Monday, November 25, 2013

Chemistry Unit 4: Density and Unit 5: The Periodic Table

Density was a fun and simple unit. The chemistry lessons from the ACS website (Chapter 3)were easy to follow. The labs did a great job explaining how and why different molecules had different densities. As an added bonus – try dropping an Alka-Seltzer tablet into the layered liquids.

Next, we explored the periodic table. First, my son watch the Brain Pop videos Periodic Table of Elements and Isotopes. Both had vocabulary and follow up worksheets. Next, he watched the Crash Course Chemistry videos #4 and #5 The Periodic Table and The Electron. I worried that the orbital shells of the electrons would be above him, but he grasped it with no problem. We finished with the labs in the ACS lessons (Chapter 4). It’s looking more and more like he has a natural aptitude for chemistry.

Algebra I Unit 3: Linear Equations

Our last unit focused on modeling functions, which means translating real life problems into math equations. We mostly used the worksheet from the On-Core book, Chapter 2. These were the topics:

Sunday, November 24, 2013

English Unit 3: Science Fiction Short Stories

My son had finished the first draft of his own science fiction story, so we took a few weeks to read and study three classic stories. Two were by Isaac Asimov: Nightfall and The Little Lost Robot. He also read Ray Bradbury’s A Sound of Thunder. He filled out a chart with a story in each column and answers to these questions in the rows:

US History Unit 5: The Civil War

We started this unit with a family trip to Charleston, SC. I know it sound cliché to say history comes alive there, but it’s the best description. All tour guides are required to pass a history exam through the city. No matter where we went, the guides were a wealth of information. Some of our favorite stops included Boone Plantation, Patriots Point, Fort Sumter and the Provost Dungeon. We also took a carriage ride through the neighborhood around Charleston College, an area that was completely new to us. After four days of tours, we were exhausted, but more than ready to jump into history lessons.

Saturday, November 9, 2013

Unit Calendar: October

Click on the calendar for a larger and clearer image.
This page was generated from the calendar spreadsheet.

Thursday, November 7, 2013

US History Unit 4: 1800-1860

This period in US history too often gets rushed through, even though it offers an interesting look compared to our current times. We spent four weeks on this, which is a big chunk of our total school year, but still not enough time to fully explore the political and social tides of the era.

Here are the lessons for that unit (listed by type, but completed by date):

Thursday, October 31, 2013

English Unit 2: Writing a Science Fiction Story

This was a continuation of the free writing unit. For the last week my son had an assignment to write 30 lines of a science fiction story and another 30 lines of a story with dialogue. On his own, he decided to combine those assignments (yippee for initiative!!!) into a story that then took on a life of its own. In fact, he was so proud of his story, he asked to keep working on it and, eventually, get it published.

Tuesday, October 29, 2013

US History Unit 3: The Late 1700’s

This unit included the Constitution as well as the first two presidents. We started with Crash Course US History videos #8 “The Constitution, the Articles, and Federalism” and #9 “Where US Politics Came From.” For the Constitution, we used a detailed worksheet (similar to those on thiswebsite) with questions about what powers and duties were assigned in the articles, the Bill of Rights and the evolution of the amendments. We also studied the differences between the Constitution and the Articles of Confederacy, and finished with a graphic organizer showing the separation of powers. This unit also included the first two President's Day studies for Washington and Adams.

Chemistry Unit 2: Matter—Solids, Liquids, and Gases and Unit 3: Changes of State

Both of these were taken straight from the ACS Middle School Chemistry curriculum.  Since I added an introduction unit, we’re off by one on the numbering – Unit 2 is Chapter 1 and Unit 3 is Chapter 2. Oh well.

Each chapter had several pages of student reading, so we started with those. Next, we went back to Brain Pop for vocabulary (Temperature, Measuring Matter, States of Matter, and Matter Changing State). After my son had a solid grasp of the fundamentals, we started into the individual lessons and labs. I like the emphases on what was happening at an atomic level. That continues through the whole program.

You don’t need elaborate equipment for the labs. Each day has a simple experiment and questions focused on one concept. Even though some of these seemed overly simple, my son learned advanced facts that are normally reserved for high school chemistry, such as the affect of pressure on the volume of a gas. There are also nice, short videos that can be used for the teacher demonstration part of the daily lessons. A favorite is the slow-mo water balloon.

Monday, October 28, 2013

US History Unit 2: The American Revolution

We spent a week on this topic just a few months ago in 7th grade, so this unit was focused on filling in a few remaining ideas about the government during the revolution.

My son started with two Crash Course US History videos: #6 “Taxes and Smuggling” and #7 “Who won the American Revolution?” The map activity was a simple map of the colonies. We studied the Declaration of Independence with short answer questions and the Articles of Confederation with a chart detailing limits of power compared to the current Constitution. Both of these assignments came from the textbook we’re using. The last day of the unit was spent watching the second chapter of America: The Story of US (Revolution). These were this unit’s test questions:

Sunday, October 27, 2013

Unit Calendar: September

Click on the calendar for a larger and clearer image.
This page was generated from the calendar spreadsheet.

Chemistry Unit 1: Introduction

We’re spending the fall semester on chemistry. I’m aiming for a level above normal middle school, but still below an honors high school class. The first unit was an introduction to the basic terms, periodic table, and the atom:

Saturday, October 26, 2013

English Unit 1: Free Writing

English is divided into three parts each day: reading, writing and grammar. Reading is just for pleasure for 30 minutes at the start of every day. We are working our way through several workbooks for grammar, so that’s pretty straight forward. Writing is the real sticking point for English. Usually. But this year has been different.
My son has informational and analytical writing assignments integrated into every other subject. That means the writing portion of English can focus on narrative writing. The first four weeks of school were spent on increasing his writing fluency – the speed and ease that he gets his thoughts into sentences and onto paper. He’s always struggled with that. The goal for this unit was for him to get words on paper. I didn’t care how well he wrote or how long it took. Here were his assignments for those first weeks:

US History Unit 1: Pre-Colonial

We are studying the history of the United States of America this year. We began with a way too brief look at North America in the pre-colonial times. We watched the first five Crash Course US Histories, and read the textbook sections on reasons people came to North America. We finished with the first installment of America: The Story of US (Rebels). At the end of this unit, my son had to answer the following questions:

Algebra I Unit 2: Algebra Modeling and Unit Analysis

These lessons still had quite a bit of review from pre-algebra, but it turned out to be much needed review. We switched back and forth between the On Core book (all of chapter 1) and the super old Algebra book (chapter 2):
- Balancing one variable equations (one and two step solutions)
-  Simplifying expressions
-  Distributive property
-  Writing and modeling functions
-  Using dimensional analysis to check equations (here's an explanation)
-  Math lab: Hooke’s Law (results produce a straight line with the spring constant = to the slope)
-  Random reviews:  proportions, balancing equations with fractions, and converting between units

After this unit, my son was much more comfortable with fractions and dimensional analysis, both of which could have (and still may) caused trouble in future units.  This unit took the rest of September. Next we’ll finish tying up all the loose ends of linear equations and get set-up to start solving systems of equations.

Thursday, October 24, 2013

Algebra I Unit 1: Review

This first unit took two weeks, or actually 9 days, since we took off for Labor Day. It was pretty straight forward:

- Graphing (plotting ordered pairs)
- Modeling relationships with variables (i.e. making up variable for real life situations)
- Order of operations
- Adding, subtracting, multiplying and dividing positive and negative integers
- Real and rational numbers
- Experimental probability

This year, Friday’s math class is a Random Review. This is a worksheet that is extra practice for a skill. It could be something my son struggled with that week or may need to review for next week’s lessons. It is always timed, but only for the purpose of practicing for standardized tests. The reviews for this unit were math facts with larger numbers.

The lessons included the first chapter in the super old version of a Prentice Hall textbook.  The next unit is Algebra Modeling and Unit Analysis.

Friday, October 11, 2013

Science: Daily Lessons

This is the final post detailing our curriculum choices for this year. Next week, I’ll start sharing specific unit plans and how well they went (or spectacularly crashed, as the case may be).

We’re spending the first semester on Chemistry, complete with all the mixing and explosions that it may include. Middle school science can be very bookish, due to the logistics of setting up labs in limited space with limited time and unlimited middle school student energy. I wanted a different experience for my son. Fortunately, the American Chemical Society offers a free curriculum with a lab and videos for each lesson.  You'll need to purchase materials for some of the labs, but they are cheap and easy to obtain. In fact, we already had most of them.

Saturday, October 5, 2013

Our Homeschool Room

We use the home office for most of the day. School spills into other rooms for watching documentaries, reading, and labs. But, everything else happens in here. There’s indirect sunlight all day long, making it a very pleasant place to spend several hours a day. And, with all the workspace, bookcases, and officey stuff already in there, it was also the least expensive room to convert.

Thursday, October 3, 2013

Science: Basic Lab Supplies

Our home is filled with budding mad scientists, so a well stocked science lab is essential. I’ve spent more money on that than on all our other curriculum combined! We already owned a microscope and slide making equipment. If I was starting from scratch, I’d splurge for a higher end microscope with the ability to display to a laptop. My only really decadent lab purchase was a Physics kit from Quality Science Labs. It’s put together specifically for an AP course, but there are also cross references to most common homeschool curriculums. We did all of the labs during our physics unit last spring. This year, we are redoing some of the labs and using the data for practicing real applications in Algebra I.

Monday, September 16, 2013

Math: Algebra I

Math is my favorite subject to teach, which usually means I run on and on and bore any interest out of my son. So, I’m trying to back off a bit this year and let him work more on his own. He had a solid pre-Algebra year in 7th. This year’s focus is making sure we avoid the problems I see too often in high school students.

Working with positive and negative terms:
5 – 6 = 5 + -6 = -1

Correctly distributing and not loosing track of terms or signs:
(2x + 3)(x - 5) = 2x2 -7x -15

Being able to quickly factor a polynomial:
x2 + 5x + 4 = (x + 1)(x + 4)

Using dimensional analysis to check if the problem is correctly set up in the beginning: 20 miles/hour * 1 hour/60 min * 1 min/60 sec * 5280 feet/mile = 29.3 feet/sec

Sunday, September 15, 2013

Unsticking a Stuck Writer

This year’s writing has started off with a bang. Words are flowing from my son, we have yet to see any tears, and he even said that he was *gasp* enjoying writing this year! He has always struggled with writing: both the physical and mental aspect of getting thoughts onto paper could cause a full emotional melt down. So, a big goal of each year is to help him overcome the struggle and just get something on paper. We’ve tried many things, abandoning some and expanding others. Here are the top five reasons we think he’s succeeding so well at this point:

Wednesday, September 11, 2013

Social Studies: Timeline

WORLD’S LONGEST TIMELINE!!! OK, so it’s probably not, but it is 100 feet long, which is still pretty big.

My son started this last year when we studied world history. It starts in the 1400’s with the invention of the printing press. Every day he added two to five important events. It helped him visualize how events in different parts of the world influence each other. This year, he is adding American History events to it. We’re also highlighting scientific and engineering advances. My son wants to be an engineer, so my personal goal is for him to realize how big of an impact engineers have had on our society through time.

(We built the holder from an IKEA hack: upside down desk top, curtain rod holders and PVC pipe.)

Monday, September 9, 2013

Social Studies: History Through Lenses

What influences today are shaping our history? How will the future generations look back at our times and what swayed our decisions? The economy, religion, world politics, political parties, natural disasters, technological advances and culture have had visible impacts throughout the history of America. You can see those forces act even in recent times, such as President George W. Bush’s terms in office. How would his presidency have been different if he wasn’t faced with the aftermaths of 9/11 or Hurricane Katrina? And, how did those events shape who we are today as a country?

We’ll use the lenses of economy, political power and technological advances to see how and why history has unfolded the way it has. American history is as much about the causes as the effects, and only by understanding that can we help prepare the next generation to lead.

Social Studies: State by State

America is a wonderful patchwork quilt of states, each with unique features. We’re working our way through all the states in the order they were granted statehood, learning about their geography, industry and current political make-up. Between the books in our library and the internet, my son will create a page of information on each state and draw a map of the prominent features. Here are the books we’re using, with a sample page for each:

Saturday, September 7, 2013

Social Studies: The Presidents

My son loves using Crash Course to learn about history, but I was still searching for a more chronological source to fill in all the details. Then it dawned on me – the presidents served sequentially, so let’s look at history through each presidency. These are the main sources we’re using, along with healthy doses of Encyclopedia of the Presidents and Their Times and The Presidents (DVD with short and interesting biographies).

Monday, September 2, 2013

8th Grade Social Studies: Crash Course US History

My goal was to find one main curriculum source to use for US History this year that presented a well rounded view of event. Just one source. We’d follow it faithfully and chronologically, utilizing all the questions at the end of the chapters. Social studies would be a breeze to plan and we’d all live happily ever after.

The reality, though, is that most curriculum written for homeschool students is very heavily biased towards an ultra-conservative view. Public school textbooks tend to be too dry and often have subtle biases towards a too patriotic-and-sanitized version of events. We needed something in the middle that was engaging while presenting a balanced view – pro-America but not at the expense of the entire truth.

Saturday, August 31, 2013

“Do you give grades in homeschool?”

That innocent question from a new homeschool mom on a message board set off a round of debate. Some said “Yes” because it helps the student get ready for other school situations that do grade.  Others said “no” because grades are not the best way to judge competence. As in most things, both sides could learn a lot by listening to each other.

Thursday, August 29, 2013

8th Grade English: Reading and Writing

My son loves to read. On his fun scale, it’s second only to Mind Craft. So, it makes sense to let him ease into each day with 30 minutes of reading. Right now, he’s reading the 6th Harry Potter. We’ll use the later novels for the first literary analysis unit. Last year, he did a good job with character development in the first Harry Potter book. This time we’ll probably tackle themes, but not until November.

Wednesday, August 28, 2013

8th Grade English: Grammar

Wow, grammar is really hard to teach! So, we’re starting with the basics: define the eight parts of speech and give 10 examples of each.

Tuesday, August 27, 2013

The School Day This Year

Many things about our school day worked great last year. The biggest thing was the lack of a specific schedule. I used a dry erase board to list the day’s activities, but they could happen at any time. Each day started with my son doing the same morning work: read for 30 minutes, copy the day’s plans into his agenda, watch CNN Student News and write a response to one of the stories.

When my son wanted to, he would have everything done with time to spare before his friends came home. When he was pokey, then he would still be working until bedtime. He learned a lot about time management and the downside of procrastination!

Here’s how the weekly plans look this year:

Monday, August 26, 2013

What’s So Wrong with Common Core?

Common Core State Standards (CCSS) are a hot topic in the education world: public, private and homeschool. Basically, CCSS are a list of what students should be able to master by grade and subject. They have been adopted as the standards used by a large majority of states in exchange for those states being eligible for federal funds.

There are questions and problems with CCSS that won’t affect homeschool families, such as getting all children up to speed, transitioning standardized tests for multiple grades, and training teachers. The questions that apply to homeschool families are:

1.       Do these standards encompass what we want our children to learn?
2.       If we don’t following these standards, will our children be at a disadvantage later?

Getting Ready for 8th Grade

Overloaded! That’s how I felt when I started looking at curriculum for 8th grade. Until I…
  • Weeded out anything with an ultra-conservative religious slant
  • Took out anything with outdated information
  • Removed anything that had to be followed exactly
There was still a ton of options left, but it all still fell into place. I’ll detail the resources we’re using in posts by subject.  My next goal in pre-planning was to map out the timing of each subject for the year. I didn’t want to end up just to WWI in May for history! Naturally, I turned to my personal security blanket – Excel – to create a spreadsheet that would automatically enter start and end dates for each unit by subject.

Sunday, August 25, 2013

Wrapping up 7th grade

Looking back on our first year of homeschool, there were ups and downs. Most were expected. What I didn’t expect was how much my son would mature. Some of that could be due to his age. But, I think most of it came from his learning about himself: how he learns, what he likes to learn about, and where that might take him in the future. It made total sense to build on that and homeschool him for 8th grade.

Friday, August 23, 2013

Our Summer Vacation: Science rules!

In our house, science is the thing that rules us all and in the darkness binds us… together, that is. We spent the summer binge watching Eureka and Warehouse 13. Besides renaming our homeschool to “Tesla High”, my son was motivated to do a lot of science experiments just for fun. My only requirement was that he needed to write a short paragraph about each experiment in his science journal. He had come so far in his writing struggles, it was the perfect way to not loose any ground.

Here was one of his favorites. He used the gas generated from dry ice in warm water to create strong soap bubbles. Thank you to Steve Spangler for this lab. (Bouncing Smoke Bubbles from this book)  


This summer’s just-for-fun lab time was a big hit so we’re continuing it each Friday this school year. And, I am thrilled that my son finally loves exploring science again.

Wednesday, March 13, 2013

Starting Science

This was the absolutely easiest subject to get up and running. My son’s 7th grade class had just finished a unit on weather. So, we were able to jump right into cells. There were several big issues I had with the way he was being taught science in middle school. My older child had also had this particular teacher and had complete lost any interest in science. Fortunately, she had an amazing run of science teachers after that and is now considering a career in biology.

So, what did her great teachers do that the 7th grade teacher didn’t? Simple. They made science fun and hands-on with minimal bookwork. With that in mind, here was the frame work for future our science lessons:

Wednesday, February 13, 2013

Starting English

My son struggles with even the most basic writing task. I don’t mean he whines about doing it or procrastinates until the last minute. We’re talking a full blown shutdown. He would start with the best intentions, but quickly become stuck and unable to put together even a simple sentence.

The first month of home school, we focused simply on his writing fluency. Writing fluency is all about his being able to easily form thoughts into complete sentences and put them down in written form. I used the suggestions from Reviving Disengaged Writers, by Christopher Lehman, to help him start getting something on paper. He could write on any topic as long as he produced ten typed lines a day. The first day, he generated a list of ideas for future use, but all the entries that month were about Mind Craft. And that’s O.K.

By the end of the first four weeks, he was able to easily write ten (or more!) lines on any topic of his choosing. We were not worried at this point about paragraph structures, editing, word choice or any other mechanics. It was all about getting the ideas from his head to the paper. Anything more will come later this year.

Monday, January 21, 2013

Starting Math

Math is not my kids’ favorite subject. That would be science. But, math is by far the easiest one for them. Since I’m a former public school math teacher and my son never seriously struggled with math, my first instinct was to skip all pre-made workbooks and create my own. Then, I started thinking about all the work involved in making up problems, so I punted and headed to the local curriculum store for workbooks. I’m still designing what is taught when and how, but the pre-made worksheets are a huge time saver.

Eventually, my son will return to public school. To make that transition easier on the academic side, I am trying to include all the objectives required for his grade.  The store had one set of workbooks that were specifically tied to the new common core standards for math. Since we’re compacting 7th and 8th grade together, I bought the sets for both years. They came with separate teacher’s and student’s books. An old fashion Pre-algebra workbook completed the math library.

Sunday, January 20, 2013

School Skills – Math Fluency

Just like fluency in reading, fluency in math refers to how accurately and quickly you can work. I spent the first week of home school assessing my son for potential problems. We’d been told that he was weak in math fluency, but it didn’t make sense, because he could work complicated problems just fine in a reasonable amount of time.

Tuesday, January 15, 2013

School Skills – Learning Styles

You’ve probably heard about learning styles. Your learning styles describe the ways that you best learn new information. It could be you learn best by seeing something or hearing. Some people learn best when there’s a physical activity attached.

In the beginning, as the curriculum was coming together, my son and I had to figure out what his real learning styles were and how to take advantage of those. I didn’t limit it to just the standard styles you can find on websites across the net. Instead, I focused on what really worked to get him interested in new stuff. Then I looked at what worked to help him understand, remember and use all that knowledge.

Saturday, January 12, 2013

School Skills – Summarizing

 My son is kind of, moderately, somewhere on the autism spectrum. Since he can function somewhat normally, most people see him as just being a little “different”.  He doesn’t display the symptoms frequently enough to get the label of autism or aspergers, but he does share many of the common traits with others with those diagnoses. We say he has just enough autism to be a great engineer. He is incredibly smart, but is very literal and linear in his thinking. He has limited social skills. Just like all the engineers he’s related to!
Anyway, as a result of his very literal thinking and amazing power of memorization, he’s never learned how to summarize.

Starting Social Studies

Social studies was the subject I dreaded tackling the most. And, of course, it ended up being the easiest to plan and the most enjoyable for both of us on a daily basis.

The objectives for social studies were really hard for me to understand in the beginning. But, I think I finally figured them out. There are time periods we need to study that are called eras (World History Era Standards). The objectives need to be applied to each era separately whenever possible.

Step 2 Content, con’t.

At this point, I had read through the entire published objectives for 7th graders in North Carolina. I had them sorted into charts with the notes from the unpacked PDFs, which gave me a general picture of what we should be teaching in order to stay on pace with public school. I had also looked over the objectives for the next few grades to see where we needed to be at the end.

Wednesday, January 9, 2013

Step 2 Content

There are two main questions to answer when designing a curriculum: what are you going to teach and how are you going to present it? I’ll refer to the “what” as content.

We live in North Carolina. Their required content is described by grade and subject here. They are using the Common Core Standards for English and mathematics.  These tell you what should be taught in each grade level. Colleges will expect this as a minimum of what students should know.

Monday, January 7, 2013

Step 1 for Curriculum Planning

The first step I took when planning the curriculum was to write down our overall goals. This helped focus how the material would be taught. My son has two main issues that were holding him back. First, he has Disorder of Written Expression. That is a learning disability which means he struggles with putting his thoughts into words and then writing them down. His other big problem is anything to do with organization. Here are the four goals that have guided our year:

Saturday, January 5, 2013

What to teach?

When I was looking for middle school curriculum for home school, I felt like Goldilocks. This book is too easy, this book is too hard. Not much on the market for middle school.

Wednesday, January 2, 2013

Why did we choose home school?


So many people, many of them complete strangers, have asked me why we’re home schooling. I really don’t have a good short answer. Especially since my son is usually standing right there.