Monday, February 29, 2016

The Compassion Experience


We have sponsored children through Compassion for many years. (Our current child, Hermelindo, is 15 and lives in Guatemala.)

Recently, I learned that an exhibit called “The Compassion Experience” was coming to our city. This immersive exhibit allows the participant to experience in a small way the lives of sponsored children. Emily and I took my aunt and my niece to the exhibit and found it very interesting. A trailer was divided into tiny rooms depicting the lives of 2 children in 2 different countries. We were provided headphones and iPods, which featured a narration by each of these former Compassion children (now grown) that told about their lives prior to sponsorship and after sponsorship as we progressed through scenes depicting poverty and hope.

If you ever have the chance to attend The Compassion Experience, I recommend it. (And in case you are concerned about a high pressure experience, the tour ended with a wall covered with photos of children waiting to be sponsored, but there was no pressure at all.)

If you have ever considered sponsoring a child, I highly recommend Compassion International as a fiscally responsible and wonderful organization.




Tuesday, February 23, 2016 (Schoolhouse Review)

image is a content-packed website that offers tests, activities, lessons, and games for grades PreK to 12. Although the site seems to be designed for classroom teachers, the content is equally helpful for homeschooling families. Some of the content at is totally free (so be sure to check it out)! Other content is limited to those with a Pro Plan membership, at $25.95 a year.
While the content at would not comprise a complete curriculum, I found a nice variety of content to supplement an existing curriculum. My use focused on the high school materials, since I’m not currently teaching any younger children. First, I looked through the “Tests and Worksheets” section, which features printables in many subject areas. Printables can be viewed by choosing grade level or by choosing a content area, such as social studies or life skills.
Here is a screenshot of some of the options for 10th grade.
For this review period, I focused primarily on the English Language Arts category. I realized that the “Text Analysis” content area could be very helpful for Emily. I know that is a skill covered in the SAT and ACT, and one that she hadn’t done much. I printed out several of these activities. There was a range of topics available for text analysis, including analyzing fiction, speeches, poetry, and scientific texts. Each included a short (less than one page) passage, followed by both multiple choice and short answer questions. Each of the questions requires higher level thinking from the student. One passage, a eulogy given by Michelle Obama for Maya Angelou, asks, “Why does Michelle Obama include a quote from the Bible at the beginning of the speech,” “What was the focus of the speech?” and “What technique does Michelle Obama use at the beginning of the speech?” (with multiple choice answers to choose from). Answers are available on the site, of course.
Here are some of the worksheet/test options for text analysis:
Emily found some of these activities difficult, which confirmed my decision that she needs more practice in this area. We plan to complete all of them over the next month or so.
Any of these tests/worksheets can be printed or can be scheduled for the student to take online. I found it quite easy to email Emily a link to the test for her to take online. When she does so, the computer grades the multiple choice questions, leaving the short answer questions for the teacher to grade. I can then choose whether to let Emily see her graded test online or not.
While the English materials were quite helpful for me,  some of the history materials were not quite as useable. The selection was smaller, and many of the history printables were actually tests that would be given after a student had studied the topic, since the material is not explained on the worksheet. I did find a map activity on the French and Indian War that corresponded with her history studies and printed off a few other sheets that we’ll be able to use in the near future. I have browsed through the chemistry and math sections as well for topics to reinforce Emily’s textbook work in these subjects.

imageOne very nice feature of is the Test Maker. This section contains hundreds of ready-made questions, allowing the teacher to very quickly produce a test on any topic. I chose to make a test on the colonial period of American history. I was able to filter questions both by topic and by grade level. At the high school level, I had far more multiple choice and short answer questions to choose from than I could use. I just chose the questions I wanted and assigned them to a test and it was ready to print. Such a time saver! Because some questions are produced by the staff of and others are submitted by users, there was some duplication. Also, some questions seemed too easy for high school work and I doubted the accuracy of a few others. It was easy, however, to choose only the questions that met my needs. It was so much fun and easy to make the tests, that I made a few more—one for the American Revolution, and one for chemistry.

Another section of includes Lessons. The lessons generally include links to videos found on other sites, such as Khan Academy or YouTube, accompanied by worksheets to reinforce the concept. Again, a lesson can be scheduled in seconds by sending a link to your student. Emily completed a lesson on Charles Law (perfect to reinforce the chapter she’s on in her chemistry book), a lesson on euphemisms, and a lesson on SAT vocabulary.

The Game Maker option allows the teacher to create word searches and bingo games for any topic area. We haven’t tried this yet, but I may create a bingo game for our chemistry lab class to play.
What I liked: provides a huge amount of material in every subject and grade level that can be used for online testing or for printed work. It will be convenient to pull out a topic here and there when I feel that I need to supplement our existing curriculum.
What I didn’t like: Because the content is submitted by different people, I had to be careful to check what I used for accuracy or accurate grade level. We encountered one activity that wasn’t really useable. It was a “themes in literature” page that had excerpts from longer works. After assigning it to Emily, I realized that many of the questions could not be answered from reading the few paragraphs provided; she would have had to read the entire short story or book, or at least a larger portion of it for the questions to even make sense. We generally didn’t have that problem, but now I know to be cautious!
If you are looking for some supplementary activities or need some help putting together tests, might be very helpful for you.

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

Monday, February 22, 2016

Moving Out of my Comfort Zone…Microwave Repair!


My (expensive) over-the-range microwave quit working over a year ago. It would run, but didn’t heat. Some internet research told me that the problem was probably a faulty door sensor, something that could be replaced. However appliance repair is not one of my gifts! I bought an inexpensive counter top microwave that we’ve used for the past year and a half.

This weekend, I decided that I was actually going to tackle the fix-it job (since no one else has cared to do it for me!) With the help of Youtube instructional videos, I dissembled the microwave, tested the three door sensors to locate the bad one, and ordered a new part. A few days later, the replacement part arrived. After reassembling everything, it actually works!


It took me a full afternoon to take the microwave apart and to figure out how to remove the bad part, then another hour to finish the job, but I’m pretty pleased! It can be pretty frustrating to have to live in a falling-apart house with no one to help me after 20 years with a husband who could fix anything. Another small step forward!

Monday, February 15, 2016

Organizing Our Homeschool Supplies

After homeschooling for over 20 years, I have accumulated quite a few homeschooling books and supplies! Even though I only have one child left at home, these supplies take up a fair amount of space. Here are a few of the ways I’ve found to corral and organize books, curricula, art supplies, etc.



We’re fortunate to have a study/schoolroom where we keep most of our books and supplies. Emily usually prefers to actually work at the kitchen table where she has more room to spread out, but at least we have a space to keep items that are not in use. This is what our study holds.

First, something every homeschooler needs—bookshelves! I keep our books organized by subject. American history books are all on one shelf and world history are on another, lined up in chronological order. Another shelf holds assorted science books, world culture and geography books. I also have several shelves for picture books, Spanish books and curriculum, and Five in a Row books. (I collected most of the required books over the years and even though Emily has outgrown them, they will be kept for grandchildren.)

Textbooks that we have finished are given away or sold or are kept out of the way on a shelf in my bedroom closet.


Messier items like workbooks and binders are kept inside a cabinet.


Most of what Emily uses day to day is kept on this 10-drawer cart. We used to use this cart for our workbox system. Now we use it to separate subjects. Every subject has a drawer and the books for that subject are kept in the drawer.


Bulkier items like binders and larger textbooks live on top of the cart in this magazine organizer.



Although I also have file drawers that I keep worksheets and other papers in, I keep an easily accessible file box on a shelf.


Homemade and other compact games are kept in another box on a shelf and in an accordian file.


Art supplies like colored pencils and glue are kept at hand on a shelf right over Emily’s desk.


I love keeping flashcards on rings. These rings can easily be hung on a bulletin board.


Teacher’s guides, planners, and a basket with permanent markers reside on a shelf above my desk.



Years ago, when I was homeschooling my three older children, this kitchen buffet/hutch was where we kept our day to day supplies. Each child had a lower cabinet.

Now, those cabinets hold art supplies (clay, paints, pastels, art paper), science equipment, and all the supplies for our chemistry lab. Along with my cookbooks, the upper cabinets house art books, assorted books that don’t have a home elsewhere, and pens and pencils.  There is some degree of reason to the items kept here, since we use the kitchen for messier activities like art and science experiments.

I love to find new and better ways to corral my stuff, so organization projects happen frequently around here!

Monday, February 8, 2016

More Chemistry Fun

We’re continuing to enjoy The Spectrum Chemistry this year. With a full experiment every week, the students are getting a lot of hands-on learning!

In this experiment, the students created and observed chemical reactions that caused dramatic color changes:





In this experiment, the girls were excited to create actual batteries that could light up an LED by layering copper sulfate pentahydrate and zinc sulfate heptahydrate in vials and making the proper connections with zinc and copper electrodes.

It took them several tries to get it right (they struggled with the layers mixing too much, then made a connection error with their wiring), so they were thrilled when it did finally work.



This experiment very clearly showed single displacement reactions in practice.  Wires of Al, Fe, and Zn were submerged in solutions of CuCl2. In each case, the copper in the copper chloride was replaced by the metals from the wires, causing the copper to accumulate on the wires. Heat and gas bubbles were also produced in the reactions.

One of the students commented that she liked being able to see the reactions that they had been balancing on paper.


Monday, February 1, 2016

Re-Captcha and Duolingo

I watched a fascinating TED talk this morning by the creator of Captcha and Duolingo, Luis von Ahn. I know that CAPTCHA is often necessary to prevent spamming and fraud, but it can be quite irritating, especially when those characters are hard to read and I have to try multiple times!

What I didn’t know is that creators of the technology are also sensitive to the time wasted each day by internet users, even to the point of calculating the hundreds of thousands of hours spent daily by people all over the world, each spending a few seconds of time typing in those characters.

Several years ago, von Ahn actually created a way for users of CAPTCHA to be useful. He designed re-captcha, which actually uses words from old books that are being digitized. When a computer is unable to read a word from a book because of smearing or fading, that word is used in re-captcha, allowing internet users all over the world to “translate” that word. When you are required to type in two words on a site, one of those words is known by the program, and the other is a word that needs to be translated. Amazing! Now I won’t mind using those re-captchas at all!


Then, Luis von Ahn and others turned their attention to the task of translating websites into other languages, usually a lengthy and expensive process. But, through the creation of DuoLingo, a free language-learning app, the efforts of those who are just learning a language can be put to use in translation on the internet. DuoLingo seems to be a great program. I’ve used it a little bit, and have heard a lot of positive reviews as well. The best aspect is that it is absolutely free! I find it really cool that my (purely selfish) efforts to learn something new are being put to use to make the internet more user-friendly.