Wednesday, June 26, 2013

Review: Moving Beyond the Page

Moving Beyond the Page is a literature based curriculum that encourages critical & creative thinking.  There are units for Science, Social Studies, and Literature, for ages 5-13.  For this review, I received the literature unit Mrs. Frisby and the Rats of NIMHalong with the coordinating science unit  Work, Tools, and Simple Machines.  Both of these units are geared towards 8-10 year olds, and I used them with Jacob, my 10 year old.

The guides are available in either hardcopy or online version.  I received a hardcopy guide for Work, Tools, and Simple Machines (along with the Science in a Nutshell: Work: Plane and Simple kit)  , while the guide for Mrs. Frisby and the Rats of NIMH was the online version (and I received a hardcopy of the book).  You can see a sample of the online guide for Mrs. Frisby and the Rats of NIMH here.  After the purchase of an online guide, you can activate it whenever you'd like (they don't ever expire).  Once you activate it, you have 3 months to use it, though you may contact Moving Beyond the Page if you need to extend the use.  Prices vary from unit to unit, but for reference the cost for the Mrs. Frisby and the Rats of NIMH package is $19.92, while the Work, Tools, and Simple Machines package is $61.99.  You also have the option of purchasing complete packages instead of individual units.  While the units I received are meant to complement each other, you can mix and match the different units to suit the interests of your child.

Mrs. Frisby and the Rats of NIMH  is made up of 13 lessons, plus a final project.  Each lesson is expected to take a day, though the final project is at least a two day project.

The online guide is very simple to use.  It contains all of the activity and question pages that are needed, and they are easy to access and print out.  Each lessons follows a general pattern.  The lesson begins with a "Getting Started" section which provides the general point of the lesson to the teacher through "Questions to Explore", "Facts and Definitions", "Skills", and "Needed Materials".  Then an introductory question or thought is provided to help get your child thinking about the book in a critical way.  Following this question are comprehension and critical thinking questions based on that day's reading.  These can either be answered orally, you can type the answers into the online guide and print, or the worksheets can be printed and your child can write the answers down.  It's actually suggested that you do a combination of oral and written answers; we chose to answer all the questions orally.  

There are activities following the questions.  The student keeps a plot flowchart for each chapter of the book, and I found this to be a very useful activity for picking out the important parts of each chapter.  Some of the additional activities are worksheets that reinforce language arts skills (such as homonyms and  irregular plurals), while other worksheets require creative and/or critical thinking (such as designing a maze or coming up with acronyms for sets of letters).  Still other activities are hands on.  One such example involves running a skien of yarn throughout your house, and then blindfolding the child and have them find their way by holding on to the yarn; another involves giving your child a specific set of items and having them invent something. There are usually 2-3 activities per lesson, and some activities present an easier and harder option, allowing you some flexibility depending on your child's skill level.

After the activities, the lesson wraps up with discussion based on the story, as well as the skills practiced that day.  The final two day project presents two options:  writing a final chapter for the book or designing a book float, so two very different options are presented.

The hardcopy guide for Work, Tools, and Simple Machines is also easy to use.  Instead of printable worksheets, there are non-reproducible worksheets in the guide.  There are 7 lessons and a final project in this unit, though all but one of the lessons require 2 days to complete.  The lessons are:
  • Work
  • The Six Simple Machines
  • The Inclined Plane
  • The Screw and the Wedge
  • Lever, Pulley, and Wheel and Axle
  • Tools and Machines Make Work Easier
  • Tools and Machines Over Time

The lessons are laid out in a similar fashion to those in the literature unit.  Lessons are introduced to the teacher with "Big Ideas", "Facts and Definitions", "Skills", "Materials", and an "Introduction" to present the ideas of the lesson to your child.

Following the introduction are the activities.  There are worksheets (often there are 2 options for differing skill levels), along with a lot of hands on activities.  The worksheet activities has the student drawing machines, identifying simple machines in the home, and cutting out and sorting many different things into what kind of simple machine they are.  Many of the needed supplies for the hands on activities are included in the Science in a Nutshell kit, but some need to be gathered (magazines, tape, cardboard, clay, beans, and  more).  There is a materials list provided at the beginning of the guide, and I would suggest gathering the supplies before you start.  The final project is a presentation that will have your student tie all that they've learned together through the creation of a poster and demonstration of the various types of simple machines, including how they work and how they've changed over time.

Jacob really enjoyed reading Mrs. Frisby and the Rats of NIMH, and the activities and questions did cause him to think more critically about the book.  He also really enjoyed learning all about the simple machines.  It was fun to approach the book and science topic together, and I liked the way they complimented each other. The literature unit took us 30-45 minutes a day, while the science unit usually took longer, about 45-75 minutes.  There is a lot of discussion involved, so it was pretty teacher intensive.  Both types of guides were easy to use, though I probably slightly preferred the hardcopy version (I tend to get distracted on the computer).  However, I liked being able to print out the activity sheets from the online guide to give them to Jacob, instead of having him work on the sheets in the guide I was using.  Really, you can't go wrong with either option.

If you're looking for a challenging and fun option for your homeschool, check out Moving Beyond the Page.  In addition to being a great full year program, the individual units are also a great option to keep your child learning and engaged throughout the summer months.

For more reviews of Moving Beyond the Page, visit the Schoolhouse Review Crew.


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Saturday, June 22, 2013

School Room Overhaul

I've posted the various transformations our school room has had over the years, but this one is the biggest change.   The boys keep getting older, which means:
  1. New needs
  2. More books!
Here's the first post from 2007 (teaching grades 3, 2, & K with a preschooler and toddler).  Here's the second post from 2010 (teaching grades 6, 5, 3, & 1 with a preschooler).  And finally, the third post from 2012 (teaching grades 7, 6, 4, 2, & K).

Obviously, a big change is the paint.  It was time to get rid of the cheery elementary yellow and make the room a little more grown up and serious.  This year I'll have grades 9, 8, 6, 4, & 2.  We sold the loveseat and went with these two IKEA chairs for reading.  For some reason, when more than one boy needed to read on the loveseat, we ended up with a lot of wrestling matches.  I still have plans to paint the filing cabinet, and in the closet are books we aren't currently using.

The treadmill and the older 3 boys' desks.  We do most of our work in this room.  It's what we're used to, and it helps keep us focused.  The older two boys will take their work up to their rooms every now and then, but I'd say 95% of our work is done here.  I've got my eyes open for something for the wall by the treadmill, and we just got new white wooden blinds for the window.

The younger two boys' desks, and the bookshelves.  Oh, my.  The books.  So many books.  I also painted my desk and updated the drawer pulls.

This is taken from the back of the room by the reading chairs & treadmill, just to give you perspective.  I've got plans to add another piece of whiteboard to the wall, and we'll also be replacing the TV with a touchscreen computer that Craig's parents gave to us.  You can see the printer in the corner (I also painted the table it sits on).  On the side of the desk are two small IKEA stools for when I'm teaching 1:1 or 1:2.  It's nice to be right by the white board for this.

The maps--I think I paid around $10 for these when Luke was in Kindergarten.  I think we've gotten our money's worth out of them.  You can also see part of the "library" door.  It's a closet under the stairs that holds most of our non-homeschooling related books. 

Finally, the cabinet that holds the boys' current books and binders.  When they were little, we needed a cabinet with doors I could put a lock on to keep out little hands.  Now we need the cabinet with doors to help hide the fact they cannot consistently place books and binders neatly back on the shelves. The door to the left is the door that leads to the playroom & stairs.

The boys & I are thrilled with how it turned out.  They love the colors, and they have more space with this room configuration.  I feel like it's organized and like I have room to work, so I want to be in there.  It'll be a great place to start our new year!

Sunday, June 16, 2013

Review: Prima Latina

Several months ago, Micah asked to learn Latin like his brothers.  I told him I would check into it, got sidetracked, and never decided what to use.  We were both excited when the opportunity arose to review Prima Latina  from Memoria Press.  This introductory Latin program is aimed at children in grades 2-4.

We received the complete set (priced at $90.90), which includes:
  • Student Book
  • Teacher's Manual
  • Pronunciation CD
  • Instructional DVDs
  • Flashcards

Prima Latina is an introduction to Christian Latin.  The program is divided into 25 lessons, with a review lesson after every 5 lessons.  Students will learn 5 Latin vocabulary words in each of the 25 lessons, along with basic Latin grammar concepts.  They also learn the English derivatives of the vocabulary words.  In addition, students will learn 25 practical Latin expressions, 4 prayers, the numbers 1-10, and the names of popular constellations.  

The Student Book is printed in two colors, and is very streamlined and uncluttered.  Lessons include review questions, questions for the current lesson, translation, a section that guides the student through practicing speaking the Latin they're learning, a section for practicing writing the Latin words and definitions, and then a little fun practice section.  The Teacher's Guide contains a grammar overview for the teacher, teaching guidelines, tests, as well as an exact copy of the Student Book with answers filled in.  The flashcards contain all the words for Prima Latina, as well as the flashcards you'll need for the next Memoria Press Latin program, Latina Christiana.

The audio CD contains pronunciations (this program uses Ecclesiastical pronunciation) for each lesson, along with 4 hymns from Lingua Angelica.  The DVD set contains 9 hours of instruction.  Leigh Lowe guides the student through each lesson, explaining the lesson, providing recitation practice and review.  

This program has been a total success here.  I've been using it with Micah (going into 4th) and Nicholas (going into 2nd), and they both really enjoy it.  While I could teach the material, I love having the DVD to free up some of my time.  Leigh Lowe does a fabulous job teaching, and I only have to review the lesson with the boys after they've watched it.  While there is writing in the program, it is not overwhelming.  Micah hates writing, and he does the work in Prima Latina without complaint.  We've worked on the program about 3 days a week, and we usually spend about 30 minutes on it.  Micah and Nicholas ask to do Latin, and when I asked their opinion before I sat down to write this review, they both told me they "love it" and gave it "two thumbs up".  Can't beat that!

For more reviews of Prima Latina (and Memoria Press's Geography I program), visit the Schoolhouse Review Crew.


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Thursday, June 06, 2013


Luke:  "I visited your blog.  It's different that Wordpress."
Ezekiel:  "You have a blog?"
Me:  "Yep.  I've had it for years."
Ezekiel:  "Really?  I didn't know that."
Me:  "I started it in 2006."
Ezekiel:  "What's it about?"
Me:  "We went from 0 to 5 boys in six and one third years.  This is a journal of our life as we raise and homeschool Luke, Ezekiel, Jacob, Micah, & Nicholas."
Ezekiel:  "Huh.  I guess I better go check it out to see what you've been saying about me."

Wednesday, June 05, 2013


Craig & the boys spent 9 days on vacation without me.  They went to Mount Rushmore, Walnut Grove, spent the night in Sleepy Eye, visited grandparents, and camped in Iowa on the way home.  They had a very good time.

Jed (the dog) & I held the fort down here at home.  Boy, was it quiet!  I missed them, but I really enjoyed my time alone.  I worked on school plans for next year, watched Institute for Excellence in Writing DVDs, cleaned and decluttered.  I wasn't as productive as I had hoped (I barely made a dent in the stack of books I'd hoped to read), but I was refreshed.

I also reflected on the last year, and overall, I'm happy with the progress we made.  
  • Nicholas went from being a beginning reader to a fluent reader who can read anything he wants to read.  This coming year, I want to focus on penmanship with him (his handwriting looks like a drunk serial killer's).
  • I gave Micah a lot of books to read, and he read them.  At the end of 2nd grade, he was fighting me about anything that involved a pencil, so we changed our approach.  He read about grammar in Super Grammar and math in Life of Fred and Beast Academy, in addition to history and literature. Now, at the end of 3rd grade, he's doing the exercises in King Arthur's Academy without complaint (along with other things involving a pencil).  We'll move back to more typical instruction for all his subjects and get him writing more.
  • Jacob also read good books, including The Chronicles of Narnia.  He wrote some great stories using The Creative Writer.  This coming year, I need to focus more on math with him.  We're approaching it from several different angles to fill in some gaps I've left with him.
  • Luke & Ezekiel also read some great books.  We didn't get to as many as I'd hoped, but they read Gilgamesh and Hammurabi, along with lots of C.S. Lewis and a couple by R.C. Sproul.  They had the opportunity to go see The Screwtape Letters on stage right after they finished the book.  We're making progress in writing and math and Latin.  This coming year I really want to get them analyzing and thinking about what they read even more.
They all learned this year.  It's so easy for me to focus on what we didn't get to, but when I step back and look at what we did do, it's encouraging.  There was progress and learning in science and history and gymnastics and Judo, and we filled our minds with good stories and literature.  Everybody made progress in math.  And we're wrapping up the year, happy that we're schooling at home and still enjoying each other.  I'll call that a win.

Saturday, June 01, 2013

Review: Make It Real Learning (Math Mammoth)

I've been a fan of Math Mammoth for a few years now.  While we don't use it program as our main math curriculum, I love having it on hand for supplementing or a change of pace when we get stuck on a concept.  I've been interested in the Make It Real Learning books, but have never taken the plunge.  I was excited to have the opportunity to review three of these books:

The Make It Real Learning present real-life math problems to the students.  I know I spent a lot of time wondering when I'd use certain concepts when I was a student, and these books strive to answer those questions.  There are 22 books available, covering everything from basic arithmetic to calculus, and just about everything in between.

The Arithmetic I book (sample here) has the student use basic arithmetic to solve problems such as using bar graphs to compare country populations and calculating money amounts in order to determine if they have enough money to purchase what they want.

The Fractions, Percents, Decimals I book (sample here) uses Hershey's chocolate bar to teach adding and subtracting fractions, and shopping at a famous clothing store to help teach percents by determining sale price and tax.

The Sets, Probability, Statistics I book (sample here) uses a restaurant menu to teach the student how to determine the number of two-piece meal combinations that can be made, and to use probability to determine the likelihood of certain combinations of fruit snacks occurring in 5 bags.

The books are $4.99 each, and are available for download.  Answers are provided, though there is no teaching about how to do the concept being practiced. It is expected that the student will be comfortable enough with the concept that they can work through an application problem.  The problems in each of these books vary, and they do require thought.  I used these books with my 8th, 7th, and 5th graders, and I did find them to be a nice addition to our math curriculum.  I printed the books out, though they are PDFs that can be edited on a tablet or computer, if you wanted to go the paperless route.  It took us 30 minutes or so to work through the problems, and it was a nice change of pace from our regular math.  I thought I would be able to use the first book with my 3rd grader, but after looking it over I decided it would be too frustrating for him.  That said, I'd definitely recommend these books for middle and high school students.

For more reviews of Math Mammoth, visit the Schoolhouse Review Crew.


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