Wednesday, November 25, 2015

Keeping High School Work From Consuming our Lives

I loved our early homeschooling days. We used Five in a Row for a low-key, fun approach to learning. We spent a lot of time reading books together, doing crafts, and simple science projects. We were usually finished with our official school time before lunch.

I miss those days. Although my high school student is quite independent, and doesn’t require as much of my time as she did when she was little, her school days are quite long. She has 6 or 7 required subjects to fit in each week, and each subject must include enough time and content to count for a high school credit. We don’t have much time for “following rabbit trails” because I’m trying to make sure she is prepared for college and that she will have a strong transcript to get her there. Emily’s school days are quite long (from (9 a.m. to 4 p.m. or later), plus she usually has catch-up work on the weekends. A good deal of the lengthy schedule is her own fault—she dawdles and gets off track frequently or has grumpy days where she’d just rather sit at the kitchen table for hours and do nothing instead of actually working. Some of the problem is the amount of work, though.

I’m trying to come up with some ways to make high school as manageable and enjoyable as elementary school was, or at least recapture some of that early joy.

One thing I already do somewhat, but would like to do more is double-tasking. When Emily’s literature selections reflect the same time periods that she is studying in history, her understanding of both subjects will be deepened. If I assign her essays and reports that relate to her history studies, these assignments can count as either history or English, but will provide content for both.
Emily is a sophomore this year and we are trying to get a lot of her core classes out of the way, so she will have more time to pursue her interests during her junior and senior years. Hopefully those years will be a bit more “fun” and flexible.  In addition to her core classes, she’ll have completed a health class and a her PE credit, as well as 2 years of Spanish by the end of this year. Last year, she took the computer applications course and personal finance courses that I wanted her to have. I’d like her to continue with Spanish, but may have her focus on it less next year, for a half credit instead of a full credit.  She’ll still be continuing with math, English, history, and science, but will have time for 2-3 courses for electives of her choosing instead of ones I’m requiring her to take.

I think an advantage of home school is that high school students have the time and ability to follow their interests and specialize in specific areas of interest. Emily is interested in criminology as a career. I’m not sure if she will stick with those plans, but I want her to have time to follow that passion now to find out how strong her interest is and to allow her to pursue her areas of passion. This year, she’s taking semester-long classes for psychology and criminology (Landry Academy online courses). Next year, she should have more time to focus on similar topics. (Landry also offers classes in terrorism, sociology, and crime scene investigation that she’d like to take.)
How do you keep high school studies from consuming your lives? I’d love to hear some more ideas!

Read more on How to Fit it ALL in while educating in the high school years:


Monday, November 16, 2015

Blue Ribbon Awards—Our Favorite Homeschool Products this Year

Well, another year of reviewing for the Schoolhouse Review Crew has ended.  Wow! I’ve had a lot of fun, discovered a lot of new products and companies, and revisited a few favorites. I recently heard that I’ve been approved to continue for another year with the Schoolhouse Review Crew, which will be starting up again in January. Hurray!

The members of the Schoolhouse Crew recently voted on their favorite homeschool products for the year. Some of those decisions were hard to make, I know.  If you click the banner below, you can see the winners in over 30 categories from Best Reading program to Favorite Online Program to Kid’s favorite.  2015 Schoolhouse Review Crew Blue Ribbon Awards

Here are a few of my personal favorites (linked to my reviews):

Standard Deviants Accelerate

Fascinating Education

Illuminating Literature

Jazz Edge (Piano With Willie)

Brinkman Adventures

Teen Prasso

 USAopoly (Wonky and Tapple games)

Practical Critical Thinking

Middlebury Spanish

Koru Naturals

My overall favorite (and product that I didn’t know I couldn’t life without!): Homeschool Planet

And Emily’s Teen choice: Standard Deviants Accelerate


Tuesday, November 10, 2015

Practical Critical Thinking (Schoolhouse Review)

Critical thinking is quite a buzz word these days, but exactly what is it, and how can it be taught? The course, Practical Critical Thinking, published by The Critical Thinking Co. attempts to both answer this question and to develop critical thinking skills in high school students. We received both the Practical Critical Thinking book and the Teacher Manual for review.
This hefty 378 page book includes a variety of activities and skills that fall under the “critical thinking” umbrella. Chapter one actually begins with a lesson entitled “Why Care About Critical Thinking?” and helps the student to understand what it means to think critically and why that is important.
The other seven chapters have the student solving puzzles, distinguishing fact from opinion, evaluating evidence for “crime scenes,” learning about ambiguity in language, and analyzing arguments. Although this isn’t an full logic course, it does provide an introduction to informal logic through the study of informal fallacies.
The emphasis of Practical Critical Thinking is, as the title implies, helping students learn to use critical thinking in their day-to-day lives. There is an entire chapter on advertising that helps the student learn about advertising techniques and guides them through evaluating various ads. Students will also learn how to evaluate the strength of arguments. Just spending a bit of time on Facebook convinces me of the need for this skill in our society! P1050458
Emily enjoyed the many color drawings and photos incorporated into the text. Illustrations included actual advertisements to be evaluated, photographs of news stories, and humorous cartoons.This full-color workbook is consumable, but may be copied for classroom or home use. It includes a large amount of instructional text along with pages for the student to write on.
Practical Critical Thinking is designed for either classroom or individual use. Although the exercises can be worked independently, we found that discussion greatly added to the learning experience. Emily read through the lessons and completed them on her own, then I checked them and we discussed parts of each lesson. There is one lesson at the end of every chapter that is for group activities. Some of the suggested activities were discussion of the various lessons, which we were already doing. Others required small groups, but were easily skipped.P1050460
The Practical Critical Thinking Teacher’s Manual contains answers to the exercises and some additional explanation and points for discussion. It also includes reproducible activities for all the lessons (the same ones as are in the student book). It could not be used alone because the student book also includes a great deal of explanatory text, but if you were copying pages in order to preserve the student book (which is allowed for classroom use by Critical Thinking Co.’s generous copyright policy), it would be more efficient to do so from the teacher’s manual. The teacher’s manual was nice to have, but not essential if the parent doesn’t mind doing without an answer guide. (I didn’t have any trouble coming up with the correct answers to the questions on my own).P1050461
I knew Emily needed some help with critical thinking skills, but I didn’t know just how much! In working through the exercises, I found that she is a very literal thinker who was missing a lot of the ambiguities and subtleties in arguments. We had some good discussions on evaluating evidence and on not taking all statements at face value. She’s already begun using some of these skills as she listens to the presidential campaign debates! I think she will gain a lot through the completion of this course.

Practical Critical Thinking and Teacher Manual sell for $39.99 and $14.00 respectively and are intended for use in grades 9-12.
The Critical Thinking Company Review
I received this product free in exchange for my honest review.

Monday, November 9, 2015

Teaching Myself Math with Life of Fred


We discovered the Life of Fred math curriculum several years ago. This unique program teaches math in a story format. Readers of the books will follow the adventures of Fred, a 6-year-old math professor at Kittens University. The stories are laugh out loud funny and illustrated by cartoon drawings. Despite this novel approach, they offer sound teaching. Every concept is illustrated in the story, enabling the student to understand why he or she needs to know it. The lessons include many word problems that require the student to really understand what he’s doing.


Emily used one of the pre-algebra books and the algebra book as supplements a couple of years ago. Although Life of Fred is a complete curriculum, I wasn’t sure if there was enough practice for her or if the instruction was thorough enough. This year, though, she wanted to use Fred for her primary curriculum, so we decided to give it a try.

It’s been a LONG time since I’ve studied math. I have had no trouble helping Emily with her algebra I and geometry, but I realized that I would need some brush-up on my math to keep ahead of her from algebra 2 on.  I ordered both the Advanced Algebra and the Trigonometry (which is considered to be a pre-calculus course) Life of Fred books, thinking that I would work through them and keep ahead of Emily. What I didn’t realize was how much fun this would be, or how much insight into math instruction this would give me!P1050483

I started with the Advanced Algebra book 4 weeks ago. I’m moving very quickly through the 500+ page book and will probably finish it this week! Many of the lessons are short, so I’m doing several a day. The story is funny and the lessons are varied and engaging, which makes me want to do “just more lesson.” Pretty funny idea for math, isn’t it?

I wasn’t really sure how well Life of Fred taught the concepts until I actually worked through it myself. With Emily’s previous books, I skimmed through many of the lessons and wondered if there was enough instruction. Now that I’m actually working the problems, I can see how many of the problems are requiring me to incorporate concepts from previous chapters, and to figure out things that haven’t been fully explained yet, making connections between concepts. (Sometimes, a concept is actually explained in the solution, so it’s okay to peek ahead for a little help if you get stuck and it’s also important to read through the solutions even if you get the answer correct, because you might just learn a little something more! If I hadn’t actually used the program, I might not have realized that. Now I know to remind Emily to study the solutions as well. I also realized that Emily would probably need more practice to cement the concepts, so I ordered the supplementary Zillions of Practice Problems for Advanced Algebra. She will probably also use CTC and IXL for additional practice when needed.

A few months ago, I worked through some of the algebra 2 lessons in CTC math. I think CTC math is a good program. It includes short videos that explain the concepts before the student works on the problems and plenty of practice. Emily enjoyed using it for Geometry. I didn’t enjoy it as much. I get bored watching even a 5 minute video—I’d just rather read an explanation! Also, the problems on a page were similar, although they did progress in difficulty, so the work seemed tedious at times. I didn’t mind doing it, because I enjoy math, and I still think it’s a good program, but I didn’t love it either.

I’ve discovered that actually working through a curriculum  myself rather than skimming it gives me a much deeper understanding of it and insight as to whether it would be a good fit for my child. I do read through nearly everything that she does for history and science, but it never occurred to me (nor did I want to take the time) to do the same for math. Now I know!

Wednesday, November 4, 2015

Brinkman Adventures (Schoolhouse Review)

Brinkman Adventures
Wow! After reading some reviews of The Brinkman Adventures last year, I knew that the series was popular with families. But I didn’t know just how much we would enjoy these stories.  The Brinkman Adventures are audio dramas that tell the stories of current day missionaries through the eyes and experiences of the Brinkman Family. We have just finished listening to
The Brinkman Adventures: Season 3. (Although we hadn’t heard seasons 1 and 2, we were able to jump right in, since each season stands well on its own.)
The Brinkman Adventures: Season 3  includes over five hours of audio on 4 cd’s (a download option is also available). There are twelve separate episodes; some stand alone and others are longer stories broken into multiple parts. Each episode either features a story about the fictional Brinkman family or the people in their community or is in the form of a story being told by or about a missionary about their exciting adventures and the miracles they have encountered. All of the stories are based on real people and real occurrences, although many of the names have been changed for the safety and privacy of those involved. One story tells about a young man who is called to leave his high-powered business track in college to serve God. After being disowned by his family for his decision, he serves as a missionary in several countries that are hostile to Christianity. It was riveting to hear the accounts of him smuggling in thousands of illegal Bibles and never getting caught. Typically, the custom agents would skip checking his luggage, or would even see the Bibles and pass him on through..
Another story tells about a friend of the Brinkmans who overcomes her extreme shyness to become the leader of a group packing shoeboxes for Operation Christmas Child, eventually becoming a national spokesperson for the organization. Other stories teach about Bible translation around the world, beekeeping, and relate the exciting accounts of arctic rescues.image
The Brinkman Adventures website has additional information about the people and stories for those who want to find out more. We really enjoyed hearing “the rest of the story,” complete with photos here!
These audio dramas are very high quality productions that are enjoyable for all ages.The dramas feature good acting and audio side effects. They are also easy to listen to and understand. We’ve listened to some audio dramas that are harder to follow simply because of the characters’ accents and other (non-conversational) audio. I’m definitely a visual learner, so it’s sometimes harder for me to follow recorded stories and I appreciated how enjoyable these were.
Every time we got in the car, my 15-year old made sure that the CD was in and playing! As an adult, I enjoyed them also, but think that even young children would enjoy the stories. It’s nice to find products that will appeal to the whole family!
FREE! If you sign up for the Brinkman Adventures newsletter, you can download three free episodes. Your family might love them as much as we do!
Each season of the Brinkman Adventures is $27.99 for the CD set and $17.99 for the MP3 album.
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Brinkman Adventures Season 3 Review
I received this product free in exchange for my honest review.