Tuesday, June 25, 2013

Moving Beyond the Page (A Schoolhouse Crew Review)

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Moving Beyond the Page is an interdisciplinary homeschooling curriculum.  While the company offers a one-stop shopping by providing complementary materials for reading (ABeCeDarian, which we love) and several math program options (grouped by age/level), its core is language arts, social studies and science programs.   Rather than having programs for specific "grades," each year's curriculum is appropriate for a 3-year age span (for example, the 6-7-8 program - equivalent to "second grade" in a traditional trajectory - is geared for an advanced 6 year old, an average 7 year old, and a struggling 8 year old).  This makes it perfect for educating the child when he is intellectually and developmentally ready, rather than basing curriculum level choices on his birthday.  While the programs are strongly based in Constructivist Theory of Learning, they also incorporate an amalgram of Classical, Waldorf, and Montessori teaching/learning styles.  Considering our homeschool style is similarly eclectic, this composite concept is attractive to me.  Luke was the student for this Crew Review.   Just before the review assignments were given, we learned his high school would be closing and decided that homeschooling would be our best option to continue his education. While he was older than the recommended ages (we chose the level geared to Grades 6-8), I knew that comprehension and inference, something he has long struggled with, would be at an appropriate level.  I felt this program would be a less-stressful way to way to assess his abilities, memory, and learning style while helping him transition into homeschooling.

The program is available in two styles.  You can purchase an entire year's curriculum or individual theme units.  Moving Beyond the Page units are available in two formats.  One is with 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.  Units are also available in a paper book format.  For this, you will receive a pre-printed, self-contained workbook.

Moving Beyond the Page asked the Crew to review two units (our choice) per person.  We chose the units "The Pearl" and "Light and The Eye," based on Luke's interests.   Moving Beyond the Page's programs are meant to dovetail with each other.   The company recommends an interdisciplinary sequence that pairs "The Pearl" with "The Hydrosphere" (Science) and "Egypt and Mesopotamia" (Social Studies) in the first semester,  and using "Light and the Eye" with "The Middle Ages" and "Good Masters, Sweet Ladies" in the second.  However, it is definitely possible to effectively use them independently.  While Moving Beyond the Page's creators agree with the Montessori approach of downplaying tests, both programs include an end-of-unit review and exam, which I liked so that we could have an "independent evaluation" grade to measure proficiency.

The Pearl - moving beyond the pageMoving Beyond the Page: Language Arts - "The Pearl" 

I chose "The Pearl" because Luke recently studied John Steinbeck (his freshman class read  Of Mice and Men).  I felt this would provide the challenge of a new work but not a new literary theme/style.  (While this may seem a little unorthodox for evaluating, he was finishing the regular school year and taking final exams during most of the review period, so I also did not want to overload him with work!)  Moving Beyond the Page recommends this for a student who is reading on a late 7th/8th grade reading level.

A paper copy of the novella The Pearl is part of the complete program purchase price. I definitely like that it is offered as a "complete" program - you're not waiting for another shipment or hunting through bookstores.  (If you already own the text for any unit, you can purchase just the student workbook.  This makes the program ideal for families.)  We received the novella plus access to the online workbook (written by Kim A. Howe, M.S. and Karen Brown, M.A., $22.93).  For the workbook, you can download individual lessons daily, or PDF files for the complete Vocabulary & Grammar and Literary Analysis activities.  Note:  the daily program intersperses the two activities in the syllabus, but they are individual files.  I printed the Vocabulary & Grammar PDF and claw bound them, then realized the Content file was separate.  I offered to take the packet apart and intersperse the new printing with other lessons, but Luke decided he preferred separate packets.  We put the Content pages in a file folder and added that to the binding. (Since he preferred to keep the packets separate, I'll discuss them separately as well.)   The only other thing I wish it had was a downloadable/PDF syllabus.  For each day's work, Luke had to get online to find the assignments.  When his laptop cord broke, it meant he had to borrow mine to get each day's assignments.  While each day he was able to check off the assignment and I could see if he had completed it when I logged in, there was no way to work independently of an internet connection.

Vocabulary & Grammar

The vocabulary pages provide words and definitions, an example in a sentence, and asks the student to then use the words in his own sentence.  The words on this list (covey, incandescence, almsgiver, subjugation, consecrated, clamber, intercession, and petulant) all seemed appropriate for the target ages.  They are not used again in the workbook until towards the end and the review test,  but do prepare the student for reading the book.  The Grammar section was a a struggle.  The company recommends the purchase of their Parts of Speech Cards ($1.99, separate purchase, and not included with the review materials).  We did not purchase them, because I wanted to see if it was possible to do the program without them.  Yes, it was - the program included a page with the part of speech, function, sample, and demarcation symbol. However, these exercises were a struggle for both Luke and me.  He grumbled through the entire work, having to go back and forth checking what symbol he was supposed to be doing.  Checking it after, I can see why.  The space above the lines looks like hieroglyphics!  I'm finding it hard to check his work, because an article is a "small light blue triangle" and a pronoun is a "tall" light blue triangle.  Luke has issues with spacing, so it's sometimes hard to decide which is which in his markings.  I'm confident he has a grasp on parts of speech, so I'm going to assume he's right and move on, but if I were to do use this program again, I would jettison the symbol idea and either use different colors to underline, or a simpler "underline once/twice, circle, box" etc. rather than using their system. Yes, it would have been easier to complete/check by having the cards independent of the work packet, but it still would have been a laborious task.  I discussed with Luke if he liked the program itself and would be willing to use it for at least part his literature studies. He agreed but begged, "Just don't make me do hierogyphics again! That was awful!"  Duly noted.

Literary Analysis 

Whenever anyone has had a literature book to read, I always try to read along with them so I am aware of content and can answer any questions.  However, Luke read a little faster than I did, so I really appreciated the thorough Parent Overview/answer key for the content questions - I was able to use them to test his comprehension while I caught up.  His first answer to the question "How does the author describe Kino's physical appearance?" was  "I believe Kino is a poor fisherman, who is startled about what will happen next."   I told him that was a good description, but he didn't answer the question that was asked.  (Note, I'm not too concerned about answers matching verbatim as long as he gets the concept right.  Clearly, he didn't quite grasp this one.)  I tried to point him down the right path, but didn't get very far.  Our discussion:
Q. What are Kino's physical characteristics?
A. He looks like a fisherman.
Q. So does every other guy on the dock. How would you know which fisherman HE is?
A. (deadpan) Ask somebody.
I warned you inference and comprehension aren't Luke's strong suits. After I got done laughing (I know, I broke a cardinal rule there, too), I sent him back to the table with his book and he found the "correct" answers.  But it definitely was a time saver (and having it written by "someone else" proved I wasn't trying to make his life difficult) to have concrete answers already prepared.

The program ends with a final writing activity.  Over the course of 3 days, the student researches and brainstorms, writes, and revises a parable, eventually giving the final copy to the instructor for a critique.  This is definitely a well-rounded program that involves all aspects of language arts.

Light and the Eye moving beyond the pageMoving Beyond the Page: Science - Light & the Eye

We received the pre-printed Light and the Eye program ($23.94).  The program contains the text Light and Color by Peter Riley, and a workbook by Katie Durgin-Bruce, MS.   Not included in the curriculum package is the Science Kit  ($79.00), which contains the materials needed for the 11-13 Science Second Semester, of which this unit is part.  We did not receive the Science Kit as part of the review.  At first, this didn't seem to be an issue, because he was able to use household items for the first "lab" sections, but as he progressed, he needed specific items that were part of the kit.  Luke completed the theory part of the program and many of the activities, but was unable to build the final projects (his choice of a kaleidoscope or a periscope). If you purchase the Science curriculum, definitely budget for the Kit!

The text is part of the Franklin Watts Straightforward Science series.  To say that the text for this is "Really nice," really doesn't do the book justice.  It is heavily illustrated with photographs and diagrams.  The text is concise yet detailed.  It is a very brief book, however, and does not go into great depth about any topic.  For a student looking for an overview of a topic, it is perfect. However, it would definitely need added sources if your student had a very strong interest in light, color, or vision. 

Like the literature program, this science workbook covers the text thoroughly. The program is very hands on, with some sort of "lab" for every unit/concept.   Each day had a short Q/A review of the text, followed by a hands-on activity.  Projects begin with the very first lesson!  This was one place we were able to re-create the lab materials without the science kit.  Using a mirror and comb from my makeup bag, Luke was able to build his own ray-making tool.

One lesson, called "Household Materials Hunt," had Luke wandering the house with a flashlight.  He needed to find and categorize items that were transparent, translucent, or opaque.  He found one that was all three - Damien!  In general, people are opaque. However, if you hold the flashlight directly against his wrist, you can see the light glow and highlight his veins - just like the nurses do in the hospital to start an IV.  Then Damien hugged Luke and took him by the hand into the kitchen, saying hopefully, "I like marshmallows."  That move was pretty "transparent!"

Most days had multiple similar activities to choose from: for example, Lesson 6 on color offered your choice of two activities. One was to make a chromatograph to break a marker's dye into individual pigments, the other was to use the color wheel and mix paints to re-create the marker's final color.  While there were some activities where Luke chose to try both options (Lesson 5: Animal Eyes, Binocular Vision and Animal Eye Categorizing), it was nice having the choice of activities.  The program also is cross-curricular with lab reports.  For example, in Lesson 2 (on shadows), the post-activity report options were to either write a two paragraph mystery story about an object and its shadow, or create a paint/charcoal drawing showing the object and its shadow.

One drawback to the pre-printed book is it has the Parent Overview/answer key bound into the student's manual.  This made it a little more difficult for me (I was flipping back and forth to check instructions and answers) and could be a temptation for a struggling student.  In the online version, the parent section can only be turned on with the parent's account password, so it was easy to keep it hidden from Luke. I could have it "on" on my laptop while Luke used another computer with the overview turned off.  Having used both forms of the product, in the future I would be more apt to choose the online programs, and print each day's syllabus individually to enable off-line work.

Overally, we really liked this program.  I wish there was a true "High School" level available for Moving Beyond the Page. The company is adding a "Ages 12-14" program (currently, the first semester is slated to be available for purchase in early July 2013, with the second semester available in October 2013), but the grade level for that tops out with 9th grade.  Luke is beginning 10th grade, so he has aged out of the official program.  However, I think we will use some of the literature program for him;  in fact, one of the FAQs concerns older students and recommends picking-and-choosing specific units as appropriate.   I will definitely consider their younger level programs for Jude for all the reasons I like this for Luke - broad age appropriateness, frequent task "choice" and hands-on learning, and look forward to reading other crew reviews to see what others thought of the younger age level products.


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