Wednesday, November 30, 2016

Homeschooling with the National Parks Service

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In 2015, we journeyed across about two-thirds of the country, and found that we loved doing the Junior Ranger programs at National Park sites.  Each site -- Park, Memorial, Monument, etc. -- has a program geared for children through middle elementary school (though plenty of adults like to do the programs as well).  This year,  as I simultaneously planned our 34-park cross-country itinierary and the boys' school year programs, I realized that instead of a textbook-based program, we were going to do a park-based history program.

Something we've discovered is that it can be very overwhelming to take everything in when visiting a National Park site.  There's the history of the park itself, the theme/person the park is based on, geography, architecture...where to begin? We also discovered the Junior Ranger program highlights important parts of a venue, giving an overview with enough details to learn, but not so many that young brains get frustrated and shut down.  Most programs are also cross-curricular: for example, a visit to the General Grant Memorial features activities not just about the man buried there (President Grant), but also architectural features of the mausoleum, while the Ranger guide to Yellowstone Park addresses the history of the park, the geology of the caldera, and even the animals that live there.  Even creative writing becomes fair game!

Included are individual activities, such as word searches or mazes, while other pages can became group projects.  Some of the more difficult activities that were divided among the scholars; one would work on a page while another did something different, and they'd share answers.

Many of the questions can be answered by carefully looking in visitor center museums or along trails, but often there are "Interview a Ranger" options.  At first, Jude was very shy, and only would go up to the Rangers with his book when he learned that it was "Ask the Ranger, or you can't earn your badge," but after a few interviews he became more comfortable with the idea of asking perfect strangers about their jobs.  We found the Rangers to be extremely kind and patient, as well as knowlegeable about their assignments.  We even found a few Rangers that became real-life Park Rangers because they had been Junior Rangers!

Junior Ranger badges are earned. They aren't given out just for showing up.  Rangers check books for completion -- and some will even ask questions about what Rangers should know.  On our trip this summer, Celia, Jude, and Damien filled their ranger hats and vests with badges, and someone asked about how they could get them.  Jude piped up, "They're hard work! You have to answer the questions and everything!"   From site-specific badges to topical ones like Paleontology and NPS History, these programs provide serious learning, not just a souvenir of the trip.

The National Park Service also helps preserve "hidden" stories.  Have you ever heard of George Rogers Clark? You've probably heard of his baby brother's cross-country expedition --  he would be the William Clark of "Lewis and Clark" and the Louisiana Purchase Expedition.  However, until we visited here, I had never heard of George.

The George Rogers Clark National Historical Park is in Vincennes, Indiana.  It was here that Clark, leading a small band of frontiersmen, secured Fort Sackville from the British and earned the support of the local Native tribes.  Sadly, his efforts have been generally omitted from history books, but if it wasn't for the eldest Clark's efforts on the western frontier during the Revolutionary War, there would have been no United States to expand westward!

Though all ages are welcome to participate, the official Junior Ranger program is for students generally ages 6 to 13 (elementary through middle school). However, we have also discovered a way for high-schooler Matthew to get more from his experiences in the parks.  While he didn't earn any badges himself on our recent outings, he often paired up and helped Damien, or would scout ahead to find where an answer could be found and lead the boys to the right section of the park.  We also found an offering from The Great Courses, entitled Wonders of the National Parks: A Geology of North America. This course made a great spine for a study in the National Parks system, allowing Matthew to study the geology of all the National Parks.  We've combined the video program with a notebooking program (we're using the one we reviewed from, reasearch, and essay writing to integrate our visits to the National Monuments, Memorials, and Historical Sites and create a two-credit high school program (science and social studies).

As a parent, I've also have had some great surprises.  At Malpais National Monument, one of the activities was to find the logo for the Continental Divide Trail.  This is the Rocky Mountain counterpart to the eastern Appalachian Trail.   We didn't realize this was even along our route!  Of course, we decided that we needed to hike a bit of it -- it was there, and we had hiked several sections of the AT in the past, so why not a few miles on the CDT?

I also pushed myself well beyond my comfort zone several times visiting parks, including driving the steep, switchback laden Old Fall River Road in Rocky Mountain National Park. I have to say it was worth it - we saw things we would never have otherwise had the opportunity to view.  Sure, we learned about the flora and fauna of the area with our Junior Ranger books, but there was a definite feeling of accomplishment for all of us when we reached the top and knowing we didn't take the "easy" way.

 The NPS leads the way in preserving these areas, as well as even older "roads" like the Oregon Trail.  Want to experience a pioneer's life, if only for a few moments? Walk uphill on a midsummer's day on the trail at Scott's Bluff.  We were very grateful to have an air-conditioned car to return to!

One of the best things about National Parks is the affordability.  Yes, we had traveling expenses, but entrance fees are either nonexistant or extremely low.  Recently, we visited New York City for a short vacation, and visited four sites without leaving Manhattan. We had two afternoons and a full day of activity that cost us nothing -- when you consider how expensive activities for seven in New York can be, this was a nice perk!

The most expensive places we visited are the "biggies" like Yellowstone, Grand Teton, Petrified Forest, etc. that have higher entrance fees that allow several days' consecutive visiting.  However, with an $80 America the Beautiful pass, we actually saved money compared to paying individual park entrance fees, and if you have a 4th grader, you may be eligible for a FREE pass.  2016 was our second year with a purchased pass, and honestly, I almost feel like I'm cheating the system when I have calculated the per-park fees vs. the pass.  (Almost every NPS site also has a donation box, so we usually stick a few dollars in there to help support the individual venue.)

I think there is no better way to learn about something than to immerse yourself in it, and the National Park system makes this style of learning not only possible, but relatively simple.   It's easy to read and explain Jim Crow laws, but there's a much larger impact when standing in a hallway at the Brown vs. Board of Education NHS that includes signs for where which student is permitted to go. Riding in a boat through New York Harbor and approaching the Statue of Liberty gives a small idea of what immigrants may have felt when arriving in the United States. Of course, there's nothing quite like watching Old Faithful erupt or a bison eat his dinner with your own eyes!

It's also emotional to experience the highs and lows of the country where they happened:  the hope written in the declaration that was written in Philadelphia in the halls of Independence National Park and the gut-wrenching tragedy where Flight 93 crashed in the Allegheny Mountains on September 11, 2001.  There is at least one National Park site in every US state and territory, giving everyone a chance to explore! Even if you choose just to visit the sites of the National Park Service as a one-day field trip, I highly recommend taking the opportunity!

©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.

Saturday, November 12, 2016

A Common Baby Boy (Five Minute Friday)

Five Minute Friday is a weekly blog circle, hosted by Kate at Heading Home.  This week's theme is "common."

For most families, a baby being born is one of the most common things to happen.  Always a miracle, and always a source of joy, but in the grand scheme of life, babies are born every day. Ho hum.

Except when you've experienced loss, it's not so ho-hum.  A year ago, I wrote about how Celia's BFF Mia had a little sister who lived for less than five months, and how much she changed our lives in such a short time.   Little sisters are common, but Payton was not.

Mia welcomed a new little brother this week.  Celia is absolutely over the moon with joy for her friend. We will always love Payton, and Little Brother is NOT a replacement for her.  He never could be!   Today, we are praising God for the common miracle of a beautiful, healthy, blessedly chubby nine pound, nine-ounce baby boy!

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

Wednesday, November 9, 2016

The Critical Thinking Co.™: Sentence Diagramming (A Homeschool Crew Review)

I think there are two kinds of people in the world: those that love to diagram sentences, and those that don't.  In my experience, there is no in-between! Luckily for The Critical Thinking Co.™, I like to diagram sentences for fun.  Lucky for me, when we were asked to choose one item to review from a list of several products, Sentence Diagramming: Beginning was among the choices.  It's for students in grade levels three through 12, and since Jude is entering the grade 3 level of his regular grammar program, I was thrilled to teach him how to diagram, too.

Why do I love diagramming?  I think because it is very orderly. Sentences are made up of specific parts of speech.   Every part of speech has a particular place in the diagram picture, and when you diagram a sentence, you will always put the same words in the same space.

I also think that diagramming truly helps a student become a better writer.  They become more aware of sentence structure, of having a balanced number of adjectives and adverbs rather than none at all or so many that a passage becomes unwieldy. I'm watching Matthew struggle with his writing, and I am thinking that he will soon be adding a sentence or two a day to his workload.  Yes, at first a sentence can take several minutes to decode, but once you've had practice, it takes longer to find a ruler!

(And yes, I've turned into my mother.  When I was in the fifth grade, our only written homework every night was math and one sentence to diagram. I can hear her voice: "Where is your ruler?  A ruler.  I said, FIND YOUR RULER.")

Sentence Diagramming: Beginning is a 72-page soft-sided workbook.  It can be used as a consumable, but the publisher generously allows photocopying within a single family.  As a parent of multiple students, I definitely appreciate this bit of potential frugality! The program begins with breaking down the simplest of sentences: a simple subject and a simple predicate, and adds a new part of the sentence/part of speech with each subsequent lesson.  After finishing a second-grade level general grammar program, Jude knows subjects, predicates, objects, adjectives, adverbs, and conjunctions. This experience creates enough mix-and-match parts of speech for him to be able to start diagramming.

Each lesson contains several pages of practice, progressing from observing completed sentences to independently diagramming.  Students are first asked to compare incorrectly diagrammed sentences with correct ones, then diagram sentences in a fill-in-the-blank scenario, and then given a sentence and basically told: "Have at it!"

We found the first few chapters quite easy.  They focused on subject/verb, subject/verb/direct object, and sentences with adjectives.  Jude did well grasping the concept of where things went but needed a little extra help with practicing.  It is easy to hop from the workbook to a practice notebook and then back again.

Honestly, I think the hard part was trying to figure out sentences that fit the correct pattern.  I would begin to write sentences, but have to go back and change things because I was naturally putting prepositional phrases -- i.e., "The cowboy rode in a rodeo," or wanting to continue "Annie ran," with a modifier like "quickly," that he hadn't yet learned.  I loved that there is an appendix in the back of the workbook with the answers, but I would have really liked a maybe three or four-page section that had a list of sentences that went with each of the exercises. As you continue through the book, the sentences get more detailed, adding in conjunctions, prepositional phrases, etc.   If you want to keep practicing the simpler sentences, you'll need to add in a notebook/outside worksheet program for supplementing.  We are getting into the habit of creating and diagramming two or three sentences each day for practice.  Here are our Election Day practice sentences:

Overall, I think this is a very clear way to introduce sentence diagramming. Jude was intimidated at first, but after a bit of practice, he remarked, "You know, this is kind of fun!"

Hey, Jude?

In addition to this workbook, the Crew reviewed a preschool academics software bundle, Reading, Writing, and Arithmetic Before Kindergarten!™ as well as the Language Smarts Level E program. Click the banner below to read reviews about each of these items.

Language Arts {The Critical Thinking Co.™}

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

Friday, November 4, 2016

Homeschool Legacy: Thanksgiving with the Pilgrims (A Homeschool Crew Review)

I'm always torn between trying to keep up with "regular" school work and adding in "fun" programs.  It's tricky for us to balance new projects with our usual lesson plans, because when we digress from the routine, it can be hard for us to get back into it, but I hate to "add on" too much because then we have rebellion. One of our successes from last year was a unit study from Homeschool Legacy -- it's once-a-week format struck the right balance for us.  The boys are studying American history, so combined with the time of year, it seemed an excellent opportunity to try out their five new Once-A-Week Micro-Study offerings, Thanksgiving with the Pilgrims.

What makes a Micro-Study different from Homeschool Legacy's traditional Once-a-Week Studies? The easiest way would be to call them "Studies Light," but I hesitate to leave it at that because that connotates they are more "fluffy," with less substance.  By no means! These studies are of equal quality to the full-length ones, but the coursework is less intense.  It can be completed quickly -- each week's assignment takes about 90 minutes, either all in one afternoon or spread across three days, as compared to their regular studies that can be used daily or take a full school day to complete a single week's lesson.

The Micro-Studies are geared towards students as young as first grade and provide more of an "overview exposure to the topic" than the in-depth study of Homeschool Legacy's traditional program.  The lessons still can be spread across six weeks,  but we found that since we could complete a week's worth of tasks in a day, it was easy to do the entire program's activities in a little over a week -- perfect for us for a holiday-themed unit study! The only task we couldn't finish in a week was the suggested reading. There are three books listed (choose one, two, or all), and at 80+ pages each; since we couldn't complete even one in under a week, we opted to just continue with it as our daily read-aloud until we were finished.   However, we've been able to get back to our "regularly scheduled afternoon work" quickly -- important for boys who think that four days without their usual work list means they are done with grammar forever!

Each day's work consists of reading about a half page of information about the Pilgrims and completing an activity that goes along with the passage.  The passages are easy to read -- they score at Grade 4.4 on the Flesch-Kinkade grade level.  This puts them right in the middle of Homeschool Legacy's target of Grades 1 through 8 for these studies.  Jude (grade 4) read them easily, and even Damien (reading at a 2nd grade level) had few difficulties.  Most of his stumbles were actually over  Native American words (names) like "Tisquantum" and "Massasoit" that even I had to slow down to read.

 The activities range from practicing map reading skills to stringing popcorn and cranberries.  The popcorn and cranberries actually highlight a difference between Puritan life and modern celebrations of Christmas; we learned that the Puritans spent Christmas Day, 1620 building homes.  Why?  Because to them, it was just a Monday, and the day after the Sabbath.  They didn't celebrate Christmas as a holiday! (The boys decided they wouldn't have been so happy to leave the Netherlands -- and Sinterklass -- behind to build houses in America!)

Micro-studies from Homeschool Legacy are available as downloadable files.  This means that many of the activities are hyperlinked for easy study -- just click the highlighted text and poof! you are where you need to be.  While we actually changed what we did for the map skills activity and opted to use Google Maps, I appreciated the hyperlinked virtual field trips to Plimoth Plantation (and yes, that's now going on our "real life field trip" bucket list!)  Yes, I could have googled it and found the link, and I probably would have pinned it on Pinterest, but it was nice to not have to find it when we were up to that part - we could just click and keep on going!

 My only complaint is that there isn't quite as much "come back next year" potential as the full-length studies.  I think we could probably do another Thanksgiving with the program if I added more research to it as they got older -- for example, instead of just mapping the towns in England and the Netherlands, I would consider adding a little bit of "tell me about those countries," or "look up more about the Massasoit tribe that helped the Pilgrims."  There are several other Micro-Studies, but given the choice, I would invest in the full-length Native America study versus the Many Nations Micro-Study.  I would love to see a full-length Thanksgiving study, along the order of their Christmas Comes to America, to be able to circle back to the holiday each year and study it a little more deeply each time.

Overall, we enjoyed this short unit study. It was enough information that the boys were excited to learn, but not so much that it was overwhelming for them, and it fit into our schedule nicely.  I'd call it a success when both mom and student are happy!

For more about Homeschool Legacy, follow them on Facebook.  You can also read about the other studies the Crew has been working on by clicking the banner below.

Once-a-Week Studies {Homeschool Legacy}

Crew Disclaimer

©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.

Saturday, October 29, 2016

Banana Oatmeal Pancakes for Celia

Vegan, Gluten Free, Dairy Free

What a week! I don't usually post new recipes on Saturdays, but I'm putting this one up today at Celia's request.

On Thursday, I made pancakes for the big boys, and Damien looked at me with eyes that were straight out of Oliver Twist: "Can you make some for poor, pathetic me?"  He had never eaten pancakes before - he never had enough foods to make one that would stay together.  I've been trying to study more about cooking chemistry so I can re-create what everyone else is having even when I'm hamstrung by having only three or four ingredients.  It seemed like a good day for an experiment.

I went with the overall ratio of equal parts flour and acidulated liquid, with one egg and one teaspoon leavening per part.  My "shop the pantry list" was oat flour, coconut milk, and a banana to replace the egg.  (I was glad to have a chance to try out the new package of pre-ground oat flour; usually, I grind it myself from rolled oats.)  Leavening was actually the easy part -- baking soda is considered a non-food (since salt is a mineral, not an actual food), and I have both coconut and wine vinegars (the latter from their kids' recent grape trial).  That left me with a recipe of:

1 cup oat flour
1 Tbsp coconut vinegar + evaporated coconut milk to make 1 c.
1 mashed banana
1 tsp baking soda

This made about 8 decent sized pancakes (bigger than silver dollars, but not quite diner-plate size).   Damien ate some, and Celia ate the leftovers when she came home from school.

By Friday,  we had two bananas that needed to be eaten "yesterday," so  I tried a double batch.  I decided I preferred to add a little extra milk (maybe a tablespoon or so) to thin down that much oatmeal to a pourable consistency, but they were still viable with the base 2 cups of coconut milk.  Awesome!

Then, on Friday night, my mom fell. I spent the night with her and my dad in the ER,  getting x-rays and ultimately a splint-cast and sling for a broken shoulder and elbow.  The docs finished and finally discharged her around 5:30 in the morning. (Next time she wants to party all night, I'm going to suggest a nightclub where at least there's decent music!)  I came home and crashed.  Thankfully, the kids let me sleep a few hours, but Celia decided she was going to make breakfast for everyone -- bacon and pancakes.

She did an excellent job following the directions on the back of the gluten-free Bisquick box (even adding chocolate chips to the ones she brought up to me when she woke me up), and then decided to make a batch of oatmeal pancakes for Damien and herself.  She thought, "I don't know the recipe, but I'll just check Mom's blog.  She always puts the new recipes there."  Poor kid -- I hadn't gotten that far this week, so instead of pancakes, she and Damien got plain old oatmeal! Last night, as I got dressed to run to my parents', my very experienced ER-tripper gathered a bag of granola bars, a bottle of water, and a battery phone charger (WITH spare cord!) and shoved them at me as I bolted out the door.  I told her I'd post the recipe right away as a thank you for her quick thinking. Now she can make herself pancakes any time she wants -- but hopefully, it won't be because Mom's been at the hospital all night!

Banana Oatmeal Pancakes

Makes about 8 pancakes

1 banana
1 cup oat flour
1 tsp baking soda
1 Tbsp coconut vinegar + evaporated coconut milk to make 1 c.
canola oil (for pan)

Preheat griddle or skillet. Mash the banana until smooth.

In a separate (larger) bowl, combine oat flour and baking soda.

Add banana and milk, and whisk to combine.

Pour about 1 tbsp of canola oil onto hot pan.  Using a folded paper towel, carefully wipe the oil across the surface to grease the pan.

Drop batter onto pan in scant 1/2-cupfuls.  Cook for 3-4 minutes,  flip, and cook 2-3 minutes more.

Serve with syrup of choice (we like Lyle's golden syrup, either plain or with a bit of cocoa powder mixed in), or just gobble down plain.

©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.

Thursday, October 27, 2016

CrossTimber Personalized Name Gifts (A Homeschool Crew Review)

Personalized Framed Plaque with Name Meaning and Bible Verse {CrossTimber} Reviews

The meaning of a name is important.  In the Bible, Naomi says, "Do not call me Naomi [‘Sweet’]. Call me Mara [‘Bitter’], for the Almighty has made my life very bitter." (Ruth 1:20)  The story of Zacharias culminates with him regaining his ability speak after he writes of his newborn, "His name is John," which means, "God is gracious." Jesus charged Simon with leading the early Christians with the words, "Blessed are you, Simon, son of Jonah...I say to you, you are Peter, and upon this rock I will build my church," changing his name to reflect his new role in the Church.  (Matthew 16:17-18)   When we chose names for our children, the biggest challenge Neal and I faced was "Do we like the meaning of the name?"  As much as we tested the sound of names, and any potential nicknames, the deciding factor in what name each baby was christened was the meaning of his or her name.   Luke means "light," Matthew means "gift of God," Celia is from the Latin "caelus," or "heaven," Jude means "God is praised," and Damien means "to overcome." I think a name is one of the most important gifts a parent gives to their child.

CrossTimber is a family-run company that designs beautiful name gifts, but owner John Dehnart is as passionate about name meanings as I am!  I was so excited to receive a Personalized Framed Plaque with Name Meaning and Bible Verse from them to review that is not only artistically beautiful but also delves deep into name meanings.

Crew members were given a gift certificate to CrossTimber and allowed to choose from many different personalized gifts, from name plaques to coffee mugs.

When we were selected for this review, I wasn't totally certain what I would pick. I was leaning toward a coffee mug for Jude, who is very interested in genealogy and etymology, but how does a mama choose ONE child?  John is always up for checking out a name, so you know what you're ordering. I decided to see what CrossTimber had researched for Celia. (She got moved to the top of the list because while the boys have found mugs and keychains with their names on them, it's very rare for us to find anything in a gift shop with her name on it.)  Most consider Celia to be a derivative of Cecilia, which means "blind," but we chose it because of its Latin root. I admit wanting to test John's skill into finding name meanings.  Silly me! John LOVES a good research challenge.

I contacted him through the website, explained the background on our choice of  Celia's name, and he promptly emailed me back with the following:

He also gave me suggestions on what would be on plaques for each of the boys, and now I really didn't know what to choose.  Then I thought about Neal.  No, he's not an afterthought -- I just was focused on "pick a kid."  In the interest of not risking a cry of playing favorites, I thought that maybe I would get a gift for Neal, especially since his is not a common name, and finding something with the correct spelling is nearly impossible.  I asked John if he could tell me about Neal's name. I thought about getting a single name plaque for Neal and saving it for Christmas, but then I realized one with both of our names would make a great anniversary gift.

I love our plaque!  There are over 100 different combinations of designs to choose from, with eleven "picture postcard"  backgrounds, from mountains to river scenes, in the multi-name-plaque category. I selected the "Harvest Fields" background for two reasons.  First, it is a nod to our family's business in agriculture.  (We sell packing supplies -- boxes, crates, etc. -- to farmers.)  However, continuing on the name theme, I've been told that Falciani means farmer, so a harvest seems appropriate for an October anniversary.

I was impressed with the shipping, too.  It came very well padded, so safe from any mishaps in the postal system.  It also came very quickly!  CrossTimber asks that you give them two weeks to get your item to you, including transit time.  Even in the massive Crew rush (there are 90 families on this review, and many of us ordered additional items), I still received my order within the two weeks allotted.

Bookmarks are available for purchase with orders, and included for free with larger orders. However, John tucked a bookmark for each of us.  Each has our name, the meaning, and the Bible verse from the main item.

In addition to the gift of a bookmark for larger orders, CrossTimber offers some nice discounts.  I know when you're a small business, even small discounts can take big bites out of your bottom line, so I appreciate their generosity!

CrossTimber is also holding a Christmas "Giftaway"!  One winner will receive a free personalized gift, while nine others will receive $10 gift certificates.  The contest ends on December 4th, 2016, so you will have your item by Christmas.  There are several ways to enter, including daily options, so make sure to come back and increase your chances of winning!

a Rafflecopter giveaway
After learning how dedicated John is to finding the meaning of names, and seeing the quality of CrossTimber's work, these may become my go-to for new baby and Christening gifts, or a wedding gift, etc.  It would also be something special for a new Confirmand to present him or her with the meaning of the newly chosen Confirmation name.  A gift from CrossTimber will help share just how special a person's name is!

To learn about the name gifts other Crew members received, click on the banner below.

Personalized Framed Plaque with Name Meaning and Bible Verse {CrossTimber} Reviews

Crew Disclaimer

©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.

Middlebury Interactive Languages (A Homeschool Crew Review)

From when he was in early elementary school until this year, Matthew has studied Spanish.  After struggling through Spanish II and a semester of Spanish III, he decided to take a break from it and study Latin.  However, in today's economy, the ability to speak Spanish is a very marketable skill, so when we had the chance to review Middlebury Interactive Languages' High School Spanish I Fluency, I thought this would be an excellent opportunity for him to keep practicing his skills.  (This is a two-semester course; we received access to the first semester for the review.)

Middlebury Languages offers programs for elementary, middle school, and high school students in Spanish, French, Chinese and German.  There are two styles of courses: immersion and explicit instruction.  The fluency courses are based on an immersive methodology.  Imagine disembarking from a plane and being thrust into a foreign city and needing to navigate around.  That is very similar to how the Fluency course works. The program uses activities and videos where a student is asked to observe keywords, inflection, tone, and body language, the same as you would in person.

In working with Matthew, I began to realize a good deal of his struggle with Spanish last year was in speaking and being able to understand what others were saying. At first, he panicked because the videos feature native speakers who sometimes spoke very rapidly.  He had difficulty understanding the words, just by sound.  In this exercise, however, he did quite well because he could read as he listened.

On one hand, if he was dropped off in the middle of Madrid or Mexico City, he would be forced to listen, formulate the language in his head, and speak. That's a tall order.  At the same time, I've been to Italy but do not speak the language (Spanish, Catholic Church Latin, and Italian restaurant menus are as close as I get), and while a conversation with a native was difficult, there were plenty of opportunities to attempt to "read and speak" or read along with something like a menu. Gestures and facial expressions also were employed to convey points.  I think that while Matthew's other program focused on conversational Spanish that was more "pick a topic, and we'll talk back and forth" combined with a more traditional grammatical approach, this multi-sensory approach may be better for him.  Being able to hear and see the words he is learning, and in context, will help him gain confidence.  I think also being able to see gestures and movement help, as opposed to a face-to-face but behind desks conversation.

When you're looking at fluency in a language, learning cultural norms are crucial as well.  One of the areas where this program is better than most others I've seen is that it features examples of how Hispanic idioms are a bit different from English.

I can say that despite six years of Spanish study of my own, I never knew this.  I would never consider gordito to be a compliment, but it is. Without knowing the culture, it would be easy to find myself offended rather than flattered someone was calling me a pet name.  I think learning the culture of the people you are speaking with is just as important as the words they say.

Matthew had a relatively easy time of this. I think because he did have a history with the language, it made it easier for him to work on using Spanish rather than learning Spanish . It moves at a very rapid pace, as opposed to a more traditional course that gives you many opportunities to learn a particular set of vocabulary words or grammar concept. Unit 1 focused on greetings, culminating in the ability to introduce yourself.  

There was only a minimum of formal vocabulary and grammar included at the beginning, and Matthew felt that if he hadn't already known "Soy de Nueva Jersey y tengo quince aƱos..." from prior instruction, he would have been totally lost in the "learn where you're from, how old you are, and write an email/record a voicemail with this" sections.  I think the program is more appropriate for students who have studied with a more traditional program and are now looking to work on putting the "book knowledge" to the test in a situation that more resembles a real-world experience.  He was able to complete several activities in a single day -- he spent about 45 minutes each day and was able to finish about a third of a unit each time.

Overall, I liked this program for him. I think we are going to continue with the course to help with his fluency skills. I am looking at it to be a "bridge" for him for this year.  He's not quite ready for Spanish III because his foundation is shaky, but this is certainly strenuous enough to count as a third language credit.  Importantly, it is helping to build his skills and confidence that he really has learned more than he realized, and giving him the chance to build upon the skills he has, rather than letting them stagnate or wither.

To read about the other Middlebury Interactive Languages programs the Crew has been working on, click the banner below.

Spanish, French, German or Chinese {Middlebury Interactive Languages}

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