Thursday, April 27, 2017

Drive Thru History: The Gospels (Homeschool Review Crew)



I'm always looking for interesting ways for the boys to learn.  They're not traditional read-the-textbook kinds of kids - if we can make it a field trip, they're all over it.  Drive Thru History with Dave Stotts is a history program that takes viewers to where history actually happened.  The series includes several mini-series: The Holy Land, Ancient History, and American History, with The Gospels being its newest offering.  The programs follow Dave Stotts as he literally drives from historical site to historical site, offering historical commentary, insight, and a few laughs along the way.   Barring actual field trips, virtual field trips fill the gap, so when we had the opportunity to review Drive Thru History: The Gospels, I showed Matthew the trailer to see if he was interested.  By about thirty seconds in, his jaw had slowly dropped, and he didn't close his mouth again until after the entire three minutes was up.  I knew we had a winner.


Dave Stotts balances history with faith incredibly well.  The videos do not subscribe to a particular denomination of Christianity.  Rather, Dave approaches the Gospels as historical canons as opposed to faith-based books.  He painstakingly sets up the context of the times of Jesus, especially the Hellenist influence and Roman rule.  Careful attention is paid to explaining all of the people involved - from the several men named Herod to the historical proof of the rise of Pontius Pilate.


I think the series doesn't necessarily make a case for religion, but rather begins to point out things that ultimately force one to consider: Is all of this just coincidence, or a sign of an Omnipotent God?  If you have faith, you will appreciate the history of Jesus. If you are looking at it with a skeptical eye, you will see that while belief in Jesus as Savior takes faith, there is evidence of His life here on earth. Your viewpoint will color your perception, but I think there is room for everyone to gather around the screen.

For example, Episode 6 focuses on the beginnings of Jesus' ministry in Capernaum.  Among the places we visit are the ruins of a 4th-century Jewish synagogue, built atop the remaining foundation of a 1st-century synagogue -- the one where Jesus is purported to have preached.




 Dave points out that it's in a Galilean sea town, which aligns with the Gospel passages where Jesus called the first disciples.  The synagogue is mere steps from the house that, based on location and proximity, is believed to have belonged to Simon, the first disciple called.

(L) Church of St. Peter's House; (R) Capernaum synagogue
All of this makes a case for the historical validity of the Gospel writings. However, we  had another jaw-dropping moment when Dave went to explore the ruins of the house, located under the church.


Dave points out what archeologists have found, and remarks about the foundation rocks that remain. He tells of the writings of Egeria (a Google search led us to discover she was a Spanish nun who lived in the 4th century):
And in Capernaum, what is more, the house of the prince of the apostles [Peter] has been turned into a church, leaving its original walls however quite unchanged.
There is evidence of the building's conversion from a simple home to one of the first places of Christian worship.


Matthew looked at me and gasped.  Rock. Petrus.  "Upon this Rock, I will build my Church." Is it coincidence that of all the forever lost ruins of ancient times, this foundation that includes inscribed cries for God's intervention survives, and that it's the house of fisherman named Simon but now called Peter?  Or is it proof of God seeing what Peter may not have grasped back then?

The program is visually stunning.  Neal and I visited the Holy Land on our honeymoon.  It was an amazing trip, and in many ways, incredibly overwhelming.  To walk in the footsteps of Jesus is a powerful thing. I was so excited for this video series.  It was nearly twenty years ago that we were there, but there are some things I remember like yesterday -- filing up to the top of Golgotha, crawling into a tiny nook where the manger that held Baby Jesus laid. With this video, all of the emotions and memories came rushing back.   The gorgeously crisp video combines with panoramic cinematography to draw the viewer in and emotionally connect with the program.  Dave points out the path of Jesus from Nazareth to Capernaum and says that Jesus likely stood atop the cliff or in the middle of the barren desert, and saw views very much like the ones of today.



Also added in are graphics -- overlays with time frames and historical/scripture quotes, classical artwork, and maps that help you find your place.  Each video is about half an hour of rapid-fire information, but it never feels overwhelming because everything is explained so clearly.

Sermon of John the Baptist Before Herod
Giulia Cheli Capella, c. 1900


Matthew 4:19, superimposed over the Sea of Galilee



However, the series is not without whimsy. There's a bit of background context of the "Hail Mary" football play, and Matthew's favorite: Carbecue.


Yes, Matthew was impressed that Dave made BBQ ribs while driving, using the engine of his 1976 Land Rover as the heat source. He was less than impressed when I told him that we were not trying this one at home...or on the road.

Add caption


Also included with the DVD set is a book containing Discussion Questions.  Since I'm planning on using this as a portion of the base for Matthew's 11th-grade Theology, we've been using them as essay starters.  As I've watched the videos with Matthew, I've written comprehension check questions, vocabulary, and some more faith/theology based questions -- "What is the significance of..." etc. We've been averaging an episode a week: watching the video, completing the discussion questions/comprehension questions, and then writing the essay(s).


If you wanted to just watch the videos as a stand alone, you certainly could.   I'd recommend them for middle school and older -- Jude and Damien quickly lost interest because they got lost in rapid switching from concept to concept the story.  I found myself impressed at how easily the videos transitioned from vignette to vignette - a testament to the writers and post-production team keeping the story smooth despite traveling hundreds of miles in locale over the course of five minutes. There is also nothing that you would "miss" by not following up with the discussion questions. However, I do recommend them as they give greater insight and will help you follow the story of the Gospels.

We are very much looking forward to the next twelve episodes (there are eighteen total in the program), and them moving on to other Drive Thru History offerings.  Dave Stott's presentation balances history with religion and dry facts with humor.  I think these are very likely to become new favorites!

100 Crew Families have been Driving Thru the Gospels.  Read their reviews by clicking the banner below.


The Gospels {Drive Thru History® 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. http://adventureswithjude.com

Thursday, April 20, 2017

SpeedyPrep (A Homeschool Review Crew Review)


College is expensive, no matter where you go.  CLEP exams can provide an affordable way for strong students to demonstrate what they already know "test out" of nearly 33 different college-level courses.  Like all tests, though, it's better to be prepared.  SpeedyPrep is a test prep program that allows a student to review and practice for his exam(s).

When Luke graduated last spring, he decided he wanted to take a "Gap Year" before starting college. He wanted to travel with us last summer and fall, work in our family business, and just have a bit of a breather before diving back into studies.  Over the past few months, he has been gearing up to start school again.  We have an excellent four-year university nearby that partners with our county college, guaranteeing admission and full credit transfer to the four-year program for county college graduates with a 3.0 average.  Since completing the first two years at the county college would cost about half the four-year school's tuition, my checkbook agreed that this path made a lot of sense.  He's gotten most of the application process out of the way and is preparing to take the placement tests in the next few weeks. He took a practice test, and although he scored fairly well, he felt as though he still needed a refresher on some topics, especially in the advanced mathematics.  While this isn't the real focus of SpeedyPrep (his school requires students take the AccuPlacer), he thought it couldn't hurt to review sections on math with SpeedyPrep.  For that, he did do a little of the SpeedyPrep testing but focused more on the review videos to help him prepare, choosing to test/retest with online mock AccuPlacers to make sure he didn't get distracted.


However, Luke also is considering taking the CLEP exam for a few subjects, especially American History, to try to earn college credit that reflects the honors courses he took in high school.   With a price tag of  $80 for the CLEP exam vs. $99 per credit hour for the college of his choice's classes, my checkbook likes this plan, too. However, just the thought of just diving in and taking the test seemed a bit risky -- he might do well, but having no idea what to expect, a test prep program made sense.  SpeedyPrep prepares students to take the CLEP exam and guarantees passing if the student has completed between 90 and 100 percent of the program.  That seems like a good deal to me. Since he was the one heavily using the program, I asked him to write down his thoughts, so you'll see them interspersed through the review.

Personally, I  like the idea of the program.  It uses the Mastery Learning approach, where questions are repeated over and over; repeated exposure allows you to program an answer into your brain.  SpeedyPrep starts out with a fill-in-the-blank presentation...


...then after several correct attempts, the questions go to a multiple choice presentation, like an actual CLEP exam. From Luke:

As far a question variety goes, the majority of tests seem to be exact word-for-word questions, though order asked scrambled, across multiple takes with only a few interchanged questions. Of those interchanged questions however, a majority are merely a rephrased version of another question.  I think this is good, becasue you're memorizing the content, not the exact question.
However, in practicality, the fill-in-then-multiple-choice method was really frustrating for Luke.  The questions are extremely particular on spelling/usage.   Luke says:
When the question was a fill in blank question answer and involves a number, it counts answers incorrect if you use numerals instead of words (like 10th amendment vs tenth amendment). Most times fill in blank answers aren’t caps-sensitive, but are extremely spelling sensitive (like if you spell Vespucci as "Vaspucci", it will count it incorrect).
As he worked, I heard a lot of "I SAID THAT!!!" coming from his end of the couch.  He was mad that he knew the answer but wasn't getting credit for it.  He also was annoyed that if spelling doesn't count on the actual test (since it's multiple choice), did (for example) 10th vs. tenth amendment really matter, since he knew the final amendment of the Bill of Rights limited federal powers.  Yes, a name is important, but he felt that he was getting penalized for not being a good speller vs. being a good rememberer when ultimately it was the remembering that was important.  After getting a lot of questions "wrong," he was frustrated and switched over to the videos.  As a parent/teacher, I understand where SpeedyPrep is coming from, but Luke said if we hadn't been reviewing (and he wasn't forced to keep going), he'd say "I want to try something different."  We would both be frustrated because I'd watch him enter in correct answers, but have them marked wrong because of the program's semantics.  I think it would be great if there were a way to accept closely phonetical/synonymous answer options.

From Luke:

 While the videos, for the concepts covered, were brief yet thorough, I feel as though they were too short, either not having enough examples practiced, or core ideas to understand the lecture overlooked. Granted it is supposed to be merely a review of topics for students and not a "learning for first time" deal, if the student will be questioned about topic a, topic b, and topic c, then review topics a, b,  and c, not just a and b.  Going back to the tests that went with a video, I was surprised to see topics not covered in the videos.  I mostly knew the answers (or at least thought I did, until I found out I couldn't spell them "properly"), but sometimes there were questions about things we might not have studied really in depth when I took American History.  Sometimes I didn't get a review and just had to focus on memorizing the answer.

Something as a parent I found frustrating was that the progress bar was not intuitive. Progress bars show only count correct answers as progress.  I would see/hear Luke working, but there was no program-recorded effort.  I wish there had been a way to tell if it was that kid didn't do the work or if he didn't know the answers.  I would log in and see "last work, x days ago" and be thinking "WAIT.  I SAW him working on this yesterday.  I KNOW he's been working."



After being frustrated with the test section, he decided to watch the videos to review what he knew.  When Luke switched to reviewing videos, logins stopped counting.  As a parent trying to keep tabs on kiddo's progress, checking his progress online wasn't working, and it meant he had to work where I could see/hear him so that I could honestly say he was working.   If you were a paying-your-own-way adult working on this, it's no big deal -- it's all on you.  However, as a parent expecting kiddo to put forth effort (since I'm the one footing the bill), it involved more hovering than I'd expect to need for a high school student.

When we were presented with this review, Crew Reviewers were told that SpeedyPrep's expectation is that three months of consistent study will provide enough review to pass the test, provided the student was at least 16 and had already (recently) completed the base course. I think if you are able to work on this daily, three months is sufficient.  Also, the closer you are to the end of the course you studied, the less review you have.  However, if you're looking to "go back" and fill in CLEP exams after a little while (for example, as a non-traditional adult student), or if you're on the "part-time/night school" plan, you probably will need a bit longer.  Luke generally worked for about an hour at a time, three days a week, for six weeks, but is nowhere near ready to take his tests. I expect he'll probably take closer to the full six months that SpeedyPrep provided reviewers with.

Overall, I think the content of SpeedyPrep is good, and with a (conditional) money-back guarantee, it's worth using.  I definitely plan to have Luke continue working with the program while he studies for the CLEP exam. However, the mechanics of the program were what we struggled with.  It's a program that I would recommend, though with reservations.

To learn what other Crew Members thought of SpeedyPrep, click the banner below.


College Level Examination Program Preparation {SpeedyPrep 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. http://adventureswithjude.com

Tuesday, April 18, 2017

Apologia: Readers in Residence (Homeschool Review Crew)

Readers in Residence Volume 1 - Sleuth is a new offering from Apologia Educational Ministries. For our review, we received the "full set" of books for the program (both the consumable/single-use student work/text along with the Answer Key).This new, literature-based curriculum can be used as a standalone reading/literature program, or in conjunction with Apologia's Writers in Residence to create a full (one year) Language Arts program. The target reading/comprehension level for the program is 4th grade, though it is also appropriate for older students.


Apologia: Reader's in Residence (Homeschool Review Crew)

Readers in Residence uses classic literature books (Sarah, Plain and Tall, Charlotte's Web, and Because of Winn-Dixie) as the basis for the instruction. Students are also expected to read a book from each of the chosen works' genre (i.e., a second historical fiction, etc.)   Skills developed through exploring these titles include:

-general reading comprehension/plot awareness
-inference
-vocab from context clues
-literary features: personification, hyperbole, metaphor/simile
-use of grammar and punctuation to achieve effects

The answer key includes fixed replies (i.e., facts about the characters/plot, the correct answer of "choose simile or metaphor for this sentence," etc.) as well as suggested/appropriate answers for open-ended questions ("What do you think...," "Why did she..." etc.)  While I generally read the books I assign to Jude, I appreciated both styles of answers because here, I hadn't read the book in a few years.  I've found that it helps Jude to understand more when he's able to focus more on the story (characters and plot) and less on actually decoding the words, so usually we read the books aloud as he works through a literature study.  To work on his independent reading skills, I expect him to read an age/grade level appropriate book for about 30 minutes each day.   I had assigned him Because of Winn-Dixie as independent reading just before we received this program to review, so while I did read it when we began the RIR program, Jude started the first few lessons before I had a chance to catch up.

Apologia: Reader's in Residence Unit textbook

I'm going to admit up front that overall this program didn't really work well for Jude, for a few reasons.

First, to be successful with the program, you need to start at the very beginning. Each new lesson builds on prior ones; often there are references back to the earlier books.  We had just finished reading Charlotte's Web using his regular literature program (different publisher), so rather than risk losing his interest by backtracking and repeating the book, we decided to dive in with Because of Winn-Dixie, the third book Readers in Residence studies.  There were a few places where I needed to adjust the assignment/discussion.  When they referenced the characters and/or story in Charlotte's Web, we were able to make most the connections, but since he hasn't read Sarah Plain and Tall, anything about that book we needed to skip over.  It leaves Jude with a lot of gaps with this program.

Note: You will need to get the books studied on your own; they are not available directly from Apologia.  Also, specific editions are required - for example, you will need the 60th-anniversary edition (2012) of Charlotte's Web that contains Kate DiCamillo's foreword. If you are purchasing the book new, or have a newer library version, this shouldn't be an issue. However, our copy is from a 2006 printing - according to Amazon, I purchased it in 2008, back when Luke was Jude's age.  Again, we were left with a gap because our book didn't contain this.  You can find out the book titles needed by clicking through to download  the Table of Contents (a 40-page sample of the program is available through a free download as well), but I think it would be much easier to have the titles/editions listed on the program's "purchase here" page(s).

Second, each section teaches different literary elements and forms.   For example,  Unit 1 (Sarah...) addresses character development, and theme, while Unit 2 (Charlotte's Web) discusses the components of plot (rising/falling action, climax, etc.).  Unit 3 (...Winn-Dixie) builds on both of these and adds the story's setting as a way for the author to propel the plot.  Justs being familiar with the plot of one (i.e., what happens) isn't enough to be able to work efficiently with the next because Jude didn't have a good grasp of the terms (they are presented in a different way with his usual program.)  Jude did well with newly introduced concepts but struggled with when they were "revisited" from earlier in the book.

Apologia: Reader's in Residence Literary assessment workbork


Overall, I felt the program was quite thorough with what it presented.  Each presented book takes about six weeks to work through, and then allows time and structure for studying the "Your Choice" books.  I'm definitely considering it for Damien because I like that it ties books together, so the student begins to see something pointed out in an "easier" book, and then it appears again later.  For example, every story in existence follows the same concept of rising action-climax-falling action, and you'll want to know that for later as books get more complex - this is something that I find Matthew struggling with because he doesn't have a sound basis of how to find these in a story.  However, he would be starting the program at the beginning (he sat with us as we read Charlotte's Web aloud, but didn't do a formal literature study like Jude did), and I think that would make a huge difference in the ability to do more than answer the fact-based "what happened in this chapter" questions.  I don't believe this is a program you can switch to mid-year because you want to do a unit study that includes a particular title.  You have to commit to the entire study, not just a section of it.

Fifty families have been reading with Apologia's Readers in Residence program.  Click the banner below to find out their experiences.


Readers in Residence Volume 1 (Sleuth) {Apologia Educational Ministries 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. http://adventureswithjude.com

Wednesday, April 12, 2017

Banana Sharks

Rarely is there a day that passes that Damien doesn't either impress me or make me laugh.  One night, he managed to do both.

A few months ago, we signed up for a subscription with Kiwi Crates. The boys have really enjoyed the activities.  Damien was reading a booklet that came with a recent box and headed for the kitchen.  I'm never quite sure what to expect when I hear "Can somebody reach me a knife?" He had found a recipe that he could have with minimal adapting - Banana Sharks!

He needed a little help, but not much -- mostly just with trying to not cut the banana too much.  He did an awesome job assembling.



How to make your own Banana Shark:

1. Peel the banana and cut a slice from the bottom curve of the banana - you're just going to "level" it a little.

2. Slice a 1" slit in one end of the banana. Turn the piece you cut off sideways, and slip into the cut to make the tail fin.

3. Slice a 1/4" slit in the other end of the banana, and gently wiggle your knife to open the "mouth."  Add miniature chocolate chips to make the shark's eyes.  (Turn them upside down and stuff the pointy end in first - you don't need to push so hard to make them stick.)

4. Slice a strawberry into 1/4" slices.  These will be fins - use toothpicks to secure one slice to either side about 1/3 of the way back from the mouth end, and one on the top for the shark's dorsal fin.

Repeat to make one for your sister.



After I barely got past saying "Awww..." because he made one for Celia, I saw this plate.



Apparently, this shark liked Damien's bacon.  Sharks are carnivores, after all.



©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. http://adventureswithjude.com

Friday, April 7, 2017

Enough (five minute friday)


This is an ironic prompt.  I like writing these "five minute" posts, to challenge myself in the same way I'll say to the boys, "You have five minutes to think, and then five minutes to write your answer."  I think "quick" writing is good practice, and forces you to become more intentional and mindful, because you know you don't have the time to go back and revise multiple drafts.  It also helps you learn to write from the gut, and not overthink.

As I sat composing my thoughts, I truly had ideas on writing about "having enough" or "being enough".  However, my essay got refocused by how many times I said, "ENOUGH!" to boys that were intentionally pushing each other's buttons.

So when I started writing, I started paying attention.

ENOUGH, sit still. Turn around to the table.

I said stop yelling.  My ears have had enough.

ENOUGH, stop singing.  Do your spelling.

That's ENOUGH, leave your brother alone.

ENOUGH!!!  Mind your own business and DO. YOUR. OWN. WORK.

I've spent half of the five minutes allotted to this "five minutes" saying, "ENOUGH!" and redirecting people back to their work.  Apparently, I need a new directive, because "enough" isn't very effective.

Can you tell that I have had enough?


(For the record, there were sixteen redirects in five minutes.  No wonder I feel like I get nowhere each day.)



Five Minute Friday is a weekly event. Our hostess, Kate chooses a single word to start the free-writing process - this week, it's enough. It's not about revising your thoughts to perfection, it's about taking 5 minutes to just put it all out there. New writers and readers are always welcome.


©2012- 2017 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. http://adventureswithjude.com

Wednesday, April 5, 2017

Shepherd, Potter, Spy - and the Star Namer (Homeschool Review Crew)


As an avid historical fiction reader, I looked forward to reading and reviewing Shepherd, Potter, Spy–and the Star Namer by Peggy Consolver - Author.   One of my peeves in a historical book is the accuracy of an author's portrayal of the era.  I don't get bogged down in the minutiae of the facts, but I can't stand when a Duke of the British Regency says "OK, Mom," or an 1880s mail-order-bride travels to meet a groom who had "proved up" his land on a Texas homestead.  I find errors like these fatally distracting from the story because it ruins the whole sense of "I know this isn't a true story, but it could be."  I am impressed with the historical background included in this story.  Of course, Old Testament Canaan history isn't quite as readily available for Google fact-checking, but it's obvious to me that Mrs. Consolver has done her research, from location to character names and jobs.  In preparing this review, I learned that she was part of an archaeological excavation team that worked in Khiret el-Maqatir, Israel -- known in the Old Testament as Ai. While this book ultimately is a work of historical fiction, the characters and plot seem eminently plausible because she has taken care to weave known facts into the story.

As a parent, one thing I want my children to understand is that there are always at least two sides to every story.  Luke and I are both avid Wicked fans, and as we have studied a particular historical event, we'll look at each other and quote from the musical about what gets known as history: "It's all in which label is able to persist."  The "label" and story about the post-Exodus return to Canaan that has mostly persisted since Biblical times has been that of the Israelite side.  Many of the events in the story come from the Old Testament, passed down in the books of Exodus and Joshua. I really liked that this story wasn't a retelling of the Israelite side, but rather contemplates the story of the Gibeonites from the view of one of their own. Many of the events come from the Old Testament (from the books of Exodus and Joshua).  While some of the action occurs in the Hebrew camp, Mrs. Consolver looks at the story from a different perspective, embedding us with the Gibeonites for this story.  She does an excellent job in providing a prospective view from the fearful inhabitants of Gibeon, watching the advancing Israelites.  When readers know the outcome already, it's easy to become lax and show the losing side as weak, but Mrs. Consolver didn't allow the ending to propel the story. I could imagine the fear and uncertainty that the characters were living with during the time.

Sites related to the story of the Hebrews and Gibeonites.
Source: PeggyConsolver.com

Keshub is the central the Gibeonite protagonist, is a 13-year-old shepherd boy who is the fifth son. The story begins with him wondering how he can be noticed as more than just "somebody's little brother."  One brother is a master potter, like their father; another eagerly follows in their footsteps as a novice.  Another brother is a trader, while still another has become a skilled warrior and eventually a spy.  Keshub is in search of his own way, and the story becomes a coming-of-age tale, sharing how he finds his niche in the Gibeonite treaty with Joshua and the impending clash with the Amorites.  Keshub finds himself a shepherd at the beginning of the story, an aide to his Uncle Yaakoub selling pottery in Jericho, and ultimately a bit of a youth-of-all-requests, leading to a stint spying on the Hebrews.

The "Star Namer" is not Keshub, but a god-like higher power.  I think this inclusion adds to the idea that the content of history books may boil down to winners and losers, but it's not countries but people that are fighting.  Keshub sees this group of Israelites bearing down on them, but at times wonders are they so different in what causes this war?  Is it possible that the power they call the Star-Namer is the same as the one that the Israelites believe to be the stars' Creator? I think this is a real idea that is lacking in the us-vs-them, black and white mindset of society today, and the book raises a thought-filled question.


There is a companion study guide for this book, Digging Deeper into HIStory, available as a separate purchase from the author's website. (There is a downloadable free sample available as well.)  It can be used by any reader, from the individual student to a larger Sunday Schools/Youth Groups class to study details of Shepherd, Potter, Spy -- and the Star Namer itself, the Biblical accounts of the Gibeonites, and learning more about the animals and tools mentioned in the story.  There is also a page of links to accompanying maps and research that coordinate with the book and study guide available here.   There is a page of discussion questions at the end of the novel, but they are more of a way of guiding personal response to events, rather than a genuine discussion of the events.


I have to admit, however, that as much as I enjoyed the concept of the book, I really struggled with the book itself.  It's a story you need to be able to pay attention to, or you're going to lose the plot.  I originally had intended to read it myself, albeit quickly as more of a pre-read, and then read it aloud with the boys.  We usually do a chapter or two of a read-aloud daily, and since the chapters in the story average about eight (very full, smallish type) pages each, it seemed doable.  However, my first skim-through had me going back and re-reading, and re-re-reading, and re-re-reading to be able to keep people and places straight.  I think that perhaps here, the accuracy got in its own way.  The names of the people and places were so accurate to the locale and foreign to me that I felt like I almost needed a scorecard.  I found that two, perhaps three, chapters at one time was my limit, or else I began to mix everything up again.  For me, it's definitely a "read-for-learning" book, not a "read because you have a few minutes free as you sit in the car waiting for the kids to come out of Karate. Even though Keshub is only thirteen, leading you to believe that this is about a middle-grades-aged person, the content is really far more dense for that group.  I wonder if having the study guide would have made the reading easier (it was not part of the review).

 Back to the idea of the story presenting shades of gray.  Because of this, this book is something that I would consider for a high school age or adult reader, to facilitate critical thinking and discussion, especially in the context of a larger Bible study.  A good friend of ours has mentioned that her church will hold book/Bible studies that are stand-alone events but also build upon/set up the next study in a series.  I think this story would be a good candidate for something like that. In the Bible, the Gideonites are descendants of Noah's son, Ham.  This line was cursed by Noah because of Ham's actions.  We actually recently have finished another fictional story based on the Bible, and this story shows the struggle the very human Noah had with the curse.  He knew what his son had done was wrong, yet he wasn't intrinsically weak of character.  The Biblical Israelites, descended from Shem, were in Canaan to take back the land from Ham's descendants, so it makes sense to see that there is parallel-ish thinking -- they descended from the same patriarch many generations before.  Their beliefs were corrupted from the original, but they weren't far off.  I think using this book would make an interesting eight or even twelve session group study.  A long-term study would allow the reader to read and discuss the book a few chapters at a time, and potentially delve into the difference between absolute right and wrong, and the idea of "sort of right, sort of wrong, but being sort of wrong doesn't make you all bad."   This book has certainly given me an opportunity to look at life from more than one viewpoint.

80 families have been reading Shepherd, Potter, Spy - and the Star Namer. To read other reviews, please click the banner below.


Shepherd, Potter, Spy--and the Star Namer {Peggy Consolver 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. http://adventureswithjude.com

Tuesday, April 4, 2017

Memoria Press: The Iliad & The Odessy (Homeschool Review Crew)


Back when we withdrew Matthew from private school, if you had asked me, "How does your kid learn?" I'd have said, "I have no clue, but I can say that whatever he's doing in school isn't working."  I think we've tried nearly every "method" out there in the last three years. It seems that video-based vs. read-the-textbook presentations have been better for him, but when it comes to literature, there's really not a way to get around reading the book.  After a lot of trial and error, we've found that Jude has really taken to a classical style of learning; he responds well to the structure and pattern of the style. Memoria Press has become a favorite of ours for literature studies, and we were given the opportunity for Matthew to work with their Iliad and Odyssey Complete Set.  This package contains a copy of the literary work as translated by Samuel Butler, a Student Guide, a Teacher's Guide, and a DVD lecture series set for each work.  I decided it was worth trying. With luck, it would turn into a credit-worthy literature study; at worst, we'd know that this style wasn't for him.  Our plan was to begin with The Iliad and then eventually move on to The Odyssey if the first program worked for him.  I skimmed ahead to be able to review the series, but in the interest of him keeping plots straight, he stuck to one program.



I suppose since he and Jude are very much alike, I shouldn't be too surprised by how well he's taken to Memoria's style,  but since literature studies have been a nightmare for him, I wasn't sure how well it would go. This particular program combines the literary work, a Student Guide workbook, and a video lecture that helps explain the highlights, lowlights, and important points of the story.   Memoria Press recommends this program for students in grades 7 through 12; I think most students, especially older high schoolers,  could do this study with minimal parent assistance.  However, although Matthew is in 10th grade, he isn't "most" students.  He has pretty severe ADHD and needs very frequent redirection.  I've sat with him to work on this, partly because it was a review program, but mostly because I wanted to make sure he was fully engaged in the lessons.  He has done well with the routine and structure, but still sometimes needs guidance staying on task.

The Iliad (and The Odyssey) is divided into "books" rather than chapters.  Instructor Sean Brooks explains during one of the videos that this is because the original epic was not divided into chapters, but was too long for a single scroll.  The story was broken into what fit on each scroll, with each scroll being called a "Book." Memoria Press uses a translation by Samuel Butler, and each Book is about 15 to 25 pages.  For Matthew, that's a lot of reading at any one time.


When we first started reading, based on his answers in the Student Guide, he obviously was merely flipping pages and not absorbing anything.  I know Jude and Damien understand books more readily if they are read aloud. When I need to be sure that they are actually reading and not skimming, I make them read aloud, but sometimes it's better if I read aloud because then they can focus on the content and less on the decoding.  We began reading out loud, taking turns with pages, until I realized his reading skills are not what I believed they were.  I began doing all the reading so he could focus on content.  After three books of reading aloud, he started reading on his own, because he wanted to know what happened next and he was tired of waiting for me.  (He works independently earlier in the day, while I'm helping the younger boys, and then we tend to work later in the afternoon or into the evenings.)  I think once he got into the story, he realized he was beginning to enjoy it.  Based on the answers to his questions and discussing the book with him, it's clear that he's reading for content, not just to say "Yeah, I read it," and has barely skimmed the text, and he's retaining what he has read.  We've continued working together with the DVD lecture, but, after reading aloud from three or four books each day for the younger boys, my voice appreciates being able for each of us to read quietly.  I  must admit, though, after the first few books, I'm eager to find out what happens next.

I think the video has made a real difference for Matthew in what he's been able to understand. The lecture series is divided by the corresponding books, and each one runs about 30 to 45 minutes.  It usually takes us closer to twice that to work through a video, because he's often stopping to take notes (he can't write and catch the next bit of information), or stopping to underline key passages in his book.  Mr. Brooks does a thorough job of explaining the story, helping to clarify not just the "what's going on," but the why and the back stories of the culture. As Matthew takes notes and highlights passages, it's definitely helpful that he isn't jumping back and forth with ideas.



Additionally, there are pen-and-ink drawings interspersed through the book.  Often when discussing a passage, a nearby illustration appears on the video screen.  Matthew and I both appreciate this because it helps give a visual cue of where in the book the discussion is focused.  Matthew isn't wasting time trying to figure out where in the story the discussion is, and then trying to go back and forth between book and video.



Rather than leaving Matthew to try to figure out everything from context clues, it has been a benefit for him to have a teacher pointing out key ideas, passages, events, etc.  I think the video lectures have made a big difference in how he has learned to like the story.  He's been working on another Memoria Press literature study (Poetry and Short Stories: American Literature) and asked me if there was a video to go with it.  I wish there were!  I definitely notice a difference in his ability to connect ideas - once he has been given one concept from the lecture, he has been able to find that repeats of it relatively easily, because he understands how Homer presents that idea.  Even though he wishes there was a video guide for that study, he has gotten better because he's gained confidence in his ability to discern ideas from the text.  He's starting to pick up ideas from The Iliad, and when they are confirmed in the video, he visibly puffs up that he got it.  I think it's allowing him to let himself try with the other study -- he doesn't feel like he's completely inept.

The Student Guide workbook contains a lot of guidance for learning beyond the questions.  Principal characters in that specific book, specific quotes, and both comprehension and discussion questions are part of each section.  Also, Appendix tables containing summaries of main characters, military vocabulary, etc. help the student understand the players in the story.  As a parent/teacher, I appreciate the way the Teacher's Guide is arranged.


It mirrors the Student Guide, so there's no flipping around looking for corresponding pages.  There are notes to help guide discussions with the students, but also to help the students prepare for the included quizzes and exams.  I think if you have a student that remembers lots of information and can sort through it easily when presented with an exam, then just reading/studying the Student Guide is sufficient. However, Matthew definitely needs help focusing. Knowing that there were ten characters in a book but only four that he'd have to know exactly who they are for the test helped him not be so overwhelmed.  I appreciate being able to check his answers for each portion, and then saying, "Ok, now make your index cards, using question numbers 1, 4, and 9, and the characters <name, name, and name>.  It makes studying for the cumulative tests (answer keys provided, thank you!) less overwhelming for him.



I've been allotting about five school days for each book.  On Day 1 and/or 2, Matthew reads the assigned book.  On Day 2, we watch the DVD and take notes/highlight passages in the book.  On Day 3, he does the accompanying questions in the student guide, which we review on Day 4.  He then works on creating a study guide for characters, questions, and quotations that are pertinent to upcoming quizzes and tests.   Day 5 has become a "what's left?" day; sometimes he's working on finishing the workbook/notecards; sometimes it has become a test/quiz/write essays day.  If he's managed to get things done a little faster, he gets a day off.  (There's motivation, eh?)  In all, we spend about 5-6 hours on each book.

In the interest of keeping his brain from exploding, we opted to do one work at a time.  Therefore, since he hasn't gotten to working on The Odyssey, I read a little of the book, looked through the guides, and watched a few of the videos.  I'm really looking forward to when we get to this one. The guides and videos repeat the same patterns/content as those for The Iliad.


Although the set is "only" two literary works, between the material presented and the time/effort involved, I'm comfortable considering this set equivalent to a full literature credit for Matthew. Since he hs already nearly completed his 10th-grade literature course, I'm planning on continuing on with the curriculum and crediting it as Grade 11 literature. Having worked through the program for several weeks now, I really think that this particular program is better suited to high school students.  After running several sections of the text through an online scorer, it averages to an 11th-grade reading level.



While I think a younger student could manage the program, I think that just reading this particular translation/text with an average middle school/junior high student could be overwhelming.  Celia is in 7th grade, and while she's an above-average reader, she's definitely not anywhere near ready for this!  If she chooses to be homeschooled for high school, I would definitely consider this again for her as a sophomore or junior literature course, but I certainly wouldn't choose it for right now. The student workbooks are consumable, so to re-use this set with her, I'd need to purchase at least those items.  We'd also need to buy another copy of The Iliad (and presumably, The Odyssey) since Matthew marked this one up with his notes.  This isn't too much of a re-investment; the complete set costs $135, and re-purchasing the student's books needed would run about $48 for both.

I know, $135 seems kind of steep, compared to the cost of just the books, but honestly, I really think the videos are crucial.  I think these make the difference in the program from being "just another read the book" study.  They definitely have helped Matthew, but I've even found them helpful for me personally. While I know the basic stories of The Iliad (and The Odyssey) from "picture-book-ized" retellings, I can't say I've ever said to myself, "Hey, why don't you sit down and read the full stories for fun?" The books are at times overwhelming, and Mr. Brooks even admits when there is something coming up that is going to be a bit of a chore to read.  I think after Book II I'd have given up.  However, the content of the lectures has really made them seem more accessible and enjoyable. These epics were originally meant to be recited as part of Greek history so there would be an understanding of glory, honor, and the role of the Greek gods.  I think it's probably akin to the different between reading a Shakespearean play and seeing it on stage - it just is so much more understandable when it's not just words on a page.  I wish Memoria Press had more studies like this!

It's been interesting working with Matthew; upon learning about Achilles' weak spot, he remarked, "So...you can shoot him in the head or chest, and he's fine, but if he steps on a Lego, he's done."  Having stepped on a few Legos in my day, I could only laugh and (mostly) agree.  I asked Matthew what did he think of the program, and he said, "Pretty good."  Thanks, kid...could you give me a few more words?  He decided on, "I like it because the DVDs give me more depth on the Greek history.  All I remember from history is the Trojan horse, so I kind of like learning about what happened before the horse invaded.  I like that it tells me what's going to be on the tests, so I know what to study.  I don't mind learning about other stuff, because it's important, but it's a lot to remember, so it's good to know what's super important and what's normal important.  I think the instructor's pretty funny, too.  He's not boring, and I feel like he really likes what he's talking about."   I think we've finally found at least one program that will count for 11th grade that won't lead to tears on either part. I call that a win.


Crew members have been exploring three programs from Memoria Press: The Iliad and Odyssey (Complete Set),  First Form Greek (Complete Set), and The Story of the Thirteen Colonies and the Great Republic Complete Set/200 Questions About American History Set.  To read reviews of these, click the banner below.

First Form Greek, Iliad/Odyssey and American History {Memoria Press 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. http://adventureswithjude.com
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