Tag Archives: Education

Our Curriculum (Part One)

A while back I wrote a post on what (and how) we study, but we’ve since updated our curriculum in many ways, so I thought I’d write up an update on our studies for those of you who don’t know. I’d like to talk in depth about each lesson we do, so I’m splitting this post up into two so it doesn’t get too long.

We don’t use any one program, though there are lots of those to choose from. Instead, Mom has pieced together a careful curriculum that fits our needs best. We study math, geography, art, Latin, writing, history, and botany, and use a different format for each subject, allowing us to get what we need out of the lessons. So let’s start going over those subjects.

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Math. For math we use an internet program called Khan Academy. It’s a fairly simple site, but quite well-organized and useful. Not only does Khan Academy offer math for grades K-8, algebra, calculus, trigonometry, geometry, and statistics, you can also study science, computer programming, history, grammar, music, economics, and test prep. But let’s get back to math.

The format is arranged in such a way that you work on one skill until you have gotten five problems correct in a row. Then you move on to the next skill, and so on. Every so often you receive a “Mastery Challenge,” testing you on the skills you’ve worked on. Your prowess at a skill is rated by level, so one type of problem could be on any one of five levels. They are: “not practiced” (meaning you haven’t begun to work on it), “practiced” (you’ve gotten five in a row right), “level one” (you’ve gotten that sort of problem right in a Mastery Challenge twice), “level two” (you’ve gotten that sort of problem right in a Mastery Challenge four times), and “mastered” (you can complete that skill correctly every time). Even when a skill is mastered, it’s sometimes brought back in a Mastery Challenge to make sure you remember how to do it.

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The only trouble with Khan is a sometimes-exasperating teaching method. If you can’t get a problem right, you can either watch a video explaining the general formula, or get hints that tell you step-by-step how to complete the particular problem you’re stuck on. But the exasperation comes with the videos: they’re always teaching you how to do the simpler version of the problem you’re doing, and really aren’t any help at all. I was ready to quit Khan Academy and use something else (maybe Teaching Textbooks), but then I discovered that what I thought was an aggravating mistake was actually a popular teaching method used by the most elite schools. The general idea is that you have to figure it out yourself. You have to try your absolute best at working out the problem, and if you still can’t get it then you open up the hints and go through them slowly and carefully, understanding where you messed up and learning the techniques. The knowledge that the aim of this method is to develop a problem-solving ability gives me the patience to work through what seemed at first like useless difficulties.

 

Geography & Art. American geography is a subject that would be hard to avoid, given our lifestyle, but world geography is where a curriculum comes in handy. We use Ellen Johnston McHenry’s Mapping the World with Art, a fun program that teaches you how to draw different countries (Greece, Italy, Spain), as well as famous bodies of water (the Nile, the Tigris and Euphrates, the Sea of Galilee), with an end goal of drawing the whole world from memory. The program is designed to allow even the worst artists (er, me) to draw things that look how they’re supposed to. The instructions are mostly quite simple, though I’ll admit drawing Greece made me rather want to stab somebody (preferably Ms. Ellen McHenry, but anyone would do).

 

When we do this lesson, Mom usually draws up each step on our dry-erase board, so that we can see it well. Gordon and I use Palomino Blackwing art pencils, and incredibly nice Micron pens designed not to smear, to trace over our work once we’ve finished.

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Latin. We’ve studied Latin for six years, I believe, and the whole time we’ve used Memoria Press. This curriculum has lesson plans for some other subjects as well, but we’ve never used those.
Our Latin studies are fairly straightforward. We learn new vocabulary words, recite conjugations and declensions, groan over ever-growing lists of bazaar grammar rules, learn about exceptions to rules we thought were constant, study word order, translate sentences, scour the textbooks for pronunciations, and call the Memoria Press people to ask what on earth they mean; in short, Latin’s the hardest subject we study.

But that doesn’t stop us from pressing on, and by now I have a pretty good understanding of the language; I know hundreds of Latin words, and I can decline the nouns and conjugate the verbs, and put all the parts of a sentence into their proper orders, with personal pronouns and tenses and adjectives that match the noun which they modify in “person, number, and case, but not declension.” And yet, I still couldn’t talk to you only in Latin. So I’ll keep studying.


Don’t forget to come back next Monday to learn how we learn writing, history, and botany!