Wednesday, July 27, 2016

Orphs of the Woodlands at Tangletree {Schoolhouse Crew Review}

I've written a few times lately about how I've been actively seeking products that will help Lauren build reading comprehension skills. My latest find is an interactive reading app from Star Toaster -- Orphs of the Woodlands at Tangletree.

Orphs of the Woodlands at Tanglegate Review

Orphs of the Woodlands is an educational app with a whole host of features that make it a rich learning environment.

The spine of this program is a twenty-three chapter story about Abba, a flying squirrel who lives in the Hoggoh Hollow area of Tangletree with other animal friends. Each chapter of the story spans across four to eight screens.

After a storm floods much of the area, Abba finds his way to Stumptown. He then finds work to earn gold stars so that he can buy supplies to help Hoggoh Hollow recover from the flood.

At the end of each chapter, the app switches over to the screen showing your current goal in terms of stars needed to buy a particular supply (water, flour, blueberries, etc). Based on the number of chapters that have been read, different business will have varying numbers of available jobs. First, the student must complete the job training section. Job training gives the basic information needed for answering the questions asked in the jobs. After completing the job training, the student clicks on the corresponding Help Wanted job to answer a multiple choice question and earn stars for a correct answer. After finishing all the available jobs, the student must read another chapter (or more) of the story in order to unlock more jobs.

For the most part, Lauren worked independently with this app. (I didn't want it to seem too much like schoolwork by watching over her shoulder.) Thankfully, the app is set up so that I can easily see her progress.

She rarely picked up the iPad solely with the intention of playing Orphs of the Woodlands, but she didn't complain when I told her that she needed to work on it. In fact, if I told her that she needed to play for fifteen minutes, she'd often continue playing for far longer than I requested. Lauren preferred using it on the iPad instead of trying to get me to let her use my iPhone, but she found that she needed to be connected to wifi in order to access all the features.

When I played Orphs myself to see what information was covered, I was quite impressed. Some of the job training included facts about animals, some covered literature concepts such as similes, and some taught the differences between commonly mistaken homonyms (right vs. write, foul vs. fowl, etc). Many of the activities explained vocabulary words that were found in the story itself.

The reading level of the story ranged from third to fourth grade when I did some online calculations. It seemed a bit easier, though, because the chapters are short and the pages are not crammed with small print.

Orphs of the Woodlands at Tangletree is a delightful app to add to our collection of educational programs. 

Orphs of the Woodlands at Tanglegate Review

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Saturday, July 23, 2016

Favorite Games/Apps {52 Lists}

52 lists with Chasing Slow

We're definitely a game loving family, so there's no way I could've skipped out on this week's 52 list assignment on Chasing Slow. Since I'm not at home to peek at our large selection of games, I polled everyone in my family to help come up with a list of our favorites. (I also cheated a bit by searching back to find the ones I've mentioned on my blog before.)
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Thursday, July 21, 2016

Beric the Briton {Schoolhouse Crew Review}

Years ago, all three of my children would listen to audio books as we traveled to Lauren's appointments. Nowadays, it's generally just Lauren and me going to appointments, and we rarely listen to audio books. For our most recent road trip, however, I packed Beric The Briton, a new audio adventure from Heirloom Audio Productions.

Interestingly, I looked back a few years on my blog and found my review of Under Drake's Flag also by Heirloom Audio Productions. We listened to it on a vacation road trip to Colorado in the summer of 2014, roughly a year before we moved to Colorado Springs.

Beric The Briton Heirloom Audio Productions  Review
Many homeschoolers sing the praises of G.A. Henty and his series of historical adventure stories that were originally popular in the late 1800s. So far, I haven't read any of his books -- I've just listened to them as audio productions. I am impressed with the way that G.A. Henty develops strong characters with morals worth imitating.

Heirloom Audio Productions bring these fabulous stories to life with professional actors presenting the dialogue, dramatic sound effects building suspense, and a rich soundtrack conveying the appropriate setting.  These CDs were more than just an audiobook; it was two-and-a-half hours of exciting entertainment as we followed along with Beric's adventures.

I popped the first CD for Beric the Briton into my car without even reading the back of the case. The story opens with tales of Beric in Brittania during a time when Rome ruled. When Nero was mentioned in the first few chapters, I perked up a little bit. I remember very little of my ancient history lessons, but I do recognize that name. As the story progresses, Beric defends his homeland, is taken to Rome as a prisoner, trains as a Gladiator, and eventually serves Emperor Nero. I was excited to hear more about Nero and also about Christus (Jesus Christ) and Paulus. I had not realized that we would learn some Biblical history and hear the gospel in this story.

All five of us enjoyed listening to this audio dramatization on our road trip. Addison particularly praised the foreshadowing when Beric's friend Bodouc offhandedly mentions that he'd never like to see Rome, but he wouldn't mind seeing Rome burn. The suggested age range for this adventure is six and up, but Lauren found it a bit difficult to keep up with the story line. (Disclaimer: she struggles to keep up with many books, and this one was a bit more difficult because she didn't have a good basic understanding of the historical events that were unfolding.)

In addition to the CDs that we listened to in the car, I also received access to a set of digital extras. The most impressive portion of these extras is a fifty-page study guide that corresponds to the audio drama. The guide includes biographical information on the two major historical figures in the story -- Emperor Nero and Queen Boadicea of Brittiania. It also includes questions for each chapter of the story. Some questions require the listener to just remember facts from the story, but others require thinking critically about the events. The next time we listen to this drama, I will stop after every chapter and discuss the questions with Lauren in the hopes that she'll be able to keep the action straight and understand what's going on. The digital extras also includes a printable poster, an MP3 version of the Soundtrack, and a full copy of the original book by G.A. Henty.

Beric the Briton was a great addition to our latest road trip and would be a great addition to any homeschool library.

The two-CD set of Beric the Briton costs $29.97 and includes the digital extras. If you'd prefer a digital copy of the audio drama, you can download it for $19.97 (including the study guide and printable poster).

Beric The Briton Heirloom Audio Productions  Review

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Wednesday, July 20, 2016

Tuesday, July 19, 2016

Writing with Sharon Watson {Schoolhouse Crew Review}

Writing with Sharon Watson Review

I'm pretty sure that I've blogged before about the English teacher I had my Senior year of High School. We all grumbled at the way she made us work to get an "A" in her class, especially an "A" on an essay for her class. Despite all my complaining, she's the teacher I'm perhaps most thankful for. She taught us to develop sound arguments and to express them clearly in our written assignments. It's a skill that served me well in college and in the years since.

The Power in Your Hands: Writing Nonfiction in High School, 2nd Edition from Writing with Sharon Watson teaches composition skills that every high school student needs to master before graduating -- skills that will serve them well for a lifetime.

This is the second time that I've used one of Sharon Watson's books with Brennan, and I am as impressed with her composition curriculum as I am with her Illuminating Literature materials (click here to read that review).

One of the best things about using a product from Writing with Sharon Watson is that the materials are written directly to the student in a friendly conversational tone. Brennan says he often rolls his eyes at the humor, but he said it in a good way. He's never felt like the books talk down to him in a condescending way.

The Power in Your Hands starts at the very beginning with a survey of the student's attitude towards writing. Why doesn't every book start that way? Brennan's answers obviously don't change the materials in the text, but it does allow me to better help him through the writing process. For the record, he selected these statements out of a list of approximately 30 descriptive statements) as a way of describing his thoughts about writing:
  • I would rather walk across a burning desert at high noon with buzzards circling overhead while I drag a bone-dry water bottle than write anything whatsoever.
  • Late at night is the best time to write.
  • Writing by hand is pure torture, but writing at the keyboard is a little easier.
  • I write best when I'm with friends or listening to music.
  • If I'm not interested in the topic, I have trouble doing the assignment.
  • You've gotta be kidding. Checking this box is enough writing for me for one day.
I cannot eliminate composition from Brennan's required schoolwork, but I can make some changes to make the work less tedious for him. Some of these potential modifications are shared in the student materials and others I've discovered in the Teacher's Guide.

I'm not usually impressed with teacher's guides that come with a curriculum written to the student. Usually I just look over my students' work and only consult the teacher's materials when I can't figure out the correct answer. The Teacher's Guide for The Power in Your Hands is completely different and well worth reading, studying, and using. According to Sharon Watson, it takes about an hour for an average student to write 100 words. Perhaps that's why most of the written assignments for this course are rather short -- generally 300-500 words for beginning writers. The books also encouraged me as a teacher to remember that I can allow Brennan to practice the thinking and planning stages of writing a composition without insisting on seeing a finished essay every single time.

Much of the Teacher's Guide is devoted to showing me how to fairly grade the assignments that Brennan does write this year. She gives examples of papers that earn each particular grade and explains why one composition earns an A and a different one gets a C or a D. Also, each written assignment has a grading grid for me to use to help determine the grade. These grading grids include ten questions relating to the student's composition, and the teacher assigns points on a 1-10 scale for each one. For instance, "Has the student communicated ideas clearly and expressed them well?" or "Does the conclusion adequately sum up the topic and opinion?" After giving a rating for all ten questions, I can add them up to calculate an overall score on a 100 point scale. What could be easier?

Brennan offered this quote when I asked him about the materials: "It's definitely doable. I mean . . . it's writing." So far The Power in Your Hands: Writing Nonfiction in High School has not miraculously made writing assignments the best part of Brennan's day, but it may have moved writing up slightly from being called torture.

Since Addison has a bit of spare time before she heads off to college, I asked her to look through these materials. She was impressed with the wide variety of written assignments that this curriculum would prepare a student to complete. Her high school compositions were primarily persuasive essays, and she found chapters covering letters and emails, literary analysis, newspaper writing, biographies, and more. She thought the chapter on writing emails was particularly helpful as she prepares for college and envisions times where she will be emailing professors instead of just friends.

I'm excited to continue working with Brennan as he uses The Power in Your Hands for his sophomore year of high school. Because of the resources I have in the Teacher's Guide and the clear instructions he has in the Student Book, I feel confident that his writing will improve greatly. With resources like these, perhaps I can also be a high school English teacher that gives my students lasting writing skills.

The Power in Your Hands: Writing Nonfiction in High School, 2nd Edition contains two softcover books. The consumable student book is 418 pages long and costs $45. The Teacher's Guide is 224 pages long and costs $20.

Writing with Sharon Watson Review

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Thursday, July 14, 2016

Life's Trials That Made Me Better

52 lists with Chasing Slow

Life's Trials That Made Me Better:

* Moving umpteen times in my life taught me to be outgoing and resilient

* My husband's deployments taught me to be self-sufficient and fiercely independent

* A lifetime spent as either a military brat or a military spouse taught me an unparalleled sense of patriotism

* A critically ill child taught me about angels, miracles, and the power of prayer

* Food allergies taught me creativity (and the ability to spin meals out of a handful of safe ingredients)

* Chronic medical issues taught me to listen to my gut feelings and to speak up for my child's best interests

It appears that I'm actually a week behind in joining the 52 lists on Chasing Slow. I'll skip this week's challenge to list places I feel safe and pick up next week with a list of my favorite games.

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Monday, July 11, 2016

ArtAchieve {Schoolhouse Crew Review}

Art Lessons for Children ArtAchieve Review

I know lots of homeschool families opt to do school on a year-round basis. I find myself in need of a break most summers and especially this summer after enduring a mess of medical appointments and hospital stays last winter. Even though Lauren's officially on summer break, I've been sneaking in some academic work here and there.

One of her favorite things we're doing this summer is drawing lessons with ArtAchieve. We've been steadily working our way through the Entire Level 1 lessons.

Art Lessons for Children ArtAchieve Review

Our ArtAchieve lessons consist of printouts to download and either a Power Point presentation or video lessons to watch online. Each lesson also includes ideas for expanding the topic to include other subjects such as social studies, science, and literature (with recommended books for further study).

One thing I appreciate about ArtAchieve is that Lauren and I could get started without me having to make a trip to the store for special supplies. Even when I don't plan ahead, it only takes me a few minutes to print off the lesson materials and gather the necessary supplies. The first lessons only required us to have white paper (stolen from our printer), black sharpies, and a set of regular markers. 

One of the later lessons required black paper and oil pastels. I was the unprepared mom that didn't plan ahead, but Tim and Lauren were able to make the project work with what we had. I would like to get some oil pastels to work with another time, though.

Lauren and I worked together when she did the first two lessons -- partly because I wanted to see what the lessons were like and partly because I was worried that Lauren wouldn't pay attention to the instruction. She did so well listening and following the instructions that she did this picture all on her own:

One thing I really like about this program is the philosophy of drawing and creating art. Every lesson includes a reminder that there is no wrong way to do art. "Every person's drawing will be different because we are all different people." Students are also encouraged to think of lines that they don't like as opportunities to make their work better and not as mistakes. (Since we were drawing with black Sharpie markers, we couldn't erase and start over. We simply figured out a way to make it work.)

After finishing our initial drawing following the video directions and the sample provided, we were given the opportunity to color our picture and to create a background. I like the way that we both started with the same sample drawing and same instructions, but created such different works.

We have all had fun working with these drawing lessons. The best part (from an academic standpoint) is that Lauren is learning to look carefully at the models, to see the way the lines interact, to find patterns, and then to recreate them. I can already see how her drawing skills have improved over the past few weeks of lessons.

Individual Level 1 drawing lessons from ArtAchieve can be purchased for $4; lessons for other levels are slightly higher. Our Entire Level 1 set includes two lessons that are available to try for free and nine additional ones. The bundle costs $27. The Level 1 lessons are suitable for beginning students (elementary ages) all the way up through adults. More advanced students may want to start with a more difficult level.

Art Lessons for Children ArtAchieve Review

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