Wednesday, October 22, 2014

Wordless Wednesday for 10/22/14


Tuesday, October 21, 2014

Middlebury French - A TOS Homeschool Crew Review

In late August I learned that Middlebury Interactive Languages would be giving members of the Schoolhouse Review Crew the opportunity to review one of four of their interactive foreign language programs: Spanish CoursesFrench Courses , German Courses and Chinese Courses. So I asked my son if he was interested in reviewing the program and learning one of these languages. In typical boy fashion, he replied, "French." We are required to complete two years of foreign language for high school graduation in our state, and we've been kicking around Spanish, French and Latin for several months. French is such a classic language -- I always wished I could help him learn it. Maybe now I can!

When we filled out our form indicating our interest in the product, we indicated which language, as well as which level of the language we were interested in. I indicated Level I high school French. So in early September we received access to Middlebury's High School French I Course. If you look at the following chart you can see all the various levels of the various languages offered by Middlebury:

We quickly worked to integrate it into our already full academic schedule. It was my hope that we could cover the material at the rate of one lesson per day, five days per week, which is the way I studied French when I was young. Aim high and you achieve more that you would if you aimed low, that's my theory.

We began our French studies and very quickly fell behind my intended schedule. Once you have started with Middlebury Interactive, each successive time that you log in the program takes you right to where you left off. Initially my son and I were not seeing this -- it looked like a blank screen, 
but at the bottom of the page it says: "Next Up:" and the calendar date of the next lesson to tackle. 
Not seeing this, I clicked on a button to open a menu,

 clicked on "Calendar", 

which took us to the actual current date. 
Then I clicked the "back" button on the month to get to the lesson we were actually on. What a pain. I'm so glad they actually have a button at the bottom keeping track of where we actually are in the lessons!

When we first started Middlebury French, we received a quick start guide. The program seemed fairly easy to understand, so I let my son do his lessons on his own for a few days. That was when I realized that what might seem intuitive to one person might not be as intuitive for another. A few days into the program, and the information accessible to the teacher was not showing completion of lessons.

When you first start a lesson, you have a large video screen on the right and a selection of thumbnails on the left.  When the student has worked through the large screen or watched the video, the student must then click on the next thumbnail which sends that thumbnail to the larger screen. Each time the student finishes with screen he/she must go to the next thumbnail until the student has worked his/her way through all the thumbnails in the lesson.

I am still not sure where the format was breaking down for my son. I do know that when there is a video, when the video is complete he has a sense that he is done. If the video was from the last thumbnail on the left, he definitely thinks he is done. He did not see that there is a slider bar to the thumbnails, and that each lesson has about 20 thumbnails, and he is not done for the day until he has worked through all the thumbnails for the day.

As we got into week 2, he was becoming frustrated. He was probably still using the calendar method to get to the next day's lesson and then only watching three thumbnails a day and moving on. He was clearly missing much. At this point I think we've never caught up. I explained that he needs to scroll through and do all the sections of the lesson each day. Is he doing it now? ...the smart computer program tells me he is not. So, we are still a work in progress here.

So, how did we like it? My son seldom likes anything we review. He blew me away when I asked him. He likes it! He likes it! So, while for us it has been a bumpy go, the chance exists that we will continue. We were given six months of high school French, and if we complete the course my son can take 1/2 credit on his transcript, or can take another six months and take a full credit. (I'm not sure how that works, since a school year is at most ten months, but the goal is learning, right?)

Middlebury's High School French I Course is recommended for high school aged students. The earlier one starts, the closer one will get to a level of fluency during high school, so 9th grade is a good time to start.
 
Middlebury's High School French I Course costs $119, and for that amount you receive the 1 semester (or 6 month) course, but you have access to it for a full year. I was very pleased to hear that because at the rate we are going we will clearly need longer than six months! It does not include an actual teacher, but the program is interactive, after all, and it grades his work!

Do I have any suggestions for how Middlebury's High School French I Course could be improved? Well, I'm glad you asked! The main thing I would ask for, hope for, if it is possible to make this type of revision, would be that each lesson screen would end with a button that says "NEXT" that the student could click. If not right inside the lesson screen, than right below it. Even better would be a "PREVIOUS" button on the left and a "NEXT" button on the right, so the student could go back and check something he saw but already forgot. That's the only recommendation I have. This is a winner of a program! Some products that we review get set aside when the review period is over. My son likes this program, and we might just finish this one!

If you are interested in reading other Schoolhouse Review Crew reviews of Middlebury Interactive's various foreign language programs, click the button below.


http://schoolhousereviewcrew.com/middlebury-interactive-languages-review/


Menu Monday for 10/20/14

orgjunkie.com


This past weekend I went with my son on a Boy Scout camping trip (3 days, 2 nights). My schedule is now messed up for planning my menu and getting my shopping done. Sorry this is late. Also, for the vegan this week I am going to eat more leftovers out of the freezer, so my apologies if this leaves my vegan followers less inspired this week. Oh, and my meat-eaters have been screaming for more meat to sink their carnivorous teeth into, so it is reflecting my my meal choices.

Sunday: 2 extra large pizzas from local pizza joint; salad

Monday: spaghetti, salad, garlic bread (vegan sauce made with vegetable crumblies)

Tuesday: roast chicken, rice, broccoli (chicken patties, brown rice)

Wednesday: cheeseburgers/rolls, baked beans, salad (Amy's quarter pounder)

Thursday: barbecued chicken, stuffing, green beans

Friday: salmon, yams, spinach

Saturday: We have a XX-year high school reunion. Mom and dad are eating there; everyone else is on their own with leftovers.


SDA U.S. History - A TOS Schoolhouse Crew Review

As our school year was beginning this fall, I learned that a company called Standard Deviants Accelerate was going to give the Schoolhouse Review Crew the opportunity to review Standard Deviants Accelerate Homeschool Courses for a review. I looked at their website and thought they looked interesting, so I volunteered to review their U.S. History course for grades 9 and above with my son.
Standard Deviants actually has 14 different courses that they offer, providing a supplemental education program in various subjects for students ages 8 and above. For my son (in 9th grade), courses they offer that we could have chosen from include: Algebra, Biology, Chemistry, English Composition, and U.S. History. They offer Arithmetic for grade 3 and up, Fundamental Math for grade 4 and up, and Earth Science and Nutrition for grades 6 and up. For older students (Grades 11+) AP Biology, AP Chemistry, AP U.S. Government & Politics, AP U.S. History and AP English Composition.

And what really blew me away is that they offer a 6 month free trial! Who does that?
So, a lot of these courses appealed to me. I selected U.S. History for the review because the other subjects I was juggling with my son at the time of this review made U.S. History the subject I felt we could manage. I do have my eye on Algebra, Biology and English Composition, though, and wish I could have managed to review all four subjects for you. Maybe I can add more words about Standard Deviants' other subjects at a later time.

When you first sign up with Standard Deviants you receive an email with instructions for setting up your account. Going to the Standard Deviants website you initially log in, and then you select the course(s) you wish to use. You assign a name to the class (such as "First Period"), and the program generates a code that you share with your student(s). You email this code to your student, so your student needs to have his/her own email address.

Once the student has the code, he/she can go to the website and set up an account and enter the class you have set up. Once the classes have been set up, these class choices will show whenever the student logs in.

So, we jumped into U.S. History for 9th Grade and up. Wow! What a large amount of information in such a short time. I very quickly realized that I had missed the point that this was a supplemental resource for a student that was already studying American History. So I was doing my son a disservice by giving him this program at a time when we were not actually studying American History in our daily schedule. Standard Deviants should have been helping him by reinforcing information he had already heard before, or was learning simultaneously in the daily History class. However our History, for the past year, has been parked in the Middle Ages era, and our previous focus on U.S. History seems so long ago. My son was a bit overwhelmed, therefore, by the wonderful volume of amazing information.

As my sons scores began accumulating I could see he was not doing very well at the course. From this I came to the following conclusions:
  1. To maximize his focus, we need to reduce distractions. The table should be free of distracting papers and clutter. The radio should be off. The dogs should not be outside barking or inside fighting over a toy.
  2. My son should be taking notes. He not only found it difficult to pay attention (which note-taking would help with), but he also found it difficult to retain what he was seeing and hearing.
Do I have suggestions for how the program could be improved? To start with, I want to compliment the program. Standard Deviants utilizes a high level of technology. The videos are integrated with quizzes, some of which it keeps track of the responses and applies this to the scores. It is keeping the grades for my son! How wonderful is that?

Nevertheless, I do have some comments and suggestions.
  1. I/we found it very difficult each morning to determine what had been done/where to start the new day. The list of lessons comes up in black type on a blue background. It would be wonderful if the text for a completed lesson would change color so the student can easily see in the morning where to start the new day. Maybe there could even be a third color (amber, "caution" or red, "alert") to indicate a lesson that was begun but not finished.
  2. It would be nice if there were some way within the video that the points considered "Important" (as in "there will be a question on this in the quiz or test") were better highlighted so that the student can know, with all the information being covered, which items are more important to remember than others.
  3. The teacher needs to log into the teacher account and go to a certain tab to find out how the student(s) is(are) doing. For home schools (I mean, I have ONE student), it would be really nice if the program could generate an email sent to me, the teacher, with one page per student, giving me a summary of how my student(s) is(are) doing in each subject.
  4. The way the program runs, first the student watches an interactive video. Once the video ends, the student must open the previous page or window that the video launched from and go to the next tab on the lesson. 
    I would like  to see two things: 1) the tabs at the top of this page should also be at the bottom of the page. As my son finished the bottom of the page, where the top no longer showed, he always thought he was "done" with the material for the day. 2) I would like to see a button ON THE VIDEO at the end of the video that sends the student to the next section (instead of the student having to go back to the page that launched the video). If this cannot be IN the video, then it would be nice if the selection buttons were UNDER the video, or if the video page closed automatically and the computer went automatically back to the first page. Even a "Continue" button would be nice. It just needs a little something to ease the transition between the sections of the lesson for the day.
  5. I really wish Standard Deviants would expand their program so that what they offered was complete subjects, rather than supplements. How wonderful would it be to just have my student taking Algebra I on line, having the work graded, and me only needing to step in when he needs help. Same desire in every subject -- me just knowing that if he completed the program during the year I could confidently count it for credit for my reporting to my state and for my creating of the high school transcript.
  6. I see a lot of room for expansion with this program. Standard Deviants could expand to one day include various levels of art appreciation and music appreciation, health and other sections of history (ancient cultures, dark ages, middle ages, renaissance and reformation, Canadian history, Australian history, European history, etc.).
I have really enjoyed having the Standard Deviants U.S. History program available for my son during this review time. Standard Deviants very generously gave the Schoolhouse Review Crew reviewers access to ALL their classes for 12 months! So I am also looking forward to spending time in their other 9th grade level classes in the months to come. 

If you are interested in any of these Standard Deviants courses, you can purchase any regular course for use by one student for $99 for a year, or $24.95 per month. The AP courses are available or use by one student for $14.95 per month.
If you would like to read more reviews about this and other Standard Deviants courses, click the link below.
http://schoolhousereviewcrew.com/standard-deviants-accelerate-review/


Friday, October 17, 2014

Letters from Esther - #9

I am writing up a series of letters my grandmother, Esther, sent "home" to her siblings in North Dakota as she traipsed around the world working for the State Department as a working woman before it was chic. Letters were chosen over phone calls because long distance calls were expensive, and it was sometimes difficult to hear well at a distance.

This letter is the next letter I have from Esther by date.
~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~
Air Mail Envelope postmarked Sep 6 1961 - U.S. Army Postal Service A.P.O. - 7 cents stamp

E. Holien
TC-AV
USOM K - APO 301
San Francisco, Calif.

To:

Miss Jennie Efraimson

Perth, North Dakota

                              U.S.A.
 ~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~`
Sept. 5, 1961

Dear Jennie, Dad & Rudy & all:

Since this is a trip report, I'm going to put a few carbons in so I won't have to repeat myself so many times, and add the personal notes at the end.

I took Friday off on annual leave in order to take advantage of the Labor Day week-end trip to Sorak San (san is mountain) on the East Coast of Korea. But it rained that day -- came down in buckets really -- and our plane from the south did not get in at all. They were about to cancel the whole trip but asked us how many would go if we left Saturday about noon instead so since several of us had no other plans, we said o.k.

So we left on the 12:30 plane Saturday and it takes only an hour to get to the East Coast but then we had a three hour bus ride up to Sorak hotel. First we saw a Buhdist temple, then took a ride on a boat with a dragon-head at the prow. These were just a short distance from the air port and then we really got underway. I have had some rough trips in my time -- like the time we went up to Sterling King's cabin in West Virginia and had to hunt for stones and logs to repair some of the bridges in order to get across - but never have I seen anything like this trip. The road was very rough all the way and the bus spat and sputtered like it would never make it up each new hill and we crossed dozens of little rivers with no bridges. At one point the water was so deep that it came up into the bus, and the floor of the bus was about two feet off the ground. There was a fellow on a bicycle crossing at the same time and we could only see the top of his bicycle -- he wasn't riding it though.

Well, I thought it was absolutely fantastic until the next day when we went on a hike and had to cross some streams on foot and then I realized that they had no worry about sinking into mud. The bottom of all these streams are stones of various sizes.

But that wasn't the worst of it -- it had rained hard there too the day before and parts of the road were very slippery and at one point the rear end slipped off the road into a little gully (sort of a drainage ditch) and they had quite a tie getting it out. On the way back it was a little drier and the streams were not quite so deep, and we had gotten used to it anyway, but we did break a rear axle. They had an extra one along and changed it very quickly -- less than half an hour. [WHAT!!! Can you imagine?] There was a mechanic along, in addition to the driver.

We got to the hotel about 7:30 and it was quite nice. No electricity -- just kerosene lanterns and candles -- but the beds were good and they did have running hot and cold water. We had steak for dinner and all retired early.

The next morning after breakfast we started off on a hike to see some places of interest but I got tired after the first 15 minutes and decided I'd rather go back and read, so did. The others went on and got back about 12. They also went on another hike in the afternoon but Ruth and I stayed home, had a nap and played scrabble. After dinner that night we walked down to the village and bought a few soveniers and went we got back, played some HEARTS. [stet] Yes, I finally had to succumb to hearts as we couldn't find enough Bridge players. That day was sort of foggy all through but Monday morning, when we had to leave at 8 dawned just lovely. I took more pictures then.

So we coughed and rattled our way back to Kwang Nun (the airport town), had time to kill so had some coffee and got on the plane about 1:00 p.m.

One of the most interesting sights on this trip was the fish drying. We went through all sorts of little towns along the edge of the ocean and everywhere you saw these fish hanging on lines -- like clothes lines. They looked like about five or six strand barbed wire fences -- I draw you a picture here:

XXXXX etc.

They were attached to the lines with wooden pins or sticks. As you can imagine, the smell was terrific.

The hotel where we stayed seemed to have about the only telephone in town and they would get calls for many people and just holler down the road and I guess the message got passed on because in a little while somebody would come running up and go to the phone. Instead of "hello" they say "Yo bo shay oh!" There was a movie outfit up there making a movie and one of the people who got calls was the star actress. She was quite pretty. Also saw the male star and he looked rather fierce.

I was disappointed that there was no place to swim and I guess it would have been too cool anyway. We wore slacks and sweaters. But it was 93 when we got back to Seoul and rained again in the evening. Ruth had to get her hair done so I fixed us a Chinese dish for supper and baked an apple pie; we watched a couple of TV shows and I played records and read till about 11. Ruth and a few of the others got a little stomach upset but other than having a little longer of the usual morning sneezing, I was o.k. Ruth still feels a bit under the weather but I feel fine today. There were about 10 Americans and 4 Koreans on this trip.

Well so much for that.

Belated birthday Greetings to Rudy.

Happy Birthday to Dad & I might as well say Eino & Martha too (isn't Martha's in Sept. also?)

Our letters from Larry are being returned so don't know whats happened. Maybe he's been moved. Hope to hear soon.

All my mornings are taken up with Korean classes--then lunch so I'm pretty busy in the afternoons. Just had to take time off to tell you about this trip, tho.

Love to you all,

Esther

Tuesday, October 14, 2014

Apologia: iWitness - A Schoolhouse Crew Review

In late August, the Crew learned that Apologia Educational Ministries was going to have the Schoolhouse Review Crew do reviews of three of their iWitness books: iWitness Biblical Archaeology, New Testament iWitness, Old Testament iWitness. In light of what we were going to be studying in our other courses, this was a great fit for our home school, so I "raised my hand" and asked our Crew leaders to "Pick me! Pick me!" And they did!

I want to preface this review with the statement that I have still never met an Apologia book that I did not like. This review period is complete, and my statement still stands!

The books in the iWitness series are written and designed by Doug Powell. Mr. Powell had a degree in graphic design, but who was making a living as a professional musician. He found, however, that he could not make an adequate living at this. He went back to college and studied apologetics. He was asked to write an overview of apologetics for Biola University and was also a contributor to the Apologetics Study Bible. Then he got the idea to combine his understanding of apologetics with his skills at graphic design, and the iWitness book series was the result.

Our school year actually began the last week in August, so we had started before these books arrived. When we received the package, I began our work in them the very next day. I knew that these books were laid out in a format similar to books my son has read in a genre called a "graphic novel" (not that these are novels), so I was hopeful the style would pull my son in.

I started our studies with iWitness Biblical Archaeology, because I thought this would have the most appeal with my son. I quickly saw

Monday, October 13, 2014

Menu Monday for 10/13/14

orgjunkie.com

Here is my vegan/carnivore blend menu plan for this week:



Sunday (10/12):
Spaghetti, salad, garlic bread (vegan crumblies with sauce, whole wheat noodles)

Monday (10/13):
Pork & Slaw sandwiches (bean soup, vegetables)

Tuesday (10/14):
Chicken Caesar salad, Italian bread (faux chicken patties, flat, salad)

Wednesday (10/15):
Tacos, tortilla chips, refried beans (bean burrito or soft whole wheat taco with veggie crumbles instead of beef in the taco "meat")

Thursday (10/16):
Company pot roast, rolls (veggie "burger", carrots, onions, celery, potato)

Friday (10/17):
leftovers

Saturday:
leftovers

Thursday, October 9, 2014

Fortuigence - A TOS Crew Review


As my son began his 9th grade year, I was painfully aware that we have not focused adequately on the skills of essay and composition writing. I was very happy when I learned that Fortuigence was offering the Schoolhouse Review Crew four writing courses, and that my son and I would be given the opportunity to review their Essay Rock Star Expository Essay Writing Course!


Fortuigence is an online company that was founded by a former classroom teacher named
Lily Iatridis. Ms Iatridis taught school for ten years before taking some time off to stay home and start a family. Fortuigence was born of a brainstorm to think how she might begin to offer online writing courses on her own. She has great respect for homeschoolers, and the largest portion of her clients are homeschoolers. Her goal is to help equip students to write effectively while equipping the parents to walk through the writing process with their students.


I approached the Essay Rock Star Expository Essay Writing Course with my son with a bit of trepidation. This is the third student I have homeschooled high school with, so you might expect me to have a bit of confidence. What you may not know is that my older two students were in a co-op in high school, and the co-op included writing as one of its subjects. My daughters were not only not accountable to me for getting their writing assignments done, but their papers were also not graded by me. I found that to be a huge help. I either corrected everything (not giving them freedom to express their own thoughts, but trying to get them to express my thoughts) or else I thought everything they wrote was wonderful (with blinders that prevented me from helping them to improve their writing). Having an impartial 3rd party do the paper-grading was what I needed.


So along came this son that God gave me. He is so different from me. If I ask him to write an essay about "Topic X", he says he wants to write about "Topic Q" that I know nothing about. This leaves me feeling 1) like I cannot score his papers because I don't know if the material is correct or not and 2) like he's never going to learn to write on a topic that is assigned to him. Along came the Essay Rock Star Expository Essay Writing Course.


The Expository Essay Course is broken down into bite-sized pieces. Each step along the way teaches the student (and the parent) how to approach that segment of the essay-writing process. It also gives links, PDF files, and ideas to help the student every step of the way. Each of the following steps was one lesson. After each lesson the student completes a related assignment, submits the assignment to the teacher, and receives feedback on the written work before continuing. Here are the steps/lessons:
1) Course Introduction, Rubrics, and Pre-Assessment (child sends in a sample writing assignment from previous work);
2) Purpose and Description; Brainstorming;
3) Organizing Ideas;
4) Free Writing;
5) Revision;
6) Editing;
7) Wrap-Up.

So we started off with the Pre-Assessment. That doesn't sound too difficult, right? You just send in a previous writing assignment. Well, scroll back up to that first paragraph where I said I have neglected writing and composition. Did you think I was kidding? I didn't have a previous writing assignment. This young man has never before written an essay or a composition. He has written answers to questions in workbooks, and he has kept a journal. Fairly Charlotte Mason in our previous schooling, I have often had him narrate to me orally. I tried to get him to do written narrations one year, but that flopped (he was unwilling and I did not fight with him). He now understands that learning to write essays and compositions is necessary to move forward into college and is willing to learn, but there was no "previous writing assignment". He had to start Lesson 1 by writing an essay to submit for the assessment.

It became necessary for me to instruct him just to get started. I discussed with him the basic five paragraph composition that starts with an introductory paragraph, is followed by three supporting paragraphs, and concludes with a paragraph that restates the introductory paragraph and wraps up all the loose ends. Initially we had some difficulty figuring out how to submit the essay. I tried to attach a document, but my computer was generating different document formats than the Fortuigence site wanted to accept. I finally figured out how to submit a ".doc" document.

We submitted my son's essay, and I waited with anxiety. I had forced myself not to read the essay, not to make corrections or comments. Later the same day, his instructor (who was Lily Iatridis herself, by the way) sent my son a note telling him he is a "competent writer" and had us move on to Lesson 2. Who knew? My son and I were both pleased and relieved.

So we watched the video for Lesson 2 and then read through the documentation that followed the video. There was a link given to a website that offers (limited) free support for brain-storming. I had to prompt my son to give him ideas on what to write on. I suggested he write on something he knows a lot about, and we both thought about that. He picked his topic and went to the brainstorming page and created lots of sub-topics. He had selected a "process" style topic, so I let him know he did not need to be constrained by the five-paragraph format of the previous essay.

Somehow I got lost in what I was reading and I directed my son, incorrectly, to submit a rough draft as his assignment for the brainstorming. He did the work and we submitted his writing.

Ms. Iatridis received this rough draft with surprise. We had by-passed four lessons or something. She read what he had written and responded to him with an email of glowing praise, suggesting that he didn't really need the course, and that if we weren't reviewing the course she would probably give us a refund. What? I mean, this is the second writing assignment in his life. My son responded to me, "Does this mean I never have to do another writing assignment?" I had to let him down gently. There is still so much for him to learn!

So we walked our way through the additional lessons, resubmitting the same essay after each lesson, until the lessons caught up to where my son was, having written his rough draft. Finally, after Lesson 6, his writing was reviewed with a fine-toothed comb. This is where the capitalization was scrutinized, punctuation, unfamiliar words, awkward wording, etc.

My son went over the teacher-markups and is making final adjustments to his composition, to create a great finished product. And I, meanwhile, have saved copies of all the tools and materials provided during the course, so we will have them in our arsenal for future writing assignments. 

While I don't know if my son will ever enjoy writing (especially writing assigned to him by someone else), I think I can honestly say that he and I have both been totally pleased with our experience with the Essay Rock Star Expository Essay Writing Course. The constructive praise and comments made by the teacher were helpful, encouraging, and anything but shallow. And I totally feel this course was as beneficial for me as the teacher as it was for my son as the student.

The Essay Rock Star Expository Essay Writing Course is a perfect fit for 12-18 year old students. It is a "short course" (to be completed over the course of one month) in the Fortuigence offerings, and is priced at $57, counting as only a small fraction of the writing my son should complete this year. The company offered me the opportunity to get the rest of the essay program at a 40% discount, and I am mulling that idea over and will discuss it with my husband and my son. Right now I am thinking I have the skill and ability to teach Essay and Composition to my son, but not the confidence. So purchasing the entire course is a definite possibility.

So go to the Fortuigence website and look around. Be sure to check out the free resources page while you are there. To see reviews by other members of the Schoolhouse Review Crew, click the button below. Crew members reviewed four different products, so you can learn about all of them.


http://schoolhousereviewcrew.com/fortuigence-review/


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