Wednesday, October 29, 2014

Biology—Pineapple and Gumdrops Day!

This week in biology class/lab, we covered Module 5. Since we didn’t meet last week over fall break, the students were expected to do experiments 5.1 and 5.2 at home.

First, we discussed some of the concepts in the chapter…the properties of monosaccharides, biscaccharides, and polysaccharides and the reactions that combine or separate monosaccharides,  the composition of proteins, and the role of enzymes in chemical reactions that support life. Then, the students conducted an experiment by mixing fresh pineapple, cooked pineapple, and no pineapple with Jell-O to assess the effects of pineapple enzymes on the gelling processes. (They learned that enzymes in fresh pineapple will prevent gelling, but that these enzymes are fragile and are destroyed by heat.)


The next project was to create edible DNA models using gumdrops, licorice sticks and toothpicks. The students were given a specific nucleotide sequence (with each of the four nucleotides represented by a different color gumdrop) and had to properly match the proper nucleotides together in their double helixes.



Tuesday, October 28, 2014

In the Reign of Terror (Schoolhouse Review)

Jim Hodges Productions produces a wide variety of audio recordings of classic books, including 21 of G.A. Henty’s historical novels. We had the chance to review In the Reign of Terror ($18 digital download, $25 mp3 cd), a novel set in the time period of the French Revolution.


I was afraid that this story might be a bit dull, but this was not at all the case! It is quite long (over 8 hours), but was quite enjoyable. It relates the fictional story of a British teen who is sent to stay with family friends in France just at the time the French Revolution is breaking out. As the terror begins and the aristocracy are being imprisoned and executed, the parents in the family were also captured and murdered, leaving the children and young adults of the family in great danger. Harry is instrumental in hiding and saving them, and even meets such infamous characters as Robespierre in the process. The story moved quickly and was engaging without being too graphic—a delicate balance with a subject like the French Revolution.

Jim Hodges’ recording of In the Reign of Terror was very well done—very easy to listen to and follow, with different accents and voices for different characters.

Emily said, “It teaches you history through a story, which makes it really interesting. They should make more of these.”  (I then informed her that there were were, indeed, twenty more!)

We will certainly need to add more of Henty’s novels and/or Hodges’ recordings to our schedule!

We also received a comprehensive Study Guide for G. A. Henty’s In the Reign of Terror ($12).  While the audio production is enjoyable as either recreational listening or as a supplement to the study of the French Revolution, the study guide turns the book/recording into a full literature and historical study. For each chapter, the guide includes vocabulary (requiring the student to look up and write the definitions of up to 30 words), comprehension and interpretation questions, and suggested activities.

Some of the comprehension questions could be answered from listening to the story, while others required some research or access to a map. Some typical questions were:

  • Who are the Jacobins and what are their objectives?
  • Who are the sans culottes?
  • Where is Burgundy located?
  • Explain this archaic use of ape.” He does not ape the manner of the bourgeois.”
  • What is another good title for this chapter and why?

The Activities section for each chapter provided some wonderful suggestions  for digging deeper into the time period. Some of the activities include:

  • Pretend you are a reporter sent to cover the storming of the Bastille. Write a newspaper article to describe these events as if you were a witness or participant.
  • Research Dijon mustard. Have a test taste….
  • Sketch a scene from the chapter.
  • Compare and contrast the National Assembly and Parliament.

We found the study guide very beneficial for bringing the story to life and more relevant. Because we’ve already studied this period in history, the story was an enjoyable review of the French Revolution. We used some of the comprehension questions orally as we discussed the story, but didn’t take the time to work on the activities. I wish I had this guide last year when we were working on this time period, though!

Henty’s novels, and the corresponding recordings, are most appropriate for ages 10 and up because of the the older language and complicated story lines, as well as references to difficult subjects, such  as war.

Click to read Crew ReviewsI received this product free in exchange for my honest review.


Monday, October 27, 2014

Clued In Kids (Schoolhouse Review)

Clued In Kids

Have you ever done treasure hunts for your children? We have, a few times for birthday parties, and they were always been a big hit. It was quite time consuming, however, to come up with the clues, make the notes, hide them, and so on.

Clued in Kids has simplified the process for parents by creating a wide assortment of treasure hunts that can be set up in less than 10 minutes. The hunts are available in a variety of formats and themes.

  • Printable Treasure hunts start at only $5.99 each and include themes for many holidays and even some educational topics, such as math and nutrition.  We tried Multiplication Dragons ($19.99), which includes 5 different treasure hunts that offer practice with multiplication tables.
  • Two Greeting Card  treasure hunts are available: Christmas Treasure Hunt Gift In A Greeting Card  and Halloween Treasure Hunt Gift in a Greeting Card ($19.99 each). These are nice because they will arrive at your house in a decorative envelope, ready to go with clues, and even a small prize, like stickers.
  • Birthday/Playdate Treasure Hunts are available either as packs of pre-printed clues, or as a kit with 3 hunts and a treasure chest of prizes.

Emily, at 14 was a bit old for the treasure hunts we tried, but was happy to try them out. I think they are best suited for ages 4-12, although of course, children on the younger end of that range would need help with reading and solving clues, while older ones would need little help.

The first hunt we used was Multiplication Dragons (6’s times tables). I printed out the clues, then spent a few minutes changing 3 or 4 of the clue sheets to include more difficult math questions. (I figured Emily could use more of a challenge, so I substituted a few algebra and exponent problems for some of the simple multiplication ones, making sure that the answer was the same.) In addition to multiplication facts, the clue cards held riddles, codes, mirror writing, and mazes.



Then we tried out the Christmas Treasure Hunt Gift in a Greeting Card. This lovely package would be a fun surprise for any child. The envelope looks like a treasure hunt, the bright colorful clues are ready to be hidden, and rub on Christmas tattoos were included for a prize. Ideally the parent would pull these out before the child saw them! Obviously, it’s not the Christmas season yet, but we pretended! I pulled a stocking ornament from our Christmas decorations (more accessible than the actual stockings), and when Emily got to the clue that told her to look under the Christmas tree, I just told her to find the closest item to a tree in the house (which turned out to be a large houseplant)!




The hunts were very easy to set up, taking just a few minutes to hide the clues. Each clue specified on the bottom of the card in small print where to hide the clue—mainly common places around the house—near a toothbrush, in the refrigerator, and so on. A few clues were to be held by the adult, and awarded to the child when he or she performed a task specified on the previous clue. The hiding places seemed to be repeated often between different hunts, however. On just her second hunt, Emily proclaimed, “I might has well just look in all the same hiding places as last time and save time!” I suppose there are a finite number of hiding places in a home, particularly ones that are common to most homes, but we would have liked more variety. Maybe that wouldn’t matter to a younger child.

I especially liked the multiplication hunts, because it’s always fun to practice math in a different way. When they were younger, all of my children would have loved this activity for a playdate or as a break from school time. I think Clued in Kids hunts would be a great thing to have on hand for rainy days or special occasions. And the greeting card sets would be a fun surprise to receive in the mail from a grandparent or friend. Read about some more ideas for Christmas gifts on the Clued in Kids blog.

Click to read Crew Reviews

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

Friday, October 24, 2014

Mysteries of the Dead Sea Scrolls (Schoolhouse Review)

New Liberty Videos Review


New Liberty Videos offered the Crew several different DVD’s to review. We chose to view Mysteries of the Dead Sea Scrolls. (Actually Emily immediately chose this one as the most interesting to her.)

Mysteries of the Dead Sea Scrolls actually includes three different topics:

  • Dead Sea Scrolls—The finding of the scrolls and the tedious process of reassembling the pieces into scripture
  • Hebrew Word Pictures—explanation of the Hebrew alphabet, how words are formed, and how the letters and words make pictures
  • The Forbidden Book—How the Bible text and language changed through the Reformation

Each section is about 20 minutes long, with a total viewing time of 60 minutes. As you might notice from the topics, the overall theme is the history of the Bible and how it came to us. The video segments each seemed to be of a museum lecture. A speaker in a small auditorium explained the topic to visitors. Photographs and short videos of historical sites were shown as the speaker explained each topic.

I found the topics explored to be very interesting. I had no idea that the Dead Sea Scrolls were found as thousands of tiny fragments that are being reassembled to this day. Or that much of it was unreadable until the use of infrared light until the late ‘60’s.

It was fascinating to learn that Hebrew came from the Phoenician alphabet (which is what we use today) and that the early form of Hebrew script is very similar to our alphabet. Furthermore, each letter has not only a sound attached to it, but a meaning. Words consist of word pictures as well as phonetic spellings. Amazing! I have thought of this over the past week while reading passages from Psalms, where many of the chapters consist of acrostic (ABC) verses.

I was more familiar with the reformers of the church and with the transformation of our present Bible, but still learned some new things, for example, John Wycliffe was also a scientist who invented bifocals. (I always heard this credited to Ben Franklin, but he apparently only improved upon Wycliffe's design.)

I found the format less interesting. As a lecture format, it just didn’t have the appeal of a typical documentary. The speakers seemed very knowledgeable, but the first speaker, in particular, droned on and on in a monotone that made me feel that he’d given this talk hundreds of times. Emily proclaimed the DVD to be “boring” although she had initially been eager to watch it. We did have some good discussions about the content and ideas, though, so she did learn from the video. The content was excellent, and it correlated with our history and Bible studies well, but the lecture format was just not quite what I had expected.

Mysteries of the Dead Sea Scrolls sells for $19.95. I felt that this particular video was most appropriate for high school age and up, although some middle schoolers might be interested as well.

Please visit the Schoolhouse Review Crew page to learn more about other DVD’s from New Liberty Videos.

Click to read Crew Reviews

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


Thursday, October 23, 2014

Dogs, dogs, dogs!

My Aunt Bonnie breeds cockers in Montana and currently owns nine dogs. (Our own Macy is one of her puppies.) Emily had a fun time on our recent trip running around with the dogs, running them through agility equipment, and even getting some grooming lessons from an expert. I’m hoping that she’ll be able to take over Macy’s grooming soon!


Monday, October 20, 2014

Middlebury Language Courses (Schoolhouse Review)

Middlebury Interactive Languages Review 

Many homeschool subjects can be learned well from books, but foreign language (other than “dead” languages such as Latin) is an area that requires both audio content and interaction for a student to attain mastery. It’s also an area in which parents are of limited help if they are not themselves fluent in the target languages. I recently became acquainted with the Middlebury Interactive Language courses, an online option for language courses.

Middlebury Interactive Languages courses are available in Spanish, French, Chinese, and German for grades K-12 (depending on the language). Emily is taking the High School Level 1 Spanish Course.

Middlebury Interactive Languages Review

Middlebury Spanish I offers daily lessons, each requiring about 30 minutes to complete. The student progresses through a series of slides, each offering a different activity. Emily was required to:image

  • Repeat words and phrases for pronunciation practice. (The student can even record her own voice for comparison with the model.)
  • Listen to conversations, picking out target words, or even filling in the missing target words in the printed transcript of the dialogue.
  • Match vocabulary words to pictures.
  • Learn about cultural traditions of Spanish-speaking countries.
  • Take periodic quizzes on what she had learned.

The activities are varied and fun, which keeps the student’s interest high. As each activity is completed, the image of the slide at the left side of the screen turns gray as a visual depiction of progress. Some activities simply need to be completed, such as listening to (and hopefully repeating) a list of vocabulary words or reading and listening to an explanation of a concept. Others are graded, such as matching and fill-in-the-blank activities. We were pleased to find that if the student does poorly on an activity, it can be redone until it is perfect. This ensures that the student is mastering each skill before she progresses.


I was concerned that the course would be too easy for Emily because she has had experience with several other Spanish programs. I didn’t think she was ready for Spanish 2, though. Fortunately, this was not the case. Middlebury Interactive Spanish 1 starts with letters of the alphabet, basic greetings, basic nouns and adjectives like most other programs. However, there was quite a bit of conversation even in the first lessons. The expectation was that the beginning student could pick out a few words and get the gist of the conversation. Emily could actually understand nearly all of the conversation, so the activity was just at a higher level for her as she attempted to grasp all the language.


Emily is really enjoying this online Spanish course, and I think she’s learning a lot. It uses a typical scope and sequence for high school courses, so it’s a good option for students who have had Spanish in a classroom setting or may in the future. It’s also a good supplement to more travel oriented or conversational courses that may leave out some of the basic concepts, such as memorizing verb conjugations that are a part of traditional courses.

Emily says that she loves using Middlebury Spanish and wants to continue with it. She said that she liked that when vocabulary was taught, she was immediately quizzed on it, then quizzed again later. She also enjoyed the conversations in each lesson.

My only suggestion is actually not about the course; it is about the Middlebury website. It was very hard for me to get a grasp from the website of what the course would be like until we actually tried it. It would be very helpful for potential customers to try out a lesson for free or to see screenshots of each course as well as seeing a scope and sequence for the course. It’s a wonderful course, but it is difficult for a potential customer to see that.

Middlebury Interactive Language high school courses are $119 per semester without teacher. Teacher support is an additional $179.

Click to read Crew Reviews

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

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