geeks on vacataion

I get my kids all week this week, so I took some time off work for “vacation.” But did I take them to Disneyland? No.

Amid hikes, home organization, a birthday (mine!), a wedding (not mine!), and a dozen other random things we have going, I challenged my kids to build a Pokémon Database.

That’s not a new challenge, by the way. But they hadn’t grokked databases before, and even now the tutorials online left them frustrated. So I sat them down with a pencil and paper and did my feeble best to explain them myself. Mind you, I’m no expert. But this time the lights went on. We jumped to a computer, and I showed them a super basic two-table example and how to do some different queries. They were astounded. Yay vacation!

After showing them what happens when you select fields from two tables without a where clause, which in our case indicated that everybody’s favorite ice cream is every single flavor:

M. “Wait… I could use that to solve those math problems where they make me list all possible combinations!”

E. “Yeah! And Order By is WAY easier than alphabetizing the old fashioned way!”

V. “Guys… you are NOT gonna make technology do your homework for you.”

They both sighed dramatically and stared at the screen.

I silently justified myself — surely the hours we spend every day doing menial tasks are worth it, right? Kids have to learn to be self disciplined enough to do busy work, right? And it’s not busy work anyway … it’s practice, right?

… right?

School, and its hours-on-end of repetitive homework, starts in just a few weeks now. Realizing that, I sighed too. E must have read my thoughts, and presently piped up:

“Honestly, the only homework I can’t stand is homework I could do faster with programming.”

I can’t concede this out loud, but the kid makes a fine point, and not just about homework. I mean, that’s why we program, right?

I don’t have another adult around for feedback, so I’ll ask you: what would you do?


  1. Velda

    Of course the moment I hit publish and checked the clock, I realized I’ve just suffered a technology fail: I had an alarm for a 6pm responsibility, but apparently failed to synch that new calendar to my phone. And here I was blogging away, lost in space and time until I snapped back to reality at a quarter to seven. Maybe analog isn’t *always* bad…


  2. Denise

    You so need to homeschool. How much time are your kids being forced to sit around in school, waiting for everyone else to catch on to the thing they already understand? Many different curriculums would work great for your kids, including k12 or Thomas Jefferson or even unschooling while you figure out what you want to use for curriculum. The non-custodial parent does not need to approve your decision to homeschool. Make a “No Screens Before 3:00” rule (unless they need them for school), assign the school tasks the night before, set up a lunch break for asking you questions, and anything they couldnt do cuz they needed help and you were working, you can do with them during the time you currently use for homework. You’ll probably spend less time homeschooling than you do helping with homework. You’ll probably save a lot of money too. School, school clothes, school supplies, backpacks, school lunches….it adds up to a lot of money.


  3. DexterTheDragon

    Yeah. Homework has nothing to do with self discipline. It’s all about doing a repetitive problem in the hopes that a student will grasp the concept from the repetitions. It has nothing to do with learning. It’s about temporary mastery of a concept that lasts long enough to take a test because schools are a factory whose product is test grades. It’s about shunting the task of learning from the school to the home because teachers have too many students and can’t tailor to the different learning styles.

    For people like me it’s a nightmare. I love to learn. I learn amazingly well by listening to a teachers lecture. From just the lecture and maybe a couple of questions I can understand the concept. This made homework a repetitive, boring task that had no point. It was time I could be reading, or learning about something else, or creating. There are countless examples during my years of schooling where I would barely pay attention to the lecture, not do any of the homework, be the first person done with the test and ace it, and barely avoided failing because of all that missed homework. It drove my teachers mad. It drove me mad that I could prove I understood the concept on a test but was going to get a bad grade because I skipped a bunch of homework. But I digress.

    I have done the exact same thing. Once I got into upper math in high school and started learning programming concepts I started writing little math programs to do the work for me. If you understand a calculus concept well enough to write a program to do it, then I think you’re really learning two things at once.

    I think you were looking for an answer and I don’t think my ranting provides one. I’m a fan of alternate education, whether it’s homeschooling, specialized private schooling, or possibly even advanced placement in public institutions. I’m reminded of this link I saw recently


    1. Velda

      Well said, DTD. I know exactly what you mean … the only thing kids learn from repetitive tasks is how to do repetitive tasks. Mary handles her repetitive homework by singing her Arabic songs while she works, much like you might hum to yourself to deal with the boredom of working in an assembly line. And if I really want to teach them about working in assembly lines, we can make a batch of freezer meals. Perfect prep for a career at the Staufer’s factory…

      I really *want* to homeschool them. It would be a good format for them. My ex forbids it… thinks they’ll fail socially. And now when I bring it up with the kids, they worry about missing their friends. But they can’t name the friends they’d miss…


      1. DexterTheDragon

        You hear this a lot when it comes to homeschooling. I can’t speak from experience but I’ll give my opinion. I don’t think you can rely on public school for socialization anymore than you can for education. And really I don’t think that’s their goal. In most classes you are expected to sit quietly and pay attention to the lecture. So the only socialization there is is during a group project and maybe a class like gym, theater, or a music class. As far as spending time with your friends you have recess in grade school (if grade schools even still have that), before and after school, and lunch time. The further away from grade school you get the less classes you even have with your friends.

        I think extracurricular activities provide a better venue for social engagement. For me I did sports as a child. I participated in AYSO soccer from about 3rd grade to around 8th grade. I also played youth basketball during that time. I was on the school track team during jr high. Sports probably aren’t for everyone. There’s 4H. If there are active boy/girl scout groups in your area there’s that. They could take karate at a local dojo. Maybe the local comic book shop has one night every week where kids can get together and play pokemon or yugioh card games.

        Finally there are 101 ways to do homeschooling. If there are other homeschoolers in your area you could form a homeschooling group and have regular group classes. They can take select classes from the normal public school. Maybe they take english, gym, and an elective at school, then are homeschooled the rest of the day (this probably is easier outside of grade school when classes are taught in periods). When they get a little older you can start taking specialized classes from community colleges. Half of my senior year of high school was spent at the Ogden-Weber Applied Technical College getting a degree in Multimedia Design. You just have to find what works for you.


      2. Velda

        I am very seriously considering that half day option. I seriously considered it last year, and the kids dad jumped in and convinced the teachers the kids were struggling with homework because I’m a bad mom, and when he helps things go well. Having the kids do their homework over five weekdays instead of three? Amazing. And after proving this he went back to not helping … :-p


  4. Michael Jones

    There’s also nothing wrong with making use of programming if it helps him with the concepts. I have an easier time understanding math that’s being used in code than understanding a problem on paper.

    IMO, if he can write a quick and simple program that helps with the monotony, but he’s understanding the concept well enough to make the script create the correct answer, and he can explain how it works, that’s the whole point.

    Now, if he’s anything like me, it’s probably too easy for him to then branch off from tweaking that script and spend hours fiddling with it or some other bit of code rather than continuing with the homework, so it would require some self discipline, but otherwise I don’t see why tech can’t coexist if he can look at a problem and solve it with code easier than on paper.


    1. Velda

      I don’t know whether this new school will allow it. :-/ It’s a lot of work arranging that (for me and the teachers) and last time I did all that we had to back out after all. We’ll carefully consider the options though.


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