Substantive Education

August 31, 2008


Filed under: Education,History — kbagdanov @ 5:09 am
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For those of you who would like to supplement your history studies with a fun addition you should check out Dig magazine. This is an exciting magazine exploring the world of archeology. Dig is published by Cobblestone which has a wide variety of terrific magazines for kids. Dig is geared for students ages 9-14 and can add new dimensions to your study of Ancient History.

If you are in my History class we will be taking orders in September to subscribe. A regular subscription is $33.95 for a year (9 issues), however if we have several people ordering together the cost goes down to $21 for the year. If you follow this link you can also check out how to order back issues, download quizzes, games, and teacher ideas. The following is a description of the magazine that I copied off the website.

Experience the thrill of archaeological discovery with DIG magazine! Explore the caverns of an ancient shipwreck or read what it feels like to discover a new tomb in China. DIG is packed with mummies, pyramids, dinosaurs, and more. Plus, DIG gives kids the latest news on archaeology—and explains how ancient ideas shape our world today. Each issue is filled with fascinating articles and photos that inspire kids’ imaginations. Plus DIG is fun. Chock-full of hands-on puzzles, games, and projects, DIG gets kids involved. Kids can decode an ancient language or make a 3000-year-old recipe, or send in their own art. Published with the Archaeological Institute of America, DIG lets young people share in the thrill of archaeological discovery while learning about the cultural, scientific, and architectural traits and beliefs of different societies. Recent developments in the field of archaeology form the magazine’s core subject matter. Each issue focuses on one theme, providing a broad understanding of the topic. Colorful graphics, photos, puzzles, games, and hands-on projects enhance cognitive and critical thinking skills.


August 24, 2008


Filed under: Family stuff — kbagdanov @ 10:27 pm

Hi all,

Just an update on why you haven’t heard from me and probably won’t for a bit.  We just rolled in from Oceanside, it’s Sunday afternoon, and have started the laundry that vacations always generate.  Caleb is also home from camp.  He spent the summer working on the Jr. High staff at Forest Home.  He and Levi move into Westmont next week and so my dining room is full of ‘stuff’.  You know, new notebooks, desk lamps, bedding, towels etc. as they start figuring out what to take and what to leave behind.  These few days always creates some chaos, and mixed with the ‘everyone arriving home’ chaos, well, it’s unorganized at best.  Exciting time, but unorganized.

We leave again for Santa Barbara on Wednesday and will be gone until Friday, so that only leaves a few days to unpack and regroup.  Caleb still needs to buy his computer etc. and we are spending Tuesday at Raging Waters…our Grace Prep traditional first day of school. Oceanside was a relaxing, lovely time, but we are back to our usual hectic schedule now. I’ll have more updates with school starting next week, but for now enjoy the end of your summer.

August 19, 2008


Filed under: Education,Geography,Homeschooling,Uncategorized — kbagdanov @ 4:29 pm
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We are in Oceanside for the week…well sort of.  Some lovely friends gave us a timeshare and our patio sits right on the beach.  It’s a beautiful, relaxing spot and I’m planning on spending the week working on some of my class preparation.  I’m feeling equally excited and overwhelmed at the number of classes we are doing next year.

So, as I was preparing for classes and watching the Olympics I was struck by several countries names that I couldn’t quite place in my head and I wondered if the maps I had worked with the last time I taught World Geography were outdated.  It’s a pretty good bet that they are.  Living in the U.S. it’s easy to be lulled into thinking that the world, at least in terms of geographic lines, is static and unchanging, when in actuality, history moves on and borders of countries continues to shift or change entirely.

Sometimes we equate education with knowing a lot of facts.  While there is obviously some truth to that and we do wish for our students to have a basic knowledge base, far more important is their ability to access the information they want when they need it.  Research skills are not often taught as a class, but maybe they should be.  With the internet research is so much easier, but even there students need to learn discernment.  Not all sites are reliable.

So, while I go back to my map searches (by the way the CIA posts great up to the minute maps) I’m going to be thinking about how to incorporate some research into my classes.

August 15, 2008

Caleb and Monet…Joseph and Picasso

Filed under: Art,Homeschooling — kbagdanov @ 3:58 am
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Caleb now

Caleb now

Joseph now

Joseph now

Art has been a part of our school life from the time the boys were toddlers, both producing art and enjoying works by others. I’m certainly not an expert, but I enjoy art and I think exposing our children to beauty always has rewards.

When they were young I collected postcards, calendars, posters, and books. I didn’t have a formal plan, we just enjoyed them. If they expressed an interest we might read up on a particular painter, but for the most part I just made the introductions and let them gravitate toward the works that spoke to them.

As time passed they became quite familiar with many different styles and time periods and could accurately identify and group paintings. We made it a game, putting out cards and seeing if they could pick out all the Van Goghs (Van Gogh is a good one to start with as his style is so distinct). Sometimes we would study a work and then turn it over and see how many details we could remember. While there was benefit to these games they were really just a tool to get where we were going.

As I said when speaking of Shakespeare, we have the privilege of introducing our children to genius. Van Gogh, Rembrandt, Michelangelo…they were all incredibly gifted men who were able to express their vision of the world in moving and beautiful ways.

Bringing a new perspective to everyday objects and a unique insight into the times they lived, we can, in a sense, enter into a conversation with them. It’s an amazing thought, your child can enter into a ‘dialog’ with some of the greatest minds and talents the world has known by thoughtfully contemplating and studying their work. At least these were the thoughts and hopes that went through my mind as I introduced these masterpieces to my kids.

Following the advice of Charlotte Mason I refrained from giving them a lot of information about a particular work and just let them experience it. They had their own thoughts, insights, and feelings about particular paintings. At some point, I might tell them a little about the artist and the world he lived in, not a long lecture, just enough information for them to gain a deeper understanding of what the circumstances were that surrounded a work.

For instance, Picasso’s work Guernica is moving and disturbing on it’s own. (More disturbing when you consider that the finished work was 11 feet tall and 25 feet long.) The lack of color, violent images were noted by my son Joe when he was probably 8. He had his own thoughts on the painting recognizing it as a work of Picasso and wanting to know what was wrong. (He had found many of Picasso’s other works sad, amusing, or funny, but this one felt different to him.) His understanding was deepened by just the little bit of background I gave him. Guernica was painted in protest of a vicious bombing of the city by the Nazi’s during the Spanish Civil War. A tour of the work brought this war to the world’s attention and has become a perpetual reminder of the tragedies of war.

Don’t worry, google any artist and you can get a brief history that will fill in some of these pertinent details for you. You don’t need to be an Art Historian to introduce your children to art…that is part of my point, you just make the introduction.

Back to the point. Joseph had his own experience with this painting, he interacted with it, came to his own conclusions, sought more information, and then went back to looking at the painting, picking out the anguished horse, disjointed people etc. He didn’t need a summary from me of what he should think and a nice stated objective to walk away from the ‘lesson’ with. If he were to look at the painting now he would probably notice different things and, with the additional years he has had to mature and learn more history, he would probably have a deeper understanding of Picasso’s mindset. In another 20 years his relationship with this painting will change again. Great works of art, (or literature) enrich our lives in a variety of ways and continue to speak to us throughout our lives.

When Caleb, my third son, was 10 or 11, we went on a field trip to the Norton Simon Museum. By then he knew most of the painters he would be seeing and began to wander…until he found this painting by Monet. We had moved on and I realized Caleb wasn’t with us so I went looking for him and found him still standing in front of this work. I asked if he wanted to come see the Rembrandt’s and he said, ‘No, if it’s okay, I’ll just stay here. I like this one.” He found a bench and sat in front of that one painting until it was time to leave. He was so relieved when I told him we could purchase a copy of the painting to take home. For whatever reason, at that time in his life, that painting spoke to his heart.

After these two experiences I appreciated even more that as educators we often need to get out of the way. We introduce our students to ideas, books, works of art, and then we step aside and trust them to take away from the experience what is appropriate for them.

This style of learning can be scary for those of us who associate ‘education’ with mastering a specific set of skills for each grade level. We have science standards, math standards, and reading standards. If you google most museums that cater to children and have educational tours you can get a list of which ‘standards’ their tours will meet. That day at the Norton Simon I had parents who were very concerned because Caleb didn’t ‘see’ everything.

I’m asking you to throw out the standards and let your child lead. Instead of giving information, ask questions. Get your children thinking and interacting on their own. If they are not used to this kind of learning at first they will be resistant…they have been trained to ‘give the right answer’ and will be hesitant to just offer an opinion.

But if your goal is children who are curious, independent thinkers then resist the impulse to wrap up every learning experience in a nice little package with a stated objective. I am not suggesting that you are not intentional about what you introduce or that there are not some specific facts you want them to learn. (We read biographies of the artist, tried out some of their techniques, put them onto timelines, and played the games I mentioned earlier). What I am suggesting is that within that framework there should always be room, lots of room, for them to think their own thoughts.

August 14, 2008

Charlotte Mason

Charlotte Mason was an educator in England around the turn of the century. Her philosophy of education has become quite popular with homeschoolers for good reason. She has a common sense approach that is both practical and inspiring. Respect for the minds and spirits of her students permeates her writing.

For many, her books seem unapproachable because of the old-fashioned and often difficult language. While I certainly wouldn’t want to discourage anyone from reading the originals (there really is no comparison, so much more material to mull over in the originals) there are several other books out that have explained her ideas, giving the basics in an easier to understand format.

Karen Andreola’s, Charlotte Mason Companion, Personal Reflections on The Gentle Art of Learning, is one such book. It is a refreshing, relaxed approach to teaching that emphasises good quality books and exposing your children to the best in every discipline.

Here is an excerpt from her book.

“Charlotte urges us to give children a regular feeding of ideas through sweeping tales of history, wonderful inventions and discoveries in science, lives of great men and women, stories that relate to the moral life as well as paintings, plays, Psalms, poems, symphonies, and everything else wonderful we can think of. She says these ideas are the children’s very breath of life. A child draws inspiration from the casual life around him. The thought of any of our poor words and ways being a daily influence on a child should make the best of us want to hold our breath. There is no way to escape, We are inspirers, whether we feel confident or not because, as Charlotte says, ‘about the child hangs, as the atmosphere around a planet, the thought environment he lives in. And here he derives those enduring ideas which express themselves as a life long kinship toward sordid or things lovely, things earthly or divine.’

These thoughts challenged me to be intentional about the ‘atmosphere’ in our home. I was challenged to rethink which of the books I offered my sons was ‘twaddle’ and which were ‘living’ books, able to reach their hearts and minds. I was challenged to see my children’s time as as valuable as my own, and to not waste it with pointless exercises and worksheets. This book encourages a complete paradigm shift for those of us who attended public, and most private, schools as children. (Although Charlotte Mason’s ideas were originally put to use in her ‘cottage’ schools in England.)

Beyond the philosophical underpinnings the book also offers highly practical ways to incorporate a rich thought life into your home. Here you will find practical ways to incorporate nature studies, history, and art into your daily life. Unlike many homeschool books, this one is not guilt inducing. There are no strict schedules or accelerated plans for academic success. Here the learning of your child is not a fragmented process, but a peaceful, joyous process of discovery.

Do not be deceived….just because this approach is ‘gentle’ compared to many others it draws the very best out of the child. They are truly learning and retaining what they learn because their minds are engaged. I have often heard my children say that we didn’t do much school work…or that they taught themselves in high school. That’s perfect. As younger children much of what we did they didn’t recognize as school, or learning, and as older children my role became more and more that of someone who makes introductions to authors or subjects and then lets them take it where they will. By the end of high school they owned their education and were more than capable of carrying on without me.

I’m sure I will have much more to say in the future about Charlotte Mason. She greatly influenced our homeschool years and I feel greatly indebted to her for her work and insights.

August 13, 2008

Governor and State Superintendent of Schools react to Court Ruling.

Filed under: Uncategorized — kbagdanov @ 3:19 am
Tags: ,

In light of the recent court ruling in California affirming the rights of parents to homeschool, these were the comments by California’s Governor and the State Superintendent of Schools.

Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger:

“This is a victory for California’s students, parents and education community. This decision confirms the right every California child has to a quality education and the right parents have to decide what is best for their children. I hope the ruling settles this matter for parents and homeschooled children once and for all in California, but assure them that we, as elected officials, will continue to defend parents’ rights.”

State Superintendent of Public Instruction Jack O’Connell:

“I am pleased that the courts have clarified the right of California parents to homeschool their children. I have respected the right of parents to make educational decisions they feel are in the best interest of their children. I recognize and understand the consternation that the earlier court ruling caused for many parents and associations involved in homeschooling. It is my hope that today’s ruling will allay many of those fears and resolve much of the confusion.”

August 12, 2008

Tim and Jessica’s First Apartment

Filed under: Family stuff — kbagdanov @ 5:48 pm
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For my family who visits my site…here is a pic of Tim and Jess outside their new abode. Jess has orientation on Wed. and starts her first year of law school on Monday. Not much time to unpack.

Fear is a Poor Motivator

Filed under: Homeschooling — kbagdanov @ 1:51 am
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I was at the Post Office the other day and got into an interesting conversation with the postal worker about homeschooling. (I was mailing out some newsletters.) Our conversation raised a point that I feel is worth mentioning here.

People homeschool for a multitude of reasons, not all of them good. As the director of a school group I field a lot of calls from parents who are exploring their educational options. I am always hesitant to encourage parents whose main motivation seems to be one of fear. While I am sympathetic to the concerns that parents have, fear is not a very good motivator.

Homeschooling is a demanding venture. You have to be willing to invest time, money, and yourself to do it well. Parents who do well are those who are working toward a goal. They are excited about the opportunities homeschooling offers for their families. They have chosen to homeschool for positive reasons.

There is a world of difference between that scenario and a parent who is afraid of their child moving on to, let’s say, the local Junior High. They haven’t chosen to homeschool, they have chosen not to send their child to school. I hope you can see the difference. Generally, parents who choose homeschooling primarily to avoid something in the school system quickly give up. Being frustrated with a teacher or afraid of the peer pressure your child might face may be legitimate and compelling concerns, but when faced with the day in, day out reality of schooling your own child they are generally not enough to keep you going.

Homeschooling is a lifestyle choice, it is a complete paradigm shift. When done well homeschooling is not just about the few hours of ‘school time’ each day. When you desire this change and can see the benefits for your family and children you have a reason to stick with it through the inevitable struggles. When your choice is based on a desire to leave the school system, as opposed to a desire to homeschool you have a shaky foundation. I would caution you to consider this carefully. It’s not that once you pull your child out there is no going back, but it’s not an ideal scenario.

I don’t offer these thoughts to discourage people from homeschooling, I think it’s a great option, but as you think of leaving the school system you need to not just consider what you will be leaving behind, but what you will be moving toward.

August 11, 2008

IMAX Movies

Filed under: Field Trips,Uncategorized — kbagdanov @ 4:47 pm
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For those of you taking classes with me in the Fall I just wanted to let you know about 2 movies that will be showing at the California Science Center’s IMAX Theatre. The movies will only be there until Sept. 7, so you need to make plans now if you want to see them.

I am thinking of going on Tuesday, Sept. 2, after classes end. That would put us after traffic (and coming home after traffic.) There are showings of the movies from 3:30 til 6:30. If you are there early the science exhibits in the center are free.

Tickets are available for a single movie. or a double feature. Tickets to one of the movies ranges from $8 for adults to 5.75 for students…$4.75 for children under 11. Tickets for 2 shows is $12.50, $9.50 and $8.50.

Let me know if you would want to go, if we have enough we might still be able to get group tickets…but it may be too late.

Here are links to information about the movies. Have a great end of the summer.

Movie Times

Why Teach Shakespeare?

In preparation for my class this year on Shakespeare (one of my favorites to teach) I’ve been doing some reading. One book that has been helpful in practical ways in organizing my lessons is Teaching Shakespeare, by Rex Gibson. Here is a summary on why we should continue to teach Shakespeare, even to young students. Much of the following is taken directly from the book, in some places I’ve just altered it enough to connect the ideas. If you want some creative and practical help with this topic you really should consider this book. (My class will have students from 4th grade thru high school all working together, it works surprisingly well and each time I teach it I’m surprised by the insights of some of the younger kids and that they will argue their position with students much older than they are.

The first reason to continue to teach Shakespeare is that
Shakespeare deals with familiar and abiding concerns. Shakespeare’s characters, stories and themes have been, and still are, a source of meaning and significance for every generation. For example, students will find the discussions between Juliet and her controlling father recognisable and familiar, and an excellent spur to discussing parent child relationships. In all of his plays the emotions expressed reach across the centuries; love, hate, awe, tenderness, anger, despair, jealousy, contempt, fear, courage, wonder. The plays raise questions of morality, politics, war, wealth, and death. Many of the plays explore the gap that exists between public appearance and private practice…a problem that is just as relevant today. As characters struggle with the interconnections between the individual and society students are forced to question their own moral choices and how much they, personally, are affected by our societal values, and our American culture.

Secondly, to study Shakespeare is to acquire all kinds of knowledge, not just the knowledge of the plot of another play. It might be an increased vocabulary, or an understanding of the Elizabethan stage. The Tempest can motivate students to research the colonisation of the Americas , or the growth of Renaissance science and literature. The history and Roman plays offer opportunities for developing different kinds of historical understanding.

Studying Shakespeare also allows an addition to knowledge as students explore human feelings in ways that give mental, physical and emotional realese, but in the safe condition of a classroom. Enacting Shakespeare can help students generate self-confidence and learn to confront and control their own emotions. It can lead to greater understanding and empathy. To express it less prosaically, Shakespeare develops the understanding of the heart.

Third, Shakespeare uses many different styles of language and plays all kinds of language games. His language provides students with rich models for study, imitation, and expressive personal re-creation. Shakespeare was fascinated by language and constantly explored and stretched it’s power and limitations. As students come to grips with the language in active explorations, they gain insight into the power of language and become enfranchised as readers, writers, speakers, listeners, and actors.

Fourth, and my personal favorite, education is about ‘opening doors’. It is concerned that individuals should not be imprisoned in a single point of view, confined solely to local knowledge and beliefs. Education shows that ‘there is a world elsewhere’ beyond the familiar and everyday. Shakespeare invites students to develop a deep acquaintance with those characters, to experience their extremes of emotion, to imaginatively inhabit their remote worlds, and to learn from those close encounters with otherness.

Every student is entitled to make the acquaintance of genius. Shakespeare remains a genius of outstanding significance in the development of English language, literature and drama. All students should have opportunities through practical experience, to make up their own minds about what Shakespeare might hold for them.

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