The Mom, the 4th Grader and the ISP (aka Independent Study Project)

Independent. Study. Project.  Those may be the three most dreaded words whispered in our house.   My son, Jack, has been in the challenge program at his current elementary school since 2nd grade.   It is a program of accelerated learning and the kids in this program do the ISP every other year.  For Madeline (our middle one), it was 3rd and 5th grade.  For Jack, his rotation has been 2nd and 4th grade. 

The ISP spans 8 weeks of the school year – the kids have to pick an issue/problem to study, interview an “expert” in the topic, write a 4 to 5 page type-written paper, prepare a  “product”, prepare a tri-fold presentation board and give a 10-15 minute presentation to the class.    Did I mention that my son is 9 years old and in the 4th grade?  I don’t think I did anything like that until high school!  My son is super smart, loves math and science, loves to read, and HATES to write.  We made it through the 2nd grade ISP (topic = Jupiter)  with a large amount of micro-management (he was 7 yrs old!).  Third grade was a blessed relief and, now, here we are in the thick of another ISP. 

His topic of choice – Breast Cancer What?  I have discussed the breast cancer diagnosis of my best friend’s sister at the dinner table, but it wasn’t a reoccurring topic of table discussion. I tried to steer him toward a cancer topic that impacts children because I thought it would be more interesting for his classmates,  but he made a U-turn and would not be deterred.  So, here I am talking with my son about breasts, menopause, self-breast exams, estrogen, mammograms, etc.   I haven’t even had these discussions with my daughters!  Mike was like, “Testicular Cancer was already taken?”. 

Jack and I are complete opposites on the organizational scale (there should be an official name, like the Richter Scale) – I’m psycho and he’s mister “Whatever” (very similar to his father which makes our marriage work, weird, huh?).  This time around , I thought I would not micro-manage, you know, let him be a big boy and  take care of it himself. Right?  Okay, so we are about 5 weeks into the project, and on Monday (day after the store and green bean travesty), I decided to check on the status of the project: 

ME:  “Hey, buddy!  How are you doing on your timeline?  Can I see it?  Oh, your 1st draft is due this Friday? 

Jack:  “Yes, Mommy.”

Me:  “How much do you have done of your 4 pages? 

Jack:  “One. “

Me:  “ONE!?” [mommy tantrum and you can imagine the rest]. 

Okay, so now I’m back in management mode (trying not to get to the micro level).  So, we sat and got a game plan together regarding his paper.  He seemed grateful because I think he was truly overwhelmed by the scope of the project at hand.  And, remember he HATES writing.  He also types with one finger as I’m sure most 4th graders do and thus, the one page of the four-page paper. 

Tuesday, March 16th:  Jack forgot his project folder.  [mommy tantrum]  But, he was able to work on his paper because most of his research was from web sites  like, and the like.

Wednesday, March 17th: Again, Jack forgot his project fold  [I’m speechless with frustration]  So, he had to reprint the web sites (oh, the ink cartridges!).

Thursday, March 18th (night before the 1st draft is due):  Jack forgot the folder AGAIN!  For Jack’s sake, he stayed after school for something else and was able to retrieve the folder.  He put his final draft together (see prior post about the Thursday dinner).  So, the 1st draft of the paper was now complete.

This weekend begins the creation of the tri-fold poster board  presentation and the “product”.  Well, to Jack’s credit, he has made a layout of the presentation board on paper so he is thinking ahead (yeah!) and Mike will be assisting him in this part of the ISP – I mean, he is the architect, literally, of the family.  He does this for a living. I’m exhausted and it is time for some job-share.

Originally, for the Product, Jack wanted to do prepare a PowerPoint presentation, but I talked him out of it (more typing and pictures of what, breasts?).  So we needed another Product, I suggested maybe a magnet for the Mommies of his peers with some info on Breast Cancer health written on them.  Jack did agree to this alternate version of his dream of a PowerPoint on Breast Cancer (thank goodness since time is running out and he has one good typing finger).  I’m really glad he agreed to this because all of this has to be done by March 28th.    Presentations start on Monday, March 29th. 

Why do I care so much?  Well, Mike and I have talked about this many times.  We both agree that Jack truly cares about how he does in school, but the organizational skills required of him to be successful at the challenge level are higher than what he is able to give at this stage in his 9-yr-old life.   I know that  it is recommended that it is better to let our kids fail at this level than at the high school level where it truly matters.  They learn lessons, etc.  I agree with that premise when it is a child that is clearly capable and is not living up to his/her ability.  But, I am struggling with this topic with our little man because it is not a question of resistance, but a question of maturity.  You can’t MAKE someone mature because you want it.   Everyone knows that it is true!

I really do feel for him because sometimes he can’t play with the neighborhood kids after school because of his homework demands.  I do hope that this curriculum is worth it to our boy.  It seems to have helped Maddie quite a bit in junior high – she is very self-sufficient, makes almost straight A’s and doesn’t seem to struggle with written assignments, presentations, etc.  I’m hoping that he will also realize the benefits from this accelerated curriculum.

I love my little man so much and am trying to do the best by him regarding his schooling.  I have to say that we have not had any of these issues with girls, why is that?  Is it the difference in maturity between girls and boys?   I wish I knew!

However, what I can say is that Jack seems to take after his father in a lot of ways and that is not a bad thing!  Mike is a very successful human being as well as a businessman, so there is abundant hope for my little Jackie 🙂 

And, I need to RELAX 🙂

4 thoughts on “The Mom, the 4th Grader and the ISP (aka Independent Study Project)

  1. Oh Jenni – I was CRACKING UP through this whole post. Remember, I also have a 4th grader, and try to take similar “so honey, how are you doing with…” and find I am in management mode too. Our latest… “book exit tickets”.. don’t ask.
    Only I have 2nd grader with the same organizational challenges. I must say, my Kindergarten demonstrates more aptitude in this organizational area… but of course! She is a girl!! 🙂


  2. Sis, I had to read this twice! I an not at all shocked over the organizational battle, but the breast cancer part cracks me up! I would love to see his presentation, especially if he has to speak in front of the class! I was trying to think of a funny product, i.e., “Boobilicious” – gum with wrappers that remind you to get your mammogram. Anyway, life is certainly not boring in the Engledow residence!


  3. We will take a picture of his presentation board and his product so you can see it. His product is going to be the magnet with breast health facts on it for the kids to hand to their moms. It seemed to be the safest! Last night we had an in-depth discussion on hysterectomies and menopause (which meant I had to talk to him about menstruation as well). It was pretty crazy.


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