My Top 5 Pinterest Picks for Homeschooling Teens

Blog, She Wrote: Top 5 Pinterest Picks for Homeschooling Teens

This post may contain affiliate links. Thanks always for your support!

Today I’m eager to share the Top 5 Blog, She Wrote Pinterest Boards for Homeschooling Teens. Honestly, I love Pinterest and I’ve been creating new boards whenever I can classify content specifically for middle and high school. I only got to choose 5 for this post, but I have more boards for teens that I adore. Feel free to follow any of my boards. The more, the merrier! Are you ready for my favorites?

eReader Homeschooling

This board is a collecting place for all things Kindle related and beyond. You’ll find free book series, ways to use a Kindle in your homeschool, and plenty of content for your eReader. Blog, She Wrote: Top 5 Pinterest Picks for Homeschooling Teens

Blog, She Wrote posts related to eReader Homeschooling:

Homeschool High School

All things high school related are found on this board. I started out with just one highschool board, but I’m starting to add specific course names to my boards like chemistry, biology, and U.S. History.

Blog, She Wrote: Top 5 Pinterest Picks for Homeschooling Teens

Blog, She Wrote posts on Homeschooling High School:

Teaching with Technology

You’ll find ways to incorporate technology into your homeschool- whether it’s using Netflix or using an Arduino unit to program simple electronics. I’m not much for apps though we use a select few for a select purpose. I’m much more interested in our kids being makers and I try to focus on that as I collect ideas.

Blog, She Wrote: Top 5 Pinterest Picks for Homeschooling Teens

Blog, She Wrote Technology Posts:

Project Based Homeschooling

The projects gathered here are ideas and reporting on student-driven projects. These aren’t units or parent directed projects, but the kind that come from a student’s own motivation and desire to learn.

Blog, She Wrote: Top 5 Pinterest Picks for Homeschooling Teens

Blog, She Wrote Project Posts:

  • Steampunk Fashion & Design- The story of Rebecca’s history and fashion project for the year.
  • Workspace- One of the keys to successful projects is the space you devote to what your kids are doing. This post shares all of our project spaces.

Coaching Writers

This board showcases ideas and programs that allow us to mentor our writers at home. There’s a lot of good stuff out there!

Blog, She Wrote: Top 5 Pinterest Picks for Homeschooling Teens

Blog, She Wrote Coaching Writer’s Posts:

I love to spend time on Pinterest saving things for a day when I need a great idea. Sometimes it’s all you need to spark something you can really use. Do you use Pinterest?

Enjoy this Cream of the Crop iHN Pinterest Boards for Homeschoolers. Join other bloggers from the iHomeschool Network as we all share our favorite Pinterest Boards today.

iHN: Our Pintastic Pinboards

Internet Filtering & Access Control Part 3: Using OpenDNS to Filter Content

Blog, She Wrote: Internet Filtering & Access Control Part 3: Using OpenDNS to Filter Content

This is the 3rd post in our series on controlling our kids access to the Internet, both when they can get on, and what they can reach when they are online. In the first post we discussed the basics of how computer networks function, using the analogy of a phone system at our Blog, She Wrote Headquarters (HQ) with the part of the receptionist being played by our router, and directory assistance representing the work of Domain Name System (DNS) servers. In this analogy, the router plays the part of a receptionist who handles all outgoing and incoming calls between our internal phone system (ext. 1, ext. 2, etc.) and the external phone system (the rest of the world). We also talked about how in the computer world, the IP addresses (the numbers the computers use to call one another, similar to phone numbers at our Blog, She Wrote HQ) are constantly changing (every couple of days or so), even for external websites.

To handle that, the Internet has the Domain Name System (DNS), where DNS servers are spread around to act as directory assistance for the world. Whenever your computer wants to browse a web site, like your favorite www.blogshewrote.org, your computer contacts the local DNS server to ask for the IP address of the Blog, She Wrote server, and the DNS server looks that up in a constantly updated directory. Without that service you would be stuck, since your computer would not know what the current number is for that server. Just like our receptionist, the DNS server sits in a powerful position, as without the DNS server,  our computer could not find the websites we are trying to reach.

A company recognized how the position of the DNS server could be helpful for Internet filtering and has setup a business around that service. The service is called OpenDNS. The idea behind Open DNS is that by not giving out the IP addresses (phone numbers) of sites you don’t want anyone in your family to reach (www.evilsite.com), your devices won’t be able to reach it, no matter how hard they try. It won’t matter if it is an iOS device, a laptop, or a tablet, if the network won’t tell it how to reach it, it can’t. All of this is done by your computer network, not the device, so you don’t need to install software on the device itself.

Getting Started with OpenDNS

The service is free for families (they charge for businesses) and fairly easy to setup.

  • Go to the OpenDNS website and setup an account.
  • You then need to tell your network to use the OpenDNS DNS server instead of your local ISP DNS server. The DNS server information is given out to devices when they are assigned an IP address by the router. You can tell the router to give out the OpenDNS server information instead of the local one in the router settings.
  • The OpenDNS site has a good set of instructions on how to do this for most major router models.

Blog, She Wrote: Internet Filtering & Access Control Part 3: Using OpenDNS to Filter Using OpenDNS for Content Filtering

In your account options on the OpenDNS site, you have many different ways to select the filtering you want to do. Content filtering is often done using whitelists or blacklists. Blacklists are designed around the idea that you maintain a list of sites you want to block, and allow everything else. Whitelists are the opposite of that, where you block everything by default, and only allow sites that are on the approved list. Neither method is perfect at filtering. With a blacklist, you have to work hard to maintain an accurate list of bad sites with a constantly changing Internet. Any new bad sites are not on your excluded list until you learn about them and add them in. Whitelists suffer from blocking most of the world, and only letting in a small portion that is already approved. Many good sites will be blocked since you don’t know anything about them yet, and a previously good site can start posting bad content and be approved until you notice and remove it from the whitelist.

OpenDNS works under the blacklist mode, with their own internal categorization of sites. They assign websites to various filtering categories, and either block or allow on your network based on the options you select. So, you can choose to block all adult sites as well as social networking sites like Facebook, or only block adult sites. They work hard to maintain the lists as they are the basis for the filtering of the commercial service they sell to companies. You also have the option to add your own list of sites to either always block or always allow as well. That way you can customize it based on your individual needs. When someone on your network tries to reach a blocked site, they are redirected to an OpenDNS webpage telling them that it is blocked and what categories it is blocked under. That way you know why you cannot reach the webpage.Blog, She Wrote: Internet Filtering & Access Control Part 3: Using OpenDNS to Filter

One last challenge to deal with is that the OpenDNS servers are getting many DNS requests from many different computers, so they need to know which requests are from your network to know what filtering to apply. To do that their computers needs to know the external IP address of your router (you can find it at www.whatismyip.com). The challenge is that this number can change every couple of days, so you will need to constantly update OpenDNS with the new number to keep the filtering correct. To make this easy, OpenDNS has created a small program that only needs to run on one computer in your network. It checks the external IP address of your network every now and then, and automatically updates OpenDNS with any changes that occur. It is better to choose a computer that spends most of the time at home, not a laptop that is taken to and from work or school regularly. Otherwise OpenDNS will be updated with the wrong IP address when the computer is off-site, and your filtering will go away until it returns home. On our home network, this is handled automatically by my router, but explaining that setup is beyond the scope of this post. The OpenDNS site would have some information on how to do that for those who are interested.

Have a Question? Leave a Comment!

I hope you have found this information useful as you work to guide your kids towards responsible use of the Internet. Feel free to post any questions or follow-ups in the comments and I will try to respond as best as I can.

Internet Filtering & Access Control Part 2: Controlling When Your Kids Are Wandering the Web

Blog, She Wrote: Internet Filtering & Access Control Part 2- Controlling When Your Kids Are Wandering the Web

Thanks again to Dan who has he put together Part 2 of our series on how to filter and control access to the Internet using your router. Today’s post contains affiliate links. Thanks always for your support!

In our Part 1 post we explained the basics of how our devices, such as laptops and

Blog, She Wrote: Internet Filtering & Access Control Part 2- Controlling When Your Kids Are Wandering the Web

Our noble router!

iPads, connect through our home network to reach the Internet. We used an analogy of an office phone system for the Blog, She Wrote headquarters (HQ), with your router being the receptionist, and directory assistance being your Domain Name System (DNS) servers that tell you the current IP addresses (phone numbers) for your favorite website like Blog, She Wrote. We saw that since everything going out to and coming in from the Internet goes through the router, it can be a powerful ally in controlling your network.

How To Talk Directly with Your Router & Get It to Do What You Want

To make friends with your router and get it to do what you want, you first need to be able to talk directly to it. To do that you need to figure out what internal IP address it is at, sort of like determining what extension the receptionist’s phone is. Generally every model of router has a default internal address that it gives itself. You can look this up in the directions for your router, or do a simple Google search for your router model number (found somewhere on the back or bottom of it) and ‘default IP’. In MS Windows you can also go under the Start Menu to Accessories, Command Prompt, and then a new window comes up, type ipconfig. The router will be listed as the gateway. Once you locate it, you simply open up a web browser (like Firefox, Internet Explorer, Chrome, Safari, etc.) and type that address into your web browser instead of a website address. So, you would type into the address bar: 192.168.1.1 instead of www.blogshewrote.org. If you have the correct address you should get a web page asking you to log in. If you have never changed the username and password on your router, another web search should help you find the default ones. If you haven’t changed them, please take this time to change them. It is not good to leave the router with the default username and password since even the bad guys know this information so they can use it to do bad things on your network.Blog, She Wrote: Internet Filtering & Access Control Part 2- Controlling When Your Kids Are Wandering the Web

Once you get into the router you will be looking at web pages sent to you by the router to interact with it. You will have menus to click through and fields you can type in. Click around a bit and see what is there. Don’t be afraid that you will mess something up, just don’t confirm or save anything until you are sure of what you are changing. Most routers made in the past 5 years or so have some level of access control features built into them. These settings allow you to set hours when Internet access is turned off, either for specific devices or for everyone. It may also allow you to block certain websites by name or certain services. Since each device is different, I can’t cover the specific details on how to set these options on your router. All I can do is point you to the directions for your router, either the ones that came with it, or a manual you find through a web search on the website of the manufacturer.

Block by MAC Address If You Can, Not IP Address

One important thing to note is that a common way for routers to do this is to block by the IP address which, as we discussed in our last post, can be dynamic and change over time, which can be a problem. In that case the device will be no longer blocked or the wrong computer will be blocked. A better way to do it is by using the MAC address to specify which device to block, as this does not change but the MAC address can be harder to find on your devices. The best way to figure out how to find it is through our friend Google again. Simply Google your device name / model and “MAC Address” to locate directions on how to look-up your device’s MAC address. In some cases you can look that information up on the router itself as you click through the menus on the web pages.

So, going back to our analogy, setting restricted access times for devices on the network is a bit like telling the receptionist at our Blog, She Wrote HQ not to allow any outbound calls from specific extensions at specific times. This does not prevent someone from calling another internal extension, as this does not go through the receptionist, nor our router. So, kids could still print to the wireless printer, play games over the network with each other (in the same house), and other types of activities that don’t involve contacting an Internet server or website. Or, if your neighbor doesn’t secure their wireless network with a password, kids can always connect to their network and bypass everything you are trying to do. Be a good neighbor, secure your Wi-Fi with a password.Blog, She Wrote: Internet Filtering & Access Control Part 2- Controlling When Your Kids Are Wandering the Web

In our household, I have the router set to turn off all Internet access for the kids devices at 9 PM and to leave it off until 8:30 AM the next morning. That way the kids who wake up early don’t have hours of unsupervised time on the Internet. I also have a distracting site or two blocked during school hours to keep a few of our older kids from wandering there online during school time. You could set earlier times for younger kids’ devices and later times for those who stay up later. There is usually a limit to the number of rules you can create, but if done carefully, you can get by with the 5 – 10 rules you are given.

Make Sure You Have The Right Router for The Job

If you find your router does not have these access features built into them, or cannot filter by MAC address, only IP address, purchasing a basic new wireless router that does have these features is not that expensive, and can be well worth the effort. There are many options available for under $50.

Here are a few:

  • NETGEAR Wireless Router N300- This router is specifically designed to work with OpenDNS to control Internet content though it doesn’t seem to allow easy set up to turn all Internet off at certain hours. (This one appears to be part of the deal of the day at Amazon 3-11-14)
  • Linksys WRT54GL Wireless- G Broadband Router- Another option for a router that will meet the basic needs for both OpenDNS and time based controls

It is important to note that if your kids devices can operate over cellular signals, such as smartphones, or tablets with data plans, this method will not work. It will only work for devices that need to connect over Wi-Fi or physically plug into the network to connect. If this is a smartphone or tablet with a data plan, control must be done one the device itself, as it can connect to the Internet in other ways. At this point I cannot offer any assistance on this as we have not reached this point yet in our parenting. Again, doing a Google search on parental controls for your specific device might be the best starting point for further learning.

In Part 3 we will deal with filtering the content that is allowed in when the Internet is on.

Internet Filtering & Access Control {Part 1: The Basics}

Blog, She Wrote: Internet Filtering & Access Control {Part 1: The Basics}

Thanks to Dan for this guest post on internet filtering & access control. So many have asked us how we do this in our home that he heartily agreed to share with you how we handle technology in our home. He’ll be doing three posts starting with some terminology to kick things off.

Protecting Our Kids with Internet Filtering & Access Control on Any Device

Protecting our kids from negative influences may have been easier back when we were kids and our parents simply had to tell us not to hang out with the rough kids down the street. But today, parents may struggle with protecting their kids from the negative influences of technology, either from being too absorbed in online activities, such as Facebook and other online interactions, or coming across the many negative things available on the many dark corners of the web. Some of these challenges can come from the fact that often the kids know more about navigating the digital realm than parents do. The purpose of this article is to help regain some of that ground for parents, by teaching you the basics of how the Internet works, and how you can work to filter and control the information your children access on the Internet.

Ultimately this should be only one set of tools in your parenting toolbox. As our kids grow up and head out on their own they need to be equipped to make their own judgment calls and control their own usage, as the world exists without these protections, so kids needs to be able to manage those decisions on their own.

I have our home network setup to both restrict when our kids can get on the Internet, but also what they can reach while on it, for both the main school computers as well as their portable devices (tablets and handhelds). The information I am presenting here is by no means a definitive how-to manual on these issues, nor the only way to do this. It is just what I have found to work well for our home, and at little to no cost. This setup was driven by our desire to allow our kids to be able to use some of the their devices while preventing them from accessing the Internet when they should be sleeping. So, for example, they could use their Samsung Galaxy Player (an Android version of an iPod Touch) to listen to downloaded music but not surf the web. Or, to let them read a book on their tablet, but not be able to watch YouTube after a certain hour.

How Does Networking & the Internet Really Work?

Before we get into how I set this up, a quick introduction to how networking and the Internet work. Please don’t worry that this will be over your head as I will try to explain it in as simple as terms as I can. But, it is also important to not give up. If you want to be able to take back control over your home network, you will need to understand a few basics.

  • To help explain how this works I am going to use an analogy of a small office phone system, located at the Blog, She Wrote main headquarters. In this case, the Blog, She Wrote Headquarters (HQ) has 5 phones, and only one phone number for the whole office, say 607-555-1234. If you wanted to talk to Heather, you would call that number (607-555-1234) and this would connect you to the Blog, She Wrote receptionist and you would ask to talk to Heather.
    Blog, She Wrote: Internet Filtering & Access Control {Part 1: The Basics}

    Our noble router!

    The receptionist would then transfer your call to the correct extension and you would reach her to discuss all your important homeschooling needs.

  • This simple analogy explains some of the basics of how computers talk to one another over the Internet. In this case, the job of the receptionist is played by a piece of hardware called a router. If you have more than one device connected to your Internet Service Provider (ISP), you have a router and you probably didn’t even realize it! In some cases the router is provided by your ISP as a cable or DSL modem that has Wi-Fi built into it, or it may be something separate that you connected to your ISP’s hardware. In any case, the router manages many different tasks for your network which are important to understand.

What’s an IP Address?

The first is to understand what number your home is assigned. Computers use numbers called IP addresses to talk to one another, similar to the function a phone number plays. When you want to call someone, you dial their phone number, and the phone system locates the phone for that number and rings it. It is the same thing for computers, so your router calls up the ISP and asks what IP address you house has been assigned. IP addresses consist of 4 numbers between 0 and 255, separated by periods (162.10.230.103 for example). IP addresses are the numbers that all computers on networks use to talk to one another, and an important thing for them is that no two computers on the Internet have the same number. It would be like having two different people around the world having the same exact phone number. When you called that number, which phone should ring? That wouldn’t work too well so your ISP assigns a specific IP address to your router when you connect to it and this is the number that any other computer in the world uses to call your house on the Internet. If you are curious what your IP address is you can go to www.whatismyip.com and the web page will tell you.

Now, the assignment of this IP address is not permanent. Your ISP may need to change the number assigned to your home occasionally and it does that automatically. Your router handles that change just fine and you don’t even notice, but understand that is does occasionally change. This is referred to as a dynamic IP address instead of a static IP address. Most networks are setup with dynamic addresses, which change over time. This can make some of our work a bit harder but it is the reality of how modern networks are run.

Your router also has to be able to talk to all of the devices inside your house so it needs to give them numbers as well, similar to the extension numbers the 5 phones in our Blog, She Wrote headquarters need. So, the router assigns all devices that connect to it IP addresses as well but these are different than the ones used by the rest of the world. There are a limit to the number of IP addresses available to the whole world (approximately 4.3 billion, but there are a LOT of things connected to the Internet these days), so your ISP only gives you one of them (similar to the phone number of our Blog, She Wrote HQ – 607-555-1234). So, your router assigns special internal phone numbers to all of the devices at your house that are only used by the device and the router. At the Blog, She Wrote HQ these would be the extension numbers of the 5 internal phones (ext. 1, ext. 2, etc.), except in this case, only the receptionist (router) and the other internal phones (laptop, iPad, etc.) know these numbers. Everyone else in the world calls the receptionist (router) who relays the call to that phone (computer). The internal addresses are formatted the exact same way as the external addresses (###.###.###.###) but they are usually in a special range of numbers set aside for this purpose.

These ranges are:

  • 10.0.0.0 – 10.255.255.255
  • 172.16.0.0 – 172.31.255.255
  • 192.168.0.0 – 192.168.255.255

with the first and last ones being the most common for home networks. Again, remember even these internal addresses are dynamic, and change over time. So, if your son’s iPad is assigned to number 192.168.1.120 today, that might not be the case tomorrow. But don’t worry, your router keeps it all straight for you.

MAC Addresses & Your Router

To help it keep things straight, your devices talk to your router (and vice versa) using numbers that do not change. These numbers are called MAC addresses. These look very different than IP addresses as they are a set of 6 hexadecimal numbers, and look a bit like this: 00:1E:A8:4E:8B:32. Hexadecimal is a special way of counting to 16 by adding in the letters A-F in addition to our numerals 0-9. You don’t need to worry about those details, but when you need to locate the MAC address you will know what it looks like. These addresses are also unique for each device in the world (there are over 200 trillion possible MAC addresses) and are hard coded into the device. If you have a laptop with two ways to connect to the Internet (Wi-Fi and a jack you can plug a cable into) then it will have two unique MAC addresses, one for each.

So, when you first turn on your laptop, the laptop calls the router using it’s MAC address and requests an internal IP address. The router issues it one and then uses that IP address to talk to it after that. When the laptop wants to reach the Web, it sends the request to the router, who dials out to the rest of the Internet for it, and then sends the web page to it when it arrives, all within the blink of an eye! So, this is a bit like the Blog, She Wrote HQ receptionist both receiving and making calls for us. We cannot direct dial out to the world, but we have to request that they do it for us.

Blog, She Wrote: Internet Filtering & Access Control {Part 1: The Basics}

Your router may not look like this, but it still has a very important job!

This makes the receptionist a very powerful person in the office, as nothing happens without their assistance. If we make friends with our receptionist (your router in this case), we can get a lot of control on the comings and goings on our phone system.

How Does a Computer Know Which IP Address to Call When You Dial Out to the World?

One last topic to cover is how the computers know what IP addresses to call when you dial out to the world. All computers, even websites, are only reached by IP addresses, those 4 numbers separated by periods. When you want to reach your favorite blog, www.blogshewrote.org, what number does the computer dial? If you recall, most IP addresses are dynamic, changing over time, even ones for websites like Blog, She Wrote. To account for that, the Internet has the Domain Name System (DNS). Whenever a computer is assigned an IP address, either your router being assigned an external one by your ISP or your iPad being assigned an internal one by your router, it is also told what DNS server to call to look up addresses. So, when you tell your tablet to go to www.blogshewrote.org, your tablet calls up the DNS server by number, requests the number for www.blogshewrote.org, and the DNS server looks up the IP address in a directory that is constantly updated. So, going back to our analogy, this would be like someone at Blog, She Wrote HQ wanting to call some other company, but the phone numbers are always changing. So, you get told what number to call for directory assistance, and before you make each call, you call directory assistance to get the phone number for today.

So, to recap, your very important router (receptionist) stands between all of your computers (phones) and the Internet (rest of the phone system). It first talks to the computers (phones) using MAC addresses until it can assign them internal IP addresses (phone extensions). It receives from your ISP an external IP address (phone number) that the rest of the world can use to reach your computers (phones). All of the IP addresses (phone numbers and extensions) can change over time, so whenever you connect to something on the Internet (make a call), your computer needs to call a DNS server (directory assistance or the operator), and request the current IP address (phone number) of the website (person you are trying to call).

In the next post we will go over how we can leverage the power of the router and the DNS servers to help control the comings and goings to the Internet.

Benefits of Using LEGO Mindstorms in Your Homeschool

Blog, She Wrote: Benefits of Using LEGO Mindstorms in Your Homeschool

Welcome to blog sponsor Explorental!

Have you ever considered a LEGO Mindstorms kit for your kids? Maybe you’ve seen them, but are unsure whether the investment is a good one for your family. For less than the cost of a popular game console system, you can have a tool for teaching endless concepts and a source of engineering challenge for your kids.

Reasons to Use LEGO Mindstorms in Your Homeschool

Working with the Mindstorms kit requires a lot of different skills from students even when you are just starting out. Take a look at some of the subject areas accessed by work with the Mindstorms.

  • Math- Although not always a student favorite, math is applied to the robot building when it comes to programming it. Geometry, particularly circle geometry is necessary to accurately get the robot to rotate the wheels the requested distance.
  • Robotics- Who doesn’t want to build a robot and take over the world? Or at least the LEGO world!
  • Mechanics- Part of the robot building has to do with putting the robot together with the technic pieces. How those fit together and work efficiently is a big part of the task.
  • Physics- Along with efficiency, you need a stable structure. We spend a lot of time learning about which designs are the most stable.
  • Fun- There is no shortage of fun when it comes to exploring with a LEGO Mindstorms kit.

Blog, She Wrote: Benefits of Using LEGO Mindstorms in Your Homeschool

Using Technology in Your Homeschool

Our kids use a lot of technology in our home- whether it’s a Kindle eReader, tablet or computers for programming and playing. One thing we really try to keep in check is how much our children are producers vs consumers when using technology. In other words, are they watching a lot and engaging in passive participation or are they being makers and creators?

LEGO Mindstorms uses software that is drag and drop so you only need to know some basics about how to get the robot to follow your commands. It takes time to master, but it’s worth the end result. I don’t mind my kids toiling for a few hours at a computer if they are actively problem solving. 

Enjoy a look at Ethan (and our basement!), our 15yo 10th grader, explaining one task he and his fellow FIRST LEGO League team members completed for their FLL regional competition in December. Our teams spend 7 hours a week pouring into this particular piece of technology and it earned them Grand Champion at their qualifying tournament.

Teaching with Technology G+ Hangout

Last week the iHN hosted an informative G+ Hangout on Teaching with Technology. I was excited to be one of the participants. Click and view at your leisure to hear how others are using technology in their homes.

Using Explorental to Experience LEGO Mindstorms

LEGO Mindstorms is a wonderful resource for homeschools, but it may not be the right time financially to invest in your own. How do you get a chance to work with the kit without making that big financial investment?

Take advantage of Explorental’s wonderful inventory of technology gadgets and other kits. They offer a LEGO Mindstorms rental for $43.99 for two weeks.

Blog, She Wrote: Explorental