Monday, August 30

My Career Exploration Journal {Review}

As a high school counselor, one of the things I find myself talking with students about often is career exploration.  After all, we should start planning high school with the end in sight...and if you don't know where you want to head, that can be difficult!  So this Career Exploration Journal for middle schoolers is a fantastic addition to the homeschool toolbox -- it helps you start high school with some semblance of a plan...

About the My Career Exploration Journal

The book is broken down into several sections, including an introduction to careers, exploring yourself, and exploring careers.  Sections include:
  • Massive List of Careers
    • With nearly two hundred careers, this list will help unsure students find a place to start their exploration.
  • All About Me
    • Introspection is a good thing, and as students explore their likes and needs, this will help them narrow down the list of potential careers to explore further.
  • Brainstorm Careers to Explore
    • This serves as a starting point for career to take a deep dive into.
  • “I Want to Explore ________”
    • Templates, questions, writing prompts, and more send your student on a career researching adventure. But with this journal, they’ll go deeper than just finding out basic information. There are templates to help them identify:
      • What the job actually does
      • Skills needed
      • Abilities needed
      • Required education, knowledge, experience
      • Future career potential
      • Career goal setting
      • Interview questions
      • Journaling pages
  • Certificate of Completion
    • One of these is provided for each career they fully explore.

What We Thought

The format is both engaging and comprehensive, perfect for middle school and even upper elementary school age. While it’s fun and visually appealing, it also forces kids to think a little bit deeper about potential career choices than simply what ‘sounds cool.’ Questions about experience, knowledge, and skills required for each job go even further by asking kids to define what each of those skills mean…so they aren’t just making a list, they’re acknowledging what each entails. They finish up the unit with “A Day in the Life of…” looking at what a typical job day would be.

Where to Snag a Copy

Digital Versions
  • The mini version provides you with enough printables for researching one career.  Does not include some of the templates from above.
  • The full version - described above - provides you with enough printables for researching five careers.
Physical Version

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Science of Breakable Things + Scientific Method


Since the 17th century, scientists have been refining and honing the scientific method.  This is a standard way of acquiring knowledge through experimentation and observation...

The six steps of the scientific method include:

  • Observe: Make an observation.
  • Question: Ask a question.
  • Hypothesize: Form a hypothesis, or testable explanation.
  • Predict: Make a prediction based on the hypothesis.
  • Experiment: Test the prediction.
  • Iterate: use the results to make new hypotheses or predictions.

The purpose of an experiment is to determine if your observations agree with your predictions.  A well-planned experiment will have an independent variable which affects a dependent variable.  Be sure not to get confused, however, with confounding factors!  After testing the hypothesis, look at the data collected and see if it needs further testing.  Should a variable be changed?  Should you alter the conditions or the number of test studies?

It helps to know a little bit about statistics when looking at your measurable data.  Look at your sample size -- did you test three subjects or thirty?  A larger sample size will give you a clearer picture.  Think about this - if your family has a nut allergy, then 75% of the people in your family (a small sample) are allergic to nuts.  However, 75% of the overall population does not have that same allergy.  A larger sample size - say a sample of your entire homeschool co-op or robotics team - will give a clearer picture on how many people have nut allergies.

Your challenge today is to look at the world around you and ask a question - any question.  Design an experiment.  Be sure to label the variables and only change one variable at a time, otherwise you might be testing something other than what you planned!  Collect data and draw a conclusion.  What did you learn?

Our spine read for this unit is:

  • The Science of Breakable Things   
    • When Natalie’s science teacher suggests that she enter an egg drop competition, she thinks it could be the perfect solution to all of her problems. With the prize money, she can fly her botanist mother to see the miraculous Cobalt Blue Orchids--flowers with the resilience to survive against impossible odds. Her mother has been suffering from depression, and Natalie is positive that the flowers’ magic will inspire her mom to fall in love with life again.  But she can’t do it alone. Her friends step up to show her that talking about problems is like taking a plant out of a dark cupboard and exposing it to the sun. With their help, Natalie begins an unforgettable journey to discover the science of hope, love, and miracles.

The the ENTIRE UNIT in Twenty-Three Reads Bundle - for someone who wants a little bit of everything! 

It includes twenty-three unit studies covering a wide range of topics. Each unit has introductory text, which will give the student basic background information about the topic at hand. These studies are directed toward upper grades students, but some have resources for younger students so that the whole family can work together.
  • There are photographs and illustrations, and we have also included primary documents when available.
  • After this text, there are featured videos, which augment the background information and help make the topic more accessible for more visual students.
  • You will also find a short list of reading books, including a featured novel that the unit builds upon.
  • There are vocabulary words, places, and people to identify.
  • Reading comprehension, critical thinking questions, and writing assignments are included.
  • We add fun with hands-on activities and extra videos to watch that will bring the era to life.
  • Language Arts
    • Finding Langston & the Poetry of Langston Hughes
  • Geography
    • Anne of Green Gables & Canadian Provinces
    • Stowaway & Antarctica
    • Julie of the Wolves & Alaska
    • Blades of Freedom & the Louisiana Purchase
    • The Avion My Uncle Flew & France
  • History
    • Zlata’s Diary & the Slavic Wars
    • Freedom Summer & the Summer of 1964
    • Treasure Island & Pirates of the Caribbean Sea
    • Farenheit 451 & Types of Government
    • Red Stars & Russia in World War 2
    • The Great Gatsby & the Roaring Twenties
    • The Long List of Impossible Things & Post-War Germany
    • A Tale of Two Cities & French Revolution
    • Witch of Blackbird Pond & Salem Witch Trials
    • The World Made New & Early Explorers
    • Stitching a Life & Jewish Immigration
  • Life Skills
    • Teetoncey & Lifesaving Skills
    • Freak of the Week & Disabilities Awareness
    • Island of the Blue Dolphins & Sailing
  • Science
    • The Science of Breakable Things & the Scientific Method
    • Frankenstein & Human Anatomy
    • Charlie Thorne and the Last Equation & Albert Einstein

Product samples:

Acing the Test with ACT Mom!

Disclaimer: I received this complimentary product through the Homeschool Review Crew

Do you have high school students who are considering college?  One of the steps they'll need to take is standardized testing.  This is especially important for homeschooled students as it helps to provide outside validation to the grades on their transcript.  Whether you're looking at taking the SAT or the ACT, the ACT Mom Online Class from ACT Mom is an amazing resource you'll want to consider!

The online class is self-paced so that students can go through each section as much or as little as needed.  They can watch videos more than once as they cover each of the topics and concepts.  There are approximately thirteen hours of streaming video spread over four different modules - reading, math, science, and English.  One thing I would have liked to be included is writing instruction, but since it is an optional part of the test, that's probably why it is not addressed.
Within each of the modules, there is video instruction, practice questions, and answers with explanation to each of the practice questions.  Although we often hear about 'teaching to the test' in the educational community (and in a negative context), that's exactly what is happening in this course....ACT Mom is teaching students the test, and more importantly, how to take it.  In this case, it's a very good thing...especially for homeschooled students who haven't been exposed to nearly the amount of testing that students in government-run schools have.  In this case, teaching to the test is exactly what we want.

If you spend only an hour or two per week, it should take about twenty weeks to complete the entire course - all four modules.  However, for the student who is intensely preparing for an upcoming test, spending an hour or more per day, all of the material could be covered in four to five weeks.  During the review period, our son covered the entire reading module.  As he has already taken the ACT test in the past, but was planning to take it one more time, it will be interesting to see how much his score changes once he has completed all of the modules!

As an example of one of the lessons, she talks about how students should not infer...even when the problem says to infer.  Then she walks the students through how to figure out the answer to problems that indicate they require inference.  As a high school counselor, I think this course is really well done, broken down perfectly, and presented well for teens.  Take a peek inside with this short video!

The biggest problem we had with this program was the actual streaming, and this is really just a rual thing.  We try NOT to do streaming curricula because it's really hit or miss.  One week we have good internet; and then the next three we don't.  And sometimes we just don't have internet at all...bad or not.  For us to use the course, he had to pull up the video that morning and let it buffer most of the day, then play it in the afternoon.  (If you're younger than about 20, you may not understand 'buffering.')

My absolute favorite thing about this program is also one of the smallest components, but it's the little things that count, right?  When you register for the course, you also provide your mailing address, and this is because your student is going to receive a package.  This box includes a three-ring binder with a pencil case inside, along with sticky tabs, a dry-erase marker, and a cloth.  Why the box?  Also included is a complete, printed-out ACT test, with each page in an individual page protector.  This allows the student to practice taking the actual test, with the dry erase marker, and then go through the course and see why the marked answers are right or wrong.

Could I print out an ACT test for my son (which she has available in her freebies section)?  Sure.  But I probably wouldn't get around to it for a while, and I'm almost certainly not going to spend the time to put it into page protectors.  It's this extra touch that makes it usable by the student in a way that provides instant application, and she's taken the stress out of me having to gather materials by including it in the course.  It's also so great for teens because everything stays together, all in one place.

During the course sessions, the student works through a complete practice test.  The sessions are pre-recorded into bite-sized lessons followed by questions to test a student's understanding of the specific concept just taught.  It has the same laid back, practical feel of the in-person class as well as a teaching style that allows students to slowly build knowledge and confidence.  The student keeps a record of which problems are marked incorrectly so s/he can see WHY the answer is wrong and also to categorize which concepts need more attention and mastery.  Even as my son worked through the program, we were surprised to see that the majority of problems he missed fell under only one or two concepts that needed to be mastered.

It's also worth noting that there is an option to do this as an online group course, with a homeschool co-op or group, as well as an in-person option for attending a class with the ACT Mom.  See what others are saying about ACT Mom at the Homeschool Review Crew.

Saturday, August 28

Day in the Life of a High School Homeschooler

As with everything in life, there is an ebb and flow to the homeschooling day...and even the homeschooling career.  What an elementary household (all littles) routine looks like will differ greatly from our routine (all teens)... 

Day in the Life of a Homeschooled 11th Grader

  • 8:30 - wake up, morning chores, fix breakfast
  • 9 - breakfast and read-aloud time
I refuse to accept flak for letting my child sleep in this late.  There's ample research to show that teens need more sleep and have a different circadian rhythm than adults.  A later start to our day has proven time and again to result in a better, and more productive, day!
  • 9:30 - start school - Generally the kids try to do their online work first...just in case we are having a 'internet trouble' day (happens a LOT more than it should!).  If there's an issue, they switch to offline stuff and try their online stuff again in the afternoon...
  • Noon - lunch break & family time - Dad comes home for lunch and we have a quick family meeting while everyone is together.
  • 1 - back to school - Offline stuff, if they were able to get online in the morning.  Or vice versa.
  • 4:30 - afternoon chores & shop time - Quite possibly their favorite time of day, this combine farm chores and hobbies, is primarily outside, and lets them do what they love -- hands on projects!
  • 6:30 - dinner & family time -- On 'good' days, this begins the quiet, relaxing portion of the day.  On 'bad' days, our crazy evenings kick off closer to 5 or 5:30 since it's an hour drive to activities.  (Where 'good' and 'bad' are defined from my uber-introverted perspective!)
  • 10 - bedroom time - no computer - quiet projects and reading -- The rule is, don't keep mom and dad awake.  And no screens after 10pm.  Someone once told us we shouldn't give them that much freedom without checking in, but it's not like they could sneak out...with no car and seven miles to the nearest road.  No one is walking that far in the dark...
  • before 1am - lights out -- Because, hey...8:30 is rolling around again before too long.

Naturally schedule looks very different from an elementary school student.  With all teens in the house, this schedule is somewhat fluid and different for each child, but this is the basic flow.

The High School Homeschool Room

There are four main components to our high school homeschool room, and each serves a unique purpose...

  1. The bedroom doubles as an office.  Each teen has a loft bed with a desk built in beneath it.  They have a computer that they use for much of their schoolwork, including online classes, research, and writing papers.
  2. The kitchen table is where we do 'together time,' including morning time and any other family-style projects.  It's also where they sit when they need parental assistance with schoolwork.
  3. The shop is their favorite school location!  This is for votech-type classes, hands-on projects, and general hobby time.  Both boys take after their grandfathers in feeling most at home while tinkering around, designing and making things...
  4. Finally, the car / hotel / doctor office locale is our last resort for schooling.  This is for those days when the schedule is packed full, we're running to and fro, and they simply have to get things done.  It's not their favorite (or mine) because of the numerous distractions and the difficulty of trying to research or watch online classes on a tiny tablet screen...but we do what we must.
And that's our homeschool setup and routine!  What does your high school routine look like?

Tuesday, August 24

The Vegetarian Homeschooler {Review}

Teaching tech is SO not my thing!  Just because I have a blog and teach online doesn't mean I'm just means that I've managed to figure things out.  😉  But tech is something our kids need to learn, and when you find someone who is able to teach them these skills in a real-world application kind of follow it!

Vegetarian Homeschooler is a two-fold curriculum. First, it teaches Microsoft Office. Second, it helps students develop skills that are necessary to become successful students.

This is a project-based learning curriculum that helps middle-school, high- school, and college students practice critical thinking, problem-solving, research, and out-of-the-box thinking skills. It celebrates students’ creativity and innovativeness and allows students to learn by creating solutions. Most importantly, the Vegetarian Homeschooler curriculum helps develop confident, independent learners by giving students responsibility and control of their work.

Currently, there are three full project sets available, including:  Art Heist, the TV / Movie Edition, and a set of Student Development Projects.  The boys decided that Art Heist looked like a lot of fun, so that's the one we used!

About the Curriculum

The Art Heist Edition curriculum is made up of 18 projects and is a great introduction to Microsoft Word, PowerPoint, Excel, and Access.  The curriculum also introduces students to priceless art while planning a tongue-in-cheek art heist.  While completing the projects, students practice critical thinking, problem-solving, research, and out-of-the-box thinking.  

To assist students with the curriculum projects, students will have access to:

  • videos explaining each project.
  • solutions and examples for each project.


Curriculum Projects

Projects 1-4: The Art Selection

  • The student selects the priceless art for an art heist.  
  • Project 1 uses Word
  • Project 2 uses PowerPoint
  • Project 3 uses Excel
  • Project 4 uses Access

Projects 5-8: The Museum Layout

  • The student details the museum that houses the art selected for the heist.
  • Project 5 uses PowerPoint
  • Project 6 uses Word
  • Project 7 uses Excel
  • Project 8 uses Access

Projects 9-12: The Crew Selection

  • The student designs a crew to help with the heist.
  • Project 9 uses Word
  • Project 10 uses PowerPoint
  • Project 11 uses Excel
  • Project 12 uses Access

Projects 13-16: The Heist Plan 

  • The student develops a plan to “liberate” the art from the museum.
  • Project 13 uses Word
  • Project 14 uses PowerPoint
  • Project 15 uses Excel
  • Project 16 uses Access

Project 17 &18: Retirement 

  • The student makes a plan for retirement.
  • Project 17 uses Excel
  • Project 18 uses Word

Our Experience

Now, honestly, this was a lot of fun!  And it's not just for students, but for non-techy parents as well.  Or those of us who are so old that we didn't learn these things in school and have been fumbling our way through teaching ourselves over the course of our careers (fingers pointed at the mirror).

I appreciated the videos, which walk students through each project step by step.  There were one or two places that we didn't see instruction, but when I contacted the provider, she explained that with Project-Based Learning (which this is), students are given some instruction and expected to do a bit of research to figure out the answers...which helps to cement that learning.  She went on to tell us about working as a technical consultant at a large computing company.  She said, "It was never assumed that I knew everything about ***, but I could figure things out.  Project-based learning uses the same philosophy."  Knowing that helped me to see these projects through a new perspective....and I like it!

We had a little issue completing the project packet, but only because our version of MS Office didn't come with Access.  This is the program my kids are least likely to use in the future, however, so we just skipped it.  Should we get access to Access later on, we'll probably revisit the activities.

There are a few things provided with each project bundle that made my life a bit easier as a parent-teacher.  First, there is a grading rubric that parents can use if the students are completing work alone.  We chose to complete everything as a family, focusing on skills improvement rather than grading, so I did not use this.  But it's there!  Secondly, most of the projects and skills have a set of templates provided to help the student get started, particularly in the earlier steps, so that they have some confidence from the get-go and are started down the right path.  Finally, tcuked within the projects are several fun tidbits of trivia!

Try it out for F-R-E-E

Want to see for yourself?  Download the Excel Dice Project absolutely free and give it a whirl!  This sample unit is shorter than the full curricula bundles, but will give you a good idea of what to expect.  Here is one of the videos from inside that unit...

Monday, August 23

Number the Stars & the Holocaust

August 28, 1943 - A ban on people assembling in public, outlawing strikes, and a curfew was established in Denmark, under German rule, with the death penalty introduced for cases of sabotage.

August 29 - When the Danish government refused to comply, the Germans officially dissolved it and instituted martial law.

When World War 2 began in 1939, Denmark declared itself neutral, but they were occupied by the Germans in 1940, during Operation Weserübung.  The Germans allowed the king and government to stay in place formally, but without any real power.  This was the state of Denmark until 1943, when the Germans fully took over the country until it was liberated at the end of the war.

Denmark was the only occupied country that actively resisted the Nazi regime and its deportation of Jewish citizens.  In September 1943, a German diplomat secretly informed Danish Resistance members that the Nazis were planning a mass deportation of Jews.  This afforded them much-needed time to rescue and move as many Jewish citizens as possible ahead of time...

Our spine read for this unit is:

  • Number the Stars (Lois Lowry)
    • As the German troops begin their campaign to "relocate" all the Jews of Denmark, Annemarie Johansen’s family takes in Annemarie’s best friend, Ellen Rosen, and conceals her as part of the family.Through the eyes of ten-year-old Annemarie, we watch as the Danish Resistance smuggles almost the entire Jewish population of Denmark, nearly seven thousand people, across the sea to Sweden. The heroism of an entire nation reminds us that there was pride and human decency in the world even during a time of terror and war.

Check out the Jewish Studies bundle here!

Get the unit, along with the entire World History Bundle!

Includes ten unit studies (plus a bonus!) covering World History. Each unit addresses a new topic, spanning from Ancient Hawaii to modern-day. There is also a study of archaeological concepts. Each unit has introductory text, which will give the student basic background information about the topic at hand.
  • There are photographs and illustrations, and we have also included primary documents when available.
  • After this text, there are featured videos, which augment the background information and help make the topic more accessible for more visual students.
  • You will also find a short list of reading books, including a featured novel that the unit builds upon.
  • There are vocabulary words, places, and people to identify.
  • Reading comprehension, critical thinking questions, and writing assignments are included.
  • We add fun with hands-on activities and extra videos to watch that will bring the era to life.
These studies are directed toward upper grades students, but some have resources for younger students so that the whole family can work together. Our family has used unit studies as curriculum for many years, and we hope that your family will enjoy these, too!

Product samples:   Motel of the Mysteries & Encounter

  • Motel of the Mysteries
  • Island Boy
  • Encounter
  • The Odyssey
  • A Loyal Foe
  • Indigo Girl
  • Gold Rush Girl
  • Around the World in 80 Days
  • Number the Stars
  • To Kill a Mockingbird
  • House of the Seven Gables (bonus)

Get the entire World War 2 Bundle!


  • The Book Thief
  • We Were There at the Battle of Britain
  • Number the Stars
  • The Winged Watchmen
  • We Were There at Pearl Harbor
  • We Were There at the Battle of Bataan
  • Island War
  • Red Stars
  • The Night Witches
  • Mare’s War
  • We Were There at the Normandy Invasion
  • Code Talkers
  • We Were There at the Battle of the Bulge
  • The Light Between Us
  • We Were There at the Open of the Atomic Era
  • A Merry 1940s Christmas

Product samples:

Saturday, August 21

Back-to-Homeschool Plans {for the Last-Minute Parent}

It’s August, and while most of us have our homeschooling plans ready to roll, I know there are a few folks out there scrambling to get going at the last minute.  Here are a few things to keep in mind...
  • Keep it legal.  Some states have no requirements, while others are heavily regulated.  Check with HSLDA to ensure that you know your state's laws.  As long as you meet your legal requirements, it’s fine to de-school or un-school while you find your footing.
  • Start with the end in sight.  You’ll have long-term goals (such as students going to college) and shot-term goals (such as mastering multiplication tables).  Create a plan that works toward both of these.
  • Know your needs, but respect your limits.  Ask yourself if you have the time, energy, and ability to implement a program before plunking down money for it.  For many families these days, who are also trying to work from home, outsourcing homeschool classes is an option that meets their goals but also allows them the flexibility they need.
  • Find your people.  Every homeschooling family needs a tribe, be it a large homeschooling co-op or a small group of family friends.  These are the people who will lift you up on the hard days, and the ones being silly alongside your kids...
  • Give yourself grace.  It's a long journey, and one that will have many ups and downs.  No one expects you to be perfect.  Give your kids, your husband, your in-laws, and even the nosy people around town grace.  Remember to extend it to yourself as well.

Looking for a last-minute course to fill the curriculum gap?  

Check out the Best Online Learning Options!  We have personally vetted, and can recommend, every resource listed here for high school students.  

At Sparks Academy, your students will be part of an interactive co-op with other high school students.  Current class offerings are for The Good & the Beautiful language arts and Notgrass history (four levels of each subject) and Apologia science (three levels). Classes begin on August 15th. Enrollment closes for the '23-'24 school year on August 20th. Use code JULY23DEALS to save 25%  (exp 8/10)

Wednesday, August 18

Simply Good & Beautiful Math for Middle School {Review}

Now that our youngest is approaching high school, we are rethinking so many subjects. What worked best before is not necessarily the best fit now. With his special needs, we went off in search of more relaxed and gentle approaches to core subjects, including math...

Simply Good and Beautiful Math was the perfect solution!  Each of these brand-new math courses was created to provide a perfect balance of enjoyable learning along with development of a strong math foundation.  They combine fun games and activities with the highest academic standards, diversity, and connected learning, and we love the way that math is seamlessly linked to real life in engaging and meaningful ways.

I should back up and say that until this point, we have always used Saxon Math - and it is a fantastic course all on its own.  It definitely prepared my boys for higher learning, using a spiral method of mastery that included DIVE videos, and providing a great foundation for math skills.  It's an older program, but it works well.  Why reinvent the wheel?

Why indeed?  Well, because our youngest son learns quite differently, and needed something more visual.  Saxon math is a black and white program - all the way around - and it just wasn't working as well for him.  As we bridge into advanced concepts and look toward algebra, it has become very important to make sure he masters the foundational skills in a way that works for him.

The course includes a course book, Mental Math Map Mysteries, the answer key, and access to course videos.  The student has the option of reading a mini-lesson or watching the course videos, but I find he does best by doing both.  We start each lesson by watching the video, completing a couple of problems alongside the video, and then we complete the mental math together.  For the first time ever, math class is something he looks forward to!  I'm guessing that one of those reasons is because it's hard to be the baby of the family, and he knows that for ten minutes each day, the two of us will sit together, doing the mental math book as a team.

The course book features simple daily lessons, with a format including enjoyable activities and games. Advanced multiplication and division, geometry, graphing, measurement, and so much more are all taught. This book serves as both the teacher’s guide and the student book, and it guides parents and students through each engaging lesson.

The Mental Math Mysteries book is set up for you to sit face to face with your child.  He sees the side with the questions, and you see the side with the answers.  At the end of each page of four or five lesson boxes, the student is directed to place a sticker onto their included map.  At the end of the course, the student will have a completed picture of the map, and as a reward for completing the course, the child is then able to read the “You-Choose” book included in the course: Ivy and the Ice Village.

Admittedly, I wasn't keen at first to scrap the materials we already had on the shelf and purchase a new curricula.  After all, while it's common to go round and round searching for the right curriculum during your first few years of homeschooling, we've been on this train for a decade and have a system that works.  But sometimes, you just have to admit that there is a better way...

What actually swayed me?  Well, it was the visuals.  The course is so visually appealing, colorful, and engaging through multiple games and teaching methods, and this was exactly what our son was needing.  Even the answer key is beautiful!  For a kid who already strongly dislikes math, changing the format to something that at least seems like fun has already made a big difference.  We're only a week into school, but I'm usually hear complaints on day one...and haven't heard one yet!

This course also includes video lessons, which really bring the material to life in a real-world application way...exactly what he needs to answer that "why should I care?" question I'm always fielding.  But that's not to say that it's not a comprehensive, well-rounded book.  There are also graphing exercises, multiplication tables, geometric formulas, and all the things that a good math course needs.

Watch a Video Lesson  Try Sample Lessons Here!

It's a new program, so we'll let you know how it goes at the end of the school year, but so far I'm impressed!