Sunday, February 21, 2016

JiJi Funk

We use a great visual math program from the MIND Institute
(neuroscience department) at UC Davis called ST Math.  ST stands for
Spatial-Temporal.  About two months after we started homeschooling, it
became available for our use.  Before that, it had been offered only to
schools and school districts.  So far, it has proven to be a
well-designed program and Liam is able to move through grade-level math
at an accelerated pace, most of the time.  The only problem we've found
is that the final quizzes are presented in a standard test format, while
the rest of the course has visual supports.  Sometimes Liam fails to
recognize the same problems, when presented in multiple choice format. 
Allowing for this, we can spend extra time working with concepts (like
long division) in a different format, to be sure he is understanding the
procedure in all contexts.

Liam working on an ST Math level

Another positive of the program is that Liam enjoys doing it.   Each day, he logs onto his iPad
for a series of visual puzzles.  A google-eyed penguin, named JiJi, must
walk across the screen.  JiJi can only cross if the puzzle is solved
correctly.  If Liam makes a mistake, a portion of the puzzle drops down
into JiJi's path and he is blocked from crossing.  The "block" shows the
mistake and Liam can retry the puzzle up to two times before the level
re-sets.  When JiJi crosses, there is a "ding" and when he fails to
cross, there is a "bonk."  I can let Liam work independently, keeping an
ear on the ding-to-bonk ratio.  I only step in if I hear too many repeated bonks
in a row.

Each year, the ST Math team holds a music
video contest, challenging classrooms to make a video and show how we
use the program.  This was our first year entering the challenge.  I
started about a week ago, taking video footage of Liam doing ST Math. 
We needed a music track and so I chose a song I know he loves, "Uptown
Funk."  I re-wrote the lyrics to fit the Karaoke track and recorded Liam
singing it.  Liam's dad tweaked my final audio edit, to make it sound cool
and I filmed Liam dancing to the new track.  Finally, Liam and I spent a
few hours editing the final video.  I chose the order of the clips, but
Liam edited them all, added all of the effects and even designed the
font he used in iFont Creator.

I'm very proud of the
work we all did on this, but particularly of Liam, who took direction
like a pro (and worked with the speed of one).  He even pulled off some
effects I didn't know he knew how to do (like masking himself in a
photo-negative and leaving the rest natural).  At one point, because
we'd neglected to save, we lost about 25 minutes worth of work.  He
didn't get upset, and although it took a little prompting to continue,
he did and we finished it all in one setting.

Click on the bold words "JiJi Funk" at the top of the post to see the YouTube link to the final video.
I don't really care if he wins a
thing, the process of creating something this cool with my son and
husband, was prize enough for me.

Friday, February 12, 2016

Mad Skills

We're operating under the pretext that you will be forgiven a world of weirdness, as long as you can bring mad skills to the table in some way.  We're not big fans of making Liam appear "indistinguishable from his peers."  Not gonna happen.  And why should it?  Every adult on the spectrum who writes about the topic makes it clear what an emotional and physical toll is taken every day, when they have to "pass."  My son is naturally happy and relaxed and we want to help him stay that way.

Much of what we do is try to figure out just what Liam needs to be able to do to live in the world and contribute to his own welfare.  But the biggest question is, what passions drive my son to develop unique abilities - what are his mad skills?

I got to see a mad-skills test play out they other day, after choir.  The teacher always leaves a little time at the end of class for the kids to play on the organ for a few minutes, since they all want to give it a go.  Liam had just gotten up for his turn, when a few kids from the next class started to filter into the room.

One boy walked over to the organ and noticed Liam's ever-present, Oobie-eye rings.

"Does he ALWAYS wear those?" he asked, screwing up his nose a little.

Before I could answer, Liam launched into the Jurassic Park theme and the look on the little boy's face instantly snapped from judgmental to astonished.


Yes.  Yes he is.

All anyone really needs is a point of contact and otherness gives way to a growing understanding.  At least that's the theory.  Early results are promising. 

Thursday, February 4, 2016

Sick Days

When we were kids, sick days were kind of like a little vacation.  If we were too sick to go to school, we could cozy up on the couch with a blanket and drift in and out of sleep while watching TV or reading a book.  It was an escape.

Well, for the past week we have all been sick enough to stay away from public places.  But since we are all home, all of the time, sick days are more like a prison sentence than a get away.

Sick days mean, no gym, no coffee with a friend, no outside classes at Urban Homeschool. Even though we've only been using Urban Homeschool for a few months,  I am suddenly, keenly aware of how valuable that out-of-the-house time has been to us -  OK - to ME.

Add to the stir-craziness, the grumpiness of alternately stuffed or drippy heads and wracking coughs and the end result is not pretty.  Lessons have been painfully tedious, with Liam spacing out and my patience shortened by lack-of-sleep. 

I've been envisioning us as a ship stuck in the doldrums, while the dehyadrated crew-mates chuck empty coconut shells at each other for amusement.

This morning we had a slight reprieve.  We took our time getting into the day.  Liam was feeling playful and borrowed one of my hats to do a comedy routine based on Agent-P from Phineas and Ferb.  I kept lesson times short and determined to take it easy.  The goal is to return Urban Homeschoolers tomorrow and take part in Geometry class and pick up Liam's new lenses at Rubio Optical.  But, if I miss that goal, the next one is to be well enough to enjoy the invitation to watch the Super Bowl at our friends' house on Sunday.

I'm trying to recall the flow-chart like mentality I had when Liam was an infant.

Did he have a nap?

Yes - use the time to workout with a DVD.
No - use the time to take a walk with the stroller (maybe he'll fall asleep) - did he fall asleep?
Yes - Walk to coffee shop, take out book and read.
No - Walk to coffee shop, buy coffee, keep walking - did he fall asleep?

As in days of old, it's OK to have a goal (getting him to sleep), while letting go of the plan (he has to get to sleep at x time so I can do xyz, or else!).  The goal is to keep the learning going.  Maybe it happens in stages, or only as partial lessons, but it flows more easily if I let go of expectations.

I think I feel a soft wind starting to stir across our bow.  Time to put down that coconut and enjoy the breeze before we set off, full-sail again.