Homeschooling – Level 2

Hello, kind reader, and welcome back. Last we left our little homeschooler, he was still experimenting with various elements and media, lets see how things have panned out for him thus far in Grade 7.

Our original aim was to do something in the vein of Unschooling but Grant asked for just a bit more structure, especially in helping him plan out his day. This seems understandable after 7 years of typical public schooling and the rigid schedules which come with it. His day typically involves a lot of art, a bit of yoga, as much outside play time as we can manage as weather permits, a student driven path through virtually everything Crash Course has to offer and a modest amount of programming/computer science. We mix in a bit of math, lots of reading (permitted that we have found a good book), occasional creative writing and of course whatever comes up as an unexpected opportunity.

I really want to point out though that even aside from the flexible curriculum, its the incredibly flexible scheduling and knowing he is safe at home that has been one of the unexpected but huge bonuses Mrs. PPG has pointed out. In a time where I suspect all parents feel some anxiety about sending their kids out into the public in troubling situation (amid the COVID-19 outbreaks and seemingly endless gun violence, for example), it is a relief to know we can just keep up our normal routines. Business as usual for the Plant Powered Gamers! Of course we have never really gotten into any homeschool groups, so while some may be missing that it was never really in the cards for us anyway. Power on introverts everywhere!

First, let us dive into the programming, as this was one of our primary reasons to begin homeschooling. I mentioned last year that we were toying with both Game Maker Studio 2 and Construct 2. Grant decided that GMS 2 was a bit too code-heavy at the time, and had leaned toward Construct 2. We even upgraded to Construct 3 so that he can work from his laptop when we are away. Construct 3 has some really huge advantages and can be really wonderful at times. As it is a “visual scripting” language, however, when things aren’t working as they look like they should, it can be really infuriating to try to tweak various elements of the “code blocks” to try and get it working right. In a recent incident, Grant was stuck at a spot because of a weird bug – an enemy he created would move on some surfaces but not others, and we could not figure out why! These kinds of bugs, while typical of programming, are just frustrating on a different level when you cannot actually see where the coding error is. We concluded that this will hopefully get better with time and familiarity with the system, but this remains to be seen. Recently he was able to find an abondonware version of Game Maker in version 1. The Mega Mix Engine is actually coded in this and thus he has a working framework that he can open up and look at the code for various objects. When he started doing this and using it as a code-learning tool I felt like we were on a better path. This is his current game engine of choice and he has actually coded several new enemies/NPCs and has crafted loads of new tiles/sprites for use in the graphics. It is always a pleasure to see what he has crafted of late and to see his daily progress. An added bonus, I am generally his privileged “alpha tester” which is really a blast. I hope to some day integrate some computer science, courtesy of Khan Academy, though at this time he does not seem quite ready for it.

I have been looking into GODOT, myself, and while it may bear some of the problems of GMS2, I found it much cleaner in terms of language and as a huge bonus, it is free and open source. Grant has shown interest in that as he has watched my progress and hopefully I can be more helpful with it as it is more similar to actual line-coding with which I am more familiar (it is very similar in syntax to Python). We will see how that plays out as the year rolls on.

Reading took a huge upswing this year as Grant discovered Dungeons & Dragons and I introduced him to the Novels by R. A. Salvatore involving Drizzt and his crew. It was a slow sell, at first, but there seemed to be a lightbulb moment for Grant as he decided “wow, I like these books” and he has really moved through the rather hefty books with astonishing speed. As far as I was concerned, I was just glad he was reading again, but certainly those books played a huge roll in getting me into reading as a teenager as well. The connection with D&D cannot be left out, either, as that kind of creative play is just hard to match. Can you list that as “creative problem solving”? Maybe “logic”. I don’t really list it as an actual “school thing” in my log books, but I absolutely know it is good for him and educational in a unique way. Heck, he is matching wits with a group of my adult friends, and solving the same puzzles and dilemmas we face, while learning to think tactically as well as creatively developing his character. It is fun, too, and that cannot be underestimated.

Language, sadly, has fallen from the radar at the moment. We made some headway with Japanese, but as we worked with programming languages, it became obvious that we were already pretty much working with a pseudo-foreign language, so we dropped that down to once a week or less, really just to maintain our progress. We mostly just mix the phrases he is really familiar with into everyday life so they stick. Plus some of them work as inside jokes for us.

Writing has veered into a strange place, but there is still a lot of that going on. He was losing interest in writing here and wanted to do his own thing. He has a few articles written that he posted to forums and places of interest of his own. He did several instructional documents for Mega Man Maker, the Mega Mix Engine and level design concepts in general. He was appointed as a judge for a Mega Man Maker group and gets to write up level reviews for that, too. The thing about this that I love the most is that he seeks out and finds opportunities to write on his own, without my assistance, though occasionally asking my opinion. This is really what we are aiming for as teachers anyway, which is encouraging students to be independent and self-directed learners.

Returning to the Crash Course videos that we use, I must say this has been a brilliant tool for us. These courses vary in terms of how deeply they delve into each subject, but in general Grant is willing to follow them as far as they go. This has been great at helping us narrow the areas of interest he has, especially in regards to science and history. He has followed some that I would never have thought of assigning, too, especially regarding the art of film and history of theater and cinema. His choices for this year has been a lengthy introduction to psychology, which then led us to philosophy and later ecology. After a short break we took a hard turn and ended up in astronomy which has rekindled his interest in physics. We have had some really fun and interesting conversations about all of this and I am amazed at his retention, especially of the things he finds interesting. Dinner conversation is rarely dull these days, divided between the game he is developing and the weird physics of black holes and space.

I am still trying to stir up some interest in botany, gardening and just plants in general. Some of the issue is that I am a novice in this area myself, but what better time to jump in and learn with me. Usually Grant makes his way to his swing, plays with Cricket or wanders down one of our hiking trails instead of helping with the planting, but then I am still quite happy just to have his company outside anyway. Our new place is still quite new to him in any case and there is still lots to explore. We have done a bit of work clearing new trails and cleaning old ones that had grown up as well, but in the end any time we can spend outside is considered a win to us.

Math is such a strange subject for us. Grant is good at it and is reasonably easy to teach in this regard but he doesn’t enjoy it at all. We tried using Dragonbox Algebra, which I thought was a fairly fun puzzle game that teaches algebraic principles, but he did not care for it. This is understandable as I am the puzzle-gamer in the family and they really are not “his thing”. We still lean heavily on Khan Academy for this, and it works fine though he does still find it a bit dull. I do wish I could find a way to make it all more practical, but coming up with clever logic puzzles every day becomes unsustainable. I’ve managed a few clever pieces but no more than a dozen over the course of the whole year. If any other homeschoolers out there are reading this and have any advice here I would love to hear/read it.

From here we will see how the year goes. Perhaps I will update again with any interesting developments, break-throughs or progress. In the meantime, do any of our kind readers homeschool by chance? What tools and methods have all of you found useful? Please feel free to share recommendations and insights! And as always..

Grow Strong. Game On.

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