Monday, November 22, 2010

Illuminations~ a Unit Study from Bright Ideas/Mystery of History

Illuminations, a "Complete, Chronological, Customizable Guide to Christian Education" 
So.. what, exactly does that mean? I really had very little idea when I chose to review Illuminations as part of the TOS Crew Reviews. However, I was intrigued, as we already owned Mystery Of History Vol 1 &  2. I was interested to see what Maggie Hogan, her son Tyler, and others on the Illuminations "Team" had pulled together, to turn Mystery of History into a more complete, meaty "unit study" instead of being simply a great history program.  We received Illuminations 1 (Grades 3-8) for the bulk of our review, and Illuminations 1 (High School) to see where it was going, and to check out the High School Geography.

First a basic fact~
Illuminations is a digital product (Meaning no physical, printed material) that you download directly to your computer(Although it is available on CD for an extra charge of $20). This has a grat deal of bearing on how Illuminations works, as it is a fully customizable set of neatly linked Lesson Plans in Adobe PDF format.

Here is an example of what the schedule grid(Illuminations 3-8) looks like (There are three pages for each week)
The first page schedules what I consider to be the meat of the program~ the History, and Literature, as well as Bible, Vocabulary/Copywork, Geography, and Supplemental Resources.
Illuminations 1

The next page includes rows with lesson plans for two writing programs, grammar and spelling:
    Illuminations 2
      The third page includes rows for Science, Humanities, and (K-2) Early Learning Bible, Science, Literature and Geography(Which we aren't * quite * ready for yet...maybe next time through! )

      Illuminations 3

      To see these pages up close,  and play with them yourself, you can download a sample package from Bright Ideas Press that includes a brochure, course offering and literature list, two sample schedule grids, a family study guide, a read-alone study guide, possibly an e-book, and a sample of the graphic organizers included. I highly recommend checking out one of these sample units if your interest is piqued by this program

      Back to the schedule grid

      You can click on each square in the grid and overwrite the contents with your own adjustments. To fully appreciate my customizations, you might want to look at the samples closely, but here is how I changed the second page to suit the programs that we are using. (Because we only have one writing program for each child, I utilized the extra rows for their science and math lesson plans) Notice the freedom to make the program work for YOU.... you don't have to use EVERYTHING included(We use other spelling and science, as well as different writing programs) for it to be useful and worthwhile.

      Illuminations 1 "Tweaked"

      Another benefit to this lovely grid is that you are able to save the lesson plans that you type, without overwriting the originals. (I just saved them as files with the weekly dates as the file name)

      There is a huge amount of information available on the Illuminations portal website~ video FAQs,  Sample downloads for most of the available units, and more.  I highly recommend browsing a bit at  "The Portal", as you will get a great feel for the program from the visuals and details included there.

      I think that my favorite component of this program was the Literature. I was able to borrow(from friends or from the library) the books that I needed to follow the read-aloud and read-alone portions. The study guide for the Family Read aloud, in particular was very "popular" in our homeschool. :) My kids really enjoyed the reading AND the discussion that followed each chapter of  "The God King". This is something that we haven't done as much of in our schooling (we get plenty of reading done, but less discussing on a regular basis). I appreciated the Godly worldview in both the book choices as well as the discussions.  For the literature component alone, I feel that Illuminations is very worth investigating! (More on that in my "nitty-gritty" section)

      The organization  of the PDFs is amazing to this momma. (I don't quite understand how all this stuff works, but I AM figuring out how to use it anyway!) At the basic "Start Here" screen you will find anumber of navigation choices. 
      • A "Quick Start Guide" which is great for getting started (imaagine that!) and referring to once in awhile later on... I highly recommend reading through the introductions and the user guide, however, it won't be used on a daily basis.
      • The Second option is to "Browse by Subject," which will go to a page allowing you to open up the entire year's schedule in a subject. This gives you the detailed plans for each subject, week by week. 
      • The third option(and my most used), is "Browse by Date." From here you can go to the schedule grid for the week of Mystery of History that you are on. There you will find grids that look like those I included above, with your week's lessons all made out for you (Or ready to be adjusted according to your own situation). From here you may click on each subject, and be taken directly to the detailed plans mentioned above, but only for that specific week. 
      Time for some pros and cons~
      Pros~ These will be more succinct, because I feel that I have mentioned them already in one way or another.
      • Love the organization, the schedule grid, the ability to see the program by subject or by week.
      • The inclusion of schedules for the various writing programs must be useful to a number of people, and if I end up using one of those programs, I am sure I will be grateful to have the year "planned" for me already.
      • One of the reasons I appreciate Mystery of History is the Biblical Worldview, and I will reiterate here, my appreciation for the literature choices and accompanying study guides.
      • Did I mention that I love the scheduling? ;) Really, there was something that just "clicked" for me with the set-up of this program, so I'm repeating myself! ;) 
      • Looking through the graphic organizers, I can't wait to put some more of them into use. There are some that I can see using almost daily, if not week(Story/reading/Bible topics, particularly)!
      Cons~I might be a little more wordy here, not because I felt anything was terrible, but because I want to throroughly explain my "cons". This will hopefully give you a fuller viewpoint of the program.
      • There were a couple of occasions where I felt the Literature Selections could have followed the history a little more closely (for example, Aesop's Fables were read as literature BEFORE Aesop came up in history). This isn't a deal-breaker for me, tho', because I do appreciate the study guides. We also had an instance of the page numbers not corresponding to expected breaks in the reading, but we adjusted.
      • Here's one that is highly individual: my kids didn't consider a DK book on China to be a "Read-alone". They were looking for "Story" whether fact or fiction, not "Facts". That is just a sign to me of where they are, from a reading standpoint, and I am aware that the inclusion of a "knowledge in bite-size chunks" sort of book may be more of a "pro" to other families. :) 
      • I was hoping that the Geography (Illuminations 3-8) would coordinate with the history, rather than being systematic. This was probably my major disappointment. However it was somewhat tempered by the fact that we also used the geography lessons from the High School Level for my 8th grader. This gave me an appreciation for the systematic approach vs what I'll call a "Unit" approach. This will be filling in some of the "holes" that we have acquired over the course of our almost exclusively "unit study" approach in the earlier years. The Geography course as written in the high school version can most definitely count towards high school credit, and my daughter is enjoying learning more about the "Wheres" in the World! :)
      Here is the nitty gritty price information. Before you look at the table from the BIP website, below, consider this~ Bright Ideas Press offers those Literature Study Guides that I am so pleased with individually. They run $10-$14 apiece~ fairly competitively priced according to my research on other study guides, but to purchase each one used in Illuminations Year 1(3-8) individually, would cost $160 by my accounting. That math is pretty simple~ Total program~ $165... all of the study guides $160.

      Item Price
      ILM 3-8 $165.00
      ILM Highschool $95.00
      ILM Combo Pack $240.000 (Save $20)
      1 Semester at a time (Half off base price)
      CD-Option +$20.00 (Free shipping)

      I really enjoyed using Illuminations, and hope that this review gives you a little picture of what is included,  how it worked for us, and how it might or might not fit in your family's schooling.  Please stop by the TOS Crew Blog to read other reviews on Illuminations as well as 5 other product lines sold by Bright Ideas Press (Including more in-depth reviews of some of the Literature Study Guides,  Christian Kids Explore Science Series, A Young Scholar's Guide to Composers, Hands on Geography, and Writer's Workshop).

      Disclosure of Material Connection: I received this/these item(s)/service for free as part of the TOS Crew Review Program. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission's 16 CFR, Part 255: "Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising."

      1 comment:

      1. Just a quick note.. any computer/Mac geeks reading this... I just noticed that my screen shots show how lovely my computer is, with funky lines in the corners, blocking things off, etc... Any idea why that happens? It shows up in every program, and makes it crazy hard to write, when I can't see what I've typed!

        TIA if you can help!


      Thanks so much for letting me know you were here. I appreciate "thoughtful" comments. :)


      I love trading in points(450), earned during normal searches, for ($5) Amazon Gift Cards!


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