Monday, August 31, 2009

Curriculum Sale

The Not Back to School Blog Hop sponsored by my3boybarians for this last week is a curriculum sale. I'm going to post a few things here, as I'd love to clear my shelves a bit more, and we can definitely use some cash inflow. All proceeds that don't go to send something free to someone who really needs it will be used to buy groceries.

I can take paypal, or you can mail me a check. Or if you've seen me whine about something I want and you want to trade, go for it! Prices include media mail, but I can upgrade that if you want it faster. I'll certainly combine shipping. And I'm only listing a few things right now, and I'll add to it tomorrow (Mondays are horrible for me!)

I'll change things to italics when there is a sale pending, and cross out or delete when payment is received. Leave a comment, or email me at debra dot brinkman at gmail dot com.

And if you are seriously hurting this year, and one of these items is exactly what you are needing, let me know that too. We'll work something out.

Heroes for Young Readers set, Books 13-16. Includes the four books, the activity guide and the companion CD. Never used, still in a cute plastic bag. I was stupid enough to purchase it twice. Retails for $40 plus shipping, if purchased as a set. Would like $30.

Konos: History of the World. year One: The Ancient World. Student Book. 1995 printing. I don't know why I bought this, or where. There is some writing in the first sixth of the book. It is intended for high school students. $10.

Golden Children's Bible, as used in the Memoria Press Christian Studies program. Book is in like new condition. I bought it, not realizing it was essentially the same as a Bible I had as a child. $6

Hey Andrew, Teach Me Some Greek, Level Two Student Workbook. I have two of these, one is the old style (blue cover, comb bound), one is the new style (spiral bound). Content is the same. $6 each.

Hey Andrew, Teach Me Some Greek, Level Three Full Text Answer Key. This is the old style (green cover, comb bound). Content is the same as in the current version. $6.

Heart of Dakota, Little Hands to Heaven guide. Mine has definitely been used, and there is writing on some pages (the first page of the first couple weeks has a handwritten list of supplies needed). Some dog-eared pages. $8.

Pearables Home Economics for Home Schoolers Level One. Cover is bent, but pages are in great shape. $8

More to come, but I need to take an allergy pill, and go get some group school done.

Friday, August 28, 2009

Frugal Fridays: SPLURGE!

I've never participated in the Frugal Fridays hosted by Life as a Mom. So this week, I'm jumping in with an unusual frugal tip.

Splurge. Spend money. Buy the more expensive item.

Isn't frugal all about spending less? Well, overall, yes. But sometimes, spending "foolishly" really makes sense.

Some examples:
  • If you grew up on Skippy or Jif, for example, but are purchasing generic to save fifty cents a week, good for you. But if every time you pull the peanut butter out you are feeling sorry for yourself that you can't afford the "good stuff" then maybe you need to rethink things. If generic is making you feel deprived, maybe it isn't worth the $2/month in savings. Save money somewhere that makes you feel good about being such a thrifty person.
  • Is there some treat that you know is an extravagance, that other frugally minded people always list as a way to save big bucks, but you just don't want to give it up? Then don't. You don't have to give up *everything* and you don't have to do it all at once. Years ago, my best friend and I would go garage saling on Saturdays and then go have an expensive cup of coffee at Pikes Perk. Everything either of us read about saving money and frugal living told us that spending $4 for a cup of coffee was a huge waste. Yes, if we cut that out every week (we didn't go every week though), we'd have $200 more at the end of a year. But $200 was a worthwhile investment in our friendship, and it made us both feel better about the things we were giving up. There is nothing wrong with deciding that there is some little luxury that you just don't want to go without. And then truly enjoy it, guilt free, and go back to washing out plastic bags with a revived spirit.
  • If buying the less expensive soap means you have to use twice as much to get your clothes clean, or run the dishwasher twice... obviously, spending more up front makes far more sense. (And yeah, I know... hand washing is cheaper than the dishwasher, but the dishwasher is cheaper than disposable dishes... I do hand-wash quite a bit, but I run a load in the dishwasher nearly every day too.)
  • If spending more on boneless meat means you are more likely to make dinner instead of ordering take-out, or if buying packages of pre-cut carrot sticks means you are less likely to stop and grab a snack on the way home, then by all means, splurge on the convenience. Once you are used to not ordering out or picking up expensive snacks, maybe you'll decide to do some extra prep work too. But you can take baby steps. You don't have to start by growing your own carrots. Start where you can.
Obviously, if money is beyond incredibly tight, you probably can't splurge at all. But it's kind of like dieting... for many people, if you swear never to eat chocolate again, or anything else unhealthy ever ever ever, you end up thinking too much about all those wonderful things you have given up. If you budget in a small treat here and there, it is far easier to remain disciplined and motivated the rest of the time, knowing you haven't given up everything. Of course, cold turkey is the best answer for some too.

So, I'm giving you permission to wisely choose an item or two, and to splurge!

You can check out loads of far better frugal tips here.

Thursday, August 27, 2009

Something we've started working on: College Prep Genius

So after telling you about Connor working through Career, College and High School planning last week, it seems only natural to start thinking about some scary acronyms. Ones like SAT and PSAT. We've been talking for awhile about having Connor start taking some of the high school tests so that we will have a better idea as to where he stands. But, yikes! How to start the process?

Enter College Prep Genius, a program we are fortunate enough to be able to review as part of the TOS Review Crew. I'm here to tell you a bit about it as I get going on figuring it out.

First, why do SAT prep work in the first place? I never did, and my scores on the PSAT, ACT and SAT (yeah, I took all three) were decent. (Okay, okay, I was a National Merit Scholar, so that must mean they were more than decent.) I think I did take a practice PSAT from the little exam book the College Board provides, and I spent a couple hours reviewing the types of questions for the SAT (probably during my business law class, as I certainly never was paying attention!)

But now there are some other things to consider. First is the relatively new writing portion of the SAT (introduced in 2005). That essay is unlike anything you would ever encounter in real life. At a minimum, a student should get some practice with writing an essay for the SAT, otherwise, they are not going to have a clue as to what to do in the actual test.

More than that, though, College Prep Genius is specifically designed to help students apply logic in taking these tests, thereby increasing their test scores. Higher test scores make it more likely that your student can find scholarships -- and who couldn't use help with paying for school?

The product we received is a book and workbook, College Prep Genius, and a 4 DVD class, Master the SAT. I skimmed the book, then actually read the introduction section.

We have not started actually using the material yet (what we've started is doing a practice SAT, which they advise doing before you begin the course). But here are some things I have learned, and why I am excited about this.

First off, they highly recommend starting SAT prep in 9th grade (7th grade if participating in one of the Talent Search programs). The basic idea is that you start early, mastering the logic of taking the test, and then you'll face less stress when it comes time to do the tests that count.

The SAT (and PSAT) are not tests about knowledge. They are tests of using logic and reasoning. Can you use critical thinking skills to figure out the answers? While your student may not have taken high school geometry, the logic and critical reading skills can be taught and practiced now, so when they do have the background provided in geometry, they will already be equipped to do well on those sections of the test.

The College Prep Genius program recommends a few things. Taking the test multiple times in a row, getting through Geometry before your junior year, taking a logic course early in high school, and reading lots and lots of classic literature were a few of the things that stood out to me.

One thing I really like is that this isn't just a book about acing some test. There are eight parts, split into 30 chapters. The sections include things I expected -- tips on the various parts of the test and information about the test itself. But there are also sections on transcripts, scholarship searches, journals, and checklists. I especially appreciated quotes like, "Colleges are not just looking for 'smart' kids, but students who are well-rounded. This includes doing volunteer work in the community and showing leadership ability." This is the intro to the page on transcripts.

The actual course recommendations consists of roughly the following:
  1. Take a practice SAT for a baseline measurement
  2. Read through College Prep Genius a couple of times
  3. Learn the acronyms for each section
  4. Watch Master the SAT on DVD (or take the live class)
  5. and then it is a matter of practice and actual tests
We're modifying this schedule slightly, for two reasons. One, Connor is 12 and he has pesky siblings. Two, I have a deadline to write up the review. So, our plan is roughly the following:
  1. Taking a practice SAT, minus the essay, doing roughly an hour worth per day. (check!)
  2. Reading through College Prep Genius once (intro and Reading only). (barely started)
  3. Watching the DVD (overview and Reading only) and learning the acronyms as we work through that.
  4. Taking another practice SAT, only the Reading section.
  5. Repeat steps 2-4 for math, then for writing.
  6. Take a full practice SAT, more realistically this time.
  7. Analyzing what we have learned, and whether or not he is ready to take the test for real.
  8. Continuing to practice in one form or another... a combination of the book, the DVD, practice tests, and starting to work on the essays as well. How much practice will depend on when we want him to actually take the test.
For the record, the results of his practice SAT translated to scores of 440-500 on Critical Reading, and 490-550 on Math. I refuse to think about his abysmal score in writing (which I expected) as nothing I've looked at really cares about that portion anyway.

Watch this space... I plan to post in about a month with an actual review of this test prep program. The plan is to have "after" scores for Reading for sure, and maybe even Math. And I'll update with the "after" score overall once we do get through the whole thing.

If you are even remotely interested, I do recommend heading over to the website and signing up for their newsletter. Signing up gets you a report about free college too. The link here is to the DVD course, which right now is available for $79.

You can check out what my fellow crewmates have to say about College Prep Genius at:

Any questions? I'd love to know what you would want to know in deciding whether or not this is something you want to purchase.

Special: Quarter Mile Math update

Quarter Mile Math just emailed a discount code for us to give to our readers. I updated my review to include the code, but will list it here too:

This is good for $5, through 30 September:


Wednesday, August 26, 2009

A Day in the Life - again

I'm posting another entry this week to take part in the Not Back to School Blog Hop sponsored by my3boybarians. Week 4 isDay in the Life week. Monday I had this to say.

Yesterday wasn't exactly normal either, but it was also quite different from Monday. So here goes.

The kids were up very early. Connor had his first day of Latin 100 through Lone Pine Classical, and he needed to get his posters printed out for that. While he was in class (8:20-9:35), William and Thomas worked a bit with ALEKS, but mostly they kept the little two quiet and out of Connor's hair.

After Latin, Connor checked out the homework assignment for Thursday's Latin class, and then he did some ALEKS. We spent 20 minutes cleaning the living room, kitchen, entry, and dining room (everyone over the age of 6 was assigned a room, everyone under six was assigned to "help" someone.) As a group, we read a couple articles from Nature Friend, and about a half chapter from our Nutrition text -- about healthy fats. Somewhere in there I read a Sonlight P3/4 story or two... not that I can remember what they were, but I remember doing it.

Individually, Connor finished up some things with the High School Planning I blogged about yesterday and did some Physical Science. William read to me while I was getting bread started, and Thomas & I sat down to do First Language Lessons and Ordinary Parents' Guide to Teaching Reading. Trina and Richard were playing Tornado. Or Trina was online playing JumpStart World.

Thomas put some time in the Explode the Code workbook, and I got William going on some math. When he headed over to make lunch, I got a phone call from a distraught friend. While on the phone with her, I directed Connor to take another section of his practice SAT, and had William work on Explode the Code Online.

While still on the phone, my husband came home. I had no idea he was taking off early! That threw us all completely off. So, we adjusted plans quite a bit. We did work on our writing assignment for the day, which had the boys each coming up with descriptive adjectives, adverbs and verbs to use in describing an object they had decided to write about, but we skipped pretty much everything else.

Connor & Dale watched another segment of the ham radio video, and took the practice tests.

Stuff we didn't do: our podcasts. Not much in read-alouds (but at least some!). We didn't exactly do Bible either. We did not work in our lapbooks, or do spelling. And a few other random things too.

Not an all bad day though.

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Review: Career, College and High School Guide

Educational Diagnostic Prescriptive Services (EDUDPS) was generous enough to send me a couple of different products to review. I'm going to be making three separate posts about them. The products I received included two semester long writing programs, a Greek and Latin roots program, and the subject of this post: The Complete Career, College, and High School Guide for Homeschoolers.

Connor has been really interested lately in figuring out a plan for high school, and for college. His first reaction to this product was "I don't have to figure out a career, do I?" But he was interested in the high school and college part, so we dug in.

After reading the introductory materials (which you can get in the free download -- the first 17 of some 250 pages is available on the website), he changed his tune. He wanted to do the career assessment part too. There is a nice plan laid out (also in the first 17 pages) as far as steps to take. We started at the top, and started working through the list.

The first assessment is a work/service preference survey. Connor came out with a tie -- both a Builder and a Solver. He & I talked about that, and figured the survey pegged him completely. After that, there are three more surveys -- one has to do with how you learn (that didn't really tell us much -- his scores were very close together), one is a personality assessment, and the last one analyzes the type of environment in which you like to work.

After taking these assessments (an hour or so for all of them), you are to look over the suggested careers/majors associated with your results, and to select two that interest you from each assessment. Connor had a really tough time narrowing it down to two on some of the lists! His group of "interesting careers" ended up consisting of a lot of computer related ones (computer science, computer engineer, software developer), or biology-ish types (biologist, geneticist, medical lab technologist) and a couple oddballs (carpenter, journalism).

You go on to look over some other lists of careers and majors, just to see if any other things jump out at you. Yeah, some interesting things were added in this step (FBI Agent, Nuclear Scientist, Robotics Technician). Eventually, through a fairly clearcut process, you end up with a manageable list. From there, you can look up the college majors that relate to those careers.

Then it gets really fun... making a plan. At this point, Connor being only 12, we certainly aren't trying to get things narrowed down too exclusively. But having a basic plan relating to these careers is fantastic. Writing out career goals was a bit of a challenge, but a good exercise. One of his plans is to be sure to pursue the related merit badges for everything that he ended up with on his initial "interesting career" list, even those that didn't make the "final cut." That wasn't exactly something suggested in the materials, but it certainly seemed to fit (yikes, now how to find a merit badge counselor for Nuclear Science!?!)

(Then something fun happened. Fingerprinting and Crime Prevention merit badges made the list. I was on our BSA website the next morning trying to figure out when and where a training session was happening, see here, and I saw one of the troops in town is doing a Merit Badge College. One of the choices: Fingerprinting/Crime Prevention. And the date even works for him.)

Finishing off the career planning section was the perfect introduction to the high school planning pages. You know, with such fun and exciting challenges as how to fit 15 science courses into the next six years... We did adapt some of the pages in this book in order to create plans for 7th and 8th grade too.

The high school planning section mostly involved looking over generally required high school courses, courses recommended for the majors he identified above, thinking about volunteer opportunities and activities to be involved in, and considering earning college credit through dual enrollment or CLEP or whatever. He was guided through the process step by step, and it wasn't as difficult as we both feared.

The end result? Connor has a nice little packet, about a dozen pages, that outlines the path he thinks he wants to be on right now as he navigates junior and senior high school, college, and beyond.

Overall, I was very, very impressed. I wasn't sure about this whole idea as "career planning" just sounds like such a big thing for a 12 year old to be doing! But this book breaks it down into manageable pieces, and it is chock-full of fantastic lists and charts and just amazing details. And far, far more valuable than any of the career planning junk I was forced to do in high school!

I really appreciated the values presented, particularly the reminder that prayer is the best place to start. They also have advice for boys, such as the idea that they need to consider each career in light of what this would mean for their ability to be a spiritual leader in their home. Their advice to girls does not either assume girls are supposed to have a full-time career, nor does it assume girls are not supposed to be prepared for a career.

Okay, for the negatives. EDUDPS has had issues with people violating their copyrights, and therefore they have been hesitant to put out ebooks. Currently, they are doing so, using File Secure Pro to help keep their intellectual property secure. File Secure Pro will only operate in a Windows environment, so I could not put this on my primary computer (a Mac). Also, the license only allows you to print it twice... basically meaning you need to print out the whole document. That's 250 pages, many of which I would have preferred to just read on the computer. And, since I don't have a printer that will automatically print on both sides of the page, it is difficult to conserve paper in that way.

I am allowed to photocopy the pages for use in my family, but that is a bit of a hassle. We worked through the assessments using a notebook, and only copied the dozen or so pages at the back -- the summation and plan forms. I plan to copy the pages for the individual careers that Connor identified as well, but I haven't gotten there yet.

The book is available in hard copy though, in addition to being available in ebook format. The ebook currently is on sale for $26, and the physical book is available for $40.

I would recommend this to parents (homeschooling or not) with kids who are jr. high age or older. The kids on the younger end of that may not want to tackle the career planning part just yet, but the high school materials are good on their own too. And you can reuse this with the younger siblings, or take it and go through it yourself -- it is good for adults also!

You can check out what my fellow crewmates have to say about various EDUDPS products at:

Any questions? I'd love to know what you would want to know in deciding whether or not this is something you want to purchase.

Monday, August 24, 2009

A Day in the Life

I missed last week (August allergies, I was pretty out of it all week), but am back to take part in the Not Back to School Blog Hop sponsored by my3boybarians. Week 4 is Day in the Life week.

I was hoping to post a blog entry about a somewhat normal day, but I realized something. Normally, our days aren't normal. So this post will be about reality today. The good, the bad, and at least some of the ugly.

The kids were up fairly early, only I wasn't functioning too well. I had them set a timer and go clean their room and the bathroom for 30 minutes, while I tried to get a grip on our day. We proceeded to make breakfast (oatmeal), and we listened to a couple of podcasts while they ate (Answers... with Ken Ham, and Merriam Webster's Word of the Day).

We filled out the forms for the TOS Summer Reading Program, which involved them insisting on reading about all the books that are being given away. We had a great discussion about all kinds of things in reading about the various books. My kids have made quite a list of books to check for at the library, and/or to put on wishlists for Christmas.

Then I set them to work on the computers. A couple were doing ALEKS, one was doing Explode the Code Online. I made some phone calls -- to reschedule an appointment, to cancel some things; and received some -- basically all Cub Scout related.

Connor read. And read. And read. Mostly it was a Sherlock Holmes book, though I believe at some point he was reading Physical Science. I know I reminded him that he was having a module test on Friday. I worked with William and Thomas on math, and Richard and Trina decided to write stories, so I had to spell all kinds of things at the same time. Somewhere in there, the boys did some calisthenics. William is trying to start practicing now for Tenderfoot requirements (he's not anxious to become a Boy Scout or anything!)

The kids made lunch. And Connor kept reading. Clubhouse and Boys Life magazines showed up in the mail, so he was completely convinced he had to read all of both of those before he could do anything else. Aargh.

I did get them working on laundry, dishes, and vacuuming. Then the younger group watched a LeapFrog video, while Connor worked through some high school planning (look for my review tomorrow!)

Connor headed outside to water the poor, pathetic pepper plants, and I tried to get everyone else rounded up. We ended up deciding to do some hair cuts, and take baths -- so that took a chunk of the afternoon. Except Connor. I sat him down and we started discussing the SAT and the PSAT (we're reviewing College Prep Genius). I had decided to have him do his pre-course practice SAT in sections. So he took two sections of a practice SAT today. Scored pretty well too, I think. Especially for his age. I don't know, it will be easier to understand it when he finishes up the test sections on Friday.

While he was doing that, the other boys took turns reading to me while I got supper going.

Everyone took a break to play with Bionicles, except Trina, who kept asking to play "Jump-tart" (Jump Start World) on my computer. I never did let her.

I did have to pull Connor away and get him onto the computer. His Latin class starts bright and early tomorrow morning, and he needed to put a few minutes into doing some things before class starts.

After dinner, Dale & Connor sat down to watch a Ham Radio training video, which they are doing right now. Somehow I am managing to type while listening to this guy talk about frequency modulation, amplitude modulation, sky-wave propagation, and all kinds of other things I don't understand. They do. I guess that is what counts.

All in all, this was an incredibly unusual day. No read-alouds at all, which is something that virtually always happens. We finished up Sonlight Core 5 early last week though, and ended up deciding not to start our new stuff until next week. So, while we aren't "on break," we are taking a drastic break from the usual routine.

I also didn't do "reading lessons" with anyone. Nor did we do Bible. Nor did we work on our writing program. Nor did we work on our lapbook. Nor did I do any preschool "stuff" aside from spelling some words for them. Nor did we read our nutrition book. Nor did we watch CNN Student News. Nor did we do any spelling. Nor.... okay, I'll quit there!

I may post again later this week with another day in the life. I'm hoping my week gets a little closer to normal.

Sunday, August 23, 2009

Reviews -- just some comments about them

Okay, I'm probably going to link to this in all my review posts. Here are a few general statements I want on this blog somewhere about the reviews I do.

First, I'm going to be very detailed and my reviews will be long. I want you to get a real feel for how I use a product and what that really looks like in my home. Because what I say about my favorite aspect of a product might be what makes you realize this is not the thing for you. Or what I hate my strike a chord and make you realize that this product is perfect in your home. So I tend to say a lot, not just whether I like something or not, because I know full well what works for me is not going to be the perfect program for someone else. Or it might still be wonderful for you, but for totally different reasons.

I want you to know why I like what I like, and to know why something didn't work. For me and my household. Your mileage may vary.

The second thing. As part of the TOS Review Crew, I do receive free products. Or people I know will give me a product in exchange for me writing up my experiences with it. The fact that I received a complimentary product is not going to guarantee a favorable review. It does guarantee a review. A fair review. But I am not going to praise something unless I think it deserves the praise.

Third. Affiliate links. So far, aside from the AdSense ad in my sidebar, I have not put stuff on this blog where you clicking a link will personally benefit me. I've been uncomfortable putting up any links that will profit me, as I don't want anyone to think I'm recommending stuff just to make a few bucks (or a few cents, depending on the link).

However, I do believe that is going to change. For one thing, I am going to put a link on the side somewhere to my Usborne website. I may put up some of the other things too. I will put a disclaimer in, so you can choose to check something out without going through my links. But I guess that as I shopped this weekend, and spent a total of $8.26 for groceries for a week (I had $9, so I could have gone back for another item), it was occurring to me that a $5 check from Click N Kids would make a world of difference. So, while I have no intention to become a blog full of ads, I do think there are going to be a couple links posted.

I'll still tell you exactly what I think. Click N Kids, for instance, is not my favorite phonics program in the world. I'm glad we have it, and the great part is that when one student completes it, you can delete him and start another student. And that goes on forever.

I don't like the extra little "stuff" that happens in between the lesson segments. Maybe if it varied a bit more. But my kids thought it was funny the first couple of times, but then they just got impatient -- and they can recite word for word what the dog is going to say.

And I wish there was an option to turn off the dictation. That got way too hard for my son. However, the beginning part was great, and I know between 4 kids (Connor was too old for it) we'll get our money's worth. I won't even link to it here, but my referral is my yahoo email address which is dkbrinkman. You can add the @, the yahoo, and the dot com. :)

Anyway, just wanted to throw some of that out there. Thanks for listening :)

Saturday, August 22, 2009

I've got a Trained patch!

I just earned my first ever Scout patch!

I mean, I've received a number of mother's pins (6 for Connor, 4 for William, 3 for Thomas) and I certainly earned those. But this one is all mine. Now, to get a uniform to put it on!

Anyway, I attended Cub Leader Specific Training this morning, so this now belongs to me:
Not a huge deal, in the big picture. But since I volunteered to serve as Committee Chair for the pack for this year, it is nice to have a more solid idea as to what that means. I'm hoping for an awesome year of cub scouting.

It promises to be quite a ride. William is so very ready to become a Boy Scout, and is very excited to be working on the last few things for that. Thomas is a Bear, and is far more concerned about having a lot of fun and doing great things than he is about advancing. Richard is feeling sorry for himself, that he still has to wait another year to be a Tiger.


Thursday, August 20, 2009

Review: QuarterMile Math

We had just finished reading King of the Wind, the story of a "fiery little horse from Morocco," when the mail lady pulled up with a package containing the software for Quarter Mile Math Deluxe, which is an online subscription to their math drill programming. My boys, of course, immediately wanted to do the horse race aspect of it, having just finished reading about such things!

What is it? Think about doing math drills with computerized flash cards, and every time you get the answer right, you make your horse speed up (or car, but I'll use horse throughout this review!). After the first few times, the other horses represent your own most recent scores. That means you are competing against yourself, not some "standardized" student, or even your siblings. You try to be just a little faster than last time. And wrong answers don't slow you down, so it is only positive reinforcement.

The website has some fantastic videos. On the homepage is one that is about 3 minutes, including some testimonials from kids and parents, a short demo and an explanation of some of the theory behind Quarter Mile Math. Go through the pages to find other videos. Probably my favorite is the key features one, here.

I think I'm going to summarize the rest with pros and cons, and this is for the Deluxe version, unless otherwise indicated:

  • Incredibly easy to install
  • Can access from anywhere, since the score data is stored online. So, you can have more than one student using it at the same time if you install on multiple computers, and the student doesn't have to use the same computer each time. They actually encourage you to install it on multiple computers -- at Grandma's house even -- so that you can practice from anywhere.
  • Can be used for everyone, for one price.
  • Is basically straightforward math, with no flashy animations or smart-alecky virtual kids
  • Has levels available for everyone. My 3 year old has topics that are easy enough for her; my K, 3rd and 5th graders have appropriate elementary topics; my algebra student has great options at the upper end; even I can find areas to drill.
  • The new reporting options are fantastic, and help you to really see what your kids have been working on, and how they are doing (not applicable to the standard version)
  • You aren't limited to working on any set schedule of topics. Have an 7th grader who isn't automatic with his times tables? It doesn't matter that the multiplication topics are considered to be 4th-6th grade level, he can still work those topics. But doing things "below grade level" doesn't stop him from being able to work on equations with integers, or other "level 3" topics.
  • There is a new homeschoolers page, where you can print off a progress chart, read testimonials from other homeschoolers, etc. This page looks like it has serious potential to be a very valuable resource.
  • Progress Chart - I printed one, handed it to my 7th grader, and gave him some ideas for how to use this. I told him that I do not want him doing things that are "Level 1" (K-3) except for the keyboarding topics. He can work on 4th-6th grade materials (improving automaticity on his basic facts sounds like a great plan). I love that I can print this over and over, for everyone, and I may keep these as part of our homeschooling records each semester.
  • I can have my kids work mostly independently. I don't need to pull out flashcards, print off drill sheets, set the timer, check their work, etc. All of that is handled by the computer. This is the only drill (and we've tried LOTS) that my kids can actually continue to do when I'm busy with life. And they aren't bored to tears. (They don't LOVE it, but they do it without complaint)
  • Will supplement any math curriculum. Whether you are doing a traditional scope and sequence, or using a non-standard one (Math-U-See, Right Start, Singapore), you can choose what to drill, so you don't have to have kids drill things they haven't covered.
  • At $3 per month, this can be a great short-term option, for use during a maternity leave, over a "summer" break (we take off November and December instead of the summer), for use just to work on drill of a specific skill, or as a supplement when you are dealing with other life issues.
  • Quarter Mile Math has been highly recommended as long as I've been part of the homeschooling community (a decade now), so it has a solid track record. And it is continuing to improve.
  • Places outside the homeschooling community see value in the program as well, with it being used in Sylvan Learning Centers, for instance.
  • Does not work on modern Macs, either the software version or the subscription (will run on OSX 10.4 with Classic, but nothing with an Intel processor)
  • Needs internet access for the subscription, as scores are scored online (but the student is not "going online" to play)
  • There really isn't any guidance about where to start, or where to go next, as far as the topics go. Nor is there anything explicitly pushing a student to move on to a more difficult topic.
  • For kids who have done video or computer games, this definitely isn't going to be high on the fun factor.
Pricing: The subscription runs $3/month for access to all their material, from K-9. Longer subscriptions are now available too -- $20 for one year, $35 for two. Or you can purchase software which would not need the internet, at $40 for one level (discounts if you purchase more at once, three levels total).

And as a special for Review Crew readers, they are offering the following code worth $5 off: 7P7J7. So that is even more of a bargain!! This is good through Sept. 30.

For us, $3/month is only sixty cents per child, or about fifteen cents a week. If you pay for an entire year, you are paying something under forty cents TOTAL per week, for all of the kids (and you! I know I can use some drill in math too!)

We haven't been using it long enough for me to report any results, but my plan is to require about 10 minutes a day, at least four days a week, for the school-age kids. And I will watch what topics they are choosing and suggest moving on to something different when that is necessary. I feel very confident, from watching their work this past couple of weeks, that they will be gaining math fluency. They are showing improvement already, and it has only been a couple weeks.

If you are needing math drill in your life, I'd encourage you to try it for a month, for $3 if you can download it and not get a disk ($5 shipping is added if you need a disk). See how it works, be sure to play with it yourself, make sure to print out the topics list. After a month, you can decide what to do next. Continue at $3/month, get a longer subscription, buy the non-subscription based software, or discontinue.

And I will link to other posts later this year, to give updates as to how it is working out more long-term. So watch for more from me!

You can check out what my fellow crewmates have to say about QuarterMile Math at:

Any questions? I'd love to know what you would want to know in deciding whether or not this is something you want to purchase.

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

After the storm

I know there is a Wordless Wednesday thing, and maybe I'll link this post to that.

But a couple words. First, what I didn't photograph... that would be the ping-pong ball sized hail that came down for about a half hour yesterday.

The second comment is that we were growing tomatoes and peppers this year. The tomatoes weren't doing fantastic, but the peppers were beautiful. We had at least a dozen good, big banana peppers on the plant pictured below, with another dozen baby ones. We had about 8 just about ready to pick jalepenos, with a couple dozen smaller ones. The plants were big, and beautiful, and thriving... even in our desert-like environment. The water in the background is our driveway. It looks much better than it did last night.

Here's one tomato plant, the best one, actually. Nothing left- no flowers, no buds, no baby tomatoes:

And a banana pepper. No baby peppers left. And the remaining peppers are in bad shape. I probably need to pick them today and salvage what I can:

And the jalepeno, which fared the best, with one baby pepper left, and the big ones left are still looking good:

I want to cry. At least we hadn't done the fall planting yet.

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Review: ALEKS

I have heard about ALEKS over and over, and looked at the website, and finally took the plunge and used a free month trial code for Connor earlier this summer. Before that trial was even up, I found out I'd be reviewing ALEKS for the Crew, which meant a one-month trial for my three oldest (3rd, 5th, 7th) and for myself.

I've been leery about trying ALEKS for a number of reasons. The big one, to be honest, is sticker shock. I just knew the kids would love it, and at $20/month for one student ($100 for six months, $180 for a year), it scared me to find something else to feel guilty about not providing. There are family discounts, on the 6- or 12-month plans (all three boys would be $240 for six months, for instance).

So what is it? ALEKS is an online subscription to research based math instruction, ranging from 3rd grade to college level math. You need an internet connection, and it works on either Mac or PC. At the high school and college level, there are also courses in business and science. For college, the have an arrangement with ACE for obtaining college credit for the coursework.

How does it work? Well, first you assign the child a course. They can only be in one course at a time, but you can easily move them from one course to another. You lose all information about the previous course when you do that, so you would want to print out reports and such.

The student starts off with an assessment of up to 35 questions that can be completed over more than one sitting, if needed. The assessment uses artificial intelligence in generating the questions, so it places them in the course at a level where they will not have to spend a lot of time working on the things they already know, but can instead work on appropriate material. Once they complete the assessment, they get a "pie" that is broken down into a few main topics (arithmetic, geometry, probability, etc.). Each slice of the pie is shaded in to show how much the student has already accomplished. Here's Connor's Algebra I pie:
As they start working through individual topics, they are filling up their pie slices. All three of my kids (and me!!) found this motivating and encouraging. It is fun to see the slices get colored in. Periodically, the program will provide a new assessment, where the student can end up with topics being put back on the "ready to learn" list to be repeated, or the student can move ahead significantly if the initial assessment didn't really place them appropriately. Once a student assesses at 90% or more of the course content, an email is sent to the parent account, so you know that the student might be ready for a new course. The student also gets a "you're doing great" email at that point.

In doing new topics, the student can choose to access written instructional material that teaches the topic by walking him through the problem that was presented. The instructional material is solid and fairly traditional in presentation. Then the student can "practice" by generating a new problem to solve. The student can choose to back out of the topic and try something different if they aren't understanding it.

Okay, that's the theory. Now how does it really work? Well, I have a few criticisms here. First, for my oldest, we had a really tough time getting him placed into an appropriate level course. He just completed 6th grade, and while he is really strong at math, I know he has some areas where he really needs some practice. So, I started him off in the Middle School Math 1 course. After completing the assessment, he started working on the "ready to learn" topics, and all of them were incredibly easy. He was not being challenged at all. I looked everywhere to try to figure out how much overlap there was between the various courses, but without printing out detailed topic lists for each course and comparing them myself, it was hard to tell. The answer, after a few hours of combing through the topic lists -- there is a lot of overlap. A lot. We skipped him up to Middle School Math 3, where he still ended up mostly reviewing things he already knew. I manually assigned him additional assessments (very easy to do!) to help bump him up to an appropriate level, but it still took quite awhile to get him to a point where he had any choices that he truly needed to work on.

After he hit 90some % in Middle School Math 3, I skipped pre-algebra and got him started in Algebra I. After the first assessment there, he did actually have a topic or two the program felt he was "ready to learn" that he & I agreed that he did need to work on. In other words, it took us roughly 35 days to get him to the point where he was getting some value from the program.

Now part of that was me. I should have been more aggressive in moving him up, or in giving him additional assessments, or something. But I couldn't easily tell how much the levels overlapped, and I was worried that he had missed things. Had I started him off in Algebra I, I would have found that it does in fact contain plenty of the easier materials too, so if a student is missing the foundational aspects of some topic, it will back them up and have them work through that.

Once Connor got to the "right" level for him (I still think it is a bit on the easy side), the program has been fantastic. He enjoys it, I love the reporting, we both love watching the pie fill up.

How do I know what my kids are doing? The reporting functions in ALEKS are fantastic. You can log on at any time and get a look at their pie. That also lets you see what topics they have mastered, and what topics they are "ready to learn" next. There is also an attendance report that you can check, which shows how long they were logged in, how many topics they attempted, and how many topics they mastered, by day. And, you can get an email as frequently as once a week that gives you a pretty good snapshot as to where they stand. You can also run a report that shows how they compare to your state standards.

What about the elementary levels? I'm not sure that I would find the 3rd-5th grade levels to be worth the cost for many students. My elementary kids are pretty intuitive with math, but are at (or below) grade level for reading. So what I'm finding in the elementary courses is that either my kids are doing things that they already know how to do, OR they need me to read (and teach from) the textbookish explanations provided by the program. I cannot let them log on and just do math -- I need to be available, for the most part. It seems to me that the reading level of the explanations is too high for the math level. So a child who is reading at a 5th grade level but doing math at a 3rd grade level might find the 3rd grade ALEKS course to be about perfect.

Middle School? Well, as previously stated, there is a lot of overlap between the various Middle School courses. But there is a lot of overlap between middle school math levels in traditional textbooks as well. If you have a child working at a middle school level, I'd take a good look at the topics they have mastered, and those they are "ready to learn" and not hesitate to move up to the next course before hitting 90%. I think if they score anything above about 50% initially, and in looking at the "ready to learn" materials you know that is almost all review, I'd put them into the next course.

For instance, I went in and did Middle School Math 2 (7th grade) myself. I feel reasonably certain that of the 30some questions on my assessment, the only one I missed was one that had us converting miles to kilometers (my answer would be... look it up! This is not something I have memorized!), yet I scored 82%. Of the 34 things that ALEKS says I am ready to learn next, two involve converting metric measures. None of the other 32 items was on the assessment, and I know I can do all of them. If I were "my parent" in this case, I'd probably either skip me ahead to Middle School Math 3, or have me do the two metric conversion topics, see if more metric things pop up, and then skip ahead.

High School? We've tried a number of the high school courses. Both Connor & I have worked in Algebra I and Geometry. I worked through both Financial Accounting courses and Business Math. I think the high school material is excellent, the descriptions are basically good, and my only real complaint would be that you can't be in more than one course at a time. It would be nice to be able to be in both Algebra 2 and Chemistry, for instance.

So do I like it, or not? I know, it's been hard to tell in reading through my review. Overall, I have multiple opinions on it. Let's break it down a bit:
  • Elementary levels -- I think in most cases, I wouldn't encourage people to get ALEKS long-term for elementary ages. If you have a strong reader, I could see this being an option for a couple months at a time (like maternity leave!) Or if you are at a point where you are considering hiring a math tutor, this would be a great alternative, particularly if you can be accessible to help to explain the provided explanations. For me, since I have to do the teaching either way, I will stick with far less expensive (and reusable) texts.
  • Middle School -- in many cases, I can see ALEKS being a great option at this stage. The student should be able to be fairly independent here. The program will let the gifted math student cruise ahead, yet it will make them practice in those areas that need it. Or it will provide plenty of examples and practice for students who don't get math quite so easily. Being able to choose from a subset of topics gives students at either end of the spectrum some control over their learning, which is a good thing at this age.
  • High School -- I think this is where ALEKS starts to shine. Being able to focus on the aspects of Algebra, Geometry, or more advanced math that you really need to work on, and to not have to spend time on the things that come easy to you... I love that. You can see in Connor's pie chart above that he has three area slices that are nearly filled. So he can work on exponents, polynomials, and proportions -- and not spend his time doing the arithmetic, geometry or linear equations.
  • College -- okay, I haven't played here much yet (I'm having way too much fun reviewing geometry -- NOT -- but I do really and truly need this refresher) and I do plan to update my review to include more here. But the variety of courses available is fantastic. Basic Math through Precalculus, Statistics, plus prep courses for everything through Calculus. Plus a handful of accounting and other business courses. Plus chemistry. And nine of the courses can be done for college credit, not that I understand that system exactly.
  • Parents -- now, this had NEVER occurred to me, but now that I have had the chance to do a trial month, this is something I would highly encourage. One concern I have had as a homeschool mom is that I never really understood geometry. And I have a son rapidly approaching that subject. There are things I've forgotten from algebra too (exponents of exponents, negative exponents, simplifying the square root of 54 without a calculator, etc.). I was able to complete Algebra I in a couple days, and after a couple weeks, finished Geometry. If I were doing this for myself, I would next move on to Algebra II, which I suspect I could finish before my month is up. Instead, for the sake of this review, I've done both high school Accounting courses, and I'll be poking around in some of the other courses -- statistics, business math, and probably some of the college level ones. Watch for an updated review :) I'm a huge proponent of "teacher training" for homeschoolers, and if you would be able to find a half hour a day for a month, you could really brush up on your math skills for $20. Very affordable continuing education, I think.
I haven't even mentioned QuickTables, which is a separate part of the program used to drill the basic math facts (addition, subtraction, multiplication and division). This is part of ALEKS for the elementary and some of the remedial levels, but can be turned on in the parent account for any age. This program works on getting the kids to learn their tables, and you get to watch the individual facts turn color as you master them. Mastering more of the table also unlocks some games (that also make them work their math facts), which my kids like.

Overall, I think ALEKS is a very good program. I wish there was a little more guidance when placing a child initially. For older kids who learn well visually, this can be a good stand-alone and independent option for math. For kids who are getting to college level math, this appears to be a great way to obtain some math credits. My recommendation would be to NOT do the free trial they offer on the website, but to do a 30 day free trial offer, and see for yourself. For Connor, it took a few weeks to get him to a place where I could actually evaluate the program. I was not at all impressed after only 3 hours of use (what the website based free trial is good for). You can use this link, which ALEKS provided for Review Crew readers :)

For my family, I think we are going to let our account expire when the trial is up, and then look seriously at starting up again for a month or two when we are between math levels. And hopefully I'll be able to do that for me, too. Once Connor completes Algebra II, I'll be looking very, very seriously at getting him a subscription "for real" so he can work through Precalc, Trig, AP Statistics, etc.

If you aren't totally burned out from my lengthy discussion of this, you can check out what my fellow crewmates have to say about ALEKS at:

Any questions? I'd love to know what you would want to know in deciding whether or not this is something you want to purchase.

Thursday, August 13, 2009

Review: Grapevine Bible Studies

Stick Figuring Your Way Through the Bible

I was so excited to be able to review products for Grapevine! I received the Old Testament Overview for levels 2, 3 and 4. My kids weren't exactly excited to do Genesis AGAIN, but that part isn't for too long of a period of time, and most of them really do need to spend some time with the rest of the Old Testament. (Well, okay, all of them... I mean really, doesn't everyone? But Connor really does need to seriously study the New Testament one of these years!)

Grapevine has a couple types of Bible Studies available. One is a Multilevel program, which has one teacher book and one student book, and everyone in the family can use that together.

There are also studies which are broken down into six levels. Levels 1-4 are intended to coordinate, so you can teach kids from roughly age 6 though teens together. The Beginner Level does not coordinate with the older levels, but if you only have PreK-K kids (or probably even a bit older!), this would work for them. Level 5 is a self-directed study intended for older teens and adults.

The study starts with an overview of the entire timeline of the Old Testament. That was a bit overwhelming to think about... go through a few thousand years of Biblical history in three days. Yikes! But when we actually started to do it, well, it was actually a lot of fun. I lost the five year old though, he just couldn't keep up past the stories he knows so well already. I'm not going to talk about the overview much more, though, because it isn't exactly typical of the bulk of the study.

An aside here. I had looked at Grapevine at the CHEC convention back when I was attending that convention, maybe four years ago now. One of the reasons I didn't purchase it at the time was because I couldn't get a feel for what it would really look like, using multiple levels with multiple kids. Dianna Wiebe, the author of the program, assured me that it worked great with a variety of ages... but I couldn't see what it was supposed to look like. So, now that I've had a chance to really see it for myself, I want to communicate that here. And now, I have kids in even more levels :)

Basically, after the whirlwind tour of the Old Testament, you start over at the beginning. In the overview, you "stick figure" about 45 people or events, as a chronological retelling of the Bible. Then, in the meat of the study, you go back and go over the details of those 45 timeline entries. You are covering the same stories in levels 1-4, you just add more to it as you get to the higher levels.

Level 1 hears the story, draws some stick figures, and works on memorizing a Bible verse. Level 2 does all that, plus learns some other Bible facts (books of the Bible, names of the tribes of Israel, the 10 Commandments, etc.). Level 3 adds some geography, with mapping assignments that give you a feel for the where behind all these stick figures. And Level 4 adds a layer of research, using reference materials including a Topical Bible, a concordance, and a Bible dictionary.

The three lessons after the overview one are introducing the reference materials, so while they are fairly typical of the rest of the study, I'm going to use lesson 6 in describing what Grapevine really looks like in action, as that is really the first time everything comes together (the first lesson with a mapping assignment!) The Tower of Babel is the topic, which makes it great for this too... a fairly familiar story. (Note, the photos are all of an earlier lesson, The Fall, so they don't go along exactly with what I'm writing about.)

Essentially, the kids are doing one page in their workbook each day, with only a few exceptions. I'll assume we start on a Monday.

Monday: Connor (Level 4) spends his day in research. He is looking for information about rainbows in the Topical Bible, figuring out what Tower of Babel is in the dictionary, and finding the first reference to language in the Bible in the concordance. His Quest Question is When God gives a command, what options do we have? I generally end up getting my younger kids started, and I sit with Connor, so we can really discuss what he is finding. It is fascinating to hear what he comes up with with these questions.

Level 1-3 students spend this day finishing off the previous lesson, Noah & the Flood. This is the least "together" day of each study, but it works well. The younger levels can work basically independently. (See Friday for a description of the type of activity they'd be doing for the previous lesson.)

Tuesday: is a review day, setting the stage for this lesson. All levels do a "big picture" timeline (using stick figures) of the previous three lessons -- in this case, Adam and Eve, The Fall, Noah and The Flood. We also all review the previous three lessons worth of Bible memory work -- in this case, Genesis 6:8, Genesis 3:15, and Genesis 2:7. This is the shortest day of each study -- we usually spend about 15 minutes. And my 3 year old is even memorizing many of the verses, so I'm listening to five kids recite those.

Wednesday: I start by reading the Bible aloud. We'll be working through Genesis 8-11 between today and tomorrow, so today, I read Genesis 8 and 9. Then we go through four scenes, reading a couple verses per event, looking up words in the Bible dictionary for most of them, and drawing a stick figure representation.

The third event, to give a specific example, is Genesis 9:8-11, where God promises not to flood the entire earth again. We look up covenant and descendants, and we draw a worldwide flood with the circle and slash used in modern signs to tell you something isn't allowed. We also start reviewing the Bible verse for this lesson (I write it on the whiteboard) which is Genesis 11:9. And Thomas (plus his brothers, since they can stand the practice!) is working on memorizing the Books of the Law (Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, Deuteronomy).

Thursday: very similar to Wednesday. We continue by reading Genesis 10-11, and working through another four events, again looking up words in the Bible dictionary for most of them. The fourth event is Genesis 11:8-9 where the people are scattered. For this, we look up Babel in the dictionary, and William (Level 3) pulls out his first map to locate Babel. The stick figure representation is a circle labeled Babel, with four smaller circles going out from it, representing the people being scattered. There are also 7 lesson review questions which we cover orally.
These are the who, what, when, where, why and how questions... Where did the ark land? What promise did God make to man and all living creatures? When did the people scatter? Again, we work on the memory work.

Friday: in this case, this is the last lesson for the unit, so there is a review. I'll pretend that doesn't exist for my description here, and go to the follow-up that happens after the unit review (which is what normally comes as the last day of a lesson). The Level 2-3 students add information to the card they had created for The Flood -- talking about God's promise and the rainbow. And they create a new card for The Tower of Babel, with information on it, condensed here, that -- God told Noah to scatter and fill the earth, the people gathered together in Babel, they built a tower, and God confused their language causing the people to scatter. Level 4 starts working on the reference materials for Job (the next lesson -- see my description above for Monday to see the types of things he would be working on).

I don't know if that is clear to anyone but me! Basically, though, with each lesson (which takes four days) you are reviewing what you have been learning for about the past three weeks, getting fairly in-depth with a new event/person of the Bible, learning a new verse, and adding to the timeline. It is fairly predictable, once you get going, which means it doesn't take a ton of prep time for Mom, and the kids have a good idea as to what to expect.

But the best part? They are getting it. They are putting the events of the Bible in order, they are learning a few key details about each event or person, they are learning a Bible verse that goes along with it too. I have no doubt at all that by the end of the year, my older three will be able to sit down with a blank sheet of paper and fairly well draw out the entire timeline, and that they could then go through and give a 2-3 minute talk about each picture they drew. In Thomas's case, that will undoubtedly include a lot of extraneous non-Biblical information (like the fruit on the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil was something like orange bananas) as his stick figures tend to be, uhh, shall we say imaginatively detailed? He is capable of sticking to Biblical facts in retelling the stories, but he has to be reminded... I was told that him being as detailed as he is with this is a good thing, and that all that detail is helping to cement it in his brain. But does he really have to draw four different dinosaurs for Adam to name? The above photo of a page is one of his -- oh, and here's another one too:

(Compare that to the whiteboard of the same stuff at the top of this review!)

Connor, just to illustrate how differently kids will look at the stick figuring, loves to pretty much copy mine exactly, and he wants to be sure to understand all the symbolism in each figure. He thinks in terms of "what is the bare minimum I can draw and still be able to recall the story?" I'm sure it is both an age thing and a personality thing.

For Level 4, you do need some Bible reference resources. I don't have any of the specific titles recommended by Grapevine -- and the teacher's book includes information about the specific page numbers in those reference books -- but so far, there has only been one question we struggled to figure out in the materials we are using. Money is tight, and my plan is that I will just be sure to do those pages ahead of time myself, or be sure I am right there to help out if/when we hit another weird question. Or, well, I did put the books on my wishlist on Paperbackswap, and guess what happened today? The Topical Bible became available! Yay!! That would be the only resource that has been a struggle at all. Otherwise, Connor is mostly borrowing my computer (see the above photo!) and using Easton's Bible Dictionary, and a couple different concordances, included in Logos. We do have actual books too, and sometimes I make him use those :)

Prep time: I'll admit that I am not spending as much time preparing for the study as I ought to, but we have studied Genesis SO MUCH that I just can't bring myself to do a lot just yet. Mostly, right now, I pull up the teacher book and read through the materials (5-10 minutes for the entire 4 days of lessons), and I pull up Logos and do the Level 4 research (usually about 5 minutes). I also type up the memory verse, and get it written on the white board ahead of time. And I pray about the upcoming study, that my kids will learn in spite of me, that I will know what to emphasize, that we will all grow through our study. Right now, I'm spending maybe 20 minutes per "lesson." Once we get out of Genesis, I will also read the Bible readings ahead of time. Especially as we get further -- like the lesson on The Judges, which covers Joshua 24 through Judges 21. I may alter our plans once we get that far, to be doing one lesson each week, so I can have the weekend to do my preparation, and we can then do the lesson over five days instead of four. That gives me a bit more time to do more reading with the kids too.

My kids are already asking if we can do the New Testament Overview next year. I told them that I hope so. We may need to adapt it a bit, maybe purchasing only one student level eBook, and winging the different assignments for other ages. It is a fantastic study, and I want to continue. Ideally, I'd love to start rotating through these: Old Testament this year, New Testament in 2010/11, some other more narrow studies in 2011/12 (I'm eying Biblical Feasts, and Dianna says she is planning a book of Acts one for 2011, so I'd love to do that too), and then start over with the Old Testament.

This is one of the pros of this program. I am pretty sure that we will be able to repeat this exact same study in a couple of years, with kids moving up a level and getting more out of it. And all I'll need to purchase is a Level 5 book, which Connor would be doing independently.

One thing I don't like about Grapevine, though, is that if you are doing it with multiple levels, I wish there was a bit more hand-holding to help you to figure out how to integrate it. They recommend you get only the teacher book for Level 3-4 even if you are also using this with Level 2 student books -- and yes, you can teach from it. But a bit of a "here are some things that are different for the younger students" section would be immensely helpful. Also, the teacher book gives you references for the student book by page number... but that is for the Level 4 student book, not the level 3 one, which is off by a couple pages (so Connor is on page 25, but William's "same" page is #23).

Other pros though -- I love that this covers the basics without getting into specific denominational doctrine, so I will be able to add that myself. I love that it is sort of scripted, so on a bad allergy day, I have something to say without having to think quite so much; yet most of the time, I can glance at the provided sentences to be sure I'm covering the main points, and then say it the way I want to.

If you want to purchase anything from Grapevine, there is a coupon available to the Review Crew readers (that's YOU!) for 30% off. Enter coupon code: crews anytime between now and September 15.

Pricing: The materials I received include the Old Testament Overview Levels 3-4 Teacher ebook ($24.95), the Level 2 Student eBook ($25.95), and the Levels 3 and 4 Student eBooks ($28.95 each). There are physical books available too. For the record, I chose to use the teacher book straight from my laptop, and only printed the student books. That's one advantage of getting eBook format for the student books -- you can print it out for each child as you go through.

To do the study, the kids will also need colored pencils, and to do it as written, you will need a white board and 8 colors of dry-erase markers. We did a couple of lessons with me showing them the stick figures in the teacher book, and we also did a couple with me drawing the stick figures with colored pencils in a notebook. I do really prefer the white board. You also need a Bible dictionary, which you can find online if you don't own an actual book already.

If you want to try it out, sign up for her newsletter. Over the summer anyway, she is sending out free lessons you can try. Keep in mind that the students are meant to do one page a day in most of the studies, as I had a hard time figuring out the pacing with some of these. Past freebies are available for a low price ($3) if there is one that grabs you. These would be a good way to try the program out.

I really appreciate the flexibility. In the back of the teacher book, there are schedules for a weekly Bible class format (51 weeks), or for a weekday study (35 weeks, 5 days a week).

You can check out what my fellow crewmates have to say about various Grapevine products with a variety of different ages of kids at:

Any questions? I'd love to know what you would want to know in deciding whether or not this is something you want to purchase.
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Monday, August 10, 2009

School Room Week

My school room. Oh, wow, I can't post pictures, but I will still participate in the Not Back to School Blog Hop sponsored by my3boybarians. Week 2 is School Room Week. Check out the other entries, they are far more interesting than mine.

I'll create an entry just to assure people that anyone really can homeschool.

We have a fairly small living room (14'x16' roughly) where we do the majority of our schoolwork and the majority of our awake life. We also do have a dining room table that is used for some seat work. The dining room contains plastic milk crate type boxes (2 stacks that are 3 high) where our current schoolwork is kept (meaning books we own that we are using NOW, and library books we might be starting next week). There are bookshelves in the rest of the house that store the not so current books.

The living room adjoins the kitchen. Starting at one end of the entrance to the kitchen is a chair where my oldest usually sits. Under that chair are some plastic boxes that contain colored pencils, notebooks, pens, etc. -- one box per child. Next to the chair is a rowing machine, then the freezer (no room for it in the kitchen. The freezer is where we tend to stack the schoolwork we plan to accomplish during the day, moving it back to the dining room milk crates as we get through it.

Up against the freezer is a couch and an end table. That would be where I would sit to have a child read to me, otherwise two-three kids occupy it. There is a bookshelf in the corner that houses DVDs, and another chair (the regular spot for son #2). Then comes BOB's place of honor, and a rocking chair which is usually occupied by son #3. There is a shelf in the other corner that houses printers and IGs, right next to my itty bitty computer desk. I have a fairly comfy office chair where I generally sit. Next is the television, which doesn't get any signal anymore, except through the VCR or DVD player. The white board leans up against the tv stand. It currently has the story of The Fall stick figured on it :)

Next to that is a small stand with a portable stereo. It's connected up so that we can use it to listen to anything we have in iTunes. Next to that is the CD rack, which sits next to the milk crates in the dining room, basically.

I know, pictures would help. A lot.

The dining room space is about 12'x8'. Basically, enough room for a dining room table. We do spelling there, and handwriting. And when we need to split the kids up a bit, we can usually get one or two people at the table working at the same time.

Sonlight 5 Movies

I’m going to edit this as we go, but here is a more or less complete listing of the movies we are watching alongside our Core 5 year. I post this knowing that people are going to be upset that we allow our children to view some of these.

First - a couple of series:

Pilot Guide, or GlobeTrekker, travel videos for many of the locations. These are targeted towards adults, so be sure to be with your kids, and have the remote handy. We have watched every one our library has, and a few others. The most objectionable content is usually in Western hemisphere ones -- and if you read the description, you’ll have a pretty good idea as to whether or not you are likely to have problems.

Hello from Around the World - we get these from the library.

Schlessinger Media has a couple series that tell about children in different countries, and about various hyphenated Americans. These are about 20 minutes, and quite informative, if not a little silly.

On to the movie list:


Ghost and the Darkness - probably not appropriate for younger viewers. There are a couple really scary moments involving lions eating people. My older boys really like this movie. Based on a true story.

Sahara - a family favorite. Rated PG13, mostly for violence. We always stop the movie before the beach make-out scene at the end. There are some great marketplace scenes, prayer calls, discussion of some of the tribal wars, and a trip to Gao.


Shackleton - starring Kenneth Brannagh - very, very long, and there are scenes where he is spending time with his mistress - nothing graphic, just clearly implied. The Antarctic stuff though is incredible. And the special features are fantastic as well.


Quigley Down Under - not a very accurate picture of Australian life, but gives a bit of the story of Aboriginal life, and the attitudes of some ‘whitefellas’ (to quote Red Sand, Blue Sky). Also gives a good feel for the immenseness, and harshness, of the Australian interior.

Rabbit Proof Fence - I don’t know about this one. It was nice to get a bit more of the Aboriginal point of view, but this just felt like a very long movie. The first part is almost all in an Aboriginal language, with subtitles, but it does switch almost completely to English after the first 10 minutes or so.


Big Bird in China/Big Bird in Japan/Aleph-bet Telethon - the two Big Bird movies are cute, and my preschoolers loved them. Great scenery, plenty of silly antics, and loads of very, very cute kids. My older kids did watch too, rolling their eyes when Big Bird said he couldn’t walk on ‘the wall’ because he’d get the wallpaper dirty. If you have younger kids, these are worthwhile. I wouldn’t go out of my way at all if you are doing the Core with just older kids. Aleph-bet Telethon, however, when you do Israel -- oh, DO get this one. Some great guests, and working through the Hebrew ABC’s is great. Unless you have children who truly hate Sesame Street (mine have never seen enough to have a strong opinion), this one is worthwhile.

Chariots of Fire - the movie is a little slow, and not completely accurate, but I think it is a must-view after reading the story of Eric Liddell (we watched it after finishing the Olympics chapter). My kids all like it, and there is nothing really objectionable in the movie. I’ve read that the actor did a very good job of imitating Liddell’s running style, and based on photos, it seems that way to me. If you don’t want your kids to have a spoiler, you might want to stop the movie before the ending, where text on the screen tells you that Liddell died in a prison camp in China in WWII.

Eric Liddell - Torchlighters - this is an animated version of Liddell’s life, which was enjoyable. It covered a couple events from his childhood, a few events from his running career, and a few events from his post-Olympic life. It does not really deal with his time in the prison camp, at least not in the animated part. The animation is not terribly good. My youngest children enjoyed this, but the older ones were a bit disappointed. However, the material on the bonus features was fantastic. The story of Liddell’s life is told through interviews with a number of people, including an Eric Liddell biographer, his oldest daughter, a Scottish pastor who worked on Chariots of Fire, and a LOT of people from the prison camp. There is footage from the Olympic win included. Everyone in the household over 7 was glued to the television for the documentary. I highly recommend this, and have holds on others in the Torchlighter series.

Gladys Aylward, from the Torchlighter’s series. We liked the animation better than in the Liddell one, and the documentary was fantastic too. Fascinating to actually hear her speak. I just wish there were more of these available (the other titles aren’t Eastern Hemisphere related - John Bunyan, William Tyndale, Jim Elliot, Richard Wurmbrand -- we may do his while doing Central Asia, aka former USSR countries, although he is from a European Soviet Block country, not Asia.)

Inn of the Sixth Happiness - Dale wanted us to watch this again -- he & I had watched it years ago and enjoyed it -- but it was really tough to watch (at least the second half) this time. The whole romance thing, and some of her ‘inclusive’ comments about religion, and them singing “This Old Man” as they marched through the mountains, and no prayer that a way could be found across the river, and... the kids basically said, “That was more fiction than fact.”

The Keys of the Kingdom - I wish we had waited and watched this alongside our reading of Mission of Cathay, which we started the day after the movie. The movie is based on an apparently fictional Roman Catholic priest (Gregory Peck) who serves as a missionary in China. I was really impressed with how the Chinese people were treated as actual characters (the movie is from 1944) and the protestant missionaries who move into town are also nice people -- and the Catholics and Methodists do get along.


Gandhi -- great movie to watch after reading the book. Gets into a lot more about his time in South Africa than the book does, and doesn't really deal with his life before that point. Some violence (his assassination, the massacre at, umm, wherever that was. Note to self, post stuff like that when you are *awake*). The movie is long and not exactly action-packed. My preschoolers could not care less... but the oldest two watched it fairly seriously. The 8 year old was absolutely appalled at how Gandhi was treated on the train, so I know he was watching. At least part of it.

Rikki Tikki Tavi -- we watched this after reading Just So Stories and The Jungle Books (we added this to the core). It was fun, and my younger ones especially loved it. It did follow the story very closely. I'm glad we added it.

Mother Teresa -- 2003 made for TV movie starring Olivia Hussey. This was good, although not completely accurate in details, assuming the SL biography is accurate. One thing that bothered us was that she was being called "Mother" when she was still just a Sister. This was well worth watching.


Big Bird in Japan - see Big Bird in China

The Last Samurai - there is a fair amount of violence, and Tom Cruise’s character is a drunken has-been soldier at the beginning. I would advise watching this one yourself to decide about whether it is appropriate for your kids. The highlight for us was the main samurai who was a good example of the whole artist warrior thing. Honestly, this is not a movie *I* would choose to let the kids watch.

Sayonara - if you choose to watch the entire movie, you may want to have a remote handy. Not that there was much that was inappropriate. Honestly, I was making dinner while dh was watching with the kids, so I don’t know the specifics. What is worthwhile, though, is to find the puppet show towards the end and watch that part. This goes along with The Master Puppeteer really well. We had to rewind and watch the puppet show part a few times (yes, I left the kitchen at that point!). The first time, we were focused on the storyline of the movie, so backing up and watching the puppet show itself without thinking about the movie characters was good. We backed it up and watched it a third time, focusing on the puppeteers. Worth renting, just for that scene.


The Way Home - this one is in Korean, with English subtitles. The kid swears a fair amount, which is off-putting. The basic plot is a mother leaves her totally undisciplined son with his grandmother for a period of time. The kid is a total brat, and grandma isn’t really in a position to discipline him. He eventually actually does do a couple of unselfish things. The grandma is mute, so there isn’t actually a lot of dialogue, and we did enjoy it.

Middle East

Aleph-bet Telethon -- see Big Bird entry in China. Well worth watching.

Secondhand Lions - this movie is a family favorite. A fun combination of coming-of-age, fantasy, and adventure. Has very little actually to do with Africa or the Middle East, but fun anyway.


The Story of the Weeping Camel - in Mongolian, and everyone groaned about another subtitled movie. But seeing them in the yurts, and seeing the sand storm blow up, and hearing the music, and seeing the satellite dishes outside some of the yurts... well, it gave a nice feel for some of the hardships they suffer, some of their traditions, and some of the clash of modern culture.

Pacific Islands

Finding Nemo - the kids got a kick out of seeing things like the fish forming the Sydney Opera House. I put this in mostly to reinforce some of the reef life aspects of Australia, especially for my younger ones.

Island of the Blue Dolphins - the movie was roughly based on the book. Roughly. Nobody here particularly enjoyed it, and I certainly wouldn’t spend money to add it. If your library has a copy, it might be worth checking out. Some of the loneliness came through, but very little of the hard work and determination of Karina. The best thing I can say about the movie is that we had a great MST3K style hack-job going between us all. If only we could have projected our shadows onto the TV.

Molokai: the Story of Father Damien - this takes place in the Pacific Islands, and deals with a leper colony. May not be suitable for younger viewers or the squeamish, but we were all glad we watched it.


Anastasia (the animated one): This was fun. And we had some great discussions about it, and pulled up info in World Book to discuss reality. I had checked out the "classic" version of the story too, but I just didn't want to watch them both, so that was returned, unwatched.

Fiddler on the Roof: coming right after a discussion for the Showman activity badge about the difference between operas, operettas, and musicals -- this was great. I've always really enjoyed this movie, and the "Sunrise, Sunset" song is more of a tearjerker with each passing year.

Southeast Asia

The King and I: Okay, well, it was fun to watch. And we pulled up some websites to discuss the historical accuracies (or lack thereof), which made it a bit more educational. Of course, my kids are wandering the house, waving one hand in the air, saying, "Et cetera, et cetera, et cetera!"


Around the World in 80 Days -- we watched a number of things. I'll make separate items.

1) Disney version starring Jackie Chan as Passepartout. It was fun, I guess, as long as you go into the movie knowing that it is VERY loosely based on the book. As in, the names are similar, it takes place in about the same time period, and it does involve Fogg going around the world on a bet. Besides that, well, not much is similar. It did give us a bit to talk about though, and some scenes did give us a sense of the countries covered. I wouldn't pay to see this.

2) The 1956 one, starring David Niven, and winner of the Oscar for Best Picture. This followed the plot of the book slightly more than Disney did. It could have been a lot shorter had they cut all the scenes like Passepartout and the bullfight, and other similar scenes. Fogg was not played in the stiff upper lip manner we expected from the book.

3) The TV show from the BBC starring Michael Palin. This one was a winner. They weren't trying to "do" the book, the premise is that Palin is sent to see if he can get around the world in 80 days without the use of airplanes. This was fun. No rescuing Indian princesses or anything, but as they travel, the do spend some time in the various locations, and they do reference the book some. There were two scenes we fast forwarded... one in Tokyo, as he is going to bed in a "capsule hotel" where they show him watching 'adult programming' (nothing graphic is shown). The other scene was on the train from Chicago to New York, where he gets into a conversation about male strippers with some fellow passengers. Everyone in the house really, really enjoyed this, and I highly recommend it. We were able to get it from the library, and I know Netflix has it too.