Wednesday, April 26

Drive Thru History review

Drive Thru History The Gospels
Has your family ever watched Drive Thru History® videos?  Do you have boys?  Kids?  Teens?  Adults that act like kids?  😊  Then you’re going to love Dave Stotts and his videos!  Recently, we watched DriveThru History® – “The Gospels”, which, as the title would indicate, is all about the Gospels of the New Testament.  Now, if you’ve seen Drive Thru History videos in the past, I’ll start off by saying that these have a different tone to them, but they’re no less as educational and entertaining…they’re just a little less goofy.

The Gospels DVD set has 18 episodes in the series - each is half an hour long – and an accompanying study guide.  Our boys are in both the elementary and middle school range, and while they have all enjoyed Drive Thru History in the past, it was really the older ones who enjoyed this particular series.  It is geared more toward middle school, high school, and adult viewers.  That’s not to say that the younger ones didn’t like it, but some of the material was over their heads, and since it wasn’t as goofy as previous series, it was less entertaining to them.  (Mom’s note : I feel like there was less humor and silliness because the film crew didn’t want to have something come out wrong, or just sound blasphemous.)

Our one son who is very much into archaeology and ancient history really loved the series.  He learned “how to cross-reference history books with the Bible” (his words), and was very excited by that!  While the main focus is Biblical history, and the life of Jesus, there is also a lot of timeline work and archaeology incorporated into this series.

The series centers around the life of Jesus, as told through Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John.  The film crew visited a multitude of sites throughout Israel, Palestine, and the surrounding regions to delve back into time and connect the past with the present.  My husband and I, who both love to travel but haven’t made it very far overseas, both appreciated and enjoyed the virtual field trips and the beautiful cinematography of the footage….it really makes it feel as though you’re walking beside him in the Holy Land. 

The 118-page study guide covers each of the episodes separately, and includes stunning photos, discussion questions, inspirational quotes, and ideas for further study.  If you’ve been wanting to incorporate Bible study into your curriculum, but (a) the kids aren’t into it; (b) the material you’ve previously used seems dry; or (c) it’s just not at all engaging….then you should give Drive Thru History a shot! 

If we were allowed to teach religion in the schools today, this would be the perfect series for middle and high schoolers.  It's informative and engaging, and the narrator is just goofy enough to keep you asking what will happen next!  The cinematography is well-done, and the history is presented at an age-appropriate level for children to understand and adults to want to learn by their side.

The episodes include :
  • The Historical Landscape
  • The Announcements
  • Jesus is Born
  • Jesus Grows Up
  • Jesus Starts His Ministry
  • Jesus Returns to Galilee
  • Jesus Begins His Miracles
  • Jesus Teaches with Authority
  • The Sermon on the Mount
  • Jesus Travels the Sea of Galilee
  • Jesus Travels North
  • A Final Trip to Jerusalem
  • Jesus Arrives in Jerusalem
  • The Last Supper
  • The Trial of Jesus
  • The Crucifixion of Jesus
  • The Resurrection of Jesus
  • Who is Jesus?

 See what others are saying about Drive Thru History at the Schoolhouse Review Crew!

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Drive Thru History The Gospels

Tuesday, April 25

The Scientist (Coldplay)

Life-sized checkers, chess, and light brite (as shown above) are just some of the fantastic hands-on resources we played with today!!
When most people think of special needs, they think of struggling learners.  However, there is a completely different spectrum of special needs, more commonly referred to as 'gifted and talented.'  These kids require a level of parenting similar to that of struggling learners, if we're going to help them reach their full potential.  I have one of each, and it's just as challenging to meet both of their needs.

The big one recently toured a special school for gifted students, looking to see if it was something he wanted to attend, and it was the most amazing thing to watch him come alive, and out of his shell, the further and further we went along the tour.  It's difficult to continually find new ways to challenge his thirst for science exploration....some days...we just have to go to the museum and let those folks do what they're best at...
The new Curio-City section of the museum is awesome!  I can't even begin to put into words the collection of exhibits they have in this huge Walmart-sized center of the building.  If you go for no other reason than to visit this area, your trip will have been worth the while.  The gist of it is that it's set up like a city, and each building is a new exhibit.  We're playing around at the radio and television stations in these photos...
Since there weren't a lot of people in the Tinkering Studio, the guys that worked there let them come behind the scenes and learn how to use the laser printer.  They got to design these cute bats on the computer program, and then watched them being laser cut by the machine.  Then, they got to take them home!  Of course, on the way home I had to explain why we couldn't get our own laser printer...
The little one doesn't care so much for things that go boom, so while the big one attended a Live Science show (they're free), we explored the art section and took a flight in the space capsule.  I'd like to add that this photo was snapped about a second before he freaked out.....if you have a child with sensory issues, please be aware when putting him / her inside the capsule!
In the space area, you can try your hand at driving the moon rover or docking with the space station.  It's tougher than you think!
Finally, what trip to the science museum would be complete without a spin on the little scooter thingy and a visit to the dinosaur section??  If you live in Oklahoma, make sure to schedule a field trip here this year.  If you're elsewhere, do take advantage of the hands-on exhibits and museum employees' expertise to supplement subject that your child is interested in.....especially when (like myself) they are not your strong suits!

Sunday, April 16

Traveling Song (Moonpools & Caterpillars)

Trying to travel with a full load of curricula can be tricky at best....
fitting all of the different books around clothes, shoes, food, toys, etc is sometimes impossible.  In the past, we've simplified by using one curriculum for everyone - with the exception of math - which drastically cut down on books required to pack.  (If you want to know more about that, check into Learning Adventures, here.)

However, as the kids have grown, their needs have changed.  Also, their learning levels are growing further apart, which makes doing the same thing tough at times.  So we split them up -- which left us right back where we started with toting around all these books.

I'd heard about before, and played around on the site a little bit, but never gave it much consideration for being used as a 'real' curriculum.  It didn't seem in-depth enough.  It didn't seem to offer everything that we needed.  And still, supplemental books are always needed for whatever we there's a lot of things left to remember to pack!

But while going back in, looking specifically for some information I'd seen before, I found out that they had totally upgraded!  (And I don't mean a basic facelift - I mean they've changed the bones and everything!)

Here are some of the highlights of these changes (and why we will be packing even less on future trips!) :

  • World Book Encyclopedia Set
    • Three full sets of encyclopedias are included :  Kids', Student, and Advanced (what you'll traditionally find at the library)
    • Includes 'extras' with the encyclopedia set that families usually cannot access - only schools and institutions
    • World Book costs $250 / year to access, if purchased alone - but it's a lot cheaper this way!
  • Over 300 Academic Courses
    • Offers a wide range of teaching styles, including Traditional, Classical, Charlotte Mason, Unit Studies, and more.
    • From preschool to adult-level courses, everything you'll need for your course of study is here.  There is a wide range of elective courses.  DVD-based courses, such as Drive Through History, are also included.  (And just purchasing all of the DTH sets costs over $200...)
  • Primary Source Documents & Recordings
    • You can listen to the actual Gettysburg Address or FDR's Day of Infamy speech....among many others.
    • There are tons of microfiched primary source documents available to peruse - so you can see and use the actual words from history.
  • E-book Library
    • There are about a bajillion different e-books available to read online - about pretty much every topic you can imagine.  Use the search engine to find supplemental books for the topic of the day.  Or for those random questions they come to you with at 9pm.
  • Games & Timelines
    • Games for all ages of kids are included on the site - they are educational.
    • The timeline option can be used classically, but you can also use it to make whatever sort of timeline you want.  Want to make a timeline of your family's history?  Your own personal history?  The history of space travel?  The history of rock 'n roll?  Whatever your pleasure - you can create a timeline for it.  And if they don't have the photo you need, you can upload it into your personal timeline.
      • Right now, the boys are working on the "History of Ninjago."  Because they're learning how to make timelines, and it's it's not school; it's fun!
There are also several additions for parents to use :
  • Lesson Plans & Record-Keeping
    • There are printable lesson plans, a search engine for finding what you need quickly and easily, and a record-keeping system (printable option) for keeping track of grades, completed coursework, etc.  This is especially helpful if you live in a state that requires these types of things.
  • Print Magazine Subscription
    • The Old Schoolhouse magazine print subscription comes with your membership.  If you haven't seen it, it's a fabulous enrichment magazine for homeschool families.
  • Scope & Sequence
    • You know those "What Your Fifth Grader Needs to Know" books?  Everything covered in those books, from preschool to twelfth grade, is included for free with the site.  
  • Parenting Resources

    • There are focus centers for high school, special needs, and new homeschoolers (amid others).  
  • Samples & Trial
    • They have samples you can access, but even better, you can access the full site for one month for only $5.  You can check out everything available that way.
    • One more note - this site is available to both US and international users.

To kick off their improved site, SchoolhouseTeachers is offering a one-year family membership (that's everyone..all two or all twenty-one of you!) for only $99.  I realize that seems like a lot - especially when money is tight.  But to put it into perspective...last year, it cost us $450 for our children's curriculum...and since most of that went to consumable workbooks, we can't get that money back from selling used textbooks.  That's nearly five times the cost of this site - and it covers everything.  You can download courses for future reference.  You can stream videos live. 

Actually - yeah, we didn't even factor in the cost of videos and supplemental books and materials used to accompany said curriculum.  So go ahead and add another $250+ to that total.  Teaching can be expensive!!  But it's worth it to give the kids a good education.  You can bet that we won't be making the same mistake this year.  For only $99, all the kids' needs are covered....from core coursework to electives to supplemental materials.  And we can access materials from wherever we happen to be.  (Less to pack - YES!)  Should there be a chance we won't have internet, we also have the option to download materials to everything's covered.  It's really win-win for the family.

To sum....Reasons we will be switching :

  • No more being this guy.... (pic)
  • Accessible anywhere
  • Downloadable / printable option
  • Stream videos for supplementals
  • E-book library for supplementals
  • One price for the entire family
  • Coursework for every grade level (including mom!)
  • Trusted sites (everything housed within ST site, so no jumping around web...or questionable pop-ups)
  • Because of the above - less to pack (or house, if you're staying home)

Now, I ask you - doesn't this sound like a much easier option?  It does to me.  True - there will be no textbooks to sell back for a little bit of money.  But then, I won't have to deal with selling and shipping them, so that's a plus.

You have the option of trying out the site for only $5 - you'll have one month to access the entire site and try out all the different features (and if you want to try, it's going to take you a month!) to see if it's a good fit for your family.

What are you waiting for?
Start your $5 Trial Today!

Ready to commit?  Use code SPRINGSAVINGS to get a year for $99 instead of $179. (exp May 31st)

Tuesday, April 11

Northern Speech Review

Northern Speech Services
If you’ve followed our blog for any length of time, then you know that we tackle as many of our special needs issues at home as we possibly can.  Speech therapy is one of the biggest of those needs, and recently Northern Speech Services sent us their Color My Conversation set to try out! 

Color My Conversation (CMC) uses all three modalities of learning (audio, visual, and kinesthetic) to teach conversational skills.  Through the use of a ‘conversation coach’ (the teacher), students spend 30-45 minutes twice weekly to work on the foundations of good communication.  There are games and assignments that can be done outside of therapy time to reinforce these skills.  The program is designed to be completed in about sixteen weeks, but can take up to a year, depending on how much reinforcement is required for the student.

There are four levels to the program : Beginner, Intermediate, Advanced, and Expert.  The Beginner level is designed for your youngest children (it says 5-12, but could be used with even younger children) and children with disabilities, and it is the most hands-on level of the program.  The conversation stones, ribbon, and ball are used to get younger learners actively involved in the program.  There is also a wall chart so that they can see the results of their progress.  The Intermediate program level (same age group) starts applying the skills learned in the Beginner level.  There are still hands-on games, some crafts, and drill work as they learn new skills, but they begin to incorporate the older skills into conversations. 

At the Advanced level (aimed at 8-12 year olds), all of the skills are incorporated and applied into conversational practice.  The students learn to actively listen and appropriately respond.  There are some games incorporated into this level.  The Expert level (best for 8+ year olds) takes the skills from the ‘lab setting’ and into the real world.  It is still focusing on incorporating the skills learned into conversations, but it does so in real life settings.  This level could be used in a Human Resources setting with adults – as it is widely applicable across many age-levels.

The program incorporates audio, visual, and kinesthetic learning styles through sign language, audio recordings, role playing, games, and worksheets.  Additionally, each of the levels, particularly the Beginner and Intermediate, can be adapted to use with special needs children.  Some of the examples of adaptations include replacing oral communication with gestural, lots of repetition, using pictoral in lieu of written words, and using beads to reinforce learned skills. 

The CMC box kit includes :
  • 12 "Conversation Path" Stepping Floor Graphics
    • These are pretty sturdy, and hold up to little feet jumping on them, which is nice.
  • 100 Topic Prompt Picture/Emotion Cards
    • Used for practicing conversations and learning empathy, as well as reinforcing learned skills.
  • 50 Game Tokens
    • Used in the games, these come with a cute storage bag.
  • 50 Dry Erasable Wall Display Cards
    • We did not use these, but they look like they would work well in a larger, classroom setting.
  • 2 Dry Erase Pens
    • Dry erase pens are always good!  These go with the large cards.
  • Cloth Ribbon (approx. 9.5ft)
    • This is one of the hands-on components that used for reinforcing skills.
  • Game Board (foldable) with 4 new Activities on the back
    • My son responds really well to games, because it’s like playing rather than learning.  So these were a nice addition.
  • CMC Ball
    • Admittedly the favorite object in the entire box, my son plays with this whether we’re doing speech or not.  It’s the only ball allowed in the house, and he likes to bounce it while we’re doing other classes, too.  All little boys (maybe little girls, too…we only have boys) need a kinesthetic outlet during school!
  • Classroom Poster
    • Similar to the flip cards, this would be an asset in a classroom setting, but was not necessary with one-on-one homeschool instruction.
  • Instructional Manual on CD
    • If I had to pick the one thing about this program that I just disliked the most – it would be this element.  There are a ton of itty bitty files on the CD, and after accessing the first couple, I found myself incredibly frustrated that there wasn’t a book manual with this.  I already have enough things that tether me to the computer, and don’t need one more.  A nice manual in your hands that you can flip through……real books are becoming a lot art.  This, however, is all personal preference.
  • 12 CMC Songs on CD
    • These are cute ditties that help to remember the conversational skills.  My son felt like he was too old for them though.
  • Additional Reproducible Worksheets & Activities
    • In a classroom setting, this would be a fantastic bonus!  In the home setting, they aren’t really necessary.
  • A handy storage box for keeping it all together 
    • Lots of little pieces, and a nice way of keeping everything in the same spot?  Perfect.
We spent the vast majority of our time with this program at the intermediate and advanced levels, since he is an older child.  The conversation stones received a lot of attention, not only from the son we were using the program with, but from other kids, too.  As a novelty, they all worked together to play with them for a bit, incorporating some physical education with communication skills learning just good old-fashioned fun.  Here’s a breakdown of how the stones work :
  • Yellow :  This is the first and last stone (and the first one you’ll be introduced to), and it signifies the opening and closing of a conversation.
  • Green :  This is the conversation starter (the ‘green light’), and could be something like “How are you doing today?”
  • Red :  This is the conversation stopper (the ‘red light’), and is opposite the green.  This would be something like “It was nice to see you again.”
  • Blue :  This is the meat of the conversation – the questions, comments, and the back and forth.

A typical longer conversation with the stones would progress :  yellow, green, blue, red, yellow.

Our Thoughts :
The program did not work that well for our son, because while he lacks the articulation skills necessary for good communication, he has a very good grasp on non-verbal communication, as well as the ability to carry on a conversation.  What he lacks is the ability to be understood.  This program would work considerably better for a child who needs help understanding communication in general, such as one on the autism spectrum.

A note on articulation specifically :
We have several targeted speech sounds that we continue to work toward mastering.  The CD comes with a link to access teacher training videos to help the Conversation Coach learn some skills that will come in handy when trying to master these, typically difficult, target sounds.  The videos walk the coach through the exercises - telling what materials will be used and how to use them - and provide suggestions for helping the child to master each one.

One of the things that this program focuses on is patterns of conversation.  The theory is that when a child masters the repetitive pattern of a conversation, then they have to devote less energy toward the conversation itself, thereby providing the chance to really target specific sounds.  

For example, we are working on "th," which comes in "thank you."  My son automatically uses 'thank you' at appropriate points in the conversation (patterns - it really is about patterns) and so now his focus is on working to get that "th" in the 'thank you.'

One final note, from the NSS Teacher's Manual : 

See what others are saying about Northern Speech Services at the Schoolhouse Review Crew.
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Monday, April 10

CompuScholar Inc. Review

Previously known as Homeschool Programming, CompuScholar, Inc. teaches students computer programming and web design through hands-on, internet-based courses.  They are also introducing a new Digital Savvy course, designed to teach students about computers basics and web safety.  Our son, Cullowhee, has been working with the Web Design course for the past several weeks.  You can see his website here.

The KidCoder Web Design course teaches students the basics of HTML, CSS, and JavaScript as it guides them through creating their own web page.  It is designed to be a year-long course for the middle or high school level student.  No previous programming experience is required, as lesson one begins with the <html> tag….aka ‘computer ABC.’  The course also addresses various operating systems and how the code will appear on each of these.  All of these are background skills / information necessary for creating a successful web page.  Though geared toward children, this is real computer coding, with actual web language.  The way it’s presented it tailored to kids, but the material itself transcends all ages.

Each of the lessons provides the background information, video examples, printable (though we did not print anything) text to review, tests and quizzes, and hands-on projects.  They are engaging and even entertaining at times, and they are definitely geared toward kids and teens.  The concepts build upon each other, so each lesson includes some review and some new information, but not so much as to be overwhelming to the student.

This course covers fundamental web design skills such as:
  • Basic web site layout
  • HTML5 symbols and elements
  • Text styles
  • Hyperlinks and navigation bars
  • CSS effects, spacing and positioning
  • Graphics and image editing
  • Tables
  • Page design principles
  • Dynamic menus
  • Embedded audio and video
  • JavaScript and jQuery

The tests are basic multiple choice questions designed to check understanding of the theory and information presented.  It is the hands-on projects, however, that truly test your ability to apply that knowledge.  For this reason, after a few chapters, we stopped taking the quizzes and focused solely on application of the information.
Students have the option of the self-study or teacher-led course.  We used the self-study option, which is available for $15 / month or $120 / year.  The self-study course allows students to move at their own pace.  It automatically grades quizzes, but parents must monitor work and certify course completion.  This option includes both a student and teacher account.  The teacher account offers teacher training modules (see pic) and features lesson guides and information for hands-on projects.  The teacher-led option is $35 / month or $300 / year.  For more information on that option, go here.

  • Video + Audio + Hands-on is teaching to all three major modes of learning….which is probably the best way to ensure they retain information!
  • Each lesson is kept short and focused.  There are a couple of longer, meatier, lessons, but they are rare.
  • The course is designed to be used by the student alone.  If you have a younger student, or special needs student, it would be completely appropriate for you to sit in and help when needed.
  • There is another course, Digitally Savvy, that is even more basic, and covers all the hardware and basics of software that a student would want before entering into more information technology courses.  It's a 'first step' in computers for students.

On final note…
While it’s true that there are a lot of free options available for teaching coding, the adage ‘you get what you pay for’ is true.  My son had begun his website with a template, and often needed extra help to get things “just so,” but since beginning these lessons, he has come to me considerably less often with questions.  (There are posts for his site still in the draft stage, as he gets them perfectly perfect.)  With Compuscholar, Inc., you get lessons designed specifically for kids and teens that provide a solid foundation.  There are also other options for continuing study available at the site if you want to pursue further study.  It’s hard to put a price on skills and confidence, especially when it comes to our kids!

See what others are saying about CompuScholar, Inc. courses at the Schoolhouse Review Crew.
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