Friday, September 14, 2018

One Way Homeschooling and High School can be used Together

Last week I described how we are using a Montessori inspired approach to middle school and my son's progress in learning to program in Xcode. In addition to programming in Xcode, he is working on a math patterns book and taking two courses at our local high school.


At the end of the last school year we were studying a book together entitled Pattern Explorer. He liked this book enough to decide to complete it on his own. I really like the Pattern Explorer book because it teaches students to think about math in a non-traditional way. The book he is completing is perfect for kids who are at the pre-algebra and algebra level of math. It is a level 2 book, so there is also a level 1. For more information on this book click here.

At the high school my son is taking an engineering class and band.  In Michigan homeschooled students are allowed to take any non-core classes. That means they may take anything that is not specifically required for graduation. Parents must provide transportation, but for us the school is close enough for him to walk. My older daughter has taken many art classes as well as AP biology, AP physics, AP composition and a dentistry class at the tech center.

So far he is really excited to go to the public school for a portion of the day and I'm happy this opportunity exists. He will get to see some of his friends from scouts and see what public school is all about. Taking two morning classes will require him to wake up with an alarm clock on a very regular basis with no slack for sleeping in. Although we have had a regular schedule for school, the school system will be much more rigid and structured. It will be good for him to see this system. He will get to learn from people new to him and he will be expected to meet their expectations. Overall, I hope he has some fun, learns new skills and finishes knowing that he is smart and capable.

Although it is still too soon to tell, the first few weeks were good. I'm optimistic that the two hours he spends in public school each day will be beneficial.

Friday, September 7, 2018

Montessori in Middle Homeschool - Xcode

Last week I mentioned we are implementing a Montessori inspired approach to middle school. After giving the kids a long list of research topics mixed with hands-on activities and small projects to choose from, my son exclaimed that he wanted to learn to program in Xcode, an Apple programming tool used to create Apps. Well that wasn't on the list, but an acceptable topic none-the-less.

After completing three days of school he unfortunately hadn't gotten too far with Xcode, but had been very persistent and learned a lot. His main issue was getting access to Xcode which was a real challenge since he has a Windows computer. In what must be an effort to increase sales of hardware, Apple makes it quite difficult to run Xcode on a non-Apple machine.



He actually did get Xcode running but it runs slow on his Windows machine. To get it going, he figured out how to create a virtual Apple desktop on his PC. This was quite a process which involved lots of trial and error, and an unwanted bit-coin mining virus. In the end, Xcode will run on the virtual desktop, but runs too slow to be an effective solution. Next he investigated remote logging-into my husband's Apple machine to see if he could run Xcode that way. Well it tuned out that the best way to access Xcode was directly through an Apple computer. Now he is in the research and tutorial phase of learning Xcode. I can't wait to see where this leads him.

Most Montessori programs are designed for pre-school through elementary. What I like about the Montessori philosophy is that students are motivated by selecting their own activities. However, un-like an unschooling approach where the student has complete control over what they study, I like the way the Montessori approach sets-up the classroom and effectively gives students acceptable choices. I see our approach to education as Montessori inspired because the choices are given by the adult but selected by the student. It tends to be quite hands-on and often involves learning life skills. Since middle and high school students are capable of reading, a list of acceptable topics and activities for this age works well. Also, unlike the elementary years where students are learning the basics and have necessary manipulatives readily available, for this age, resources are gathered and research completed based on what the student selects to pursue.

So far this approach to education is accomplishing a few of my educational goals for the year including teaching the kids to persevere, making them more independent learners and getting them excited about school. They have been motivated to read and research because they have selected what they want to study. Both my husband and I assist them and try to offer suggestions when we see them getting stuck or progress slowing.

Although this project has taken the majority of his time, he has a few other smaller projects he is working on. I will explain more next week.

Saturday, September 1, 2018

Homeschooling Middle Schoolers with Montessori

Welcome back to another school year! My kids will be in 6th, 9th and 12th grades this year. Last year I didn't do too much blogging because we focused a lot on the basics (reading, writing, and math). We actually followed a writing curriculum and it worked well. Since we followed lots of curriculum, we weren't doing many unique things for school, so I didn't have much to say.


This year, with the new school year approaching, I felt the need to change things up a bit and am moving more towards a Montessori approach to education. We've already finished week one and it is working great! We will probably keep working with this approach until Thanksgiving at least, and then I will re-evaluate.

If you are familiar with Montessori, then you know it's a philosophy that is typically used for elementary aged students. If you are familiar with this blog, then you know I admire certain aspects of many education philosophies (Montessori, Charlotte Mason, Waldorf, Unschooling), but stick with an eclectic approach I call Highhill Education.

My initial goals for this year are to make my 6th and 9th graders much more independent and excited about learning. We have always done a variety of book and hands-on activities for school. Some of which have worked great and others which needed to be rethought. Anyway, anytime I mention school, my younger two kids roll their eyes and get ready to fight anything I have planned. The bottom line is that school just cramps their style by taking a large chunk of time out of whatever it is they would have been doing. In other words, they start complaining. Since they haven't spent much time in traditional school, they have nothing to compare homeschooling to and just don't realize how good they have it.

My youngest would spend all of her time sewing, painting her nails, designing clothes, reading and doing crafts. My son would spend all of his time riding his bike to his friend's house to hang-out, swimming and playing video games. I don't have an issue with their activities, what I have an issue with is what they aren't doing. That's why this approach is currently working well. Let me explain.

To start the year, I gave the kids a long list of items they could choose to study. Some things on the list include:

If Hitler was so bad, how did he get a whole country of people to follow him?
What did Steve Jobs do before starting Apple?
Learn to program in Python
How are math and origami related?
Study the Life of Fred Geometry book
Why is poetry so difficult to understand?
How do producers create special effects for movies?
How did jazz music evolve?
What is the Picot-Sykes Line?
Install a water bottle holder on a bike
Repair the sprinkler system
Refinish the kitchen chairs
How are rising oceans effecting coastal cities?
Plan a weekend family vacation within a three hour driving distance

Hopefully you get the idea? My husband and I told them they need to pick a minimum of one thing and maximum of three things to investigate. Each of these topics are meant to keep them going for a few days to months. We also said they should be prepared to discuss their projects and findings and shouldn't look into something for an hour or so and give us a quick answer. These questions/topics are meant to inspire, so we asked them to select something that interests them. I'm hoping that the lines between when school starts and stops will become blurry and that they will be so interested in what they select, that they will work on it during much of their non-school time as well.

I already mentioned that we finished week one, but I didn't mention that they have been constantly working on the projects they selected. I will describe them in the next few posts. What I'm worried about and haven't figured out yet is how to get them to do a variety of activities without much prompting. If you have any suggestions, I would love to hear them. Anyways, I'm happy with their progress thus far, but the lack of variety is what is likely to cause us to shift gears again in November. I will keep you updated.

Welcome back. I hope your school year is off to a great start.

Friday, May 25, 2018

Bridge to Terabithia

My oldest daughter, a voracious reader, has volunteered to review some of her favorite books on Highhill Education. Here is her first review.


     In a heartwarming and heartbreaking story, Bridge to Terabithia follows the friendship of two fifth grade students, Jess Aaron and Leslie Burke. It was published in 1977 by Katherine Paterson, and won the Newbery Medal in 1978. In 2007, Bridge to Terabithia was adapted into a film. A moving story of friendship and loss, Bridge to Terabithia is a story for children aged around 12 and up.
     Using deceptively simplistic language, Paterson eloquently weaves an incredibly complex story.     Though it primarily follows Jess and Leslie, several other characters (including May Belle, Mrs. Meyers and Janice Avery) are carefully developed. Most, if not all of the characters experience loneliness; which is a key theme throughout the novel.
     In the beginning, Jess’s greatest dream is to be the fastest runner in fifth grade. However, though he has trained all summer, his dream evaporates when he and other boys are easily beaten by the strange new kid: his neighbor, Leslie. Initially, Jess’s disappointment appears as anger, and he and his classmates shuns Leslie. However, Jess eventually realizes Leslie is quite an interesting person, which leads to their becoming friends. Together, they create the world of Terabithia, a magical kingdom of which they are the rulers, where they can escape from their worldly problems. However, one day, in a failed attempt to reach Terabithia, Leslie is terminated, leaving Jess anguished and full of despair.
     Overall, Bridge to Terabithia tells a compelling story which examines the essence of human nature. As reviewed by The Horn Book, “the story is one of remarkable richness and depth.” It is a book which the reader will continue to think about, and may even reread. Bridge to Terabithia is a wonderful story for children aged around 12 and up.

Friday, May 18, 2018

Nailed It Cake Baking - Chemistry? - Problem Solving?

Have you seen the cake baking show on Netflix called Nailed It? If not imagine selecting three average people, showing them a gorgeous cake and challenging them to make it. They are given internet access, supplies and a time limit. As the three bakers compete against each other to recreate the best cake, three experts watch and comment among themselves discussing interesting ideas of the bakers as well as things they should probably have done differently. Some people do quite well, but most end up doing some improvisation. All use their best problem solving skills to attack the given challenge.

The results are hilarious, especially when time is in short supply and plans do not go as expected. What would you do if your cakes overflowed? How do you make melted chocolate look like mud? Have you ever made fondant?


This show has inspired our latest series of educational activities. Earlier in the year we made bread for science and then we learned to make candy. In both cases a recipe was both given and followed for every activity. Thinking scientifically in terms of chemistry, students are typically given an experiment to follow which is much like a recipe.

In more advanced chemistry classes, students are given only basic instructions and asked to design an experiment which will solve a problem. These cake baking challenges are more in-line with advanced baking because they involve using problem solving skills. Whether or not they are considered chemistry is up for debate, but they are excellent activities for middle school children. Nailed It was such a natural inspiration.

Because I wanted the kids to be successful in the challenges, I made a few alterations to the rules. First, we did not have a time limit. In fact, they were given the challenge several days in advance and asked to come up with a plan which included a shopping list. They were given internet access which they could use to find a recipe or directions or examples of items they were trying to recreate. Secondly, they were asked to work together. Since they are siblings, they are constantly competing. I wanted these challenges to be fun and cooperative.

For the first challenge, they were asked to recreate the emoji cakes created on Nailed It.


They had watched the episode and heard the experts suggest using butter to grease the pans and did so themselves. Despite this fact, their cakes still stuck to the pans. We still haven't discovered the problem.

The kids have never made fondant before, and had to learn how. On the emoji episode, some of the bakers had never used fondant and that proved to be an issue. One added too much food coloring ruining the fondant. Therefore, icing was used as a last minute substitute. The result was acceptable, but fondant would have been much better.

Here are the cakes my kids made. Keep in mind, I didn't help in this activity at all. Bonus!


Their biggest issue was creating black fondant. I think you can purchase black food coloring? That however wasn't on their shopping list. Instead, they mixed all the colors and were able to come with a shade of grey. I think it looks pretty good.

The cake tasted good too. Now I'm no expert, but love a little sweet every now and then.

Friday, May 11, 2018

Pattern Explorer Review

Pattern Explorer is one workbook, from The Critical Thinking Company While their other workbooks were equally engaging, I felt this one was the most appropriate level for my kids. Their workbooks are unique because they are designed to teach kids how to think. This one really works! I would recommend it as well as trying others.

Pattern Explorer comes in Levels 1 and 2. The Level 2 book pictured here is geared towards students studying pre-algebra or algebra. Each page contains several picture problems such as the one shown below. The top problem on the left shows a series of figures containing solid and transparent circles. The student is asked how many shaded and total circles appear in later stages of the series.

This may seem like quite a difficult question, but the table below the figures assists the students in finding the answer by helping to recognize patterns. Once the table is completed it becomes much easier to see how the number of circles in later figures is determined.


The page on the right above shows a different type of problem in the book. The balance problem works a little like solving a algebraic problem in which you can divide both sides by the same number, or subtract the same number from both sides. For example, the top problem asks how many diamonds will balance a pentagon. One pentagon sits on the top left scale balancing four triangles. Two triangles balance three diamonds on the other scale. To solve the problem, students must figure out how the different shapes relate to each other. Students can arrive at the same answer thinking about the problem in different ways.

In addition to these two types of problems, the book contains sequence problems, function problems and number problems all designed to teach kids to think. As a child I was always good at math, and now I have kids who are good at math. These books are excellent for kids excelling in math, but would also be good for those struggling as they approach problems in a pictorial way that appeals to the brain in a different way.

Friday, May 4, 2018

Life of Fred English and Grammar

Did you know there are Life of Fred English books?


The creator of Life of Fred is a retired high school math teacher who entertains students while doing an excellent job teaching the application of math. Unlike a typical math textbook, the books require little "kill and drill" problem work.

In the language art series, five year old math professor Fred, travels to Australia and ends up teaching language arts. In the same way the math books teach application of concepts, the language arts series aims to teach the application of grammar.

I worked through the series of four books over a period of about six months with my fifth and eighth grader who have a good background in creative writing and some knowledge of the parts of speech. We found the books entertaining and a good overview of English and grammar.

Because language arts does not naturally build upon itself like math, we found it difficult to retain all of the concepts presented in the books. Therefore, I would recommend working through these books as a review or as a tangent to other language arts lessons. They are worth while, but I would not rely on them as the sole method for learning literature and grammar concepts.
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