Friday, October 31, 2014

JIm Hodges Productions Audio Book Review

My latest review was just for my Middlest child. He is a young teen who enjoys audio books, so the In The Heart of the Rockies  (Story by G. A. Henty) MP3 CD by  Jim Hodges Productions seemed like it would be something right up his alley. It was one of 22 titles by G. A Henty that were reviewed by TOS Crew Members, so don't forget to check the link at the bottom of my review to read more! :) 

In the Heart of the Rockies follows a young English boy, Tom, who emigrates to the US in order to help his family. He travels west in hopes of finding his uncle Harry, and encounters many adventures along the way,  featuring interactions with both humans and nature, including hostile Indians, friendly Indians, Mountain Men, Prospectors, storms, and survival. 

As I mentioned, Middlest appreciates listening to audio books, and loves outdoorsy settings, so he was pleased with this story in particular. He found Jim Hodges to be a pleasant narrator, with distinct voices and characterizations. Although each chapter is close to a half hour in length, he didn’t get tired of listening to Mr. Hodges’ voice. He didn’t find him to be over dramatic at all, and felt that the telling of the story was just right. “In the Heart of the Rockies” runs about 11 hours all told, and is best for middle to high school ages.

“In the Heart of the Rockies” was also a natural choice for me, as I grew up north of Fort Bridger, in Montana, and have an ancestor who spent 8 months with Jim Bridger among many other adventures. I found this story to be a natural segue into talking about our family history and bringing some of that history to life even more for my son. Thankfully a “Cousin” of some degree has done a lot of research and posted it online so we were able to access documented stories of my son’s GGGG-Grandfather, rather than relying on my faulty memory of stories told by my father.

I’m including a link to a post, 
Expedition With Jim Bridger, on her blog so you can check that out if you like, as it includes photos and mentions of areas included in “The Heart of the Rockies,” although my GGGG Grandfather ended up involved in the gold rush in Montana rather than in California, so there is a departure from Henty's story geographically.

Jim Hodge has put together some PDF study guides for use with his Henty Audio books. The guide splits the book into groups of 2-3 chapters per lesson, and includes vocabulary and a variety of content questions as well as links to some interesting activities and information that go along well with the studies. There are three quizzes every three lessons that can be used if you wish to have a graded paper for this book study. The study guide is 30 pages and includes an answer key for the discussion questions and the quizzes, as well as a one page "Character" chart that is useful when discussion character qualities in any given story.

I found that my son had a harder time retaining some of the information asked for in the study guide questions, particularly when dealing with specific locations and measurements (ie rivers and their lengths), as they were often mentioned briefly or in passing. As a result I do recommend doing some of the activities found at the end of each chapter section before going through the guide, to help your child retain that information in more than auditory form. It would also be helpful to have a print version of the book available for them to reference when answering the questions.  There are many free 
Henty Kindle books available. 

If you are a lover of living books,  and have children who enjoy listening to audio books, then you might want to give Jim Hodges Productions a try.

Not So Nutty Nitty Gritty 
Jim Hodges can also be found on Facebook and YouTube where he describes each available title.

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.

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Wednesday, October 29, 2014

New Liberty Videos (Anthem for a Nation) Review

New Liberty Videos are directed and produced by Brian Barkley, a veteran of the film industry. Brian worked for Universal studios as an editor (on shows like “B.J. and the Bear” and “Quincy.” He began producing films with a Christian worldview after he became a Christian in 1977. This film was directed and edited by Brian Barkley, and his wife Marylin helped to produce it. The film we received for review, Anthem for a Nation is one of a selection of six films sent to TOS Review Crew Members. The others include The Forbidden Book, Mysteries of the Dead Sea Scrolls, A Nation Adrift, Teaching Origins Objectively and Warriors of Honor

Our DVD contained the main selection, Anthem for a Nation which runs for about 42 minutes, as well as two special bonus features which also run about 42 minutes together, for a total of about one hour and twenty minutes. There is a variety of music used throughout, from “This is My Country” in the opening to Lee Greenwood’s “God Bless the U.S.A.” in the last main scene, as well as some pieces that I assume were written specifically for this film. The cinematography is stunning through much of the film. Here is a short preview: 

ANTHEM FOR A NATION (Main selection)
There are 10 scenes, which I will summarize below, listing approximate lengths for each.
1.    Opening (2.5 min) includes sweeping American vistas, underneath lovely, Patriotic music.

2.    America the Beautiful (5 min) is filled with historical concepts and information about the beginning of our nation, with more patriotic music and historical photography.

3.    One Nation Under God (6.5 min) has a soundtrack that isn’t my favorite style, but it is followed by one of the best quotes by French philosopher Alexis de Tocqueville when he came to America to discover what made it so great. His conclusion includes a warning to us all:  “America is great because America is good. And, if America ceases to be good, America will cease to be great.”

References to God on many buildings in our Capitol are detailed, as well as quotes from many of the Founding Fathers. It shows that the foundation of our Declaration of Independence and indeed 94% of the ideas in the Constitution are based either directly or indirectly on the Bible. It amazes me people can say that our country was not founded on Christian Principals, when shown these facts.

4.    A Christian Nation (8 min) Details some interesting facts about our nation’s capitol and the thoughts and dedication to God of our Founding Fathers as they build the Capitol.

5.    A Nation Adrift (2.5 min) Shares the beginnings of the removal of Christian influences from the public sphere… Depending on what discussions you’ve had with your children, you may wish to skip this section, as it highlights the violence and immorality the sometimes runs rampant in out schools, and society at large.

6.    The War on the Unborn Child (3 min) This next section also has good information, but is one that you may wish to skip based on the maturity of your children, and/or the topics that you have chosen to discuss or leave to a later age. It ends with a dramatic bit that may (should?) be disturbing, so use your judgment.

7.    Have They Died in Vain? (3.5 min) Honors those who have died for our freedoms, and asks the question “Have They Died in Vain?” Have we preserved the nation that they died for?

8.    America You’re Too Young to Die (2 min) Another section with music that isn’t my favorite style, but carries a good message while it shows clips of Americans from many walks of life…

9.    The Rebirth of America (4.5 min) promotes personal responsibility, and calls Christians to repent from their sins, humble themselves, and pray (with another choral track that doesn’t move me, unfortunately).

10.  God Bless America (5 min) After being moved in the previous sections from patriotism to concern to despair to conviction, this final section ends with hope, and a return to National Pride.

Hansi runs about 15 minutes. Hansi lived in the German Czech border land. She went through the Nazi Youth Leadership School for 5 years, and ended up in a Communist Labor camp after the war. The piece has a Graphic novel running under Hansi’s audio, as she tells her journey from brainwashed Nazi to strong Christian.

Kitty Werthman of Austria runs close to ½ hour and tells Kitty’s story from her childhood through the 2nd World War. She narrates her story over a secondary story of new reels and film showing Hitler’s “peaceful” take-over of Austria, and the events that followed.

I felt that there were portions of this DVD that were spectacular, striking, and appropriate for all ages. There were a few that I feel definitely need to be watched through your family’s own filter, but over-all, this could be a great resource for a High School Government or history curriculum, and used more sparingly for younger ages.

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.

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Tuesday, October 28, 2014

That's Entertainment! (Some favorite YouTube videos new and old)

For your entertainment~ some music, some stories, some fun!

Too many nifty videos came across my newsfeed tonight, as well as a some cruising on YouTube...

First: A fantastic performance of Going On A Bear Hunt by author Michael Rosen~ (thanks, Marcy!)

Next, a musical mashup by a children's performing arts group~ I didn't know some of the newer pieces (And don't plan to change that really), but by and large it is very fun!

An insane bit of choreography... (where do you dig these things up, Suzanne?)

This one has been around for awhile, but it is just too amusing....

One more just because we love it... (We caught a bit of Celtic Thunder on PBS this weekend)...

Now, THAT was fun!



Wednesday, October 22, 2014

Standard Deviants Accelerate Review

I have heard about Standard Deviants educational resources for quite a few years (They’ve been around for upwards of 20 years)~ so when I was offered the opportunity to review their latest product, Standard Deviants Accelerate Homeschool Courses found at their website Standard Deviants Accelerate, I jumped at the chance. This is an online resource with complete supplementary core classes available for learners aged 8-adult.
The classes offered are: 

  • Arithmetic - Grades 3+
  • Fundamental Math - Grades 4+
  • Earth Science - Grades 6+
  • Nutrition - Grades 6+
  • Algebra - Grades 7+
  • Biology - Grades 7+
  • Chemistry - Grades 9+
  • English Comp. - Grades 9+
  • U.S. History - Grades 9+
  • AP Biolody - Grades 11+
  • AP Chemistry - Grades 11+
  • AP U.S. Government & Politics - Grades 11+
  • AP U.S. History - Grades 11+
  • AP Eng. Composition - Grades 11+
I was interested to see how this worked with my children, as they have enjoyed both online and video courses in the past, and I was curious about Standard Deviants and it’s ability to catch the attention of the student.

Here is a short overview of the program: 

The greatest facet of Standard Deviants Accelerate is the video presentation. It is very fast paced and moves from person to person and venue to venue while presenting the topical information in a steady stream. The student can choose to watch the video full screen, or in a smaller box, with a transcript to the left, and a box below for taking notes as they watch (which can then be saved to their locker).

The video below is a little long, but shows what the program looks like from the student side. You can get a feel for what the screen looks like right around the 45 second mark. 

From the video, the student moves on to other online activities including interactive worksheets and quizzes which are automatically graded. If the student misses a problem, they have the opportunity to click right through to the spot in the video where the information was given.

The teachers desktop includes editable rubrics for assessing any written or group activity work as well, which might eliminate some work for busy educators.

So~ how did this work for us? Well, first off I need to clarify something. Most of the Standard Deviants Accelerate courses cover full year courses, however, the AP courses are really more like test-taking strategy classes each with an emphasis on their specific class. This came as a surprise to us when my daughter started the AP Gov’t class~ she was stumped as to why there wasn’t another lesson to move on to, and wondered what she needed to do to continue~ turns out that the test prep classes are just one lesson. 
If you haven't used any other Test-taking strategy classes, one of these might be a fun way to learn some strategies. 

After figuring that out, she started an actual core class, American History. There were many more lessons to be gone through here, so she could give it a good trial. 

Unfortunately we have learned that She is just *not* a standard deviant (neither is she a nonstandard deviant), the videos just did not suit her personality or learning style. They really do switch from one person and background to another very rapidly, often with only one sentence apiece, which made it seem very broken up and choppy to her. Eldest found it difficult to follow along with the transcript on the left AND watch the video in the tiny box to the right, and forget taking notes. There was just too much going on in one confined space for her. She also found it odd that the quizzes were extremely short (5 or 6 questions) for the amount of material presented.

After I realized that this wasn’t going to work well for Eldest, I pulled Middlest in to try out some of the Biology class. His opinion was somewhat similar to his sisters. He found the videos to be a little young and too goofy for his taste, but with more information in them than he could easily catch with one listen through. They reminded me of the newer (post mid-80s) Sesame Street with the rapid changes and costuming, but with higher level topics. My children didn’t grow up with Sesame Street, and my oldest two don’t tend to go in for ultra silly in most of their media. 

However, if your children are used to Sesame Street-style learning/ Saturday Night Live style skits, and don’t mind odd characters (Like Madame Vocabulaaahr, a medium who goes through the vocabulary on her crystal ball), this might be a good fit for you. If you click the graphic to the left before November 15th 2014, you can apply for a 6 month free trial and check it out yourself. 

Not So Nutty Nitty Gritty 
You can find Standard Deviants Accelerate online Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, and Google+  

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.

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Friday, October 17, 2014

Apologia iWitness Review (Eye-Witness? The Bible iWitness)

Biblical history is fascinating, particularly when used as part of your apologetics. And now Apologia Educational Ministries has come out with a new iWitness series of books to help explore the eye-witness facts that support the veracity of the Bible. We were sent three books from the series to review: iWitness Biblical ArchaeologyNew Testament iWitness,  and Old Testament iWitness.

The books are thin volumes of 64 pages each, with glossy, full-color (Somewhat busy) pages. This is a two page spread from the Old Testament iWitness book~ you can see that there is a LOT going on here! 
The books present a considerable amount of very interesting information that may answer many questions before they are even asked. How were the books included in the Canon of Scripture chosen? Why weren’t the Apocryphal and other historical Jewish books included? How are the texts for translation chosen? Do we have any degree of certainty that Noah’s Ark was real, and if so, where it may have landed? There are some bits about other things like the Shroud of Turin that I found fascinating.
Middlest on Old Testament iWitness: He was struck by how meticulously the Hebrew Scribes copied the Bible, not even one word at a time, but one letter at a time, counting the words, counting the letters, and counting to the middle of each book to be certain that they didn’t forget anything.  He was amazed to learn how the “change over time” argument doesn’t hold water based on studies of the Dead Sea Scrolls and the accuracy of manuscripts from 1000’s of years later.
Eldest~ on iWitness Biblical Archaeology: She has been enjoying how well this book ties in with her current study on Bibilical Archaeology. She was particularly intrigued with the portion on the flood and the search for Noah’s Ark. There were facts and photos that she had never read before that opened up more interest in those topics.
I found New Testament iWitness to contain a lot of information on the process of translation, and how decisions are made on which texts were more likely to be the most reliable. In the final analysis, given the evidence, we can be certain that 99.5% of the Bible we read today is true to the original text, with any variations being minor and not of any major doctrinal concern.

Pros~ Very interesting information that answers a lot of questions before they are even asked. How did we get the Bible? How can we conclude that the books included in the Bible are the Word of God, and that others *not* included in the Canon of Scripture are not. 
Our only con: the Graphic layout
While the fonts used are very interesting, they are somewhat difficult to read, even for those with young eyes... Both of my older children found the text type to be more than they wanted to deal with, and they preferred that I read the text to them!

With all of the background busyness, this could be a difficult book for someone who prefers a clean page to look at. There are those who can’t process information with that much distraction, so I wouldn’t recommend it in that case.

On the other hand, my youngest was engaged in looking at all the background graphics as I read to his siblings, although he was somewhat disappointed that the text was too fuzzy OR in a language that he couldn’t understand… ;)

If you or someone you know is interested in learning how we can be sure the Bible contains eye-witness accounts, you may find that the iWitness books are just what you are looking for. 

Side note: the author, Doug Powell graduated suma cum laude with a Masters in Apologetics from Biola University in 2007.

You can visit Apologia online: Facebook, Twitter, Google+ , and Pinterest
Not So Nutty Nitty Gritty 
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Saturday, October 11, 2014

Hummers~ (Just a little photo)

My camera/computer combo haven't been playing nice with one another off and on, so this has taken a little bit of time to get this up~ Hope you enjoy! :)


Thursday, October 9, 2014

Fortuigence Review (Personal Essay Writing Program)

I don't know about you, but sometimes having a senior in high-school and looking ahead to college can be a little bit intimidating. So many thing to prepare for, not the least of which is writing a personal essay for college admissions. This is why I was very pleased to be asked to review the Essay Rock Star Personal Statement Writing Course, one of 4 courses in the Essay Rockstar series by Fortuigence.  Other TOS Review Crew families received one of the other three courses in the Rock Star Writing Course~ Persuasive Essay, Expository Essay, and Textual Analysis, so be sure to click the link at the end of my review to read their experiences.

The Essay Rockstar series is a unique program with an online classroom and assignments, followed up with personal email feedback from a professional teacher, Lily Iatridis, founder of Fortuigence. This is the first time that my daughter has received formal writing instruction and feedback from anyone other than myself, so it was very much something new for us both.

This particular course has 7 lessons and assignments.
  1. Intro/Pre-assessment
  2. Brainstorming
  3. Organizing Ideas
  4. Free Writing
  5. Revision
  6. Editing
  7. Wrap-up
The lessons are video segments with Lily, who is very pleasant and professional to listen to. The assignments are submitted online in the "classroom" with feedback provided by email within 24 hours. The student can also "Ask a question" of the teacher from the classroom. All of the communication goes directly to the student, very much like in a typical classroom. In order for me to keep up with what was happening, my daughter forwarded the feedback emails to me, and I logged into her "classroom" to see her assignments and submitted work.

Here is an example of something of Lily's video lesson style:

My daughter enjoyed this new-to-us concept, and was very pleased to be given some very positive feedback on her assignments, as she has been a reluctant writer in the past. She was pleasantly surprised to find out that "good readers make good writers" really does hold true (at least in her case). As a matter of fact, the feedback was the source of big smiles a couple of times... "Wow! Mom! I didn't expect all those adjectives!" was her immediate reaction when reading the assessment of some of her submitted work.

While Eldest really doesn't enjoy doing things step-by-step (Because she wants to be done now... economy of motion morphed into economy of brainwork?), she felt that it was very helpful to break things down, so that she had a better handle on what to do when, and how.

We are both looking forward to her finished essay (She is currently in the final draft/editing lesson), and will be able to give a sigh of relief to have that item more or less checked off from her college application "To Do" list. She had a bit of "writer's block"(I added a color overlay to her notebook page to preserve her privacy), and all those flower doodles... those would be the creative person's response to writer's block... :)
Her instructor never saw this sheet~ it is all transcribed to the computer for submission, but I thought it was fun. :)

For those who have never done an online/teacher directed course, or outsourced their writing, this might be something very interesting to try out! It is sometimes good to get an outside opinion, especially on something that can be subjective, like writing.

Fortuigence also offers some free resources that you might want to check out~
End Blank Page Terror ebook: a really great set of graphic organizers that include instructions on when to use them along with how to use them. That's a handy tool to have tucked up your sleeve!

Top Teach: a course for YOU, the teacher, so that you can become your children's "Top Teach" when it comes to writing instruction. This is normally a paid course, but at the time of this review is being offered for free.

Grammar Baseball ebook: by Dr. Ellen Weber ~ offered here for free~ 300+ grammar "trivia" questions and a "Cheat Sheet" for parents, with all the rules needed to play the game.

Not So Nutty Nitty Gritty 
Fortuigence can be found online: 
Please click the banner below to visit the TOS Review Crew and see what others had to say about this as well as the other three courses in the Rock Star Series. 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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