Saturday, October 18, 2014

Biology Class—Fungi, Part 2

This past week was the second week for our Biology Fungi Module. The first activity was to used fungi guide books to identify varieties of fungi and to assign them to the correct phyla. These are all photos of fungi that I saw in Montana and South Carolina. Admittedly, most do fall into the phyla Basidiomycota (mushrooms and shelf fungi). The students were able to definitively identify some, tentatively identify others, and were stumped on a few. My main purpose was to have them familiar with the different phyla, though, as well as to consider the vast variety of fungi.


After reviewing the chapter highlights and discussing the different phlya in Kingdom Fungi, we proceeded to Experiment 4.2. The students mixed 1T yeast and 1T sugar with 2 c. warm water. They let one sit for 5 minutes and the other sit for 1 hour. (Actually I started the hour one before class to save time. Then, they made slides, stained and unstained from both samples and looked for yeast budding under the microscope.


We had a bit of trouble differentiating between bubbles and yeast at times. Also, some of the samples were taken from the bottom of the cup, while others were taken from the bubbles at the top. They all agreed that the better samples came from the bottom and I reminded them that in taking samples from 2 places, they had more than one variable changing. Did the dye make a difference in what they saw or was it the sample variation? Lesson learned, I hope!

Next week, chemistry!

Friday, October 17, 2014

Standard Deviants Accelerate (Schoolhouse Review)

Standard Deviants Accelerate Review

I’ve been familiar with Standard Deviants for a long time. We own several of their Spanish videos that teach concepts in a fun, fast-paced way. They have always offered videos for a variety of subjects, but now, the company has expanded into full online courses with videos, quizzes, and suggested classroom hands-on activities. This new program is called Standard Deviants Accelerate.

Standard Deviants Accelerate Homeschool Courses include these topics, primarily for middle and high school students:

Arithmetic - Grades 3+
Fundamental Math - Grades 4+
Earth Science - Grades 6+
Nutrition - Grades 6+
Algebra - Grades 7+
Biology - Grades 7+
Chemistry - Grades 9+
English Comp. - Grades 9+
U.S. History - Grades 9+
AP Biology - Grades 11+
AP Chemistry - Grades 11+
AP U.S. Government & Politics - Grades 11+
AP U.S. History - Grades 11+
AP Eng. Composition - Grades 11+

The program is actually designed for classroom use, so it was a little more complicated to set up than I expected. From my teacher’s login page, I had to set up a “class period” for each course I was using. Then, I was given an access code to give to my student. She was able to sign up for her own account and use the access code for each particular course to register for that course. The process is repeated for each course, so a student will see each course she is registered for on her home page.

Although the process is a bit complicated, the Standard Deviants staff are extremely helpful and are happy to set up a private webinar at any time to give direction and assistance.


I registered Emily for 3 classes: Biology, English Composition, and Nutrition. She worked primarily in biology, and also did several lessons in English composition. We haven’t started Nutrition yet, but it is on her home page for now. When she signs in, she sees icons for all three courses. After selection one, she then sees a list of topics for that course and is able to choose one to work on.


Each lesson has several components:image

  • Video—A 3 to 15 minute video that teaches the concept; Space is given to take notes and to save them in the student’s “locker.”
  • Vocab—A list of the target vocabulary or main concepts from the lesson
  • Diagram—A hands-on activity where the student drags appropriate terms to their definitionsimage
  • Quiz—This 5 question quiz is checked by the computer. For any errors, an option appears to watch just that portion of the video that pertains to that question. Then the student is given an opportunity to retake the quiz (although the original grade does not change.)
  • Written answer—The student answers the same thematic question as it applies to each lesson. (For English composition, the question is “How does learning to write affect thinking?”)

From my own teacher’s login page, I am able to see Emily’s scores on quizzes, see and/or grade her written responses and  receive “alerts” for areas she has not achieved a passing score in. I can also add students to classes and read any messages she may have sent me.


Emily has been enjoying her Standard Deviants Accelerate courses. We’re finding this online supplement to be very useful  both for reviewing concepts she has already learned and for learning new information. The videos are fast paced, with speakers changing frequently and diagrams and pictures that illustrate concepts. They are a bit silly as well, making the learning process fun.

She is able to retake quizzes and watch the videos as often as needed to master the content. I love that feature. However, the first quiz she takes is the only one that shows up on her grade. The final test for each section includes all the questions that she missed in individual lessons. I find that Emily needs a lot of repetition to retain information, so having this course to use along with our other classes has been a blessing!

We haven’t used the class activities yet, partly because I have a class of one student, making most of the activities hard to do, and partly because we are using Standard Deviants Accelerate as a supplement to our main biology and English courses and, while the online, independent aspect is perfect for us, adding additional activities doesn’t fit in our schedule right now. However, they do look like beneficial activities and I will consider using some of them in the biology lab class that I teach.

Standard Deviants Accelerate classes are not full classes, but are excellent for review and supplementation. And my child thinks they are fun! 

Each subject costs $24.95 a month or $99 a year.

Click to read Crew Reviews

I received this product free in exchange for my honest review.

Tuesday, October 14, 2014

iWitness (Schoolhouse Review)


I had the opportunity to review three books to review from Apologia Educational Ministries’ iWitness series.

iWitness Biblical Archaeology
New Testament iWitness
Old Testament iWitness

The iWitness series, written and designed by Doug Phillips,  presents scholarly material in a format that is interesting and understandable for students (and adults) ages 11 and up. The books are printed in primarily sepia tones, which gives them an antique, scholarly look. Each page is heavily illustrated with drawings, paintings, and photos with “notes” superimposed on top that tell about the subject in bite-sized pieces.

Old Testament iWitness tells all about where our Old Testament came from. The reader will learn about the authorship of books, about the Jewish collections of books and our current divisions of these books, and how they came to be included in our present-day Bible. The process the early scribes used in copying these books is described, as is are the discoveries of ancient manuscripts and other archaeological finds that validate the authority of scripture.

New Testament iWitness explains the canonization of books, the preservation of these writings from the time of Jesus up to modern times, and differences or errors in various texts. It discusses some of the other early church writings that were not included in scripture, either because they were written after the apostolic age, or because they contradicted the teachings of the gospels. Some of these books are even assumed to be forged. I found this very interesting. Many of us were under the assumption that the New Testament in its current form was compiled a few hundred years ago, but actually all of our current New Testament books were considered authoritative by the early church within 100 years of Christ’s death and resurrection.


iWitness Biblical Archeology gives fascinating details about the archaeological finds that validate scripture accounts and how the history of other cultures fits in (or doesn’t fit in) with Biblical history. The book is organized by Bible chronology, first discussing Noah’s ark and the various claims about its remnants being found and the various stories from other cultures that are similar to the Biblical flood story.You will read about the Pharaohs of Egypt, Sennacherib, and the Dead Sea Scrolls. Some interesting historical facts are included. I found it very interesting to read about how Hadrian filled in the cave where Jesus was rumored to have been born, planted a grove of trees and dedicated it to Adonis. Later Constantine removed the grove and built a chapel at the site. Similar circumstances happened at the traditional site of Jesus’ tomb.


Emily really enjoyed reading these books (and I did, too). There is a lot of content that most adult Christians don’t know, but the many pictures and interesting format, as well as the interesting information would interest many children in middle school or even younger. My only small complaint would be that the notes, which are written in various fonts intended to mimic handwriting were sometimes a little difficult to read. The content was meaty enough that I counted the 3 books as three weeks’ credit for her Bible/Apologetics class.

Emily is already asking for more books in this series, especially the one on heresies and cults that will be coming out in 2015, so that’s a definite recommendation for the series!

Each iWitness book sells for $14.00.

Click to read Crew Reviews

I received this product free in exchange for my honest review.


Thursday, October 9, 2014


Part of the Glacier National Park is classified as temperate rain forest. We took a walk through a Cedar Forest and enjoyed seeing a large variety of  plant life and fungi.. Since we had a fungi chapter coming up in biology, I photographed as many as I could.


We found these fungi growing in a complete circle around this rotting log very interesting.


Then I made a picmonkey collage with these photos and some others I’d taken locally to use for our biology class.

PicMonkey Collage

Wednesday, October 8, 2014

Biology Class—Fungi Part 1

The experiments we did last week in biology class involved observing Basidiomycota (mushrooms, puffballs, and shelf fungi) and Zygomycota (bread and fruit mold). The students were instructed to bring in fungi and molds for us to look at with magnifying glasses and the microscope. Unfortunately, the weather has been very dry here lately, so the students had a hard time finding the fungi. All we had were a couple examples of shelf fungi and a portabella mushroom from the grocery store to examine. They did bring some “lovely” and aromatic samples of mold, though—growing on bread, cantaloupe, apple, and grapefruit.

I noticed that all the kids are getting better at writing up lab reports, making slides, and using the microscope.


Tuesday, October 7, 2014

Rock Star Essay (Schoolhouse Review)

Fortuigence Review

Writing can be a difficult subject to teach and to grade, so I was happy to have the opportunity for Emily to take Fortuigence ‘s Essay Rock Star Persuasive Essay Writing Course.  This online writing course for ages 12-18 includes seven lessons that take the student from brainstorming through outlining and drafting to a polished essay. Each lesson includes a short video, a page or two of instructional texts, and some worksheets, outlines, and/or examples that take the student through the process of writing a persuasive essay from beginning to end. The student submits his or her work to a teacher online and is given feedback and guidance at every step of the process. At the conclusion of the course, the student will have completed one essay.  The lessons include:

  1. Introduction and pre-assessment
  2. Brainstorming
  3. Organizing Ideas (Outline)
  4. Free Writing
  5. Revision
  6. Editing
  7. Wrap Up

Most of the lessons had many pages of printable handouts—outlines, rubrics, worksheets, and writing samples. This was actually my favorite aspect of the course. We printed everything out and now have them in a notebook for further reference.

For the first assignment, Emily had to submit a writing sample. We chose to send in a an essay that she had written last spring that was representative of her work. “Mrs. I” responded to tell her that she was a “competent writer,” that she was looking forward to working with her in the course, and to move on to lesson 2.

In Lesson 2, Emily was given a list of possible topics for her persuasive essay. She chose to write about, “Obstacles are a part of life that you have to push through.” She was required to brainstorm about the topic and write down all of her ideas, using a very helpful worksheet that helped her articulate her main point, whether she agreed or disagreed, and three reasons to support her reasoning. After completing this step, she could see that her outline (Lesson 3) was easy to complete, since she had already given the subject quite a bit of thought.

After each lesson, she received feedback from Mrs. I within a day or two. Generally, the feedback was brief, but at one point, she was given some critique of her opening paragraph and was asked to rewrite it before proceeding to the next lesson.

One of the big advantages to me was that someone else was giving Emily instructions and feedback about her writing. Emily likes to write and is great at churning out first drafts, but she hates to revise. It was nice for me to stand back, knowing that she was responsible to someone else for finishing assignments and was being required to go through each step from brainstorming to finished essay. For the most part, she worked on her own. On a couple of occasions, I did suggest that she work a bit more on an assignment before she turned it in. And I was glad that she was required to rework one section. It probably would have been helpful if the teacher had been a little tougher on her at the beginning. She was very encouraging, but I would have liked to see Emily pushed a bit more toward excellence. The only point where I actually helped a bit was on the final editing (punctuation and spelling).

There are four courses in the Rock Star Essay program:

  • The Personal Statement
  • The Persuasive Essay
  • The Expository Essay
  • The Textual Analysis

Each course is $57 (or $197 for all four). Completing of all four courses in this homeschool writing program is equivalent to 0.5 English credits. The course is designed for middle to high school students and, while the course assignments are same for all, the teachers guidance and expectations will vary with the writing ability of each particular student.

If you are looking for an outside teacher to help your student gain proficiency in essay writing, the Rock Star Essay program is a good option.

Click to read Crew Reviews

I received this product free in exchange for my honest review.

Thursday, October 2, 2014

Fun with 3-Dimensional Math

Geometry has been pretty difficult for Emily for the past few weeks, as she’s learned theorems about triangles, parallel and transverse lines, and polygons and solved for unknown angles. She’s having a much easier week right now, learning about solids. One of her assignments today was to draw and assemble the nets of various 3-dimensional shapes. I think I even heard a “This is fun,” comment come from her lips!

Personally, I’ve never cared for 3-dimensional math, but she seems to have knack for it.


Wednesday, October 1, 2014

Biology Class—Algae

Last week in biology class, we learned about algae. First, we spent some time reviewing and discussing the various algae phyla in Kingdom Protista. Then, the students spent some time with the microscope viewing and drawing pre-made slides of volvox and spirogyra. Then they spent some time writing out question cards for Module 3. For the last 25 minutes of class, they divided into teams and played a quiz game with the questions they had made. Most fun class yet!


Friday, September 26, 2014

Fix It! Grammar (Schoolhouse Review)

Fix It! Grammar Review

Vendor: Institute for Excellence in Writing (IEW)

Product: Fix It! Grammar: Frog Prince, or Just Deserts [Book 3] (Teacher Manual)  $19
               Fix It! Grammar: Frog Prince, or Just Deserts [Book 3] (Student Book) $15

  Fix It! Grammar Review

  Fix It! Grammar is a newly revised series published by Institute for Excellence in Writing that teaches grammar principles through real stories. By teaching grammatical principles in context rather than through drill, the carry-over to actual writing should be greater. There are six books in this series, which is written for third grade and up.

IEW recommends that any age learner begin with Book 1, but does offer a placement test for students who have had other grammar instruction and wish to begin at a higher level. We started with Book 3: Frog Prince, or Just Deserts, which is for grades six and up. The Teacher’s Manual includes a free downloadable Student Book, but a printed Student Book is available for those who don’t wish to print their own copies.

Fix It! Grammar  is a simple concept that is enjoyable to use. The student uses a notebook, divided into 4 parts: Fix Its, Grammar Glossary, Rewrite, and Vocabulary. The Fix Its and Grammar Glossary are included in the spiral-bound Student Book, so students that use it will use a two-section notebook.

Each day, the student marks parts of speech and corrects grammar errors on a short (1-2 sentence) passage. On Monday, the teacher teaches the weekly concept and helps with or demonstrates the markings. On Tuesday through Thursday, the student works independently or with minimal assistance. Each day after correcting the passage, the student carefully copies the sentences into a notebook. The sentences tell a story, so when the course is completed, the student will have a complete, handwritten story.

Grammar cards are included for the student to reference rules as he or she completes each assignment. I love these—instead of reminding Emily of the rules, I can just say, “Check your grammar cards,” or better yet, she can reference the rules on her own without even asking for help.  

The tasks and concepts in the early portion of Book 3 include:

  • Vocabulary (one word per day to look up and copy in the vocabulary section of the notebook)
  • Indents
  • Capitals
  • Marking subjects and verbs
  • Marking prepositional phrases
  • Labeling clauses
  • Punctuation errors
  • Sentence openers (in the IEW format)

Emily was intrigued by the format and actually squealed when I explained that she would be writing a complete story in her notebook. (This reaction was totally unexpected!) The concepts in Book 3 were ones that were familiar to her, although a bit fuzzy at times, since she hasn’t studied grammar for a couple of years. She’s pretty good with punctuation in her own writing, but needed a refresher on parts of speech, clauses, etc. Because of that, I sat with her for the first few lessons, offering help as needed. Before long, though, she didn’t want my help at all. I am still insisting that I supervise the Day 1 lesson, but other than that she prefers to work independently.


The teacher’s manual is excellent at giving explanations for each of the corrections. If Emily makes an error, or if I just want to further explain a concept that she did mark correctly, we discuss those concepts briefly. Punctuation rules are tied into the grammar concepts, teaching the student reasons for adding a comma or not. Additional helps can be found in the margins for advanced students or “grammar lovers.”  More grammar helps and tips are included in the manual than any one person would likely use. The user is encouraged to pick and choose from the teacher’s materials in order to keep each daily lesson to no more than 15 minutes.

The lessons really do take no more than 15 minutes to complete. Because of this, we often do two lessons at a time. Since Emily is in ninth grade, even two lessons are not a burden. I really like the concept of a grammar program that can be done with such a minimal time investment. The 15 minutes are quality instruction, however, with the parent working with the child and discussing each concept. I think more learning takes place when the content is challenging, but an adult is present to help than when a child is, for example, just underlining nouns on a page of random sentences.

The story itself is funny and engaging. I would not confuse it with great literature, but it’s enjoyable enough for a child’s grammar assignment. Using a real story was a great touch, making the assignments a bit more relevant and interesting to students.

Overall, we are finding Fix It! Grammar easy to implement, enjoyable to use, and taking a minimal amount of time. Even better, I’m already seeing some carry-over into Emily’s writing assignments.


Click to read Crew Reviews

I received this product free in exchange for my honest review.

WordUp! The Vocab Show

I love everything I’ve tried from Compass Classroom, and their brand new WordUp! The Vocab Show is no exception. We were invited to try out a few of the lessons prior to the release of this new vocabulary program and absolutely loved it! Did you know that learning vocabulary can be fun? WordUp! is a video program hosted by Dwane Thomas of Visual Latin. Each laugh-out-loud funny episode features one Latin root and one Greek root, with about 10 English words created from each root. Links to online Quizlet vocabulary flashcards, games, and quizzes round out the fun (I mean learning).



WordUp! is currently on sale for just $9.99. You can purchase the digital download immediately, or pre-order the DVD. And of course, check out the free lessons.
Word Up! The Vocab Show from Compass Classroom

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Thursday, September 25, 2014

Montana Hike

On one of the first days of our Montana trip, we took a short hike and had a picnic lunch at “Little Creek Falls.”  Emily enjoyed bringing along the 4-month old puppy “Gemma” for her first walk on a leash and taking LOTS of pictures.


On the way home, we sighted this Osprey nest.