Tuesday, 26 May 2015

The Mysterious World of IGCSEs

We weren't going to have this "half-term" week off as it feels like we've only just got going after the Easter holiday.  However a combination of illness, sleepovers, and playdates with friends-who-go-to-school have meant that I have effectively written the week off as far as planned work goes; it would be far too stressful to try to force the boys to "do something".  This has at least left me with space to plan ahead, which I do appreciate, especially as the nature of our studies is changing.

We don't really have a background project this term: what is working so far has been lots of little projects and one-off studies such as those offered by Brain-pop videos.  We are looking at the possibility of some lapbooks as well though, since the boys discovered their old ones the other day and pulled them all out to read.  There was such a sense of pride in what they had made, I thought it would be lovely to have a go at making some more over the next half-term. Youngest has decided that he would like to do one on Weather.  It was my first suggestion as I know there are lots of lovely resources online that we could use - and he was clearly inspired by the idea, turning down any alternative suggestions made.  Middle is either going to do one on the Polar Regions, or just the North Pole, basically depending on how much he wants to include penguins.

Eldest, however, has refused point-blank to make either a lapbook (which he never made before anyway) or a notebook which he was used to doing previously. We discussed it for a short while to work out what the issue was, but he was feeling poorly so struggled to explain, and we agreed that instead of lapbooking or notebooking, he could start looking at some GCSE workbooks.  We're going to start with Geography, as that (alongside Biology) has most to do with his passion for conservation (the other current passion being Pokemon, which doesn't seem to appear in any GCSE syllabus that I have found!).  Some Home Educators start GCSE level studies with Maths, but I don't think Eldest is quite ready for that yet - and he is definitely not ready for English.  I still think it is annoyingly likely that he will need a tutor for English, despite the fact that I have a degree in the subject, as the way it is taught nowadays makes no sense to me and I think my dislike of the styles of questions etc will hold him back if I try to take him through it.

So, Geography it is (probably) for our introduction.  For the sake of keeping an honest diary I will say that I am finding this whole next stage really daunting.  I found a cheap used Geography GCSE syllabus on Amazon marketplace, so ordered that, and on initially flicking through it I found it interesting and accessible to Eldest - with certainly nothing there that I could foresee problems with, hooray!  However, on trying to find out a little more about the whole exam process from a Home Ed perspective I learned that there seem to be two main examining boards who offer IGCSEs: Cambridge and EdExcel.  As the coursebook I had purchased was from Oxford, that was that avenue scuppered (traditional GCSEs as sat in school are not really an option for us because they require an element of assessed course work, so we are pretty much restricted to IGCSEs).

I had a quick look at Cambridge v EdExcel and decided that the style of Cambridge's papers seem more suited to Eldest, so we will probably stick with that.  We will need to find a centre that will accept Eldest as a candidate and then somehow work out when to register him, how long to expect it to take him to study etc, how much it's going to cost etc (I am hoping to interrogate my experienced HE friend in person soon).  However, for the time being we are just dipping our toes into the water to test the temperature, as it were - having a look at GCSE level work to gauge where Eldest is in relation to it all.

Given the apparent irrelevance of the workbook I have, I decided to try to get some past papers to have a look at.  Apparently I picked the wrong time to look, as this is exam season so everyone is doing the same thing, resulting in the website that was recommended to me, Xtremepapers, crashing every time I clicked on the 'papers' link... I think I was clicking on the right bit, but really - if you don't know your way around, it is all so confusing!  Sigh.  I even find the Wikipage on taking GCSEs as a HEor really complicated and intimidating.  I joined a Home Ed GCSE group on FB too, but honestly, it's like they're all talking a foreign language that I don't speak yet.  If anyone out there knows of an idiot's/ beginner's guide, or ABCs of IGCSEs, please let me know!  Otherwise I may well end up writing one in a couple of years once I know what I'm doing!  I have every hope that it will all make sense to me once I've worked it out, and I will hopefully be fluent in the jargon too - but I don't want to forget this overwhelmed feeling either.  We home educators are generally not easily daunted, but this is something else!

Anyway, I digress.  Our workbook being discounted as from the wrong board, and past papers being currently unaccessible, I have reverted to what I know, namely online resources and particularly the fabulous BBC website.  I remembered from previous web-browsing sessions that they offer online GCSE revision guides, called "BiteSize" - had a look last night and discovered some lovely resources including summaries, video clips, and brief tests on each section.  I have no idea which syllabus they use, but it seems like a good enough place to start for now, just for Eldest to test the water while I try to get my head around what we need to do.  So we'll be starting with "Water and Rivers", and will see how far we get.

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