Thursday, March 28, 2013

{Crew Review} Math U See is Amazing!

 photo MathUSeelogo3_zps75a0efc5.gif
We have been Math U See (MUS) users for two years now, and I was incredibly excited to be able to officially review a high school level MUS program - Algebra 1.  It is a program that I like to subtitle “math without tears.” Oh, yes, we’ve been to the path where math elicits tears, and don’t want to go back.Photo 8 b
Math U See provides a system for learning math that really helps kids understand and master the basic, foundational skills of math – without pain!  From the website (they said it so much more succinctly than I could have):
The Math-U-See system is structured with step-by-step procedures for introducing, reviewing, practicing, and mastering concepts.
It is mastery-based, meaning that you don’t move your child forward until he can demonstrate he has mastered the material (teaching the concept to you is a great way to show mastery). Instead of just learning how to do math, students learn why we go through the steps we do.  If you are a visual learner, you can see a variety of introductory videos from the website or if you are more linguistic, you can read about some of the Math U See distinctives.
What I love about Math U see is the flexibility it provides not only for the teacher but the student.   Teachers (moms) are given many tools to use to teach – DVDs, written helps in a teacher’s guide, and hands-on manipulatives for the kinesthetic/ visual learners.  A variety of learning styles are satisfied within this one curriculum, even at the high school level.  I’m sure you wondering how on earth you can use manipulatives in Algebra 1.  I wondered that, too.  Here’s a video of Mr. Demme explaining how the Math U See blocks are used to visualize algebra:

Here is what we received to start Algebra 1:
Instructional Pack ($57) – This includes a hard backed teacher’s book and DVD. The 350+ page manual includes information on how to use MUS, lesson-by-lesson instruction and examples for teachers to use to help them understand the topics, solutions to all student work (each problem is completely worked out), honors lessons, and tests.  You can also find lists of symbols, formulas (yippee), and a glossary in the back.
Mr. Demme actually teaches each lesson concept to the student in the DVD.  Algebra has 35 video lessons, and it has become our pattern to use these as the primary teaching instruction for Ben.  Ben really enjoys watching Mr. Demme teach -- he is much more patient than I am. 
MUS instructor and student packs
Student Pack ($32) – This set includes a workbook with assignments and honors pages and a second workbook with just tests for each lesson, four unit tests and a final exam.  Each student page is perforated and 3-hole punched.  You can download a grade tracking sheet (PDF) from the website.  
MUS manipulativesWe also received a set of manipulative blocks ($38). These are color coded by number and include blocks for the numbers 1 through 10 plus hundred blocks. Algebra/ Decimal inserts ($22) are plastic rod clips into the underside of the 10-blocks. They are gray and blue. There is also some red single unit (1) blocks included.

If you are trying to determine where to start your child in MUS, I would highly recommend the MUS placement tests, such as the Algebra 1 readiness test.  This will give you a good idea if your child has had enough exposure to pre-Algebra concepts (like exponents and solving for an unknown) to be prepared for Algebra 1.  Ben had just completed MUS’s Pre-Algebra course when this review item arrived (thank you, God, for your perfect timing!) and had done well with the material so I knew he was all set.
Because MUS is not a grade-level based program but a skill-level based program, you will definitely want to assess where your children (these are the major topics for each level):
Alpha – single digit addition/subtraction
Beta – multi- digit addition/ subtraction
Gamma – multiplication
Delta – division
Epsilon – fractions
Zeta – decimals and percent
There are  placement tests for each level – I highly recommend using them.  And if you have any doubt, it is better to review for mastery then push ahead and have student and teacher frustrated!
Algebra 1:Math U See Algebra 1 table of contents
There are 35 lessons in Algebra 1, with five worksheets per lesson plus an honors page.  The first two (A and B) are practice pages, where your student will only practice the new concept, integrated into what they’ve learned previously. Worksheets lettered C, D and E are systematic review pages.  These worksheets have a few problems from the lesson but more importantly require your student to use previously mastered concepts in new problems.  I really like that there has been lots of review of fractions and decimals (often times used in an algebraic equation) because I’ve found that Ben needs these little nuggets of review.  Finally there is the honors page to complete.  Although this is optional, it is recommended that your student complete it if they are pursuing high math and sciences (which Ben is).  
If you’ve been adding up the worksheets pus accounting for tests and exams, you’ll find there is plenty of opportunity for your student to practice, learn and master algebra with Math U See.  There’s a total of 175 worksheets + honors pages + tests+ exams.
How we used this product:
Although we schedule math daily, I am very flexible in how a lesson is completed.  I truly do follow Ben’s needs.  When we start a new lesson, Ben watches the Mr. Demme teach on the DVD and he completes the A worksheet.  If he can complete the first  worksheets with 95-100% accuracy, then I usually allow him to jump ahead to the review pages. However, I think the systematic review pages in this program are so helpful that I rarely allow him to skip over worksheets D, E.
Ben and I agreed to completing all the honors pages in Algebra 1. I really like the honors pages, so we’ve done several of them together. The cover topics such as word problems, graph Math U See Algebra 1 test bookletinterpretation, costs/ revenue/ profits, additional graphing of polynomials, word problems with equations, Kepler’s Third Law, and tons more. I’m hopeful that these honors pages will help Ben to see the practical application of high maths. Since has designs on a math/science focus in college, I think these will provide him with a great introduction of the integration of math and science.
I have to admit that when I opened the MUS test booklet for the first time, I was shocked:  the tests are all multiple choice!  This is not how Pre-Algebra was.  However, I do believe this is a good teaching opportunity for Ben.  Since he does tend to make a lot of careless mistakes (please do not get me started on the importance of the negative sign), it is forcing him to check and double check his answers.  I still require him to show all his work so that he is not developing bad shortcut habits.
When Ben started MUS Pre-Algebra in 7th grade, I asked around on Facebook how moms defined “mastery.”  After some input, I’ve come up with a general rule of 85% accuracy or better.  But, of course, it does depend on the type of mistake. There were a few times last year that Ben just bombed a test because of careless mistakes.  When these mistakes relate to the concept being tested, we generally hang out in that lesson for a bit more.
Click here to read more reviews of all the MUS levels from the Schoolhouse Review Crew.

Wednesday, March 27, 2013

Wordless Wednesday

{I'm never without a word!}

Working on being more intentional with writing this week. Here, Levi is using his spelling word bank to create sentences with spelling words this week.

Wednesday, March 20, 2013

Tuesday, March 19, 2013

{Crew Review} Essentials in Writing, Grade 8

For the past month or so, Ben and I have been trying a new writing curriculum called Essentials in Writing (EiW).  If you’ve followed my blog for awhile, you’ll recall that writing has always been a challenging subject for Ben.  Although he’s gained a lot more confidence over the past year or so, it is still a labored process for him, and I’m always on the lookout for fresh ideas to help make it less taxing.

We’ve been using the Eighth Grade Curriculum ($40) which includes Matthew Stevens, the writer of the curriculum, video teaching for each of the 64 lessons. It is designed for 13-14 year olds. Included as well is a DVD full of Mr. Stevens reviewing the basics of grammar (there are no written exercises for the grammar, however). The first three DVDs include the lessons for the writing program, while the 4th DVD includes the grammar and PDF worksheets necessary to complete the program. This program is designed to be used and finished in a school year (each lesson might have two or three sets of workbook pages, so a lesson might last 2-4 days or so).

The lessons are broken down into sentence, paragraph, and composition sections:
  • Lessons 1-7 – Sentence Development
  • Lessons 8-12 – Writing Techniques (suck as similes, hyperbole, imagery) image
  • Lessons 13-17 – Paragraphs (expository, descriptive, persuasive, compare/contrast)
  • Lessons 18 – The Writing Process 
  • Lessons 19-25 – Personal narrative
  • Lessons 26-27 – Summary
  • Lessons 28-31 – Compare/ Contrast Business letter
  • Lessons 32- Parts of a Formal Essay
  • Lessons 33- 39 – Persuasive essay
  • Lessons 40- Choosing/ Narrowing a Topic
  • Lessons 41-49 - Expository essay 
  • Lessons 50-64 – Research Paper
The fourth disc has a grammar review.  These are clips of Mr. Stevens explaining grammar terms and parts of speech.  Here’s what is included:
I thought Mr. Stevens did a good job explaining basic grammar terms, and Ben did to. But, let’s face it, grammar can be kind of boring, and with no corresponding written work it was pretty easy to gloss over. But, it is a nice resource to have. Also, since some grammar programs use different terms (we used a grammar program once that didn’t introduce the term “predicate”) it was a good overview to watch before we headed into sentences.

You can view a comprehensive Scope and Sequence of the whole program as well as a lesson sample on the website.

Worksheets are numbered to correspond to the video lessons on the DVDs.  Sometimes, there are several worksheets for each lesson – which are lettered “A,” B,” and/or “C.”  Lessons that have more than one worksheet are meant to be done over a series of days – 22A on Monday, 22B on Tuesday, etc. This breaks up writing lessons into small, manageable chucks. For some writing-phobic students, this might be a gentle approach!

How We Used the Program:  First off, if you purchase this program, you’ll want to throw in the last disc and read through Mr. Steven’s written introduction to parents (from the website it does say they are sending the workbook files as a PDF, so perhaps it will be in your email). He provides great information about how to use the program to meet your child’s needs. His suggestion is to basically follow your child’s lead, waiting to progress him/her when he shows understanding of the material. He also provides suggestions on how to plan out the curriculum to complete it timely.

Next, you’ll want to print off worksheets, as Mr. Stevens stresses that they are not optional. Whether you print them off all at once (the workbook itself will print out about 160 pages) or section by section, you’ll want to throw it in a binder and get started. I noticed on the website that they are offering pre-printed workbooks for $20 if you don’t want to print it out yourself.

For this review, I really wanted to sample a variety of lessons from each of the sentence, paragraph, and composition sections.  We usually watched the video one day, and I gave Ben 1-2 days to work on the assignment (though usually less if it was a short assignment).  We really breezed through the sentence and some of the beginning paragraph material.

What Ben and I both found was that Mr. Stevens did a really great job teaching the parts-to-whole approach of writing.  It has been quite a few years since Ben had to focus on actually constructing and manipulating components at just a sentence level, and he and I found it to be a great refresher. The lessons at this level usually had 2-3 assignments: 
  • Identify the structures in given sentences
  • Re-write given sentences
  • Read through a paragraph, replace sentences with the targeted structures
One of the things that can be hard for students is generating information and then integrating new structures (sentence structures, in this case). For those who are not natural writers, having to make up novel sentences can be a chore; add that to having to use new sentence structures and you’ve got a double whammy of trouble for some! 

When you get to Lesson 18 (The Writing Process), you will see that the steps of writing really become the backbone that Mr. Stevens uses to teach various types of writing.  Lessons for all the compositions follow these steps – organizing/ brainstorming, drafting, revising, and finally edit/ publishing.  Here’s a video sample of Mr. Stevens:

Thankfully, Mr. Stevens does not leave young writers and their teachers hanging with little guidance.  Writing prompts are suggested, graphic organizers are offered, and there are even grading rubrics for us moms:
Ben seems to have the most difficulty with the revision portion of the writing process.  Most of the time,  he’s just happy to have gotten his ideas on paper and is ready to move on!  I like that Mr. Stevens takes the time to  walk the students through this process, focusing on word choice and sentence structure. What I really appreciate is watching Mr. Stevens humbly go through this process as the students watch him wrestle with his work.  I’ve told Ben often to read his drafts out loud to help him focus on how his writing sounds, an idea Mr. Stevens emphasized.  I’m hopeful that hearing this from another person (not just mom) will encourage him to walk more carefully through the revision process!
My recommendations & thoughts:
Mr. Steven’s writing program, Essentials in Writing offers a lot of solid teaching for a great price.  Ben and I both liked that it included a parts-to-whole approach to writing:  sentences –> paragraphs –> compositions.  I cannot say that this program made Ben love writing, but I can say that it has added some great content and methods to our writing program.  I love that it walks us step-by-step through the writing  process for each assignment, not making assumptions that drafting or editing in one writing task will look the same in another.
Schoolhouse Review Crew members were able to review nearly every grade level of this program. If you are looking for a different grade, click on the graphic below to read what other crew members thought of Essentials in Writing, please click on the banner below:


Monday, March 18, 2013

{Crew Review} Teaching Formal Logic with Discovery of Deduction {Review}

Blessed.  Blessed.  Blessed.

That is how I feel when we review products from Classical Academic Press.  Just a few weeks ago I published my review about Song School Spanish (which is still being used by Levi and he loves it and cannot wait to use Song School Latin next). 

This week it is Ben’s turn to try out Logic.  I love that in the classical model of education proposed by Dorothy Sayers  that she writes:
“It will, doubtless, be objected that to encourage young persons at the Pert [age to browbeat, correct, and argue with their elders will render them perfectly intolerable. My answer is that children of that age are intolerable anyhow; and that their natural argumentativeness may just as well be canalized to good purpose as allowed to run away into the sands.” (The Lost Tools of Learning)  
Rather than encouraging arguing in the popular sense, we might as well take a cue from the Greeks and teach logic reasoning/ argumentation.

I’ve heard it said that when your children start arguing with you, you are in the logic/ dialectic stage.  Lord have mercy, we are in this stage and will be here for a long, long time. 
The Discovery of Deduction: An Introduction to Formal Logic ($26.95) and The Discovery of Deduction Teacher's Edition ($29.95) are tools to teach logic. Formal logic that is. Informal logic deals with ordinary language arguments (we reviewed Classical Academic PressThe Art of Argument last year). Formal logic studies how arguments are put together, like this:
All men are mortal. Socrates is a man. Therefore, Socrates is mortal.
As is explained in Chapter 1: “Formal logic less less concerned with the content of an argument….but very much concerned with the form of the argument – if the logical steps taken to get from “All men are mortal” to “Socrates is mortal” are valid or invalid.” (p. 1) Eventually you can turn formal logic propositions (statements) into symbolic statements (which can look like Venn diagrams) or categorical statements like:
If all B is A
and all C is B,
then all C is A.

OK, Alane, enough blabbing about what formal logic is.  What is this product?  This course is divided into four units. Within each unit, chapters break down the material into topics, and each chapter has 3-8 lessons in it.  Each lesson usually includes new material to read, definitions to know (there is a lot of terminology in formal logic to remember), and exercises for students to practice using these concepts in arguments.

One of the gifts, I think, that Classical Academic Press has given to students is the ability to dig into the practical application of deductive reasoning through literature, history and other applications.  These are called “Deduction in Action.” In one of the assignments, Ben was asked to read a specific Sherlock Holmes short story and then attempt to put Mr. Holmes statement into categorical form.  Exercises using Shakespeare, mini-research projects (of one paragraph), and other topics are used to help students think deductively about the world around us.  I so appreciate that Classical Academic Press has incorporated these links  to real-life learning and living.
How we used this program:  In my opinion, this is not a program that you will want to hand to your student and let him/her do independently.  I think that this is material that you will want to talk about with your student.  At least, that is how I see it best used in our house.  Unless you are very well versed in formal logic you will definitely want to purchase the teacher’s guide.  This way, you and your student can both have an opportunity to read through the material and discuss it.
 Discovery of Deduction Logic Curriculum
A Suggested Schedule is available (for free) from the Classical Academic Press website. It contains a suggested schedule for a semester long course (18 weeks) or a year long course (36 weeks). It includes room for quizzes and tests, but CAP notes these are not available at this time.

Ben ended up working through the beginning of this book three or so days a week.  I like that the chapters are divided up into lessons-sized chunks, and what we found ended up working for us was to set aside time together to read through the material together (there are some written dialogs between characters  that could be fun to read aloud together) and answer the questions aloud.  Since I feel like I am having to re-learn material that I learned over 20 years ago, this seems the most efficient use of my time.
As a matter of fact, working through the material aloud with Ben made me think that this would be great material to do with a small group of kids. The content of what we’ve gone through so far is definitely appropriate for students from 7th or 8th grade on up through high school.  On the Classical Academic Press website, it is recommended that you study informal logic first, however, this does stand alone.
If you would like to see samples, you can go to the Discovery of Deduction website for a teacher book sample and a student book sample.

My recommendations & thoughts: I really have enjoyed working through this program with Ben, and he found it to be challenging but good.  He commented that at first it was confusing, but found that the explanations and examples helped him to understand the new concepts.  I definitely think that teaching he art of reasoning is a hugely important skill to be teaching our children to help them navigate the media rich environment we live in and help equip them to recognize truth – and the Author of all Truth.

To read what other homeschool, blogging moms thought of Discovery of Deduction as well as Classical Academic Press’s Introduction to Poetry, please click on the banner below:


FTC disclaimer v 3

Saturday, March 16, 2013

Weekly Report: Somewhere in the mid 20s

No, I'm not talking about the weather (although it did end up getting seasonably cold at the end of the week).  Instead I'm talking about where we are in our school year.  It takes us roughly 36-38 weeks to complete the official (to us) school year, so we are about two-thirds done!

Tapestry of Grace usually drives the schedule of our year, since it encompasses several subjects and a large chunk of time.  Ben's online co-op had a spring break week, so the little boys also took a week off from TOG.  Our week, instead was chock full of science instead.  I'll have to admit that the two little boys were pretty happy about it!

We finished up a review on a science-based lapbook and started a web-based science/ experiment driven science program.  We've really touched on a lot of learning styles in science this week -- hands-on, auditory, visual, and interpersonal!

Here, Levi is has created an electrostatic motor, which is moving the carefully balanced ruler.  It worked OK, and later that night I wondered if it would work better with a lighter plastic ruler.  We tried it first thing Saturday morning -- and it worked perfectly!

You'll see this picture again, but here is one of the completed lapbooks all about earth science.

As I look over our almost done year, there are several things that I have neglected to include as much as I had wanted to.  I know I am not alone in having bigger vision than I can competently carry out, but it still makes me feel bad.  One of the things that has dropped off the radar for most of this year is reading literature aloud to the kids.  We do plenty of read alouds for our history and science, but we have been missing the joy of sharing a good piece of fiction together.  I hadn't realized how much I missed this until this week when I pulled out this autobiographical  story which had been on Luke's recommended readings for the past few weeks:

One thing you should know about my Luke is that he is a cuddly boy.  He loves to show his mama love!  This whole week I was blessed with tons of love and my most favorite plea from my boys, "Read more!"\

Luke and I have been slowly moving forward in his understanding of grammar using Winston Grammar.  If you have a hands-on learner or a child who engages well with colorful manipulatives, I would encourage you to investigate this grammar program.  I realize now that I don't have a picture of the hands-on part (I'll try to get pictures for a future week), but the program includes color coded cards for each part of speech.  Your student matches the color (red is for articles, for example) to the part of speech in a given sentence that s/he parses.  When that is finished, I have Luke transfer the information to a worksheet.  Over the past few weeks, the information has really sunk in, and Luke has made amazing progress with articles, nouns, verbs, and adjectives.  Next week we introduce adverbs!

I'll have to share another week how much I am also loving the grammar program that Levi is using.  If you are curious to know what it is, click on the tab "2012-13 Curricula."

It is getting harder and harder to journal about Ben's home schooling experience for several reasons.  One, keeping up with all three boys is hard.  Some weeks when I come here to journal about our progress and adventures -- and I'm just stinkin' tired!  Other weeks, I find that some of the non-academic issues are weighing more heavily than the academic ones, and I just don't want to invade Ben's privacy to chronical them to the world (or, I should say the small corner of the world we occupy here in the blogosphere).  Suffice it to say, that we are all a bunch of sinners saved by grace, working out our salvation through character training. 

But, I will share these tidbits:  we are going to use the Virtual Homeschool Group to finish up Physical Science this year.  Ben is making good progress, but I like the idea that there is a lecture component to this FREE  resource.  I think it would be a good exercise for him to get experience with listening to a lecture in science.  We are going to use the at-your-own-pace schedule which means we can jump in where we are at.

Much of the year we have been working through the idea of being accountable for work.  We have assignment books, pacing charts -- all sorts of tools to help us move through the year.  However, they are of no value if they are not used!  This is something that Ben and I have come back to again and again this year.

Friday, March 15, 2013

Weekly Report: Pi Day 3.14

This is what I woke up to on Thursday -- a gift from Luke:

 It is a construction paper pie/pi.  When you open it:

 Tons of little square, red apples.  Apple Pi! 

 After much debate on types of pies and quantities of pie to be made and then consumed on this new educational holiday (3.14), I proclaimed to the boys that we would have two pies for dinner tonight:  apple and pizza.   Levi was a bit leary that "pizza" and "pie" could be used in the same sentence and hesitated to try it at dinner until I explained, "pizza pie is just regular pizza."

Both boys were huge helps in peeling and cutting the apples with our apple-corer-peeler-slicer.  I love this tool.

Our apple pie with crumble crust.  I forgot to mix the cinnamon with the apples and sugar, so that is why it has dark stripes on the top.

The pizza -- a rectangular pizza pie in the end -- didn't last long.  

We are really at the point where we are about to lose our shirts to feed these boys.  

Tuesday, March 12, 2013

Resources for Homeschooling High School

Here, in no particular order, are resources I found helpful as we are/ were considering all our options for high school:
  • Susan Wise Bauer’s video blog -  I’ve always admired her and taken her recommendations as near gospel-truth.  I so appreciate how in humility she shared own assessment of the first portion of her life as a homeschooling mom:

I didn’t realize that when I watched this video clip, that God was preparing my heart to consider options for Ben’s freshman year that I had not wanted to think about before.
  • Debra Bell’s Ultimate Guide to Homeschooling Teens.  Debra has a special place in my heart, since hers was the first homeschool book I purchased (The Ultimate Guide to Homeschooling).  I knew she had the godly wisdom and encouragement I would need for this next phase of life.
Why do I like this?  If you have a 6th or 7th grader, purchase this book now.  It is a resource that will help you think through planning for high school – and there are definitely things you want to do to help your child prepare for whatever decision you make for high school. This book will take you all the way through thinking about homeschooling for high school, learning how teens learn, what to consider in each of the major subjects for high school (even recommendations for websites and curriculum), how to figure credits, and looking at colleges.  She writes with humor and wisdom and will always help you remember the godly task you are embarking on.
  • I attended a one-day practicum in January about the Challenge program from Classical Conversations.  Here I picked up a catalog and read several of the articles about the dialectic and rhetoric years of education.  You, too, can read the catalog’s articles here and there is a summary of the Challenge program as well.
  • I attended a Lee Binz webinar one night in February.  I am not one of those people that is stressed about how to figure out credits and such, but after listening in, I was even more calm about the whole process.  If you attend her webinar, she does pitch her fee-based services at the end.  I’m sure there is value in those products, but I wasn’t interested in them.  If you are nervous about creating grades and credits for your high schooler, I would highly recommend this seminar.
I know that there are a million blogs, websites and books out there about homeschooling through high school – but the resources listed above are the things that have really impacted me over the past few months.  When I mentor new homeschooling moms, I tell them, “The blessing of homeschooling in the 2010s is that there is access to so much great curriculum.  The curse of homeschooling in the 2010s is that there is access to so much great curriculum.”  This is true for embarking on high school as well.  By staying connected to a little bit of new information and a little bit of tried-and-true resources, I am charting our way through the blessing that homeschooling a teen can be.

Thursday, March 7, 2013

Winter Break = Road Trip!

I’m not exactly sure of its origin, but here in New England, schools get a week off in February and a week off sometime in April.  I’ve heard urban legend that the genesis of February break has to do with emptying schools so that the usual round of winter flu and other bacteria can be fumigated out of the buildings. 
We typically do not take a winter break – to which there is often whining and gnashing of teeth:
“No fair. Why don’t we get a vacation?!  Everybody else does!”
To which I reply:
“You typically end the school year at the end of May while the rest of kids in school still have three or more weeks to go.  Quit yer whining.”
I’m sympathetic like that.
It just so happened that I found an impossible to pass up deal on bus tickets late last year, so we planned a family trip to Washington DC.  Ben had visited years ago with his Boy Scout troop while at the same time Dave and I took the little boys there for a day.  Yeah, seeing DC in a day is impossible.  So I was super excited for this adventure!
To maximize or time, I booked overnight bus tickets – 10 hours of travel time. Google maps tells me driving time is 7 hours – plus all the bathroom breaks necessary.  In all, this was a good use of our time.
Photo 1 A Friendly game of Blackjack while waiting for our bus.

We arrived at Union Station with time to hop the Metro to our hotel, drop off our bags and make it to the Smithsonian Museum of American History by 10:30.  This began our exhaustingly wonderful trip of important places:
Smithsonian Museum of American History -
We’ve been studying about the Civil Rights Movement and Ben had the change to “sit” at the lunch counter in protest of segregation.
National Holocaust Museum -
The children’s exhibit wasn’t open, but we toured the entire museum anyway.  I was impressed that some of the more graphic videos and pictures were well placed behind concrete walls so that parents could decide for themselves if young children should view them.  I enjoyed the individual papers given to us so that we could learn at a more personal level how people’s lives were affected by the holocaust.
White House -
Bo was going for his morning walk when we arrived bright and early for a 7:30 tour.
winter break homeschool trip
Capitol Tour led by an intern from our Senator’s office -
I loved the fact that we had a personal tour of the capital!
DSCN2074 - Copy
Air and Space Museum (we can never get enough of this place!)
Photo 5
National Archives to view Constitution, Bill of Rights, and Declaration of Independence -
“I promise boys we will walk in and see them and then leave,” said the mom to her tired and hungry crew.
Arlington National Cemetery -
Also learning about Vietnam and the Kennedy administration right now.
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Bureau of Engraving and Printing
DSCN2114 - Copy
We were blessed with mild temperatures, which helped make tripping to DC at the end of February just perfect – not many crowds nor tickets to pre-purchase.
Unfortunately, Dave couldn’t make the trip with us (he double booked his work schedule), so we’ll have to go back again.  The great thing about DC is that there is SO much to see for free that each time we go, it will be a little different.

Monday, March 4, 2013

Abraham’s Journey

Inspiring the American Dream ( sent me a copy of their first book Abraham’s Journey: A Celebration of the American Dream ($14.99 for a soft cover book; also available as a Kindle download) written by a Kathleen Basmadjian, PhD, and Robert K. Basmadjian Jr.

The story is about a boy (he seems to be a pre-teen) whose mom and dad have lost their job during the Great Recession.  Set at Christmas time, Abraham wants to make sure there are Christmas gifts under the tree in spite of his parents’ job loss and lack of funds.

Abraham searches out odd jobs using his smart phone but goes on a magical adventure with Abraham Lincoln has his guide.  They fly through cyberspace where Abraham learns to discover his gifts and then use his talents to provide for himself.

Abraham encounters Norman Rockwell, Amelia Earhart, Mark Zuckerberg and Bill and Melinda Gates as he learns to be resourceful to meet his dreams and goals.  Each of these famous people encourage him to be courageous, resourceful, creative, and philanthropic. 

After the story, there is a brief glossary of terms and brief biographies about people Abraham encounters in the story.

How we used the product: This book was accessible to all my boys, ages 7 to 13.  Ben chose to read it to himself, and I wanted to read it to Luke and Levi.  It was a fast book to read, taking at most 15 minutes.

Afterwards, the boys and I discussed what is meant by the American Dream.  We also read a few of the bios of the famous people in the story.

My recommendations & thoughts: I was hoping there was more to the book than was actually here. I really liked that the story stressed being charitable with our blessings.

I think the story is trying to find a balance between personal responsibility and the character traits we esteem and the materialism that often times is associated with the American Dream – but I’m not sure that balance was found.  I came away from the story wanting to discuss my own definition of the American Dream and how we can live that out from a Biblical point of view.  And maybe this is where the book achieves its goal – opening a dialog with the next generation about creating opportunities to use God-given gifts to fulfill His purpose in our lives.

To read what other homeschool, blogging moms thought of this book, please click on the banner below:


Disclaimer: I received a free copy of this product through the Schoolhouse Review Crew in exchange for
my honest review. I was not required to write a positive review nor was I compensated in any other way.
All opinions I have expressed are my own or those of my family. I am disclosing this in accordance with
the FTC Regulations.

Saturday, March 2, 2013

College Common Sense {Crew Review}

In some ways it seems hard to think about college when Ben and I are making decisions about high school.  But at the same time, thinking about the big picture (college and beyond) is helping us to filter through all our options for high school program.
I wasn’t at all hesitant to give College Common Sense ( a try.  Created by Denise Ames, a financial aid specialist from a small Texas college, the Going to College and Paying for it Online Video and Workbook ($25 for a 12-month subscription; $50 for a physical copy of the DVD and workbook) is a product that is primarily designed to help high schoolers (and I would definitely begin thinking about using this in the sophomore or junior year) understand the entire financial aid process of attending college.  Since the average college tuition in the US is increasing approximately 15% each year, I cannot think of one person I know who does not wonder how to help their child navigate the college funding issue.
What do you get with Going to College and Paying for it? Well, in some respects you are getting a financial aid counselor all to yourself!  This is a set of 6 online videos with accompanying PDF downloads of notes (which correspond to the videos) and grade-appropriate lessons/assignments that correspond to each segment.  Each segment is between 20 and 30 minutes long.  The segments are called:
  1. The Big PictureThis section gives you an overview of applying for college and financial aid – sort of like a “So You Want to Go to College 101” seminar.  She explains the basics of what financial aid packages include and how to figure out the true cost of going to college.
  2. How Financial Aid WorksDenise explains the importance of the FAFSA (Free Application for Federal Student Aid), the basics of how to fill it out (since the form changes a bit every year, it is not a step-by-step guide, but Ms. Ames does give some helpful tips).  She also explains the difference between scholarships, work study and loans – and how each can help make a college education affordable.
  3. All About the Free MoneyIs “free” one of your favorite words?  It is one of mine!  This section reviews the importance of determining scholarship/ grant monies to help pay for college. 
  4. The System That WorksMs. Ames has created a scholarship binder tickler system to help students stay on track of the mass of paperwork that college applications and scholarship applications creates.  You can see a YouTube video of Ms. Ames explaining the system here:
     In the video series, she walks you through the day-to-day use of the binder.  She also walks students through the process of writing scholarship essays, including the hardest part (in my opinion) – brainstorming.
  5. You in the ProcessThis is a great step for Ben to be in right now.  Ms. Ames calls it the “All About Me” notebook – a place to record dreams, ideas, beliefs, and even plans to achieve goals.
  6. Pull It All TogetherOne of the things I really appreciate and like about this entire series is that Ms. Ames truly tries to help students understand that their decisions, attitudes and actions will determine their future.  Although this theme is repeated often in each of the videos, the final video really punctuates this idea. If your son or daughter is not understanding their own personal responsibility towards their future, well, the cost of the entire series just might be worth it to have an outside party stress this to him/her!
Each PDF document that accompanies the video segment has a code  that helps you to tailor the content of each video to your child’s age/stage of development:
          • A - Ideas to help parents of elementary school age
          • B - Parents and students of middle school age
          • C - Parents and students of high school age
          • D - Parents and students of college age
For example, after watching the first segment, Ben and I were supposed to familiarize ourselves with how to tour a college/ university and how to investigate different colleges (such as using online guides).

college common senseHow We Used This Product:  My intention with this product was to watch the first couple videos by myself, then re-watch them all with Ben and work through the suggested activities that are included in the PDF that comes with the subscription.   
What I found, however, is that for my 8th grader, the videos were still quite abstract.  He has had the dream of being an Air Force Pilot for about two years, but has only in the last few months expressed an interest in college majors.  In all our talks about high school, Ben has decided that maths and sciences need to be a focus because he’d like to look at being an engineer.  I just love that he is starting to think about his future from different angles.
We homeschoolers are usually pretty good at adapting things to meet our children’s needs – and that is exactly what I did with Ben. Instead of setting up a tour at our local state university (it’s winter, here, folks) Ben and I toured the website a bit.  And, since Ben’s interest is in engineering, I gave him the assignment to look through the engineering school’s website.  He also had to investigate engineering fields of study and begin to learn about their professional scope to help him make informed decisions about college courses of study.
Since I reviewed this with my middle schooler, I tracked which video segments had assignments for parents and students to do together.  Segments 1, 3, 4, and 5(the first segment with an elementary-aged assignment) had activities to do in an All About Me notebook.  The sixth segment’s suggestion was to go through the video series each year, refining and personalizing the information as your student matures.
I should mention Ben’s response to the video segments.  Given where he is (just beginning to think about college, life, and what to be when he grows up), he found the videos to be long and dull.  I really had to force him to sit through the first two.  The second one (all about financial aid) was very hard for him to sit through. On the other hand, I found all the information to be really interesting and a good review for me about the financial aid and scholarship process.  In retrospect, I would have watched the videos a bit more critically, and encouraged him to sit through portions of the videos that I felt were worthwhile for a soon-to-be high school freshman.
Another thing I want to mention are Ms. Ames’ free email.  Her newsletter (sign up for it here) and her free lesson plans, in my opinion, are great ways to be more intentional about the process of equipping your children for college.  I’ve only been receiving these for a month or so, but these are the themes for each week:
Week 2: Timed Tests
Week 3: Scholarship
Week 4: Future Trends
I found the lesson plans to be more encompassing for students of all ages and really easily to implement.  For example, although Ben has taken several standardized tests over the course of the years, I’ve never enforced a timed test for one of his subjects.  Thankfully, he had both a unit test and final test for math during the past month, and I gave Ben time limits for these. 
Last week’s topic for Future Trends encompassed some great ideas to help spur thinking in problem solving, applied science, innovative and creative thinking, and written expression.  If your children journal daily and need material to write about, some of these suggestions would make great research/ writing prompts!
My recommendations & thoughts:  I’ve been thinking a lot about who I would recommend this product to:
  • Parents who have never attended college
  • Parents who have little experience with financial aid and scholarships
  • High school sophomores through seniors
I would also suggest this product for parents who have middle school students who are thinking clearly and intentionally about their future.  If your middle school student is like Ben (just beginning to think about career and just beginning to investigate related college majors), then this might be a good product for you as well.  If you only have elementary students, I would bookmark this site and save your pennies for purchasing this in the future. 
I would also suggest incorporating ideas from the lesson plans Ms. Ames sends – especially if you have middle school students and freshman or sophomores.   

To read what other homeschool blogging moms thought of College Common Sense, please click on the banner below:

Disclaimer: I received a free one-year subscription of this product through the Schoolhouse Review Crew in exchange for my honest review. I was not required to write a positive review nor was I compensated in any other way.All opinions I have expressed are my own or those of my family. I am disclosing this in accordance with the FTC Regulations.