Sunday, June 6, 2010

We Saw the Light When Our Daughter Looked into a Black Hole!

The title of this post probably makes little sense now, but it will be clear when you are done reading. The end of the school year is upon us, and partially home schooling Paulina has been an exhilarating experience. It has been a good test bed for our theories, to hone our techniques, and to correct our mistakes before committing full time to our roles as primary teachers. My wife and I speak often about how this year went and how we will educate our daughter the next. I guess it is only natural because in just two weeks we will transition out of the traditional academic setting. Hence, this probably is a good time to reflect on our progress and to plan for the future.

June 2009
  • Graduates from K at a regular school
  • 37% done with 2rd grade English language arts
  • 74% done with 3th grade math
  • Lots of children's television and little reading
  • Lots of "I am bored"
  • Expresses lots of interest in black holes and other space phenomena
  • Math is boring
May 2010
  • Graduates from 2nd grade from a top 5% school in California (SAS, distinguished school, API scores above 900) after skipping first grade
  • 65% done with 5th grade English language arts
  • Starts 6th grade math now to follow with pre-algebra in September.
  • Lots of reading and virtually no television other than Friday movies and science and history programs
  • Lots of arts and science experiments
  • Asks an astronomer how it is possible for black holes to eject matter through its poles when nothing can escape the event horizon
  • Lots of "I like interesting math and competitions like the Math Kangaroo"
In other words, despite our limited after-school schedule, Paulina skipped from K to 2nd grade, excelled at her classes, completed more that two full years of elementary school math and English language arts. We went from just acquiring information on Black Holes to infer that it is impossible for matter to shoot out of a black hole despite the fact she had been taught this is the case.

As we asses Paulina's progress over the past year, we become more and more convinced that home schooling is the right setting for her. Our thinking became crystallized this Friday while attending Andre Ghez's lecture on super massive black holes at the Museum of Natural History of Los Angeles. At the end of the lecture, Paulina approached Dr. Ghez eager to ask a question. She pushed her way through the swarm of adult, science groupies and patiently waited her turn. She asked how matter can shoot out of the poles of black holes because she had learned that nothing can escape the event horizon. The scientist smiled and told her that hers was very good question. Dr. Ghez then proceeded to explain how the jets form, and Paulina was happy. We left the museum. We did not speak about black holes again that night. However, I admitted to my wife when we got home that Paulina's question never occurred to me. I just had never wondered. Paulina's question was original, carefully thought out, and proof positive to me as a parent and teacher that Paulina needs to be challenged beyond what is possible in a traditional classroom.

The past year has been wonderfully rewarding for our family, but we don't know what the future holds. We only know that the path we are taking is best for our daughter today. We have learned over the past year that deep parental involvement and support is a key to instilling the joy of learning. As a result, convincing parents to be actively involved in teaching their children has become a mission of mine. We facilitated and encouraged Paulina to explore her interests. The effort paid off. We saw the light when our daughter looked into a black hole.

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