Wednesday, May 24, 2017

Big Fish, Small Stage (Wordless Wednesday)

©2012- 2016 Adventures with Jude. All rights reserved. All text, photographs, artwork, and other content may not be reproduced or transmitted in any form without the written consent of the author.

The Typing Coach (Homeschool Review Crew)

When I was a child, my mother amazed me.  She was a typist for court reporters, and her fingers would just fly over her typewriter.  She rarely made mistakes, too.  When I was in high school, I learned computer keyboarding.  It was typing, but we had the "luxury" of being able to easily correct mistakes without scrolling and using correction fluid. I imagine my lack of speed and early "still need to look" tendencies drove her nuts. After years of term papers, secretarial work, and blogging, I'm a reasonable typist who watches the screen or what I'm copying from rather than her fingers, with hunt-and-peck kids who drive me nuts.  Enter The Typing Coach Online Typing Course from The Typing Coach.  It's a course that teaches students to become proficient in touch typing, so they no longer are what my teacher called "typing chickens."

The Typing Coach

The program has a starting goal of ten words per minute with only one error.  Once that is mastered, continued practice with the techniques learned should be able to advance the typist's speed to over 45 words per minute.  That seems like a lot, but that's really fairly average.  I also happened upon an online typing test and found that my typing speed is actually about 75 wpm, so it seems like 45 wpm is pretty reasonable goal for a student.  Honestly, though, I would be happy with ten accurate words per minute.  Sure, as a practiced typist, slow it painful to watch, but it is much, much better than, "Wait, where do I find that letter?"

Matthew is the student I really wanted to work with this program, but right now he's really struggling to keep up with the content of assigned essays and papers. I think if I said to him, "And oh, by the way, you have to touch type all of them, no looking," we'd have mutiny.  On the other hand, since Jude and Damien don't have bad habits yet, this would be the perfect time for them to begin, right?

Eh...I don't know.  I think several things were working against us with this program.  First, proper typing posture is stressed over and over.  Students are always reminded to keep their backs straight and feet flat on the floor.  The boys sat down, and even with child-height poor Damien was not quite reaching.

So, ok, not a huge deal, if you consider we were able to stick a textbook or small stepstool under his feet.  But it was distracting -- it gave him something to kick around.  He became more focused on making sure he could find that with his feet than on typing.  If you're considering this program, the first thing you need to consider is if your child is physically big enough to sit at the table and type.  Jude did OK sitting at the same table Damien was at - he's about four inches taller, and easily reached the floor, but if we only had full-size furniture, we'd be employing more textbooks to raise the ground to his level.

The program is not self-contained.  It functions as audio files that give direction to the students while they work in a word processing document with a printed worksheet. (There is a separate PDF that gives the work to be copied.)  Work should be done with the screen covered so that the student is focused on the copy page, not the screen, and dives right in with typing the home keys.

The boys were utterly confused.  There was an introductory lecture-style video (that was far too long for them to watch in one sitting), and then audio directions on how to type.  There was nothing to show them what the home keys were, where to put their fingers, etc. Thinking I was missing something, I poked around the website and the Teaching Resource Area.  I found some videos that were basically a still camera observing the room of students, no close ups to show what the instructor was talking about.

There's also no instruction on what your figures should do, at least from what I could find. It's just "put your fingers here, now type." Every program I've ever used has taught "a-s-d-f-j-k-l-;" as the first lesson, as the actual "home keys," and then expanded to "home row" and included the "reach" for g and h.  This program dove right into the entire home row.

I had to teach the boys that the pointer fingers should stretch over to the keys - they started trying to move their entire hands to get to them.  If they're learning to type from a program, I'd expect that the program would teach them. I may have to facilitate, but I wouldn't expect to have to fill in gaps.  This definitely was not something they would be able to do independently.

The program stresses getting one thing perfectly correct before proceeding on.  However, it's just drilling the same four or five lines over and over.  The boys did days and days of the same home row, until finally I had had enough of the frustration and tears.  They'd get nervous that they wouldn't move on, and it became self-fulfilling. It also didn't help that I kept saying "No, do it again; no, do it again; no, do it again..."  There was no anonymous voice saying, "Try again," it was always Mom saying, "Redo."  They also were repeating the same sequences over and over, with no variation for "Ok, you know how to do a-s-a but struggle switching hands and doing a-k-a, so let's focus on that cross-the-midline connection."  I think if you were an adult or a middle-to-high schooler, you might be able to reasonably say, "OK, I just need to do this," but for a younger child who requires more feedback than "Again," this is probably going to be frustrating.

If we did typing early in the day to get it out of the way, the constant failure set up the rest of the day as already being an emotional struggle. When I said, "Ok, let's save that for the end," it became something to dread and try to negotiate a way to skip it.  (At one point, Jude bargained he'd read two entire Magic Tree House books AND skip Oreos from dessert if he didn't have to type that day.)  I finally said, "OK, move on to learn something new, and we'll just keep practicing both pages," but it just gave them more letters to stress over.

We were all glad to see the review period for this to end. I'm proud of the boys for sticking it out and trying, but this is a program that we're very unlikely to go back to.  I wouldn't recommend it for younger students, or for ones who need really detailed instruction and/or feedback.

100 Crew families have been learning to type; read about their experiences by clicking the banner below.

The Typing Coach Online Typing Course {The Typing Coach Reviews}

©2012- 2016 Adventures with Jude. All rights reserved. All text, photographs, artwork, and other content may not be reproduced or transmitted in any form without the written consent of the author.

The Pencil Grip, Inc: Thin Stix (Homeschool Review Crew)

When Jude and Damien were at preschool levels, we did daily arts and crafts projects.  While we don't do projects like we used to, we usually keep a good supply of project supplies in the house because they enjoy doing craft projects on their own.  When I restock our shelves, I always try to go with quality over quantity where appropriate, because life is too short for cheap crayons!  Paint is always a favorite medium, and we love our Thin Stix  6pk of Classic Colors  from The Pencil Grip, Inc.  Design and quality makes them must-haves for us!

These new paint sticks are a skinny, pencil-like version of the glue-stick shaped Kwik Stix that we were introduced to last summer.  Both styles are tempera paint sticks - think a solid block of poster paint in a twist-up, no-brush-needed form. We loved the original Kwik Stix, but their chunky glue-stick dimensions meant they were ideal for smaller hands, but a little lacking for older kids who wanted to draw finer details. Thin Stix are the answer.

These longer, slender sticks have a mechanical concept like a twist-up crayon. They definitely edge out crayons, though, for several reasons.  Instead of being a wax-based medium that needs a thick coating of product for intense color but the tempura paint in the Thin Stix gives bright colors with minimal product.  Another point in the "Thin Stix Column" is they are quick-dry (under 90 seconds), and once the paint dries, it is bonded to the paper.  It won't flake off onto clothes or surfaces, or smear into other areas of the picture like lacquered-on wax from a crayon. However, despite it sticking well to paper, it easily cleans up from the table with a little bit of water and a paper towel.

Damien especially liked using them with the puppet theatre that he built.  Because they work like conventional writing implements, it made it easy to precisely color in areas of the shell.  There's no paintbrush to try to control.

Crayons have a tendency to snap in the boys' hands (low muscle tone means they need to hold them with a more-than-normal pressure), so they often gravitate towards markers for coloring.  However, Thin Stix edged out markers here. Because the paint is a solid bullet, rather than siphoned ink like a marker, coloring a vertical surface is easy!

The plastic casing around the paint is sturdy, as well as the paint bullet itself.  The twist-up mechanism means that only a small portion of product needs to be exposed at any time, cutting down on the potential for breaking and smearing.  The bullet itself holds up to the heavy pressure of "coloring dark" and doesn't snap.

The paint is also intensely pigmented.  Because it dries fully in about a minute and a half, it is easy to layer several coats of it to get extra-bright colors, or to get a bright and genuine primary shade when coloring on a piece of colored paper. It's easy to get bright colors on white paper, but that means you have to color everything when you start with a white base. For his puppet theater, Damien wanted to create scenery flats. This one is a picnic scene, and he used a piece of blue cardstock because the bulk of the view should be a blue sky and horizon.  However, what's a picnic unless the sun is shining?  After only two layers of paint, his sun is bright yellow despite the intense blue behind it.

We enjoyed our original Kwik Stix, but love the Thin Stix.  They're definitely going to be a permanent part of our supply box.

100 Crew families have been creating masterpieces with Thin Stix.  Check out their pictures by clicking the banner below.

No Mess Art with Thin Stix Classic Colors {The Pencil Grip, Inc. Reviews}

©2012- 2016 Adventures with Jude. All rights reserved. All text, photographs, artwork, and other content may not be reproduced or transmitted in any form without the written consent of the author.

Friday, May 19, 2017

Captain Absolutely (Homeschool Review Crew)

Captain Absolutely: Battle Against Dr. Relative is a new graphic novel published by Focus on the Family.  It is a compilation of the short stories that were originally featured in Clubhouse magazine.   All seems well in Metropolitanville until suddenly there is a massive computer explosion! Josiah King runs for cover in a room full of Bibles.  Radioactive fumes from the explosion combine with his newfound knowledge of God, and our mild-mannered librarian is transformed into Captain Absolutely and off to battle his former friend Darren-turned-new arch-nemesis, Dr. Relative.

Short stories illustrate truths from "Just because no one is watching doesn't mean I can do whatever I want," to "Defending the truth doesn't always mean doing what's popular."  I think while there is a time for apologetics and debate, there are also times where example by action has more of an effect than any lecturing ever could.  Captain Absolutely effectively combines Biblical foundation with the Captain's behavior to demonstrate a truly Christian lifestyle.  The stories follow the traditional comic book presentation, with bright and bold illustrations and classic Whap! Splat! ZZAAP! "sound" effects. Bible passage references are included in small print near Captain Absolutely's speech bubble when he quotes or paraphrases a Biblical passage.

Having Jude wander off with books is still a novelty to me.  For so long, he resisted even being read to, and now it's rare for me to see him without a book in his hand.  I opened the mailer Captain Absolutely came in, and left the book on the kitchen table until after schoolwork was done. I wanted to look through it before handing it off to a kid, but since I was needed to help with Math, it would have to wait until later.  At lunchtime, Jude ran ahead of me from the basement schoolroom to the kitchen, and by the time I caught up to him, he was already in his chair with his nose buried in the book.  So much for first dibs.

Of course, seeing his brother with a new book meant Damien wanted a turn, too.  I told him he needed to wait until Jude was done the whole book, just like Jude didn't get a turn with Damien's book until he was finished.  At first, Jude and the book were inseparable.  Then, the book disappeared entirely!   A few days later, I went to check on Jude when I went to bed, and the book was in bed with him. He admitted he had finished it, but didn't want to share yet, because he wanted to look at it again.   I asked him what he thought, who were the characters, etc., and expected an overwhelming disgorgement of information, since Jude tends to give dissertation-length recitals of things he is interested in. He told me what had happened in the story, but since these were all new characters to me, I didn't know who was who, and it got confusing keeping stories straight as he regaled me with what was going on. This made me especially appreciative of the Characters sections at the back of the book.

Since Jude obviously read faster than I had been able to to, a quick cram session with these pages helped me at least figure out who he was talking about.  (Especially since he mispronounced many of the names because he was sounding them out phonetically from reading.  It helped reduce the frustration on his end and confusion on mine after he called Captain "Joe-see-uh" instead of Joe-sigh-uh, and Dr. Relative was "Dr. Re-lay-tive" instead of "Rel-uh-tiv.")

Since this book is a compilation of short stories, I would have appreciated a table of contents that showed me where one story ended and the next began.  When he finally got a turn with the book, Damien became overwhelmed. At close to 100 pages in length, the book was too much for him to read at once, but since the stories seemed to flow, it was difficult to divide into manageable chunks.  It would have been really helpful for him to know "This section is one story, you can stop here." There are some spots where it's clear that "This is the end of this story," while others are a little harder to delineate, and he found himself not enjoying it so much, because he found himself in the middle of the next story and needing to stop, but not knowing quite where to go back to re-start it next time.

Though there are points where I think the presentation is a little heavy-handed for the middle-elementary set, Captain Absolutely's story is mostly inspiring and not insipid.  It's not going to be a foundational book for us, but it's a good quality recreational book.

70 families have been reading Captain Absolutely: Battle Against Dr. Relative.  Read their reviews by clicking the banner below.

Captain Absolutely {Focus On The Family Review}

©2012- 2016 Adventures with Jude. All rights reserved. All text, photographs, artwork, and other content may not be reproduced or transmitted in any form without the written consent of the author.

Wednesday, May 17, 2017

Mine! (Almost Wordless Wednesday)

I'm guessing he's not interested in sharing!

©2012- 2016 Adventures with Jude. All rights reserved. All text, photographs, artwork, and other content may not be reproduced or transmitted in any form without the written consent of the author.

Wednesday, May 10, 2017

Big Man on Virtual Campus

Luke finally registered for his first college classes!  He graduated high school last June but decided to take a year off so he could work with Neal in the family business and get a little bit of life experience before heading off to college.  Over the winter, he got everything organized to attend Rowan College at Gloucester County.  Provided he maintains a set GPA and takes the required base courses, upon graduating from RCGC,  he is guaranteed admission to the partnering Rowan University to complete the 4-year degree.  My checkbook likes this plan -- RCGC is about a quarter of the cost of Rowan University!

He's looking to major in business administration, with perhaps a minor or concentration in accounting.  He originally had planned to major in accounting but found out that that particular path doesn't easily transfer to Rowan, but the business admin does.  It sounds like a similar trajectory Neal was on when we were in college -- a BBA plan gets you one "big" degree with a lot of learning in specific areas. When Neal added up all of his credits, he was only two or three courses shy of degrees in accounting and statistics, but he opted to just graduate and move on with life rather than staying in school for another year. Luke has plenty of time to decide what he will ultimately do, but for the moment, business admin is the working plan.

Last month, he took the Accuplacer exam. He had opted not to take the SATs because they were transitioning from one model to a new test in the middle of his senior year.  I'm proud of his scores - he did very well and left the minimum scores (the lower scores penciled in by the proctor on the results printout) in the dust!

Homeschooling definitely worked in his favor.  Because of working, he really wanted to keep a part time schedule and take online courses, because they would eliminate travel time and be more flexible to work around the chaos of the fall farm season.  His advisor said usually first semester students need to take at least one or two on-campus classes, but she approved him for all online courses because he had been a homeschooler. Since he had already adapted to working independently without the structure of a classroom, she felt he'd be fine with the lack of campus structure.  (She even recommended a different professor for one course, because the one Luke initially chose preferred online students take exams in person.)  He's going to take Accounting I, Intro to Computer Science, and Statistics.  He had thought to take English Composition, but all of the online-only sections were filled, so he opted for Statistics to fill that gap.

Me...I believe that much math at one time has to be one of Dante's circles, so I'll just pass any questions on to Neal and tell Luke to check back when English opens up again!  (It will be nice to not be the household go-to person, at least for a few months!)  Luke's advisor asked if he was good at Math, and Luke said yes, but he wasn't really fond of Geometry.  She promised him there was none of that on this trajectory, and he said, "Then I declare you my new best friend!"

At a part time speed of three or four classes each semester, it's going to take him a while, but he's in no rush.  He declared, "I'm about as ready for the fall as I can be for now."  He's for Mama pay the tuition bill and to accept her first baby is all grown up!

©2012- 2016 Adventures with Jude. All rights reserved. All text, photographs, artwork, and other content may not be reproduced or transmitted in any form without the written consent of the author.

IEW: High School Essay Intensive (Homeschool Review Crew)

My homeschooling friend Cristi is always extolling the virtues of Institute for Excellence in Writing.  I've used a few of their programs; some have been reviews while others have been my own purchases.  However,  I never have been able to really understand the writing courses.  I bought the Student Writing Intensive program, because of both recommendation and experience, but I just have not been able to wrap my head around them. I don't know why; it's a great program, but it just hasn't clicked here.  We decided to give IEW's writing courses another try with the High School Essay Intensive set,  a recorded version of Andrew Pudewa's in-person writing seminars.

The program is a kit with a 5-DVD set (6.5 hours of instruction, plus "paused" time writing), a student handout, and Portable Walls for the Essayist.  The program is designed to prepare the student for the time-pressed SAT/ACT essay, as well as college essays.  It lightly touches on longer essays and how they are only expanded versions of the basic essay, but the program isn't designed to teach "How to write a term paper."  The program is recorded during a single-day writing intensive course.  I think something like this is great, for the writer who really needs just a little help and clarity to go from being an "adequate" writer to a "very good" writer.  For a kid like Matthew, the DVD version that can be broken up over multiple days and applied across many areas, this program is phenomenal.  It gives the same intense instruction, but not at an overwhelming pace.

I have struggled for years to help Matthew with writing.  In middle school, he would have to write a paragraph every week, and I'm not sure which of us thought it was more torture.  Writing does not come naturally to him. Truthfully, I don't think it comes artificially, either. He gets caught up in "how many sentences" and "how many words."  He has become fixated on the rigidity of the topic/three-supporting/closing format.  He has wanted to have his own blog series like his brother did, and I've been tap-dancing around the situation. A frank "Dude, you can't string together a paragraph, let alone an essay without serious editorial help," doesn't seem like it would be productive.  In theory, the more you write, the better you get, but for Matthew, it just makes him more frustrated.  He's looking toward a post-high school trade certification trajectory just so he doesn't have to sit through class after class of paper-writing for a regular degree.  It's a valid career path, and not everyone is cut out for college, but it's hard to swallow "I know I won't be able to handle it," without internalizing it as "I'm stupid."  It's been rough.

Knowing this information, you can probably tell that he wasn't overjoyed to start on this review.  To even get him started, it was a bit of a "lay down the law" situation.  He enjoys our annual field trips, and I explained to him that part of being able to do them was not having to spend money during the year on curriculum.  We do the reviews so that I don't have to spend money, and everyone who wants to go takes a turn on a review.  That's the rule, that's the deal, so if you want to go, park your butt in front of the DVD player and let's go.  Resigning himself to his fate, Matthew popped the first DVD in and flopped down.

Oh. My. Goodness. "WHY didn't somebody tell me this before??" became the common response to many topics.  If Matthew said it once, he said it fifty times.   The first was when Mr. Pudewa was discussing his "TRIAC" model of paragraph writing, and said, "Instead of calling it a conclusion sentence, I call it a clincher." He then proceeded to show why clincher makes more sense than concluding.  He said if you ask most teachers what they mean by "conclusion," they'll often say, "Tie it know...finish the know..."  He ended his example with, "But what if you don't know?"  Matthew sat up, and said, "Yeah, what if you don't get it?"  Things started clicking.

There are so many truths that Mr. Pudewa "reveals" to the kids.  Among them:

  • Writing like this is not realistic.  You're not usually going to have only 20 minutes to write a cold essay.  (Even in an exam, you may not know the specific question, but you know going into a history class that the topic will be history.)  
  • You're not likely to have your entire future riding on twelve sentences. 
  • Writing is going to be different than speaking and sometimes sound stilted.  You need to grab the reader before they give up and turn the page, while when you're speaking, most people will at least pretend to be polite and listen.  
He uses humor and small doses of sarcasm ("Take good notes! Even if you don't learn, it will impress your parents!") to bring writing from something very academic to something achievable by the less academically inclined. He also points out that there are more than 30 models of paragraph writing.  He even names a few book sources, if you're interested in hunting them down.  But he focuses on one, called the TRIAC model, as the "swiss army knife" of paragraphs, saying if you can do this, you will be able to handle nearly any "write an essay" instructions thrown at you.

If you watch NOTHING else in this program, view this section.  (It's on Disk 1a.)  I doubled back and suggested Luke watch this just before he went off to take his Accuplacer exam. (He was told to be prepared to write an essay, and since he graduated last June, it's been a while.)   He found pearls of wisdom that helped refresh his memory and bolster his confidence, and he had his own "aha!" moment with the instructions on how to write a clincher sentence.  He went off feeling much more confident in his ability to crank out a decent writing sample quickly.

Mr. Pudewa focuses on giving kids the tools they need to write well.  He starts out by having the students write a paragraph and then begins teaching.  Among the things he discusses are nine ways to write the same sentence.

Mr. Pudewa then has students go back and look at their original piece, and count how many different ways they began their sentences.  The program doesn't focus on someone pointing out the "mistakes," but rather teaches students to self-edit.   For years I have tried to explain to Matthew that his writing may be grammatically correct, but it is boring and repetitive.  The light finally went off when he realized that in this ten-sentence paragraph, eight sentences began with the same subject-verb-object pattern.  Matthew was much more aware of his sentence structure in the next edit (especially since the course told him to use at least six of the ways in the redo).  I can see that when I assign him essays, I will have to remind him to use multiple starters, but I think with practice and mindfulness it will get easier.

When Mr. Pudewa discussed prepositions, I joked to Matthew, "Oh, look! A list!"

Not every preposition in the English language is included, but enough of them that the student guide becomes an excellent refer-back-to document for future writing.  I seriously considered laminating the page, but this is where the "Portable Wall" comes in handy.  It contains a quick-reference guide to what is taught in the class, from essay models to prepositions and adverbs.  This is the kind of thing that I think every student could benefit from owning.  It also doesn't have every single option, but there are more than enough for a writer to look at and say "I want to say <this> and this is a good way to word it," or even "I can't find the exact word, but <this adverb> sort of means it, so it gives me a place to start."  It can be purchased separately from the course, but it's probably only marginally useful without the course.  (But I definitely appreciate the ability to re-purchase it by itself, because I have a feeling ours will become well-loved.)

This course is something that would be useful for multiple students in a family - I definitely will using this again in a year or two with Celia.  Because it's based on group instruction, it would be perfect for co-op classes as well.  However, the Student Handout is permitted to be copied for multiple students within a single family, so be sure to follow the correct copyright procedures for larger groups.

One final area of instruction that really stood out to me was the discussion of literary schemes.  Some have fancy names that I have to admit I knew worked, but never knew what they're called.  Now I do. Mr. Pudewa refers to classic literature, iconic speeches, and Biblical passages as examples of these devices.  The references are accessible to the students but underscore just how potent these schemes are.  Some examples are:

            anaphora - the repetition of an initial phrase
            examples: Psalm 29 "The voice of the Lord..."; Martin Luther King's "I have a dream,"

            epistrophe - the repetition of a final phrase or idea
            examples: Gettysburg Address "of the people, by the people, for the people,"

He shows how judicious use of these can make an essay come alive and memorable (especially useful if you're writing a "Why you should accept me at your college" essay).  He also discusses the use of literary tropes (irony, simile, personification, etc.) can help bring life and underscore the points the writer is trying to make.

 I admit there was plenty for me to learn, too.  It's safe to admit that as I'm writing this review, I'm very conscious of my sentence structure(s).  The program also discusses the "dreaded dangling participle" - something that despite a minor in English I never managed to understand the theory of.  (I could tell you what was wrong in a sentence, but never why.)  The way Mr. Pudewa explained it, with its new and improved title of "misplaced modifier," made sense to this student "of a certain age."  There were many places I had my own, "THAT'S what they meant!" moments.  I would actually recommend this course to anyone who wants to improve their writing.  There is always room for a writer to grow, and whether you're a blogger or a grant writer, it's never bad to have a few new tricks up your sleeve. Because it can easily be completed over the course of even a few weeks (say a few consecutive Saturday afternoons), I would confidently recommend it to anyone looking to grow their professional writing skills.

Having worked our way through this course, we are finding that we really like Mr. Pudewa's approach and teaching style.  Thankfully, Cristi hasn't said "I told you so," or at least, she hasn't yet! I think while it's going to take time, patience, and practice, there is hope for Matthew to become more proficient in writing. He has learned that while he may have to work harder than most, with what he's learned from the Institute for Excellence in Writing, Matthew can write essays.

High School Essay Intensive {Institute for Excellence in Writing Reviews}

©2012- 2016 Adventures with Jude. All rights reserved. All text, photographs, artwork, and other content may not be reproduced or transmitted in any form without the written consent of the author.
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