7QT: Pre-College Curriculum

This is the t-shirt my college sent my son as a “thank you” for forwarding his test scores. Their admissions department is very clever.

As our oldest begins the college search, my head is full of all the things I have still to teach him.  So many things, so little time.  I can hardly believe it’s just a year till he graduates!  Here is a list of skills I would like him to master in order to be ready for college:

  1. Survival food: how to make a grocery list, navigate the grocery store, make a week’s worth of dinners and clean up the kitchen. So far he has mastered the grocery store, kitchen clean up, and making three of our favorite family meals.  There’s not a lot of motivation to conquer the making of a shopping list.
  2. Survival car maintenance: how to change a tire and how to pump gas.  He’s got the gas-pumping down.  For extra credit, he also learned how to get rid of the creepy gas-station-guy hitting on him while he pumped gas. (Of course, I just changed a tire but didn’t think to call him to come & learn how.)
  3. Survival finances: how to use the ATM, how to do mobile banking (can anybody remember using passbooks, or is it just me?), and how to make a budget and live within it.  Our bank offers kid accounts (both debit and savings) so he’s been managing his banking for a while.  I think he’ll be fine with the budgeting since he’s my frugal kid, but some of my future graduates may have a harder time.
  4. How to call for help.  4a. He called the bank to have an unauthorized charge removed from his debit card.  4b. He spent an hour on the phone with the IT department at the college where he’s taking classes next year to resolve the problem with his registration. 4c. He regularly navigates the online help lines for his computer and purchase-related problems. 4d. He knows how to call us.  What else should we be practicing here?
  5. Using Google maps.  A year ago, he was completely overwhelmed by driving at all. Now, he and his brother are comfortable setting off in rush hour with an address and an app to find a friend’s party in another town.  It’s amazing to me that we have come so far.
  6. How to play ultimate Frisbee. I didn’t say he has to enjoy it. He just has to know how.
  7. How to do his laundry. Cause there’s no way this mama is going to do it for him.

Okay, friends, what am I missing? Please let me know in the comments! (And better yet, if you’re interested in a good game of Ultimate, come on over!)

I’m linking up with Kelly @ This Ain’t the Lyceum for more quick takes, so go check her out!

Summary of our 2016-7 curriculum


This year, our kids were in 3rd, 7th, 8th and 11th grades. Our curriculum isn’t determined by those grade levels, but I list them here so you have a rough idea of who the audience is. We have 4 days/week at home, and one day in class at a homeschool school sponsored by a local charter school. My kids take mostly enrichment classes there (think Art, Music, Drama) with a few academic exceptions, but I don’t rely on it for our core subjects (reading, writing, math, history, science).




  • Genevieve Foster: The World of Columbus and Sons
  • Genevieve Foster: The World of Captain John Smith

This is the first year we’ve made it through two entire Foster books in one school year. I chalk that up to age (the children’s, not mine) and consistency. It’s amazing how much more we can get through at 16, 14, 12 and 9 than we could at 8, 6, 4 and 2. That said, I wish I had emphasized regular narrations (written) for retention.

Additional history read-alouds:

  • Castle (Macauley)
  • Who Was Ferdinand Magellan? (Kramer)
  • Mansa Musa (Burns)
  • Longitude (Sobel)- (this one was a hit with 8th and 11th grades and NOT a hit with 3rd and 7th grades)
  • The Queen’s Promise: An Elizabethan Alphabet (Davidson Mannis)
  • The Pirate Meets the Queen: an Illustrated Tale (Faulkner)
  • Johann Gutenberg and the Amazing Printing Press (Koscielniak)
  • Seeds of Freedom: The Peaceful Integration of Huntsville, Alabama (Bass)

3rd, 7th and 8th also did two biographies on historical persons of their choice. (3rd: Aaron Burr and Hillary Clinton, 7th: Isabella of Castille and Mozart, 8th: Einstein and Abraham Lincoln). 11th grade participated in National History Day through his school.

The election

2016 was a fascinating year to learn about our electoral system. We used CNN10 (formerly CNN Student News) and Syd Sobel’s Presidential Elections and Other Cool Facts, and we mapped the electoral college on election night.


We study and color maps and talk about historical changes between political boundaries in the history we study vs. how countries are now.


Areas we studied: England, UK, Europe, North Africa, Central America and the Caribbean

We also kept a globe in the living room and hung a world map in the kitchen. We referred to them all the time, which was a vast improvement over our geography study in previous years.



  • A Midsummer Night’s Dream (Shakespeare)- we assigned parts and read this aloud together
  • The Mysterious Benedict Society (Trenton Lee Stewart)
  • Swallows and Amazons (Arthur Ransome)
  • Greenglass House (Kate Mitford)
  • Raymie Nightengale (diCamillo)
  • daVinci and Michaelangelo (Mike Venezia)
  • Flush (Hiaasen)
  • Kira-Kira (Kadohata)
  • Echo (Munoz Ryan)
  • The Best Christmas Pageant Ever (Robinson)
  • Unfinished Angel (Creech)
  • A Midsummer Night’s Dream (Shakespeare)- we read this in parts, and each of us memorized a speech made by a character we read.
  • lots of older picture books (think Bill Peet, Dr. Seuss, Margaret Wise Brown, Mary Ann Hoberman, Cynthia Rylant and others) and new picture books we enjoyed, including the Zorro series by Goodrich

Everyone read other books independently every day. I’ll post on some of their favorites in a separate post.


Jack Prelutsky, Shel Silverstein, Maggie Dietz’s Pluto, Lewis Carrol’s Jaberwocky, GK Chesterton’s The Donkey, Rachel Field’s Something Told the Wild Geese, Carl Sandberg’s Fog

I feel like we started strong with poetry and then fell off the wagon in the second semester (with a slight boost during April, National Poetry Month.)


1 Timothy, James, 1 Peter, Ann Voskamp’s Jesse Tree (now available as Unwrapping the Greatest Gift: A Family Celebration of Christmas), The Gospel of Mark.

Picture Study:

Picture Study is a Charlotte Mason subject. In the past we’ve been more thorough in our study, but this year we looked at the paintings 1-2 days a week, we played I Spy with them, and we reproduced a few of them. I saw it mostly as a way to familiarize the children with styles of art, and to enjoy the individual painting themselves. We didn’t put a lot of effort on this subject, but we got a big bang for our buck. I bought our post-cards from Memoria Press. We have their Kindergarten, First and Second Grade sets of postcards. I pulled these paintings from all three sets.

Titus as a Monk (Rembrandt), Five o’clock Tea (Mary Cassatt), The Stone Breakers (Courbet), Paris Street: Rainy Day (Caillebotte), Still Life with Apples and Oranges (Cezanne), Three Musicians (Picasso), The Goldfish (Matisse), A Girl with a Watering Can (Renoir), The Fighting Temeraire (Turner), Rain, Steel and Speed: The Great Western Railway (Turner), Golden Eagle (Audubon), Starry Night over Rhone (Van Gogh), God Creates Adam from the ceiling of the Sistene Chapel (Michelangelo), The Last Supper (da Vinci), View of Paris from Montmartre (Dufy), The Thinker (Rodin), The Peaceable Kingdom (Hicks), Tree of Life (Tiffany), Umbrellas in the Rain (Prendergast), The Little Owl and (Durer).

A special day of Picture Study was when we visited the Masterworks Exhibit at the medical school- a collection of amazing paintings and sculptures collected by some physicians on the faculty. It was a great exhibit in a very intimate setting.

Field Trips:

Reykjavik, Iceland

London: The British Museum, St. Paul’s Cathedral, Westminster Abbey, Hampton Court, The Tower of London, Greenwich including the Cutty Sark museum, Harry Potter’s World.


Concerts and Plays- In the Heights, Wicked, The Proms (Mozart and Bruckner).

Other field trips: skiing, the DAM (The Art of Venice, and Star Wars Costumes), Denver Museum of Nature and Science.



  • Nature’s The World Without Amphibians
  • CNN10 (10 minutes of non-partisan middle-school appropriate news)
  • This Day in History
  • Crash Course History with John Green


  • 3rd grade: Singapore Primary 3A/3B
  • 7th Grade: Singapore NEM 1
  • 8th Grade: Singapore NEM 2
  • 11th grade: AP Calculus BC through Pennsylvania Homeschoolers

Foreign Language:

  • 7th grade French:
  • 7th/8th grades: Spanish through our once a week school
  • 11th grade: Latin: translating Julius Caesar through Memoria Press’s Online Academy, and the National Latin Exam
  • 11th Grade: Biblical Greek 1 through Memoria Press’s Online Academy


  • 7th and 11th grades: Environmental Science through our once a week school
  • 7th and 8th grades: Focus on Middle School Physics (Keller)
  • 3rd Grade: Real Science-4-Kids Physics (Keller)

Additional classes for our 11th grader:

US Government (fall semester): de Toqueville: Democracy in America; Hamilton, Madison and Jay: The Federalist Papers. Various: The U.S. Constitution, readings drawn from The Washington Post and The Economist, satire from Stephen Colbert, SNL, Trevor Noah and Seth Meyers.

This class focused on the set-up of the US government and the checks and balances put in place. Additionally, we spent a lot of time talking about the tensions between states’ rights and a strong federal government.

AP Comparative Governments and Politics (spring semester):

For this class, I combined several of the online class syllabi available at the College Board. His spine was Introduction to Comparative Politics: Political Challenges and Changing Agendas (Kesselman, Krieger and Joseph). (They’re changing the class for 2018, so make sure to check in before you design your curriculum.)

Other readings included:

  • Baer: The Devil We Know: Dealing with the New Iranian Superpower
  • Schell: Wealth and Power: China’s Long March to the 21st Century
  • Fukuyama: Women and the Evolution of World Politics
  • Friedman: The Lexus and the Olive Tree
  • Marx: The Communist Manifesto
  • Machiavelli: The Prince
  • Dahl: On Democracy
  • Economist special editions on Russia, Nigeria, Mexico, China, UK, Brexit, and Iran
  • Preston and Dillon: Opening Mexico: The Making of a Democracy
  • Breaking the Cycle of Electoral Violence in Nigeria (pdf)
  • Special Hearing on instability in Nigeria (pdf)
  • Zakaria: The Rise of Illiberal Democracy (from Foreign Affairs, pdf)
  • Lots of news online (esp. The Washington Post, The New York Times, The Guardian, and the BBC)

I think this was his favorite class, despite (or because of?) the heavy reading load. The readings (I got all of them from the AP site and my amazing dad) were excellent, and with the unfortunate instability in many parts of the world, it made for a fascinating class.

Coloring in the Electoral College Map on November 8, 2016.

Introduction to Grant Writing

He had an opportunity to be work on writing grants for a non-profit run by friends of ours. We used two books as introductory spines:

  • O’Neal-McElrath: Winning Grants Step by Step: The Complete Workbook for Planning, Developing and Writing Successful Proposals
  • Karsh: The Only Grant-Writing Book You’ll Ever Need

We also reviewed other grant applications from a variety of sources.

This class was a huge stretch for him and not an unqualified success. By no means did his drafts of the grant proposals go in without major editing, but it was a great opportunity for him to have to think about writing within very specific constraints.

His (and my) favorite part of the class with the non-profit he worked with, Foster Source, which provides support, practical help, and education for local foster families. He had an opportunity to provide child care, meet amazing foster families, and learn about the incredible (and often invisible) needs right in front of us. We will continue to be involved with this great organization even after his class is done.

Other writing for him this year included a major paper for National History Day, and completing NaNoWriMo in November.

All right, that’s all for this year. For previous years’ curricula, please see my pages (links by year, at the top of the blog.)

Daybook: April

Outside my window: Spring.  [Sigh.]  I love spring.  I love the birds’ return and the tulips (both the ones in the garden and the ones I brought inside) and all the trees. I love our hens’ fresh eggs and the neighbors’ wind chimes.

This is my neighbor’s crabapple tree, but this year it appears to be half-apple (on the bottom) and half-crabapple (on the top).

In the kitchen: Last night we had a Sabbath feast with friends visiting from far away. This week (for Holy Week) we’re planning a lot of soups- butternut squash, black bean with lime, white bean chili, rosemary potato.  Do you eat differently during Holy Week?



In the school room: We finished our standardized testing last week, so this week we return you to our regular programming.  The younger kids are working on reports, Jonah is finishing up his AP content and working on review, and I’m studying for my Boards (on Friday).  I’m also hoping we can make it to this art exhibit at the medical school this week.

On my reading table: I’m deep in Girl in Translation (Jean Kwok). So good.


In my shoes: I’m starting to run a little more.  And my runs are starting to feel like runs-with-a-little-walking, instead of walks-with-a-little-running.  I’m sure I’d go faster if I weren’t stopping to taking photos of blooming trees every ten feet.

Grateful: For Holy Week.  For a great Children’s Church yesterday, despite confusion about when we were excused from the service and who was supposed to be helping me (and for KC, who stepped in).

For Phoebe’s yoga classes she’s been teaching in my room at night: very relaxing. (She’s using these Yoga Pretzel cards to prepare her class.)

For friends who have visited us these past ten days and blessed us with their humor, their wisdom, their courage and their tears.

For Facetime with Fiji.


Praying for: Egypt.  Syria. Refugees, and those who minister among them. The Neals and Simons.  Mandy, Judy, Anne, Dave, Christine, Lori, Ruth, Gill, Betsy.  My patients.  Those wondering when ICE will knock on their doors.  Patience and grace at home.  Courage to stand with the hurting.

May you have a holy week of walking with the Lord.  I’ll be back in this space after Easter.

7QT: STEM at home


Alas… those were the days, when all I had to do was grow bacteria in the kitchen…

One: It began like any other home science experiment: we had almost all the pieces needed, and I figured I could use the substitutions in the teacher’s manual without a problem. (That might have been my first mistake.)

We started with a 9-V battery and some wire. And a metal Allen wrench.

The goal: build an electromagnet.

Two: We followed the directions, taping the wire to both ends of the 9-V battery and coiling it around the wrench. But it wouldn’t magnetize.

Three: I’m so tired of science experiments that don’t work. It’s happened so many times that the kids were ready to give up, as one does, but I was having nothing of that.

I knew the battery was working, because once we connected the circuit, the battery got hot. But the Allen wrench wouldn’t pick up any of the paper clips. So I pushed the kids a little harder: what could the problem be?

We came up with a list:

  1. maybe the paper clips aren’t the right kind of metal
  2. the Allen wrench was too big
  3. the Allen wrench was the wrong metal
  4. perhaps we need more coils of wire around the wrench
  5. the battery wasn’t powerful enough

Four: We substituted out the wire. No change.

Five: We tested a different magnet on the paperclips. The fridge magnet picked up paper clips like… well, as it does.

Which left the battery.

Six: I happened to have this 12-V battery lying around.


I believe this is the key to having successful science and engineering experiences at home: have a bunch of stuff lying around. It’s impossible to have a clutter-free house and a successful home science environment. The battery may or may not have been part of our old security system, we aren’t sure. But anyway, there it was, just sitting on top of the freezer. So I connected it.

The first time I tried to wrap the wire around the battery terminals, it blew sparks and I felt the charge from my fingers all the way down to my ankle. Whoa. Okay, the battery worked.

The kids were all for stopping at that point, but I was going to show them how science requires perseverance! And as Thomas Edison said, ‘I have not failed. I’ve just found 10000 ways that won’t work.” We were going to keep trying.

Seven: The second time, I used alligator clips to connect the wire to the battery. When I clipped the wire to the negative terminal, there was a small fire, the alligator clip melted, and all the children screamed.

If I’d been a good homeschool mom, I would have taken a picture.  Instead, I unclipped it and smothered the fire.  We went back to the 9-V battery and a smaller screwdriver for the Allen wrench.

Success! Not only did we pick up a bunch of paperclips (this is meaningful work here!), my children developed a healthy fear of perseverance. When Sam asked them what they learned that day, they said, “We learned it’s not safe to do science experiments with Mommy.”

I’m counting this one as a win. And because the battery can’t be thrown away in the regular trash, it will still be hanging around my house until I need it the next time.

How’s STEM education going at your house?

Be sure to check out Kelly’s site for more Quick Takes!

School Update: Beginning of October

It’s officially fall.  I know this because Pinterest keeps sending me pins of cute outfits with tall boots and scarves, and recipes for pumpkin spice lattes.

In past years, I would be saying we’re just getting started on school, but this year (for various reasons including early May AP exams and a September trip to London) we started in mid-August.  So we’ve done 7 full weeks of school.  The kids keep asking if this means we’re going to finish in April.  Unlikely. 

New rhythms: Friday poetry teas.
I don’t think we have any budding Tennysons or Dickinsons in the family, but I sure like reading poetry and drinking tea.

Also new to us are Jonah’s online classes. We’ve had classes online before, but this year he has set class times and virtual online classrooms with attendance as part of his grade. He’s being very faithful about it, but a 90-min online class Friday afternoon is kind of a drag.


New resources: for the first time, I’m using some materials from Teachers Pay Teachers. This lesson, from Mme R, was to create a menu for a French restaurant. Moriah had a blast with it.


I’m upping my geography game. So far it’s working, thanks to a globe I’m keeping in the living room, and a huge world map I hung in the dining room. Now, I throw out 1-2 geography questions every day (“Name three countries in the EU,” or “What are the countries laying claim to the South China Sea?”). We’re all learning.


Not working yet: third grade.  She just hasn’t found a rhythm yet.  Each of my kids have taken years to learn the lesson that getting the work goes better when you do it first (before Legos and cartwheels and bike rides and playing.) I can’t tell if it feels like it’s taking her forever to settle down to a routine is because I’ve already taught (and learned) this lesson multiple times, or because it really is.

Certainly when the older kids were figuring this out, I wasn’t driving anyone to swim team or dance in the afternoon, so I was available for helping/teaching in the late afternoon.  This year: not so much.  Right now, it’s hard.

How’s your rhythm this fall?

First Day of School 2016-7

Happy  late summer!  We started school today.  I thought I’d get a little push-back (“it’s only August!”) but I think everyone was ready.  And even if they weren’t, I’ve been dropping hints over the past few weeks (think handing out school supplies and squeezing in a “few last summer activities”) that it was time.  And then this morning came, and everyone was ready.

My daughter’s reading lately has featured lots of contemporary teenage girls (and their angst, sigh).  And because of that, two weeks ago she asked me for a locker.

Excuse me?

“You know, a locker.  To keep my books in.”

Well.  So much for that.  I was convinced the year was blown before it had even started.  Was this just a ploy for her to demand to go to a public middle school, since there was no way I could possibly fulfill her needs?

Just as I was spiraling into a swirl of doom, she found one in our study.

A locker.


This is an Ikea bookcase.  We’ve had it for years (note the footprints on the lower door, and then tell me why there should be footprints there. Go ahead, I dare you) and I was even feeling like it needed to find a new home… until she saw it with new eyes.  It was a locker! So she engineered a lock mechanism and added a lock.

Detail of lock:


She put a hook on the inside wall, attached a rubber band to it and the knob, and voila, all her dreams for the school year were complete.

Or not.

In other news, we also started learning things.  Here are the read-alouds we’re beginning with.  A Midsummer Night’s Dream will be a group read (it’s so fun that we can all read now!), and the others I will read aloud.  We’re focusing on English history before we head to London in September.

Todays readings:


And, probably because this is not my first rodeo, I held our reading time to an hour instead of letting my excitement carry us away.  Everyone groaned when I stopped the MBS and begged me to keep reading.  (I said no.)  All four kids finished their work long before they thought they would and concluded they were amazingly smart.  In reality, they finished early because I planned it that way, so that we could play board games and play with the neighbor kids when they got home from summer camp.

It was my own little back-to-school engineering project to start us out on the right foot.  (Don’t tell.)

Have you started yet?  Are you engineering any changes to your school structure?

How to teach AP Biology at home

I don’t often post homeschooling how-tos. I believe there are as many ways to homeschool as there are families. And each year for our family looks a little different from the previous. So take my how-to with a grain of salt, and skip to the end if you need the down-low without all my ramblings. All the links to what I reference in the text are at the end of this post.

Last August, when it became clear our plans to participate in dual enrollment weren’t going to work, Sam scrambled to find some other advanced coursework for our high schooler to do. He found a large number on online AP courses at the Pennsylvania Homeschoolers site, and I highly recommend their classes. We, however, were too late to enroll in AP Biology. Which was when the madness overtook me. I have an advanced degree in a biological science, I thought. They have all the materials online. Why don’t I teach AP Biology at home? Starting next week?

Maybe, had I had the summer to prepare, throwing the prep work for an AP class into an already busy school schedule wouldn’t have tipped me over the edge. As it was, I had two weeks to assemble the materials for a rigorous lab and teach an astounding amount of material… only half of which has anything to do with my own biological degree. (In case you were wondering, a degree in medicine did not prepare me well for teaching a semester of ecology and evolution.)

The College Board, which oversees the AP curricula and tests, has a wealth of material available online. They even have made available four complete syllabi (all different), from master AP educators. I chose one that went from small [chemical components and bonds] to large [ecosystems], since I was comfortable already teaching the micro-level biological information. I’d have plenty of time, I thought, to learn the macro-concepts before I had to teach them. [insert crazy coughing here] I ordered the textbook and several supplements from Amazon, and the lab manuals from the College Board bookstore. Then I tried to order the lab supplies.

The syllabus I chose recommended a particular lab supply company, and I sorted through the AP labs to compile a master list of the various reagents and supplies we’d need. 50mL of sulfuric acid here, 20 mL 5M NaOH there… but the smallest amount of any chemical I could put in my “cart” was 5 liters. Hmmm. Looking deeper, I found kits for each of the AP labs (hooray!)—but built for 30 students. Not cost effective for a single student, especially when there are 12 labs. Finally I found a website to substitute some of the ingredients… only to discover that you’re not allowed to ship most of the chemicals to a home address anyway. So there, people making bombs in your basements. Take that.

I spent at least 20 hours one weekend trying to order all the labs goods, to no avail. And then I remembered Quality Science Labs, which supplied all of our Chemistry supplies a few years ago. If you’re planning an AP adventure at home, look at Quality Science Labs first for your lab supplies. (Not a paid announcement, just an honest endorsement. They saved my sanity.) Note: the QSL labs are not the exact labs in the AP Biology lab manual, but they cover the same concepts and ideas. You will use the lab manual included with the labs, not the manuals from the College Board, which could save you lots of money.  To shore over any gaps, have your student review the CliffsNotes AP Biology review book section on labs, and review the virtual labs at the Pearson Lab Bench.

Because the AP exams are on fixed dates in early May, we had to begin our class almost immediately. I altered the AP syllabus for our needs and we took off running. There’s far too much material to cover thoroughly in a year, but the syllabus we chose had a good balance between covering the essentials and going deeper in select areas. I highly recommend taking the time to sort through the syllabi online to find a course that plays to your student’s particular interests. The exam offers some latitude in terms of where depth can be achieved. The AP review books we used (our favorites were Barron’s and Reece’s Preparing for the AP exam) had good predictions of what subjects recur most frequently on the test, so these areas should not be skimmed.
Another challenge for me was writing the exams and assessments. The syllabi offered the big-idea topics to be covered, but no more. I spent hours writing questions before the first exam. And then for the second, I got smart and compiled questions from review books and chapter-end quizzes.

Which brings me to the biggest studying aid I found: self-quizzing using the review books and chapter ends. Peter C. Chase’s book Make it Stick convinced me of the value of frequent, low-stakes quizzes, and we employed these a lot. Quiz on a topic (or collection of mixed topics), grade the quiz, and then focus on the area of weakness. Repeat.

Bozeman Science (on youtube) has a collection of mini-lectures on many of the AP topics (not just biology). These were very helpful, both to teach the first time and to review.

The labs were a continual headache. (Says a scientist.) While the labs are supposed to be “student-led, teacher-guided”, they each required several hours of teacher prep, and then one-on-one attention. I could have supervised twenty students doing one lab together, but it was impossible to read with a second-grader or grade algebra tests while supervising the injection of plasmid DNA into non-pathogenic E. coli.

I was surprised at the difficulty I had finding a school that would allow my student to take the test with them. There is no option to proctor the test at home; all students must test on the national date at an approved site. No school is required to offer testing to outside students, and I called nine schools before finding a school that was willing to let him test there. The College Board was very helpful in this, even when I called back in a panic. Schools order the tests in late March, so start calling early. The College Board will give your student (or your homeschool) a school code that he or she will need for the exam. Because we are enrolled in a once-a-week school hosted at a public school, we used their school code.

I’ll go over the cost of the class in a separate post.

As the year raced on approaching the test, I found myself becoming more and more nervous. This was the first time any class I taught was gearing toward a test. And a test I’d never taken. The AP exam felt completely different from the standardized tests we take each year. Somehow I’m able to compartmentalize those tests as a guide for our planning, a tool in my skill evaluation, or a life-skill for the children. This AP test felt like a judgment on my teaching, which wasn’t stellar for this class or this year. However, my son is pretty remarkable and managed to do well enough (on both his AB Calculus and AP Biology) to receive college credit. [insert large exhale] When he texted me his results, I cried—not because this test was the end-all be-all, but because I hadn’t failed him. Isn’t that all of our deepest fear?

Of course I have failed him in a myriad of ways. As people, we fail each other all the time, and if AP exams were the measure of our love or our value, this world would be a sorry place. All the same, the exam felt like a referendum on my homeschooling. I have an exceptional son who is very gifted academically, and I wonder now and then, have I done him a disservice by cheating him out of the academics he could receive in “regular” school? While he files his score away to use for college credit later, I’m going to save it in my pocket for the days I feel like my children aren’t learning enough. (Or on really bad days, anything.)

In summary, here are my recommendations for teaching an AP class successfully at home:

  1. Think carefully before choosing to teach an AP class at home. It is a huge time and energy commitment, and many students don’t have the inclination or the background to be successful in an AP class. If your student knows already where she wants to go to college, make sure you are going to get sufficient credit for the class to make it worth your while.
  2.  Start planning early. You can find links to the College Board’s master teacher’s curricula here. Check the test date to make sure it works for your family. You can’t change the testing date, and the entire class must be wrapped up by that first week in May.
  3. Buy the version of the textbook that matches your curriculum’s page numbers. (I bought the previous edition to save a few bucks, and it caused me several days’ headaches just to make sure the page numbers I assigned corresponded to his book.)
  4. Think ahead to whether or not you are equipped to run a lab in your kitchen. If you’re not, is there a school or local business that might have lab space you could borrow? Do you have a friend or relative who could watch your other children (preferably somewhere other than your kitchen laboratory) while you do the labs?
  5. We ordered our lab supplies from Quality Science Labs, which has a full kit of AP-biology equivalent labs. Use Pearson’s lab bench for simulated labs to supplement what you can’t do at home, and review the labs in the CliffNotes AP Biology review books.
  6. I recommend purchasing Barron’s AP Biology and Reece’s review books right at the beginning of the year, so you can use them to help you write your unit tests and quizzes. Note that there are multiple choice questions that require factual knowledge and a deeper understanding, as well as short answer and essay questions on the exam. A simple memorization of biological facts is not adequate for the AP exam.
  7. Bozeman Science has a variety of youtube videos covering many of the biological concepts.  These were much easier to coordinate to the textbook than any of the Khan academy materials, and they were great.  I particularly liked Paul Anderson’s take on how we teach science.
  8. To maximize learning, have your student self-quiz frequently. Then he or she can guide her studying toward her areas of weakness. There is too much material in an AP course to learn all of it in depth, but the review books will tell your student needs depth, and what he or she can learn more superficially.
  9. In January or February, call the College Board for the phone numbers of the AP coordinators at your local schools and for your testing code. Be sure to confirm in early March with a school so that the test can be ordered on time.
  10. Only 10-key calculators can be used on the AP Biology exam– no phones or fancy graphing calculators. (They allow you to take two with you just in case your little sister pulled the keys off one and it doesn’t work.) Buy these ahead of time so you’re not scrambling for one at the last minute (like me), because your student will need a calculator.
  11. Be sure not to hold this test (or the score) too tightly. You may decide that the class itself was enough, and the grade you give your student is an adequate record of the year. If your student decides to take the test, remember that it is a mark of one class, not a referendum on your home school experience or your student’s global abilities or future success.