Thursday, February 12, 2015

Our 2015 Plans: Trying to Balance Structure and Serendipity

I like Wikipedia's definition of serendipity - "a fortunate happenstance" or "a pleasant surprise". When I look back at 2014 some of the best learning  happened as a result of things that weren't originally planned. I'm thinking especially of Miss 14's MOOC's , especially Animal Behaviour, and Mr 17's  economics essay, not to mention the learning involved in caring for Basil, the Boxer dog we are fostering until his owners' home is rebuilt. But there were plenty of other great serendipitous moments as well - helping educate the public about Monarch butterflies, being a Mystery Class, and numerous trips, opportunities and sightings that have resulted from the interest Miss 14 and I have in birding.

At the start of last year we made homeschooling plans and most of those were actually completed. Certainly they were an important, even crucial part of the learning that happened in 2014. But they were not the whole of it. In fact if they had been our year would have been considerably poorer.

As I began to plan for this year I was very aware that I needed to get the balance right. For us, if we don't have plans nothing much seems to happen. And while the formal part of our learning - the textbooks and lesson plans - aren't always the most exciting or the most liked (maths I'm thinking of you here) they are necessary. But I was also aware that if I planned too much I wouldn't leave enough time and space for us to take advantage of  serendipitous opportunities when they arise. It's one of the reasons I struggle with Miss 14's involvement in competitive trampolining. The regular training schedule really limits our freedom. Now that everyone (except me) has a paid job with regular hours that limits us as well.

This will be Mr 17's last year of homeschooling. I've never knowingly homeschooled the final year before (Mr 22 and Miss 20 both ended up going to university early so we only found out about their final years once they were over). He's also the least academically inclined of my four and I'm possibly too aware of all we haven't done - and won't get to do since there is only so much that can be squeezed into one year. And Miss 14 could have as few as three more years left so I don't have much time left for a do-over if I don't get things right. My awareness of all the good things we could/should do is heightened. But being married to an economist means I'm very familiar with the concept of opportunity cost. Every hour spent studying one thing is an hour not available for other things - including serendipity.

So how to get the balance right? Clearly we need some planned courses. But not too many or we won't be able to take advantage of unplanned opportunities that present themselves. But not too few either, since I don't want to short-change the kids educationally (or any other way for that matter).

In the end I started with a list of skills I thought the kids needed to work on and then I asked them what areas they felt they needed to develop, what things they were interested in learning about and what things they were interested in doing (sports, work, scouting ... anything really) that might not fall under the academic umbrella. Then I tried to fold the skills into the content. This is what we have come up with so far. Of course, it is all subject to change.

Miss 14 should be getting seven additions to her transcript this year.

1. Algebra. Saxon Algebra 1. Not her favourite topic but we had Saxon on the shelf and it works as well as anything. I've been homeschooling long enough to know there is no such thing as the perfect curriculum. This is the one subject her father and I insisted on.

2. Introductory Physics . We're using Prentice Hall's Physical Science. This is a little on the light side but I've always struggled to find physics for this age level. Sadly Real Science Odyssey Physics Level 2 doesn't yet exist. I suspect it might be what I'm after. I can find plenty of stuff for younger kids, plenty for senior high school but nothing that is just what I want for this level. She isn't really keen on physics but picked it since she hasn't really done any for a few years and it is recommended for ornithology. I don't want to turn her off so decided underdone seems better than overdone. This book was already on our shelf (we're a little more budget conscious than normal this year since we have to move out of our home for a couple of months so it can finally have it's unsatisfactory earthquake repairs repaired and I know that won't be a cheap undertaking).

3. World Geography - I was lucky enough to find North Star Geography available for free online last year I think. So we're using it as our spine. (ETA. This ended up not working  for us. A Christian world view was strongly embedded throughout. I thought I could edit on the fly and make it work for us. Some chapters were fine. Others we couldn't use at all and had to find alternatives elsewhere. On the plus side it turned out to be a good lesson in critical thinking for my kids! If I had a a hard copy I would have found out earlier that this wouldn't work for us but I had digital files and I find them really hard to skim).

4. World Literature - I've selected a variety of twentieth century novels set in different locations around the world. I'm trying to schedule them so we read about an area as we study it in geography. Some we'll just read and discuss but others we'll go a bit more in depth with and maybe use a study guide. First up is The Book Thief (Northern and Western Europe) and we're using a study guide from Moving Beyond the Page - mainly because I wanted to try something new!

5. Shakespearean Literature - Last year we read ten plays as part of a MOOC (Shakespeare and his World) we enrolled in. This year we've enrolled in three other Shakespeare MOOCs (Shakespeare's Hamlet; Text, Performance and Culture, Much Ado about Nothing:in Performance and Shakespeare in the Community) that will cover five plays - three of them new to us. We'll also be attending two live performances. I didn't really plan this course. I simply saw some MOOCs we were interested in and then realised there was enough there for a course.

6. Latin - She's always enjoyed Latin and was keen to continue. Latin Grammar was already on our shelf (Mr 22 must have used it) and is by the same publisher as her previous Latin books. It looks like it reinforces and continues on from that material so it should be a good fit.

7. Art and Music History - This is a course I've designed for her. We'll be using The Annotated Mona Lisa and Art Investigator as our spines (again they were on the shelf), probably supplemented by library books for art. For music we're using part of a MOOC - Introduction to Classical Music.

Depending on how the year goes we may or may not add an ornithology credit. Or we may just keep it all under the extra-curricular banner.

At this stage Mr 17 has just four courses. I'm hoping we'll add something else later in the year - possibly some environmental science which he has expressed an interest in.

1. Advanced Mathematics - He likes Saxon and we already own it so a simple choice.

2. Game Theory - Economics is one of his favourite subjects and his dad's area of expertise. I think the textbook (Games, Strategies and Decision Making) came from dh's office. Dh is in charge of this one.

3. World Geography - He's using North Star as well. He didn't really know what he wanted to do this year but he liked geography and maps when he was younger so agreed to give this a try when I suggested it.

4. Comparative Politics - This is another course I've designed, although it is based on the AP course. We picked the text since it is available through our library system.

Linking to the 7th Annual "Not" Back-to-School Blog Hop: Curriculum Week


  1. I love, love, love that you are looking for those serendipitous moments! Before homeschooling, I was very planned--I liked to plan and I liked things to go according to plan. Homeschooling has helped me see the value in stepping off the plan!

    I am also becoming aware that my time homeschooling Allie is limited--probably just 3 years and she will more than likely take some classes at the community college during that time. I've been thinking a lot about making that time count.

    I would never have thought of having World Lit go hand and hand with Geography--what a great idea!

    1. I'm a planner to. With my older kids I stuck to the plan more - possibly because with little ones as well if we got off course we may never have got on. With just Miss 14 and Mr 17 to worry about now I can handle diversions from the path a lot more easily.

  2. First of all serendipity is one of my favorite words. My other favorites are meander, peruse and lagniappe. :) I also love some of the curriculum you listed and am adding it to a 'maybe next year' list!! We rarely stick to any plan which I honestly think is a good thing (most of the time) :)

    1. My 'maybe next year' lisr is lengthy - and there aren't too many next years left. The kids joke that I should adopt a kid just so I can use all the stuff I've never got around to with them!

  3. All your plans look wonderful. I get bored with things so easily that I wish we didn't have to commit for a whole year to certain subjects.

    1. I know what you mean. I have some ideas filed away like "Selected Studies in Science" and the like. The idea being we'd have lots of flexibility within a broad area. Or else we do some quarter or half year courses.