Thursday, June 29, 2017

Lightning Literature Grade 7 {a Homeschool Review Crew review}

A few years ago, I tried using Hewitt Homeschooling with my big boys.  For various reasons the Gr 7 Lightning Lit Set was not a good fit for them, but I really loved the program.  Now that my youngest children are in 6th (Trina) and 8th (Richard) grades, I decided to try with them.

That was a good decision.

 Lightning Literature and Composition Pack
Grade 7

For purposes of this review, I received the Teacher's Guide, Student's Guide, and Workbook.  The only consumable portion of this program is the workbook, so I obtained a second copy of that.  The above photo shows all of the materials you need to complete the year.  We own Stories and Poems for Extremely Intelligent Children of All Ages, and we either own the remaining books, or we can borrow them from the library.

I love the layout of the program.  The students are reading full books:  two fictional novels (Tom Sawyer and Alice's Adventures in Wonderland), and two non-fiction titles (Helen Keller and All Creatures Great and Small).  In between those books, you are reading short stories or poems out of the Stories and Poems book.  That means that you are alternating between short readings and long ones.

I love that.

The basic schedule for the first semester looks something like this:
  • Weeks 1-3: Rikki-Tikki-Tavi, reading, lessons, worksheets, and a writing assignment.
  • Weeks 3-9: Tom Sawyer reading and comprehension questions.
  • Weeks 10-12: Tom Sawyer lessons, worksheets, and writing assignment.
  • Weeks 12-14: Poetry, reading, lessons, worksheets, and a writing assignment.
  • Weeks 14-16: Alice's Adventures in Wonderland reading and comprehension questions.
  • Weeks 16-28: Alice's Adventures in Wonderland lessons and writing assignment.
The second semester is similar, alternating from short story to book to poetry to book.  The overlap is when you are revising a paper from the previous work and starting to read the next work, or finishing the reading and starting to do the lessons.

Another aspect I really love is that for each section, you have a choice of three or four writing assignments.  The Teacher's Guide makes suggestions as to the difficulty of the various options.  Since Trina is young for this program (if they had the 6th grade program out, or even the 5th grade one, I would use that instead!) I am generally encouraging her to do the easier writing lessons.  Richard can use a bit more of a challenge.

I am also adapting some of the worksheet activities for Trina, letting her discuss the concepts with me sometimes instead of doing all the writing.

Each chapter of the program represents one work, or a group of poems.  The basic outline of each chapter is to learn a bit about the work, with a suggestion of something to be watching for as you read.  Then you read the work and answer some comprehension questions.  It is suggested that the questions be covered on Friday for all the reading from that week. Vocabulary words are provided as well.  Each chapter has a literary lesson and a mini-lesson.  There are a series of worksheets. Finally, there is a writing assignment.

The worksheets are coded so you know what they cover.
  • L is for worksheets covering the literary lesson.
  • M is for worksheets covering the mini-lesson, which often have to do with other composition skills.
  • C gives students a chance to practice composition skills.
  • T is for thinking skills.
  • G is for grammar.  I love the grammar pages.
  • P is for puzzle pages, one crossword and one word search.  These are optional.  Trina loves them.  Richard, well, not so much.
  • E is for Extra-Challenge.  These pages are also optional.  I am not having Trina do these, and I am picking and choosing for Richard.
This program works well for my kids.  The workload is reasonable -- and adjustable.  In many of the weeks, the student is only reading and doing comprehension questions.  Over the course of the year, the student completes eight writing assignments, and there is plenty of time available to do those.

One thing I had seriously questioned about Lightning Literature before I used it was just how much time is spent "only" reading.  I saw that as a negative, as I truly believe my kids need to be getting into far more literature than "only" four books in a year.  My opinions on that have changed a lot.  And they haven't changed at all.  Let me explain.

I think it is critically important for children to be exposed to a wide variety of literature.  Novels and biographies, like the selections here.  But far more of them.  That does not mean, however, that they need to be "doing" literature studies on everything they read.  With that in mind, studying four books (plus two short stories plus two groups of poems) is far more reasonable.  

We can change up the pace too.  The kids are busy this summer, but based on how things have gone so far, we'll get through Tom Sawyer in far less than seven weeks.  I have them work on the set of chapters for a week, and when they finish that set, we do the comprehension questions.  Then they move on to the next chapter grouping.

When we get to the worksheets, however, instead of doing the Literary Lesson, Mini-Lesson, and all of the worksheet pages in a single week, we'll be doing a single worksheet per day.  So, assuming we actually start on a Monday, we'll follow a schedule like this:
  • Monday - read the Literary Lesson about the Plot Line, and do the worksheet about definitions
  • Tuesday - read the Mini-Lesson on Outlines, and do the Outline worksheet
  • Wednesday - do the worksheet on writing from note cards, writing a paragraph about the Mississippi River using the provided facts
  • Thursday - do the composition worksheet on actually writing note cards
  • Friday - do the thinking skills worksheet on Fact and Opinion.  I'll suggest that they do the puzzles as well.
  • Monday - do the grammar worksheet on pronouns and antecedents
  • Tuesday - the extra assignment relates to knowing your audience.  Trina may listen in, but I will talk through this assignment with Richard.  We will brainstorm ideas for the three different letters, and I will have him actually write one of his choice.
Then we'll start Week 11, and work on the writing assignment.  That may very well carry into the next week. In other words, we'll do the reading in three to four weeks instead of seven, but then we'll spread the worksheets and writing out over three full weeks instead of two plus a bit.

I love that I can have them learning about literature and writing about literature, but I also have time in their schedule for them to be writing about other things. And the Teacher's Guide mentions that this course is touching on a concept now, but they will cover it more fully in 8th grade.  That helps me to leave things be and not hyper-explain concepts.  They are getting enough now.  They'll get more later.

The Crew reviewed all levels of Lightning Literature - Elementary, Jr. High and High School, and also the My First Reports.  Go read their reviews too!

Hewitt Homeschooling {Reviews}

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Wednesday, June 28, 2017

Earth Science: God's World, Our Home {a Homeschool Review Crew review}

I have been looking forward to using Earth Science: God’s World, Our Home  ever since I found out that Novare Science & Math was going to be doing reviews with the Homeschool Review Crew this year.

When I was sent over to their website, I replied that I had never heard of Novare Science before but that I was incredibly impressed with what I was seeing there.  I particularly loved reading their Textbook Philosophy, and found myself agreeing with most of what they had to say.  The bit about Integration -- particularly the integration of history and philosophy -- is something that I knew would appeal to my then high school junior.  He struggles with science, and I was wishing I had seen these products earlier.

I've been working with Jeffrey Mays to pull together this review, and in one of our phone conversations he mentioned how they are getting into the homeschool market because of companies like Potter's School and Memoria Press.  When he mentioned Memoria Press, I exclaimed, "THAT is where I've seen you before!"

That was a bit awkward, as I had just told him I had never seen his products.

I hadn't seen the website, nor seen their philosophy and all.  But I had read about Physical Science, Earth Science, and General Chemistry in The Classical Teacher from Memoria Press.  I wanted to try them all out.

The Crew had the opportunity to review either Earth Science, Introductory Physics, General Chemistry, or Science for Every Teacher.  I started using Earth Science with my 5th and 7th graders, and plan to use Introductory Physics with my 10th and 12th graders in the fall.  Most of these books are written by John Mays, but Kevin Nelstead is the author of Earth Science.

Let's talk a bit about their suggested science sequence.  In general, they recommend:
  • 6th: something for Life Science
  • 7th: Physical Science
  • 8th: Earth Science
  • 9th: Introductory Physics
  • 10th: something for General Biology (they are working on a textbook for this)
  • 11th: General Chemistry
  • 12th: something for Anatomy and Physiology
I love this.

Of course, my kids are all going to be working out of this order, but I still love it.  Trina and Richard are using Earth Science now, and they have had some Life Science work.  I plan for Richard to start the high school sequence as a ninth grader, without doing Physical Science.  Trina will go on to do Physical Science, then Life Science, and then do the high school sequence.

So after all that, maybe I ought to actually talk about the course itself.

Novare Earth Science: God’s World Our Home
It is hard to tell by looking at the picture of the cover, but this is a fairly compact book.  Not intimidating at all.  The book includes 15 chapters of about 25 pages each.  These chapters cover astronomy, geology, oceanography, meteorology, and more.  They teach from a mastery approach, so the material you cover is reviewed throughout the year.

The Resource CD includes a lot of helps for teaching this in the home or classroom. The best part is a schedule.  I love having a schedule.  It schedules out 4 or 5 day weeks, for a total of 33 weeks.  There are a total of 153 days of lessons.

Another piece I love is a pdf of sample answers.  Even when I am working on the materials with my kids, sometimes it is really nice to have a nicely formatted answer to the discussion questions.

The CD also includes quizzes, exams, images, weekly review guides, and resources for the experiments.

The Resource CD is indispensable.

How we are using this:

Essentially, we are following the schedule, but we are not accomplishing a week's worth of work each week.  There are too many other things going on in the summer, so when I can work on it, we just do the next day of work.  Because of the integration of subjects like philosophy, I really do want to do this course with my kids, so I am reading the text aloud.  I get my computer hooked up to the TV, and I am able to put the images up on the big screen as we go along.

We started by discussing the objectives and vocabulary at the start of the chapter, but I have to confess that my kids tend to find that overwhelming.  So now I am looking ahead at the reading for the day and starting each reading day by covering the objectives for that day.  After the reading, I go back over the vocabulary terms that we covered.

This works a lot better.

At the end of the chapter, I go back and read all of the objectives.

As we cover vocabulary, the kids are responsible for creating vocabulary cards.  Some chapters have a lot of vocabulary.  This is not their favorite part of the program.

Each chapter contains great illustrations and photos.  The text is pretty easy to read, and has not been over their heads yet.

This is a good place to mention that Novare comes from a distinctly Christian point of view, but they do not support the idea of a young earth.  As I think it is hugely important for my kids to encounter multiple points of view, I think this is a huge benefit of this program.  There are so many young-earth resources available out on the Christian Homeschooling market, and with only 153 days of lessons (and some short days as well) it is easy to supplement if I decide to bring some young-earth alternatives into the teaching.

They do not get into evolution at all, which I appreciate.

At the end of the chapter, there are exercises to perform.  These are scheduled into the class time, not as homework.

There are also eight experiments, which is roughly one for every two chapters.  It doesn't work that way, exactly, but the hands-on aspect is really great.  Some of these experiments require rock samples, which can get expensive, but many are using topographical maps (provided).  A couple use supplies that are fairly easy to obtain.

My bottom line is that I really love this book.  They present scientific information in a systematic way that doesn't intimidate me and doesn't bore my children.  This course is thorough, without going into excessive detail that really is unnecessary. 

My kids like that the lessons are fairly short and that they bring in interesting aspects of other subjects that make it more interesting.  My son loves the lack of worksheets.  He also really wants to get to the meteorology portions of the book, as he thinks that studying weather is a good idea for when he becomes a pilot.

We are going to continue to use materials from Novare Science & Math.

Biblical Based Science {Novare Science & Math Reviews}

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Thursday, June 22, 2017

UnLock Pre-Algebra {a Homeschool Review Crew review}

UnLock Math pre-algebra
A couple of months ago, I sat all of my kids down and had a serious discussion about math.  Clearly, something had to change.  Math has been a struggle here, and at least part of that is the consistency.

So when UnLock Math came along, I jumped at the chance to have Thomas work through UnLock Pre-Algebra.  Basically, I need to know that he is fully prepared for Algebra 1, so I told him he needed to complete this program this summer.

This program is perfect for him.  Perfect.  He told me that one of the best things is that he always knows exactly what to do.  He knows that a "day" of work involves doing the next lesson, all the way through.  Every time, he goes through the same steps, with a couple of variations that are obvious.

When he goes to type in an answer, it almost always tells him things like what to type to represent multiplication.  He rarely has to wonder how to format an answer.

So let's walk through this.  When you get in to the course page, you see a list that looks like this.  The units are listed (there are 16 of them) and the blue lock shows the ones that are complete (units 1, 2 and 3).

The purple closed locks (units 5 and 6) are units he hasn't started working yet.

The light purple open lock (unit 4) is in progress.  When you click on the rocket to launch that unit, you get to another menu screen.

On this page, the locks again show you where you are.  Thomas has finished lesson 4.5, 4.6, and the 4.5-4.6 quiz.

He has not yet started the next ones.  The next step is for him to open up lesson 4.7 and complete it.

The next day's assignment would be lesson 4.8 and the 4.7-4.8 quiz.  The following day's assignment would be the unit review, and the day after that he would do the unit test.

Straightforward and easy.  And the locks keep changing color, so he can clearly see his progress.

Once he gets into a lesson, he is presented with a screen with a fun little arrow path that tells him where to start and how to progress through the lesson.  When he does the work on MY computer (a Mac), that "path" is not there.  The steps are the same each time.  There is probably a better description of what the segments are and why, but I'm mostly using his words here.

Warm Up - 5 problems that review previous concepts, usually from the last few lessons, tends to be stuff that is gearing you up for the topic today. You can repeat the Warm Up as many times as you wish.

Video - this is the primary teaching part of the lesson.  Alesia does the teaching in the videos, with text appearing next to her.  She takes just one bite-sized chunk at a time, and the lessons lead naturally from one to the next.

There aren't a lot of fancy effects, there are some attempts at humor, and sometimes those attempts succeed.  Thomas doesn't want to be entertained, though, he wants to get math done.  Alesia is mostly to-the-point, and he doesn't have to sit through a lot of extra fluff. 

Practice Problems - This section has around 10 problems going over what you just learned in the video.  Again, you can repeat this section as many times as you would like, and the questions do change.  Thomas told me that if you are striving for perfection and you do the same section a lot of times, you will see problems repeat.  So it isn't an endless supply of possible questions, but you aren't going to be able to do the problems, note the answers, and then just do it again to get 100.

As you can see, the answer field here prompts him for how the answer should look.  It tells him to enter a number. 

Stay Sharp - This section includes about 10 problems that are reviewing stuff that you've done before, not just recent material.  Again, you can repeat this section if you don't like your score.

Challenge Yourself -  The final section includes one problem that relates to the lesson that is much more challenging.  You are only allowed to submit this once.  This is for extra credit, and missing this problem doesn't bring down the student's grade.

After every couple of lessons, there is a quiz.  This looks very much like the other problems sections, except that it doesn't tell you anything about how you are doing as you go.

There are also reviews and tests at the end of each unit.  With the review, you can see how you are doing as you go, but not with the test.

Once you finish the quiz, you can get to a report that tells you how you did and also shows the solution.  

This is really helpful when you are not getting a concept!

The program also has some fantastic tracking features.  Thomas loves that he can see progress happening.
This one shows his progress in this unit.  The dark colors are the part he's completed.  The light colors are what is left.  This shows visible progress for each lesson he completes -- the pie is obviously darker each time.

This one shows how he is doing in the course (the speedometer looking part), and it also shows how much of the course he has completed.  That blue line moves a bit as he completes lessons, but it isn't as dramatic as the pie chart above.  Still, over the course of a week, you can definitely see more color.

In addition to all of the above, there are other pieces that I can use.  The course includes a pacing guide that helped me to figure out just what he was going to need to accomplish weekly in order to finish up this summer. 

There is a a progress report that gives me some additional information about how he is doing on each type of assignment.  I can look at that for the course as a whole, or I can look at it for individual units.

There is a gradebook that gives me a lot of detail about when he did the assignments, how long they took, how he did on them -- and it shows me how many times he repeated an assignment.  Or, after a day poking around to write a review, it shows a whole lot of incomplete assignments that "he" spent 0-1 minutes on. 

Our bottom line?

We love this program.  It is perfect for him as he knows just what to do, and what it takes to finish.  I love that it automatically grades him and I don't have to do anything with that.  Plus he is clearly grasping the material.  He absolutely will be moving on to Algebra 1, and he hopes to work with their brand-new Geometry program after that.

Go see what others on the Crew had to say about these math programs!

Pre-Algebra, Algebra and Geometry {UnLock Math Reviews}

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Tuesday, June 6, 2017

The Book of Trees - a review of Memoria Press Science

One of my favorite homeschool companies over the past dozen years has been Memoria Press.  I am always excited when we have the chance to review some of their materials.  This time, the Crew had the opportunity to work with any of their Latin programs, or two different science programs.

Nature's Beautiful Order is a wonderful set, geared to students in 6th-8th grade, and they also recommend it as a supplement for high school.  I think that is how I'd like to use that program, alongside a high school biology course.  We chose to work with The Book of Trees now though, another program intended for grades 6-8.

The Book of Trees Set

Memoria Press sent the primary components of this program for review - the Reader, the Student Book, and the Teacher Guide.  I picked up one of the recommended resources, The Tree Book for Kids and Their Grown-ups, but so far we haven't used that at all.

Flipping ahead, these guides are suggested for reference when you do tree observations in Lesson 20.  We are not there yet!

So how does it work?  Each of the 21 lessons includes a reading assignment from the text (well, the last lesson is review, so it doesn't.)  There are questions in the Student Book, and usually there is something to label.  The Teacher Guide includes answers for all of the student work.  There are also activities, which usually involve getting out and looking at real plants.  Mostly trees.

The hardest part about this program for us is that last little bit.  Let me show you our view:

The assignments that suggest taking a stroll and checking out all the various trees clearly need a bit of planning on our part.

Some of the assignments are possible without a field trip.  I told the kids to take pictures of the very first lesson, where they were supposed to take a look at all the different plants right around their home.

They told me this assignment was easy, as all we have is prairie grasses.  They were a bit surprised to discover that there is a lot more variety out there than they were expecting.

Had they gone a bit further from the house -- or done it in a bit later in the year, we could have found even more.

While this is called "Book of Trees" it covers far more than just trees.
  1. Unit I: The Root & Stem - these five lessons cover roots and stems of all kinds of land plants.
  2. Unit II: Leaves - we are finishing up these four lessons on the structure of leaves.
  3. Unit III: Photosynthesis & Respiration - these five lessons get more technical, with chemical formulas and all that fun.
  4. Unit IV: Flowers & Fruits - five more lessons covering the types and structures of flowers and fruits.
  5. Unit V: Observing Trees - the final section includes one long lesson on trees, forms for observing a whole lot of trees, and a review lesson.

Lesson 8 had us gathering up leaves from different trees, so after an overnight at the zoo, Trina and I stopped in town and checked out the tree varieties on a hiking trail.

We were able to gather up leaves from five or six different types of trees, and while we were at it, we also examined the bark (from a previous lesson) and the roots of an uprooted tree.

That was one of the best hikes we've taken in a long time, as we had something specific that we were looking for and we were able to apply the things we've been learning to what we were actually observing.

This is what I like about the concept of nature study.

Our bottom line on this study is that it is a great mix of fairly short readings, with a lot of real science information included.  The questions and diagramming help the information to stick.  Then getting out and looking at real plants makes this even better.

The best part is that the bookwork for most of the lessons takes maybe an hour, so you can learn a lot about Botany without making it a huge part of your week. 

We also tend to discuss the "Reading and Questions" section, and I don't typically have Trina actually write out the answers.  All of the labeling activities, though, she does complete.

Sometimes I think I'm letting her off too easy this way, but she is retaining the information, and that is more important to me than filled-in pages!

When we finish Book of Trees, we are moving on to Book of Insects.  We might need to get What's That Bird? too.  I think maybe we just need to do all of the Memoria Press science products!

Go check and see what other Crew Members had to say about this and other Memoria Press products:

Latin, Nature and Trees {Memoria Press Reviews}

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Sunday, June 4, 2017

Knights in Training {A Review}

I remember a certain Blue and Gold ceremony in Cub Scouts, when my oldest was crossing over to become a Boy Scout, which happens midway through fifth grade.  His Webelos Leader made a fantastic speech talking about knighthood, and how that had been a goal of his in working with these young men-to-be.  He spoke of so much that is honorable and courageous, daring and adventurous.  My family loved the speech.

Many of the other families, however, were appalled.  There were so many complaints.  Knights were about raping and pillaging and they were upset that their children had now been exposed to this horrible era of history.

My family talked about this a lot, and we strongly disagreed with this revisionist history.

As for me and my household, we determined to continue to hold some of those knightly ideals up for our four boys, who were 3, 7, 9 and 10 at the time.  And for our well-protected princess, who had just turned 2 at the time of that event.

William, reading The Knight's Code

Those same boys are now 13, 16, 18 and 20, and a book like Knights in Training: Ten Principles for Raising Honorable, Courageous, and Compassionate Boys would have helped me feel that I was not alone.

Heather Haupt, the author of this book, is the mother of three knights-in-training and a spunky little princess. She wants to be intentional during these years of parenting and raise children who will make a difference in this world. Heather is an educator, writer, and popular speaker. Recognizing the brevity of childhood and the power of a parent’s influence, she encourages and equips parents towards intentional parenting, pursuing God, and delighting in the adventure of learning. She is the author of Knights-in-Training: Ten Principles for Raising Honorable, Courageous, and Compassionate Boys as well as The Ultimate Guide to Brain Breaks. She writes at

I think she and I would get along well.   

When the boys were little, one of our goals for them was that they not end up in jail.  You know, like this one, where we just had to stop and get a picture of me with three of my Knights in Training, along with the book, which did go on vacation with us.

The idea of the book is to be raising up a generation of boys who aspire to be heroes, to rise up and put others' needs above their own.  Challenge these boys to make an impact. I know my experience with boys is that they are pretty good at rising to meet expectations -- much of the time -- when you make it clear that you believe they are capable of it.

Heather suggests a training program that does include such activities as sword fighting.

That might not be the most practical part of the suggested training, but something that encourages physical activity and encourages the boys to work together has to be good.  You know, work together.  They're good at that.

This book is great.  There are so many things she talks about in here that we've done but never really thought out why we were doing it.  Heather has put the words on some of my actions, along with some fantastic ideas that I never thought to do.

If you have boys at home, you really ought to find this book.  Raise the bar.  Help to raise up a generation of men who make a difference.

Disclaimer:  I received this book and poster in exchange for writing this review on my blog.  No other compensation was received.  All opinions expressed in this review are my own.  

Sunday, May 14, 2017

Forsenic Faith {a LitFuse Blog Tour review}

After seeing J. Warner Wallace giving a talk to students, I became a fan.  We own Cold-Case Christianity in three formats now -- paperback book, Kindle e-book, and Audible audiobook.  I recently reviewed Cold-Case Christianity for Kids (both my 11- and 13-year-olds own a copy), and recently gave a copy of that to a family friend.  Cold-Case Christianity (both versions) explores why we can believe in Jesus.

We own God's Crime Scene, but I'll admit that I haven't yet read that title.  This one is about how we can know that God exists.  These two books cover the basics of most apologetics texts.

Forensic Faith goes another step beyond making a case for God and for Christ.

Forensic Faith makes the case for why you (yes, you!) need to be able to articulate the case for Christianity.

This book reads just like Cold-Case Christianity in its style.  Easy-to-read and easy-to-understand, with lots of examples from Warner's work as a Cold Case Detective.

Like the last J. Warner Wallace review, I ended up purchasing another copy.  My college kid was given one of mine, and I still have a copy for myself.

My bottom line on Cold-Case Christianity for Kids was that if you are a parent of a kid ages 8-15 or so, you need to buy that book and work through it with them.  And if you have teens, you need to buy them Cold-Case Christianity.  If you have young teens, get them both.

I'll add to that advice now.  If you have teens, you also need to buy Forensic Faith.  And may as well get God's Crime Scene for them while you are at it.

Buy a set for yourself too.

From the publisher:

A cold-case detective helps you rethink and share your Christian beliefs.

J. Warner Wallace has asked this question in churches across America over the past several years, and the answer he gets is often disappointing; it's almost always rooted in some sort of personal, subjective experience. As a community, we Christians aren't typically prepared to make the case for why we believe Christianity is true from the objective evidence of history, philosophy or science. Worse yet, many of us don't think we have any obligation to do so.

In J. Warner's first two books, he made the case for God's existence (God's Crime Scene) and the case for Christianity (Cold-Case Christianity). In Forensic Faith, J. Warner completes the trilogy by making the case for... making the case! In Forensic Faith, J. Warner helps readers understand why it's important to defend what they believe, and provides them with a unique template to help them become effective "Christian Case Makers." Forensic Faith will help readers:
  • understand why they, as Christians, have a duty to defend the truth
  • develop a training strategy to master the evidence for Christianity
  • learn how to employ the techniques of a detective to discover new insights from God's Word
  • become a better communicators by learning the skills of professional case makers
With real-life detective stories, fascinating strategies, and biblical insights, J. Warner hopes to teach readers the daily cold-case investigative disciplines they can apply in their lives as believers. Forensic Faith is an engaging, fresh look at what it means to be a Christian.

Disclaimer:  I received this book through LitFuse Blog Tour.  No other compensation was received.  All opinions expressed in this review are my own.  

Wednesday, May 10, 2017

High School Essay Intensive {a Homeschool Review Crew review}

A couple of years ago, my oldest son worked through the materials in Institute for Excellence in Writing's original High School Essay Intensive program.  He got so much out of it, and we were both glad that we had spent the money and the time to go through it.

When I heard that IEW was updating the program, I was curious.  When I found out that we'd be reviewing it for the Crew, I was excited for the Crew, I looked forward to seeing High School Essay Intensive, Second Edition for myself, but I wasn't jumping up and down with excitement for myself. 

They did it again.  Just like the recent remake of their signature programs, this new edition takes a great product and makes it wonderful.  I should have been leaping for joy.

Institute for Excellence in Writing High School Essay Intensive

Look at what you get.
  • Five DVDs, with over six hours of instruction.
  • A packet with hard copy of some of the information in the seminar, plus room for notes.
  • Their brand-new Portable Walls for the Essayist.
Let's start with that last piece.

I am so impressed with the Portable Walls for the Essayist that I now have four of them.  Each of my boys has their very own.  This product is a tri-fold folder covered with so much information and handy lists.  It is convenient and doesn't take up a lot of space in an itty-bitty dorm room.  (I sent one with Connor to college this past semester.)

photo of three Portable Walls open to show the different sides

Some of the lists include:
  • Types of essays
  • Essay models (basic five paragraph and others up to a twelve paragraph "Super-Essay"
  • Information on the Essay Writing Process
  • Notes about the TRIAC Paragraph
  • Strategies for Timed Essays (such as the SAT and ACT)
  • A list of words "for analyzing"
  • A list of different sentence paatterns
  • Models for four types of essays (argumentative, persuasive, compare/contrast, classical rhetoric)
  • And a whole page of words.  Mostly transitional words and phrases, but also  a list of adverbs and prepositions.
I would have absolutely loved these walls when I was in high school and college.  If your student doesn't really need more instruction in essay writing, you should at least consider getting this inexpensive piece.

The main part of High School Essay Intensive is the DVDs.  There are five DVDs, which cover:
  1. General essay-writing strategies (two DVDs, 1a and 1b)
  2. Tips for the new ACT essay
  3. Tips for the redesigned SAT essay
  4. Tips for the personal essay, like those required on many college applications
A few days ago, I drove up to Wyoming to pick up my oldest son from college.  He had just finished finals and has a bit over a week at home before he heads out to work at a summer camp.  Since he has told me repeatedly how glad he is that he went through the original High School Essay Intensive, I showed him the new version.

We've been watching it.

He's even been pausing the DVD to do the exercises.

He thinks this one is even better than the first.

We skipped DVD 2 and 3, as he won't be taking either the ACT or SAT any time soon.  I had also skipped those (for now) with my two high school students.  The other three DVDs have been wonderful.

Andrew Pudewa is teaching a group of mostly homeschooled high school students, and working through a writing seminar.  The video content is filled with laugh-out-loud moments, which makes it fun to watch.  He covers a lot of ground.  The list that I posted above about what is on the Portable Walls would give you a pretty good idea as to the topics covered.

You can pop in the DVD, follow along with the handouts, and then pause to write when the DVD tells you to do so.  Connor felt that the first two DVDs were incredibly useful for college students and he anticipates using that information into his post-college adult life as well.

The final DVD talked about the personal essay, and that wasn't all that applicable to much that he needs, though we did discuss how we had relied on the personal essay portion of the original High School Essay Intensive when he was applying to school last summer.  A refresher on this might help with a scholarship application he will be working on here in the next week.

Watching that final DVD is worth it, though, just to listen to the concluding thoughts that he provides.  These thoughts don't have anything at all to do with writing, but about living life in general.  He comments on how the students have been born into interesting times, and discusses how they shouldn't go to college to get a piece of paper, nor should they get a job just for a paycheck.

Having my high school and college students listen to that last five minutes of Andrew Pudewa talking to the students as though they are his own kids was probably worth every penny of the cost of this program.

My bottom line: High School Essay Intensive, Second Edition is well worth getting for any high school or college student.  Even if you already own the First Edition.

You can go see what other members of the Crew think too:

High School Essay Intensive {Institute for Excellence in Writing Reviews}

Follow IEW on Social Media:
Twitter:  @IEW

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Saturday, April 22, 2017

Digital Savvy {a Homeschool Review Crew review}

Technology.  Love it or hate it, technology definitely has a huge impact on life these days.  I cannot even begin to imagine what the world will look like for my kids forty years from now, and what kind of jobs they are likely to have.  One thing seems pretty certain though, being comfortable with technology is likely to be a key skill for practically any work (paid or unpaid) that they are doing throughout their lifetimes.

CompuScholar, Inc.
That is why I was so excited to get the chance to review Digital Savvy, the newest course from the people at CompuScholar, Inc.  I've talked about this company before, but they had a different name then.  Homeschool Programming created the coursework that Connor used for his computer programming class in high school.  (You can read my reviews of Windows and Game Programming, and C# Programming, but keep in mind, these courses are so much better now with the online format!)

Let's start with the format for these courses.  It now comes as an online subscription, which isn't always something I like.  I like having materials I can easily pass down from child to child.  Subscriptions don't tend to work that way.

That being said, this format is so easy to use.  Log on, do the next thing.  I love this presentation.  Even though I OWN the books for many of their other courses, I fully intend to use the subscriptions for my kids.  Completely worth it.  The part I really love is the new monthly subscription option.  You can still purchase a year of access to the course for $120.  But now you can do a monthly subscription for $15/month.  If your child is likely to get through the course in less than eight months, that would be a good option. 

CompuScholar, Inc. Digital Savvy

So Digital Savvy means what, exactly?

This course is a pretty general computer knowledge class, meant for grades 6-12.  I had all four of my children working in it (grades 5, 7, 9 and 11) as I know there are topics that each of them need.  Trina, the 5th grader, is certainly capable of working through the material, though she is moving pretty slowly.

Topics include:
  • Learning about the computer itself, and how to mange the information on there.
  • Networking and online safety.
  • Learning the basic office products - word processing, spreadsheets, presentations, databases.
  • Learning about editing images, and using social media and email.
  • Learning a bit of website design, and some simple computer programming.
  • Learning about careers in computing.
Thirty years ago, I could easily have taught most of that (the online parts were a lot different then though!)  Now, I'm quite sure I could learn a thing or two in most of those topics.  So having a coherent course that teaches this to my children is perfect.  The student doesn't need a lot of previous knowledge, but they do need to know basic computer skills.  They should be able to turn it on, use the keyboard and mouse, and that sort of thing.

Parents do not have to be very tech-savvy either, as CompuScholar will directly answer student questions.  Parents do need to not be techno-phobic though. 

What I really love is that my kids are all able to work on this fairly independently.  Even the 5th grader.  She told me that she finds it fairly easy to use, "but it is hard because I really don't care about any of this stuff so I don't want to."

Yeah, well, I care.  You need to know it, kiddo.

The 7th grader is the most gung-ho.  I told him that if he finishes this course, he can start doing Web Design next.  He is completely in favor of that. "It's good and very informative. I was able to figure out some things to do to try to speed up a couple of the old computers we have."

I'm going to let Richard describe how the course works.
This is a very good course.  For me, personally, I wish that learning how to build a website was a bit earlier in the program.  When I first started this, I was very enthusiastic to get through this so I could build a website.  But if you are wanting to generally learn about computers, I would recommend it."

First, I watch the video.  The lesson text is essentially the video script.  I think it is really great to have the video going and read along in the student text.  If you have the time, it is good to do both though, separately, as the repetition helps you remember.  If you are already familiar with one of the topics, it will probably suffice to just watch the video.

After learning the material, there is a quiz for each lesson.  It's five questions, usually multiple choice.  You get three attempts.  At the end of the chapter, you will get an overall quiz, which will have twenty questions on it.  You really need to remember the lessons to finish the chapter quiz.

Some lessons will have a "work with me section" that will be like a mini activity. It will be something that will relate to just that lesson. Some will have activities that relate to the entire chapter.
The program grades the quizzes, so I don't have to do that.  I do need to grade projects though, and CompuScholar provides grading rubrics and other suggestions to help with that.

I highly, highly recommend these courses.

You can see what other Crew members had to say about Digital Savvy, Web Design, and Java Programming

Digital Savvy, Web Design & Java Programming {CompuScholar,Inc Reviews}

You can find them on Social Media at:

Homeschool Programming
Facebook –
Twitter –   @hsprogramming

CompuScholar, Inc   @compuscholar

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Thursday, April 13, 2017

Coming Soon: 5 Days of Growing a Heart for your Community

I've been totally neglecting my blog lately, but some of my fellow Crew Leaders have challenged/cajoled/encouraged me to participate in the Homeschool Review Crew 5 Days of Homeschool ... Blog Hop.

Like I had the first clue what I could write about.  I certainly look forward to reading some of the topics that others are posting on though!

I was challenged/cajoled/encouraged to post about "Growing a Heart for your Community," so though I certainly do not feel like I'm an expert at all, I am going to be posting about some of our experiences in that regard.

I haven't completely finalized the specifics on this, but I will be writing about developing a servant's heart, finding opportunities to serve, and I plan to end the week by lecturing myself on balance and moderation.

I am SO not an expert on that.

5 Days of Homeschool Annual Blog Hop - 2017

Check out the other topics!

  • Chareen – 5 Days of Charlotte Mason Resoures
  • Dawn - 5 Days of Homeschooling Teens
  • Michele - 5 Days of Keeping your Homeschool Alive
  • Amanda H - 5 Days of Homeschooling Without Going Insane
  • Annette - 5 Days of Things We Enjoy in our Homeschool
  • Ashley N - 5 Days of "Kitchen-Schooling" with preschoolers
  • Carol - 5 Days of An Honest Look at High School
  • Cassandra H - 5 Days of Knowing When and What to Change in Your Homeschool
  • Christina C - 5 Days of Building Positive Thinking
  • Crystal H - 5 Days of Creating Independence in Your Homeschooling
  • DaLynn M- 5 Days of Threadbare Homeschooling
  • Dana L - 5 Days of Homeschooling with Epilepsy and Other Issues
  • Elyse R - 5 Days of Finding our Homeschool Strengths
  • Emilee R - 5 Days of Homeschooling as a Single Parent
  • Erin S - 5 Days of Homeschooling with Living Books
  • Felicia M - 5 Days of Living the Bible in Your Homeschool
  • Hillary M - 5 Days of Morning Time for All Ages
  • Jaime G - 5 Days in the Life of a Stressed Out Homeschool Mom (and how not to be one)
  • Jacquelin C - 5 Days of Hands-On Learning
  • Jennifer K - 5 Days of Inspiring Reluctant Learners
  • Jennifer N - 5 Days of Books To Help Homeschooling Moms
  • Jodi G - 5 Days of Hiding the Word in Their Hearts.
  • Julia C - 5 Days of Homeschooling from Scratch
  • Karen W - 5 Days of 5 Days of International Studies for Young Children
  • Kelly KL - 5 Days of Homeschooling Children with Special Needs
  • Kemi - 5 Days of Working Through Math Struggles in Homeschool
  • Kirsten W - 5 days of Homeschooling Twins
  • Kristi H - 5 Day of Preschool Math
  • Kym T - 5 Days of the Rewards of Homeschooling Teens
  • Linda S - 5 Days of Wit and Wisdom from Veteran Homeschool Moms
  • Lisa M - 5 Days of Popular Homeschool Teaching Styles
  • Meghan W- 5 Days of of Literacy in the Home{school}
  • Melissa B - 5 Days of Extracurriculars to Add to Your Homeschool
  • Meredith D - 5 Days of Homeschooling a High Achiever.
  • Missica J - 5 Days of Eclectic Homeschooling with Special Needs
  • Monique G - 5 Days of Homeschooling the Middle School Years
  • Rebekah T - 5 days of Simple Homeschooling in a Complicated World
  • Ritsumei H - 5 Days of Homeschooling Books
  • Wendy R - 5 days of Homeschooling Kids with a Large Age Gap
  • Yvie - 5 days of Road-Schooling

Tuesday, April 11, 2017

American History with Memoria Press {a Homeschool Review Crew review}

Memoria Press

Today I get to talk about one of my very favorite companies for homeschool curriculum, Memoria Press. I was first introduced to Memoria Press a dozen or more years ago, and I used a lot of their materials and loved them.  Now they have so much more available!

The Homeschool Review Crew has recently had the opportunity to review three very different products:  First Form Greek Complete Set, which I plan to work through with Connor this summer. Other reviewers used  Iliad & Odyssey Complete Set, which I have been using with William -- and we love it!

My fifth and seventh graders have been using two complementary products that will be the focus of this review: The Story of the Thirteen Colonies & the Great Republic Set and 200 Questions About American History Set.  These two programs can be used individually, but I really love the combination of the two of them together.  They are both intended for grades 5-8.

The Story of the Thirteen Colonies & the Great Republic Set

The main component for us is the H. A. Guerber set.  This set consists of the book, The Story of the Thirteen Colonies & the Great Republic, plus a Student Guide and Teacher Guide.  The program is broken into thirty-two weekly lessons.  A typical lesson covers 2-3 chapters in the Guerber book, and then there are four sections in the workbook.  First is a Facts to Know section, which lists out key people, places, or events and gives a short explanation.  Second is a vocabulary section, which pulls words from the text, and the students are to look the words up and write out an appropriate definition. Third is a series of short-answer Comprehension Questions.  Finally, there are some enrichment activities, which usually include map and timeline work, along with some type of research.

For instance, lesson ten covers three chapters of the book (Stories of Franklin, Braddock's Defeat, and Wolfe at Quebec).  Each chapter of the book is around two or three pages, so these chapters are not long at all.

The Facts to Know section mentions people like Benjamin Franklin, General Braddock, and William Pitt.  It also covers two events -- the Seven Years' War and the French and Indian War.  Vocabulary words include words such as apprentice, dint, clad, and fray.

The discussion questions really do make the kids think.  None are too difficult, but they need to be paying attention and thinking as they read.  The enrichment for this lesson includes locating places like Philadelphia and Quebec on a map, adding to your timeline, and a composition assignment to write several short journal entries as though you are a colonist in this time.

200 Questions About American History Set
Grades 5-8

The 200 Questions set ties right in.  This set includes flashcards, and both a Student Book and Teacher Guide.  The 200 Questions break down as follows:
  • 150 questions dealing with historical events, such as naming the general who captured Quebec.
  • 30 questions related to a timeline, so it is necessary to grasp dates here.  The only date they expect you to know from this lesson is when the French and Indian War occurred.
  • 20 questions related to famous quotations 
  • 44 questions related to the presidents of the United States
Yes, that adds up to more than 200.

Working through the Guerber text, and adding in the appropriate questions from 200 Questions will only get you up through 116 of the event questions.  To work through the remaining 34 questions, Memoria Press recommends using Story of the World 4.

We were looking for an easy-to-implement history program that would still teach a lot, and this does fit the bill.  We are able to use this by doing history 3-4 days per week.  We read a chapter per day for two or three days, and the kids then go into their Student Books to answer the appropriate questions.  Once we get through all of the chapters, they take a day to do some of the enrichment activities, and we go through the new questions from 200 Questions.

All together, we are spending about twenty minutes per day, and we are all learning.

Bottom line is that we love these sets.  My oldest high school student is using the flashcards too, as he is studying for the American History CLEP test.  The flashcards give him one more way to test himself.

Check out Memoria Press on social media:

Twitter:  @MemoriaPress

And definitely click the banner to go read more Crew reviews!

First Form Greek, Iliad/Odyssey and American History {Memoria Press Reviews}

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