Homework

The hardy old rose bush right next to the front door. Against all the odds, it just keeps on giving.

In a few hours the school at home project restarts again. One more 7 week push before we finally arrive at the summer holidays. What kind of Britain will it be? The old normal, the new normal or something else.

This afternoon was glorious. Hot (for here) and sunny. Unbelievably not a single cloud all day. This is Yorkshire remember.

Yes this is Yorkshire but sadly it’s connected to England. Which means it has to live with the Government’s take on education. So while the sun beat down, we were inside. Trying to get homework completed and revision to stick. It’s bizarre that we force kids to work during holidays and weekends AND yet we have a part time Prime Minister who avoids such weekend and holiday work at all costs…. Yet again one rule for the many and another much nicer rule for the few.

The really frustrating thing is what exactly is the homework achieving. Four hours today and what did our Son learn….

What is the point of this Dad. I’ve not learnt one new fact. Not done anything which is interesting. I’m bored out of my mind. My hand hurts from writing and I dislike these subjects even more.”

Sadly I can’t argue with this. The school system here has been deliberately broken. Not by the teachers but by people in The Government. People who enjoyed the benefits of expensive private education. It’s not about developing individual kids now. It’s all about ticking political boxes for those in power. This government will not change its mind. But change is needed. So it will be local change.

We will continue with the school at home project until the summer. Remember this is not homeschooling….this is just trying to do exactly the same school lessons just not with the kids sat at a desk in the cramped classroom. In the summer our Son will decide what he does next. To go back to school or to go for full homeschooling. It’s his call. If he defers to me then he is leaving school. But what to do with the next 7 weeks. We have just brought in a new house rule.

Son will only be expected to do additional homework if it meets one of 3 conditions

  • He will actually learn something from it,
  • He will find it interesting,
  • It actually is going to contribute to his overall assessment. (Staggeringly much homework does not. Frequently it is not even marked in detail and sometimes not at all.)

We did have a fourth condition but that was dropped

Dad that’s a pointless condition. How many kids will honestly admit to actually wanting to do a piece of homework. Definitely never me….”

So if a piece of homework does not meet one of these conditions then he won’t be asked to complete it. I will write into school and let the teacher know. If the school wants to push it then they can deal with me. In our house – I am the headteacher and remember I don’t currently have a PM…..

Another week

It’s one of those days. Wet, windy and damp one minute. Then sunnier, even windier and wetter the next minute. At least the rainwater tubs are filling up. Can’t believe that they were empty. EMPTY – this is Yorkshire….

Another week has come and gone. Another week of schools version of homeschooling. So what did we learn this week.

  • Apparently the school has one of the best online teaching systems in the country. It’s frightening that many schools are struggling to get any systems going. But what do you expect when the government tries to control everything about education. Strangely it never saw the need for online education. Why bother when it’s so much cheaper to cram ever increasing numbers of kids into overcrowded classes.
  • Even with a school iPad and online systems, we have run out of pens, pencils and coloured markers. We only stocked up in February…….
  • The new school trousers (3 pairs) which were bought the week before the lockdown started, now don’t fit. So we managed one use out of those. Money well spent.
  • Clearly using google translate doesn’t necessarily get you the right answer in French lessons.
  • Drama is the most appropriate name for the subject. Here every lesson in Drama ends up as a right DRAMA.
  • Music is largely based around the GarageBand app. Has there ever been a more frustrating learning based app. It looks so easy on YouTube to produce professional sounding music compositions. Not in this house. So far we can just about get a drum to beat. It’s the same sound regardless of if son is trying to do a rock or classical composition. Not quite what the music teacher wants.
  • Clearly the half term weeks holiday should be renamed the half term do school projects and homework week.
  • What’s this new trend of getting parents to join in with PE lessons. This week I got to show my prowess in the hop, skip and jump (Triple Jump). I can now rename that as the hope, skip, fall over and hold my back in agony jump.
  • Some teachers are starting to get our son and others never will. One lesson he is still waiting for a house point. He’s only one of two other kids who has not been awarded one this year by this teacher. Apparently even getting 93% in a test doesn’t constitute being worthy of just one point. Maybe I’m missing something. Another frustration is that every September the teachers all change as kids move up a year. So all the progress of developing a relationship is lost. The ironic thing is one of the few teachers who doesn’t change is the one who doesn’t get him….
  • Food Technology is so much easier when it’s home based. It’s all theory so no need for the parent to stress out about finding food ingredients and suitable containers. Also no need to deal with the inevitable school bag food spillages. It’s 2 months since the last incident and his bag still spells of garlic.
  • When I was a kid magnetic fields seemed so easy to understand. So why now do they seem like some strange Harry Potter magic.
  • Apparently some lessons are best undertaken in short 10 minute spells, punctuated with a few games of Crossy Road.

So yes we can tick off another school at home week. Some parts still don’t work but many elements do work. Here’s the key thing. The current approach is determined by the school. You take all elements of the package. Take the good and the bad. True homeschooling allows you the flexibility to address those elements which are not working. But that’s a debate for another day. Let’s settle for just ticking off this week. Job done now let’s move on.

Over my head

One of the advantages of not cutting the hedge. A bit of overhead yellow is always very nice.

Dad this is just going over my head.”

He wasn’t referring to the hedge as well…

“This is refusing to enter my brain. Sometimes dyslexia is a right pain in the butt….”

He was referring to French. In particular today’s lesson. All about grammatical gender. It’s not an easy concept for English speaking numpties like me as we don’t tend to get so focused on gender and nouns. Which is most odd as our language is heavily derived from Anglo-Saxon and French, which are. So you can hear my brain chug away when it sees

A simple word like HAPPY become in French either HEUREUX (masculine) or HEUREUSE (feminine).

Hard for me, a nightmare for a dyslexic. So a lesson of writing these out for an hour is just torture for him. Yes you can try and learn the rules. But when you struggle to pick up word and letter patterns – it’s not much help.

Hey Dad I’m dyslexic in multiple languages. Surely I get a badge for that.”

We should really be switching dyslexic kids to different learning techniques. Maybe focusing just on visual and verbal learning. Using fun, online teaching resources. Finding out what works and what doesn’t work for each industry child. Unfortunately teachers are given so little flexibility by our Government. They have to stick to the national curriculum. Sadly the factory education approach doesn’t work for many. So we try to make the best of it. But it’s not easy seeing your child struggle.

It feels like you are holding onto the side of a giant bolder as it tumbles down a hill. Not in control and just grimly trying not to fall off. But eventually you reach the bottom. You can take a breather before you start tumbling again. I guess the secret is to make the most of the flat bits. Grab that ice cream and think of ways to make the tumbling down hill more fun. Must be possible. Remember being a kid and rolling down the slopes. As long as you avoided the nettles and animal droppings, it was the best laugh ever. So we will put our thinking hats on, how to make learning French fun.

Bonne journee (yes I know I’ve dropped a mark for the missing thingy off the e, but my keyboard doesn’t do French)….

Please note one of my great regrets is that I’m not multilingual. I love talking to people who can effortlessly switch languages. So I will keep going. You never know, one day…

Fashion expert

A mass of red from a plant that my big sister bought for us as a house warming present many years ago. Still so colourful, still so stylish. Unfortunately other things in the house are not ageing so well….

We have a school week holiday coming up. A week to give the kids and teachers a break. Let’s not forget parents, grandparents, guardians, support staff as well. We might be homeschooling but it feels like a break is much needed. A week without schooling to allow kids to be kids….

We call the week before a half term the T minus clock. T minus days before the school breaks up. Can we survive the T minus clock without holiday homework. Well….

It’s T minus 3 days to go and it’s not going well so far. So far Son has Art, English and Science holiday homework. Large projects. So much for kids having a break.

I clearly need a break or at the very least a fashion consultant.

“Dad are you seriously going to wear that“.

I thought it was a fine shorts and Jumper (sweater) combo.

“You hair is sticking up and you haven’t shaved today”

I’m calling it the Indiana Jones look.

Maybe for Indiana Jones 6 when he’s about 110.”

Clearly Dr Jones has aged well then….

The jumper is a bit big for you.”

It was a Christmas present and I never got round to changing it.

And I’m probably taller than you now.”

Something strangely emasculating about when your son has edged passed you, when he is barely 13.

How can I put this politelyErm …. You look like a hobbit from Lord of the Rings”

Any cheap fashion experts out there?

Update: School are clearly joining in the fun. The class have been asked to watch a fantasy movie for the next lesson. And why movie are we watching. The Hobbit. The Shame never ends.

What a drama

“Son, just go outside and look at the flowers. At this rate the school iPad is going to smash into the wall”

It was one of THOSE lessons. Why is it so often Drama…..

Dad I just can’t do this. It’s only the first task and it’s going to take forever.”

Tell me what will you learn about acting and the performance arts by doing a glorified word search. Read a 29 page script and find which character had to say these short phrases. Most of the phrases were in the middle of long paragraphs. On what planet is that exercise tailored to help kids with dyslexia.

Only after you had successfully completed that exercise was Son allowed to move on to the half term assessment. And what a beaut that was as well. Three options.

  • Costume design for a character in the play. Describe the theory behind your choice, draw the design and then develop the design with what materials you have at home. The pupil must then model the costume and be photographed.

Just NO Dad. We don’t have any clothes we can use, I can’t draw AND if they think Im having my photo taken wearing it – they have another thing coming.”

  • Learn the role for one character. Describe the theory behind your acting approach and then film yourself acting the role.

And that’s a big fat NO as well. I’m not being filmed for anybody.”

  • Design the stage set. Describe the theory behind your design. Draw a detailed picture of the stage. Then build the stage with resources you have at home.

Well I guess it will have to be this option. At least I don’t have to suffer being filmed. But looking at the example then we don’t have any of that stuff in. Suddenly Drama has become Art. Painting backdrops. Making or drawing miniature curtains. Building miniature props. And I will be starting after everyone else because the word search took me longer than probably all the other kids. Deep Joy.”

And he was right. We don’t even have a cardboard box to build a rubbish one. The teacher clearly doesn’t live in a house with three gerbils… Thankfully Son understands that I don’t care what grade he gets for this assignment. Let’s just get it done and then we forget about it. So after he had cleared his mind looking at the flowers, he did a quick paper stage design. Then for next weeks final assessment lesson he will build a Lego stage. I wonder if the teacher will appreciate Darth Vader and IronMan mini figures playing completely different roles. I do hope so.

Lollies and homeschooling

Somebody waiting to share my ice lolly.

This weekend the weather is going to be mad. For a start it’s dry (which is mad for Yorkshire). But the temperature. Midday today it was 21C (70F). Midday tomorrow is due to be 2C (35F). On the Yorkshire temperature scale that’s going from a string vest to two jumpers.

This week it was a 4 day school session. Definitely into a pattern now. Some subjects working well using an iPad and online resources. Some lessons not working well. But what have we learnt this week from the school at home project.

  • School are looking at how to enforce social distancing when they reopen. They are doing this without any help or information or resources from the so called Government. The only way they have managed to find a practical way is to split the existing classes up. Maximum Class sizes have to a third of what they are now. This basically means that it only works if many kids are homeschooled for at least part of the week.
  • The secret with about teaching is understand the particular needs of the child. With our Son and a subject like a History, it’s not about getting new information into him. Already he has a staggering encyclopaedia stored. It’s finding ways to get that knowledge out of him.
  • It’s basically impossible to free hand draw a circle and a pentagram on a tablet.
  • Even at home we have a stationary leak. Pens, pencils, erasers, rulers …. are going missing. I can understand losing them at school but at home …. really. Where are they?
  • When did long divisions become so complicated.
  • Son is enjoying having a regular school lunch. He says that his work on an afternoon has improved. He’s less tired. At school because of too many kids trying to use overstretched catering facilities, Son often doesn’t eat or drink. It’s certainly not helped by government pressure to cut break and lunch times.
  • Kryptonite won’t count when you are trying to name inert elements.
  • Son, the IPad and I do not agree on how most words are spelt.
  • One of the great feels is Son completing a lesson with 30 minutes to spare. Son can go outside and I can hover.
  • I am becoming a bit of an expert in Russian geography. Begs the question why I was so rubbish at Geography when I was at school.
  • The French I learned (or thought I learned) is fundamentally different to the French Son is learning now.
  • In all the weeks we have done this thing at home, most subjects have not set additional homework. Yet we are told that the kids are keeping up on the curriculum requirements. So what is the point of setting heaps of daily homework when they are at school

And the last thing we have learnt. Ice lollies during subjects like Drama really do ease the pain.

Look what’s cropped up

Some call it a weed. Some call it a flower. I’m definitely in the flower camp. It’s amazing where these things crop up in the garden every year.

Now we have had several weeks of schools version of homeschooling, I guess it’s time to look at the parent side of the process. What have I learnt during these weeks. The first thing to say is that it’s NOT been impossible. That was my fear when I always thought about homeschooling. I’m going to mess this up. I just won’t be able to cope. Well I’m still here. Son is still here. No huge disasters. Son doesn’t hate me. School haven’t demanded my sacking as a parent. So yes I kinda must have coped with this homeschooling lark.

Another thing I’ve learned is this IS NOT TRUE HOMESCHOOLING. This is schools version of teaching when the classrooms are locked up. Some lessons might come close to true homeschooling but others are just the same classroom lessons delivered in your living room. The Government and the Schools set the agenda, decide on what areas are covered and how they are delivered. The children and parents largely do what they are told. The point about true homeschooling is the freedom that it offers. You can tailor the education to suit the child. This version of homeschooling feels more like forcing the child to fit the needs of the system.

So what have I learned as a kinda homeschooling parent then

  • I know diddly squat about Art, Music, Religious Education and Drama.
  • I can look like the worlds most intelligent parent when I hide my iPhone in my shirt pocket and find a way of discreetly typing in questions to google.
  • Homeschooling is far more tiring for the parent than the child.
  • My spelling is worse than my dyslexic son.
  • For homeschooling to work really well you have to engage the child. Focus on the things that make him or her tick. What seems to work for me probably doesn’t work for our son.
  • I need my own school stationary cupboard. The amount of time I waste hunting in draws for things like pens, paper, paints and art materials.
  • Science hasn’t half changed since I got my A-Levels in Physics and Chemistry. Was Quantum even a word back then?
  • I might have a master degree in computing but that counts for nothing when you are trying to get the iPad to talk to the school computer.
  • Things like housework and working for money are really not going to happen during the homeschool day. For the parent homeschooling is as time consuming as it is for the child.
  • I’m so lucky just having one child to homeschool.
  • Me trying to explain French pronunciation is a complete waste of time. Maybe investing in something like Rosetta Stone is the way forward. But that’s a key point. Some of the homeschooling will be beyond me. I will need to invest in online support, book tuition time and additional help so as to make this work.
  • Getting son to just read a textbook is not the best approach. If homeschooling is going to truly work it will mean doing things like taking son out to historical sites and geographic locations. The parent needs to fully commit to this.
  • As the home school day has to replicate the normal school timetable I have learnt to be fairly strict on the time Son spends on each lesson. Trying to avoid overruns. Once these start they just accumulate and that just drags the day out for Son and ME.
  • Homeschooling increases the urge for things like strong coffee and biscuits.
  • I don’t care how many weeks I do this – I still can’t remember the school timetable.
  • Broadband failure just as work is being submitted is seriously stressful.
  • I’m very good (as are the PE teachers) at reminding the kids to warm up before the do exercise. I of course forget to warm myself up. Although I like to think of myself as fairly fit, I also tend to forget that I am basically an old fart…. So without warming up and then trying to do something like a forward role is basically asking for trouble.
  • How much paper does schooling use ….. far too much.
  • Homeschooling is tiring. But it doesn’t help with nighttime sleep. Too many school things to think about.
  • If I pick up the courage I can make things like homemade play-doh without the need to panic buy off Amazon.
  • As the homeschooling week unfolds my dress sense deteriorates. By Friday I look like a badly chewed dog rag doll. Don’t even start me on my hair.
  • Just go with the flow. If Son wants to learn outside, or walking about or stood on his head or whatever … work with that. I need to keep telling myself that what works for me will probably not work for him.
  • Over the years I’ve often had sleepless nights wondering what mystical substance has the chemical formula C12H22O11. Now I realise it’s Sucrose.
  • I’ve also found out how difficult it is to try and type chemical formula properly. Surely in 2020 we must have found easier ways of typing numbers which are littler than letters. AND Don’t start me on trying to do French and typing things like acute accents and circumflex’s. The process extends writing an answer from seconds into months. On these I have been no help to our Son.

So basically I have survived this form of homeschooling so far. Yes it’s not always easy. Yes I’ve resorted to pulling my hair out in some lessons. Occasionally I have sworn. It’s demonstrated that homeschooling and work don’t really go together. But actually I have also smiled quite a bit. Sometimes even had fun. That’s just for schools version of this. How good could we make proper homeschooling.

Week whatever

At least we are getting a few glimpses of the sun. But it’s mainly very very dark. For those with good eyesight – you can just see our friendly mole has taken a shine to our neighbours front lawn.

I guess sunshine amongst the darkness is a good way of summing up this weeks school at home project. I think it’s week 7 but I’ve lost any real grip on time.

Some lessons continue to work well. This week PE managed to bring in new exercise routines and somehow find a way of getting the kids to practice cricket fielding skills, in the garden. The teachers have embraced the heaps of resources on the internet. It’s amazing how many coaches and sports stars have uploaded fun things for us mortals to do at home. It also helps that the games teachers are engaging positively and with a real sense of humour with each pupil.

A subject like maths continues to use existing online national teaching resources to run the lessons. Online teaching lessons are followed by online questions. The class teacher keeping an eye on progress and tailoring the online lessons to each child. It’s reflecting how the class operates when the schools are open. It works so well and it does raise the question – can maths become a fully home based lesson when schools start again.

Then the darkness….

We still get lessons which are so formulaic. Here’s some text read it and then answer these questions. The approach never changes. It’s the same approach which is used for each lesson in the classroom. Ok it might work for some kids but for many it just won’t. Talk about trying to make a lesson as dry and boring as possible.

You then get the lessons where content and the knowledge a pupil has is seemingly not assessed. Marking just focuses on spelling mistakes and handwriting neatness. Interestingly the actual English Language subject is one subject which doesn’t use this approach. Some of the most brilliant and talented people I have met seem to have the worst grammar and spelling skills. Surely a pupils understanding of the subject matter must count for something.

Then you come to human nature. Teachers are not robots, they are just like the rest of us. We have those people we like and appreciate. We also have those we don’t get and probably don’t treat as fairly as others. Son has two teachers who just don’t get him. Whatever he does he never seems to get any positive feedback or credit. This week he submitted a piece of work for one of these teachers. I checked it with the marking scheme and his answer definitely went way beyond the standard answer. All the additional marks on offer were definitely covered in his response, and more. The actual teacher marking was predictably distinctly underwhelming. Purely highlighting the negatives. As Son pointed out

No point working harder for this one as it really doesn’t make a difference. Always going to be a C- regardless of the work. I must be the only kid in the class not to get a house point all year from this teacher.

So yep it’s been another dark and light school week. Bring on week 8 (or whatever number it is)….

Big Sky

Today our little world is uniformly cool and grey. Feels almost autumnal. I suspect no Sun today. Rewind the clock a few days and it was a very different story. Looking out over the farmers fence and one thing struck me – that’s a big sky.

Living on top of a hill with no surrounding mountains and no tall buildings, nothing blocks out the sky. It does create the impression of a big sky. On days like the one above, it can be so impressive.

It might be grey but it’s now time for some more big sky thinking.

Dad, I have to start a project for school. For last weeks lesson I had to describe my own version of Middle Earth or Narnia. Well today’s lesson we now need to create a 3D version of this. The teacher says that we can use whatever we have in the house to build it. This might be a daft question but since the lesson started 10 minutes ago …. do we have any plasticine or playdoh in”

No…

Do we have enough newspaper and glue to make a papermache model”

No…

Do we have enough green, brown and blue lego to make a mountain landscape, with rivers, waterfalls and massive valleys.”

We do have lego but it would have to be a real multicoloured, mixed up type of landscape.

If I had realised that I would have to actually build this world then I would have definitely lowered by creative threshold. Maybe a small desert island with one tree and a rock. A really small, boring islands set in a randomly coloured lego world”

We tried to create his complicated world with cushions and rugs.

It’s a bit rubbish but at least we had the stuff. Problem is that we can’t leave our creation on the floor as it’s a pet magnet. We will need the world for lessons in the coming weeks and I don’t fancy building this every time we have this lesson.”

So we are moving to Plan C. After we have hopefully finished his other project which needs handing in, then we will be trying to make his world using flour dough. Could be messy.

Ants

The little Apple tree is springing into life. This is the time of year when you can gauge what type of crop it will produce in 5 months. This apple tree does have different yields. Sometimes too much fruit. Sometimes hardly any fruit. This year looks like an ok year.

Sometimes you can get a feel for what a day is going to be like by just looking at the first few minutes.

Dragging myself back into the house after the early morning workout. Desperate for that first warming brew of the day. A particularly zombiefied version of exercise today. Very tired today. So nothing better than entering the kitchen to find ants. Lots of ants. Reaching for the ant poison is not an option with pets. Especially with our big boy cat who is the cat version of Ozzy Osbourne. Any substance is getting sampled. So out comes the one part lemon, one part water spray. Apparently ants don’t like lemon. If that doesn’t work then it’s time for the pepper and the inevitable sneezing cat. A few years back ants was no issue. We had a lovely but psychotic girl cat. The ultimate apex predator. Only creatures with a death wish came in the house. But now it’s up to me to sort this issue out.

So by the time schools version of homeschooling started – I was already feeling like it was way past my bedtime.

Then within minutes the first school crisis. Son has failed to submit a project in time. To be fair to him he was not in the lesson when it was given out to the class. That’s not a valid excuse for school as the child or parent should check the school emails and online files for assigned tasks. We did eventually find the relevant document hidden away in a random class file. To be fair to us – it was like searching for a needle in a haystack – when your not aware that a needle has gone missing. The teacher has granted a couple of days extension but that means son will have little free time this week. At least it gives me another excuse not to start any DIY projects. Not that I need much excuse these days.

The rest of the school day passed in a groggy haze. Trying to explain the vagaries of the English Language and working out why so many marks have been deducted for spelling mistakes. Trying to fathom out why a subject is seemingly asking questions about a completely unrelated area. And finally trying to understand what precisely is the teacher wanting the class to do. I think there is still a lot of merit in putting the questions at the end of a document. The teacher referred to 9 questions in the text but after much searching, we could only find 5.

So it’s back to the kitchen and THE ANTS. Clearly our ants are immune to lemons. So now I must resort to using up my dwindling supply of salt and pepper as weapons of ant destruction. Failing that then it’s testing various other kitchen supplies as ant repellents. Curry Powder, Chilli flakes and Turmeric. Let’s hope ants are not fans of spicy cuisine.