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Homeschooling the Middle & High School Years

Chaotic Bliss Homeschooling

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Free Sites for Current Events
Category: Social Studies
Tags: science current events current events articles current events for kids current events in the world

The last time I did current events as a student, I was in grade school, and I remember the ambivalence I felt whenever an assignment came up. I didn’t particularly like reading the newspaper - seemed like whenever I picked up the Daily News, there was a scary, front-page story about someone having been “slain.” The material on the inside pages did little to assuage my lack of enthusiasm. It was always difficult to find something - anything - to cut out, tape to a piece of looseleaf paper, summarize, and take in to school the next day to present to the class.

The presentation was the part of current events that I did like. It was fun to watch the delivery of -- and the teacher’s reaction to -- a variety of topics kids picked: from Louis’ boring political stories, to the more kid-pleasing entertainment news chosen by Ivy. Me? I preferred nature features, and vaguely remember reporting something on whooping cranes, and something else on the two-toed sloth.

As “enlightening” and “entertaining” as current events was in those days, I’m glad my own children have had a completely different experience. For one thing, their responses to the news are much more natural in that we discuss and react to things as they come up from day to day. We don’t call it current events. It’s just another part of what we’re learning that’s ongoing. As a result, my kids are much more aware of what’s going on in the world than I ever was, (which can be both positive and negative). I didn’t really think about the news until I was forced to because of a current events assignment.

Today’s kids also have access to many more sources of news than we did. These sources have articles written with young audiences in mind, and have other engaging features, such as videos, quizzes, polls, and contests to keep things interesting. For us moms, these sites offer ready-made lessons with ideas for discussions and activities that make it really easy to incorporate current events into your school day -- whether you’re looking at international cultures, the latest developments in science and technology, historic events that tie to today’s world, or diverse points of view and global perspectives.

At the end of this article is a list of free current event sites that you may already be familiar with, but I wanted to mention first two sites that stand out:

  • Listenwise: This site offers a collection of audio current events stories, about 3 - 5 minutes in length, selected from public radio, and covering topics in social studies, science, and language arts. Accompanying lesson plans include listening comprehension questions, worksheets, and quizzes. This site can be helpful not only for auditory learners, but for building listening comprehension skills in all types of learners. It’s also a great way to introduce audio as a primary source. Kids can listen to authentic voices from another era, and hear about events from the people who actually experienced them.
  • Do Now: This site works along with two things kids already make abundant use of: smartphones and social media. Posted at the Do Now site are current events stories on civics, science, arts, and pop culture. For each story, there’s a media resource, like a video, a question to respond to, and additional resources for delving more deeply into a topic. Students respond to stories by replying in the Comments section at the site, or on Twitter or other platforms. The idea is to foster discussion and debate. There’s a research component too, as kids are encouraged to support their opinions with authoritative articles or other sources they can link to. Read more about the site here.

 

More free current events sites:

 

Newspapers in Education: Get free access to electronic editions of your local newspaper, plus lesson plans and other resources.

 

Izzit: Sign up for a free account to access current events lesson plans, streaming video, and free educational DVDs.

New York Times Learning Network: Features a Poetry Pairs section that matches up classic and contemporary poems with New York Times articles and photos.

Behind the News: Kids can watch how-to videos on news reporting and submit their own stories. More ideas on using the site can be found here.

Youngzine: Publishes articles written by kids, including original short stories, poems, books, movie reviews, and travelogues.

CNN Student News: Ten-minute video news stories for middle- and high school students.

Scholastic News: New stories from their magazines.

Student News Daily: Has a section on types of media bias.

Smithsonian Tween Tribune: News stories for grades 1 - 12.

National Parks Adventures
Category: Misc.
Tags: national parks list of national parks national park pass national park service

The National Park Service turns 100 this summer, and to celebrate, they’ve been running, among other things, the Every Kid in a Park program allowing families to visit various parks, nature centers, natural wonders, and historic sites for free.

Visiting these places has always been one of my favorite pastimes. As a city girl growing up in Brooklyn, I learned to appreciate the outdoors experiences my parents provided through tent camping and day trips we would take during the summer months. Leaving the “asphalt jungle” even for short spurts was like stepping through a magic portal to novel environments and settings. Those trips awakened in me a desire for travel, knowledge and adventure that is with me to this day -- and my husband and I have tried to pass on that sense of wonder to our own children through our camping adventures. (Although, with an RV, it’s more like “glamping” in comparison to what my parents did).

We’ve had a lot of fun in our national parks, and look forward to returning to and visiting more in the future. For homeschoolers, the parks are awesome places for on-site history and science studies, with access to knowledgeable “instructors” and free educational materials, both at the locations, and on websites. Here are some of our favorite places -- and related free resources:

Read these articles describing the interesting science going on at our national parks:

Arizona

 

Grand Canyon

Petrified Forest

California

Online Math Review: Skills Practice
Category: Math
Tags: online math games online math tutor math facts practice math review

Whether you’re continuing your schooling through the summer, in review mode, or taking a break, these free online math sites offer up math skill drills in game-like, edutainment fashion that your kids can do with minimal input from you (if you are taking that break).

 

These sites all have similar features that prove useful, namely:

  • they can be used on mobile devices as well as PC
  • they have content for elementary through high school levels, covering a comprehensive set of concepts for each grade
  • you can sign up as a teacher, and assign each of your kids their own “playlist” of exercises that automatically appear when they sign in
  • you can track progress, seeing how well your student is doing, how long they spend on problems, and whatever badges or incentives they’ve earned
  • you can generate and print reports if you want them for your homeschool portfolios

All of these have pay versions, giving access to more features, but the basic free packages offer a wide variety of content.

 
MangaHighI’ve used this program since it launched in 2010. The kids like it, and I have found it to be an easy way to assign games for specific math skills. The games are adaptive, meaning they adjust in difficulty according to a player’s performance. In some games, students can compete against other players. There's a teaching mode if you want your child to have more instruction on a particular concept, but I think the greatest strength for this one is its games. For a thorough overview of this site, read this article from EdTechReview.
 
TenMarksThis site also allows you to assign review tasks based on grade level, but is more instructional, with the games used as incentives. The format looks like interactive, multiple choice worksheets, with each question providing hints if the student gets stuck, and embedded video lessons to explain the concept. After successfully completing a given number of concepts, a student can unlock games and badges.
 
Tenmarks sample questions: 
 
 
For an overview of TenMarks that includes a comparison to Khan Academy, read this review from Match Education.
 
iPracticeMathThis one is the most workbook-like of the three, with step-by-step text tutorials, and fill-in-the-blank or multiple choice questions. Other than the novelty of doing work online, as opposed to a worksheet, there’s not much of a game-like atmosphere here, and the only incentives are printable certificates. But, if you want no-frills, this is the one, and it is comprehensive. Here’s one homeschool mom’s review of the site.
 
You may also like: Free PDF Math Workbooks 
 

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