Wednesday, March 27, 2013

Pieces of Me by Eisley Jacobs (YA Book Review/Giveaway)

I am fond of independent authors who write quality stories. I like it even better when I am given the opportunity to read their newest work before it's officially released! When Eisley Jacobs offered to send me an Advanced Reader's Copy (ARC) pdf of her novel "Pieces of Me," I was delighted! However, I'm not sure that my husband and boys were quite as thrilled, because as soon as I was able to download it to my computer and to my daughter's iPod touch, it was difficult to gain either my eldest's or my attention.

Eisley has written an incredibly fast paced, can't-put-it-down story that grabbed me from the first page... and had this "no electronics at the dinner table" momma violating her own rule, and giving her eldest a "pass" as well!

Imagine having amnesia. . . imagine having recurring amnesia. . .  you have no recollection at all of your name, your family, the day before. . . imagine pieces of your life written on sticky notes in various locations ~ sticky notes to guide you through your day. . . because tomorrow you'll forget.

Notes on the mirror remind me who I am, why I'm here,
and who this person is staring back at me, the red hair
flowing in wisps over my shoulder with a chunky blonde
streak in the front. And those piercing blue eyes.

Have I always had blue eyes?

I feel like I've just woken from a nightmare I can't shake
no matter how hard I pinch myself.

More sticky notes on the wall say I live a normal life,
despite the amnesia hang-up. I'm seventeen, a junior at
Clement High School. My best friend's name is Sam, short
for Samantha. My name is Braidan.

"Braidan." The name rolls off my tongue, but it feels
wrong. All wrong.

Determination to find answers builds in my chest and
beats stronger than the heart beneath my pink nightshirt. A
familiar anger rolls over my body, one I've certainly felt

How could I know this? I can't even remember my name.

We get to know Braidan as she gets to know herself, and those around her. Who is telling the truth? Who can Braidan trust? What is really going on?  "Pieces of Me" is well written, with character development and plot twists galore, so that I really had no idea what was going to happen next.

It has been quite some time since I have read a novel and picked it up for a second read-through right away, because there were details and scenes that I wanted to revisit, to make sure I hadn't missed anything in the non-stop action of the book. The plot occasionally elicited the same sort of reaction that I had watching a Twilight Zone episode or two... perhaps an element of horror (Not of the likes of Stephen King, but more in the dystopian sense of something being dreadfully wrong), that kept me thinking about the story long after I put it down (for the second time).

Eldest was also caught up in the story, and as I mentioned, was not eager to take a break from reading. I did ask her to stop a couple of times so that I could catch up  with her, but only received looks that said "Seriously?" in true teen form. ;)  While she and I both prefer to read this sort of thriller/action story (shall we say I don't do well with graphic tension), I could easily see this being turned into a screenplay~ all the elements are there. Eldest says "Don't pick this up unless you have a few uninterrupted hours at hand."

Eisley Jacobs' newest novel, a Young Adult SciFi Thriller "Pieces of Me" is now available in both printed and e-book format. If they don't already have it in stock, I'm sure you can have your local mom and pop bookstore order you a copy, if you are fortunate enough to have such a gem nearby. Otherwise, it is certainly available at Amazon and Barnes and Noble.

Now if you'd like to have a SIGNED copy of Pieces of Me, please enter the giveaway that I am offering here on my blog (although she has the e-version, my daughter would love a signed hard copy, but she can't enter.;)) (Sometimes Rafflecopter takes a while to load, so please be patient... ;) )

a Rafflecopter giveaway  

Connect with Eisley on her blog, facebook and/or twitter.

Disclaimer: I received an ARC pdf  of this book from the author. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own. There may be affiliate links in this post, which help add a few pennies to our home-school supplies fund. 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."

Monday, March 25, 2013

CAP Logically Speaking... Monty Python ???

Judgement . . . Apprehension . . . Syllogism . . . Inference . . . Inductive . . . Deductive . . . Relevance . . . Premise . . . Conclusion . . .  Aristotle . . . Boole . . . Socrates . . . Monty Python . . .

What? Wait a minute~ is there something here that doesn't quite fit? Let me see... Aristotle, Socrates, Python... hmmmm... 

Indeed, most of these terms (Actually, ALL of these terms) CAN be found in the first lessons of The Discovery of Deduction: An Introduction to Formal Logica course we just received for review from Classical Academic Press via the Schoolhouse Review Crew. . . (Along with the accompanying Teacher's Manual The Discovery of Deduction Teacher's Edition).
 And yes... we did watch a suggested YouTube video of a Monty Python sketch:

As well as another Monty Python bit whose dialogue was found in the text... :)
We got a little sidetracked here, as I decided to continue in this vein for a bit, and we  went on to watch the Monty Python bits about Coconuts, and 3 questions... and guess what?

Really... Monty Python and Logic/Deduction~ they go together like two peas in a pod (or something like that...). I was amazed to realize how well these pieces fit with my daughter's study of Deductive Reasoning, and made parts of it memorable for her as well. :)

However, I don't want you thinking that this 2nd logic course from Classical Academic Press is all fluff. Far from it!  In fact the first section in each lesson kind of makes MY head spin, with some of the terminology and slightly wordy technical explanations of formal logic. However, I am grateful that the sometimes esoteric terms and their explanations are expounded on throughout each chapter, where the concept of formal logic is moved from its obscure pedestal in the marble halls of classical thought to the common center stage of real world arguments and situations. 

The lessons begin with a hefty (3 part) introduction (indeed, it is a complete Unit all on its own) describing the differences between formal/informal logic, Deductive/Inductive reasoning, and Categorical/Propositional Logic, and moving on to a brief history of logic, and "Formal Logic" and the three acts of the mind. 

This introduction alone is very worth spending some extra time on, as many of the concepts (and vocabulary) introduced are a little difficult to grasp the first time around. 

The Second Unit covers Propositions and their relationships, the Third Unit explores Categorical Syllogisms, and the Fourth Unit is all about Terms and Definitions. I can't say a whole lot about these sections just yet, as we haven't gotten there, and quite frankly, *I'm* learning right along with my daughter. ;)

How we used the program: 
Generally speaking, I read each lesson section aloud to my eldest (unless it was a dialogue, in which case we read it together) and then we moved into the review and define section (generally discussed it orally). From there she completed the various exercises for the lesson section, and read through/discussed Deduction in Action (which we've decided ties in very well with our "essay" lessons, as the student is often asked to answer a question or give  an explanation, to show an example of the point of the lesson).

I definitely appreciated having both the teacher and the student texts, so that we could read the dialogues together, or I could ask questions from the TM, and eldest could go looking for the answers in the Student Manual. 

So far, except the occasional glazed look when the vocabulary/basic concept for each chapter is introduced, my eldest appreciates the humor that is woven into the text, as well as the suggestions for multimedia presentations.

Our conversations about various (sometimes illogical) posts that I've seen flying around on my  facebook newsfeeds on a variety of topics have been enhanced by reading this book,  as she has been learning new terminology, and fine-tuning the art of having intelligent discussions about whatever is of interest (I keep going back to a quote in the first chapter by Andrew Carnegie: "He that cannot reason is a fool. He that will not is a bigot. He that dare not is a slave"). 

The ability to think and to reason is becoming something of a lost art, even in our homeschool circles, so it would seem that The Discovery of Deduction is a marvelous way to pick up at least  high-school Semester credit, if not a full credit, and help to ensure that your child is neither a fool, a bigot, nor a slave! 

Not So Nutty Nitty Gritty 

Please click the banner below to visit the TOS Review Crew and see what others had to say (Some members of the Crew were sent a different selection, The Art of Poetry  for review~ so check those posts out if you're interested in that product~ I am!). As always, I hope that this review was useful to you as you choose where best to spend your homeschool budget.

Wednesday, March 20, 2013

Essentials in Writing (Grade 10)

Ah... to write or not to write... that is the question.

Actually, if one hopes to function well in our society, one MUST be able to write clearly and efficiently, so there IS no question whether to write or not. Because of the importance of the ability to communicate with the written word I find it very useful to have good tools to help me teach this foundational skill.
My latest review item is a writing course from  Essentials in Writing, which offers courses from elementary through high school.  We received a set of DVD's for  10th grade, which include video instruction, and a pdf "Workbook" file.  I actually found it a little intimidating to write about a writing course this time around, and observed myself brushing up on some things that I have forgotten over the years. ;)

The full course covers:

  • SENTENCE STRUCTURE - dependent and independent clause; simple, compound, complex, and compound-complex sentences; address sentence errors (fragment, run on, and comma splice)
  • THE FORMAL PARAGRAPH - structure; expository, persuasive, compare/contrast, descriptive, cause/effect, and narrative paragraphs
  • THE WRITING PROCESS - in depth study of each part of the writing process; practice the writing process with each multiparagraph composition
  • ESSAYS (formal and informal) - detailed instruction and step by step process for narrative, personal, expository, persuasive, and compare/contrast essays
  • RESEARCH PAPER (project) - detailed instruction and step by step process to conduct a research project and write a research paper (CAUSE/EFFECT)
Due to the short length of time (in full year curriculum terms) that we had to use this product for review, we did not go straight through the lessons in order, but spent time going through a selection of lessons in most of the units. We completed the first 6 lessons in sentence structure, the paragraph overview, with a focus on the persuasive paragraph, and we've gotten started on the process of writing an essay.

Matthew Stephens is a very personable instructor who has a passion for good writing. He doesn't give a flawless presentation, and trips up a bit in his speaking upon occasion, just as any instructor in front of a class, or speaker in front of an audience (without benefit of a teleprompter) is sure to do. Other than that, my daughter, who is fairly critical of video instructors, had nothing negative to say, which actually speaks volumes to me. :)

Matthew is filmed in front of a white board, where he demonstrates his lessons for the students, who can follow along with most of the exercises in the workbook. Each lesson in the workbook includes the exercises, with that lesson's assignment clearly defined~ Mom loves this... makes it easy for me! :)

I appreciate the way things are broken down into clear steps, creating a "Skeleton" for each end product, whether it is a compound/complex sentence, a persuasive paragraph, or an essay.
As my daughter says "He makes it look so easy." I am working on convincing her that it really IS easy, and she just needs to get her creative juices flowing. . . haven't quite succeeded with that, but we shall see.

Some Specific Thoughts

The Sentence Lessons were *mostly* review for her, but there were some good "tools" that Matthew pointed out. For instance, when to use punctuation when writing complex, compound, or compound complex sentences was something that I hadn't covered with her before. Run-ons and Fragments were interesting for her to see, but not something with which she has much of a problem. I am almost positive that recognizing fragments, etc... is one of the benefits of prolifically reading quality literature. Although I don't believe that good readers are always good writers, I believe they ARE generally good grammarians. 

The Paragraph Lessons were very well structured, although my daughter has trouble with the "organizing/rough draft" idea~ keeping her thoughts to brainstorming-phrase-length instead of complete sentences the first time out just doesn't happen. I have decided to go with that to some degree, since I think my brain tends to work the same way some times.

The Essay Lessons are well organized, and I am looking forward to seeing her complete one while following the Essentials in Writing framework. Again, she is having trouble taking it in small steps, but I think that she will accomplish much if she works at it, even if it means skipping the brainstorming and going straight to the rough draft, which in reality is the sort of thinking she will need to do when writing those lovely SAT essays.

One thing that I hope will help to keep her on target is  the "Checklist" included in the workbook. In the event she refuses to follow "The plan" she can use this to check back and make sure that what she is writing follows a logical path and is well written. If she discovers that she has a pattern of NOT writing logically, and has to rewrite too often, THEN she may decide that it's worth the effort to break things down to bare bones when organizing, but that remains to be seen.

I should also mention that there is a "Scoring Guide" included in the workbook. A Rubric to help the homeschool teacher evaluate their student's writing. I greatly appreciate this tool. Here is a video of Matthew Stephens speaking about how to use a Rubric (Using one from one of his curriculum workbooks), in case you'd like to get a feel for his work and personality.

I would say that typically a student shouldn't have to spend too much more than 45 minutes per lesson, including video time, at least in the early lessons, as the assignments aren't terribly grueling. If you have a quick-thinking teen, they should be done in no time. If it takes a L-O-N-G time to get creative... well then the lessons might be a wee bit longer for you (ask me how I know.... ;D)

I don't often comment on the value for money of items that we get for review~ I expect my readers to make their own judgement calls on what fits their budget and circumstance, but in this instance, I do feel that it is worth pointing out the very reasonable price for a year's worth of high school writing curriculum.

Not So Nutty Nitty Gritty 
Please click the banner below to visit the TOS Review Crew and see what others had to say. As always, I hope that this review was useful to you as you choose where best to spend your homeschool budget.

Tuesday, March 19, 2013

Mamma Loves Dadda No-Bean Chili

Mamma Loves Dadda, No-Bean Chili 

The man of the house here is Bean intolerant, so we've had to come up with some alternatives to some of our favorite foods. We both LOVE Chili, but it is usually Kidney bean "Rich," so here is what we have done to adjust for that:

1 onion diced
4 stalks of celery, chopped/diced
1 cup of chopped carrots
Sauté onion, celery, and carrots till soft and add
2 large cloves minced garlic 
Saute for another 2-3 minutes, then remove to a large stock pot and add:

2 cans of diced tomato
If you have a non-chunky tomato lover, puree your tomatoes in the blender
28 oz (1-2 cans) of hominy
1 can of green chiles
1 can pumpkin
1 qt chicken broth

2-3 lbs ground turkey
and adding (To taste):
Chili powder (I use 1 TBS, since my kids aren’t “hot” fans)
1 tsp cumin
1 tsp oregano
(I like to throw in some Mrs. Dash~ Mesquite seasoning this time… ½ tsp)
and 2-3 TBS Worcestershire sauce

Brown the turkey, while mixing in the seasonings. 
Add the meat and seasonings to the pot, bring to a boil, and then simmer for as long as you have~ (20 minutes minimum, but an hour helps the flavors to meld nicely)

Serve over brown rice and garnish with shredded cheddar cheese

Menu plans for this week
Monday: Surprise~ Chicken Soup at a friend's house! (Thank you! :D)
Tuesday: Pulled Pork Sandwiches
Wednesday: Tuna Melts
Thursday: Fritatta
Friday: Pizza or Quesadillas... have to determine which!

Please visit Menu Planning Monday and Try A New Recipe Tuesday for more ideas!

Monday, March 18, 2013

TouchMath "Hands-on Math"

Look what I found on the porch, Mom!
Littlest is a number boy... He enjoys numbers and math and was actually asking if he could have math every day, right before we found out that we would be on this review. Talk about a happy boy! 

See what's inside! Wow!
We received the First Grade Unit Downloads, along with a select number of hands-on manipulatives. Check out the size of that box!  

TouchMath  can provide a complete core math curriculum, or be used as a supplement for students who are delayed in their math skills. The basic philosophy of TouchMath is for the student to 
see it
say it
hear it 
touch it
learn it
This is accomplished with a variety of activities and manipulatives.

 Downloadable Units

Circle specific # color lesser #

The basic item for this review is the downloadable unit. I received all 4 units for the first grade curriuclum,  in 4 pdf files, with each one running over 200 pages. Those pages include an overview, the sequence of skills taught, module descriptions, module guides, instructional strategies, reproducible activity sheets, and charts for assessment and progress monitoring.  

The module guides make this very much a scripted program, with page-by-page instructions/answer keys, as well as suggestions for extra instruction, resources, and assessment tools. 

For our purposes, I chose to let my son use my ipad and the pdf-notes app (Free version) to fill out his worksheets. This was great, because he enjoyed using the "pens and highlighters" in the app to do his work.   

Because he is only 5, I am not terribly strict on his writing everything every time, but surely do enjoy seeing his colorful take on those worksheets. Certainly adds a little pizzazz, and erasing is pretty easy as well! :) 

The recommendation from TouchMath as far as actual time spent per lesson per day is approximately 2x their age, so for my 5 year old, 10-12 minutes per day was it. Some days we took a little less time, if he wanted to whip through two or more worksheets, others, he was very detailed in his coloring (As you can see by the fishies on the number 4 page to your right), so we would only get through one worksheet.


Contents of that big box at the top of the post.
After that, we would pull out the appropriate flip cards (Essentially flash cards that coordinate with the program) and play with those as suggested. He was delighted to figure out "Which number is missing" in a run of numbers in the first set of flip cards, which introduced numerals up to 120 as well as "What comes before/after" a run of numbers that were placed in a line.

We finally arrived at the module which suggested use of the software... which begins with introducing the touch points (Circles on the numerals) and reinforcing their placement on the actual numerals, as you can see on the number 4 worksheet above, as well as the matching worksheet. 

So far, I appreciate the structure of the program, although *I* don't quite understand the significance of the touch points placement. I have the feeling that I must be missing something, OR I'm trying to get more out of their placement than might be intended... OR I haven't gotten to that point of the program yet where it is explained. There is a definite order in which they are to be counted, but it doesn't always logically follow the order in which a number is drawn, which is confusing to *me* but so far not to my son, so I'm not letting it bother me. ;) This may sound like a random statement, but it comes into play when using the software.

The software is bright and attractive, with very specific directions most of the the time. 

However, there were a few things that were a bit troublesome to me, and that could be improved upon, in my very humble opinion.
The very first portion of the software is a pretest, which contains all of the numerals from 1-9 in random order, and a row of 10 touchpoints. The child must be able to successfully place the touchpoints on the correct spot and in the correct order to move on to the next numeral (There is no option to say "I don't know" or to have the program move on if it is clear that the child doesn't know).

Once we got through the pre-test by referring back to the worksheets/number cards (as inferred above, I didn't realize the importance of the order as well as specific placement of the touchpoints so we were a little "loose" when going through the worksheets, as long as the number was correct... OOPS... bad choice, mom?), the second portion of the software began to teach where each touchpoint should be placed. 

Ummm.... didn't we just cover that? Again, the software didn't allow "mistakes" and moving on during the "pretest," which meant the order and placement had to be taught in order to pass the pre-test. I believe that a fair amount of frustration and wasted time could be avoided if the order were reversed, with the instruction first, and the pre-test becoming a post-testThis just didn't gel for me or my son. 

***editing after this posted: I have been exploring the software (and the teacher's guide) a little more this week now that this is where we are in the program, and there IS a go-around for some of my frustrations, although it is a little more involved than I might hope for.  

The last page of the guide talks about student assessment and teacher options, which are accessed by pressing the apple button at the top of the screen (after selecting a student in the list). You come to this screen (I used a "test student"  here, just for informational purposes). 

To the far right there are a bunch of little locks... if you click on them they they will give or remove access to each topic. This wasn't apparent to me when I first tried it, because their appearance doesn't really change... The "bar" on the lock doesn't swing out to the right, as with most "unlock" icons, it just floats a bit above the lock~ which makes it very hard to distinguish the fact that something has changed. Can you tell which lock is actually locked in this screenshot? It's a little more tricky, and a lot less obvious than I would hope for... 

That being said, it *is* possible to lock out the pretest and proceed directly to the "learning" and "placing" topics. Hopefully this will make it easier to navigate the software for someone else My opinion that follows about navigation still stands. (End of update)

I also think that the software would be more user-friendly if one had the ability to navigate back and forth through the sections. For example, within the "Teaching Section" it would be nice to skip directly to a specific number, so that portion of the software lesson could be used in conjunction with the first worksheet lesson and number card that introduces the touch points for that numeral. You can see an example of this early portion of the software here:
In general, so far I have found the pace of the software to be a little on the slow side for *my* five-year-old, BUT he has also been very patient with the program, so I have counted that as a good thing, since patience is not one of his strong points sometimes. ;)  I can see that this software would be excellent for a child that requires a slower, steady, very specific pace. Please keep in mind that the software is not required for this program, it is just an extra that may  or may not be a good fit for your child. I am looking forward to seeing how he deals with the later instruction like we see in this video: 

We haven't gotten to using the foam numerals much yet (that comes this week, with beginning subtraction), but he can't wait to get his hands on them. :) I can see that they will be a useful manipulative/visual, as the points are placed on the numerals and removed in a subtraction sentence. This will probably be one of my favorite extras to the actual module. 

The number cards can be used to introduce the touch points, their placement, order, as well as manipulatives for teaching basic addition, subtraction and multiplication. 

My current impression for this program is that it is a solid beginning math program (Downloadable Units). I think there is so much information included in the manuals, and with each manipulative that it could take a few more weeks than we had to figure out how it all works together, and be utilizing the program to it's highest potential. 

Your mileage may vary with the extras (Manipulatives/Software) depending on the circumstances and abilities of your child. If you have any specific questions about this program, and our findings as we use it, please ask in the comments (Or call me if you are local), and I will answer to the best of my ability. :)

Not So Nutty Nitty Gritty

Company: TouchMath
Product: First Grade  Downloads and select manipulatives:
  • Printable Unit Downloads ($59.95 each, or $199.95 for all four)
  • TouchMath Tutor 1st Grade Software ($99)
  • Touch Numerals w/ Base 10 ($99)
  • Flip Cards ($19/set~ we received 12 sets~ complete for 1st grade)
  • Student Number Cards ($24)
Please click the banner below to visit the TOS Review Crew and see what others had to say. As always, I hope that this review was useful to you as you choose where best to spend your homeschool budget.
Disclaimer: I received this/these item(s)/service for free as part of the TOS Review Crew 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."



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