Monday, April 2, 2018

Creation Illustrated Unit Study (Homeschool Review Crew)

The Crew offered us the opportunity to review two nature-based unit study programs from Creation Illustrated.  The first was called Snow and the second was Pine Trees.  They are two of eight unit studies that the company currently offers.  Snow goes with the Winter 2018 edition of Creation Illustrated magazine, while Pine Trees can be found in the Fall 2018 volume.  (Note: Links are to digital versions of the magazine.)

The Unit Studies

I have a love-hate relationship with unit studies. I love the concept.  I also have kids who tend to latch onto ideas and run ultramarathons with them.  (Sometimes I wonder how Luke could not have one the science fair in 8th grade.  They asked an Aspie child to explain the mechanics of paper airplanes. I wouldn't have been surprised if they offered him the medal just to stop talking!) I'm always excited to start a unit study and really dig into a topic. The part I struggle with is that by the end I'm usually burnt out and over the concepts, and tired from having to gather up the information and supplies we need.  I often feel very discombobulated by the end -- like we've done a lot of work, but haven't much to show for it.  I think I actually feel differently about the ending of these, for several reasons.

I opened our PDF download of Intricacies of Snow and found there were a lot of embedded links to video and text resources. YAY!!  With these links, the study is almost entirely self-contained.  The exceptions are a few physical items, like a Bible resource, the materials to make snow crystals from Borax, etc.

The studies are in a "notebooking" format.  Another point in their favor.  I've seen so many lapbooking-style studies, and I think sometimes that adds to my sense of "Aren't we done this yet?" because there's so much cutting and pasting to them.  Printing these particular studies as a whole didn't make sense because of so many hyperlinked resources, so we wound up using them from the computer and a composition notebook for the writing.  (Even if you print the PDF out and place it in a binder, you'll need some looseleaf for some of the assignments.)

The only thing to watch out for, however, is if you give your child access to the PDF, he also has access to the answer key.  Jude generally is pretty good at leaving those alone, but some of my other kiddos have not been.  It's definitely tempting having the answers right there! I do like that those pages are pink, not white. It makes them easy to find when I'm looking for the answer, and also easy for me to spot from across the room if someone is taking an unauthorized peek.

When we started this, we were coming to the end of a fairly low-snow winter. The line between "north and west" and "south and east" is generally right at the edge of our township.  When Philadelphia gets snow, we got freezing rain.  When the shore points get pounded with snow, we got more ice.  It also was nearing the equinox, when the sun angle is about the same as late September.   Snow that falls this late in the season doesn't usually stick to the ground.  But lucky for us - and to prove God has a sense of humor - as we worked we got pounded with a slightly east-of-normal nor'easter that left us almost eight inches of the white stuff! It gave us the perfect opportunity to get out there and study it first hand!

Note: A few of the activities are better if you do have some snow to study. However, if you are studying this in a warmer season or climate, you won't miss out on much, just studying some snowflakes in person. You can easily YouTube videos of snow to re-create everything except direct observation.

The purchase page says the target age is grades 3 through 8, but the Snow and Pine Trees studies each specifically said it was primarily for students in grades 5 through 8.  I think there are some things that younger students might be able to tag along with, like watching the included videos, taking turns reading the Bible verses, etc. An older elementary student might even be able to keep up with the science sections.  However, the math is definitely a bigger-kid section, as is vocabulary.   Because it's so brief, and not really something that, as a curriculum, can be revisited again and again, I'd reserve it for the older kids.

This unit study uses KJV references for the Bible section.  As Catholics, we use the NABRE translation, so when the boys need to look something up, we generally just use our Bible rather than looking up an online King James Bible.  The actual differences in word translation aren't so much of a problem... i.e., "snowy day vs. time of snow," and you get the same idea with clothing vs. raiment being "white as snow."  However, you may find that the particular chapter/verse passages may not align. Here in Psalm 57, you can find references to snow regardless of translation, just not in the exact same spot.  The study asks the student to read Psalm 51:7, which in the KJV translation is:
Purge me with hyssop, and I shall be clean: wash me, and I shall be whiter than snow.
However, Psalm 51:7 in the NABRE is:
Behold, I was born in guilt, in sin my mother conceived me.
and Jude needed to read down to verse 9 for the "snow" reference:
Cleanse me with hyssop, that I may be pure; wash me, and I will be whiter than snow. 
Theologically, it's the same concept, but it's not the same Bible location. I often need to adapt curriculum when there are Bible translations involved, so it's not something new that would keep me from using the program. However, it is something to keep in mind that I need to address, either before I hand over the packet or to remind kiddo, "If you don't find it right there, read a couple verses on either side and come get me if you can't find it nearby."

Another reason to look ahead if you're using a different translation: you also may not find the answer at all!  In Job 9:30 from the NABRE, it says:
If I should wash myself with soap and cleanse my hands with lye.
with no mention of snow at all.  We googled the KJV Version:
If I wash myself with snow water, and cleanse my hands with soap. 

The writing activity assumes your child knows how to write an essay.  Jude is working his way up to multi-paragraphs, so we focused on a single paragraph about his favorite snow activity: making snow angels.

While we've been working on the Snow unit study, I peeked ahead at the Pine Tree unit study we also received.  It is nearly the exact same roster of activities, including Bible study, vocabulary, geography, math, and writing exercises.  (Again, check the Bible verses if you're not using KJV because there's at least one that I've found (so far) that the NABRE translation differs enough that kiddo can't answer the question.)  Snow's math focuses on multiplication and fractions, but Pine Tree's math section explores the concepts of writing equations and the Fibonacci sequence.  I love that it explores so many different types of pine trees.  In our travels, we've seen everything from the white pines we planted on our property line as a windscreen to the lodgepole pines that top the mountains at Yellowstone. I think pine trees are a great way to study God -- pines are as similar yet as unique as all of His Children.  I'm looking forward to doing this one.

Creation Illustrated Magazine

Each edition of the magazine focuses on finding how creation is illustrated "In Nature,"  "In Scripture," and "In Living."  The publisher's goal is to provide a balance of mental, spiritual, and physical renewal in each month's offering.  While Creation Illustrated is appropriate for all audiences, it is very homeschooler friendly, with discussion questions at the end of the magazine for several of the articles.

Each volume also features coloring, photo, and poetry contests. The article we read for our Unit Study, "The Intricacy of Snow" by Brandy Dixon, was from the Winter 2018 edition.

I was impressed because this article used science to explain God, rather than God to explain science.   As Catholics with a belief in theistic evolution, sometimes I find that creation-based studies are almost (or sometimes wholly) bludgeoning Creationist.  Dixon's article beautifully balanced God's presence and work in all things with the scientific explanation for them.  For example, we know that at the center of a snowflake is a dirt particle that forms something for the ice crystals to seed against.  However, rather than going on about how God was so smart in how He got the snowflakes started, she compares that dust speck that to the unfortunate sinful nature of humans.  She goes on to examine this "dirty particle" that through layers and layers of something else (ice for the snowflake, God's grace for us humans), we wind up with a one-of-a-kind work of art.

One thing I noticed by reading through the magazine is that while the one article is mentioned in the Unit Study, there was an explanation of snow on page 66 that was not part of the unit study.  It described three reasons God sends snowstorms: to correct, for the land, and for mercy.  I noticed that the Bible verses Jude read and studied were among those chosen to support these reasons. I wish this article had been included as a resource.

Others have called it, "The Christian answer to National Geographic," and I think that's a fair assessment.  Articles are researched, written, and illustrated well.  The major articles center around four major topics:

  • Creation Up Close - Seeing God's work, plan, and love in a specific part of His creation
  • Re-Creation and Restoration Outdoors explores how God uses nature to bring us back to Him
  • Creatures Near and Dear to Us - God's way of designing animals mimics how He cares for us (plus, the "aww, so cute!" factor!)
  • The Creation Week - a sequential study of the earth in the context of the story of Creation.  
These Creation Week articles are more clearly Creationist and mention/discredit gaps in evolutionary theory.  However, I think it deftly handled the conversion of Antony Flew. It also prompted me to google Flew, so points for motivating curiosity!  He was a British philosopher who ascribed to an "atheist until somebody can prove God exists" mindset.  His studies converted him to deism when he realized that there may be scientific proof of evolution, but there are some principles that simply cannot be explained other than" the hand of God was involved."  I think this describes our family's philosophy well, so I'm comfortable sharing these with the kids without having to do too much "Well, this is how some think, but we believe something different..." I can just say, "This is a well-written article, read it."

After reading both issues of Creation Illustrated that we had access to, I am seriously considering a subscription for our family.  My only complaint about the digital version of Creation Illustrated is the print is tiny.  I tried to zoom in and make it easier for us to read, but then it seemed to slide all over the screen, or the page turned too easily.  Taking screenshots and enlarging was impractical as well - you can see how blurry the text got by looking back at the screenshot of the discussion questions above.  I think if you were only using the magazine to complete the unit study, it would work fine, as long as you are patient.  If you're interested in reading and using the magazine on a regular basis (it publishes quarterly),  I would really recommend springing for a subscription to the print edition. 

I'm really impressed with these two unit studies. They're not in-depth enough to teach a language arts math, science, or "how to research a topic" concept on a middle school level, but they're a well-thought, well-organized way for a child to practice any of these skills he has learned.  The Spring Edition of the magazine will be available soon and will be accompanied by a new, ninth unit study on BUTTERFLIES!  These are some fantastic creatures, and after working with these two unit studies, I'm excited about this new release.

Other crew members have been working with these unit studies.  Click the banner below to read their reviews!

Creation Illustrated Unit Studies {Creation Illustrated Reviews}

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Sunday, April 1, 2018

A Day for Rejoicing

I hate April Fool's Day.

The grown-up holding the dog's leash is my "other mother," Mrs. Bagatta.  (I'm the kid on the far right, and the other two are Mrs. B.'s actual daughters. Judging by our hair, I'm guessing this picture was taken in 1988.)  We grew up across the street from each other, and we girls lived in each others' houses.

I am convinced the woman could save the world and patch up all its arguments with a stick of butter.  Whenever there were kid squabbles, she'd call to borrow a stick of butter and send a daughter for it, forcing kids to interact.  By the time the butter made it from fridge to the door, friendships were fixed, and all was right with the neighborhood.

On April 1, 1992, God called Mrs. B home to Him.  Worst April Fool's joke EVER.  It's not funny.  At all.

Since then, 26 Easter Sundays have come and gone.  We've had some close to April 1st, but never on April 1.  But this year, Easter Sunday falls on the anniversary of her death.  I'll grant you that Easter has a 33-date span that it can land on, but I was thinking about how it took so long for her home-going day to coincide with Resurrection Day. 

It's been a long time marking April 1st as a day of sadness.  Sure, we know on Easter we celebrate the risen Jesus and the hope of our own resurrections, but it's hard to remember that hope on the days that leave you feeling at the bottom of the pit.  But this year, how can I be sad? We're celebrating the Resurrection! It's the day to sing of the triumph over death, and only by dying can we enter Eternal Life.

Today, I will rejoice in the Resurrection and the promise of eternal life for those who have gone before, especially Mrs. Bagatta.  I am reassured that I will see her in heaven one day.  I'll even bring the butter. 

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Friday, March 30, 2018

Our Way of the Cross

This week was the Living Stations presentation at Celia's school.  The 8th grade plays the major roles, with 7th graders taking the supporting ones.  This is a tradition that began years ago before the school even existed.  ECA opened in response to the kids' former school being closed by the Diocese, but the celebration of Jesus' Death and Resurrection was too important to leave behind.  This year marked the sixth ECA presentation and the final one our family would participate in.

Celia was chosen to begin the service with a violin piece entitled Via Dolorosa. The complete composition is about four minutes long, so she and her music teacher rearranged it to be a more practical length for the school presentation.

 Celia asked me if I was planning to attend Stations.  I said of course I was! She was glad because it meant she could stash her palm fronds with me.  When she was done playing, I could trade her those for her violin and bow...and of course, take her violin home with me.  

Moms live to serve, right?

I did videotape her playing, but she was frustrated with two missed notes -- the edge of her veil got caught in a string.  Ever the perfectionist, she played the piece again so I could share it.

Via Dolorosa
Music by Billy Sprague and Niles Borop
Arr. C. Falciani and K. Jeffers

The devotion has always followed  Everyone's Way of the Cross,  written by Clarence Enzler. It's one of my favorites and invites self-reflection.  I think most Stations of the Cross feel as if the participants are watching a bit apart, but with these, the congregation is invited to experience each Station personally, and see how Jesus' trials are not so unlike our own.  After a short retelling and reenactment of the stories of Palm Sunday, The Last Supper, and The Betrayal, the student portraying Jesus  begins:

These fourteen steps that you are about to walk,
 you do not take alone. 
I walk with you.
Though you are you, and I am I,  
Yet we are truly one.

As the children go through the stations, each participates in a different way.  Being the student chosen for the role of Jesus is an honor awarded for a combination of talent, being the right size to fit the cross, and bravery.  (Not only is Jesus one of the few speaking roles, but it also involves ultimately standing in front of the school in nothing but a pair of basketball shorts.)

At the risk of sounding like I'm bragging, Luke was chosen as Jesus his eighth grade year.

I have to say that I was a bit distracted by my kid being hoisted up by a couple of other eighth graders. My prayers were more of the "Please don't drop him! Lord, don't let the cross slide..." variety, so as a mom, I appreciated Celia's major participation being over with at the start.  I could set my nerves behind me and have the opportunity to really focus on what the children were saying as they narrated the devotion.

With this particular devotional writing, when we listen to each Station, we can see how much our burdens are like the Cross. When we share another's sorrows, we carry Jesus' Cross with Him. At times, life's burdens overwhelm us, yet with God's help we stand again and go on.

When Celia joined the group, she was part of the "Women" that were along the road to Calvary.  They mourned his trials then, but would not listen before. The devotional invites us to be like Jesus and be kind even when met with those who would ridicule us.

This year, I feel like Lent has hurtled by.  This was only one hour out of forty times twenty-four hours, but I left feeling ready for Good Friday.  Now that I won't have these Stations each year, I've finally gotten myself a copy of the devotional. (I got the Kindle version so I can't lose it between now and next spring!)  I would recommend them to anyone who wants a way to meditate on the Way of the Cross and find the little, everyday ways to take up our Crosses with Him.

May you have a holy Good Friday, a Blessed Easter, and find Jesus in all of the little moments of life. 

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Wednesday, March 21, 2018

Home School in the Woods: A la Carte Games (Homeschool Review Crew)

Home School in the Woods  Á La Carte products

Every time I'm looking at history programs, I circle back to Home School in the Woods.  Lessons are presented in a lapbook form, not a textbook, and the information taught is well written.  I get excited, we dive in, and I'm inevitably disappointed because in my excitement over the content I forget about the work involved.  Lapbooks involve cutting and pasting, and often, for my kids, become more about being an art project than a way to learn history. They're no longer an independent project because they need help cutting tiny pieces or refocusing on the content. The printing is often a pain in the rear, too - lots of "print one page, change the paper, another page, new color," etc.  I keep wanting to love the full Lap-Paks, give them yet another try, and by day 4 or 5 invariably find myself saying, "What was I thinking?"

And now you're thinking, OK, so then why are you bothering to review the Á la Carte products? And not just one, but both Get Your Kicks on Route 66 File Folder Game and Westward, Ho! File Folder Game? Are you a glutton for punishment? Maybe, but hope springs eternal.  Here's my reasoning:

  • The Á la Carte items are not a full curriculum,  These two are 30-ish page projects, including game boards, markers, and Q & A cards.
  • The games are self-contained, so they take about 30-60 minutes to play.  
  • My hope is they will be a "sneaky way" for kids to learn without feeling like they're doing "more schoolwork." 

I chose these two because we have been on all of the trails and they were familiar to us.  A couple summers ago, we did a colossal cross-country road trip that had us following both pioneer trails and Route 66.  While some facts were new, it was a good way to test ourselves about how much we remembered from our trip.  I think this made them seem more like fun than schoolwork.

So, let's test them out, using the metrics that usually burn us out.

1.  Printing and assembly.

Ok, so you're likely still going to want to babysit the printer, and send individual pages to print, rather than a whole document that you can click "Print" and come back to.  Ideally, you'll print the cards on cardstock, which means at least a little paper shifting.  Cardstock does make for sturdier game pieces, so it is a worthwhile time investment.  However, you only need about a dozen pieces of colored cardstock plus one piece of white for each of the games we reviewed.  I opted to just print on plain paper for now, because the kids used up the last of my cardstock for another project, and frankly, I didn't want to buy an entire ream of paper for just a few sheets. (The games themselves are under $5 for a digital download of the game project, but add in the cost of paper, and they're now approaching a regular toy store board game price.) If the games get played enough that the cards start looking sad, or I need more cardstock for another project,  I will reprint the cards.  I considered laminating the cards and game pieces but decided that laminating would be neither cost effective nor an easy project.

Side note: If you have a paper cutter, this is a project for it.  The game dice are easily cut out with scissors, but for the game cards, a paper cutter makes it go much more quickly.

2.  It becomes an arts and crafts project.

Once these are put together, they're put together.  Yes, there is an opportunity for coloring, and there is some assembly required with game pieces, but it's not a daily color-cut-paste project.   It's almost a two-for-one activity.  I can live with this.

That said, it's not easy for younger children to assemble. There is a lot of fine manipulation, so I found I was doing a lot of folding and taping.  The boys could have cut out the cards themselves, but we opted to use the paper cutter for speed since there are 15 cards on each page.

This was definitely a grown-up activity.

Damien took control of coloring for Westward, Ho!  That was safe for a very squirmy almost 8-year-old.

That meant Jude colored the board (and cards) for ...Route 66.

3.  Independent activity.

I was hoping the games could be something the kids could play together without me.  They have become avid board game players, so I thought it would be a novel presentation. No, a board game isn't an in-depth unit study, but I have hopes that these are going to be a great "for fun" item that will augment their general history studies. These games are designed for two to six players so any combination of kids would be enough people to play.   Finally, my kids revel in presenting seemingly random and obscure facts, so even if they memorize all of the facts, even better!  So far, so good.

We got our games assembled and sat down to play, starting with Westward Ho!

And then the squabbles began.  Here's why.

The game cards are cute, with the "Westward, Ho!" logo on the back of the card, which helps you know which game they belong to.  The problem was that they had the logo on one side, with all of the game information on the other.  The directions say, "Each roll of the die must be earned by answering a question correctly." Well, whether you know it or not, it's not hard to answer it correctly when the answer is given right under the questions.

This meant an opposing player needed to ask the question...and then be the judge of "Is that the correct answer?"  Some were pretty obvious -- like "Remember the Alamo!" doesn't leave a lot of room for interpretation.  Others depended on how much of a stickler the card-holder felt like being.

The card shows the "game-official definition" of a jump-off.  I'd take "Where the pioneers got their stuff and joined the wagon train." A sibling? Not necessarily.  So much for "independent" when Mom winds up refereeing all the time.  I think it would have made more sense to design the cards with the rope motif around the border as the identification, with the cards printed more like traditional flashcards.

I thought the "Greetings from..." postcard theme of ...Route 66 was absolutely adorable.

This game was also easy for kids to play, except for the questions.  Same style cards, same style squabbles.

A watermark-style road shield under the text might be a better option.

I'm not sure we will get as much mileage out of these games as I had hoped. They were relatively easy to assemble -- under two hours, including coloring, for each game.  I did enjoy playing with them - there were somethings I knew, some that I know I learned but couldn't remember, and some new things I learned.  The little boys definitely learned new material, but Celia and Matthew enjoyed trying to outwit each other with what they had learned in their American History studies.  I think I'd say this is something I'll probably use for fun when we've had enough of books for one day, but the games aren't an activity that I can say, "I need to make a phone call, go play with this."

The Á la Carte series has over 60 programs including games, timelines, and short lapbooks to choose from.   Crew members have been reviewing nearly all of them, and I'm particularly interested in reviews of the Penny Rug Notebook/3D Project and the Name that State! File Folder Game.  The Penny Rug looks like fun, and Jude has expanded his interests from Colonial America into state facts.  I'll be clicking the banner below to read those reviews. You should, too!

À La Carte Projects - Individual projects designed to enhance your studies! {Home School in the Woods Reviews}

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Thursday, March 15, 2018

NatureGlo's eScience (Homeschool Review Crew)

NatureGlo's eScience is a STEAM curriculum program presented by NatureGlo. The program is comprised of both live and self-paced courses, making it accessible to students with both fixed and variable schedules.  For our review, we received a subscription to the self-paced version of the  MathArt Online 4-Class Bundle, which consists of four 6-week courses:

  • Math Connections with the Real World
  • MathArt in Ancient Cultures
  • MathArt in the Arts and Sciences
  • Math Art: Patterns in Nature 
Note: As of 3/2018, only the first two programs listed are available in their entirety.  Two lessons for each of the second two are available, with others being uploaded on a weekly basis.

We began with MathArt in Ancient Cultures.  The program is suggested for ages 10 and up, so I thought this might be an opportunity for Matthew.  He has completed nearly all of his core high school requirements, and his transcript is heavily tilted toward math and science -- he just seems to enjoy their black-and-white aspect.  He does have an art credit already, but he struggled with it.  The art history program he took focused more on the actual history of art and where the pieces fit into history, and less about the works themselves and how they were examples of that era (i.e., the use of color, line. shading, etc.)  I thought a cross-curricular, unit-study approach program might be a way to add art instruction in a way that played to his interests and strengths.  Because Matthew is almost in 12th grade, he works mostly independently.  I gave him the login credentials and told him "Go to town!"

He got himself organized downloading the first study guide and began working his way through the first lesson on Babylonian Mathematics. I liked the organization of the webpage - the current activities were in the body of the page, with an easily navigated task list in the margin.  As you completed a task, the list struck itself.  This made it easy for me to keep track of where he was in a course with just a glance.

 Following the directions, he began to read the slideshow and fill out the interactive guide.  It's well laid out and makes the information easy to locate.  (Perhaps too easy for a high-school student, but I can appreciate that this is meant for early middle-schoolers who may be just beginning to learn to take notes.)

The next step was to watch the NatureGlo videos.  If this had been something I had gotten for Matthew to do, I would probably have just let him loose. Since it was a review, we sat down to watch the video together.

What we were watching were the same activities he had already done, just this time with the NatureGlo and other children reading aloud.  It was jarring at first, because NatureGlo is inviting kids to take turns, and asking them questions.  I think I was expecting a self-placed class to be presented as a pre-recorded lecture series, rather than just a recording of a live class.

 Also, the sound was a bit "off." At first, I thought it was our connection causing the distorted sound.  After listening a few more minutes, I realized the reason.  NatureGlo is a full-time RVer, and conducts classes from her home on the road. I think this, unfortunately, limits the quality of the recordings.  We have done many online/streaming programs, but they have had professionally recorded lectures, including sound mixing, which is what I was expecting.  These sound like what I overhear when Celia is talking to her violin teacher during her lessons (they take place via Skype). It appears only the built-in microphone and camera from her computer are being used as recording devices.  Between the sound and the interactions, I felt like we were always just a little "behind" -- kind of like watching live TV on a tape delay.  It was rather disconcerting!

As a mama with lots of homeschoolers, I always like it when we can share products across students. I also like when publishers offer bundled prices!  I rarely comment on the actual prices, because as a small business owner, I understand there are so many hidden "behind the scenes" costs. I also know that quality high school-level classes can be expensive. We are not rich by any means, but since we are unexpected homeschoolers we are also coming from the mindset of "high school tuition that we budgeted for is far more than we're paying to homeschool." I also am willing to pay for something that my kid loves and really learns from -- I genuinely believe education in something a child is passionate about is an investment.  (Please remind me of this when Celia's violin tuition comes due!) However,  when I review, I do try to look at programs from the perspective of "How would I feel if I had paid for this?" and not just automatically love it because I don't have any financial investment. The bundle cost for the four-class group is over $500 (an individual program is priced at $149), and I just don't feel as if the recording quality or content justifies the cost.  (And that's even ignoring any costs for recommended or added projects.) It is also only a one-year subscription, and because my kids are far enough apart in age that they can't double up, that means paying that again as each child is ready.   I can't imagine paying that times four! II have to say that if this weren't a program we had received in exchange for a review, I would have been quite upset and even a bit angry.

From a content perspective, I think this is more appropriate for younger students - maybe the 5th-to-8th grade set. It is too little content for a reasonable high school credit. (A high schooler certainly isn't too old for the information, but it would be a recreational course, not something to count for a transcript.)   First, the first two lessons of each unit are basically the same. He could skip the first PowerPoint-based task and glean the information from the disappointingly short 10-minute video. I was expecting the video part to be 30-45 minutes (given the live classes meet weekly) with the other activities as "homework" during the "week" between classes. However, there's not enough content in the rest.  Doing the program "as is," he could complete the entire lesson in under two hours.  My general rule is there needs to be at least 80-100 hours worth of work, between lectures and independent work. I had expected to throw in an extra project or book here and there with each of the four programs, to round them out, but found I was looking for "more" to bulk up each "week." It also slowed us down in working through the program.  My initial plan for Matthew to work on the 6-week course, and possibly add on one reading/project selection at the end as a "final project," where I would have had the 6 weeks to acquire the extra books/materials for that final part. Instead, we have taken almost four weeks for our first lesson,  and I've been scrambling to gather materials (quickly but without obscene shipping fees!) so we're not constantly looping back to "completed" topics.  Again, it's an added expense to make an already pricey product work for us -- I just can't in good conscience not say, "Be prepared for the added costs."

Thinking that maybe it was just the course we had chosen that was short (given there's only so much information known about the ancient cultures), I began looking through Math Connections in the Real World, which includes topics like the Fibonacci Sequence and it's use in not just "art" but in architecture and engineering.  Again, the lessons are short and not as deep as our needs.  They are a good introduction to the topic, but not enough for an older student.

Overall, I don't think this is a bad program, and what content it does contain is good. For example, the further reading for the Babylons includes an article published in The Mathematical Association of America, as well as a second article with a detailed explanation of how the Babylonians used the sexagesimal system.  Matthew really lit up when working with a third printout, manipulating numbers himself and seeing how both base six and base ten arrived at the same answers but from very different paths. I'm not quite sure I understood it all, but he clearly did.

Overall, NatureGlo's eScience just didn't do what we needed it to do, which was fill an educational gap for a high school student.  To find out how it worked for other Crew families, click the banner below. 

MathArt Online 4-Class Bundle {NatureGlo's eScience Reviews}

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Monday, March 12, 2018

Five Lessons Learned Creating Transcripts

Lessons Learned: Creating my high schoolers' transcripts

Luke was our first graduate, and like all things with a firstborn, he was the test subject that we learned how not to do things with.  I spent a good chunk of his high school time figuring out how to do high school at home in a way that made sense for us but wasn't so crazy that colleges didn't say "Yeah, nice try. Declined." He did get into college, so I guess we did ok.

When I did his transcript, it felt like a monumental effort. It didn't help that I had no experience actually putting it together, but there are things I realized I wished I had known to do before we had gotten to the college process.  Matthew and Celia are now benefitting from all the things I've learned, so I thought I'd share five things I've learned the hard way and hopefully some other first graduates have it a little easier.

1.  Determine your graduation requirements early, and keep them handy.  

Algebra I will likely be a first "high school" level course.  If you've been homeschooling since the beginning, I'd recommend looking at requirements around the time your child is ready for Pre-Algebra - usually around the equivalent to 7th or 8th grade. This gives you time to assess interests and plan courses. Planning ahead has meant a chance to find some great things for the others, rather than just saying "I know you don't like it, but it's what I found and the clock is ticking, just do it!"

Our state does not have homeschool graduation requirements, so when Luke planned to come home,  I looked at both what the public school students are required to take and what several local colleges require.  My thinking was that if he was going to be competing for admission with students from this area, I wanted his program to be reasonably comparable.  I am glad I looked in both places because our state requirement is only one year of foreign language.  Luke's college of choice required a "minimum of two years" but strongly recommended four. That's not something I'd have wanted to find out in the middle of his Senior year!

When it was Luke's turn, I had a binder full of information.  I had a sheet with all of the requirements listed, but I had to keep hunting it down.  It was annoying. I caught on faster with Matthew -- I keep his grades in a spreadsheet that lists completed and current courses, so I wrote the requirements to one side. As Matthew has gone on, he's added "electives" within each subject area, but I've been able to make sure that our base requirements have been met.

keep a list of final course grades and state requirements together to make sure you have the right combination of courses

 Keep a grade sheet.

When I say, "Keep a grade sheet," I mean one master page that has all the courses and grades on it - think like a report card.  When I did Luke's, I had a spreadsheet that had all of his courses, with each class having its own page.  I thought I was organized, making sure I had all his grades in one file.

When it came time to put all those grades on the transcript, it was a lot of flipping around.  It added to the "this is taking forever" aspect of setting up the transcript. For Matthew, I've added the "required courses" in the side of my master grade list.  This way, when I'm updating his grades, I can keep track of what boxes we can check off.  I usually update this page when he needs a report card for karate (the "current grade" in the first column) and when he finishes the course (the 2nd column).  When it's time to do his transcript, I can just print one page and then enter it into the transcript.

3.  To have a balanced (or sort of balanced) education and transcript, keep a running tally of courses taken. 

Yep, another spreadsheet page.  No grades, just lists.  I can see at a glance what kiddo has taken, is working on, and may want to round things out.

a side-by-side list of courses taken and planned helps see areas where a student has greater interest or needs balance

You might think "But if I have a grade sheet, with requirements, why repeat myself with another page?"  You don't have to.  But I found that the course list grew, so did the page, and it was harder to see everything on one screen or page.  This way, it's all in a quick side-by-side comparison.

We aren't exactly linear in completing courses.  Matthew has been working on US History (a two part/two credit course) over three years.  Part of the hold up has been because I felt it was better to pause American History once we got past the Revolutionary War, learn about the US Government, and then go back to history once Matthew understood the framework of the government.  Our Doctor Aviation opportunity was a Crew review, and our membership had a specific ending date, so we paused for that as well.  I'm not stressing.  Since we are homeschoolers, we have four years to complete everything (five if you count in that Matthew started Algebra a year early), so as long as it's all done by next June, it's all good.

Except for English IV, all of Matthew's senior year will be electives that round out his high school experience. He's ticked off all the "must do" boxes.  You can see he definitely has a preference for Math and Science. So far, we've figured out he will be doing Calculus, Forensic Science, and Japanese, bringing him up to four full classes plus any tidying up ends.  He will have to pick one or two more classes, but seeing how math and science heavy his studies have been compared to his arts list, I think I'll encourage him to balance things out a little with something art or music related. He's ticked that box as a requirement, but with the Math and Science he's chosen, I think something unrelated would be better than another heavy course.

4. Decide on your transcript layout.

Do you want to do it by year, or by subject area?  You don't necessarily have to commit to one or the other right away, but it helps if you spend a little time setting up your document in advance.  I had a list of grades for Luke, and when it came time to write his transcript, I "only" had to pull everything together.

Only. Ha!

Ultimately I ended up writing it by subject area, with subjects in alphabetical/numerical order.

we do our transcripts by subject area, with subjects in alphabetical and numerical order

This worked for us because while he had most of his classes under overreaching subjects - Englishes, Maths, etc., it allowed us to do a section called "Electives" rather than trying to figure out where subjects like Art History belonged.  He also didn't necessarily do courses by grade, either. For example, he earned his two business credits over the course of three years.  It just made for a tidier transcript to not have him earn two-thirds of a credit over each of three years, and just award him two full credits on one line.

My thought was,  "It's only three or four courses in each area," but multiply four or five courses by seven disciplines, and suddenly, I had a lot of work to do!  I wish I had at least started the layout and just had to add on each year. What would have taken about half an hour each session to set up and then update each June became a four hours-at-one-time project.  The overall time involved was the same, but it's easier to find half hour chunks than dedicate an entire afternoon.  (And with the master grade list page, it's about ten minutes.)  Even though Matthew's transcript really is just delete-and-retype, it still helps to know I have the basics done and just need to fill in.  He has more sciences than Luke, and less languages, so there's still a little formatting to be done. 
even if you leave blanks while courses are in progress, fill in the transcript as you go rather than having to do it all in one marathon session at graduation time

5.  Go ahead and use letter grades.

At first, my thought was whatever kid earned was his grade, and it seemed a bit of a shell game to award a 92 the same credit as a 98.  However, I joke there is a reason I was an arts major...that reason is math. Trying to calculate a GPA was a literal pain in my rear -- I spent so much time trying to figure out how I was going to weight things that my tush started to hurt from sitting so long! Finally, I gave in and converted to a straight up A/B/C/D scale, no A- or B+.  That meant I could just add up points and divide by credits.  

convert to a A-B-C-D scale to make GPA calculation easier.

Luke needed to re-submit his transcript to his college to be exempted from a lower level math class.  An A in Trig was enough information for them to exempt him, so hey...if it works for them, it works for me.

Have you done a high school transcript yet? What are your tips?

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Tuesday, February 27, 2018

Drive Thru History Adventures (Homeschool Review Crew)

One of the great things about the composition of the Homeschool Review Crew is families, learning styles, and needs are incredibly varied.  Each time a new product comes up for review, Crew Members are asked to submit a form that includes an evaluation of how much we feel a program would suit our child(ren)'s needs.  When Drive Thru History Adventures came up for review, in the "What else should we know?" section, I included a note:
I'm not too proud to beg for this one! Three videos into The Gospels from last year's review, Matthew was begging "Are there any more Dave videos?" We absolutely LOVE LOVE LOVE his delivery. I think we'd rank him tied for our top three "teachers" [for any program we've used].  We even have a trip back to Washington DC for the Museum of the Bible in the works. It's something that would probably be on our "eh, doesn't sound exciting" list, and Matthew looked at me like I had three heads when I said it was opening and we should go. When he found out Dave & Co. did the video presentations for it, suddenly, a Bible museum sounded cool to my teen! Matthew's bugging me at least twice a week, "When are we going, when are we going??" 
THAT is how impressive Dave Stotts is.  I knew this was going to be a good one.

Our one-year subscription to Drive Thru History Adventures comes with access to three core programs: an 18-week course on Bible History (The Gospels), a 12-week course on early American History, and a 12-week course of Ancient History that focuses on early Greece, Rome, and Asia Minor.  These programs are fantastic for several age/grade ranges.  Simply watching the videos provides an excellent overview for younger students (kindergarten through middle school), but combining the videos with discussion guide questions and provided further reading and discussion sections creates a well-rounded course for older students.  Our house focused on the Ancient History course for this review period.

Now, I could tell you all about the variety of topics Dave discusses in the course, and how they've affected our world's history, society, government, and theology.  You could probably guess that much, considering the Ancient History course is subtitled "Christianity and the Birth of Western Civilization."  It starts with the founding of Rome and covers through to the fall of Constantinople.  Along the way, you'll discover Romans, the Greeks, and to some degree, the Muslims, Arabs, and Jews.  We studied The Gospels with Drive Thru History last year, and that approaches history from a Biblical perspective, using historical events to underscore the Bible as both a religious and historical book, and not a work of abject fiction. While this course approaches history from a Christian viewpoint, it is more secular history, weaving  Biblical/Christian events and Scripture passages into the story for timeline purposes.  Maps, art, and photographs provide visual explanations that help clarify audio voice-overs.

The presentation isn't just "here's this town, here's what happened."  Dave explores a lot of the culture of the places and really helps to put the civilizations in context of themselves.  One thing that really annoys me is many history courses tend to look at history through today's society and conscience.  We may realize today that the Oracle at Delphi's trance was probably induced by mind-altering substances that today either the courts or the FDA heavily regulate and not by a communique with the gods. However, that doesn't mean that the peasant-ish folks of back then (who wouldn't have had access to these substances) were fools.  It was just a different time and philosophy, and Dave takes pains to make sure we understand when things happened, not just what things happened. He also shows us where places have been abandoned, and where they continue to thrive.

I liked that there were two options for learning. One was the content filled "regular site," where students could access the videos and all of the related accompaniments.  With the Adventures TV app, viewers can take the videos with them on tablets and smartphones.  There were times where we needed to be away from home, and he could work with his phone and earbuds, then come home and finish assignments.  However, even if you think, "I don't want or need all of that, I'm just interested in the topic and would like to watch videos," a subscription is still worth the investment (the app is free, but a subscription is required to access content).  You will have access to the same video content as the full site, including all of the formal programs plus additional content such as "Side Roads" that tie into the programs but wander down less formal garden paths, "Dave's Adventures", and "Behind the Scenes" videos about the building of the Museum of the Bible in Washington, DC and how Drive Thru History has been involved.  (Dave has mentioned in his Dave's Adventures videos that he will be there on March 15, 2018. I almost considered making the trip just for the chance to shake his hand, but it's also my hubby's birthday, so Dave is safe from this crazy mama going all fangirl on him.)  I was delighted to find out that this indeed is a family membership - I could be logged in watching one thing while Matthew was logged in watching his next lesson!

However, Mom going on and on about how well produced the videos are, how much content the lessons contain, and how Dave is so engaging that he reels you in and leaves you disappointed when an episode is over really doesn't mean much if you're thinking, "Ok, you like it, but you're not the one who actually has to study the stuff. You're doing it for fun."  So, I asked Matthew to sit down and write three paragraphs:  one about the content, one about the benefits of the Drive Thru History Adventures subscription program versus the stack of DVDs he's been using, and one about Dave.

--from Matthew---

In the course, I learned way more about events compared to reading about them. For instance, if I were to just read about the underground tunnels and cross-shaped church, located in Cappadocia, Turkey, I most likely wouldn’t give it much thought. A textbook would have pictures, but there would only be one or two, and wouldn’t show the most important aspects. Mr. Stotts explained how the Hittites built the top layers of the cave system, and then the Christians dug to eight stories down. Watching Mr. Stotts explore the cave, I saw just how difficult the tunnels were to navigate.

Passages get smaller, making it impossible for Romans with shields to get through. He showed how a giant doughnut-shaped rock would seal the passageway shut. A center hole was in the rock, and Christians on the defensive could poke a spear or shoot an arrow through the hole, causing deadly harm.

 At the very bottom was a cross-shaped church. Because Mr. Stotts had a cameraman scanning the entire area, I could see all of it, not just a small section that was in a single frame. He even pointed out where the early Christians carved a cross into the rock wall of their church.

When I started the Drive Thru History Ancient History course, I was watching them on DVDs. I was really happy to use a streaming option. The website is much easier to use with all the lessons being in one place and being easier to access.  It is hard to watch the lesson video if you can’t find the right DVD that you put away somewhere and forgot exactly where you put it for next time, or if you put it away in a hurry and scratch it. With the streaming option, they were always on the same website. The website also expanded on documents in the video, while the DVDs did not. I liked that there were pre-written discussion questions because it meant I could work by myself, rather than having to wait for Mom to watch with me and write questions out herself.  We actually had watched a few, and the website's questions were almost the same as what she wrote for me to answer.

Mr. Stotts is funny most of the time but is serious at the right time. I loved the addition of the bloopers in the Ancient History Adventures course. My favorite bloopers were the ones from the Laodicea ruins involving the rubber duck, and how he managed to still have it in his hand every single time he tried to continue filming.

If it wasn't in the one hand, it was in the other one (or on his head) until finally he jokingly ate the duck in frustration (which I found hilarious because I can understand how he felt when you keep messing up by accident).

 I didn’t feel bad laughing when struggled to find his way around Rome because he was sarcastic and poking fun at his frustration. I’ve studied both Ancient History and the Gospels from Drive Thru History and really enjoyed learning. It would be great if there were courses on other cultures mentioned but not expanded on in the courses, like the effects of the Muslims taking over the Holy Roman Empire, or even later eras like the Renaissance.


Mom again.  I think that if you leave a teenager wanting more history, you've got a good thing going.

To celebrate their launch, Drive Thru History Adventures has two specials for new subscribers. First, they are offering a copy of the DVD set The Gospels as a gift with a subscription.  Click the Drive thru History logo below to claim this offer.

Second, they are offering readers of The Old Schoolhouse® Magazine (the parent company of the Homeschool Review Crew) a 20% discount.  The promotion code can be found on page 19 of the Winter Edition.  You can access the digital issue by clicking the magazine image below.

We love Drive Thru History Adventures.  Dave has mentioned that there is another Bible-based series launching soon, and we can't wait!  In the meantime, we'll be over in the corner, glued to our laptops and phones, watching Drive Thru American History!  If you'd like to read more about Drive Thru History Adventures, including specifics on the other history programs offered, click the banner below. 
Drive Thru History Adventures - Subscription {Drive Thru History Adventures Reviews}

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