Saturday, May 24, 2014

High School Homeschool Curriculum

I have Micah and Eden working at the same level because it is easier for me.  Eden seems to rise to the occasion just fine, anyway.  Officially, Micah is in 10th grade and Eden is in 9th.

The Virtual Homeschool Group
Besides Devona's awesome lesson planning, the Virtual Homeschool Group is my favorite resource discovered this year.  I only found it about a month ago, so we haven't plunged the depths, but I am in love.  This is a free group, not actually a curriculum.  In many cases you need to already own or purchase curriculum for the courses you sign up for.  Students can enroll in either live classes (enrollment begins in August, so we have not yet participated in live classes) or at-your-own-pace classes.  We have tried out classes for both science and math.  They have AYOP classes using Apologia's curricula as well as some preview classes for math using Saxon's curricula.  Awesomesauce!

So here's how the AYOP course works:  a student enrolls in the class.  They then have access to quite a few resources including: map of topics covered in each module, items needed for labs in the module (nothing like needing red cabbage but not finding out until the day you need it), newsletter for parents, videos of labs, recordings of lectures, online quizzes and tests (with instant grading), email help (!!!), and I'm sure there's more here yet to be discovered.  I'm floored by the offerings.  And not just that, but it is also all HIGH QUALITY.  These lessons do not replace the student books.  The student must have the books, and they must actually read their books.  But the additional information on the website can really unlock their understanding of the material.  This has definitely been true for Micah.  He ACED the last module in his Biology book, and I know it is because of The Virtual Homeschool Group.  I'm thrilled to be able to use this for Exploring Creation with Chemistry next year.

On my to-do list:  create an account for Caleb, then email the moderators of the site and ask them to make my account a "parent" account so I can log in and monitor Micah, Eden, and Caleb's work.

Saxon Algebra II, Second Edition
I am confident in Saxon.  This is our second year using it, and I feel like I made the right choice.  It's very traditional, and it covers all the parts of Algebra that I hope to cover.  The author does a nice job of explaining the lesson.  Eden usually prefers to read the lesson for herself and work the problems, only asking me for help when she gets "stuck."  Micah prefers me teaching the lesson (which usually means that I read it out loud to him and work the examples on the board).  Hey--I like to teach Algebra, so he's just getting on my good side.  ;)  Micah seems to like working the problems on the Virtual Homeschool Group (they are the same problems) because he gets immediate feedback.  He reworks the problem until he gets it right.  Even though it is multiple choice, he still ends up needing to work out the problems.  Can I say "thank you!!" to VHG again?  I sat down to create a multiple choice test one day and it was HARD.  I'm so glad they have done the work for me.

On the other hand, I'm not loving that I purchased the second edition of Algebra II.  I'm sure I was motivated by the price, but I wish I had gotten the third edition.  (I made the same mistake and have the second edition for Advanced Math for next year too.)  The biggest difference for me in the third edition is each practice problem has a reference to what lesson it came from.  So in the second edition when you are on Lesson 113 and can't remember exactly how to do a review problem from the beginning of the year, it might leave you searching for a while.

Another note about the preview version of Saxon Algebra II on the Virtual Homeschool Group--the lesson recordings typically are comprised of one example problem.  The student really MUST read the lesson in their Algebra book.

One final note about Saxon Algebra, and this applies to both the second and third editions.  I didn't know this ahead of time, and I'm not sure I would have made the same choice if I did.  A typical high school student may take Algebra I (or take that in 8th grade), Geometry, Algebra II, then Trigonometry/Pre-calculus.  Saxon has integrated Geometry into the Algebra courses so that the second and third editions have this course for their students:  Algebra I, Algebra II, and Advanced Mathematics.  Upon completion of Alg II and Adv. Math, a student will actually have 3 full math credits instead of 2.  I really like this idea--the student does not forget all their Algebra while they are learning Geometry.  On the other hand, I don't know how colleges viewing my students' transcripts will feel about it.  Is it too non-traditional?  Will my students have "enough" Geometry?  Now that we are at the end of Algebra II, the lessons are very long.  It is common for Micah to spend 2 hours or more on a homework assignment.  So I can see where they get the 3 credits from.  It has very strong pros, but it also has cons.  Therefore I'm not sure I would choose to study math this way if I could go back and do it again.  Saxon does have fourth editions of their books, which follow the traditional path of doing Geometry completely separate.  Both the third edition and the fourth edition are still printed concurrently.

Windows to the World and A Syllabus for Introduction to Literary Analysis
The Institute for Excellence in Writing now sells these items bundled together.
Windows to the World (WW) consists of a student book and a teacher book with activities that help teach students the elements of literary analysis in some depth.  The original book by Lesha Myers uses a flavorful variety of short stories and poetry to give students hands-on experience with literary analysis.  The syllabus by Jill Pike rounds out the curriculum to make a full course by including a wider variety of literature and more exercises, as well as providing weekly lesson plans.  We did a lot of learning together this year.  We explored theme, thesis statements, mood, point-of-view, tone, and so on.  We wrestled through essays together, using all our best structure and style from our first two years of studying IEW's writing curriculum.   I have enjoyed the way this has stretched all of us.  There is no "fluff" here.

Cons:  I wish we could have done this in a group (co-op) setting.  Yes, we are doing a little better than some in that we had the three of us to talk through the lessons, but I think that students could be even more sharpened and challenged by having a larger group.  Sometimes I felt like Micah and Eden didn't take it seriously enough because it was "just me" as their teacher.  On the other hand, I feel confident we have laid a good foundation for a literary analysis class at the college level.  Another con is in putting the all the resource materials together.  The WW curriculum consists of a student book and teacher's manual, which requires the teacher (me!) to read both.  Then the syllabus consists of student pages as well as teacher pages.  All this must be put together--which I did into 3-ring binders--and kept straight by the teacher (possibly a little more complicated).  I wasn't satisfied with the organization of this.  I had to really use my noodle in order to break down the weekly assignments into daily lesson plans for Micah and Eden.  Also, the first few lessons of the syllabus use the Teaching the Classics course.  I love Teaching the Classics, too, and it is quite helpful here, but consider that might be another purchase on top of this one.  To help off-set the costs, copyright permission is granted for families to copy the student materials for students in the same family.

Exploring Creation with Biology
I don't know that I really need to review this course, as it is extremely popular, especially among homeschoolers.  I believe in a literal 6-day Creation and a young Earth, and this book shares that view.  It is challenging and presents everything that a public school Biology course would.  At times it was hard for my kids to study.  When they slacked off, their grades reflected that.  That's a quality curriculum!  They were appropriately challenged most of the time, but I admit feeling like some of the time it was just more difficult than they even cared to put the effort into.  A couple months ago I finally emailed the company and asked for alternate tests, which they courteously sent me.  I was worried that the alternate tests would be "too easy" and that I was motivated by obtaining a good grade for my kids rather than an accurate reflection of their mastery of the material.  I needn't have worried--yes, there were multiple-choice and matching questions on the test, but there were still a few essay questions requiring deeper thinking.  The breadth of the tests reassured me that they were still an accurate measurement tool.  I appreciate having these, and proactively requested tests for Chemistry next year.

Other stuff:
We finished the second half of BJU World History, plus read most of the BJU Geography book.  It was ok.  I'm not really a fan.  Micah and Eden were sick of it by the time we finished.  Reading a textbook and taking a test is the worst possible way to study history in my opinion.  It is back to TruthQuest History for us next year!!

We continued using Rosetta Stone to study German, and now we have added Spanish as well.  It has some pros and cons.  The biggest con is that there's a loss of some things that a student in high school might normally study in a language course (directly teaching grammar, semantics).  On the other hand, it may well be that establishing a solid foundation for hearing and speaking a foreign language will give way to an easier understanding of a more formal study later.  (Yeah, I'll tell myself that anyway to assuage my guilt).  The pros are the resources that are available to help a student learn this course.  I recommend the homeschool version even though it does not include some of the newer technology features in the 4th edition.  Now, if I could just get my kids to be faithful and diligent with their studies!

SOS High School Health.  It got the job done. 

Fix-it! Grammar by IEW.  My kids don't have super-high percentile ranks on their standardized tests because of this course, and I doubt it will prepare them for the SAT or ACT, but it has also been relatively painless.  It helps keep grammar rules fresh.  On the other hand, I think my students may be missing some grammar rules.  Hmmm.  Next year we're going to try to zone in on some vocabulary hopefully by exploring Latin and Greek roots.  We're also going to get a little different grammar practice in, but I don't think we will overdo it. 

Ok, it's time for a break!  I'll come back later with some more homeschool product reviews.

(There are NO affiliate links in this blog post.  I do not receive anything for these reviews.)

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