Planning to get your AA degree while homeschooling high school

There are as many high school plans as there are high schoolers, and what works for one family isn’t going to work for another.  There are also so many new options today for our teenagers to earn college or vocational credit while still in high school, and trying to navigate them all can be overwhelming.

In our state, it is possible for a student to graduate high school with an AA degree at the same time because of the numerous dual enrollment classes available.  (You can read more about dual enrollment coming up in my Planning for College series).  When our oldest started high school last year she decided that was the path she wanted to take.  As I started researching AA degree requirements, the bachelor degree program she wants to pursue at the university, and then our state graduation requirements, I quickly realized that this was going to take some serious planning.

You can download my free planning worksheets here:
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High School & Degree Planner
Although you will probably need to modify them for your specific needs, it should give you a framework to keep yourself organized.

 

 

The first thing I did was to list out the state graduation requirements on the left column of the high school sheet.  I broke them out by grade, placing the 2 years of foreign language in 9th and 10th grade to get them out of the way and free up space in 11th and 12th to take college classes.  In our state, there are minimum graduation requirements, and then there are an additional set of credits a student needs if they wish to pursue a degree from one of the state universities.  I based this spreadsheet on the 2nd set of requirements.

Homeschool High School Planner

 

 

 

 

 

Next I switched over to the AA sheet and pulled up the requirements our community college has for an AA degree. I listed each grouping of credits and the number of hours on the left.  The last thing I did was to pull up the document our state provides that tells me what high school credits students receive for specific college courses.  (For example, ENC1101 is worth 0.5 English high school credits).  I found this document in the dual enrollment section of our community college’s website.  If you can’t find it online, try calling your home education contact with your county or the dual enrollment coordinator for your local college. Now I have the roadmap of where I’m going.  Time to start filling in the pieces.

In our state, students can start taking dual enrollment classes in their junior year.  So 9th and 10th grade would be all our own classes with an AP history class each year.  (There is no minimum age to take the AP tests.  You can read more about what APs are here, and how I created my own class to prepare for the test here).

Under the course column on the high school sheet I began to fill in the classes for the first 2 years.  If I already knew the specific curriculum I wanted to use I put it there, but if not I just used the more generic “English II” or “Biology.”  Next to each class I filled in the high school credit each is worth.  Most high school classes will be worth 1 full credit, but there are a few that are worth a half credit.

Homeschool High school planner

 

 

 

 

For the 2 AP tests that we are doing I went to the College Board website and noted the amount of college credit and which course our community college was giving for a passing score.  I put these into the appropriate column next to the AP class.  Then I clicked on the AA sheet and entered these courses into the right section. To determine what section to put them in, refer to your community college’s AA degree requirements.  They should have a list of the courses you can choose from for each category.

AA degree planner

 

 

 

 

Now you can see what core courses you have left for the AA degree and begin filling them in on the high school sheet. Be sure to pay attention to pre-requisites.  For example, you might have to finish ENC1102 before you can take a literature class.  So 11th grade English would need to be ENC1101 and ENC1102, then put the literature class in as one of your 12th grade English classes.

You should now have all or almost all your English, Math, Science, and possibly History high school graduation requirements filled in on your high school sheet.  In our state, there are additional elective credits above these core credits that we can now use to fill in with the rest of our AA degree requirements.  Our AA degree program here leaves 24 hours for elective credits.  So how do you decide what to take?

If your student is planning on pursuing a bachelor’s degree, I highly recommend visiting that university’s website to see what that degree requires for the first 60 hours and trying to take as many of those classes as possible.  Many universities will have information for students transferring to their degree programs that is helpful. For our university, they have a list of courses students must complete before they transfer.  We need to be sure to use these as some of our electives.  Another option is to have your student take electives that are in areas of interest.  Maybe a photography class, an art class, or creative writing.

Whatever direction your student wants to go, early planning can help make sure they get there.  My high schooler and I sit down every now and then and review our plan and make any changes we feel necessary.  As a homeschool mom you have to play both teacher and guidance counselor, so don’t be surprised if you often have to find the answers you need on your own.  However, persistence pays off, and if you keep at it, you and your student can make a great plan to help them achieve their goals!

How I created my own homeschool AP course

How to create a homeschool AP course

AP is a copyright of the College Board.

Last year we started homeschooling high school with our oldest. Her goal is to earn as much college credit during high school as possible, and one of the ways we are doing that is by taking AP exams.  (You can read more about what the AP exams are and how your student can earn college credit in my post on college planning). Our state has a free online public school that we can use to take classes, and have done so for a few in the past.  They did offer the particular AP class she wanted, but we decided to do our own thing and create a homeschool “AP” course ourselves.

When trying to choose which exam to take, it’s important to realize that some exams are harder than others – especially when it comes to getting a 5. Choosing a course in a subject that your student is interested in and excels in will give them a better chance of getting a high score.  PrepScholar has a great article listing the passing rates of the exams from 2014 and a discussion on what those rates mean.

The only way to label your course as AP is to submit your course information to the College Board and go through their AP Course Audit.  Since I’m only teaching my 2 kids and have no plans to create an online course, this was not something I wanted to pursue, nor was it necessary.  We were fine with just an “AP” like course (which you could certainly label as an Honors course).

Before I go into how I planned this course, I wanted to mention something that is important for you to research before you choose not to enroll in an official AP course somewhere.  Many colleges and universities give different GPA weights to AP classes over honors.  I would contact the admissions office of the colleges your child is thinking of attending and ask them what their policy is for this when it comes to homeschoolers.  Our university of choice told me that if my child has a corresponding AP Test score to the course that they will weight it as AP.  I was sure to get that in writing and I am keeping it in our high school portfolio for later reference.  If your university will not give the extra weight to the grade, I would consider the impact that has on their GPA before moving forward.

Planning your course

Step 1: Purchase the test prep book for your selected exam.

The test prep books for the new year’s exams are usually available in August.  The exams don’t normally change drastically from one year to the next, so if you want to start planning before the current book comes out, the previous year’s book should work just fine.  When the new books come out it’s worth at least looking through the opening chapter to see if there are any changes for the new exam.

The test prep books are going to list for you the major themes of the course.  In the particular course we did last year there were 7.  I used this for my framework to build the rest of the course around and also to help me plan how long we could spend on each section.

Step 2: Decide on a text book.

Depending on which exam your student is taking, you might want a text book to use as the main source of material.  The College Board has a list of recommended texts on their educator page for each specific exam. You might decide that the text is not necessary, but it was helpful to me to see what most formal classes use.  A quick google search will bring up not only the College Board page but also links on where to rent or buy the texts.  Below are links to some of the more popular exams’ book lists:

AP English Language

AP English Literature

AP Human Geography

AP World History

AP U.S. History

AP European History

AP American Government

AP Macroeconomics

AP Psychology

Step 3: Search online for resources.

One of the great things about this day and age is that it can be really easy to find tons of great resources online.  A google search of the AP Exam we wanted to take led me to several sites of suggested syllabi, project ideas, test tips and more. Saving these to a Pinterest board or to a site like Evernote can allow you to search now and analyze later.  Pinterest is also a fantastic resource for infographics, videos, and strategies for your chosen exam.

Step 4: Determine your timeframe.

Go to the College Board site and find out when your exam is offered. Decide how many days/weeks you want to allow for review (I would suggest at least 2 weeks) and back up that long from the exam date.  This will give you the date you need to finish the main course work.  Take the date you plan on starting the course and count how many weeks you have until the finish date you determined.  Divide that by the number of sections or themes from the AP test prep book.  This will tell you how long to spend on each section.

Step 5: Create your course outline.

This will be different for everyone, but what I did was group my resources into the major themes and go through them to determine what I wanted to use and what I didn’t really need.  You can determine what chapters from the text you want to cover for each theme and assign them accordingly based on your timeframe.

It’s important that your student gets plenty of practice on the types of questions the exam will have, as well as understanding how to do the essay portion.  For me, the easiest way to incorporate that is by using the sample tests from the test prep book as our course tests.  I assigned writing assignments based on the essay questions from the test prep book throughout the course.  You can also view past exams’ essay questions on the apstudent.collegeboard.org site for the individual exam.

For us, the flexibility of studying the AP course material on our own was worth the effort it took for me to compile it all.  We were able to move at her pace, taking time where she needed it and moving on where she didn’t.  In fact, I’m devoting most of my summer planning to working on my outline for next year’s history AP! 🙂

 

Semester 1 Review

As I mentioned in my post on homeschool planning for this year, we are trying a new schedule of 6 semesters that are 6 weeks long each. This past Friday we completed semester 1, and are taking the coming week off. As I am fine tuning the plan for semester 2, I thought it would be a good time to take a look at what worked and what didn’t.

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What’s not working so well:
1. History fun activities. I have pulled together a list of fun Konos and Pinterest inspired activities to go along with our history lessons. I even planned out ahead of time what activities we would do each week for the whole semester. Where things fell apart was that I didn’t make a master list of items we would need to complete these activities, so we had to skip many of them. This semester I am going to make a master list and gather up all of the non=perishable supplies now. Then I am going to add a list for the week in my planner for the perishables that I need to get at the store. Hopefully this will keep me on track.

2. Schedule consistency. Since both of my kiddos are in middle school this year, I have been giving them a little more leeway in their schedules and assignments. For example, in my daughter’s planner, I have 2 subjects where I give her weekly assignments, and it’s up to her to determine how much to do each day. That’s been working out great, but we have not been consistent with our morning schedules, and that has led to problems. For this next semester, I am going to have them do their daily chore in the morning (previously they did it in the afternoons), and then I am going to spend focused time with each of them on their more challenging subjects. I am setting up a message on my phone to alert people who call me for work that I am unavailable during this time, so that work won’t distract from our focus.

3. Writing. I thought our lessons were going to yield more writing than they have, and I’m not happy with the way that has gone. For this next semester, I am going to add in additional writing assignments that reinforce what we are learning in our IEW program. Note: I don’t believe in writing just for writing’s sake, but I do think practice is important, so I’d like to give them more opportunities to do so – a paragraph at a time.

What’s going well:
1. Auditory spelling. I can’t be more happy with the results I’m seeing with our new spelling program. I plan on writing a full review later this week.

2. Our new book cabinets. I purchased inexpensive cabinets to store our homeschool books and binders in this year, and they are working great. The kids are able to easily access what they need, and I don’t have homeschool flotsam spread all over my kitchen and table.

3. Our history ‘text.’ You can read more about how we are doing American History in this post. The kids have enjoyed The History of Us more than I expected, and they are really learning the material. It’s been exciting to see them truly starting to put events together and understand how this great nation began. I’m looking forward to starting the next book!

For those of you who are a couple weeks in to the new year, what things are working for you?

Creating the entire year’s lesson plan at one time

As I mentioned in my planning post for this year, I am creating the lesson plans for each subject all at once before the school year starts, and I’ve created a free homeschool assignment sheet that you can download at the end of the post.

How I’m using the assignment sheet:

Right now I am going through book by book and creating a Word document for each that lists the day of the school year and the assignment:

Sample of the blank template

Sample of the blank template

In the header I will list the child and subject so that I can easily identify it later in the year.  The day column is numbered 1-180 for each school day. (Not all of our books take all 180 days, and my state doesn’t require a specific number of days, but I like to have an idea how many days we will devote to a subject.)  The pages column is where I list the pages in their text/journal that they need to read and work on.  The topic column is where I list a few words describing the topic covered.

I listed the school day by numbers rather than dates for a specific reason: my homeschool is not operated in a controlled environment.  While I may plan a full 5 day week of school, there are days where everyone wakes up sick, or an impromptu field trip opportunity arises, or any number of things interrupt our regularly scheduled programming. 🙂  By numbering the school days, I can more easily adapt to these interruptions by simply assigning the next day’s work rather than trying to find my lessons in a calendar form.  Another helpful feature of assigning this way is that we never move through each subject at the same speed.  For example, our Life of Fred math books operate from a mastery standpoint.  They might need 2 days on a lesson, or if they are struggling through the bridge exams, I might make them repeat some lessons already done.  In contrast, we move through our spelling books at a lesson a day pace almost without exception.  By moving through each subject in a numbered fashion, it is easy for me to let the kids work at the pace they need without me losing track of where we are in the overall plan.

Perhaps the most important feature of my planning template is the check box column.  This allows me to check off each lesson as it’s COMPLETED so I know right where to pick up in assigning the next week.  This is a huge time-saver for me as it allows me to write their lessons in their planners quickly.

You can download this FREE homeschool assignment sheet below in Word format which will allow you to modify it for your own needs.

free homeschool assignment sheet

Free Homeschool Assignment Sheet Download