Tag Archives: Middle School

Creating a Creative Habit – Middle School Monday

Creating a Creative Habit MSM

How do you encourage creativity in your students? If we don’t encourage creativity, it is so easy for students to not become creative.

“I just don’t know what to do.”

“I can’t do it.”

“I’m not good at that.”

These excuses and more are often closing doors. But if we encourage them and create opportunities, the creativity will blossom.

I want to share with you 5 ways in which we try to encourage our girls to be creative.

1 – Give them the needed materials. Whether it is needles and thread and fabric for sewing or glue and paper and tape, even glitter (I know some of you are cringing) – we give the girls the materials they need to create whatever it is that their brains are dreaming up. Cross-stitch, sewing, crafts, legos, paper, tape, glitter, sequins, beads, string, googly eyes, and more make up many, many spaces in our home.

2 – Step away. Once they have the materials, let them use them. Let them experiment. Let them read or dream and create. Without interference, who knows where their ideas will take them. At the same time . . .

3 – Provide instruction. After the experimentation, art classes or fiber arts classes or field trips to learn about the materials and how they are used can all help provide instruction and inspire further creativity. Whether it is taking a child to a specific class or teaching them at home, instruction will give direction to their ideas.

4 – Allow them time. Don’t structure their time so closely that they have no time to just create. I fail at this one quite often. I plan to work on a project with them – getting out the paints or coloring materials – and let it go right by without a second thought. Time is a critical factor in creating and seeing ideas to fruition.

5 – Remind them that no one is good at everything and sometimes, it takes a while to find out where their own strengths lie. So try things. Be willing to make and learn from failures. Because in those failures, learning occurs.
Creating a Creative Habit

These are just some thoughts that have been running through my head today as I watch my girls work with their hands on various things – Lego creations, crochet, creating projects from an American Girl book, finger printing with inks, drawing, and more. All of it is a joy to see, even when I end up with 33,000 bookmarks made by one who just learned to braid and another who loves creating with duct tape. Add to it all the drawings and finger printing – well, family just better be looking for some packages in the mail. 🙂

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Novare Science & Math ~ a Crew review

Novare Earth Science

As our girls get a bit older, we are beginning to look at science courses that are a bit more advanced. Novare Science & Math has science courses for middle school that look appealing. They sent us a copy of Earth Science: God’s World, Our Home for this review.

Novare Science & Math is not a new company but they are new to the homeschooling market. They have a line of science texts and teacher resources. These include (among some other titles):

Earth Science: God’s World, Our Home
Introductory Physics
General Chemistry
Science for Every Teacher

This company is working to bring high quality texts to students in order to help them understand their world. Hand in hand with this understanding, there is a goal to help the students recognize and understand God’s role in the design and creation of the world we live in.

Novare Science & Math 

Their mission is found in three key words: mastery, integration, and kingdom. (Read more about this on the Novare website.)


The textbook is designed to help the student completely understand the concepts and master them. Each chapter begins with stated learning expectations that are measurable. The chapter is then broken into sections that are numbered. (If your students get help from outlining, this is an awesome feature.) Each section has a few learning check questions that revisit the main points. By answering these in writing with full sentences, the students really absorb the information.

If the accompanying CD is purchased, there are additional materials that really help in the mastery phase. There is a planning schedule to help keep on track and moving forward, as it can be easy to get bogged down. There are weekly quizzes, reviews, and tests. These come with answer keys and are printable so that you can print them as needed. There are also maps for the topography sections, additional links and resource lists, and more. There is a lot on the CD.


This refers to including in the text and accompanying activities, questions, and labs materials that bring other disciplines into the discussion.  One the example would be the inclusion of history by writing about notable inventions or people of influence within the text rather than delegating that information to a separate page or a sidebar. Another would be requiring the student to write complete sentence answers and to verbally express answers in a large or small group setting to incorporate language arts. Math is even included in the science text by having computations for students to do when it is textually appropriate.

Due to the mission of Novare Science & Math, you will find theology throughout the text of  Earth Science: God’s World, Our Home  .


The texts present and confirm God’s mastery design for the earth and its inhabitants. This is found throughout all of their texts. While the focus is intended to be on God, the mainstream science laws, theories, and ideas are addressed and included. Novare wants students to be prepared to face the world as it is and to have in hand the information necessary to be a well-spoken advocate for God’s place in nature. With an intentional purpose, the science texts are intended to have the students working towards understanding, conservation, and sustainability.

The Text: Earth Science: God’s World, Our Home

As the title of this text suggests, it covers earth science. Looking at the student introduction gives us a pretty good idea of where it is going: Psalm 24 is quoted. Introducing the students to God’s World is perhaps the main goal of the text. Understanding of the balances in nature, how they work, and how to be good stewards of the earth and its processes are all underlying purposes of having a Novare Earth Science textstudent use this text. The topics include:

  • Earth in Space
  • Maps/topography
  • Science topics (facts, theories, hypotheses, research, Christianity and science, stewardship, and more)
  • Matter and Minerals
  • Rocks and the Rock Cycle
  • Plate Tectonics
  • Volcanoes and Earthquakes
  • Weathering, Erosion, Soils
  • Water
  • Landforms
  • Earth History
  • Oceanography
  • Atmosphere
  • Weather
  • Climate


Honestly, we struggled. When the text for Earth Science: God’s World, Our Home  first arrived, I was thrilled. It is a lovely, well-constructed book full of beautiful, engaging images. It has a study, hard-back cover that is comfortable to hold. But it is intimidating. The print size is fairly small and there is a lot of it on each page.

After taking a couple of days to kind of absorb the text and how it was set up, I got the CD information (I received it via download). I began going through that download systematically and attempting to put it all into order in my brain about how it was to be used and applied to the text. I finally found a PDF titled Recommendations for Teaching Earth Science and, while it was a long document, it had a lot of helpful tips.

chapter objectives and vocabulary_schedule

Using the tips from that document and the document with the suggested schedule, we got started. The plan, since we were basically in summer school mode, was for Miss E, age 13, to read one section a day and write the answers for the learning check questions. This was about 2-3 pages of reading and 3 questions. After a few days, we realized that this was not going to work. She was struggling with the questions.

We revised our plan. We attempted the same reading schedule with her working through the questions orally with me. That worked better, as I was able to point out within the text what she needed for answering the questions. After answering orally, she wrote the answers in her notebook. This worked for a bit but as we neared the end of the first chapter, I found that she was not retaining the information; she could not remember the details of what she had read. So, we revised again.

This time, she would read one day and work on vocabulary words. The next day, she would read the same text again and work on the questions with me. After trying this for a while, something was still not clicking with her.

My thoughts on that? This text is designed for middle-school students. So, with Miss E heading into 8th grade, it seems as though it ought to fit. While having the objectives and full vocabulary list at the beginning of the chapters is helpful from a teaching perspective, I can see it being frightening from a student perspective. (I have to know ALL of THAT?!?) I am certain that some of it also has to do with the jump in font size and text density per page from her previous science text to this one. This one is also written at a much higher, more academic reading level that takes more effort to understand.learning checks example


I think Novare Science & Math is a great addition to the homeschool market and I am excited to see more of their products. I do believe that this is a text we will use but I don’t know if it will be this coming year. We may need to add an in-between text that doesn’t create such a gap between the way her previous text was written and this one. But, I do like this one a lot and hope we can revisit it before too long.

I think any science loving student will be able to jump into this text easily, perhaps even as early as sixth grade, and absorb the information. Some of the material may be a bit too advanced but it really does depend on the student. Novare Science & Math is a company that I will be keeping in mind as we move forward in our homeschooling journey.

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Be certain to read more about Novare Science & Math and their other products that have been reviewed by the Homeschool Review Crew by clicking the banner below.

Biblical Based Science {Novare Science & Math Reviews} 

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UnLock Math ~ a Crew review

UnLock pre-algebra

I admit – I had super high hopes for this review of UnLock Pre-Algebra, an online math program from UnLock Math. Perhaps my hopes were too high (this was not, after all, the magical class I had dreamed of) but regardless, this is a fantastic program that has shown my daughter that she CAN understand math and that she can actually do well at math.

UnLock Math pre-algebraUnLock Math was dreamed up and created by Alesia Blackwood, a high school math teacher, and her husband Matthew. They were both home educated and so knew the curriculum choices that existed and what a solid curriculum would need. They envisioned a program that did everything the parent needed, including fantastic customer service.

UnLock Math is online math education featuring small segments of material and reviews of already learned material. Focused engagement is found by the student only viewing a single question at a time and all of the questions have a fully-worked out solution for the student to view. Combine this with video presentation that utilizes technology (the smart-board interaction is engaging!) and an interesting and excited presenter, you find yourself with a math curriculum that is different than other things on the market.

We have been using UnLock Pre-Algebra with our rising 8th grader. She is not a student UnLock Math video imagethat has just jumped for joy at math classes. She has struggled since she was in public schools and they pressured her with tests and timed requirements. She has not recovered her confidence yet. However, and this is HUGE, we have seen a bit of a change since starting this program. She still does not love math but she also does not balk at every single mention of it. In fact, we have seen her whoop and holler when she gets things right and challenge herself to repeat a question set for a better score. Voluntarily repeating questions? That’s big! Any excitement about math? That’s big! Excitement about doing well in math? That is GIGANTIC!

So, what does is the program like? What do we see? How do you navigate it? Easy!


The student goes to the student login page and logs in. This is what the student sees:

student dashboard

Looking at the left side, the student can see what they have completed by the lock next to the Unit. In this image, Miss E had completed two units. She is ready to move on to unit 3. You can also see the dial which indicates your current overall score (this changes after the first unit; until then it seemed to stay at the same place and not be accurate). At the bottom (out of the range of this screenshot) is a pie chart that shows the completion of the unit – how much is done and how much still needs to be done in each area (warm up, practice problems, stay sharp, and quizzes).

Two other places can be accessed on this page that are helpful. One is the gradebook and the other is a progress report. I’ll cover those in a bit.

To launch the next unit, the student clicks on the rocket ship on the right side of the unit title. This takes you to a page where you see the lessons, quizzes, and tests. It looks like this:

daily lesson selection

Again, you can tell what is completed because it is unlocked. If it is still locked, that is the next lesson that needs to be completed. This page was so well set up that it was easy for Miss E to see what lessons she needed to complete before she could take a quiz (or the test at the end). Lessons and reviews are on the left; quizzes and tests are on the right. We also really liked that each quiz tells you which lessons are being covered in the quiz.

The gradebook is a line-item gradebook, showing a grade for each item completed. In preparing for the course, UnLock Math tells you how much each item is weighted in the grade calculations. This is an example of what the gradebook looks like:

grade book

You can show more lines by searching at the bottom left. That was an important feature that I wish were more prominently placed and a bit easier to use. I have to guess at how many lines I need it to show in order to look at how she did on any given assignment.

The progress report is another piece that might be useful, especially if you have to show periodic progress. It is easy to use. Once you are on the screen, you have an overall view of the program. If you want a report on the progress of just one unit, click that unit at the bottom of the page and it will update the scores shown. You can then print what is needed.progress report


Now for the specifics of how the lessons work. After the student launches the current lesson, here is what they see:

Lesson example

There are five parts to the lesson plus reference notes:

  • warm up
  • video
  • practice problems
  • stay sharp
  • challenge yourself
  • reference notes

Each lesson runs approximately 30 minutes, depending on the speed at which the student completes the questions.

Warm up: This is designed to help the student “turn on” their math brain. These have generally been easy to answer questions that just help get started.

Video: This video is Mrs. Blackwood presenting and teaching the concept for the lesson. She talks about it, gives examples, and uses a smart-board to help her illustrate the concept. These have been, generally, less than 10 minutes.

Practice Problems: This is a set of problems using the concept presented in the video. There are not a lot of these. I think they have run between 10 and 20 of them. These can be done more than once if the student struggles. The highest score will be kept. Each time, a new set of questions is generated; there is no repetition of questions and solutions.

Stay Sharp: These are review questions over things previously covered so that concepts will not be forgotten. There are perhaps 5 to 10 of these. Again, these can be repeated.

Challenge Yourself: This is a critical thinking exercise in which the solution requires the student to really think and analyze the material presented. If this is missed, it is not counted against the student. This is one of Miss E’s favorite parts!

Reference Notes: This is printed materials for those who process things better if they can also see it written down. We have not utilized this yet but it is a wonderful addition that I can see being really helpful.

The input of solutions on this program is decent. Math solutions can be difficult to enter via a keyboard. It is not intuitive but it is not terribly difficult in Pre-Algebra so far. The student will need to get used to it, based on how each student thinks through a problem. Miss E tends to enter solutions from the right to the left so she will enter a digit for the ones column and then hit the left arrow key to go to the tens column. She figured it out easily but she does have to pay attention to how solutions are entered.


I know this is a pretty long review. This is one I wanted to be thorough on. I am hesitant about online math programs. We have seen a number of them and while they look pretty good, they do not turn out to be what we needed. I am pleased with the setup of UnLock Math and think that it is a worthwhile program to spend some time looking into for your family. If you would like to see a demo video of a lesson, please visit the UnLock Math site.

While one of my biggest complaints about online instruction is not fixed in this program (that being that the instruction is on video and thus the instructor cannot address the individual student and what is being misunderstood in the presentation; honestly, I don’t know how you would fix it online), UnLock Math seems to have explanations and video that do a very good job of explanation. Thus, there is not quite so much still out there that I have to figure out how to explain. I am pleased with that.

UPDATE: It was brought to my attention that there is actually a chat option on the site that the student my access during the session. This chat is monitored by licensed teachers Monday-Friday from 9-4 EST. I had totally missed that option. This is a wonderful thing to know about and basically eliminates the concern I mentioned in the previous paragraph. Teachers on-call? Now this program really does seem like the ideal. I hope it continues to be what Miss E needs!

UnLock Pre-Algebra  I think is going to stick. As we approach some of the concepts that are more difficult, we will see but it looks so much more promising than other programs. And anytime that I can get Miss E working on math and finding success, well, that is a quality program in my eyes.

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Please visit the Homeschool Review Crew to read more reviews. We were reviewing

UnLock Pre-Algebra 

UnLock Algebra1

UnLock Algebra2

UnLock Geometry
(this is the newest addition to UnLock Math!)

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Pre-Algebra, Algebra and Geometry {UnLock Math Reviews}

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Passive Teaching – Middle School Monday

National Parks and passive teaching

I often forget just how effective passive teaching is. By passive teaching, I mean setting up a situation where the student is “invited” without words to participate in something that will educate.

A year or so ago, I stumbled across a set of DVDs about America’s national parks. They have sat on the shelf. I have often thought it would be interesting to pull them out to view but the right opportunity just never appeared. Until the other day.

I had some time and wanted to watch TV. I saw those and decided that I wanted to watch them. I knew the girls were in the living room and honestly, I expected them to leave to play in their rooms or outside when I put these on. Guess what? They didn’t.

National Parks DVDs

They hung around, still doing their own things. But they were listening. I know because every once in a while, from behind the couch, I would hear “wow!” or “I bet that’s neat.” It was whispered and not necessarily meant to be heard, so I never responded. I loved that they were paying attention, even if they were only hearing things, while keeping their hands busy with activity.

Then again, the other evening, I put a disc on to watch. My oldest daughter was on the couch reading. She very quickly put her book down to watch with me. She often commented about things she thought were neat. At one point she got up and left the room. I thought “Nice while she was here and I’m glad she watched as much as she did.” Just a moment later she returned with coloring materials in her hands. She proceeded to watch more with me. And, when I was about to turn it off, she asked if I would leave it on and watch more with her. So, I did. We still have 2 discs to go, too!

I had no thought that in doing something interesting for myself that it would attract their interests. I always hope so. But I never plan for that. Now, though, I have a daughter who has an interest in visiting a number of different national parks. In fact, she asked if she made of list of the ones she wants to see, if we could go visit some of them in the next couple of years. She understands that some are very far away and we can’t just up and go. But her interest is piqued. And isn’t that what we are hoping for? Interest?

It may be short lived or fleeting. But it is there. If we feed that interest, who knows where it will go. So, on our next trip to NM, I am hoping we can detour through Carlsbad (not really too far out of the way) and visit Carlsbad Caverns National Park again. It is first on her list.

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First Form Latin ~ a Crew review

First Form Latin review

Never in my wildest dream did I imagine I would have the privilege to teach my girls Latin and never did I imagine how easy it would be if I did. We have been using the First Form Latin Complete Set from Memoria Press and found this to be a wonderful curriculum.Latin text

What Is Included

First Form Latin is a complete curriculum, containing everything that is needed to lay a firm foundation in Latin. The complete set includes:First Form Latin Complete Set

  • Student Text
  • Teacher Manual
  • Student Workbook (one workbook per student is needed)
  • Quizzes and Tests
  • Answer Key (for workbook, quizzes and tests)
  • Pronunciation CD
  • Flashcards
  • 3 DVD set of instruction

When we were trying to decide if this would be a good fit for Miss E (13/8th grade), we watched the first lesson video, available on the Memoria Press First Form Latin page. From that moment, I began to hear recitations of Latin vocabulary and verb conjugations. She really grabbed a hold of the language and wanted to know more. That, to me, is a sign of both a good curriculum and a good presentation of it.

That – a good curriculum with a good presentation – is First Form Latin in a nutshell. It is a well-designed curriculum by Cheryl Lowe. It focuses on grammar forms and vocabulary. This beginning stage was simple enough for Miss E to grab hold of and understand. The presentation of the curriculum on the DVD is well done, also. Latin teacher Glen Moore walks through each of the portions of the lesson with the student, speaking clearly and explaining new information.

How We Have Been Using First Form Latin

DVDs and CDsFirst Form Latin Complete Set has been easy to implement. We start by watching a lesson on the DVD. These lessons are easy to follow for me, though Miss E struggled with it. While watching, Miss E would have her student text out so she could follow along and see the words, endings, or other things Mr. Moore was stating. Miss E said about the DVD that so much was tied to English grammar and formal names for parts of grammar that it was difficult for her to follow along. I did need to stop the DVD and explain things to her as we went along. Miss E also said that in the first lesson, she felt as though it started part way into the lesson, as though maybe she had missed something that came before. I wonder if this is due to there being previous Latin courses that this is a natural follow-up to, though this is a starting course on its own for students in 5th grade or above.

After the DVD lesson, we would pull out the flashcards and Miss E would review the new material presented in the lesson. Then she would add those cards to the flashcards from previous lessons and review all of the material she had covered.

Latin flashcards

The next day, she would begin with the flashcards, speaking out loud. These cover vocabulary, endings, reciting phrases, and probably more that I am forgetting. After going over the flashcards, we would put on the pronunciations for that lesson. Then she would do the workbook page for that lesson. We would do this for the next five lesson days, as there were generally five workbook pages for each lesson. I would check her work as she went along on the workbook page using the key provided in the Answer Key book. (I loved that it is spiral bound, making it easy to have sitting open while she worked through her pages.)

Latin workbookAfter completing the workbook pages, we would then go back to the DVDs and move on with the next lesson. In general, this is the pattern we are following. However, there have been a couple of days where Miss E did not feel completely comfortable with the verb endings or the vocabulary. So, instead of pushing forward without the comfort of knowing the material well, we spent a day or two just on flashcards and/or the pronunciation CD. This really built necessary confidence, since each lesson builds on those before it.

Miss E’s Thoughts (paraphrased by me) –

It has been fun learning Latin. I wish I understood more of the [DVD] lesson. I like learning the words but it moves so fast. I don’t always understand and remember all the words before we are supposed to move on to the next lesson. I do like the program and am enjoying getting to learn Latin.

My Thoughts –

The First Form Latin program has been easy to implement, easy to add to our day. While there are quite a few components to the program, I cannot imagine trying to teach this Latin program without everything that is included in the First Form Latin complete set. Each of the components adds to the ease of implementation. It would be nice for there to be a bit more information about how and where to include the pronunciation CD and the pronunciation practices, as well as the most effective way to implement the use of the flashcards. I do, however, feel like we have found an effective flow to the program for our family.

First Form Latin is a pleasant program and I have really enjoyed being able to add a language that I enjoyed learning for a year way back when. I am thrilled that Miss E is enjoying it. If you would like to take a closer look at this program, visit Memoria Press. On their First Form Latin page, they have a sample lesson video. There are also samples of the Student Text, Student Workbook, Teacher Manual, and Answer Key.

In addition to the reviews of First Form Latin Complete Set , other Homeschool Review Crew members have been reviewing other Latin programs. These include:

Two other programs were being reviewed during this time. They are The Book of Trees and Nature’s Beautiful Order .

In the past, we have reviewed the following from Memoria Press.

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Find the additional reviews from the Homeschool Review Crew by clicking the banner below.

Latin, Nature and Trees {Memoria Press Reviews} 

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Bulletin Boards – Middle School Monday

bulletin boards

Year-round events are the core of the Lads to Leaders training. There are many areas that have a year-round element: Bible reading, Bible Bowl, song leading (males), songs of praise (females), mass media, puppet theater, and more. One of these areas that Miss E has participated in this past year was bulletin boards.

The purpose of this event and training is to help those interested to learn the ins and outs of creating, designing, and executing the putting up of an effective bulletin board. These designs could be either just seasonal/encouraging or they could be teaching designs.

I thought I would share with you some of the ones Miss E put up recently. She created all that I am sharing here.

The Pearl Seeker bulletin board

The Pearl Seeker, prepared to go with Becky Blackmon’s book The Pearl Seeker; given to the author of the book

The Color of God's Word

a board to asssit with memory work in a 4th/5th grade classroom

Steps of Salvation bulletin board

a teaching guide for the steps of salvation

ALL bulleting board

a teaching board with examples of people in the Bible who applied the idea of doing all that God says (Ruth 3:5 is the key verses here)

Putting up bulletin boards not only serves to assist teachers who might not enjoy or have time to create bulletin boards but it helps the one putting it up to really think about what the purpose is, what is being conveyed through the board. This requirement to really absorb and study the concept or idea is a good help for the middle school student who is learning to see things from a different perspective as they grow and mature.

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Cooking Necessities – Middle School Monday

dessert apples recipe

Miss L (I cannot believe she now fits the definition of a middle school student!!!) has been expressing a desire to learn how to cook more things lately. So, I have been trying to make a more intentional effort to bring her into the kitchen often to help prepare dinner.

Some of the things she has been learning how to cook:

  • bread (we use a bread maker so it is really quick and easy)
  • rice
  • dessert apples
  • potatoes
  • eggs (boiled and scrambled)
  • pizza
  • veggies (steaming them)

These are some of the more intentional items and dishes we have been working on in the last few weeks.

Since we love dessert apples, I thought you might like the “recipe.” I call it a recipe very loosely because it is really simple and you add things to the amount your family would like. 🙂

For our family of 5:

  • 5 small apples, diced
  • 3-4 T ground cinnamon (this is really a “to taste” measurement – change it as needed)
  • 1/2 C brown sugar (again, this is “to taste” – adapt as desired)
  • 1/2 – 3/4 C raisins

Combine all ingredients in a microwave safe bowl. Cover and microwave on high for about 8 minutes, stirring halfway through. These are best served warm.

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