March 30, 2012


When I first pulled Casia out of public school and started homeschooling her, I didn't place a lot of emphasis on grades. She used an online program for math that only gives grades if I request them, which, until recently, I did not. I gave her tests in social studies and science just to help assess her knowledge and some papers were assigned in language arts to help teach writing strategies, but the grades were given as a way to show progress, not because I was writing out a report card at the end of the year. 

My preference would be to continue this practice through her whole entire homeschooling experience, but I'm trying to look realistically at this. She's in middle school now and taking high school level classes. If she wants to attend high school in a couple of years, they will likely want to see how well she mastered the material, not just what was covered. They might require them for placement purposes. Hopefully, someday she will want to apply to colleges.  There are colleges that require transcripts even from homeschoolers.

Another reason to give Casia grades on her work is because at some point, even if it's not until college, she will re-enter a learning environment that is structured on grades and I want her to be prepared for it. I don't want her to feel pressured to obtain perfect grades, so receiving her share of sub-perfect scores in several years of homeschooling will help alleviate those perfectionist tendencies. On the other hand, I don't want her to dismiss the weight others place on good grades either. I'd hate to see her enter her freshman year of college and and shrug off a bad grade without realizing that graduate schools and possible internships do evaluate based on them.

So now that she is in middle school, I've been handing out more grades and keeping better track of them. I figure it will take another year before I have a good system down, as I am continually tweaking it at this point. And although I do wish we could gauge her progress based on our conversations, her effort and my gut feeling about how well she is mastering topics, I hope this will better prepare her for whatever she chooses to do in the future.

March 28, 2012


I wrote last week about Casia nearing the end of her geometry course. She has been making fast progress, but was slowed down a little this week because she had an assessment from the online coursework which took most of Monday's math class and she has a weekly quiz on Tuesdays from me. 

Just now, I've been working on some planning and she has been instant messaging me through skype keeping me informed as to how many more topics she has to cover. She started at eleven when math began this morning and after she let me know there were only seven more to go, I told her to just let me know how many she has left at the end of math class. That's when she wrote me, "Zero is when I stop."

I laughed and told her she can't do math all day and I immediately heard protests; she questioning why, and Jacob, sitting next to me asking, "Isn't that a benefit of homeschooling?" I was quickly overruled, and so she continues. Today she is seeing the finish line and is determined not to stop until she gets there. I think she will finish before lunch. She is down to four as I finish typing this. 

March 23, 2012


It's always a little embarrassing when my ten year-old has to tell me how to use the software program to which we subscribe. I use ALEKS for Casia's math and she recently showed me how, instead of making up my own test questions and typing them up, I can have ALEKS automatically generate a quiz based on recent topics covered. Wow, that's been a real time saver. I wonder if Casia ever wonders how I manage on my own. 

This morning, Casia announced to me that after the assessment she just finished, ALEKS shows she has completed 93% of the Geometry curriculum. She estimates that in two more weeks, she should be finished and ready to move on to something else. I think she's giving me a heads-up so I can figure out what she'll be doing next. 

One of the benefits of homeschooling Casia is the ability to tailor the curriculum to her needs. This is especially the case with math. Casia has always picked up math concepts quickly. She flew through elementary mathematics and started a middle school course when she was seven years-old. She finished up high school algebra in January and just two months ago began Geometry. I really thought she would be working through the coursework until June. But her love of geometry has helped her to move faster than anticipated. I love that my annual subscription allows me to move her to whichever course I think she's ready for and she can take it slowly or quickly, and there's no added charge or extra books to buy. I also appreciate that we don't have to keep to the traditional school schedule where I need to worry about stopping and starting points. We pretty much homeschool all year around. So I think I'l have her take the course Algebra II with Trig and we'll see how long that will last her. 

March 21, 2012

A Talk with Patrick Henry

A couple of weeks ago, Casia and I took another field trip to Colonial Willaimsburg. Each time we go we see new shows, tour different locations and visit sites we hadn't seen yet. This time we focused on places that were relevant to the Revolutionary War and the construction of our government.

Our first stop was the county Courthouse. Inside we got to see a recreation of how the courthouse was used just before the Revolutionary War in their show "Order in the Court". This was a local court that ruled over local issues like an unpaid tavern tabs. Members of the audience got to be petitioners, defendants and justices. 

Casia poses for a few photos while we wait to enter the court house.

Casia in front of the St. George Tucker House.

After the Courthouse show, Casia posed in the pillory.
Casia posed, ready to squish the Royal Palace. 

From the Courthouse we walked to the Kimball Theatre to listen to an actor, as Patrick Henry, discus the Revolutionary War, in "Meet a Founding Father". The last half of the lecture was Patrick Henry answering questions from the audience. Casia, never intimidated by the fact that she was the lone child in an audience full of adults, raised her hand and asked Patrick Henry the question, "What is your opinion of Governor Lord Dunmore and what do you think the Governor thinks of you?"

Casia and Patrick Henry had a short chat after the show.
He was very impressed with Casia's knowledge of the Revolutionary War. 

We had to rush from the Kimball Theatre to the DeWitt Wallace Museum because they were about to start a production called, "Martha's Descision, Oney's Choice." It was about the relationship between Martha Washington and her favorite slave, Oney and the struggles they go through after Oney runs away. The author answered questions at the end of the show and explained that she used letters written between Martha and George Washington on the subject as a starting point for the play. 

Casia and I had a very stimulating conversation afterwards as we discussed slavery, the founding of our nation and the dichotomy of some of our Founding Fathers who simultaneously fought Britain for their right to be free and yet continued to own slaves themselves. 

We stopped for a bite to eat in the bakery in the back of the Raleigh Tavern. I must have been really hungry, because I didn't even get a picture of Casia in front of one of her favorite colonial locations. As we ate our pastries, Casia reveled in the fact that we were eating on the same spot where Patrick Henry, Thomas Jefferson, George Washington and the Marquis de Lafayette had eaten centuries before. She went on to tell me that it's where the House of Burgesses met illegally when the Governor dissolved it. She shared with me all the facts she knew about it as we enjoyed our hot chocolate and snacks.

It was a short walk from the Raleigh Tavern to the Capitol building at the end of Duke of Gloucester Street. Although we'd been in the Capitol before for a the show "Cry Witch" a few months back, we'd never been on a guided tour. We got to learn about the Virginia Declaration of Rights which is a document that was written prior to, and had a strong influence on, the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution's Bill of Right.

Casia standing in front of the Capitol.

Casia was selected to read from the Virginia Declaration of Rights.

Casia is barely visible as she stands in the Governor's chair.

Inside the Capital, in the courtroom, Casia learned that the Governor acted as head of the military forces in Virginia, head of the High Court in Virginia and he had the power to disband the Legislature as well. It was because of the Governor's omnipotence over all aspects of government that the Founding Fathers later separated the branches of government and created a system of checks and balances to prevent too much power in one person's hands.

Casia posed with her favorite tour guide outside the Capitol.

Casia standing at the East end of the Duke of Gloucester Street.
The Raleigh Tavern is a couple of building back  on the right.

We had another glorious day in Historical Williamsburg. Casia always enjoys herself there, which is evidence by the fact that when asked to write an essay about our field trip to Colonial Williamsburg, she entitled her paper:

Colonial Williamsburg: A Historic Field Trip

March 9, 2012

The Internet and Primary Sources

I have so much respect for the homeschooling parents that came before me; before the age of Google and the internet. Technology makes my job so much easier. If I need primary sources for a unit is history, a quick Google search and I'm on my way. It's so much more convenient and efficient than a trip to the library and using a card catalog, or worse, microfilm. Incidentally, I recently had to explain to Casia what a these were and how they worked. It made me feel so old.

Our most recent unit in history has been the creation of the United State government and its early documents. It is a perfect unit in which to use primary sources. We started with the website,, that gives an explanation of the documents created and used by our federal and state governments from the Declaration of Independence, to the Articles of Confederations, through the Constitution. And then we moved on to the documents themselves. I found this great site,, that makes these documents, actual images of the original documents, available along with typed transcripts and explanatory notes. Other sites we used included: the Library of Congress,, the Massachusetts Historical Society and

Casia delighted in looking at the images of the original documents. Even though they were difficult for her to decipher, she loved seeing the actual images to see these parts of our history for herself. On the Lee Resolution it looks as if some notes were taken on the bottom half, including a list of what appeared to be the colonies (but just twelve of them) with two columns along side. The one titled A had lines marked along each colony name and the under the column marked N there were no marks. I told Casia that it looked like a tally of 'ayes' and 'nays'; presumably voting in favor of the resolution.

We happened to have a paper copy of the Declaration of Independence that Jacob had from when he was a kid that we were able to examine closely. This was fortunate because in the one online it was difficult to see the signatures clearly. Casia had read in a book that one signer of the Declaration of Independence, Stephen Hopkins, who was elderly and suffered from shakiness in his hands had to hold his hand steady to sign the Declaration. He is reported to have said as he did this, “My hand trembles, but my heart does not.” She searched the signatures at the bottom of the Declaration to find his name and pointed out to me that she could see the 'shakiness' of it.

On the Massachusetts Historical Society site, they have copies of letters and transcripts of them, written back and forth between John Adams and his wife, Abigail. Casia and I took particular interest in a letter written by Abigail to her husband just prior to the Declaration of Independence. In it, Abigail urges John to 'remember the ladies' in their development of a new government, warning him that 'iparticular care and attention is not paid to the Ladies, we are determined to foment a Rebelion, and will not hold ourselves bound by any Laws in which we have no voice, or Representation." Sadly, despite our 2nd First Lady being quite a feminist in her time, it took almost another 150 years before women were given the right to vote.

I am a huge advocate of using primary sources where available because so many aspects of history are lost when you just read summaries of important events. Being able to see the handwriting and signatures of historical figures and hear events through their own words is such a powerful tool. I think it really allows us to see that these people were real and very much like ourselves in many ways, even scribbling notes in the margins, mixing national interests with domestic matters in correspondence and allowing some of the personalities to shine through in ways that a few typed pages in a history book can't capture. And thanks to modern technology, these experience are more accessible than ever, providing enrichment in our education and our lives.

March 6, 2012

Super Tuesday

Casia and I are both super excited about 'Super Tuesday'. I love to follow politics. I keep up on the issues, try to know who the players are and I get really into elections, particularly presidential elections. It has been such a pleasure for me to share this excitement with my daughter, who seems genuinely interested.

This year in school, Casia has been learning about American History. Additionally, I've been incorporating political current events into our course of study. It amazes me that even with more than two centuries to divide our country's early issues with the present ones, there is still some overlap. Since she finished the Revolutionary War, she's been learning about the formation of our government. A major part of this is understanding our Constitution. She has been learning about the separation of powers between federal and state as well as the divisions among the legislative, judicial and executive branches. We've been discussing some of the  concerns the founding fathers had in making sure the federal government was strong enough to be effective but not too strong to trample the states' rights and individual freedoms. The founders grappled with the role of religion in government and government in religion; topical even in today's politics. 

I've been teaching Casia how the modern political system works. We've been tracking the primaries and the candidates from the beginning. She and I have watched several debates, read many articles in the news and today, Casia followed me into the voting booth. Casia has always enjoyed joining me on election days, but today it was even more special because she understood what was it is all about. Although I have to confess, I'm not a fan of these modern electronic voting machines. I really miss the 'cha-ching!' sound that would accompany the the pulling of the lever. It added an aesthetic touch to my civic duty. 

Tonight we are going to stay up late, munch on popcorn and watch the Super Tuesday results roll in. Some mothers and daughters bond over pedicures and shopping. Casia and I enjoy sharing the wonder of the democratic process in action.

March 1, 2012

American Revolution

I love history. I love to read about it, talk about it and watch movies about it. It's always been my favorite school subject. Casia shares this loves, so it's no wonder that she and I get carried away when we delve into historical topics. So I've been trying to limit the scope that we cover for each given time period, but I'll admit it, this is tough for me. I feel there is always more that we could cover; we could always go deeper. Fortunately, Jacob's there to rein me in. So I'm trying to breakdown America history into manageable segments and keep to a limited time table. This last unit we spent about three weeks on the French and Indian War followed by about five weeks on the Revolutionary War.

To learn about the French and Indian War and why it is so important in American history, Casia and I watched a video called "The War That Made America", produced by PBS. She also read a book called The French and Indian War by Christopher Collier. I like to assign reading for Language Arts to correspond to other subjects we are studying and I found a copy of Calico Captive by Elizabeth George Spears in our local library. It's based on a true story of a girl captured by Native Americans. Casia also read a Dear America book, Standing in the Light by Mary Pope Osborne which was also a story about an Indian captive. Casia enjoyed the topic so much that when I gave her a writing assignment to compose a short story, she chose to make hers about a girl that was taken by Indians and then decided to stay with them instead of returning with the English.

We then moved on to the Revolutionary War. I got a little overboard on my trip to the library and brought home about two dozen books. She didn't end of reading them all, but I like to give her choices; let her select what interests her most. I've listed the books and movies that she read and watched below. Casia learned about the early unrest in the colonies and how and why the French & Indian War had such an impact on the relationship between Britain and the colonies. We covered the acts passed by the British to tax the colonists; how they worked and why they angered the colonists. She also learned that about the process, and how long and drawn out it was, for the colonists to finally declare independence and win the war. Casia read several books about the major battles in the war and she learned about many of the Founding Fathers.

Next up, we'll be learning about the framing of the constitution, the structure of our government and the development of a fledgling country.

Revolutionary War Books:
The Revolutionary War by Brendan January
American Revolution by Mary Pope Osborne
American Revolution by Stuart Murray
The Story of the Boston Tea Party by R. Conrad Stein
Sybil Ludington's Midnight Ride by Marsha Amstel
The Story of Lexington and Concord by R. Conrad Stein
The Story of the Barbary Pirates by R. Conrad Stein
The Story of Valley Forge by R. Conrad Stein
Yorktown by Michael Weber
Great Women of the American Revolution by Michael Burgan
The Signers by Dennis Brindell Fradin
George Washington by Cheryl Harness
George Washington, Spymaster by Thomas B. Allen
Who Was Benjamin Franklin by Dennis Brindell Fradin
Who Was Thomas Jefferson by Dennis Brindell Fradin 
Patrick Henry by 
Paul Revere's Ride [Poem] by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow
The Riddle of Penncroft Farm [Historical Fiction] by Dorothea Jensen

Movies on the Revolutioary War:
John Adams (HBO production): parts of it anyway, some didn't seem appropriate for a 10 year-old
The Revolution (History Channel)