Can Algebra Be Fun? It Can with Standard Deviants Accelerate Online Learning!

My kids have always enjoyed math. Like many homeschoolers, we continually move forward developing their skills and competency in the subject at their pace. Since my daughter began to learn algebra, I noticed that her pace has slowed down significantly.

I began to see a level of disinterest develop and that concerned me. How can I assure that she doesn’t loose her enthusiasm? How can I help make algebra fun for her? 

We received access to the Standard Deviants Accelerate online learning library in exchange for an honest review. I also received monetary compensation for my time spent in reviewing the product.  All opinions expressed are true and completely our own. Please see my disclosure policy for more information.

Don’t miss the special promo at the end!!


Online Learning Resource

When I shared with my daughter the online learning resource, Standard Deviants Accelerate, she lit up. This was a change from the book work she had become accustomed to and the perfect way to engage her. She loved the videos – the humor and music were just what my pre-teen needed to reinvigorate her enthusiasm for the material.

She had no difficulty navigating the online learning environment.  Each chapter was divided into several lessons and tabs across the top provided clear points of reference. She could also easily jump forward or back between topics if she wanted to revisit something.

In addition to a short Pre-assessment, each chapter begins with The Big Question that the student is asked to keep in mind as she works through the material. At the end of each lesson, the student is prompted to revisit this thematic question in the Written Answer assignment.

Each lesson within the chapter is divided into a range of well-balanced assignments to provide students with different outlets to demonstrate their understanding. The lesson opens with an engaging Video that breaks down content and provides in-depth instruction. The Vocabulary for each lesson is also highlighted and students can click on the speaker icon to hear how the term is pronounced and to listen to the definition. 

Some lessons also include a drag and drop Diagram to test knowledge using a visual component. A multiple-choice Quiz follows each video and is uniquely designed to re-teach material by replaying clips corresponding to questions that have been answered incorrectly. This immediate feedback and individualized instruction helps assure the child masters the material.

Critical Thinking questions at end of each chapter are customized according to student’s quiz scores, and prompts student to apply and analyze knowledge. Post Tests at the end of each chapter and at the end of the subject continue to check knowledge and are customized according to student’s prior quiz performance.

Project Based Learning

My daughter loves projects and as a result, we have generally steered away from online courses for this reason.  What my daughter most enjoyed about the learning platform within Standard Deviants Accelerate was the Group Activity at the end of the chapter. This hands-on project allowed her an opportunity to demonstrate her mastery of the material by teaching what she had learned to her parents or peers.

In the Group Activity, students are asked to select one of the chapter topics and to teach a specific audience.  When my daughter was working through the chapter on Algebra Functions, she selected the topic of ‘Trendlines’ and her selected audience was a group of ‘Game Players’.  She was thereby asked to break down the topic and reconstruct it in the form of an educational game.

She absolutely loved this assignment. She really put her heart into it as it enabled her to use her creative energy to share her passion for math.


Easy-to-Use and Affordable

The Standard Deviants Accelerate online teaching system guides homeschool students through complete courses with clever instructional videos. My daughter was laughing at the humor used to make difficult topics like polynomials and quadratic equations fun and easy to understand.

The SDA program designed for middle and high school is easy-to-use, providing instruction and enrichment for core subjects. SDA will teach and re-teach, allowing your student to learnprogress, and then master a subject, requiring little time from parents.  Parents are provided with grade reports, red flag alerts, and editable scoring rubrics to aide them in facilitating their child’s learning progress.

There are a variety of subjects to choose from including:

  • Biology
  • Geology
  • Chemistry
  • Nutrition
  • Arithmetic
  • Algebra
  • Government & Economics
  • US History
  • English Composition

The Standard Deviants Accelerate program is also affordable. Core subjects are just $99/year (or $24.95/month).  AP subjects are just $14.95/month.

For a limited time, Standard Deviants Accelerate is offering a FREE 6 month full access to ALL 14 subjects on SDA for homeschoolers. Sign up by November 15th!

Our Curriculum Choices for Middle School (7th and 5th grade)

This coming year marks our eighth year of homeschool and it is full of changes and new beginnings. Both of the kids will be in middle school – 7th and 5th grades. I can hardly believe it!

They are both more independent and their skills have grown enough that I know they are ready for more. To achieve the goals they have for themselves, I need to strengthen our schedule. Push them a little harder.

curriculum choices


As science is my strength, I will continue to plan and coordinate hands-on activities in science for small groups of local homeschoolers. I will be sharing many of these resources here so be sure to check back if there is something you need.  Our plan this year includes geology, human anatomy, light and sound, and chemistry.

I am very excited to share that I have finished the complete life science series, Botany: Plenty O’Plants, Zoology: Amazing Animals, and Ecology: Exploring Ecology. All my curriculum units can be found in my store, Science Logic, and the freebies are organized here, Science Freebies.

This year, however, we will be augmenting our study with Joy Hakim’s The Story of Science, the first of which is Aristotle Leads the Way. We are really excited to explore science in a chronological perspective alongside our history studies.

We will continue to do informal nature study. This is best described as enjoying nature, spending time in nature, observing what we see, identifying or researching in order to identify once we get back home, and recording (via Project Noah and our nature journals). I use the Handbook of Nature Study newsletters and posts for inspiration – as well as share articles with you through this outlet.

History & Geography

We are particularly excited about history as we will begin the cycle again. This time we are using The History of the Ancient World by Susan Wise Bauer. While is is the same author as Story of the World, we have heard so many good things, we opted to stick with it.

Years ago, I had purchased Mapping the World by Heart but it has done nothing but collect dust.  This year, I vow to put it to use. I know a solid foundation in geography will serve us well in the future.


Early on, I discovered Singapore Math and it worked well for us so we stuck with it all through the elementary years. As my oldest moved through 6A and finally 6B, however, it was clear she needed more review.

We thereby gave Life of Fred – Fractions a tryShe was thrilled with the story format and her love of math returned.  I encountered the same struggle with my son as he finished Singapore 6B. Thus, I am delighted they will both be using Life of Fred this year, Beginning Algebra and Fractions.

Language Arts

This is the one area I struggle with the most. I can’t seem to settle on one curriculum. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing. I know I can successfully teach without it. But as they approach high school, like any homeschool mom, I worry, “Am I doing enough?”

I lean towards a Charlotte Mason style of education, full of living books, the arts, and real life learning. The whole language approach has worked well for us in elementary. Through middle school, however, I know I need to make some changes.

My daughter is an avid reader and I have never had to push her to read. My son, on the other hand, is always moving and doing something with his hands. He also has nystagmus. He thereby prefers books with larger print which are harder to come by.

This past spring, I started a Literature Circle to give the kids an opportunity to learn from their peers. It incorporates a weekly Writer’s Workshop and the kids are loving it! Getting feedback from their friends has strengthened their confidence as young writers and has encouraged them to write more.  As we move forward, I will incorporate more tools and strategies to improve their writing. One idea I gleaned from Jimmie Lanley is peer editing. I am excited to give this a go this year.

Literature Circle also incorporates a monthly Book Club, whereby the kids choose titles which we discuss as a group.  It has been working well but I need help coming up with discussion questions. I thereby purchased the Words Aptly Spoken series. Each of the study guides provides a useful tool, combining both author information and study questions of classic literature for deeper analysis.

I am also very intrigued by the Boomerang program at Brave Writer.  I will be purchasing several single issues to give the program a try this coming year.  Selecting our own Boomerangs according to the books the kids have selected will allow me to tailor the language arts program specifically to each of them.

Foreign Language

Perhaps the biggest change of all, however, is that our Mandarin teacher and his wife are expecting a new baby any day now.  While this wouldn’t necessarily impact us, he also finished his doctorate degree last year, and has thereby accepted a full-time position at Marshall University in West Virginia.

As we travel often, we have become comfortable with occasional online lessons via Skype. The kids are adapt at using multiple tools simultaneously. Moving forward, however, we will need to adjust to all of our lessons via Skype.

We will continue to use Better Chinese curriculum. However, the kids will move away from Our First Chinese Reader (essentially the elementary program) and begin Discovering Chinese. Designed for middle school students, it integrates more collaborative projects and I hope more opportunities for the kids to communicate with one another in their second language.

In addition, the complete series is available on iPad with reading, speaking, and listening activities making up the backbone of the program. Audio and video are streamlined throughout the lessons as well as cultural lessons.

More Curriculum Ideas

Do you wish you could pick-the-brain of experienced homeschooling moms?  Then you need to get this amazing, resource-filled e-book download (including a chapter I authored on Inquiry Science for Middle School) for just $10.99! Click HERE to buy or for more information.

You can also see what curriculum choices other homeschool families are making this week at the Not Back To School Blog Hop from the iHomeschool Network.

Come back often to visit new additions all week this week. Next Monday is the school room post. Get those “where we do school” photos ready! Grab a button so your bloggy friends can share their hard work, too.


New Life Science Curriculum Available!

I am so very excited! I have finished the life science curriculum series I envisioned so many years ago, Life Logic: Dialectic Stage Life Sciences.

A complete full year life science curriculum … Botany, Zoology, and the previously completed Ecology!! botanyLife Logic is an inquiry based, hands-on life science curriculum for middle school students. It is created to provide teachers with the tools and inspiration to engage their students in meaningful, hands-on, inquiry based science and service learning experiences through tangible curriculum, shared resources, and real-world contexts.
The curriculum was originally field tested in the public school classroom and more recently in the homeschool or co-op setting. Life Logic is comprised of three disciplines (Botany, Zoology, and Ecology).
The units can stand alone or can be combined for a complete academic year curriculum.

They are available for purchase today!

Homeschooling in California: Choosing Curriculum & Finding Resources

After making the initial decision to homeschool, the choice now rests on how to homeschool.  The most arduous of tasks is choosing curriculum. But it doesn’t need to be .. come along and I’ll guide you.

When meeting homeschool families, some of the first questions homeschoolers tend to ask are, “What curriculum do you use?” and “What kind of homeschooler are you?” To new homeschoolers, this can be completely overwhelming.

curriculum_resourcesDefine Your Style – What Are Your Goals?

Take a minute to think about what you desire for your children.  What are your goals for their education. Write out everything you believe about education. This is your mission statement; it will become your foundation for all of the choices you will make along the way.

After you have your mission statement, you will have a better grasp on what methods/theories will best suit you. Research the homeschooling methods out there and find one that matches your core beliefs. Here are a few of the most common styles.

  • Classical (including Thomas Jefferson and Well-Trained Mind)
  • Unschooling (including Delight Directed, Relaxed, Child-Led, and Radical Unschooling)
  • Charlotte Mason
  • Religion or Faith Based
  • Hybrid Schooling (including Virtual Schools, Online Charter Schools, or Distance Learning)
  • Montessori
  • Waldorf
  • Eclectic (aka, a combination of two or more styles)

As you progress along the journey and discover new tools and styles, don’t be surprised if your mission statement evolves or changes to better suit your family.  This is natural and one of the benefits to homeschooling.

Once you have a grasp of your homeschooling style, you will be better able to choose curriculum that is right for you and your children.

Choosing Curriculum

When looking to purchase curriculum, there are a few things to keep in mind. There are A LOT of options available today and so take time to peruse samples.  Request catalogs from publishers (Rainbow Resource, Classical Conversations, Peace Hill Press, Home Science Tools, etc.).  Many curriculum providers also have free samples or excerpts available online.

Read reviews and reach out to other homeschool families.  We love to talk about the choices we have made.  Ask us what we’ve used, whether we liked or disliked it and, most importantly, why. The very reason that a certain piece of curriculum didn’t work for my family may be the exact reason that it will work for yours.

The biggest thing to remember when choosing curriculum is that there is no one perfect curriculum; there is only the best fit for your family.  You may even decide NOT to use curriculum for every subject – and that is perfectly okay.

Keep the learning style of your kids in mind. If your child is a visual learner, workbooks might be the best choice for him. If, on the other hand, your child is a kinesthetic learner, you may want a more hands-on approach. Your voracious reader might enjoy a literature-based curriculum.

Utilize your library (if they don’t have what you are looking for, they may be able to get it via interlibrary loan). You may also be able to find it used – either at a local curriculum swap or online.

Don’t overlook the work that other homeschool families share online.  Many homeschool bloggers like myself make the materials we create available for free.  Click here to see my free science materials.

Finding Resources

Even if you have filed an R4 (establishing your own home-based private school), don’t feel like you have to do it all alone. If you are open to it, there are many ways in which you help your child achieve her goals in unconventional ways.

Homeschool Co-ops are groups of homeschooling families who join together to enrich their homeschooling experience by learning from and with one another. Often these groups will participate in field trips, sports, classes, etc. There are often mom’s night out activities and retreats to encourage and refresh us moms in the midst of our busy lives. As with any organized group, structure and rules vary from group to group.

Some homeschool parents volunteer their time to teach private classes for other homeschool families.  These small-group classes vary depending upon the skill and knowledge of the parent but may include literature circle (book club and/or writer’s workshop), art, woodworking, sewing, cooking, hands-on science, etc.  There are even online classes especially for homeschool families.

Similarly, you may seek out a private tutor or instructor for one-on-one classes.  This is particularly applicable to foreign language and music.

One area that many families overlook are resource specialists in you community. I have found that many specialists in the community love sharing their knowledge and skills with young people. This is particularly true of agencies funded by our tax dollars like the Forest Service, Fish & Wildlife, and National Parks.  Reach out to them and see what programs or opportunities they may offer. Many of these agencies also have extensive resources and lessons – even complete units – available for free on their websites.  Do a little digging and see what you can find.

Join me again next week when I discuss, Homeschooling in California: Preparing for College.

Don’t live in California? Starting July 1st, I’m joining homeschoolers across the nation to help bring you resources for all 50 states, plus a HUGE Homeschooling Giveaway with over $800 in prizes!


How I Teach Middle School … A Video Essay

I’m going to go out on a limb and try something new this year.  Yay for new goals! Instead of writing about how I teach numerous subjects, I am going to show you.  That’s right! I’m going to create a video to literately show you how I teach my kiddos everything from beginning algebra to cellular structure.  Everyone says pictures say a thousand words.  A video then can say so much more.

Each day this week, I will share a new video whereby I highlight how we integrate a variety of curriculum choices and learning styles into our curriculum.  I’ll keep each short and sweet.

How I Teach Middle School

How I Teach Middle School Language Arts

How I Teach Middle School Math

How I Teach Middle School Science

How I Teach Middle School History

How I Teach Middle School Fine Arts

Admin Note:  I apologize.  I am struggling with technology.  The program I have used for years, iMovie, hasn’t been working properly despite all my efforts. It is very erratic.

As a result, I have been unable to complete these videos as I had hoped.  You can imagine my frustration.   I will post these videos as soon as I am able.  Again, I am so very sorry.

iHomeschool Network January 2014 Hopscotch

Interested in discovering how other homeschool bloggers teach the different content areas? Check out iHomeschool Network’s How I Teach hopscotch.

We Are Loving Discovering Chinese Pro

I am über-excited about the new Discovering Chinese Pro app by Better Chinese.  As most of my readers are aware, we have been using Better Chinese curricula for our Mandarin studies for years.  I even blog about our language learning endeavors for them.

Discovering Chinese Pro review

For the past several years, we have been using My First Chinese Reader and have been anxiously awaiting the release of an interactive iPad program. Discovering Chinese Pro is the answer. Easy to navigate, engaging animations, and a variety of practical language skill applications.

Each volume in Discovering Chinese Pro contains twelve lessons and each lesson begins with the goals outlined clearly.  Upon reading through the goals, each lesson begins with a short animation. The material is presented in several formats allowing students with different learning styles to choose the method that is best (with or without pinyin, with or without audio, and with or without English translations).  The student even has the choice to use simplified or traditional characters and can apply this option to specific words or the entire lesson.

Tabs across the top divide the lesson into sections that allow the learner to easily jump to the desired section:  Language Notes, Culture Points, Practice, Homework, and I Can.

Language Notes

The Language Notes section of each lesson introduces in more detail the new lesson vocabulary, additional required vocabulary, and proper nouns.  Here, the words are defined and the characters, pinyin, and parts of speech are shown.  Students can tap on an icon to hear each word spoken aloud. Within ‘Language Points’, students are shown how to combine different characters for phrases and example sentences can be heard. ‘Language Tips’ points out short cuts or more commonly used phrases.

Discovering Chinese Pro

Culture Points

True of all the lessons in the series, the tab Culture Points helps put the lesson vocabulary into historical and cultural context.  Here students are introduced to China with idioms and photographs – bringing the Chinese culture to life.  In anticipation of our trip to China, I had selected two lessons from Volume 2 to review, Lesson 19 “Shopping” and Lesson 24 “Trip to China”.  These tabs were very valuable to me, providing a better understanding of the culture of China.


The practice section is split into six parts – pinyin, characters, listening, reading, speaking, and writing.   In the pinyin section you can practice pronunciation of the four tones, pinyin identification, and pinyin dictation.  In the character writing section, several characters are introduced that correspond to the new vocabulary introduced in the lesson.  Here, students can see the story behind a Chinese character, watch the stroke order animation, and try it themselves.

The next four practice sections work on the students’ listening, speaking, reading (split into reading comprehension and reading challenge), and writing skills (split into grammar exercises and composition).  The activities and practice applications vary with each lesson – ensuring the students are engaged and have ample opportunity to practice their budding skills in varied contexts.  In the speaking section of Lesson 24 “Trip to China”, students were asked to interview a friend about his/her recent trip.

One of the things I liked best about the Practice section was the partner and group activities.  In Lesson 19 “Shopping”, students were asked to set up a flea market.  Working in small groups, they were to decide upon a name, what to sell, categorize the items, create an inventory, set prices, determine if bargaining is allowed, and finally create a poster.  In Lesson 24 “Trip to China”, students were asked to pick a destination from a list of overseas trips and to create an itinerary to potential customers. As a group assignment, tasks were to be divided between students (transportation, food, activities, etc.).  In both scenarios, the students were to present it to the class.


The homework section provides additional opportunities for the language learner to test his developing listening, reading, writing, and speaking skills.  The listening section has three dialogues. The reading section has two short passages with characters only, followed by a few comprehension questions.  The speaking section asked the student to record an oral narration of the lesson animation.  The writing section provides grammar practice whereby students follow a specific sentence structure or pattern as they compose sentences of their own.  In addition, a composition activity is provided that varies with each lesson. In Lesson 19 “Shopping”, the student was asked to compose an email response to a friend regarding what she bought at the store.

Each practice and homework section has a prompt box whereby the student can record their audio reply and/or type their composition.  If desired, images can even be added for a multi-media approach.  As I know even less Mandarin Chinese than the kids, I love that the students can email their tutor their work for review.

To learn more about Discovering Chinese Pro, visit the Better Chinese website.  You may also wish to watch their Discovering Chinese Pro Demonstration to see how to navigate this app more thoroughly.

I received the Discovering Chinese Pro app in exchange for an honest review. I am very pleased to be a part of the Better Chinese Blogging Team. All opinions are my own.  Please see my disclosure policy for more information.