Thursday, August 27, 2015

Illuminating Literature {Schoolhouse Crew Review}

For years I've struggled with figuring that all-encompassing subject called Language Arts. I've given up on finding a single program to cover spelling, grammar, composition, literature studies, and everything else I should cover for a high school (or even elementary school) English class. I'm excited that I've found an excellent way to fill the literature study hole in our school plans.

We have been using the new Illuminating Literature: When Worlds Collide course from Writing with Sharon Watson for the past several weeks, and I'm looking forward to using it with Brennan all this year.

Our Illuminating Literature: When Worlds Collide materials included the Student Book, the Teacher's Guide, and a Quiz and Answer manual. I was also able to download and print the corresponding Novel Notebook. For review purposes, we also received copies of the first two literary works for this year -- Pudd'nhead Wilson by Mark Twain and The War of the Worlds by H. G. Wells.

The backbone of the course is the Student Book. It's written directly to the student in a "relaxed, unstuffy tone" (according to the back cover of the book). I definitely agree with that description and Brennan admitted that the reading assignments in the Student Book were "not quite torture." My husband and I were laughing over some of the discussions in the introductory materials. Sharon Watson readily admits that teens often do not enjoy reading the literary classics that are often assigned. In a multiple choice question about what the student wanted to learn from the course, Brennan chose "I want to learn how to get through a literature course without losing my mind." I suspect there was quite a bit of eye-rolling as he read through the rest of the choices ("learn what a symbol is and how to recognize it", "ditto for theme", "learn how to pass a literature class", etc), but I also know that he started thinking more about this material than many of the other lessons that I've assigned.

After covering some of the course basics, Sharon Watson introduces the concept of conflict in literature. The books chosen for this study were picked based on the conflicts we see in the story -- worlds colliding. As the Student Book continues to discuss conflicts, I noticed how the student is not required to have a strong literary background to follow along. The biggest example used is the story of The Hobbit, and the student does not necessarily have to have anything more than a general idea of the story in order to follow along. In fact, a student who has watched the movie and not read the book would be able to follow along with the discussion.

Brennan was pleased that the first written assignment about evaluating conflict did not have to be about a book. He chose to write about a movie he had seen recently. I also heard that there was a lengthy conflict discussion at dinner one night when I wasn't at home. I believe Brennan was trying to figure out which Dr. Seuss books he could use to show that he understood the major types of conflict. (For the record, Green Eggs and Ham was easily analyzed but Go, Dog, Go! didn't have enough of a story to find conflict.)

As we moved from the introductory section of the Student Book to the actual literary study, Brennan continued to declare the written material "not torture." I think he appreciates that the material is short and to-the-point. In addition, the background material included seems to be specifically chosen to be the most interesting facts.

As a teacher, I appreciated having further explanations and answers available in the Teacher's Guide. For instance, Brennan and I noticed a lot of examples of conflict while reading Pudd'nhead Wilson together, but Sharon Watson points out still more examples in the Teacher's Guide. The Teacher's Guide also contains sample grading scales, the passwords to online quizzes, and a sample schedule for using these materials for a monthly literary discussion group. Our new book club group is still in the beginning stages, and I appreciate that we'll have a direction to go when we can gather to discuss some of these works.

The third component of the Illuminating Literature component is the Quiz and Answer Manual. The quizzes and opinion surveys designed to go with this course are available for students to access online at no charge, and this book is simply a physical copy for people that prefer a pen-and-paper option. I prefer for Brennan to take the quizzes online, but I also appreciate the opportunity to glance over the questions before I tell him to take the quiz.

I love the Illuminating Literature materials, and it has Brennan's stamp of approval too. Sharon Watson's "unstuffy" writing style is perfect for a boy who can come up with a dozen reasons to avoid reading. I also appreciate that she's picked books with a reluctant reader audience in mind. I've noticed that girls will read books geared to either boys or girls, but that boys just aren't interested in the classic romance themed books girls enjoy. None of the books in this course scream "girly," "romance novel," or even "a kissing book" (to borrow a favorite Princess Bride phrase). Therefore I can sell them as interesting to Brennan. Finally, these materials impress me because the literary knowledge isn't "dumbed down" -- it's quality instruction in literary analysis made accessible for my student who doesn't love books.

The Illuminating Literature: When Worlds Collide course is suited for high school students. I'd recommend using it for a freshman English class so that the student has a solid knowledge of literary devices that will be found in the books studied in later years. The Student Book costs $39.49, the Teacher's Guide $16.49, and the optional Quiz and Answer Manual $8.49. The Novel Notebook can be downloaded for free. This course also requires eight books which are available to purchase at prices ranging from $1 to $15.

Writing with Sharon Watson Review

Crew Disclaimer

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Wednesday, August 26, 2015

Two Plus Two Equals Calculus {Homeschooling High School}

When I was just starting out as a homeschooling parent (and Addison was just a first grader), I remember people asking me what we'd do for high school math. I guess teaching high school math was the scariest thing they could imagine.

Luckily math doesn't scare me. Honestly I'm one of those weird people who loves math, and I was probably the only elementary education major at my school that voluntarily took two semesters of Calculus. Now that I have one student nearing the end of her high school classes, I realize that high school math doesn't have to be scary, even without a strong math background.

I think the scary part about high school math is the dread that comes from remembering that one hard class (or even one hard lesson) from years ago. The good news is that nobody expects you to jump from first grade addition facts straight to complex algebraic equations involving trains on opposite sides of the country.

As Addison progressed through her math curriculum, we reviewed place value, multiplication facts, simple equations, and even geometry before we ever got to the train problems. I had plenty of help in the teachers' manuals along the way (and access to all the answers).

Most high school math wasn't a matter of remembering everything that I had studied a long time ago. It was more a matter of walking alongside Addison -- as she was learning new lessons, I was remembering and reviewing.

My challenge grew as Addison moved past the "easy" high school math and took on Calculus. For a while, I could keep up with her and generally understood what she was doing. Unfortunately, I didn't always have the time needed to relearn Calculus and she quickly moved past the topics I was comfortable with.

That's when I discovered another wonderful truth about high school math -- I didn't have to teach it. By the time she was working through Calculus, she had grown adept at studying on her own, working through sample problems, etc.

We also had developed a network of math-savvy friends that she could call on when she needed help. I remember a day when she was asking a rather philosophical math question that was going to require more brain power than I could easily spare that day. (I was likely distracted by one of her siblings at the time.) Thankfully one of the youth ministers in town was also a college math professor and was thrilled to discuss math theories and applications. We sometimes joked, "What happens when a rocket scientist, a mathematician, and a physicist walk into the church building?" We're very thankful for brilliant friends that were willing to help.

Even if you aren't blessed with an astrophysicist sitting on the pew beside you Sunday mornings, there are plenty of other resources for teaching High School math -- online classes, tutorial videos, and community colleges.

The important thing wasn't about how much math I remembered from years ago or even about my ability to learn math now. For me, the important thing about homeschooling through High School is learning to trust God to provide a way.

Homeschooling High School Blog Hop 2015

Home School High School Hosts Share this Month:

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Saturday, August 22, 2015

One month in a new home

Earlier this week, I looked around our new house and sighed. As of today, we've been in Colorado for a whole month. I thought I'd be past the moving-in stage by now. Instead, miscellaneous office stuff is piled in the front living room, the school materials are piled haphazardly on (and near) the bookcase, and the kitchen table wasn't cleared off for dinner again tonight.

It isn't like I've just been sitting around doing nothing. I see how much is still left to be done and forget about that we have done in the past month.

I forget about all the meals I've cooked. Because of Lauren's food allergies, we don't get to eat out at very many places. I took a night off of cooking when the movers delivered the household goods, but otherwise, I've carried on with meal planning, grocery shopping, and cooking just like always. I even found a handful of new recipes that we've tried in the past month.

I underestimate the time I've spent at doctor's appointments. Lauren's first big cardiology appointment was just a day or two after we moved in. We knew it would be a long day, but it was longer than any of us would've expected -- six-and-a-half hours at the hospital and a grand total of twelve hours gone away from home that day. She's also had two pediatrician appointments, two trips to get labs drawn, a pulmonology appointment, and countless trips to the pharmacy.

I don't remember that making time for fun is important too. I've had visits with online friends that I could finally meet in person, mornings at the library, and a girls' night with a friend visiting from Washington DC. All of these were precious moments that would've been missed if I had insisted on unpacking everything right away.

I forget that it is absolutely impossible to make progress unpacking boxes and organizing stuff if I spend six sitting with Lauren in a hospital room that's an hour and a half away from our new home.

I focus on the cluttered kitchen table and don't acknowledge that all the dishes are neatly put away in the cabinets and that the pantry is stocked with food for the week.

I cringe at the mess on the bookshelves instead of remembering to be thankful that I've found all the homeschool materials that we need right away.

One of these days all the boxes and messes will just be a distant memory. A friend reminded me that all the boxes will get unpacked in God's time.

Sometimes I wish that God's timing and my own expectations for myself coincided more. That's where grace comes in, and that's perhaps where I struggle most -- extending grace to myself.

©2009-2015 Through the Calm and Through the Storm. All rights reserved. Photos and content may not be reproduced.

Thursday, August 13, 2015

Elementary, My Dear Lauren {Back to School Blog Hop}

I think the hardest part of school planning for this year was narrowing down all the options I could think of for Lauren's fourth grade year. She's not much help with the planning because she'd happily work one-on-one with me for nearly the whole day. I'm still not sure how everything is going to fit into our days, but I've at least narrowed down my lofty ambitions.


Once again, if it's not broke, don't fix it. Lauren will be continuing on with Math U See and tackling division (Delta) this year. She will also continue using CTCMath for review and enrichment, especially when we decide to do a "fun day" for schoolwork.

Language Arts

Language Arts is always my hardest subject to plan for because it seems to incorporate so many different subjects and skills. My plans going in to this year are to use All About Spelling and Daily Grammar activities from For readers and read-alouds, we will pick from the rather large stash of Sonlight books in the closet. As the year goes on, I hope our language arts time can include some composition activities following the Institute for Excellence in Writing models.

American History

Last year, Lauren completed (and loved) the Self-Paced History: Explorers to 1815 from Veritas Press (read my review). She will continue with that program and do the second half of American History this year.


I haven't finalized science plans for this year. Right now, I'm leaning towards lots of reading from the science books I've recently unpacked. If any of them spark her interest, I can expand them into a unit study, find a lapbook on that topic, or just find more books at the library to read. I also have a set of Discover & Do DVDs that I hope will inspire us to do some simple experiments this year.

Other Subjects

My biggest academic goals for Lauren this year are focused on helping her learn to work independently. SuperTeacherWorksheets has activities for many different subjects, many of which will not need my direct involvement. Recently I also found the materials from Kid Scoop (my review), and they may be perfect for some additional independent learning activities. Lauren is especially excited about a review opportunity from Middlebury Interactive Languages so that she can learn some Spanish.

It looks like Lauren and I are going to have a busy year!

Back to Homeschool Blog Hop

This post is part of a huge Blog Hop sponsored by Homeschool Connections and The Schoolhouse Review Crew. If you'd like to read more homeschool encouragement or would just like to spy on other homeschooling family's plans, be sure to click the picture above and find the links to everyone else's ideas.

©2009-2015 Through the Calm and Through the Storm. All rights reserved. Photos and content may not be reproduced.

Wednesday, August 12, 2015

Look out Freshman Year {Back to School Blog Hop}

In continuing the Back to Homeschool theme this week, I uncovered the scribbled index card where I wrote down Brennan's school plans. Thankfully I think I also uncovered all of the school materials that I gathered before the move and then allowed the movers to stash in random (and often mislabeled) boxes.

World History

Brennan's World History course is going to be based on the Veritas Press Self-Paced History Courses. Since he's a bit older than the intended audience, he's going to work at a faster pace to cover both the New Testament, Greece, and Rome course and the Middle Age, Renaissance, and Reformation course.  Along the way, we'll add in some movies for him to critique in terms of historical accuracy.

Algebra II

I don't believe in fixing things that aren't broken so we'll stick with Math U See again this year.


For freshman science, Brennan will be using Apologia's Exploring Creation with Biology book and participating in online classes with Virtual Homeschool Group. Addison took the same class several years ago and thought it was fantastic.

Language Arts

I'm excited about the new literature program we're starting this year -- Illuminating Literature: When Worlds Collide by Sharon Watson. The first two works on the list are Pudd'nhead Wilson by Mark Twain and The War of the Worlds by H. G. Wells. Our plans right now include meeting together with a few other homeschool boys to discuss the materials on a monthly basis.

For composition skills, we'll continue working with Institute for Excellence in Writing's Student Writing Intensive program (my review from last spring). I'd also like to add in their Fix It! grammar program.


When given the choice of foreign languages to study in high school, Brennan picked Spanish. I'm still working on figuring out a good online option for him. I remember some Spanish from my high school days (almost enough to order at Taco Bell), but I'd rather focus my one-on-one time with him on other subjects.


We might as well start working on a PE elective to meet the high school requirements for most states. Part of this class will be completing the Boy Scout Personal Fitness merit badge and the rest will be running, biking, and swimming (depending on the weather).

Introductory Logic

When I enrolled Brennan in his Virtual Homeschool Group Biology class, I noticed they were also offering an Introductory Logic class. He decided that it sounded like going to a logic class was going to be more fun than studying logic and thinking skills on his own.

Other Electives

We don't have specific plans yet, but I'm going to keep my eyes open for at least one or two more elective credits that Brennan can earn this year. I'm hopeful that the work he does for Boy Scout merit badges will count for something. I'm also considering having Brennan do some of his projects for other classes (World History, Literature) as video presentations instead of written assignments. If so, then he may earn a half-credit in video production for his work with writing scripts, taking the video, and then editing it.

Back to Homeschool Blog Hop

This post is part of a huge Blog Hop sponsored by Homeschool Connections and The Schoolhouse Review Crew. If you'd like to read more homeschool encouragement or would just like to spy on other homeschooling family's plans, be sure to click the picture above and find the links to everyone else's ideas.

©2009-2015 Through the Calm and Through the Storm. All rights reserved. Photos and content may not be reproduced.

Ten Years of Moves {Wordless Wednesday}

I'm interrupting my Back to Homeschool Blog Hop posts to share a bit of the craziness that's happening these days.

Their photographic inspiration:

Funny how the boxes shrunk over the years!

©2009-2015 Through the Calm and Through the Storm. All rights reserved. Photos and content may not be reproduced.

Tuesday, August 11, 2015

Plans for an Amazing Senior Year {Back to School Blog Hop}

My best laid plans for having everything unpacked by this week so that we'd be ready to start school by next Monday are not going quite as well as planned. I've spent more time dealing with doctors' appointments and medical records paperwork than I've spent time unpacking boxes lately.

While I was either at a doctors' appointment this afternoon or waiting at the pharmacy, Addison nicely agreed to write about her own plans for the upcoming school year.

Entering my senior year, I already have most of the credits I need to graduate. This year I’m focusing more on studying what I’m interested in, while also taking the few courses still required for graduation.

Literature—Sonlight Core 300, 20th Century Literature

My fourth year of literature looks interesting, and also a lot less intense than the British Literature I took last year. Some of the books I’m especially looking forward to reading are Brave New World by Alduous Huxley, The Old Man and the Sea by Ernest Hemingway, and Parallel Journeys by Eleanor Ayer. Parallel Journeys tells the stories of two people in Nazi Germany, a young Jewish girl who was sent to Auschwitz, and a teenage boy who became a Nazi commander.

Social Studies—Apologia’s Constitutional Literacy course and Economics for Everybody by R.C. Sproul Jr.

I’ve looked at the Constitutional Literacy program for a few years now, hoping it would come up as a product for my mom to review. It still hasn’t come up, but since I needed to study Government this year anyway, mom decided to buy it as my Government curriculum. I’m really excited about finally doing it, and I think it will help prepare me to vote in the next Presidential election.

I’m also taking Economics for Everybody, an economics course based on Biblical principles. I hope that by taking it, I can have a better grasp of economic principles and how to apply them to my own finances.

Science—Physics and Astronomy

This year I’m starting science with Fascinating Physics from Fascinating Education and Physics 101 from Westfield Studios. I’m a little disappointed that there aren’t any good calculus-based physics courses for homeschoolers, but I think these courses will help me gain a general understanding of physics that I can then apply calculus to.

For my second semester of science, I’m studying astronomy with Our Night Sky from TheGreat Courses. I really enjoyed getting to learn to find constellations in the clear sky around Tucson, and I’m excited to get to learn more about those constellations and learn to find even more while in Colorado.

Math—Discrete Mathematics and Calculus II review

For the first semester of this year, I’m doing entirely fun math. I’m taking The Joy ofThinking: The Beauty and Power of Classical Mathematical Ideas and DiscreteMathematics, both from The Great Courses. I’m really excited about this because I love learning about interesting math proofs and concepts, such as the proof for the power rule in calculus, or the concepts behind Conway’s Game of Life. These courses focus on topics such as these rather than the traditional Algebra/Calculus track, and I’m really looking forward to taking them.

For the second semester, I’m going to review Calculus II for the Calculus BC exam. I took the test this year, but I didn’t get as good a score as I hoped, so this year I’m going to review the material on the test in the hopes of getting a better score.

Electives—ACT prep and Computer Science

Over the next few weeks, I’ll be studying for the ACT. It’s not super exciting, but I would rather study beforehand than go into the test without knowing anything about it.

After I take the ACT, I can rejoice because I get to start Computer Science again. Instead of learning a programming language this year, I’m going to learn how to work with Arduino, an open source electronics board. My engineering friends have been telling me I need to get an Arduino for about a year now, because there’s so many cool things you can do with one. A couple of friends are using them to build robots, and another one built his own 3-D printer with an Arduino. In fact, when I left Tucson, one of the engineers I know took matters into his own hands and bought me an Arduino starter kit as a goodbye gift. I’m going to work through the projects in that kit for Computer Science credit this year, and maybe add on some other projects with tutorials online.

I’m pretty excited about all the classes I’m taking this year. I’m especially excited about the ones that are solely interest-based, like Discrete Mathematics and learning Arduino for Computer Science, but all the classes look interesting. All in all, I think I’m going to have a great senior year.

Back to Homeschool Blog Hop

This post is part of a huge Blog Hop sponsored by Homeschool Connections and The Schoolhouse Review Crew. If you'd like to read more homeschool encouragement or would just like to spy on other homeschooling family's plans, be sure to click the picture above to find the links to everyone else's ideas.

©2009-2015 Through the Calm and Through the Storm. All rights reserved. Photos and content may not be reproduced.


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