This year I taught a high school junior and sophomore, and a sixth grader.
My high schoolers took some online AP classes through Pennsylvania Homeschoolers (sophomore: Biology; junior: BC Calculus and Physics C.) My sophomore used Teaching Texbooks for precalculus. My sophomore met weekly online with a Spanish tutor from Celas Maya (a language school we used in Guatemala.) I taught AP US Government and Politics (fall), AP Comparative Politics (spring), and Literature at home.
For AP US Government and Politics, we used Barbour and Wright’s Keeping the Republic as our spine, reading the whole text over the the fall semester. We read directly from Common Sense (Paine), the U.S. Constitution, the Federalist Papers, and William H. Rehnquist’s memoir, The Supreme Court. I based by lesson plans on the materials available at the College Board site for the class. The course guides are comprehensive. I like the Barron AP Review books. 2019 was a fantastic year to be studying the Constitution- it seemed there was a Constitutional crisis almost weekly, which gave us lots of fodder for discussion. There were also really interesting cases up before the Supreme Court, and we spent a good amount of time on prior cases and precedents. Because of the pandemic, the exams were changed from the normal format to an FRQ-only online exam, and the Supreme Court question was scrapped from the exam. At least this was announced before we started reviewing in earnest, and I had time to refocus our studying toward the Constitution more than the Supreme Court.
We also made a trip to Washington, D.C., in October. Highlights included a tour of the Capitol with our Senator’s office (arranged months in advance), the National Portrait Gallery, walking around the monuments and the woman suffrage exhibit at the Library of Congress.
For AP Comparative Government and Politics, again I used the AP site to design our curriculum. We used Ethel Wood’s AP Comparative Government and Politics as a spine and supplemented with my dad’s subscription to The Economist. The countries assigned by the College Board for the Spring 2020 exam were Nigeria, Russia, China, the UK, Iran and Mexico, and there was so much interesting material to discuss every day. Barron’s review book was very helpful. Again, the course material covered on the exam was truncated in recognition of the difficulties caused by the pandemic. The College Board gave students the opportunity to defer their exam until 2021, but my kids both opted to take it.
For our American Literature class, we started with some short stories and worked through the books Annotating Literary Elements from Rooted in Language and Strunk and White’s Elements of Style. Then we began with novels:
- The Hate U Give (Angie Thomas)
- Give Me Some Truth (Eric Gansworth)
- The Porcupine of Truth (Bill Konigsburg)
- The Joy Luck Club (Amy Tan)
- Code Name Verity (Elizabeth Wein)
- half of To Kill a Mockingbird (Harper Lee)
I had lots of other great books on my list, but this is where the pandemic hit us hard. I wasn’t accountable to any sort of exam at the end, so when March hit and everyone wanted to crawl into a hole, I encouraged everyone to read whatever they wanted, and we mostly talked about poetry. In May, after the AP exams, we allowed a neighbor whose online school wasn’t working for her to FaceTime into our literature discussion. It was good to have a different face, but I couldn’t quite manage to find our groove again.
For sixth grade the most important subject on MY list was Susan Barton’s Reading and Spelling System. (This is a multisensory system designed to help folks living with dyslexia to hear the sounds in the words they’re reading and spelling.) My student could handle only 10-15 minutes a day (and sometimes not even that,) but little by little, 10 minutes a day, four days a week added up.
The most important subject on her list was her environmental activism. We started protesting weekly at the state Capitol in January and continued until the legislators were sent home. Then her protesting moved online. Some kind worker at the Colorado Department of Fish and Wildlife (here’s looking at you, Jessie!) stopped to talk to us once after we’d been going for around 6 weeks and suggested my 6th grader check out Colorado 350. We attended one in-person meeting before everything was shut down, and the organization welcomed my student with open arms. Because of the pandemic-induced shift online, my student was able to get involved to a degree that would have been unthinkable had it involved my driving her to meetings. Through her volunteering, we have met some fantastic people who share her passion for the environment. She has learned how to navigate webinars. She has learned enormous amounts about fossil fuels, alternative energy, Excel spreadsheets, and community organizing.
For math, we finished up Singapore Primary 6A and B. I really liked the Singapore series because of its focus on problem solving and how my kids were able to do so much of it independently.
Instead of formal history this year, we studied how the government works at the federal, state and local levels. Our Washington, D.C., trip and her social activism were key launching pads for discussions.
For literature, we used a combination of audiobooks, books I read aloud, and books she read independently:
- The Third Mushroom (Holm)
- the Danny Dragonbreath series (Vernon)
- The Vanderbeekers on 141st Street and The Vanderbeekers and the Hidden Garden (Glaser)
- Who Was Madame Curie (Stine)
- My Side of the Mountain (George)
- Mrs. Frisby and the Rats of NIMH (O’Brien)
- the Percy Jackson series (Riordan)
- Paddington (Bond)
- Mac Undercover (and the whole Mac B, Kid Spy series by Mac Barnett and Mike Lowery)
- Code Girls (Mundy)
- I’d Tell You I Love You, But I’d Have to Kill You (and the rest of the Gallagher Girls series by Ally Carter)
For Botany (her science) we spent a lot of time in the garden and at the Denver Botanic Gardens. For Picture study we started strong with field trips to the special exhibits at the Denver Art Museum, but these ended with the pandemic as well. For Spanish, we used Duolingo, but the writing piece of this (and of Rosetta Stone) is really challenging for a student with dyslexia. I wish there were a way to turn off the spelling component.
I’m also counting the non-tangible pandemic-associated learning we acquired this year. Topics included:
- perseverance in the face of uncertainty
- dealing with disappointment
- readjusting expectations
- coping with frustration