17 October 2014

iWitness books from Apologia {Schoolhouse Crew Review}

Apologia Review

Apologia Educational Ministries has long been a favorite among homeschool families.  Their latest series of books are not just for homeschoolers.  The iWitness series is for any family that wants to learn or share about Christian apologetics in a visual and factual way.  iWitness Biblical Archaeology($14), New Testament iWitness($14), and Old Testament iWitness($14) are three of the five available titles.  When these arrived for our review, my children quickly disappeared with them.  It was many days before I was able to get my own hands on them.  And I'm okay with that.

These books are a magnet for my visual learners.  From the first look at the cover, you can tell they are rich in detail.  The design is representative of what is inside - the iWitness Archaeology book looks like a well-worn journal.  The New Testament iWitness cover looks like the cover of an illuminated manuscript.  And that look and feel continue throughout the pages inside.

Not written like a traditional text, the inside is a feast for the eyes.  Doug Powell, wrote the text and designed the layout.  Each page contains facts, often looking like handwritten notes to go along with photos of various artifacts, tablets, scrolls and artwork.  No white space - save the "journal" pages or notes (and some of this is technically not white, but aged).  I say this not as a complaint -- I love the feel of these books.  My youngest son can experience sensory overload.  He was the only one who didn't want a turn to look at a book.  He is only four, the books are aimed at those 11 and older.  The target audience is based mostly on the reading level; there is nothing objectionable.  I do think my son's lack of interest is due to the full-ness of the pages.  He loves looking through other visually rich books (that also have a lot of white space).

iWitness Archaeology has photos of dig sites, archeologist's tools, maps and more.  It really is like looking through the journal of one who has spent time digging through history - literally.  Being fans, we couldn't help but think of Indiana Jones.  Each page (two-page spread) has a focus, which is indicated in the upper left.  Beginning with evidence of the worldwide flood (Noah's flood) and working chronologically through Old Testament wrapping up with the early church and the times of Jesus.  There is a bibliography and image credits at the back.  At roughly thirty pages, it is easy to read through in a day or spend a few weeks looking at each section/chapter individually.  

Old Testament iWitness looks at how our Old Testament came to be.  The manuscripts and canon considerations, the parts of the Hebrew Bible - Torah, Nevi'im (Prophets), Ketuvi'im (Writings) are all covered.  The Septuagint and Vulgate each have a section, as do the Apocrypha and the Dead Sea Scrolls.  The layout is similar to that in the Archaeology book in that each topic is titled in the upper left of a two-page spread.  Some topics may span two of these spreads.  This book is different in that there is much more writing.  The layout breaks up the text so that is not textbook like, yet much of the time it continues through the "journal" pages spread across the pages.  This made it more difficult for my children to read themselves, yet easier as a family read aloud.
We spent most of our time in the Old Testament iWitness and iWitness Archaeology books.  These fit great with our focus this year on Ancient History.  There are facts and bits of trivia that we haven't seen elsewhere.  That makes these a great companion to history studies for homeschool families.  The New Testament iWitness shows and tells how the modern day New Testament came to be.  That makes this a great reference for any family.  These are historical facts, not someone's thoughts.  That makes these books great for sharing with skeptics and non-believers. 

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Thank you Apologia!

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10 October 2014

Essay Rockstar from Fortuigence {Schoolhouse Crew Review}

Fortuigence Review
If you've been reading long, it is no surprise that I do not like teaching writing.  I don't think of myself as a writer, how I can I possibly instruct one of my children how to write - and write well?  Thankfully, there are some great resources to help parents like me!  Essay Rock Star Textual Analysis Writing Course ($57) from Fortuigence is one of those resources.  We - or rather my 6th grader - has been using it for this review.  
There are four parts to the semester-long program known as Essay Rock Star.  This program is for middle school to high school learners (or even adults) to gain necessary non-fiction writing skills crucial to college and beyond.  The four courses are Personal Statement, Persuasive Essay, Expository Essay, and Textual Analysis - the one my daughter used.  Each course is worth 1/8 credit.  Textual analysis is essentially writing a review of someone else's work - books, movies, etc.  This type of writing uses critical thinking skills.  The courses all use a five-step writing process that will serve the learner well in all writing applications. 
Fortuigence Review
The Essay Rockstar Courses are self-paced video courses with full teacher support.  Your learners logs-in to watch the video of the lesson.  There are often support materials to download (pdf) specific to the lesson and assignment and additional helps to clarify any parts of the lesson (general grammar helps, etc.).  The work is submitted through the student's page (by copy and paste) to the instructor.  The instructor gives feedback and the lessons/assignments continue.  The learner works at their own pace independently.  At the end, is a certificate to print showing completion of this course.

The low-end of the age range is 12 years old.  My daughter that used this will be twelve soon and is doing sixth grade/middle school work.  She did not have any issues with the work itself.  The lessons were just enough information at a time for her.  The helps provided - checklists and examples for the lessons as well as the "how to" mini lessons to refresh things not taught through the course (how to write a strong introduction and conclusion is one) - were just the extras my younger learner needed.  

What she was lacking, however, is maturity.  She worked through things fine.  She showed me her notebook with her notes from watching the video and her brainstorming and rough draft info.  She is not one to want to do her school work (I know, not that unusual), so I did make it a point for her to pull up the website twice a week to work on this.  What I didn't follow through on was the actual steps within the lessons.  As in, actually submitting the work through the student dashboard.  I thought the program wouldn't let her proceed without this step.  Apparently, you can.  The first time you try to move to the next lesson, you get a warning box letting you know to submit your work first.  Then, she only needed to click again to get to the next lesson.

Perhaps this was my fault in not staying on top of her more.  Maybe I wasn't clear enough in the instructions that I was not the one reviewing her work.  Did she think that showing me was what the prompt meant?  Whenever I asked my daughter during the course how she was doing with it, was everything clear, nothing confusing, etc. she assured me all was well.  I should have followed up more at this point.  I trusted that she could handle this on her own.  She does her math independently, so I assumed she was doing this as well.  When this was discovered and we talked earlier this week, she confessed to realizing her mistake after the second assignment.  She had missed the (very clear) directions that the work was to be submitted through the a form at the bottom of the lesson page.  At that point she was embarrassed that I thought she was doing well and she missed something so obvious.  Clearly, maturity on her part, lack of oversight on mine, but not a reflection on the course. 

So, while I cannot comment to the effectiveness of the instructor feedback on the assignments, I can say, that this has been a good course for my daughter.  Will she get more out of it when she actually goes through this again and actually submits her writing?  Absolutely!  There are examples shown throughout.  There are two types of textual analysis - thematic or part-by-part.  The examples follow each type through each step of the process.  You can follow the process and see what it should look like.  This make it easy to check yourself.

Our top favorite features are that this course can be accessed anywhere at anytime.  Self-paced online courses are becoming more popular with good reason!  You can fit them whenever it works for you.  Another favorite - especially for me - is that I don't have to be the one teaching and evaluating.  I'm not hurting my child's feelings (it means something different coming from Mama) and my weak subject can be taught by an expert.  That is a win-win-win for our family.

Don't forget, there are other short courses in the Essay Rockstar program reviewed by fellow Crew members.  Read the reviews to see which one you and your learner are ready for.
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Thank you Fortuigence!

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02 October 2014

Preschoolers and Peace by Kendra Fletcher {Schoolhouse Crew Review}

Preschoolers and Peace Review

Many homeschool families look like ours, school-age children plus younger siblings tagging along.  Sure, the numbers of children and range of ages can vary widely, but one thing remains the same.  Chaos can ensue if there is not some sort of plan.  Plan may not be the best word (especially with younger children *grin*).  Options and ideas.  Yes, that fits much better - at least in our family.  I have found Preschoolers and Peace: Homeschooling older kids with success while loving the little ones at your feet and the website, Preschoolers and Peace, to be great resources.  Not only for the aforementioned options and ideas, but a different perspective on the little one's place in your day.

Preschoolers and Peace Review

We are in our ninth year officially homeschooling.  All of these years have included preschoolers (and often infants and toddlers, too).  Our youngest is currently four.  Our preschool days are sadly coming to an end.  You may be in the midst of preschool fun, looking longingly forward to the days with no preschoolers.  In the past 18 months, we've ditched the diaper bag.  We've outgrown sippy cups and a miriad of other "little people" things.  I am most sad to be leaving this stage behind.  Preschoolers are such fun!  They want to help, to learn and to just be with you.  Accommodating these things has made our days less drama-filled.

This has been my favorite part of reading Preschoolers and Peace.  I didn't always feel this way.  I often felt controlled by the little one's sleeping patterns/schedule.  We killed time until the precious one was sleeping, then the real work and/or fun could begin.  What wasted time!  Kendra has some great suggestions of things that you can do with your little ones - good productive things.  Things that both you and your little one will be better for having done together.

There are times when you do need to just keep those little hands busy.  There are plenty of ideas for keeping your younger children occupied, happy and learning - with or without your involvement.  Plenty of play, but play with purpose.  I love the idea of bringing bigger toys or themed sets on certain days of the week.  Monday - Duplos, Tuesday - Blocks and cars, Wednesday - Farm, Thursday - Trains, Friday - Dolls/dollhouse.  The latter has become play food/kitchen day in our house.  My four year old son loves to "cook" and serve.  I hate having those toys scattered all over and mixed in with each other.  This not only saves my sanity, but he plays with these things longer.

There are many things we think our younger children are too little to do.  Helps with chores and other little jobs that they are quite capable of doing.  Preschoolers and Peace points out plenty of those things, too, in lists by age.  My children at this stage are so willing to help.  This is the perfect time to begin training and teaching them not just that certain tasks need doing, but that doing them cheerfully is best.  

All told, Preschoolers and Peace is packed with a lot of help, encouragement and resources in just under 50 pages.  Most of which, I wish I knew 10 years ago and some that I am still learning and figuring out.  There are thirteen chapters with titles like "How Do I Get Any Preschooling Done?", "When All of Your Kiddos Are Preschoolers" and "When Mama is Worn Out (or Pregnant)".  A chapter on Preschool Boys and another on Circle Time (which is even its own book).  If you are at any stage in this homeschooling and preschooling journey, you need Preschoolers and Peace ($2.99).

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Thank you Preschoolers and Peace!

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