Monday, September 15, 2014

Figuring Out High School Transcripts


I had to make a transcript for Ben so he can run in the cross country meets which begin this week; of course, he must have passing grades to participate in a high school sport. I’ve known for about 3 weeks that I needed to get this in, and I had just been forgetting to sit down and commit to one.

Not that I haven’t been looking and planning and thinking.  I’ve been looking and planning and thinking for about 2 years, but when push came to shove, committing to a system was daunting!

What I’ve gleaned:  There are two systems – subject-based and year-based.  Year-based transcripts group all the courses a student takes by their academic year – 9th, 10th ,etc.  This was how my high school transcript was made.  In a subject-based transcript you can group all the like coursework together – English classes together, Science classes together, etc.  This seems to be a good system for those who have taken some high school classes in middle school.  Ben, for example, completed physical science + labs in 8th grade.  I needed to count this as one of his lab science.  I did go ahead and list when Ben completed the coursework (8th, 9th, etc. grades), so for Algebra I, which he started in the second half of 8th grade, I went ahead and counted it as a 9th grade class, because that is when he finished it.

Here’s how a subject transcript looks:

transcript snip

You can find many templates online.  This particular one was from

Grading: And, I formally committed to a 'mastery based' grading system for Ben.  This is basically how we’ve worked all through his education here at home – we work on something until he knows it.  Writing assignments are done when they meet my criteria;  math is done when all mistakes are understood and corrected.  In this way, I hope to foster with Ben hard work, understanding and seeking out information.  There have been times I’ve sent Ben back to re-read something or do more research on a topic. 

A few years ago, an admissions officer from a local university spoke to us and told us that as long as we clarified how we graded, we could use any grading system we wanted.  This gave me the confidence to use the mastery based system. I don’t know if this will be the exact way I will prepare Luke’s high school program (thankfully, I have a few more years to think on what would best capture Luke’s skills).  I’ll let you know how it all works out in a few more years!

I should note that there are some classes that just cannot be mastery-based.  For example, Ben is taking his Spanish class online through our state charter school;  that grade will be whatever he earns!  And, I’m also going to give him some honors credit.  Math U See, for example, has honors pages in their secondary math programs.  These pages offer expand on ideas presented and often have some practical application practice for the concepts being learned.  Ben has to complete all these pages to mastery in order to earn the honors credit.  After a little online searching, I’m giving him .5 extra grade points for an honors course. Again, kinda silly I realize, when Ben is being graded on content mastery, but I did want some way to acknowledge the fact that he had done more than a basic course. 

According to our admissions officer, as long as you are specifying how you grade, your student will be able to be compared to private, public and other schoolers on a fairly even playing field.

I hope to have him take some CLEP tests to testify to his grades.  However, I won’t start that until later this spring or in the summer.

Additional Documentation:  I’m also creating course descriptions for all of the classes Ben is taking.  These are combinations of publisher descriptions + some fancy writing of my own;  book lists;  assignments required and grading policies (sort of a moot point when you have a mastery-based program).  I am modeling mine after the course descriptions on Lee Binz’s website.  Lee also has a couple styles of transcripts that you can see.

Organizing Records:  At this point, My plan is to have 4 3” - 4”Binders full of Ben’s work.  I’m not very good at culling out ‘just the best’ right now, so I know this is all overkill for now.  When we get closer to the end of his junior year (I know, I know, it will be here before I know it), I will make a point to have a course description + tagged samples, if necessary, to verify his work.  

Trust me, I do not have it all together.  I’m reading, revising, seeking out those who have already done this….we are a work in progress.  Please share if you have techniques and/or tips that work for you.

transcripts portfolios at reapingaharvest

Thursday, September 11, 2014

{God Spotting} Blogging Through the Bible


This year, I’ve made the commitment to myself and a small group of women to read through the Bible chapter by chapter.  Not in a year.  Maybe over 3 years, actually.  Courtney Joseph over at Good Morning Girls/ Women Living Well is at the helm of this wonderful idea. 

I can promise you that I will not be Blogging Through the Bible every week.  I think I’ve come to accept that I will do as much as I can with God’s strength and grace.  Monthly might be more reasonable during the busy parts of life.

This past week, however, has been a wonderful experience seeing God’s hand cover over a difficult situation in the homeschool seminars I tutor/ direct through Classical Conversations.  Challenge 2 is a sophomore – senior set of seminars, one of which involves learning about art history and western culture.  In only two weeks of discussions + team policy debate preparation, I’ve already gained so much from my six students’ discussions and insights.  However, at a national level, the debate topic has prompted some cautiousness from the leadership. Our debate topic has unfortunately led some students to unintentionally open sites that are more p*rnographic in nature than artistic (as we are learning in our reading there has been a definite blur in the definition of the two). 

This has led to a discussion – what do we do as seminar leaders?  What is our response?

One suggestion was to abandon the debate topic and pick something new to work on.  Honestly, I wrestled with this suggestion – it sure would eliminate the temptation to view inappropriate images and would lessen the opportunity students might have to innocently view something.  However, the students had already put in two weeks worth of work and seemed to look forward to this topic!  More importantly, however, was engaging my students into discussions about the state of our culture. I am glad to be talking about cultural history with this group of almost-but-not-quite-yet-launched Christian young people.  We need to talk about our culture and our loving, Christ-like response (whatever that is).  How can we do that if we don’t learn about the culture?

So I prayed and consulted with others.  My pastor spoke two pieces of scripture that made my mind race and I wanted to shout for joy when I heard them – that’s how perfectly God had spoken to me:

Romans 12:2: Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your minds, so that you may discern what is the will of God—what is good and acceptable and perfect.

Heb. 10:24-5- And let us consider how we may spur one another on toward love and good deeds, not giving up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but encouraging one another--and all the more as you see the Day approaching.

Add to this my recent reading into Esther and a conversation I had with a pastor/ CC father and I was convinced that we needed to continue on and not abandon this debate topic.  Instead, with the support of the parents of my students, we need to continue on, hold one another accountable for our internet use and be prepared to discuss the world in which we live.  As I wrote to the parents: 


First off, the entire idea of studying art and music history in the 21st century is going to inevitably lead us to discussing some "hot topic" ideas -- not just in defining what is and is not art, but also a number of contemporary issues that the Church and society is wrestling with.  I am not afraid to address this issues -- actually, I look forward to discussing them within the context of a Biblical worldview with my students. From my discussions with nearly all of you, I've learned that you, too, look forward to this next step in the launching/ maturing of your student -- arming them with a Biblical worldview with which these six students can engage our culture for His glory…
So, it is with these thoughts that propose we press on with the debate topic…. [O]ne of the beautiful things about CC is that it strives to educate students to be world-changers -- and confronting the issue of art, culture and music from a Biblical worldview is a first step in for these teens.   Of course, I want you all - as the primary teacher -- to understand where I am coming from…

My students laughed when I reminded them of the Veggie Tales interpretation of Esther – she was made queen of Persia “for such a time as this” we told our little toddlers and preschoolers. I believe with all my heart that God knows exactly what he is doing, and my students/ co-learners (since I’m learning so much with them) are where God wants them to be.  We are in a community where we can support one another and encourage one another (Hebrews verse) as we learn about this world and our part in it (Romans verse). In this safe CC community we can wrestle and debate the ideas of freedom and censorship and personal expression and (with the support of lots of prayer!) discuss God’s “good, perfect and pleasing will” for our lives as Christians in 2014 and beyond.

I am so grateful that God met me – through His word and His people – to know his will for our community for such a time as this.

Tuesday, September 2, 2014

Weekly Report: Week 1, Year 10


This is the official 10th year that I’ve homeschooled, not counting Kindergarten and a year or two of super-excited, can’t wait to get started preschool. 

I’m not sure how long I’ve been blogging (I could go look….), but being able to journal about our adventures is a way for me to recall all the fun things we’ve done.  It is a way for me to process our plans.  It is a way for me to share with my distant family our daily/ weekly/ monthly adventures.  Of course, I don’t share with you the Monday morning whines that I get from my kids nearly 99.9% of the school year.  I don’t share when Luke and I break down in tears because writing is hard.  I haven’t written about how. may. times.  I have to ask the boys to put away their school books, binders, markers, Math U See blocks after they are used. I mostly share the happy parts.  But please, don’t think I’m a saint, nor that my children are saints-to-be.  I lose my patience like every other mom, I blow my top (I wish I didn’t…), and we argue about socks on the floor, laundry that seems to creep out bedroom doors and chores that don’t get done.  We are a normal family, trying to learn together in an environment that honors our differences and honors God as well.

On to our year.

It took a long to figure out which level of Classical Conversations Ben would be enrolled in this year.  He and I had agreed that 3 is the magic number (Yes, please click on the link and go watch School House Rock’s skip counting song.  I’ll wait).  Just a week before our first seminar, his tutor confirmed that there would be a total of three students in Challenge I, so I could finally purchase books for him!  Thank you Amazon Prime Two-Day Shipping! 

I like a gradual start to the school year….adding in subjects as each week passes.  Ben didn’t get to take advantage of that this year;  I had wanted him to have two weeks to prep for school (doing about 30 or so minutes of work a day).  Instead I threw his first American literature book at him and told him to get going. 

Since Challenge started this week, I used this week as the jumping off point for Luke and Levi’s school year.  I’m not always really creative with First Day of School Celebrations, but as a family we do all love homemade donuts, so that is what we made to celebrate. 

2014-08-25 11.18.34

Everyone helped out:  Ben made the dough and chilled it, Luke and Levi were responsible for cooking and sugaring them. And we all ate them!


Levi (3rd grade) and Luke (6th grade)

2014-08-25 11.18.53

Ben (10th grade)

A gradual start to the school year is really a great idea!  Luke and Levi (and even Ben and I) are trying to remember to get up on time (hard to do!) so we can have a productive day.  Our day is starting with Bible, Memory Work, Math and Literature.  We’ve started reading The Phantom Tollbooth and using an online literature guide/ lapbook (found at Homeschool Share).  Levi was pretty grumpy about reading it (we had just finished a really interesting missionary story about David Livingstone) – until we started it.  Ah, yes, the happy whines of “read more!” at the end of a chapter.

Now, I’ll admit that adding in the lapbook was a little more than I had planned to do this week – however the allegorical story is a perfectly fun way to begin some language arts studies and character building discussions.2014-08-29 08.07.46

Challenge I: Ben is having a great start to his year.  We have put off the start of his Spanish course for a week so that the rest of the Challenge I’s coursework can get a solid start.  What I’ve loved is that Ben knows this year how to get his work done – and I am so grateful and happy to see him manage his responsibilities so well (so far!).  This is a busy season with Cross Country every afternoon, so managing time right now pays off for the rest of the school year.

Biology: Ben is completing the physical science experiments in seminar, but for his credit work, he is completing Biology at home.  We are using the “At Your Own Pace” course from the Virtual Homeschool Group to help us complete the work in a timely, methodological fashion.  I purchased all the lab supplies so that Ben can complete them here at home – basically doing all the labs that are done in the Challenge II program. However, we’re going to take a week off every couple modules to work exclusively on the labs and lab reports, which really helps us manage his limited time during XC.  In addition, I found this great set of typed out On Your Own questions at Deanna’s Corner blog for him to use through the course.  I also have the Apologia Biology app ($4.99) with all the vocabulary on it for review – I just have to remember to tell Ben so he can use it!

All in all, a great first week for everyone!

Wednesday, August 27, 2014

{Crew Review} Essential Skill Advantage Online Program


Levi has had the opportunity to help me review an online product during this second half of the summer.  Essential Skills Advantage (ESA) is an subscription service that helps students with – you guessed it – the essential skills necessary for academic success – literacy.

Essential Skills Advantage designed to help elementary-aged students with all the components of language arts

Reading Comprehension

A subscription (the premium program is $9.99/ month per student) gives you access to the entire elementary program, allowing you to customize each component to your child’s needs.  You can take advantage of the 20,000 interactive activities to create a language arts program to help your child succeed.

Equipment Needed: You will need an internet connection the entire time you use this, as well as any popular browser.  In addition, you’ll want the volume on (or a pair of headphones) as well as a computer that has Java Player 10 or higher. Sorry, this doesn’t work on an iPad – we tried.

How This Worked for Us:  There is SO much in this program!  Here’s a screenshot of all the options, once you have logged on:

ESA log in page

I decided to enroll Levi in the “Complete Reading for Grade 3,”  Which has 4 section:  Vocabulary Builder, Language and Grammar, Reading Comprehension, and Spelling.   Luke has been able to give the Reading Comprehension section a try, so I have asked him to just log into the single skill section:


There is a newer, second way to log in:  by skill development.  Say for example, your young student needs some extra reinforcement in phonemic awareness;  you can log into your Parent Portal, select “Individual Units,” Click on the activity you want your child to work on, and then have him sign in.

individual unit log in

There are really a lot  of activities and content in this program.  You can work on Reading Comprehension by reading stories and answering questions; Vocabulary by building words with prefixes and suffixes;  subject-verb agreement, punctuation, capitalization, and verb tenses (just to name a few) in Language and Grammar, and a variety of tricky spelling words by rule:


Parents and Students can see progress in several ways:


Students see a graph.  Notice the green bar at 80%, a good measure of skill development.



ESA screenshot of scores

Parents can glean more information from charts that show high scores, time spent on task and when tasks were completed; (click on the picture to see them close up).  There have been a couple times when I’m not sure the score report captured Levi (or Luke’s) performance accurately, but on the activity pages, there is a bug in the corner you can click on to report any difficulties.


Levi spent the most time working on some of the language skills, since he hasn’t had a grammar program since 1st grade.  Nothing was terribly hard for him, but I think it is important to note that the program does not teach skills – it drills them in a pleasant way. For example, Levi and I haven’t talked much about adverbs, but he does know the definition of an adverb;  this little bit helped him to be able to categorize a variety of adverbs according to the type of question it answers about the verb (How?  When? Where? How Often? To What Extent?).

Interestingly, the parent company of this program is out of Canada, only once did I see something that was definitely more Canadian English than American English, but it was an easy work around (and as I’m writing up the review, I cannot even recall what it was, so apparently it wasn’t very life-or-death and Levi and I could work through it!)

Nearly 100 Crew Reviewers had the opportunity to try out Essential Skills Advantage;  Please click on the link below to learn how it worked for their students.

Two Special Deals!

Deal #1:  A Free Version of ESA! Essential Skills Advantage has started to offer a sponsored version of our program that is completely free. You can sign up completely free at Members can enjoy access to every course ESA has to offer, but there will be sponsored advertising and some of the available features will be missing.

Deal #2: Coupon Code! You can use the code TOS50 for 50% off the monthly subscription cost for the life of your membership (as long as you are a continuous member).  You must sign up for the premium plan (regularly $9.99/ month/ student) by October 1st with this code.  Your monthly cost will be only $4.99/month/ student! 


Connect with Essential Skills Advantage:



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Monday, August 25, 2014

UberSmart Math Facts {Crew Review}

Over the course of the years of reviewing homeschool and educational products, I have reviewed several programs that help students master their basic arithmetic facts.  This summer’s math fact program to review was UberSmart Software’s downloadable UberSmart Math Facts ($24.95).

Did you catch that bolded word – downloadable?  Yes, this is a program  that you purchase once and can load on as many computers as you own forever, and you never have to be connected to the internet.  I don’t know about you, but there are plenty of times when I need a review program for Luke and Levi to work on that is not online!

UberSmart Math Facts was designed to really grow with your child (and your family;  you can have up to 8 students!).  It starts off with non-math skills and progresses to math fact mastery of all four operations, so definitely grades k- 6th can benefit, but if you have older students, the interface is not so little kid-ish (is that even a word?!) that it will revolting to your older pre-algebra and algebra+ students who still need a boost in the math fact memory department. It drills on:

Dot Cards (like adding domino faces)
Keyboard Entry (Ten-Key Numbers)
Flash Cards (add, subtract, multiplication, division)
~ Addition/Subtraction goes up through the 9s
~ Multiplication/Division has the option to set it to go up to 9's - 20's.

Technical Requirements:  UberSmart Math Facts only works on Windows Vista, 7 and 8.  Once it is downloaded, there is absolutely no internet connection required!

One other important thing to note when you are deciding where to install the program:  each install will have its own database of score reports for your child.  There is not a way to set up the program on each of your home computers and have your child’s scores stored in a single file that is shared by all devices.  Therefore, consider which PC-based devices your child uses most and install it there (you can read more about this and other FAQs on the UberSmart Math Facts website)

How It Works:
The entire program is fairly easy to use.  At a basic level, you enter your children’s names and you are ready to go:

You can adjust the time requirements that students have to answer the problems.  UberSmart recommends 4 seconds to respond for elementary students and 2 seconds with older students.  At least one of my kids freaks out with the time requirements, so I tend to be more lenient in the beginning.  For an thorough explanation of the “Mastery Factor” and “Beat the Clock Factor” you can click on the blue “?” box and it will take you to a manual.  Not only does it include an explanation for why  math fact memorization is important, but it will walk you through the program to help you use it as designed {I will note, however, that the the content still has “under construction” noted on it and is not complete).

One of the things that was helpful for our family is that you can adjust the times/ division table for your family.  Some math programs only assume math fact mastery up to 10, others up to 12, and in Classical Conversations, Luke is responsible for knowing some facts up to 15!  Luke’s, then, is set to 15 (yes, he is angry at me for that, lol!) and for now, Levi is at 12 (even though his math program only requires mastery up to 10s).  Next year, I’ll bump Levi up to x 15s.

I do want to point out that this program is designed to reinforce and drill taught math facts.  There is no teaching of math facts in this program, and it will frustrate you if you are looking for some teaching.
Next step is picking a starting point.  If your student is unfamiliar with a number pad, then this is a good place to start.  I have tried to teach the kids to keep their middle finger close to the “5” on the number pad, then learn by touch typing the location of the other numbers.  For this drill, all students have to do is type our the number on the screen:

You can start with Dot Cards (like dominoes) to provide a more visual approach to reinforcing math facts. Now, I did say that the program doesn’t ‘teach’ math facts, but it does, at this level and with the flashcards, help students to commit to memory the facts that they’ve learned through a math curriculum.
I did not feel compelled to use this tool, as my kids right now are at a point where they are just working on fact recall speed. 

Here’s what the practice section looks like with flashcards:

This next screen (below) shows what it looks like if you have forgotten the fact and press the blue “check” button.  It also looks like this after the time you’ve set has elapsed.  The second screenshot shows what it looks like if you get the problem wrong:

There are no buzzes or beeps that proclaim, “HEY, WORLD!  I got the problem wrong!”  Which is nice in my book.  When you finish, you get encouraging, but honest, messages:

Then, under the TEST tab, you can chose from “ASSESSMENT: or “MASTERY.” 

Assessment is a tool to measure baseline mathematical thinking skills. This is really something you would want to do at the very beginning with each of your students – but personally, I would only do it with students  It is comprised of several sections:
  1. An Untimed section of mathematical thinking skills: sequencing, reading dots on a card, greater than/ less than, While it is great that it is untimed, if you have a reluctant or slow reader, you will want to sit by and read it aurally to them;  outside of a tapping noise when you press a button, there is no auditory output from the program.
  2. Timed keyboarding skills: You just type in the numbers that pop up on the screen (single and double digit).
  3. Timed addition skills
  4. Timed Subtraction skills
  5. Timed Multiplication skills
  6. Timed Division skills
When this is complete, you get an assessment report for your student! Not only did it explain a student’s level of success with the program, but it also considered response time.  The report can be saved on your computer (rtf file) or can be printed out and added to your child’s portfolio.  What a great report to add to your child’s portfolio of work! 

The Mastery Tests are fact-by-fact assessments of your child’s recall of information.You can assess each fact family, or you can assess the entire math operation, as I’ve shown below:

It took about 5 minutes to go through all the math facts.  When you are working on the mastery test, you can see the math problem that is coming up.  I really relied on this to increase my speed, but for Levi, it was hard to get used to – he was concentrating so much on the center fact that the others were a little visually confusing to him. 

Finally, there is the competition tab.  Here, your scores for addition/ subtraction or multiplication/ division or all operations are compared to one of four groups of people:  elementary, middle and high school students as well as adults.  At this point, the programmers of this tool do not have a huge database to compare scores to….so as we were completing the review, we were adding to it!

My Thoughts and Recommendations:  I  think this is a great tool to add to the arsenal of math fact practice.  It’s simple interface isn’t gimmicky and should appeal to a broad age range.  My favorite feature is that it can be adjusted to encompass a wide variety of math fact families, which makes it a helpful add-on to nearly any math curriculum.

As far as my boys enjoying it…. well, it is summer and it is a math program, so it wasn’t their favorite. But, honestly that has nothing to do with the program.  It is a distraction-free program that I think works beautifully for it’s goals.   Levi had a hard time working through the assessments, because they do take a while to complete but that was my fault because initially I didn’t realize what was involved it the program, and he was happy to give it a whirl.  If I had to do it again, I would hold off on the assessment until Levi was a little older. On the other hand, Luke should be able to endure the assessment test on bi-annual basis – at the beginning of the school year and at the end. {I want to add that our desk top, which had all of Luke and Levi’s work on it, is dying a slow death right now;  I actually cannot get it to log on without having crazy screen graphics, so I had to go through and take screenshots of my work for this review.}
GREAT NEWS!  UberSmart Software is offering a 30% discount on UberSmart Math Facts through Sept. 30th!  Please use the code: v4 Early Bird.
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