Saturday, July 11, 2015

Historic Pluto Flyby Coming Tuesday

From NASA New Horizons Website

New Horizons launched on Jan. 19, 2006; it swung past Jupiter for a gravity boost and scientific studies in February 2007, and will conduct a five-month-long reconnaissance flyby study of Pluto and its moons in summer 2015. Pluto closest approach is scheduled for July 14, 2015. As part of an extended mission, the spacecraft is expected to head farther into the Kuiper Belt to examine one or two of the ancient, icy mini-worlds in that vast region, at least a billion miles beyond Neptune’s orbit.
Sending a spacecraft on this long journey will help us answer basic questions about the surface properties, geology, interior makeup and atmospheres on these bodies.
Click to enlarge

High School Planning, Units, Credits, and Homeschool Connections

Though I have been "officially" homeschooling for 10 years now, this is my first year developing a high school plan.  Here in Massachusetts we are required to submit a homeschool plan to our local school district, and then have a mutually-agreed plan to demonstrate progress.  Praise God for our wonderful school district that accept annual progress reports without requirements for testing or written samples.

Still, developing a high school plan was daunting at first as I did not know the structure or lingo.  I knew I would be incorporating many Homeschool Connections courses, but I know we use a college credit system based on hours that did not match our state's unit or credit system.  Once I was able to convert one to the other, not only could I easily create a freshman plan, I was able to spot where I needed to make adjustments in his online courses.  I don't know how different other state requirements are from Massachusetts, but I know ours are rigorous and hopefully similar enough to other states that you can use this process as well.

Here is the grid comparing high school requirements with minimum college requirements:

Next, find out how many hours of instruction are required.  In Massachusetts, the high school requirement is 990 hours.  You should be able to find it fairly easily with an Internet search or you could download the HSLDA Legal Analysis for your state using the link below, substituting your state name for "massachusetts":

OK, so what is a unit (or credit) and how does that relate to total required hours?  That is where Carnegie Units come in.  According to Wikipedia:

A "Carnegie Unit is 120 hours of class or contact time with an instructor over the course of a year at the secondary (American high school) level."

This means:
  • 1 hour a day, 5 days a week, for 24 weeks...or
  • 50 minutes a day, 5 days a week, for 30 weeks...or
  • However we as homeschoolers decide we want to do this, such as
    • 1 hour a day, 4 days a week, for 30 weeks
    • 1 hour a day, 2 days a week, for 60 weeks (or over 2 years, such as Arts where only 1 credit is required)
Typically high school students have 5 subjects per year, so this should give you a general idea of how much time our kids should be spending on each subject. 

Note that as homeschoolers, our kids do more "class time" than "instructor contact time".  Think of it this way: Our kids may only spend 1 hour a week with a Homeschool Connections instructor or with a parent getting formal instruction.  They should then be putting in about another hour a day for 4 or 5 days (typically) in acquiring knowledge.  Then, on top of that would be time equivalent to "homework" in a typical school--working on projects, studying for exams, preparing for class, etc. This "homework" load will vary considerably from week to week.

The courses offered by Homeschool Connections vary in length.  If the class is 12 weeks, follow the 1 hour/day x5 days rule to get 1/2 Carnegie Unit (half of a year); if it is 14 weeks then use the 1 hour/day x4 days or 50 minutes/day x 5 days to get the half unit (plus 1 week of independent study.) You can figure out what part of a unit you are getting for other courses based on the number of weeks.  Labs for science get included in that work, so a 1 hour lab each week would count as the 1 hour of science that day.

Here are some examples of what I did preparing my 9th grader's plan in conjunction with Homeschool Connections.

Spanish 1, Part 1 (12 weeks) has 18 additional recorded lectures that he will count as part of his 1 hour/day x 5 days/week to earn 1/2 unit of Foreign Language.

High School Simplified Writing 1 (8 weeks) + Theology of the Chronicles of Narnia (6 weeks) = 14 weeks at 1 hour/day x4 days/week for 1/2 Unit of English/Language Arts.

I hope you find this helpful in creating your high school plans for this fall!

Tuesday, June 16, 2015

Homeschool Connections

As many of you know, I have been a teacher at Homeschool Connections for many years. For the 2015 – 2016 school year I will only be teaching middle school science and not my high school anatomy and physiology. Perhaps I will get that last chapter done some day, the one on the endocrine system and reproduction. Maybe I'll get the e-book done even if I don't teach the class this next school year.

I want to give a personal testimony as a homeschooling mom about Homeschool Connections. Two years ago I sent my oldest son off to high school and last year I sent my second son off to eighth grade, both to a school from the Newman's list of top 100 high schools; next year all three of my boys were to attend. My oldest son was struggling, but the way in which the school had dealt with him made it clear that the school was not only a good fit for him but not a good fit for our family. It was a very sad witness of Catholic education.

We had looked into other schools all of which fell short. While the idea of homeschooling all my children again seemed laughable, I knew after much discernment in prayer that I was called to do that at least for my younger two. My oldest will be attending a Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation (yes, that foundation) sponsored community college program for students whose schools have refused to work with them, and my son certainly qualified. It's free, he earns college credits, and he will graduate with a high school diploma.

As I prayed daily to God for the grace to homeschool my younger two (my boys are wonderful but they are not easy to homeschool), I knew I wanted to continue teaching them math and science but I really didn't care much to teach them other subjects at this level. Homeschool Connections became my perfect solution. Because it is not a set program, I could pick and choose which subjects I would teach and which subjects my kids could take online. In addition, my kids could choose which classes were most interesting to them in any given subject. I simply made a grid of the Massachusetts high school requirements, sat with my second son and the Homeschool Connections catalog, and filled in the grid. He is hoping to attend a local 11th and 12th grade math and science academy in another two years. The program has a record of accepting homeschoolers and our next two years will give us opportunity and flexibility for unique science and math activities, such as First Lego League.

Next I chose several courses for my youngest, a rising seventh grader, to take. We are considering an excellent local vocational high school that other area homeschoolers have sent their kids to. So perhaps in two more years my children will all be in schools.  Thank you, God, for pouring out Your grace upon me.

If you look at the activity on my blog you'll see that it dropped off about the time I started sending my kids to school. You may notice that my Facebook page has now begun to have a lot more activity posted on it, and new followers are joining weekly. I hope now to get back to more blogging. May this blog bless your homeschooling the way Homeschool Connections has blessed mine.

Sunday, January 5, 2014

CK-12 for Science and Math

CK-12 is a website that provides free textbooks that can be fully edited and are copyrighted such that you can republish them.  For me, that means I can distribute them to my Homeschool Connections students.  The copyright laws for online classes are far more strict than they are for face-to-face classes, including specific language about educational institutions needing to be accredited. (Homeschool Connections offers a variety of courses to supplement homeschoolers rather than a comprehensive curriculum so we really have no urgent need for accreditation.)

I've referenced the site for many years since they mostly have math and science content, though they do have English, History, and SAT prep as well.  Years ago I planned to use their ebooks and edit them for my anatomy and physiology courses, but I soon found I was editing more than I was keeping and so I wrote my own material using mostly Wikimedia to find images that I could republish.

I forgot about the site until I recently put together a middle school life science course.  Trying to decide what topics I should cover and how complex I needed to be (or not), I visited CK-12 again.  The site has been completely transformed and made into something far more useful than what it was.  Before it offered only complete books for entire courses, and while those are still available they have now broken everything down into topics.  They have and extensive list of Life Science topics geared towards middle school (the Biology link has topics at the high school level.)

Using the site I could easily identify, assemble, download, and distribute ebooks for my class.  I could edit them as well, though I would not say that is an easy process.  Yes, everything can be edited, from the title to the images to the text itself but you have to do it all online at the site.  Often something will look properly formatted on the site but appears quite different in the pdf--this is especially true if you edit images.  Online they appear before a paragraph while in the pdf they are after and I have yet to figure out what I need to do to adjust it.  Another drawback is that editing is very slow during high-volume times, typically school day mornings.  The third problem is that you supposedly are able to output the final product in 3 formats--pdf, mobi (for Kindle) and ePub (for iPad and Android.)  I have no problem getting the pdf shortly after requesting it (you are emailed a link from which you download the finished product) but I never receive links for the other two versions, ever.

Still, overall it has made putting customized science material together very easy.  When it comes to creating Life Science materials for a Catholic homeschool audience, customization is critical in some areas, and that is what made CK-12 so helpful. Here is an example of the ebook I distributed for the first class.

Saturday, February 9, 2013

Crushing Cans

Ds#3 loves to watch videos from The Happy Scientist Robert Krampf and then goes about performing them.  This time around he got busy crushing cans using steam.  The videos below demonstrate how he did it.  Notice in the background of the second video, where Ds#2 is giving an explanation, that Ds#1 is having a little fun.