Friday, August 28, 2015

Review of Dig-It! Games' Roman Town

Dig It! Games Review
You know what a cool name for a company is? Dig-It! Games. A coolly named company should not have a product that disappoints, and, fortunately, Roman Town (iOS App) definitely does not disappoint! In Roman Town, there are two children who sneak away from their father in Pompeii while he is studying Vesuvius. They interact with other characters and explore Pompeii. By solving puzzles you unlock new places to explore. The goal of the game is to collect five clues in each location to track down the master thief, Ladrone.

My family is not new to Dig-it! Games. In fact, my older two children have had the pleasure of reviewing their products before. In 2013, we reviewed the Mayan Mysteries iPad app. Way back in 2011, we actually reviewed the computer based version of Roman Town! The iPad app ended up bearing very little resemblance to the computer based version, but it was so neat to see just how far Roman Town has come. Dig-it! Games has lost none of its professionalism and thoroughness over the years, though. The iPad app is just outstanding. It looks great and my kids had a blast playing it!
My twins (10) played Roman Town on the iPad together, just as they play most games on the iPad together. They are great collaborators! They really loved it. It may be an educational game, but they certainly didn't treat it like one. They played it when they had iPad time, choosing it over other games. Their thoughts are below:

Dig It! Games Review
Mary-Catherine (10): "You can play the games multiple times. If you don't succeed the first time, you can try again. You learn a lot with the games. There's a game with tons of pictures where you build puzzles to make the pictures. There's a game with a key box and directions. It's like a logic puzzle (she describes it like Mastermind). The descriptions are linked to the Romans' history and games they used to play."

Michael (10): "Roman Town is really fun and interactive. Mary-Catherine and I had a lot of fun and we learned a lot of stuff, like how Roman soldiers played dots and boxes in the sand. They used stones as the dots and made lines in the sand with sticks. Whoever had the most squares won. They played squares!"

Some views of Roman Town:

Dig It! Games Review

Dig It! Games Review

Dig It! Games Review

Overall my twins loved Roman Town and I can see them playing it again and again. With 35 puzzles/games, all of which are re-playable (as Mary-Catherine observed above), this is one app that you're not "done with" once you finish it once. It has great replay value. The story line is fun, but it is definitely the games that will keep my twins coming back.

Connect with Dig-It! Games on Facebook, Twitter, and YouTube. Crew members also reviewed another of Dig-It! Games' offerings -the Mayan Mysteries online game. To read all of the Crew reviews of both products, be sure to click the banner below.

Dig-It! Games Review
Crew Disclaimer

Tuesday, August 25, 2015

Review of Writing with Sharon Watson

Writing with Sharon Watson Review

For me, one of the eternal mysteries of homeschooling is why I find writing and literature so difficult to teach. I certainly don't find them difficult to do! I very much look forward to doing them with my kids. In fact, if you had told me when I started homeschooling that I would ever seek out actual curriculum in order to help me teach my kids these things, I would have scoffed. Something about pride and falls is ringing in my ears. In any case, I want my kids to love literature, and I want them to be able to write and express their ideas regarding it, so it was with great appreciation that I reviewed Writing with Sharon Watson's Illuminating Literature: When Worlds Collide program with Nicholas (12).

Writing with Sharon Watson Review

Illuminating Literature: When Worlds Collide is a complete program comprised of several components, including:

Illuminating Literature: When Worlds Collide (Student Book) - a 285 page softcover consumable book with lessons for eight works of literature. The book contains all the information a student needs to complete the course (apart from the novel), but see additional material discussed below.

Illuminating Literature: When Worlds Collide: Teacher's Guide - a 182 page softcover consumable book that is absolutely indispensable to the course. Rather than simply regurgitating the Student Book and providing answers to questions in that volume, the Teacher's Guide is a completely separate book. It talks to the instructor giving in-depth discussion about the structure and content of the course. For every lesson it provides guidance on how to teach the material and discussion helps. The Student Book is very clearly written to the student. The Teacher's Guide is very clearly written to the teacher. 

Illuminating Literature: When Worlds Collide: Quiz and Answer Manual - a 101 page softcover consumable book that is exactly what it says. These quizzes are actually available online, but as some people prefer the pencil and paper approach, this book is available. The quizzes cover the literature read and are composed of "Yes, I Read It" recall quizzes, Literary Terms quizzes, and Opinion Surveys.

Illuminating Literature: When Worlds Collide: Novel Notebook (Free PDF Download) - a 102 page download that is like notebooking pages for directed note taking for use with the novels you read during this course.

How This Course is Different

Unlike many other literature programs out there, Illuminating Literature: When Worlds Collide has a theme - that of conflict, or when worlds collide. Therefore, with every work of literature, the theme of conflict is explored within the confines of a Christian worldview. Having this unified theme makes this course quite unique. Students still learn everything they need to know about literature, but they are able to tie it all together in a cohesive way.

How We Used this Course

As this is a high school level course, I knew that Nicky would need extra help doing it. Also, because he loves to read what he chooses to read, but not necessarily what I tell him to read, I planned from the start just to treat the literature assignments as read-alouds. The vendor was gracious enough to actually provide us with the first two novels used in the course - Pudd'nhead Wilson by Mark Twain and The War of the Worlds by H.G. Wells. 

The course starts out nice and easy. It eases into the material, which is great if your student hasn't had much exposure to literature prior to the course. The Teacher's Guide is absolutely fantastic for walking you through exactly how and what to discuss with your student. For someone like me who tends to want to throw a 12 year-old into a college literature course his first time out, a Teacher's Guide is almost essential, as paradoxical as that sounds. This Teacher's Guide is one of the best I have seen. Although it is more geared toward classroom work in some places, it is very easily adaptable to one student. 

Because this is a literature course, as opposed to a writing course, you really can control the amount of writing your child does. I ended up having a lot of discussion time with Nicky. That way we could cover the literature concepts without getting bogged down in the aspects of writing that might trip him up (and drive me crazy). 

I really like this course! The book selection is great. This is real classic literature with enduring themes and great vocabulary. It covers the same literary concepts I learned in high school, but I learned many of mine through a textbook. *This* is the way such things were meant to be learned!
Clearly, I'm a fan of this great program. To see how other Crew members felt, be sure to click the banner below.

Writing with Sharon Watson Review
Crew Disclaimer

Sunday, August 23, 2015

Where I'll Be For A Little While...

We're heading to Carlsbad Caverns, Colorado Springs, and Estes Park for a week and half. We rent an amazing house in Estes Park within view of the entrance of Rocky Mountain National Park. I'll confess that while I love to hike, my favorite thing of all to do is sit in the living room with the balcony door open and the mountains right there and read. Reading during the day is a luxury I don't usually indulge in, and reading for hours is something I don't often get to do because I fall asleep at night. In the past, my sister and her family have gone with us, and we are sorely going to miss them this time. I loved having other grown-ups (or people who pretended to be grown-ups during the day) to play cards and games with. I loved being able to see her kids for extended periods of times. For any who don't know, she and I have the exact same family. My kids are 14, 12, 10, and 10. Hers are 13, 11, 11, and 9. We both and 2 boys and 2 girls, including b/g twins. Crazy, right? Oh, and my sister is only 15 months older than I. Tailor made for family vacations, right? We would have much more fun if they were going to be with us, but at least we get to go at all. We haven't been on vacation in four years, unless you count debate tournaments. And I most emphatically DON'T.

It's no secret that I have been having a bit of trouble accustoming myself to the idea that Therese is getting older. To me, she still looks like this, despite a ton of evidence to the contrary.

On the plus side, because of her hamstring ills, I have had the opportunity to spend a ton of time with her this summer, so I'm taking it and loving it. Something no one ever tells you about having kids is that it gets harder every year. When people saw me with 4 under 4, they always said it would get easier. They lied. The more they grow away from you, the harder it gets for a whole host of reasons. How did I get from beautiful Bear Lake to this sad subject? To end on a positive note, seeing the wonderful people your kids become is truly a blessing all its own (yay, me! I didn't think I'd be able to pull that one off!).

Monday, August 17, 2015

The Mean Reds

In Breakfast at Tiffanys, Audrey Hepburn (okay, okay, Holly Golightly) describes the Mean Reds as suddenly being afraid and not knowing what you're afraid of. I hate that feeling. That dread in the pit of your stomach. There's the blues - that horrible sadness even when you don't have anything to be sad about - which some people seem to be afflicted with more than others (raises hand and looks around furtively), but the Mean Reds are so much worse. You just don't know how to fix it because there is nothing rational causing it. Well-meaning people will tell you to take a step back and evaluate what is causing the feeling and force yourself to acknowledge that nothing bad has happened (irony moment - "Nothing bad has happened" is one of the things I say most often to my own kids), but well-meaning people don't experience the Mean Reds. They're not rational and there's no way to beat them back. Of course, if anyone has any ideas, I'm certainly open to them. 

Thursday, August 13, 2015

Life is Stoning Me to Death with Popcorn

Fulton Sheen once said that hearing nuns' confessions was like being stoned to death with popcorn. I feel like that is what life is doing to me this summer. There is nothing majorly wrong in my life, but it seems like every time I turn around, something else is going just wrong enough. It started with the epic closet fall, which is still not completely cleaned up because of my *&$#@ frozen shoulder. We usually get our best schooling done in the summer, but between Therese's PT for her hamstring and my PT for my shoulder (plus doctor appointments, tests, summer dance all July, etc.), school just hasn't happened. Then, I was supposed to go to Ft. Worth for a week (this week, actually) to see Analisa, but because of my shoulder, I can't safely drive that far (when I drive, I have to "T-Rex" it with my left arm - it's basically stuck to my body). I was really looking forward to spending time with her, so that was a huge disappointment. I am guessing because of my shoulder and the horrendous heat, I have a headache almost every single day. That has put me behind in my work. Then today I woke up sick just two weeks before we are to leave for Estes Park. I am exhausted thinking about everything that has to be done before we can go - fix things for Jack (the dog), prepare our meals in advance, write up instructions for my mom, figure out what we need to take. It all just seems like too much right now.

Am I the only person who has a voice in her head constantly counting the ways in she fails every day? I can't seem to shut that voice up. Then I loathe myself for having and listening to that voice in the first place. Then I add that to my litany of failures. It's a vicious circle. I seriously can't wait for fall, even though it means a return to dance classes, debate, and drudgery.

ETA: Oh, yeah, and the dishwasher and the A/C are both malfunctioning. The two-year old A/C unit can't seem to keep up with the heat and the dishwasher just started short-cycling last night. Joy unconfined.

Tuesday, August 11, 2015

Fr. Troy

Some of you know how much I love Fr. Troy. He's one of the two major reasons I don't ever want to move (Mrs. Carol, the girls' dance teacher, is the other). I went to Confession on Saturday, and as usual the line was very long. Am I the only person who is very happy to see a long Confession line? If the crowds at Confession and Mass at St. John Vianney are any indication, the Catholic Church is thriving. In any case, I am, as ever, thanking God for Fr. Troy. My children will grow up loving Confession because of him. He has the ability to hone in on the underlying issue of whatever you tell him. He knows that whatever your sin, it's a symptom of something else. When he talked to me on Saturday, I knew that I was hearing Jesus. Believe me (and if you know me, you know this is true), I *know* how stupid that sounds. It's true, though. His voice was so kind and compassionate. He told me exactly what I needed to hear at that time (basically to let go of my control and give God's grace room to work (on/in this situation)). It's embarrassing, but I basically had to run out of the confessional crying (after absolution, of course). 

It's so fitting that he is the pastor at St. John Vianney - the great confessor priest. I wish that everyone could experience the joy of the Sacrament of Confession. There is nothing like it. We need to pray for more priests, especially priests with the gift of hearing confessions well. 

Friday, August 7, 2015

This Is Where It Gets Hard

Therese has a boyfriend. Someone I like very much. Someone whose mother I like very much and consider a friend. The problem is that he's older. Why is my daughter following so closely in my footsteps? I am in uncharted territory here. I would so appreciate prayers on this one.

Tuesday, August 4, 2015

Review of Funtastic Unit Studies

Funtastic Unit Studies Review

Science. Why it continues to remain the bane of my homeschool existence I just don't know. I have access to awesome resources and I have good intentions, but somehow it just isn't the subject I reach for. I realize how stupid that sounds, but surely I can't be the only one who has her favorite subjects and goes for those first...or am I alone in that? In any case, when I saw Funtastic Unit Studies' Science Unit Studies for Homeschoolers and Teachers, I was very excited. This book is full of units, which are, in turn, chock full of experiments, that my children can do by themselves! After all, the kids love science - I'm the one who is gun shy (and not because I don't think science is important - it's because I'm a perfectionist. If I don't think I can do something perfectly, I'm afraid even to give it a try. I know it's ridiculous, but there it is.). In any case, when Michael and Mary-Catherine (10) saw this book, they decided that they wanted to do the unit on Weather (Chapter 16).

Briefly, this incredibly versatile book is divided into two halves. The first half is geared toward 4-7 year-olds, while the second half is geared toward 8-13 year-olds. Chapters in the first half are perfect for the early elementary set, and include topics like Dinosaurs and Prehistoric Life, Insects and their Kin, and Stars and Planets. If you like insects, but you're a little older, don't worry: there's a chapter on insects for the 8-13 crowd as well. Sadly, there is no chapter on dinosaurs for the older set. Older kids focus far more on chemistry and physics, with chapters on Atoms and Molecules, Matter, Chemistry Fun, and Force and Motion. Because I had 10 year-olds using the book, I'll talk about the way the chapters in the second half of the book are laid out.

Chapters start with a list of materials needed for each unit. In the case of the weather unit, that is 34. When Michael first saw the list of materials, he was totally chagrined. He told me we would never be able to get everything. I told him to look carefully at the list and realize that we already *had* almost everything. Don't you love the science experiments that so cleverly use what you already have at home?

After the materials list, comes an Introduction. For the Weather unit, that is followed by Part 2 - Temperature. There are three activities to accompany this part. Part 3 - Clouds and Rain six activities. Here is The Water Cycle Michael drew from that section.

 What is great is that you only draw the water cycle after first observing it in the previous activity, so you see it first and then draw it. The order really works for teaching the information and making it stick. The next activity in this section is simply cloud observation, but even I learned something from this activity. I love it when that happens! Part 4 - Humidity has one activity, but since you're building a psychrometer (a kind of hygrometer), that's okay! I have to confess that Michael's did not work very well, but I let him build it all by himself. I think we need to try again with my helping him. Part 5 is Barometric Pressure, and it has two activities. Part 6 - Wind has two activities. Making a wind vane was probably Michael's favorite activity of all. It was the easiest for him and it gave him the best results. 


The chapter concludes with a 10 question multiple choice test. If you have read the chapter material even cursorily, and if you understand the concepts at all, the test is easy.

Our Thoughts

I think that this book can be great for families who love simple experiments with many items that are found around the home. I think it's probably especially good for younger children. Michael really enjoyed working on the activities alone. For the section for older kids, though, I think that Michael is on the cusp. He still needs some help with some of the activities. The best way for you to judge whether or not this book is for you is to try it yourself! Check out the chapter on Atoms and Molecules! That should be enough for you to know how you feel about the book. You should definitely, of course, click on the banner below to read all of the reviews to see how other Crew members used the book.

Funtastic Unit Studies Review

Crew Disclaimer

Monday, August 3, 2015

Review of The Conversation

Classical Conversations Review

I have often been intrigued by all that Classical Conversations has to offer, but for various reasons, I have never delved into their products...until now. I recently read The Conversation by Leigh A. Bortins. From the first moment I heard about this book, I knew that I wanted to read it. For one thing, the title immediately brought to mind Mortimer Adler and Robert Maynard Hutchins and their Great Books of the Western World set issued by Encyclopedia Britannica in the 1950s (of which I am a proud owner of a few of the volumes). I fell in love with Mortimer Adler through, of all things, 1950s game shows like "What's my Line?" Adler's book "How to Read a Book" is one of my all time favorites, but my favorite quote of his comes from an introduction to his Great Books series. He said, "What binds the authors together in an intellectual community is the great conversation in which they are engaged. In the works that come later in the sequence of years, we find authors listening to what their predecessors have to say about this idea or that, this topic or that."

Classical Conversations Review

When we become conversant with the great works of history, we are able to join the conversation. When we are ignorant of these works, we are forced to remain on the sidelines. Mrs. Bortins writes of her children, "They do the same things as other high school students, but with a subtle twist: they know the names of the giants of history on whose backs we all stand." Exactly. Classically educated students - those who have read the Great Books - can join the Conversation.

This book has something for everyone. For someone like me, who received a classical Great Books undergraduate education from a Catholic university and has been counting the moments until she has children so that she can pass it along to them (after growing up in a house that was imbued with the Great Conversation, thanks to some incredible parents), this book is an affirmation of everything I know to be right. It affirms that habits are important and reminds me of the necessity to prioritize them in our educational journey. It makes me feel a solidarity with other classical educators. It's like chatting with an old friend. Seriously, Mrs. Bortins had me on p. xiii when she quoted Michael D. O'Brien's The Island of the World. This Catholic novel is my favorite book ever. Ever.

I think the book is particularly beneficial either for new homeschoolers or for homeschoolers new to teaching high school, though. There is something about reading it that makes you feel like saying, "Yes, I can!" Even more than that - "Yes, I want to!" Let's face it, the idea of homeschooling high schoolers can be intimidating. There is a ton of societal pressure to send the kids to a "real" high school. It's funny - I wouldn't have thought that I would feel it. After all, I have an advanced degree and I'm just...different...enough that people would kind of expect me to homeschool high school. It's *dance* of all things that has made people ask me if I am sending Therese to high school. "Don't you want her to be on drill team?!" Well, I'd much rather discuss The Nicomachean Ethics and The Summa Theologica with her. Gosh, teaching her high school is my reward for having to deal with beginning phonics and arithmetic. I was *not* meant to teach small children. There's a reason I went for a Ph.D. (well, there are many, but one is that I wanted to teach college kids). I prefer the age and I *love* the material. I feel that you spend all of that time forming your children and putting all of the pieces in place. Why, then, would you hand off all of your hard work to someone else - probably just to see it ruined?

When you read Leigh Bortins' book, you get constant affirmation from her that homeschooling your high schooler is the right move for both of you. Using the five canons of classical rhetoric (as organized by both Cicero and Aristotle, although Bortins uses Aristotle's characterization), Mrs. Bortins goes through all of the Rhetorical Arts and demonstrates how to implement a classical high school education. Each chapter ends with an extremely useful chart, so, for example, "Writing Using the Five Canons of Rhetoric." These summaries are very helpful if you have finished a chapter but are still unsure about the practical application of what you have just read.

The Conversation will mean something different to everyone who reads it, so be sure to click the banner below to read all of the reviews. For me, the book will have a permanent place in my homeschool library. I absolutely love it!

Classical Conversations Review

Crew Disclaimer