Category Archives: General Teacher

Monday Review: HMHCO Environmental Science

by Kristen Lauria

Note: I purchased this curriculum myself and have received no compensation for this review.

Today I am going to tell you about a great book I found for teaching Environmental Science.  The book is published by Holt McDougal and is available here.  This link goes to the homeschool package, which includes both the student and teacher materials.  Another alternative is to buy the online access here and then a student text only.  The online access gives you access to the teacher’s edition plus lots of activities (like labs and such) that really make the course interesting.

I have used this curriculum for the last year to teach an online environmental course and plan to use it this fall for both regular and AP level environmental science (sign up here).  It is adequate for both levels with a little extra work put into making it an AP level course.  In the next few weeks I’ll be posting an article about how to get a course approved through College Board so you can put AP on your student’s transcript.

But back to the textbook.  One thing that I really like about this text is the use of color, graphics, and current events/case studies to break up all of the material.  This book is meaty and has lots of content to cover, but it is really user friendly and has so much information broken into bite-sized chunks.  There are 6 units, each of which contains 3-4 chapters, with each chapter having 2-3 sections.  There is lots of review available at the end of the chapter and if you get the teacher materials you can have access to pre-made tests available in either multiple choice or open ended or a combination.

In the future I hope to offer a guide to using this textbook for your own student including a recommended schedule, activities, and labs.

The Good:  Very thorough and includes all topics I would want covered in an environmental science course.  The online component has links to lots of relevant articles, course materials, and easy to do at home labs.

The Bad:  The HMHCO website is kind of a bear to navigate and they limit certain products to only schools for purchase, so you have to be sure to have the right item in your cart or you won’t be able to proceed.

Recommended For:  Students who are looking for a math-light science program or who are in middle school or 9th grade and are not ready for biology or chemistry.  This is also a great class for students who have finished their high school requirements and want a less intense science class for senior year or need another AP for college applications.

Website of publisher:  https/

Where to buy: I’d recommend either buying a used copy from Amazon here (aff) or getting the online materials, which are only available at the publisher’s website.

Has your student considered taking environmental science?  Tell me how it went!

Freebie Friday – OpenStax Textbooks

by Kristen Lauria

For my first Freebie Friday post, I’d like to tell you all about an awesome group of textbooks available online (or downloadable in pdf or in iBooks) for absolutely NOTHING!  These books are written by the same people who write most textbooks, PhDs and the like, who really know what they are writing and how to explain difficult subject matter.  Plus the textbooks are peer-reviewed, which means they’ve had lots of eyes on them who have the knowledge and experience to look for errors and fix them before they get to a student.

I got started using OpenStax textbooks last year when I started teaching physics and AP physics online (see here to look at the course description and sign up!).  I wanted a textbook that was thorough and would provide rigorous questions for my students to practice with, but without the usual high price tag of a high school or college level textbook.  My answer was found with OpenStax.

OpenStax offers more than 20 textbooks, not just physics, and they are all available to thepublic at no charge.  There are often even other materials available to students that will help them use the textbooks in the best ways possible, including an answer key that has some, but not all, of the solutions including the work that went along with solving it.  If you register as a teacher (as a parent), you can access even more materials.

Screen Shot 2018-03-09 at 2.17.21 PM

Image courtesy of Press Kit. Updated September 15, 2017.

If you are looking for books to use with an AP course (which you can register to teach as a homeschooling parent.  Look for a blog post on this coming soon!), there are many choices for AP courses through OpenStax that have AP style questions right inside the book in each section and in the problems at the end of each chapter.  Currently available are Physics, Economics, and Biology.

If you’re wondering about OpenStax themselves, they are a non-profit affiliated with Rice University.

Please comment below and let me know if you’ve used any of the textbooks that OpenStax offers.  Or do you know of another great textbook resource?

Why take calculus?

by Kristen Lauria

I often get asked by parents whether their child needs to take advanced math.  Maybe their kid is just not into math, or they have a learning disability, or they already know what they plan to do after high school and just don’t see the point.  I am here to suggest that you do push your child to take higher math beyond geometry and algebra 2.  It may be difficult, but the rewards are worth your time.

To explain my reasoning, I want you to think about sports.  When a student is a star football player, do they just practice football all the time?  When it’s football season, are all their practices on the field just running plays?

Of course not!  They spend time in the off-season practicing or playing other sports to rest their “football muscles” and keep other muscles in shape.  Or keep their cardio up.  During the regular season, they also probably spend part of the week working on skills like running for cardio or weight-lifting to increase strength and muscle mass.  Doing these other exercises doesn’t practice running plays, but it does directly impact their ability to do so.


Just like football players train using other skills than playing football, our minds need exercise of all kinds as well.  If your student struggles in math, then practicing those skills they’ve learned in earlier math and continuing their studies can really be beneficial.  The same is true if they have a learning disability.  This doesn’t mean they have to take a class within typical time constraints.  Maybe take two years to finish what is typically done in a year, but don’t quit math all together just because you have checked off the state’s requirements for math.

If your child knows what they want to do after graduating high school and those plans don’t require math beyond geometry or algebra 2 it may seem like a no-brainer to stop there.  However, keep in mind that plans can change!  My high school chemistry teacher still likes to tease me that I declared in 10th grade that I’d never do anything in my adult life that had to do with math or science.  Wise 15 year old me never saw the joy I would find when I studied physics the following year (neither did 16 year old me who griped about actually having to do homework to be able to understand the material).  In fact, I was 25 before I decided to go back to college and get a degree in physics and found my true passion, math, during the course of my undergraduate degree.

The reality is, plans change.  It’s easy to write off higher math, but wouldn’t it be better for your student to have seen the math before having to take it in college at a much faster pace and with a professor who probably won’t be as patient with your child as you can be?  Even if they don’t understand everything this time through, they will be much better prepared to learn the rest if they’ve seen the material before.  Even if they don’t end up going further in math as an adult, the problem solving skills and determination to make it through a difficult subject will help them be successful no matter where they end up!

Have you pushed your own kids to keep going in math?  Have you seen the results pay off?  Have you had other results?  Please let me know your thoughts below.