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Homeschooling the Middle & High School Years

Chaotic Bliss Homeschooling

Teaching Ideas/Methods
Free History Simulation Activities Tags: simulatioHn virtual reality experiential learning immersion role play reenactment

Virtual reality, in all its immersive and interactive glory, is being touted as the ultimate experiential device for a variety of fields, particularly education. Imagine homeschooling in VR. With your children, you could: tour destinations on earth or in the cosmos; study and manipulate 3-D anatomical, molecular, or geometric models; observe or participate in a historical event; explore daily life in Ancient Greece or Rome; analyze a piece of literature from the inside, as one of the characters; and many other possibilities. Using the technology in such a way would truly give new meaning to the phrase “learning by doing.”

Top 10 Companies with Virtual or Augmented Reality for Education

Yet, despite the hype, virtual reality is nowhere near the cool level of sophistication of the Star Trek Holodeck. Nor are VR educational programs widely available and affordable to the masses. (Purchasing ordinary curricula and learning resources is costly enough, let alone shoveling out for expensive VR packages). Alas, when it comes to immersive simulations, most of us are still restricted to the imaginary realms of role plays and reenactments, (virtual worlds in their own right).


(Check it out: Online Homeschooling at a 3D Virtual Academy)

Still, even without computerized aids, pretending to be someone in a particular place and time can be both educational and fun (as many homeschoolers who act out history can attest to). Such experiential exercises may help learners to understand situations or concepts on a deeper level, providing them with a breadth and depth of perspective that doesn’t come from merely reading.

Although anchored in the real-world, the following free group activities can encourage active learning by putting kids “in the moment”:

Revolutionary Dinner Party: Become colonists during the Revolutionary War period. Host a dinner party for some "famous faces," and select the food and music for the night, and write a dialogue of a conversation you might hear.

(What did people eat during the time of the American Revolution?)

Creating a Government: Stranded on an island with no chance of rescue, you must come up with rules for your community, and in the process, learn about different forms of government, and challenges faced when forming a government. (14-page download)

Civil War Children: See through the eyes of children in the North and South during the Civil War by reading excerpts from actual journals. 

Reconstruction Convention: Step into the roles of historical figures during the time of Reconstruction and defend viewpoints on a number of issues.

Bill of Rights Skits: Act out violations of rights from the first 10 amendments.

Battle Simulations: At a site called, you can download, for free, paper armies and select scenarios with instructions and background to recreate particular battles, from ancient to modern times. Here’s a look at how a teacher used the site’s materials to recreate the Greeks vs. Persians at the Battle of Marathon. Epic. 

Trench Warfare: Learn about conditions fighting in the trenches during World War I. There's a link to a Trench Warfare animation that’s good for background and for recreating sound effects. 

Stock Market SimulationAct as brokers and investors, buying and selling stocks from the 1920s. (16-page download)

If I Were President: Role play the President and key advisors while exploring the decision making process of the Executive Branch. Includes simulation material, role cards, instructional powerpoint, and handouts.

Mini Mock Trials: Learn about trial procedure, with several cases to choose from. Includes a mock trial manual and handouts.

Feudal Candy: Become nobles, vassals and peasants to learn about the power structure of the Middle Ages.

Related Resource: Computer Simulation Games for History

Google Homeschool Tags: google calendar hangouts app google maps app street view google maps

I've been thinking about how Google has become increasingly omnipresent in our homeschool. Besides Chrome being my main browser, and Google, my default search engine -- (BTW: here’s a useful infographic with tips for doing better searches) -- there’s Gmail, of course, and social sharing through G+, plus all the tools relating to them, such as:  


Google Calendar

I’ve always done “paperless planning,” --  creating, in Word, my own at-a-glance templates showing two grades at once – which, I figured, was mildly clever. Then I read about how some much more clever homeschoolers were using Google Calendar, and I made the switch. Although late to the party, I'm glad I finally arrived. Now, I have a calendar for each kid, and it’s very easy for them to just click into each subject and see what they’re doing that day. I attach any documents or websites we’re using, so all the information is in one convenient place. The calendar can also be set to send reminders via Gmail.

Google Docs

Google Docs are awesome tools for creating your own paperless lessons/worksheets on any topic. You can include links to videos and other resources, embed images, charts, and drawings, and include questions your learner can fill in right in the same doc. Here's an example. Click on the image to go to the document.

The sharing aspects of Google Docs are particularly useful. For example, If you make a copy of the above document, you can edit it: use it as is, or tweak it to suit your needs. Or make a copy and delete the resource areas so you have a blank to use as a template. It's a neat way for homeschoolers to share resources.

Group Learning With Google Hangouts

Google Hangouts is a text and video chat tool that can be used with a closed group, like a literature discussion circle. While I haven’t used this yet, I think it would have worked well for some co-op classes I was involved in. Our co-op met two or three Fridays a month, and one of the challenges we experienced, especially with ongoing projects, was keeping the kids engaged during the weeks we did not meet. We could have used Hangouts during those off weeks to brainstorm, collaborate, plan, and keep everyone on track, particularly in our video production class, and our journalism class where we were creating our own newsletters.

Even More Google Sites

As if that’s not enough, there is a diverse and ever-growing list of Google-related sites we’ve used, or will be using, at some point, such as:

  • Google Maps and Street View, which we’ve used to follow the travels of Dan and Amy Cahill as they hunt for the 39 Clues.

  • Google Earth Walks which has several math, science and social studies tours students can take. They can fly to locations and answer pop-up questions along the way. Many of the walks have answer keys.

  • US History Tours, also powered by Google Earth, enables you to visit and answer questions about historical events such as the American Revolution, the Lewis and Clark expedition, Civil War battles, and others.

  • RealWorld Math  enables students to take the math concepts they’re learning and apply them to a variety of tasks using information, images and tools in Google Earth. One lesson gives students practice solving volume problems using some famous geometric places (the Great Pyramid of Giza; the Leaning Tower of Pisa; the World Trade Center site). Other activities include: calculating time zone differences; estimating and measuring distances between landmarks, and others.

  • GeoGuesser  shows you a street view image of someplace in the world and you have to guess where you are by searching for clues in the picture (street signs, stores, people, etc.) You can narrow things down by continent, country, city and famous places, but it’s still pretty challenging. You can play by yourself, or email a challenge to a friend. When you’re both done with the contest, the results are emailed to you.

  • Google Maps Treks has lots of sites to explore, with great images and panoramic views.

  • My Maps can be used to make your own maps, (like, potential sites for my Eagle project). You can use different colors and markers to label locations. And, since it’s Google, your map can be shared with others if you’re doing group learning or collaboration.

  • STEMBite, a YouTube Channel started by a teacher who uses Google Glass to provide a first-person perspective on such topics as the physics of toys, chemistry in the kitchen, and biology in the backyard.

The internet has certainly introduced a plethora of new learning opportunities for all kinds of students. How do you use Google in your homeschool?

Tina's Dynamic Homeschool Plus
Interesting Topics for Unit Studies or Reports Tags: nyc history voice characters voice over work fashion studies history of marketing simpsons math word origins

Not likely to be part of a standard curriculum, these not so ordinary topics could be developed into great unit studies or be used for reports (written research reports or essays, speeches, or visual presentations like PowerPoints or videos).

Some starting points: 

Cryptology: Learn more about codemaking and codebreaking at CryptoKids. Read about the difference between codes and ciphers, how to make and break ciphers, and the history of cipher systems. A games and activities section has brainteasers, cryptograms, and other puzzles to solve. In addition, learn more about crpytography - from ancient hidden messages to modern encryption - with this series of videos from Khan Academy.


Sufferin’ Succotash: Who are the voices behind the most well-known cartoon characters of the past and today? Starting with Walt Disney, this voice-over chart gives you the rundown. What a cool way to earn a living.

Fashion Fun A – Z: Unit study ideas for incorporating and practicing research and presentation skills while studying the world of fashion.  Some of the suggestions include: researching relaxing clothes from the 1800s to now and do a presentation;  list 20 words that are used only in the fashion industry and their meanings;  follow clothes through the retail process, from design to factory to store racks.  

SimpsonsMath: This site uses episodes from The Simpsons to help students understand math concepts. According to the site, "The Simpsons contains over a hundred instances of mathematics ranging from arithmetic to geometry to calculus, many designed to expose and poke fun at innumeracy."

The site includes an extensive guide to the math and mathematicians referenced on The Simpsons, a page highlighting the mathematical backgrounds of many of the show's writers, and activity sheets with math activities correlated to specific episodes.

Communicating with Images: Activities for learning about how images are used to tell a story, covering such topics as: framing a subject in a viewfinder; photographic composition and "rule of thirds;" basic shot composition; camera angles; and image elements.

How New Words Are Added to the English Language: This interesting article outlines the different ways words become part of the English language. Some are borrowed from other languages, some are truncated to form new words, others are fused together, etc. 

History of Marketing: This is a detailed timeline infographic featuring the history of marketing from 1450 to 2012. Lots of information here on how the emergence of new technology has affected marketing. May be a useful starting point for a report on a particular era, or to take a small chunk of information and create one's own graphic.

Haunted History of 7 American LandmarksA roundup of ghost stories relating to well-known landmarks, including specters roaming the Smithsonian Institution; sightings of apparitions at the Hollywood sign; and a phantom ship passing beneath the Golden Gate.


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