Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Write With the Best, Volume 2

A few years ago I determined I would not rest until I had taught my then 6th grade son something about writing. He had such a fear of the subject that I had let it slide for many years, but enough was enough. I read in a catalog a description of a unique curriculum designed to teach writing fundamentals by having students’ model writing of famous authors and great works of literature. So unique was this approach compared to any other curriculum I had encountered that I knew we had to give it a try. I had read art students usually spend hours copying the works of the great master artists, so it made sense to me that children should learn the art of writing by modeling the works of great authors.

The curriculum was Write With the Best, Volume 1 written by Jill J. Dixon, B.S. Ed., M.Ed. and published by Diagnostic Prescriptive Services. It was so successful in our home, allowing my son to conquer his fear and my then 4th grade daughter discover a new passion for the written word, that I couldn’t wait to use Write With the Best, Volume 2 the following year. For some reason I lost focus on this goal and we never did pick up a copy of Write With The Best, Volume 2 until it arrived in my inbox as an e-book this fall for me to review.

My now 7th grade daughter, Micah remembered instantly the joy she had experienced from our previous year. As we opened the curriculum and began to use it I remembered the beauty of its set up and ease of use. The curriculum is divided into 8 different units designed to be used over 16 weeks of time. Each unit is supplied with lesson plans and instruction for 10 days. Topics studied in Write with the Best, Volume 2 include:

How to write a poem in Free Verse

How to write a business letter

How to take notes

How to write an outline

How to write a summary

How to write a persuasive essay

How to write an expository essay

How to write a literary critique and book review

How to write a newspaper article

How to write a speech

How to write a dramatic monologue

A separate “How to Write Guide” with step by step instruction is included which gently guides the student through the creative or fundamental process of writing their original work after studying the famous work for one week. Answer keys for grammar questions asked within the text are included for the teacher for quick grading. Write With The Best easily contains all the necessary elements for a complete language arts course including grammar and writing instruction. If the student is so inspired to read the complete work of the author rather than just the excerpt studied you could check off a literature component as well.

A typical day with Write with the Best, Volume 2 begins with brief instruction/ discussion time between the teacher and student. We usually spent anywhere from 15-30 minutes. All of the instruction and discussion topics are scripted for the teacher along with a list of objectives to be accomplished during this time. A small assignment is listed for homework or independent study allowing the student to reinforce the learned objectives of the day.

I especially like that Dixon has listed the number of objectives to be accomplished each day. As a teacher this helped me break down the important elements of the lesson and not get overwhelmed or bogged down in details too quickly.

Write with the Best, Volume 2 is appropriate for use for grades 6-12. It is a non-consumable product, although I recommend making copies of the included “great works” selections for each student to use and study. Diagnostic Prescriptive Services offers Write With the Best, Volume 2 on their website in e-book format for $24.95 (for a limited time $18.65, 25% off), soft cover format without binding for $27.45 plus shipping, or soft-cover in three ringed binder for $29.95 plus shipping. Payments can be made on the website through PayPal.

If you have a student living in fear of the monstrous task of learning to write encourage greatness with Write with the Best. They will have Emily Dickinson, Thomas Paine, Helen Keller, Francis Bacon, Edgar Allen Poe, Ernest Hemmingway, Cicero and Shakespeare guiding them through the process. You can’t ask for better language arts teachers than that!

The Complete Career, College, and High School Guide for Homeschoolers

Guiding teens through their final years at home as they carefully begin to seriously lay plans for their adult life can often be a scary endeavor and definitely not for the faint of heart. So many choices, personally, professionally, socially, spiritually must be examined and made that often I feel as overwhelmed as the kids by the sheer immensity of it. The Complete Career, College and High School Guide for Homeschoolers written by Jill J. Dixon, B.S. Ed., M.Ed. and published by Diagnostic Prescriptive Services is a tool parents will want to use as they guide their kids toward adulthood.

When I received the Complete Career, College and High School Guide for Homeschoolers in e-book format to review it couldn’t have been better timed. My number one son, Jonah, a high school sophomore was looking for a resource to help direct his thoughts regarding colleges, college majors and careers. His once confident response of “I want to be a lawyer” when asked what he wanted to be when he grew up was changing and he was in the process of refining his interests. The Complete Career, College and High School Guide for Homeschoolers is designed to enlighten students and their parents to possibilities and perhaps confirm decisions already made.

A helpful “How to Use This Guide” page aided Jonah and I through the process of making the most of the book. Jonah began the process by taking four quick assessments created to determine his learning style strengths, work or service preferences (ie. does he prefer to build, solve, create, help, lead or organize in his work), a personality profile, and his preference for work environments. Through these brief assessments it was determined that Jonah is a strong auditory learner who prefers leadership type jobs working with people in his work environment and is generally an outward, thoughtful, and structured type of personality.

Following discussion of the assessments the Complete Career, College and High School Guide directed Jonah to use his assessment results to match with various careers. A “List of Occupations” and “Technical School/College Programs” list are included in the book making it easy to find quality matches. In addition, an extremely comprehensive list of careers and their accompanying college majors is provided just in case there is a career of interest that didn’t show up as a match on either list. We spent several hours reviewing the lists, narrowing choices and discussing options. Finally we summarized the study by filling out the text’s “Career Summation Form” which had him list occupations of interest, high school courses he could take to prepare him for future study related to the selected careers, volunteer opportunities he could pursue related to his future career choice and an opportunity to summarize his plans for the next few months. Organizing all of this information on one handy sheet of paper brought an overwhelming task of career exploration into focus making it manageable and stress free.

“The book is a really good resource. It gave me some ideas for some careers I might consider. It helped me know as far as the college aspect what I should take that would equip me for a particular occupation. It kind of reinforced what I already thought, but I found that helpful.”--- Jonah, age 15

As a Mom of six, whenever I find a resource that can help me educate, guide and mentor my kids I am thrilled. The Complete Career, College and High School Guide is an excellent resource for starting or ending any conversation related to the next step after home education. The book also includes plans for middle school students to use for plotting out high school study making it an appropriate resource for middle school through adulthood. Customers can purchase The Complete Career, College and High School Guide at in e-book format for $34.95 (or for a limited time $26.20- a 25% savings!) or soft cover format for $39.95 plus shipping. Payments can be made on the website through PayPal.

Monday, September 28, 2009

A Journey Through Learning

Fourteen years ago when I began my homeschool journey I was always the odd Mom out. Most of the families in my homeschool support group were lovers of standard textbook curriculum. We were not. I loved the concept of the unit study and chose them as our primary source of learning. I continually searched for non-traditional ways to process our learning adventures and when I enthusiastically explained about them to friends I was usually rewarded with blank stares of disbelief and confusion. More times than not I would hear comments such as “Oh, I’m just not creative enough to do all of that!" or "I could never handle all that mess in my house”.
A Journey through Learning is a company designed to help those less adventuresome families who think “they can’t” when it comes to unit study learning. A Journey Through Learning currently sells 8 different prepared unit studies for families to try covering history and other social studies topics. All unit studies are designed to teach children in grades 2-7 or 8. In addition to unit studies, A Journey Through Learning offers 47 lapbooks complete with study guides designed for students pre-school- grade 7.

If the term LapbookTM is a new one for you it is time you became acquainted. I learned of LapbooksTM a few years ago and quickly fell in love with the idea. Lapbooks consist of a file folder bent into a new form filled with little mini booklets all designed to summarize information in varying ways regarding a topic studied. Lapbooks have an artsy-crafty feel, but serve as a practical educational tool. They work especially well with unit study families as a way to capture all the varied information related to the topic being studied.

A Journey Through Learning e-mailed three lapbooks in e-book format for our family to try. I chose to dive into the Autumn Lapbook with Study Guide first. My test victim, I mean student, was my 2nd grader, Sierra and she has loved every minute of the study. Together we have read through most of the background information provided and chose which mini-books to create as suggested. We began the study trying to incorporate her Kindergarten brother, but quickly discovered that the age suggestions of 2-7th grade were right on target. This lapbook was a bit too challenging for my Kindergarten student.

Preparation consisted of printing off the lapbook pages in their entirety and then placing them in a file folder. A Journey Through Learning suggests putting all pages in a three ring binder, but we were satisfied with using a file folder. Topics covered within the Autumn lapbook include Fall Equinox, calendar of fall months, science of leaf colors, foods of autumn, fall holidays, vocabulary words associated with fall, nature study activities for the fall, migrating birds, and a few jokes and puzzles for fun.

Each day of study is spent reading through the background information provided and then making a small booklet to reinforce the material learned. For example our second day with the the Autumn Lapbook we read a brief article regarding the Fall Equinox. We looked up the date on our family calendar and discussed in great detail the amount of daylight versus darkness. Next, Sierra created a two little booklets one reviewing the fall equinox and another of small calendar pages. We marked important dates on the calendar pages like her sister's birthday and Sierra's birthday. As we placed the little booklets into the file folder delight settled in Sierra's eyes as the vision of a finished product began to unfold.

A Journey Through Learning states their purpose is to "create delight filled learning experiences". Sierra smiled as she gazed at her lapbook and said, "Can we show this at the Project Fair at the end of the year?" "Absolutely", I said, taking note that this experience was not only delight filled, but memory making all in one.

A Journey Through Learning offers their lapbooks as digital downloads for $13.00, CD’s for $14.00 or printed copies for $21.00. Study guides and other useful suggestions for further topical study are included in each lapbook purchase. Full descriptions and sample pages can be viewed on the company’s website at

Friday, September 25, 2009

Nutrition 101:Choose Life!

Something magical happens when family and friends gather in our kitchen. It’s really remarkable that such a simple experience could have so much power, but I bear witness to it nearly everyday. Stress and troubles of the day disappear as we sit around the table sharing stories and food. Many times meal time is more than just physical nourishment
at our house. It is a time for sharing, laughing, and encouragement, story telling and re-connecting.

It has always been important to me to not only share delicious food with my kids, but to teach them the importance of healthy food choices. When we received Nutrition 101: Choose Life for review I was excited, but my kids were less than impressed. Their initial reaction was similar to the response I get when I remind them “no dessert until you eat your vegetables”. I was thrilled that I now had a full curriculum of intelligent, well researched information to back up my motherly advice.
Nutrition 101: Choose Life published by Growing Healthy Homes is a comprehensive high school level course which can be adapted to use with the whole family. This 280 page curriculum with accompanying 19 additional pages of supplemental activities and 124 pages of appendices is available as a CD Rom e-book for $79.95 or traditional paper book for $99.95 on the Growing Healthy Homes website. Customers can order a CD and paper book combo for $129.95. The text is well designed making use of color photographs, diagrams and drawings where appropriate. Sample pages of the curriculum and an introductory video explaining the purpose of nutrition education can be viewed on the company’s website.

The course is divided into 6 different units which cover the 12 main body systems. Each unit is subdivided into 4 chapters. Our family took one week to complete the reading, discussion, activities and cooking for each chapter.

Nutrition 101: Choose Life is described by the authors as “not a re-hash of biology or science, but a discovery of how the body systems are affected by the foods- good or bad- we eat.” Having recently re-visited high school biology for the 4th time I can testify the authors are accurate in their description. The curriculum is steeped in current recommendations for healthy eating based in scientific fact plus offers practical advice for incorporating these principles through the use of activities and recipes.
For example, Unit 1- The Brain and Nervous System includes detailed description of the structure and function of the brain, information regarding brain health issues, nutrition information for maintaining a healthy brain including a breakdown of saturated and unsaturated fats, omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids, hydrogenated fats and trans fats. Moving beyond the basic scientific information, Nutrition 101 follows with helpful information regarding the food we eat and how it detracts or adds to our desire for optimum health of the body system being studied.

After reading through the information provided in the text families
continue learning about the brain through discussion questions and a multitude of activities divided into categories for elementary and secondary students. The activities are designed to reinforce the material read in the chapter. Our favorite culminating activity by far was testing out the recommended “Power” recipe which always centered on a food choice to support the body system studied. The first chapter, “The Brain” included a recipe for guacamole described as an excellent, and I might add delicious, way to incorporate avocados into our diet. Avocados, we learned, contain healthy fats which support brain health.

We used Nutrition 101: Choose Life as a family unit study. Family members participating ranged in age from 5-45. Due to the in depth nature of the curriculum I found most of the chapter text was just too detailed for younger students, but offered a great deal to students 7th grade and older. The activities brought a hands-on approach to the topics and hopefully taught the younger ones a basic understanding of the concepts being mastered.

Polling the students I found mixed, but interesting opinions regarding the curriculum. Our 8 year old, Sierra, was enthusiastic. “I think it is fun to learn about your body. I like knowing about the things you should eat because they are healthy for your body and the things that you shouldn’t.”

According to Micah, age 12, “It was good information, but it seemed to tell a lot and it was hard to remember everything at some points. It had good recipes to eat!”

Jonah, age 15 said, “It had a lot of good information that I could use. The guacamole recipe was good. I hadn’t had guacamole before and I was surprised that it was so good. I think it would make a good course for high school.”

I was probably the biggest fan of the curriculum finding it fascinating and extremely valuable information. As a mother I struggle with balancing good food choices for my family in a culture with so many bad options. Nutrition 101: Choose Life empowers Moms, Dads and kids in their pursuit of a healthy lifestyle ensuring my family and friends can continue to experience magical meal times for years and years to come.

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Study Pod Book Holder

Do you ever suffer from neck strain while reading? Wishing you had a little “helper” in the kitchen to hold up your recipes? It’s time you discovered StudyPod Book Holder.

As I read through the introductory letter that arrived with my StudyPod Book Holder I knew I had to see it in action to be sold. I tried to imagine when I would need someone to hold a book for me and realized as I stood in my kitchen I had the perfect opportunity to test it out.

Study Pod Book Holder, invented by Phil Rucinski, teacher, is made completely of plastic. An octagon shaped mesh of a slight rubbery type product covers the front and back sides. Rucinski claims he developed the book holder as a form of homework relief. “The STUDYPOD book holder will organize you a bit better, keep your Mac and Cheese off your books, and probably help you finish your homework faster so you can go about doing what you'd rather be doing, instead of your homework”, he states on his website.

Study Pod Book Holder opens like a book and is the size of a standard novel. Its design enables students to improve their study posture by holding textbooks and study sheets at a vertical level. It’s small size and light weight make it extremely portable.

To use the StudyPod simply open it up, slide a little silver metal locking pin to the left to ensure it stays open and fold down two mini shelves/legs with thin metal page holders attached.

Always looking for a “cute factor” I noticed that inside the right hand side of Study Pod Book Holder a spiraling design of famous quotes and trivia was printed in white. Some of the information was inspiring to spur on students and some just fun. My favorite quote was, “High School is a lot like toilet paper. You only miss it when it’s gone”. Kate Kulkova

At first look I thought it a bit flimsy to be capable of holding a large book. My 15 year old brought me his 2 ½ “ thick, 9 x12 Physics textbook for our Study Pod’s test drive. The Study Pod Book Holder met the test holding the massive book securely in a perfect position for vertical study. We quickly noted, however that to utilize the page holders we had to lay Study Pod Book Holder down, place the page holders over the book and then re-adjust the Study Pod Book Holder to its upright position; a bit fussy for Physics study in our opinion.

Our next test for Study Pod Book Holder was met in our kitchen. My 12 year old was testing out a new recipe for breadsticks and needed to keep the 8 ½ x 11 piece of paper the recipe was written on out of flour and other counter debris. Since she was sharing counter space with me she needed a space saving method as well. Study Pod Book Holder to the rescue as we discovered it brilliantly held the paper at a perfect level for constant reference and protected the breadsticks and paper from cross contamination. We unanimously decided that Study Pod Book Holder had found its home in our kitchen as a valuable chef’s tool.

Study Pod Book Holder is available in black, royal blue and pink colors for $19.95. Purchase two or more for only $16.95 each on the Study Pod website which only ships to US and Canada. Readers of this blog should take advantage of coupon code TOSBLOG5 to save $5.00 off their purchase. If you don’t like the Study Pod, no worries, the company offers a “buy it try it” guarantee and will refund your money if you don’t think the Study Pod is amazing.

Although I'm still not sold on utilizing Study Pod Book Holder for reading time our whole family agrees that its use as Chef's helper in the kitchen is unparalleled.

Friday, September 11, 2009

College Prep Genius

I must admit that I am not a big fan of standardized tests. As a homeschool teacher I have avoided them like the plague believing I was a much better judge of my children’s knowledge base than a computer graded test designed to evaluate the norm. As homeschoolers, after all, our family continually walked outside the norm blazing our own trail. My curriculum choices and lessons chosen for my children were made with very little regard to standard time tables and benchmarks set forth by most public and private schools. I never wanted my little ones burdened with test anxiety or focused on scores or ratings. I wanted them to approach their educational endeavors as a joy-filled gift, no something to be mastered and graded. True education, in my opinion, could never be measured by silly little bubble sheets.

Unfortunately, even homeschoolers distrustful of standardized tests must leave the fray and dive in with affection to the standard testing pool as college application time draws near. Most colleges, no matter how progressive in thought, still rely on the information gleaned from the ACT or SAT tests in determining acceptance and scholarship awards. The sometimes thought disposable, PSAT/NMSQT test is currently the only component available to those wishing to be considered for National Merit Scholar status. Prepping for testing success is a game played by the masses and even homeschoolers must suit up if they want to win scholarships and compete with other college bound kids.

Homeschool mom, teacher, author and conference speaker Jean Burk, realized her children would need high SAT scores in order to win scholarship for their pending college education dreams. She determined to discover the logical patterns and test taking strategies of the PSAT/NMSQT and SAT tests. After much research Burk developed a method of using acronyms, other test taking strategies and utilizing lots of practice tests. Her efforts paid off for her two children who according to Burk’s website, scored very well.

“We received 7 trash bags full of scholarship offers from colleges across the country---ALL based on his (her son) PSAT score!!!! My daughter received over $140,000 worth of scholarship offers (including money to study abroad) based on her SAT score. It was an incredible blessing and one that I have been able to share with countless students across America”.

Burk offers her College Prep Genius class throughout the country and describes it as being appropriate for students in grades 8-12. Her website contains locations and schedule of her classes as well as information for those wishing to hire Burk to teach a class in their neighborhood.

Customers desiring a more intimate approach will be thrilled that College Prep Genius materials are now sold at the site’s on-line store for $79.00. Included in the $79.00 cost are a “Master the SAT” DVD starring Burk, College Prep Genius textbook and College Prep Genius workbook; a 30% savings for the set compared to purchasing each item individually. College Prep Genius is offered with a 100% money back guarantee within 30 days of purchase.

I have graduated two daughters from our homeschool. They were both scholarship winners at the college of their choice and are doing very well academically. We did not spend much time preparing for their ACT and SAT testing, but I now wonder what their results might have been if we did. My 15 year old son is on the threshold of PSAT time and will be using College Prep Genius over the next few months for this review and to test Burk’s theories. Burk stresses the importance of PSAT and SAT preparation by stating, “These exams test more than just a student’s ability to answer questions. They test time-management skills, logical aptitude and much more. College Prep Genius helps students pinpoint weak areas of the test by emphasizing the strategic and logical approach to taking the SAT”

Stay tuned……as Jonah and I will post his comments and results at a later date. To satisfy curiosity beforehand visit the College Prep Genius website to read answers to FAQ and testimonies from satisfied customers.

Tuesday, September 8, 2009

Fearless by Max Lucado

Inspiring, personal and honest messages sprinkled with humor make Fearless by Max Lucado a 14 chapter work of non-fiction readers will never want to finish. Each chapter focuses around a different aspect of fear, defining it, reminding readers of the scriptural truths to battle it followed up with a few life stories to make the message real. Lucado covers the topics of child loss, violence, overwhelming challenges, death, facing uncertain futures, separation from God and other fear inducing life circumstances. A discussion guide is included in the book making Fearless an excellent choice for small group study.

I have been a huge fan of Lucado's work for 15 years. My first experience will forever be etched in mind. I rocked my chronically ill baby son during a sleepless night reading chapter after chapter of He Still Moves Stones by Lucado. The words encouraged, inspired and held me close to God as I let go of the troubles surrounding me in the darkness. It was a spiritually powerful night for me and one which sent me searching for more of Lucado's work. From picture books to adult non-fiction titles everything I have ever read by this author has been sure to bring a joy-filled tear to the eye as love, compassion and understanding messages speak to the heart; drawing the reader closer and closer to God. Lucado's classic use of God's wisdom mixed with his own make Fearless a peace filled message of rest and refreshment for a weary soul.

Wednesday, September 2, 2009

Aleks On-line Curriculum

I first became familiar with ALEKS on-line curriculum last spring as a member of the TOS Review Crew. I described ALEKS as a "super hero" for homeschool parents struggling to teach math and science. I am happy to share with readers ALEKS has added even more "super powers" to their curriculum enabling parents to become "super teachers" and kids "super students".

ssessment and Learning in Knowledge Spaces, is a phenomenal web-based assessment and learning tool with tremendous potential to help home educators through the rough and rocky subjects of math and science. ALEKS provides specifically targeted individualized instruction to each subscriber. Through the technology of artificial intelligence it offers a "consistent cycle of assessment and education for students".

ALEKS currently offers tutoring/curriculum in math for grades K-12 and a few science courses designated as high school level. ALEKS is completely on-line and therefore accessible from any computer with internet access. Subcribers are provided with information enabling them to compare the curriculum content of ALEKS with their State’s standards, use of math fact drill options sections keeping learning progress moving and access to detailed information of student progress through Master Accounts; making record keeping and evaluations a snap!

ALEKS offers instruction and tutoring for:

K-12 Mathematics
Quick Tables, a part of some elementary courses is a "research based math facts mastery tool". Students and parents utilize Quick Tables to drill a range of 0-12 math facts in addition, subtraction, multiplication and division. Quick Tables use begins with a brief assessment which identifies problem areas through the use of a color coded key table. There is no need to drill mastered facts as the artificial intelligence built into ALEKS will keep track of facts mastered coloring in the key table as progress is made. Students make use of the "Learning Mode" section of Quick Tables which teaches students facts still needing mastery. The actual drill work is accomplished as a part of Quick Tables "Interactive Games". Students are rewarded with new games each time they demonstrate mastery of previous ones. According to the ALEKS website drill ensures students move the math facts knowledge from short-term to long-term memory.

A subscription to ALEKS is available to homeschool families on a per student basis for $19.95 per student, $99.95 for six months or $179.95 for one year. Additional discounts for up to six children in a family are available for those purchasing six or twelve month subscriptions. For those skeptics wishing a trial run before commiting, ALEKS offers a free one month trial. Subscriptions and trial offers can be accessed on the ALEKS website at

The next time you start to quiver and shake at the thought of math or science instruction remember your secret weapon. There is no need for a single moment of worry or doubt. ALEKS has been designed with you in mind.