Friday, August 19, 2016

Starting a New School Year!

Emily is ready to start 11th grade! And my baby’s kindergarten photo. We’ve come a long way in our homeschool journey!

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Wednesday, August 17, 2016

FlipStir Puzzle (Schoolhouse Review)

FlipStir Puzzles Reviews

Recently, Emily and I had the chance to try out a fun and unique type of puzzle, the FlipStir created by Enlivenze LLC.  We received the FlipStir Statue of Liberty Puzzle to try, but there are several more variations: Rainbow Pencils, Tyrannosaurus Rex, and Solar System. The Statue of Liberty puzzle is a Level 2 puzzle because the picture itself is harder to solve and the edges of the pieces are wavy rather than straight.

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How do you play with FlipStir? The directions are simple. Shake. Stir. Solve. That’s it! Well, the solving part is not terrible simple, but that’s where the fun is! A FlipStir is a 10 piece puzzle. Each piece is a semicircle and the pieces stack to create a picture. The catch is—the pieces are inside a plastic canister and the only way to manipulate them is with the attached stir rod. There are two skills needed to solve the puzzle—figuring out the order of the 10 pieces and actually moving them around inside the canister.

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It wasn’t difficult to figure out the order of the pieces. Sometimes we had to put one in place before we could tell for sure if it was a match, but that part of the process wasn’t difficult. We found it a bit harder to figure out how to manipulate the puzzle pieces with the stick and Emily declared it “frustrating.”  She did enjoy it, though, and it took her a while to complete the process. It took me 15-20 minutes or so to put the puzzle together, although one of Emily’s friends picked it up and assembled it in 5 minutes! If we had more than one FlipStir puzzle, it would be fun to have races to see who could finish first.

The FlipStir puzzle is great for taking in the car or carrying in a purse because there are no pieces to lose. It’s a great tool for practicing fine motor and perceptual skills as well as for developing patience! Other crew members tried out some of the other FlipStir puzzles, so be sure to read about their experiences on the Schoolhouse Review Crew Blog.

Connect with Enlivenze and FlipStir:

Product Accounts
Facebook: www.facebook.com/flipstirpuzzle
Twitter: www.twitter.com/flipstir
Company Accounts
Facebook: www.facebook.com/enlivenze
Twitter: www.twitter.com/enlivenze

 

FlipStir Puzzles Reviews

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

Thursday, August 11, 2016

Planning Out Our School Year

This is the time of year when I work on scheduling out our new school year and writing lesson plans. If I used a “boxed” curriculum, this would be quite easy, but my eclectic approach to school and curricula requires a bit more planning ahead. Fortunately for me, planning and organizing are some of my favorite things to do!

First, I look over all the books and materials that I plan to use for the year. (These have already been purchased over the past few months.) Some will be used for the entire year. Others might be used for a semester, or for just a few weeks. Others might be used for a few weeks, then alternated with another resource.

Although I have a general plan of what will be used when, I need to narrow down that plan and record it. For this, I use a grid that shows each subject with a block for each week. I find that the Quarterly Planner pages from the Schoolhouse High School Planner are perfect for this.

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Once I have my big picture in place, I can get to my weekly planning. I’ve used a variety of paper planners through the years, including simple grids that I just made up myself to commercial planners like the Schoolhouse Planner. Since last year, I’ve been using Homeschool Planet and just love it. I can put assignments in quickly using its sophisticated scheduling features that allow me to repeat assignments using sequential lessons or page numbers. I can easily shift assignments to another day, keep attendance, and record grades for each subject with the software.

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This year, I’m actually using a combination of online and paper planning. On Homeschool Planet, I am planning assignments by the week. Emily will look at the weekly assignments and fill out her personal planning grid as she plans her own schedule day by day. This will not only streamline my planning, but allow her to become more responsible for her schedule and assignments. College is only two years away and I won’t be around then to make a schedule for her!

Having a plan is important to me and helps make our school year successful. I’d be lost without it!

Tuesday, August 9, 2016

Find Your Brave (Review)

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Are you a brave person? Do you have the courage to stand strong, or even just to survive through life’s storms? Life can be tough. Difficult relationships, illness, death, financial troubles… the list goes on and on. And if you are like me, you don’t always handle these trials well.

I just finished reading, Find Your Brave: Courage to Stand Strong When the Waves Crash In, by Holly Wagner. As we know, trials are a part of this life, but Wagner’s book is a source of encouragement while facing hardship. She addresses letting go of baggage, like disappointment, forgiveness, and fear, that holds us back. She teaches that courage is a choice, how to anchor ourselves in a storm, and gathering our strength from God rather than our own power. There is even a chapter on dealing with storms that we create ourselves (and we are good at that!)

I found this to be an inspiring book that would be especially helpful to women who are under a lot of stress or who are going through difficult trials. I appreciated the reminders of truths that I know, such as God is in control and found some new ideas as well for dealing with difficult times and people. Stories and verses from scripture as well as personal anecdotes illustrated the principles well and kept it interesting.

The author, Holly Wagner, is an author, international speaker and the co-pastor of Oasis Church in Los Angeles, California. She is also the founder of GodChicks—a thriving organization devoted to encouraging and equipping women around the globe to rise out of their darkest moments and live with intentionality, hope and divine purpose. Her previous books include GodChicks, Awakened, Love Works, and WarriorChicks.

I received a free copy of this book from Waterbrook Multomah and Blogging for Books in exchange for my honest opinion.

Friday, August 5, 2016

Are You Preparing your High School Student for College?

 

This article is re-published from http://www.landryacademy.com. I thought it was very helpful in helping me choose skills to focus on during Emily’s last two years of high school.

College Professor Critiques Homeschoolers

© Greg Landry - written in 2009

I teach sophomore through senior level college students - most of them are "pre-professional" students. They are preparing to go to medical school, dental school, physical therapy school, etc.

As a generalization, I've noticed certain characteristics common in my students who were homeschooled.  Some of these are desirable, some not.

Desirable characteristics:

1. Homeschooled students are independent learners and do a great job of taking initiative and being responsible for learning. They don't have to be "spoon fed" as many students do. This gives them an advantage at two specific points in their education; early in college and in graduate education.

2. They handle classroom social situations (interactions with their peers and professors) very well. In general, my homeschooled students are a pleasure to have in class. They greet me when they enter the class, initiate conversations when appropriate, and they don't hesitate to ask good questions in class. Most of my students do none of these.

3. They are serious about their education and that's very obvious in their attitude, preparedness, and grades.

Areas where homeschooled students can improve:

1. They come to college less prepared in the sciences than their schooled counterparts - sometimes far less prepared. This can be especially troublesome for pre-professional students who need to maintain a high grade point average from the very beginning.

2. They come to college without sufficient test-taking experience, particularly with timed tests. Many homeschooled students have a high level of anxiety when it comes to taking timed tests.

3. Many homeschooled students have problems meeting deadlines and have to adjust to that in college. That adjustment time in their freshman year can be costly in terms of the way it affects their grades.

My advice to homeschooling parents:

1. If your child is even possibly college bound and interested in the sciences, make sure that they have a solid foundation of science in the high school years.

2. Begin giving timed tests by 7th or 8th grade. I'm referring to all tests that students take, not just national, standardized tests.

I think it is a disservice to not give students timed tests. Students tend to focus better and score higher on timed tests, and, they are far better prepared for college and graduate education if they've taken timed tests throughout the high school years.

In the earlier years the timed tests should allow ample time to complete the test as long as the student is working steadily. The objective is for them to know it's timed yet not to feel a time pressure. This helps students to be comfortable taking timed tests and develops confidence in their test-taking abilities.

3. Give your students real deadlines to meet in the high school years. If it's difficult for students to meet these deadlines because they're coming from mom or dad, have them take "outside" classes; online, co-op, or community college.

Build on the strengths that homeschooling offers and send your students to college fully prepared and a step ahead of most other students.

Greg is a homeschool dad, former college professor, and founder and director of LandryAcademy.com  Landry Academy springs from his unique experiences in teaching and mentoring youngsters  – he has a heart for students and a passion for teaching them about God's incredible creation that surrounds them. He has taught thousands of homeschooled students, designed and directed a university anatomy and physiology / cadaver laboratory, designed hundreds of science lab experiments for homeschooled students, and has written science lab manuals.

©2014 by Greg Landry

Tuesday, August 2, 2016

Dragonistics—Fun with Statistics (Review)

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We just discovered a fun way to learn about statistics. With a set of Dragonistics cards, published by Statistics Learning Centre, we had access to a large amount of data without having to conduct surveys ourselves. The free printable resources at the Statistics Learning Centre website provided several ready-to-use activities and lesson plans for learning about statistics with the cards.

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Dragonistics cards enabled my daughter to quickly conduct "surveys"  and do statistical analysis on  the characteristics of a large population of dragons. Each card displays a unique dragon with varying characteristics, including name, size, strength, color, sex, personality, age, and breath.  She used the cards to make bar graphs comparing characteristics in her dragon population. Then she developed hypotheses concerning  her dragon population and was able to evaluate each hypothesis (such as female dragons are more cheerful than males or green dragons tend to be larger than red dragons) by sorting and arranging groups of cards. When I sorted my cards attempting to  answer the same question,  our conclusions sometimes differed just as results would differ somewhat in real life. This was an effective way to demonstrate sampling error and variation.P1050729

The cards come in a nice box and are sturdy and colorful. They are ideal for making quick bar graphs or sorting into Venn diagrams. The set is designed for classroom use and there are plenty of cards for several groups of children to use, but we found the activities very easy to adapt for individual use as well and is appropriate for elementary aged students and up. I’m even hoping that we can incorporate them into a high school statistics course next year. This is a unique product that we will enjoy using!

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Monday, August 1, 2016

CTCMath (Schoolhouse Review)

CTCMath Review

There are many many programs available to homeschoolers for teaching math. CTCMath is an excellent online math option. We received the CTCMath Homeschool Membership for review, so Emily has been reviewing her Algebra 2 skills this summer.

CTCMath is a full curriculum for grades K-8 and is recommended as a supplement for high school. From my experience using CTCMath over the past year, I would note that the Algebra  and 2 and the Geometry programs are quite full and didn’t seem to miss any topics as compared to other curriculum options. I’d feel pretty confident about using them as a complete curriculum instead of as just a supplement. The Pre-Calculus and Calculus levels don’t seem to have as many lessons and may be less complete. Since Emily hasn’t completed those subjects yet, it’s harder for me to evaluate their completeness.

How Does CTC Work?

(Please note that this is my description of the high school courses. The format of the elementary courses may vary—I didn’t use them.)

An enrolled student receives access to all grade levels. Within each grade level, there are multiple topics to choose from, with several lessons within each topic. This makes it easy to either work sequentially through all lessons or to focus on particular topics that the student may need to work on. Some topics included a diagnostic test. I found this very helpful (and would love for the diagnostic test to be included for every topic). Since we were using the Algebra 2 course as review, I could have Emily take the diagnostic test, then review the 2 or 3 lessons that she needed to work on rather than require her to work through all of the lessons.

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Each lesson includes a short video and a worksheet. The worksheet can be printed, then the student enters answers online and the program grades the work. The videos very clearly explain the concept and are less than 10 minutes long. The worksheets have a multiple choice/matching format for ease of entering answers with symbols. A few lessons, such as those that require proofs or drawing graphs require the student or parent to self-check and manually enter the grade.

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The program keeps track of progress and gives a grade by using an average of multiple attempts, weighting the first attempt more heavily. (The low scores pictured below resulted from a first score of 0 and a second score of 90-100.)

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A single student membership includes both a parent account and a student account for the parent (so I could actually use the program as if I were a second student). The parent account allows the parent to see log-in times, lessons attempted, and grades earned. It also allows the parent to assign particular lessons as “tasks,” giving them a due date.

Our Experience:

Emily enjoys using CTCMath. The teaching is solid and concepts are clearly explained. The video lessons are just long enough. I appreciate that they don’t take a lot of time. Emily liked being able to print worksheets out, so that she could do her calculations on paper rather than entirely online. She also said that she liked that when she made an error, the evaluation would show her which questions she had missed and that on the next attempt, she was just required to resubmit answers for the missed questions rather than for all of them.

The program keeps progress records that the student can see and more detailed records for the parents to view. I can see when Emily logs on, which lessons she has viewed, how many times it took her to master a lesson, and the grades for her first and last attempts.

I also have the ability to assign her tasks if I want her to work on particular lessons. This was very helpful after she completed a diagnostic test. I would look through the test, note which concepts needed more work, and assign her those tasks.

A new feature that I love in the parent account is the ability to clear grades from particular topics or lessons. This can be nice if you want your student to have a “fresh start” and not to be penalized for previous performance.

Emily did experience one glitch. Although CTCMath runs on HTML5 devices and can therefore be used on iPhones, iPads, and android devices, Emily reported a bit of trouble using it on her i-Phone. The videos worked, but each time she started to enter her answers, she would be logged off and need to log-in again to complete the process. The program would give her a score of 0 for her first attempt, then correctly record her score the second time. This, of course, impacted her grades. I don’t know if this is a common issue, or just a glitch with her device.

CTCMath is a solid, easy-to-use program that we plan to continue using throughout the upcoming school year.

CTCMath Homeschool Membership offers a huge discount for homeschool families. Prices range from $11.97 per month for a single student to $118.80 for a 12 month membership for 2 or more students.

 

CTCMath Review

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

Friday, July 29, 2016

Freebie Friday! Silly Snail Grammar Game

Studying grammar can be a bit dull sometimes, but not when you incorporate grammar practice into a game. My game, Silly Snail, reviews the major parts of speech using a game format. You can download it free here!

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I’ve published a lot of games at Currclick that are a fun way to learn or review a variety of geography, history, and science topics. I hope you will take a look! Here’s a great deal on one of my favorites:

Learn and review geography and facts about the seven continents when you purchase Covering the Continents for only $1 through this link (reg. $3.50).  Or buy all 15 of my learning games for only $15 at CurrClick.

Monday, July 25, 2016

Homes Full of Books!

 

 “Poor people have big TVs; rich people have big libraries." —Jim Rhoan

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I just read this quote in a Sonlight Curriculum newsletter. I LOVE it! I also think that there is a lot of truth in the claim. I grew up in a home with lots of books and frequent trips to the library were a part of my childhood. As an adult, I have far more books than I or my parents did and reading was an important part of my children’s education and recreational time, much more so than TV viewing.

It breaks my heart (and is almost unimaginable) to hear of children who don’t have books in their homes, whose parents don’t value reading. I know that early exposure to books positively affects academic progress, which does impact income. Even more, though,  important is the “richness” that books impart to both children and adults by exposing us to people, places and ideas that we will never  otherwise experience.

Thoughts?

Tuesday, July 19, 2016

The Power in Your Hands (Schoolhouse Review)

Writing with Sharon Watson Review

This summer, Emily has been polishing up her writing skills with , 2nd Edition, published by Writing with Sharon Watson.

Sharon Watson’s wonderful writing and literature programs are not new to us. Last summer, we reviewed Illuminating Literature: When Worlds Collide and continued using it throughout the year as our primary literature program. We also purchased and used the first edition of The The Power in Your Hands: Writing Nonfiction in High School. When we received the second edition of this high school writing program last month, Emily just moved to the corresponding unit in the second edition.

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The Power in Your Hands includes two components: a student book and  teacher’s guide. The student book is very self-explanatory, allowing the student to work through the exercises independently. (Of course, discussion of the completed exercises with the parent/teacher is always beneficial!)

Each of the 23 chapters focuses on a different type of non-fiction writing assignment. The topics include several types of persuasive essays (compare-contrast, logical, emotional appeal), letters, process writing, position paper, newspaper articles, biographies, descriptive essays, and more. Within each chapter are several lessons that teach the type of writing by analyzing others’ writing, creating outlines and introductory paragraphs, and learning more powerful writing techniques such as active voice, choosing precise words, writing to a specific audience, and figurative language. The book is really packed with powerful content!

Each chapter concludes by requiring the student to write a complete essay or other non-fiction piece, using the techniques and principles taught in that chapter. A checklist is always provided to make sure that the student includes the key elements and strategies from the chapter. This is a wonderful feature, because if the student follows the checklist, she will not only write a quality piece, but knows she has included elements necessary to earning a good grade for that essay.

A couple of the chapters focus on proofreading and common grammar mistakes and don’t require the essay.

The teacher’s guide gives instructions on how to grade the essays and provides answers for the student exercises. The current edition offers grading rubrics for every single writing assignment. I love these because they give concrete ways to assess students’ writing and allow students to see areas in which they excelled and areas in which they need to improve. Also included in the teacher’s guide are a year’s worth of writing prompts or “14-minute power surges.” We haven’t used these yet, but look forward to doing so after Emily finishes the student book.

 

Improvements in the Second Edition of The Power in Your Hands:

The student book is virtually the same between the two editions. The main difference is that each daily lesson is clearly labeled. The chapter includes many exercises, labeled 16.1, 16.2, etc. Since these exercises take varying amounts of time, the student might need to complete 1-3 exercises on a particular day. In the first edition, a suggested stopping point was marked by a horizontal line on the page. This was easy to miss. I often had a problem with Emily not finishing a full lesson because she didn’t know where to stop. The second edition labels each lesson, making the daily work much more clear.

             first edition                                                             second edition

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Another change is that the SAT essay chapter from edition 1 was removed (because the SAT essay itself has changed), and a chapter on common grammar mistakes has been added.

The teacher’s guide now has grading guides for each assignment instead of a generic one to use for all of them. That is a great improvement!

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Our Thoughts:

Emily has really enjoyed The Power in Your Hands: Writing Nonfiction in High School. It is one of her favorite subjects. She has completed 16 of the 23 chapters over the past year and we plan to continue into next year. As a parent, I find it difficult to teach “how” to write, but The Power in Your Hands breaks down the process, explaining techniques that are effective for many different types of non-fiction writing. It is a very thorough course that challenges the student, but allows for a great deal of creativity in writing topics and style. I think that being able to choose any topic that interests her is one reason Emily has enjoyed the course so much. Completion of the book would equate to a very intensive writing course for one year or a more relaxed two-year course.

Connect with Sharon Watson:

Writing with Sharon Watson (Sign up for the newsletter to receive free writing prompts!)

Facebook:  https://www.facebook.com/WritingWithSharonWatson
Pinterest:  https://www.pinterest.com/writingwithshar

Writing with Sharon Watson Review

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

Monday, July 18, 2016

Great Ideas for Your Homeschool

As homeschoolers, we have more time to teach our children more non-academic skills, like sewing. I love this post at At Home: Where Life Happens that shows some simple sewing projects that the students made as baby shower gifts. I’m embarrassed to admit that, although I sew a lot, I haven’t spent to time to teach my daughter how to sew.

In my constant search for the best curricula available, I love hearing what resources have worked well for other families.  This week, Kym at Homeschool Coffee Break shared some of her favorite programs. Some, like The Power in Your Hands (review coming soon), and IEW’s Linguistic Development through Poetry Memorization are favorites for us as well.

Have you ever considered year-round schooling? Amanda at HopkinsHomeschool.com is starting a series on the nitty-gritty of how a year-round schedule works. You can find her series here: Year-Round Homeschooling.