Wednesday, July 9, 2014

Moving Beyond the Page - American Heroes & People Change the World (A Schoolhouse Crew Review)

Moving Beyond the Page, an interdisciplinary homeschooling curriculum for students ages 4 to 14, is a program that we have been using for over a year now for the boys.  Luke has been using the 12-14 level for some of his literature units, while Damien and Jude have been using the preschool (Ages 4-5) and kindergarten (Ages 5-7) levels.  The programs  - a blend of Constructivist, Classical, Waldorf and Montessori teaching/learning styles - suit our family's mish-mash learning style well.  This spring, we had the opportunity to review two programs from the ages 7-9 level: Language Arts program American Heroes ($27.88 for all texts with online workbook) and Social Studies program People Change the World ($32.97, with texts and printed workbook).

I knew this was a big jump for Jude (a new second grader), but he has been surprising us all this year, so I decided that it was a perfect time to push him a little bit and see what he was capable of doing.  For the youngest students, Moving Beyond the Page is available as general units.  Programs for ages 4-5 and 5-7 (as well as 6-8) provide a literature based yet broad introduction to language, science, and social studies, presented as an integrated program.  Ages 7-9 begins splitting these subjects into individual core subject unit that are more focused on one area of learning.

There are several ways to purchase curriculum for ages 7-9 and up.  The most economical is purchase an entire year's full curriculum (containing Language Arts/Literature, Science and Social Studies units), as purchasing this way also gives a steep discount.   (For Reading and Math, they recommend ABeCeDarian and Life of Fred, respectively, and have them available for (separate) purchase.)   9 week "themes" are also available for purchase, if a parent preferred to create a topic-specific unit study that encompassed those three major subjects.  Individual subjects can be purchased (ie, just the Language Arts curriculum).  Finally, individual theme units, like we received, are also available to create shorter unit studies that fill in a specific topic area.

 The Moving Beyond the Page curriculum (any program) is available in two formats.  The first is as an online access workbook.  When you purchase a unit in this format, you have to activate it to gain access to the PDF workbook(s).  You have an unlimited amount of time from the time of purchase to do so; however, once you activate the unit, you have just over 3 months to complete the unit before it expires.  This should be more than ample time (each unit has about 19 days' worth of activity, but you can easily combine most days and complete it faster), but you can contact them for about extensions if necessary.  If you prefer to have a completely offline curriculum, units are also available in a paper book format.  For this, you will receive a pre-printed, self-contained consumable workbook.  Both options are available as a complete unit, including textbooks, or as a consumables-only package.

Items for our two units arrived promptly.  With the exception of the online workbook for American Heroes, everything we needed came in the box.  I appreciate not having to hunt down a book before we get started, because when you order from different places, things never arrive at the same time.  I like that I'm not waiting a week for a book to start an online course. Because Jude loves American History, I chose American Heroes to explore some fantastic Americans, and People Change the World for its lessons on citizenship.  I knew that we were going to have to adjust some of the activities to his level, at least in terms of how much writing we'd be doing.  Jude's acuity is there, but literacy skills begin at non-existent and peak at horrible.  (We've considered Dragon Software for him, but his speech is less than 50% intelligible, and reading what was transcribed would be an equal guessing game.) 

I think we overestimated Jude.  That's really hard to admit, but it's the unvarnished truth.  This program is really intense.  For ages 7-9 it lists as prerequisites:

I knew he was going to struggle with answering questions - but the plan was to talk about the readings, not necessarily write them.  I was less concerned with his ability to write for sentences, and was happy with a three to four sentence discussion.  He's young -- just entering second grade -- but not terribly immature, so I thought he'd be able to grasp the concepts.  I was hopeful.  He was excited.  We both were upset when it just wouldn't work for us. Jude really struggled with how language and book-based the program is.

For example, in the American Heroes unit, Jude struggled with the difference between a historical/real life "hero" and a fictional "superhero."  He was trying to comprehend Ben Franklin as a "hero"  (he insisted Ben wasn't a "hero" but a "brilliant Founding Father scientist") when he saw a story about Christopher Reeve.  Jude couldn't separate his legendary character, Superman, pictured at the top of the biography page, from Reeve's real-life bravery after he became paralyzed.  I think it would take a very mature second grader, who had a firm grasp on real vs. pretend.  The textbook for the unit, 50 American Heroes by Dennis Denenberg and Lorraine Roscoe, gives short but thorough biographies, but I often wound up looking online for any videos about the people we studied.  (These Muppet Show/Sesame Street videos really helped Jude understand the Christopher Reeve who played Superman and then the post-accident  Christopher Reeve confined to the wheelchair.)

One of the activities was to name qualities of heroes.  He came up with a few, and then we wrote sentences.  Actually, most of them he dictated and I wrote (not unlike what he does in speech therapy, so there was some nice overlap between programs), but I asked him to write this one himself - he wrote "Jude is" and then copied one of our adjectives...

It means Jude keeps trying and never gives up.

(Yes, he's Mama's hero.)

We worked on the grammar activities, such as parts of speech (like this adjective exercise) but ultimately left a lot behind (like punctuation skills). I think he got the pragmatics of things, even if he didn't quite grasp "official" definitions.

People Change the World was even more difficult for him.  This Social Studies Unit encourages the student to look within himself more.  From the get-go, Jude was overwhelmed.  He doesn't understand "How do people make positive and negative changes?"  If you ask him "Who did good things?" he will readily answer...yep, Benjamin Franklin.  If you ask him "What are some bad thing people have done?" his response is "The Redcoats wouldn't leave George Washington alone."  Both true...but I'm guessing the program is looking for something a bit more modern.  Asking him what it means to be a "citizen" gets you a dissertation on Spiderman helping his fellow citizens.  Ultimately, we left behind much of the the workbook, and focused more on the books that came with the program.  Miss Rumphius by Barbara Cooney became popular as a bedtime story, but The Starry Messenger by Peter Sis was still over his head. We often skimmed much of the story with that one.  We wound up changing the focus of "citizenship" by putting it on Miss Rumphius and how she did her part to make the world better, and then added other stories at night with a similar theme.  For example, we read The Rag Coat by Lauren Mills -- another story about how a little bit here and there adds up, how we should help people out however we can, and that it's not always about being just one person but part of a group working together that changes the world.  By the time we were done working, I do believe he got the concept, but I know it was nowhere in the way intended.

I really love Moving Beyond the Page's approach to learning.  Ultimately, I think that these two units could really be a stretch for a second grader, even an average one.  I would lean more towards using this with an average third grader, and even as a fourth grade program.  I knew going in it was a risk to try it, and had hoped that we would be able to make simple adaptations to bring it to Jude's skill level, but ultimately, there was just too large a gap between the program and his skills for it to be successful without significant modification.  I'm not giving up on Moving Beyond the Page, but I think we will definitely backtrack to the lower overview-style units before moving back to the subject-focus units.

With so many great units to choose from, there are a lot of Crew Reviews for this one. 
Grab a cup of coffee and settle in to read them all.
Click to read Crew Reviews

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1 comment:

  1. This is a really neat review. Jude's sentence that you pictured brought tears to my eyes. This whole program sounds really interesting. We haven't used it yet but perhaps we will in the future.


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