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.}

      Tuesday, June 2, 2015

      {Crew Review} At Home Drum lessons with DrumswithWillie

      JazzEdge has created a video-based, independent study course to help students at home learn to play the drums.  Called DrumsWithWillie, the program leads students from the basics of setting up a drum set to reading music, improvisation and actually playing.  Wow!

      Ben has been playing the drums for a few years.  He got his first drum set when he turned 12:

      He started lessons with a fantastic teacher that summer and has continued to take lessons when his teacher is available (he is a missionary).  Ben's been back to lessons since January -- well, except the last month because Driver's Ed is a time consuming course and we could not fit drum lessons in.

      Mike Marble is the video instructor. He has an impressive professional biography as an artist and teacher in Connecticut. I could not find a large, clear photo of him on the DrumsWithWillie website, but a little google searching and I found this:

      {Photo credit:}

      Does this look fun, or what?

      What I received: I received access to all of the DrumsWithWillie lesson content for a year.  The online program; you will need to have an internet connection, but you can download the lessons and watch them offline). There are some sheet music PDFs to download.

      Cost: At the time of this review, DrumsWithWillie offers lifetime access to its curriculum for $299 ( you can do this as a one-time payment or three monthly payments of $99.97).

      The Program:  Following national music standards, this program covers drumming technique, rhythm, ear training, reading music, song and improvisation (gotta love the sweet smile Ben had when he heard Mike put together a sweet improv technique in one of the upper lessons). 

      The program is broken down into units. They start really basic and include even pre-playing lessons, called CoreDrums:

      • Being a team player
      • how to change a drum head
      • how to tune a drum
      • how to set up your drum kit
      • how to hold your sticks
      • choosing a drum location
      What I like about this section is that it really holds your hands through the process of getting your drummer going.  I SO wish we would have had something like this prior to starting drum lessons! Even though my brother had tortured me taken drum lessons while I was in middle and high school, I had no idea about half of these topics.  And even after we started lessons, it isn't like the teacher came to our house and showed us how to interact and care for the drums.

      After this CoreDrums section, the lessons begin.  Lessons are broken down into 3 levels, and each level has 6 units.  In each of the units are 5 video-based lessons (and often one rhythm quiz) which follow this predictable sequence:

      This works out to be approximately 90 lessons.  Mike Marble, the instructor, himself is great.  I really like how natural and personably he talks through the video.  He makes jokes, laughs and is engaging.  I also really like how the lessons are shot:

      This way, you can imitate his movements and see everything clearly -- including the foot pedal -- as well as see his face.

      Video lessons vary in length from just a few minutes to about 10 minutes long.  This is definitely long enough to watch through once, then watch-and-pause to practice.  At least that would be my preferred method -- Ben prefers to just do the watch-and-pause-to-practice all at once., these days.

      I should mention the quizzes:  although this is a drum program, the quiz rhythms are played on a piano.  Not a big deal, but just something to be aware of.  You'll listen to a rhythm played twice and select it from two choices:

      How this worked for us:  Since Ben has been taking lessons for several years, it was a little hard to figure out where his skill set fit with the lessons.  However, Ben's most reason sets of lessons (since his teacher returned from the mission field for a sabbatical) has been more focused on advanced rhythm and bridges.  Ben, then, was really interested in more of the improvisation portions of the lessons.   We had a good time watching through the videos and I really appreciate Mike's style of teaching.  As gifted as Mike is, however, at teaching via a video, I would really encourage potential students to watch through videos and practice through some of the basic information (such as one of the DrumsWithWille Free Lessons) to assess whether this is a good learning modality for your son/daughter.  As it turns out, having a prescribed lesson and face-to-face lesson with an instructor works a little better for Ben and making progress.

      I forgot to mention that the website itself is set up so that you can add a number of students to your account (each with his/her own password) and watch their progress through the program.

      Final Thoughts:  DrumsWithWillie is a great product for students to use to begin their music education with a drum set.  Mike is a personable teacher -- one you won't mind sitting and watching and one who will likely make you (at least) smile.  He is also a talented musician -- I'll admit that I sometimes fast forwarded to the end of a lesson to hear Mike play the rhythms and riffs at normal speed.  All I can say is:  WOW!

      Several crew members also reviewed the piano programs.  You can read about their experiences at the link below.