Monday, September 5, 2011

Learning with Graphic Novels

We've always loved graphic novels. Ones that are done well are just... awesome.

Since writing down some of our favourites in the post linked to above, we've discovered even more graphic novels (for good reason -- more and more excellent ones are being published every month).

The common theme to the graphic novels in this post is information. The books listed below all deal with subject matter that we typically present in traditional (and somewhat boring) ways. The authors/illustrators take the content out of the typical and present it in a way that will intrigue and entice the reader. Booyah!

Gareth Hinds has written and illustrated four "classic" graphic novels that we can't wait to get our hands on:

The books get great reviews, including one from Rick Riordan (Percy Jackson) regarding The Odyssey: "Gareth Hinds brings THE ODYSSEY to life in a masterful blend of art and storytelling. Vivid and exciting, this graphic novel is a worthy new interpretation of Homer’s epic."

We've also been collecting some of the Manga Shakespeare books. We bought our first one at the kiosk at Bard on the Beach and my pre-teen son just loved it (we had to go back and see the play)! So we've been buying more. There are 14 books published thus far and they are available at many different bookstores (including

The Manga Guides move into more heavy duty topics such as calculus, biochemistry and relativity. These books are definitely for the teen (or older learner) who would like to dive into some fairly dense topics in a fun and straightforward way. For example, "In The Manga Guide to Calculus, you'll follow along with Noriko as she learns that calculus is more than just a class designed to weed out would-be science majors. You'll see that calculus is a useful way to understand the patterns in physics, economics, and the world around us, with help from real-world examples like probability, supply and demand curves, the economics of pollution, and the density of Shochu (a Japanese liquor)."

Other great books that are info-oriented and "graphic" are Larry Gonick's fabulous offerings (watch the age level ... and your parental comfort level), Jay Hosler's Clan Apis (about bees) and The Sandwalk Adventures (about Charles Darwin), Jim Ottaviani's fantastic books (such as T-Minus: The Race to the Moon and Two-Fisted Science), and Mark Shultz's The Stuff of Life: A Graphic Guide to Genetics and DNA. Great stuff.

Some parents are concerned that graphic novels aren't as good as "real books" or that somehow they are a lesser species of book (or information source). For folks who may worry about that, perhaps think about your goals for your children's learning. Are you really wanting your children to read heavy texts, perhaps biting off more than they can currently chew and potentially turning them off classics or certain kinds of information for many years? Or do you want them to have to wait to read about these topics until they are ready to tackle them (based on skill development, cognitive development, or interest)? Or do you want to give them the opportunity to discover a new passion or interest, something that they may then follow-up on afterwards because they are fascinated and want to uncover more, regardless of how sturdy the topic?

Offerings like graphic novels, legitimate as they are in their own right, also plant seeds for deeper exploration -- if the child decides to follow through. These are perfect items for sharing ideas and topics with your kids, regardless of your learn-at-home philosophy. At our house, I strew them around. I don't have any agenda by doing that other than opening doors to possibilities, expanding my child's world  (and my own) by bringing in a few more things that my child may enjoy or that will support his current interests. I see that as my primary role as a home educator and I'm grateful for resources like these that help make my job so much easier (and fun).

If you have other favourite graphic novel that are "info-based", kindly share the titles in the comments. I'd love to read your suggestions.

Sunday, May 1, 2011

About the money...

Home learning families often limp along on one income. It's the reality of choosing to have your children with you 24/7: someone needs to be available to be the caregiver for the children, to give them support and attention as fits their developmental and emotional needs. Often, depending on the ages of the kids, that's a full-time job right there.

Families have different ways of making it work, but it often comes down to figuring it out on a penny by penny basis.

This is one of the reasons why Distributed Learning (DL) schools, especially with the current cornucopia of choice, are so popular among home learners. Many parents cannot walk away from difference that $1000, $3000, or even $5000 (in large families!) can make in the lives of their children. I have often heard of children who would not be able to afford to pursue passions like music or dance or sports if it wasn't for the money provided through a DL school. UPDATE: As of 2014, DL programs are only able to provide $600 (or less) towards direct-access resources.

It's also a fact that there are home learning families who, if not "for the money", would gladly choose registration and the freedom from government oversight over enrollment. And, from time to time, people in this situation may feel that it's unfair that DLs appear to be receiving financial preferential treatment from the government, almost as though the registration option is not worth notice. These parents may wish to rattle some cages and ask the Ministry of Education to provide more money for registered families.

But that's because they may not understand this one vitally important thing: the money is never for the family.

School Funding

No DL or registering school in this province is required to give any home learning family any money in any form. In fact, they do not have the legal right, in the case of DL, to provide direct reimbursement, in the form of a cheque or cash, to parents.

Why? Because the money is not for the child or the family. It's for the school.

DL schools are obligated to use school funding to provide an educational program to a child (and that includes children eligible for a special education grant). It's up to them to determine how they will deliver that, including materials, resources, instruction, and support. Because home learning families are a choosy crowd, many DLs do the same thing -- they figure out a way to provide materials and services of a family's choosing through purchase orders or a reloadable Visa card or direct payment to a community-based service provider (like a dance school or music teacher). No money is to land directly in a parent's hand.

Why is that? In 2006, Bill 33 changed the School Act and made it legally clear that DL enrollment is not the same as section 13 registration.

Because, according to law, schools can reimburse section 13 families for home education related expenses--at their discretion. They don't have to, but they most certainly can.

Incentive-Free DL

Earlier in the 2000's, DL schools were competing for students by means of reimbursements. More learners means more money for their programs (and school districts).

Bill 33 clarified that money cannot go to parents by legally identifying Distributed Learning (DL) as a regular school program, bound by the requirements and expectations of every other school in the province. In addition, the DL school contracts with the Ministry clarified that no DLs are allowed to use funds as an enrollment incentive. The Independent DL school agreement, which covers the majority of K to 9 DL enrollment in this province, states that a DL "may not provide financial payments or reimbursements to students or the parents or guardians of Students" and "may not use any of the funding... as an incentive to have a Student enroll."

It's pretty clear. There is no money, not officially, for families enrolling in a DL program. The money is for the school alone. If they choose to supply materials or classes or resources and have figured out a way to pay for those things in a way that fits the law and their MinEd contract, then that's the way it currently works. And, as things currently stand, it means it works for a lot of families.

By the way, the law also says:
82 (1) A board must provide free of charge to every student of school age resident in British Columbia and enrolled in an educational program in a school operated by the board,
      (a) instruction in an educational program sufficient to meet the general requirements for graduation,...
      (c) educational resource materials necessary to participate in the educational program.
(I suspect this means your child should never have to pay additional fees to participate in a class or program offered by your child's DL, but you could check with the Ministry of Education to clarify.)

Registration and the Law

We often get as far as sections 12 through 14 in the School Act when it comes to registered home education in BC and that's where we stop. But there is a lot more there, including "the money" and what a school's responsibilities are to a registered homeschooler.

But there is nothing written that suggests that registered learners are entitled to any money at all.

In fact, as it stands, the Minister of Education, as per the School Act, has the jurisdiction to make orders:
168 (1) (j.2). establishing, for the purposes of section 168.1, the amount a student or a child registered under section 13 may be reimbursed, including
          (i) setting the maximum amount that may be paid,
          (ii) establishing a limit on the number of educational activities or categories of educational activities for which reimbursement may be made, and
         (iii) setting different amounts and different limits for different educational activities or different categories of educational activities,
It's all in the Minster of Education's hands.
168.1 The minister may reimburse a student or a child registered under section 13 for expenses incurred for instruction, examination or certification with respect to an educational activity or a category of educational activities designated by the minister, in the amount established by the minister, if the student or child
      (a) is of school age,
      (b) is resident in British Columbia, within the meaning of section 82 (2), and
      (c) demonstrates a standard of achievement, satisfactory to the minister, in the designated educational activity or category of educational activities.

Fees for Students Registered Under Section 13

Here's an interesting tidbit. According to the School Act, all schools, including those providing registration under section 13 of the School Act, can charge fees.
82 (6) A board must publish a schedule of the fees to be charged and deposits required and must make the schedule available to students and to children registered under section 13 and to the parents of those students and children before the beginning of the school year.
82 (4) A board may require a deposit for educational resource materials provided to students and to children registered under section 13.
     (5) If a board requires a deposit under subsection (4), it must refund all or part of the deposit to the student or child on return of the educational resource materials.

What Must Schools Offer as Part of Section 13 Registration?

It's all in the School Regulation.
3. (1) A school or francophone school that registers a child under section 13 of the Act must offer
         (a) evaluation and assessment services sufficient to enable the parents of the child to determine the educational progress achieved by the child in relation to students of similar age and ability, and
         (b) the loan of educational resource materials that are authorized and recommended by the minister,
                  (i) which, in the board's opinion, are sufficient to enable the child to pursue his or her educational program, and
                 (ii) which will be offered to the child on a similar basis to the offer of such educational resource materials to students.

(2) With the permission of a board, a child registered in a school or francophone school under section 13 of the Act may audit educational programs offered by the board subject to any terms and conditions established by the board, including the payment of any fee.

(3) A child in grade 10, 11, or 12 registered in school francophone school, or independent school under section 13 of the Act may enroll in all or part of an educational program that is
         (a) offered by a board or an independent school, and
         (b) delivered through distributed learning.

Note: If your child in grade 10, 11, or 12 enrolls in a class in a Brick and Mortar school, he will lose his registered status. Your child in those grades can, however, take as many DL courses as she likes without losing her registered status.

There is additional Ministry of Education policy about the responsibilities of Registering Schools (although policies are much easier to change than statutes).

Bottom Line

The government does not want to directly give DL families financial compensation for learning at home.

DL money is for the DL school, so the school can provide an educational program to the enrolled students.

Why? Because it's not fair to the Brick and Mortar families. The Ministry doesn't want to differentiate between the two types of enrollment in terms of services, administration, or relationship to families. The only difference is mode of delivery or "venue".

Unlike DL, however, registered families can receive compensation for educational expenses. But only to a point. When Sections 12 and 13 became part of the School Act in 1989, public schools received $1200 for each registered homeschooler and independent schools received $600. By 1994, that number had been decreased to its current levels of $250 per learner for a public school and $175 per learner for an independent school. Why?

Registration money is for the registering school so it can do the administrivial tasks required and be compensated for the time involved.

I suspect that public schools were not providing much in the way of access to resources to home educating students, so the amounts were dialed down to cover administration costs only. It may also have been that the government was thinking that more money required greater accountability and, instead of increasing oversight, decided to decrease funding. I don't know for sure.

The Alberta government, however, minces no words on the matter. As per the Alberta Home Education Handbook: "The Alberta government uses public dollars to fund education. Funding varies according to the level of public accountability in the program. School authority programs are subject to a higher level of public accountability than home education programs and so receive a higher level of funding."

I'm always amazed at registering independent schools in BC who, at their own discretion, provide up to $150 to compensate home learning families for materials and resources. I'm very grateful to them. And I know that independent schools offer this reimbursement to families as it then takes care of their obligation to loan materials (a headache to administer). Money, however, is not something that registered homeschoolers are entitled to receive. In fact, independent schools, unlike public schools, don't even have to register anyone if they don't want to. They provide this service as a kindness.

No More Money

Most currently registered homeschooling families would balk at "more money". Here's why.

More money for registering schools would very likely mean more oversight for registered families. Money always requires increased accountability to government and to tax payers -- not just for how the money is used, but how effectively the money is being used.

We don't want that.

We don't want to go the way of Alberta where even the least intrusive option (where parents do not follow the Alberta Programs of Studies) requires two home visits a year from certified teachers who "measure progress" based on parent developed learning outcomes as well as basic provincially determined learning outcomes.

This is not even the "online learning program" option, which would be the equivalent to DL in our province. This is the equivalent to our sections 12 and 13, and is much more intrusive than many BC DL options. Sure, home educators get more money per child, but is it worth the price?

It's the same in the Yukon, which once had laws similar to ours that were changed in 2002... and where there is no financial compensation for home educators in any form. Now, "as part of registration, parents are required to submit an education plan. The plan includes the methods of teaching and the resources you will use for the subjects of literacy and numeracy [including "the skills of literacy, listening, speaking, reading, writing, numeracy, mathematics, analysis, problem solving, information processing computing"]. There is no requirement to provide this information for other subject areas." In addition, the children are subject to testing and "the Minister may, in writing, terminate the home education program if the Minister is of the opinion... that the student has failed to meet standards of student achievement, as measured by achievement testing, comparable to schools operated by the Minister or a School Board."

This is very different from BC where it's stated in both law and policy "The school has no authority to approve or supervise the educational program of a homeschooled child."

This is the beauty of registration in BC. This is why our legal status under sections 12 through 14 of the School Act is so precious and deserves to be protected as is. Parents truly are in charge of their children's learning without having to submit plans and learning outcomes to schools or Ministry officials. Our children are not poked and prodded with respect to what and how much they know (and neither are their parents). It is educational freedom at its best.

If preserving our statutory rights to educate our children free of government oversight and involvement means not taking "the money", so be it!


Saturday, April 30, 2011

John Holt: Uninvited Teaching

I've recently written a post about Skipping those Teachable Moments, outlining some of the recent research that explores how children learn and how intentional teaching actually gets in the way of a child's learning.

Pat Farenga, of Holt Associates, has been posting youtube videos of talks given by John Holt when he was still living.

This morning, I was listening to a talk John gave in Sweden in 1982 and it reminded me of how incredibly wise and insightful this man was. The videos are all linked below, but here is some text I pulled out of Part III of the series. It's about "uninvited teaching" and how that affects a child.

Unasked for, uninvited teaching gets in the way of learning, prevents, slows it down, stops it altogether... That will seem, perhaps, a surprising thing to say.

There are several reasons why teaching which has not been asked for by the learner prevents, slows down, impedes learning.

This is a terribly important thing to understand. When one person says to another, without being asked, I am going to teach you something, that statement carries two hidden messages, very often unconscious messages. It says two things that we might not want to say. But it says them none-the-less.

And the first is, "You are too stupid to understand why this is important, why this is something you should know." And the second is, "Even if you understood that it was important, you are still too stupid to learn it or to figure it out for yourself with your questions and experiments, so I am going to have to do all that work for you."

Very little children are extremely good at hearing the emotional meaning of what we say. They hear these messages, which we may not even know we are sending... and it makes them angry.

"A word to the wise is infuriating"...

Unasked for teaching and I have to say, unasked for testing, is a statement of no confidence, so do not... give information that people have not asked for as they will hear this as an insult.
Lots of other good John Holt stuff in these recordings.

Part I
Part II
Part III
Part IV

These are not visually exciting (just stills, not video), so you can put them on and do other things. Definitely worth the time to listen to.

Thursday, April 28, 2011

History Surrounds Us

When we think of history, we think of the past and, often, big and glorious events or eras. Sometimes what we know about history is limited to what someone else has told us, usually in a book or in a video, or what someone has displayed in a museum, and we have to rely on their research and conclusions to inform our own.

But there is a way to look at history with much fresher, first-person eyes. It's about seeing our world and how it evolved.

John Stilgoe, a historian who teaches the History of Landscape at Harvard University, says:
Education ought to work outdoors, in the rain and in the sleet, in the knife-like heat of a summertime Nebraska wheat field, along a half-abandoned railroad track on a dark autumn afternoon, on the North Atlantic in winter. All that I do is urge my students and readers to look around, to realize how wonderfully rich is the built environment, even if the environment is only a lifeboat close-hauled in a chiaroscuro sea.
In his book, Outside Lies Magic: Regaining History and Awareness in Everyday Places, he suggests getting out of our everyday routines and going for a walk or a bike ride. All you need to see your local world in a different light are your eyes, your feet, and your curiosity. It's about noticing. 

An online review states that Stilgoe's philosophy... 
centers around the idea that simply noticing the things normally taken for granted will teach us a great deal about the human-built environment we inhabit. Everything has a lesson, from the direction and type of power lines above the streets, to the shape and maker of man-hole covers, to the direction and width of city streets. Paying attention to these lessons can help us learn how our cities took shape and what they looked like before cars and electricity and other "improvements" of modern life.
I don't think you need Stilgoe's book to slow down and notice the details (it seems to be out of print anyway) and wonder about them. But he has an interesting way of thinking about history, which makes it more immediate and relevant to our lives. It's right in front of us.

The Harvard Gazette has a video of John Stilgoe giving a tour of Harvard Yard, exposing many secrets that most people would overlook completely. (I like his bow tie.) It will give you a good idea of his approach.

And that is, get out there, look around, be curious, ask questions, wonder, and explore.

As Stilgoe says, "Exploration is a liberal art, because it is an art that liberates, that frees, that opens away from narrowness. And it is fun."

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Where are all the DL learners? Part II

After going back through all 69 DL School Reports (yes, we have 69 DL schools in this province), I realized that I could get some of the data I needed all by myself. It was a bit tricky in places, as many schools make errors when they enter their data for the reports. Once or twice, I had to make an informed guess about what the enrollment might be (for example, I had a hunch that the Vancouver Learning Network, through SD 39, might have around 80 kids enrolled from K to 7 based on the other data provided). Most of the hard cold facts, thankfully, were right in front of my nose.

How Many K to 9 DL Learners Are There?

As I mused in Part I, the Grades K to 9 age group is the most likely place where registration is bleeding numbers to DL. Parents who may have chosen registration in the past may now be choosing DL as it becomes the "default" choice in BC home learning culture.

All the numbers below are for K through 9 only because these are the compulsory grades for registration or enrollment. Also, kids in these grades must attend full-time in only one school, unlike grade 10. School leaving age in BC is 16, meaning that the child does not have to register or enroll the fall of the year he or she has her 16th birthday.

NOTE: The data used for the school reports, my source, is compiled from the September 30 submission of the 1701 forms (Student Data Collection). As enrollment is fluid and not fixed, these figures are projections and not final or absolute numbers.

That being said...

The total DL enrollment for 2010/2011, as of September 30, for grades K through 9 was (approximately) 7943.

Yes. 7943. Not close to 30,000 or 50,000 as the reports suggest (or even half of those numbers for this particular demographic). Instead, close to 8000.

By the way, that leaves 7,941 school-aged students who are enrolled in DL for grades 10 to 12, a population I'm not all that concerned about when comparing DL and registration (at this point).

And, here's the really interesting part, more of those kids in that K-to-9 grade range are enrolled in independent DL schools than in public DL schools. There are 3472 K-to-9 kids (approximately) enrolled in public DL programs. There are 4471 K-to-9 kids enrolled in independent DL programs.

That's a difference of 1000 home learners. 56% independent DLs, 44% public DLs. And remember, there are only 14 independent DL schools compared to 55 public DL schools. And only 12 of those independent schools cater to K to 9 compared to 44 public DLs.

The Details

It's even more interesting to look at the different schools (the main "players") and see their numbers.

Heritage Christian Online School has 1322 learners enrolled K to 9. That's almost 17% of the total DL population for this age group in the province.

SelfDesign has 1118 learners enrolled K to 9. That's over 14% of all learners in this category.

Together, these two big DLs have almost a third of the K to 9 DL enrollments for the province: 31%.

So, what about EBUS? Well, EBUS is the actually the 5th largest DL for this age category in the province at 435 enrollments or 5.5%. The two DL programs that beat EBUS out are independent: Traditional Learning Academy (Surrey) with 495 enrollments (6%) and Regent Christian Online Academy (Saanich) with 491 enrollments (6%).

The next biggest public school DL for this age group is New West's Homelearners' Program with 258 enrollments K to 9. That takes in 3% of the population.

It dwindles rapidly from there. As there are 44 public DLs in the province who cater to K to 9, sharing 3472 students, the average student enrollment in a public DL is 79.

I think it's worth noting that out of the 56 DL programs who enroll K to 9, six enroll over 52% of DL learners and four of those six are independent DL schools.

What About the Money?

Together, independent schools take in $17,537,789.

Public schools take in $27,428,722.

And the total funding is $44,966,511 for K to 9 DL in the province or 56% of all DL funding (despite representing only 28% of the DL headcount for all ages).

As you would guess, the big enrollment schools have the big money. Of course, because independent DLs only get 50% of the grant provided to their local school district, a school like EBUS doesn't come out too badly on paper. See the chart to compare total funding amounts based on the K to 9 FTE (full-time equivalent) figure, 7698, which is lower than enrollment for some reason (likely Kindergarten and this year will be the last year for that as all DLs will be required to go full-time for K).

Indep. School

Total DL
K to 9
K to 9

2010/11 Per FTE Funding
Approx. K to 9 Funding (FTE)

Anchor Academy




Heritage Christian




Regent Christian Online








Traditional Learning Academy




Total Indep
(12 schools)




Public School

Total DL
K to 9
K to 9

2010/11 Per FTE Funding
Approx. K to 9 Funding (FTE)





Surrey Connect





New West
Homelearners' Program

























Total Public
(44 schools)



K to 9
K to 9

Approx. K to 9 Funding (FTE)



Are You Surprised? 

I was, a little.

But it doesn't make me less concerned about registration numbers. Here's why.

In 1996/97, before the MinEd put a cap on and formalized public DL programs, there were 4925 registered home learners in our province. There were no numbers for DL that year as school districts weren't yet required to separate them out from their regular enrollments. But, in 1997/98, they were and the enrollment that year, for all grades and ages, was 8362. So, let's generously say it was about that number the year before (although that may be far too generous). That gives us a split of about 37:63 for registered/DL in terms of the overall home learning population (including distance education schools).

In 2010/11, there are 2218 registered home learners and 27,597 enrolled DL students. We know that number is inflated by many young adults and adults doing high school or upgrading via DL, so even when we control for that and compare the registered number (for up to age 19) to grade K through 9 for  enrolled, we get a split of 22:78 registered/DL for home learners across BC.

In 1996, at least 1 out of every 3 home learners was registered (likely closer to 1 out of 2 if we were able to correct for grades 10 to 12). In 2011, only 1 out of every 5 home learners (grades K-to-9) is registered. 

If my mathematical reasoning on this is wrong, please let me know. I'm open to correction. Or if you have a better way to present the relationship, I'd like to hear about that, too.

But, for now, this shows the trend in a different sort of way.

Nope, it's not as bad as I originally thought (7:93). But it's still moving in a certain direction and will likely continue along that trajectory unless more people consider registration for their families.

And why would they want to do that? Well, perhaps that will be a little something for another post.