Saturday, December 21, 2013

The Accidental Bystander's Favorite Choices for APPS in Education.

Technology is one of my passions. I love the World Wide Web and how the internet levels us and the playing field we all communicate on and creates a platform of communication where we are rendered equal in ways our social and econmics status limit us in real life situations.
I have found gaming to be an excellent tool in education. I spoke about Minecraft and touched upon Scratch Programing and Makey Makey in an earlier post.  My son uses the internet for research and I encourage him to use apps on his iPad for education as well.  
For math we have found there are a huge amount of choices out there for learners and developers are coming out with more all the time.  Some of our favorites are SushiMonster Math by Scholastics and Dragon Math which teaches algebra concepts.  We also have found Montessori math apps.  My son also likes an app called Rocket Math. The Geoboard has been engaging for him too. He 
will play with these apps on his own and spend free time playing math games for fun.
I rearranged the math apps on the ipad screen and make files for apps that teach the same subject matter or are at the same developmental level.  I think the Physics app needs to go to another file but my son likes it and I am hoping if he clicks into where it is he will use other apps that are on the same page.

We have also used the Mobile Home Store apps that were created by a father of a child with autism.  These app are language based and also address social situations.  Below are some of the apps that focus on language skills.  They have proven invaluable for teaching language skills and sentence structure.  My son like the Conversation Builder app that addresses social situations and is interactive with the learner allowing for them to record correct responses to social situations.  A kind of mini social story situation practice.  These are worth the price of the app.

I like the interactive story book apps.   Some of the apps read the text to the child, some do not.  My son struggles with reading and decoding.  He loves the books that read the story to him and allow for some interaction best.  Many times I have gotten apps for free on sights like Free App Friday, Free Apps or   I have found Facebook to be the best source or portal for groups and promotional deals from developers and reviewers of new apps.  I spent hours researching this subject when we 1st got ipads in 2012.  We soon had what we needed and I have slow down with researching new apps that are out there.  Thousands come out everyday.

We also use app for writing.  Text to speech and many Aug Com apps are out in a lite version that allow you to try them before your buy.  Even for neurotypcial children there are many tools and apps that encourage journaling, story telling and writing.  Here are some of our favorites for writing
I like the sequencing and story boarding of MyStories and Comic Life. Captions allows you to make your own story boards.  These help us with social situations and sequencing. We can print them up and make a hard copy poster or journal to prompt my son to do anything from getting dressed to doing chores to how to order food and ask directions.  We make picture directions for making breakfast and prompts to help with many house hold responsibilities.   I have also used these for my Mother who is struggling with old age memory loss. Picture schedules help me when I am rattled too from all the stress of my life.  I forget things too.  A bit like putting a sticky note on the door to remember something.  Still have not figured out how to prompt myself how to find my car at the grocery store.

We keep buying more apps occasionally.  I like problem solving apps and educational apps. 
We recently bought Social Stories Express which is fantastic for helping Conor navigate the ever confusing social situations, hidden social meanings  and nuances of teenage life.  

Here are some more random ones that we get.  I also like Evernote and Dropbox that allow for downloading files or PDF's.  I do much of my on line learning with MOOCs education on my ipad. We stream movies off of Itunes and Amazon too.  We listen to books out loud on Audible.  None of these apps or the ipad were covered by my State's voucher program. The program covers software but nothing from the ITunes store, This is due to the possible misuses of funds risk.  I am a Tax Payer too and am all behind the building of the integrity of a program like this that can not be abused.   The Ipad is an investment I am willing to provide and sacrifice for to help my son in his educational journey.  He is engaged by a computer, he self directs to this medium. Research is showing more and more how gaming can be a important tool in teaching kids.  Scratch teaches programing but is open ended in it's possibilities.  One of my educational super star heros is Mitch Resnick, who instructed a recent on line class I was luck enough to take part in last spring.  Here is more about his work.

Minecraft can be used to teach a plethora of lessons. Conor has created worlds, learned about sustainability, roads, hwys and infrastructure, transporting and power grids, rail roads and commerce, supply and demand and what it takes to make a community. These tools in gaming are keys to motivation and innovative problem solving skills.  Kids do not even know they are learning.  They are. If the game brings in a chat feature then they are also learning how to type communicate and resolve conflicts and bounce back form disappointments.  

How do you define learning?

Many apps use gaming to an advantage that a workbook or teacher cannot.  Whatever it takes to get us there and again you have to re-define what is learning?

 I have no idea why I have two Dr. Who Apps on this page.  My son is crazy about Dr. Who and somehow I ended up with duplicates of an app. 

I love geography apps. Gaming and playing with memorization works wonderfully with the subject of Geography.  Clicking and dragging, stacking, matching and gaming  countries is an excellent way to make learning fun.  We use Google Map and Google Earth for geography too.  Also a resource on line is National Geographic's web sight for kids. PBS Learning Media is also invaluable as a free source for researching and finding lessons and materials. You must sign up for the PBS Learning Media but once you do it is all aligned to state standards and common core guidelines for your own state's requirements. Last I looked PBSLM had over fifty years of PBS programs and around 35,000 entries of lesson and teaching resources, all free.   No apps but plenty of free resources and printable lessons and worksheets.

Another subject that I have found a wide range of apps for is chemistry.  Atoms HD teaches atomic elements by building your own atom, ion or isotope.  It is a lot of fun. 

There are many apps for vocabulary memorization of scientific concepts and of Periodic Table. Many of these can be used for children even though they are written for high school and college students.  Apps for all the sciences abound.  Botany, Zoology and Biology, just type in the subject you are looking for in the apps store.  

Finding NEW APPS

Another portal for finding apps and free promotional offers to get them is regular google searching for reviews on educational apps. Some of these tend to be very old.  I also use social media for finding reviews and the latest new apps coming out.  Free App Friday and Free Apps, both on Facebook have an excellent source of promotional deals.  Don't forget some of the Podcast and app that has 1000's of shows on every subject imaginable.  Search on education and special needs for shows on apps or demos and reviewers.  I also use Itunes University for free text books and resources to help me be a better teacher.

Friday, December 20, 2013

The Accidental Bystander's views on Waldorf education methods.

Being an artistic and creative person and seeing my child in that way too, I have gravitated to finding engaging materials that will develop these skills and encourage him to use his natural gift as an artist.  I knew very little about Waldorf education until 4 years ago.  I began by buying the book "Waldorf Education A Family Guide.
Rudolf Steiner was born in lower Austria in 1861.  Like Maria Montessori he saw the change of an agricultural or agrarian society transitioning into an industrial one.  A gifted son of a railroad official growing up in small peasant villages, Steiner ended up taking degrees in mathematics, physics and chemistry.   He later wrote a philosophical thesis for his doctorate.  He worked as a tutor, while studying, to a special needs child of a wealth Jewish family in Vienna.  He then took part in the rich cultural life of that city and is influenced by the Goethe scholar, Dr. Karl Julius Schroer.  Schroer is instrumental in getting Steiner the job of editing Goethe's scientific work for a new complete edition of Goethe's materials.  He spends seven years, by invitation, as a scholar at Weimar, the famous German city center of Central European culture and an archive for the writings of Schiller, Goethe and Schopenhauer.  Here he is surround by the scholars, artist, writers and great minds of central Europe. Weimar, Germany was one of the hubs of cultural and artistic figures at this time.

Steiner wrote prolifically at this time,  he lectures at Berlin Worker's Training school, but refuses to toe party line and soon after the turn of the century he is forced to drop out at this Marxist type school in Berlin.  His life begins to change dramatically at this point.  He begins to speak out publicly about his views on the inner faculties of the spiritual perceptions.  The impossibility of life concept began to be publicly spoke of now.

" n the spiritual domain, a new light upon the evolution of humanity was seeking to break through into the knowledge gained during the last third of the 19th century.  But the spiritual sleep caused by the materialistic interruptions in knowledge prevent any inkling of this, much less any awareness of it.  Thus the very time arrive, which ought to have developed in a spiritual direction of it's own nature, but which belied it's own nature - the time which began actually to bring about the impossibilities of life."         -Steiner

Steiner's spiritual awakening or rather his public speaking of his views on this subject changed the direction of the journey his life was taking.  He was a fascinating thinker and I could write a book just about him but I am wanting to move onto his educational method.

Educating the Spirit

It is hard to sum up all that Steiner contributed to here in his writings and life's work. The work of this man focuses on the individual, not just what the system of education forces the institution to address. The focus on our current education system is the adult's consciousness is pressed on the child in the name of academic achievement.
We all have a mission, a task and purpose, we need to be groomed in our evolution for ourselves and humanity. Here is a link to a documentary on Rudolf Steiner. 
Steiner Documentary

One of the things I learned in this excellent documentary was the connection Steiner made to a herbal vendor he met in Vienna during the time of his studies.  It seems it was a catalysis meet for him. Like so many moments in our life where by chance we meet a individual that helps of bring our lens into focus. I feel that the alchemist and seer that Steiner became from the scholar and research of the Vienna and Weimar days must have been an accumulation of the boy the man and the inner question.   I think the herb vendor did something to him, reaching him on some level. The non academic naturalist herb vendor gave Steiner a key to door he had forgotten about.

What drew me to this man's method was his views on educating the whole child. the education principles that respects all races, ethnic groups and religions, while finding a place for all the many cultures in it's curriculum. A world view that is taught to the child to help them arrive at their own place in the global community.  There is a deep respect for the individual in Waldorf education.  The child is seen as a human being, not just a brain you pour information into, but a being of will and feeling as well as intellect.  It 's goal is to ensure that education does not create a one side individual, who is incapable of emotional well being, who's nature as a feeling person is un-exercised and thwarted by a system that only focuses on rout memorization and blind obedience outcomes, is fully addressed.  The arts and practical skills curriculum educate the whole child in heart, brain and hand.

The Teacher as a Storyteller

While the main job of the teacher is a nurturing story teller and guide, the educator spends years with the child as they move through the seasons of education.  Each year is planned out to address the child's developmental milestones and broaden awareness of where and how they fit into their perceptive of the world.  The teacher spends much time in story telling and students are guided through creative differentiated lessons. This means a teacher must do hours of prep time and no child will be plopped down in front of work box book to do procedural math drills or even practice math skills.  The down side to this, some learners need procedural math practice. The artistic lesson in art are wonderful in my opinion but for our needs the story telling aspects  and my son's limits with auditory processing and languaging issues means he needs visual manipulatives.  The chalk board art aspect of Waldorf provides a visual model.  While this helps I know from my own experience that practical marketable skills in the arts are necessary to pay the rent and live.

Form Drawing

This is another favorite in our house.  Drawing out the geometerical shapes and learning the process of form drawing, shading, shaping and shadowing.  We spend hours with this and are thrilled to have wonderful books and resources to teach up fine arts and geometry in it's scared form.

Balance in the Real World

One must have balance.  Many Waldorf schools shun technology and even make parents sign agreements not to allow their children to watch TV or play video games. No way would this fly in my home.  Technology is here to stay and my child needs marketable skills to survive in a global community. We are not going to live in a cloistered nunnery.  We have to compete, like it or not in a global economy and since many children are become bullies from our brutalizing public education system, my son has to be able to navigate and survive living in their world too.  The key compromise for me here is to teach my son entrepreneurial marketable skills.  Yes be an artist, but realistically you must be tough and resilient and able to market yourself and thick skinned enough to survive, while sensitive enough to create.  Some of the more fervent Waldorf philosophies leave me wondering where will these kids go and how will they be prepared to live in our world.


There is also a musical piece to Waldorf where all students are made to play an instrument.  My son balks at this.  He has been in music therapy for seven years and grew to hate being forced to play or participate in any musical context.  I taught him the basics of piano and he can sight read at a beginning levels.  The thing is, he doesn't want to play an instrument right now so I will not make him.  He loves to sing and listen to music and to me that is enough.  I am a musician and have instruments all over our school room.  He is free to make music or not.  I will never force him either way.   He is a gifted singer with perfect pitch and total musical recall.  I would never jeopardize these gifts by forcing him to perform.  When he is ready the environment is there for him and I will be his greatest support and audience.  I hope he make use someday of his gifts.  Of course I still have days where I call him to the piano and make his practice what he knows like mother did to me.  It's always a balance of learn this skill because you will not be sorry some day and I do not want to do this today.   Music is a right and I do not want him to miss an opportunity to learn something that he is good at and is in his ability to master.  Wish I could find a way to lead him to wanting to learn this skill instead of resist it.

World History and the Myths

This is my son's favorite part of Waldorf education.  He loves the history and stories of myths.  I too love this component. There are also many themes that are seasonal and stories that we connect to that are part of this curriculum. Pinterest Waldorf ed pages have many ideas to help the homeschooler with ideas.  Here is my collection of Waldorf ideas on Pinterest.

Waldorf Manipulatives

Many of Waldorf materials can be made at home.  I love the natural plant dyed scarfs that younger kids can use for any kind of creative play.  I cannot afford many of these lovely natrual fiber and homemade items.  We make do.  We have bolts of old fabric we use for tent and fort building. Something we all love to do in this house anyway.  We do improvise more than traditional Waldorf allows for.  For example putting a bed's feathered comforter covering called a duvet on the bed and tying the opening around a large fan, turning the fan on so that we have an instant cave.

  We like to use tech to invent which is a not so Waldorfie.  I allow for this Mother of necessity force in Conor's creative play so it is all good in this house.  We use apps to create beautiful art from photos.  Conor did this one.

 We did try dry and wet felting with the needles but it was a disaster.  I love it but need more help to do it and right now I am over whelmed with teaching.  Hard to find the time to create.  Creativity comes and goes with me, so I am putting felting on the back burner for now. Conor isn't into dolls or making them, but he would be into creating anything from Dr Who tv show.  We have done some paper crafting of the T.A.R.D.I.S.   Conor hates for me to make him do projects.  I just put the stuff out and let him go. Again it is about balance, time and money.  Waldorf uses natrual materials, bee's wax crayons and modeling clay.  The things are costly. I do have a grant but it only buys curriculum and materials that the curriculum requires. Because of the contract I am limited on many of the materials a Wadorf classroom provides.
However we did make a math manipulative for multiplication that is pretty cool that I found on Pinterest. I found this to be something I needed my husbands help with. He did it all in a few minutes. I spent $1.73 on the materials. 
shown is skip counting by 3's

Vendors of Curriculm and Resources

I purchases Live Ed curriculum and Christopherus homeschool Resources.  Both are very good.  I personally like the Christopherus system better, it is easier to teach from and the vendors were much nicer to deal with.  The Live Ed person I spoke to was not easy to deal with.  I never have heard back from that company, they are suppose to contact you for some follow up instruction, it is on their web sight, it never happened.  Also it took them a long time to return my calls or respond to my request for them to sell me materials.  Then, when the guy did call me back he was curt and act as though he was doing me a favor by selling me, a lowly homeschooler his materials.  It was unpleasant to deal with him and when the materials came it clouded my perception of them for a long time, because of his attitude.  The materials are fine though, easiy to navigate and I like being able to compare one curriculum to the other.  Keep in mind that all these curriculums are something the educator reads and tell in story using the chalkboard or paper to draw examples. There is no handouts to practice or workbooks.
I have also bought Bearth digital materials, a hybrid of Waldorf Ed. I found that system a tangle of confusion to teach with.  The good part is you get for a family life time membership the complete all grades of training.  The bad news is it is, there is so much to wade through and sort out that for me, it renders the whole program a big mess.  The materials are decent and the creator brilliant but I cannot organize with her digital platform and support is not what I need or available when you need help figuring out how to organize the material. It would cost a small fortune to print up all the materials in the files we got from our membership.   I use bits and pieces and find everything useful and informative it just is difficult to find things digitally and navigate the Dropbox component and all the headaches of being forced to look on a computer when you love books.  It is a personal preference for me not to have to wade through digitally recorded materials.
Another system I checked out was Enki Homeschooling Ed. This also is a form of Waldorf but only goes up to 4th grade using the Live Ed curriculum and resources.  I felt it was high priced for what you got.  Comes with a Yahoo group and support on line. No one answered or followed up on any my questions of how to adapt or gear lessons for special needs learners.  

The Special Needs Child ACCEPTANCE and Waldorf Education

I am not really sure how Waldorf schools are with their special needs people.  I have seen this refusal to label children or accept labels in the alternative educational schools.  By refusing to label kids with learning disabilities or call a child on the spectrum autistic an educator can do some damage and set a tone for non-acceptance of all the shapes of people in our society.  Teachers need to observe and see.  You can not go into educating with a mind so full of learned facts you can not see what is happening each moment.  Autism does not go away because you are unable or unwilling to call it by it's name. I respect and tolerate educators who do not want to label children by any of the many and over diagnosis conditions that doctors slap on kids today.  However ADD, ADHD, SLD, PPD, ASD and OCD conditions do indeed exist and in my opinion you do a disservice to children by not getting them diagnosed as soon as possible, as this leads to getting them into the therapy and early intervention programs that can help them be all they can be while leading full and productive lives.  Ignoring a thing does not make it go away.  Refusing to call something by it's name and address the behaviors and issues is dangerous and dishonest.  It can also have life long effects on a child.  

I love the Waldorf Method and philosophy of education.  I think I love who Steiner was even more.  Fascinating how his minds in the 1800's came up with and created so much information in education, science and living arts.

Thursday, December 19, 2013

Homeschooling as the Accidental Bystander Geometry

Geometry scares me. The thought of teaching it horrifies. I have worked hard to get myself up to snuff. This summer I took a MOOC's course at Stanford called How We Learn Math. The class was taught by a charming woman Dr. Jo Boaler and was geared for educators. It focused on new research of how our brains learn math. It was all about transforming the mindset and math experience. Wow was that right up my alley. This coursed knocked down myths, changed my mindset, taught me to value mistake making as key to any process and empowered my intuitive organic feelings about the importance of conceptual learning.  One of the best languaging phrases I learned form this course was, "I am not good at math...YET!"  So take the course. It will be offered again.
Even though the course did not cover geometry, it did empower me that I can teach geometry.  I started with Montessori materials and the Zome Tools I mentioned before, all strong in concrete images. We are learning the nomenclature concepts of Geometry. Along the way I have picked up these books that serve as our text books for geometry addressing the way my son's brain is wired to learn it.  We use some Waldorf materials for math and geometry.  I like the way the Waldorf method incorporates art and specifically drawing into math.

 I had stumble upon Math by Hand the 1st year we homeschooled. Math by Hand a elementary Waldorf math curriculum where you buy a grade level and everything is included.  Conor loved it.  It covered form drawing of geometrical shapes and all kinds of movement based drills and patterning work.  It led me to investigate all the Waldorf curriculum which I will get into later with a page of it's own. The orange and purple booklets here were purchased at the the Randolph Steiner College, an online source of Waldorf materials. They are books that instruct the student on geometrical relationships and teach how to draw them with a compass and ruler. The biggest find here is the "A Beginner's Guide to Constructing the Universe".  This book has been a blessing for learning all sort of concepts and how they apply to nature and math.  I cannot stress enough the importance of concrete to abstract principles in learning for math and the brain.   I had bought the book years ago "The Kids' Whole Future Catalog".  My whole family loves it.  The engineers and the artist reach for it when they come over.  It is 30 something years old now but fun stuff can still be found between it's pages.  Geometery is more fun if you can take the conceptual ideas and see what people did with them.  Problem solvers solve problems.  Another resource we watch often is a documentary on NetFlix and You Tube about the inventor Jacque Fresco creator of the Venus Project.  Conor finds him inspirational.  Me too! Here's a link to what he is about.

I also have used the good old Montessori materials to teach Geometry. While some of the more traditional geometry experiences we all had in school are coming, further down the road, right now I am focusing on application and geometry as fun.  I want to create a strong foundation and positive mindset about the subject.
Euclid board before my husband fixed it.  As you can see the pieces did not fit as the materials came to us.  My engineering husband fixed it right up.

geometry cabinet

We also have worked with the triangle detective game and the geometry task cards by ETC Montessori.  These card have activities and experiments to teach the child all kinds of critical thinking skills and problem solving.  Again the focus is on play and experimenting.  Learning the difference between isosceles, equilateral and scalene triangles is so much more exciting when you can see the difference right in front of you.  When you can trace and create the concepts of inscribed, circumscribed, concentric, aligned, congruent and tangent in your math journal using temp plates it is just fun.

I am very grateful for our grant and living in a state that allows for us to buy these wonderful materials. Many of the materials the voucher program does not cover.  It is always a challenge to buy books and materials that are not covered by the State voucher program.  I use Amazon used books, shop at thrift stores and hit garage sales for children's books  I buy used equipment and resources whenever possible.  I shop around for the best deals and make many materials myself.  I also ask Grandparents and Aunties and Uncles for books and materials for our school.  We are blessed with a large family and many of our brothers and sisters are highly educated with no children of their own.  Uncle Dan and Auntie Lisa, both PhD's in engineering are so generous with gifts and take a genuine pleasure in seeing Conor learn and grow. My father and mother -in-law recently bought Conor all the Sir Cumference nonfiction books. 

These are so valuable and I am so thankful for them, and the lovely gifts Grandpa and Grandma gave us.  Also so many family members support us.  My Mom and Dad, Mike's Auntie Mary who is a math professor in Ohio, who has been a super encouraging mentor to bounce off ideas and give me counsel too.  Auntie Lisa and all the rest who just listen when I go on and on about what we are doing and bore everyone at the table with our lesson plan. Also I want to thank Liza Z. my friend and Montessori guru who has helped me so much as a mentor and Conor's and my teacher.  Also Laragene W. who always gives me so many ideas and inspiration and kickstarts me to think outside the box and embrace being vulnerable.  Another encouraging source is my Facebook friends who have been with me all the way building me up and keeping me focused.  So many people in my village who's shoulders I stand on to be where I am an educators. Thank you!

Accidental Bystander of Homeschooling - More Math

Pendulum make out of Knex and party favor disco balls

STEAM subjects  are my son's forte.  He is wild about Science Technology, Engineering, Arts, and Math.  I am always looking for more meaningful lessons to engage him and keep him on THE of path of life long learning.  Once of the resources that I found through my homeschooling group SelfDesign Global was a learning network that regularly holds conference on line and has a weekly educator virtual speaker of some kind. This group is called the Learning Revolution.  Here is the link.

Through this portal of educators I have found several groups to connect with.  The 1st organization I wish to talk about here is Moebius Noodle.  This organization is the project of Dr. Maria Droujkova and focuses on children's math.  Here is the link.

I also found the Maker Camp movement.  While we have not officially joined that movement my son makes things all the time and we are part of their Google + community and follow their web sight.
One of the student's projects that we got excited about was this model of a plant cell.  We see wonderful things form that movement on Pinterest too.

I recently took a short course with this group called Open Minds.  We broke into groups and worked on creating a small group of children and teaching some of the projects the moderators recommended.  Since my son has social and language issue, we do not have a pool of children to create a learning group of circle with.  We complete the task in our own family group.  We worked on Tiling and used Pentomino tiles and studied the work of M.C. Escher and his drawings of tessellating images and zero negative space. The class was only two weeks and the moderator and teacher will compile a book of her findings of the group and ideas which will be available soon.  Here is the link to that group and information on how to buy Julia Brodsky's new book.

We worked with the Pentomino tiles and then went out to driveway and drew tessellating geometrical shapes in chalk on the driveway.  Conor started with hexagons and then began finding the triangle shapes within the hexagon.  His drawing here is the end project that got messy but you can see he understood the concept of tessellation and went further with creating patterns with in patterns.


One of Conor's abilities is a amazing visual memory. Artistically he is able to see a shape and recreate it from memory.  I have created some projects to use that gift and also incorporated his artistic skills.  Really all I have to do is give Conor the materials and he does his own projects.  Here is a photo of how he found symmetry, using the reflection of the table, with his attribute tiles.

He also created studies on this concept with Iphoto on our MAC.  Conor enjoys make mandalas as well
and had made some recently with his attribute tiles.  I am always amazed at what he creates if I leave him alone and provide him with materials.


Another project in symmetry we have done is create origami sun catchers and snowflakes.

Wednesday, December 18, 2013

The Accidental Bystander of Homeschooling on Language

Teaching language and language arts to a person with language delays is a challenge.   I have tried many methods and curriculums. While I use the Montessori materials for language and sentence structure I have embraced many other tools to get the job done.  Reading comprehension is our number one challenge. Short term memory issue effect how a spelling lesson or vocabulary words are retained. I am constantly re-acess and tweaking what we do.  I have found that the Lindamood Bell materials are wonderful for our needs.  I use the Visualizing and Verbalizing Stories and workbooks by Nanci Bell.  This has to be the hardest thing we do and most labour intensive. While I know my son comprehends and understands information when given in a documentary form, he just has a difficult time answer the when, what, where, how and why questions.  He can retell a story and add to a story, create his own version and reflect on how if he were in the story he would help people but he struggles with how neural typical people assembles information with the what, when, where, why and how questions.  He does not need those points of reference to define what he thinks about the story.  It isn't part of his perspective.  He see the world in a different way.  Part of my redefining of what does education look like, for this learner, is do we need to make him think the way we do?  Can I not embrace his perspective and help him paint his vision out loud so I  and others can understand and share in his perceptive and see what he sees.  Wouldn't that be easier more humane than making him into to me or neuro-typical?  He comprehends but on his terms.  Anyway we still use this curriculum and also the Imagine That Stories Visualizing and Verbalizing materials.  He doesn't like it though and I am unsure of it's worth to him.   I also use the Seeing Stars workbooks and find them much better in kid appeal.  They are focus more on vocab and grammar.

I also use Montessori 3 part and 5 part cards for language and vocabulary tools.  We have them in in Botany, Geography and Biomes work.  Also Zoology and animal classification.   These non fiction cards are created to teach concepts, create vocabulary, aid in research and in general introduce and teach learners new subject matters by identifying, labeling, defining and match up the work to the label and definition.   They work great. My son likes them.  Many teachers do not like this work.  I do for our needs.  They are visual and engaging.  We also use the cards across all subjects. Animals to biomes, geography to botany and back again.

The Montessori Language materials are hard to organize without the costly colored boxes.  My 1st attempt at organizing them was a disaster and they are almost unusable as they are organized. My friend and Conor's mentor/teacher is coming over this holiday break to help me untangle the language cards and get them into a child user friendly order.   It is going to be a huge undertaking.

As you can see by the smiles Conor enjoys learning language and vocabulary this way so much more.  Beautiful pictures and labels with definitions is so much more user friendly than plowing thought the Nanci Bell materials.  I have recently bought more of these cards for science and geometry concepts. I think we can use them for a long time.  We have them for the 5 Great Lessons as well and my son loves them.

Augmentative Commmunication and Assistive Technology
Because of Conor's language delays and reciprocal language issues in 2011 we got him an aug com device with the software Touch Chat HD. We started off slow on this device but now uses it for almost all his writing work. He still struggles with communication but it is an issue of intent too.  He doesn't want to talk to much.  Touch Chat HD is an amazing program, with word prediction and plenty of room for extra buttons to personalize.  My son is verbal but he is unable to reciprocate language and struggles with creating any sort of language in writing.  He also doesn't really yearn to talk to much.  Like most autistic people if you find a subject he wants to talk about he will go on for hours. Ask him about Dr. Who and get ready for a long night.  Ask him what he did last night or wait for him to ask you what you did and it will never happen.  The aug com is invaluable for reminding him to do these things with prompts we program in to it.  As for writing Conor has a hard time writing anything from his imagination.  He can tell you a story but he can not form his thoughts into a sentence. With this device I can ask him to show me what the dog is doing and he can create a film on the dog's day.  He can also write a sentence with the Touch Chat software of what the dog is doing. The process of making something out of nothing on paper was so scrambled that for years we used poetry magnets to write with,  it was so limiting.  I used PECS or symbol cards to help us with sequencing activities and this also helped with language. We use symbols for language and it helped with the transition to aug com.  However he does know letters and sounds and blends.  We and the public schools system worked for years with him on decoded blends and sounding out letters. Mostly with Spaulding flash cards and the tenacity of his 4th grade teacher, who despite being overwhelmed from a new school and a large class did get him sounding out all the letters and blends. He still struggles with reading but decoding the sounds language makes and remembering them is a much easier process for him.  We now use the aug com device for all writing communication, it shares with email and Facebook.  We also use our aug com device for cueing us to What the 5 What, when, why, where and how's means. We have a section for OCD fears and coping skills cues, resetting behaviors cues, relaxation cues, social cues and all the examples of how to socialize.  He can refer back to these prompts when he is confused.  We record social stories and social skills role playing on this device too. It has buttons that you can record the prompts and cues on and he can pull these up when he needs to be reminded what to do. The device gets used everyday for many hours.  Because the software is on an Ipad he also has a portal to apps and the universe is still expanding in that realm and what it means to education and the special needs community.  I will do a post on apps he uses another day.  Here is a picture of the aug com screen.

Homeschooling as The Accidental Bystander

For three years now I have been homeschooling my special needs son. This is a blog of that journey.

In 2011 after working at a Public School and seeing how psychologically unhealthy the environment was and how woefully unprepared the system was to educate my son or prepare him for any kind of future other than a life time of being warehousing, I made the choice to pull my son out of of public education and home-school.

During the 1st months of our journey I was fortunate enough to stumble upon a article in the local newspaper that informed me about a new program my State's government had legislated where parents of special needs children could apply for a state scholarship, elect to take their child out of public education and receive 90% of the funding their child would bring to the district.  For me this was a no brainer.  I applied for the money and we were off and running into a new hybrid of homeschooling. The results of funding to buy curriculum has been life changing for my son and me. The scholarship is very limiting, in what I can purchase and the process of applying for the money and reporting somewhat convoluted but it allows me to buy curriculum and educational therapies for my son.

In the 1st year I began researching curriculum. After three years of relentless research I consider myself an expert on what is out there.  I find new products everyday but I am confident that I have done my homework and am using the best possible materials for my son's needs.

Mortensen Math

One of the major finds for me that 1st year was Mortensen's Math Curriculum Kit.  Let me back up.  I first found a educator on You Tube, Crewton Ramone's House of Math, who was using the Mortensen Math manipulatives and bought his kit. It came with videos of instruction on a web sight.  I found the instructions on this web sight difficult to follow.  The educator spoke very fast and often his camera angles were not satisfactory in showing the viewer the details needed in teaching the lesson.  While he was a excellent source of information I just needed more procedural work and opted to back track and buy some actual work books from the main source, Mortensen Math.  Both sources were very satisfactory and the visual learning of the manipulative changed both my son and my self's perspective on learning math.  The work books cover everything from arithmetic and multiplications, to problem solving, algebra and calculus at an elementary level. I purchased the first and second sets of levels of work books. There is no languaging with the workbooks.  It is all visual and numerical.  For our needs and my son's language delays it was very empowering for him to not have to read but just comprehend the language of math and do the work.  We are still using these materials and work books and have used them for 3 years. The manipulatives are wonderful and I have used them to teach everything from addition, subtraction, multiplication, division and algebra. I use other materials and procedural work as well now but this system has served as our base.  We come back to them and pull them out and it really is a mathematical play time.  They changed my mindset on how I feel about math.

Here is a link to Crewton Ramone showing what comes in the super kit that he is now bundling and selling from his sight.

Here is Crewton teaching his cute little boys.

I have in last two years purchased Montessori math materials.  The creator of Mortensen Math studied Montessori in Italy so the too methods compliment each other although the colors of the materials are different which can be a bit confusing.  We are so use to it now that it isn't and issue.
Factoring algebra  3x sq + 8x + 4=  

Montessori Math
I had worked for a short time in a Montessori school.  While the school I worked in was not the best example of the method and philosophy of Montessori it did bring me to a love and appreciation of the materials and a natural gravitation to the ideas of Maria Montessori's method.  After studying and reading on my own more, I decided to purchase some of the math materials and supplement our math work with Montessori's principles of education.  I purchased a few manuals/albums from Montessori Research and Development.  These gave me a firm base of lesson ideas as to how to teach lessons with the materials and how the manipulative materials worked.  It was a point of reference, but I quickly found out the manuals did not give many key points necessary to really educate my son.  I needed more experience and I needed a teacher.  I jumped right into a training program with a Montessori non accrediting North American group and purchased their manuals and educational program.  I found the manuals/albums very hard to follow, the instruction almost non existent and and the support deplorable.  While the manuals were beautiful, they did not help me teach and the program was costly.  I will not mention names, but they did refund my money for the course, when I complained and gave me a substantial discount on the manuals.  It was a very discouraging experience but I was thankful to get closer to my goal and redefine my needs.  I was also able to buy the materials that these albums required and my next step was to hire a teacher or mentor to teach me and my son how to master using the materials.  While I can use the materials with the instructions in the manuals, it does not replace the hands on teaching benefits of a certified and accredited Montessori teacher.  I found a wonderful teacher who comes to our house quarterly and instructs my son and mentors me in all things Montessori.  This has been invaluable.  She has shared her vast experience with me, teaching ways and means, helping me with my languaging in presenting lesson and just uncluttered some of the confusing that the generic albums I had bought from vendors were causing.
My favorite Montessori work the Bead cabinet and bead materials
Scope and Sequencing 
One of the biggest hurdles for me has been adapting the scope and sequence of any curriculum to fit the needs of my special needs son.  Montessori has a very precise plan of scope and sequencing for it's curriculum subjects.  While I respect the thought and expertise that goes into these plans of scope and sequencing, those writers do not know my child.  I am a firm believer in everyone needs an individual education plan, not just special needs learners.  I believe you MUST fit the scope and sequence to the learner not the learner to the scope and sequence.  The main reason I left public education was about this factor of grinding down learners to fit the plan and standard.  We need problem solvers and creative thinkers, so why is education so bent on making every learner follow the same plan of learning.  I value my son and his mind.  I have never limited him by his disability.  He is capable of living a full and productive life and contributing to our society.  His brain is wired differently, he is neurological diverse, not disabled and incapable.  He is able, but his intelligence is different than the norm, so I learned his language, studying how his brain works and adapt all lessons to his learning style.  This is time consuming and it would be hard for a educator with 25 or more students to do but I have a vested interest and life long connection to how, who and what my child will be.  I adapt the lesson to his needs. Along the way I have learned that we learn best from relationships. We learn best in a environment of love and nurturing and safety and we learn when we are engaged.  If we are stressed,  shamed or afraid learning is crushed and negative things are happening.  I believe some of the issues with our educational system here in America is the emotionally unhappy place schools have become for everyone involved. This being said, I have gravitated to projects and field's of interest he is passionate about.  I choose work he is interested in, and focusing on his strengths and bringing all the core subjects to that point of intent and interest.  In a nut shell if he is interested in snakes, we use snakes to teach. Write a report about them, research them, find out everything we can about their nature and then we can gear lesson's of language, math and even history around that interest. Snake word math problems, how many months do they hibernate? How many months does it take for their gestation?  How and what are the ancient myths of snakes and what is the relationship between them and us.  I look for all the "Teachable Moments" and focus on passion based learning, because it works. Another step in my journey to define learning for my child was to figure out how he best learns or absorbs information. It had studied the method of Multiple Intelligence and the ideas of R. Steiner on the four types of learners. Also I read Piaget and Montessori's writings on early education and how studied how the brain learns.  These studies have led me to some new directions in learning. All of these studies have helped me choose our path and find our way.

So back to Montessori.  I have bought most of the math and language and science materials that a Montessori class would have.  Here are some photo's of the Montessori materials in action.  My son loves them.  He says they help him understand.  I have created some of my own open ended math lessons using the Montessori materials.  I love how you can allow for a child to explore and find their own way with math manipulatives.   There is plasticity of neurological learning that happens when children are allowed to explore and make mistakes and figure out the right answers on their own without a teacher dictating the steps and direction of learning.  The dialectical reasoning that goes on between the ears of my son as he is problem solving and finding his own way and own answers is truly worth the effort of me letting go of control of the lesson and helps justify the costs of the materials.
The look of learning.

I purchased a 20 year old bead cabinet and beads this year form a school closing in Texas.

Snake game and bead squares.
With the Montessori math materials my son is able to see square roots, comprehend negative numbers, factor equivalent fractions and work on some higher level problem solving that I do not think he would have ever had learned in traditional education.  In my opinion schools get rid of manipulatives way to early in the math game of education and kids are forced to memorize facts that they often fail to understand.  It takes time to go from concrete to abstract and often in higher level math thinking a manipulative can mean the difference between success and failure in comprehension.
Fraction boxes
Alternative Education and Project Based Materials
My son's strengths are in the STEMS areas.  He loves Lego education for this and he has excelled at Mindstorm work.  I purchased some books from Amazon that were created by a graduate student in engineering in Germany named Laurens Valk.  They have taken Conor up to the next level of building and programing with the NXT robotics materials of Mindstorm.  He has learn so much with this project based material.  While it is not Montessori, I do think it fits into the method of Maria's ideal vision of creating a world where children are educated to be problem solvers, creative and altruist members of our society.  We have also used many different videos we have found to create simple machines, differential gears and anything that interest my son that he wants to learn.  Last spring I took an online course at MIT Media Lab on Learning Creative Learning.  This class which focused on MIT's Lifelong Kindergarten and was invaluable to me as an educator in thinking and redefining what is education and what is learning.
Working on a claw that grabs using a sensor.

One of the things I learned from the MIT course was another spiral of Bloom's Taxonomy for Thinking.  This spiral was Imagine----Create----Experiment----Share---Reflect---Imagine---
I prefer to think of it as a moebius strip of continuance rather than a pyramid or spiral that ends.
Here are some of the projects presented in the course which we have done.  We bought a Makey Makey and also have explored Scratch. More on those tools later. Here is a link to MIT's media lab and Lifelong Kindergarten projects.

We use a computer quite a bit to supplement learning because of the my son's auditory processing.  He loves Brain Pop, I love Discovery Streaming and PBS Learning Media.  All of these are fantastic resources for educational videos and lessons. Another tool in our chest for learning has been Minecraft. The educational value of this game is mind-blowing.  I am constantly impressed with the worth of this program and with what he creates with the game. In the last year we have joined a Homeschooling group on line, called SelfDesign Global and one of the benefits of this group of educators and families is they have their own Minecraft servers that have amazing educators leading kids in activities that hone creativity and teach the young people all kinds of valuable lessons.  This summer the group made the Roman Colosseum as a group project.  I will speak more about SelfDesign later. Here is Conor's version of Dr Who's T.A.R.D.I.S created Minecraft.

It is bigger on the inside.

SelfDesign Global

About the time that I was become very disenchanted with public education and looking for a way out, I attended a Human Right Event at ASU.  At this event was a presenter name Dr. Brent Cameron who 20 years ago started a school in B.C. Canada that focused on the child and a more democratic free schooling method.  You can find out more about Dr Cameron and his movement and schools here. 

This was just what I needed to send me on my way.  A group who had 20 years experience in a mentor based relationship learning method, geared to a person's passions.  It took me two more years to sign up with this group.  I embraced the concept of self directed passion based learning but wanted to do it our way. I also knew with my child's special learning needs that I needed to try out some curriculum and see what worked.  SelfDesign doesn't suggest any curriculum. They are a diverse and eclectic group of strong minded highly educated people and I knew before I joined that I had to have a clear idea what our needs were so that I was not manipulated by a group thinking factor. While it has some roots and shoots in the unschooling movement of alternative education, it is it own entity firmly rooted in it's own otherness  of a sub-culture of education.  Another hybrid of alternative education.  For me it will always be a balance of listening to any group, absorbing what they are recommending and then seeing my learner, studying his learning style, accessing his needs and adjusting to what he needs. Intuitive adaptation means the assessor needs to be here, in the room, not just on line.  A very valuable group none the less and I am grateful to have them as teachers for my son.  I just love our Learning Consultant, Michael Bender.  I have learned so much from him and he is a gifted teacher to my son and me.  What a blessing all the educators at SelfDesign have been to me and Conor in our journey, Monica, Jennifer and Brent with his vision of finding a better way.

Zome Tool
This last summer in my pursuit to find visual geometry manipulatives that we can be passionate about, I found a curriculum based method called Zome Tools.  The first time we pulled it out, I present Conor with a poster of the Platonic Solids and without any instruction from me or looking at any directions other than a poster of a picture of all the solids and different 13 semi regular (Archimedean) Truncated groups of shapes he made this.

 He later made this shape.  Again he used no directional or instructional aid. Just his vision and a poster above.  He has made many structures and spaceships, time machines and inventions since.  He is free to choose this work at any time.  We recently purchased the curriculum for it that will take him up to college level geometry work.  He is only a 12 year old boy and you can see it in all the photos I have of him crossing his eyes.

A Word On Professional Teachers

While I value all teachers and their expertise in their fields, I am the expert with my child.  Coming to this certainty has also been a journey in homeschooling. No group or outside person no matter how qualified, is going to be able to interpret my child's needs better than me.  I also have felt from many certified and accredited teachers, the underlining current or unspoken idea and sometimes spoken, that I am not as able as them to teach.  I find that the ones who think this way are really just protecting their profession and often the perspective is not based on my teaching ability, often they have never seen me teach, but their fear of being irrelevant in a movement that is replacing them with Moms.  I have to admit that while I am not certified as a teacher, I am highly skilled.  I have self-educated and I have studied, researched the subjects and I have a vested interested that no educator is going to have with my child.  Compared to what I saw in public education with raising 8 children, I rock as a teacher.  The ones who do not think I do, are the ones who are threatened by what I do.  I also get from many people that I must be some religious nut case who is homeschooling my child.  I am a very spiritual person, but I did not leave pubic education for religious reasons.  I left because I did not want how the public school's educators viewed and defined my child as, to be how he viewed and defined himself as.  For years I watched them basically warehouse him, babysitting and modify his behavior all the while calling this an education.  The public school system never expected him to learn and function in our society other than as a person with disabilities.  He is so much more that a person with autism.  I did not want how they choose to label him and value him as a non person or a substandard person to effect how he label and valued himself.  Because of his autism he brought the district each year a large amount money, I never saw what that money brought in his classroom.  Every year but one, he was given a new teacher who was new to the school, new to the district, new to special ed.  Often the class was bare for the 1st few months. No books, no materials, sometimes no desks. I was appalled whenever I visited the classroom to see most of the day was about standing in line and coping things off the board or learning hygienic lesson. Very little time spent learning the basics core subjects.  Often the aids were unskilled and leading the class. Many time I saw abuse.  Our school district had a non visiting policy and since I worked in the school I knew why.  The school my son attended was/is considered one of the best in the state for it's autism program.  I never saw anything that made me believe that statement was based on any collectable data.  Just because something is said over and over again doesn't make it true.  The principal of that school, at the time I left, also had a nasty habit of making fun of the schools special needs community.  I find that to be so offensive and telling of the state of our school system, that a leader of the community, the school's Principle and pillar of the school district makes fun of his special needs students.  I do not buy into the mindset that inclusion is how we needed to educate special needs children. Bulling is rampant in our schools and society, teachers are over worked, classroom crowded and budget reduced. In our society's natural pecking order the weak get targeted. Inclusion often results in children who are different kinds of learners getting left behind and lost in the cracks. Often they are bullied and in a non verbal autistic child's case they are an easy target. I was told by a mother of an autistic child who believed strongly in a one size fit all policy of inclusion for all special learners that autistic children in a special needs classroom had nothing to offer her child and normal kids do. I find that comment ableistic and insulting. It also tells me that she will only value her son as a person if she can make him over to be nuero-typical. That to her people on the spectrum have nothing to offer is wrong. We all have value and worth. I hope her son survives her crippled outlook on people who are differently abled and nuerolgically diversed. Acceptance is liberating. 
While I still believe there are great teachers I do not suffer fools gladly and just because people have degrees does not make them capable or even competent in their profession.   I focus on the good ones and try to learn from them. And there are many good and dedicated educators.  I do hold the bad ones accountable and believe we are going to have to hold education's feet to the fire if we are ever going to reform it.  My choice now is to not participate in a system where children are not honored and valued and where those young people have become merely statistics and data on a standardized test score.
"Until all the shapes of personhood are recognized as equal, human rights and justice are not possible." Amanda Baggs