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x-post: "Algebra for Parents" online course


Guest Michael Weiss
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Guest Michael Weiss

My employer, the School of Education and Human Services at Oakland University, is currently considering (at my urging) offering one or more online courses for parents of secondary school-aged children. Our target audience is homeschooling parents, but others are welcome as well. We plan to offer, as our pilot offering, "Algebra for Parents". If that is successful, we would look into expanding to a larger menu of courses.

 

The main idea behind these classes would be to help parents shore up their content knowledge, with a secondary focus on the pedagogy of home-based education. These would be not-for-credit courses run through our professional development program; we are framing this as "Professional Development for Homeschool Teachers".

 

I know that Ed Schools are not very popular with some, and PD in math ed has a pretty poor reputation for being superficial and light on content (often, unfortunately, completely deserved). And I know first-hand that many homeschoolers are skeptical about getting entangled with institutions. But I have pretty high hopes for this venture. For one thing, I'll be teaching the course, and I have complete creative control over what gets done. For another thing, I myself am the parent of five home-educated & unschooled children, all of whom learn quite differently, so you can count on an atmosphere that is open to a wide range of approaches.

 

All the details of format and pricing are still being worked out, but right now I am thinking that the class will run in six-week sessions. Each week we will meet once for a single two-hour, real-time webinar (ugh, hate that word), with the rest of the week filled out with individual work and forum discussion. Figure total involvement at anywhere from 2-6 hours per week, depending on how much you want to engage with the work.

 

Right now are still in the process of gauging interest and playing with possible formats. I would be really interested in what people on this forum think. Would you be interested in taking (and paying for) a class like this? Does the format and focus sound right for you, or are there other things we should consider?

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My employer, the School of Education and Human Services at Oakland University, is currently considering (at my urging) offering one or more online courses for parents of secondary school-aged children. Our target audience is homeschooling parents, but others are welcome as well. We plan to offer, as our pilot offering, "Algebra for Parents". If that is successful, we would look into expanding to a larger menu of courses.

 

The main idea behind these classes would be to help parents shore up their content knowledge, with a secondary focus on the pedagogy of home-based education. These would be not-for-credit courses run through our professional development program; we are framing this as "Professional Development for Homeschool Teachers".

 

I know that Ed Schools are not very popular with some, and PD in math ed has a pretty poor reputation for being superficial and light on content (often, unfortunately, completely deserved). And I know first-hand that many homeschoolers are skeptical about getting entangled with institutions. But I have pretty high hopes for this venture. For one thing, I'll be teaching the course, and I have complete creative control over what gets done. For another thing, I myself am the parent of five home-educated & unschooled children, all of whom learn quite differently, so you can count on an atmosphere that is open to a wide range of approaches.

 

All the details of format and pricing are still being worked out, but right now I am thinking that the class will run in six-week sessions. Each week we will meet once for a single two-hour, real-time webinar (ugh, hate that word), with the rest of the week filled out with individual work and forum discussion. Figure total involvement at anywhere from 2-6 hours per week, depending on how much you want to engage with the work.

 

Right now are still in the process of gauging interest and playing with possible formats. I would be really interested in what people on this forum think. Would you be interested in taking (and paying for) a class like this? Does the format and focus sound right for you, or are there other things we should consider?

 

Given the free (Khan Academy, Alcumus, library books like the math series from Danica McKellar) or prepaid (working ahead in the algebra books my kids are already using) options that I have, it would be something of a hard sell to pay much for a course. At least for me.

 

Advantages of a course would be interaction with an instructor who could answer specific questions. And I suppose the feeling that I was obligated to sit down and do the coursework, since I'd paid for it.

 

Disadvantages would include the cost (especially the opportunity cost), time committment, obligation for a specific time slot (ie, the class is not asynchronous) and the fact that I would have to keep to the pace of the group or the syllabus, which might not correspond to areas I want help in. Time zone differences would also play into this. A course offered at 6pm in Oakland would be starting at 9pm on the East Coast. ETA: I see that Oakland U is not in CA. So the time zone issue would be softened a bit. Sorry for the mistake.

 

I love the idea of support for parents who are teaching their kids or who just want to be able to help their kids with homework. I am more than a little leery of a school of education labeling anything as "professional development for homeschoolers", with the implication that the stamp of approval of an education school is a requirement for successful homeschooling. I would be much more interested in something that proposed to equip parents in general than seemed to imply they were setting standards for adequacy among homeschoolers.

 

I completed my MS Ed long before starting to homeschool. While my math methods course was one of my favorites, it did little to prepare me for the day to day realities of homeschooling, which has much more in common with tutoring than with classroom work.

 

I just reread your post and noticed that you have experience with homeschooling. You probably would bring a lot of personal been there done that experience to the table. But in general I have to question how much theoretical overlap there is between educators in a school of education, focused on classroom realities, and homeschooling. Many classroom resources are less effective when group work is not an option or are frankly just not available to us (see any thread about trying to obtain instructor guides from publishers like Norton or Pearson). And many homeschool favorites are beyond the ken of many classroom veterans.

 

I think that it is a wonderful idea to provide a way for parents to better equip themselves to teach or guide their kids through more advanced math. But the idea of an ed school providing "professional development" is a bit of a hot button for me. (Maybe I just need to refill my coffee and grab some lunch, but it just feels a little condescending. I realize that's probably not your personal intention, and I hope I'm not coming off as combative towards you personally.)

Edited by Sebastian (a lady)
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Guest Michael Weiss

Hi Sebastian,

Thanks for your feedback. I should maybe clarify a few things about myself and the background I'm coming from. My Ph.D is a joint degree from the University of Michigan Math Department and the School of Education, and the teaching I do here at Oakland (which, by the way, is in Michigan, not California -- but you're not the first to make that mistake :)) is in both the Math Department and the School of Ed. So although this program would be administered through the School of Ed, it is fundamentally designed as a math content course, not a pedagogy course, and has basically nothing to do with ed school theories of education. The label of "PD for homeschoolers" is my way of rationalizing the value of this course internally for my dean and the PD office, and I do think there is some merit in thinking about it that way, but maybe it throws potential clients on the wrong track. Certainly we're not trying to establish standards or give an ed school seal of approval to anybody. (Why would homeschoolers want such a thing, anyway?)

 

What really brought me to consider this as a worthwhile enterprise is my first-hand knowledge of homeschool attrition in my community as kids approach high school age. It seems to be upwards of 75%. There are certainly a wide range of good reasons why homeschooling parents decide to send their kids to high school (social reasons, concern about college, etc.) but for an awful lot it comes down to "I don't think I know <<insert discipline here>> well enough to homeschool it." I thought maybe I could help with that.

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I have seen the same thing you describe of parents' fear of or dislike of or lack of confidence in math driving them to various outside options.

 

I'm just wary of the signal the pd label might give to outsiders.

 

You might want to search for a couple threads about homeschoolers having problems applying to some PA universities. Several years ago a form of certified diploma for homeschoolers was approved by the PA legislature. Voluntary. Pushed in large part by some whose business was offering classes and diplomas. But now independent homeschoolers are finding themselves shut out.

 

So I get a little gun-shy about proposals that might turn out poorly after simmering for several years.

 

Btw, glad you didn't take offense. It did come of harsher than intended.

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Quick thoughts. In my limited experience, many homeschoolers aren't that interested in improving their own skills in order to be able to teach their own children. They would rather find a program the kids can do on their own or outsource.

 

I am in the subset of homeschoolers who does want to improve their own skills and I think the well trained mind boards are disproportionally filled with this subset. Even so, I agree with Sebastian that even though I am in the target subset of homeschoolers, I wouldn't have money for a class for me, especially when I can use free resources and/or just work ahead of my children asking anywhere and everywhere for help as needed. Even a course that was free and asynchronous would, because of time, only draw me if it was a subject area that was near the top of my current list or that I thought was a particularly unique course that I should take advantage of.

 

I think your idea of helping parents so they can more effectively teach is a great one! I hope I am wrong that many homeschoolers would rather not work too hard to improve their own skills. I'm not criticising outsourcing. I have/will do that myself. One can only do so much. But as much as time/situation allows I feel I should try to learn subjects myself. But I am not finding many that share that opinion. I hope I'm wrong and that my limited experience has been distorted.

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I'm trying to think of a format that I would be interested in.

 

For example, I've long been intrigued by the Latin-in-a-Week and Greek-in-a-Week workshops that are/were available around the time of the Veritas Press conferences.

 

And I've often longed for a workshop that would dig into the differences in approaches between different algebra curricula. With lots of examples of scope and sequence, lesson organization, master vs spiral, etc. It would need to have lots of concrete examples from the courses. For example, how are ratio, proportion and rate taught across a dozen different courses? What does AoPS really look like in practice? (For example, some declare it "too wordy", which drives some families to eliminate it from consideration. Others point out that the wordiness is because there is no teacher component, because it is a process of discovery within the text.)

 

On another note, given the cost of courses and workshops, and the way that anyone can hang out a shingle and offer online courses, I would want to have a pretty good sense of what I was getting. There have been some unhappy parents dealing with online courses for their kids in the last couple of years. Once burned, twice shy. I would be more likely to enroll for a course if I were already impressed with the level of expertise demonstrated through video clips or blog posts (for example, Art of Problem Solving videos, or the geology blog of the local community college instructor). Not meant as a slight toward the OP as a professor.

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I used ALEKS for this and it worked very well. I was able to do it on my own schedule got through Algebra I in a little over a week (40 hours total) and Geometry in only 20 hours. ALEKS allowed me to spend time on what I needed to work on and not spend time on anything else (to any great extent).

 

While I do think there is a need for such a course, I would not participate in one that had fixed times to meet and where I had to sit through a bunch of stuff that I already knew.

 

Also I agree with the PP who mentioned that most homeschooling parents are not interested in improving their own skills to be able to teach their children. It's too bad, because I think the kids lose out, especially the ones who struggle and could use real one-on-one instruction.

 

There is also a need (but I don't know if there is a market) for an arithmetic for parents course. Something along the lines of what's outlined in Elementary Mathematics for Teachers.

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