Wednesday, August 5, 2015

{Crew Review} Classical Conversations' The Conversation

Can you define rhetoric?  No, I'm not talking about the blah-blah-blah that we hear from politicians every four years (or more).  I'm talking about rhetoric in the classical sense.

If not, you will want to pick up a copy of author Leigh Bortins' The Conversation.  In it she discusses how this important tool of rhetoric plays out in the home school (but I might argue that any concerned parent who values a quality education regardless of where it occurs will benefit from this book).

Rhetoric, by the way, is defined by Leigh (who started Classical Conversations back in the lake 1990s) as "conversing and expressing truth." (p. 35)  Lovely, right?  A worthy goal for our children (and ourselves), don't you think?

What's included:  This book is divided into two parts.  The first part is to encourage parents to continue their home education journey.   Leigh sets out a foundation about the purpose of a high school education from a classical framework and defines what a parent/ teacher's role is in the process.  She explains that we as parents can successfully homeschool our children for adulthood (work, college, etc) without being experts in every field.  She also addresses some fears parents have about those sometimes rebellious, contentious years of a teen.  I believe that ALL parents can derive some benefit from these sections, even if you are not home educating; after all, your teens do still live in your house after school!

The second chapter of this first part briefly reviews the three stages of the trivium of learning: grammar, dialectic and rhetoric.  For example, my oldest just got his first job and is in training this week!  He is still learning the grammar of the job (the rules, procedures, and vocabulary of working customer service at a grocery store).  Today he did a little "dialectic" learning as he began putting some of the "rules" of cashiering to work at the check out station.  It will be a long while, however, until he is at the rhetoric stage -- where he can explain, teach and communicate clearly about all the parts of his job.  However, his trainer Amanda is clearly at the rhetoric stage as she leads him through the training, explaining, correcting, and teaching him his new job.  Indeed, we all go through these stages whenever we learn something new -- whether for a job or a new subject (My oldest will be learning Chemistry this year -- lots of 'grammar' and 'dialectic' to learn!)

Obviously, Leigh does a much better job in the nearly 20 pages of this chapter as she explains Aristole's Five Canons of Rhetoric:
Elocution (style)

I just love how Leigh not only defines these canons (from the Greek word which means "measuring line or standard of excellence" p. 42) but shows us how they are applied across the curriculum.  Of course, it is tempting to say, "this only matters for writing!" But Leigh does a fabulous job of helping you see how these standards/ canons apply to all of our communication about everything and anything (but especially various school subjects).

The rest of the book are subject-specific chapters explaining how rhetorical skills (these 5 Canons) can be a primary teaching tool for parents to use in conversations with their students.  Honestly, I love how Leigh encourages you to use these Canons (as well as the Five Common Topics of questions which are described in her second book, The Question) to help your student succeed at any subject, regardless of your skill in that topic.  Chapters include:

Speech and Debate
Government and Economics
Latin and Foreign Languages
Fine Arts

I love the subject-specific cheat sheet of included at the end of each subject chapter.  It is just another way that Leigh demonstrates how valuable the five canons can be:

Can you gain a glimpse at how much conversation you can engage in with your student?  What great memories to build.

The last chapter is called "A Graduation Conversation" and in wonderfully intimate Leigh style she shares a peek into her own home education experiences with her four sons.  It is full of encouragement for those who are in the thick of high school home schooling and Leigh will drop questions of character, integrity and the ultimate goals of child rearing into your brain for you to ponder deeply about -- even in the midst of standardized test season and grading papers and writing essays.

Ending the book is something that I haven't spent much time looking at -- I 've only had a chance to notice it and tag it for latter summer reading.  The appendix contains four sections:

  1. Conversation Games - Includes four or five games which help students with rhetorical devices, practicing Aristotle's three ways of convincing audiences, or quick thinking.
  2. Common Rhetorical Devices- This is a great mini-dictionary of various devices your student will learn to use for writing, debating and speaking
  3. Resources- Includes a variety of materials (books, articles, websites) organized by chapter that may be helpful for further reading.
  4. Real Parents Respond- Classical Conversation families answer real questions about their biggest fears and joys in the high school home education journey.

I really do love this book and know that I will reference it often this year.  To see what others thought click on the link below:

Tuesday, July 28, 2015

{Crew Review} With Lee in Virginia

It has been a few years since we've learned about the Civil War, and I know that Luke and Levi had (barely) a passing knowledge of who General Robert E. Lee was. So, I was happy to use the audio drama With Lee in Virgina, based on a G.A. Henty novel by the same name, to sneak in some learning on a recent Summer Road Trip.

I was given a single copy of With Lee in Virginia, which included:

  • 2-CD audio drama lasting over 2 1/2 hours
  • 50+ page digital copy of the study guide
  • An opportunity to download the soundtrack of the production as an mp3
  • PDF of a printable quote

Heirloom Audio Productions does an absolutely amazing job of creating radio theater at its finest. They do not skimp on audio production quality or the depth of the audio product -- from every detail you might here in a battle to just the best acoustics that you might hear in an intimate conversation.

This production features the voices of Sean Astin (we love his work in Lord of the Rings and Rudy) as well as Kirk Cameron and several voices were were familiar with from Focus on the Family's Adventures in Odyssey -- Chris Anthony and Kelsey Lansdowne.  There were dozens more voices that contributed to the production, and you can read about the cast of this amazing Christian audio adventure.

This audio adventure story is a piece of historical fiction.  Using fictional main characters on the backdrop of Civil War, we are able to learn about the character of General Robert E. Lee, who was a devout Christian.

In the story, the primary character, Vincent Wingfield, is a 15-year-old southerner who is heir to his family's plantation.  Vincent is very compassionate to the plight and struggle and mistreatment of a slave, Tony, and his family who live on a neighboring plantation.  In the first part of the story, Vincent helps Tony to escape to Canada.

In the next part of this Christian audio drama, Vincent enlists in the southern army, and is accompanied by Dan, a same-aged slave that Vincent has practically grown up with.  Here, Vincent and Dan are introduced to many of the amazing men who lead the south in the war effort.  Vincent sees first hand the horrors of war as he experiences the death of a close friend.  He also receives counsel from Gen. Lee and begins to understand the concept of duty (even in the face of potential defeat) as well as broadening his view of the humanity and equality of the men and women he grew up knowing as slaves and servants.

There are SO many good lessons of Christian character in this audio drama!  I love the gentle reminder to pray for our enemies that is modeled in this presentation as well as the reminder to do our duty without worry about the consequences.

The boys and I also had the opportunity to discuss the Civil War within the context of current events in the United States.  We listened to this shortly after we recieved it in mid-June on our midwestern road trip.  By the time we finished it, tragic events had unfolded in our country that led to a renewed discussion about the Civil War --  its flag and the men who have been honored for their service and character in defense of the South.  Luke and I had some interesting discussions over our hotel provided breakfasts.

Study Guide: The boys and I had the pleasure of reviewing a previous Heirloom Audio Production, In Freedom's Cause, however, I did not find that the Study Guide was as helpful as I'd hoped (you can read the review at the link above). This study guide, however, has seen many upgrades and tools to make it significantly more

The guide is divided into several parts:   Listening Well (comprehension of the events of the story), Thinking Further (discussion questions) and Defining Words (vocabulary development).  I loved that the guide was tagged with the chapters on the audio CD so that we could stop the drama to discuss and define.

There are also Bible verses pegged to concepts within the audio drama and there are biographical sketches of some of the main historical figures. A map shows the trail that Vincent and Dan traveled after being imprisoned and other information the Civil War.

Final Thoughts: This is a wonderful supplement to any study of character or history.  I highly recommend it!

To connect with Heirloom Audio Productions online:

To read what others thought of this product, please click below:

Monday, July 27, 2015

{Crew Review} UnLock Pre-Algebra

I have tried a number of math programs for Luke this year -- math is not his favorite and he really needs lots of practice and ways to learn information, without it being SO MUCH that he burns out.

We've had the opportunity to try out a new product, UnLock Pre-Algebra by the new UnLock Math company.  This is a multi-media program that is designed to teach/ refresh math skills to make sure students have a firm foundation in the basics before moving on to Algebra.

UnLock Pre-Algebra is designed for a math-phobic student like Luke.  Created by seasoned math teacher Alesia Blackwook and her husband Matthew, it is designed to provide simple, no frills (but engaging) teaching, practice and review of previous concepts to keep the student's skills sharp.

Technical Requirements: So special downloads are needed for this program, outside of a web browser and enabling pop ups and cookies. You will need to be online to use this course.  There is no downloadable content for offline use.  You can view the FAQs to see more technical information (but I suspect if you are reading this review, you can access the program without difficulty!).

How The Program Works:  As of right now, UnLock Math has two courses: pre-algebra and algebra (with an algebra 2 course planned for the future).  Assigning Luke to the course was easy, and he logs in with a numerical user ID and self-selected PIN.

Luke's homepage looks like this:

The gauge dial in the center shows how current % accuracy on the lesson.  The blue teeny bar graph shows progress through the entire course.  I like the visual motivation to keep working!

The Unit Screen allows students to see what topics are presented in each section.

There is a Pre-Algebra pacing guide which provides parents and students guidance to complete the entire UnLock Pre-Algebra math course in an academic year of 32 or 40 weeks (depending on how many days per week the lessons are scheduled).  The guide also provides a nice scope and sequence to add to your student's portfolio.  Once a section is un-locked, you proceed to the next module.

Completing a Lesson:

Each daily lesson has 5 parts:

  • Warm Up:  10 questions of review information.  Although it shows as "untimed" -- I'm lead to believe that perhaps in the future, a parent could set a timed feature on this to help students work with accuracy and speed.
  • Video Lesson:  These lessons are short:  3-5 minutes of instruction by Ms. Blackwood.  She presents in front of an electronic blackboard with PowerPoint like presentations.  I found the instruction to be good, but I noticed sometimes Ms. Blackwood seemed rushed;  the beauty of this type of tool, however, is that we could rewatch the content.  Additionally, you can view and download a PDF reference sheet (you can see a Pre-Algebra sample here), which provides a written summary of the video lesson.
  • Practice Problems:  This is a set of approximately 10 questions that the student answers based on the new material presented in the lesson.  
  • Stay Sharp:  Here are review questions from previous lessons.  
  • Challenge Yourself: I *really* like these problems, some of which help students to see some practical application of the content.  The question relates to what the student just learned.  It is a good thing to try (Luke and I did these together so I could model problem solving skills) and I suspect the longer Luke and I work through these together, the more successful and independent he will be.
One thing that is great about this program is that there is a HUGE database of problems which are used for the student to work on.  If you are having trouble with a concept, you can repeat the practice problems or stay sharp problem sets with new material.

Another little thing I really appreciate: objectives and goals are clearly laid out for students at the beginning of each lesson in the upper left of the screen.  I also appreciate the visual interest of the map-like layout progressing from Warm Up to each Challenge Yourself.

Gradebook:  As a parent, you can glean quite a bit of information about student progress in the Gradebook.  A simple view from earlier in the review period looks like this:

The area that I marked (above) with red circles shows that these screens collapse.  You can view progress on a per-task basis by percent, letter grade or number correct.  You can also scroll down the screen to see each problem that was asked, the correct answer and your student's response.

You can also see progress in each unit and within the entire course.  Here was Luke's progress early on in the Whole Number unit:

UnLock Pre-Algebra can be purchased for an annual subscription (currently $299.00) or on a monthly basis ($49.00).  However, check their website for referral discounts.

How It Worked For Us:  It is hard for Luke to do math over the summer -- since he is not a fan. However, we worked through it together and he seemed to get a lot out of it --  in spite of himself!  I appreciated that each lesson had a short teaching component -- and even though Luke would say, "I already know that" it was easy to glean some new information from nearly all the videos we've watched so far.  Each lesson only lasted 20-ish minutes ... that was with one run-through of the problem sets.  I probably should have asked Luke to re-do a few problem sets (as a rule, we work to mastery in this home school), but -- well, it IS summer. *grin*

I'm hopeful that we can get some more work done on the program as we ramp up towards the beginning of our school year.  Did Luke love UnLock Math?  No, but he did not hate it either.  *grin* Since I saw progress and there were no tears, this will be our go-to program until the school year starts, and perhaps as he keeps seeing success, he'd be willing to keep working through the material.

You can see how the program worked for other Crew Reviewers by clicking below:

Thursday, July 16, 2015

{Classical Conversations Challenge 3} Preparing for Next Year!

What does a homeschool mom in New England do during the summer?

1.  Go to the beach
2.  Work on her gardens
3.  Prepare for the next year!

Next year, I'll be moving up with my Classical Conversations Challenge II students and Ben (who completed Challenge I for his sophomore year) to Challenge III.  We will all be learners together as I jump into American History (which I love), Shakespeare and Poetry (which I like), Philosophy & Advanced Logic (which I am looking forward to), and Chemistry (which I'm a little fearful of)*.

Today, I really needed to organize all the Chemistry lab supplies.

I purchased this Large Grab and Go Rack system at JoAnn's.  It perfectly fits everything I needed from the 2 lab supply kits and a MicroChem kit.

I also purchased a piece of foam (like for a cushion) to use to protect the glass supplies, but it did not work well.  However, the stiffer foam from the box in which my most recent computer came in was perfect:

The three boxes are filled with additional supplies:

These are the chemical bottles from the MicroChem kit:

I am extremely pleased with how this all turned out.  There are still supplies I'll need to carry in, but to know that all the glass is safe and that I cannot forget anything is a huge relief!

*CC Challenge families will probably wonder, "what happened to math and Latin?"  Based on the needs of the community and students and their families, no one is registering for Latin or math this year.  This is something that was approved by my SM and AM.  If you have questions about the Challenge programs in your area, you must really talk with your SM

Thursday, July 9, 2015

{Crew Review} Teen Prasso Bible Study

Prasso Ministries sent me a copy of the teen version of their Bible study.  I had never heard of Prasso before, and learned that it has been around since the early 1990s and is designed to teach directly from the Bible about the character of God as well as helping to apply God's word into everyday situations.  You can read about the founding of Prasso Ministries at their website.

What I received  Both of these books are necessary in order to use the program:

Teen Prasso Teacher's Manual ($35) - This contains a 13-week outline which shows how to use the program.  It also includes some suggestions on leading a small group, especially helpful if you've never done that before.   

Each meeting opens with a teaching lesson.  There are 6-10 pages of information for each lesson, which tells the faith story of two brothers.  The story, told in two or three segments, is broken up by Bible teaching which helps to draw out the biblical truth in the story.  After the story is told, a leader initiated discussion based on a set of questions students have had the opportunity to answer at home.  
The program is ideally suited for use in a small group.  You can implement the teaching, group work in two ways:  read the entire lesson, which makes for a complete script.   The second option is to read the story segments, then use the provided outline to share the biblical teaching in a more extemporaneous fashion.  
Photo from Teacher's Guide showing one of the two ways the lessons can be taught.  This outline allows for more extemporaneous teaching of biblical truths woven through the narrative story.

Teen Prasso Student Journal ($15) - This book is integral to the program.  It provides 6 days of homework per lesson.  Each day should take the student 20 minutes to complete the work. Additionally, there are a set of questions that are used for group discussion. Students are asked to apply bible truths to their lives, and think through verses.   As the study progresses, students are asked to consider their own actions and habits in their lives and list out a osrt of action plan to make changes (prayerfully) in their lives to become more like Christ.  By the way, prasso is Greek for "practice" -- which is exactly what this study is designed to do:  helps students practice new ways of thinking and acting as they walk with Jesus through their teen years.  

A photo from the teen homework book.

Both of these books are coil bound with soft cover fronts and backs.  They are designed with an easy-to-read font and some pen and ink drawings inside, some of which help students visualize the message (and others are just there for visual interest).

The twelve lessons include:
  • God Your Heavenly Father
  • God's Love
  • Why Doesn't 1+2 Add Up In My Life?
  • It's All-Out War
  • The Enemy's Lies - And Where They Lead
  • Pressure!
  • Anger
  • Forgiveness
  • Two Brothers-Pride and Selfishness
  • Refocus
  • Prasso, Putting It All Into Practice
  • The Journey
How I Used This:  I had to be a "stand in" for Ben on this review, because he was unavailable for this review [between finishing up some school work and getting ready for an amazing European trip with his cousin and grandparents, the boy was busy!]  

My plan was to read through the story and lesson myself, then work through the workbook sections on my own -- to get a feel for how it flowed together.  The story that author Eddie Zdanio created (which is based on Prasso founder Laura Baker's adult study) is a compelling allegorical story of two brothers, Derek and Brandon, who undertake a week-long adventure hiking in the Rocky Mountains. Like a modern day Pilgrim's Progress, the boys end up enduring some hardships and facing consequences of their actions.  They end up confronting some prejudices from their past.  Now, I have to admit, I haven't finished reading the last couple chapters, but so far, I've found the story to be an interesting read.  I'm pretty curious to know what hardships they encounter, and am curious to see how God will speak to them in their situations.  

While I didn't use the workbook as a tool for writing down my ideas in order to participate in a discussion, I did like the general flow of the book -- going from some pretty basic concepts about God to spending some time thinking about our reactions to difficulties in life and recalibrating our reactions to them in light of our knowledge about God.  For example, Chapter 3 goes into a detailed study of the story of Job, and helps students see that God was never far from Job.

A verse a week is also provided for memory work, and students are asked to write it down -- as well as many other verses -- throughout the week.

Final Thoughts and Opinions:  You might be wondering how adaptable a Bible study like this is to one-on-one work, such as often happens in a homeschool.  For our homeschool, I would definitely want Ben and I to spend time in discussion about the material (though I can see that perhaps honest conversation might be more likely if the discussion leader were not me), but I cannot imagine reading the entire lesson to him prior to working through the discussion questions.  I'm much more likely to hand him the teacher's guide (after I've read it) and allow him to read the scripted story and lesson (as much as I like to still read aloud, this is just something he doesn't enjoy anymore).    

As I've pursued and answered the student guide questions myself, I've been tickled to see many references to pop culture that are from my "good old days"  (Such as Karate Kid movie summary) and other tidbits of information about famous figures, in addition to traditional study of people from Biblical times.  To me, this is a great way to engage teens -- meshing their faith with elements from the real world that they live in.  

I am excited about this study, though I think it will take a little tweaking if you are going to use it outside of a classroom or small group setting.  However, I think the goal of the study -- to make biblical truths of Jesus real in the lives of teens to help them overcome the struggles common in their lives -- is worth the tweak.  

To see how other families used the study and get their thoughts, please click below: