Finishing Strong #130: Middle School Curriculum & Traditions

Welcome to Finishing Strong ~ a weekly link-up dedicated to families homeschooling middle & high school kids. Each Wednesday, moms just like you share their best tips, encouragement, advice, and more for teaching older kids at home.

Finishing-Strong-500x500I am delighted that families homeschooling middle and high school age students are coming together and finding inspiration in one another. That has been the goal of Finishing Strong since its inception. Thank you!!

Finishing Strong is hosted by me here at EvaVarga along with my friends – Heather from Blog She Wrote, Megan from Education Possible, and Heidi from Starts at Eight.

I know you will find the posts that have been shared with us inspiring! Grab a cup of tea, kick back, and take some time to check out the wonderful posts shared below. What are your favorites

riparian area studyEcology Studies for Middle School

As the kids have grown and become more independent in their studies, the delivery of lessons has also changed. I no longer coordinate a STEM Club for my kiddos but I do periodically teach lessons to my son’s boy scout troop as part of their rank requirements or for a merit badge.

In the post, The Many Parts of a Streambank, I share an activity I recently taught in which we learned about the ecology of a stream bank. One of their favorite parts of this lesson was calculated the stream flow rate.

In the month of September, each Sunday I will share a post relaying the activities I used to teach the Environmental Science and Soil & Water Conservation merit badges. Follow along to put together a  Ecology unit for your middle school students.


Finishing Strong

We hope you’ll take some time to check out the amazing posts that have been shared with us. We are so thankful to all of our readers and contributors who help make Finishing Strong a key resource for everyone homeschooling through the middle & high school years.

The top posts shared last week

Below are a couple of the posts I most enjoyed from last week. Additionally, we celebrate our first tie – two posts each received the most clicks. How cool is that?!8th Grade CurriculumOur 8th Grade Homeschool Curriculum Choices

from Megan at Education Possible ~ I love the literature Megan and her daughter Marianna have selected for history. I hadn’t previously considered a literature based study but now I am so intrigued. I want to put something together of ourselves.

7th Grade CurriculumOur 7th Grade Homeschool Curriculum

from Michelle at Freely Learned ~ She and her son are using Writing & Rhetoric books 7 and 8 – just like my son. I look forward to following along.

5 Days of STEM Activities – Solar Cars

from Pat of Pat and Candy ~ This first post from a series of 5 is a review of a kit from Pitsco Education. She walks you through their experience … these little cars look like a lot of fun! I look forward to reading the other STEM posts in her series.

Back to School Traditions for Middle School Homeschoolers

from Latonya at Joy in the Ordinary ~ Latonya shares several ideas for new back-to-school traditions. I particularly liked the time allocation chart and will most certainly be adding this into our lessons – perhaps on a quarterly basis to just check in. As she says, we [both students and adults] “aren’t always cognizant of the ways that they use their time…”

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As always, thank you for helping us to make Finishing Strong a key resource for families who are homeschooling through the middle & high school years.

What are you going to share with us this week?

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High School Forecasting: Coordinating Schedules, CLEP Exams, and College Courses

Fall term is nearing an end. Many students are preparing for final exams as well as forecasting with their advisors and thereby registering for winter term. My daughter, Geneva, is amongst them.

She has really enjoyed taking dual enrollment courses on the college campus these past few months and has worked very hard to assure she completes two consecutive courses within the 10-week term. Come winter term she will enroll in two courses – Intermediate Algebra (Math 95) and English Composition (Writing 121).

high-school-forecastingHigh School Forecasting

Her goal is to complete the degree requirements for an Associate of Arts Oregon Transfer Degree simultaneously with her high school diploma. While no easy feat, it can and has been done by homeschoolers and public school students across the state.

As at least one of the courses she will take winter term is transferable to a four year university, it is important that we work alongside an advisor to ensure the courses are counted for dual enrollment. We’ve made an appointment and look forward to sharing the four-year plan we have put together.

Course Load and Schedules

I opened our forecasting discussion by first describing the degree requirements for the transfer degree as well as the course list for a degree in engineering (a field in which she has expressed interest since she was a young girl). She then shared the goals she had for herself and what she hopes to accomplish over the next four years.

This FREE customizable spreadsheet provided the skeletal structure for her four year plan. Thank you, Heidi!

High School 4 Year Forecasting Plan

Together, we looked at the course descriptions for each of the classes she was interested in and thereby narrowed down her choices. In addition, we read the prerequisites carefully to ensure there would be no surprises along the way.

Four courses chosen from at least two disciplines including at least three laboratory courses in biological and/or physical science are required for Science & Mathematics.

With the prerequisites and an engineering degree in mind, her choices include a year of General Chemistry, a year of Physics with Calculus (must be taken concurrently), and two terms of Geology. We thereby plugged each of these into the four-year plan assuring that she would take no more than two courses per term at the college.

In addition, the course load during her senior year in high school is relatively easier than the preceding two. This will provide a little cushion and time for scholarship essays and other unforeseen hoops she may have to jump through.

Foreign Language Requirement

In Oregon, there is a foreign language requirement for admission to a four year university:

[Transfer] students who graduated from high school in 1997 or later must meet a foreign language requirement with either two years of high school level study in the same language or two quarters/semesters of college level study with a minimum grade of a C- or better.

While she is fluent in Mandarin (having studied the language since she was 5 years old), as an independent homeschool, Academia Celestia is not an accredited institution. She will thereby be expected to take a foreign language course at the college or demonstrate proficiency by passing an exam.

While she hopes to someday learn additional languages (and may yet decide to take a college level course), she will most likely choose this option. Her ultimate goal is to study abroad in China and earn a minor in Asian Languages and Culture.

CLEP Exams

In addition to the course work and requirements described above, there are several foundational (Writing, Communication, and Health & Fitness) and Cultural Literacy requirements.

Four courses chosen from two or more disciplines are required for Social Sciences. Three courses chosen from two or more disciplines are required for Arts & Letters.

For Social Sciences, she selected a fascinating Anthropology course and a course suggested for Engineering students, Economics. To earn addition credits (9) for History 201, 202, and 203 she plans to take the CLEP exam in United States History.

While English 104, 105, and 106 are not required for the AA degree (she chose alternatives in Art and Philosophy), she may also choose to take the English Literature CLEP exam to earn credit (9) for these courses.

What We’ve Chosen for 9th & 7th Grade Homeschool Curriculum

When we first began our homeschool journey, my eldest was just entering primary school while my youngest was toddling around after her. I had done a lot of research in the early years and had selected curriculum that remarkably worked very well for us during the elementary school years.9th 7th curriculum

As they approached middle school, I made a few adjustments but essentially we stayed on the same path. Our curriculum choices have always been inspired by Charlotte Mason, with leanings to Classical Education and Unschooling. I am really excited about this new school year (2016-17). It brings the biggest changes to our curriculum choices as well as our schedule and approach to schooling at home.

Curriculum We Use Now for 9th & 7th Grade

Language Arts

Until this year, the kids have always done their language arts studies together. We have used Writing with Skill, Brave Writer, and most recently, Cover Story.

Jeffrey is excited to begin One Year Adventure Novel, developed by the same author as Cover Story. The video-based, self-paced writing curriculum guides students step by step through the process of writing a compelling, fully structured novel in one school year.

Geneva will be going in a new direction. After much research, we opted to try Excellence in Literature series by Janice Campbell. She will begin with Literature and Composition: English 2 as she is already a strong writer. We also purchased the Handbook for Writers as a guide along the way.

math curriculaMath

This is the area that is perhaps undergoing the biggest change. Jeffrey will continue with Life of Fred as the format works well for him and he is having success. While Geneva has worked through most of the Life of Fred books (through Advanced Algebra), there are still concepts that are difficult for her. Read more of our experiences with Life of Fred here.

Recently her girlfriend informed her that she had taken the math placement test at the local community college and encouraged Geneva to do the same. While she had had success with Mr. D’s Math and we’d considered pursuing this further, ultimately she wanted to be with her friend. { I’ll address this again in extracurricular activities below. }

History & Social Studies

We are taking a major step away from our usual world history. In preparation for a family trip to New England later this fall, we’ve jumped into a fully immersive program, focusing on All American History. We are very excited as it provides opportunity to explore American Art History as well as American government.

As a part of the Scouting merit badge system, we are also working through the requirements for the three Eagle required citizenship merit badges: Citizenship in the Community, Citizenship in the Nation, and Citizenship in the World. Even if you are not members of Scouts, you can download the workbooks and work through the assignments independently. They are great course outlines and enrichment activities.  { I’ll further discuss Scouting in extracurricular activities below. }

Science

This year, we are using the NOVA awards program and Scouting merit badge system as an outline for our studies. It allows us to design a program specific to our interests and skills level. I will also continue to write my own science curriculum and seek out a variety of citizen science opportunities for us as a family.

Foreign Language

We will continue to work on developing their fluency in Mandarin. Our tutor is AMAZING and we’ve all learned so much from him. He uses Better Chinese curriculum but often supplements with materials he develops himself.

Geneva has opted to begin a third language. She hasn’t quite settled on one yet and thus I have encouraged her to study Latin for at least one year – mostly for familiarity with word roots. She has a passion for natural sciences so an understanding of Latin will help her as she pursues higher level biology courses.

fall recitalPerforming Arts

The kids have had some experience with theater and dance. While they enjoyed it, it is not a passion or an area they intend to pursue. We thereby focus on instrumental music. Geneva plays violin and Jeffrey piano.

They work with a private instructor once a week and beginning this year, they will take part in an ensemble. We are very excited about this opportunity because they have not had previous experience playing with others. They struggle to play pieces together so this will provide them the skills they need for success.

Passion Projects

As the kids have gotten older and more independent, they have begun to pursue topics of interest to them individually. We call these passion projects. What they learn and how they choose to develop their skills in this area are entirely up to them. I do try to encourage them to keep a log or record of the books they read and the tutorials they watch, however. They are also beginning to document their growth in an online portfolio.

Fine Arts

Geneva is most interested in art. She wants to combine her passions for art, nature, wood working, and architecture. She dreams of converting a shipping container into a mobile tiny house / art studio. To pursue her goals, she takes many art classes, volunteers at the art museum, visits with artists whenever possible, and has even helped her grandfather build her bed (with dimensions specific for the loft in her tiny house).

Coding & Programming

Jeffrey is a gamer and he absolutely LOVES Minecraft. Through this platform he has custom coded his own online server, developed websites (one for his server and another for his Scout troop), and has a growing YouTube channel whereby he edits a variety of gaming videos. It is no wonder that the programming merit badge was one of the first he earned.

independentstudyExtracurricular Activities

We live in a small coastal community. While there are homeschoolers here, we have connected with only a couple of families. In our previous two communities we had built connections with a large circle and enjoyed numerous social outings – field trips, lake days, enrichment classes, and nature outings.

While many of these were in fact organized by me – my kids have insisted they do not want me to take on so much. On top of that, I have returned to work part-time as a substitute teacher so I just don’t have the time.

Swim Team

Both kids continue to take part in swim team. While we enjoy athletics for the fitness and connections we build with others, we don’t schedule our lives around sports. If a swim meet works in our family calendar, we may take part. We have noticed a significant difference between our SOAR team and our new team, however. This may be due in part to the fact that our head coach retired earlier this year and thus our team is undergoing a major transition.

Scouts

What is most exciting is Scouting. I had long desired Jeffrey to join Boy Scouts but intentionally waited until he turned 11 years. So many boys who are active in Cub Scouts do not continue when they enter middle and high school. Granted, this is mostly due to a heavier course load and interest in sports and cars. I was more fearful that he may get burned out.

He thereby joined in February and is now official Tenderfoot Rank. Our troop is small which is both a blessing (more opportunities for leadership) and a curse (most of the other boys are 15 years or older, Jeffrey is one of only three in middle school).

As he has worked through the rank requirements and merit badges, Geneva has often expressed interest. She has also taken part in many of the outings. I thereby began to research Venturing and Explorer Scouts. As we learned more, it became clear that Venturing was the perfect fit for her.

Her crew is also small and though we haven’t yet met the other girls (though it’s a co-ed program, her crew is all-girls), as the lead advisor described the personalities of each, we know it will be a good fit. We are both very excited. In fact, the girl friend I mentioned above will also likely be joining. :)Service Learning

Volunteer experiences have always been a major component of our homeschool. Scouting provides many more opportunities to serve our communities. Geneva will continue to volunteer at the art museum. Jeffrey will continue to volunteer at the retirement home and has encouraged his sister to join him. As a family, we will continue to partner with the estuarine research reserve.

Why We Homeschool @EvaVarga.netCurriculum We We’ve Used Previously

Last year, I outlined our curriculum plans for 8th and 6th grades. Just two years ago, Geneva was entering 7th and Jeffrey 5th. Our Curriculum Choices for Middle School were similar.

 

In the earlier years, our approach was much more relaxed. While we used curriculum in some subject areas (math, Mandarin, language arts, and history), we followed more of an Unschooling approach.

I am surprised I didn’t share more frequently what curriculum we were using. I wrote a little about our goals for 5th and 3rd here and 3rd and 1st here. As I didn’t make too many changes as the years progressed, I suppose I didn’t see the need to revisit. I regret this now.

backtohomeschool bloghop

Back to Homeschool Blog Hop Schedule

STEAM into September with These Great Products

Many educators are familiar with STEM, the acronym for the fields of study in the categories of science, technology, engineering, and mathematics. The initiative has recently began to include arts and design, changing the familiar STEM to STEAM. And, it seems to be gaining steam. :)

It is almost Labor Day and for many, that means bargains and discounts on clothing and back-to-school supplies. I’m excited to share with you some of my favorite STEAM resources, available at a discount from Educents

S is for Science

Magic School Bus Science Club

Buy Magic School Bus Club
If you have children (ages 5-12) who enjoy the Magic School Bus books or videos–and if you like doing science experiments with them–then you’ll LOVE The Magic School Bus Science Club!

Developed by a team of Harvard graduates, scientists, and educators, the award-winning Magic School Bus Science Kits are delivered monthly right to your doorstep. Children will explore science through experiments that will spark an interest and curiosity in science.

Each kit includes a colorful manual based on The Magic School Bus characters, as well as everything you need to complete at least seven experiments related to that month’s theme.
Buy Magic School Bus Club

One Minute Mysteries Book Set

One Minute MysteriesThese award-winning books make math and science fun. Each mystery features real world scenarios and takes just one minute to read. The brain teasers challenge kids to use critical thinking skills. Perfect for a long car trip or quick errands. Written for ages 8-14.
Buy One Minute Mystery Book Set

T is for Technology 

Learn to Mod with Minecraft

Learn to Mod

The Minecraft world gets kids excited to build their own creations. There are many classes available today designed to teach kids coding skills utilizing Minecraft. What I like about this one is that it is affordable, under $30! If this one’s not right for your family, I highly recommend other Learn to Mod programs – or just google “Minecraft Coding” and dive in!
Buy Learn to Mod

E is for Engineering 

Tinkering Labs Electric Motors Catalyst Kit

This beautiful set gets kids using their hands, creating a bevy of tinker toys from different challenge cards. The sky’s the limit with this set that encourages design thinking that’s so important in the work force. But the best part is this is just fun.
Buy Electric Motors Kit

A is for Art

The Manga Guides to Science & Math
Manga Guides
Come learn about many science and math subjects through a comic book. With fifteen cartoon guides to choose from, these are perfect for teens who love manga and are interested in learning about complex topics like biochemistry, molecular biology, and linear algebra.
Buy Manga Guides

M is for Math 

Life of Fred Math Curriculum


I can’t speak highly enough of this series of narrative-based math books. Kids learning addition to young adults in college benefit from one character’s journey through life encountering contextual math problems that make math make sense!

Buy Life of Fred

Use code LASTCHANCE for 10% Off + FREE SHIPPING on any order. No minimum, one time use code. Sale ENDS September 5th at 11:59pm PST. This is the LAST WEEKEND of free shipping so don’t miss out!

Agriculture in the Classroom: Free Teaching Resources

As we become for technologically advanced and our urban cities grow, I believe it is increasingly important for our youth to have an understanding of where our food comes from – both historically and today.

Whether you live in Atlanta or rural Nebraska, in the mountains or along the coast, engaging students in real world experiences and developing an awareness of agricultural practices is not difficult. There are many free teaching resources available for educators of all ages.

By encouraging teachers to integrate agriculture into their classroom via authentic, core curriculum concepts, Agriculture in the Classroom partners have collaborated to cultivate an understanding and appreciation of the food and fiber system that we all rely on every day.

classroomagriculture

An agriculturally literate person is defined as “one who understands and can communicate the source and value of agriculture as it affects our quality of life.”

Take some time to explore the variety of resources available – I share a few of my favorites below. You can put together an entire semester course or pick and choose a few lessons to augment your current studies.

 

Plant & Animal Science

Agriculture has traditionally been defined by the production of plants and animals. Today, science and technology have added new areas of research, and investigation to the agriculture field.

agricultureExtension 4-H professionals have developed a wealth of curriculum materials and a variety of hands-on agriculturally based activities to promote agricultural literacy among young people. Much is available for free but some curriculum modules are available for purchase.

Soil Science

To help educate students about the important role soil nutrients play in feeding our world, the Nutrients for Life Foundation sends out a monthly newsletter that will provide you with new ideas and tips for teaching plant and soil science while providing creative activities to bring into your classroom. They have also developed numerous modules for elementary, middle and high school classrooms to provide STEM activities and lessons.

soilscienceSoil Science Reader :: A digital science journal specifically designed for grades 7-8 (graphics and photographs capture interest) introduces soil formation and soil horizons with a fun edible soil activity. Other topics include the nitrogen cycle, plant nutrition, and fertilizer basics featuring the 4R Nutrient Stewardship.

Soil Reader :: Written specifically 5th & 6th grade students, this 18-page digital journal features an interview with an agriculture engineer and features puzzles, quizzes, and visuals to enhance a teacher’s soil unit.

For complete curriculum, posters, games, flashcards, and much more – visit the Nutrients For Life webstore. Everything is FREE!!

Invasive Species

Hundreds of invasive plants and animals have become established across the country and are rapidly spreading each year. These invaders are negatively impacting our waters, our native plants and animals, our agriculture, our health, our economy, and our favorite recreational places.

Prevention is the most effective strategy in managing invasive species. To increase public awareness of invasive species issues and promote public participation in the fight against invasive species and their impacts on our natural resources, the California Department of Fish & Wildlife have developed curriculum and materials available free to schools and educators.invasivespecies

Stop the Invasion :: Students will learn about six different invasive species, the damage they cause, and how to stop their spread.

If you reside in California, you may also be interested in the community action week with events across the state and a youth art contest. Similar programs may exist in your state. Contact your local department of fish and wildlife or county extension agency to learn more.

Build Confidence and Success with Mr. D Math

I can not begin to tell you how much we LOVE Mr. D Math. It has made a world of difference to my daughter as she has begun to tackle the tough advanced algebra concepts.

I received access to these online math courses and I was compensated for my time in writing this post. All opinions are my own.
Confidence & Success with Mr D Math @EvaVarga.net

We had been using Life of Fred since she completed the elementary math concepts presented in Singapore Math. The self-directed approach has been very good for her and until recently, it has been all she has needed. She has begun to struggle with some of the concepts, however, and I have been unable to help her.

Now that we have discovered Mr. D Math, I am confidant that she can continue to work at her pace and find the support and guidance she needs to be successful.

Mr. D Math Algebra I and II

When we began the course material, I enrolled her in the Algebra II course presuming that this would be a good match for her based on the work she had previously completed. As she got underway with the live class after the holiday break however, we discovered that though some of the material was familiar to her, there were some concepts with which she struggled.

I was very pleased that Mr. D reached out to us after class and shared that she would be better suited for the Algebra 1 course. It was clear to me that he had spent time with her in the live session and was able to assess her skills. He was gentle and encouraging, explaining that it is more important to learn the material than to just move on.

We thereby made the switch to Algebra 1 the following week and she was much more comfortable. Jumping in mid-year, she was able to catch on immediately.

Confidence & Success with Mr D Math @EvaVarga.netBenefits of a Mr. D Math Online Course 

Mr. D Math offers two options for each of the online courses: 1) Online Curriculum + Live Classes, or 2) Online Curriculum only. The online classroom and lesson materials are easy to access and require very little preparation.

My daughter likes to print the course work each week and to work through the problems as she watches the corresponding video. Thereafter, she checks her work with the solutions guide. “I really like that every problem is worked out clearly. If I make a mistake, I can see where I went wrong and it helps me improve.”

She really enjoyed the weekly live class and felt it was a key component that she had been missing previously. She was able to ask questions – especially important when parents struggle with this level of math – and work through the trouble spots with guidance.

Most importantly, Mr. D has an excellent rapport with the students and learned their names very quickly. When students answer questions in the live class, only the teacher sees the student answers so there is no risk of a timid student feeling like others are watching her.

My daughter is able to maintain the same level of independence with her work as she has come to enjoy and her confidence is growing knowing that she can reach out to Mr. D if necessary. I highly recommend the online courses from Mr. D Math.

Mr. D Math Curricula 

I encourage you to check out all that Mr. D Math has to offer.  Classes range from Pre-Algebra up through Pre-Calculus, as well as SAT and ACT test prep courses.  Extra help sessions are available, as well as emailing questions to Mr. D throughout the week.  Take some time to browse the site to discover all the math and test preparation courses available.

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