Wednesday, August 5, 2015

{Crew Review} Classical Conversations' The Conversation

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Tuesday, July 28, 2015

{Crew Review} With Lee in Virginia

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

To connect with Heirloom Audio Productions online:

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

Monday, July 27, 2015

{Crew Review} UnLock Pre-Algebra

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

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

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

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

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

Luke's homepage looks like this:

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

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

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

Completing a Lesson:

Each daily lesson has 5 parts:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thursday, July 16, 2015

{Classical Conversations Challenge 3} Preparing for Next Year!

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

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

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

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

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

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

The three boxes are filled with additional supplies:

These are the chemical bottles from the MicroChem kit:

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

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

Thursday, July 9, 2015

{Crew Review} Teen Prasso Bible Study

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

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

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

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

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

A photo from the teen homework book.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thursday, July 2, 2015


Levi created a new-to-us recipe that we tried for breakfast.  Combining bacon (which everyone likes loves) and waffles, we made ba-ffles.

I cooked bacon in the oven until it was crispy, then we crumbled it.

Levi poured the waffle batter into the iron:

We sprinkled bacon pieces on top:

Not bad looking!

Levi loved them.  I think they needed more bacon flavor, and Luke agreed with me.  We love the idea, but next time, I'm not going to cook the bacon to the point that it is crispy; we think that that might have given the bacon a slightly overcooked taste when it was cooked in the waffle.  

Thursday, June 18, 2015

Getting Ready To Be a Challenge A Parent

Next year will be a hugely different year for my Luke.  He is making the leap to Classical Conversations Challenge A program.  I am really looking forward to seeing how much he grows in maturity, stature, and wisdom by this time next year.

For as much as we've been involved with CC's Challenge program (I've had a B and I student; I tutored II and will tutor III in the fall), we have never done A, and I am so looking forward to walking Luke through this process.

Here are some of the things that I am planning on doing with/ for Luke to help our Challenge A experience:

1. Reading aloud all the literature books
I want to make sure that Luke has heard the story at least once before he is responsible for working on a writing assignment with The Lost Tools of Writing.  On our upcoming road trips, not only do I have a couple fun books to listen to (we loved listening to the first book in the Mysterious Benedict Society a few years ago), but we will also listen to The Lion, The Witch, and The Wardrobe and The Magician's Nephew with audiobook.  Still to read are: The Door in the Wall, A Gathering of Days, The Bronze Bow, and Crispin.

2. Organize Latin
I admit that this is the seminar that I'm most nervous for Luke to participate in.  Spelling is his hardest grammar level subject, however he did fabulous in Essentials Englishs grammar.  I am planning on watching this great video:  Setting Up A Latin Notebook (you will need to have a facebook account to see this, I think) as well as using Magistra Jones' worksheets for the Henle I exercises.  I think that, initially, it will be a good help for Luke to have the worksheets to fill out to help manage ALL the writing he has to do.

I'll also be watching the Organize Your Notebooks for Challenge A youtube video and gleaning help from there.

3. Freshen Up Typing
Luke has worked this spring on becoming a more fluid typer, but I know that he can get faster, so I am completely willing to bribe him with an iTunes gift card to get up to 25 or 30 wpm.  We have Typing Instructor for Kids loaded on a laptop for him to use.

4. Begin our transition to Saxon Math.
We have been avid Math U See users for years.  I love it.  No "buts."  Well, except that Luke is asking to use Saxon for Challenge A.  He is looking forward to a little more variety in his daily lessons -- more spiral than mastery on a lesson-by-lesson basis.  A community friend has allowed us to borrow Saxon 7/6 for the summer to get a feel for it, and to help Luke to freshen up his skills for the fall.  Although he has not completed some of the later elementary skill level books in MUS (specifically decimals and percent), I think that there is enough review of the concepts in Saxon that he will be able to transition successfully.

And, honestly, that is it.  I do not want to burn out Luke this summer.  We are used to trying to do math during the summer [notice the phrase "trying to do".....] and read alouds are common here.  But otherwise, let the boys [and their mama] have fun this summer.

Tuesday, June 16, 2015

{Crew Review} Building Vocabulary Skills with WordBuild®

Dynamic Literacy provided Levi and I with a unique vocabulary development program called WordBuild: Foundations, Level 1 ($82.99).  This set is meant as an entry level program for elementary aged students in grades 3-5.

What I received:
The Foundations, Level 1 set included:
  • Student workbook (consumable)
  • Student introductory workbook (consumable)
  • Teacher guide
This is a really unique vocabulary program that I'm glad we now have to use.  This is what I'm used to:  a program in which weekly lists of vocabulary words are given to students and they practice using the words in a variety of paper-and-pencil tasks to improve word usage and comprehension.

WordBuild: Foundations uses a totally different philosophy.  Instead of focusing on words and lists, it focuses on the parts of words that can be used to build words.  Focusing on prefixes, suffixes and over 90 of the most common word roots in English, students learn to decipher the meanings of over 16,000 words.  No memorization required!

You can view a great introductory video from WordBuild.

How the Program Works:

Levi and I started at the very beginning of the Foundations 1 level:  Basics.  This colored,  20-page workbooks helps students to analyze words and break them down into smaller parts and also build them up.  Beginning with compound words, Levi had to practice separating the parts as well as thinking widely and creating compound words.

Then, using common words (paint, count, light), students began to add simple prefixes and/or suffixes to make words like painter, counting, and unmoveable.

After you move through this part (which may or may not be necessary, based on your student), you can begin the regular 183-page workbook.  This is the heart of the program, where students engage with a 3x3 square called the Suffix Square  or the Prefix Square to help them visualize and expand their vocabulary.

Let me first remark that the Teacher Guide is a very helpful too.  Provides a black-and-white reprint of the workbook page (in miniature) with answers.  There are teaching techniques, which I glossed over, just to make sure I wasn't missing anything important.  The guides are written for classroom teachers, so just a few simple modifications are necessary to make the program work.  People often ask me if the teacher's guide is necessary;  while the answers are not that difficult, I think the guide is useful because of the additional tips offered to get the most out of the program.  Additionally, it gives a sample schedule to complete each lesson in 5-days.  Each of the 30 lessons is composed of:

  1. Prefix/ Suffix Square - students combine a single prefix or suffix with 8 other words and define them.
  2. Affix adder - students affix a prefix or suffix to a baseword and use the definition of the affix to help determine the definition of the new word
  3. Magic Square - this is a matching game for words and their definitions.  It is also a math magic square (bonus!).  WE LOVE THESE!
  4. Word Search- this is a standard word search for 21 words, all related by prefix or suffix
  5. Comprehension building exercises- The last page requries students to use one of the new words in a sentence, thus demonstrating comprehension of the word's meaning.  The teacher's guide says you can use this as either a reinforcement/ teaching task or as an assessment.   There is also a page (or two, depending on the word) of additional words that use the same target suffix/ prefix.  These lists are often 100+ words long, so you can really add on to the work you've done during the week to expand vocabulary even more, work on word attack skills  or even spelling!
The teacher's guide suggests that each of these activities can be completed in about 15 minutes, which is pretty close to what we found here.  This means that you can squeeze vocabulary building easily into your day ... or you can have slightly longer lessons just a few days a week.

How This Worked For Us:
This is a fabulous way to work on vocabulary development, and Levi and I have found it to be fun and challenging.  Levi is working on this right at the recommended grade level, so he hasn't found it to be terribly difficult to form new words or demonstrate comprehension.  What we've found the most challenging is in expressing the definitions to our liking.  This has been a good expressive language task, so I'm grateful for the experience.

I should add that many of the activities we've completed outloud (well, not the word search!) because we gave this a try at the end of the school year and we are just tired and busy right now. It has worded fine for several of the activities, and makes Levi more willing to stick with the complete program.

Please click below to read about their Elements program (grades 5-10) plus their online program called WordBuildOnline:

Friday, June 12, 2015

{Crew Review} IEW's New Deluxe Combo Teacher/Student Package - All This Goodness In One Spot!

This, right here, is The Motherload of Awesome Review Products.  Seriously, it is a combination of products from an amazing generous company (Institute for Excellence in Writing) -- products which engage kids, and help them become effective communicators.

What I Was Sent & How We Used It:
Deluxe Combo Teacher/Student Writing Package Level A ($299) This package included:

  • Teaching Writing: Structure & Style (TWSS) DVD set - This is a set of 12 DVDs (in a very nice black "pleather" case) that is meant to be a teacher inservice on effective writing instruction.  Ideally, you will watch the DVD that corresponds with the unit that you are teaching your child -- and maybe even practice the techniques yourself -- so that you can carefully walk take your student from taking "notes" (called Key Word Outlines, or KWO) of source material all the way through to writing research reports, basic essays and critiques.  
One of the hallmarks of TWSS approach is to model the writing of source material, to help prevent students from having that deer-in-the-headlights look when asked to "sit down and write a story."  When we ask students to write a story or essay or research paper, students struggle to know what to write in addition to how to write.  Well, following classical education techniques -- where students first learn the 'grammar' or basics of a subject -- TWSS initially focuses on helping students to use language to their benefit.  So, writing assignments use a predetermined topic (source material) to bypass that difficult task of figuring out what to write.  Without having that to worry about, students as young as 3rd or 4th grade can begin to learn to express themselves using a variety of language structures and sentence types. {More about this later.}
    There is a disc for each of the units below:  
    1. Note Making and Outlines
    2. Writing From Notes
    3. Retelling Narrative Stories
    4. Summarizing a Reference
    5. Writing from Pictures
    6. Summarizing Multiple References
    7. Inventive Writing
    8. Formal Essay Models
    9. Formal Critique + writing about literature/ literary analysis
    Finally, the last three discs are demonstrations lessons showing students being taught the techniques at different age levels (K-2, 3-5, 6-8 and high school) 
    • Seminar Workbook- This accompanies the DVD set and is absolutely essential if you are getting the DVDs.  This workbook is for the parent teacher and includes the notes you will need to follow along with Andrew as he teaches the families on the DVD.  It contains a 3-ring binder and custom dividers (one for each of the units above) which you'll use to organize a packet of seminar notes (230+ pages), source texts, student samples (from various grade and age levels), and various recommended resources.  
    There is a "sorta" chapter about writing about literature (which would be helpful for middle and high school students as they write literary analysis papers),  a section which goes over all of the stylistic techniques  that your student will over-practice in this program (and I don't mean 'over-practice' in a bad way -- I mean that you student will begin to use strong verbs and great descriptor words and easily create complex sentences because they've practiced expressing themselves while writing about a variety of topics. Their writing will become more fluid and expressing themselves will become easier).
    Stylistic Techniques
    -ly adverbs
    who/ which clauses
    strong verbs
    because clause
    quality adjective
    clauses (when, while, where, as, since, if, though)
    Sentence Openers
    -ly adverbs
    vss (very short sentence)
    simile/ metaphor
    dramatic open-close
    +Triple Extensions
    + Advanced Dress Ups
     So, how did I use the seminar workbook and TWSS dvds?  Well, I am familiar with IEW as I've been  a happy consumer for several years.  I was interested to watch and own the updated dvds. I LOVE the quality of the DVDs and find that Andrew's teaching is as entertaining  and  informative as ever.  He is a wealth of information about teaching students...especially boys and I am grateful for male instructors who can provide some additional insite into my crazy sons' brains.  I think materials such as these help me to be a better mom and teacher to my boys because it helps me remember that God made boys different from girls -- and it is a good thing. 
    My preference was to watch the DVDs as Luke is completing each unit. Now, I've done the watch-it-all-in-its-14-hour-glory before for the overview;  now, I am re-watching it unit by unit so that I stay don't forget all the great ideas and purposes of the program.  Truly, Andrew's dvds help me to remember to lighten up and have fun teaching writing.
    • Student Writing Intensive DVDs Level A, including the Structure & Style Overview AND Student Notebook with handouts and lesson plans- This is a second DVD set intended for grades 3-5(ish).  The target audience is a little different in this set -- here, Mr. Pudewa is teaching a set of students (not adults).  At this level, students work through the basic units of TWSS -- key word outlining, basic dress-ups, story summary, reference summary.  They also begin to learn what makes a paragraph.  Finally, the students do a little creative writing.  EVERYTHING that you need is included to walk you and your student through the process.  
    • A suggested course schedule  breaks down assignments and DVD teaching lessons into manageable chunks (even telling you when to start/ stop the DVD) for each day of the week (assuming a 5 day teaching schedule -- but it is easy to modify).
    • Teacher notes for each lesson (which can comprise several weeks).  A summary of what your student will be watching on the DVD is given, reinforcements are provided, even a model KWO is provided for those of us who need a little encouragement as we learn this along side our students. You'll also get the source texts, printed out in a large, easy to read font, and checklists to complete when you are finished to help your student to evaluate if their work has met the criteria for the assignment.  
    • Set of colored sheets which students will fill out with stylistic techniques that they learn throughout the course.

      I have been purposefully implemented the program slowly for Levi during this review period, because I really wanted to focus on the key word outline (Unit 1).  I think that this ends up being a foundational skill that he will use throughout his life, in academics, the workplace....even as a husband and father (sitting at the bank taking notes while talking to a banker about mortgage rates, sermon notes, etc).  Now, I had informally started this KWO idea last year with Levi in our homeschool co-op program, but Levi really thrived listening to Andrew Pudewa teach him via the DVD in a very kid appealing way. Andrew is a master at instructing children and he is a pleasure to watch and learn from.   I'll have to admit that it was nearly impossible to slow Levi down in this program.  He really enjoyed it and pushed me to allow him to move on to the next part.  Each component of the writing process was encouraging to My Little Sponge.  
      • Fix-It! Grammar, Books 1 and 2 with downloadable student e-books - Included in this is the printed teacher's manual (nearly 200 pages) and directions to download the student worktext (you may download as many as you need for the children in your family). We used this 4 days a week during our review period, which is exactly how the program is described.  Book 1 is meant to be completed in 33 weeks; therefore two years of grammar instruction are included in this premium set. It doesn't take long -- maybe 15 minutes at the maximum so far.  Truly, this is not a long program.  Your student will work on grammar in a unique way -- by editing a story one sentence at a time -- four sentences a week.  This is a short, manageable amount of work for Levi and it engages him and is motivating.  Then,  then completing copywork to put it back together sentence-by-sentence.  Levi LOVED this, and I think it is a great introduction to grammar for him.  Grammar concepts are introduced slowly and piece-by-piece, yet they do build on one another.  As the program progressed through the weeks, you'll be responsible for catching and labeling more parts of speech, more word usage errors, and more punctuation errors.  
      I'll let you know that I used the 1st edition of this program with Ben when he was younger, and it wasn't as great as I'd hoped.  However, in version 2.0, the teacher materials have changed immensely.  The teacher guide helps you to teach the concepts and correct work. I feel like I am not throwing my student into a program with little preparation (for me or him).  I'm finding that I like this program MUCH more than I did before it was revised.  
      And, again, Levi LOVES grammar.  There are not too many times that a teacher gets to say it is definitely a keeper! 
      Things your student will learn in Fix It! 
      ~ parts of speech ~ punctuation~ homophone usage~ vocabulary~ dictionary skills
      ~copywork~ identify all IEW's stylistic techniques and dress ups in the context of a written story~
      • A Word Write Now (thematic thesaurus)- This 106 page Thesaurus is a good first step for those students who are beginning their journey in IEW.  There are four parts. 
      • (A) is a synonym finder for character traits.  Words are categorized by part of speech.  For example, words for "criticism" are listed under: Nouns, Noun Characters (i.e., a nit-picker), Adjectives, Adverbs and Verbs.  There is room for students to add their own favorite words that may not be listed here.  A definition is provided for the word as are some notes/ quotes from literature.  
      • (B) is a section for descriptor words. This section even gets into phrases that describe features, such as "in the olden days" to describe the feature of 'time.'
      • (C) provides synonyms for words of movement and senses
      • (D) is divided into 5 parts:
      1. Playing with Words teaching tips
      2. Transition words (such as "for instance," and "hence," and "evidently.")
      3. Prepositon list
      4. Categories of literary genres (again, providing synonyms for words like "fiction" and "drama")
      5. definitions and examples of literary devices
      In all honestly, this is probably not a product that I would select to purchase on our generally limited budget. However, I have to admit that I have yet to find the perfect thesaurus for writing assignments.  Elementary thesauri seem too simplified, and we often get a little frustrated with the more advanced book.  This is a helpful tool for younger students as they begin to experiment with synonyms. 
      • Portable Walls- This is a simple tri-fold cardstock folder that can be be used by your student as s/he is working on writing assignments.  It presents the steps for all the units of writing in the Student Writing Intensive programs (and TWSS for that matter) in very graphic, visual ways -- great for someone who is a visual learner and needs an overview.  It also has some easy to reference lists for common writing helps -- "ly" words, prepositions, and strong verbs to replace the set of banned verbs (see/saw, go/went, etc).
      Downloads!  I don't want to forget about this part!  Along with this entire package of goodies, I also recieved as part of the premium package, a one-year subscription to:

      • streaming videos of the entire 14 hour TWSS (which has 5 additional hours of demo lessons of actual students)
      • free monthly webinar training, which will start in August
      • mp3 downloads of Andrew's popular conference talks
      • PDF downloads of writing packets, an IEW reading list, and mini-posters

      Final Thoughts:
      I absolutely LOVE IEW.  Their products are great investments because you as the parent will learn tools to help your children for YEARS to come.  The student materials are engaging and make students WANT to learn.  Honestly, this package is a full-on language arts program -- minus, perhaps a spelling program.  And, so many components of it will last beyond one year or even one child, that this becomes a great long-term investment for your family.

      Other Crew Members reviewed this package with the SWI B (for middle school) and SWI C (for high school).  Additionally, smaller sets were sent to families to use with children with learning differences -- because IEW is really SO flexible that nearly anyone can use it.

      Wednesday, June 3, 2015

      Landry Computer Repair Intensive

      Ben and I spent two long-awaited days at a Landry Academy two-day intensive a week-ish ago. These are still fairly new in our state, but I'm so glad they are here!

      Ben is very interested in computers so it did not take much convincing to get him here.

      This was not a linear taught course, but instead was set up in modules for the student to complete. After a general opening in which the instructor went over some terms and the course syllabus, the 7 students worked through six modules the first day and six the second day.  There was a bit of lecturing, but for the most part it was hands-on. Some of the things Ben learned:

      1. disassembling a desktop and then putting it back together (we've actually done a lot of disassembling of computers, but practicing the labeling of parts, keeping track of screws, and tracking connections was a great task);
      2. Changing the screen and learning some common problems that can be fixed on a screen with illumination problems.
      3. Changing the keyboard
      4. Taking out the hard-drive and testing it on another computer
      5. Networking issues
      6. basic back-ups and recovery discs
      There was obviously more that I'm forgetting!

      {You might want to know why I was at the intensive. The intensive are drop-off programs, however our state mom needed a substitute hostess, so I attended and helped with set up, lunches, etc. however, had not been the hostess, I would have felt 100% comfortable leaving Ben for the day.}