Wednesday, October 29, 2014

Willie's Redneck Time Machine {a Tyndale House Blog Network review and giveaway}

Not sure I've confessed this on my blog before, but we are Duck Commander fans.

I know that evokes one of two responses for most of you.  It's either, "Cool, we like them too!" or, "WHY on EARTH??!!"

If you now are questioning my judgment, feel free to move along and not read this review.  But if you have kids who love Willie, Jase, Phil, Uncle Si and John Luke... read on.

Willie's Redneck Time Machine, by John Luke Robertson (with Travis Thrasher) is a fun juvenile fiction title.  This is actually one of four title that have recently come out, and my middle guys are telling me that we need to own them all.

This is a bit of a "choose your own adventure" style, which doesn't appeal to my older teens at all, but the 10-year-old and the "11 days until I'm 14-year old" love it.

The Doctor Who-like aspects appealed to them a lot too.  Think outhouse instead of police box, and both are bigger on the inside.

The publisher's description says:
In this volume, Willie finds a mysterious wooden crate in the Duck Commander warehouse. Only John Luke is around, so the two of them open up the box and find a strange device. It turns out it's a time machine that looks a bit like an outhouse. Willie and John Luke test out the machine and find themselves journeying back and forth in time. They have crazy adventures but know they need to make it back to West Monroe. But will they make the right choices to get back at the right time?

So, Thomas had this to say.  "I enjoyed it.  I found it very funny.  It is somewhat strange.  The characters are definitely very like what you see on tv."

<sigh>

He's not much help at all.

He did tell me that he really enjoyed going through and having the book insult him for being too scared to enter the outhouse.  The first chapter has John Luke entering the outhouse, and not coming out.  You (Willie) have your first decision to make:  enter the outhouse, or don't.

If you don't enter, then more people come along and disappear into the outhouse, and you continue to choose to enter or not.  Thomas found it hysterically funny to keep choosing to stay put.


One thing I really love about this book has to do with my struggling readers.  Something that is really good for these kids is to read and re-read the same text, to build fluency.  This "choose your own adventure" format encourages reading and re-reading, to see what changes when you make other choices, to see how you end up in the same place anyway, or just to see what happens when you make the wrong choice.

I love that.

I mentioned that there are four titles in this series:
  • Willie's Redneck Time Machine
  • Phil & the Ghost of Camp Ch-Yo-Ca
  • Si in Space
  • Jase & the Deadliest Hunt
Seeing as a certain someone has a birthday coming up (in 11 days, in case you've forgotten), my plan is to get book number two.  And he'll probably get the third one for Christmas.  Mostly because I want him to have some time to read and re-read.

Do you want to win one?

a Rafflecopter giveaway


Disclaimer:   I received this book, and one to give away, for free from Tyndale House Publishers.  No other compensation was received.  The fact that I received a complimentary product does not guarantee a favorable review.

Tuesday, October 28, 2014

Bugs! {a Moms of Master Books review}

It's time for another Moms of Master Books review.  This time, it is for an amazing book about BUGS!

Okay, I have at least one child who will occasionally talk about being an entomologist some day, and my mother's degree is in entomology... so this is a topic my family takes a fancy to.  Factor that in as you read the review.

That being said, this really is a cool book.  Not just for insect geeks.






Bugs: Big & Small God Made Them All by William Zinke is a brand new hardcover put out by Master Books.  The photography is stunning, which might be the best part of the book.  Maybe.  Like this:


Seriously, that photo is just perfect.


Some of the pictures are stunning, but not nearly so beautiful:






I don't like hornets.  Or wasps.  <shudder>



The book is split into five chapters:
  • Amazing Creepy Crawlers
  • Jumbo Giants
  • Weird & Wonderful
  • Bugs in Camo!
  • Bizarre and Beautiful
We ended up reading aloud a chapter a day, and the kids would look through the photos afterwards.  That was fun.



The text includes a lot of description of some of the fascinating creatures featured here, some Bible verses and commentary, and then there are little "Creepy Cool" facts thrown in.

Like this one, about bees and the fruits and vegetables that are pollinated by bees.

My teens wanted to point out that a lot of the "creepy cool" facts weren't remotely creepy.





Check out the trailer:



The photographs are incredible, right?

Another really great thing is that the last couple pages of the book are perforated bug cards that you can tear out (we haven't yet).  These cards have a great bug photo and the common name on the front.  On the back of the card is a chart with all kinds of facts -- common name, scientific name, length, lifespan, location, and diet, and also a little trivia-type fact.

The cards are cool. 

The whole book is cool.

You could win one at the Facebook party tonight.

Go see what other Moms of Master Books have to say about Bugs.

http://nlpgblogs.com/20141020-MMB-facebook-party-bugs/


There is a Book and a Treat Facebook party coming up tonight, October 28 at 7 pm Central Time, where you could win cool prizes -- and discuss bugs too. 


Disclaimer:   I received this book for free from New Leaf Publishing Group as part of the Moms of Master Books program.  No other compensation was received.  The fact that I received complimentary products does not guarantee a favorable review.

Thursday, October 23, 2014

Apologia iWitness series {a Schoolhouse Review Crew review}

I have a certain 13-year-old son who has been fascinated by archaeology absolutely forever.  He has been especially interested in biblical archaeology, and it is a topic we all enjoy.  So imagine my delight when I found out that the Schoolhouse Review Crew was going to be getting a look at a new resource from Apologia Educational Ministries.
Apologia Review

They have a new series of books, iWitness, that is really a lot of fun.  There were two titles that came out a year or so ago that are a little different (Resurrection iWitness and Jesus iWitness).  The three new ones are fairly small (5"x8") books with a lot of information packed inside.  Our favorite, of course, is iWitness Biblical Archaeology, but Old Testament iWitness and New Testament iWitness are pretty amazing books as well.

Apologia Review
We started with the Biblical Archaeology title, of course.  The journal-y feel of the book is immediately appealing.  The font bothered me initially, but it does add to the journal look, and it didn't bother my teens at all.

Early on, the book talks about how archaeology cannot prove the Bible is all true, but it can help to establish its reliability.  That is always a good point to be making.

Then it starts going through some archaeological finds and evidences.  We thought they spent too much space on Noah and the flood (four 2-page spreads), but the information there was all good.  We were far more interested in the sections past that though.

Such as one of the pages on Old Testament History, where it shows the Black Obelisk of Shalmaneser III, and tells us that it "mentions Jehu and even shows him offering a tribute.  This is the oldest picture of an Israelite and was made during their lifetime."

There is so much fascinating information in this book.

Apologia Review
The Old Testament iWitness and New Testament iWitness books are similar in style.  The Old Testament starts off by talking about why this is important to Christians.  It goes on to talk about manuscripts and how they were created, showing bits of some of the older ones we have.  There is talk about the difference between the Hebrew Bible, or Tanakh, and our Old Testament.  How did the books end up in the Bible?  Who wrote them and when?  What about the Apocrypha?

The New Testament iWitness might actually be my favorite.  It talks a lot about the early church, and how the books of the New Testament came to be formally recognized and put in order.  It talks about various people (like Athanasius and Eusebius), and councils (like Hippo and Carthage).  There is discussion of when the various books were written, how they were copied, and some great stuff on early hymns and creeds.



Coming in 2015 are two more titles in this series, and I'm really excited about those.  iWitness World Religions and iWitness Cults and Heresies are the two titles.

Each of these books is appropriate for folks of all ages, but the reading level is roughly ages 11 and up.  The font used could make it a little challenging for younger readers, or at least it did for mine.  The books are $14 each.

Go see what others have to say about this series!

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Wednesday, October 22, 2014

Middlebury Interactive Languages {a Schoolhouse Review Crew review}

Like many homeschoolers, I have struggled with a foreign language for my kids, especially when it comes to high school.  Many, many years ago, I took German, and learned quite a bit (Danke, Herr Krueger und Frau Schmidt!)  But that was, well, many many many years ago.  I certainly don't know enough to teach it.

I've tried to learn Spanish alongside my kids a couple of times.  That hasn't been so wonderful either.

Middlebury Interactive Languages Review

The opportunity to learn (or re-learn, in my case) German with Middlebury Interactive Languages was something that really excited me.  They have courses for elementary ages (3rd-5th grades), middle school, and high school.

As a Crew Leader, I actually got a look at all three.  My high school student has been fighting migraines, though, and I've pulled back a bit with his on-screen time.  So it was mostly the other two courses that we've worked with.  The focus of this review is the Middle School level.

Both the Middle and High School levels of this program are set up with daily lessons, and the expectation is that you work five days a week for 18 weeks to complete one semester.  Each day's work is clearly laid out, so you know at a glance exactly how far you should get in a day.  I love that.


You can see all the little green checkmarks showing that Thomas has completed Unit 1, Lesson 5 in the above screen shot.  You can also see his saved work, though I didn't show that it was scored 6/6.

Each Lesson is one day of work.  So for Lesson 5 (of the first unit), there were a total of nine parts, or slides, to work through.  Let's talk a bit about how this all works.  The units seem to be set up in a similar way throughout.  Each unit has ten lessons (or two weeks of material).

Wilhelm (shown above) introduces you to the goals of the unit.  In this case, we are learning about "school" words, the alphabet, pronouns, articles, and Burg Eltz.

The first thing that happens is that the vocabulary for the unit is introduced.  On the left is the screen shot for that, where you can click the little speaker icons to hear the words pronounced, but there is NOTHING that tells you what the words mean. 


At this point (in unit one), Thomas was feeling a bit overwhelmed and like this was a bit too "immersion" without actually being immersed.  I sat down to talk through some of the vocabulary with him, and I assured him it would be explicitly taught in the program too.

And then I noticed the bright blue Print button.  Yeah.  Clicking that results in the image on the right half.  A nice little list, with the German and the English.  That you can should print out.

Duh.

I made Thomas start over from the beginning after we found that.

The learning proceeds with a combination of approaches that seems to really work well.  There are conversations to figure out, matching games, opportunities to select the appropriate word fill-in-the-blank style, opportunities to type in words, opportunities to record yourself speaking, direct teaching of grammar (or other) concepts, and each unit has a culture focus as well.





The castle is the culture focus for Unit Two.  Very cool, and it certainly grabbed the attention of my teen! 

The high school level is very similar, so IF William was working on it, the two of them would be learning a lot of the same materials, but the high school materials move a lot faster.  It appears to work the way my Jr. High German did -- I took the first semester of high school German as a full year course in 8th grade without getting high school credit for it.  Then I took the second semester of high school German in 9th grade, and got 1 credit for completing that.

My son's thoughts:

I'm pretty excited about learning German.  I like that the lessons are pretty 'to the point' and not trying too hard to 'be fun.'  I think the length for most of the lessons is great, although some lessons are really short.  I don't like having to write German words because I have a hard enough time writing English, but I suppose it is necessary.

The conversations seem fairly real, though I don't play baseball so that isn't something that comes up in my life.  I was able to do things like say "See you later" or "Good morning" to my mom or other people after just a couple days, and that is nice.

I like that I wasn't learning the alphabet in unit one, where it doesn't really mean much to you.  Instead, that was in unit two, after you've already done a little bit of the phrases that you need to know to have a polite conversation.  I got to use it right away.  Because other than helping a kindergartner with schoolwork, how often does a teenager recite the alphabet?

I like that they are giving you some information about Germans and Germany that is interesting and might be useful, but they don't give you a whole ton of it. One lesson out of ten on culture stuff is nice.

My thoughts:

I am really loving this program.  At $119 for a semester, I think this is a great option for language learning.  You do need to stay on top of it and not take big long breaks, as the course is good for six months.  That's 90 days of lessons, which means you need to be doing at least 15 days worth of work each month.

If I wasn't already reasonably familiar with German, I would have to be paying more attention to the lessons.  I think a big part of why this is working for Thomas is that I am able to keep up with the conversations he is able to be holding at this point, though unit two forced me to learn some new vocabulary.  We are chatting back and forth in German in itty bitty "How are you? I'm fine, and you?" segments throughout the day.  I could probably pull that off in Spanish for awhile, but I'd be lost in French or Chinese.

The interface from the "teacher" side of things takes some getting used to.  I had to poke around a bit to find a summary of how he is doing, and we ignore the calendar completely.  Having the ability to schedule days off (like when Dad took a week off work in September) would be nice. 

Another minor quibble is that the program is a bit touchy with marking assignments as complete.  I can't seem to get it to grasp that Thomas did finish Unit 1, Lesson 5... so on the home page, it keeps telling him that is the next thing he has to do.  He can still get to the correct lesson through the table of contents or the calendar, but it would be nice to be able to get there from the home page.

I simply LOVE the cultural portions of the lessons.  So far, we've learned about Berlin and the castle shown above, but there are lessons on other cities (Dresden), and on composers (Beethoven, Wagner), and on history (the Berlin Wall, the Berlin Airlift), and on food (pastries, pretzels), and more.

The greatest part?  He is clearly learning, and it is SO easy on my end.

This is something I plan to continue to use.



Go check other reviews, of the other languages (French, Spanish, and even Chinese!) and other ages.  The elementary levels are a lot of fun!


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Tuesday, October 21, 2014

Standard Deviants Accelerate {a Schoolhouse Review Crew review}

Standard Deviants Accelerate Review
Years ago, lots and lots of years ago, I first ran across some videos from a company called Standard Deviants.  I thought the name was amusing, and checked them out.  Of course, the material was about a decade over the heads of my kids at the time, as whatever-it-was was intended as a curriculum supplement for high school, and my oldest was around seven.

I, however, loved it.  Offbeat, silly, and memorable.  Though, obviously, not enough that I remember the topic now.  Shakespeare, maybe?

The news that they now have an online version of some of their materials, Standard Deviants Accelerate, was pretty exciting.  For the past two months, we've had access to every one of the Standard Deviants Accelerate Homeschool Courses, and this is a great resource.

There are a couple of courses available for students as young as 3rd (Arithmetic) or 4th grade (Fundamental Math), but most of the coursework is for junior high and up.

What we  used:

  • Richard (5th) and Trina (3rd) used Arithmetic.
  • My teens (ages 13, 15, and 17) used Nutrition.
  • The oldest used Chemistry.
  • I peeked at AP Chemistry and used US History.
My review is focusing on my high schoolers.

How it works:

The non-AP courses all work the same way.  There is some sort of (usually group) activity to get you started.  For the US History, that involves writing a farewell speech from one of the first presidents.  Personally, this is not the type of assignment that will fire up MY kids, so when we go through the US History course, we'll probably just have a group discussion.  There is also a "big question" for the students to be thinking about as they work through the course.

Then you get into the meat and potatoes of the course.

All images from the first lesson of US History
There is a video, which lasts roughly 7-11 minutes.  The videos feature a dozen or so students, who each give a little piece of the topic, with some really bad jokes, or crazy animations thrown in too.  Some courses get a little sillier than others.  The whole thing is split into short little segments, so it has the feeling of moving along.  A transcript is available right on the same screen, so you can also see what is being said.


The Vocab section goes over important words (in some courses) or concepts, like above.  These treaties, acts, etc. were all covered in the video.

The next tab, Diagram, gives the students a chance to do a little fill-in-the-blank summary of what was covered in the lesson.

Then you have the chance to take a quiz.  One thing I like about the quizzes is that although there are some silly answers, for the most part, you do have to be paying attention to get everything right.  If you look at the answer choices in the question below, one answer is just silly, but the other three are all possible.  (This is the only "silly" answer in the entire quiz for this lesson.)  And if you get the question wrong:

It shows you what the correct answer is, and has a link you can click to see the video.  That link takes you straight to the pertinent section in the video -- you don't have to watch all 11 minutes.



The final part of each lesson relates back to the big question, and how what you've just learned relates to that.

The course is arranged so that there are a few lessons that make up a "chapter" and each chapter has a review/test section as well.  This includes some wrap-up types of group projects, some of which are quite adaptable for individual students. It also has a post-test which pulls questions that student missed on earlier quizzes (or random questions if there weren't enough missed).


Kids' opinions:


Connor worked with the Chemistry course (sometimes on the 1st generation iPad), and he commented that sometimes it is a bit on the zany side.  I think it does an excellent job as a supplement because it puts things together in memorable ways, with lots of acronyms and ways to remember the material.  They assume you have covered the material already, so it doesn't go as in-depth into the more science-y parts of it, but they talk about it so that you are grasping the concept, and you can go back to your actual chemistry course to now better understand the science details.  I know it has been noted that this is a supplement, but I want to really emphasize that really it is not a stand-alone course.


Connor's statement about Chemistry (9th grade and up) vs. Nutrition (7th grade and up) was that the Chemistry seemed "less zany."  Connor also watched a bit of the Arithmetic course while the little ones were using it, and he said that there is a bigger difference there.

Another difference with the Chemistry course is that there is more time where there is a diagram or animation and someone talking behind it.  A bit like this:


William (15) has been working on the Nutrition course, and he finds "that one lady to be really annoying.  Not the hippie one, because it is funny to watch everyone else look at her like she's completely crazy.  That other one, doing voices and stuff."

When I asked him if this was something he'd like to be able to continue, he asked if he can do it on his Kindle (the first Kindle Fire HD) and he said he'd really like to be able to do the science courses ("but NOT Algebra!") on his own, as they are funny and memorable.  Obviously, I took a break from writing this review to get every one of the courses added for him.

Bottom Line:


We have really loved Standard Deviants Accelerate, and we will continue to use the courses.  They seem to do a great job hitting the main points and doing so in a memorable way.  We all roll our eyes at some of the silly (or zany) stuff, but I don't think any of us would want it to go away, as it doesn't take up a lot of time, and some of it helps the points stick in your brain too.

You can subscribe a single student to a course for $24.95 per month, which is what I would do.  Have them take a course such as Biology, and then in the last month of the regular coursework, sign up for Standard Deviants Accelerate.  The AP courses are $14.95 per month, which would be amazing to do in April before the AP exams.  Not that I talked about those courses in this review (but I really, really love what I saw!)

Of course, right now, you can sign up for a free six-month trial, which is definitely worth doing!

Go check other reviews, as there others who are talking more about the younger levels and other courses.


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Monday, October 20, 2014

The Current {a Family Christian Blogger review and giveaway}

Disclosure of Material Connection: I received this DVD free from Family Christian Stores through the Family Christian Blogger program, who also are supplying another for a giveaway. This post does contain affiliate links.  I was not required to write a positive review, and any affiliate relationship does not impact my opinions. The opinions I have expressed are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255: “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”

So we sat down as a family and watched The Current.  Wow.

The basic story is that Jake is a Chicago teen who likes his friends, loves the Cubs, and has life figured out.  But then... his parents decide that there is just too much violence in their neighborhood, they buy a campground in Northern Minnesota, and move the family there.

Jake is far from pleased.

He makes friends with a boy from across the river, and that friendship changes his life.


Now, being fairly familiar with Northern Minnesota, there were a couple things that worried me about the basic premise of the film.  I really was not up for a movie that showed either this "city kid" or the local folks to be idiots.  You know the type of thing I mean, right?  This type of scenario usually means either:
  • Jake is going to be incapable of figuring out how to do anything, and the local people are going to have to teach him how to use an outdoor restroom, how to start a fire, how to empty an outdoor trash can, etc.
  • The local people are going to be incompetent country bumpkins, and Jake is going to teach them a thing or two about the real world.
Happily, neither scenario played out.  Jake was an obnoxious, self-centered teen at the start of the movie, but he certainly is capable of doing basic chores.

We loved this movie.  Everyone from the 8 and 10 year olds, to the teen boys (ages 13, 15, and 17), to Mom and Dad.  Very family friendly, with some very good messages.

One thing that my oldest really loved was how there was just a hint of boy-girl stuff going on, like a conversation about kissing a girl (on the lips!?!) between the two friends, a couple mentions of some girls being "hot," and some clear showing off to get the attention of those hot girls.  But nothing really comes of it.  There aren't any real kisses, and no implied relationships, even in the 15 years later scene.

One thing my husband and I appreciated was that unlike some other movies that take place near our homes, this one clearly involved people who live there and actually know the culture.  No exaggerated stereotypes, and casual mentions of "The Cities" (which is Minneapolis and St. Paul, for all my non-upper midwest readers).

I have a copy of this movie to give away, and I do highly recommend it.  Family Christian Stores provided me with this DVD and the one I'm giving away.


a Rafflecopter giveaway

Sunday, October 19, 2014

NIV First-Century Study Bible {a BookLook Blogger review}

I have a couple of study Bibles in my possession, and I even use them with some degree of regularity.  But I love having other options available, and the NIV First-Century Study Bible sounded different from any other resource I have.

Kent Dobson put this together, and I think he did a fine job.

From the publisher:
Experience the Bible through the eyes of a first-century disciple by exploring the cultural, religious, and historical background of the Bible. This Bible allows you to understand God’s Word in its original cultural context, bringing Scripture to life by providing fresh understanding to familiar passages, beloved stories and all the Scripture in between. The NIV First-Century Study Bible invites you into the questions, stories, and interpretations—both ancient and modern—which introduce you to a world vastly different from your own. Let us read with an eye on the past and with our feet planted in our present questions and circumstances.

Join Kent Dobson as he unpacks the culture of Bible times, and illuminates Scripture passages while asking thoughtful questions along the way. Kent is the teaching pastor at Mars Hill Bible Church in Grandville, Michigan, where he initially served as the worship director. He has been featured on Biblical programs for the History Channel and the Discovery Channel. Kent fell in love with Biblical studies in Israel and had the privilege of learning from both Jewish and Christian scholars. After his time in Israel, he returned to the States to teach high school religion and Bible before responding to God's call to the pastorate. Today, he keeps his connection to the Holy Land strong as he leads tours to Israel that combine study and prayer, inspired by the ancient discipline of spiritual pilgrimage.

My take:

There are a couple aspects of this that I really love.  One is the word studies scattered throughout.  Hebrew, Aramaic, Greek -- Dobson has studied all three, and I love that they are all included.  Judges 19:22 has a study on the word "wicked" -- the Hebrew word beliyyaal.  This "refers to the morally depraved and could also be translated 'destructive' or 'base.' Elsewhere the expression is associated with idolatry, drunkenness and rebellion..."  Ezra 4:13 does a study on "Taxes" -- specifically the Aramaic word mindah.  It tells that this word is probably derived from Akkadian, "describing a fixed annual tax paid to the king."  Luke 22:11 does a study on "Guest Room" or katalyma.  "This is the same Greek word Luke used when he said Mary and Joseph could find no 'guest room (2:7). This gives the book of Luke a kind of literary frame.  Jesus had finally found a 'guest room' where he could celebrate his final meal before his death."

Another aspect I really love is how Dobson continually brings up discussions by ancient commentaries (and some not-so-ancient ones too).  One thing shown in all of this is that the questions we ask about the Bible are not all that new.  The whole 'great conversation' aspect of classical literature applies at least as much to the Bible as it does to Homer.  I really appreciate that he is specifically including rabbinical and very early Church teachings.  Even when they are contradictory and raise more questions than they answer. 





Disclosure of Material Connection: I received this book free from the publisher through the BookLook Bloggers book review bloggers program. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255: “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”