Finishing Strong #112: Choosing Curriculum, Experiences Abroad, and ‘What NOT to Say’

Homeschooling is a unique experience. We can customize the education plan for each of our kiddos to celebrate their unique strengths while also building upon their academic and life skills at their own pace.

Our lifestyle choices and where we choose to live also play a major role in cultivating the educational experiences of our children. There is no perfect approach, no one-way-suits-all method to educating our children. We must all find or forge our own path. Sometimes that means taking detours along the way.

One of the things that makes our homeschool unique is that we love to travel and have been afforded the opportunity to do so by the lifestyle choices we made early on. While educating our children while traveling full time sounds appealing to me, it would never work for us as a family. We need to be close to home and to our parents who need our support. My husband’s line of work also requires his physical presence.

fallinginloveitaly

As such, we have made travel a priority in our life. We do our best to experience other cultures while also learning more about our own nation’s rich history and geography.

Some time ago, I shared with you a series of posts I wrote highlighting our experiences in Italy, Falling in Love with Italy. Next week, I will be taking part in a 5-day hopscotch to bring you along on our journey through the Secrets of the Greek Islands. Come along and see what surprises we discovered along the way.


Finishing Strong #112

Finishing Strong

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 is hosted by me here at EvaVarga along with my friends – Heather from Blog She Wrote, Megan and Susan from Education Possible, and Heidi from Starts at Eight. I know you will find the posts that have been shared with us inspiring!

Choosing Curriculum College Betsy’s post, Choosing Curriculum with College in Mind, was the most clicked post shared last week and it is no surprise as it coincides with the recent publication of her book, Homeschooling with College in Mind which I reviewed just the other day.

Learn more about Betsy’s book in my review, Homeschooling High School with College in Mind

STEM ConnectionsMy favorite post this past week was Make STEM Connections with Gravity Jousting from Heather at Blog She Wrote. The PITSCO science kit she reviews looks fabulous and I am strongly considering purchasing it. I know my kids would love it!

WWII BooksFor the past few years, I have coordinated a living history day for local students to showcase their interests and talents. Each year, my daughter has selected a woman who made an impact during WWII and I have thereby discovered her fascination with this historical period. I’ve thereby selected Mother of 3’s 35 More World War II Books for Children.

Check out my post Bringing History to Life with Living History Presentations for tips and ideas for coordinating a living history day in your area.

Things Not to SayNow that my daughter is swimming with the high school swim team and we are meeting new people, we are hearing these comments more often. Heidi’s post, Things You Should Never Say to Those That Homeschool High School, made me chuckle.

Homeschooling high school can be done! In my post, High School Forecasting, I share how we are coordinating CLEP exams and dual-enrollment coursework.

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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?

Guidelines:

  1. Link up to 3 posts from your blog. Make sure you use the exact URL to the post, not to your home page. You can add any post related to homeschooling middle and high school students. Posts unrelated to that will be removed.
  2. Please no advertising, individual Pinterest pins, Facebook, Twitter, or other link-up links!
  3. Grab our button to add to your post after you link it up. Each week we will be choosing our favorite posts to highlight on all 4 sites. If you were featured, we would love for you to use the “I was featured” button.
  4. The linky will go live on each co-host’s blog each Wednesday at 6am EST, and will be live until Tuesday at 11:55 pm.

Please Share!

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Finishing Strong #107

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


This past week has been been full of new experiences and learning opportunities in our home. Not just for the kids but for us parents as well – both personally and professionally.

In regards to the kids, Geneva has completed her first term at the community college, started competitive swimming with our local high school team (the alma mater of both her father and I), and earned her first Venturing rank. Last week, I’ve shared a little about Geneva’s plan for high school in my post, High School Forecasting: Coordinating Schedules, CLEP Exams, and College Courses.
high-school-forecasting

Jeffrey has participated in his first FIRST Lego League competition, solved a 3×3 cube in a new personal best under 10 seconds (he’s very excited), and made great strides on his journey to Eagle Scout. I’ll be sharing more about his endeavors soon.


I am delighted that families homeschooling middle and high school age students are coming together and finding inspiration in one another. That’s has been the goal of Finishing Strong since its inception. Let’s continue to work together to make this resource a success. Please share this post and link-up your own posts below.

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?

“"BoardThe post with the most clicks last week was Megan’s 6 Board Games for Teens shared at Education Possible.  As a family that loves board games, I was delighted to see new titles as well as a few old favorites.

100 STEM ProjectsSTEAM is my passion and thus, Heather’s post, 100 STEM Activities for Kids & Teens of All Kinds, was my favorite post this past week. I really need to create a post like this one myself. :)

Teens Can Make a DifferenceService learning has always been a major component of our homeschool. For this reason, I loved Megan’s post 5 Ways Teens Can Make a Difference in the World.

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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?

Guidelines:

  1. Link up to 3 posts from your blog. Make sure you use the exact URL to the post, not to your home page. You can add any post related to homeschooling middle and high school students. Posts unrelated to that will be removed.
  2. Please no advertising, individual Pinterest pins, Facebook, Twitter, or other link-up links!
  3. Grab our button to add to your post after you link it up. Each week we will be choosing our favorite posts to highlight on all 4 sites. If you were featured, we would love for you to use the “I was featured” button.
  4. The linky will go live on each co-host’s blog each Wednesday at 6am EST, and will be live until Tuesday at 11:55 pm.

Please Share!

Add our button to your post.

Homeschooling the Middle & High School Years

Were You Featured?

Grab an “I was featured” button!

Homeschooling the Middle & High School Years


Piper is the Best STEM Kit Available: A Perfect Gift for Budding Programmers

Piper is one of the most exciting tech toys we have had the pleasure to experience. It combines everything my kids love about science, technology, engineering, and mathematics. Best of all, it also incorporates MINECRAFT!! As you know, my son loves this video game. It has spurred his interest in computer science and programming.

I gifted the kids with Piper for Christmas last year and highly recommend it for youth interested in gaming, electronics, and programming. My kiddos collaborated together through the entire process of building and coding. It has been a joy to watch.

PIPER: The Best STEM Kit Available @EvaVarga.net

This post contains affiliate links. Please read my disclosure for more information. 

The Piper Computer Kit teaches kids engineering and programming through Minecraft gameplay and physical building. Piper’s mission is to empower the inventors of tomorrow by giving them the tools to build creatively today.

What I love most about Piper is that the kids are involved in the construction at every level. The computer components are NOT assembled and thus the kit includes a large poster-size blue print outlining the step-by-step process by which to put the wooden box and hardware together.

My daughter loves to build things so the kids eagerly divided the tasks. She built the box and plugged in all the component pieces. My son got to do the coding.

PIPER: The Best STEM Kit Available @EvaVarga.net

Now, Piper has developed a Stanford endorsed curriculum which you can use to help your child fully understand the basics of electronics, programming, and computing. It is available as a free download.

Best of all, the Piper Computer Kit comes with a Raspberry Pi, a credit card-sized computer that plugs into your TV and a keyboard. This capable little computer can be used in electronics projects, and for many of the things that your desktop PC does, like spreadsheets, word processing, browsing the internet, and playing games.

It also plays high-definition video. Thus, after your kids have moved away from Minecraft, the hardware can be repurposed for more elaborate projects. The designers want to see it being used by kids all over the world to learn programming. With Piper and Minecraft – this is only the beginning. 

Piper Computer Kit

There are several purchasing options available. A single Piper Computer Kit is just $299, perfect for a homeschool setting (1-3 students) or as a station in your STEM workshop.

Alternatively, you can Rent-to-Own or try it out for just $49 per Piper, per month. It’s a low risk way of trying Piper because 100% of your rental cost may be applied to purchase.

Connect with Piper

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Develop Your Student’s Science Inquiry Skills with BirdSleuth

When we lived in California we had a tropical bird-of-paradise in our yard. While it was not a native flower, we could agree that it was extravagant. When we traveled to Peru, we enjoyed a nature walk at the Inkaterra Hotel in Machu Picchu where we observed over 100 different native orchid species in their natural habitat.

Tropical species provide an interesting point of discussion in the classroom, sparking questions such as: “Why are our local flowers different?” or “What characteristics do the wildflowers we find here in North America share with tropical species?” These questions offer a perfect springboard into science inquiry.

inquiry-skills-birdsleuthWhat is Science Inquiry?

When most people think of science class, they picture classrooms of students all engaged in the same canned activity, following a scripted set of procedures that lead to a predictable outcome. Inquiry based science education is much more. Inquiry science engages kids in inquiry-based science lessons provides them with a way to explore on their own. It removes the teacher as somebody who is providing them with information that they need to memorize. Instead, the kids are experiencing, discovering, and developing their inquiry skills as they go. That is what real scientists do.

Although inquiry based instruction has been written about for decades, it is not widely used in science classrooms. Open inquiry, in particular, is often thought to be difficult to use in the classroom. Perhaps one explanation for this is the perceived difficulty in moving students toward the development of experimental questions.

Scientific inquiry also refers to the activities through which students develop knowledge and understanding of scientific ideas, as well as an understanding of how scientists study the natural world.

Many home educators have experience in leading their children through guided nature studies and observations. Keeping a nature journal is a popular pastime amongst many.  When we take a group of kids outside, however, you will quickly observe that the majority of their questions are reference questions. Questions they can answer relatively easily with experience identifying and using reliable sources.

If your goal is for students to generate questions that inspire investigations, then you need to be able to guide learners into reframing their questions. The Integrating Inquiry for Educators: Developing Student Science Practices online course is a wonderful guide designed to help you – the educator – do just that.

integrating-science-inquiryScience Inquiry Skills for Educators

If you wish to go further with inquiry and citizen science, I strongly recommend Cornell University’s BirdSleuth online course Integrating Inquiry for Educators. They have designed this self-paced course to help educators explore the process of science inquiry and investigation, especially as inspired by outdoor observations and citizen-science participation.

I was provided free access to this course in exchange for an honest review. Having completed the course, I would gladly have paid three times the course fee of just $49. I was very happy with the design of the course as well as how the material was delivered. The course text (eBook option is FREE), videos, assigned NSTA reading materials, case studies, interactive quizzes, and the application assignments were all nicely balanced.

The online course both challenged and piqued my interest in science inquiry. I am now – more than before – looking forward to engaging my kids in a inquiry based science explorations in the years to come.

You can also elect to earn two optional Continuing Education Units (CEUs) if you successfully complete the course. All online materials will be available to you for six months following your enrollment.

Whether you choose to enroll or not, you can support student inquiry by taking the opportunity to download their free Investigating Evidence lessons which will guide you towards supporting scientific questions through citizen science. To accompany these lessons, they have also compiled an extensive list of resources including power points and videos.

Enroll Today

Publish Student Work

In addition to the course materials and other online resources, their annual publication BirdSleuth Investigator provides students with an opportunity to share their research. You will find rich pieces of work done by students in grades K-12 throughout the country. Written by and for students, is also beautifully illustrated by youth.

The goal with BirdSleuth Investigator is to encourage students to pursue their scientific interests through inquiry and investigation by showing them that their hard work can get published. They accept bird-related submissions from all students. Submissions can take the form of artwork, poetry, or scientific reports; anything that a student has truly put effort into has the potential to get published.

To share your students’ projects with us, submit them here. Students certainly feel rewarded for their hard work when they find their work in a published journal! Read the submission guidelines for more details.

Finishing Strong: Full STEAM Ahead

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’s 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 and Susan from Education Possible, and Heidi from Starts at Eight.

women in science

I recently discovered a innovative card game designed specifically for young people to learn about Women in Science. My daughter and I love it!

The Evolution of STEM to STEAM @EvaVarga.netI would also like to encourage you to check out The Evolution of STEM to STEAM: A Book Review & Activity Resources that I posted just a short time ago. This new book is fun – the perfect gift for the young STEAM minded child in your life.


Without further ado, let’s take some time to check out the wonderful posts shared last week. What were your favorites? Share your thoughts and impressions in the comments.

Finishing Strong: Full STEAM Ahead @EvaVarga.net

The post with the most clicks this past week was How to Prepare for a Middle School Homeschool Week from Misty at Year Round Homeschooling.

My favorite posts this last week include Cindy’s When the Plan for High School Science Isn’t Working shared at Our Journey Westward. It’s a great reminder to not give up when your curriculum choices are proving to not work for you or for your child.

Another is Janelle’s How to Start a High School Literature Discussion Group shared at Bright Ideas Press. My kids loved the book club and writing workshop I coordinated in the past. It’s time I look into starting another.

I have shared this before, but I just love Heather’s nature study calendar posts. Her latest, September 2016 Nature Journal Calendar, at Blog She Wrote includes many wonderful ideas for exploring the outdoors with your kids – regardless of their age.

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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?

Guidelines:

  1. Link up to 3 posts from your blog. Make sure you use the exact URL to the post, not to your home page. You can add any post related to homeschooling middle and high school students. Posts unrelated to that will be removed.
  2. Please no advertising, individual Pinterest pins, Facebook, Twitter, or other link-up links!
  3. Grab our button to add to your post after you link it up. Each week we will be choosing our favorite posts to highlight on all 4 sites. If you were featured, we would love for you to use the “I was featured” button.
  4. The linky will go live on each co-host’s blog each Wednesday at 6am EST, and will be live until Tuesday at 11:55 pm.

Please Share!

Add our button to your post.

Homeschooling the Middle & High School Years

Were You Featured?

Grab an “I was featured” button!

Homeschooling the Middle & High School Years


The Evolution of STEM to STEAM: A Book Review & Activity Resources

When I was teaching full time, there was a big push to increase student participation in science, technology, engineering, and math courses and ultimately encourage youth to pursue these careers. In fact, I was hired as an elementary science specialist and was responsible for the science instruction of over 330 students in 4th – 6th grades. In this role, I discovered my true passion … science education.

The Evolution of STEM to STEAM @EvaVarga.netThe Push for STEM

STEM arose from the desire of policy makers to encourage the natural curiosity of youth and their sense of wonder about these fields. These experts say our young people need strong STEM skills to compete in the world market. We must work together to cultivate the next generation of critical thinkers and innovators.

The US Department of Education reports that the number of STEM / STEAM jobs in the United States will grow by 14% from 2010 to 2020, growth that the is “much faster “ than the national average of 5-8% across all job sectors. Computer programming and IT jobs top the list of the the hardest to fill jobs and yet they are not the most popular college majors.

With this push for STEM programs and my broad work experiences, I have written extensively about STEM concepts. For several years, I coordinated a STEM Club for homeschool kids in our local area and shared many our activities here with you.

STEAM is the Future

The inclusion of the arts component into STEM makes it more fun to learn, and more approachable to kids. Arts and creativity are crucial to these fields and are the tool that allows technology to be usable in real life.

STEAM represents a paradigm shift from traditional education philosophy, based on standardized test scores, to a modern ideal which focuses on valuing the learning process as much as the results. The arts are poised to transform our economy in the 21st century just as science and technology did in the last century.

Fostering a strong STEAM education is our best opportunity to boost the spirit of innovation. It’s what we need to help ensure we continue on a prosperous and secure journey. STEAM literacy is also critical because it has a profound and growing impact on our day-to-day lives. Nature, space exploration, the arts, and any STEAM-related interest reveals to us the beauty and power of the world we inhabit.

steam-kidsSTEAM Kids

I am excited to share with you all a fabulous new book by a group of homeschool moms and science advocates, STEAM Kids: 50+ Science, Technology, Engineering, Art, and Math Hands-on Projects for Kids. They authors have pulled their collective experience and wisdom to provide you with a wealth of fun activities young children will LOVE!

They have just launched and I am delighted to have been given a sneak peak at STEAM Kids in exchange for an honest review. I encourage you to take a peak – I know you’ll love it, too. Over 140 pages of fun hands-on STEAM related activities for young children.

If you’re looking for great hands on activities that encourage children to develop their creative abilities while building upon their skills, STEAM Kids is the answer. Teachers and parents alike will find plenty of ideas to captivate young kids and immerse them in an engaging learning environment.

Like what you see? The STEAM Kids ebook is available for just $14.99!  If you have older kids, consider purchasing copies to give as gifts. One activity a week fully outlined using materials easily found around the house for less than 30¢ a week. You can’t go wrong!

steam-halloweenThat’s not all! During launch week (9/14-9/21), you will also received their STEAM Kids: Halloween activity book free. Thereafter, it will be available for $4.99 so don’t delay. Inside you’ll find 59 pages filled with spooky and sweet Halloween activities perfect for the classroom or at home. Things like pumpkin brush bots, spider web science, Halloween building challenges and more.

As an little expression of gratitude, they’ve also created a FREE Printable highlighting 52 weeks of STEAM activities.