Sunday, December 21, 2014

{Weekly Report} Challenge 1: First Semester in the Books!

So blessed by our first semester of Challenge I (and a great tutor).

One of the things that I appreciate about the Challenge program is that I do  not give away my ability to still be the teacher for my high schooler's program.   Even for me (a tutor myself), I often have to consciously remember that I am still the teacher for Ben's program -- I can alter the program if necessary to meet our family obligations and his educational needs.

Here are some ways that I made Challenge I our own:

1.  I did not change the Literature reading assignments at all.  This semester they read a ton of books for a full credit of American Literature:

Sign of the Beaver (a book we read as a read aloud when he was in 3rd grade)
The Call of the Wild
Johnny Tremain (another book we had as a read aloud when he was young)
The Red Badge of Courage
The Scarlett Letter
several sermons from historical figures in US History
Edgar Allen Poe short story
"Billy Budd" (A Herman Melville short story)
Through Gates of Splendor
The Adventures of Tom Sawyer
To Kill a Mockingbird

At the end of the semester, students were supposed to write an informal essay (1 page) -- along the lines of Mark Twain's "Advice to Youth" essay.  Ben had already been working on an essay for a review product (Fortuigence's Rock Star Essay with Lily Iatridis), so I asked him to finish that. However, I did make him come up with an outline for an informal essay -- and an exordium (an interesting way to begin the essay).  Ben was pretty sick for the last 10 days of our semester, but he was able to get everything done before Christmas break officially began for us.

{Someone might be thinking, "what is the point of reading a book again that you've already read?"  Great question!  The more you read a story, the more you can go deeper into reading it for meaning.  The Classical model of education has repetition as a cornerstone, because through repetition you can master information and think deeper about it.  Reading a story in elementary school years allows students to enjoy the story -- reading it again in high school allows students to engage in the book at a thematic level.} 

2.  My 15yo said he really likes economics!  Just so you know, this was a complete turn around from his opinion about econ at the beginning of the semester -- he was not really looking forward to this course. I think the approachable material and requirement to follow economic topics through the current events project has made it very engaging;  loved the spontaneous conversations we had about the world we live in.

For the Economics course, I added in the online lectures, quizzes and final from Hillsdale College's online (free) courses -- Economics 101.  Like the What Ever Happened to Penny Candy? book, this is a free market economics course, so I thought it would be a good addition.   By finishing this, I'll give Ben an honors credit (assuming he gets 80% or better on the Hillsdale course final).

The class also has a semester long project on budgeting.  Ideally, students are supposed to research how much income they might make in a career they are interested in, figure out rent and other expenses and create a budget.  Instead, I enrolled Ben in H & R Block Budget Challenge.  This was a 10 or so week program in which students are given a faux income, faux banking accounts, faux bills (and even faux car accidents) and they spend the weeks managing all this faux money.  What a great experience this was.  Ben racked up about $150 in late fees (thank goodness these were faux, too!).

For the end of the semester, he created a display board and presented this project to his seminar.  I'm very pleased that we used this program and would encourage its use in the future - even as a whole Challenge I program.

3.  Ben chose to memorize some lines from Taming of the Shrew. This was an assignment for his Rhetoric class -- they read the Shakespeare play, watch it and have several discussions about dating/ marriage (which were supplemented by a set of talks we listened to from Ravi Zacharias.  Ben, Dave and I had a fabulous night of discussions about dating, courtship and marriage.)  He was supposed to dress up, but since he had been quite sick (and didn't really plan ahead for this part), I gave him a pass on creating a costume.  He was up pretty late the night before getting the last few lines memorized. As I think about it now, I realize I forgot to ask him how it went!

In fairness and transparency, I will say that this semester was not without its hiccups.  Time management is a constant theme that we are working through here.  I do not really have to worry about Ben's diligence and effort with his Classical Conversations courses, but I'll admit that the courses that he is taking outside CC (Ben is accountable for 3 of the courses in CC -- he does a different math program, foreign language, and science course), Ben does struggle with meeting those deadlines.  I guess what I am learning is that the outside accountability of a tutor and peers is something that really motivates Ben -- online deadlines (such as those for his Spanish course) do not have the same effect on him and real life encounters.  Ben is enjoying math a lot, so I do not really have to worry about his pacing for that course either.

Thursday, December 18, 2014

{Weekly report} sick vs. SICK

Well, we got home from Thanksgiving vacation just in time for 40% of our family to get sick.  Not just any cold, mind you, SICK.

Dave was sick first.  He came home early from his first day back at work with a terrible cough.  I've been dealing with a nagging cough from a cold I had at the beginning of November, so I wasn't completely sympathetic.  But, after a few days, this was just not any cold.  By Friday -- a week out of work, which I do not think has ever happened before -- Dave was in the doctor's office and taking antibiotics.  I'm not convinced that the medicine helped speed his recovery any, but at least he was back to work and a regular schedule after the weekend.

Then it was Ben's turn to be sick.  When you have a teen, it is sometimes hard to tell what is legitimate sickness vs. attitude and general teen malaise. Ben can be a little like me -- he recharges by being alone and doesn't mind holing up in his room for a while.  So when he was asking if he could stay home from an early morning scout event, I was skeptical.  But, he really did not sound like it would be good for him to be standing out in the cold for 6 hours.  So, he reseted over the weekend. Then, I let him stay home from Classical Conversations on Tuesday, but he had to promise me he'd do some work.

{Listen, when you home educate yourself, you have to be practically dead to have a decent reason to not read a lit book or work on a couple math problems while propped up in bed! Ben even has some online lectures he can watch if he is not quite dead yet.}

Ben is a good kid, and he did sit up and do some work while we were out on Tuesday.  But when Ben didn't wake up by 11 on Wednesday, I knew he was in a bad way.  "Mom, did you take my temperature in the middle of the night?"  he asked when he did wake up for a few milli-seconds.  We went to see the doctor, just to make sure he didn't have anything serious.  

Croup.  My 15 year old had croup.  From this website: Croup, which usually affects children who are 5 years old or younger, results from inflammation and swelling of the larynx and trachea." Yep, that is what he had, minus the seal bark. Who knew?

Now that we've been through this bout, I think I have a better idea of what "I'm sick" vs. "I'm sick of schoolwork" looks like.  While I wouldn't wish illness on my children, it is helpful to have a perspective.

I was a little disappointed that I  could not find my go-to sick supplies -- mainly, our favorite soup:

This has been our family solution for sickness since I was a child.  I do not have a lot of homemade recipes to hand down to my children -- instead, I have comfort food that comes from a box!  There is no comparison in flavor between Mrs. Grass (which tastes like your mom made it with real chicken broth) and Lipton's Cup of Noodles (which tastes like the stock came from a powdered flavor packet), which was our weak substitute this time around). Unfortunately, I wasn't able to find it at my three well-frequented grocery stores.  I'll have to ask if they can order it for me or I might just purchase a case of it on Amazon (which is where I got the picture).  I am pretty sure we'll need more of this as the winter goes by.  

I think the rest of us are saved, thank you Clorox Wipes, from the nasty bug.  We have one week left of formal learning before we take a few weeks off to celebrate Christmas and enjoy the traditions of the season.

Thursday, December 11, 2014

Thanksgiving Vacation: Rock 'n Roll Hall of Fame

Our Thanksgiving plans took us to a new location -- Erie, Pennsylvania.  We have no connection to Erie,except it was a meeting point for my family and us and there was a water park (Splash Lagoon)! This might be one of the last years that a water park can hold the attention of my boys and my nephews, who age in range from 15 on down, but it worked for this year, and it was awesome to see my family.

It was so wonderful to see my sons and my three nephews hang out together.  Of course, there was lots of "staring at small screens" but there was also swimming together, some games, watching movies, eating out, and a few side trips.  Luke learned some soccer footwork tricks from my 13 year old nephew who has been playing club soccer for a number of years;  Luke definitely has his eye on his cousins collection of soccer shirts should he ever want to part with them.  Ben and my 14 year old cousin tended to pair off together -- both are thoughtful, young men.  Levi, I think, experienced the best surprise -- a boy cousin near his age!  My 10 year old nephew and he spent a lot of time together hanging out, and I'm so glad for the opportunity for each of my boys to build connections with their nephews.

Our "free" day away from the waterpark involved a day trip to the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and Museum.  Hubby and I were super excited for this, and I was glad for the opportunity to have my kids glimpse all the great music we used to listen to.  It was like a walk down memory lane for me! I know that Luke and Levi grew weary long before Ben, Dave and I.  Actually, Ben lasted the longest.

I was so totally enamored with the museum part (LOVED the Dick Clark/ American Bandstand looping movie) I totally forgot to go up the the Hall of Fame part, instead spending a glorious amount of time in the museum. The collage shows some of the artifacts that reminded me of growing up in the midwest in the 1980s -- Prince, The Romantics, Cheap Trick, John Cougar Mellencamp (sorry, that's what I grew up calling him) and U2!  That was fun music to dance to.

Then, right as we were leaving the museum, a group of protestors began walking down I-90 in support of the Ferguson, MO protestors. I took this picture from near the overpass bridge.  As I walked away from the bridge to wait for Dave (who got re-routed around the protestors) to  pick us up, I passed a police officer, telling him I hope everyone -- including the protestors and police -- stayed safe.  "Me, too,"  he hoped.

Ben, Levi, my nephews and I played a game called "Waterworks" that my mom has had since the 1970s.  

We made our drive home a second adventure -- stopping to drive through Grove City College, PA and then headed towards Scranton, PA for my The Office loving guys.  We found the iconic downtown skyline and took pictures.  This side says "Dunder Mifflin" and the Other side says "PA Paper."

After our Scranton side trip, we veered once more towards a detour -- West Point Military Academy's Visitor Center.  All our extra driving home side trips made me remember how much I love traveling and seeing sights with my family.

Monday, December 1, 2014

{Weekly Reports} Where'd They Go?

There are seasons for everything, and each start of the school year, I have such high hopes of journaling about our adventures so I don't forget.  But life happens (fast!) and the last thing I remember to do is journal.

A few updates:  Luke is working hard with his writing.  This year I've forced him to sit in front of the computer and type out his own papers;  the good news is that I didn't have to force him -- he willingly sat down to 2-finger type.  I tell him he has to do some touch typing, but he is not willingly doing this.  I can't decide if I make this an issue or let him realize that he better pick it up quickly through natural consequences.

Levi has begged to use the The Body Book and create a paper skeleton -- again.  I think this is our 3rd or 4th build from this resource.

I've also created some history pages that the boys are LOVING.  The copy the memory work and color a related picture while I read about the elements of the history sentence from the iPad App. This has really satisfied the kids' interest in what they are memorizing.  Now, questions like, "What's the Gadsden Purchase?" are being fully answered in a timely manner the day after our community day.

I've also decided to grab the Apologia Anatomy and Physiology book and read a snippet here and there about the body systems they are memorizing.  I mean, everyone should know what the lymphatic system parts do, fergoodnesssake!

As much as I'd like to do more, this is about all we can fit in.  I'm trying to stay connected to Ben (and not let grading pile up!) as well as working individually with Luke and Levi on their own level-specific work.  Some days there is not enough of me to go around, but other days, it is easy to add in this, plus more.

After finishing our most recent read-aloud, Sign of the Beaver, we are supposed to start on Amos Fortune, Free Man.   Levi is always skeptical about the books I've chosen to read, but by the end (at least) he is a fan.

Monday, November 24, 2014

My Little Thespian

Levi has been involved in a stage production --  one night only! -- and he has finally had his debut! Last Friday night proud parents, family and friends gathered for a first of its kind production of a George MacDonald fairy tale.  You can find the story here: At the Back of the North Wind.

It is the tale of the Princess Daylight - a poor young heiress who suffers the fate of so many young princesses of old -- the curse of a jealous fairy/ witch/ etc.  While this premise seems familiar to us all (is there a Disney Princess who did not suffer this fate at some level?), I absolutely LOVE the independence of Daylight.  When told she can be 'cured' of the curse by a simiple kiss from an unknowing Prince, she asserts here 19th century feminism (meant in a good way) and cries out to here father The King (Levi's role) something like, "What kind of prince randomly walks around kissing unsuspecting princesses?  And do I want to be associated with that kind of man?!?!?"

THAT is a good role model!  Though I have no daughter to give advice to, it is wise to wonder if your association with men who kiss wontonly is a good thing!

Here is my King:

Oh the facial hair!  He is so cute!

I do not think this is Levi's last play!

Monday, November 17, 2014

The End of Another Review Year and Our Family Blue Ribbon Choices

We as a family have been blessed beyond words to review curriculum materials for The Old Schoolhouse Magazine. Over the years, we've had an opportunity to really work with some amazing curriculum that has re-shaped our homeschool.  Some curriculum has clearly pointed out areas of Review Crew Link Ups.
need for either myself or my chidren.  Some curriculum has clearly pointed out likes and dislikes, some has pointed out clear learning styles and preferences for all of us (including me).  Hopefully, for as much as reviewing has blessed our family, it has been a blessing to blog readers and those who stumble upon my reviews from online searches and

As I often do at the end of a review year, I like to post our favorites -- ur Blue Ribbons -- and the results we've had with some of our products:

1. Analytical Grammar - I think there is something to be said about giving a curriculum another try during a different season of life -- or when they add helpful tools!  Ben is thriving with AG + the teaching DVDs this time through (I thought it would be the answer to our grammar woes when he was in 6th grade, but it only caused more confusion and tears).  Honestly, what is keeping us both sane is the teaching DVDs.  He is really getting grammar this time through, and it will complete his fairly intense year of English 2.  

2. Ubersmart Math  This is another program that has only gotten better as the year has gone on.  When the boys were younger, they adored Math Rider.  It was fun and had this helpful distracting effect so that they were not constantly reminded they were working on math forgoodnesssake.  But for Levi, Math Rider did not cut it.  Ubersmart (or as we now call it Ubermath) is short, sweet, to the point and gets him in and out with little trouble.  I LOVE that I can program it to include math facts up to x12s or even x15s (which I should do for Luke to help him with his CC Essentials math practice).  Levi has now mastered all multiplication facts up through x12, so we're going to leisurely worth through subtraction.  He didn't balk when I told him my (not so evil) plans.

3. I had big plans to incorporate Amy Puetz's Heroes and Heroines of the Past: American History Curriculum, but I have stuggled all fall to fit in it.  I really liked the simplicity of the program and the great personal stories of men and women in our country's past.  I'm not sure if I'm reaching beyond my abilities to incorporate it into our winter or not.

4. The Trident Case for iPad is still our go-to case that our iPad lives in.  Thank goodness, too, because it has taken a few tumbles that I am sure wouldn't have resulted in relieved sighs!

5. Shhh!  I haven't had the heart to tell Levi that the Middlebury Language Course is over.  He still works on his Spanish every. single. day.  Just this week I heard him recording his responses while Ben was working on his high school online course -- a whole dining room table full of Spanish.  LOVE!

6.  I am disappointed that Levi gave up on the Veritas Press Course.  We really loved this -- except when he had to spell a new, long word in a timed situation.  That one exercise really soured him on the whole course.  I think I will go ahead, however, and begin to sit with him and re-introduce it to him -- unless we tackle a NEW history course in this winter on our SIXTH year of reviews beginning in January 2015!

7.  Another course that I have loved and we will finish is Fortuigence online writing.  Ben has about 3 lessons to complete and we can only work on it about every other week, so it meshes with his Classical Conversations writing projects.  

8. I am passing on some blessings to others:  a cousin's son is going to get the Egglo Glow in the Dark Easter eggs and book, and a friend who is traveling with her family on a sailboat for the next year was given some DVDs:  Go Science DVDs +  the Growing Wild DVDs from a few Crew years ago.  Hopefully, when they finish them (or if they find they don't need them), they will pass them on to another homeschooling/ sailing family on the waterways!

There are others that we've used in bits and pieces and still others we are saving for later in the school year -- including What on Earth Can I Do? and Bible Study Guide for All Ages from 2013. 

If you are interested in what other the Review Crew voted as their Blue Ribbon Curriculum Choices, click on the blue ribbon above!

Tuesday, November 11, 2014

Birthdays & My Takeaway Lesson from Fall Break

Grandparents made their annual fall pilgrimage to visit my fall birthday boys (and the rest of us). October ends up being a month of birthday celebrations with various parties, special meals, cakes and pies (Levi's request for the past two years has been a pumpkin pie for his birthday cake).  

Here's two of my favorite pictures from days past:

Luke at about 4 years old (pre-glasses)

Levi, about 2 years old

We always have adventures while Nana and Opa visit:  this year the boys went to a Japanese restaurant -- the kind where the chef cooks at your table.  What great entertainment and laughter!

The boys also went rock climbing again -- an activity that all three boys really enjoy.  The gym we were at had a cool balance board they all tried (I'm thinking this would make a fun Christmas present to master):

(As an aside, the cake with candles was lovingly made by Grandma! -- she sure knows how to show the boys love)

Lessons from Fall Break: This was the first time in years that we've had a fall break -- and it was both wonderful and stressful!

Our break occurred after approximately 8 weeks of Challenge for Ben and I and six weeks of foundations and essentials for Luke and Levi.  As usual, I should have planned our days better - but something about planning out vacation seems too ironic for me, so we just go with the flow and deal with the damage as it comes.  When we have only one week's worth of work to do across two weeks, we all tend to procrastinate a bit too much; you would think after 40+ years and 6+ years of higher education that I would learn not to procrastinate but find rest and peace in hard work....but some lessons are hard to (re)learn!

However, we have another opportunity to make better choices when we get a week off for Thanksgiving!

Tuesday, November 4, 2014

Fascinating Education Chemistry {Crew Review}

Update:  Fascinating Education has offered readers of my blog a 50% discount on any of their science courses!  You may use coupon code through 2ZDWL5NHDB December 15, 2015. 

Are you like me:  always wondering if there is another amazing curriculum that is better for your child's learning style that what you've been using? Well, then stay awhile, because I'm going to share some information on a new science program that could really interest those mamas out there who have children who need another way to learn besides with a textbook.

Fascinating Education is one of those programs that might be a great alternative for students who are strong auditory learners or for those who are interested in a more high-tech program. It might also be a good program for those older students who still struggle with reading comprehension.

Created by Dr. Margulies -- a neurologist! -- Fascinating Chemistry (the program I tried out) has two sister courses: Fascinating Biology and Fascinating Physics.  These courses are designed for middle and high school students.   Each course is available for $79.  You can purchase two of the online science courses for $125 (one year access) or all three online curriculum for $175 and two years of access.

What is included in this course: The Chemistry course consists of the visual course in which Dr. Margulies narrates the entire presentation at a comfortable rate of speech; a multi-page script you can download and print off, if that works for you and your student; chemistry experiments (you will need to have a second password to access these) and tests (which are online multi-choice tests and are self-graded or you can download PDFs of the tests).  You will need an online connection to access the course lectures, which are a PowerPoint-type presentation.

How This Worked:  Ben is taking Biology right now, so I was the one who had a chance to review this product. I haven't taken Chemistry since sophomore year in high school, so I was definitely exercising brain cells I hadn't used in a LOOOOOOONG time!

I was surprised that the Chem course wasn't very long -- 18 lessons.  The lessons average 45-ish minutes to complete.  You can access a course outline to see which topics are covered by clicking on the first page of the PDF outline below:

Here's the Chemistry home screen -- where you will access each lesson's components:

What I learned is that -- for myself -- I need to click on the blue "SCRIPT" button, print out the script and read it though before the lesson.  Any vocabulary I underline/ highlight (I think understanding the vocabulary of a course is important, and I do wish each lesson had a vocabulary list)  After that, I can watch the lesson, with my mind primed for the content and explanations.  

Next, it is onto the lessons themselves (red button).  You can access a sample of Fascinating Chemistry from the website. 

After the lesson is a test.  You have two choices -- the online multiple choice assessment or you can print out the exact same test as a PDF/ paper test.  A benefit of the online test is that it is automatically graded.  Here's a sample of a paper test:

I do think that the tests did a good job of identifying the highlights of the lesson, but that doesn't mean I did well on them.  *grin*

In addition all this, 12 labs are dispersed throughout the course.  You'll need a secondary password (provided by the company upon purchase) to access the labs.  Some of the labs are quite extensive (making brass) while others are fairly similar to ones I've done with my younger kids (air pressure, mass of air).  If I was doing this course with my older children, I would use a Sharpie marker and black out the lines that tell students what they should see by doing the experiment.  I like to preserve a little mystery and wonder around the experiments and don't always want my students to know what the end result should be (at least not right away!).

I also wish there was a lab supply list available.  I know that Fascinating Education has just re-done their labs, so I'm hopeful that a supply list can be made available soon to help teachers plan for experiments. It was good to see that most (if not all) supplies could easily be found at home or a store -- minus a couple supplies that could be picked up at any online homeschool supplier or Amazon.

One of the things that surprised me with this program is that each lesson is PACKED full of information.  I began the program thinking that one lesson was meant to be done in one sitting. Not for this old brain, lol! Although Dr. Margulies does an excellent job of narrating the information in a manner that is just right in terms of speed and comprehensible style, it is still a packed course and I wouldn't be comfortable that my student was actually learning and retaining information in one sitting.  I would definitely make a plan that each lesson be worked out over several days -- to facilitate retention of the information. Also, I would want my student to interact with the material in some other way -- working on some application questions to help my student digest and think about the information.  

Credits:  So, could this course count as a high school Chemistry credit?  According to the FAQs, the content in the course is similar to that found in other high schools Chem classes.  However, in terms of the amount of material (plus labs), it doesn't seem to add up to the approximate 120-150 hours of coursework necessary for full year Chemistry class.  It seems to me that additional resources would need to be added to this class in order for me to feel confident that my student was doing work worthy of a high school course.  

To see what others thought of this course plus the Biology and Physics classes, click the link below.

Click to read Crew Reviews

Saturday, November 1, 2014

Vision Casting with My Sophomore

A month ago, I received notice that a local college was having a 2-hour college admissions/ financial aid meeting for juniors and seniors.  I thought it would be a great opportunity for us to begin talking about The Future (especially since learning this summer that Ben did want to attend college), and RSVPed that my sophomore and I would attend.

I sort of forgot to tell Ben that we were going to this until this morning; but that ended up working to our advantage as he wasn't able to overthink our casual visit.

from www.StuckInCustom by Trey Ratcliff
So, what ended up happening is that he got something out of it and it opened doors to talk about interests and learning preferences.  He doesn't see himself at a large college.  He liked the idea of computer studies and entrepreneurship/ business studies.  200+ students in a class is repugnant to him.  Thirty-five is nice, but 12 is better.

We talked about the importance of internships, career/ job placements centers, not partying too much in college, but still having fun, changing majors, non-traditional learners, scholarships.  Great stuff.

If I have one piece of advice to offer to those with younger students that you are home educating it is this:  begin talking about the future early.  I wanted to avoid dumping the entire college vs. career discussion on my son at once.  Instead, through a variety of sources and conversations, we've been talking about it for years.  Visiting colleges doesn't have to wait until junior year.

I don't honestly care if this particular college is one that Ben ultimately applies to.  I just wanted it to be a common experience that we could use to build upon as college begins to take a greater emphasis in our curriculum planning for the next few years.  Ultimately, Ben has to be responsible for all these steps, and I want him to begin to realize that it is a process that will take time and planning.

I wasn't really looking for a "you were right, mom" moment, but I was looking for acknowledgement that it was a good idea.  I know I got that as we talked and as I watched him on the tour.

Tomorrow, we are back to sophomore classes -- Geometry, Spanish, American Lit.  But this afternoon, it was nice to spend time thinking about what the future might hold for my pretty cool young man.

Wednesday, October 29, 2014

{Wordless Wednesday} One of the Best Things About Cheering on my XC Runner

This is all going to sound quite selfish. I don't mean it to be, but I'm afraid it will sound that way.  Not my intent.

  I love that Ben runs cross country.  He has found a sport that challenges him.  We have had a very positive experience integrating with our town's high school team and the kids.  I'm grateful we live in a state where home educated students can readily participate in sports;  I've got two more boys who are up-and-coming Red Raiders.   

I love cheering for him!  I enjoy seeing the team's -- um-- unique chants and other ways of supporting one another.  I love seeing the boy's team run around the course cheering on the girls.

And, I love those warm fall days, standing around waiting to get a glimpse of my son working hard.  I enjoy finding a good spot along the course to cheer on the team.

Last week, we found a great spot to glimpse the kids running around this horseshoe pond. Ben made a PR time on this 5K course!

Doesn't this look so tranquil?  The pond is located on the campus of one of the community colleges.  I think this is the best photo I've ever taken with my iPhone!  Not bad for the ole iPhone 4, eh?

Tuesday, October 21, 2014

{Weekly Report} Week 7, Year 10

The best thing about this week was this:

Luke was assigned to draw a picture to go along with his explorer poem for his writing class in Classical Conversations.  He knew what he wanted:  a man standing on the bow of a ship, sighting for land.

I pulled out a book we had about the Mayflower -- certainly, it had a ship in it!  Instead of his original idea, he was inspired to copy a different illustration:

Not to be left out of watercolors, for pete's sake, Levi began working on this:

Oh! to wrap up this day in hugs and love and memories and a beautiful satin bow and keep it in my heart forever.

Monday, October 20, 2014

{Crew Review} Middlebury Interactive Language Course for Elementary Students

Middlebury Interactive Languages has offered us a semester long Spanish course for review. Knowing how much Levi loves learning languages, I chose the grade 3-5 program for him.  He has really been enjoying this course!

Though I had not heard of Middlebury College (in central Vermont), they have apparently been providing language learning immersion courses for some time, but mostly in residential programs. The Middlebury Interactive Languages program is a joint venture between the college and K12, which provides online curriculum for public schools and home educators.

You can view a variety of promotional videos at their online language course website.

What We Received: As I mentioned, Levi has been working several times per week on his Spanish course, which is composed of 45 lessons spread across 7 units plus a review unit.  Topics for learning are:

Adjectives/ Feelings
Community/ Professions

Although composed of several features, lessons do not take too long.... maybe 15 minutes or so.  A lesson had several parts/ screens so you could take longer to go though an individual lesson, but Levi is not that sort of kid -- he completed each part in one sitting.  We aimed to work through 2 or 3 lessons per week; let me tell you -- this part of school was one of Levi's favorites! This course is a semester long and costs $119.  There is also a second semester for this grade range as well.

Technology needs:  You will need a wi-fi connection whenever your student logs onto the course.  None of the components are offline or downloadable.  You'll also need up to date Flash Player.  I was having difficulty with the program because my virus protection software was preventing pop up plug-ins; I ended up disabling the Norton plug-in for Chrome and it now works fine.  I spent a few minutes in technical support with Middlebury Interactive about this, and they were so kind and patient to help walk through my issue.  I love pleasant customer service!

How this worked:  Levi absolutely loved this program.  Being able to be so independent with an online course was a big confidence boost for him.  He loved grabbing headphones and recording his responses;  his confidence in speaking his answers into the microphone while others were around definitely improved through the review period.  The only writing component of the course I noted was typing at this point;  there were not off-line PDF worksheets to practice handwriting in Spanish.

What I love about it:
  • Levi is getting an opportunity to read and hear Spanish spoken, with native speakers.
  • He can do it independently, which really helps me.
  • I do love that he is getting an introduction to computer-based learning and classrooms.  I do not think this type of learning is going to go out of style anytime soon.
Some things we've had to get used to:
  • While hearing an native speaker is great, there were a couple lessons (I'm specifically remembering when he had to record his phone number) when he could have used a slower model.  To him, the entire sentences sounded like one LONG word!
  • This is an immersion-type program.  Once or twice Levi had to ask me, "How do I say..." because he didn't realize that the sentence prompts he'd been using in the lessons were the prompts he was to use for his recorded speaking quizzes.  
  • Speaking tests are not graded by Middlebury Interactive Languages.  In fact they end up in the "awaiting grades" section of the gradebook:
For the first two weeks, this was a limbo land for me -- I didn't realize that I would need to listen to these to make sure Levi's comprehension of the vocabulary was appropriate.  I have a background in Spanish, so this isn't an issue for me (at least with beginning Spanish), but it would have been had we tried one of Middlebury Interactive Languages other language courses:  French, German or Chinese.  For an additional charge, there is an option to have a teacher for the course (I'm assuming he/she will do the listening and grading), so that would be a good feature for a language that is new to mom and student.
The rest of the gradebook, however, is great.  Multiple choice and matching questions are automatically graded, so I feel comfortable that his comprehension of listening and reading is coming along nicely. 

In all, we give this program double thumbs up from both Levi and me.  It is such a fun program for Levi to work through that I'm sure he'll want to complete it on his own.

I think my favorite part of this course for my 3rd grader is that he is gaining some confidence in learning a foreign language. (How many of us were hesitant to speak our high school foreign languages outside of class?)  The course is laying down listening patterns which will help him be a more fluent speaker and is tuning his ear to help him understand the language at a conversational level.

Middlebury offers courses for students as young as kindergarten up through high school.  There is even a specific course to help students take the AP Spanish and Culture exam. To hear how it worked for other families and other languages, you can click below.

Read more reviews of different languages and different grade levels at Schoolhouse Reviews.

Saturday, October 18, 2014

{Crew Review} Standard Deviants Accelerate Supplemental Courses

For the past month or so we've had the opportunity to try out a product from Standard Deviants Accelerate, the makers of supplemental educational materials.  I've seen their DVDs in our public library for years, but have never given them a try.  With Standard Deviants Accelerate, you get the benefit of their quirky humor and online, educational and interactive content.

You will need an internet connection for using these courses.
Our one year membership included full access to all their courses from elementary to high school:
  • Arithmetic - Grades 3+
  • Fundamental Math - Grades 4+
  • Earth Science - Grades 6+
  • Nutrition - Grades 6+
  • Algebra - Grades 7+
  • Biology - Grades 7+
  • Chemistry - Grades 9+
  • English Comp. - Grades 9+
  • U.S. History - Grades 9+
Annual subscriptions for the courses above are $99, but you can also purchase monthly subscriptions for $24.95.  

They also offer AP courses:
  • AP Biology - Grades 11+ ($14.95/month)
  • AP Chemistry - Grades 11+ ($14.95/month)
  • AP U.S. Government & Politics - Grades 11+ ($14.95/month)
  • AP U.S. History - Grades 11+ ($14.95/month)
  • AP Eng. Composition - Grades 11+ ($14.95/month)
Make sure you click on homeschool pricing for these online supplemental courses.

The purpose behind these courses are to supplement and quiz students on the basic content of each course.  Each course is divided into chapter topics with sub-topics that walk through five similar steps.  At the end of each chapter is a quiz, which involves customized quiz question review + free response sections.  There is even an opportunity to use rubrics to grade these free responses.

Each of the five steps for each sub topic include:
  1. A quirky video which explains the content. These lasted us approximately 10-15 minutes.
  2. A review of vocabulary
  3. The diagram  section is an interactive component.  Students can drag terms and answers to match questions.  Some of the courses do not have this step (chemistry, for example), but all the courses we used (math, algebra and biology) Here are examples from Biology and Algebra:  
  4. Next is a quiz section.  This is five multiple choice questions.  Correct and incorrect answers are collected for review at the end of the chapters.
  5. The written answer section is a free response section in which students answer short answer questions (the sample below is from the US History course):  

How we used this: My younger boys and I watched various sections from the Fundamentals of Math and Arithmetic courses.  Both of these courses are advertised for students in upper elementary and above.  Although Levi sat in, I was mostly curious to see how they worked as review of concepts for Luke, who is a 6th grader.

To use the program to its fullest, each student is enrolled in a course via their email address.  Luke and Levi don't have email addresses, so I just signed on to my teacher account and we worked through the chapters and questions; this means some of the student features were not avaiilable to him, such as notetaking and recording of his quiz scores.  For my purposes with Luke, this was fine as I really just wanted to see how the video content served as a review/ alternate teacher for him.

For Ben, however, I was able to create a class, send him an enrollment link, and then he could access the content as a student.  Here's a great video which explains the student account:

You can few several other videos describing how to use this program for homeschool at How It Works for Homeschool. They even will set up a personal webinar with you to walk you through the program -- great customer service!

I advertised the videos as "funny" to the younger boys, but they quickly pointed out to me that they were not "funny ha-ha" videos.   I probably should have described it as "witty" or "eye-rollingly quirky" or "dry."  Definitely appropriately wry/ quirky for my 15-year-old's taste.

We found the videos to be pretty fast moving, switching between the students who are explaining content to graphic slides explaining concepts.  This could be a good technique -- or not, depending on your students' processing needs.  I think this style was a little much for my younger boys.  Sometimes I notice that Luke zoned out a bit, and it made me think that the content was presented too quickly.  It is possible to print out transcripts of the videos, so students can follow along, highlight, and basically take notes of the lectures.  This is something I will probably do with Luke towards the end of this school year, but for now, he needs to focus on either listening or reading, not both.  However, I'm glad the program has this option to cater to the learning needs of a wider audience.

The boys did really enjoy the diagram section, as any drag and drop interaction is almost game-like to them.  *grin*  I wish the vocabulary section was more than just a list of vocabulary words -- this is a great section to create a bit of interaction to help with retention.

For my high schooler, however, I found the Biology material to be perfect for his needs. (He's taking the PSAT this weekend so I think a year of Algebra review will be good, too.)   I do love having Ben work material from multiple viewpoints (we do that with his math courses through our co-op, which uses a different math program than the one we use at home), so having Standard Deviatnts Accelerate is a wonderful tool for a homeschooler. I also love that the quizzes are automatically graded (one less thing for me to forget) and that review of the material is built in.  The only part that I didn't think was particularly helpful for us (at this juncture) was the final tab -- the written answer.  I thought some of the questions were appropriate, but I prefer to use these as discussion materials and only if I've read the transcript or listened to the course myself.

I know that as the year goes on, we'll get plenty more use for this -- especially as we consider AP and CLEP testing to demonstrate mastery of material.  Second semester, Ben will be taking a US government course, and I'll appreciate the extra information from Standard Deviants Accelerate to flesh out his texts more.  I even plan to have him work through the Nutrition and US history course as well. Biology will definitely be something he'll continue to use throughout the year, however, and now that cross country season is over, we'll have much more time to coordinate it with his course instead of picking and choosing topics of interest.  However, I'm not planning to have Luke use the math courses for review or re-teaching of hard concepts, unless we've exhausted all our other resources.

Connect with Standard Deviants Accelerate:

To read more reviews, click on Schoolhouse Review Crew!

Wednesday, October 15, 2014

{Not So} Wordless Wednesday

We arrived early to Levi's soccer game, and I was excited to see a see-saw.  How many places have these old playground toys?!

Levi had no clue how they worked!

I love it when the boys play together, especially oldest and youngest.  It doesn't happen often, but when it does happen, it makes my heart sing.

Tuesday, October 14, 2014

iWitness Book Set by Apologia {Crew Review}

I love reviewing the products from Apologia Educational Ministries.  They usually are interesting to the boys and I learn a ton from them as well.  This new product is not exception.

I received three books by Doug Powell from Apologia Educational Ministries:

Each of these books sells for $14 are are suggested for a variety of ages (My 8.5 year old really enjoyed most of them), but they do have a reading level of at least 11 years old.

The purpose of these books is to provide evidence and explanation for the reasons for our faith. Researchers, scientists and educators have been pouring over Biblical evidence for several centuries, and these books make a convincing argument that our faith is grounded in the reality and veracity that Jesus was who He said He was -- God's Son sent from heaven to die for our sins. You can read more about author Doug Powell at the Apologia website.

How we used these books: The boys and I used these books as add-ons to our Bible studies during the review period.  They are each a little different in their focus, but the three fit together nicely.

I let the boys pick which they wanted to read first, and they chose Biblical Archaeology.  This book does a wonderful job of explaining how archaeology has proven the historical accounts of the Bible.   More than half of the book focuses primarily on Old Testament discoveries.  Main topics include:

  • The Flood
  • Noah's Arch
  • Egyptian Chronology
  • The Exodus
  • various inscriptions (house of David, YHWH, etc)
  • Old Testament History
  • Dead Sea Scrolls
  • Oldest Old Testament Copies
  • Hadrian and Constantine
  • Jesus' World
  • The Burial Shroud of Jesus
Luke was particularly interested in this book, and I think Levi would've been a bit more interested if it included additional definitions and explanations -- such as "What is a bulla?" (It is a seal.)  There were a few pages that seemed to repeat themselves (as if they had originally been in separate books and were later combined into this one volume), but I think that was only apparent to me.  

The next book the boys wanted to read was New Testament iWitness.  This book answers the many questions asked about where the Bible came from -- who its authors are, why the books included were chosen (as opposed to the many others that occasionally make the news), and how differences between copies are reconciled.  I really enjoyed reading about how different books of the Bible were categorized by Eusebius in 432 AD and the origins and fates of the extra-Biblical books.

The third book, Old Testament iWitness, is similar to the New Testament book.  It explains the authorship of the OT books, differences between it and the Hebrew Bible, short biographies of the major and minor prophets and a little on archaeological finds from the Old Testament periods.  The book explains what a covenant is and how it differs from a contract. What I found most interesting, however, was the history of the Apocrypha books.  

I'll admit that I didn't read much of the Old Testament book to Luke or Levi right now;  I'm not sure that they would find the Apocrypha section as interesting as I do.   

Outside of adding a glossary of terms, there is not much I would change about these books.  They are visually appealing, so those who wouldn't open up a textbook might find them inviting to pick up for short periods of time.  I'm glad to add these books to our reference library and we  will continue to dig into the Bible and discover God.

To read what other Crew members thought, please click Schoolhouse Reviews.

Friday, October 10, 2014

{Weekly Report} Week 6, Year 10

I've decided that 10 official years of homeschooling is something to be celebrated!  I am so grateful to God for the strength to persevere through some tough years and some tough situations.  There have been so many times I've wanted to take the kids to a school because I was just tired of the arguing or the grumpiness or whatever.  There were so many times I doubted if this was really the right thing for us.  However, after a little time out (sometimes it was my time out, but sometimes a boy had one) I realized that sending my kids to school would not solve our conflict or issue.

Usually, character issues (mine and the boys) were the source of our problems, thus sending my kids away for 6+ hours would not solve the problem.

So, all my weekly report posts will have this graphic to celebrate. I think I will even share some words of wisdom as well this year!

These past few weeks: Luke and Levi have had four weeks of Foundations and Essentials while Ben and I have been in Challenge for 6 weeks.

Levi and I have a great routine for the three days a week Luke practices with the middle school band. This 45-minutes becomes our language arts time, and we work on Logic of English for Spelling and grammar. (I'm wondering if Denise Eide, the creator of Logic of English, is a Classical Conversations mom;  her materials are going to prepare Levi so well for Essentials grammar next year!) We are also spending a couple days a week using Primary Arts of Language-Writing (and their DVD). Not everything is applicable to Levi right now, so we are working through the components that will help him with his writing skills.  So far, we've worked on who/ which clauses.

Working on Latin Vocabulary

A project Luke completed for his literature book "Adam of the Road"

Mini-books that went along with our read-aloud "The Phantom Tollbooth"

Spelling (pre-haircut)

Luke working on spelling

Ben is doing so well in Challenge plus his online Spanish class.   We are still working on time management, though (bein' real -- it is not all perfect here at our home school.).  His Challenge class, though small, has encouraged him to turn in quality work.  I'm so grateful that CC's writing pace has slowed down from last year -- last year, the students read a book and wrote a paper nearly every week;  this year I can honestly say that the course is more about quality than quantity.

We are thick into cross country (ends in about 3 weeks), fall travel soccer (all Levi's far away games are done;  Luke still has a couple, plus we have a big tournament coming up), and Trail Life USA campouts and events.  As soon as cross country is over, Ben is going to work diligently on achieving his Freedom award from Trail Life.