## Autobiography Maps: Our Life as an Island

I originally discovered this creative autobiography project activity years ago. When I shared it with my kids, they were excited to give it a try. I am now looking forward to using it in my ELL classroom this fall.

I started with a short questionnaire that got the kids thinking about important things that have happened during their lives, items or activities that represent them currently, and goals that they have for the future.

We spent a few minutes talking about our interests and revisited the essays they had written previously.

We then discussed elements of actual maps:

• Scale:   Scale is used to show that a certain distance on the map represents the actual distance on the earths surface.  On a map, scale is represented using words (for example, one inch = 400 miles) or using a graphic (a line graph).
• Title:   What the map is about. The title is generally the biggest, darkest, most noticeable text on your map.
• Legend or Key:   Used for defining and understanding the symbols found on the map. It is usually in one of the corners of the map and is often enclosed by a box. It explains the meaning of the different sizes, shapes, and colors used in the map.
• Symbols:   The things on the map which stand for or represent real things on the earth’s surface. Symbols vary according to 2 categories: color and shape.  For example: a star ê is often used to represent the capital city or yellow to represent a desert.
• Compass:   The compass shows which way is up on the map. Nearly all maps are printed so that north is towards the top of the page.  This is shown by a compass rose using N, S, E, and W.
• Location:   Where the place or places shown on the map are exactly location the earth.  Lines of latitude and longitude are used on the map to show the location.  You should have at least one line of latitude and one line of longitude.
• Border:   The outside edge of the map. This is a thick, 1 inch straight line around the outside of the map. The border can be left blank if the entire ocean is colored. It helps direct people’s attention to the map.

Lastly, I set out the art materials and they got to work. They opted not to include all the map elements but using a rubric, each included enough detail to achieve a desirable score.

I did not use letter grades in our homeschool but did occasionally incorporate rubrics to keep them accountable as well as to prepare them for more formal courses. In my ELL classroom, I will use a simplified version of the rubric. I’ll share that soon.

Autobiography Maps is an activity I discovered on Ms. López in the Art Room. You can find the scoring guide and questionnaire I used here.

## Travel the Globe with a World Geography Gift Basket

Fall has always been my favorite time of year. Growing up the changing season meant my mother would be in the kitchen canning the fruits and vegetables we had collected at the U-pick farms. My brothers and I would also eagerly await the annual “Back-to-School” shopping spree.

Now that I am mother myself, I look forward to fall for a different reason. If you have been reading my blog for a while, you know how much we love to travel. Frequently, our trips abroad happen in autumn when we can take advantage of reduced fees and less crowds.

Thus far, we’ve visited China, five countries in Europe, and Ecuador & Peru. This year, we are excited to add stamps from the British Isles into our passport.

To celebrate our love of travel and the “Back-to-School” season, I have put together a gift basket full of great resources to explore world geography with your kids.

### The Passport Club

When the kids were younger, we were involved in a wonderful world geography co-op that explored the diverse cultures of our world, one region at a time. We utilized a program called The Passport Club and it was our most anticipated activity of the month.

Through this program, students learn all of the world’s countries plus forty capital cities, the continents, oceans, seas, deserts, and mountain ranges (if they choose Level Five). Each student is given a passport and a study map. At the end of each month, students receive “stamps” in their passports from the countries they have learned.

Designed as an enrichment program, it is easily adapted to a homeschool setting. Included in the basket are two passports, the stamp images, and study maps to get you started learning about the the world in your homeschool.

When students participate in The Passport Club, teachers are able to make geographic connections to authors, folktales, legends, myths, stories from around the world, biographies, books about history, and the arts. Students benefit from a global perspective, which helps them more fully understand and appreciate both informational and literary reading.​

### Children’s World Atlas

Included in the basket is hardbound edition of The Children’s World Atlas by Colin Arrowsmith.  With more than 100 easy-to-read maps of all the countries and oceans as well as thousands of illustrations and photographs, this is the perfect atlas for children. It is an incomparable tool for reference and browsing.

Detailed thematic pages give the reader a complete overview of our place in space, Earth’s habitats, and the human story. Each country is featured on a page which provides an encyclopedic survey of each region including information on resources, land use, places and people, natural features, traditions and culture, and history.

Geography has made us neighbors. History has made us friends. Economics has made us partners, and necessity has made us allies. Those whom God has so joined together, let no man put asunder. ~ John F. Kennedy

### Cuckoo Clock Secrets

Cuckoo Clock Secrets in Switzerland, a paperback edition is included in the basket, centers around a homeschool family that travels regularly just as we do. It’s a fun adventure quest guaranteed to immerse the reader in the culture of Switzerland. Your children will delight in this first book of the Case of Adventure travel series.

For fun activities to accompany the book, you may wish to visit Case of Adventure to purchase the Destination Switzerland Unit Study as well as download the FREE Maps Pack and Money Pack to use for your geography studies. Here, you will also find the Mega Travel Activity Pack that goes along with any novel in their series. Filled with spy gear and codes – this activity pack will bring the mystery to life, especially for younger kids.

For a more in-depth review of the book, read my earlier post, Have you ever wanted to visit Switzerland?

### Peoples of the Ancient World – 8 Books!

When we travel, we spend a great amount of our time exploring the ancient sites and learning about the peoples of the ancient world.  In preparation for our travels, my kids devoured the Peoples of the Ancient World series published by Crabtree Publishing.

Exploring each culture in advance of our trip helps to bring the peoples of these ancient worlds to life. It also helps us better understand the modern culture. I’m thereby including the following eight gently used titles from the series (they are not pictured in the basket):

While it is not included in the basket, North Star Geography from Bright Ideas Press is a fabulous geography program. Purchase of the hardback text includes a free Companion Guide that includes reproducible outline and reference maps as well as many note-taking pages and graphic organizers. Planning calendars and lesson plans are carefully outlined for easy use.

I’ve used North Star Geography extensively in our homeschool. It is a fabulous program that is easy to use and quick to implement. One of our favorite components of the textbook are the North Star Geography Sidebars – little rabbit trails that we’d explore in more depth.

# Enter the World Geography Giveaway

To enter the World Geography Basket giveaway, follow the prompts here:

a Rafflecopter giveaway

### But wait! That’s not all.

There are 27 other homeschool bloggers have joined together to provide one massive back-to-homeschool gift basket giveaway! Take a peek around these 27 other sites and enter to win as many baskets as you like. Each blogger is conducting her own giveaway, so you never know – you may end up winning more than one! All giveaways will be live on Monday, August 7.

Here are just a few that caught my eye:

Middle and High School Living Book Loverís Delight! from Tina’s Dynamic Homeschool Plus

American History & Government Back to School Packfrom Blog, She Wrote

Back to High School Giveaway Basket from BJ’s Homeschool

Ocean Learning Gift Basketfrom See Jamie Blog

Life of Fred Math Books Gift Basket from Look! We’re Learning!

## Finishing Strong: Integrating Geography & History Activities

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. Each week, we collectively highlight the post that received the most clicks. We also choose a few posts that most appealed to us as individuals.

Be sure to join us next week as we reach a huge milestone. We’ll be celebrating our 100th edition of Finishing Strong with a fabulous \$100 cash giveaway!

In Ferris Bueller’s Day Off, Ben Stein famously plays a high school teacher who drones on about the 1930 Smoot-Hawley Tariff Act while his students slump at their desks in a collective stupor. For many kids, that’s history: an endless catalog of disconnected dates and names, passed down like scripture from the state textbook, seldom questioned and quickly forgotten.

Taught well, geography and history are fascinating topics and two that I love to teach. My favorite way to teach social studies is through travel. Nothing quite compares to seeing historic sites and walking in the footsteps of those who made history. These past couple of weeks, my family has been inundated with the history of our country as we’ve walked the Freedom Trail in Boston and talked with interpreters in Gettysburg and Philadelphia. I can’t wait to share it all with you.

I know it is not always feasible to travel, especially for large families. There are a variety of creative ways to enrich geography and history studies. One of my favorite approaches is through primary source documents – letters, interviews, etc. Providing students opportunities to research historical figures and develop an engaging presentation they deliver in first person, brings history to life.

The most clicked-on post was An Inside Look at Our 2016-17 Homeschool Plans by Sara at Classically Homeschooling. It’s always fun to take a peak into the decisions and choices other families have made. Often we find inspiration in new curriculum materials and approaches to educating our children at home.

My favorite posts this past week focus on activities to inspire you to integrate geography and history into your curriculum.

A Cemetery Scavenger Hunt Makes a Great History Lesson shared by Cindy at Our Journey Westward. What better way to dig in to the history of your community than to learn more about the actual lives of the people who have made your town their home?

Amber Oliver’s How to Teach High School Geography at Bright Ideas Press. I love her statement, “While it is indeed impossible to learn all there is to know about this planet, its territories, and its people in just one course, it is quite manageable to give your child a good look at this world we live in from the comfort of your own home.”

One of the things I love best about traveling is sampling the wonderful regional dishes and local favorites. It is a fabulous way to learn about history and geography. I’ve selected Teaching Kids to Cook: Epcot Food & Wine by Megan at Education Possible because it provides a great example of how families can integrate these cultural experiences at home.

@ @ @

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.
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.

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## Travel Around the World with a Back to School Giveaway

Like many homeschool families and educators, I have spent a fair amount of time browsing the internet and making wish lists of books and curriculum I would like to have for the new school year. There are so great products and resources available that adhering to a budget can be troublesome if not near impossible.

“If only we could get curriculum for free!” I have often heard my friends proclaim. I am delighted to take part once again in the annual Back to School Toolkit Giveaway.

This post contains affiliate links for resources we absolutely love and truly depend on.

### Back to School Giveaway

This year, I am giving away a geography themed basket loaded with resources that will provide you and your children with activities and lesson plans to keep you busy all year long.

Bright Ideas Press has donated their popular WonderMaps CD. Designed with easy-to-use layers that allow you to enjoy great customizable features with just a click, WonderMaps is the perfect addition to your geography resource library. WonderMaps was created not only with hundreds of world maps but also a large selection of historical maps that cover everything you need for The Mystery of History vols. IIII and All American History vols. I & II.

Also included in the Travel Around the World basket are the following resources:

Discovering China (Multicultural Education Series), by Dianna J. Sullivan, was written for grades 4-8. This paperback guide provides a great start to a unit study on the culture of China. It includes many printables and activities to learn a few Chinese phrases and to explore the Chinese calendar, holidays, folktales, and cultural traditions. It even includes recipes for popular stir fry! 48 page paperback

Australia: An Interdisciplinary Unit by Merle Davenport was developed for grades 6-8. It covers the physical geography of Australia as well as the cultural geography. Some of the activities include making your own Boomerang, creating a timeline of historical events, graphing natural resource exports, making a star projector to learn about the constellations to compare how navigation differs in the southern hemisphere, and learning the strike (slang) of Oz (Australia). 48 page paperback

The Galápagos islands were originally called the “Enchanted Isles” because the capricious meandering of the Humboldt Current had the effect of making the islands disappear and reappear to passing ships. The Galápagos Across the Curriculum is a fun, hands-on life science unit study that provides ample opportunity for kids to explore the diversity and remarkable history of the islands.  This unit study is full of inquiry-based activities and lesson plans that can be easily integrated into a larger life science curriculum. 12 page eBook (PDF)

The perfect accompaniment to your Galápagos unit, Galapagos Bedtime Stories by Paula Tagle Saad is charming book with many watercolor depictions of the animals in the archipelago. As the protagonists of the tales, most of the tales are told from the perspective of the featured animal. Factual information about life cycle, habitat, feeding, etc. are woven throughout. It also includes a glossary of terms in the appendix.

Find more giveaway baskets at the iHomeschool Network’s annual Back to School Toolkit Giveaway – Giveaways Galore! There are over 34 baskets!!

There are so many wonderful products in these baskets, I encourage you to enter them all.

You won’t want to miss Barb’s Handbook of Nature Study basket or Brenda’s Essential STEM Supplies.

## Curriculum Plans for 2015-16 (8th and 6th grade)

This upcoming school year promises many new challenges and experiences for us. We are very excited to be moving back to Oregon, more specifically to the southern coast where Patrick and I both grew up.

While we will be surrounded by family, the transition will not be without obstacles. The homeschool community is much, much smaller compared to the previous two communities in which we have lived (Bend, Oregon and Redding, California). Therefore establishing connections may require a little more effort on my part.

Geneva will be entering 8th grade this fall while Jeffrey will begin 6th grade. I will continue to teach the same material to them both. Their skills are relatively equal in most areas so as a homeschool mom of two – it works. Best of all, it requires less planning on my part.

### Science & Nature Study

These past couple of years, I have been coordinating STEM Club for our local homeschool community. With our move, I have decided to step back from this for awhile and see what opportunities are available. My daughter has also expressed interest in volunteering at the local interpretive center as well as initiating a long-term study of the impact of invasive turtles on the local ecosystem.

As we will be living on the Oregon coast, the ecology is significantly different than that of the High Desert or the Central Valley and Cascade Foothills of Northern California. I am very excited to explore the area more in-depth with the kids. We will thereby be resuming our regular nature studies in conjunction with Barb’s monthly Outdoor Hour Challenges at Handbook of Nature Study.

Both kiddos have asked to learn more about astronomy so I will be putting together lesson plans and projects to follow their interests. Thus while I will continue to develop my own curriculum for science, we will be engaging in lessons independently rather than with a small group of other homeschoolers. I will also be require more reading of each of the kids. I will be using CK-12 Life Science and CK-12 Earth Science in addition to other free science curriculum I’ve found.

### Math

Life of Fred has been working very well for us since we transitioned from Singapore 6B a couple of years ago. Jeffrey is presently in the middle of  Pre-Algebra 1 with Biology. Geneva is using Advanced Algebra. When they struggle with a concept, we have used Khan Academy.

One of the biggest benefits of our move is being close to family. Patrick’s uncle is a retired high school math teacher. We will be reaching out to him in hopes of meeting once every couple of weeks to go over their assignments. This will be a huge relief for me as I always struggled with algebra myself. Additionally, we will be looking into the possibility of concurrent enrollment for math at the local community college.

### Language Arts

#### Writing

As the summer was just getting started, we started using Cover Story which I had purchased at a discount from Homeschool Buyers Co-op. Cover Story takes middle school students – 6th through 8th grade – on a guided tour through the process of creating the content for their own magazine. In a single school year, students are led, step by step, on a fun, thought-provoking journey of exploration and creation. They write poems, short stories, non-fiction articles, letters, and many other short pieces. We’ve only just begun (having completed the first three weeks) but we look forward to jumping back in when the dust settles from our move. { Homeschool Buyers Co-op will again offer a GroupBuy savings for Cover Story on 07-27-2015. Save up to 20%. }

#### Literature

We utilized a few Brave Writer Boomerang single issues a bit last year. We liked it but I just didn’t follow through and plan ahead as I should have. I know I need to do better. My goal therefore is to create a plan or a list of books for each of the kids for the upcoming school year. I will be sharing more details on this when I’ve mapped it out better.

We will also begin an in depth study of the history of English utilizing King Alfred’s English.  This unique combination study of both English and history will provide a look at words, grammar, Shakespeare, the Bible, and language. The supplemental activities and materials (including primary sources!) provided on the website will help guide us – we are very excited to explore our language from this perspective.

### Foreign Language

Fluency in a foreign language is very important to me. My daughter expressed her interest in learning Chinese when we were just beginning our homeschool journey so that is the path we have followed ever since. I have shared a little about How I Teach Mandarin previously. Though Shawn has moved across the country, we have had success with continuing our Mandarin language instruction via Skype or FaceTime.

We will continue to use Discovering Chinese Pro, the middle school curriculum developed by Better ChineseOur Road to Mandarin Fluency has been very rewarding as we’ve been able to travel to China as well as make life long friends. We have taken some time off these past couple months as Shawn was traveling back home to China, conflicts with summer camp, and soon our travels abroad. We plan to resume our regular twice a week sessions come late September.

At summer camp, the kids are learning Norwegian. I would really like to continue incorporating our ancestral language into our weekly lessons but I always slip up. Perhaps our move will ensure I stick with it. We shall see.

### History & Geography

We love to travel and like most, we learn best by immersion and first-hand experiences. Thus, to really understand the history of ancient Greece and Rome (our focus this past year has been ancient times), we will be traveling abroad with Trafalgar. We will first spend ten days in Italy (Rome, Venice, Florence, Naples, Assisi, and the Italian Lakes) followed by Athens and the islands of Mykonos and Santorini. I will be sharing snippets of our trip along the way via Instagram and I’ll post more in-depth travel posts soon.

To prepare for our trip, we have been moving very slowly through Susan Wise Bauer’s The History of the Ancient World. We are only half-way through the book so we’ll continue to work through it upon our return. Hopefully, by January we will move on to the medieval times. So much for my original plan of following a four year cycle; it takes us 6 years!   Additionally, we will continue to incorporate activities from North Star Geography. Designed specifically for middle and high school ages, it is an engaging Geography curriculum. We are excited to continue with this program and will be creating our own world atlases (one of the many projects described in the companion guide).

### Performing Arts

The kids are both adamant they want to continue to study music. I am confidant we will be able to find a piano instructor for Jeffrey. I am a little apprehensive for Geneva, however. The preliminary leg work I have done thus far has only generated one name and she is only available intermittently for one year as she is a graduate student and will be relocating at the end of the school year.

The community has a great lab band but there is youth symphony is not an option. I’ll have to reach out to the local schools to inquire whether they accept string instruments.

### The Big Book of Homeschooling

To get tons of great advice, and move beyond the basics of academics, pick up a copy of The Big Book of Homeschool Ideas. Topics include active learning, inquiry science in middle school, learning with video games, using LEGO bricks for learning, teaching on the road, learning with movies, high school literature, and stamp collecting.

This book can carry you through all your years of homeschooling, covering the stages your children will mature through: preschoolers, elementary grades, middle school, and high school. As your life situation changes, you will find new chapters that apply to you. You can view the full table of contents to see all 103 topics!

### Our Homeschool Planner

Working from home as well as homeschooling my kids requires me to be organized. As I have every year for the past six years, I will be using the Well Planned Day homeschool planner. I have tried a few others when we first began homeschool and I have perused others, yet I keep coming back to this one. It just works for me.

I love that it provides templates for meal planning as well as keeping track of the books the kids have read and an ongoing record of their grades. They have student planners available as well but my kiddos prefer that I send them an email each week. They thereby create a note on their iPad and delete each assignment as they go.

This post has been linked to the 2015 Not Back to School Hop.  Join the fun!

## How Well Do You Know Your World Geography?

We love geography! It is fascinating to learn about other cultures and to learn how the physical geography has influenced different peoples around the world.

A few weeks ago, I shared a post detailing how we use the sidebars in North Star Geography to explore the diverse cultures of the world ~ Cultural Diversions with North Star Geography. We love comparing the cultural points with our own life experiences and have delighted in the many similarities we have discovered.

We live in an ever connected, global world, so it’s important that we teach our children that the world is bigger than they are, larger than just their community. One way to get kids excited about geography is to make it as interactive as possible.

This post contains affiliate links.

With the help of North Star Geography my kids enjoy exploring world geography studies with a variety of resources including books, videos, hands-on projects, and even online games. Here are some of our favorite online geography games for middle school:

### Think You’re a Geography Expert?  Try Geoguesser …

Utilizing images from Google Street View, BBC Travel has put together a fun online game called Geoguesser. You are given an image – like a peak from a small window – from Google Maps of somewhere in the world.

Then you have to place a pin on the world map by clicking on the spot you think the picture is from. You’ll see how far off you are and the closer you get, the higher the points earned. You can let others challenge your score too. This is a fabulous activity for families!

The game challenges your geographic knowledge by having you guess the location of a street view image. You can pan and walk through the images to try and extract clues from where you are. Click on a location on the small inset map and click the “Make a guess” button to submit your best estimate of the image’s geographic location.

### SmartyPins

Another fun game built upon the Google Maps platform is SmartyPins. Rather than show a street view image, it provides a trivia question and a regional map. You put a pin on the map to guess the answer to the question. You can select different categories for the questions such as Arts & Culture, History & Current Events, and more. The goal is to place your pin as close to the actual location as possible. You can “take a hint” for more information and get a bonus if you answer quickly. Try to see how many answers you can get correct before you surpassed 1,000 miles.

Geoguesser & SmartyPins are a great ways to utilize the technology we are already familiar to further explore geography.

### BrainPop

One of our all time favorite interactive games is BrainPop. We all enjoy learning with Tim and his friend, Moby, a robot – the hosts of BrainPop’s animated videos and online games. BrainPop offers free feature videos daily or you can access all of their content through a subscription service. Their geography lessons include Geography Themes, Latitude and Longitude, Map Skills, Time Zones and more.

One of the things I like best about BrainPop is that it is accessible in other languages ~ Español and 中国 !! I’ve only recently discovered the Chinese site so we have only begun to explore. The animations and our familiarity with many of the videos help with comprehension while providing a fabulous tool to develop our foreign language skills.

We also love that BrainPop has both a web version and a mobile app so we can take our learning on the road. We travel frequently, so having access to educational material is a huge bonus!

### GeoNet

Created by Houghton Mifflin, GeoNet is an online game they have developed to accompany their publications. You begin the game by choosing from a regional map of the United States or a world map. You then narrow it down by selecting a specific region you want to explore further. Lastly, you choose from six geography categories such as The World in Spatial Terms, Human Systems, Environment and Society, Physical Systems, etc. Your score increases as you correctly answer questions. The broad categories ensure each game will be different.

### National Geographic Kids

National Geographic Kids is geared for the younger ages and is a fabulous site for exploring geography and science. To navigate, select the round “Menu” button at the top of the screen. The menu will pop up and from there you can find interesting videos, animal facts, games, and more. You can sign up for a free account for your child where they will be able to collect point, earn badges, and access additional games and videos.

If you are looking for a high-quality and engaging Geography curriculum for middle and high school ages, I encourage you to take a few minutes to learn more about North Star Geography – the program we have been using this year.

My family is learning more about geography than ever before and the materials make my job as their teacher so easy! Please feel free to contact me if you have questions.