Homeschoolers and Technology

I don’t often combine work with my Topsy-Techie blog, but I am today, so bear with me…

I’m working on an article about how homeschoolers use technology.  My hypothesis is that homeschoolers are possibly way ahead of the curve of integrating technology into their school work (in comparison with the average public school classroom).  So I  am asking for input on how you use technology in your day to day teaching and learning.  I’m particularly interested in hearing about:

**whether you think homeschoolers are ahead or behind the curve in relation to public schools

**how much you use technology in your homeschool, and your main use for it

**any creative ways you use technology in your teaching and learning

**how your kids feel about technology, and whether they are self-motivated to learn more about it

I would also really appreciate it if all you who homeschool would take a short, 10 question poll about how you use technology.  It’s relatively painless, I swear!  Click here to access the poll.  I look forward to your comments and/or poll results…

Thanks for taking the time to give me your input!


Friday’s Hardwired Homeschool Hints – – Google Apps Part Deux

fridays hardwired homeschool hints pic

So in last weeks HHH post, I kind of gave you a glimpse of how Google Apps could help increase productivity and organization in your homeschool. 

Today, I thought I would get a little more nitty gritty and outline some of the specific ways you can use Google Apps…

First off, you will need to sign up with a Google Account, if you haven’t already. You will also need to sign each of your homeschoolers up with an account. They are free, and relatively painless to register for. Here is the link to get started.  One Google registration is all you need to get signed up for ALL of Google’s many services, including Google Docs, Gmail, Google Talk IM, Google Calendar, and Google Sites. If you have a Blogger account, you are already covered.

One of the first things you will want to do is explore the Google Docs interface. Like I said last week, this is the keystone of the Google product line.

If you have worked with Microsoft Office at all, Google Docs will be a breeze, because it has most of the same capabilities – – word processor, spreadsheet, and presentations.  It will even upload and download in Office file extensions! For a full tutorial on how to use the Docs interface, go through this edutech lesson.

My favorite homeschool use of the program is as a lesson planner/calendar.  I create a spreadsheet grid that I use to keep track of the boys daily assignments.  The great thing is that once I share the sheet with their google accounts, they can access my spreadsheet from any computer, make changes to it, cross things off when they have completed them, etc.

(click to view in full screen)

google docs

The daily assignment sheet, in essence, becomes a collaborative effort.  Even if you are unschooling, and aren’t anally retentive like me, Google spreadsheets are still a great way to track what your kids are accomplishing, and a place for you to provide resources and suggestions for what they are currently interested in.  You can both access the spreadsheet in real time from two different computers, which is the true cool feature.

I have started having my boys submit all their written assignments in Google Docs as well.  There just isn’t a better way, in my opinion.  When they finish an essay, for instance, and share it with me, I don’t have to print it out, or worry about losing it, or anything.  I can just access it on my computer, make comments, notes, and highlight any areas that need more attention.  Then they go back in, see my notes and make their changes, and voila!  I file it in a subject-specific file and can keep it until infinity.  This is a great way to store items if you live in a state that requires portfolios of each student’s annual work.  Instant access from any computer, and you have saved several trees in the process. 

Next week, I will cover some of the even cooler, creative ways for using Google Apps in your homeschool.  Stay tuned…

To see all of my Friday’s Hardwired Hints posts, go to my HHH page!

Friday’s Hardwired Homeschool Hints: Google Apps

fridays hardwired homeschool hints pic Today I’m going to push the envelope, shake the sauce, change things up…you get the drift.  I’m not going to hit you with a bunch of cool sites today, but rather highlight one really gnarly web application (hey San Fernando Valley and Silicon Valley aren’t that far apart; there was bound to be a crossover at some point).

If you homeschool and have more than one computer in your home, you will wonder after today how you ever lived without Google Apps.  Google Apps (GA) is a homeschool mom’s dream come true.  In fact, you might just throw out all those other expensive organizers when you discover that you can keep track of all your homeschool business in one easy-to-access place.

It’s called…the internet.

See, the cool thing about GA is that you can store as much stuff as you want on there, and you don’t have to be on any specific computer to access it.  Your info is stored remotely on the Google servers.  In other words, you can be at the library, the coffee shop, or on your Blackberry, and “Presto!”: instant homeschool access.

google docs So – – here’s how it works.  Google Docs is the star of the show – – it’s sort of a mocked up Office Suite.  There is a word processor, a spreadsheet app, and a presentations application.  I’ll get into some creative uses for each of those in a later post, but for now, I just want you to get a mental image of what homeschooling with Google Docs can be…

  • Rachel just finished her history assignment using Google Docs word processor and saved it in her docs file, sharing it with you.
  • Bryan took his math quiz on Google docs and shared it with you.
  • You are busy Instant Messaging with a blogging friend when an email comes to tell you that these assignments have been finished.  So you simply open up Google Docs from your laptop.  You see that Rachel kind of skimped on her 2nd and 3rd answers, so you highlight those in yellow and insert a note letting her know how she can improve her answers.  Bryan got a 100 on his quiz, so you drop his grade into his Grade Spreadsheet on Google Docs, and insert a big note of Praise in his Daily Assignment log.  As soon as he logs in for his next assignment, he sees his embarrassingly sappy “Great work from a Great Son” note, and rolls his eyes (secretly smiling with pride)
  • Rachel sees that you have looked over her history, and she gives a perfunctory glance at your notes, but decides to come back to edit it later, because she is busy working on her multimedia Aerodynamics project using Google Presentation.  She wants to be a film editor when she gets out of college, so she is having a blast creating an image and text slideshow including a video clip she took at the air fair last weekend
  • You, meanwhile, are sipping your coffee slowly, sitting on the back porch swing, and looking over tomorrow’s lesson plans on Google Spreadsheet app.  An email comes in from your friend Lyla reminding you of the homeschool field trip next Tuesday.  You copy and paste her reminder into your Google calendar, and set it to send you a polite reminder the morning of. 

This is just a Polaroid shot of what Google Apps can do for you, but I hope you can start to see the possibilities.  One application.  Any computer.  Multiple uses.  More to come next week…stay tuned!

Friday’s Hardwired Homeschool Hints: Money

fridays hardwired homeschool hints pic I had another theme all picked out and ready for today, but courtesy of every newspaper, tv news story, and online headline, I’ve turned my attention toward the economy this morning.  So how about we help our kiddos learn to make the most of their pennies and nickels AND figure out how it all works with these great techie tools…

Maybe the next generation can learn from our mistakes?



  • Understanding the Financial Crisis – Great Youtube video that explains as clearly and visually as possible what is going on with the current economic crisis
  • Managing Money: Needs vs. Wants – where every discussion on money should start and end.  What do we NEED?  What do we WANT?  What is the DIFFERENCE?
  • Economics America: Financial Fitness for Life – Program from the National Council on Economic Education.  Check out their catalog for full curriculum on economics, personal finance, and entrepreneurship
  • Kids Consumer Corner – A Thinkquest designed to help kids understand all the ins and out of being a smart buyer, smart saver, and smart investor
  • Economics for Kids – great link list of sites dealing with economics and money
  • It All Adds Up – life skills site for teens that lets them try out simulations of credit management, buying a car, paying for college, etc.
  • Kids Bank – interactive, fun site for kids to learn about money and banking
  • Active Allowance – Ok, this one might be too gadgety even for me, but the idea is very cool.  Track kids chores, allowance, and budget online!
  • Money Instructor Learning Games – online games to teach money skills
  • Practical Money Skills for Life – curriculum and lesson plans for teaching all ages
  • How Money Began – fun article that could fit easily into any homeschool discussion about money
  • Webquest: Personal Budget – helping middle and high schoolers understand how living within a budget can help them all throughout life

To check out the other Friday’s Hardwired Homeschool Hints posts, go to my new HHH page!

Friday’s Hardwired Homeschool Hints: Spelling

fridays hardwired homeschool hints pic

In all my years as a homeschooling mom, I have never once woken up with the thought “Oh boy, I can’t wait until we get to do our spelling lesson today!” Go figure. Even though I was a pretty good speller in school myself, I still never got overly excited about spelling in general. Ok, there was this one time in third grade that I won a regional spelling bee and got to meet our local news broadcasters, but that was honestly the highlight of my spelling career. After elementary school, I never really thought about spelling.

And then years passed, and I woke up one day and I was a homeschooling mom. Almost overnight, spelling became sort of a big deal. Homeschooling and educational guides got me thinking about things I had never even considered up to that point. Was I going to teach using the phonics method or the whole word method? Would I use visual and kinesthetic manipulatives? Did I know all the phonograms, and how to correctly pronounce them?  Add to that mixture a son who has dyslexia, and you have a recipe for spelling anxiety.  So, I have depended on a good many different tools to help me in my spelling instruction over the years.  I am mentioning some of my most favorite ones today…

  • Spelling City – revolutionary free spelling site that lets you put in your own spelling list, and students can hear the words in a real human voice, and play games with them.  You can even use it as your weekly spelling test with the testing feature. One other incredibly cool perk is the ability to create handwriting worksheets out of the spelling words!!
  • Franklin’s Spelling Corrector – for any off-computer writing, this is the tool to have. Even if a child only knows how to spell a word phonetically (by sound) this little gadget will figure out what word they are trying to spell and give them the correct spelling
  • As-U-Type – if your homeschooler does most of his or her writing on the computer, this is a wonderful program to install because it not only spell checks as they type, but keeps track of their misspelled words in a file, so you can collect them for further spelling study, or spelling lists.
  • SpellDoctor – this is a more than just a tool; it is a complete spelling program.  I have subscribed to this service for two years now, and can attest to its thoroughness.  Although it can be pricey, it is definitely worth it (and check Homeschool Buyer’s Coop for group discounts)
  • Skillswise Spelling – this site focuses on the “why’s” behind our spelling rules, and examines words from every angle. The site includes sections on root words, prefixes and suffixes, homophones, letter patterns, silent letters and more. Interactive games help students practice each of the concepts taught, and most of the lessons include printable factsheets for further reference and instruction.
  • LookWayUp – similar to the Franklin spelling corrector, but in an easy to access web version.  No matter what the word, or how strangely it is entered, the LookWayup program will decipher the word and give you the correct spelling and definition. Only know how the word sounds phonetically? No problem. Just type in the sounds you hear, and the program will tell you its top choice based on your input, and then list other possible choices underneath.

To check out the other Friday’s Hardwired Homeschool Hints posts, go to my new HHH page!

Friday’s Hardwired Homeschool Hints – All About Animals

fridays hardwired homeschool hints pic I’d like to say we are an animal family, because we really do love animals, but I reserve that status for those cool families that start naming off the animals at their house, and it begins to sound more like a pet shop than a house, ya know?  Our next door neighbors, for example, are the proud owners of several chickens, a couple of guinea pigs, some lizards, some fish and a cat. (They actually would have a few more chickens if the poor things hadn’t made the unfortunate choice of flying over into our fenced back yard where they were basically hunting practice for our mutt who happens to be part bird dog)  Anyway, THEY, in my opinion, are animal people.  We have two dogs – – big deal.  But we honestly do adore animals, and think it is kinda cool having a “pet store” right next door.

So, in honor of those many-legged, sometimes furry, sometimes scaly, always interesting critters, I’m dedicating today’s HHH to the animal of the species.  Enjoy!

  • First off, a video game with educational value – – no that is not a oxymoron.  I’m talking about Animal Genius for Nintendo DS.  This game is chock full of animal facts and trivia.
  • Smithsonian National Zoological Park Homework Helper – if I had animal homework, I’d want the Smithsonian having my back. If you’ve got a question about animals and their habitats, you’ll probably find the answer here.
  • BBC Extreme Animals – Is there any other kind??  Watch all the videos on this page, then you decide which animal gets the title “Most Extreme”
  • Who doesn’t like animal games?  PBS Kids has a great one called Link-o-Vision that lets you match up animals with their characteristics.
  • Enchanted Learning Animal Printouts – When my kids were younger we had a ball with Enchanted Learning’s printouts…there are so many creative ways to use them.  Games, scrapbooks, lapbooks, scavenger hunts…the possibilities are endless.
  • We LOVE animal cams!!  The National Zoo Animal Cams is a weekly must-visit site for any animal lover.
  • I don’t know about you, but I still miss Steve Irwin.  If he were alive today, I think he would really love the Field Trip Earth website, which is completely devoted to animal conservation
  • AnimalLand – If you have kids who want a pet of their own, make sure they visit this site first for all the info on pet care for different kinds of pets.  There are cartoons and information for every future pet owner.
  • HumaneTeen – a great site where teens can learn about and get involved with animal welfare issues
  • AnimalBytes – incredible site where you can find out about every kind and type of animal, watch videos about them, and even hear the sounds they make
  • Discovery School’s Animal Lesson Plans – Organized by grade level, this is a comprehensive list of lesson plans for anyone studying animals
  • Pet Pals Animal Doctor – this downloadable game lets you play veterinarian, and learn about the animals you care for in an interactive and up close way
  • Zoobooks Animal Directory – Remember Zoobooks?  Well don’t think you’ve seen everything they have to offer because their website is high tech and high fun!

Friday’s Hardwired Homeschool Hints: American History

fridays hardwired homeschool hints pic H-T is studying American History this year in his Time4Learning Social Studies curriculum.  It is quite a thorough course, going all the way from the native peoples to inhabit the land all the way through the Clinton administration.  The best part is the Time4Learning trademark of fun, interactive lessons that make American History really “pop” – – especially for a visual learner such as H-T.  But, sadly, not everyone has Time4Learning, so….it is my goal this week to reach into the Topsy-Techie toolbox and help you find the next best thing – – websites and tools to make American History “pop” for your kiddos as well.


  • Great American Landmarks Adventure – If you’ve been reading my blog for any time at all, you know that I am a big supporter of the National Park Service.  And if I weren’t before, I would be after seeing this terrific website that takes kids through the history of the U.S. as a time travel adventure. There is a great teacher’s guide on the site as well.
  • Nobody does history better than the Smithsonian, so head over to their Our Story in History website to find a seemingly unending supply of American history activities (including printable ones), objects in the Smithsonian archives, and plenty of quality literature suggestions.
  • Meet Amazing Americans – I always found history to be a lot more palatable when it had a human face on it.  That approach is the core behind this terrific website by the Library of Congress that puts the “story” back in hi”story”!
  • Who doesn’t love timelines?  The Digital History website chronicles our dates and places of importance all the way back to the 15th century!
  • African American History – I haven’t found a better or more thorough source for studying African American history than this MSN Encarta entry.
  • The History Channel Classroom is the companion website to the cable network.  Because of these ties, you will find lots of multimedia footage on the site, as well as great ideas for integrating the History Channel programming into your curriculum
  • Firsts in America – I love fun factoids, and this site is full of them, including the first “woman elected governor of a state” and the first “postage stamps issued”
  • This Day In History Widget – this fun download is the widget that keeps on giving (knowledge, that is).  Each days history factoid includes a link to an online encyclopedia to find out more about the event.
  • HippoCampus American History –  Who can ask for more?  A free online history course for Advanced Placement students that includes great multimedia content.
  • Picture History – American history through pictures.  A simple idea – – but incredibly effective.
  • American History Lesson Plans – Ordered by era, and then by grade, this is a one-stop shop for U.S. History lesson plans
  • Oregon Trail – Still one of the most popular American History SIMS of all time – – now in its 5th edition.
  • US History by State – check out the unique history of each and every state in the Union in this great “How Stuff Works” site

How about sharing your favorite American History resources in the comments section??