Thursday, April 19, 2018

Review of HelpTeaching.com


We have used HelpTeaching.com in the past, so I was quite happy to receive a subscription to Help Teaching Pro again. The terrific thing about this website is that it doesn't matter if you had a subscription to it two years ago, it both is and isn't the website you remember. It is the same website in that it still has the test generator that lets you make your own tests according to your own materials (in fact, it will even have your previous tests still stored if you've been a member before!), it still has untold numbers of pre-made worksheets, short but informative lessons that you can assign to individual students, an early education section, and so much more. It's not the same website because there is new material being added constantly! Also, the kids you likely used it with previously have aged, hence, the material in the next grade level(s) is all new to them! Of course, if you're one of the lucky ones who has not yet used HelpTeaching.com at all, you're in for a huge treat. This website is not just another worksheet warehouse. There is so much more here, and you can explore a whole lot of it for free. My guess is you'll want the Pro version after seeing everything the site has to offer.

When you log on to HelpTeaching.com, you'll see five major sections: 


Tests and Worksheets is the place to find worksheets by grade level or subject area. From Pre-K through 12 and from Physical Education to Science to Graphic Organizers to Life Skills, along with all the core subjects you would expect, this section has everything you need to print any worksheet you can think of for your students. If you need Common Core aligned materials, you will find those here. Common Core loves Latin and Greek roots. Here, Michael is working on a worksheet using the root "ped." There was a short worksheet introducing and discussing the root (a great resource to put in his binder). Then, he completed a worksheet demonstrating he had learned the root. The answers were conveniently on the back of the worksheet. He could do the entire lesson by himself. 




The next tab, Online Lessons, is one of the things that sets this site apart. If you're like me, you value curriculum that your child can do on their own, which is why I loved the root lesson Michael did. The older mine get, the more important this factor is in my deciding what curriculum to use. Further, since all of my kids are middle or high school, I love that the middle and high school elements on this site are geared to be independent. Using embedded videos from both HelpTeaching.com and from other sources, which you can see on this page, middle and high schoolers can do everything at their own pace. 

Nicholas (14) will be taking the PSAT for the first time next year as a sophomore. His vocabulary is not as strong as my other kids'. I'm not sure why, but it probably has something to do with his coming to a love of reading a little later than the rest of them. That's okay, though! HelpTeaching.com has a Top 100 SAT words self-paced lesson for him to work through. Since Nicholas doesn't really do any work with me anymore, it's essential that I find things that he can do on his own, and this lesson fits the bill perfectly. 


With accompanying worksheets that list all of the words, there is a visual and a written component. Nicholas remembers best when he writes things down, so he wrote down the words as the slides on the video played. Now he has a notebook of Top 100 SAT words as a starting point for studying.

There are so many other kinds of lessons, too! One thing I love about this site is that it can easily fill holes that I find my kids have, or that I *fear* my kids have. Within a few minutes, my fears can be alleviated. Every so often I will suddenly think something like, "Literary analysis! My kids don't know anything about literary analysis!" I had that moment last week. I went to HelpTeaching.com and found a 7th grade lesson on literary analysis (see "Analyzing a Literary Text" with the lock beside it?):


I signed into my account to access the lesson and handed it off to Michael. First, there was a short discussion on analyzing a literary text, the first part of which you can see here:


Then, you move through five practice questions:


Michael got all of them right.

The third tab, Test Maker, is another great feature that sets this site apart. You can make multiple choice tests and quizzes and you can have your students take printable or online versions. You can create your own questions, or you can find questions that are already in the test library. You can write your own instructions or have the program generate instructions. Really, the possibilities are endless. I am not much of a written "tester" in my homeschool, but if you are, you will absolutely love what this feature has to offer. 


The next tab, Worksheet Generator, does exactly what it says. This is where Mary-Catherine got to "enjoy" Help Teaching Pro. Enjoy is in quotes because Mary-Catherine doesn't really enjoy being drilled in math, but she does appreciate the edge it gives her in her regular math program. You can get exactly the kind of math worksheets or games/puzzles you want on this page. Drill some math, then play some Bingo!

The Online Testing and My Content tabs let you manage your students, your tests, and your content. You'll get to know these tabs as you work with the program.

What We Thought

There is a lot to love about Help Teaching Pro. HelpTeaching.com offers much of its site for free, so you'll lose nothing by going to check out what they have to offer. If you like what you see, you might well decide it's worth the cost to upgrade to the Pro version, especially if you have multiple kids who will be using the site. Often with sites like this one, there is a lot of content for the younger grades, but the pickin's are thin at the higher levels. That's absolutely not true with HelpTeaching.com. They have great content at the upper levels. Don't take my word for it, though.

Because there are so many different ways to use HelpTeaching.com, do be sure to read the Crew Blog to see how 49 other Crew members made use of the myriad resources available!


Saturday, April 14, 2018

Review of Study.com's CLEP Prep Program

Sometimes really nice things happen to you and you're not sure why. Just such a thing happened to me a couple of months ago when Study.com reached out to me to see if I would be interested in reviewing their CLEP Prep courses on their absolutely AMAZING website. Given that Therese (16) is a junior in high school and is exploring multiple options at this point, I didn't hesitate. In fact, I challenge you to spend five minutes on this website and not be even remotely tempted by all they have to offer, whether your kids are public schooled, private schooled, in middle school, high school, even college, and homeschool! Just as an example of the specific homeschool material on the site, check out the Saxon Algebra I textbook section. When I say this site has everything, I mean that this site has EVERYTHING! And while I was provided a six-month subscription for the purpose of this review, I don't think I'll be able to live without it when those six months are up. You just get so much with this program.



Study.com's CLEP courses are one of the best values on the site, though. It's no secret that college is very, very expensive. Any way one can find to cut those costs deserves serious consideration. CLEP, or the College Level Examination Program, is a great alternative to paying full price for four years of college. Similar to AP tests, CLEP tests assess your mastery of material and grant you college credit upon completion of the test. Unlike AP tests, CLEP tests can be taken at any time before or during college, and you don't have to take a CLEP course prior to taking the test. In other words, everyone knows that before you take an AP test, you will have taken, for example, AP English or AP European History. You then take that AP test and, if you get (usually) a 3 or higher, you gain college credit. With a CLEP test, though, you don't have to take a class prior to taking the test. In fact, in some cases, you only have to review the material for a few days. Study.com makes this so easy with its customized CLEP prep! This is how it works:
  • Study.com offers you a *free* 15 question practice test in your chosen test area.
  • You are then provided with detailed results so that you can see your specific areas of strength and weakness - you'll know exactly where you stand.
  • Finally, Study.com will give you specific recommendations from its test prep catalog of over 30 CLEP courses. 






Let's say your student is interested in taking the CLEP test in Western Civilization II (my history bias is showing here!). This is what it looks like when you click on that course:





Each of the lessons seen above is demonstrated as a video. All Study.com videos are short in length (around 5-10 minutes). Videos are accompanied by transcripts, which is excellent if you prefer to learn by reading, as Therese does, which I'll discuss momentarily, or if you like having the ability to go back and reference something written down (like Nicholas, 14, who will be using Study.com this summer) does. The transcripts also provide links to other relevant lessons. The video lessons are followed by short quizzes, as are all of the chapters. Finally, at the end of each CLEP course, there is a "final exam," meaning there is a mastery test to assess your readiness to take the CLEP test (because who wants to take a test like that, which, after all, does cost money, if you're not ready - especially when you can always go back through your CLEP course to revisit sections you may not have mastered!). Even better, Study.com offers flashcards to help you study each section of your CLEP prep course. They are right there online for you to use as much as you need to.

CLEP tests themselves (at least history CLEP tests, which are the ones I delved into!) are about 120 multiple choice questions and last 90 minutes. They are worth 3 college credits (or one class). The test itself costs $85, which is so much cheaper than your average college class (or any college class, for that matter)! The history classes that I have looked at on Study.com include about 11 hours of CLEP test instruction. The website does a neat service of breaking down for you how much study time that entails, depending on how much time you have before you take the CLEP test:


As you can see, Study.com has made it easy to prepare for these tests. They have also made it where you don't have to subscribe to their site for an eternity just to earn a bunch of college credit hours through CLEP testing. If you're diligent, you can subscribe for a couple of months and earn a *bunch* of hours worth of credit. What a tremendous savings. 

Do you know what's even better? Study.com offers advisers to work with you every step of the way. Perhaps you don't want to take the CLEP test for Western Civ II. Maybe you want to take Western Civ II for college credit. Believe it or not, you can do that on Study.com. They can help you take the course for credit that will transfer to thousands of colleges. So if you have test anxiety, or your test scores are too low to get into the school you want to go to, or you just can't afford college right now, see what Study.com has to offer.

Therese and Study.com

Therese is my eldest child, so she is my guinea pig in so many ways. She loves online learning, she loves learning at her own pace, and she is so ready to go to college in so many ways. However, as one of four kids, three of whom will be in college at the same time, she knows that she will have to pay for the bulk of college on her own. I'll admit that before I was contacted by Study.com, I had not really thought much about CLEP tests. When I had thought about them, I thought of them as the AP test's inferior little brother. I no longer think of them that way. They are different, not inferior. I hope I made the differences clear above, but they serve a different purpose than AP tests, which really only serve high school students in a traditional high school setting. That is not our family, and it's really not a lot of people trying to earn a college degree. Will Therese take any CLEP tests? I'm not sure, especially since she is doing dual credit courses from now on. Do I love knowing that the option is out there? Absolutely. Will she continue to take advantage of Study.com's CLEP prep courses? Absolutely (especially now that the madness of standardized testing, aka ACT/SAT is over - but, hey! She used Study.com for that, too! Did I mention that Study.com has EVERYTHING?).

Therese started out with the History of the United States I. Her reasoning was simple. Because of her chronic illnesses, she missed a lot of her freshman year, including a lot of US History I. Doing the CLEP prep course seemed like an excellent way to fill in the gaps in her knowledge and give me the confidence to add US History I to her transcript. Therese's favorite part of the this course was the ability to take the lesson two ways - either by viewing the approximately six minute videos, or by simply reading the transcripts. It's nice to have the choice. She also liked that if it was a topic about which she knew a lot, she could skip the lesson and go straight to the quiz. If she got the quiz right, the lesson would be marked complete. 

I really appreciate using Study.com this way - checking to see if Therese has mastery over the subjects that we kind of skated over while she was sick. My theory is that if she can do well enough in them to earn college credit, that means that she has earned the high school credit. It's a great "check" for both of us. As I said, now that we are ending the madness that is junior year, we are going to be using it in much that way to dot our i's and cross our t's.

I am so enjoying everything that Study.com has to offer. It can be used as supplementary for every grade 6-12, but I am going to be testing my theory that it can also be used as primary coursework for grades 8 and 10 next year (although Nicky will also be taking dual credit classes). Every time I go on the website I just see more and more things I want the kids to do. And especially now that I know where our nearest center for CLEP testing is (where the kids will be taking classes in the fall), I don't rule out a few tests. After all, I'll know in advance whether or not they'll pass. They can't miss after doing Study.com's CLEP prep classes.

Considering you have access to a free trial, you really have nothing to lose by checking out this comprehensive learning website. Although I'll warn you - you might find it hard to leave!




Wednesday, April 11, 2018

Wordless Wednesday - My View

And We Wonder Why I'm Distracted...


I have so much work to do right now. Those notes you see are just some of it. What's up on my computer is the math I am supposed to be writing for May's edHelper work. Somehow I just can't focus. Pens, podcasts, and pictures -- oh, my!

Monday, April 9, 2018

Prepping for College?! In the Fall?!


I honestly meant to write several posts last week. I also meant to crack open my birthday present - a Cricut Explore Air 2 (my birthday was in February, incidentally). I *definitely* meant to work (as in do the thing that earns my paycheck). Somehow, at relatively the last minute, though, we decided to enroll Therese (16) and Nicholas (14) in dual credit classes at our almost local community/junior college. We are blessed to have an amazing community college system in our area. We actually have a location about 20 minutes from our house. After talking to my sister-in-law, who is on her third child in this process, I decided to take my kids to the location that is slightly farther away, though, since it is apparently very homeschooler friendly. It is also 5 minutes from St. Anne, the parish I grew up in and where my dad currently runs the St. Vincent de Paul food pantry, and it is 5 minutes from the house my parents are renting in the wake of Hurricane Harvey. Shout out to said SIL, by the way. She endured my frantic texts and mini panic attacks as I tried to figure out how to enroll Therese and Nicholas at the college and navigate something that was completely new to me. If you know me at all, you know that I like to have things planned out well in advance. I don't do well with spontaneous. 

So why now? After all, Therese is a rising senior. If she were going to do dual credit, shouldn't she have started sooner? And Nicholas is a rising sophomore. Isn't he a little young? Well, the thing is, Therese's college plans have been changing faster than I can keep up. At first, dual credit didn't make any sense for what she wanted to do. Now, it makes a great deal more sense. Plus, she wants and needs to get out of the house. Additionally, I love the feel of Lone Star College. It is such a great blend of a hybrid high school/college feel. I know from talking to my niece and nephew that the professors work with you much like professors of my alma mater did - on a very personal level. I am so much more comfortable with launching my kids this way, rather than just throwing them into the deep end of college. Plus, having them experience someone else teaching them is a very good idea for both of them (I've never been comfortable with a co-op, for a variety of reasons, but this is quite different - obviously).

It looks like Therese will be taking five classes in the fall and Nicholas two. For now, the plan is for Therese to do straight-up dual credit and see what happens. She is focusing on knocking out classes that will apply toward a degree in International Studies. Nicholas is planning on getting an associates degree and then transferring to A&M. He should graduate from college when he is 20 if all goes well. At this point he wants to be a chemical engineer. I'm just glad that someone else will be teaching him math and science! 

They are both so excited. And maybe, since I'll be sitting on a college campus two days a week, I can finally get some work done!

Wednesday, April 4, 2018

Review of Homeschool Diploma



When you homeschool, there are so many things that you have to think about that parents who send their kids to some kind of school just -- don't. A diploma is one of those. You naturally want your child to have some kind of physical record of their graduation, but it's kind of overwhelming to think about where to find a diploma, what to put on it, what's a reasonable price to pay for it, etc. I'll be honest - a diploma is one thing that I hadn't yet thought about until the opportunity for this review arose. I'm so glad it did, because Homeschool Diploma does absolutely everything for you, and the end product - the Standard Diploma - is simply gorgeous! And the Standard Diploma is just the beginning. The Personalized Diploma I received is just perfection. If I had designed a diploma from scratch, I couldn't have designed it more ideally for my daughter. You can customize these diplomas to your heart's content so that you end up with something that is 100% personal and just as meaningful. Best of all, it's both easy and fun to create your diploma! Here are pictures of Therese's diploma, modeled by her 13 year-old brother (please ignore my messy bookshelves!).






When you land on the site, and select diploma, you can choose from two size options, 8.5"x11" or 6"x8" (my high school diploma was the smaller size, but I was thrilled to be able to choose the larger size for Therese). You then go through a plethora of options. Every time you add something to the standard diploma (which is already beautiful and definitely gets the job done), you see the price increase right there on the page. You can add, subtract, and customize to your heart's content before you ever submit your order. Here are your options:

  • Center Seal (three choices - included in price)
  • Name of Graduate (included in price)
  • Name of School (optional, but recommended - included in price)
  • City and State (optional - included in price)
  • Graduation Date (included in price)
  • Choice of paper
  • Choice of Honors Seal (+$2.95)
  • Diploma Cover (choice of seven colors and eight designs (add school name +$14.50, add name and phrase +$15.50, add student name +$14.50)
  • Add Archive Copy (+$7.50)
  • Add Wallet Size Diploma (+$8.95)
Homeschool Diploma makes it easy for you to get exactly the diploma you want for a price you're comfortable with. I'm not showing Therese with her diploma because she's only a junior; she won't be getting it for another year. I don't want her to see it yet! I want it to be a surprise. Ordering her diploma made me realize that as a junior, it's time for a class ring. Fortunately, Homeschool Diploma has that covered, too!

If you don't happen to have a student nearing high school graduation, fear not! Homeschool Diploma has many options. Crew members received and reviewed the Kindergarten Cap, Gown, Tassel, and Diploma package and the 8th Grade Diploma, too! There really is something for all of those special homeschool transitions. To read these and all the reviews, visit the Crew blog!


Tuesday, March 27, 2018

Things They Don't Tell You


Last week, I told you that you were being lied to - that the job of raising kids doesn't get easier as they get older. I got some great feedback on that piece (thank you!), and it turns out that most of you agree with me. It also turns out that I'm not the only one who was lied to when my kids were younger (I really shouldn't use that word, though. I've always taught my kids that a lie is a malicious intent to deceive, and I don't think that's what other parents do at all when they tell us it gets easier; I just don't think they are being very precise with their language.). It got me thinking, though, about all the things that we are not told when our kids are young. When my kids were around the age they are in this picture (that would be 8, 7, 5, and 5), I had begun telling parents with younger kids some of the things that I had already learned. But, oh! How much I still had to learn! Here's what I had learned to this point, however. For reference, I was 34 at this point in time (2009). N.B. - I know not all things apply to all people, and I know some of what I say may sound heretical. I'm okay saying it if it resonates with just one person. I would have appreciated hearing it myself.
  • You might not fall in love with your baby immediately. That's okay. Your body has just been through a tremendous shock. That love will come. If it doesn't, talk to your doctor; you are most likely suffering from postpartum depression and help is available.

  • Time will likely cease to have all meaning for a little while. It's normal. It may not feel like it, but life *will* return to normal. You have to give it time.

  • Babies cry. It's how they communicate their every need. I'm not getting into any debates about whether you should let them cry, but just know that they do cry. It doesn't mean they're broken (but do make sure you know why they're crying). It means they're normal.

  •  When you have babies (and when you're a stay-at-home mom of littles), the minutes and the hours crawl by, but the days, weeks, and months fly by. When people tell you to treasure these times because they'll be over before you know it - THAT ONE IS TRUE! I remember writing in my journal about the feeling of despair regarding endlessly nursing twins, but about feeling almost nostalgic at the same time knowing that it would end. True story: one day after church, we went to IHOP. The kids were probably about the ages you see above. There was another family from church there. They had four teenagers, two boys and two girls. The dad told us, "One day soon, you'll be us." That happened all too soon. It feels like that happened yesterday, in fact. Now when I see families with littles at church, I think the same thing about them. Enjoy those waddling little toddlers! Enjoy the easy "why" questions. Enjoy reading the same picture books over and over again. The things that used to seem so monotonous to me (I'm not a great "little kid" parent; if you know me in real life, you know that I don't talk to little kids like little kids - it's both a good and a bad thing.) now seem like a beloved memory that I would do anything to go back and visit in person.

  • A child's innocence is even more precious than you think. You know it's precious. It's more precious than you think. Yes, I said it twice. I'll say it again. A child's innocence is more precious than you think. If you have teens, you know why I'm saying it again and again. If your children are still little, guard than innocence, guard that innocence, guard that innocence! When you think you're doing everything you can, do more. Even the best kids are curious. Even the most obedient kids are still kids. They will find ways to circumvent your rules, your webguards, and everything else you think you've done to protect their innocence. I'm jumping ahead a tiny bit to my teen parent knowledge now (but I'm not jumping ahead by much), but the parents who say "not my kid," I promise some of you - it's your kid. I know your kids and I know you (and I would be po'ed if you were saying this to me, so I get that you're ticked and defensive), and it's your kid. In this day and age, there should be no such thing as trusting your children and letting them have privacy. Privacy to write in their journals? Okay. Privacy to text their friends? Nope. Privacy to cruise the Internet? No way. I wholeheartedly recommend Accountable2You. Click on the link to read my review, but I can tell you that when my free subscription ended, I never bought anything so fast in my life. I've made the mistake of trusting, and I will never make that mistake again. Children can be broken. And the guilt of having broken a child through neglect or inactivity or trust is crippling.

  • Children will hurt you like you have never been hurt before. You think it will hurt when your toddler says she hates you (which my first never did, but she did say she wanted to go live at her Aunt's house - that one always has known how to push my buttons! Her aunt is everything I'm not - organized, clutter-free, sweet, and calm.), but just wait for what your tween girl can hurl your way. Then, when your teen doesn't even deign to speak to you at all, you'll be wishing for the days of the tween's uninformed opinions about you. 

  • Children will love you like you've never been loved before. And that's the most important thing to take away from this post. A child's love when they are small is so pure. The trust in their eyes when they look at you, the bouquets of picked wildflowers that sit in cups on windowsills until they are dead and brown because you can't bear to throw them away, the bins of drawings of stick figure families with mommies with long hair and daddies with no hair (okay, that one is particular to my family!), the rib-crushing hugs from teenage sons who are taller than you, the careful manicures from teenage daughters who know all the latest nail trends - it's all so incredibly precious. And it's all over way too soon. The feelings are all so intense, on all sides. Parenthood is the job where, if you do it right, you're raising your kids *not* to need you - to be able to leave you, when all you want to do is to hold on tightly to them; to make sure that nothing will ever hurt them or take them away from you. What an eternal conundrum! No wonder there is conflict amidst so very much love!
Post-Script: I know there are those of you reading this who are thinking, "I don't have any of those problems with my children. My teens are trustworthy, we never argue, my toddlers don't hate me, and my days are ordered and perfect." To y'all, I say - you're blessed. Thank the Almighty for your blessings and pray for the rest of us. I think the rest of us make up the majority of the Bell curve.

Thursday, March 22, 2018

You're Being Lied To...

Christmas 2006

This is one of those posts that floats around in my head all the time, but that I have always hesitated to write. It seems, well, mean. You know how when you have babies, everyone tells you it gets easier? At what point did you realize they were lying to you? I'm not sure when I realized the jig was up. I mean, intellectually, I know that it must have been rough for me. I had four kids in less than 3 1/2 years. So, Therese was not yet 3 1/2 when I had the twins. Between Therese and two newborns, I had a 16 month-old. That's a lot. I didn't have much help. My mom came over once a week. That's it. I didn't know that it was supposed to be nearly impossible, so I just did it (and, yes, I nursed the babies). I knew that it would get easier because someday I would sleep again. Someday I would be able to take migraine medicine again. (That, I do remember - calling my doctor almost every day begging for something for my headaches. He would always ask if I was still nursing and then try to prescribe anything that was safe for the babies that might work for a migraine. Nothing did, but God bless him for trying!)

In so many ways, having four almost all the same age *was* easy. They all played together, slept at the same time (eventually), did school together, etc. Let me just tell you, though, it has not gotten easier. Easy was being able to corral them in front of the TV for PBS Kids. Easy was being able to make chicken nuggets and no one complaining that they didn't like chicken nuggets (they weren't allowed to do that, so they didn't - can you even imagine?). Easy was all of them going to bed *before* Henry and me every night so we could have some time together. Easy was back when a toddler's "no" was the epitome of talking back. How I wish.

So, it does not get easier -- at least it doesn't get easier on your heart. Logistically, things do get easier. It is easier when kids can dress themselves, feed themselves, take care of their own bodily functions, etc. But those are just logistics. It's not easy when four teenagers tell you you're doing things wrong. When they ignore simple requests from you. When they know far more than you (obviously!). When four former best friends fight and squabble like there's no tomorrow. When they seem to have forgotten everything you ever taught them about the importance of siblings - to say nothing of the importance of respecting their parents. When they were little I would check on them to make sure they were covered and that their noses weren't obstructed so they could breathe. Now I check on them just to look at them when their faces aren't angry - just to look at them for the short time they have left at home.

It's not to say that my kids are bad kids - my kids are exceptionally good kids, but they aren't easier than when they were toddlers. I'm willing to bet no one's are. I'm going to stop telling parents it gets easier when they get older. I'm going to start saying it gets easier when they're potty trained.

Christmas 2017