Tuesday, June 27

Hewitt : Shakespearean Comedies Review

Hewitt Homeschooling Lightning Literature and Composition Pack
Shakespeare Comedies & Sonnets
Thanks to Lego’s ventures into the world of Brick Shakespeare, the boys have been familiar with Shakespearean works for many years now.  This has served us well as we head into the more advanced schooling years!  

Recently, the oldest had the opportunity to try out HewittHomeschooling’s Shakespeare Comedies curriculum.  It is a semester-long program, though with his grade level falling in early high school (rather than the product-recommended 11th – 12th grades), we are stretching it to a full year.  In the Teacher’s Guide, there are lesson plans given for both the semester-long and year-long options.

Lightning Lit Sr. High : Shakespeare Comedies & Sonnets covers four of Shakespeare’s most famous comedies, including As You Like It, Twelfth Night, The Merchant of Venice, and A Midsummer Night’s Dream.  It also covers several of his sonnets, interspersed between the plays.  The program has a weekly schedule, rather than a daily one, allowing for some flexibility in the home school.

The beginning of the Student Guide has sections on ‘How and Why to Read Literature and Poetry’ and ‘Paper Writing 101.’  As the mother of a teen who is always asking ‘why’ (they never outgrow that phase, do they?), I appreciated them taking the time to explain that section.  Also, writing is a continuous struggle, and we can never have too much emphasis on the basics of writing a decent essay.  After working through these sections, we read a bit of background on William Shakespeare and hit the plays!  Though it was out of order, our son was so terribly excited to re-read his favorite work, A Midsummer Night’s Dream, that we jumped right into that section of the curriculum.

So what's with the comic book?  In addition to the regular play, we found a few other versions of the same story so that he could better understand what was going on (in addition to the plot summaries) and so that little brother could also participate in the discussions.

The lessons are broken down so that you read the play alongside the plot summaries.  I like this because sometimes it’s easy to get confused by the Elizabethian language, so he could turn to the applicable plot summary and get an accurate, modernized picture of what the scene was about.  There are also comprehension questions, which we discussed together, followed by some writing exercises.  At the very end of the unit on Midsummer, there were reviews of the movie versions of this play – these helped us to pick out a movie version that was appropriate for the whole family to watch as we wrapped up the unit.
The writing exercises explore different themes and literary elements that are included in each play.  For example, for Midsummer, we explored perspective, imagery, and the symbolism of the moon.  This helped him to do in-depth character studies (themes) and get a deeper look into writing skills (literary elements).  He is not a fan of writing, but I feel that this program will help him grow the writing skills that will be expected at the collegiate level.  One thing to note is that the literary lessons build upon each other, so I had to do a bit of catch-up teaching for him, since we started with story number three.

In addition to the two different learning options for lesson plans (semester and year), the Teacher’s Guide also includes answers to the comprehension questions, teaching aids, a grading rubick for writing assignments, and discussion questions.  There are memorization passages (I’m not a stickler for memorization, so we glossed over these) and project suggestions.  Our son is an artist, so he chose to focus most of his efforts on the suggested art projects.

In addition to the Comedies & Sonnets set, there is a Shakespearean Tragedies Lightning Lit set – so you could feasibly do an entire Language Arts credit on Shakespeare.

For more information, you can check out the Table of Contents or view a sample chapter.  To see what others are saying about Hewitt Homeschooling, visit the Schoolhouse Review Crew!
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Monday, June 26

Novare Science Review : Introduction to Physics

Taking a new approach to the high school sciences sequence, Novare Science & Math  uses Introductory Physics   as a “physics first” text – meaning that it is appropriate for 9th graders as a first year science course.  That’s not to say that it isn’t appropriate beyond that – as it’s perfectly good in 10th – 12th grades, but the math requirements are basic enough (Algebra I) that a 9th grader can take on this course without being in over his head.  This is a full-year science credit.  In addition to the textbook, there is a supplemental CD for teachers to use.  This includes quizzes, tests, test solutions (yay!), and review materials. 

The book is written from a historic Christian perspective, without being overly theological.  They aren’t “young earth creationist,” but accept the ‘old earth theory.”  They present several of the concepts in the context of church history, giving physics, history, and theology lessons all at the same time.  (And I’m a big fan of any curriculum that incorporates several subjects into one)!

I am not the physics guru in this house, so my husband did the lion’s share of teaching out of this textbook.  As a practicing scientist, who works in the technical field every day, these are his observations.  Naturally…they are in bullet format.  J   (I am separating by pros and cons.)

  • The book is shorter than most science textbooks.  It’s in-depth, but not overwhelming for the student (and teacher). 
  • It incorporates history into the text itself, rather than in a sidebar.  There are some great primary source quotes featured within the text. 
  • It also incorporates the technical math and  technical communication / technical writing, which is so often missing from science courses.  There are many real-world application opportunities offered in this textbook.
  • The lab instructions are well-written and easy to use.  There are both student instructions (found in the text) and teacher instructions (found in the supplemental materials).  These include a ‘how to’ for writing up lab reports.
  • Visual components, such as well-created diagrams, chapter color coding, and full-color pictures, help to illustrate the concepts being taught.
  • It is written so that the teacher doesn’t need a working knowledge of physics to be able to teach the course.  (On this point, I somewhat disagree with my husband.)
  • The supplemental materials focus on all of the material that has been taught to that point, so that you are continually reviewing and more deeply embedding that knowledge for future application.  There are weekly reviews, quizzes, and a fall and spring semester exam.
    • The weekly reviews include things like making flashcards, reviewing last week’s materials, and work a few review problems.  We did these at the beginning of class, like a teacher might use a pop quiz.
    • The quizzes are essay questions drawn from all material up to that point.  (ie, If you’re on Chapter 4, it covers everything from Chapters 1-4.)
    • The teacher’s supplemental materials includes quiz and exam answers, to make it easy to check quickly.
  • On the flipside of it not being overwhelming, there are places when the text is too simplified, and it would be helpful to have a little bit more detail.
  • The chapters can be confusing.  As an example, on page 20 in Chapter 2, it says D=VT.  However, it doesn’t tell you what D, V, or T even mean until page 34.  It would seem prudent to explain the variables when they are introduced.  (On this point, I would say that it seemed like the original equation was presented in a ‘what you will learn’ context in the book – and that they didn’t get around to teaching it until fourteen pages later.  That is not terribly unusual in classroom textbooks, but not something I see often in homeschool curricula.)
  • Our son is at the young end of the spectrum for this course, and taking Algebra I concurrently.  While the math was do-able for him, some of the concepts were difficult to understand, so we supplemented the lessons quite often with audiovisual materials from YouTube.

Overall, I would say that this is a good curriculum.  We are just stepping our toes into the world of high school curriculum, so I don’t have much to compare it to, but I can only imagine that things are going to be much more structured from here on out – and considerably more like the traditional public school that we typically run our homeschool with the younger ones.  I am not a science person by any stretch, so I struggled to teach the text.  (If you haven’t figured it out yet, history and math are where my strengths lie, but hey – my husband and I complement each other in many ways…homeschooling included!)

Novare Science & Math has been used in the classroom for a while now, and they are new to the homeschool scene.  They have Chemistry, Physics, Earth Science, Physical Science, and more, and I think these are excellent resources for your high school science credits.  The first time I heard of Novare Science & Math was when I was going through the Memoria Press catalog.  You guys know how much we love their stuff!  (See Book of Trees and Iliad & Odyssey reviews...)  Because they recommend Novare for their upper level sciences, I feel confident in recommending this program.

To see what others are saying about Novare Science & Math, visit the Schoolhouse Review Crew!

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Wednesday, June 7

MarshMedia Review

Health Education Products for K-8 {MarshMedia }

Remember back in school, when they would separate the boys and the girls into different classrooms and you would spend a week on ‘health education?’  The videos that you watched probably came from this company – MarshMedia.  They produce health education videos for elementary and middle schoolers – and now they’re expanding into the homeschool market, so you’ll have access to the same materials that the schools do.

The first thing I want to address is ‘using the same materials as the public schools.’  I realize this goes against the homeschooling grain, but these are well-made, informative, basic videos that, while not being outright religious, are not in any way inappropriate for the Christian household.  They are straightforward with a Joe Friday approach.  (For you younger folks, that’s Dragnet : “Just the facts, ma’am.”)
Their videos cover many relevant topics, including health, puberty, safety, nutrition, hygiene, and more.  There is even a video in their collection about what to do during a school shooting.  Granted, that’s not one most homeschool families would need, but it could be used as a jumping off point for what to do if you’re in the mall / Walmart / Disney World and someone opens fire.  …..and isn’t it just a little sad that we even have to discuss this with our five year olds today?  I digress.

MarshMedia is opening up their video collection to homeschoolers – they will be able to subscribe on a month to month basis to the entire collection of videos.  Each one is only 10 to 15 minutes long, so it would be feasible to watch every single one in a month, if you were inclined to do so. 

There are videos geared specifically toward boys, specifically toward gears, and for both genders.  We opted only to watch the ones geared toward boys during our month.  As a mom who knows little to nothing about actually experiencing boyhood puberty, it was nice to let someone (or the video, in this case) else take the lead on teaching them the things they need to know. 

Here are some of the highlights we found :
  • Meet the New You for Boys – This is an introduction to puberty for younger students who are not ready to learn about reproduction, but who should be aware of changes that may begin to occur soon.  This video is geared toward elementary school, and its visual nature made it easy to understand.  (And by visual, I mean drawings, not real photographs.)  Since children are going through puberty considerably earlier than when we were kids, I like that they’ve made one at this young level.
  • Growing Up : Boys – This video was geared toward 5th-7th graders, but it seemed to be more toward upper elementary school to us.  My husband watched this one with the boys, more to answer any residual questions they may have (there were none, of course), and he agreed that it seemed aimed a bit lower than middle school.  It covers puberty, hygiene, self-esteem, and the basics of reproduction.  This video set off some very interesting conversations about tree and animal reproduction on the farm…
  • I Know How to Act – This video focuses on social behaviors, including friendship, dating, leadership, and other social behaviors.  It features students from a typical classroom alongside students with special needs, and helps each group to better understand the other’s actions.  One thing I would have like to see more emphasis on is the digital world which has swept up our youngsters, and how to navigate it.  However, maybe this is one that is currently in production.  If not, they should definitely make a Part II to this video that focuses on social media.  (hint hint)
  • A Boy’s Guide to Growing Up – This video was designed for the boy with special needs, specifically for children with mild to moderate disabilities.  As a mom of one with special needs, I really appreciate that they’ve made a line of videos for these children.  Students with disabilities still need to learn and understand the nuances of growing up, but it can be difficult to break it down in a way that is clear and developmentally-appropriate.  The videos do just that.  You can see their entire special needs collection here.
Health Education Products for K-8 {MarshMedia }
Just the Facts :
  • Various videos aimed at separate genders and separate age groups, from Kindergarten to 8th grade
  • Videos for special needs children
  • For short attention spans - only 10-15 minutes each
  • Available as a subscription on a month to month basis
  • Streamed directly from online
  • Also available in Spanish
See what others are saying about MarshMedia at the Schoolhouse Review Crew!
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Tuesday, June 6

K5 Learning Review

K5 Learning

The end of the year is a good time to take stock of skills learned during the previous school year.  What is your student #winning at?  What might s/he need a little extra help with?  Enter K5Learning – it’s an online reading and math enrichment program for elementary-aged students.  It is intended to be a supplemental program and would be perfect for summer school tutoring.  And may I just say - you have to love any program that starts every single lesson with jokes!!

K5 Learning addresses three key areas :
  • Reading has tutorials and activities covering phonemic awareness, phonics, sight words, grammar, vocabulary, and reading comprehension.
  • Math has lessons, exercises, and games, including numbers and operations, geometry, measurement, time, money, algebraic thinking, and data analysis.
  • Spelling is a simple spelling and vocabulary program, featuring adaptive instruction, automatic word generation, and a 150,000+ word database.

The first thing you’ll want to complete when logging on for your free trial is the assessment test.  The parent will receive a detailed report from this assessment, as well as periodic progress reports on your child’s performance within the program components.  The student will begin tutorials based on level of assessment.  So, if he’s reading at a 4th grade level, but doing math at a 1st grade level, he’ll be placed into first grade math and fourth grade reading for the games, exercises, and lessons.  For the most part, we found the assessment to fall right as expected.

However, as the parent, you have the option of requesting a different level for your child.  If the lessons are too easy (or too hard), the program can be incredibly frustrating and your student may just want to give up.  (Ask me how I know…)  K5Learning has it set up so that you can request a change in level – which we did in the math.  Our math program used different terminology than what was used on the assessment test, and so he scored much lower than was necessarily accurate.
Speaking of math, you must remember that this is a supplemental program.  Without background instruction on the concepts, the student won’t succeed.  This program isn’t designed to teach, but rather to offer more practice and drill.  Remember math fact drills?  They don’t really do those in school anymore, and it’s hurting our children.  This program will help with that….and it even does its best to make math drills fun.  (But life just isn’t always fun, now is it?)

It was the spelling portion of the program that really caused our family fits.  I like the concept of it – basic spelling and vocabulary drill.  If the word is spelled correctly, it goes away; if it’s spelled incorrectly, it keeps turning up like a bad penny until the student gets it right.  This is not what gave us issue though.  (To understand the next part, you have to remember that our youngest has special needs – particularly, speech and hearing issues. )  The computer says the word aloud, and the student it supposed to spell it.  There is no spelling list to study, and you have no idea what words might be used, so there’s not really any context to work from.  We eventually found where you could see a definition of the word, and a  picture, which was the only way either of us (mom included) were able to deduce what was being said.  I’m not sure what sort of voice generator the people at K5Learning used, but you really cannot understand the vast majority of the words being spoken…and that makes them hard to spell.

Eventually, I figured out how to input our current spelling list into the student portal so that we knew exactly which words would be selected from – and that helped a great deal with his understanding, and thus being able to spell them.   Once he was able to get through one successful sitting with the spelling program, his (and mom’s) opinion of this program changed dramatically.  We had finally worked through the kinks with both spelling and math (no real issues with reading, but then again, that’s the component we used the least).  It sounds like a lot, but it really only took us about three days to work through the kinks.  I just want you to know about them, so they won’t take you off guard and so that you have an idea of how to work around them.

One final thing to mention is the worksheets.  The program offers several tailored worksheets, based on your student’s assessment and current performance for extra hands-on / writing practice.  These are suggested at the bottom of the dashboard whenever you log in (after completing one lesson in both reading and math).  You also have the option of searching for worksheets to cover a particular topic.  They are neatly organized and easy to navigate, and there seem to be ample options for all grades (K-5).

To sum, this program seems to offer something that’s missing from today’s school setting (and I’m just as much at fault in our homeschool) – and that’s drill.  Math drill, spelling drill, reading comprehension drill.  Everyone wants something new and flashy, but by glossing over the skills and moving forward, we’re forgetting that those elementary school basics are the building blocks for success later on.  If you have an 8th grader that never fully mastered their multiplication tables, they’re going to struggle with advanced math, no matter how well they understand the basic concepts.  However, if they can whip out the basic arithmetic portion of those advanced calculations, they’ll have it made!

To get a better idea and see for yourself, check out the free sample lessons here.   The samples cover a broad range of topics so that the company can show you all the different ways they help students practice skills.  While you’re there, you should try out the two-week FREE TRIAL.  Two weeks is plenty of time to explore the site fully and determine whether it’s a good fit for your student(s).

See what others are saying about K5Learning at the Schoolhouse Review Crew!

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