## Tuesday, February 23, 2016

### Giving Students the Answer Key... Why Not?

This morning I sat sorting through the piles of paper on my coffee table, when I came across a little scrap I wrote to myself a few weeks ago. I had jotted down my homeschool goals -- five adjectives which I think should describe this homeschool experience with my children:
rich

educational

varied

stimulating

fun

So, now my question to myself is, am I meeting my goals? Is their experience all these things? Is mine?

One of the reasons I love homeschooling is for the intellectual stimulation. Sometimes being a stay-at-home mom makes you feel like you are living in a vacuum. I don't go out much and I don't know many people here, since I just moved to Illinois a little while ago. But when I am writing about curriculum, my mind still feels sharp. I feel happier and more alive.

Here's a philosophical curriculum question for you. I went to a conference years ago where the speaker suggested giving kids the answer key to their math practice questions each night. Yes, giving the answers along with the questions. Why? This initially seems counter-intuitive (maybe because so much of our public education system operates with a "gotcha" mentality) but it makes sense upon further reflection. He argued that having the answer key there helps kids see if they are solving the problems correctly. Instead of "practicing" the wrong way to do long division, and having the repetition drill it into their minds -- where you then have to un-teach before re-teaching -- students can immediately tell if they are having problems.

If math practice is for proficiency and mastery, not for "gotcha" and penalties, then why not provide the solutions?

I tried this with a challenging algebra assignment for Natalie. It was something I found on TpT which I liked: Linear Equations Matching. It provides review of the distributive property and it's much more challenging than our previous algebra review work: Matching Tables, Graphs, Verbal Descriptions, and Equations (also on TpT).

One quick aside: I like getting their weekly emails with links to middle and high school freebies, but I've learned not to try to cram in every new idea to my weekly plan each Monday morning when the email arrives ON TOP OF the things already written into my plan book. I now know to pencil in any lessons I want to use (one or two a week seem usable) into NEXT week's plan.

Anyway, I went over the first two with her on the chalkboard and then taped up the answer key and went about my business. She was surprised at first that I was giving her the answers but it really helped her to stay focused and motivated. After completing one set of matches on her own without looking, then checking and seeing she got it right, she went into the entry way to spread out her work on the floor, complete it, and then check in again. She didn't sit by it and "copy" the right answers. She used the strategy well.

So I would definitely recommend this idea to others! If you use it, let me know how it goes.

One more Natalie note. When we did our recent Short Story block I had her do a creative writing piece where she tried writing like an ethnographer (following reading and discussion of "The Lottery" by Shirley Jackson and Horace Miner's Body Ritual Among the Nacirema). I loved her piece and wanted to publish it here:

The Rituals that Occur While in the Sacred Moor Gninid

In the moor gninid shrine there are two main wooden objects of focus. The first one is a slab of bark on top of four logs at each corner. There are many of the second object surrounding the first. These are logs missing a quarter of the wood. The missing segments have not been found.

On the slab of bark is placed a big piece of fabric, traditionally used to cover piles of feathers which are used to sleep upon. The purpose of this has not been identified. The pattern and colors, size and shapes are different in each hut, depending on the size and shape of the slab of bark.

The shrine walls never look the same from hut to hut. They can be made of stone or wood which has been left in a natural state or covered with pretty paper or a thick colorful moving liquid called tniap. In the more wealthy huts the walls are then further covered with more pieces of paper spread at different intervals and heights, or pieces of wood with the middle section cut out and tniap put in in colorful designs to match or look like anything. Some huts even have srorrim in which magical gestures are done to see other natives.

Once a year the moor gninid is used in a sacred ritual for a certain native. They have special charms used in these sacred rituals that they light on fire. The native then must put the fire out without harming the charm. The charm is then divided and everyone present must eat it. The natives present for this ritual are always different and the ritual is always slightly different. Sometimes these rituals are not always performed in the moor gninid. A sacred headpiece is most commonly seen during this ritual, although not all natives include it. All natives perform this ritual differently.

Many different vessels are put on the fabric, depending on the time and the reason. Some are quite hot and cannot be touched with the hands.

When the sun has risen the natives visit the moor gninid. They visit multiple times each day. If they do not, it is believed they will cause a great deal of harm to their health. They must bathe their hands and face in holy water, then bend in half on the logs in the prescribed position, do a series of prescribed gestures, and then take potions and charms from the vessels. These are then inhaled through the nose before they are put into the mouth on magical wands. There are three main types of wands. Each has a different purpose and is believed to help the natives take the charms and potions. The natives must be of certain age to use the magical wands. Before this age they smear the potions and charms on their skin. They also commonly put many charms into their noses. Occasionally they may use their hands to put the charms into their mouths or have natives who are of age put the magic wands into their mouths for them. Underaged natives then bathe themselves in the moorhtab to clean off the powders and potions that they applied earlier in the moor gninid.

Sometimes the natives wear highly decorated outfits in the moor gninid during the evening ritual before going to the moorhtab and then to their piles of feathers.

Natalie will be 14 in a few weeks. Is she finding school rich, educational, varied, stimulating, and fun? I hope so!