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.

Thursday, October 9, 2014

{Crew Review} Outsourcing High School Essay Writing with Fortuigence

Have you ever wanted a second set of eyes or a back-up teacher to help teach writing?

Maybe if you are a confident writer or a confident teacher -- or better yet, both -- you haven't felt the need to search out some assistance in helping your child gain skill in writing.  But I seem to know quite a few people (including myself) who could use a little back up in the writing, and I think Fortuigence could fit a need for many homeschoolers.

Created by a seasoned educator, Lily Iatridis, Fortuigence is a self-directed set of writing courses that teach the writing process to 12- 18 year olds.  The entire process is broken down into manageable steps that encourage mastery. Each course progresses at your student's pace;  there are no classes times to worry about missing nor should you need to re-adjust your routines;  Fortuigence will fit into your routine just fine!  And best of all, your student will receive positive feedback and constructive advice from a real life educator who is there to help your student master the content before moving on.

And it is reasonably priced for a homeschool budget!

For our review, I enrolled Ben in the Essay Rock Star: Textual Analysis course.  This is one of four writing courses that Ms. Iatridis offers (click each link to understand what type of writing is being addressed in each course):

I so appreciate that the courses are offered individually for $57 each or you can purchase the entire Essay Rock Star set of four writing courses in which your student will master non-fiction writing for $197.

Technology Needs: First off, everything for Fortuigence is online;  you will need an internet connection to watch the lessons, see samples and submit work via the website.  Your student can work off-line to complete their work, but he/she will then need to upload it to the website for assessment. Mrs. Iatridis will email her comments and directions, so either student or parent will need to provide an email address.

What we received: This course is not a typical online subscription service.  When you sign up for a course, you'll have access to a classroom in which Ms. Iatridis offers video lessons, assignments and samples, and a written transcript of her video lesson (great for those who have different learning styles).  There is no time limit on this course. The course does not end until the student has walked through the entire course.  You could theoretically finish the course in a few weeks time, or you could pace out the seven-step process over a longer period of time.  This is what we had to do because of Ben's academic course load in the fall and cross country season in full swing (not to mention his Scout program, and the necessary eating and sleeping a 15-year-old teen needs).  Ben has worked on the course approximately twice per week:  once to watch the lesson and go over the homework and another session to work completing the assignment and submitting it.  

Our course was divided into six steps:
  1. Course Introduction, Rubrics and Pre-Assessment- To begin the course, Ms. Iatridis asks for a recent writing sample.  I have to admit I breathed a huge sigh of relief that Ben wasn't being asked to create a new writing project off the bat.  Instead, he turned in an essay he wrote last year from one of his literature assignments. A day or two later, he received very positive feedback; so much so that Ms. Iatridis
    suggested that he could stay with the course or move on to another writing course.  We decided to go ahead and stay with this particular course because you can always learn more (and he is!), but it was such an encouragement to Ben to receive some positive feedback from someone other than mom.  This really gave him confidence to stay the course and work on the rest of the assignment without much complaining.
  2. Purpose, Description, Brainstorming- Ben selected an article he would use for hist textual analysis.  By the way, do you know what a textual analysis is?  According to the website: "Textual analysis is a type of essay that middle, high school and college students are often asked to write. Whenever a student is told to write a review on someone else’s work, that is a textual analysis essay. For example, book reviews, movie reviews, and product reviews are examples of textual analysis essays." Ben chose one of several articles choices for his analysis.  In the brainstorming phase, he read the article and began working through worksheets from the website:  a notes worksheet, writing a summary, and a bibliography (to collect the information necessary from background research).  After uploading his assignment, we waiting for Mrs. Iatridis' email:  

    You’ve completed your worksheet questions appropriately and well! Please move on to the next lesson in your online classroom whenever you’re ready.

  3. Organizing Ideas-The next part was writing an outline.  Again, upload outline, wait for email:

    You’ve got a very well planned out outline for your textual analysis on the iPad article! Please move on to the next lesson in your online classroom whenever you’re ready, and if you have any questions, don’t hesitate to ask.

  4. Free Writing-I appreciate what Mrs. Iatridis does in this part of the assignment.  The goal here is to just write.  No grammar.  No spell check.  Just write to your outline.  I guarantee you that Ben didn't do this.  He grammar-ed.  He spell-checked.  But he also wrote.  And, he needed help staying focused on this new style of writing.  He had to re-work it a little so that it stayed true to an analysis of another's writing, rather than slipping into a persuasive essay.  This was good feedback for Ben.
  5. Revision- In the next part, the essay begins to take more of a traditional shape.  Several steps are involved:

    reorganize information
    grammar/ sentence structure
    thesis statement
    introduction/ conclusion
    bibliography (I'm not exactly sure if she's advocating MLA or APA style here; however, the term 'bibliography' is more consistent with APA style than MLA.)
    Re-check work
  6. Editing - Grammar, punctuation, spelling and mechanics are cleaned up here.  Additionally, any suggestions from the instructor regarding the thesis, introduction and conclusion are considered and worked on.
You can only progress through the course as you complete assignments; that is, each successive step is locked until your assignments have been OK'ed by Mrs. I.

By the end of the course, your student will have .125 of composition credit for the completion of each of the four Rock Star courses -- a complete .5 credit in all.  

How This Worked For Us:  Although Ben hasn't finished the course (he's close!), I really love this high school writing program and that I am getting some support and help (which is actually a little bit of a break!).  If you are looking for that -- and a .5 credit in composition -- I think this is definitely a worthwhile investment in your middle or high school student.  I have a relatively reluctant writer who lacks confidence in his ability.  Mrs. Iatridis has definitely given Ben a confidence boost in his writing, and I'm very grateful for the way in which we are able to flex this program with our busy life right now.  Mrs. Iatridis has been good about getting back to us in a day or so of Ben turning in his assignments, so any slow response has been on our end.

If you would like to read what other reviewers thought of Essay Rock Star's courses (including the Essay Rock Star Personal Statement -- which is one Ben will definitely be completing in his junior year), please click over to Schoolhouse Reviews to read more!

Read More Reviews at Schoolhouse Reviews

Saturday, October 4, 2014

{Not So} Wordless Wednesday + Weekly Report

 That kiddo in red, he belongs to me.
{proud mama}

These three monsters are building the platform for a shed in the backyard --YAY!
They all worked nicely together and it is going to look fabulous.  The shed will store all our race equipment and will give us back our basement.
{more home improvement projects to come. of course.}

Oh, and then there is soccer.  Lots of soccer.  Both boys are doing great on their teams.  Luke is a great goalie/ keeper.  I am so impressed by the leadership skills he is naturally developing.  Levi and his team (which we've sorta figured out is a young U9 team) are playing well together.  This weekend, he scored two goals in one of his games!

And school.  Oh, my goodness.  Everyone is doing so well.  Of course we all have THOSE DAYS, but Levi and Luke are both doing well with their memory work; Luke is cruising through his Essentials writing assignments.

Important milestone in our lives:  I almost died when he said his favorite part of Essentials was writing) and cheering when we do our sentences for diagramming.  Oh, and editing sentences is going so much better this year!

Ben is managing all his school work + running cross country.  We are still battling the Time To Wake Up Bug.  This week, we're back to getting up at 8am.  Everyone is supposed to be up and on the couch to read their Bibles at that time.  We'll see how it goes.  However, he is rocking Spanish and is one-third through with Geometry -- I'm hoping to get him back on pace to finish through Math U See's Calculus program (We lost our pace in Algebra last year as he was learning time management in our first year of CC).  It really helps that he likes geometry (I did, too!). We are sharing interesting articles and conversations about economics.