Thursday, November 15, 2018

Review of Guitar 360 Method

Like many teenage boys, my 15  year-old son loves the guitar. He used his birthday money a couple of years ago to buy himself a guitar. He started off with it like gangbusters, learning cords and practicing...but then, he sort of hit a brick wall. There is only so much you can teach yourself by noodling around on the Internet. Now the guitar spends most of its time hanging on his wall, which frustrates me because I know he really enjoys it; in fact, he is obsessed with music of all kinds. Enter my lifesaver - Guitar 360 Method's Semester 1 Bundle (including 5 weeks of Absolute Beginner bonus content + the 13 weeks of Semester 1). 

Teacher Krisz Simonfalvi is a guitar teacher in real life. He really knows his stuff, and that comes through in everything he says and does. Whether you know some guitar, or none at all, you can benefit from this course. Best of all, Mr. Simonfalvi seems to understand that many people who want to know how to play the guitar want to learn the skill so that they can have fun with it. People learning the guitar are not learning classical piano. It's often not so much about mastering a concerto as it is learning what to do so that you can "jam" with your friends. These lessons are taught with that idea in mind. It is absolutely a legitimate music course. You learn music theory and you learn about the guitar. There are scales galore (because you can't learn music without playing scales, right?). In fact, Mr. Simonfalvi says at the outset that he wants to teach students how music *works*. It is learning how music works that you can really make the skills your own. He strikes the exact right balance between teaching music and teaching songs. I have never seen a course that does that before. We have used a course that teaches music and we have used a course that teaches songs and licks. We have never used a course that does the second through doing the first, though. I think that balance is what makes this course the best one we've seen. And Mr. Simonfalvi makes it seem so simple! Music is not easy, but he makes you believe that it is. He instills confidence. Additionally, he is just so personable. He looks and sounds like the kind of guy you would want to jam with.

Now, my son is a perfectionist. He wants to do everything right. The beauty of this program is that, because your purchase means you own it, you can do things as many times as you need to in order to get it right. Do you have the kind of kid (or are you the kind of person) who wants to move ahead quickly? Who doesn't read all the directions before jumping in? You can do that with this course, too. It's not the kind of course where you have to demonstrate mastery before moving on. You can go at your own pace, and if that pace is a quick one, you always have the option of redoing lessons. That freedom takes a lot of pressure off parents. It puts kids more in the driver's seat.

This course (including the three week beginner course, the 13-week first semester, and two Bonus Song mini-courses, usually costs $149, but with the coupon code HOMESCHOOL20, you can bring that cost down to $119.20! Because this course is not a subscription, you can keep it and use it as long as you need it! The content is yours after you purchase it. That makes it a tremendous value, given the cost of in-person music lessons, which are out of reach for many homeschool families. 

Click here to read 49 other reviews from the Homeschool Review Crew!

Wednesday, October 31, 2018

Review of Lisa Tanner Writing

Fellow Crew mom Lisa Tanner Writing has a neat new product - Balancing Diapers and Deadlines. This online course contains 30 lessons in the following units, all of which you have immediate access to once you purchase the course.

  • Welcome
  • Building Your Foundation with the Basics
  • Minimize Your Decisions
  • Minimize Your Decisions: The Annual Meal Plan
  • Sustainable Growth
  • Growing a Business with Your Kids Around
  • Boost Your Productivity
  • Closing Thoughts
While the essence of the course is designed to teach you to balance building and running a business while simultaneously running a house and a family, you don't have to run your own business in order to benefit from what this course has to offer. Replete with "baby steps," or small things you can do to maximize your efficiency in home and business, there are tips here that almost anyone would find helpful. The course is entirely text-based (so, no videos, which is great news if you read really fast and like to get the facts quickly or if you have a bad Internet connection) and you can work through it at your own base. In theory, you would implement the baby steps as you move through the course, but in practice, I read through the whole course in one sitting. It's great that you have access to the whole thing right away so you can work at your own pace.

There is a lot to like in this course. The ideas that Lisa has regarding how to balance home and business are very useful. I have essentially had my own business for more than a decade as I, like Lisa, am a freelance writer. Many of the ideas that Lisa advocates are things that I have come to on my own over the course of my career. Some of her ideas, like the annual meal plan, are things that I would never consider, just because I don't work well with things set in place so far in advance. Although her annual meal plan allows for some flexibility, my life requires much more flexibility. I have four teenagers, all of whom have multiple extra-curricular activities, and two of whom are at community college classes two full days per week. I am not at home nearly as much as I was ten years ago, and that probably accounts for much of my resistance (for lack of a better word) to some of Lisa's ideas. One thing that Lisa advocates is something that I have done for years - having your kids help you with your work. Because I create worksheets for a website, I have always used my kids to help me brainstorm ideas and to check the appropriate level of my worksheets.

One thing that I don't like about the course is purely a technicality. No matter how much of the course I did, when I log on to the website, it tells me that I have completed 0% of the course. Whether that problem is unique to me, I don't know, but the overachiever in me is resistant to seeing that I have completed 0% of anything I set out to do!

For someone like me who is well-experienced with working for myself while raising and homeschooling a family, Balancing Diapers and Deadlines is interesting, but not particularly helpful. For someone who has a younger family and/or is just starting out in her own business, I think this course would be tremendously helpful. For my own part, I know that I would have gotten much more out of this course ten or so years ago. With age comes experience, so if you are lacking in either one of these areas, I think that Lisa's course might really be beneficial.

Be sure to read all of the other Crew reviews here.

Tuesday, October 9, 2018

Review of CashCrunch Games

When the opportunity to review CashCrunch Games from CashCrunch Careers came up, I couldn't refuse it. How many times have we all wished that our children would have fulfilling careers, whether that be as a stay-at-home parent or as a lawyer, a farmer, or something else? I think all parents want their kids to be happy, and how you spend the majority of your waking weekday hours is a huge part of that!

CashCrunch Careers consists of a 10-15 minute 75 question, survey designed to elicit students' strengths, weaknesses (or motivators and de-motivators), and preferences, in order to help them decide what to study in college to prepare them for a career that is suited to their unique personality. The idea is that by honing in on a suitable major early on, based on solid information about the student, families can save time and money in the long run (because of less major switching, etc).

The survey short and easy and will be familiar to anyone who has ever done something like this before (I know my husband's company gives employees surveys like this from time to time to try to help them become aware of their weaknesses and capitalize on their strengths). My four children all took the survey.

Therese - 17 (high school senior/dual credit student)

Therese wants to work for the State Department fighting human trafficking and other human rights abuses. She plans to major in International Studies and will likely go for her PhD.

These are Therese's career attributes according to CashCrunch Careers. She is 100% all of these things.

These are Therese's motivators and de-motivators. I absolutely agree with all of these, apart from "public recognition." That's not something I have seen in her, but I will definitely allow that the survey may have elicited more from her than I know.

Nicholas - 15 (high school sophomore/dual credit student)

Nicholas wants to be a chemical engineer. He excels at math and science and will graduate with both his high school diploma and his Associate's degree in 2021. He will then likely transfer to Texas A&M to complete college.

Here are his career assets. I have to confess that I don't see much of this in him at all. He lacks initiative and much self-control at times. He is often the antithesis of persistence. However, I'll confess that this survey relies on one's own perception of self, and he would likely agree with these things, even though I have not seen much evidence of them.

Here are his motivators and de-motivators. Have you noticed anything yet? Like the above graphic, this one matches Therese's perfectly. He and Therese are such different people. He has ADHD/OCD/Tourette's and things have to be "just so" for him. He is excessively orderly and excels in math and science. Although Therese does have OCD, she also has a lot more flexibility in how she approaches tasks. She is a gifted writer and analytical thinker. I have trouble believing that they are motivated by the same things.

Michael - 13 (8th grade, wants to do something in art)

Michael's career assets are a little different from Therese's and Nicholas'. I think they reflect him *very* well.

His motivators and de-motivators, though, are exactly the same as Therese's and Nicholas'. The thing is, I know my children, and I know that they are motivated by very different things. I find this section of the survey results a little puzzling.

Mary-Catherine - 13 (wants to be in broadcast journalism)

Mc's career attributes are also pretty accurate, I think. It is interesting that she is my only child who came up with social orientation - she is definitely my only extrovert. 

Her motivators and de-motivators are also different from the other kids. In fact, they seem tailor made for someone who wants to be a TV news anchor. My faith in the accuracy of CashCrunch Careers is restored enough that I have to consider why my other kids' results were so similar. First, as I said before, the results rely on self-reporting, which can be inherently flawed. We don't always see ourselves as others see us. Second, it is certainly possible that I don't know my kids as well as I think I do, especially now that they are all teenagers.

The Careers Portion of the Results

I'll confess that I was confused when all of my children got nearly identical career reports. This video explains how to read/use those reports.

The site uses information from the US Department of Labor to describe jobs and to project the future need for each career. Some careers are in ascendance, while others are in steep decline. This is very valuable information to have when selecting a career. General information about each career is provided.

Some of the information generated by the report is very interesting and seems valuable, but I am less convinced by the career report itself (showing which careers one is suited to). Still, for a general overview of your personality, strengths and weaknesses, and aptitudes, the survey results have merit. Also, your results are available online to you forever, so that, too, is valuable.

My opinion isn't the only one out there. To see how 69 other Crew families used CashCrunch Game, be sure to click here!

Wednesday, October 3, 2018

Review of Teach Sunday School's Books of the Bible At-a-Glance

Teach Sunday School has the neatest product that I bet you'll love regardless of your denomination. Books of the Bible At-a-Glance is one of the most useful, yet one of the most succinct, products we have reviewed yet. The company describes this product as one-page cheat sheets for the books of the Bible! It's a very apt description. I won't pretend to know much about how Protestant church services work (as I appreciate it, there is great variation), but from the Protestants that I know, it seems that a service may focus on one particular text from the Bible. In the Catholic church, we never hear from fewer than four books of the Bible in a single Mass. One of those is always a Psalm. One is a reading from the Old Testament, one is from the New Testament, and one is from the Gospels. The Psalm responds to the reading from the Old Testament (and so is related thematically). The Gospel is tied in to the Old Testament. Anyone can see the entire year's readings (from the Bible) at any time here, and Catholics are encouraged to read the weekly Mass readings before coming to Mass. 
This long lead-in is simply to point out that this resource is *ideal* for Mass preparation! Knowing the who/what/when/where of a Biblical book makes the weekly Mass readings so much more meaningful and comprehensible. 

Below is a close-up of the sheet for the book of Joshua. You can see at a glance who the author of the book is, where it falls in the New or Old Testament, and when it was written. You can also see, if relevant, the time period in history it covers. You are given a "fast fact," as it were, about the book, famous stories, and most famous verses. Finally, important points about the book are listed. 

It is important to note that the sheets don't contain doctrinal information. By that I mean that the sheet for Genesis, for example, does not make a case for an old or a young Earth, at least not explicitly. It does say that it covers 4004 BC - 1805 BC. I was especially interested to see what was said about Revelation, since that book is often used to indict Catholicism. I had no problem with anything that was said on that sheet, though. Again, these sheets are not used to impart doctrine - instead, they just provide general information. I find them graphically attractive, and so easy to just pull up on my phone to go over the pertinent ones with the kids prior to Mass on Sunday! I really recommend them. The one caveat, though, is that the sheets are not complete for a Catholic, as they do not contain the so-called Apocrypha (these missing books are not apocryphal for us, obviously. They are part of the Canon (and were for all Christians until the 16th century)). If you're willing to make do with a 66-page set of pages, though, this set is a very solid buy. 

There are many other ways to use this product: teaching Sunday School, teaching Old or New Testament history to homeschoolers, fleshing out another Bible course you may be working with, and teaching Greek and Roman or other ancient history are only a few.

Until the company sells 250 copies, you can have this set for only $9. I wouldn't hesitate! Don't take my word for it, though. Click here to see what other Crew families have to say.

Tuesday, September 25, 2018

Random Crafty Websites

I am an absolute neophyte when it comes to anything graphic design. I do love playing with paper and ephemera, though, and I'll continue to try to muddle through Photoshop. I thought it might benefit someone if I list the websites I can't get enough of. If you have a cutting machine or an addiction to vintage ephemera, you'll love these.

Creative Fabrica - you can buy things a la carte from this website, but the subscription is really a tremendous value!

The Graphics Fairy - such good vintage things here! Again, you can get a subscription, but there are plenty of free goodies!

Mighty Deals often has really good bundles.

Speaking of Mighty Deals, that first one in the picture is an amazing one if you want a subscription to a stock photography site!

Paper Whimsey has beautiful things. Her collage sheets make me so happy!

I'd love to see some of your favorite sites!

Listening to - Empathy Test's album "Losing Touch." I'm absolutely obsessed. Like the way I was obsessed with The Cure when I was a teenager (I still am, but you know that intensity you feel for music when you're a teenager? It's like that with this band.).

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?