My Favorite Things: Middle and High School Curricula

When we began this homeschooling journey fourteen years ago, we agreed to take one year at a time.  It never occurred to me to homeschool high school.  In my mind, that wasn’t an option.  But God had other plans…last year our oldest daughter graduated from high school after 13 years of homeschooling.  (One down and three to go!) After teaching high school for the past 5 years and middle school for the past 8 years, I have collected a list of favorite curricula we’ve used in our home school.  My suggestions are completely unsolicited from any publisher/distributor and I’m not receiving any compensation.   I just want to pass on my experiences to help other families.  I welcome posts with comments or suggestions you might want to pass on to parents who are homeschooling middle and high school.

Science:  Apologia I am science-challenged.  My brain doesn’t think scientifically without a lot of effort and study.  In high school, I nearly failed biology (I strongly disagreed with my teacher about evolution and I paid for it.) and I never took chemistry or physics.  When we decided to homeschool high school, I knew I would need great resources to get me through! We’ve used Apologia’s General Science, Physical Science, Biology, and Chemistry.  In each class, the material is laid out systematically so that even a non-scientific thinker (like me) can understand and apply the concepts.   “On Your Own” questions throughout each module (chapter) help the student process and apply new learning.  (OYO answers are at the end of each chapter.)  Instructions for the experiments are easy to follow which allows the student to work independently, even in Chemistry.  The instructions for the Biology dissections are very clear.  Usually the girls did the dissection and dictated information for the lab report while I read the instructions and wrote down their dictation. The first three texts have an end of the chapter study guide for the students to complete; the chemistry text replaces the chapter study guide with review questions and practice problems for each chapter.  Included with each text is a teacher’s guide which has blank tests for each module, blank quarterly tests, as well as answers for the study guides, review questions, practice problems, module tests, and quarterly tests.  The teacher’s guide also has sample calculations for experiments. Apologia provides other resources in addition to the printed textbook and teacher’s guide.  They have a CD-ROM of the entire textbook that you could use instead of the printed text.  We tried that one year, but found it was sometimes difficult to refer back to what they had studied earlier.  We went back to the printed text.  This year, one of our daughters has sometimes used an audio mp3 and followed along with her written text.  It was helpful for her to have the correct pronunciation.  Another resource, a supplemental CD-ROM, includes animations and other audio visual information supporting the text.  While the supplemental CD’s are not necessary, I’ve found them to be quite helpful—particularly for a visual learner.  The Apologia website has lots of web links for curriculum users and helpful information to help you choose science curriculum over the course of your child’s middle school and high school years.

What I like about it: The scope is academic, yet it is presented simply enough that I can understand.  In each class my children have learned scientific facts that refute evolution.  It is easy for both students and parents to use—students can work independently and parents have all the resources to assess the progress of their students.

Math:  Teaching Textbooks This has to be my absolute favorite high school curriculum find!   It’s like having a private tutor.  Three sets of CD-ROMs include audio instruction for each lesson as well as step-by-step solutions for every problem—practice problems, problem sets and test questions.  (So great for moms like me who don’t clearly remember high school math classes.)  That’s not to say that I don’t have to help my students, but if I get stuck we can watch the videos together and figure it out.  Such a time saver! Each subject comes with a traditional textbook, though spiral bound, and an Answer Key with answers to each problem and blank tests for each chapter.  One set of CD’s has audio instruction for each lesson using a “blackboard” style teaching segment as well as the step-by-step solutions for the practice problems for that lesson.  A second set of CD’s has step-by-step solutions for each of the problems in the lesson.  A third CD’s has step-by-step solutions for each of the test questions. During the past three years we’ve used Pre-Algebra, Algebra 1, Algebra 2, and Geometry.   Generally, I have the girls watch the teaching segment, do the practice problems, and check their answers in the answer key.  If they get something wrong, they watch the solution to those problems on the CD-ROM.  Then they do the problem set and check their answers.  If they get more than 3 wrong, they come to me.  Otherwise they watch only the problems they got wrong.  It is a little spendy, but so worth it for families who have multiple students since everything is non-consumable and can be used with multiple students.

What I like about it: First, my daughters have actually enjoyed this math program—a first for some of them.  They understand what they’re doing and why they’re doing it.  I love that when my daughter has a question in Algebra 2, I don’t have to spend 30+ minutes reviewing the chapter so I can find the answer.  We can watch the CD-ROM together and figure it out.  I think the style of the CD-ROMs and the independence the class affords is helpful for preparing high school students for online classes in college.

Government: Notgrass I found Notgrass at a small homeschool event in Chattanooga, TN.  Each of the various curricula is written by Mr. Notgrass, a dad who homeschooled his children and who holds a degree in Religion and History.  The main government text has 15 units which include instruction.  A separate book has primary source material such as letters, legal cases, and documents that is assigned in the main text.  Another book has review questions for each section and tests for each unit.  An answer key has answers for both the unit questions and the tests. There are writing assignments for each unit.  The lessons were engaging and filled with practical information.  We used the internet to find the names of the cabinet posts we were studying and prayed for these individuals.  I also looked for opportunities in current events to reinforce our learning—an easy thing to do during an election season!  I learned a lot, even though it was the second government class I’ve taught.

What I like about it: I like that it starts with a biblical basis for government and continues to the twenty-first century.  I also like the primary source readings that were included in the supplementary book. PS  We’re planning to use the American History/American Literature/Bible Curriculum for 2010-2011.  I’ll try to post about it later.

Foreign Language:  community college or a tutor My oldest wanted to study Chinese, so we purchased Rosetta Stone for her high school credits.  She put in her time and completed the exercises, but it did not help her to write or speak fluently.  At 16, we enrolled her in a Chinese class at the community college.  (Fortunately, the teacher was a believer we knew.)  Our daughter learned more in a few weeks than she had learned in two years of Rosetta Stone.  (Our experience might have been different with a different language.) We’ve used Power Glide, Bible Spanish, Learnables (French and Spanish), Pimsleur (Chinese), and Visual Link Spanish.  They all teach vocabulary and introduce students to the cadence of the language—which is helpful in middle school.  However, there is no substitute for a teacher when learning grammar and how to speak.  NOTE:  In most states you can receive high school and college credit for the same community college class.

What I like about it: Victoria was able to learn pronunciation, grammar, and culture from a native speaker.  She also enjoyed using her new language skills to communicate with the other students in the class. PS—We’ve just purchased “Tell Me More” French.    We’re only two weeks in, but it has a great balance of listening, reading, speaking, and writing.  I’ll give you a better review after we’ve used it for about a year.

Some observations about other curriculum we’ve used…

Sonlight: My oldest really enjoyed the year entitled “History of God’s Kingdom.”   We liked the strong academics and integrated literature and history, but there was so much literature that I felt there was little time to digest it.  Great for voracious readers, but be aware of what your children are reading since some books may not be acceptable to your family.  The teacher’s manual is great, but I found that the assignments required a lot of parent/teacher interaction or discussion.  I found I didn’t have enough time for the discussions and homeschooling our younger three.

Bob Jones  American Lit., American Govt.: I liked the biblical integration and the simplicity of use.  (Read the chapter, answer the questions, take the test.)  I found many questions on the test that were based on notes in the teacher’s manual and not on the textbook.  The references for the answers are given in the answer key.  You either have to let the student read the teacher’s manual, or read the teacher sections to them.

Bob Jones Writing and Grammar 9 and 11: Great for the study of grammar, but I felt the instruction in writing was a little weak.  The projects were a little easier than what I would expect from my high school students.

Videotext Algebra: We found it difficult to use.  I believe it would work for a math-thinker, but for the math-challenged it was very confusing.

Saxon Algebra 1: My daughter was able to do the problems, but she didn’t understand why she was doing what she was doing.  We even used the DIVE CD-ROMs, but it didn’t work for us.  I know other families who really like Saxon, but at our house the explanations did not translate to conceptual understanding.