Tuesday, September 11, 2018

Review of Roman Roads Media


We have been so privileged to review Roman Roads Media before. You can read our review of Old Western Culture here. This time around, we got to review an online offering from the company - Picta Dicta Vocabulary Builder. Spoiler alert - we love this one almost as much as we loved Old Western Culture (well, Henry and I love it anyway).


Picta Dicta Vocabulary Builder is a Latin grammar and vocabulary program that manages to cram a *lot* of material into very short sessions. There are 214 total units, reviews inclusive.



Each unit has several parts to it: 


In "Learn," new vocabulary is introduced using pictures with voice over pronunciation. In "Choose," you are essentially quizzed on what was learned in "Learn." You are presented with the word and you choose the picture that matches its meaning. In "Spell," you are given the picture that matches the vocabulary word and you have to type it out. "Forms" turns up the heat by asking you for the plural, the gender, and the case (depending on the word). Again, you type your answers.




Finally, "Test Forms" is the same as forms, but a test. After each section, you get a star rating based on how you did:


See the icons at the top right of that screenshot? Go leads you through the exercises as I've described. Train offers you reviews. You can review as many lessons at a time as you wish.

What We Thought

The first day I installed this program, my husband was immediately intrigued as he heard me using it. He sat next to me and watched me as I worked through it. He thought it was a great way to learn Latin. Because I had three years of Latin in high school, none of what is in Picta Dicta was new to me. Instead it was an awesome review. I was so impressed with what Roman Roads managed to get into a short, short session. I have enjoyed working on this program, and I will continue to work all the way through it. 

I have to confess that my children have not been such big fans, but because I want them to like this program (which I love), and because I want them to learn the Latin that will help them so much with vocabulary, I have been easing them into it by letting them sit with me while I work through it. That way, they get the overview of the program without having the stakes of doing it for themselves. Then, when I asked them to sign on to their own accounts, they had more confidence in their ability. Why not just have them do the work themselves the first time? If you have perfectionist kids, you understand. When my kids don't know how to do something, or they don't know that they'll do well on it, they don't want to do it. A bad experience with a homeschool program can make them swear it off forever. There are many things in life that I make them do that they don't want to, and there are many things in life that I make them do that they aren't always successful at. When I can control it, though, and when it is as important as this, I work with their personalities!

They just started doing the program on their own, and they like it much more than they did the first time they saw it. Therese (17) has had Latin before, and this program is part review and part new information (the program begins teaching grammar concepts in the very first unit, so if you have had more vocabulary-heavy Latin in the past, you will begin learning new things very early in Picta Dicta). Nicholas (15) has actually had more Latin than Therese. The structure of the language works very well with his OCD. As he has watched me with Picta Dicta, he has learned two things: it's okay to take notes so you remember everything, and it's okay to do a unit more than once. He has committed to working all the way through Picta Dicta. Michael and Mary-Catherine (both 13) are my most reluctant users. They have had the least Latin. Again, though, my strategy of having them sit with me and watch me has paid off, as they have started Picta Dicta, too. If you have a reluctant learner, you might consider the same strategy. Letting your kids see you doing a program (and erring while doing it!) is a great way for them to see that success is possible. Please note, though, that you do need to purchase a license for each user of the program. You need your own subscription because without you being the one typing the answers and selecting the graphics, you won't learn (not to mention it's immoral). My goal was not to have my children learn from my subscription, but to demystify the program for them. I have had too many experiences of my kids refusing to continue with a homeschool program because their first experience was off-putting. This program is wonderful, but it does ask you to assimilate a lot of information fairly quickly. I wanted my kids to want to do it. And now they do. 

If you want to introduce Latin into your classroom with no work on your part, a short time investment every day, and a lot of information taught, Picta Dicta Vocabulary Builder is for you. To see other opinions, click the banner below.



Classical Rhetoric and Picta Dicta {Roman Roads Media Reviews}


Thursday, September 6, 2018

Review of GrammarPlanet

For the past few weeks, we have been fortunate enough to have been using GrammarPlanet's grammar program online. This program is great if you know no grammar, and it's great if you love grammar and are looking for a refresher. Basically, it's great for everyone!

GrammarPlanet is brought to you by the people behind Analytical Grammar and Dynamic Literacy, both of which produce stellar learning products. It teaches grammar, punctuation, and usage, all in a very user-friendly and compact program. There are 58 units, which cover everything from nouns to active and passive voice and everything in between. Each lesson begins with a short video introducing and teaching the topic. And the videos really are short. If you think about it, most grammar concepts are not that complicated - students simply need to be told about them. I can't count the number of times I have told people the "secret" of figuring out when to use who and when to use whom. It takes me less than 30 seconds to explain, but then that person will never make another who/whom error. This is the approach that GrammarPlanet takes with students: just the facts. It's how I teach and I just love it!

After the video (which is accompanied by a pdf of notes, should students wish to print them - and they are encouraged to do so), students are led through a series of exercises. These exercises are responsive, which means that the more you miss, the more you are given to do. In this way, students really have to demonstrate that they understand the material before they can move on. If a student does especially poorly, you will receive an email. When this happened with Mary-Catherine (13), I asked her what had happened. She told me that she understood her mistake and that she didn't want that low score as part of her record. Fortunately, GrammarPlanet gives you the opportunity to start a unit over entirely. That wipes out your score and lets you begin again. Even better, I am able to look at the screenshots of her answers and see exactly what she did wrong, ensuring that I can help her understand her mistakes. Also, if at any time during the course of working through the exercises, a student wants to clarify something, s/he can access both the video and the notes directly from the lesson exercises screen.


This is the first lesson on common nouns. Students are asked to put an "N" on the common nouns:


Once they have selected all the common nouns (as below), they submit the question for grading.



As the units progress, there are more and more choices available for parsing the sentence. Because GrammarPlanet suggests that you not work more than 15 minutes per day, how fast you progress really depends on how much previous knowledge of grammar you have. Students who know a lot of grammar have to remind themselves that concepts are being introduced one-by-one from the beginning. Agonizing over whether something is a gerund is pointless if verbals haven't even been introduced yet. This is really the only thing that makes this program challenging. You can't overthink it. Let it teach/remind you from the beginning. Each unit is followed by a test, and there are review units at the halfway point and at the end of the program. You can see below how the test questions differ from the review/learning questions. For one thing, you can't access the video and notes. For another, you are not given the correct answer after each question:


Instead, you get to see your results at the end of the test (as a bonus, you can see that my computer is telling me that I got an email about these results as the test was completed!)


The videos are excellent and actually test students' knowledge/retention in the course of the video by popping up questions about what was just said. Mary-Catherine really loves that feature!



One thing I really appreciate about this program is that when a student gets something wrong, they are given a message, like "You got almost all of them right," or "You haven't learned this yet." It's so nice to see that extra time taken to be encouraging!

Here's a look at the program a little further down the line:

Mary-Catherine (13) has been my main tester of this program, with Michael (13) and Nicholas (15) dabbling so far (although they will doing the whole program before all is said and done). Mary-Catherine loves it. She has a good grammar basis, but she is still being reminded of things she has forgotten, and she is actually learning some along the way. She loves that you can get it, get out, and get on with the rest of your schoolwork. Also, even though it's not optimized for mobile use, the program works just fine on her phone, which makes it even more user-friendly.


We are huge fans of GrammarPlanet, but, as always, don't take my word for it - click the graphic below to read all the reviews!



*Grammar Program Online {GrammarPlannet Reviews}


Tuesday, September 4, 2018

Things My Kids Missed Out On


I know I'm hardly unique in musing about all the things my kids will never know the joy of. Some of the omissions are because they have strict parents, but many of them are the fault of, yes, technology. Music is the biggest one. Yes, it's awesome to basically have any song you think of at your immediate disposal. You think to yourself, "I want to listen to Soul Asylum's "Runaway Train," so you tell your music app of choice to play it. You miss a lyric? Google it. Remember the days of recording a song on your boom box (cassette tape, naturally) and then rewinding it endlessly until you could write down all the lyrics? Our kids will never do that. Remember the exultant feeling when "your" song comes on the radio? Our kids will never know that. Remember the excitement of waiting for a new video to drop on MTV? Yeah, not so big a deal anymore. The last music video I even remember hearing anything about was Miley Cyrus's "Wrecking Ball." Clearly the music video is not what it once was.

For me, the thing I miss is waiting anxiously for Adam Curry to usher in the Headbanger's Ball on Saturday nights. Adam Curry as a daytime VJ - meh. Adam Curry as VJ for the Headbanger's Ball. Yes, please! Speaking of waiting? Our kids will never know, really, what it is for a TV show's season to end on a cliffhanger and then have to wait all summer to see what happened. Netflix, Hulu, and binge watching have really ended that particular life joy. 

And it is a joy. Delayed gratification is such a necessary skill. So many things in life still can't be rushed completely. We have to know how to wait - and how to wait patiently. Life used to teach us that naturally. Now it's a skill we have to teach ourselves and our children. Something that I do really brings this idea home to me all the time - the idea that we can have whatever we want whenever we want, that is. I listen to Old Time Radio - not a surprise if you know me. My favorite show of all time is "The Couple Next Door." There are something like 735 available episodes (what kills me is that there were something like 1,800 episodes of its predecessor "Ethel and Albert," written by and starring the same people, that are not available!). This show used to be on weekdays at 2 p.m. Every day you could hear a new 15 minute episode. If you wondered what was happening with the Piper family, you would find out once a day, five times a week. Well, I have all 735 episodes on my iPod. I have listened to them all so many times that I usually know which episode is on based on only a few words. Every time I binge listen to this particular radio show, I think about the fact that the people who originally listened to it only heard it once. Ever. If they weren't home or forgot to turn on the radio, they missed it forever. Peg Lynch, the writer and star of the show (who is often credited as having invented the sitcom) surely never imagined that there would be people (well, at least one) who so love her work that they listen to it over and over and over. In a single lifetime, our entire conception and model of how we consume media has changed. Is it silly that that makes me sad?


Tuesday, August 28, 2018

First Day of School

We are definitely late starting to school this year, but I decided to wait for Therese and Nicholas to start dual credit at Lone Star before I started any of the kids on any school. It just seemed easier for everyone to officially start together. So today is our first day back. Therese has four dual credit classes on Tuesday/Thursday and Nicholas has two, so we are at the school from 9-5 twice a week. That's a long day! On the plus side, I should rarely have to open my computer at home any more! With so many dedicated hours to just sitting and working, my Crew stuff, my Russ stuff, and any other stuff should get done on Tuesday and Thursday. That's a good feeling.

In other news, being in a school-ish environment makes me miss school so much! I don't even like political science at all, but that's what my PhD is in. I love history, English, and theology and I wonder to this day why I chose poli sci. Well, I know why. I was incredibly inspired by a professor I had at UST - a Catholic political theorist. He's not the same man he was when I knew him, but he definitely made me want to be an academic just like him. Grad school killed that dream. In any case, I actually always said that I wanted to teach Community College because the people who were there really wanted an education. I wonder if I still feel that way. Ah - enough musing/complaining from me. Here are the kids' first day pictures.


Michael is 13 and in 8th grade. Nicholas is 15 and in 10th grade. Mary-Catherine is 13 and in 8th grade. Therese is 17 and in 12th grade (sob!).

Sunday, August 19, 2018

A New School Year

If you're anything like me, your Facebook and Instagram feeds are full of back-to-school pictures and posts. Just because we homeschool does not mean that we don't have a fair amount of this "back-to-schoolism" ourselves. Next week, Therese (17) and Nicholas (15) will be starting dual credit classes at Lone Star (community college). Therese is taking 12 hours and Nicky (I think he's going to go by Nick) is taking 6. If he handles that well, I'll bump him up next semester. I feel very good about him doing Lone Star. Therese has already applied to several colleges, and she is applying for every scholarship in sight. I can't believe she'll be gone next year!

As for the twins, I'm having that, "But I haven't really taught you anything!" crisis of confidence that I think we all go through. They are in 8th grade and my time is running out. They are the ones who constantly reassure me that they have learned plenty over the years. Intellectually, I know this to be true, but I can't stop beating myself up with the notion that I could have done so much better. If I could start over homeschooling today, I would do so much better! Of course, I have ten years experience under my belt now...

If you're just starting out homeschooling, I have a few tips for you:

  • At the beginning of the year, unless it's a total disaster, pick a curriculum (or your lesson plan) and stick with it. Jumping around rarely suits anyone, apart from the ADHD curriculum mother.
  • Realize that your kids are learning all the time. Many homes other than homeschooling ones foster a constant culture of learning. I grew up in one. I would say that the vast majority of homeschooling homes fall into this category. My kids are always watching something scientific or historical on TV, they watch brain stuff on YouTube, and they play learning apps. Obviously, we talk about everything all the time, too. Just because they are not learning it at the schoolroom table does not mean that learning isn't happening.
  • Don't let some subjects slide. Voracious readers will learn reading, writing, and spelling without even being aware of it, but math is usually something that has to be taught and drilled. Once behind, it's very hard to catch up.
  • You don't have to homeschool like anyone else. Do co-op or don't. Do formal field trips or don't. Make changing a light bulb a science lesson or just change the dang thing. Find your own path.
  • Don't waste too much time on regrets. If you come to a point where you realize something wasn't working or it was a dead end, change it up, but don't beat yourself up about it. 
Ask me how I learned all of the above...and have a great year.