Home education diary, July-August 2000

We didn't do anything structured during July. We read, did jigsaw puzzles, went out to the beach a few times. My old computer died, so we had to buy and instal a new one, which was an educational project in itself.

We spent most of August in the UK, seeing family and friends, visiting a few local places of interest, and - of course - buying second-hand books. When we got back to Cyprus, our first package of ACE materials from School of Tomorrow had arrived.

30th August

We got started with ACE on Monday. Tim was very enthusiastic. He got up about 9am and we went through the official procedure together - how to estimate the number of pages he would do each day, and how to 'score' his work. I sorted out the books, and he worked through about three or four pages in each 'Pace' (as they call the workbooks). 

The theory is that they read a page, with basic fill-in-the-gap questions after every few paragraphs, then check against the scoring guide after each page or two. There are three or four checkups in each Pace - summary questions from the previous section - and then a self-test at the end. When it's completed, they're supposed to hand the Pace to me, and we talk about it a bit, then the next day they do a test under more exam-like conditions, which I have to mark.  If they pass (over 80%) they move on to the next Pace.  

It seems like rote-learning to me, with the emphasis on short-term memory, but Tim seemed to enjoy it. Just about the time he finished, Daniel got up. At least I understood by then how it all worked, so he got started too.

On Tuesday, Tim again got up early and raced through, finishing in about an hour. At that point I said that perhaps he'd under-estimated how much he could do. I told him that the aim wasn't to rush through doing the minimum possible, but to understand what he was reading, and learn things. So he did a little more, and increased his estimates for today. Daniel got up while Tim was working, sighed deeply and opened his Paces. He's giving himself a bit more to do each day than Tim is, as he wants to get ahead; in everything except maths, they're starting at the same places.

Daniel complained that the science and social studies were moronic - not the actual information, but having to fill in gaps that were taken directly from the text. He said he could fill them in just by looking at the words, without having the faintest idea what the text was about. I have to say, I thought that was fair comment. It isn't even real comprehension - a linguist who didn't know English could probably do it and get the majority correct, without any idea what he was actually writing.

So I said that in the ones that he found easy, he could simply read the text, then do the check-ups and self-test if he thought the main workbook stuff was too simple. So long as he does well enough on the self-test, he's supposed to be ready for the test, so he said he'd do that.

Tim, by contrast, is finding the science extremely interesting. It's about the planets and introducing geology. Daniel 'did' all that in Year 6 at his primary school so there wasn't anything new to him; he did the first science check-up today without even looking at the text (which he read through on Monday and yesterday) and got it all correct. 

However it's fairly new to Tim and he's quite happy to fill in gaps; in fact it makes sure he does actually read it as he's inclined to skim and miss out half of what he reads, whereas Daniel seems to have an almost photographic memory. Daniel hopes that he'll be able to get through the level 8 (Year 8) material fairly quickly so he can get to more interesting science. 

It seems a bit odd that they have to start at year 8 work for the NCSC course, when year 10 is the first GCSE year in schools - and he'd be year 9 if he was in school right now. Level 8 seems about the right level for Tim and he'd only just be starting secondary school now if we were in the UK and not home educating. 

There are some rather strange Paces called 'vocational' social studies. They theoretically introduce different careers, but are really very boring. We've already decided that the boys are both just going to read them, do check-ups and the self-test, and then - assuming they do well enough - move straight onto the test.  I pointed out that it was probably more interesting than Texas State History, which was what they'd have been doing if they were in the USA, though I'm not sure they agreed!

Tim is really enjoying the English, so far, and determined to get to grips with the formal  grammar. They're both doing level 7 'revision' English, at present, which is very easy to Daniel, though Tim's having a slightly harder time grasping concepts. But as he's keen on studying lots of other languages he realises it's going to be extremely useful to him. We struggled with their lack of understanding of English grammar when they were learning Greek and French last year.

'Word-building' seems a bit of an odd subject, basically involving phonics, spelling rules and pronunciation. It's confusing that American pronunciation isn't the same as British. Their 'short a' covers both the British 'short a' and the British 'ah' sound. Words like 'plait' are said with a short a in British English and - apparently - long a in Americanish. Daniel isn't having a real problem with this, perhaps because he had two years in an American school and learned to cope with the translation problems.

They were both completely mystified by one place where they were told to make new words using consonant blends, but the last row of words were, other than the first, not real words as far as I know. None of us had ever heard of 'flanch', 'tranch' or 'scanch'! I just said to leave those ones out.

The maths seems to be OK, though Tim is complaining bitterly about the amount of arithmetic he has to do. He's doing some gaps in level 6, which will cover mixed fractions, always his bug-bear, but it starts with complex and tedious arithmetic which he loathes. However he's not very good at being accurate, so I think it's quite good for him to do at least some of them, and he does agree. Daniel's doing a 'gap' Pace on profit and loss, but as he's allowed to use a calculator it's not too painful. He seems to be understanding all right, which is good because that's one topic that makes me very confused!

This morning they both got started at about 9.30, worked till about 10.45, took a break (and then I read to them for a while), and then worked from about 11.45 to nearly 1pm. It looks like about 2-2.5 hours each morning is going to be about right, though we're planning on doing ACE stuff for four mornings a week only, rather than five. Tomorrow we have a home educators' gathering, and in general I think we'll take Fridays for creative writing and cleaning the house. So far Tim is pretty enthusiastic about ACE and Daniel somewhat cynical - but then he's going through a cynical phase in general.  He did agree that 2.5 hours with some flexibility is a great deal better than 6.5 hours in a Cyprus school with no flexibility!

I'm not sure how we're going to fit in other things, but we've agreed to talk about it on Friday. They do still want to do Greek and French so I think we'll try and include those at some point each day. They haven't started a 'literature' module yet; those are supposed to go with the even-numbered English Paces, apparently, but I'm thinking I might allocate classic fiction books with a report or essay or something for the odd-numbered paces, so at least they cover some of what they'd be doing if they were in school.

I thought Daniel might want to do his ACE work in the evenings when he's more awake, but he's decided that he wants to get it out of the way in the morning, at least so far. This afternoon Tim has a friend over, and Daniel is working on his Linux computer system.

The boys have been squabbling a fair bit recently, especially since we got back from the UK. I thought at first they were just tired, but Daniel seems to be getting good at sarcasm and squashing comments, and Tim is being irritating and critical. I find it so tiring. It's partly why I thought they might as well get started with the ACE work, because they seemed to be a bit bored. It hasn't helped, though. 

Since it's an American Christian course, there are Bible 'memory verses' as part of most of the Paces. Not something that's really part of our culture, but I guess it's not a bad thing to memorise Scripture. Tim is complaining about the King James Version English, and insists on looking all the verses up in his Good News Bible, and writing out what he calls the 'proper' version. I did check with one of the UK representatives of ACE and apparently that's acceptable for British students. 

I suppose we're now committed to ACE for at least a year - probably longer, since the boys might as well get at least the first diploma. But it's going to be hard-going. I hope we haven't made a horrible mistake.

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