Our AP Exam Experience: Chinese Language & Culture

In Oregon, students entering a four year university must have completed at least two years of a foreign language. As a homeschool, we are a non-accredited provider and therefore the language learning that my children have done with their private instructor is not recognized by four year institutions in Oregon. They must prove competency through examination.

Typically, there are multiple avenues or choices for credit by examination. The two most popular options are Advanced Placement® (AP) and the College Level Exam Program® (CLEP) – both of which are subject-specific credit-by-exam programs offered by The College Board.  Keep in mind, each university determines what tests are accepted and the qualifying score required.

Though my daughter will most assuredly apply to multiple institutions, her top choice is Oregon State University (OSU). It is an in-state school and both her father and I are alumni. Most importantly, the degrees she seeks (environmental and chemical engineering) are intertwined within the same college or department, rather than separate programs as is common at other universities.

OSU will accept either exam option. However, as there is no CLEP exam available for Mandarin Chinese, the AP exam is the best choice. The score required to prove competency on the Chinese Language & Culture AP Exam is a 2. If she scores a 3+, she would be awarded 15 credits and permitted to begin with upper division language courses.

Sophomore Year

We partnered with an umbrella school in the fall of the 2017-18 school year. While our reasons were varied (I’ve outlined them here), the school we partnered with promised it would make it possible for her to take the AP exam in the spring. None of the other area schools offered the Chinese exam – though any would likely be willing to secure it, I wanted an assurance.

The AP exam is offered only once a year on a predetermined date in May. In October, we began to communicate her intent to take the exam in the spring by both email and telephone. When April’s showers began to bring May flowers, we had given up hope that it was going to happen at all. We had received no confirmation of registration.

The week of the exam, we received a phone call that a make-up exam had been scheduled for the following week. Surprise!! We had no idea this was even a possibility. The school apologized and explained that this was the first AP exam they had the opportunity to administer (it is a relatively new charter school) and thus there was a bit of a learning curve.

We drove over to the school with few expectations. She had not taken a standardized test since grade school so our goal this time around was simply to gain some familiarity with the testing format.

Upon our arrival, we are informed that the “testing room” had just used been used to heat press t-shirts which accounted for the chemical odor that lingered. They opened a window but that only served to intensify the loud ruckus of students on their lunch break.

When I picked her up a few hours later, she complained of a headache and nausea. She is a strong test taker and yet was disappointed. “The fumes and noise made it difficult to concentrate. I began to feel queazy soon after we started but there was nothing I could do.”

Needless to say, she did not pass. No big deal. She could take it again the following year (she only submits . She and her Mandarin instructor began a focused effort immediately, using Barron’s AP Chinese study guide to prepare.

Junior Year

Since we first began Mandarin language instruction years ago, we have scheduled two classes each week. During this two hour block of time, each of the kids works with Shawn for one hour. Periodically, he incorporates cultural or cooking lessons whereupon it is a combined class but generally they work with him independently.

Over the course of the year, she would often have a focused two-hour block to work specifically on AP exam prep. With a familiarity of the testing format, she knew what she needed to do the second time around.

I also communicated more effectively our disappointment in the testing atmosphere to our umbrella school. While taking AP exams provides many benefits to students, it also reflects well on the school. I was certainly willing to overlook the concerns I had last year but did expect them to make improvements.

All her efforts were rewarded last month when we received her score report from the College Board. She passed! Her score was sent automatically to the community college where she is dual enrolled and 12 credits were awarded free of charge! Well, not exactly free. The cost to take the exam in the US is $94 – but that’s certainly much less than tuition.

Benefits of AP Examination

As I mentioned briefly above, taking an AP exam provides many benefits for students. I can’t recommend this option enough.

1. You save money on tuition

2. You will have greater flexibility in college and can potentially graduate early

3. AP classes impress college admissions officers

4. AP classes help develop college-level academic skills and increase your chances for merit aid

To clarify, taking an AP class is NOT required in order to register for and thereby take an AP exam. Whether you are working with a tutor or studying independently, you can still take the exams by simply arranging to test at a participating school or authorized test center. Learn more at I’m homeschooled. How can I take an AP Exam?

Becoming World War II Time Travelers with Home School in the Woods

We traveled to Washington, D.C. a couple years ago and while there, visited the Holocaust Memorial Museum. We took our time in the exhibit halls to absorb the messages communicated through the artifacts and stories. Later that evening as we processed what we had seen, the kids recalled visiting Norway’s World War II Resistance Museum in Oslo many years prior. 

Their continued questions and maturity have now convinced me it was time to look into World War II in more depth. As any parent or teacher can tell you, nothing engages a child in the learning experience like hands-on activities. Home School in the WoodsAmerica in World War II (from the Time Travelers series) provides the perfect resource. 

Teen using Home School in the Woods' timeline figures and notebook to create a visual timeline of World War II
I received access to this product in exchange for a review. I was compensated for my time and was not required to make a positive review.

Time Travelers: America in World War II

The CD includes 25 lessons that cover Hitler and the Nazi party, the Holocaust, Pearl Harbor, the war in the Pacific and Africa, battles and conflicts across the European continent, and so much more. After looking over the material, we decided it was a topic interesting enough and the materials extensive enough to make it into a year long history study. 

Timelines and maps provide the “when” and “where” while 3-dimensional projects, drama or history dress-up, cooking, and living books transport us back through time. These hands-on activities bring history to life for students and engage them in meaningful learning. 

Bring history to life by coordinating a living history museum for students.  Portrayed here are Irena Sendler and Arnold Mærsk McKinney Møller.

There is also a supplement page full of recommended books, videos, audio files, and more to explore the subject to its fullest potential. There are so many enrichment activities, I know we will have a rich and varied unit study all through the coming year. 

WW2 History Timeline Projects & Schedule

Like all the titles in the Time Travelers U.S. History series, a calendar style overview of all 25 lesson plans is provided that lists the activities and projects for each. We decide how frequently a lesson is introduced and how deep we explore each topic. We can do a lesson a day (choosing minimal projects) or a lesson a week (choosing a different project each day). The schedule is very flexible.

The project pages and activities for each lesson vary according to topic but all lessons include penmanship practice, figures for a timeline, and a short writing assignment (newspaper style article). Other project masters include maps, songs, recipes, and historical facts such as culture and people. 

Teen using Home School in the Woods' blackline maps to geographically depict the battles of of World War II
Using blackline maps from Home School in the Woods to visualize the War in the Pacific

Our favorite activities include the timeline and maps which allow us to visualize the expansion of German and Japanese power over the course of the war. Conflicts through battles, conquests, and attacks are displayed clearly and concisely.

It was refreshing to find a unit of study that went into great depth without feeling like we were just skimming the surface. The format also encourages children to explore deeper the parts in which they are most interested. 

The material is well written and affordable. However, I must admit it can be a little confusing at first to organize and print out what you need. It just took a little time to familiarize myself with how everything was organized. Access to a printer and ink is certainly a must, too.  

The US History Time Traveler series has many different historical eras to choose. Other great products include our favorite timeline trio which includes the “Record of Time” timeline notebook (we’ve been using it since my kiddos were in grade school) and Project Passport for world geography studies.

Join their educational community and get a free unit study on famous authors, too!

An Ultimate Giveaway

Enter the giveaway today! This is one you don’t want to miss. One very lucky winner will receive The ENTIRE COLLECTION of both Project Passport (5) and Time Traveler (7) products—$311.90 VALUE! The winner can be anywhere in the world because this is a digital product. 

The Science of Beekeeping: A Visit with an Apiculturalist

I have been fascinated with honeybees since I was in college.  I owe that fascination to an amazing professor, Michael Burgett at Oregon State University, whom taught an introductory entomology course that I enrolled in my senior year.  Had I taken that course earlier in my college days, I likely would have minored in entomology.  Anyway …

Visit with an Apiculturalist

For a while now, I have wanted to introduce the kids to the science of bee-keeping.  I have even hinted to my husband that I would love a hive of our own; that bees would make me happier than diamonds.  A girl can dream, right?

We recently discovered that a family we know here in Northern California are apiculturists.  When I made this discovery, I was full of questions.  It was thereby no surprise when they invited us out to help them to extract the honey from their hives.

Here’s a peak at the honey bee nature journal entries we created upon our return home.

Beekeeping 101

The frames had been removed from the hives a few days prior and brought into the garage.  This helped to provide a peaceful atmosphere in which to extract the honey for the bees gradually returned to the hive when the threat had moved on.  The frame boxes were stored in the attic of the garage for it was very warm up there and the honey was thereby less viscous.

The frames were removed from the box, the wax caps (if any) were sliced off with a flat, knife-like tool which was heated with electricity, and the frames were set into a large kettle like device.  We all took turns spinning the frames around … the honey would literally fly out of the hexagonal cells onto the wall of the extractor (presently muscle-powered but plans to motorize it spoken of).  The honey then drips down the sides and through a hole in the bottom which then leads to a double filter to remove any wax or insect remnants that may be present.  The honey is then funneled into jars for consumption.

Building insect hotels or habitat for insects is a great summer project for students learning about pollinators. 

This year, the family has 13 hives but sadly, the dry weather through the summer and an area grasshopper infestation in July caused the nectar source to be rather dismal.  As a result, they pulled only 81 frames in 9 supers with honey which will yield about 230 pounds of honey.  The previous year, they family had a small fraction of the hives they do now and yet had a similar yield.

When we had spun out 18 frames, we took turns donning the bee-keeper attire and visiting the hives.  The female worker bees, the drones (males lacking stingers), and of course the queen were identified.  We also had the opportunity to hold a drone in our bare hands much as we would have held a small frog.  This was such a strange feeling!

The Nature Book Club

Welcome to the Nature Book Club Monthly Link Up. Devoted to connecting children to nature, the monthly link up will begin on the 20th day of each month. We welcome your nature book and activity related links. Read on for more details.

Today, I would like to share with you an amazing book that delights readers of all ages. Using the book jacket and enclosed paper sheets, this book becomes a house for mason bees, which are non-aggressive, non-stinging super-pollinators. Mason bees pollinate far more than honeybees and their nest will give kids a chance to observe the insects more closely.

Turn this Book into a Beehive is written by Lynn Brunelle, author of Pop Bottle Science. Rich text teaches kids about the world of bees and numerous exercises, activities, and illustrations engage one’s imagination. Best of all, with just a few simple steps readers can transform the book into an actual living home for backyard bees.

The Nature Book Club is brought to you by these nature loving bloggers which are your co-hosts. Are you following them? If you don’t want to miss anything, be sure to follow each one. Here are the co-hosts, their choices of books, and activities for July 2019:

Party Rules

Choose an engaging nature book, do a craft or activity, and add your post to our monthly link up.

The link up party goes live at 9:00 a.m. EST on the 20th of each month and stays open until 11:59 p.m. EST on the last day of the month. Hurry to add your links!

You can link up to 3 posts. Please do not link up advertising posts, advertise other link up parties, your store, or non-related blog posts. They will be removed.

By linking up with us, you agree for us to share your images and give you credit of course if we feature your posts. That’s it.

You are invited to the Inlinkz link party!

Click here to enter

Looking Back on My Years with VIPKID

Nearly two years ago, I signed my first contract with VIPKID. My original intent was simply to make a little extra money.  Our family aimed to live a debt-free life and we were intent on paying off our mortgage.

I also expected to develop a broader perspective of the world of education. Yet, I had no idea just how much it would change my life. While it started out as a side hustle to earn extra cash, I have fallen in love with teaching all over again.

Rediscovery

I first began my teaching career as a student teacher when I was yet in college. Since then, I have volunteered to teach aboard (summer 1993 in San Miguel de Allende, Mexico), served as an elementary science specialist,  and taught every grade but high school. I have been a substitute teacher and currently teach professional development courses online for other educators.

I have taught homeschool co-ops and have lead hundreds of students on nature walks. I have also worked in informal education settings – teaching natural sciences at the estuarine reserve and marine life center. And would you believe, I am now my son’s Scoutmaster?! 

I have focused so much of my energies on homeschooling my own children in recent years that I have missed having direct interaction with students and the fulfillment that comes from cultivating those relationships. VIPKid has helped me rediscover this joy. 

I don’t invest my time and energy into something just because it’s a job. I do it because it’s my passion. I must admit though, working from home in the comfort of my favorite pair of leggings is pretty hard to beat. 

Personal notes from my students

Building relationships

To build a rapport with my students, I generally spend the first few minutes of the class intentionally getting to know my students. This is especially important with students I have not taught before. I ask probing questions to learn about their interests. 

As I leave feedback for parents, I ask for input about how I can customize  lessons to better suit their child. I am a more effective if I am able to make the lessons more personal. I believe strongly that this personal touch and extra care for the families with whom I interact has helped me to develop a close friendship with several of the parents of my students.

Through conversations we have shared over time, either through the VIPKid platform or through WeChat,  we have discussed not only their child’s education, but we have also shared insights about our unique cultures, traditions, and beliefs.

My own children have been learning Mandarin Chinese since they were in preschool and as a family, we traveled to China in 2013.  I am familiar with the culture yet the relationships I have developed with my VIPKid families has enriched my life exponentially.

Are you seeking employment?

If you have a bachelor’s degree (no matter the content area) and experience working with children, I strongly encourage you to consider VIPKid. The hiring process has been simplified and there are a wealth of resources to help you get started.

I would love to help coach you along the way. My personal referral code is EVA000007 – reach out to me with any questions.

Using Teaching Textbooks for SAT Prep

My daughter plans to take the SAT exam this summer. However, she feels that she is rusty and needs to brush up on her math skills. We thereby wanted to an SAT prep course to freshen her memory on concepts taught in algebra and pre-calculus.

As most of my readers know, my kids are dual enrolled at the local community college. I thereby spend more time in the role of chauffeur than as teacher. In fact, I do very little direct instruction with either of them anymore.

My daughter has been taking courses full time at the college for two years now and has just completed the first year calculus course. She has done very well and this fall, she will begin tutoring.

It was thereby a surprise when her first SAT scores came back last year. She took the exam twice (once in the fall and again in spring) and yet her math score remained the same. Though she surpassed the benchmark, she didn’t feel it was a true reflection of her ability. After all, math is her favorite subject (next to foreign languages) and she excels in the classroom.

She has thereby challenged herself to take the SAT a third time at the end of the summer. In order to brush up on the skills tested on the SAT, she wanted an SAT prep online program she could use at her pace – to set her own schedule and course plan to help her review and practice. Teaching Textbooks is a math curriculum designed for independent learners – perfect for her! Best of all, the first 15 lessons of any level are free. Try one level or every level with no obligation with this link, Teaching Textbooks.

I received access to this product in exchange for a review. I was compensated for my time and was not required to make a positive review.

Homeschool SAT Prep

One of the main features of Teaching Textbooks is that it provides step-by-step explanations for every single problem in a multimedia form. The lessons are written directly to the student and do not assume the presence of a teacher.

Students can thereby work through the material independently in just three easy steps: watch the video tutorial, do the practice problems, and if you error, an audio tutor explanations the solutions.  The explanations are clear and complete and plenty of practical examples are provided throughout the curricula.

The program is very easy to use. Teaching Textbooks is a particularly good choice for the student who might have struggled with other math programs and needs a less pressured pace and style of delivery. While my daughter does not struggle, she likes that she can move along at her own pace and even skip sections when she is comfortable with the material.

Though it is not considered a specific SAT prep course aimed at testing strategies and SAT question format, it provides practice with the content of high school level coursework. We opted for Pre-Calculus but the high school courses also include Pre-Algebra, Algebra 1, Algebra 2, and Geometry.

Her test isn’t until the end of August so we do not yet know her newest score. However, she is enjoying the program and has expressed that she feels more confident.

At the college, she has alternated between two professors and had become accustomed to their word choice and approach. She states that the vocabulary and the specific wording of the problems in Teaching Textbooks has challenged her to more carefully analyze each question. It has also given her practice with another approach to solving each problem.

Regardless of what her score may reflect, her comfort with the material is what is important. As a tutor, this flexibility and confidence will serve her well.

Online Learning Improved

Teaching Textbooks now works a little differently than previous 2.0 versions. The academic content is the same as always but the course is now delivered online as a 12-month subscription. Also, physical books have been replaced by eBooks. No more discs!

The 3.0 version of Teaching Textbooks course material is easy to access from computers, tablets, or phones. This makes it easy to access from anywhere! If you prefer a more traditional textbook, an electronic textbook is available and includes a printing option.

Because all of the content in 3.0 is available online, the price is significantly lower. With 3.0, you purchase a yearly (12-month) subscription for one child and one course. Large-family discounts (for families with four to eight students) are also available.

Teaching Textbooks Giveaway

You can find placement tests on the publisher’s website to guide you in selecting the appropriate course. The series is a college prep curriculum though it is not as rigorous as some other courses.

NOTE: The Free trial does not require a credit card and does work for the first 15 lessons with no time limit. You may try any level or all of the levels.

Because we were using the course to review for the SAT exam, we were not concerned with the grading options. However, I was intrigued to discover that grades can be accessed anytime from anywhere (even after a subscription has ended).

Celebrate America’s Independence and Explore the Science of Fireworks

With Independence Day upon us this week, the fireworks stands are popping up all over town.  With the dry weather and heat wave many are experiencing this year, I am confidant many cities will be enforcing strict prohibitions against fireworks.  Why not then take the time to explore the science of fireworks and perhaps try making a few simple ones yourself?

Learn about the science of fireworks with this awesome video. How do fireworks work? Where do the cool colors come from? What makes the big explosions?

Creating firework colors requires considerable art and application of science. Excluding propellants or special effects, the points of light ejected from fireworks, termed ‘stars’, generally require an oxygen-producer, fuel, binder (to keep everything where it needs to be), and a color producer.

The bright colors visible when fireworks explode are a result of pyrotechnic stars —pellets of chemicals that generate certain colors or produce sparking effects when burned. When the bursting charge is ignited, the main fuel explodes first, transferring energy to the colorant chemicals, which prompts these chemicals’ electrons to move into an excited state. Then, moments later, when the colorant chemicals cool and the electrons fall back to their base state, they release the extra energy as colorful radiation when they are flying through the sky. The specific color depends on the chemical:
fireworks
To achieve unusually-shaped fireworks, such as double-rings, hearts or stars, technicians pack the fuel and colorant chemicals inside a tube in different formations. Chemists design fireworks to burn as slowly as possible, rather than explode rapidly – a slower burn means that a visual effect will last longer and cover a greater area of the sky. To achieve this, the fuel and oxidizer chemicals used are relatively large-grained, about the size of a grain of sand. Additionally, chemists avoid mixing the fuel and oxidizer together thoroughly, making it more difficult for them to burn.

Flame Photometry

If you wish to delve into the science of fireworks even further, consider undertaking flame photometry experiments.  Rainbow Fire, is an exciting activity kit that you may wish to consider; it is available for purchase at Science Buddies. The necessary materials and the experimental procedure are outlined for you on their website.  Of course, adult supervision is required.  The four chemicals used in the kit are:

  • Copper sulfate
  • Strontium chloride
  • Boric acid
  • Sodium chloride

Things to Ponder

  • How are the colors produced by a chemical when it burns related to the atomic structure of the chemical?
  • What is flame spectrometry and how is it used by physicists and chemists?
  • How does this science project relate to what astronomers do when they are trying to identify the atomic makeup of a star?
  • What are metal ions? In the chemicals used in this science project, which elements in the compounds are metals?

Black Snake Fireworks

Do you remember watching long carbon worms emerge from growing tablets our parents lit with matches on the 4th of July?  For a simple do-it-yourself recipe, a homemade black snake is sure to delight.