French Macaron, Tries #1 and #2

I’ve been watching too much Great British Bake Off. Again. LOL. I just love it and I binge watched a bunch on the 4th of July. As a result I’m challenging myself to learn some cool baking skills this month.
Like this… A Spanische Windtorte

It was BEAUTIFUL, but no more delicious than a pavlova and about 10 times the work/time. I filled it with fresh whipped cream, cherries, strawberries, and fresh lemon curd. It was insane. (I used the linked recipe and cut the sugar by 25%.)
Today I tackled the French Macaron. I’ve never made them before so I watched a couple you tube videos and read up on Pinterest. I used the recipe from THIS video.

Well, I learned A LOT in the first batch.

1. Bake one tray at a time. Or this will happen:

2. Use more food coloring (to avoid cookies that are weak in color) and cook them a little longer.

3. I get what they mean about consistency of the batter more now. It’s such a weird thing – get lots of air in… then stir it out.

Batch #2 went better than #1. I rested the piped cookies longer, so I got nice feet. I used the convection setting, so they cooked faster. That’s nice, except I overcooked them. Ooops. 

I used the same filing for both – a French Buttercream (from the linked video). I followed the directions except instead of 3 1/2 T milk I used lemon juice. It was basically lemon curd and it was fabulous. Tart, bright…perfect with the cookies.

No filter!!

So I’ll keep practicing. The macarons very nice, fun, and a just little impressive. LOL! And, for those when I need a go to recipe, they’re gluten free. I like that they aren’t too sweet, and are tasty!! What’s not to love??

Our Curriculum (or Curriculums, or Curricula) for 2017-2018

First off, I had to type “2018”. SERIOUSLY!?? What is THAT? I still think it’s like 1997.

Anyway, it’s that special time of year when I actually get organized for the upcoming school year. When my kids were little I used to do this in February. It’s July now. I am finally taking this seriously. School here starts 1 August. Ugh. Let’s hope Amazon and UPS are on the ball this month!

Here are the goods…

Big, Junior (Yes, “Junior” is as unsettling as typing “2018”…).

Math – Pre-calculus

Yes, this is kind of a repeat of Advanced Math last year but we want a SUPER firm foundation heading into Calculus. And, maybe more importantly, this will be Dual Enrolled ON a 4 year college campus, so we wanted to give her some room to breathe as she starts out.

Science – Astronomy with Lab

Dual Enrolled. Great “ratemyprofessor” ratings and a super interest area, so this should be awesome!

History / English / Bible  – Notgrass Exploring America

I know this isn’t the “most rigorous” curriculum out there, but it’s interesting, it gets it done, it’ll be manageable her DE schedule, and we’ll be supplementing with a lot of “life”. Big would like to staff TeenPact this spring, and be a Congressional page, and we’re planning a visit to DC… I am not a believer that EVERY class has to be super hard, and super challenging, and stretching. Some are just really interesting and fun. History and lit are those subjects this year.

German – German 2

This year we’re switching German providers, mostly for scheduling reasons. Big will take German 2 with OSU and we’re excited to see how that works out.

Elective – AP Computer Science Principles

I read about this through The Well Trained Mind, and it looks fascinating. Both kids will take this one, and hopefully take the AP test in the spring. It’s super affordable ($150) and has great reviews from kids who’ve take it.

 

Little, Freshman 

Math – Finish Saxon Algebra 2, start Saxon Advanced Math, and test prep in the spring for the ACT.

Science – Apologia Exploring Creation with Chemisty

We’ll be doing the book work at home, and Little will be taking a co-op lab at a local college once a week. We’ll do Bio next year (as I cannot miss a FREE, fabulous, lab option!).

History / English / Bible – My Father’s World Ancient History

I am looking forward to this one! I love that the schedule is done, and the progress will be very self directed. Little will handle this really well. I am super looking forward to a more organized Bible plan than in year’s past.

Spanish – Duolingo

So, Little thinks he’s taking Swahili, or Hawaiian, or Korean. NOT. I’ve learned my lesson. He’s taking Spanish. I can help. I can facilitate. No more wacky languages here until they Dual Enroll! He’ll figure this out 1 August. LOL!

Elective – AP Computer Science Principles

Same as Big. I think he’ll really like this one!

 

OTHER “ELECTIVES” – Hopefully, even with our crazy schedule, we’ll spend Tuesday mornings working with Habitat for Humanity locally, and Thursday mornings at Community Bible Study. I forsee a CRAZY full fall, but we can handle anything for a semester (I think!).

PrepScholar – Our Review

{OK, for all the records, this is our review. We paid for the program. My student did the program. And we have not received ANY compensation for this review. It’s just us. Writing a review. So there you have it. }

I cannot BELIEVE that Big is getting old enough for high stakes testing – like the ACT, but she is. This year she will be a Junior and Little will be a Freshman. Nuts. Really. Last year I had Big take the ACT. Mostly we did it for annual testing, and since she was finishing up the first half of Advanced Math it seemed like a great time to take it for math retention. Before taking it she did about 6 weeks of very light Kaplan online test prep, (we’ll review that program later).  Since she has her heart set on some VERY top tier engineering schools she really wanted to improve last year’s score.  We made a deal this summer that she could a) test prep – like for REAL, or b) get a summer job. Since test prep and math are much more “fun” to her than bagging groceries or waiting tables – she chose option a.

I did some online research about different test prep companies and in the end we went with PrepScholar. The things Big liked about it (since I wasn’t using it, I didn’t pick), were that it was asynchronous. This is great for a self motivated kid – who doesn’t need a class time and instructor to keep them on track – but it’s not great for all kids. She also liked that it was NOT video based. She’s not a huge fan of videos (“they can be super boring and go too slow”) so she liked being able to go at her own pace. And, she liked the guarantee, (if you COMPLETE the program and don’t raise your ACT +4 points to a max of 34, then you get your money [$397?] back).

So here are the brass tacks (and the improvement between the two tests after Prep Scholar):

Math: +5

Reading: +4

Science: +1

English: +7

Composite: +4

I would say that’s a HUGE success and well worth the time/money that was invested. I am NOT a huge fan of high stakes testing, but if you have to do it you might as well do your best. As we approach college applications, I also see where a great ACT score can back up all of our homeschool grades and give us some “street cred” with colleges.  I think testing is like any  other skill, and good practice is a good thing. As a parent I feel like PrepScholar did a great job and I would recommend them highly. I will say, any program will only be as successful as the student that is working through it, so if your student won’t put in the work (Big estimates it took about 50-60 hours to “complete” the program), then don’t expect to qualify for the guarantee.  I think it would still be worthwhile, but not as much as a kid who wants to do well and really applies themselves. In total disclosure, Big actually went through the program twice. She finished it a couple weeks before the test, so she ran through it a second time. The time invested on the second run was about 20-30 hours, (and she doesn’t really feel like the second run did anything other than to keep the information fresh).

 

Since I didn’t use the program, and Big did, I had her write a review for all of you parents (and students) who want a “how did it work” review. Here is Big’s user review:

Schedule:

You start by taking a  diagnostic and then telling PrepScholar when you are going to take the test. This allows them to schedule their lessons so you can complete them all in the time allowed. Each week you start by putting in when you are planning to study for the following week. You can opt into text reminders here if you want. When you finish the week, PrepScholar automatically sends an e-mail to you and your parent telling you to “commit to these study times this week!” The e-mail is not personalized, so you can put in that you’re planning to study from 1:00 am to 3:00 am and there will be no response. [Mom comment: Big did this and it was pretty funny! In the throes of heavy ACT prep, any laugh is welcomed! LOL!] At the end of every week there is an auto generated email that asks you if you met your goals. Honestly, the emails weren’t super helpful. On your dashboard there is a meter that tracks how much time you’ve done compared to 10 hours. It claims that it’s your goal time inputted earlier, but no matter what you input, the meter only ever shows 10 hours as the goal.

Lessons:

PrepScholar schedules 10 lessons a week, although I usually managed to do more. Each lesson comprised of a reading section with practice questions followed by a timed “quiz” on the topic. Based on the diagnostic, the website assigns you levels for each skill. Depending on how well you do on the quiz, you can go up in levels. The three levels are basic, advanced, and mastery. There are different lessons for basic and advanced, and once you get to mastery they stop assigning lessons for that skill. [Mom comment:  I think to “complete” the program you have to master all of the assigned skills – but that’s worth looking in to if you decide to use the program.]

Every so often they give you full length, official practice tests. These are taken from the ACT Official Prep guide*, which is included in the course. Then you transfer your answers onto the computer and they are automatically graded. I wasn’t a huge fan of this method, because there were no bubbles filled in and what with that and the transferring to the computer I wasn’t sure if the timing was accurate. You could do a practice essay as well, and they will grade it for you as part of the test. Once you master all 54 skills the course is over and you have the 4 point or your money back guarantee. This took me about 50-60 hours the first time and 20-30 hours the second time. They will open the course back up for you if you ask them to. There are also 9 additional strategy lessons that don’t have any quizzes.

Blog:

While free and not technically part of the PrepScholar program, I felt it necessary to include a little spiel about their blog. It has lots of information and advice about the ACT, SAT, and even the PSAT. There is lots of information about different colleges as well. The one thing I will mention is that a lot of information repeats, and some of their articles are basically the same content-wise.

Overall:

So that’s it. Overall I would recommend it. It was a great course that really helped me cover all my bases, and I think it did a lot in helping me prepare for the ACT.

*The Official ACT Prep Guide comes with bonus online content. There are some practice questions and college preparation advice. If you don’t know much about college, applying for college, and the like, then it’s worth a read.

There you have it. One last thing I will mention, is that while PrepScholar will grade three essays (as part of the practice tests), I don’t think the program is great for the essay portion of the test. We had them grade the essays, but if you REALLY need work on the essay then this won’t help much. The program is really about raising composite scores – and for that – it’s a great program. I’m glad we invested in PrepScholar this year!