Wednesday, April 25, 2012

Review of Critical Thinking Co.

Disclaimer: I received Crypto Mind Benders free in exchange for my honest review.  And, honestly? I love it! My oldest daughter (10) has been a fan of Critical Thinking Co. for a couple of years now, but this book is, by far, her favorite.  Combining two of her favorite things (logic problems and the quotations of famous people), this book provides a great mental workout and hours of fun.  We didn't treat the book like an element of school.  Instead, working in it was one of the incentives I gave Therese for finishing her school work! The book has followed us everywhere: it has gone to Tae Kwon Do (where my husband had a blast working in it with Therese), dance, the dentist's office, and Grandmother's house.  I'm actually a little worried that she'll be sad when she finishes it. Fortunately, there are several other titles in the series!

Why is this book so wonderful? Several things: first, there are no word problems. Word problems just don't agree with the way some children learn, so removing them from the equation makes these exercises applicable to a larger audience.  Second, there is a payoff for getting the right answer: you get to see the quotation at the bottom revealed.  Third, I firmly believe that there is no better training for the brain than logic problems, and these are among the best.  When I was studying for the GRE, I read that doing logic problems could increase me score, as they train a particular part of the brain.  I had always loved them, but began to do them in earnest.  Like other logic problems, these have so much packed into one puzzle! There are only a few clues, but there is so much information to be extracted from those clues! Having to be so precise and complete in your work really forces you to pay attention and not allow for any lazy habits.  Hence, these logic problems also promote patience and attention to detail in one's work.

Finally, although the book is recommended for Grades 3-12, even adults can have fun with it.  It is a great way to bring the non-homeschooling parent to the table (so to speak)! The book can also be used as a center or as a reward for work well done.  For example, if your child does a great job with math M-T, maybe she can work in this book on F instead of doing her regular math.

Crypto Mind Benders Famous Quotations from The Critical Thinking Co. is available for $10.99, and it is worth every cent.  I plan to buy more in this series.  For other opinions, see the Crew blog.

Sunday, April 22, 2012

Review of God's Great Covenant

Disclaimer: I received God's Great Covenant from Classical Academic Press free in exchange for my honest review.  Having said that, I LOVE Classical Academic Press.  Since reviewing Latin for Children last year, I have since bought on my own all of the levels of Latin for Children, Latin Alive, Greek for Children, and Spanish for Children.  I was blessed to receive CAP's Logic course for middle schoolers free in exchange for my review already this year, so when I had the opportunity to review God's Great Covenant, CAP's New Testament Bible study, I jumped at it!

We have been focusing on the Old Testament in our homeschool this year.  I have found that little kids just love all of the exciting stories in the OT: Creation! Noah's Ark! The Tower of Babel! Plagues! Exodus! There is something that captures their imagination. Plus, studying the Old Testament first allows me to point out all of the instances where Christ is prefigured.  Then, when we study the New Testament, I have given them reference points for all of Christ's references to fulfilling what scripture foretold.  Hence, God's Great Covenant came at a great time for us!

Like all of CAP's courses, the teacher's manual for this class is really a great asset.  In fact, for this course I would consider it essential.  The TM contains views of every single student page, but also has copious notes on every aspect of the course.  Regardless of whether you have a degree in Bible or have just come to Christianity recently, you will love this course and all of the information in it.

I have a minor in Theology and took several New Testament classes in college (including Parables and Sayings of Jesus), and I *loved* having this Teacher's Manual.

This course is divided into 36 chapters, and can thus be completed in a school year.  Of course, you can spend more than a week on any chapter! Each of the four primary units has its own theme (for example, the theme for Unit I is Jesus, the Son of Man, is like us in ever way, yet so very different. Each lesson also has its own theme.  Lesson 1's theme is: The Son of Man is the eternal God who becomes man.  In the introduction, the historical and political framework for Jesus' time is introduced. This framework is crucial for understanding everything about Jesus, his life, his teachings, and his crucifixion.  Understanding it so completely enhances one's appreciation for Jesus and his followers!

Each chapter follows the same format: the theme, scripture passages, memory passage, key facts, and prophecy fulfilled are set forth.  These are further explicated in the next few pages.  Finally, there is review worksheet.

The course is set up to be completely usable with several different children of different ages or abilities.  It is ideal for what we call in our homeschool "group subjects." However, if you have an older child who works well independently, the student book is written in such a way that a child can easily complete the work alone.  There is so much meat in the Teacher's Manual, though, that it would be a shame not to discuss the text!

God's Great Covenant: The Gospels is available from CAP for $26.95.  The Teacher's Manual is $29.95.  To see a sample of the course, navigate here.  We LOVE CAP and this course.  To see other opinions, visit the Crew blog.

Monday, April 16, 2012

Review of Looking at Lines

Disclaimer: As a member of the TOS Homeschool Crew, I received free in exchange for my honest review AIMS Education Foundation's "Looking at Lines" in the algebraic thinking series.  Having reviewed AIMS last year, I was excited to see what this new book was like.  

AIMS stands for Activities Integrating Math and Science, and that is exactly what the company does.  Math and science topics are often paired, although each is developed individually in separate books. Although these books are not developed specifically for homeschoolers, they are ideal for this market, since each book concentrates on one specific study.  In other words, I don't think that this book could be considered a full math curriculum, but as a supplement to the study of linear functions, it is fabulous!

Like all of the AIMS books I have had the privilege of seeing, this one uses experimentation and observation to illustrate linear functions.  For example, in one activity, my children (10 and 8, both in pre-algebra) made a pendulum and then measured the pendulum's frequency as a function of time.  All of the instructions were given and were clear enough that my kids didn't need my help.  Even better, the graph, with the x-axis already filled in, is part of the book itself, making every last thing about this lesson so EASY! If you're like me, then that is the number one thing that makes a homeschooling curriculum attractive.  With this one simple, but fun, experiment, my children created a graph that illustrated a linear function far better than anything I learned in pre-algebra.

Looking at Lines is composed of six parts which, when taken together, teach every aspect of linear functions.  While it is not a complete curriculum, it was the best supplement to our pre-algebra studies that I could have hoped to find.  From discovering linear functions in science all the way to equalities and inequalities, this book covers it all.  It even comes with a CD containing all the printables you need which is fabulous for families with more than one child! Further, if you are required to align to state standards, you'll be thrilled with how thoroughly this book accomplishes that.

Looking at Lines is available from AIMS  for $24.95 for either the physical or ebook version.  If you are heading into pre-algebra, or have a child who is struggling with linear functions, you absolutely can't go wrong with this book.  It is worth its weight in gold.

Wednesday, April 11, 2012

Review of Write with World

Like many homeschoolers, writing is a difficult subject for me to teach.  I am a freelance writer and have always loved writing (and considered myself proficient at it), but it is sometimes hard to teach writing systematically.  Too many programs focus on creative writing almost exclusively.  In my experience, most children write creatively with no instruction at all.  I feel very strongly that the focus of a writing program should be academic writing - writing that will prepare a child for college and life beyond.  After all, if you can write well, odds are that you'll have an advantage over many others.  I was very happy, then, (DISCLAIMER!) to receive free in exchange for my honest review Write with World (year one) , the new writing program from the publishers of God's World News and World Magazine.

Write with World is a two year writing program for middle school students designed to teach them how to communicate effectively in the context of a Christian world view.  The student book (sample here) is divided into 16 lessons fit into 4 units.  The teacher book has the full content of the student book, along with teaching tips and extra information.  If you are not supremely confident of your ability to teach writing, the teacher book really is quite an asset. It explains the objectives and methodology for every exercise.  It enables you to understand why you are teaching your child what you are teaching her.

The exercises in Write with World are relatively short and wonderfully varied.  My favorite aspect of this program is the fact that all of the writing exercises are relevant (no creative writing just for the sake of creative writing.  It's not that I think creative writing is unimportant - quite the contrary.  Academic writing programs should be academic, though).  Students are asked to analyze ads, interpret magazine covers, and describe themselves - all in the first two weeks! Every single exercise meets the criteria of begin able to answer in the affirmative when your child asks you, "will I ever use this in real life?" And that's the genius of this program.  Your middle schooler will learn to write in ways that count.

My 10 year-old daughter loves to write.  She is always writing *something*.  She does all of her history as written narrations, and through that process, she has learned much about the technicalities of grammar and writing.  She has not, however, had a formal writing curriculum to this point.  Write with World came to us at just the right time.  Because the assignments are short but very interesting, T can't wait to do writing.  I have never had to ask her to do an assignment more than one time.  She loves this program and, really, that's the best endorsement I can give it.  For a better understanding of what is covered in the program, see the Table of Contents.

Write with World is available from God's World News for $95 per year (includes teacher manual with online access and student book), or $165 for both years together.  This is the writing curriculum for us.  To see other opinions, visit the Crew blog.

Disclaimer: As a member of the TOS Crew, I received this product, at no cost to me, in exchange for my honest review. All opinions are mine.

Tuesday, April 10, 2012

Review of TruthQuest History Guides

Awhile back I discovered TruthQuest History Guides and I was very pleasantly surprised! I was thrilled, then, when (Disclaimer here!) I was given free TruthQuest's guide "Age of Revolution III: America/Europe 1865-2000" free in exchange for my honest review.

TruthQuest History Guides are more than just a list of sources, although they certainly are that! Actually, these guides do what I think most homeschooling moms would do if they had the time (but who does?): they narrow the field.  Perhaps it's because I have a degree in history.  Maybe it's because of my Type A personality.  When it comes to teaching history, I want to teach it ALL! How can you study the Civil War without hashing out every battle, meeting all of the generals, studying the effect of the war on civilians, etc? Heck, my study of the Civil War could well take more than a year.  For most of us, though, it is not realistic to spend that much time on one little part of history.  Most students will not get the chance to study any one part of history that in-depth until college.  For these years at home, though, it is more important to give our children a wonderful overview of history (I'll admit my bias in focusing on Western Civilization, but it is good to touch on the East as well).  TruthQuest History Guides allow you to do just that.

Each TruthQuest guide is hundreds of pages long.  Each section is preceded by an introduction which narrows the focus and sets the scene.  Then, in outline form, the topics for study are presented, each with a list of resources.  The resource list is composed of core texts (almost always living books), related fiction, and topic specific books.  It is stated vehemently that the books are suggestions and that one should not attempt to read everything! Best of all, you can choose which topics to study and which to skip.  In my daughter's case, we spent a couple of weeks on Queen Victoria, but less than a day on Disraeli and the Crimean War.  There were enough resources, though, that we could easily have devoted an entire week to Disraeli! There is just so much flexibility!

Everyone will use a TruthQuest guide differently, but in my case this is what I did. First, I downloaded the PDF format of the guide to my iPad and imported it into a program that will allow me to write on the PDF.  I then pulled up my library website to see which books were immediately available versus which could be ordered, noting all of the call numbers directly on the PDF.  Then, when I went to the library, the only thing I had to take with me was my iPad.  After I had the first couple of weeks' (according to my projections) books in hand, I sat down with my daughter to lesson plan.  Then, she knew what books to read on which days, and what her assignments would be.

The TruthQuest guides do not have assignments, per se. Instead they serve as broad outlines of periods in history with every outline bullet containing great books to read (along with grade level recommendations, making them perfect for large families).  Periodically throughout the book there are "ThinkWrites" - prompts for writing assignments.  They are nice to have, but the curriculum is great without them.

TruthQuest is known for its Christian orientation, but I think these guides would be just as useful for secular homeschoolers.  There are plenty of book choices for different worldviews.  As a Catholic, our focus (and our take on some periods in history - like the Reformation) sometimes differs from Protestants.  For instance, Protestants tend to study missionaries while Catholics often study Saints (many of whom were missionaries!).  Protestants, Catholics, and non-religious homeschoolers can all use TruthQuest equally successfully.  As a Catholic, it is very valuable to me to be able to say that.

We are loving using Age of Revolutions III.  In fact, at the same time, I started using American History for Young Students II with my younger children (yes, you absolutely can use one guide for all ages - I was just already doing American History with my younger kids).  I have already purchased additional TruthQuest guides for next year.  Even if all you use them for is the book lists, organized very specifically by topic, you will get your money's worth.  If you use them for the full history curriculum they are, you'll be getting a huge bargain.

TruthQuest Guides are available for the following areas:

You can view samples here.  The guides are available from TruthQuest for $24.95 - $34.95 for the printed book or $19.95-$24.95 for the PDF version.

We love TruthQuest! For other opinions, see the Crew blog!

Disclaimer: As a member of the TOS Crew, I received this product, at no cost to me, in exchange for my honest review. All opinions are mine.

Wednesday, April 4, 2012

Review of Amazing Animals by Design

In February, I received a free copy of the ebook version of Amazing Animals by Design by fellow Crewmate Debra Haagen in exchange for my review.  This book aims to fill a gap that Debra noticed when teaching her own children about creation and intelligent design.  When she couldn't find a satisfactory explanation for why and how animals are the way they are, she wrote the book on it!

The book follows two children on their journey through a zoo.  The children learn the answers to such intriguing questions as why elephants have trunks and why zebras have stripes.  While I knew the answers to these questions, I did not know why a caracal (the animal pictured below) could jump up twelve feet in the air backward! Sorry, I can't tell you! You'll have to read the book for the answer to that question!

The premise of the book, told through a 24 page storybook, is that God created each animal in a special way so that it could do what it needed to do to survive - a theory often called Intelligent Design.  The pictures are beautiful and the story is sweet.  For very young children whose parents want a concise explanation of animals and their design, this book is a good place to start.

While my children liked the book, I think at 7,8, and 10 they were too old for it.  Also, because I teach my children evolution, the answers to the questions were a bit simplistic.  A word about my view on Creation: I absolutely believe that God created the universe and everything in it.  I also believe, though, that it is beyond the capacity of our human minds to understand how God accomplished his creation.  Whether it took a gradual 4.6 billion years, or a literal seven days does not matter: the important thing is that God created all of it.  I am completely aware that many Protestant denominations firmly believe in a young Earth.  The Catholic Church, however, does not speak specifically on a young or old Earth.  All Catholics are required only to believe that which I stated above - that God created all.  I actually think that evolution is further evidence of God's amazing majesty.

So, even though the book was too young for my children, that doesn't mean that it wouldn't be a wonderful jumping-off point for other families who want or need to have the Intelligent Design conversation with their children.  It really is a charming story!

Amazing Animals by Design is available in ebook form for $7.99 or as a paperback for $8.99.  You can join Debra's FB page for the book here.  You can purchase the book here.  This is just my humble opinion...for others, visit the Crew blog.