Tuesday, June 5, 2018

Understanding Pre-Algebra from The Critical Thinking Co.™ {Homeschool Crew Review}

The Critical Thinking Co.™


When I look back over our years of homeschooling, I see that we've used products from certain companies nearly every year we've homeschooled. One of those beloved companies is The Critical Thinking Co.™. When Brennan was a preschooler we were introduced to their Building Thinking Skills books, and more recently we've used their U.S. History Detective books for high school.

For the past few years, Lauren has used the Mathematical Reasoning™ series of workbooks for additional practice alongside her regular math curriculum. I was thrilled to have the opportunity to review Understanding Pre-Algebra, the next work text in the series.



Understanding Pre-Algebra is suggested for Middle School students in grades 6-8. Lauren is just now finishing up her sixth grade year. In terms of math skills, she can confidently do calculations with whole numbers, fractions, and decimals. As we continue in her regular math program, she would be starting pre-algebra in the fall. I was confident that she was ready start the pre-algebra material from The Critical Thinking Co.™.

The Understanding Pre-Algebra book is a hefty softcover book (442 pages) that combines instructional materials and practice problems in one volume. It has fifteen chapters and 120 lessons. Each chapter has a chapter review exercise that could be used as a test, and the book includes a final examination covering all the material presented in the book. Based on my examination of the materials, it looks like it covers absolutely everything that is covered in any other pre-algebra course.

A lesson in this course generally consists of a page or two of text explanations and sample problems followed by ten to twenty practice problems for the student to complete on their own. Answers are provided in the back of the book, sometimes with a brief explanation but the problems generally aren't worked out.




I am quite impressed with the materials. In addition to be a comprehensive look at pre-algebra topics, this book requires the student to think through the concepts. For instance, in one of Lauren's first lessons, she was reviewing important divisibility rules. One of that lesson's questions was, "Joan said that 27 cannot be divided by 2. Is she right? Explain your thinking." Lauren need quite a bit of guidance to think through the exact way that question was worded, and eventually I coached her enough that she realized that you could still divide 27 by 2, even if it didn't divide evenly.



Unfortunately, as I was discussing the material and some of the questions with Lauren, I realized that she's just not ready for this book. She's done quite well with math in the past, but I don't think she's developmentally ready to move from the concrete world of elementary math to the abstract world of pre-algebra. This book introduced a lot of new abstract concepts (natural numbers vs whole numbers vs integers) on the very first page, and she quickly became overwhelmed. She also became frustrated because this book requires a student to either have good reading skills in order to process the teaching section or have a parent/teacher helping with the explanation. Lauren wanted to complete the lessons independently because in the past she's usually done math on her own. It just isn't possible for her to work through this book independently right now.

Despite our recent frustrations because Understanding Pre-Algebra is a poor fit for Lauren right now, I continue to highly recommend The Critical Thinking Co.™ materials. I had to set this book aside for now, but I'll hang on to it for when Lauren's ready to tackle the challenge.


Homeschool Crew bloggers have been using both this book and other excellent options for the past month. Be sure to check out some of the other reviews:

Critical Thinking, Understanding Math & Vocabulary {The Critical Thinking Co.™ Reviews}


The Critical Thinking Co.™ has generously offered a coupon code for readers to use on an upcoming order (see below). Also, they offer free critical thinking puzzles delivered weekly to you inbox. Sign up here and select your appropriate grade level (or levels).



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©2009-2018 Through the Calm and Through the Storm. All rights reserved. Photos and content may not be reproduced. http://throughthecalmandthroughthestorm.blogspot.com

Monday, June 4, 2018

First Day Photos -- June 2018

When I posted my first day photos back in January, I was thinking about taking a bit of a blog vacation. I didn't expect it to last quite this long.

Nothing bad happened. I just needed some time off of the pressures of writing stuff to post publicly.

Lately, I've been feeling a bit of a pull to get back to sharing about our life and probably even recording some of the years ago stories that I've never written down. I may not write every week, but I hope it won't be five months between blog posts next time.

What better way to jump back into blogging than to once again snap everyday pictures on the first day of the month. (Full disclosure: June 1st was perhaps too everyday for even everyday pictures so these are all from June 2nd.)

About a month ago, we moved from base housing to the new house we built. It's been a crazy move, and I suspect it'll be a long time before everything is put away. I decided the boxes could wait while we enjoyed the summer weekend.



Summer reading:



Close up of her emoji socks:



I'm exploring new paths for my runs. Instead of running beside the flightline, I'm exploring a path that runs along a creek bed for several miles. (And of course, enjoying the mountain views.)





Lauren and I spent a fun afternoon with friends attempting to conquer the inflatable obstacle course at the pool.





I also made my way successfully across. I credit years (and years) of ballet class for my balance skills. And lots of good luck.



Our favorite life guard (who didn't want to pose for a picture):



While Lauren, Brennan, and I were hanging out at the pool, Tim was off backpacking with a group of scouts. He didn't get any pictures of himself, but kindly contributed this gorgeous photo of an alpine lake they found so that I could include it in my collection.



Addison is in Ohio doing engineering research this summer. I didn't ask her for first day pictures. I have a feeling their robotic stuff is top-secret anyway.


I have a few more blog post ideas brewing, especially as I start planning for our next homeschool year. I plan to continue with first day photos now that I've gotten back on track. I've missed capturing little things like emoji socks and successful runs across the pool obstacle course.


©2009-2018 Through the Calm and Through the Storm. All rights reserved. Photos and content may not be reproduced. http://throughthecalmandthroughthestorm.blogspot.com

Wednesday, May 23, 2018

Improving Reading Comprehension with Home School Navigator {Homeschool Crew Review}

When Addison and Brennan were younger and I was still a homeschool novice, I described my search for a perfect language arts program as searching for the Holy Grail. I was hunting for a program that balanced reading instruction, literary analysis, composition, spelling, grammar and any other topics that I might otherwise forget to cover. As the years passed, I realized that the perfect program didn't exist -- at least not the perfect program for my kids. It became easier to pick piece together several programs, each focusing on a specific subset of the many skills lumped into the language arts description.

Recently, I've been searching for a language arts program that will allow me to focus on the gaps Lauren has in reading comprehension skills. We've been using Home School Navigator Reading and Language Arts Curriculum for the past month to see if we could adapt it to fit her needs and if it would be a good fit for us.


Home School Navigator is a complete language arts program with both online and print components. It includes activities to teach literature, comprehension skills, reading skills, writing skills, phonics, vocabulary, grammar, spelling, handwriting, and even some computer skills. The program is divided into six color-coded levels ranging from red (kindergarten) to indigo (fifth grade). Since I was primarily concerned with Lauren's reading comprehension skills, I decided to back up several grade levels and start with the green lessons. Many of the phonics and grammar skills were far too easy in this section, but the literature and independent reading activities looked to be at an appropriate difficulty level for her.


The program is organized by month, week, and then day. From Lauren's online dashboard page, she picked which month/week of the program that she was working on and then picked the specific day on the next screen. It helped when I made notes in my regular lesson plans so that I could direct her to the correct lesson. "You did lesson 2.1.3 (month 2, week 1, day 3) yesterday so go on to 2.1.4 today." At the end of each lesson, there is an option to mark that assignment complete or to upload the student's work for later access as part of an online portfolio. Since I was not often able to scan Lauren's assignments immediately and since the program would not allow me to upload assignments to lessons she marked as complete, I insisted that she leave the assignments unchecked when she finished them. She was often frustrated that the program was not showing her correct amount of progress because of my delays in uploading scanned assignment pages.

The lessons in the first month of the green program focused on fairy tales, specifically different versions of Cinderella. The read-aloud books for the month were picture books showing how the Cinderella story had been told in different cultures. I found most of the books at our public library. For the ones I couldn't find, Lauren watched Home School Navigator videos of them being read aloud. After hearing me read the book, there was usually an activity page that I had printed for Lauren to complete. One of my favorite types of activities were the days where Lauren had to use her thinking skills to find similarities and differences between two (or three) books in order to complete a Venn Diagram. Thinking back on the story and remembering details is one of the skills I hoped to strengthen by using the program. As a veteran homeschool teacher (with a background in early childhood education), I'm fairly confident in my ability to discuss picture books. At times, however, I wished that the program gave me some additional guidance in terms of things that I could point out to Lauren, topics we should cover in our discussions, etc.


While I loved reading aloud and discussing the picture books in the first month of the program, I switched gears and jumped ahead a bit so that I could prepare some materials to use while we were offline for a few days during our move. A big component of the upper levels of Home School Navigator is their interactive book study notebooks. These sets of study materials are available as part of the complete program and can also be purchased separately as pdf files to download. Once I downloaded the first interactive notebook, we were able to work on it without needing to access the online materials in Home School Navigator.

Lauren's first interactive notebook was based on the book Ahyoka and the Talking Leaves by Peter and Connie Roop. I was quite impressed with the introductory materials for the book. Lauren and I spent quite a bit of time exploring the recommended website to get background information on the Cherokee people, Sequoyah, and the development of a Cherokee syllabary to make written language possible. The rest of the book study follows a fairly predictable pattern of reading a chapter of the book and then completing the printed activities. Much to Lauren's dismay, the program recommends reading the chapter aloud to a parent instead of reading it independently. From a parent standpoint, I think it's a great idea because I'm now getting a better idea of her reading skills.

Each day's assignment includes some vocabulary words to define. In addition, there is always at least one more question that either relates directly to the story (write some of the main character's character traits) or teaches a new skill for literary analysis (find two more examples of similes in this chapter).


The interactive notebooks are the piece of the complete Home School Navigator program that will help us the most in terms of building reading comprehension skills. Lauren seems to do well with a read-then-anwer-questions approach, and the interactive notebook is a bit more fun than just filling out pages in a workbook. I am looking forward to some of the later studies, both ones in the green level and in later levels. Future book studies include 26 Fairmount Avenue by Tomie dePaola, The Invention of Hugo Cabret by Brian Selznick, Sadako and the Thousand Paper Cranes by Eleanor Carr, Because of Winn Dixie by Kate DiCamillo, and several other old favorites. It's an exciting line-up of chapter books for us to look forward to studying over the next few years.

The complete Home School Navigator Reading and Language Arts Curriculum costs $97 per year and includes access to all the levels. (I believe it also includes access for up to four individual students in your family, but I've only been using the program with one.) The interactive notebooks are included as part of the lessons in the regular program and are also available to purchase separately for $8 each. If your primary concern is improving reading comprehension and building literary thinking skills, it might be wise to focus on the interactive notebooks. If you are looking for a compete Language Arts Curriculum, I think you'll find that Home School Navigator has enough materials in their lessons to meet all your needs.

Home School Navigator Reading and Language Arts Curriculum {Home School Navigator Reviews}

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©2009-2018 Through the Calm and Through the Storm. All rights reserved. Photos and content may not be reproduced. http://throughthecalmandthroughthestorm.blogspot.com

Wednesday, January 3, 2018

First Day Photos -- January 2018

With the holidays behind me and a new page on the calendar before me, I am recommitting myself to blogging more often than every once in a blue moon. I decided to resurrect my First Day Photos habit. Alas, I got distracted by New Year's Day food preparations and then a very intense college football game (a well-fought effort by the Sooners). I did manage to get a handful of snapshots to share this month.

A bright winter's day in Colorado:


Lauren was at a lock-in for New Year's Eve, but begged me to take her to the American Girl store to see the new Girl of the Year. (She had been not-so-patient saving Christmas money until the new doll was released.)


I was thankful to have some help in the kitchen (even though Addison maintains that fudge is the absolute easiest thing in the world to fix).


Meanwhile, Tim and Brennan braved the cold weather for an outdoor laser tag battle with the teens from church.


Here's to an exciting year ahead of us!

©2009-2018 Through the Calm and Through the Storm. All rights reserved. Photos and content may not be reproduced. http://throughthecalmandthroughthestorm.blogspot.com

Wednesday, December 6, 2017

Silent Nights

As I was driving last night, I realized how different life is this December. Our fall was rather crazy as we tried to settle into a somewhat consistent school schedule while still juggling umpteen doctors appointments and countless hours driving between here and Denver.

Our activity calendar this December is actually legible. For the past few years, our Decembers have been packed with choral events.

For the three years we lived in Arizona, Addison sang with the Advanced Choir in the Tucson Girls' Chorus. Their holiday season officially kicked off with the big concert where they were invited to sing with some of the choral groups at the University of Arizona and continued through all sorts of other performances that month.



The next year, Lauren joined TGC as a Ladybug. Addison still had lots of holiday concerts, but we were sometimes able to hear both girls sing on the same night.


When we moved to Colorado, we traded Tucson Girls Chorus for the Colorado Springs Children's Chorale. Again, like most performing organizations, we spent our Decembers hustling from one event to the next. In Colorado, though, it was both Lauren's and Addison's group that had packed schedules in December.


This year Lauren isn't singing with the chorale. It was just too big of a commitment for a little girl who misses so much for doctor's appointments and hospital stays.

And so, our December calendar that was once packed with music looks a bit bare this holiday season. I don't miss the crazy drives all over town, but I do miss the concerts, the singing, and the smiles.


Perhaps most of all, in the midst of the all the silent nights I have this December, I miss hearing my girls singing Silent Night.

©2009-2017 Through the Calm and Through the Storm. All rights reserved. Photos and content may not be reproduced. http://throughthecalmandthroughthestorm.blogspot.com

Thursday, November 30, 2017

Christmas Around the World study {Review}

We decorated our Christmas tree last weekend. Lauren put her magnetic countdown to Christmas calendar on the refrigerator and is anxiously waiting for December 1st.

I just needed to figure out what I was going to do in terms of schoolwork during the month of December.  I'm sure we'll read The Best Christmas Pageant Ever again, but I know it doesn't take very long.

I briefly thought about dropping our regular work and embracing some sort of unit study with reading assignments, artwork, and project. Then I took a look at our December calendar and had a big reality check. There just isn't any way I can take on that sort of craziness this month.

I needed something simple, but I also wanted something educational and fun. I found exactly what I wanted when I heard about Christmas Around the World from The Awe Filled Homemaker.


Christmas Around the World is a 70-page printable study covering holiday traditions in virtuous countries around the world. The study covers 20 countries over the course of 24 days.

Some of the traditions are ones that I'm familiar with, such as German children leaving their shoes out on December 6th for St. Nicholas to fill with candy and treats. Other traditions are new to me, such as the way that people in South Korea eat in restaurants for Christmas dinner. I also learned that December 23 is called Little Christmas Eve in Norway. (At our house, we celebrate Brennan's birthday which is on the 23rd.)

For each country, there is a single page information sheet which is usually three or four paragraphs long. The next page consists of a few simple questions that relate back to the reading passage. The first three questions are somewhat varied, but the child is often asked, "What food from the traditional Christmas dinner would you want to try?" The last question always asks the student to list a favorite thing that they noticed while reading the passage. For Lauren, I may tell her that she simply needs to put down an interesting fact that she learned while reading the passage.


Finally each day includes a simple art or creative activity. Very simple. Just the what I need for this busy season. Most of the days include a bit of coloring or drawing. For France the activity is to decorate the yule log cake and for the Philippines it is to decorate the parol.


I printed out the entire packet and have it ready for Lauren to start on December 1st. I realize that working through one section a day will require her to work on weekends in order to finish during the Advent season. Fortunately, each day's work is short enough that she can double-up on weekdays and not have to do schoolwork on the weekends unless she wants to.

As an additional activity, I found blank maps for each continent and put them at the back of our study workbook. As Lauren completes the study of a particular country, we'll find that country on the correct map and color it in. (It seems like a study of countries around the world was just begging for a bit of geography and map work to go along with it.)
Christmas Around the World is the perfect solution for this holiday season. I can add a bit of holiday fun to Lauren's school days without adding planning stress for me. It's a win-win!
It's not too late to order your own copy of Christmas Around the World for only $14.99.


Disclaimer: I received a free copy of this product in exchange for my honest review. I did not promise to write a positive review nor did I receive any additional compensation. All opinions I have expressed are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with FTC regulations.

Wednesday, November 8, 2017

Innovators Tribe {Homeschool Crew Review}

Innovators Tribe

One of the best parts about homeschool science is that it's usually easy to add in cool hands-on projects and experiments. Innovators Tribe has developed entire online courses that seamlessly integrate learning videos, hands-on activities, and design challenges to make a fun learning experiences for middle and high school students. Lauren (and my husband Tim) have been using the Thinking Like an Engineer program recently. It is serving a dual purpose around here --both  introducing engineering concepts and providing resources for the Science Olympiad Roller Coaster event.

Thinking Like an Engineer

Thinking Like an Engineer is an introductory course designed to expose students to the math and science skills used by engineers and to show them practical examples of what sorts of problems engineers solve.

The course syllabus outlines learning objectives for this course:


Wow! It looks like that list would make a pretty good exam for a high schooler. Since Lauren is only in sixth grade and hasn't had a lot of previous science experience, my primary goal was for her to have an enjoyable (not stressful) experience exploring engineering concepts. Since she had already signed up for our homeschool Science Olympiad team and asked to be on the Roller Coaster build team, I also hoped that she'd be able to glean some helpful construction tips.

The program turned out to be far more than we ever imagined. Tim and Lauren skipped ahead a bit and started with the third unit -- Engineering Rollercoasters. The online coursework portion included a bit of video instruction, links to video explanations, and a short comprehension/memory quiz at the end.


Lauren learned a bit about the difference between potential and kinetic energy:


She was then introduced to some simple physics equations to calculate each:


Finally, with a bit of help from Dad, she was able to determine all sorts of information, including how high the first hill needed to be in order for the roller coaster to make it around a loop.


She doesn't fully understand the equations, but she did grasp the concept that making the hill higher meant that the roller coaster car would be going faster and could therefore make it around the loop. Her Science Olympiad roller coaster probably won't have any loops, but it will need the marbles to go fast enough to jump from one section of track to another.

Our engineers then moved on to the coolest part of the roller coaster unit -- making a model roller coaster out of paper. Thinking Like an Engineer provided paper templates and complete instructions. We printed out the templates on cardstock and were ready to start building. Lauren and her teammate were easily able to construct the track and start experimenting to see how far they could get their marble to jump. (Since their Science Olympiad event gives bonus points based on horizontal gaps in the track, we are focused right now on getting the marble to make successful jumps instead of doing cool loops and twists.)


What could be cooler than designing your own roller coaster? I'm not sure, but it could be building a tower out of four sheets of paper and one foot of masking tape (unit 1), experimenting with 3D computer design software (units 2 and 5), or designing a bridge (unit 4).


I love when science concepts become real with hands-on activities and not just pages of reading assignments. Innovators Tribe makes engineering fun by teaching students how to Think Like an Engineer with this course. They also offer a Think Like an Architect program that promises to be equally exciting.

Thinking Like an Architect or Engineer {Innovators Tribe Reviews}

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©2009-2017 Through the Calm and Through the Storm. All rights reserved. Photos and content may not be reproduced. http://throughthecalmandthroughthestorm.blogspot.com

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