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Mar 142014

Summer is on the way and, before you know it, it will be time for high school juniors to take the PSAT.

The PSAT (in 11th grade), SAT (12th grade) and ACT (12th grade) are three of the most important standardized tests college-bound high school students will take. Of these, you may be surprised to learn that the PSAT is perhaps the most important. Why? Because a qualifying score on the PSAT sets your students apart as a National Merit Semi-Finalist. And National Merit Semi-Finalists are eagerly recruited by colleges and universities. In fact, many schools will try to lure National Merit Scholars with offers of big scholarship money.

The National Merit Scholarship Corporation sets a different qualifying level for each state, based on data about all test-takers in all states. For the class of 2012 — students who took the PSAT in the fall of 2013 — Florida’s number was 214 (out of 240), up from 210 for the class of 2011. By way of comparison, the number for Massachusetts was 223 and for Oklahoma it was 210. So it’s easier to qualify in some states than in others. (This tells you something about the quality of education from state to state, and readiness of students to take the PSAT, but that’s another post.)

There are many ways to prepare for this critical test, but by far the most painless is to tackle the SAT Question of the Day starting in 8th or 9th grade. Why? Well, for starters, the PSAT is in fact the Preliminary SAT. You may have noticed that the PSAT is scored out of 240. The SAT is scored out of 2400. Most students will score pretty much the same on the SAT as they did on the PSAT, i.e., a score of 218 on the PSAT will translate to a score of 2180 on the SAT. The tests are nearly identical, with the exception that there is some higher level math on the SAT. Working through the SAT question of the day is a good (and free!) way to get used to the material and questions that will appear on the PSAT.

But the best reason to tackle the SAT Question of the Day is because it’s just one question a day. And everyone has the time to work through one question a day. Some questions will be easy, with no effort required. Others will require students to review the solution (provided in detail on the answer page) to gain a better understanding of the material. Either way, it’s a short activity with a lot of impact. A student who begins prepping with the SAT Question of the Day in 9th grade will have completed 730 questions by test day in 11th grade. For some students, this will be all the prep they’ll need. I recommend having your student take the PSAT in 10th grade so you can get an idea of what areas may need additional study. The test results include detailed information about the questions missed, making it easy to create a personalized study guide.

Note: The SAT exam is being redesigned. The new version will be administered starting in spring of 2016. If your child is in grade 9 this year, s/he will be taking the new SAT. Students currently in 10th grade or higher will still take the existing SAT. According to the College Board, “The full specifications of the exam along with extensive sample items for each section will be available on April 16, 2014.“ For a summary of the changes, keep an eye on the College Board Website.

Free Resources:
National Merit Scholarship Corporation
SAT Question of the Day
ACT Question of the DayFavorite Study Guides:
The Official SAT Study Guide with DVD
11 Practice Tests for the SAT and PSAT, 2014 Edition
Kaplan PSAT/NMSQT 2014 Strategies, Practice, and Review

Oct 122013

Homeschooling for Free (or close to it)

Parents come to the decision to homeschool their children for myriad reasons. In our family, it was a combination of things, but I recall an early discussion with my husband in which I commented that I could certainly homeschool our kids for far less than what we were spending in private school tuition. Of course, the tuition savings was to be more than offset by the fact that I’d no longer be working (at least not in full-time, office position). Suddenly it became important to find low- and no-cost ways to homeschool my kids. Guess what? It was surprisingly easy to do. Here are some of the ways we saved money while still providing our children with a top-rate education.

The Internet is Your Friend – My business background involved computer research, so I was very comfortable online even at a time (mid 1990’s) when internet usage was not as common as it is today. Today, there are numerous sites offering free materials to homeschoolers. Check out our list of free homeschooling materials.

Sign up for FreeCycle – If you’re not familiar with this internet-based group whose mission is to “build a worldwide gifting movement that reduces waste, saves precious resources; eases the burden on our landfills while enabling our members to benefit from the strength of a larger community” then head on over to http://www.freecycle.org/. There are groups in every state and odds are excellent you can find a group in a city near yours. List the items you are willing to give away and post what you are looking for.

Befriend Your Librarian – The library is an obvious choice of free books and videos, but can offer much more. Inter-library loaning policies allow you to borrow materials from other libraries. Look into the availability of free passes to local museums and attractions, which are offered by many libraries. Don’t overlook children’s programming at your library. Over the years, my kids participated in Science Club, Game Day, American Girl Club, Chess Club, and more. All of these provided educational and social enrichment and they were completely free.

4H Isn’t Just For Farmers – Are you still under the impression that 4H is a specialty program for kids in rural areas? Well, you’re wrong! Through 4H my kids learned about leadership – each club has a president, vice president, secretary and treasurer and follows Roberts’s Rules of Order – as well as about the specific area our club was studying. Offerings span the gamut from aerospace to workforce readiness. Check out the 4H Curriculum page. Then, view the 4H Home page to find (or start) a group near you.

Join a Homeschool Support Group – Your local support group will provide many benefits, from co-op opportunities to field trips (at discounted, group rates) to park days. In addition, by connecting with other homeschooling families, you can join or create your own curriculum sharing (or swapping) group. See our list of Florida Homeschool Support Groups, sorted by county.

Scout Around – Both Girl Scouts and Boy Scouts offer opportunities for your kids to learn skills in a wide variety of areas. Although both clubs have dues, these are typically minimal (I think we paid $3/meeting at my daughter’s Girl Scout club) and offer a good return on investment.

Buy Wisely and Re-Use – I learned early on the value of maintaining purchased items in very good or like new condition. The easiest way to achieve this was to have my children write their answers in a notebook rather than in the pages of the purchased work- or text-book. This allowed me to re-use a single book with all three children or to swap or sell it once we were done.

Sell What You Can’t Use – You won’t get rich this way, but you can make a few extra dollars by selling materials you no longer need and which cannot be swapped for something you do need. Many support groups host used curriculum sales at the end of the school year. No luck there? Try selling on Vegsource’s Homeschool Swap Boards. These boards see a lot of traffic and I’ve had good success both buying and selling there. I recommend setting up a paypal account so you have some protection in the event of an unscrupulous seller.

Have a Kindle (or other e-reader)– There are many books that are out of copyright as well as free content from many publishers. Get started by looking through 2,500,000 titles at Internet Archive (which also includes free software, audio and more), Amazon (MOBI format) and Open Library (over 1,000,000 titles). Other sources include Project Gutenberg and Google Books. Don’t have an e-reader? Download a free app for your PC from Nook, Kindle, Sony, or Windows.

Neither a Borrower Nor a Lender Be – Thrifty homeschoolers know to ignore this adage. If you have an e-reader, you can borrow and lend titles for free and it’s totally legal. Check out Booklending.com and eBookFling.com. Finally, don’t overlook your public library. Many libraries now offer e-books for loan to members.

Watch a Movie or Some TV – If you haven’t discovered the Teach With Movies web site, you are missing out. The site offers lesson plans in English, Social Studies and the Sciences for movies and films. Access six lesson plans free, then pay just $11.99 for a year’s subscription. Also check out the History.com classroom, which offers free study guides for History Channel shows (which air at 6am Mondays – a recorder is a good idea!), or Discovery Channel’s teacher resources, which are conveniently organized by grade level.

Take Classes Online – Many states offer online (virtual) schools that provide free courses to all students in the state, regardless whether they are educated at home, at a private school, or in public school. In Florida, the Florida Virtual School offers a wide variety of classes, completely free, for grades 6-12. These courses are aligned with the Sunshine State Standards. Other sources of online classes include the Kahn Academy, MIT, and Harvard.

Get a Discount Card – Barnes and Noble, Books a Million and other retailers offer discounts to homeschoolers. You may also want to consider joining the Homeschool Buyers Co-Op.

With a little research and ingenuity, you’ll be on your way to homeschooling for free… or pretty darn close to it!

Oct 152012

Florida Chief Financial Officer Jeff Atwater invites you to submit your essay to the Florida Students $ave Essay Contest sponsored by the Florida Department of Financial Services’ Division of Consumer Services.

The contest aims to engage Florida’s high school students grades 9-12 on the importance of financial literacy while learning about investing and proper financial planning.

Learn more: Essay choices and contest rules

Oct 022012

To create awareness for VideoBlocks, they are giving away 7 days of complimentary access to download anything you want from over 50,000 clips of video, motion backgrounds, production music, AE templates and more. Just create a username and password, and you get download access to everything on VideoBlocks.com for 7 days. You can download 20 […]

Sep 272012

National Drug Facts Week (NDFW) is an opportunity for teens to interact with scientists and other experts about drug abuse. Help teens shatter the myths about drugs by hosting and promoting an event during the week of January 28 to February 3, 2013. To help you, the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA) provides a […]