Sunday, June 30, 2013

Review of Moving Beyond the Page

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Moving Beyond the Page is one of those companies that I had never heard of until I was blessed with the opportunity to review them.  Now I am seeing them everywhere and wondering why I never did before (well, actually, that one is pretty easy to puzzle out - I have been seeing them constantly recommended on secular homeschooling lists, and I am usually all over Catholic homeschooling lists.  Ironically, secular homeschooling lists are often the second place Catholic homeschoolers look for curriculum in order to avoid conflict with secondary doctrine issues that often arise with Protestant curriculum.  However, I digress.).  The point is, this curriculum is complete, engaging, and, most importantly, beloved by Therese (almost 12)!

Moving Beyond the Page is a literature-based curriculum that is different from any other out there.  It is not classical, and while it does incorporate living books, it is more than a living books curriculum.  The best way to understand Moving Beyond the Page is to spend some time reading about the curriculum's educational strategies.  I'll be honest: I thought this company looked really neat when it came up for review, but I never would have predicted how much Therese has loved it.  When I read that the program was developed primarily using educational strategies from the field of gifted education, Therese's attraction to the program made a lot more sense to me.
Therese got to work with two units, both of which are geared for 11-13 year olds.  The first was an online unit: British Poetry.  The unit cost $27.88 and included the curriculum, which we used on the Internet, and the textbook Poetry Rocks: Modern British Poetry

In this Language Arts unit, Therese is learning all of the components of poetry (rhythm and meter, tone, allusions, figurative language, etc.) through the lens of modern British poets.  Like all Moving Beyond the Page units, the curriculum is broken up into its component parts by days so that student knows exactly how much to do on a given day (I realize that such scheduling is not revolutionary to most people, but it kind of is to us!).  For the online versions of Moving Beyond the Page units, subscribers are given access for 3 months.  As each unit should take about 21 days, this should be plenty of time to complete the unit.  If not, though, MBTH will extend your subscription if you make that request.  Fortunately, your 3 months does not start until you activate the unit.  If you're like me, then, and go nuts buying curriculum sometimes, your units will sit and wait for you until you are ready to use them!

Honestly, I found the day's assignments for both MBTP units a bit ambitious.  Again, that's probably because we are much more "fly by the seat of our pants" homeschoolers.  For that reason, Therese did not finish British Poetry yet (it doesn't help that this is one area in which I find it way too easy to take off on major tangents).  She has learned so much so far, though.  Each week, I have printed off the worksheets I anticipate her getting to.  Then we read through the material together each day and discuss it.  Actually, she would have finished if I had let her work alone, but I just can't begin talking about Elizabeth Barrett Browning and Robert Browning and then stop on a dime! In any case, I can talk about the Brownings, but I need help to teach the ins and outs of iambic pentameter, and Moving Beyond the Page has been my life saver!

Therese also got to complete the history unit: Ancient Asia. Like all good classical homeschoolers, we have "done" Ancient Greece and Rome to death, but Ancient Asia? Not so much.  I knew that Therese only had a very passing familiarity with Chinese dynasties and Indian castes, but, given that she loves history more than anything, I thought this unit would be the perfect chance to fill in some of those blanks for her.  It absolutely has! Unlike the Language Arts unit, Ancient Asia came to us as a spiral-bound unit study, which I infinitely prefer.  Of course, I was not allowed to photocopy the worksheets or anything (whereas I could have made multiple copies of the online worksheets), but as Therese was the only one doing this unit, that wasn't an issue.  If that is an issue for you, you can buy additional copies of the student pages on the website.

Ancient Asia cost $63.83, but in addition to the curriculum guide, it came with four additional books, all of which you can see here.  Given the completeness of this curriculum, I think the price is fair.  Again, although Therese finished this study, I think it can easily take longer than 20 or so days.  There are many projects from which to choose.  Therese skipped anything that seemed like art (Art? No!), but thrilled to answering any questions or writing whenever it was an option.  She loved all the mapwork.  Had my 8 year-old son been doing this study (which he wouldn't have been - it was beyond him), he would have been horrified by the writing, but delighted by the opportunities for creativity.

Now, although I have a degree in history, I left Therese alone with Ancient Asia.  Perhaps because I didn't need to go online to print anything, I was able just to hand her the book and let her go to it. Maybe that's why she was able to finish! Every single day, she told me how much she loved it.  She would bring me the day's work for me to check, tell me what she had learned, and ask if we could buy more units.  With the exception of one other curriculum (the history program we do when we don't have a review product history going on), Therese is not that passionate about any other curriculum.  I have been so pleasantly surprised!

Fortunately for Therese (and everyone else), Moving Beyond the Page has tons of choices in units! They have also done an amazing job coordinating all of them.  For example, the company pairs its literature units with the relevant time in history, so if you're reading Number the Stars, you should also be doing the history unit on WWI/WWII (in fact, this is probably the unit set I am going to buy Therese next).

There is so much to this curriculum that it is hard to do it justice in a review.  Fortunately, there is an active forum where you can ask questions and Keith, one of the owners (from College Station, TX - right down the road!), will answer you promptly.  However, I will do my best to summarize the different ways you can buy Moving Beyond the Page:

  • Full Year Packages - like other big-box curricula, you can buy the curriculum for your child's age and everything you need, from curriculum guides for Language Arts, Science, Social Studies, and Reading/Literature, to books, manipulatives, and supporting material will arrive at your door (this is the kind of mail day about which I fantasize).  Add a math program and you're set.  Really.
  • Full Year Package Online - Includes everything above, but the curriculum guides are online. Save $100.
You can also order numerous permutations of the above.  You can order curriculum guides only, second set student consumables, single subjects, and so much more.  Clicking on either of the above links will walk you through all choices for the 11-13 year-old set.  Alternatively, you can just buy single unit studies if you want to supplement an existing curriculum (or engage in the ever-exciting delight-directed learning!).  As much as I drool over the full year package, it will never be a financial option for me.  However, I can play with single studies and find something fun for each of my kids! Because I infinitely prefer having the hard copy of the curriculum guide, I love having the option of purchasing additional student pages.

Still not sure about Moving Beyond the Page? There is a lot to take in.  First, read the Crew reviews by clicking on the banner below.  Many different studies were reviewed.  Second, check out the many samples MBTP has on its site.  Fair warning: you're going to love what you see!


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I'm Not Hateful...but I Am These Things:

I am pretty sick of being accused on Facebook of being hateful.  I carefully scrutinize what I post, and I just don't see hateful.  The fact that it is someone close to me who I have gone out of my way for, well, since she was born, who levels that accusation at me really stings.  Still, I'm not going to let it bother me anymore.  I simply hid everything I post from her.  In the interest of trying to figure out what I am, though, I have come up with a few descriptors.  I am:

  • Passionate about what I believe
  • Consistent - my views on things related to politics and religion haven't changed since I was a little girl.  Ironically, the people who call me hateful have known me for decades.  I was good enough to be called friend then.  I'm the same person now.  Now I'm hateful.  Someone help me puzzle through this.
  • Principled - I believe in First Things.  I believe in (capital T) Truth.  I don't believe in relativism.
Accuse me of being one of these.  Don't call me hateful.  I actually had a bunch more stuff here explaining how I'm not hateful, but I deleted it.  People who know me know that.  I know it.  Most importantly, God knows it.  Biting the hand that feeds you is pretty hateful.  Mooching off people is kinda crappy.  Loving yourself to the exclusion of your neighbor and denying the God you were raised to adore is about as hateful as it gets.  This is absolutely the last time I am going to give this issue any thought at all.  

Friday, June 21, 2013

Standardized Test Results

The kids took the Iowa test a few weeks ago and, due to the wonders of technology, their results whizzed my way via email last night.  Now I'm stuck with the dilemma of trying to balance simply recording results vs. bragging.  N.B. I know this post will be of no interest to anyone other than my family ;-) The twins tested in 2nd grade since that is the grade they would be in in school.  They both came in in the top 25%.  I'm happy.  That means that they are where they should be.  Surprisingly, even though we do very little formal science, they both did awesomely in science.  Charlotte Mason would be proud! Her method works perfectly!

Nicky's results were my favorite to read for several reasons.  First, they exactly mirror his results on the WISC-IV.  Dr. P. (his tester on the WISC) told us what to expect of him and his ITBS results bear her out.  His overall score puts him in the top 10%, but it is his CogAT scores that are so revealing.  His verbal puts him in the top 25%, but his quantitative puts him in the top 1%.  His stanine scores are, respectively, 6, 9, and 7 for an average of 8, yielding an ability profile of 8E(Q+).  That profile is so unusual that the first thing the writeup tells you is to be sure that there is no mistake in scoring.  Essentially, it bears out his WISC results which show that his subtest scores vary within multiple standard deviations of each other.  Basically, it confirms what I have thought for many years: he a twice exceptional kid.  His SAS score of 127 marks him as gifted, but his other issues definitely mark him as some version of special needs (we're just trying to find his label, other than OCD).

What surprised but gladdened me is that Nicky qualified for the Duke TIP 4th-6th graders program.   I am vexed that I didn't know about it sooner for Therese.  I find it ironic, but not unexpected given what we know about his brain, that Nicky doesn't qualify based on his ITBS scores (he needs to be top 5%), but he does based on his CogAT.

So...Therese.  Therese's CogAT profile is 8A.  Basically, she's consistently strong across all three subtests.   Agewise, her national stanine is 9 (the highest), but gradewise, she drops to an 8 (slacker).  Her SAS is 128.  The similarity between Nicky's and her numbers is so funny, considering how completely different they are in every respect!

As to Therese's ITBS scores, she is in the top 1% of all 6th graders.  Her grade equivalency for almost every single thing tested is 13+ (or post high school).  The sole exceptions are capitalization and math (she is my daughter!).

So, I'm proud.  My kids are all smarties.  Yum.

Seriously, though, homeschooling is working and my kids are thriving.  I am able to work with all of their particular needs and am able to cater to their likes and dislikes.  That has turned out to be very important with Nicky (crucial even) and a real treat with Therese (history, history, and more history anyone?).  The twins are, so far, very normal students.  I suspect that they would do very well in a brick and mortar school setting.  I love that I get to have them with me, though!

If you've made it this far, wow! If you think this was boring, just wait until I start writing about speech and debate! ;-)

Sunday, June 16, 2013

Review of Memoria Press' Geography

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Memoria Press has been "Saving Western Civilization One Student At a Time" since 1994.  Offering homeschooled students top-quality classical materials in all subjects, Memoria Press has become a staple in homeschool schoolrooms everywhere.  For this review, I was thrilled to be able to try out a product I have been eyeing since it was published - Geography I.

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Geography I, for grades 4-8, costs $48.00, and includes the following (the products are also available individually - prices are in parentheses):

  • Geography I Text ($14.95)
  • Geography I Workbook ($11.95)
  • Geography I Teacher Guide ($12.95)
  • United States Review Student ($5.00)
  • United States Review Key, Quizzes, and Tests ($7.95)

This curriculum covers the Middle East, North Africa, and Europe, or the territory that comprised the ancient Roman Empire.  Each country in these regions is presented in two contexts: its present incarnation and its former, as it existed in ancient times.  For each country, students read about the country's ancient and modern histories and then complete a workbook page on which they note the country's capital, its ancient name, some fun facts, and, finally, label relevant places on its map.

How We Used Geography I

This product came at the perfect time for us, as we have been studying Ancient Rome this year! I can show my kids any map of the ancient Roman world and ask them where Carthage is and they can all identify it immediately.  They can even tell me it is in North Africa.  Give them half a chance and they'll start talking all about Dido and Aeneas (gotta love those homeschoolers!).  What they didn't know was what Carthage is today.  That's actually a fairly serious problem.  Memoria Press has come up with a way to solve that problem in an ingenious way that links past and present meaningfully for students.

By showing students that a country in the ancient world does have a continuity with a modern day country (i.e., Carthage becomes Tunisia), my kids were able to learn more about the linear nature of history than they have been able to learn from a timeline.  I don't know why no one has ever approached geography this way before (that I know of!), but it is the best marriage of geography and history that I have ever seen.  My kids have understood so much about what happened to what we used to call the Roman Empire.  It also helps to illustrate just how amazing that Empire truly was when you see how many countries were born from it!

Although my eldest daughter (11) was the one who actually did the workbook associated with the course (and she was the perfect age for it - she loved it), all of my kids listened as I read them the textbook material.  I showed them the map in the teacher book that already had the information filled in that Therese would then fill in herself on her own map.  In this way, my younger kids (8, 8, and 9) got a lot out of the material without it becoming another school subject for them.  So Therese can count this as an actual Geography course, but the younger kids got to enjoy, essentially, an added read aloud appended to our study of Ancient Rome.

For this review, we focused on the countries of North Africa and Mediterranean Europe, as those are the countries the kids are most familiar with from our study of Rome thus far.  We covered three countries per week.  If not doing this for review, I would probably cut that down to only two countries, simply because I love geography and have a tendency to want to throw everything into anything we study.  Actually, though, that's part of the genius of this program.  You really don't have to throw anything else in.  Memoria Press includes everything for you.  You learn about the past and the present of a country.  You learn the physical features.  You even learn the flag, food, and other cultural aspects of the country.  If you are a perfectionist like me, this is the ideal curriculum for you. You really don't *need* anything else, which makes the price even more appealing.

The Geography I curriculum also includes the United States Review, which is intended to ensure that students retain what they learned previously with Memoria Press' States and Capitals course.  It is comprised of states and regions maps and captials quizzes and can be used in a variety of ways to supplement any geography curriculum.  My kids have learned their states and capitals on their own through a variety of online games, but we have not formally studied U.S. Geography.  Because I want to be able to quiz all of them at the same time to ascertain that each of them is rock solid on their U.S. Geography before moving on, I didn't use this part of the curriculum yet.  I plan to buy three more workbooks and have all of them review together this fall ($5.00 - such a great price).

Memoria Press' products are all so wonderful and of such high quality.  If you're in the market for a Latin curriculum, you'll definitely want to read all of the other Crew reviews, as some Crew members got to try Prima Latina - a course I have used with most of my kids!


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Wednesday, June 12, 2013

Finding the Grateful in an Unexpected Expense

1. We have an a/c man we trust - and he's a good Christian.

2. He was available immediately and we only had to spend one night without air.

3. The house only got to 88. We have spent the night in a house that was in the mid-90s before.

4. We had *just* enough money to cover the cost of the BRAND NEW (I'm grateful, I'm grateful, I'm grateful) a/c unit we need.

5. A broken a/c unit can be replaced; a broken child can't be - and we've been blessed never to have one of those.

Sunday, June 9, 2013

Review of Motherboard Books' Logo Adventures

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My first exposure to computers - ever - was learning to program in Logo on a Commodore 64 in 5th grade.  That would have been in 1984! Imagine my delight when I learned that Motherboard Books was still enabling 5th graders to learn to program computers (albeit not Commodore 64s) in this fun language with Logo Adventures!

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Logo Adventures is a year long programming course for kids under 12.  Since it is self-guided, uses very simple language and no variables, and is quite easy to understand, I would think that kids as young as 9 (my son's age) could do it by themselves and kids even younger could do the course with the aid of a parent.  Of course, really computer savvy kids could probably do it by themselves as soon as they could read!  The program comes as a spiral bound instruction book, consisting of the following (taken directly from the website):

13 drawing lessons covering:
  • Simple lines and squares
  • Stop signs and E's
  • Clocks,
  • Tessellations: figures that fit together like floor tiles
  • Drawings and collages too.
13 animations lessons covering:
  • A silly story about a giant scared by a small person
  • A simple board game, "Yellow Brick Road"
  • A crowded park scene
  • A bouncing ball that draws a clown face
  • An animated birthday card, full of shooting stars
You can see a sample chapter of Logo Adventures.  The program also comes with the MicroWorlds EX disc (the program necessary to work in Logo).  Logo Adventures with MicroWorlds EX costs $129.99.  The curriculum without the disc is available for $29.99 (but bear in mind that you do need MicroWorlds EX for the curriculum to work!).

How We Used Logo Adventures

Therese recently had the opportunity to review a computer programming course, so I was very excited to have Nicky (9) use Logo Adventures.  He was excited, too! The day the program came in the mail, I installed MicroWorlds EX on the kids' computer (a total breeze), and handed him the book.  He disappeared into the schoolroom and, within minutes, he was calling me to look at his first experience with the the Logo turtle (which back in my day was a triangle, but now looks like a turtle!).  He very quickly caught on to the simple Logo commands (fd 50 rt 90 pd).  The lessons are so short, but so detailed and written directly to the student, that he had no problem at all working on them without me present.  He very quickly caught on to how to "talk to" the turtle and soon had deviated from the written directions to make the turtle draw figures of his own design.  The fact that he could do so so quickly is a testament to how well the instructions are written.

Nicky moved through the first part of the book within a few days, and had the most fun when he got to the animations section.  In fact, I think the primary reason he has not finished the curriculum yet (yes, it is absolutely a year-long curriculum, but when you have an obsessive child, one of the benefits of homeschooling is that you can let him "play" Logo for hours every day when school is over) is that he keeps repeating the first two animation lessons. The fact that he seems to think they are games rather than lessons is fine with me!

My Thoughts

I loved learning Logo in school and Nicky is no different.  When he has finished the Logo Adventures curriculum, I am going to let my 8 year-old son have a crack at it.  I was a little concerned about letting Nicky tackle computer programming of any kind because of some learning issues of his we are just now learning about, but this curriculum is so well written that my concerns were baseless.  A student cannot fail here.  Because it is Logo and starts with drawing lines and figures, it feels so much like a game or a puzzle that kids are quickly drawn in. Because the code (is that the right word? I'm not a computer girl!) is so simple, it is easily mastered, giving a child early confidence and preventing discouragement.  I am so thrilled that Logo is still around, but is updated and made accessible to homeschoolers by Motherboard Books.  This truly is a great find if you want to give your elementary student a crack at a computer programming class!

Motherboard Books has another great product reviewed by the Crew, so be sure to read all the reviews!

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Thursday, June 6, 2013

When You're Hoping Something is Wrong

I know the rules of blog posts.  Short paragraphs.  Pictures. I'm not good at those.  I'm not a blogger, I guess.  I'm more of a writer, maybe, so I'll beg indulgence.  For years (almost his whole life) we have wondered what was different about Nicky.  The frustration.  The anger.  The FRUSTRATION (his and ours).  It definitely got to the point where we were hoping something was wrong.  I wanted a label because a label would give me a course of action.  I didn't have a course of action or a label, so I didn't feel that I could legitimately call my son "special needs." I felt that would cheating.  I didn't want to take anything away from the parents who had children with real special needs - autism, Downs, etc.  After all, my son was healthy (as a horse!), super intelligent, and to all outward appearances just fine.  What right did I have to complain?

The problem was that my husband and I didn't know how to deal with him.  We couldn't parent him like our other children.  He pushed every button we had.  He raised specters of my nuclear family that terrified me.  I just wanted to know what was wrong with him so that I could fix it!

In 2010, I thought we were finally getting somewhere when we sought therapy for his anger and he was diagnosed with ADHD.  The symptoms fit.  I was happy to have a label, even though it didn't necessarily buy me anything, as we weren't planning to medicate him for it.  I knew that my anger issues were causing problems, so I tried very hard to moderate my response to him, and I think that helped some.

Fast forward 2 years.  We had stopped seeing his therapist for a year and a half, mainly because his anger (shaking with rage) had subsided.  All of a sudden, though, he developed very worrisome habits.  He started asking "Is anything bad going to happen?" every single night.  The only acceptable answer was "No." He started wanting me to do nighttime rituals with him that couldn't be varied.  Kissing him three times. Answering the question, "Are you mad, frustrated, or irritated?" He had to be the last kid to touch me (called, appropriately enough "last touch"). We went back to his therapist, but we already knew the diagnosis.  Any guesses?

Wednesday, June 5, 2013

My View in the Schoolroom

What I look at every day.  It's not beautiful (except to me).  It's not color coordinated.  It's not ever neat.  It's hardly organized.  But it's still my favorite room in the house.  Every set of books has a story, as does every statue.  Someday I'll take 360 panoramic shots to get the other bookshelves and the library table I'm sitting at.