Wednesday, February 17, 2016

Home School in the Woods: U.S. Elections (A Schoolhouse Crew Review)

Home School in the Woods is a lapbook-based learning program. By combining hands-on activity with strong narrative text, the Lap-Pak program helps bring history to life. With the upcoming Presidential election dominating the news, this is the perfect time for us to work on the HISTORY Through the Ages Hands-on History Lap-Pak: U.S. Elections. Marketed for students in grades three through eight, this amalgam of reading and active learning is designed help your student understand the American electoral process.

A particular feature we appreciated that while this originally is intended to be a lapbook style presentation, it can also be put together in more of a notebook compilation for older students.  My original plans were for Jude and Matthew to each work on this program, with Jude (grade 3) creating a traditional lapbook, and Matthew (grade 9) creating a notebook with a three-ring binder. The binder approach would allow him to still keep the "fun" hands-on experience, yet have the ability to add in extra information and writing when using the supplemental materials.

We've used some of the Home School in the Woods programs before, and have really enjoyed the company's approach.  However, as  much as I wanted to really love this one, especially it's ability to to span such a wide range of ages, I found that it just didn't work for us. We found that while the reading passages were far to difficult for Jude, the concepts didn't have enough content to justify for Matthew.  Despite a 3 page "scope and sequence", the overall "textbook" of the program was only 13 pages, with some concepts not having more than a paragraph or two about them.

I was also stunned to find out that the content's reading level consistently rated far higher than the suggested grade levels! Jude was really struggling, so I copied several passages from the text into a program that assesses readability using the Dale-Chall Readability Formula.  Passages consistently rated as High School level material.

Text passage

I thought maybe the "lap book" portion would be easier - with the idea that younger students could learn from the lap book, while older students could re-visit topics using the added text.  I was shocked that that came in even higher, as a College Student reading level!

Lapbook passage

Thinking this had to be over-rated, for comparison, I entered the same Executive Branch passage from the lapbook into Microsoft Word, which uses the Flesch-Kinkaid method to test readability. This assessment "maxes out" age at 12.0 grade level, which this same passage was marked at.

Now, I firmly believe that students will rise to levels that are slightly challenging. However, it's now no wonder Jude was having such a difficult time with reading information. Passages are hovering three times above his grade level!  He was not able to read them himself, and couldn't comprehend them even when being read to.  He gave up on the lapbook, and I focused more on Matthew.

Although this is meant to be a stand-alone unit study for an elementary and/or middle school student, there are twenty-one activities to complete.  After looking at the scope and sequence  of the curriculum, I had hoped it could be combined with the suggested supplemental materials and used as a unit study for a partial credit at the high school level.

Matthew, in 9th grade, did better at understanding the texts. They were a slight challenge for him, but not particularly onerous given his age and reading level. However, I felt that the text wasn't particularly deep enough to justify this as a full sub-unit for a high schooler. Our state's high school graduation credit requirements includes a semester of US Government, and while I was certain I would have to add a separate study on the Declaration of Independence/Constitution, Federalism vs. States' Rights, etc.,  I was hopeful that this would provide a decent basis for a sub-section on the electoral process. However, I do not feel that this had enough heft to it to be more than a "chapter overview." The program does included suggested texts for additional reading , but it would require a significant amount of adding to bulk this up into a decent chapter.

In addition, Matthew was able to read the text and complete the activities for two or even three sections in about 30 minutes a day, and that included the "arts and crafts" portion of cutting out, coloring, etc. Twenty-one activities sounds like a large number -- until they're completed in one school week! On one hand, he did have to repeat a few of the activities after learning the hard way that slowing down and reading directions was a better plan than diving right in and figuring it out as he went along. I'd have to give the program points for learning attention to detail is important, as well as being written at a level that is appropriate for a higher reading level, but that doesn't make up for the lack of content (the entire "textbook" is only 13 pages)  that I feel is needed to justify this as a program for a high school student.

This curriculum could be beneficial for an advanced middle schooler who is just being introduced to US Government.  However, I think that the program almost tries to cover too many ages and winds up not really doing justice to any.

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U.S. Elections History Lap-Pak  Review

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