Friday, March 27, 2015

Beyond the Mask: My Thoughts

I am a big supporter of independent Christian films, and I try to do my best to see as many as possible either from DVD or in the theater.  I love being able to see a film that supports my beliefs, and I am hopeful that more and more movies that support family values and character and truth are made and appreciated in our culture.

A few months ago I received an email about the upcoming movie, Beyond the Mask.  I was compelled to learn more about a group of home educated cousins who decided to make movies. 

Then I watched the trailer and learned who was behind the scenes making this happen:  Paul McCusker, an Adventures in Odyssey writer (we LOVE AiO), and co-writer Stephen Kendrick, one of the Kendrick brothers from Albany, GA who began making films with their church family (first one was Flywheel, followed by Facing the Giants, Fireproof, and most recently Courageous). Our family has also enjoyed all the Kendrick films, so right from the start, I was excited to see this movie.

In past movies, I have always felt that Christian movie makers had sacrificed some production quality to make a movie with a redemptive theme.  Even the most recent God's Not Dead Christian film lacked a certain something in its quality.

I think Beyond the Mask (rated PG) will shock you in its high quality filmmaking.

The movie is set in the Colonial period of the 1770s. Here's the story synopsis from the website:
The leading mercenary for the British East India Company, Will Reynolds has just been double-crossed and now is on the run in the American Colonies. Working to redeem his name and win back the affections of the woman with whom he's never been fully truthful, Will now hides behind a new mask in hopes of thwarting his former employer. As his past life closes in on him, Will must somehow gain the trust and the help of his beloved Charlotte - as well as Ben Franklin - while he races against time to defuse a plot of historical proportions. Coming to theaters Spring, 2015, Beyond the Mask is a revolutionary new family film that brings history to life in a faith-filled adventure celebrating grace, liberty, and the true freedom that can only be found in Christ. 
The movie is definitely an action-packed adventure.

The first thing that I noticed when I logged on for my "theatre captain only" screening was how beautiful the movie was!  If you watched the trailer above, you'll see how much the producers and directors used green screens and a sound stage.  Honestly, you will not be able to tell once the movie starts -- it really does look like Will is ziplining onto a 1700s shipping vessel.

Of course, just the glimmer of a sword or muzzle of a revolver will excite my young boys, and this movie had that and more.  Explosions, sword play, intrigue -- the whole action adventure package with British accents to boot!  (I have a 12yo who is going through a British/ Scottish/ Australia accent stage.)  Yes, there is a love story, but it didn't make my boys gag or leave the couch.  *grin*  It protrays an innocent, upper crust courtship-type relationship between Charlotte and Will.  Charlotte is a strong female character who does not waver from her convictions or beliefs:

Not only was I impressed by the production quality of the movie and the script of the movie but I was also impressed by the acting in the movie.  I mean who doesn't like John Rhys-Davies:

I appreciate that Burns Family Studio did not shy away from presenting the Gospel message.  Some might find it too strong, that it will push people away.  And it might, but more than likely it will be a seed planted into someone's heart -- perhaps one of many that they've collected into their souls over the course of life or perhaps one of the first.  Or maybe, God is lining up people to see this movie that need just one more reminder of his amazing grace.  I personally know how persistent God is and how he is amazing at bring The Right People into your life at The Right Time and setting circumstances just so. He will move mountains and allow circumstances of life to align so that those who do not walk with God will have the opportunity to allow God to reshape, retool and redeem their lives.

Here's another video clip of some movers-and-shakers in the Christian world who provided commentary on the film:

So this is my advice:  GO SEE THIS MOVIE.  It is been seen beginning in April at select private screenings around the U.S.  You will need to purchase a ticket online to gain entrance.  Gathr is a company that works with movie theaters across the US to bring movies to communities and groups. Because of that, the tickets are more pricey, but this movie is worth it. Supporting the Burns Family Studios is worth it.

I can hardly wait to see what comes next.

Thursday, March 26, 2015

{Crew Review} Lord Heritage HomeSchool Office

Are you a planner?  I LOVE to plan, and part of the fun for me is trying out new systems and tools to use.  I love trying new things.

For years, when Ben was young, I used  computer software to create master plans for my homeschooling, knowing that I could reuse the plans for subsequent children.  Of course, then I realized that all of my children are different types of learners, and I was never really able to reuse my carefully created plans.  Also, as I added more kids into the mix, time became precious. So, I ditched computers and used paper planners.  But the opportunity to try a new web-based planner Lord Heritage's HomeSchool Office ($79 annual subscription; 30-day free trial) was too exciting to resist!

My plan in trying to get back into some computer-based organizational system was to first implement it with Levi-- his subjects are easy enough to plug in.

Technical Needs: You will need an internet connection to utilize this program; there is nothing offline or downloadable.  Additionally, you will be able to access this through any browser.  I use Chrome, and it has worked flawlessly.

You can read about Lord Heritage's POWER strategy, which provides the foundation of the program.

Setting Up HomeSchool Office:   Upon registering and signing in, the green menu bar has lots of handy icons in order to name and provide census data for your homeschool, add students, courses, resources and plan and grade for a year.  I was an eager beaver to try it all out without using any support, but I found that I just could not figure it out.  I consider myself pretty savvy with computer programs. But I have to say that I could not have set up HomeSchool Office without all the support and technical guides -- they have done a good job of including detailed guides for getting set up.

The handy "Support" tab that outlines, step by step, how to build your schedule and lessons became my friend, and the knowledgebase article "New User Instructions – Getting Started with HomeSchool Office and I became friends.

Step 1 - HomeSchool Office's Quick Set Up walks you through entering information about your school, reporting agency, teacher (that would be you) information, and student information. Here you will also enter student grading methods.  It appears that each student can only have one type of grading method, which is too bad;  however the choices are descriptive, percentage and letter grade.

Next you'll move on the the Plan section, in which you enter each child's classes.  We are not traditional textbook homeschool people, so it was a little hard for me to enter things like "Classical Conversations."  You'll see that there are, however, TONS of courses to pick from, but not a way to enter individualized classes without having the vague "other" moniker.

Once all your courses are entered, you can monkey with the school year calendar to identify how many school days you'll have in the year as well as plan vacations and holidays.

The next step was learning about grading.  This seemed a little weird to me (I mean, I haven't even planned out the completion of any lessons), but I am good at following directions, so I plugged along.  I can see that for someone who just wants to record lessons as they are completed -- as opposed to planning out which day each lesson will be done first -- that this is a simple way to track grades:

Now, if you want to use the HomeSchool Office to the fullest extent and plan out a week or month or even year full of assignments, you will need to jump to the Advanced Instructions:

Master Scheduling is creating a weekly plan for when coursework will be completed during the day. I LOVE this sort of grid, but I did find it a little cumbersome to add in multiple instances of, say, math time during the week:

This is where HomeSchool program can be helpful for organizing appointments, special events (think: field trips or play dates) and integrate them into your school calender.  I didn't enter any other events, because I am primarily interesting in how I can schedule and organize assignments.

In each subject that you've given to your student, you can create assignments.  I decided to plan out the last few lessons of Levi's Math U See program; they are pretty easy to enter:  28A, 28B, 28C, etc.

These lessons will show up sequentially on your Master Calendar, and thankfully you can drag and drop them wherever you'd like.  You can also reorder them and push them forward or back using a pop up screen.  You can even mark them completed (from both the calendar screen and this one, above), but I did not find a way to enter grades more automatically when using this feature.

How This Worked for Me: For me, the big  hurdle for any non-handwritten planning program is the ease in which I can get up and going with the program and how intuitive it is to me. This program has a LOT of features, and you could theoretically add in an address book, to do list, as well as a homeschool budget, and resource list.  You can even set user names and passwords so students can check off their own assignments (this is a feature that I did not use with Levi).

However, the program was not as easy to set up as I had hoped, and I found that entering information and tracking grades was more difficult for me to use than I had hoped.  I do hope they will consider adding in more features so that you can copy courses easier for day-to-day use on the Master Planner. I would also like to see different access points where grades can be entered for ease.

If you live in a state where careful homeschool records, attendance and tracking of hours of schoolwork are necessary, then I suggest you consider this program -- it will probably be a great help to you.

Tuesday, March 24, 2015

Learning to Drive Tool

We are knee deep into racking up driving hours for Ben right now.  He's been getting a few driving opportunities here and there through the winter, but now that his birthday is around the corner (and a deposit has been made for Driver's Education School), we are THERE almost every day.

Ben will have to turn in a driving log of his 40 hours of practice driving with us, and I've found a great app that is helping me to keep track of the information (I will not be filling out the form, mind you).  It is called RoadReady by Ford Motor Company.

The dashboard screen looks just like the above snip from their website.  It will tally all of your hours, log when your drive started and how long it took you to drive that segment.  You can also select road conditions, type of road (local, highway) and the time of day.  You'll get an email each week with the results listed (drive-by-drive) and you can always send yourself a copy whenever you want.  I try to send myself a copy every couple days because I would HATE to lose the information.

There are a number of apps that do the same exact thing as this one --- but this was free.  This means that there are frequently ads from State Farm Insurance, but it is easy to close them and move on.  

[This is not a solicited review; this is just a tool I have found helpful for my family.  I am not being compensated in any way.]

Wednesday, March 18, 2015

{Not so} Wordless Wednesday - Homeschool Ski Lessons 2015

Ski season is over.  The kids had a great time and Ben has crossed over to the dark side: snowboarding!  He loves it more than skiing and says he is not skiing anymore.  I was shocked to see how well he was boarding on our last ski day -- he looks like he's been boarding for a long, long time.

Levi had a great season and won his ski race. He received many nice comments from his instructor "Turbo."  On our race day, he won his division for boys!  He was pretty happy (can you tell by the smile on his face?) and couldn't wait to tell dad!

Not to ignore Luke, but he did fantastic.  He's a little fast for my taste, but he can control himself and hasn't hurt anyone.  No pictures of him this year.  *sad face*
This mama is not sad skiing is over -- bring on SPRING!

Tuesday, March 17, 2015

{Crew Review} Great Parents Academy: Online Math

Critical Thinking Company Review

Luke and Levi have been trying out this new-to-us math program called GPALOVEMATH 
from GPA (for Great Parent's Academy) LEARN.  This is meant to be a comprehensive math program for grades K through 5th grade that teaches your student content, gives them practice, and then tests their skill level.  The program is meant to meet and/or exceed Common Cores state standards.  You can view the curriculum scope and sequence at the GPA LEARN website.

Each child in your family will need their own subscription and (thankfully) each subscription allows you access to ALL the grade levels.  So say, for example, that you start your 4th grader at the 4th grade level, but realize that they would benefit from moving up (or down) a grade;  you have the flexibility within the parental controls to move your child to their appropriate level.  Each child needs his/ her own account.  Annual subscription are $129/ child with code GPAINTRO15; each child needs their own account. A monthly subscription is also available at $12.99/ month.

Technical requirements:  This math program is completely online, and you will have to stay online to access the lessons.  Because it is web-based, you can use an iPad or Galaxy Tablet and computers (both PC and Mac based).  Chrome is recommended but other browsers are supported.  We had no trouble accessing the program on an iPad, MacBook and Windows computers.  

How The Program Works:  Each grade level has mission that is presented by the 'teachers' for the grade level.  At the 5th grade level, students are told that they need to foil Dr. Division's evil plan with the help of Nina Numerator and Dino Denominator.

For 3rd grade, Levi had Abacus as his teacher:

The entire curriculum is broken down into single topic lessons.  A student needs to complete the lessons in the suggested order to unlock the next lesson or lessons.  Sometimes one lesson will unlock lessons in more than one strand.

I did discover (with the help of other crewmates) that you can view the lessons by topic.  This way, you can unlock tasks for your child to do thematically.  For example, you can see below that we jumped ahead to Fractions a little as well as division (which is incomplete as of the writing of this post).

Each lesson itself is broken into three parts:

the student learns the new concept

Guided Practice -
the learning teachers guide the student to solve problems

Quiz -
the student independently solves 15 questions for a final "grade."

Success at this level gives students points which they can use to purchase rewards that have been set up by the parent/teacher.  You can set up family specific rewards ("Get Ice Cream at Friendly's" would be a good one here) or you can select from a variety of rewards that have already been vetted. There are even some gift certificates to Toys R Us and Target!

You can access a free 30-day trial at GPALOVEMATH website.

As the teacher, you have access through the Dashboard, to see many details on your child's performance:  how often they are logging in and completing lessons, their accuracy, and the rewards they've selected (you have to approve the rewards).  You can also "test drive" each lesson and see exactly what your student is going to learn in their next unlocked task.  You can even access your student's account through the Learn tab so that your student can begin work on their exercises immediately after you've logged in!

I haven't found much use for the Engage tab, as that is a way to communicate back and forth with your student.  The Motivate tab, however, is where students can go to cash in their points for special privileges.

How We Used This:  I originally wanted Luke to give this program a try, even though he is in 6th grade.  I thought it would be a fun way to play catch-up with some of the concepts that our current math program has not yet addressed.  He is plugging his way through a Math U See level for his main math program, and I had wanted to use GPALOVEMATH to cover some topics included in the three strands of their program:

Fifth Grade:
Computational Cave
Decimal Training Center
Sector Park

I was especially looking forward to some low stress learning about PEMDAS (order of operations) decimals and the beginnings of graphing and the coordinate system.

Unfortunately, I didn't fully appreciate that my 12.5 year old is aging out of "cute" and found the Math Super Heroes to be more of a distraction than a help.  In addition, once Luke began the lessons, Nina and Dino's voices turned into computer generated speech, which was highly distracting to him. I did contact customer service, and they assured me that regular voices are coming soon!

Levi, on the other hand,  LOVES GPA.  He had just completed his math curriculum, and I suggested that we work through GPALOVEMATH for a few weeks until I can get the next workbook purchased for him.   Some of what he has been working on has been review -- basics of multiplication and addition right now -- but he's also gotten some exposure to those soft geometry concepts that we had not yet touched on, such as obtuse and acute angles.

Third Grade:
Operations & Algebraic Thinking
Numbers & Base 10
Geometry, Measurement & Data

Final Thoughts:  I've been really happy with GPA and how motivated it has been for Levi.  Not every program is going to work for each child, so I would suggest you sign up for the free trial and give each of your children the opportunity to work through several weeks worth of lessons. Perhaps GPALOVEMATH will make your home "tear free" when math time comes!

Connect with GPA on social media:
Facebook   Twitter  Pinterest

Friday, March 13, 2015

{Crew Review} Critical Thinking Company's Math Analogies Level 1

Critical Thinking Company Review
I have to admit that there are curricula materials that I've forgotten to use with Levi just because he is the youngest and I've already "been there, done that."  Critical Thinking Co. materials is one of those 'holes' that I've forgotten to fill.  

But so much has changed since Ben was his age!  There is so much more technology which makes accessing some of these products easier.  Take for example, the Math Analogies Level 1.  This is designed for 2nd and 3rd graders.  It has been very easy to incorporate The Critical Thinking Company's Math Analogies ($6.99 for a 2 computer, perpetual license, PC only) into our homeschool this winter.  Why?  Well, Levi loved it & it was easily completed on the computer.

Critical Thinking Company Review

Math Analogies is a simple downloadable game that really doesn't take long to complete.  There are 152 problems in it.  Levi is at the upper age range for this product -- and has caught on to math quickly -- and he was able to complete the entire level with 100% accuracy in about 3 DAYS.  Yes, days.  

It was valuable for him to complete, however, because I'm not sure how much we've talked about analogies before.  

The program walked him through understanding how an analogy works.  After that, he was off to give the problems a try. By demonstrating how they worked; it did require reading, so you might want to stick around while he/she gets a feel for how the analogies work.                                          

There are various representational problems in the program:  

As well as problems that deal with numbers, number relationships and math facts:

Other relationships such as spatial relationship and money equivalents were also included. I noticed some inequalities and fractional relationships as well.

The program allows for drag-and-drop responses.  It clearly tells the student if their answer is correct or not. However, it does not provide any teaching if the student is incorrect.

When you student has completed the problem set or a session, you will get an accuracy report on the home screen.  They next get a second try at the problems they missed.  Levi only needed two tries to whip through the problem set;  it seems that the maximum number of times the student has to answer all the questions correctly is 4.  After that, you'll have to have your student start over with all the problems.

Technical specifications:
The program is only available on PC-based systems.   You can use it on Windows 8/7/Vista  a 1 GHz or faster processor and 512 MB of RAM.  The program was very easy to download and install and Levi was excitedly working through the introductory material after just a few minutes of introductory information.

I did notice on the website that there are iPad and and Google Play versions for tablets, but I don't know anything about them.

We used this program as a supplemental resource.  Like I said, Levi finished it very quickly because he loved it so much.  He was disappointed that the program was so short.

I was shocked, too, that the program went so quickly.  I thought that he would be able to use it a few days a week over the 6-week review period, but he was done with the entire program within the first week.  I noticed that there are several levels of the program, and wonder if it would be more helpful to families to have all the levels combined into one program.  However, if I was just wanting to introduce this idea to help with test taking strategies, the price certainly is right.

You can try on an online demo version of Math Analogies with 8 questions. Thankfully, you can access the demo version on a Mac of PC.

Connect with Critical Thinking Co:

Facebook    Google+      Twitter      Pinterest

Thursday, March 12, 2015

San Antonio Through My Son's Eyes

Several weeks ago, I had to attend the funeral of my Uncle Brian, who died very, very suddenly and unexpectedly.  If there was ever a man who enjoyed being with people, helping them have a good time, and laughing and enjoying good food -- it was Brian.  He will forever be missed.

Brian worked for an airline -- the kind of airline that is SO good to its employees that they flew us all to San Antonio to celebrate his life and mourn our loss together.  While I was prepared to fly alone to the funeral, I decided to take Luke with me on the trip.  First off, as the middle child, he often is overlooked for special events.   Luke is a the age when an adventure was right up his alley. And perhaps most importantly, he is my most sympathetic son -- he is sensitive to others' feelings and is able to adjust his own responses to act caring and gentle in many adult situations.

In spite of the somber reason for the trip, I really, really had a great time with him, and I know he brought joy to his grandparents with his sunny personality.

Off we go on an adventure Uncle Brian would be happy we are having

Luke is a good explorer, willing to look around, make guesses and suppose.

Grateful to have been so well taken care of at the convent's housing
We did have a few occasions to have some fun and explore -- so we did the traditional thing and went to Alamo square in downtown SA to explore a little on the Riverwalk and at the historic site. Luke's iPod doesn't hold much of a charge, but I did let him have my phone to snap as many pictures as he wanted.  He had a little coaching from his Nana for picture composition, but otherwise, I found it interesting to see what HE thought was interesting.

My social kid waved at everybody

Photo by Luke

Photo by Luke

Photo by Luke

Photo by Luke

Luke loved the colorful tile work -- Fiesta colors!

Again, Luke making friends!

"Mom, I love this and will make it my screensaver."

We also had time to visit the Alamo before we needed to catch our plane home.

 Luke was mesmerized by the volunteers explaining the evolution of the handgun in the Texas west.  He stood there for a good 30 minutes!

I'm so sad to have lost my uncle at such a young age.  I will forever hear his laughter in my mind and see his smile and hear his, "Hi Laney" in my memories.  I'm so grateful that Luke and I were able to pay our respects to him and his SA family -- most of whom I'd never met before.  He laughed big and loved big, and will be missed greatly.