Tuesday, September 30, 2014

REVIEW: Fix It! Grammar from IEW

Grammar has not been an easy subject in our homeschool. One of my children, in particular, seems to have an unusually difficult time. I think part of it is that she is a very visual learner, and grammar can be a little tricky to teach visually. She has an inherent understanding of it, but when we try to put names to things, she struggles. There have been many tears. I find this utterly confounding, because I'm a grammar geek and I assumed my kids would love it too. There is still hope for #3 (fingers crossed).

When I received the opportunity to review Fix It! Grammar from the Institute for Excellence in Writing, I was intrigued by the concept. Students look at one or two sentences per day, label parts of speech, add punctuation, discuss a vocabulary word, and then fix any problems they find. Once their sentence is corrected, they copy it into a notebook (without the markings). The student will have read, and copied, the entire story when they finish the book. Lessons are kept short, about 15 minutes per day. For the purpose of my review, I received a printed copies of both the Fix It! Grammar: The Nose Tree [Book 1] (Teacher's Manual) and the Fix It! Grammar: The Nose Tree [Book 1] (Student Book).

Both books are spiral bound. The Student Book contains the daily lessons, a nice Glossary of grammar terms covered in the book, and grammar cards, which help to review the week's concepts as the student works through the lessons.  The Teacher's Manual contains everything in the Student Book (with the exception of the grammar cards), along with the corrected sentences so you can see exactly what the student needs to do. There are also Teacher's Notes, which have reminders for you, along with definitions for the vocabulary words and interesting tidbits of information. For example, did you know, the paragraph mark is called a "pilcrow," and was created during the Middle Ages? I did not! There are also Advanced Concepts included throughout the book, so if you are lucky enough to have an interested student, you can discuss those.

The Fix-It! Grammar program has 6 levels, and is recommended for 3rd-12th grades. I used Level 1 with my girls, who are in 8th and 9th grades, because we've not done much formal grammar before. We have been able to move through more than one lesson per day, when we've already known the concepts. Even with doubling up the occasional lessons, we haven't had to spend more than 15 minutes per day. When we're learning something new, we work on one sentence at a time, knowing the concept will brought back in with plenty of review throughout the book. We have enjoyed using the program–no tears so far!

The Teacher's Manual states that this program is a teaching tool, and is therefore ungraded. I like that, because it means no pressure on my grammar-phobe. Also, as the teacher, I'm instructed to model the process as needed for my students. I did sit with them each day, so if there were questions I was readily available. As we move through the program, I think they will be able to tackle it on their own after we go over the week's teaching.

By the end of book one, we will have covered:
  • Parts of speech: nouns, articles, pronouns, verbs, helping verbs, adjectives, -ly adverbs, prepositions, coordinating conjunctions, and clause starters
  • Punctuation: End marks, quotations, apostrophes (both to show ownership and with contractions), exclamation points, and clause starters
  • Homophones: "to, two, too; its vs. its; your vs. you're
  • Other Concepts: indentation rules, capitals, comparative adjectives
What I like best about the program, aside from the gentle approach, is that students learn invaluable editing skills. I've noticed in going over my girls' writing that they aren't great at self-editing. When I have them read over what they've written, even before I make suggestions, often they can see what needs to be corrected. I love that Fix-It! Grammar encourages a careful eye for finding mistakes in writing. I can see understanding dawning as we work through this program, and that is wonderful. My grammar-hating child still looks askance at the books, but no longer considers it torture to have to work on grammar with me.

The six levels of Fix It! Grammar are:
Each Teacher's Manual is available for $19, and comes with a downloadable PDF of the student book. If you prefer printed student books to PDF versions, they are available for each level for $15 each. You can also purchase a complete set of teacher's manuals for $89. This program stands alone as a gentle, yet effective program, and would also make a great supplement alongside another grammar program for review or reinforcement.

If you'd like to find out more about Fix It! Grammar, you can watch a webinar here. It's recommended to start with the first book, as each book contains advanced concepts and you can move more quickly through material you already know. However, if you would like to find out where to place your child in the program, click here to download a placement test.

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Thursday, September 18, 2014

REVIEW: My Student Logbook

I was pleased to have the opportunity to review My Student Logbook as part of the Schoolhouse Review Crew. My Student Logbook was created out of necessity by Corina Abbott, a fellow homeschooling mom, as a way to keep track of the work her students were doing. She’d read about creating something similar using a notebook with pencil, but just couldn’t make it work. Instead, she created her own forms on the computer, and My Student Logbook was born. It's intended for students in about 2nd grade on up; they should be reading independently to have it work well for them.

We received one printed copy of an undated My Student Logbook with the Golden Vines cover. They have several different cover options, and this happened to be the one I liked for my 14 year old girl. It’s a coil-bound planner with a plastic cover. There are 6 checklist sheets, and 53 weekly calendar pages. There are boxes for all 7 days of the week (we do work on the weekends occasionally). If you need more checklists, you have permission to copy them. 

In the back of the logbook, there are some extra pages behind a colored paper divider:
  • An “All About Me” page where students can record their age and their current favorites
  • Prayers and Goals
  • Bible Verses Memorized
  • Books Read (3 pages)
  • Events, Projects, Field Trips, Presentations, Activities (3 pages)
  • Test Records (3 Pages)
  • Year Highlights, where students record their favorite memories from the year

Setup is easy. Take a look at this page for video and photo instructions. When I set the logbook up for my 9th grader, I wrote her assignments on the checklist, then taped it into the book. I wrote on there how many times per week she should work on a given subject (Algebra x 5, etc.). There is a box on the checklist for how much time they should spend, too, so if math is a 45 minute lesson, I would write that in the box. Assuming it’s good for more than one week at a time, she just flips a new page over for each new week. She marks off her completed work in the check boxes. There is a space for notes underneath where the checklist sits, if I have additional instructions or if she wants to write anything down.

At first glance, I wasn't sure I'd be able to use this. As Charlotte Mason homeschoolers, we have more than 20 subjects we cover in a week. Additionally, we’re reading several books in some subjects, like biology, and it’s not a “do the next thing” situation; I have broken all the books out into page number assignments. I thought I was going to have to make a new checklist for every week. When I emailed Corina, she was so helpful! She suggested that I simply record the names of the subjects, and then my daughter can use my lesson plan spreadsheets for the specifics. Additionally, I only put subjects my daughter does on her own on the checklist. We do several things together, like picture study, composer study, poetry, etc. and those don’t need to be in their books. I keep track of those subjects.

So far, this is working out pretty well. My Student Logbook is been a great layer of accountability for us. My daughter knows she needs to keep up with her school work, and high school is a whole new level. I think the PDF option will work well for us, because (a) I have three children and (b) I can print my lesson plan spreadsheets and make them part of the planner itself, so we wouldn’t have to worry about students misplacing them. 

This is really not a planner; it's a place to record the work your student is doing. However, the idea behind it is to create a record of completed work students parents can easily create a transcript when they need one. That means less work for you when it comes time for college applications, etc. It's a great tool for homeschool organization.

There are several options for ordering My Student Logbook:
  • Printed books for $15.00 each
  • Family license: $20.00 (Dated PDF file with permission to print as many copies as you need for one school year)
  • Single license: $10.00 (Dated PDF file with permission to print 1 copy)

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Wednesday, September 17, 2014

REVIEW: 7 Minute Life Daily Planner

Who doesn't love a good planner? I was thrilled to receive a copy of the The 7 Minute Life™ Daily Planner from The 7 Minute Life to review as part of the Schoolhouse Crew. I am always looking for THE planner - you know, the one that is going to make me organized, efficient and keep me on top of everything. If it came with a SuperMom cape, it would be even better.

Although The 7 Minute Life™ Daily Planner did NOT come with a cape, it's impressive, all the same. It measures 7.3"x8.5", so it's slightly larger than a half sheet of regular paper. It has a sturdy spiral binding and nice covers with folder pockets on the inside, which are great for collecting receipts and other papers you might pick up during the day. It also has plastic covers to keep it clean and dry. There are 270+ pages, including:
  • How to Get Started pages
  • Prioritize (your values)
  • Discovering Your Purpose
  • Your Highest and Best (best use of your time)
  • Mental Clutter
  • 90-Day Goals: Personal, Work, Financial, Life
  • Unfinished Tasks: Work, Home
  • Home Repair
  • Grocery List
  • Connections: Personal & Business
  • Annual Calendar At-A-Glance
  • Annual Projects & Tasks
  • 90-Day Calendar Worksheets
  • Monthly Calendar At-A-Glance (12 of these)
  • Meeting Planner pages
  • 7-Minute Life Flowchart
  • Daily Progress Reports: Each day gets a 2-page spread; each planner holds 90 days' worth
  • Notes
Allyson Lewis created this planner to help people make the most of their time, after a major health scare in her own life helped her see that every moment is precious. Her goal is to help people achieve personal growth by learning to prioritize and manage their time well.

Each book covers 90 days, because life passes in cycles of 90 days - seasons: winter, spring, summer, fall. Allyson chose 7 minutes because most adults seem to have a 7-minute attention span. Once you have seen that you need a plan, and make your goals, you figure out what steps you need to take to achieve them, and schedule them. If you can spend 7 minutes each day planning your next steps, you will know what to do next in your plan.

When I first received the planner, I must confess, I was overwhelmed. The videos were very helpful. Each one is short, and the process is broken down into manageable portions. That was so nice. I loved being able to watch one short section at a time, and not get overwhelmed.

One thing I'd heard before, but had forgotten and have not been practicing, is that you want ONE place for your to-do lists. I tend to write things down on whatever is available. It might be a sticky note, or a random piece of scrap paper, but they are rarely in the same place, and usually not where I can find them when I need them. Writing everything down in the planner makes life so much easier!

What I liked:
  • Using this planner really helped me identify my priorities and make sure my time was spent working on them. I'd realized over the past few months that the priorities I thought I had were not reflected in what I was doing.
  • I have been able to break things down into doable chunks, and therefore begin to see myself accomplish things. Having specific actions written down helps me stay focused; I'm easily distracted and tend to forget what I meant to do. 
  • I love that there is a place to keep track of what I've spent each day. I am not very good at paying attention to that, in general, and it's helped me be much more aware.
  • Support and tools: Allyson has put a lot of time into making videos to explain each step of using the The 7 Minute Life™ Daily Planner, and has made a TON of free resources available on her website. There are getting started videos, and instructions that walk you step-by-step through using the planner. There are videos that cover all the different pages.  You can see, and print to try, many of the forms included in the planner on their page of free tools.
What I liked less:
  • The plastic covers are determined to curl, and the back covers keep coming off the spiral binding. I pinched the coils together a bit, and that seems to have helped. 
  • This planner is intended for business people. I am a stay-at-home, homeschooling mom. I can tweak this planner for myself, but it would be great to have something more suited for my situation. There are twice as many work task pages as home tasks, for example, and there is a grocery list but no true menu planner. 
  • I understand the reasoning behind having the planners available in 90-day increments, but I would really rather have a whole year in one planner. That would be unwieldy with the current format. 
  • An app version would be great. As much as I love paper, I need as few things as possible to keep track of, so I think being able to use this on my iPad would make it even more convenient - although I would most definitely miss the ability to write things by hand. I think important connections are made when we physically write things, but that is a discussion for another day.
I am easily overwhelmed with planning, schedules, time management... I prefer to avoid it if possible. However, in the last few months it has become clear to me that my strategy of avoidance is not working very well. The system Allyson has laid out in the planner, along with the step-by-step videos, have helped me tremendously. I still have a lot of work to do, but I'm getting there, and it's a good feeling.

The The 7 Minute Life™ Daily Planner is available directly from The 7 Minute Life. Printed, undated 90-day planners are available for $24.95 each, or you can purchase three printed planners for $74.85 and receive the 4th one for free. Also, you can purchase a pre-dated 90-day downloadable PDF for $9.97. It prints out onto 8.5"x11" paper, so you could have it bound or put it into a binder. I checked into some other planning systems, and while this one seems a little pricey, the free resources available on the website offer much more than I found anywhere else.

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Tuesday, September 16, 2014

First Day of School, 2014

I was all set to write an encouraging post for all of us, we homeschoolers, as the new school year was getting into swing, but I couldn't do it. I found myself in need of some serious encouragement - I have been freaking out over here. My oldest child has started 9th grade (I can't quite bring myself to say "high school) out loud) and I'm starting formal school with my youngest, who might be described as obstreperous. (Isn't that a great word? It means "noisy and difficult to control. Perfect for a 7 year old boy, don't you think?) I'm not sure who makes me more nervous, the oldest or the youngest.

Is there a reason to feel intimidated by these beautiful people, whom I've been homeschooling now for quite some time? We're starting our 10th year. Surely it should all be under control by now?

Well, I don't know about under control, but God has a way of showing me that He has it handled, even if I don't.

We have been having fun, starting with our not-back-to-school breakfast at iHop, and general silliness:

We have a little rescue kitten, and it's a miracle he's even alive. He was about 3 weeks old when he was found, and he was pretty sick. He's recovered nicely and is doing so much better than we could have hoped. If you've ever been around kittens, you know how much joy he brings us. We laugh all the time watching his antics, and who wouldn't love this face?

And then, this morning as I was on my way to an appointment, God showed me some unexpected beauty. Do you like morning glories? I love them. My grandmothers grew them when I was growing up in Michigan. They grow as weeds here in NC, and they pop up everywhere. Look what I found today:

All those lovely flowers, and in the same place! It looks as though they've cross-pollinated, to have the bright pinks and purples all the way down to white flowers with tinges of color. Look where I found them:

I am not sure if that building is abandoned, but the parking lot is certainly neglected. I love it when God shows me beauty in unexpected places.

This year, as I get my children back into their studies, I know I am not really prepared, myself. I feel anxious and unsettled. However, my husband reminds me I can do this; he is my constant encourager. My girls are looking forward to what they believe will be a fantastic school year. And, if my little guy isn't exactly eager to start school and learn how to narrate, he loves to hear stories and that's what I have for him, so one way or another, we will get there. Thank you, Lord, for reminding me of Your truth, beauty and goodness so I would remember to look to You.

Monday, September 08, 2014

REVIEW: Under Drake's Flag Audio Book

I love audio books. LOVE THEM. I discovered them a few years ago when I was spending a ridiculous amount of time in the car, and have enjoyed many books that way. I found that I get more out of them, actually, because I tend to skim when I read, and audiobooks don't let me do that. Under Drake's Flag is a book by G.A. Henty, a name well-known among homeschoolers for his historical adventure stories. Heirloom Audio Productions has a fabulous audio drama retelling of the book available, and I was excited to receive a copy to review. It's intended for ages 6 and up, so my whole family could listen.

The dramatized story is 2 hours long, and lots of fun. Each chapter is numbered on the CDs, so you can easily play a chapter at a time and find where you left off.

I haven't read the actual book yet, but now I want to! What a great story! If you haven't read it, either, it's the story of Ned Hackshaw, a fictional boy who served under Sir Francis Drake. Once aboard Drake's ship, he meets another boy, Gerald, and they have lots of adventures together. They are set adrift in a painter's boat, rescue a girl from a shark, help plunder a Spanish town, get separated from the ship in a hurricane, and experience the Spanish Inquisition first hand. They endure extreme trials of faith, and it's painful to hear their struggles, but beautiful to see how God is faithful to them. You might recognize the voice of actor Brian Blessed, who plays the narrator, Mr George.

The CD liner insert is a study guide booklet. I also received a PDF copy of the 30-page study guide, which is an expanded version of what is in the CD liner insert. There are three sections for each chapter: Listening Well, which asks questions that make sure you were listening; Thinking Further, which includes questions that ask you to give you thoughts about what you've heard, and Defining Words, which presents vocabulary words you should know. In general, I don't use study guides for books, because I want my children to narrate what they hear and make their own connections with the story. However, there are some good, thought-provoking questions in there, and I could see some interesting discussions coming out of them.

I have to be honest: I was not sure how I would feel about a dramatized audio book. My family and I generally prefer audio books minus the dramatization, but this one is outstanding. It's so good, that when my kids and I started listening to it in the car, I sat outside and finished listening to it while they were at various activities, and they are going to have to finish the story another time. It's a perfect book to go along with our studies of the Renaissance and Reformation this year, as we will be covering exploration. I'm excited to pop it back in when we get that point in history. My children all like audio books, so this will be a fun addition.

Under Drake's Flag is available to order directly from the website. There are two options for ordering. You may choose an instant MP3 download for $20,  or the 2-disc hard copy version for $29.95. Both options come with nice bonuses, so be sure to check them out.

And the best part? There will be a version of In Freedom's Cause coming out in November! Check out the Facebook page to see if you recognize and of the folks providing the voices. I can't wait!

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