Student Contest Roundup September 19, 2014

Student Contests Graphic


Here are the contests for the week beginning 9/15/14. Remember to follow us on Twitter, Facebook and Google + to get notified of the #studentcontestoftheday.

Geography Bee

The National Geography Bee has been inspiring 4th – 8th graders to expand their knowledge of the world around them for many years. Students compete to be the best in their school (or homeschool group) and then take a written test to make the top 100 in their State and compete for the chance to go to the National competition

Spelling Bee

Spelling Bee

Spelling Bee is for 3th through 8th grade and also starts at the school level. There are still the odd occasion one has to write without the benefit of a spell checker, so I guess it is still worthwhile to know how to spell. At the first levels the words are reasonably easy but they get more and more obscure the close you get to National level. Watch Akeelah and the Bee if you have never experienced a Spelling Bee.

Voice of Democracy Audio-Essay

Voice of Democracy

High School students write an essay and then record it on the current year’s theme. This contest is sponsored by the Veterans of Foreign Wars and there are prizes at all levels. A great contest to encourage student to think patriotically about their country.

First Lego League

FLLFirst Lego League is a team event for 9 – 14 year olds. The contest consists of a Project Challenge and a Robot Challenge. In the Project Challenge students have a topic to research and they have to present their research in a creative way to the judges. For the Robot Challenge they are judged on the design of their robots and how well the robot performs a number of tasks.

Global Virtual Classroom Web Design Contest

This contest is quite different from most as classrooms work as teams, together with teams from 2 other classrooms (or other youth groups) to build the best website that meets certain criteria. And the winners win prizes they can donate to those who need them. A neat way to teach global citizenship

Introducing our “Student Contest of the Day”

student contest of the week


I have long been a believer in the huge value contests bring to education. I have watched how much my own children and my students have gained as they have participated in a wide variety of different ones. Over the years I have discovered many of them and my husband suggested I start sharing these with our readers. In time I hoped to compile these into a book so this is also a way to help that book become a reality.

Here’s how it will work: Every week day I will post the information about one contest on Twitter, Facebook and Google+. All of them will have the hashtag #studentcontestoftheday so that they will be easily searchable. At the end of each week, I will do a short summary of the 5 contests from that post week.

That gives you 4 different ways to find them. Follow us on Twitter, Facebook or Google+ – or sign up to get notifications when we publish a new blog post right here:

Don't miss any posts!

So here are the contests for the week beginning 9/8/14:

American Math Contest


American Math Contest - AMC

AMC 8 is for students up to 8th grade and AMC 10 and 12 are for high schoolers. Both contests are offered once a year and contain multiple choice math questions that test and in depth understanding of math contests. A great way to see if students really “get” it when it comes to math.


H & R Block Budget Challenge


HR Block Challenge

In this contest, high schoolers learn real life skills by making decisions on how to use a virtual salary to pay their bills, save and invest. And the students who end up at the top of the leaderboard will be rewarded for their success with nice scholarships!

Patriots Pen Essay Contest

Patriots Pen VFW

Middle school students send essays based on the current year’s topic to their local Veterans of Foreign Wars Post. There are prizes from the local level all the way to national level.

Stock Market Game

Stock Market Game

Teams of 2-5 students from 4th-12th grade invest a virtual $100 000 over a few weeks and see how much they can make during the time. Real close-of-day prices are used to make the simulation realistic. This blog post goes into more detail about the contest.


International Student Art Contest


International Student Art Contest

Students from 3-18 from anywhere in the world compete for great prizes by creating art work related to some space theme.




Have your children tried any of these? Let us know in the comments.



Hands on Activities to Teach Kids About Electricity

Hands On Electricity Lesson

Have you ever wished your kids knew more about the force and phenomenon that drives so much of today’s world? Electricity is a huge part of all of our lives, and most people don’t even know how it works at a basic level. There are some great resources on the internet about electricity education, and here are some of my favorite hands-on activities to teach kids about electricity!

Flying Grocery Bag


static electricity


Ever wanted to something fly? Try a plastic ring and a balloon! This fun activity is a cool way of demonstrating of static electricity.

Activity Instructions

Make a Battery (out of a Potato!)


Potato Batteries

This is a fun way to explain how batteries work. This where electrochemistry comes in…which can be a really interesting topic, especially when potatoes are involved!

Activity Instructions

Soda Can Race

This is a great way to show how static electricity can attract, as well. This is fun, and even competitive, to keep every kid excited and involved.

Activity Instructions

Build an Electroscope!

This neat device can be used to test objects for electric charges, and is a great way of visualizing static electricity!

Activity Instructions

Electric Play-Dough

Play Dough Electricity

This is probably my favorite of all the activities, it’s a really fun and interactive way to make circuits and learn how they work! Play dough makes everything fun, and when you add in LED’s and motors, it gets even better!

Activity Instructions


Thanks to Charles Weber for this post, based on activities he did at a local hands on science museum.

5 Ways to Make Geography Fun

A couple of months ago while we were driving somewhere, I asked my daughter a geography question which she got wrong. She had just been singing along with the music she was playing – and I pointed out if she was capable of learning all those words she was also capable of remembering Geography facts. Without missing a beat she responded :”Now if Geography was a Disney musical …”

Geography Fun


And she has a point. She remembers things that are fun. She remembers words if they are set to good tunes. But she doesn’t remember things that she just has to learn by rote, with no context.

And this is true of most students.

If we don’t want them growing up to give the very funny answers I showcased in my post Geography Funnies to Cry About, we have to find engaging ways to teach.

Here are 5 ideas – and be sure to read to the end and enter the Giveaway!

1. Geography Songs


My kids didn’t really like the kiddies Geography Songs on the CDs I bought them, but your kids may. This works better with younger kids, but for older students look out for geography references in regular songs and use those as starting points. Billy Joel has so many geographical references (history too!) in his songs that you can find lots of online quizzes on Geography in his songs.

Listen to We Didn’t Start the Fire and then see how well you do in this quiz:


2. Movies and TV that highlight different countries


We love Amazing Race and have watched it live as a family for years. We love seeing all the cool places the contestants visit and it is a great way to learn about foreign culture. You can find old episodes on various sites on the web.

But movies like the upcoming Paddington Bear and any of the versions of Around the World in 80 Days can be very effective ways of sneaking some Geography in. You can also get all the animated TV episodes for Paddiington Bear cheaply as well as  In a recent geography class I offered Invictus (South Africa), Ghandi (India) and Fiddler on the Roof (Russia) as prizes.

If you use Geography movies in a classroom, be sure to take a look at the great lesson plans offered by Teach with Movies.

3. Jigsaw Puzzles!


4D puzzle of New York City

I know this won’t appeal to everyone, but if children like doing jigsaw puzzles there are WONDERFUL map puzzles available. You can find everything from wooden ones with big pieces, to 3D  and even 4D ones. (The 4D ones include the concept of time).

One of our favorites is the world map one where every piece is in the shape of the country it represents.

4. Geography Apps and Online Games


Geography App

There are plenty of online games you can find with a quick search and I will be using a lot of these in my online homeschool Geography class, and there are also a lot of apps. My favorite online game is Geoguessr  where you have to guess the location based on photos (you can create your own and make it a bit easier!) and my favorite Geography app is Stack the States™.


5. Geography Board and Card Games


Geography Board Games

Games are perfect for in the classroom and at home. I have a HUGE pile I have accumulated over the years for the class I teach. The ones I use are FUN, really fun. If they aren’t, children won’t want to play them and then they won’t learn. Take a look at my post on US Geography Games for some ideas. When I feel the need to buy more – I usually just go to Amazon and look at the ratings and reviews of the ones that show up when I search and take it from there.

One game I own 2 versions of is “10 Days in …” You have to use tiles you draw to plan a trip across the continent the game applies to. Not as easy as it sounds.

You can win one of the 10 Days in Africa game by entering our Giveaway below. Please note – this is ONLY for US residents (sorry the rest of you – most of our giveaways are digital but this time it is a physical product)

10 days in africa

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** Note: some of the above links are affiliate links i.e. we may make a teeny profit if you buy something through one of them

FundaFunda’s Cool Online Photography Course

online photography class

This photography class is aimed at homeschoolers – but any students from 6th-12th grade are welcome to participate. Students taking this class should come out with a better appreciation for photography and better techniques. And they should have fun doing it!

What will your teen learn?

Our course covers all the basics of photography: composition, light, shutterspeed, aperture. We cover different types of photography – portrait, landscape, still life and even photo journalism.

Students learn how to edit their photos with free online software.


How will they learn?

They will watch videos where our instructor, Piers van der Merwe, teaches a group of 4 students. He takes each concept and works through it and then sets the teens a challenge. They bring back the results and he critiques them. There is a lot of fun and laughter as they learn which makes it entertaining. By the way, all the photos in this post were taken by the teens currently participating in the classes that are being recorded

The online students continue their learning through extra videos, or websites. They will sometimes take quizzes too. Each week they will have homework and when they turn it in it is graded. They will share some of their work with their classmates and this is a another way they will learn – from each other as they see what works and what doesn’t.


How much time will they spend?

Students can expect about 2 hours work each week if they take 2 semesters or 4 hours if they do it in one- this includes watching the videos, doing extra online assignments and taking and editing the photos. They can work any time they want as the course will be available 24/7. However, assignments will have due dates so they have to keep up with the work.

There are classes for 16 weeks each semester.

The class is worth a 1/2 credit and can be done over 1 or 2 semesters (pay once for either).


Want more info?

If you want to learn more about our instructor (my husband!) take a look at his website, On Standby.

And to see some demo modules of the courses we offer go to Canvas and use the email and the password tryitout.


How much does it cost?

The class costs $109 in total.

Teaching Economics with Minecraft


For a few years I have been teaching a “World of Trade Class” for middle schoolers and one semester they all get jobs and participate in a simulated mini-economy. They love it and I repeatedly hear from parents how much economics their children learned, just by “playing”.

I have recently become more aware of Minecraft and all the possibilities it offers. I saw on Youtube how some “Youtubers” had their own server and their world was focused on economics and entrepreneurship. What they were doing was in many ways similar to the class I teach – and we thought it would be a great idea to create a server that was focused on the economy.

Here is a one of the videos I watched – the players called their world “The Cube”. It is a long video but you can watch a bit just to get an idea of what can be achieved. Look at the stores that have been created by the players.

FundaFunda has decided to create “Fundaville” on a dedicated server so that students can interact and be part of an economy.

What will this look like?

1. There will be no formal teaching – this is strictly “learning by doing”

2. Students get on Minecraft and play as often as they want to

3. They will focus on making money through various entrepreneurial ways – or by getting a job. The ‘money’ they will use will be gold blocks.

4. It will be up to the students in the economy to decide how the economy will be run – they could elect a president, decide everyone should pay taxes, create laws etc. It will be up to them to work out how to operate and thrive as a community.

5. There will be a maximum of 25 students in a world. They will be able to “talk” to each other using the Learning Management System we deliver our courses through. A FundaFunda teacher will moderate the discussions and there will be a FundaFunda representative playing in the world and making sure the focus of the world stays on economics.

Cost will be $3 per month BUT you get the first month FREE (not even a credit card necessary). Near the end of your first month we will send you an invoice and you can choose to continue – or not and how many months to sign up for (1 at a time is fine). You won’t be locked in to any contract or anything like that!!

This is not meant to replace an economics class – it is just meant for Minecraft enthusiasts to explore what it means to function as an economy.

Please note: you do need a your own copy of Minecraft on a PC / Mac or laptop and an online account to be able to play. Once you sign up further instructions will be emailed to you.

Sign ups are ongoing – new players are welcome at any point but we do reserve the right to make sure your child is a good fit to play on our servers. No bad behavior is tolerated and we try to prevent that by screening the students upfront.  And be sure to talk to your kids about online safety. We are present on the server and in the discussion rooms but obviously we can’t always be there so students need to know how to be safe.



5 Chances to Win an Online Programming Class for your Child

Win a Game Programming Class

With more and more jobs requiring some level of coding – or at least an understanding of programming, most parents understand the need for children to learn this skill.

However, with only about 1 in 10 schools in the US offering program classes, it isn’t easy for students to get the knowledge they need.

Intro to Game Programming Class

FundaFunda offers a very gentle introduction to the world of coding in our 4 week Intro to Game Programming class. Students first learn game design, then how to create graphics for games, then they play games that teach logic – and finally they create an interactive e-card.

The class is aimed at 5th through 12th graders but has been successfully completed by some students as young as 3rd grade.


Students have access to the lessons 24 hours a day – for 4 weeks. If they get stuck, a teacher is on hand to help them. Their work is graded and if they complete all the assignments they will earn a certificate at the end of the course.

Our next class starts on August 4th and we are going to give one class away free on each of our 4 main social media channels – Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest and Google +. Be sure to follow of us one or all of those for a chance at winning.

In addition, one reader here will win simply by signing up for our monthly newsletter – see the details below. If you are already signed up for our newsletter – well, then just go ahead and register as you are all set.

Image Credit: Scratch Screenshot, Running Script“. Licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0 via Wikimedia Commons.
a Rafflecopter giveaway

Geography funnies to cry about?

Funny world map

Photo from CC BY 2.0


Over the years that I have taught geography I have come across many “funnies” (not least from my students). And as a South African, I get asked things like “Do you speak African?” and “I met someone who comes from Ghana, do you know him?” But even as I laugh, the lack of knowledge of our world does also bother me.

I doubt you will get through this 6 minute video without laughing aloud at least once. But really, how can we be failing so badly to teach students very very basic geography?


You may have seen this one in which Miss Teen South Carolina gets hopelessly confused.



And last year Buzzfeed asked a group of people to fill in the countries of Europe on a map. You can see all the results here – and some were actually pretty good, but here is one that will make you laugh.



Unfortunately this lack of knowledge can affect current affairs, watch this:

The point of my post is for us to laugh – but then to stop and think how we can improve the geography knowledge of our children and our students. My next post will list a lot of fun ways for kids (and adults) to learn geography – and it will include a giveaway for a great geography board game. So be sure to sign up for blog post notifications or come and check our blog in the next few days.

And if you homeschool, don’t forget to include geography in your school day or sign your kids up for a class at your co op. Another option is to sign them up for our online class (an adaption of the class I teach at our co op). I incorporate lots of games and fun activities to make it as engaging as possible.


FundaFunda Academy’s Fall Courses



We are very excited to be offering 4 online courses starting this Fall – with more to come in Spring. These classes are intended for homeschoolers but anyone is welcome to sign up.

As always we will be focusing on making these FUN and ENGAGING and full of great CONTENT. No dry text books. No boring lengthy lectures.

All these online classes will be run similarly to regular classes. There will be classmates – the students will meet in moderated chat rooms and in online conferences (some classes). There will be homework assignments. There will be due dates. There will be grades.

Online classes are not easier than “regular” classes – they are just a different way to deliver instruction so don’t choose this option if you are looking for a quick and easy credit. Instead, choose our courses if you are looking to learn a lot – and to enjoy the learning process.

Grades will reflect how well assignments are completed, but because we want students to do as well as possible, there will always be opportunities to resubmit assignments if they want to get a better grade.

Students can log on and work on their assignments any time they want to. Spanish is the only class that does have one set time each week (noon ET on Tuesdays) where students need to get on their webcams and “go to class”. They will take part in a live discussion which is pretty fun to do.

Here are the classes we are offering


Online Scratch ClassThis will be a 16 week course and consist of our beginner, intermediate and advanced courses. Scratch is a drag-and-drop language that allows students to easily create games. It is a good way to start learning about programming concepts before progressing to other languages which require users to learn the syntax.

By the end students will be able to program games like Hangman and Space Invaders.


online photography classThis is a year long course divided over 2 semesters. (You can also choose to take it over 1 semester in the Spring). For those who remember the children’s program “Fetch” we use a similar style but adapt it for teens. Students taking the course will watch videos each week where 4 teens are taught some aspect of photography and then they are issued a challenge. Once they have watched the teens perform the challenge, students in the class will get to complete the same challenges.

They will also take online quizzes and do various other assignments each week.


Online Geography CourseStudents will learn geography by watching videos, playing online games and completing fun assignments. There are two different versions of this class – for younger students activities will take about one hour each week. For high school students there will be all the activities the younger ones do plus extra assignments. Many of these extra assignments will involve watching DVDs as actually “seeing” the areas we are studying is a far more interesting and effective way to study geography.

I will also suggest optional activities which some families may enjoy adding each week: books set in the countries we study, board and card games, CD Rom games and apps.

Spanish 1

SpanishcourseThis is intended as a high school Spanish 1 class. No prior knowledge of Spanish is needed.  The instructor, Suzette LaPorte-Ayo, a native Spanish speaker, taught all my own children Spanish and the three oldest either did well enough on their AP exam to be exempt from languages at college, or they placed into advanced Spanish classes. And my children all really enjoyed the way she taught – which is why we asked her to join our teaching team .

The classes will include video instruction, online games and exercises, quizzes and regular online live discussion times each week.


To make it easier for you to understand what an online class will be like, we have created demo modules for each course. Each demo is about a week’s work and you can hear / see the teacher and get an idea of the sort of work that will be assigned.
To view the demo classes go to Canvas and use the email and the password tryitout. 

If you think this will be a good fit for your child, then sign up for one of these classes here.

If you want to get updates on our FundaFunda Academy course offerings, just let us know  and we will keep you updated whenever new courses are starting.

Pocket Law Firm: a fun Civics app that teaches the amendments

Pocket Law Firm app

Do you know your constitutional rights? Do you know what each amendment relates to? And do your students and children know?

If you answered ‘no’ to any of these questions, then I can recommend the iPad app from iCivics (you can also play it online here as ‘Do I have a Right?’) which makes learning these things a lot of fun.

You start by choosing who you want to be and then you select a partner.

Clients start to arrive at your law firm. It is your duty to meet them and hear their problems. If you think their constitutional rights are being ignored – introduce them to a lawyer who can help them. Initially, only your partner is available but as the game continues and your firm earns prestige points for winning cases, you can hire more. Each lawyer comes with one amendment they are experts in – and then as the game progresses they sometimes acquire more.

Pocket Law Firm Screen

It is your job to make a correct match to a lawyer who can help – or to refuse a case where the client does not have a real right.

Pocket Law Firm Screen

The game is played over 7 days and things get busier each day. Prestige points can be used not only to hire lawyers but also to upgrade the waiting area so that customers are prepared to wait longer, and to purchase adverts in the local newspaper.

The office gets really busy and it is hard to remember which amendment is which (you can get in-game help but that wastes time so you WANT to remember). And you have to think strategically how to spend your money at the end of each day.

Pocket Law Firm screen shot

I like this game – a lot! I have played it 3 times and each time I have done a bit better. I keep playing because it is fun – but I have also learned that the 2nd amendment = right to bear arms ,3rd = soldiers can’t be quartered in your house, 4th= no unreasonable searches, 5th= double jeopardy and government can’t take property without compensating you, 8th = no Cruel or Unusual Punishment, 13th = no slavery and 14th – equality under the law. All of these I could not have told you 3 days ago before I downloaded the app. By the way – I wrote those down from memory and didn’t cheat at all. I was actually surprised by how well I had remembered.

And did I mention the app is FREE? It is.

So if you have an iPad – go grab it now from the iTunes store. If not, you can still enjoy the game online. There are a number of other games from iCivics on their website. And there are lessons plans for teachers. These lesson plans are really detailed and even provide creative worksheets (not the usual boring ones I was expecting).

Any one used this app or the online games? If so, how have your children / students responded to it?

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