Going for the Gold(or Goal)


I’ve never been a good athlete, nor am I good at putting long term goals down on paper and then meeting the benchmarks which will ultimately get me to my destination. But when the desire is there, I will subconsciously search out my objective like an internal GPS. My six year dream to complete a college level math course may seem prosaic to most. However, I need that knowledge to confidently tutor higher level math students whom I have had to turn away. Although I got an A in college algebra years ago, high school math has changed. The courses are accelerated, and more advanced content has been introduced to the high school curriculum. By taking pre-calculus, I can fill those gaps. So four weeks ago, I began an online pre-university calculus course. So please excuse me for my absence on thelearningtutor; the exercises have consumed my brain power.

I’m still pursuing this goal – the course ends in September – but I’ve already overcome many obstacles- mainly financial. When I first considered returning to school, I thought I could do it inexpensively by auditing. I didn’t need another degree, but I quickly learned that the local university charged the same amount because an auditor takes up space. Then I checked into the online version and discovered that even though seating capacity was not an issue, the technological fees actually increased the cost over taking it in the classroom. So I set my dream aside.

But as dreams tend to do, it recurred. Maybe it was because I turned 50, or maybe it was because I had to turn away even more students this past year. In March, I once again explored options for taking a summer course, and I met more dead ends. The local technical college, a more economical choice, could not assure me that the class I needed would be offered. However, they wanted me to complete the application process, which would include transcripts from two different colleges, with its attendant fees. That didn’t make sense. I again considered the local university knowing the cost would be higher. In fact, about $1,100; fees like parking, activity, etc were nearly as much as tuition. Since I only needed one course, I was not eligible for any financial aid.

However, I decided to get creative and raise the funds. The cornerstone of my plan was to sell my diamond engagement ring (gasp!).  I assure my readers that I thought it over carefully and discussed it with Jim. I never wear my ring. In fact, it’s become loose on me so I’m afraid of it slipping off without my noticing. Finally, as a good friend pointed out, I don’t have a daughter to leave it to, so I would get more use out of liquidating it than letting it sit in a jewelry box. But when I researched this option, I learned that the diamond market was flooded, and my devalued ring, at most, would bring $600 if I could find a buyer. I still believed I could get the funds, and I completed the admission process, having faith that God would come through in a miraculous way.  As the date for summer session drew nearer, I had trouble registering for the class, and then I learned that the course was four hours, instead of three, increasing the cost $200.

Deciding God was telling me, “Not now,” I let go again. At this point, I got discouraged and began to think this would never happen. But I couldn’t stop talking about it, and I ended up telling the right person-a divine appointment? He informed me that I could take a free online course called a MOOC (Massive Open Online Course). I thought this was too good to be true, but after googling, I found a pre-university calculus course starting the next week!  Now for someone who wants a degree this will not help, but it is the perfect fit for me since I only need the knowledge.

Now, I spend my evenings doing math and rewatching lectures between students.  Just like the athletes preparing in Brazil, I have wondered many times if the effort and sacrifice of time is worth it. But I’m enjoying the challenge, and I’ll keep my eyes on the prize.


Writing During Summer Break


Most children consider anything associated with school – especially writing- off limits this time of year. When I was young, you couldn’t even find a sheet of notebook paper in our home from Memorial Day to Labor Day. You may be satisfied because your child is participating in the summer reading program, and you may be tempted to leave well enough alone. However, you realize how important writing is for communication. Plus, you know that the more your child practices, the less anxious he/she will be when the time comes to produce five or more page papers in high school and college. As one of my professors liked to say, “If you can write a good sentence, you can write a good paragraph. If you can write a good paragraph, you can write a good chapter.” You see where this is going? I’ve borrowed heavily  from the Bob Jones University ELA curriculum which I found to be logical and easy to use when I taught elementary level students. Use these ideas to get started and to make the process more palatable for your child.

  • Keep a journal – Your child can simply use it for keeping a daily record, or you can give him writing prompts. Be sure and check for complete sentences. When I taught history, I was appalled at the number of fragments in college level essays.
  • Send thank you notes – After an outing to a museum, park, historic home, etc. have your children write their own thank you notes to the staff. Be sure to give them some direction, such as describe three items or activities which interested you most. I used this activity many times with my fifth and sixth graders. After one field trip, my students were writing their notes, and one girl piped up, “This is fun and educational,” which was music to this teacher’s ear.
  • Draw pictures and caption them. In fact, have them draw pictures to add to thank yous and journals. If your child is at the preschool level, she can simply label the image for handwriting practice. For those just beginning to read and write, have them write a one or two sentence description.
  • Summarize books. As your child finishes each book, have them write a paragraph summary (increase paragraphs for advanced students). If they need help organizing their thoughts, use this graphic organizer created by This Reading Mama. In fact, their journal can consist entirely of book summaries. The process I use for my students is write a draft, skipping lines. Next day, revise the draft. By skipping lines, one can easily add in more details without cramping his/her writing. On the third day, proof for spelling and punctuation errors. Using a colored pencil for revisions and corrections will make them easier to see. Finally use neat handwriting to produce a final draft.
  • Get a pen pal. You may have to give your child a history lesson in pre- Facetime days. If they’re resistant to writing letters, suggest a correspondent, maybe a relative or someone they met on vacation. In fact, they may have to make more than one attempt to find someone to reciprocate. But the reward will be worth it. They will get their writing practice, expand their horizons, and look forward to mail call.
  • Collaborate on a project. This can be a fun way to include yourself and all your children, no matter their writing level. Here are some of the projects, my fifth and sixth graders enjoyed when I taught in a classroom. Compose a sense poem, a limerick, or even riddles. After visiting a historic site, work together on a fictional narrative, using the historic site as the setting. Create the characters together. Have each person add at least one historical detail. After discussing, each child can write the story in his/her own style.

Whichever suggestion you use, my final advice is to participate with them. If you want them to journal, then journal with them. While they write their thank you notes or letters, you write one also. You will be engaging your children and improving your own communication skills.

Which suggestions would you like to add?