Tuesday, March 31, 2015

Thick as Thieves - A TOS Homeschool Crew Review

Review Crew
In February I learned that we had been selected to review Susan K. Marlow's newest book, Thick as Thieves, made available to us by Circle C Milestones and published by Kregel Publications.  
Thick as Thieves Book Review

When I first learned this book was coming up on our review schedule, I read the sample chapter to help me decide if I wanted to ask for the review. I was immediately all in for this review -- the writing is so well done, and compelling. You want more!

Yet I was concerned because the main character is a 14-year-old girl. I was concerned my 15-year-old son might find the book too "girly". Too late! I was selected for the review, so he was about to experience the book, and I would just have to find out his reaction as we went along.

From the very beginning he enjoyed the book. I read it out loud, because we love to enjoy this type of book together. The story takes place in the 1880s. It centers on Andrea Carter and her family on the Circle C Ranch in California.  We read about two chapters a day most school days. My son listened intently to find out if Andi's (Andrea's) horse and foal(s) would be okay. We both wondered if Andi was over-reacting to Taffy's trouble (the mama horse), but were relieved when Andi's brother was finally available and helped deliver the twin foals.

Andi had to attend school when the foals were still quite young, and sharing her pain at leaving them was nothing compared to her new difficulties when a new student, Macy, was told to share her two-seat desk! My son hated Macy and the things she did to make Andi miserable!

Fortunately, as the story developed, he was able to understand that Macy's behavior was indicative of deeper issues going on:
  • pushing people away, not wanting to get close, because she moved frequently and couldn't "afford" to invest in any relationships, and because her brothers were watching her and she didn't want to draw any of their attention by developing friendships;
  • abuse in the home from her brothers;
  • embarrassment because she didn't know how to read.
There were other things going on, too, and the author did an incredible job of crafting this part of the plot. I was annoyed at the schoolmaster for placing Macy beside Andi in the classroom. I thought he was being spiteful to Andi, and I thought he himself was afraid of Macy. Later, however, when Andi confronted Mr. Blake and he gave his reason(s), I was really impressed, once again, with what Ms. Marlow (the author) was doing with her plot.

This book is fast-moving and engaging. We did reach one point in the story line where we (correctly) predicted who the antagonists were, but it was not unrealistic -- there was still not yet proof. When I was growing up, in my (large) family, if something turned up missing, everyone knew who probably took it, but if you couldn't find it or find proof, there was nothing you could do. That's the way this story was going until an unexpected turn occurred, and you're going to love it!

When the book was finished, my son said he liked it. (This is a difficult thing, pleasing my son!) He said he liked the way it ended, but that he was sorry it was over because he was enjoying it so much! I remember (with my older, graduated home school students) when that type of reaction happened in my home school all the time. That's not the case with this student, so I'm telling you: this is a great book!

To assist you in getting the most out of this book, the author has provided a free study guide that can be used in conjunction with the story. There were two suggestions for how to use the study guide:
  1. As you complete each chapter, complete the study guide for that chapter before beginning the next chapter, or
  2. Read through the entire book the first week, and the 2nd week go back and do the study guide, rereading information as you need to for answers.
We did not use the study guide. The chapters are so engaging, ending with a cliff-hanger so often, that I often read the first few paragraphs of the next chapter before closing the book. My son is not a workbook kinda guy anyway, but he would have been miserable to have been dragged to a slow crawl to have done the study guide chapter by chapter. And once the book was finished, he did not want to look back.

I asked him questions during the reading anyway to check for comprehension and vocabulary. I could have been using the study guide to come up with those questions, but I hadn't printed it out -- I had planned to use parts of it orally off my tablet. The section that would have been most helpful for my son would have been the vocabulary - so I could be sure he had understood the new words in the story, or words that were used in a different context than he had ever heard them used. But overall, the vocabulary was very manageable for my 15-year-old son.

Other members of The Old Schoolhouse Homeschool Review Crew also reviewed this book. To see what other families thought of Thick as Thieves, click the button below. Our product review schedule shows another Circle C Milestones product coming up for review in a couple of months, and if it is a sequel I sure hope I get picked for that review, too!

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Monday, March 30, 2015

Menu Monday for 3/30/15

Here is my Menu Plan for this week for our carnivore/vegan blended family (vegan options in parentheses).

Tomato-basil soup, grilled cheese sandwiches (whole grain bread slices), salad

Black Beans and Rice over raw spinach

Chicken Caesar Salad (no chicken; vegan leftovers)

Creamy Broccoli Soup in bread bowls (whole grain bread slices), salad

BLT sandwiches (vegan leftovers), milkshakes (water)

Butternut squash ravioli with spaghetti sauce, garlic bread, salad (skip garlic bread)

Steak, baked potatoes (stuffed baked potato with vegan chili and broccoli), salad

Thursday, March 26, 2015

HomeSchool Office - A TOS Homeschool Crew Review

Review Crew

In early February I learned that I had been selected to review HomeSchool Office, a product Lord Heritage
HomeSchool Office Review

I was really happy to be selected because in my state I am reviewed annually, and my record-keeping abilities, even after all these years, leave something to be desired. I am hoping HomeSchool Office will not only help us to stay on track in our daily plans, but will also help me to get my portfolio together when it comes time for my year-end review.

I received an email telling me how to register for my account. My email was different than what you would get in that I was being given an account to review. You would be purchasing their product from their website, and then you would receive an email with further instructions.

So, the initial email has been like gold to me. Whenever I go back to make changes to my plans on the HomeSchool Office program, I find I have forgotten what to do, where to go... The initial email takes me by the hand, says, "Go to ...(website) and click on ...(link)". So I am very careful with that email. If you're wondering, I'm an older mom -- at that age where I walk into a room and have to stop to remember why I am there, and sometimes retrace my steps to get recollection of what I was about to do. ::sigh::

So after the initial registration and creation of my account (which would be the same for you), the email told me a code to enter for "Payment" - where you would enter a credit card number. Once that is done, you log in, which takes you to the "Home" screen for the program - it has the above picture of the girl on the rock with Jeremiah 29:11.

The email then explained their method for you to contact them if you need help (start a "Support Ticket"). The next thing you do is go to their section called "Knowledge Base", which teaches you everything you need to know to set up your database. I found it helpful to have two windows going simultaneously so that each time I watched a video for what to do next, I could go do it immediately. (These days my short-term memory is really short!)

So I found it most helpful for me to get this started on a day when I could really focus on it. If you are the same way, maybe you could get hubby to take the kids somewhere on a Saturday while you set it up. Or, if you do it during the summer, do it in spurts while the kids are outside playing.

Once I was set up, it was time-consuming, but a joy, to determine for each course where I am (trying to forget where I should have been), and plot out daily assignments for what my son should do each day in Algebra, Biology, Literature, etc. For certain subjects I plotted things out all the way to the end of the school year (Algebra and Biology), where the assignment schedule is very clear. For other subjects I am entering the assignments as we go (Literature, History, Bible, Art, etc.). The program is so smart that it keeps telling me that I have not entered enough assignments for the student for the year. Well, it is going to say that this year because I am not prepared to go back and fill in what we did from September until February.

Next I really appreciated being able to record the test grades. Now we're cooking like real school! I mean, I don't have a grade book like my teachers used to have. When I give my student a test, he takes it, I grade it, I give it back to him, and then I need it back for his portfolio. I am constantly stressing over, "Where is test #5?", not so much for the portfolio review but for calculating his grade. Now, instead, I record his test score in HomeSchool Office. Then, if a test is missing later at least I have the grade to calculate his final grade for his transcript. The portfolio reviewer needs samples of his work throughout the year, but does not need to see all his tests or anything so specific as that.

In addition to keeping track of grades that I give my student on assignments, HomeSchool Office also keeps track of days attended. I am able to indicate a day as a holiday that we do school on -- how cool is that? I mean, we do not take all the same holidays as our local public school. If we have a sudden change of schedule, like pretend a relative goes into the hospital and school (or certain subjects) doesn't happen -- you can easily bump the entire schedule forward a day or merge with the next day. (I haven't used that feature yet, so I won't attempt to describe how you do it, but the instructions were very clear.)

HomeSchool Office has you set up separate calendars per student and/or per topic, as fits your needs. I have one calendar for my one student. I have another calendar for his Boy Scout troop's activities. I have a calendar for medical appointments. I have another calendar for product review due dates. I am now able to have, all in one place, super-imposed or merged, our school schedule, medical appointments, Boy Scout activities, review due dates -- everything and anything that I want to combine that is important to me, as much or as little as I want to see at one time. I can reduce the schedule to show just my son's school work, or add one or two or all other calendars to avoid conflicts. I love it!

The picture above is smaller than actual size, but it gives you the idea. Here is the actual size on my screen, showing you part of my week:
It's not perfect; I've left stuff out (Art...) and have not entered specific assignments in all subjects, which causes them to not show up on the "To Do" list, but I know how to fix that when I can take the time.

When I open my page to my HomeSchool Office, the current day is always highlighted in orange (see above), and the school assignments show in a list down the right side of the calendar in a specific "To Do" list. I have it set up so I can see exactly, "Test on Module 6", or "Read history pages 85-92". It is wonderful! And if I want to give my son a head's up as to when the next Algebra test is, I look forward on the calendar and find it. It is working so well for me!

The student is also able to log in using their own ID. This gives each student their own assignment calendar and "To Do" list for the day. They are not able to change their grades -- the grades can only be entered from the teacher's log in page. I haven't been using this feature - only one student, and I won't go into other reasons. (Another ::sigh::)

I had a bumpy time getting started with this program, because I needed that quiet day to wrap my brain around it all. Now that I am up and running, I am totally loving it. This is a program that I will seriously consider continuing to use until my son graduates high school in another three years. I have really needed HomeSchool Office, and I am so glad I have had the opportunity to try it out and get to know it.

So, guess what! You yourself can actually get HomeSchool Office to try out for free for 30 days! Now, I'm seriously warning you -- don't start the trial until you have the time to focus on this. It needs time and your brain, or you might hate it, and I don't want you to hate it. So consider it, and consider when you can try it, and then give it a go. I hope you like it!

HomeSchool Office was reviewed by other Crew members as well. To read other reviews of Lord Heritage's HomeSchool Office, click the button below.

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Wednesday, March 25, 2015

(Late) Menu Monday for 3/23/15

Menu Plan Monday for the week of March 23/15 at I'm an Organizing Junkie blog

Sorry I'm late posting this. Here are my menu plans for this week:

Saturday (3/21):
Spaghetti with meat sauce (no meat for vegan), salad, TX toast

Sunday (3/22):
Chinese food – “take out”

Monday (3/23):
Oven baked chicken, rice, broccoli

Tuesday (3/24):
Orange quinoa (FOK p 240) over baby spinach
Rotisserie Chicken, stuffing

Wednesday (3/25):
cheeseburgers, salad  (veggie burger)

Thursday (3/26):
Hot dogs and beans, baby carrots, potato chips (leftovers)

Friday (3/27):
Creamed Cauliflower Soup, salad, whole grain bread

Saturday (3/28):
leftovers or tomato soup with grilled cheese sandwiches

Monday, March 16, 2015

World History Detective, Book 1 - A TOS Crew Review

Review Crew

I was recently offered the opportunity to receive World History Detective Book 1 to use with my son and review for The Critical Thinking Co.
Critical Thinking Company Review
World History Detective is a beautiful 362-page softcover consumable textbook for students in grades 6 - 12+. Completion of the book in one-year is sufficient to count as one World History or Ancient History credit for high school.
Critical Thinking Company Review

World History Detective contains 78 lessons that focus on ancient and medieval civilizations. Lessons contain an informative reading selection for the student followed by a section of multiple choice questions, a concept map, short essay questions, timelines, mapwork, vocabulary development, and methods to develop critical thinking in the students.

When I first expressed interest in reviewing the World History Detective book, my son and I were in the Middle Ages in our studies. I had thought we would locate the place in the book closest to what we were studying and jump in there. When the book actually arrived and I started looking at it, there was so much Ancient History material we had never covered that it was difficult to stick with my original plan. There was just so much good stuff!

The Table of Contents shows you all the wonderful lessons. The same link will show you some sample material if you scroll down. In addition to a section at the front explaining the material to the teacher, there is a section at the back of the book with answers to the questions. This was helpful to us, not only for me checking my son's work. There were a couple of times when neither my son nor I knew what the answer was supposed to be. [My student does not like to be featured in my blog's photos. ::sigh::]

During the review period, we (not ideal) hopped around in the curriculum to get a flavor of lessons on various time periods. Most of the lessons we did together, but the material is totally suitable for independent work at his level.  He is in 9th grade. It was very easy for him to understand what was expected of him. Lesson 2 is on "Prehistory to Neanderthal's". We believe the Bible teaches history differently than this, but it is a good idea discuss this alternate view with your students to prepare them to defend their perspective when they are outside the home, particularly when they leave to attend college.

I really liked the way the "Fertile Crescent" was covered. It gave me clarity. I also liked the way periodic pages displayed the timeline for the material being covered in the current lesson.

We want to thank The Critical Thinking Co. for permitting us to review World History Detective Book 1. My son, however, did not like the format. The method used, of answering multiple choice questions and then listing sentence(s) that support the answer, was not a method my son could work with well. It is not his learning style, and for him these assignments were tedious and painful. We've always tended toward the Charlotte Mason Method--this book was too different for us.

Other members of the Schoolhouse Review Crew also reviewed this World History Detective 1. It would be good for you to read their reviews as well to help you get a rounded view of this product. There were other Critical Thinking Co. products reviewed as well, ones suitable for younger students. See those reviews by clicking the button below.

You can follow The Critical Thinking Co. on Google Plus, Facebook, Pinterest and Twitter.

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Menu Monday for 03-16-15

Here is my Menu Plan Monday entry for St. Patrick's Day week. (We're not Irish, but we love our corned beef and cabbage on St. Patrick's Day!) I didn't do anything special for Pi Day. The vegan options are often in parentheses below, although not consistently.

Saturday (3/14):

Sunday (3/15):
Orange quinoa (FOK p 240) over baby spinach
Rotisserie Chicken, stuffing

Monday (3/16):
Sizzle burgers, steamed carrots, noodles (veggie burger)

Tuesday (3/17):
Corned Beef and Cabbage, potatoes (vegan skips the beef)

Wednesday (3/18):
Home style lentil soup, salad, whole grain bread

Thursday (3/19):
BLTs, milkshakes (vegan leftovers)

Friday (3/13):

Saturday (3/20):
Spaghetti with meat sauce (no meat for vegan), salad, TX toast

FoK = Forks Over Knives