Monday, July 16, 2018

Review of Code for Teens

One subject that can pass homeschoolers by if they are not careful is programming. From what I see from the public schoolers I know, programming is just a core part of the curriculum in multiple classes. For homeschoolers, especially those embracing classical or Charlotte Mason education, programming can easily fall by the wayside. Fortunately, Code for Teens' awesome book Code For Teens: The Awesome Beginner's Guide to Programming (Volume 1) is available to remedy that problem (see, I told you it was awesome - it even says so in the title!).






Code for Teens is a 219 page paperback book. It's the kind that you can open without breaking the spine, if that makes sense, which makes it ideal for reading and working simultaneously. The goal of the book's author was to create a programming instruction book that students could do by themselves with no teacher or parent involvement. Yes! Sign me up! There are ten chapters in the book, beginning with writing your first line of code and ending with making a hangman game. The book is written in a very informal style, just as if the author were sitting next to your child and guiding all of his coding efforts. When he introduces a new term, he defines it. His tone is encouraging and helpful without being at all condescending. All code is set apart in gray highlighting so it is obvious. Wonderful illustrations are contributed by the author's, Jeremy Moritz, wife Christine. The illustrations always add something to the page and don't come off as distracting or extraneous. In short, I love the style of this book. If you would like to see for yourself what I mean, check out the sample available from the author.

Further, as stated by the author, he wanted to create a programming course that followed the pace of a core school course, like math. All the programs for kids/teens he had seen went way too fast and expected too much knowledge in too short a period of time. Hence, this course moves much more slowly and gives students plenty of time to absorb all that they are learning. I love that. In order to learn and retain, some subjects must be marinated in. I definitely think programming falls under that category. Learning what to do is of no use if you have not practiced enough to retain the knowledge. In accordance with valuing actual learning and retention, the author includes a review drill at the end of each chapter. Also, in accordance with the stated purpose of creating a course that is entirely self-taught, he tells the students that they can find all the answers right at the end of the book! Again, I love that. My 13 year-old son is perfectly capable of self-checking, but that often isn't an option in homeschool-friendly programs.

Michael (13) and Code for Teens

I initially thought of  Nicholas (15) for this review, but he is not really a beginning programmer. He has actually done quite a lot with Java before, so even though Michael has not expressed interest in learning programming, I handed him this book and told him to go nuts. Here are some of his first efforts:


 
He has really been enjoying working through this book! I haven't had to browbeat him into doing it (although it is summer, so I have had to remind him) at all. I am sure that the author's casual no-pressure approach (all while teaching so much!) has a lot to do with that. I am excited that Michael is learning to program in Java, and I am very excited that this book is labeled Volume 1 - I will definitely be looking into Volume 2 (forthcoming, I assume).

Michael will continue to work through this book at his own pace (another suggestion of the author's). I have no doubt that he will complete it and be looking to extend his knowledge. It's obvious that I really like this program, but if you want to check out other opinions, be sure to click the awesome graphic below!



Code For Teens: The Awesome Beginner's Guide to Programming {Code for Teens Reviews}

Saturday, July 14, 2018

Seasons of Life

I think everyone probably does this, but I look at my life in chunks of time. There was high school, college, Henry before we were married (which dovetails with the first half of college), Henry after we were married, but before we had kids (last half of college and first half of grad school), babies (four in forty months), toddlers, Cardinal Newman (Therese's K and half of 1st grade), early homeschooling, and teenagers. Guess where we are now? Four teenagers is hard. Teenagers with health and emotional issues is harder. I know from experience, because every other stage of my life (with the exception of high school) has taught me, that these years will fly by. All of my kids will probably be out of the house in five years. Five years is nothing. Five years is the number of years that Henry and I were together before we had kids. They went by so fast!

Right now the time is not flying. Right now life is challenging. I will get back to more regular posting on the blog, but for now I don't feel that my posts would be all that fun to read.

Wednesday, June 20, 2018

Review of Silverdale Press LLC

Silverdale Press
Silverdale Press LLC was a new company to me, and I wish I had known about it when my kids were younger, because their White House Holidays Unit Studies can be used with children from 5-18! Because these studies are split into two levels, elementary and jr./sr. high school, they truly can be used by everyone...and *you* don't have to do the adapting!
There are six unit studies in this series: Labor Day, Veteran's Day, Thanksgiving, Christmas, Martin Luther King, Jr., and Valentine's Day. Each unit, as mentioned, contains two different levels. Although all of the unit studies are similar, I'm going to talk specifically about Veteran's Day, as that is the one that Mary-Catherine (13) completed, doing one lesson per week. While the lessons can certainly be done faster (you could actually do a lesson a day), to me, the entire point of a unit study is to really engage and marinate in the material - to take every opportunity to go as in depth as possible, even to use the unit study as a jumping off point for further study.
What sets these unit studies apart from many others is their academic quality. I could tell right away when reading through the studies that whoever wrote them knew what she was talking about. There is so much more to these studies than what you could get off Wikipedia. It turns out that Jill Hummer, the author, has taught history and political science at the college level and has a PhD in Government. In other words, she's my soul sister (for those who don't know, my undergrad degrees are in history and political science, and I have a PhD in political science). She wrote the unit studies that I would write for my own children. How often do you get that in a product? Oh, and as a bonus, her husband was a former college debater! Yes, I want to support this family's company!

For reasons I can't necessarily articulate, I have always been fascinated by Veteran's Day. Maybe it's because in the old-time radio shows I listen to, it's still called Armistice Day. Maybe it's because of the poppies and their significance. Whatever the reason, when I saw the array of studies, I knew that Mary-Catherine would be beginning with Labor Day and that I would have her spend some quality time with it. Regardless of which level you use, the unit study has similar lessons: K-6 Lesson 1 - President Woodrow Wilson and Armistice Day, Lesson 2 - President Wilson and Food Czar Hoover at War, Lesson 3 - The Story of Dwight Eisenhower and how we got Veteran's Day. Grades 7-12 have the same first and third lesson titles, with Lesson 2 being Woodrow Wilson's 14 Points. As soon as I saw that K-6 got to study the issue of food in WWI, I knew that Mary-Catherine would be doing (or at least reading) this lesson, too. This lesson is so full of amazing information, and even includes the vintage WWI posters and propaganda that I have used in my own work creating materials for students. I absolutely LOVE the use of primary source materials like these. There is no substitute for them.


As I indicated previously, there are so many places to "jump off" in this unit study! The very first lesson suggests talking about family members who are veterans. Thanks to my mom and her wonderful genealogy research, we have photos and relevant documents of my relatives, including both my grandfathers and then going back further. It's a wonderful way to bring personal family history into the study of veterans.

Mary-Catherine (13) had this to say about the unit study: "I thought the information in this unit study was very interesting! I like the pictures a lot. Doing it made me excited for the next study, which we are almost through now."



What she said!  

The next study we tackled was Labor Day. Again, it followed the same format as Veteran's Day. The lessons for the younger kids focus primarily on crafts and picture study type activities. The older kids do primary source analysis, primarily. I actually love this study even more than the first one we did, if possible. The way that Dr. Hummer displays the primary source and then asks questions about it mirrors exactly projects that I have created myself. This kind of work is so effective for older kids! Dr. Hummer also suggests students listen to original speeches and discuss them. With my obsession with old-time radio, you'd better believe this is something I have done with my children before. 

Other Crew members worked both on this unit study and on others, but some members reviewed another product altogether, Silverdale Press LLC's Persuasive Writing and Classical Rhetoric: Practicing the Habits of Great Writers.

Persuasive Writing & Classical Rhetoric: Practicing the Habits of Great Writers & White House Holidays Unit Studies {Silverdale Press LLC Reviews}



Review of MaxScholar's Reading Intervention Programs

MaxScholar


We have reviewed MaxScholar before, so I was interested to take another look at its Reading Intervention Programs. There is so much to MaxScholar that it sort of blows one's mind, so let's just look at each section in turn.

MaxScholar Reading Intervention Programs
There are several different programs from which you can choose once you are in MaxScholar:
I should first mention that the graphics and overall look of the program have improved significantly since we last tried it. Also, some material I previously found extraneous, such as the details of drugs, etc. in the lives of some music artists, appear to be gone from what I can tell. 
Let's look at the different sections in MaxScholar, though. First is MaxPhonics, which is exactly what it sounds like. Teaching letters/sounds in small groups, this is a great place to start if you're starting at square one.

MaxReading is next. This is the section where my twins (then 11, now 13) spent the majority of their time last time we reviewed this program. 


Through a series of exercises, students are led through a topical reading passage. They learn vocabulary, highlighting important passages, and outlining. There is a writing assignment and optional games. 


MaxWords is where Michael (13), this year's tester, chose to spend his time in MaxScholar. There are several components to MaxWords, including CLOVER (a set of syllabication lessons), Spelling Rules, Prefixes and Suffixes, Latin Roots, and Greek Roots.



MaxMusic gives you a choice of dozens of music artists, provides you with one or two song's lyrics, and then has grammar exercises around those lyrics (such as identifying parts of speech). A nice touch is the inclusion of a lesson on how to play the song on the piano at the end!


MaxVocab consists of a dictionary containing the vocabulary words used in the reading exercises and games to help cement the vocabulary words. 

MaxPlaces offers reading/highlighting exercises for several interesting locations around the world.




MaxBios is like MaxPlaces, but the readings are centered around people, not geography.


Obviously, there is a *lot* to MaxScholar! Fortunately, the parent dashboard makes it easy to keep up with what each of your students is doing. You can see their activity, their scores, and more.

MaxScholar fits very definitely into the elementary school age range. If you have a child learning to read, or one learning close reading/note taking/outlining skills, you might really enjoy this unique product. Because so many of the bios/musical artists are heavily tied into pop culture, this product is very much for both public school and some homeschooling families. Some homeschooling families may find it hard to find relevance in the choices of subject matter used for the MaxBios and MaxMusic. Because all four of my children are teenagers, they (and I) know the included pop culture, but I can easily see where some homeschooling families who do not partake of popular music or television may struggle with these sections. Also, when all of my children were in the MaxScholar age range, the subjects would not have had much relevance for them.

However, the other sections are appropriate for all audiences! Michael has been enjoying working with roots, and I enjoyed reading about the cities chosen for MaxPlaces (although, after completing, as I tell children, 23rd grade, I confess that I didn't feel the need to highlight!). The nice thing about this program is that you don't have to spend an hour a day using it. It is easy just to log on for 15 minutes to complete one activity. You will have learned something about a song, a person, or a place that you didn't know previously, and you will have practiced a skill that you will likely use for a long time afterward. After using MaxScholar a couple of years ago, Mary-Catherine (13) got the highlighting bug and has been highlighting her readings ever since. Michael was not as keen on the highlighting, but when he saw that MaxScholar offered plenty of roots activities, he engaged happily. For the past few weeks, it has become his habit to log on to MaxScholar just to work with roots. It's a nice compliment to his current English program.

While MaxScholar is not likely something that my family will continue to use, that has everything to do with the fact that my youngest children are 8th graders and that we are not the target audience for this program (given that it is reading *intervention*, so aimed at children with dyslexia and other learning challenges). I would have loved this program, especially the phonics and syllabication sections, when my children were younger. Happily, other Crew families with younger children have been using MaxScholar, too, so if you're at all intrigued, be sure to click the graphic below to read their reviews!

Reading Intervention Programs {MaxScholar Reviews}

Wednesday, June 6, 2018

Review of The Critical Thinking Co.™



If you've been reading my blog for any amount of time, you already know what I think of The Critical Thinking Co.™. Mary-Catherine (13) is using their history this semester, and I have used countless other of their books over the past ten years of homeschooling. I can honestly say that we have never used something of theirs that we didn't all love. This time around, we got to review Critical Thinking Detective: Vocabulary.  




With Nicholas (15) entering his sophomore year of high school in the fall, I have begun to think about standardized tests as they relate to him. Whereas Therese (16) has always been my rock solid verbal girl, Nicholas is all about the math. In fact, I am sometimes very surprised by the vocabulary words he doesn't know. Out of my four kids, he is my least avid reader, and that is made evident by the vocabulary that he has not just naturally acquired over the years. If I'm being completely honest, I had always been a little, well, skeptical about vocabulary curriculum. Blessed with readers and possessed of more than a touch of sesquipedalianism myself, I have been of the opinion that vocabulary is something one just absorbs from books and life. One does not seek it out especially for the purpose of studying it. And then there was Nicholas (isn't there always that one kid that breaks you of all your smug pre-conceived notions?). He's so good in math that I stopped being able to help him years ago, but there are holes in his vocabulary - holes I don't want to negatively impact his PSAT score. 

Enter one of my new favorite products:


This vocabulary book is just plain fun. For grades 5-12+, it introduces new vocabulary words through cases. Think of them as two-minute mysteries (remember those?). In a couple of paragraphs, a crime scenario is presented along with a list of suspects and descriptions. On the facing page, there are 15 sentences with a vocabulary box. Students read the case and suspect descriptions, solve the crime, and then fill in the blanks with the correct vocabulary word. None of it feels like work. It just feels like fun. The vocabulary words are excellent: abrogate, onus, cogent, foist - so many of my favorites. The answer keys in the back list all of the correct answers along with a synonym for the vocabulary word presented, so students really get two for the price of one when learning words.



As for how Nicholas has liked working through this book, I got no complaints at all. In general, he likes workbooks. He can get in, get out, and be done. He has also learned so many new words. I got one text from him (hooray for products that let kids work independently!) asking what a particular word meant, but that's all. Otherwise, the book did its job in teaching him the new words through context.
As with all products from The Critical Thinking Co.™, I have been so impressed with this one. It's easy and fun, but it packs a powerful punch when it comes to teaching. The Critical Thinking Co.™ was very generous with the Crew and gave us many different products, so be sure to click the banner below to see everything else we got to review.
Critical Thinking, Understanding Math & Vocabulary {The Critical Thinking Co.™ Reviews}




Thursday, May 24, 2018

Review of Home School Navigator



 Language Arts curriculum is a very individual thing. There are as many different approaches as there are kids. Fortunately, there are almost as many different programs as there are kids, too. The Home School Navigator Reading and Language Arts Curriculum from Home School Navigator  is a program of which I was completely unaware until it was brought to my attention through this review. Unlike any other language arts program we have used before, the indigo level (the highest level of this program offered, equivalent to a fifth grade reading level) is definitely beneath Michael's (13 - 7th grade) reading level, but I was very curious to see what the program offered in terms of reading comprehension and the like.


So what makes this program different? First, the sheer variety of activities in a given month. Each month, regardless of reading level, students are introduced to a new genre of literature, new reading strategies, and new writing styles. Along with that, every month there is grammar, writing, word study (roots, prefixes, etc.), and reading responses. Additionally, at the older levels, for students who enjoy such things, Home School Navigator introduces Interactive Notebooks, a more interesting way to handle reading responses and book reports. Kind of like mini-lap books, these notebooks let students do a little bit of cutting and gluing along with responding, breaking up the monotony of just writing. For tactile learners, this kind of activity is a huge plus.

Additionally, Home School Navigator is incredibly well organized. Once you know your level, everything is laid out for you. One thing I really appreciated is that the creators stress over and over again on their site that while it is possible to do everything in the curriculum as they have laid it out, *you* are the teacher, and you decide what and how much you will do. The curriculum and schedule are suggestions to aid you in your journey. If you want to write the answers on a white board instead of on the worksheet, go for it. I love that approach.

Logging on to your account, you will see a dashboard like this for each week's lessons:



You can select a day to see this menu. Truly, everything is laid out for you. There is a parent video and a student video on Day 1, but on succeeding days, there are fewer assignments (for one thing, no videos).


There are links to YouTube videos for many of the read alouds and you can link to the worksheets that you need for things like the word studies. The first book unit for Indigo level is Louis Sachar's Holes (a HUGE favorite in our house) in month two, and that is when the Interactive Notebook first comes into play (we hadn't gotten there yet by the time of this review, but I did look at the notebook and I know that there are some kids, like Michael's twin sister, who love that form of learning).

Our Experience
Right off the bat let me say again that Michael, as a rising 8th grader, is too old for this product. It is designed to go through 5th grade, and Michael reads at a high school level or beyond. Ray Bradbury and HG Wells are among his favorite authors. I was curious to see what it was like, though, because I am always worried that my kids aren't getting enough critical analysis. What I can say for sure is that is that I wish I had known about this company when my kids were younger. It is so interesting and the activities are so varied, with everything so well laid out, that I would have loved using it with littles. The creators of the program chose AMAZING children's literature, like the aforementioned Louis Sachar and Jon Scieszka, authors whom children *and* parents love - books I would pick myself, to teach necessary concepts. The activities, as mentioned above, are varied and interesting so there is little chance of children getting bored. Through the program, children are introduced to a variety of genres and authors, and they learn how to interact with those genres from a young age. Additionally, everything is laid out in such an organized fashion. I really like this program, even if it was not a great fit for our family of teenagers.
Fortunately, plenty of Crew families with children in the target age range used the Home School Navigator Reading and Language Arts Curriculum, too, so be sure to click the banner below to read all their reviews!
Home School Navigator Reading and Language Arts Curriculum {Home School Navigator Reviews}