Methods for Teaching Middle School & High School Homeschool

Blog, She Wrote: Teaching Middle & High School Language Arts

This week the iHN is hosting a Hopscotch on “How I Teach”. Here at Blog, She Wrote I’m sharing methods for teaching middle and high school students in all the major subject areas. We’ll be discussing strategy and curriculum. Today our topic is language arts.

Strategies for Teaching Middle School & High School Homeschool Language Arts

My philosophy on teaching writing and language skills from a young age is one of a coaching role. My job is to meet my writers where they are, give them the tools they need and how to use them and to help them to meet their goals. What is the goal? To be an effective written communicator. That’s what it’s all about.

  • Play with Words- enjoy exercises and fun ways to engage with words to increase vocabulary. Click the link to see five great ideas I wrote for Bright Ideas Press.
  • Collage Words- More details on reflecting on a word and exploring its meanings.
  • Resources for Coaching Writing- a list of some of my favorite resources for coaching writers.
  • Conferences- I meet with my kids regularly to go over their written work and to see what can be improved. I take a look at the first draft and usually ask the student to go back and self edit, naming the thing they are notorious for forgetting- whether that be correct capitalization or wild commas. If the piece of writing is hard to decipher because of poor organization/grammar/spelling, I have them read it to me. When they read it aloud they realize that without grammar conventions/organization, the reader will not experience the piece the way the author intended. This goes a LONG way to encouraging kids to edit their work.
  • Writer’s Workshop- I’ve been hosting a workshop that includes my kids along with about five other homeschoolers in our home since September. I’ll be posting more detail on this soon, but having kids write for an audience is one of the best investments I’ve made in time this year. If you’d like a little more information now, click the link above on Resources for Coaching Writing.

Blog, She Wrote: Teaching Middle & High School Language Arts

Our Favorite Middle School & High School Homeschool Language Arts Curriculum

  • Cover Story- This is a middle school writing program written by Daniel Schwabauer, the creator of One Year Adventure Novel. My 6th and 8th graders are working on building the pieces to their own magazine issue based on a theme they chose. There are video lessons which are well done along with resources for the parents. The younger siblings of OYAN students approve!
  • WriteShop- WriteShop Junior & WriteShop I and II. I love WriteShop for its ability to break down the writing process into pre-writing, drafts/editing, and final, published copy. We use this between the informal early elementary years and the time we begin creative writing and expository writing programs. I also use units from WS 1&2 to help with organizations of essays at any time during the teen years.
  • One Year Adventure Novel - Write a novel in one school year. That is the aim of OYAN and it is adored by us all. The lessons are thorough and draw the students in. My two favorite things (besides the novel) are: 1) How the curriculum provides excellent talking points about literature with our teens. 2) The community Mr. Schwabauer has created for teens to interact with each other. My 10th grader loves the OYAN forums where he can be himself and be in community with other kids who love books and stories as much as he does. There are also regular webinars with extra instruction.
  • Other Worlds- The follow up to the One Year Adventure Novel. This one is focused on writing fantasy and science fiction. My 10th grader is working on his fantasy novel. I enjoy the lessons on the history of science fiction and fantasy and how they are different from adventure.
  • Literary Lessons from The Lord of the Rings- Spend time immersed in the three books that make up The Lord of the Rings trilogy. Wonderful vocabulary studies, chapter discussions, essays, and unit studies based on this fantasy tale.
  • Excellence in Literature- Classic literature is taught in four week modules with honors options. I have all five volumes so we can skip around. They are meant to be use 8th-12th grade. This program has been a great model of student led reading and writing on the classics and has been very successful so far.

Slow and steady wins the race. We try to keep moving forward and see our kids make progress in their writing skills. We add in what’s necessary as they gain skills so they can be stretched to the next level. Our kids are immersed in reading and writing in many forms from a young age and we love to watch them gain confidence as they get older. Coming soon news from our Writer’s Workshop!

The iHomeschool Network is hosting a Hopscotch series this week on “How I Teach”. Join other iHN bloggers to see how they teach Language Arts. You’ll find information on working with special needs all the way to gifted kids and everything in between.


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The Making of a Wizard & The Crafty Side of Math

Blog, She Wrote: The Making of a Wizard & the Crafty Side of Math

Do you have a creative child in your life? How about a child who doesn’t enjoy math? Have you struggled to get your child to engage with math?

Today’s post is about encouraging math with creative kids or how to engage kids creatively with math!

Blog She Wrote: Engaging Creative Kids with math

Living Math and Creative Kids:

We hear a lot about living math these days, but what does the term really mean? I see a lot of blogs with labels on living math, but I’m not sure it all fits the criteria. Living math isn’t just about hands on experiences or adventures with math. Living math is essentially applied math. It’s the math you encounter when you are working on a goal- whether it’s cooking, creating, planning, or building.

You can orchestrate living math with projects you devise and suggest, but the best kind of living math comes when your student is working on something creative and comes across the need for math. THIS is when the magic happens.

Blog She Wrote: Pattern Drafting

R12 made four crocheted Gandalfs from a pattern found at Geek Central Station.

What Math Is Needed for the Gandalf Crochet Pattern?

  • Following the crochet pattern- what a lot of counting and spatial reasoning!
  • Drafting the patterns for Gandalf’s clothing-The pattern provided was for the body itself. Rather than purchasing the clothing patterns, she made her own. There’s quite a lot of math in measuring and adjust patterns to fit a particular size.
  • The Brim of the Hat- she needed to use some serious geometry to find the size of the cone to fit the brim of the hat or how to get the circle at the bottom of the cone to be the right size for the brim. She also needed to work out how wide to make the brim itself.

How Did She Solve the Problem? By searching for equations on the internet based on what she knew already about cones and triangles. She actually knew a bit of trigonometry from a discussion with her dad over a slide rule. They had a long discussion about right triangles which started her down a path to conquer her problem.

She did some measuring and given her four Gandalfs were not precisely the same size, she had to adjust them and make four separate ones. She made the jacket from a flat construction she recently learned and was able to try them on and adjust the fit.

Blog She Wrote: Engaging Creative Kids with math

The Key to Engaging Creative Kids with Math:

  • Slow down your schedule- if you and your children are always on the go from one activity to the next, no matter how amazing the activities are, you are taking away from creative time. Think about whether your schedule aligns with the goals you have for your homeschool and family life. Drop things out if you need to.
  • Allow them time for creating- Even if you are home, it’s easy to schedule time with what needs doing whether it’s school work or house work and chores. My observation is that you need to allow kids the time for pursuing their passions. Make plenty of time for it. How they use it will change as they get older and it varies based on the personalities of your children.
  • Give them permission to create on their own without an agenda set by you or anyone else. This is at the heart of Project Based Homeschooling, but even if you don’t consider yourself relaxed enough for this, this is important stuff. Directing projects and managing everything our kids do is quite different from mentoring them to manage their own stuff. Saving a portion of the day for this type of learning is key to becoming an independent learner.
  • Be sure to have the necessary supplies on hand for creating- this may seem so simple, but if your children cannot get to the supplies or there are none available then their creations are limited.

Blog She Wrote: Pattern Drafting

How Does Allowing Time for Creativity Encourage Math Skills?

Chances are your student will come across the need for math while working on his creative project. What counts as math?

  • Measuring- this can come in all forms, but not only requires the act of measuring it’s usually followed up with some arithmetic to figure out if it’s the right size for his intentions.
  • Pattern Following- no matter what you are building or sewing, following a pattern requires mathematical thinking from measuring to spatial reasoning. Being able to do it well takes practice, but it’s a great skill to have.
  • Organizing- if your student is working on a project from idea to product, there’s likely some organizing going on. Organizational thinking and putting steps in order is a mathematical skill.
  • Pattern Drafting- it takes a lot of mathematical thinking to draft your own pattern for something whether it’s for sewing or wood working or anything in between. R12 has been making a lot of patterns and she’s been working with size and proportion and how different elements fit together to make the whole.

Blog She Wrote: Pattern Drafting

R12 doesn’t enjoy using existing clothing patterns as much as she enjoys drafting them. She’s been given some basic tools to get this job done and it’s been a fantastic learning experience to go after it on her own.

A Few Resources for Pattern Drafting:

  • How to Make Sewing Patterns- oldie but goodie on pattern drafting
  • How to Use, Adapt, and Design Sewing Patterns- she uses this one more
  • Blogs & Tutorials- she has learned a LOT by reading what others are doing. Now that she has her own Galaxy Player (think Android version of an iPod touch for you iPeople), she can look up her favorite creative blogs while she works which she LOVES.

The take home point here is that R12 spends a lot of time immersed in her creations and she enjoys tackling the math when it is for the purpose of finishing her creation. She will ask for help if she needs it, but mostly she comes to discuss where she is and how its going. She is far less frustrated throughout this process than when she has to do a problem for a problem’s sake.

Blog She Wrote: Engaging Creative Kids with math

Allowing Time for Creativity & Invention Boosts Morale during the Prescribed Math Time:

  • Prior Knowledge- if they encounter a concept on their own and they tackle it, then they’ve seen it before and they can add it to their math toolbox. Accessing prior knowledge is king when it comes to working on new concepts.
  • Confidence Booster- meeting up with and working out the math for one of their projects reinforces the idea that we are all math smart. We just need to nurture that smart and what better way to do that than with something we are good at?
  • Spoonful of Sugar- helps the medicine go down! When you allow plenty of time for pursuing passions and doing math their way, it helps ease the tension when they have to sit and just do math.

So, do you leave time in your schedule for your creative child to pursue his passion? Is there time in your day and are there materials available for your children to dive into a project? The investment of time related to projects helps to shore up those mathematical thinking skills outside of prescribed math time. I’ve seen focused effort on a math problem that far exceeds anything I would lay out for her and this is when you’ll see pure tenacity in getting the job done!

If “living math” is not all you’d hoped it would be in your homeschool, then I challenge you to discern whether it’s really the applied living math you are seeking or if it’s just a veneer of the real thing. Authenticity is key when it comes to living math and finding it is really a matter of getting immersed in student driven learning.

I’d love to hear how you encourage your outside the box math learner. Feel free to leave a comment!

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Adventures in Sailing, Exploration, & Navigation

A few years ago we did a family study on World Exploration. What a grand time we had traveling all over the world and learning about who these men were and where and why they voyaged! One of the most exciting parts of this unit was navigation. Since then, we’ve done a number of navigation explorations which my kids always enjoy. Our kids almost never leave home without their orienteering compasses. I have the privilege of knowing which direction I’m headed at all times. As we head into spring and summer, what could be more fun than having a navigational adventure of your own?

Blog She Wrote: Exploration & Navigation

There are so many good resources on this topic and I’m going to suggest some for you. Keep in mind the skill level of your student when you put together an Adventure. Do they like to read? Do you need them to read more? Will your student tackle something new easily or will he need more guidance? These are just some of the questions you need to ask as you decide what sorts of things to put into your child’s Adventure.

Blog She Wrote: Exploration & Navigation

Books on Navigation:


Around the World in 80 Days by Jules Verne – The story of a man and his servant to take a bet to travel around the world in 80 days.

The Captain’s Dog: My Journey with the Lewis and Clark Tribe by Roland Smith and Seaman: The Dog Who Explored the West with Lewis and Clark by Gail Langer Karwoski

Carry on Mr. Bowditch by Jean Lee Latham about Nathaniel Bowditch who was the first American Navigator and wrote a book called The American Practical Navigator still used by maritime navigators today. It was the first American publication on navigation. My kids really love this book.


The American Practical Navigator by Nathaniel Bowditch We actually borrowed this one from a local university library. My husband was inspired from the biography to read the book on navigation that Nathaniel Bowditch wrote.

Kaleidscope Kids Lewis and Clark- this one tells facts about the duo in addition to having activities relating to this great American expedition

The Story of Maps and Navigation by Anita Ganeri

Tools of Navigation: A Kid’s Guide to the History and Science of Finding Your Way by Rachel Dickinson. This one is a favorite of mine focusing on the history of navigation and tools of course! There is also a section on activities and information about explorers.

The Basic Essentials of Map and Compass by Cliff Jacobson

Wilderness Navigator by David Seidman and Paul Cleveland- written as a hiker survival guide with some great tips on using a compass.

Time Travelers New World Explorers by Homeschool in the Woods- this is a great CD unit on World Exploration and if you need some things all laid out for you with projects, this is an excellent resource! From tying sailor’s knots to making a chip log and a compass, there’s plenty here for students to enjoy.

Blog She Wrote: Exploration & Navigation

Tools of the Trade:

Compass- a good orienteering compass is important for learning and using a compass.

Sextant- we have one, but you need water and a horizon for them to work best

Chip Log- piece of wood tied to a rope with knots at regular intervals

Star Charts- to find the North Star and other constellations

GPS- if you have one, you can do some fun things with it, but it’s not necessary

binoculars- to make sightings

Blog She Wrote: Exploration & Navigation


Compass Sighting also known as triangulation- which is using two points to determine your location using a compass, a map, and a pencil. We did this a few summers ago with our kids at Lake Ontario. The kids had a great time following directions. The Institute of Navigation has a chart of lessons available as well including detailed instructions on how to do Triangulation. We do this often using trail maps while we are hiking.

Our next sighting activity will be finding a specific spot on a map rather than finding where we are on the map using the local ball fields and sight lines to specific objects on the field.

Make your own compass-  to find magnetic north or south (depending on where you live) We made our own compass using a needle, a cork, a magnet and a dish of water when we were studying Explorers. Here’s how to make the compass:

1. Run a magnet over the needle a few times, always in the same direction. This will magnetize the needle. Put the needle through a piece of cork.

2. Float the cork and needle in your cup of water so the floating needle lies roughly parallel to the surface of the water.

3. Place your ‘compass’ on a still surface and watch what happens. The needle should turn to point towards the nearest magnetic pole – north or south as the case may be.

4. If you want to investigate further, place a magnet near your compass and watch what happens. How close/far does the magnet have be to have an effect?

Use a sextant- to sight the north star to measure your latitude. You can determine this using the maximum height of the sun during the day and the maximum height of the north star at night. It is easiest to do this on a beach (large lake or ocean) where you can site off the water, but you can do it in your backyard using a level as well. The trick is finding a sextant!

Dead Reckoning- used by Lewis and Clark. This method is dependent on being able to make continuous measurements of course and distance traveled. You start at a known point and measure your course and distance from the point on a chart. Your course is measured by a compass and your distance is determined by the speed of the vessel times the time traveled.

We plan to try out a dead reckoning exercise in the ball fields a few blocks away from our home. The plan is to have them walk paces in particular directions and have the kids find an object (like a coupon to our local ice cream stand).

Use GPS- if you have access to a handheld GPS unit, you can have your kids use the GPS to find a waypoint (a set of coordinates that identify a point).

Determine magnetic deviation- the error of a compass due to magnetic deviation. On our ferry ride from the US to Kingston, Ontario last summer (across the St. Laurence Seaway) we attempted to test our compasses for magnetic deviation. Apparently, there is an anomaly in the Kingston Harbor which causes a compass to turn away from magnetic north. If you don’t find yourself in Kingston Harbor, you can just run a magnet near your compass and see what happens. What does this mean for navigators?

Use a chip log – to determine boat speed. A chip log is a piece of wood tied to a rope which has knots at regular intervals. See if you can research how to use the knots in the rope to determine nautical speed in knots!

Map the sky- learn to recognize constellations through the seasons and how navigators used the stars to stay on course.

Navigation where you are- how was your state or area explored? Here in NY, Henry Hudson was among the first Europeans to explore NY. Who is a famous explorer where you live? Study more about him. Where was he from? Who traveled with him? What navigational tools did he have at the time?

Determine Magnetic Declination- this is the difference between magnetic north (or south) on your compass and true north (south). This will vary depending on where you are and over time. You can usually find the magnetic declination on USGS maps for wilderness or navigational use. We have one of some local forest lands which include the magnetic declination as part of the map’s key. If you can’t find out specifically what it is where you are, just investigate what it means and how to find out what it is and why it’s important.

Blog She Wrote: Exploration & Navigation

Dan prepared the map of the beach area and coastline of Lake Ontario where we were camping and taught the kids how to make a sighting based on some features of the coast line. He just printed a portion of the Google Satellite map focusing on the State Park coast line.

Blog She Wrote: Exploration & Navigation

A quick web search revealed lots of resources on navigation:

A long time favorite of mine is Google Earth and there is a great website on using the program in the classroom.

Google Earth Lessons – a great resource for using Google Earth in the classroom and homeschools. Lessons are organized in various manners depending on how you want your student to use them. Student controlled lessons are great for homeschoolers.

One example from Google Earth Lessons related to navigation is Drake’s Circumnavigation which is a virtual tour of this first trip around the world. There’s information including primary sources to learn more about this incredible feat. They can even make their own Google Earth tour of the circumnavigation using the raw data they are given.

There is a lot to explore on this website which I’m sure Google Earth enthusiasts will enjoy!

You can use Google Earth to find latitude and longitude from National Geographic Xpeditions

Find out more about marine navigation from NOAA using a nautical chart to plot a course.

There are a lot of directions you can go with this Adventure. Older students can enjoy learning navigational techniques and working on making sightings while younger students can try their hand at making a compass or learning to find north on a compass. The reading is endless with many stories based on travel and exploits around the world. You could focus on mapping your own journeys or simply get lost in stories of adventurous sailors.

I hope you’ll be inspired to go exploring with your kids this summer or simply let them explore and tell you all about their discoveries!

Bon Voyage!

Hopscotch-With-iHN-Spring-Collage2Be sure to check out the other bloggers who are sharing a series this week through iHN’s Spring 2013 Hopscotch.

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