Monday, June 27, 2016

NCFCA Nationals Recap

So Nationals was...interesting. My observations in snippets:

  • Therese and Andrew went 2-4, but I watched 5 of their rounds and they did so well. I don't think they actually lost 4 rounds, but judging is what it is. Hey, they were at Nationals. We'll take it.
  • I got to spend so much time with Analisa. I got to get her feedback about a lot of things. I really enjoyed it.
  • I realized (not like I needed help with that realization) that I am very immature and that certain environments bring that out more than others. 
  • I realized further that I am way too sensitive.
  • The debate topic next year is China. 
  • As a league, NCFCA really isn't very fun. I'm sure they would argue that they are not about fun, that fun is not their purpose, but sometimes it seems like their purpose is to quash fun. I'm glad I got to debate in NFL. NFL was fun. Learning how to use rules in a round (or to use norms, or whatever) to your advantage was fun. It also mirrors real life. Like Professor Bass used to say all the time, if you know the rules in the legislature, you run the show. If you really *understand* debate, you should win. Of course, that's not true for a variety of reasons in NCFCA. First, you have to have judges who understand debate. Some do. Most don't. When you have one of the founders of the league get up and say that in 1997 no one even knew what debate was, you reveal the root of the problem right there. To NCFCA, debate is something completely different than what it is outside of that league. I get the feeling (pretty much because I was told this to my face) that they tolerate the NFLers who have crashed their party, but that they would prefer that we weren't there. I can understand why. My real question is this: if, as a league, one is interested primarily (I would argue only) in teaching students how to articulate and defend their faith, why use policy debate as a tool at all? Policy debate is gamesmanship. That's where it differs fundamentally from LD.
  • Ramble over. Homeschooling to resume shortly. I am taking a week off. I haven't had time to breathe between dance and debate. I am behind in work. I forgot what knitting is like. 

Wednesday, June 22, 2016

Review of Review
Depending on where you live, record keeping may be the bane of your homeschool existence. Fortunately, I live in the great free state of Texas, and I have no record keeping or submission responsibilities at all. Having said that, we all have things we need to keep track of in our homeschools, and that's where has you covered with its My School Year (Homeschool Record Keeping).  
My School Year is more than just record keeping. It's more than just attendance tracking. It's more than just scheduling. I can promise you that My School Year will do *something* that you need, even if you're nearly convinced that you don't need it. In fact, there is so much to My School Year that I have *barely* scratched the surface, but the more I see the more I really am grateful to have access to something like this.
My School Year includes all of the following:
  • Activities tracking - this is one of those things that you always have in the back of your mind that you should be keeping track of. You know, all those things your kids *do* - field trips, volunteer work, books read, activities (all the activities!). These change from year-to-year, and especially if you have a high schooler who will be applying for scholarships and/or college, it is so important to keep track of all them. 

  • Reports - from transcripts, to report cards, to attendance, to lesson plans, My School Year can generate almost any report you can think of.

  • Dashboard - Your one stop shop to see *everything* that is going on with all of your students.

There is even an option to share lesson plans.

At first glance My School Year may seem overwhelming, but this program literally walks you through every single aspect of what it can do for you:

Because of where we are in our school year cycle, I'm not really using My School Year for lesson planning right now (and, to be honest, I don't really lesson plan all that much anyway. I generally have an idea of where we need to go and what we need to do and we make our way there. Therese is the one I really need to keep track of, and her program provides lesson plans. Having said that, I definitely plan to further explore this feature when we start schooling again in earnest next month.), but what I am LOVING are the records and forms features. Because Therese is in high school now, I know that I need to be keeping track of what she does. Because of her ongoing illness, she has not had/done all of the activities that I wish she could have. We will begin to rectify that next year. For now, though, it is wonderful to be able to keep track of her debate wins in one location and know that I can add to it over the next three years.

Similarly, keeping track of her extracurricular activities/honors is just as easy.

I haven't gotten the kids' standardized test scores back this year, but you can track those in My School Year, too.

And when it comes time to build a transcript, My School Year makes that a breeze as well.

Rest assured, though, that if lesson planning is what you're after, My School Year *excels* at that. You can create lesson plans in many different ways. If you have a book/curriculum you just need to divide into an even number of lessons, you can create those lesson plans with about three mouse clicks. You have the option to share lessons with other students in your homeschool (negating the need to reenter the same plans). You can reschedule lessons at the touch of a button. This is the easiest lesson planning software I have ever used. 

The best thing about a program like this is that Crew members use it in so many different ways, so definitely click the banner below to read all of the reviews!

Homeschool Record Keeping { Review}
Crew Disclaimer

Tuesday, June 21, 2016

Review of LearnBop

LearnBop for Families Review
It's no secret if you read my reviews that I review a lot of math programs. And I like most of them. I think changing up the math is one thing that keeps it interesting for the kids and keeps them coming back for more. It's not, "Not math again?!" It's, "Oh, fun! What math are we doing today?" Well, when I first read about LearnBop, it wasn't just a case of my observing that this would be another fun math program. I knew that LearnBop for Families was one math program we *had* to get! Fortunately, we were able to review the Family Plan. 
LearnBop for Families Review
What makes LearnBop different from every other math program out there? Several things, but most importantly it adapts in real time. LearnBop figures out exactly where your student is deficient and fills *those gaps*. So if you have a kid who is on level in everything but one or two concepts, you don't end up wasting all of your time going over things you already know. You fix what needs fixing. Something that doesn't have a kid spinning his wheels and relearning what he already knows? Yes, please!
Another thing that sets LearnBop apart is its choice of approaches. You can either choose to go through LearnBop by grade level or by subject (these are called "roadmaps"). You can change your roadmap at any time. This graphic shows all of the roadmaps. It also shows another key feature of the program, too. Progress made in one roadmap transfers to another one where applicable - again, no wasted effort!

You can view your progress at any time:

The reference to "watch video" takes you to something like this (N.B. the videos are embedded. You never have to leave the LearnBop site.):

You have to achieve 90% mastery of Solve Bops to complete the concept. Here is a sample Solve Bop:

If you ask for help, you get a dialog like this:

The very first "hint" looks like this. Obviously, LearnBop starts you at the beginning when helping you solve a problem.

As mentioned, you can change your roadmap at any time, but if a student changes his map, you, the parent, get an immediate email notification - that's a really great feature!

LearnBop and My Family

I have three kids using LearnBop. Michael (11) is doing the 5th grade roadmap. Mary-Catherine (11) is doing the fractions roadmap. Nicholas (almost 13) is doing the 8th grade roadmap. Now, technically Nicholas is doing Geometry in his regular math program, so 8th grade math is a couple of years back, but I welcomed the chance to have a program like this where he could see if he had any gaps from jumping back and forth with math programs over the years. Nicholas has been using this along with his regular math program, while LearnBop has become the twins' primary math course.

Of the three kids, Michael is the one who loves LearnBop the most. He welcomes the chance to work on it. It is just right up his alley. Mary-Catherine is slightly less enthusiastic, but I honestly think that has less to do with LearnBop than it does with her reluctance with all things fractions. I am enthusiastic enough for the both of us. We will persevere! I love that I can target fractions with her. This is where she needs help, and I have the option just to have her work on fractions - yes there are other programs that allow you to do this, but none that are this visually engaging, this helpful, and this responsive.

At first Nicholas was reluctant to do LearnBop, but he warmed up to it. I really like him having a review of some concepts he hasn't seen in awhile. I am going to have him continue doing 8th grade LearnBop alongside his regular Geometry program. Because he has done the material before, he is moving quickly through it.

Other Crew members also got to review LearnBop, so to read their opinions and experiences, be sure to click the banner below.

LearnBop for Families Review
Crew Disclaimer

Monday, June 20, 2016

NCFCA Nationals Here We Come...

I'll be away from my desk, so to speak, for the next week as we head to Shawnee, OK for Debate Nationals. I'd love to say I'm excited, but, well, introvert and all.

Tuesday, June 14, 2016

Review of Progeny Press Guide

Progeny Press is one of those companies that I found when I first started homeschooling. I probably have more than a dozen of their study guides in my collection now, from the old-fashioned paperback versions to my favorites the E-Guides. In fact, I have reviewed Progeny Press several times right here on the blog! This time around we got to use Indian in the Cupboard E-Guide, which is great, since several of my kids have read and love that book!

Progeny Press study guides are absolutely, hands-down some of the best study guides out there. They are so well-organized and so easy to use. They each follow a similar format, but they all take into account the specifics of the books for which they were written. In this way, you always know what to expect, but you also know that the study guide is actually written specifically for your book. It's never a case of questions just being popped into a template as can be the case with some study guides. For The Indian in the Cupboard, the study guide format is as follows:

  • Book Synopsis
  • About the Author
  • Background Information
  • Ideas for Prereading Activities
  • For Each Group of Chapters, a selection of the following:
    • Vocabulary
    • Characterization
    • Short Answer Recall Questions
    • Point of View
    • Thinking About the Story (Comprehension Questions)
    • Dig Deeper (questions that tie the story to the Bible and a Biblical Worldview)
    • Writing Project

Literature Study Guides from a Christian Perspective {Progeny Press  Review}
Because the format is an interactive e-book, all your student has to do is type the answers directly into the PDF. It could not be any easier! If you have a lazy efficient student like my Nicholas (nearly 13), this is absolutely the ideal format for a study guide! Nicky loves to read the book, and he doesn't even really mind talking about it, but he has yet to see the benefit of doing any kind of formal literary analysis. Thank goodness for Progeny Press and their interactive guides.

Nicholas and Progeny Press

Because Nicholas is not my biggest reader (which doesn't really say much - compared to a lot of my friends' kids, he's a huge reader), I wanted a study guide for a book he'd already read. That way, there wouldn't be a ton of pressure to read the book. It would be more about experiencing the study guide. He needs help on developing his literary analysis chops, and I figured he could do that just as well with a book he'd already read. Plus, as a family we already have a great literature program that we love, so I didn't really want to take away focus from that. Basically, I gave Nicky the guide on the laptop and asked him to review the pertinent chapters (so, Chapters 1&2 to start) and then complete that part of the guide for that week.

That has worked really well. He has the book to use for reference when he needs it. 

The Dig Deeper section will be very attractive to some users as it uses Biblical passages to make the books under study more relevant for Christians.

As for us, we will continue to use Progeny Press study guides in a variety of ways. Whether it is for books my children have already read, as in this case, or for books they are reading for the first time, these remain our study guides of choice. Whether you have high schoolers reading Great Expectations, or children in elementary school reading Mr. Popper's Penguins, Progeny Press has you covered. Be sure to click the banner below to read all of the reviews!

Literature Study Guides from a Christian Perspective {Progeny Press  Review}

Crew Disclaimer

Review of Forbrain - Sound For Life Ltd

Forbrain – Sound For Life Ltd Review
For the past six weeks we have been reviewing probably the most unique product I have ever seen. Forbrain - Sound For Life Ltd sent us their bone conduction headset, and Nicholas (13 in 3 weeks) has been using it for 15-20 minutes a day ever since. 
Forbrain – Sound For Life Ltd Review
The Forbrain set came packaged as you see above - in a very steady hard shell case, which makes it both portable and protected. It also came with a charging cord, instruction book, and extra microphone covers. The instructions are succinct and easy to understand, but there is also a *ton* more information on the website if you have questions after reading them. I charged the unit in my laptop and when the indicator light turned blue, we were ready to go!

But what is Forbrain? Forbrain is a bone conduction headset. Although at first glance it looks like headphones, and that's what Nicholas thought it was, it's actually a headset whose "pads," if you will, sit on the bones just forward of your ears. The microphone is positioned in front of your mouth (I know, duh). It adjusts quite comfortably, but if you have a sensitive child, it can feel "tight" after a little while. This isn't really an issue, since the recommended wearing time is so short.

Why Forbrain? Ordinarily when we speak, we hear the sound through the outer ear, to the middle, to the inner ear before the sound is ever translated by the nervous system for the brain. That's a lot of middle men, so to speak! With Forbrain, though, sound is conducted via amplified bone conduction, which bypasses the outer and middle ear, sending sound directly to the inner ear. By streamlining the sound process, as it were, Forbrain promises to improve a number of conditions, including attention issues, audio processing difficulties, concentration, and working memory.

How We Used It

When I read about Forbrain, I really wanted to see what it could do for Nicholas. We have never had him tested, but I'm a monkey's uncle if he doesn't have an audio processing disorder. (For those who haven't heard it a million times before, he has been diagnosed with ADHD/OCD/Tourette's). Before I invest in testing, I wanted to see if wearing the Forbrain for 20 minutes a day could improve Nicholas' audio processing. Forbrain has many suggestions for use. For Nicholas, since poetry memorization/recitation is part of our day, it made sense to use it in that regard. So, while the kids do their daily recitation, Nicholas does his with the Forbrain. I have to say, he's not wild about using it, but he does comply. 

The first time he put the unit on, he was surprised! We all sound so different when we hear ourselves speak, right? That's the sensation you have while wearing this device! He discovered that he couldn't effectively recite poetry with the other kids while wearing the Forbrain, so we began doing his recitation separately. 

Another thing Nicholas has been using the Forbrain for is memorization. He has been really into Chemistry lately, so he's been memorizing Chemistry flashcards. He wears the Forbrain while working on this memorization.

I honestly don't know if Forbrain has helped with Nicky's auditory processing issues. Because of his other problems, it can be nearly impossible to tell when Nicky genuinely mishears, misunderstands, and doesn't catch things, versus when he's just being difficult. However, I can say that working with Forbrain has definitely aided with memorization. It truly seems to act like a shortcut to the brain. My other three kids have all been natural memorizers, but Nicky has lagged a bit behind them. While they rattle off poetry, he seems to always have a bit more trouble. Since using the Forbrain, though, he recites right along with them. And we are only six weeks into the recommended ten weeks of usage. I am definitely going to keep him using the device daily!

More than that, though, I am going to start having a couple of my other kids use it, too. Michael (11) reads way above grade level, but because he is dysgraphic, I have noticed that he tends to skip words. He'll get the meaning of what he's reading, but he's missing so many of the benefits of reading above grade level, one of the main ones being the elevated vocabulary! I am going to have him start reading aloud with Forbrain for 10-15 minutes a day. I know that that will force him to slow down and enunciate every word (speaking too quickly and "mush-mouthy" is also a problem of his when he gets overly excited, although he is perfectly capable of fixing it when he focuses). I really think that the experience of reading with Forbrain will help him re-learn how to read silently in his head when he doesn't have Forbrain on. I can't wait to see how that goes!

Forbrain let 85 crew members review their device, which for something that costs over $350, is most generous. I would really urge you to read the reviews if you have a child who you think could in any way benefit. This device has the potential to help so many people in a single household! 

Forbrain – Sound For Life Ltd Review
Crew Disclaimer

Monday, June 13, 2016

Dance Recital Over!

Therese after dancing four straight nights, including in opening and finale:

Mary-Catherine and Therese with my beloved mother-in-law, their "Ita."

Therese and Andrew. This guy didn't miss a dress rehearsal (well, he missed one to hang out with his little brother) or a recital. He came all four nights. He brought Therese donuts, chocolate, and jewelry, but most importantly, he brought himself. He's a keeper. It's no exaggeration when I say I love him. We're not letting him go to college. Just kidding! He's only going to Henry's and my alma mater - he'll practically be right down the street.

The incomparable Mary-Catherine. She danced three out of four nights. She was insanely entertaining. That smile lights up the whole stage.

Therese does a final check before opening. She looks a tad skeptical, but she's gorgeous. As always.

Friday, June 10, 2016

Review of Shiloh Run Press

The Glass Castle {Shiloh Run Press Review}
If your kids are anything like mine, they positively *inhale* books, so when we have the opportunity to review a book for the Crew, we usually jump at it! Shiloh Run Press's The Glass Castle by Trisha White Priebe and Jerry B. Jenkins was no exception. 
The Glass Castle {Shiloh Run Press Review}
I originally thought that Mary-Catherine (11) would be my reviewer for this book, but it was Michael (11) who took it out of my hands when it arrived! This is what Michael had to say: 
It was exciting and fun! It was also very easy to read with likable characters. I liked how it got off to a fast start in the first chapter with Avery getting lost. I also think it would make a great read aloud book.

Let me back up a little! The Glass Castle is Book 1 in a new series. It is a beautiful 256 page hardback book in the fantasy/fairy tale genre. While you shouldn't judge a book by its cover, the fact is that most of us do to an extent. The cover on this one is gorgeous! The target age is 10-15, but as with all things parenting and schooling, that will depend completely on your child. My eldest daughter is 14, and she is way too old for this book. The book is classified for middle schoolers, but I would say it is more for upper elementary. Fortunately, there is a generous excerpt available online, so when you visit the link above, you'll be able to see for yourself if your child fits the age range! One thing is sure, given the publisher, you know there is nothing thematically inappropriate in the book at all. That's very important to me as a parent.

The Glass Castle explores a story line that won't be unfamiliar to many Christians - a king fears for his succession. He has a son somewhere out there by his first wife, but he doesn't know where he is. What to do? Get rid of all the orphans, naturally. A king offing an entire group of children? I think I read about that somewhere in the Bible...Michael is right! This book would make a great read aloud! In all seriousness, the literary theme of mistreating orphans is hardly a new one (Oliver Twist, anyone?), but the fantasy setting of this book makes the theme new again. Being able to take a perennial theme and make it new is the mark of a really good book!

The clear, easy to read (but not boring or dumb-downed) writing style makes this book a no-brainer for kids who love this genre and for parents who want their kids to read quality books. Fortunately, even if you don't have someone in your house who reads this particular kind of book, Shiloh Run Press has *many* other wonderful titles from which to choose.

As mentioned, The Glass Castle is Book 1 in a series. Book 2, The Ruby Moon, is set to release in October, 2016. I'm confident that once you check out Book 1, you'll be anxiously awaiting Book 2. I know Michael is!
To read more of the Crew's reviews, please click here
Crew Disclaimer

Monday, June 6, 2016

Review of MaxScholar

MaxScholar Reading Intervention Programs Review

MaxScholar was a completely new company to us, so the MaxScholar Reading Intervention Programs came as a pleasant surprise at this point in our school year. Don't be put off by the name of the product - neither of my twins (11) needed reading intervention, but both have really enjoyed and gotten a lot out of MaxScholar!

There are so many parts of MaxScholar that it doesn't matter that we didn't use most of them after I previewed them. The ones that we did use turned out to be really, really useful in our homeschool! Let me briefly summarize what is included in a MaxScholar subscription.

There are several different programs to choose from.

MaxRoots teaches roots, prefixes, suffixes, and syllabication. MaxMusic lets you learn the music and lyrics of various artists. MaxVocab contains the dictionary for all of the words used in the program and includes games designed to help learn the new words. MaxPlaces contains reading selections describing various geographical locations. Students highlight and answer questions in the same way as in the primary portion of the program (discussed momentarily). Finally, there is MaxBios, which follows the same format as MaxPlaces.

The crux of MaxScholar is reading comprehension. Students read passages and learn to highlight important information within the passage using color-coded highlighters.

Each chapter has several components: the highlighting, chapter questions, writing an outline, and then writing a passage of your own.

You can, at a glance, check your progress (you can also see from this graph that there are multiple reading levels. You test into your level.).

Here is a look at Mary-Catherine's overall score. Obviously, she understands the passages she is reading, but she really hasn't grasped the highlighting yet.

The MaxReading section is where Michael and Mary-Catherine have been finding their reading selections, and they have been just fine - appropriate and interesting. Before we were even assigned this product to review, I looked at the other sections and decided we probably wouldn't use them. The music section has bios primarily of hip-hop artists with details from their lives that are not all that relevant to my 11 year-old twins (i.e, drug dealing and dope smoking). The MaxPlaces section was initially very interesting to me, but it is written at a lower reading level than theirs (which is fine, but it really doesn't benefit them when there is so much content that is fine for them in the MaxReading section). I still plan for them to get into MaxRoots, they just haven't yet.

What Do They Think?

After using MaxScholar for the last month or so, both of my twins really like it. They were a little flummoxed by the highlighting at first, but I reminded them that the score that showed was irrelevant. After all, who was that score for? I told them that they were learning a new skill, so just learn it. They have been! The same goes for the writing. They have both had very little formal writing, but Mary-Catherine especially has been LOVING doing the writing assignments at the end of the chapter sections. She has been taking her Kindle Fire to bed and working on them at night. When a program inspires that kind of devotion in my child, I'm all in favor of it. Overall, this program is teaching my children skills they didn't have previously.

I am sure that the inclusion of very secular things like hip-hop artist bios and drug references will put off some Christian homeschooling parents, but there is far more to this program than just that. I will readily grant you that the people included in the MaxBios section are not the people that most Christian homeschoolers would probably select as being important and influential. Having said that, though, there is a ton in MaxScholar to love. I think it has really helped my kids' reading comprehension. They are both super fast readers, but with that often comes a sacrifice of comprehension. This program has forced them to slow down and take their time. I very much appreciate it for that!

90 Crew members reviewed MaxScholar. To see what they had to say, be sure to click the banner below!

MaxScholar Reading Intervention Programs Review

Crew Disclaimer

The Picture that Didn't Make FB

A picture desperately in need of a caption...