Monday, October 24, 2016

Educeri Lesson Subscription Service (Review)

Members of the TOS Homeschool Review Crew were recently given access to over 1000 lessons (with options for K-12 learning), via  Educeri .......  Educeri a division of DataWORKS  and their  Educeri Lesson Subscription Service.

This is a fairly unique product, in that the powerpoint style lessons aren't really written directly to the student, but prepared for the teacher to use. Obviously this is well suited for a classroom scenario, but it can be used in the homeschool as well.

There are hundreds of lessons in math and language arts, which means multiple lessons for most grades. The science lessons are more for middle/high school, and there is currently just a smattering of art, music, and even a couple for PE. What this means is that this could be a good resource for someone who is running into problems with a particular subject, and would like to see it from another approach. OR it could be used to rabbit trail, following the interests of the child.

Many lessons are correlated with common core (helpful if you live in a highly regulated state that would like to see those correlations), and others are not. Because I'm not overly fond of common core, I mostly to look at other lessons, particularly when it comes to math. ;) Here is a screenshot of a lesson I decided to use with my 4th grader, to help him check his multiplication and division answers:

The slide starts with nothing where the red numbers and text are. As you talk about the problem and walk through step-by-step (by clicking the right arrow at the bottom), the words or numbers in red show up in order. If you want to emphasize something you can use the pen or highlighter to show that. In this slide I circled a few things and drew lines and symbols to help explain what was going on. That's a pretty nice little feature! :) 

Some (but certainly not ALL) of the lessons also include printable student handouts for practice.

One of the other features of the site is the searching ability. If you aren't able to find a lesson that coordinates with what you are looking for, you can send a request for that lesson.  I filled out a request for a lesson multiplying double digit numbers by double digit numbers (copying the style of another lesson title), and although I wasn't able to locate it myself, I received a reply email with a link to the lesson I was searching for. My understanding is that if the lesson doesn't exist, your request will likely go onto a list of possible future lessons.

I am looking forward to using some of the language arts lessons when we get to metaphors and similes. The history lessons look like they are mostly for middle and upper grades. I find it interesting that they include lessons on the origins of the major religions (Buddhism, Christianity, Confusionism, Hinduism, Islam, and Judaism) as well as lessons on various cultures and the causes of specific wars.

One little rabbit trail that we took included a lesson that was a little over my 9 year old's head: "Trace the Principles of Democracy in Historical documents." We checked that one out because we were talking about Fort Knox, and had learned that there was a copy of the Magna Carta which sparked the question "What's that?" Have to love a lifestyle of learning!

Not So Nutty Nitty Gritty 
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Wednesday, October 19, 2016

Learning to Read and Write Beautifully (Review)

In addition to the Handbook for Writers review that I posted last week, members of the TOS Homeschool Review Crew also received digital copies of Perfect Reading, Beautiful Handwriting published by Everyday Education, LLC, and I was given the opportunity to take a brief look at the manual.

The foreward and introduction include suggestions on teaching and scheduling the lessons, as well as some of the different ways the book can be used (From the beginning reading/writing child to the adult who wants to improve or change their handwriting). The scheduling section utilizes short Charlotte Mason inspired segments, which can help eliminate some of the tedium that many feel when learning to write, and avoid tired, cramped hands for small children who are still learning how to use a writing instrument. 

I don't have a beginning reader, but I took a brief look at the reading instruction. For the most part it looks very simple and basic, which is good. The basic method used is to teach/read words in the same family, followed by silly sentences that incorporate the words practiced.
Here is an example of one of the silly sentence pages... 
I did run into a few issues with pronunciation, although they aren't major. I have the feeling that the author may have grown up in a different part of the country, based on some of the sounds for some of the words given. For instance, I was taught (and my dictionary backs my instruction up), that 'care' is pronounced ke(ə)r not kār, so that is an unfortunate example, and I would say that pair, fair, and stair all follow the same e(ə)r sound pattern.

While there may be a few different regional pronunciations that may be coming through in this manual, given that the author's specialty is handwriting, this isn't a huge deal, just something to look out for. 

I also perused the handwriting portion, which was of the most interest to me specifically, as handwriting is always an issue in our home. The manual uses actual handwriting for the examples and not a computer generated font, which makes it easier to copy. There is an informative discussion about the history of italics and styles of writing. After the basics are learned (in the second chapter), the handwriting section covers joining letters, and ornamentation, as well as instruction in using an edged or calligraphy pen.   

I have finally come to terms with my own handwriting, but thought I would give the italics a whirl myself, and this is what I came up with after a few days' practice: 

The reproducible practice sheets throughout the book are useful, and the practice sheets at the end of the book include guides for correct angling of a calligraphy pen, which is often one of the most difficult things to master. Perfect Reading, Beautiful Handwriting is something that I may look at further for my own use (Working on "beautiful" handwriting, with flourishes and joins) and also for that of my youngest child, as we begin to address his handwriting sometime in the future. 

Not So Nutty Nitty Gritty 
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Saturday, October 15, 2016

Nuggets from our October Homeschool Meeting (Methods, History, and more)

Every once in awhile I like to post some of the notes from our local homeschool support group meetings, in the event that they might offer some helpful information to the general public. ;)

Our October meeting started off with Sally Clarkson and a devotion on the importance of prayer~ how praying for our children is important for both them and us! It's a very good read, if you happen to have time to click on over.

Next we discussed some of the different styles of homeschooling. This was particularly helpful for those who have only been acquainted with traditional schooling.

I found a fabulous blog post by Pam Barnhill that discusses many styles of homeschooling, listing pros and cons, as well as offering resources to further explore each one. One of my favorite resources for each style was a link to an interview with a family that utilizes that method. I was delighted to see my  Five In A Row friend Heather Woodie listed for the Unit Study method.
Pam's post covers the following methods:
  • Unit Studies
  • Charlotte Mason
  • School-in-a-Box (Or "School-at-Home") 
  • Classical
  • Unschooling
She doesn't discuss the "Eclectic" homeschooler, which is more where I fall, so I'll discuss that a little bit here. As you might guess from the description "Eclectic" I don't fall 100% into any of the other categories. Part of that is because of my role for the past 8 years as a reviewer of homeschool curriculum for The Old Schoolhouse Homeschool Review Crew... which means that I receive a variety of things to review that fall into many different categories.

I am, at heart, a Unit study homeschooler. I love the concept of using a specific topic or piece of literature as the base, and pulling in Science, History, Geography, Literature Arts, Writing tools and Art that relate to the topic or book. My very favorite elementary curriculum, Five In A Row, is a Literature Based Unit study. I love the simplicity of the manual, and the conversational style of learning.

If you like to add more bells and whistles you can get lost in the world of Pinterest. However, Pinterest and Facebook pose the danger of becoming overwhelmed with all you *could* do, as well as potentially losing the accessible ease that is the core of this curriculum. Whenever I hear "It's too much work!" in relation to Five In A Row, I know that the person has been looking at resources beyond the manuals, and my advice is to KISS (Keep It Simple, Sweetie).
Examples of some FIAR-inspired activities

Whenever I hear "It's not enough!" I *might* recommend checking out a few of the Pinterest ideas, but by and large, just reading and talking about the concepts, and doing the activities recommended in the manual is more than enough, and trust me~ your children will retain what they learn with Five In A Row... I have a graduated child who recalls her years with Five In A Row, and the lessons learned with great fondness.

OK, so now you know I love Unit Studies~ what else works for me, and my children? I tend to go for the Charlotte Mason "Nature Study" approach as well. The members of my family all tend to be fairly appreciative of and notice the small things that make this world so beautiful, and declare the Glory of God in such amazing ways, both big and small, so a focus on "nature" is a natural fit for us. If you search "Charlotte Mason Inspiration" on my blog you will find a set of posts A-Y (I haven't come up with a "Z" just yet) that are photos with Charlotte Mason Quotes on them. Hopefully you'll take a look, and be inspired! :) Here's an example: 

Ambleside Online is a good place to check for Charlotte Mason resources...

I like some Classical ideas like a history rotation, but our unit studies send us off track chronologically on a regular basis, so I haven't ever fully implemented the Classical model. I had one child who loved Latin, so I suppose that leans more on the classical side of things.

Unschooling~ well, we go with "rabbit trails" to some degree, and I suppose you could consider our National Parks visits this summer something along those lines...

We don't do much School-in-a-Box, although my oldest two LOVED their spelling workbooks (even though they are fairly natural spellers). They liked having that weekly "Busy-work" and the challenge of improving their test score from Monday to Friday, but I think that is as close as we get to traditional school, unless you include some of their math and science, which tend to follow a more traditional style of text, quizzes, tests.

As you can tell, we truly are fairly eclectic in our approach. :)

The conversation turned to History (Classical) and "Living Books" a'la Charlotte Mason, and I had some resources to suggest there as well: 

The Mystery of History is something of a Classical Unit Study approach, with a Christian Worldview, and something that we are using this year, along with readings from The Story of the World (Classical). I have a review on my blog from a few years ago that includes the second volume of Mystery of History if you'd like to take a look at that~ We are using the 1st volume for Ancient History this year. 

I mentioned TruthQuest History which uses a "Spine" text, and then has loads of great book recommendations for reading. Love this resource! Truthquest introduces each section and then lists books, film, audio and activities by grade level, along with a very brief summary of the resource (sometimes one sentence, sometimes a paragraph). Check my blog for a review of this curriculum from a few years ago. I get excited just looking at it again myself! :)

Another resource (pretty much just a list of literature with notations as to whether or not they are from a Christian Perspective) is "All Through the Ages" History through Literature Guide by Christine Miller. This is another nice resource to have on hand.

This discussion led to talking about some really good historical fiction books, which may end up being a future series of posts... but I wanted to include a few books that were mentioned specifically~ 

 The Next Fine Day is one of those stories/classics by Elizabeth Yates that hasn't received a lot of press, but is one of my favorites~ I enjoyed the gentle and lovely unfolding of this beautiful story as a young boy, struggling with his worth learns that he *is* important.

Swallows and Amazons by Arthur Ransome isn't really about birds and South American Natives. Instead it tells (with very British Flavour) the adventures of the Walker children, Nancy and Peggy Blackett (the Amazons) and a little catboat (The Swallow) with the stories starting in the 1930's or so. This is the first book in the series and any child who dreams of spending their days on their own, outdoors, exploring and solving mysteries will surely enjoy these books. What a great set of books to read on lazy summer afternoons! (Or cozy Autumn or Winter afternoons...)  :)

The Trumpeter of Krakow was one of the Middle Ages books that I recommended, probably for the tween/early teen set. Based on Polish history and legend, it is set in a time an place that doesn't receive nearly as much press as many others.

I think I'll leave my historical book suggestions here, and add them to a future post or two or three...

This week at Apple-Picking I mentioned another series by an author friend of mine that is not historical fiction, but fantasy for the younger set... (Copying from a previous post)

Eisley Jacobs is a great Indy Author who writes sci-fi/fantasy books
Her most recent series  Dragons Forever is currently a trilogy (Hoping there might be additional stories to be told???)  **UPDATE** Book 4, Dragons and the Ruse will be published in the near future. 
 In Born to be a Dragon we are introduced to Meia (the orphan girl) and Deglan (the dragon). The worlds of human and dragon collide, and it is high adventure as Meia and Deglan begin to unravel the tangled web that has woven the two of them together...
Blink of a Dragon is my daughter's favorite in the triology as well as mine. This is the book that we both read and thought "THIS book needs to be made into a movie!" Wow~ so descriptive and action-packed. Super themes of great character and personal development as Meia and Deglan search for the only way that their world(s) can be saved, and send the rising dark dragons away.
 Dragons of the Deep  brings the story to Scotland and the ever-enchanting (?) setting of Loch Ness, as Meia hopes to unlock more of the mystery of her past, and Deglan continues to fight back the forces of evil that would like to destroy both humans and dragons forever.
If you like reading books on an electronic device, 
are available as a set on Amazon...

I hope you enjoyed this peek into our monthly support group meeting, and maybe I'll see you again here (Or in person) again next month! :) 


Friday, October 7, 2016

Help for High School/College Students (Handbook for Writers review)

Writing and assessing writing are sometimes difficult subjects for both instructors and students. I am always interested in resources to assist in both of these endeavors, and Excellence in Literature Handbook for Writers published by Everyday Education, LLC is one such tool.

I will quickly note that this review is for the digital version of this product, which has its own benefits and drawbacks when compared to a physical version. While I generally prefer a book in the hand (particularly a reference book), a nice advantage is the ability to search the ebook for a specific topic which can make it fairly easy to browse and locate the information that you need.

The Handbook for Writers is split into two sections. The first part details construction of arguments and essays, while the second covers the mechanics of writing. To give you a idea of the depth and breadth of the material covered here is the basic Table of Contents.

Part 1
  1. Introduction to Essays and Arguments
  2. Arguments: Some Simple first Principles
  3. Setting up the Argument: Definition
  4. Definition: Defining Key Terms
  5. Deduction and Induction
  6. Organizing the Main Body of an Argument (I)
  7. Organizing the Main Body of an Argument (II)
  8. Paragraph Structure
  9. Paragraph Functions
  10. Reading Arguments
  • Sample Outlines for Essays and Research Papers
  • Critical Approaches to Shakespeare: Some Initial Observations
  • Some Criteria for Making Literary Evaluations
Part 2: Introduction to Usage and Style
  1. Phrases, Clauses, Sentences
  2. Words
  3. Basic Punctuation
  4. Pronouns
  5. Parallelism or Parallel Structure
  6. Modifiers, Gerunds, Infinitives
  7. Clarity, Logic, and Structure
  8. References and Bibliographies
  9. Basic Format for Essays and Research Papers
  • Keyhole Essay Graphic
  • The Six Sections of an Approach Paper
  • 11 Things a Paragraph Can Do
  • Rubric for Writing Evaluation
In addition to "reference" material there are numerous examples and exercises to help the student see exactly what is being taught and the opportunity to try the work themselves. 
In the page below you can see a portion of one example on the importance of defining a thesis, the explanation of the example, and following the beginning of an exercise in recognizing potentially useful thesis statements. 

Here is a page from section 2 of Part 2 dealing with the use of words in writing. This particular section is talking about colloquialisms, names, and appropriate tone. There are definite "Do's" and "Don'ts" included for each portion. I find the "Word" section to be filled with information on avoiding the improper use of words, which is one of the most common mistakes made in writing today, in my opinion.

It is suggested on the Everyday Education, LLC website that instructors use this as a tool for correction. When there is a specific error in a piece of writing, rather than just marking it wrong (Which doesn't really help a student fix their errors), there is a good chance that the topic is covered in this handbook and you can note the pertinent section by number (see the 2.6 in the image above), and have your student visit (or revisit) the instruction on their own. This gives them the chance to see a correctly modeled sample and explanation before they rewrite their own work.

Not So Nutty Nitty Gritty 
In final analysis, I believe that this is going to be a very useful tool for both my high-schooler and my soon-to-be college student as they sharpen their writing skills.
I think it will also be a helpful reference tool for me, as I assess their writing.
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Thursday, October 6, 2016

"If You Were Me and Lived In...The Middle Ages, Renaissance Italy, Colonial America, The American West" (Review)

This review is brought to you by Carole P. Roman and

My little history buff was quite excited when a package arrived last month with four historical books for his use and perusal:

If you remember my review of previous Carole P. Roman books, her geography series for a slightly younger age group, If You Were Me and Lived in...France, Mexico, South Korea, Norway. This latest series introduces time periods instead of specific cultures, and includes much more information than the geography/culture series. In fact, these historical time period books are recommended for a variety of ages (Depending on the book) from 1st through 9th grade. At the end of each of the books you will find a section of  "Famous People ..." from the time period with a paragraph to introduce them, as well as a glossary for unfamiliar words.

The first book we read was If You Were Me and Lived in...the Middle Ages. This was a perfect go-along for our Five In A Row Unit on The Duchess Bakes a Cake. Youngest read this independently, as part of his social studies/history lesson and came up with a number of interesting questions and comments. He was particularly struck by the difference in the clothing that was worn during that time including scratchy woolens).
The book also gave a very good, if gentle introduction to Feudal society, typical foods, housing, and the general way of life for nobility and peasants. The illustrations by Bulgarian children's illustrator Mateya Arkova are very similar to the cover illustration, with somewhat cartoonish pictures in bright pastel colors. I appreciate that Carole chose to use a European artist for a book whose history is largely based in Europe. This is the longest books of the four that I received for review at 97 pages.

We have not done anything formal just yet with Renaissance Italy, but with a Leonardo Da Vinci exhibit coming up at our local science museum at the end of the month, you can bet that this book will be on his reading list! :) It covers the same themes in a conversational manner~ what the towns were like, what people wore, what a wealthy merchant's home might be like, how those who weren't rich might live, what foods were eaten, etc...
In addition to the famous people and glossary at the end of the book, Carole touches on some of the reasons why the Renaissance was so important in art. Again, Carole chose a very appropriate comic illustrator, Silvia Brunetti from Rome to illustrate her book on Renaissance Italy. Most of the pictures are in comic form, but there are a couple with photos as background, with a drawn overlay, which is seen more in some of the other books.

The next book is another that we didn't delve into, but is perfect for reading near Thanksgiving, as it features a colonial family that arrived in America on the Mayflower, which is always a topic of discussion in November in our home.
Because we live in Massachusetts, it is always interesting to me to have books on hand that discuss the local (as well as national) history that is so prevalent in our state. While the cover of this book gives you an idea of the comic overlay on a photo, the rest of the book is strictly drawn, in a distinctive sharper comic style by Canadian illustrator Sarah Wright.

The final book (chronologically) that we were sent centers on the American West. This was of particular interest to me, and fairly timely as we had been on a cross-country road trip to my home state of Montana this summer. We visited the Museum of the Rockies in Bozeman, MT, home of the Tinsley homestead, which my great grandmother grew up in, and which my great-great grandfather built in the late 1800's.

Each of the books includes common names for the era, and I found it highly appropriate that the names Clarence and Lucy were included, as Lucy was was my Great Grandmother's name (Her mother was Lucinda), and there is at least one Clarence in my family history in Montana as well.
This was a great book to help my son imagine what life was like for his Great-Great-Great grandparents as they traveled west from Missouri and settled in Paradise, Montana. My only constructive criticism comes at the very end where the Famous People from the American West are mentioned, as Daniel Boone was included when he was more of a Kentucky/Missouri historical figure, vs a Western figure. I would have considered including a mountain man like Jim Bridger or Kit Carson instead (can you tell I'm invested in this geographical time period? ;) ).
The illustrator for this book, Paula Tabor from Texas appears to have merged photography with her comic overlays (Seamlessly in most cases), for a very interesting effect.

Not So Nutty Nitty Gritty 

Readable historical books for elementary to middle grade student which engage their interest through illustrations and details that are pertinent to them, as children, are a rare find and a great resource to have on hand. I think these fill that bill quite nicely.
You can Visit Carole P. Roman on her social media pages:
Facebook, Pinterest, Good Reads, and Twitter as well as her blog where she has included some resources and questions that can be copied and pasted into printable worksheet format or simply used as discussion questions.

Please click the banner below to visit the TOS Review Crew and see what others had to say about these books as  well as others in the series ... Ancient Greece, ...Ancient China, ...Viking Europe, and ...Elizabethan England. As always, I hope that this review was useful to you as you choose where best to spend your homeschool budget.

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