Tuesday, July 30, 2019

Chemistry {a Master Books review}

I have used lots of materials from Master Books, and have always been very pleased with the quality of their books. In the past few years, they have been greatly expanding their course offerings and creating materials that look a lot more traditional. By that I mean that their high school science offerings included courses like Basic Pre-Med and Survey of Science History & Concepts.

Now they have a textbook for Chemistry, written by Dr. Dennis Englin. There is also a parent guide to go with this, which schedules the course out into daily assignments and includes worksheets and tests. I have not seen that, except for the samples.

I did receive the pdf version of the text, and have been working through it myself. The book is gorgeous, with loads of color. Dr. Englin writes in a conversational tone that doesn’t intimidate. I love that.

The book contains 28 chapters, and each chapter includes a lab assignment. I think lab work is really important, but so much of it tends to be either expensive or silly. I get very frustrated with that.

In this course, the labs tend to me more practical, and they actually teach something. You start off with a lab that makes you think through the scientific method, then in chapter two you are working with the metric system and significant digits. This is hugely important.


When I taught physical science to middle school students a few years ago, the whole idea of significant digits was one they really struggled to grasp.  This gets to be pretty important as you move into more advanced sciences.  I was thrilled that Dr. Englin doesn't assume students (or their parents) do grasp this idea.  He teaches it again.

I love the images used, with pictures of a dozen donuts when they introduce Avodgadro's number.  The photo really draws you in -- what in the world do donuts have to do with chemistry?

Or this, from Chapter 6, with a whole lot of paint and paint brushes.

What is "molar" anyway, and what does it have to do with painting?  I think the photos really do leave you wondering a bit, and that can only be a good thing.  It got me to read enough to figure out why they chose this particularly colorful image.

This book also does something I really love, including little sidebar types of sections about scientists.  That helps make science more real, I think, when you are learning something about the people behind the ideas.

The one pictured here is about Henry Louis Le Chatelier, and is introduced in Chapter 7.  Balancing equations hasn't been the fun part of chemistry for any of my students, but learning a bit about the guy behind some of it definitely helps!

If you peruse the table of contents, this course really does cover all that I expect a high school chemistry class to cover.  It is easy to read, bright, engaging...

Two thumbs up from this mama.

Disclaimer:   I received this ebook for free from Master Books.  No other compensation was received.  The fact that I received complimentary products does not guarantee a favorable review.

Monday, July 22, 2019

Simply Music: a Homeschool Review Crew review

For the past few weeks, I've been trying to work with a FREE piano program from Simply Music.  Given that I don't have a working keyboard or piano in my home, that isn't always easy.  I've been using the keyboard at church when I can, and am over halfway through the Music & Creativity - Foundation Course at this point.

This photo is of Trina working on one of the first lessons, as sometimes she comes along when I head over.  Trina has only worked up to lesson 3 at this point, so she isn't very far into it.

I love that during lesson 3, she is learning her first song, and she has already spent time improvising as well.

The course consists of twenty total lessons - an introductory "Quickstart" lesson, plus 19 regular lessons.

In addition to the video lessons, there are downloadable components as well.  There are a total of four items to download.  The one I've used most is the soundtrack zip file, but there is also a reference book that includes words for the songs, and the diagrams used to help visualize the pieces by helping you to see shapes and patterns.  The fourth item is a pdf book, Music and the Art of Long-Term Relationships.

What is not included is any sort of traditional music.  This course does not teach you to read music in a traditional sense -- the idea is to gets hands-on, to learn by playing.  As you go along, you are introduced to some music theory, but it is all very active and not at all.

Many of the videos include some instruction from Neil Moore.  He sits at a piano and talks to the camera, as shown here from lesson 9.

I really liked this particular lesson, as he was discussing accompaniment, and that was one of the reasons I was particularly interested in taking this course.  I played piano as a child and I was pretty good.  But I never, ever was able to accompany a choir or even a soloist really at all.

It has always made me feel fairly inadequate, to be honest, and when I've been asked to do things at church, I get so hung up on all the chords in the hymnal, and the idea of transposing into a key we are capable of singing to, and I really don't even try.

Neil explains that the accompaniment is a bit like the canvas that a picture is painted on to.  It isn't the song itself, it is a foundation that allows the soloist to shine through.  He makes me think I can actually do this.

Most lessons also include some time where Neil is playing the piano and demonstrating what  you are to be playing.  Here, in lesson 7, he is showing some techniques for using the sustain pedal, and I really liked how the camera shows us both what he is doing with his hands and what he is doing with his foot.

This screenshot also demonstrates a bit about how the lessons are set up.  Each of the 19 lessons has at least one video segment, and once you have completed that section, you have to mark it as complete.  In the shot above, I could not move on to Lesson 8.1 until I marked that I had watched this one.

Note that I don't actually have to watch a lesson to mark it complete.  If I wanted to skip forward and try the lesson on Amazing Grace (Lesson 14), I could just go in and mark each video as complete until I get to the one I wish to watch.  So it is possible to skip ahead, but it is not a quick process to do so.

To do the lessons, you need to have a screen on which to watch the lessons over the internet (they are not downloadable), and you need a piano or a keyboard with at least 49 keys.  Having a device to play the soundtracks and having headphones is a plus, but not totally essential.

To do a lesson, I bring my laptop and my iPad with me to church.  I have the lessons playing on my computer, and I can get the iPad to play the soundtracks.  If there are extra people around at church, I can plug in headphones.

Because I have played piano for a lot of years, I don't find that I need to spend a lot of time with the instructional portions of the program.  I can generally watch the lesson once and not have to really spend any time processing it.

Trina hasn't done much on a piano before, so she does spend some time getting comfortable with the right hand part before moving on to the left hand segment, for instance.  So far, she hasn't needed a lot of time either though.

Neil does address how you are to work through the lessons.  You are to 'control events' by verbalizing what you are going to do before you do it.  Initially, you focus on 'what to play' rather than 'how to play,' so the expectation is that you are not going to sound smooth initially.  And on the subject of how long it will take before you move on, his answer is, "as long as it takes."

I really do like that.

He addresses the parents in how to help your child through the lessons, and one thing he pushes is that you make sure your child is not moving too fast.  Take small pieces and get comfortable before moving on to the next chunk.

I love that approach.

This screenshot is from the last lesson I did, as I realized I hadn't shown any shots of the camera angles when he is demonstrating what to play.

So what do I think?  This program is free, so it is certainly something worth trying out.  A student who really needs to know exactly what they are doing before they do it may be better off with a more traditional approach to learning piano, but I think this is a great way to go for a lot of people.  For me, it is teaching me to *play* with the music in the improvisation sections, and it is changing how I look at accompaniment.  I hope to actually follow through and play keyboard with our praise team.

For my daughter, she is able to sound good from the start and she isn't having to learn to read all the crazy squiggles on a page to do that.

My one caution for anyone else with previous keyboard experience is to persevere.  The first lessons do get a bit hard to get through, particularly lesson 3.  It is worth it to keep going, though.

You can read what others on the Crew had to say by clicking this image:

Learn to Play the Piano with Music & Creativity - Foundation Course {Simply Music Reviews}

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