Trying Technology in Our Homeschool

At this point we have quite a few kids and a lot of levels in our homeschool:

  • 9th grade
  • 7th grade
  • 5th grade
  • 2nd grade
  • Kindergarten
  • 2 preschoolers

I have gone back-and-forth quite a bit in the last several years to try and find things that fit and work for our homeschool. After having a system that worked well for a number of years, it has been hard to try and find something new. I wrote about this before (quite a while ago) and it has been an ongoing process.

At this point, I feel like I've finally gotten our curriculum choices to where they fit well, and I also feel like I have an early-morning routine that works. Now I'm working on ironing out the “rest of the day” – and I'm working on our technology. That's what I want to talk about in this post 🙂

We've tried various tech solutions over the years – at one point we were mostly on the computer, then swung back to more pen-and-paper, but using a different curriculum that looked quite different.

I want to move away from paper but not from handwriting, so I'm considering digital inking along with our other digital solutions.

We have run the family business on a backbone of Office365 for a few years now and I've been really pleased with it, so I was excited to hear that Office365 for education has a pilot program for homeschoolers. I was able to attend a Onenote conference online and got many, many ideas from teachers during that conference, especially centering around the Class Notebook.

My hope is that we'll be accepted into the pilot program (hopefully I'll hear this week) and be able to start transitioning us over to using Onenote more and more.

Specific Ideas for Class Notebooks

My first plan is to move all schoolwork to Onenote class notebooks. I think I'm going to do this by subject rather than by grade level, even though most of our kids' work is on their own grade level – we do a few subjects in Together Times: Bible, Poetry (though we read poems from all grade levels), Music/Composer Study, Art/Artist Study, Hebrew (upper and lower school levels), some read-alouds, etc.

I still think it will be easier for me to handle things by subject. Right now I'm thinking to have class notebooks broken up in this manner:

History / Book of Centuries

This is by far the most extensive notebook my kids have right now, and currently it is in paper form. It will be very easy to transition to doing their topical sheets in Onenote if we can get inking devices for each child (I'm still considering the best options for this) – we'll just print the sheet of their choice to Onenote, and they can draw/write there.

The same is true for their maps – print to Onenote and fill out there.

I'm not sure about the timeline – I may keep them working on that in paper format because, ultimately, it's visually impressive 😉 Then we can scan and keep them in Onenote, perhaps in one very long note, or perhaps in eras.

I know that a dedicated history book gives each child the chance to have tabs for each era within the history notebook, which will be nice. They can also have tabs for tracking resources used, maps, timelines, civics/gov't as we study that, etc.

The History Class Notebook will likely stay with us for their entire school career; my kids start their timeline and era-based study in the 6th grade with ancient times and continue on through high school finishing in modern times.

I'll likely archive earlier elementary work in an archive notebook when they reach the point of starting their official Book of Centuries work.

The Collaboration Space will allow me to easily store templates for maps, but notebooking templates for topical sheets may simply be stored in PDF format on the Onedrive (since there are so many options); they can print the selected sheet(s) to Onenote.

Science

I also think that we'll have a dedicated notebook for science. I haven't gotten science quite as organized as history yet, but we are getting there. This will be a great place to track science experiments and learning. Again, this could go across many years, but especially middle/high school where many labs are spread out across the years and build upon each other to create a complete science education by 12th grade.

English/Literature

I'm not sure how we'll organize this Class Notebook yet – ultimately I think English will have one tab in the student notebooks, and then Literature will have a tab. I see the Collaboration Space being very powerful for this because we often do family read-alouds on different levels. We read Shakespeare (or adaptations) together as a family, and we can track characters and scenes.

Other books also lend well to tracking characters and scenes – right now we're reading The Boys of '76 (Revolutionary War narrative) aloud to everyone, and I think it would be helpful to track characters, scenes, map battles, etc. as we read. The Collaboration Space in a Class Notebook would be ideal.

The older kids and I are reading Tolkien aloud right now. We've finished The Hobbit and are reading Fellowship of the Ring – again, I'd love to track characters, places, and maps in Onenote. And having them dig deeper into themes of the books and characters would be a great use of personal notebooks.

I also read all of the kids' books, and it would be nice for me to make notes in the Teacher-Only section so I can refer back to those as I have other students move through the same grade – meaning I don't have to keep reading every book every 2 years to be able to keep them accountable and facilitate good discussion/projects. Since we are doing literature-based schooling in most subjects now, this is actually true in every subject!

Math

Scott handles math teaching for the kids, and he already uses Onenote quite extensively for teaching higher math. He learned about even more powerful features included in Onenote during the Onenote Conference and is pretty excited about those.

We'll probably have a Onenote Class notebook for math, where he can use the Collaboration Space to teach concepts and they can use the Student sections to do their daily work. I had the thought to scan their workbook pages, but Scott is more in favor of just having them do the work in ink (if we're able to get 1-to-1 inking) as it saves us time. So I'll report on ultimate decisions for that.

Remaining Subjects

At this point I think that one final class notebook would work for other subjects – a tab for Hebrew, Japanese, Composer Study, Artist Study, Bible, etc. in each student's notebook. These subjects aren't quite as extensive, and work could be archived from year to year. I'm undecided on geography, but I think it will go in here rather than in History/Book of Centuries since their narrative geography book doesn't always correspond with their history study.

Random Thoughts

Right now we track all the kids' reading via a term-long spreadsheet for each child, and a weekly checklist for them to plan their week (using the term spreadsheet, and with varying levels of help from me depending on the student). We could move those to Onenote, which would be really nice – especially since certain kids are constantly losing their spreadsheets and checklists 😉

Archive Notebook

I'll probably have an archive notebook for each child that's not a class notebook. I'm thinking that this will be a “read only” notebook that allows them to browse through past years' work, but not make changes (I'll probably also make completed Book of Centuries pages and science pages “read only” but keep those in their respective notebooks).

This gives the kids a chance to see their work over the course of their school career, and it also gives me a strong record of what they've done in the event that I ever need that for official purposes (always something on the mind of a homeschooling family!).

Personal Notebooks

Of course, the kids will have personal notebooks for stories, artwork, etc. We also scan artwork that they've done to archive it digitally, and this will likely go into Onenote.

Preschool / Lower Grades

I think much of the preschool will stay paper-based, but I'll probably let them do some drawing on the computer.

I'm really excited about Learning Tools for Onenote for my beginning readers – this addin makes it easy for beginning readers, readers with dyslexia, dysgraphia, etc., to access texts that would otherwise be challenging. You can change font size, themes (colors), highlight syllables, parts of speech, and more. And you can have Onenote narrate to you – and it highlights the words as it narrates! Pretty exciting 😀

Additional Things I'm Excited About

Office365 for Education has some other really cool features that I hope to explore. One is Sway, which I'll admit I have never really used even though it's included in our Office 365 Business account. But I can see a lot of power for the kids…

…the first thing I'm considering is having them do a weekly family Sway to share with grandparents. It can cover something or things they've learned this week. I'm also thinking of doing a project on heroes (an idea from one of the teachers sharing Onenote ideas) to help the older kids get used to using Sway, Powerpoint, Word, etc. It will fit in well with Tolkien and the work Cassidy and Asher have both done recently on Greece, Rome, etc.

I'm also really excited about Skype in the Classroom and hope that some of those features, like the virtual field trips, will work well for homeschoolers.

Finally, I'm hoping we can possibly play with Minecraft for Education. I just have a feeling the kids would love this, and I like the looks of the education edition.

I'll report back more if we are able to get into the pilot, if we find a way to get 1-to-1 inking devices, etc. I am, of course, a tech geek, so all of this excites me very much!!

Kristen

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Kristen

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