Thursday, October 1, 2015

Middlebury Languages {Schoolhouse Crew Review}

Last year, my older daughter Addison used Middlebury Interactive Languages to learn Chinese. To this day one of her favorite high school memories is the story of getting to interact with several young Chinese girls after one of her chorus concerts in China. The three girls were impressed because Addison had learned to write her name in Chinese characters and the girls could actually read it. Thanks Middlebury!

This year Lauren wanted a turn to learn a language. She picked Spanish and used Middlebury's Elementary Spanish 1 course, for grades 3-5.

Prior to starting this online class, Lauren did not know much Spanish at all. She says she knew how to count up to eight, perhaps because she remembers all the episodes of Dora the Explorer she watched when she was three.

The first semester of Middlebury's Elementary Spanish course has 14 instructional units with six lessons in each unit. There are also two review units spaced in the middle and at the end of the course. Each lesson is short, but gives Lauren plenty of time to practice her new vocabulary. The activities range from stories (told entirely in Spanish) to games to matching activities and opportunities for her to practice speaking in Spanish. My best guess is that she spends about 15-20 minutes per day working with the program.

After showing her how to log-in, Lauren was able to work with the program independently. I sometimes overheard her lessons, but I did not have to help her either while she was on the computer or with extra practice between her lesson times on the computer.

In the first four lessons, Lauren has learned about family members, numbers, greetings, and adjectives (or feelings). After the first lesson, she was correctly labeling people in our family according to their relationship to her -- aunt, uncle, grandmother, etc, using the correct Spanish words. The lessons also include cultural topics such as Hispanic families, quinceanera celebrations, and the running of the bulls. Later lessons include foods, animals, colors, clothes, weather, and community helpers (professions). Interestingly, Lauren has studied adjectives before in our English grammar materials, but seemed to finally grasp the concept when she was talking about happy, sad, fast, and small animals in her Spanish lesson today.

Many of her lessons include a story that is told entirely in Spanish. I was amazed at how much Lauren could understand from them. I realized that she is actually picking out familiar words from the sentences and trying to determine the meaning, not just looking at the pictures.

Lauren won't be able to speak fluent Spanish after finishing this class, but that was never my goal, though. At her age, I'm thrilled that we've found a program that introduces Spanish words and culture in a format that she enjoys.

Middlebury Interactive Languages offers classes in Spanish, French, German, and Chinese for students in all grades (elementary, middle school, and high school). Each semester long course costs $119, and the classes also give parents the option of having a teacher support the student during the semester for an additional $175.

 Middlebury Interactive Languages Review

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Wednesday, September 30, 2015

Wordless Wednesday -- Ladies Retreat

Unfortunately, I didn't take any pictures of all the wonderful singing, praying, teaching, and fellowship we had last weekend when I went to a ladies' retreat with friends from my new church family. I'll have to settle for sharing pictures of the beautiful scenery and my exciting zipline adventure.

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Wednesday, September 23, 2015

Heroes of History: Ben Carson {Schoolhouse Crew Review}

Eleven years ago, we opened our first box of homeschool curriculum and learned about YWAM Publishing. Since then, we've collected quite a few missionary stories from their Christian Heroes: Then and Now series of books. Last year, we read and reviewed of the book Jim Elliot: One Great Purpose.

Recently we read our first book from the Heroes of History series of books -- Ben Carson: A Chance at Life. We've also been using materials from the corresponding Unit Study Curriculum Guide.

I picked the story of Dr. Ben Carson for our review because one of Lauren's all-time favorite movies is "Gifted Hands: The Ben Carson Story." There was considerable wailing and gnashing of teeth around here when she found out that it had been taken off of Netflix. Instead of just reading the book to Lauren, though, I read it aloud to all three of the kids during a family read-aloud time after lunch each day.

All of us agreed that reading the story of Ben Carson was a fabulous way to start off this school year. As we progressed through the book, we realized that the subtitle, "A Chance at Life" has a double meaning. Many people know Ben Carson as a famous pediatric neurosurgeon who has given many children a second chance at life (and as a potential Presidential candidate). Additionally, the book  stories of how his mother gave him a chance at a better life by encouraging him to study and not to settle for not living up to his full potential. When young Ben Carson had the worst grades in his elementary school class, his mother told him, "With God's help you can wipe that im right off the word impossible and make it possible." We've repeated that line often around our house in the past few weeks.

Lauren's favorite parts of the book came later, after Ben Carson had become a doctor. She loves hearing about medical procedures, and she was thrilled that this book gave details for several of the surgeries that Ben Carson pioneered. Addison liked seeing the way that Ben Carson lived out his philosophy that everyone is responsible for determining their own destiny. He could have used his childhood experiences in poor, predominately black schools in Detroit as an excuse, but instead he studied even harder. He did not become a world-renowned doctor because of luck, this book shows all of the effort and hard work he put into achieving his goals.

In addition to simply reading the book to the kids, we also had the opportunity to use the Unit Study Curriculum Guide. Although we primarily just read the book, there were enough resources in the guide to turn the book into a full unit study lasting for several weeks and covering nearly every subject.  Each chapter had a set of questions relating directly to the book -- some factual questions most suitable for younger children as well as some opinion questions suitable for older children. For instance, in the chapter talking about Dr. Carson's attempt to separate a set of adult conjoined twins, one question asked us to consider the moral and ethical implications of attempting such a risky surgery when the ladies' lives were not in imminent danger. Was their desire for better lives (lives separated from each other) worth the risk? Should they be able to make that decision or should that decision be left up to the medical community?

The guide includes suggestions for research projects relating to subjects address in the book. I did laugh when I saw the suggestion to take a field trip to a hospital as part of a study about Ben Carson. (We'll pass on this one -- Lauren's transplant coordinator just told her that her next goal was to avoid coming to the hospital for a whole month.) The study guide gives It also has printable maps, a basic biographical facts sheet about Ben Carson, a timeline worksheet about his life, and more.

While looking through the bonus materials included in the Unit Study Curriculum Guide, I came across a schedule for using YWAM Heroes of History books as the basis for a US History course that would last either one or two years. Lauren has loved this book (and the Christian Heroes books) so much that the idea of studying the biographies of famous Americans for the next few years is very appealing to me. With the Unit Study Curriculum Guides, I can turn each book into a unit study lasting four to six weeks per books. It certainly sounds like a fun adventure to take with her!

Throughout both the book and the guide, we were constantly reminded of the important role Christianity played in Dr. Ben Carson's life. We read stories of his troubled childhood, his vow to read his Bible daily, and the way he prayed for his patients. Although we could have read his story and been inspired to work harder, it is all the more meaningful when we realize how his goal was to live up to his God-given potential and how he relied on God throughout all the good times and bad (through the calm and through the storm, so to speak).

The Heroes of History books are recommended by the publisher for ages 10 and up, but I've found that they are suitable as a read-aloud for younger children. When I checked the reading level using an online tool, I found that our particular book was written at roughly a 6th to 8th grade reading level. (My interpretation of these figures is that the difficulty is primarily due to lengthy sentences, not long words or difficult vocabulary.)

Ben Carson: A Chance at Life costs $7.50 for a paperback copy (192 pages). It is also available in digital versions (ePub, Amazon, or Barnes and Noble) for the same price. The Unit Study Curriculum Guide costs $5.49 to download.

YWAM Publishing Review

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Monday, September 21, 2015

Fascinating Education {Schoolhouse Crew Review}

Other than a rough second grade year, Addison has always done well and enjoyed math. In high school, she realized how much her science classes used her math knowledge and learned to love science too. As a senior, many of her classes this year have a math and/or science focus so that she will be prepared for college math and science classes. (She intends to enter college as a math/engineering double major.)

She started taking physics last year and is continuing into advanced physics this year. To begin this year, she used the Fascinating Physics online course from Fascinating Education as a refresher course.

Each lesson consists of a teaching video (voice over with slides), a typed script of the lesson for later reference, and a test. The videos are approximately 30-40 minutes long. There are not any practice problems for the lessons, but the test can be taken as many times as the student wishes. Each question on the test has a further explanation if the student needs it. The complete course consists of 15 lessons, and Addison says that a lesson can easily be completed in a week.

Before I share Addison's impressions of the product, I need to add a disclaimer. As I said before, she is quite good at mathematics. She's also a stickler for details. When looking at school materials, she gets incredibly frustrated if she finds any mistakes or errors in a program.

Furthermore, she has an intense desire to study and completely understand physics so that she will be prepared to enter a college engineering program next fall. She came down one morning to see if I could help with a particular lesson. She understood the general concept and could find the algebraic formula she needed in order to solve the problem. She was annoyed, however, that the problem did not specifically state that they could ignore several unknown variables that could have affected the final answer.

One of her biggest complaints about Fascinating Physics is that it oversimplifies topics that do not need to be simplified. She told me about a lesson regarding forces, resistance, acceleration, etc. In earlier physics programs, she leaned that the normal force of a book resting on a desk is the force the desk exerts upward on the book. Fascinating Education defined normal force as the force the book exerts on the desk. From a practical standpoint, the magnitude (numerical value) of the force is the same regardless of which definition is used. The difference comes in the direction of the force vector when all of the forces affecting an object are shown in a diagram. (Yes, she looks to make sure all the diagrams for all the examples are actually correct.)

Addison is concerned that this program will not sufficiently prepare her for college level physics work, either because she has learned certain topics incorrectly or because she wasn't able to fully understand the logic or reasoning behind the physics concepts. She's the type of student who wants to know why the problem is worked a particular way, not just that it should be done that way. Based on my experiences talking about the program with her, I think that these physics materials could be sufficient for a homeschool student who is not intending to enter a science field following high school.

Fascinating Physics is available for $79 (access for one year). If you have a student that is interested in taking more than one science class in a year, Fascinating Education also offers several package deals.

Fascinating Education Review

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More Monday Musings

1. Why aren't the bottoms of Lauren's specialized formula containers designed so that they'll sit upright?

2. For my husband, the arrival of Starbucks Pumpkin Spice latte marks the official beginning of Fall. For me, it's the first taste of Honey Crisp apples.

3. Why has it taken me so long to try making Hasselback potatoes? They were as yummy as they look.

4. Yes, I think everything in Denver is Broncos themed.

Thursday, September 17, 2015

Super Teacher Worksheets {Schoolhouse Crew Review}

Not every single school day goes exactly as planned, and we don't always finish our regularly scheduled curriculum. Some days just need a little change of pace to boost our mental health. Other days are so filled with doctors' appointments that it just isn't practical to carry along all of our regular books.

Super Teacher Worksheets helps me fill in educational gaps and keeps Lauren busy learning on the not-so-normal school days. We have an Individual Membership which gives me unlimited access to their huge collection of worksheets and other printable materials.

Last Thursday was one of those not-typical days for us. Lauren needed early morning labs at the clinic that's about half an hour from our house. I then ran back home to make sure Brennan was out of bed and logging into the first session of his online Logic class. The entire afternoon was spent traveling to specialist appointments an hour and a half away, getting lunch there, picking up Addison's chorus uniforms since we were going to be near the store, stopping to window shop at American Girl, etc. Lauren has too many days with appointments to call all of them an excused absence from school work, so I decided to make this day count as a school day.

I can't do our regular read-alouds while I'm driving, and Lauren can't get online to do her History, Spanish, and Bible assignments while we're on the road. I found enough materials on Super Teacher Worksheets to keep her busy learning for the entire afternoon, with activities still left over.

I started off with my favorite worksheets -- the reading comprehension activities. There are over 100 different reading comprehension packets at the fourth grade level, and they cover all sorts of subjects. There are obviously short fiction passages, but also poetry, biography, and tons of non-fiction articles to use as reinforcement for other subject areas. I'm also thrilled with the variety of activities found to correspond with the passages. For this assignment, Lauren had a listing question, a graphic organizer, and two multiple choice questions. (Note: I took the picture before discussing the answers with Lauren. It seems as though I need to do more of these sorts of pages with her this year.)

I then found a math page to review multiplication, some just-for-fun activities, and some that were both. She loved coloring and making the cootie catchers I found -- one to review easy division facts and one to introduce a handful of state capitals.

She spent a lot of the car ride and some of the time while I was talking to the doctors coloring this worksheet with multiplication problems. I'm not a big fan of coloring pages for her because she takes absolutely forever to finish the coloring, but it worked great when we had a lot of time to fill.

Super Teacher Worksheets is a perfect source of extra printable materials -- for days when we're running around to appointments or days when we just need a change of pace. I'm still discovering fun pages to add to my stash of "just-in-case" work. In fact, it would be a great idea to make up several packets of work so that I could just grab one if a busy day pops up unexpectedly.

An Individual Membership to Super Teacher Worksheets costs $19.95 per year for unlimited access to their printable materials. The materials are best suited for elementary aged students (Kindergarten through sixth grade), but some activities could potentially be used for review lessons for older students.

Super Teacher Worksheets Review

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©2009-2015 Through the Calm and Through the Storm. All rights reserved. Photos and content may not be reproduced.

Monday, September 14, 2015

Monday Musings

1. How (and why) does my email keep reproducing? I'm certain that I cleaned out my inbox and had it at a reasonable, two-digit number sometime recently. I have 363 unread messages right now. (Actually, as of five minutes ago. I probably have five hundred by now.)

2. Why do I run faster when I run with Tim? He says that I can set the pace, but I still push myself harder than when I'm by myself.

3. Is there a limit to how much black coffee that I can drink in a day before it affects my health?

4. Why do the rabbits in our neighborhood eat the grass in our front lawn and not the weeds?

5. Where in the world did I put the IEW writing videos that I need for tomorrow?

6. Exactly how many carbs are in the oatmeal raisin cookies I baked last weekend? Are they still fresh enough to be worth it?

©2009-2015 Through the Calm and Through the Storm. All rights reserved. Photos and content may not be reproduced.


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