Writers in Residence: A New Writing Program From Debra Bell

WIR-Facebook_profile_image (1)

WIR-Facebook_profile_image (1)Writers in Residence, Vol. 1, Apprentice has arrived! You can order it now at our special introductory price here. You can try a FREE sample here. And join my private Facebook group here.

This is the first volume in a complete language arts program for 4th-8th. Writers in Residence teaches kids to write (and love it!) while also presenting grammar, punctuation, and capitalization in the context of high-interest writing assignments. I’ve taken 30 years of teaching experience and distilled it down to the best activities and most effective writing instruction I’ve gleaned from mentoring homeschool students over the years. I can’t wait to hear what you think of it.


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3 Things to Know About the Redesigned SAT

SAT Math Prep

From Kathryn Gomes, AIM Academy math teacher

  1. 1. The new test launches March 2016.
    The PSAT aligned with the new SAT this fall. Students can take the current version of the SAT until March (and if you are a senior, it might be wise to take your last SAT exam before then). Beginning with the March test dates, the SAT returns to the 1600 point scale and the essay becomes optional. The change is major—the content and the format will change so educate yourself now and start making a plan.
  2. You have to complete one math test without a calculator.
    The test is short with only two math sections; however, one of them prohibits the use of a calculator. This section is no joke. . . I was shocked when I took the practice test. The test makers didn’t shy away from fractions, decimals, and really large numbers on this section. Don’t sit for this exam without brushing up on your basic arithmetic skills.
  3. It is an exam you can prepare for.
    The College Board hasn’t just revamped the test; they’re reshaping the way we think about test preparation and college-ready assessment. With their twitter campaign #skilledit, they repeatedly emphasize that anyone can succeed on the test if they put in the time and the hard work. There are practice problems, full length tests, and details on the College Board’s website. If you sign up through Khan Academy, you will be given videos to watch and practice problems to work through that are tailored to your needs. And all of this is now free.

My redesigned SAT math prep course, which incorporates all the changes, begins January 4, 2016. Registration is open now. After a pretest, students receive a customized study plan for the course. In addition to the helpful tools at Khan Academy, my students have access to more than twenty of my own videos that address all math topics in depth and review foundational skills students may be lacking. Additionally, the weekly live sessions provide students with immediate feedback and help them pinpoint their weaknesses. With 7 weeks of accountability and guided study my students are confident when they sit for the test. For more information and student reviews visit my site:




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Aim Academy: Still Accepting Late Registering Students


researchHi all,

Aim Academy classes start this week, but you can still register for many of our classes.

For more information, check out the Aim schedule of classes here. Click on the course title to see a course description.

You can find the staff directory here, if you have questions you want to ask of the course instructor.

We even have a helpful payment plan, if that is desired. Find it here.

This will be our fifth year offering classes online that are specifically designed to get students ready for later CLEP and AP exams. All of our classes are lead by experienced teachers who love their subject matter. We’ve continued to grow each year, and this year is no exception. We are especially pleased by the number of returning students and families! We hope you will take the time to find out more about Aim Academy.

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Global Home Education Conference 2016 –Meet Me in Rio, March 2016


GHEC2016Hello Friends,

I’m thrilled to announce the Global Home Education Conference 2016 website and Facebook fan page are now live. We need your help getting the word out about this important event:

What: Global Home Education Conference — a leadership conference for policymakers, researchers, movement leaders, and parents

Where: Rio De Janeiro, Brazil!

When: March 2016 (exact dates TBA, but keep the second week open)

How can you help? Here is a list of easy things you can do to promote awareness of this important gathering: Help GHEC2016

I have been helping to plan this conference with a team of international leaders for the past year. It has been an invigorating, international collaboration, and we have a powerful line up of speakers and movement leaders who are coming together to raise awareness about the rights of parents to direct their children’s education. In fact that is our theme: Home Education: It’s a Right.

To find out more and to sign The Berlin Declaration on freedom in education, visit GHEC2016.0rg today. Help us extend the freedom to home educate around the world.

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Hello Honolulu! Here Are the Handouts from CHOH

Thank you Christian Homeschoolers of Hawaii for including me in your lovely conference. Here are the handouts from my sessions. Enjoy.

Hope for Weary Moms_There Is a Redeemer

Study Smart Student Strategies

Raising An Independent Learner

Cultivating A Love For Learning

21st Century Homeschooling



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Aim Academy 2015-2016 Registration OPEN

megaphone manRegistration is open for 2015–2016 Aim Academy classes. This is our 5th year offering classes aligned with AP®, CLEP®, and SAT®subject area tests. In years two and three, our enrollment grew 40%. Last year, we doubled in enrollment. We expect to do so once again. Our teachers are highly committed and responsive. We use the latest technology to support student learning, and we seriously enjoy working with kids.

We are pleased to have two new highly experienced English teachers joining us this year: Susan Spivey, and Beverly Graybill.  Beverly Graybill and Susan Spivey are veteran homeschool parents and longtime teachers at the local homeschool co-op where I (Debra) taught for 16 years. Both are beloved by their students and parents highly recommend their classes. Mrs. Graybill will head up our English classes for middle school students. And Mrs. Spivey is offering British Literature.

As always, AIM does not charge a registration fee. Tuition does not include texts, but teachers choose (whenever possible) materials that are widely available used. We are up-to-date with changes coming to the SAT in 2016. And we are deeply familiar with the latest versions of equivalency exams (AP or CLEP) so that our students are well prepared to sit for these exams by the end of high school. College credit for high school work—that’s our unique focus here at AIM. We want to help your students maximize their high school efforts, be more than college-ready by the end of 12th grade, and position themselves for academic success and scholarship consideration once they hit campus.

Find out more about Aim classes here.


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What Can You Expect from Aim Academy’s New Algebra 1 Class?


ostrich2-585x585This fall I (Kathryn Gomes) am teaching Algebra I for AIM Academy and one of the highlights of the class will feature Drexel University’s Problems of the Week.

Here is a sample of one of the pre-algebra problems…give it a try because doing some math in the middle of summer is good for you (or call over one of your kids and promise them an ice pop if they can get the answer before you.)

Raul and Esteban just started working at their uncle’s farm on the weekends. Their first task was to count the ostriches and llamas. When they reported to their uncle,

Raul said, “I counted 47 heads.” Esteban added, “I counted 122 legs.”

“How many are ostriches? How many are llamas?” asked their uncle.

“It’s getting dark and I promised your mother I’d get you home for dinner. There’s no time to count again. You’ll have to figure out how many ostriches and how many llamas there are from that information when you get home. Can you give me a call after dinner and let me know your answer?”

How did Raul and Esteban figure out how many ostriches and how many llamas there were?

Got your answer?  No giveaways here…you’ll just have to use the information in the problem to check your answer (because it is July and I know we’d all just scroll down to read it.)  But here is the best part.  It is not about getting the answer, but how did you get it?  Did you take a guess?  Make a table?  Write an equation?  Did you spend time trying to draw a llama or wondering why llama is spelled like that?  And if someone else in your family tried it too, did they do it the same way as you?

All of these questions open up the process of problem-solving which is a very personal thing.  Many students get completely stuck on word problems because they are focused on trying to remember how they are “supposed to start” instead of just following their intuition.  In the problem above they might spend 30 minutes trying to decide what x should represent when guess-and-check could get them to the answer with no problems.  Learning how to hone and sharpen your own problem-solving strategies is the real beauty of mathematics.

This Algebra 1 class is aligned with the new redesigned SAT math section. You can find out more here. Register for Kathryn Gomes’ Algebra 1 class here.

Find out more at Kathryn Gomes’ website.



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Summertime and the learnin’ is easy…






by Joanna Breault, contributing writer


It’s May! If you’re like me, your mind is already swirling with swimsuit decisions, vacation dates, and daydreams about casting off the bonds of a school schedule. It’s time to stash the workbooks and pull out the sunscreen!


But hold on a minute—let’s not lose the precious ground we’ve gained. We have worked hard to make our homes a place where learning happens. Let’s not undo the good we’ve done. Here are five simple ways to make summertime rich in learning and rest.


First of all, learn to spot and nurture intellectual appetite. If you’re the kind who follows a structured curriculum without taking many detours, this may be an adjustment—but it’ll be fun and fruitful once you start, I promise.


It begins like this:

“I wonder how long it would take to fly an airplane to the sun…”

“Hey Mom, look at this tadpole I found!”

“Can I build a fort?”

“Do you think we’ll see a shark at the beach?”


These kinds of kid-comments are easy to foul off or answer quickly when there are math problems waiting. But during the summer months, rabbit trails turn into the important journeys.


Instead of giving a one-word answer, try starting with “what a great question!” Your enthusiasm conveys that curiosity is a worthy pursuit. Then, offer to google the quandary together. Hit the library or your own bookshelves. Find a video on YouTube. Casually throw out follow-up questions or ideas.


Make sure you don’t take over or make it feel like school. Come alongside to affirm your child’s interest, and enjoy the journey as a co-adventurer.


This hunting down of information, making connections, diving into related topics—this is the stuff of true intellectual engagement. If summertime is marked by the thrill of independent discovery, that means young minds are continuing to grow and develop.


Secondly, let them be bored. 


Yes, you read that right. Don’t underestimate the value of giving children big swaths of time in which to be bored—and then find things to learn and do. It has been said that boredom is intellectual appetite; don’t satiate that appetite with a constant stream of activities, lessons, and media.


Many parents are buying into the idea that rigorous education should continue throughout the summer and that every moment should be structured. But no differentiation during summer months gives diminishing returns—kind of like only doing sit-ups, day after day. Doing something new—but equally cognitively valuable—is like cross-training.


No, letting kids be bored is not for the faint of heart—but we mothers are of strong stock, aren’t we? Tell them “I’m bored” will result in a chore assignment. Period. It’s crazy how fast they become un-bored.


Next, make sure reading is a big piece of the summertime pie. Use summer to build a foundation of “reading as a pleasurable activity,” if it isn’t already.


Allow more latitude in their reading diet than you would during the school year. Let them binge on Hardy Boys or The Magic Tree House series without worrying about whether Charlotte Mason would consider it twaddle. If your kid prefers magazine or newspaper articles, procure age-appropriate journals and make them available. If there are certain books you’d like to see them explore, be sneaky and leave them on the coffee or breakfast table. You never know what will be thumbed through over a bowl of cereal or on a rainy day.


Math is an area where it’s good to maintain some basic ground. But this can be done easily through games—card games, strategy games, and anything where players have to keep track of scores (Rummy, Spades, Scrabble, etc). Review fractions and measurement by cooking or baking together. Quiz the kids on their times tables or addition facts during road trips. There are also oodles of websites with free math games (check out funbrain.com and aplusmath.com to start). You don’t need to be militaristic about math review; just keep it on the radar and make sure you hit it from time to time.


Finally, just say no to electronic babysitting. Believe me, I know it’s tempting. They all sit so quietly and get along so well when riveted by something on a screen. But overindulging in media is a downward spiral. It retards cognitive development, reduces interest in mentally stimulating tasks, and stands in as a paltry substitute for truly enriching activities.


If you’ve gotten into a habit of keeping the kids occupied with computer games or movies, there will be howls of protest when you pull the plug. But they’ll adjust, and the dividends are worth it. Provide some art supplies or send them outside. Invite some friends over or plan a family activity. Yes, we all need downtime, but keep the screen time in check, using books and games as the go-to quiet time occupation.


Instead of banishing learning along with formal schooling, make intellectual growth a family companion this summer. It may be your best yet.

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Want to Know More About Aim Academy? Check Out This Video.

We recorded the recent Aim Academy informational. Here it is:

Aim Academy Informational


Thanks to our science teacher, Mrs. Dincher for editing this. Both Mrs. Dincher and Mrs. Adkins (our French teacher) show attendees around their class websites–which is a good overview of how all teachers use Canvas, our learning management system. And Debra Bell gives an overview of the webinar tool all teachers use for live classes.

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Algebra 1: Not just how but why

Kathryn (Bell) Gomes

Kathryn (Bell) Gomes

“Just show us the steps!”


This is a common plea in my high school math class.  Many of my students don’t want me to explain why or how…and they definitely don’t want to have to deal with a word problem!  Instead they want me to just show them what to do.


But is this the best way to learn math?  Is it better to just learn one skill at a time then move on to something new?  Or should students focus on conceptual understanding and spend time on projects and multi-step word problems?  I did a mix of both when I was in school and I benefitted from both approaches.


In elementary school I worked on problems in a book called Figure Out which was a collection of word problems written by other home educated students.  The word problems were all mixed together so I had to learn to apply different skills at different times.  In middle school I joined a math club where we read biographies of famous mathematicians and traced the development of mathematics throughout history.  Additionally, we formed a MathCounts team and competed regionally against other schools.  We learned to solve word problems quickly using any method we preferred as long as we could find the answer.  Guess and check quickly became my favorite strategy. Afterwards we would all compare answers and I’d learn from my teammates.  In high school I used textbooks published by University of Chicago School Mathematics Project (UCSMP) that incorporated projects and challenge problems that encouraged me to continue using creative thinking as I mastered new skills.


However, math wasn’t solely devoted to projects and clubs.  There is always a set of skills that have to be mastered and there is no replacement for textbooks, clear examples, and lots and lots of practice problems.  In elementary school I worked on “mad math minute” worksheets until I had memorized my basic math facts.  In high school there was no alternative to memorizing trig identities with flashcards—there isn’t really a way to make that more exciting.  And the vast majority of time I spent doing math was devoted to completing a long list of exercises in a textbook. Without this foundation I never could have studied calculus or succeeded on the SATs– procedural errors would have bogged me down.


When I designed the AIM Algebra 1 course that I will be teaching this fall, I took all of these experiences into account.  We will be completing lots of practice problems, memorizing certain properties, and even taking time to review basic skills if necessary.  But students will also complete projects, discuss different methods for solving the same problem, and connect the content to their lives.  This combination of procedural and conceptual learning establishes long-term retention. And success in math is the first step to a love for math! That’s my ultimate goal for all my students.

Mrs. Gomes looks forward to welcome her first group of Algebra 1 students this coming fall. You can find out more about her class and approach here. She has been teaching SAT Math Prep online for AIM for the past year. She has been a high school math teacher for seven years.

Algebra 1  (7th-up) Kayte Gomes Mon 12-1 PM EST Register
SAT MATH TEST PREP(Fall 8/25-10/3) Kayte Gomes Mon 5-6 PM EST Register
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