Thursday, October 12, 2006

Tough decision on Election Day

On election day, we have a choice in Southwest Houston between Democrat Hubert Vo and Republican Talmadge Heflin. I'm a Christian, a homeschooler and a taxpayer. Those factors are the heaviest influences in my voting decisions. I don't want a representative who will take away my rights as a Christian to speak as Christ commanded. I don't want a representative who will take away my rights as a homeschooler. I don't want a representative who will spend my hard-earned tax money wastefully.

In 2004, Vo won by an extremely narrow margin - 29 votes (20,693 - Vo, 20,662 - Heflin). He did win, however, even after what I consider to be excessive recount requests by his opponent. So, I have watched his tenure over the last two years with interest.

He has changed requirements in schools that will adversely affect homeschoolers, requiring "students entering 9th grade in 2007 and later will be required to take four years of science and math." Students with no aptitude in science or math will be receiving lower grades as a result of this requirement. Regardless of the student's strengths, they will be forced to take courses that will be of no benefit during their life. Homeschoolers are opposed to this sort of legislation because it removes one of the main reasons we homeschool - to ensure our students obtain the best education in line with their strengths and weaknesses. The old line "You can't teach a pig to sing" applies here.

Vo also supports the rights of gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender people to marry. I received a phone call today from the Houston GLBT PAC supporting Vo for this reason. I'm sorry, but this violates the laws laid down by our Creator. Marriage is between one man and one woman. Will it hurt America to allow individuals to marry as they see fit? This is a path to destruction. Marriage is a sacred arrangement that has already suffered dearly at the hands of people who see it as a license for sex. Removing the barriers now in place on marriage will only remove the need for marriage at all.

Finally, Vo supported a property tax cap, but not an appraisal cap. When I moved into my house in 1999, it was appraised by the county at $92,000. In 2003 it was appraised at $132,000. That's a nearly 50% increase in only four years, and that amounts to a 50% tax increase over four years. Texas is already spending more money than it can obtain, and boldly claims that it has not raised the tax rate. I cannot support a legislator that will not actually limit the amount of taxes I pay.

Now, what about Talmadge Heflin? He is a conservative. Though some say he's out of touch with the district, I think he's the better of the two candidates.

He supports education, but not imposing arbitrary requirements on all students. He wants to see all students succeed, not only those with strong science and math aptitude. His record demonstrates that he is opposed to pouring more money into a system that is not working.

Heflin is dedicated to closing the border with Mexico. Few can see the major problems of thousands of criminals breaking into our country for a free ride. Heflin can see the problem. He is working to solve the problem.

And, he is working hard to lower the cap on property taxes and appraisals. Though it's a hard sell in a money-hungry state government, he does not want to be taxed out of his home any more than I do.

I will vote, again, for Talmadge Heflin in 2006. I pray that he will win this election, and take my concerns to the Capitol. If you are in Texas Representative District 149, please vote for Heflin as well.

Nobody asked me to write this. Nobody paid me anything to write this. I am doing this on my own free will, exercising my right to free speech as an American.

Tuesday, September 12, 2006

A Man, A Plan, A Lesson?

One of the first palindromes I ever learned - even before I learned what a palindrome was - was A Man, A Plan, A Canal, Panama. See a palindrome is spelled the same way backward and forward. The simplest palindromes are Mom, Dad and the perennial favorite wow! Yes, you can say it backward! WOW! But this rambling has nothing to do with palindromes.

I'm struggling again with my lessons. Getting the girls to focus and get things going right - and on some semblance of a schedule. My wife nailed the problem real quickly. She hid my 'lesson plan book'. I never noticed it was missing. Hmph! When I use the 'lesson plan book', lessons (and chores!) go very smoothly. Without it, I'm lost. But, I'm such a lousy organizer that I keep forgetting to use it! She threatened to staple it to my hand so I would not forget about it. Yeah, yeah - I get the hint.

Then I talk to other homeschoolers. They aren't organized. They just fly by the seat of their pants - and have kids that are entering college at age 13. How the heck do they do that? Well, I'm making entries in my 'lesson plan book'. I'm attempting to nail down what needs to be done, at what time, and how long it should take to do it. 15 minutes on time. 15 minutes on money. 30 minutes on math - whether she's done or not. 30 minutes to read whatever she wants. 30 minutes on American History. 20 minutes to read on science.

Well, I'm blogging when I should be planning. So, I'm outtahere. But here's another palindrome for you: race a toyota e-car!

Friday, September 08, 2006

Updates on Our Homeschooling Adventure!!!

Ok - we're about a week into Our New Homeschooling Adventure! We've sought different ways to learn stuff, especially writing. Because that's been a weak point with my oldest, I've found a strategy through an excellent book: Homeschooling Your Child Step-by-Step (click here to see it on Amazon) by Lauramaery Gold and Joan M. Zielinski. I checked it out from my local library and am seriously considering dropping $2 for it used from Amazon. There is an amazing wealth of information in that book, including many different strategies for teaching your kids. I'm still going through the book - rather slowly - and have decided to try a couple of writing-based learning strategies. I like the Concept Mapping and Learning through Writing. Right now, I'm using the two strategies together to work on writing.

Concept mapping is simply a brainstorming session. On a paper with no lines, write the central idea in the center of the paper. Now write as many words as you can think of that relate to the central idea around it. Don't worry about grouping, just write the words. Afterward, begin grouping the words by circling the words with different colors. This way you know which words are related. Now, sit down and begin to put them all together.

Learning through Writing - at least the way we're doing it right now - is taking the mapped concepts and putting them in order. I have to keep reminding her that she's writing to someone who has no idea what we're talking about. That's the only hard part.

OK - so we're working on new strategies. That means we're abandoning the traditional 'curriculum-based' education. It simply was not meeting our needs. She breezed through a year's curriculum too quickly. That means it was not challenging enough. Rather than wade through all the available curricula, we've decided to go with one of the other 99 strategies mentioned in the book. Yeah, traditional curriculum-based education was not the only way to go! Woohoo!

Since I'm a science nut, we're studying a lot of science. She's writing about crystals, air pressure (inflating and deflating balloons just by heating the air in a bottle!) and her new pet spider. It was so cool watching that spider eat the first cricket we dropped in its cage! But I think the second cricket is giving us more than we bargained for - I think it was laying eggs in the dirt in the spider's cage... That's all I need - a house full of crickets!

That's my oldest. She's seven and doing nearly all her work at a third-grade level. All her friends are in second-grade. That is a bit of a pressure problem, but we've told her just not to advertise it. She can still go to the same Sunday School classes as all of her friends.

My youngest is a bit harder to entertain. She's got to do everything her way. I'm still searching for the best way to hold her attention. But we're working our way through the alphabet and numbers. She's 3 years old, so I'm not expecting calculus just yet. I just enjoy reading to her.

More to come. My digital camera hasn't gotten any decent pictures of our spider or the battle between the spider and the cricket. I'm still working on how I'll get that done.

Wednesday, September 06, 2006

New Pet...

Oh, wow! We got us a new pet! A Wolf Spider! It got in the house, so I figured it wanted to stay. Pictures will be forthcoming...

The cat was chasing something and I thought it was another stinkin' roach. I moved the bag it ran under and - voila! A wolf spider! Woohoo! Now, for those of you who don't know, wolf spiders can be scary. In fact, when I worked for a pest control company, we got more calls for wolf spiders than any other pest. They look very dangerous, they're big and hairy (not as big as a tarantula), and they have wicked looking mouth parts. The first one that got into our house was about 3" from stem to stern. This one is about half that size.

So, I caught it with the intention of turning it loose outside. Then, I got the idea of looking it up on the web. Hmmm. Wolf spiders can live several years in captivity. Cool! So we started looking for a cage. We wound up buying one from a local exotic pet store for about 8 bucks. Feed it crickets for about a dime each. Put dirt in the cage, a cotton ball with water, and a rock for it to hide under, we're all set!

We brought the cage home and put the spider in it with a cricket. That cricket didn't stand a chance. It took about 30 minutes before it stopped twitching, though -- nature ain't pretty... But the girls watched it for about 10 minutes, giving me regular (about 15 second) updates as the cricket slowly died.

Now, I'm still researching this. I don't know if wolf spiders actually eat their prey or if they just suck the juice out of it. I can't seem to find that answer anywhere on the 'net, though I may be asking the wrong question. We also want to know if it's mature, and whether it's a boy or a girl. It's name is Wolfy.

We'll be posting updates. One writing assignment every week involves spider research until we've exhausted it. I'll post some of those writings (without corrections!) here.

I'm going to go watch our new pet! Adios!

Thursday, August 24, 2006

Pluto No Longer a Planet!

Wow! Everything I'd been taught about the solar system is wrong! Everything I taught my kids about the solar system is wrong! News from KTRK, around the world
Leading astronomers declared Thursday that Pluto is no longer a planet under historic new guidelines that downsize the solar system from nine planets to eight.

Here's my favorite quote:
"It could be argued that we are creating an umbrella called 'planet' under which the dwarf planets exist," she [Conference Leader Jocelyn Bell Burnell] said, drawing laughter by waving a stuffed Pluto of Walt Disney fame beneath a real umbrella.

pic of conference
Look closely: That's Ms. Burnell holding Pluto
Close-up of Pluto
Or this one from the San Francisco Chronicle:
Pluto was shafted by the world's astronomers today...

OK - so there are various mnemonic devices to remember the name of the planets. My favorite, that Ms. Vezain taught me in the fourth grade in Princeton, Illinois, was "My Very Educated Mother Just Served Us Nine Pickles". Now, it doesn't make sense to end it with "Nine" (unless you're a whacked-out Star Trek fan), so I decided to change it to "My Very Educated Mother Just Served Us Newts".

Well, anyway - throw out your astronomy textbooks. Or don't. My wife is wagering that they'll add it back in 20 years...

Tuesday, August 22, 2006

In Full Swing

Well, I'd wanted to wait until the end of August, but for some reason found myself today doing six hours of lessons. Though it didn't quite go as nicely as I'd liked (the power went out while we were researching New Mexico on the internet and the cable didn't come back until much later!), it was still a nice day.

We are writing a lot. I mean, a lot! We'd like to start my oldest on cursive before long. We write definitions from the dictionary, we write about various bible stories. This week, we're writing about the states that border Texas. Not detailed stuff, but basics - state bird, state frijole, etc.

The little one, still working on ABC books.

I read her three of these twice a day every day for a week, and she's starting to get it. She can recognize the letter "C" without really thinking about it.

Triumphs: Oldest is writing neater. Still working on sentence structure, but she's writing neater. She's also improved a great deal on her math over two weeks ago.
Youngest is starting to recognize letters when she sees them.

Pitfalls: Still no adult contact during the week...

Thursday, August 17, 2006

September Looms on the Horizon

Texas schools start this week. So we started a few weeks ago. Actually, we never really quit for the summer - just did 'light lessons'. I didn't want to lose any of the momentum we'd built up during the spring. But we did start ramping up on lessons for the month of August. We're up to four hours of lessons a day - from 8:00 to noon. By Labor Day, we should be up to six hours. We're having a problem keeping our focus after lunch...
Our cirriculum is gonna change. We need something that will keep her attention. Though she's seven, she's working at a third-grade level. Might've been fourth-grade if Daddy hadn't fallen so far behind the curve. She gets bored with the standard lessons so easily. I mean, it took her less than five minutes to work through her Language Arts stuff on prefixes and suffixes.
Writing is our biggest hurdle right now. The 'Big Chief' type of lined tablet really didn't work - she writes smaller than the lines. So, we got a regular lined spiral notebook. She's writing better with it. We have two writing assignments every day. One is to write the bible story in her words - not the NIV's. The other is to copy a definition directly out of the dictionary.
Math is another hurdle. She can add and subtract really well, but she hasn't memorized her tables. I've been wanting to stop and work on the tables, but I lose her. So, we're gonna do five-minute drills every day. Flash cards or on paper - we're gonna do it. And, we'll continue on in the math book. It's coming up to multiplication soon. Our math book is "Math 3 for Christian Schools" from Bob Jones University Press.
We've got an awesome American History book that she loves to read. But it has word puzzles with every assignment (crossword, word-find, etc.) and she hates those. I guess I need to find another way to ask the questions. The title of the book is "The Complete Book of American Facts & Games" by American Education Publishing. We picked it up at Sam's for $5.70.
I don't think the science class is going to happen. As much as I wanted to do it, I'm not prepared for it. I'll wait a year. My kids are going to continue to learn about science. For neat science stuff, there's lots of stuff on the web - we like NASA and various university websites. USGS (US Geologic Survey) has a
really cool kid's section, as well!

OK - as we progress, triumphs and obstacles will be posted. I want feedback. Cheer with me as we attain goals! Help us overcome these obstacles!