.  In fact, I’m still getting comments on that post.  Thanks for all your incredible input!!

Ironically, this past week, I got a copy of the quarterly homeschool magazine “Secular Homeschooling” in my mailbox, along with a check (always good).11-16

I had submitted an article to the magazine a couple of months ago, and  the editor chose to use it in the fall issue.   So there I was – – my name and my article – – right smack dab in the middle of Secular Homeschooling magazine.

How do you argue with what’s right in front of your face? 

Doesn’t that settle it?  Yep.  I must be one of the cool kids now.  Lord knows I’ve been waiting long enough to fit in somewhere!!

Oh.  I just remembered that I’m still locked out of the Secular Homeschooling social network. Crap.

Well, two steps forward, one step back. 

If you don’t already subscribe to Secular Homeschooling magazine, now would be a great time.  I mean, you wouldn’t want to miss out on my super duper article about homeschooling math according to your child’s learning style, now would you??

Have a great Sunday, you guys.  This coming week is my birthday week…so who wants to party with me???  BYOB, of course.  See you there…

The Downsides of Cyberschooling Geeklings

We will make a dress

Image by Brave Heart via Flickr

Yes, of course, everything normally goes picture perfect in Topsy-Techieland.  Our bandwidth speeds remain constant, our ideas come to us in Hi-Def, and little birds and mice dress us and feed us.

But once in a long while there is a cog in the wheel that doesn’t quite get oiled, and all Vista breaks loose.

(Need to tread lightly here, because I might need a certain geekling to guest post for me this week, and I really can’t afford to tick him off at the moment)

Anyhoo – – the unoiled cog can sometimes come in the form of a young man, who shall remain unnamed, who happens to download many, many programs and games into his computer each week.  It is possible – – I suppose – –  that the normal, average, 14-year-old checks thoroughly and completely the authenticity and safety of each and every program downloaded into their computer.  But I darn well doubt it.  So why should I be surprised that, at least in one respect, my 14-year-old is perfectly average??

Cut to … yesterday.

At the hour of his daily online classroom conference, the unnamed young man finds himself completely unable to type anything, navigate the web, or even cut off the computer because it is so dang ill.  Viruses have taken it over and are holding it for a ransom sum that not many 14-yr-olds have access to these days.

Even though I haven’t been in public school for a while, I would imagine that it is something akin to finding out that your school has suddenly burned down.  There is a sense of elation, at first, because you know you will miss tomorrow’s science test.  But when the truth sinks in you realize that your school was actually a pretty cool place, and you are downright bummed that it is gone. Add to this the realization that your school also happens to be your video arcade, your social hall, and your connection to the outside world, and you become more than a little bummed – – you are seriously pissed off.

Add to this frustration a mom who lays on guilt with “I told you that downloading that crap was going to kill your computer one day” and you’ve got an actual teenage meltdown on your hands. 

So, last night, instead of the 3,459 things I really needed to accomplish, I spent the night reformatting a certain young man’s computer.  Much was lost in the fray – – some key documents and programs that meant a lot to him.  But much was gained as well.  I truly believe that this geekling will be a LOT more careful about what and where he downloads from in the future.

I’d share more, but the little birds are getting impatient for me to let them dust the computer screen.  Ah, the life of a Topsy-Techie homeschooler….

Remember, every comment on Topsy-Techie this month gets you an automatic entry into the HP Printer giveaway!!

What Is A Secular Homeschooler?

This week I was invited by Mom #1 over at Two Moms Homeschool to join the Secular Homeschoolers Ning network.  It was a ton of fun over there (until I got locked out – – but that’s a whole other story).  I felt completely at home and like I had found my “peeps.”  You know when a thread on the discussion board is titled “Made It To The Top Level on World of Warcraft – – Aren’t you Mommies Jealous!”  that you simply aren’t in Kansas anymore.

So it got me thinking.  I have never put a label on myself as a homeschooler because goodness knows it is hard to pin me down.  But am I a secular homeschooler?  What exactly is a secular homeschooler??

I have faith.  By denomination, I am an Episcopalian.  I am a transplant from the Baptist denomination, because the more conservative the Baptist movement became, the more out of place I felt.  But I definitely would be considered a Christian by any theological or even biblical standard. 

However, I don’t homeschool for religious reasons.  I’m not trying to guard my kids from any corrupting worldly influence.  I’m not frustrated with the lack of prayer in schools.  In fact, I have big issues with the separation of church and state, and would very much like to keep prayer out of schools.  I don’t feel the need to use a Christian curriculum, although at times, throughout the years, I have done just that.

Other than having morning prayer together out of the Book of Common Prayer each morning, our faith isn’t something I feel the need to “school.”  We live it.  We discuss it.  We disagree on it sometimes.  But it is just part of who we are.  We don’t have to school it, because we ARE it. 

We homeschool because of specific disabilities that we can address better at home.  We homeschool because we can learn what we want when we want.  We homeschool because we LOVE spending time together.  We homeschool simply because it works for us.

So I am a person of faith, not homeschooling for religious reasons, using a secular curriculum.  Does that make me a secular homeschooler? 

What do you think is the definition of a secular homeschooler?  How about sharing your thoughts in the comments section. Remember, every comment on Topsy-Techie this month gets you an automatic entry into the HP Printer giveaway!!

Dining Rooms Are Overrated

Yes, the Topsy-Techie household remodeling project is about 90% complete.  I think I may have mentioned that we live in a SMALL house (2 bedrooms, 1 bath), and our boys are growing at the rate of about 8 cm per day.  They are like bamboo…you can literally watch them growing.  Add in some privacy issues, and you have a recipe for OVERCROWDING!! 

Now please don’t think I’m complaining.  I know that in some developing countries, entire villages could probably set up camp in here and still not have to tie each other’s shoelaces, but compared to many of the mansions in this tourist town of mine, ours might as well be an outhouse.

We’ve chosen this life and it has chosen us.  No one goes into being a director of a homeless shelter for the perks and bonuses.  And homeschooling has meant that we aren’t really a two-income family.  So we deal.  And we improvise. 

And we decided that the one thing we could probably live without, at least for now, is our dining room.  So, we added some doors, shined up the floor, threw on some paint, and spiffed up some furniture we got at a second hand store and….voila!  H-T’s new bedroom!

Of course I’m not smart enough to take “Before” pics, so you will just have to trust me when I say that it looked REALLY different.  The walls were wallpapered with flowered paper, and the bottom was painted this deep wine color.  And there was a huge oriental rug over the parquet.  It was wall to wall antique cherry furniture in there too. 

At least I have some “After” pics….

Notice the dog bed in foreground.  That was the most important piece of furniture of all!

Notice the dog bed in foreground. That was the most important piece of furniture of all!

All artwork on walls is done by H-T, our resident artist.  He loves his sheepdog marionette, hanging from the ceiling.

All artwork on walls is done by H-T, our resident artist. He loves his sheepdog marionette, hanging from the ceiling.

Most of the room is dead space, cause H-T can barely lift his hind end from this chair you see right here!

Most of the room is dead space, cause H-T can barely lift his hind end from this chair you see right here!

Behind the door is H-T's built in display shelf area for his collections and creations such as...

Behind the door is H-T's personally customized display shelves for his collections and creations such as...

His fossil collection

His fossil collection

and his soapstone carvings.  He and Uber are master soapstone carvers!

and his soapstone carvings. He and Uber are master soapstone carvers!

Hey, anybody can have a dining room, but not everyone can have a dog-hosting, sheepdog-hanging, fossil-displaying, computer-hogging, homemade-knitted-blanket-cozying room like H-T’s.
And he is lovin it like a horror movie marathon!! (yes, for H-T, that’s a GOOD thing!)