Sunday, April 26, 2015

Review of Critical Thinking Co.

I have already reviewed new material from Critical Thinking Co. once this year, and I am thrilled to be able to talk about two more of their brand new products: US History Detective Book I and Understanding Algebra I ($39.99). Critical Thinking Co. has a knack for covering material that has to be covered, but doing so in a way that doesn't feel like *work*, either to moms or to students. These two books fit perfectly into that mold, and to be able to say that about a book with the "Algebra" in the title is just flat-out amazing!

Understanding Algebra I is a full year's Algebra course for upper-middle or high school. At first, it is easy to wonder how that's possible in a paperback "workbook" style book that looks so, well, non-threatening. If you know Critical Thinking Co., you know it's possible! Take, for instance, the dreaded "traveling in opposite direction" problems:

I can't help but think that I would have found these much easier to learn if they had been presented with such nice graphics. I am a huge fan of computer-based learning, but there is something about math that just seems to call for a textbook to me. Understanding Algebra I is the best possible marriage of technology (beautiful, although not overly colorful or complicated, graphics) with old-fashioned textbook. Plus, if you have a son (as I do!), you may very well be trying to limit his computer time anyway. Being able to present him with a textbook whose components on the page *look* like they could be on a computer screen is such a happy compromise for everyone.

The table of contents of this book is very standard for an Algebra I course:

1. Our Number System
2. Evaluating Expressions and Solving Inequalities
3. From Words to Algebra: Translating and Solving Word Problems
4. From Words to Algebra: More Word Problems
5. Inequalities
6. Polynomials
7. Factoring
8. Working with Radicals
9. Linear Functions
10. Systems of Equations and Inequalities
11. Other Types of Functions
12. Working with Algebraic Fractions

If you compare across other Algebra I programs, you really are covering an Algebra I curriculum!

I used this book with my son, Nicholas (11). Nicky is well ahead of his age group in math, but he's definitely an 11 year-old, maturity-wise. That makes finding the right math program a real challenge for him. Further, he really loves workbooks. Needless to say, this curriculum was made for him. Although he has taken Algebra, I am kind of between curriculum for him right now. I don't know whether I want to do Algebra II with him (seems a bit much) or Geometry (seems a bit much). At the same time, I don't want him to stagnate or (far more likely with an ADHD/OCD/Tourettes kid) forget everything he's learned. That's the reason this book is so completely genius! Because it doesn't belabor the point, so to speak, it works so well as a review for the younger kid who has already learned the material but needs a quick review. To that end, it would also be ideal for public school kids who have completed Algebra (or even Pre-Algebra), but want to keep their skills fresh over the summer. Really, there are so many ways that this book can be used. Also, I need to reiterate Critical Thinking Co.'s amazing copyright policy. You can make up to 35 copies per year of any page of any book. That means that you can use these books in your homeschool (or classroom) pretty much as long as you need to. That policy alone will always keep me coming back to this very generous company.

Because I have already used and reviewed World History Detective Book I, I was very excited to receive for review US History Detective Book I ($39.99)! Like Understanding Algebra I (and so many of The Critical Thinking Co.'s other products), this book can be used as a standalone curriculum, but it can also be used to supplement any other US history program. If you're like my nerdy kids, it can also be used just for fun (and let's be honest: isn't the entire Critical Thinking Co. catalog like that if you're the parent of a gifted kid? It's like browsing for candy in a candy store: my kid would love that, she'd love that, ohmigosh! She would *devour* that workbook! Analogies? Please, sir, may I have some more?!).

I digress. US History Detective Book I presents history lessons (the Colonial Era through Reconstruction), yes, but it incorporates critical thinking skills (imagine that) into the lessons themselves. If your child doesn't cotton to such things - don't worry, it's done so subtly that they won't even realize it's happening! The feature that I love so much about this book is that when it asks students a question, even when the answer is multiple choice, it requires them to identify the sentence or paragraph that supports their answer. Learning that skill is such a valuable one! Also, the full-color graphics are just gorgeous!

Each chapter follows a similar format. A reading selection is provided (with each paragraph identified by a letter and each sentence identified by a number for the reason identified above), followed by multiple choice, short answer/essay, and graphic questions. The format is deceptively simple, but the content is surprisingly deep. For example, there is an entire activity on analyzing political cartoons. In one chapter, students are asked (through guided questions) to analyze the Gettysburg Address. The lessons aren't long (which is *great* for so many different reasons, whether you are using this book because you have a child with a short attention span, or because you are using it to supplement another program), but they cover everything they need to.

Both of these books are such worthy additions to Critical Thinking Co.'s catalog of offerings. I am so excited to be using both of them with my children, especially Understanding Algebra! In fact, I am already perusing Critical Thinking Co.'s online store to see what else I can buy for my math-loving (but work-averse!) son. They have such a knack for making every subject seem like a game. Whether you have used and enjoyed this company for years or are hearing about them for the first time, I have wonderful news for you!

Critical Thinking Co. is offering my readers 15% off their entire order until 5/31/2015! To take advantage of this amazing offer (since we're all planning for next year, right?!), use the code BLOGR315 (one use per customer). Offer does not apply to ios or Android apps, or manipulatives like Attribute Blocks, Interlocking Cubes, or Pattern Blocks. Offer may not be combined with other discounts or offers and is not retroactive. Offer is not valid on wholesale orders.

I would love to hear what you buy, so leave me a comment below! Thanks so much to Critical Thinking Co. for providing me with the opportunity to review their wonderful products!

Disclaimer: I received a copy of these products free from Critical Thinking Co. in exchange for my honest review. I was not required to write a positive review, nor was I compensated in any other way. All opinions I have expressed are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with FTC regulations.

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