Wednesday, October 22, 2014

A TOS Review: German for Middle School!

I took a few years of Spanish in High School. I always think I understand more than I really do. Thankfully, I haven't had much opportunity to embarrass myself completely. At least not trying to speak a language that is not native to me. 

Nevertheless, it is my desire for Josiah to have a second language. He had a brief course in French and has had more Spanish instruction. I can help him just a little there, but once he gets past asking for directions to the bathroom I am at a loss. 

Let's just say I need all the help I can get with foreign language instruction. I was recently blessed with the opportunity to review a quality online program. The German Language Course (Middle School 1) from Middlebury Interactive  Languages

I received a 6-month subscription to the program. Middle School German 1 is intended for Grades 6-8. It is an interactive introductory course. A prerequisite wasn't required. 

The program is structured around  listening, speaking, reading and writing. Students are introduced to German speaking countries, which includes history, food and literature. It is aligned to the national standards of the American Council on the Teaching of Foreign Languages. 

There are programs available for grades k-12 in Spanish, French, German and Chinese. The Middle and High programs have a total of 90 lessons per semester. The recommendation is that the student complete one lesson per day for 18 weeks. 

Our schedule permitted us to work through the program 3 days a week. It is a self-paced program and Josiah just does better at a slower pace. 

A single semester course costs $119. You are also given the option to take the course with teacher support from Middlebury Interactive. That class is an addition $175 making the total $249.

All you need is a reliable internet connection and a working computer. You also need headphones or speakers. There is a recording option on some of the labs, but we didn't use it. Josiah and I worked through it together so I was able to make pronunciation suggestions. Actually, he has a better accent than I do. 

How We Used It

German 1 for Middle School is divided into 9 Units with a Midterm and a Final. Each Unit has 10 lessons with a variety of activities. Every lesson gives the student an opportunity to practice what they are learning, as well as interactive activities. They might vary, but I appreciate the "game" aspect of some of them. Josiah is all about video games. 

I let Josiah choose what language he would like to explore. As I mentioned, he has taken Spanish and a brief course in French. I had my concerns when he chose German (I'll explain in a minute). I think he was excited to get started. He has an aunt who is originally from Germany as well as 2 cousins who took German in High School. In fact, one of those cousins is actually majoring in German in college. 

I decided I would work along with him through the program. Josiah is dyslexic and learning French proved problematic for him. I researched it a little bit and found out that German is actually a more transparent language than French or English. There might be some difficulties down the road with German (such as gender of nouns, multiple constant combination and unfamiliar word order). I decided that for the purpose of this review that it would be fun for him to give it a try. 

I want to share with you some screen shots of the very first lesson. The activities may vary with every lesson, but the lessons still work through the four language skills of listening, speaking, reading and writing. 

I like that I can see (on the left-hand side) what we've done or what we still need to work on. This screen shows me the Objectives for Unit 1. 

This is a Vocabulary Guide. They are greetings and farwells. Not to worry. The student doesn't learn these in all one lesson. The little green dot next to each phrase is actually a sound icon. We are able to click on it to hear pronunciation. 

This screen is the Vocabulary Intro. It instructs us to listen to the audio sample and identify any words that we might recognize. I liked that this would could follow along with the conversation. We didn't learn the phrases in isolation. 

This screen gives us plenty of practice with greetings. We were required to guess what each phrase might mean. Because there are German words that sound like English ones some of these were pretty easy! We practiced these a lot. 

This is a matching game. We had to drag the German word to the corresponding picture.  This activity is completed, but we have done it a few times. There is an icon that lets me reset the activity. 

The Speaking Lab allows the student to record themselves speaking. We didn't use this feature, but I think it's pretty cool. 

And that's it for the first lesson. All in all the lessons take about 20-25 minutes. We have repeated a few. Josiah and I both do better with some repetition. 

In fact, that is one thing I appreciate a program like Middlebury Interactive. In a classroom a student must move at the pace the teacher or class set. I personally was the kind of student who didn't ask for help when I needed it. I didn't want to appear clueless. 

We can be as clueless as we need to be here!  We could move at a pace that was comfortable for us. 

Middlebury also introduces the student to German grammar. Now this was a bit more difficult for Josiah to grasp. I was expecting that. What made it a little easier was that he wasn't required to read pages of text. He could hear what was expected. The jury is still out on how productive our efforts will be. But at least it hasn't been completely a fail. 

One bonus (that I really, really appreciated) with this course is the culture and historical aspects we learn along the way. We even get to practice with maps. 

You can see one such activity below. 

On the whole I have been very impressed with Middlebury Interactive. I think it is a fun and engaging way to learn a foreign language. 

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Tuesday, October 21, 2014

Autumn Leaves (A Unit Study)

I love Autumn. It is my very favorite time of year. Don't get me wrong. I love my flip flops, but there is something about the Fall that makes me happy.

This week I've started adding some fall touches to my house. Fall is also a terrific time for some easy nature studies.A few years back, my Dad and Josiah collected leaves for a leaf collection. They walked about the farm...carefully collecting their specimens.

I can't for the life of me remember where we put the thing. Anyhoo.

Leafs are especially fun to study. For one...they are free! We live in the Ozarks and the change of season has brought with it beautiful colors and smells. Everywhere we look is a project or experiment waiting to happen.

This year I'm keeping it simple. A few fun activities, some beautiful poetry, lovely music and wonderful art.

Draw a leaf and identify the parts.  Just label using this link.

Create your own leaf identification field guide. You can gather leaves and label them in a notebook. If you want to preserve the leaves you can use any of these methods.

How about some leaf science? Try this fun science experiment on why leaves change colors.

 We created leaf art just a few weeks ago using watercolors with our friends. My mom had found the project in her Martha Stewart magazine. The results were quite lovely. I promise a blog post soon. I've kind of had just a few things going on!

Speaking of art...Do an picture study. This is Vincent Van Gogh's, Reaper. 

Or use Claude Monet. Autumn at Argenteuil. 

 Get inspired by great poetry. This link will provide a whole list of poems. I personally like this one by Emily Bronte. 

Fall, leaves, fall
Fall, leaves, fall; die, flowers, away;
Lengthen night and shorten day;
Every leaf speaks bliss to me
Fluttering from the autumn tree.
I shall smile when wreaths of snow
Blossom where the rose should grow;
I shall sing when night’s decay

Ushers in a drearier day.

 I love adding classical music to any of our studies. Here are a few of my favorite compositions for Autumn. 

This one is the String Quartet No. 15 in A Minor, Op. 132: III. Molto adagio (Beethoven). This one is also called the Song of Thanksgiving. Beethoven composed it after recovering from a life-threatening illness. 

A ode to Autumnal compositions wouldn't be complete without The Four Seasons, Concerto 3: L’Autumno by Vilvadi. 

Vivaldi also wrote Sonnets for each movement of the Four Seasons.  For this movement: “The mild pleasant air makes all abandon dance and song; this is the season that invites all to the sweet delights of peaceful sleep”. Word. 

Here is another from a "Seasons" collection. It is one of 12 by Tchaikovsky. The Seasons, October: Song of Autumn (Tchaikovsky)

This next selection is not necessarily about Autumn. It is the Firebird Suite by Stravinsky. It is based on a Russian Folktale. 

Based on a Russian folktale, The Firebirdtells the story of Prince Ivan’s encounter with “a fabulous bird with plumage of fire.”  The bird gives Ivan a magic feather that he may use in the face of danger.  Afraid of being turned to stone by an evil King, Ivan uses the magic feather and the Firebird appears to help him.  In the “Berceuse and Finale”, the Firebird frees all who have been turned to stone, and Ivan wins the hand of a lovely princess.

It's good listening for a blustery fall day. 

Of course, your Autumn Leaf study wouldn't be complete without something great to read. This resource is a good one if you are looking for reviews. 

My favorite way to look for good books is to go to the library and see whatever strikes our fancy. Josiah and I gather up a whole stack and read to our hearts content. I know. I'm a lot of help. 

I'm closing with my favorite hot drink recipe for a chilly, fall evening. I have had to make a sugar free version, but this is drink is so wonderful. I can't even tell you. It will make you smack your lips. 

I posted it back a few years ago. I'm sharing it again today.  

Friendship Tea Mix
 (also called Russian Tea Mix)

18 ounces Tang drink mix

1 cup instant iced tea

2 cups granulated sugar

1 package powdered lemonade mix

1 1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon

3/4 teaspoon ground cloves

Mix and place into a covered jar or other container. For hot tea mix 2/3 tablespoon to 1 cup of hot water. For iced tea mix substitute cold water and pour over ice.

It is a great recipe to use for practice measuring. And it would be a great present to make and take it shut-ins and neighbors. Or your friendly, neighborhood blogger. 

I am linking up to the Autumn Homeschool Studies Blog Carnival at Schoolhouse Crew

Autumn Homeschool Studies

A TOS Review: Standard Deviants Accelerate

We haven’t actually studied nutrition formally.

Unless you count “I don’t think green frosting is considered a breakfast food.”

We recently had a chance to review Standard Deviants Accelerate Homeschool Courses through Standard Deviants Accelerate. I thought Josiah would benefit from a fun nutrition course, so I signed him up for the Nutrition class intended for grades 6 +.

I was fairly certain that green frosting wouldn’t be on their Top Ten List for Healthy Foods.

Standard Deviants Accelerate (SDA) is a online education resource primarily used as a supplement. I have used a few of their clips on Youtube, myself. The courses (as far as I can tell) are self-paced. I received a full year subscription and had quite a few options to choose from.

Subscription choices are:

Arithmetic – Grades 3+
Fundamental Math – Grades 4+
Earth Science – Grades 6+
Nutrition – Grades 6+
Algebra – Grades 7+
Biology – Grades 7+
Chemistry – Grades 9+
English Comp. – Grades 9+
U.S. History – Grades 9+
AP Biology – Grades 11+
AP Chemistry – Grades 11+
AP U.S. Government & Politics – Grades 11+
AP U.S. History – Grades 11+
AP Eng. Composition – Grades 11+

I did take a meander through a few of the other courses, but we focused on Nutrition. 

For the regular Standard Deviants courses, homeschoolers can purchase the course (for one student) for $99 a year or $24.95 a month. There are AP courses available as well. Those courses are available for $14.95 a month (for one student).

For the course I needed a reliable internet connection, my trusty laptop and an email account for Josiah. 

 There are 8 chapters within the curriculum. Each lesson contains the same kinds of activities. I want to show you how it works and give you an idea about how I used it.

The Nutrition Course covers the following topics.


Josiah is currently “taking” Nutrition 3 days a week. We are using it as one of his electives. The lessons generally take him about 20-25 minutes….sometimes he wants (or needs) to watch the video again.

Each lesson contains a video, vocabulary, diagram and quiz section. 

You can print a full transcript of the videos. There is also a place the student can take notes while watching the video. The student is then able to save those notes to their “Locker.” Josiah did take a few notes during our review period. I had to watch him, however. He decided that it was a good spot to write down his favorite video game playlist.

The Vocabulary section has important words along with the definition. I appreciated the audio feature. Josiah was able to review the words as needed.

The Diagram section has drag/drop activities to practice what the student has learned.

 The Quiz is where Josiah can learn if he has “learned” the material. There is immediate feedback on the quiz. 

In fact, if you get an incorrectly there is a short video with a correct answer available for viewing.

This is the view of the the Locker. Josiah can take a look at all of his work right here. I never remember my Locker in school being so cool...or so fragrance free. 

At the end of each chapter there is a review section. There are a variety activities available to try. They take into account different learning styles.

Many of the activities are for groups, but I think they can be adapted for a single student if you choose to use them. 

There is also a post test and critical thinking questions for each chapter.

My Thoughts

This program was a lot of fun for Josiah. The videos are clever and humorous. They kept him engaged. He did have to repeat the lessons. He does better when he can mull over things a bit. 

It was incredibly easy for me to use. There wasn’t any prep work…at all. It was a bit harder for me to figure out how to check on his work, but that could be because of old brain cells. 

On the flip side I am not so sure how much he is actually learning. His quiz results have been hit and miss. He is dyslexic and some of the terminology has been more challenging for him to navigate. I am not opposed to assisting him where necessary. 

Unless there is Green Frosting involved. 

On the whole I think this program is an excellent alternative to traditional education. The videos are extremely well made and the interactive aspect of the lessons really appeal to my techy guy. 

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Friday, October 17, 2014

Just a cup of water....

It's been a rough week. I have been having a few physical issues. Nothing life threatening..thankfully. I'm just moving a bit slower than usual. I also feel like I'm working on fewer and fewer brain cells.

Don't even go there.

Every Thursday morning, Josiah and I drive to my friend's house for our "Reading Buddy Club." I teach a class for 4 smiling faces of all ages and sizes.  This week we worked on notebooking journals about our recent field trip to The George Washington Carver National Monument.

This morning I rolled over and grabbed my phone to check the time. I hadn't set my alarm the night before. Through blurry eyes I could see I was running late.

I literally creaked my way out of bed.

Have I mentioned it's been a rough week?

Josiah was already up and chipper. The stinker.

I didn't even bother to put on my make-up. I threw on the first pair of pants I could find with a stretchy band and rummaged around in my drawers for a shirt that wouldn't require me to suck in my gut.

I tossed down my morning meds and with Josiah in tow, headed out the door.

On the way I found out my CD player isn't working.

 So much for listening to that book on CD we need to get finished.

I also discovered I needed to get gas.

Thank goodness Josiah can pump gas.

I could tell it was going to be a gorgeous day. I frankly wasn't in the mood.

Even the sunshine seemed like an affront.

We reached my friend's house and the kids came out to greet us.

Bright eyed. Cheerful. Welcoming.

Josiah's friend (who is 10) had already set the table with our notebooks and pencils.

He had also filled for us big glasses of water.

He had thoughtfully filled a Cardinals glass for Josiah. He knows Josiah loves sports.

My glass was covered with Santa Clause and Christmas Trees.

The water was also warm.

Really warm.

I tried not to grimace as I sipped my water. "Mmm, Thank you!"

Such a sweetie. I can't tell you how much just that gesture touched my heart. It didn't take the ache from my bones nor the weariness from my body. But it did soothe my soul...just a bit.

Sometimes we think that we need to show thoughtfulness in grand gestures. We decide that if we can't do something spectacular we can't do anything at all.

This young man doesn't have the resources to make my rough week go any smoother. He can't heal my body. He doesn't have the finances to fill my bank account. He can't provide for me opportunities to help me fulfill God's calling on my life.

His parents are doing something right. They are teaching him to give what he has. To be a servant. And to anticipate the need's of another.

Isn't that what God asks of all of us?

Consider what it says in Matthew 10:42.

 And if anyone gives even a cup of cold water to one of these little ones who is my disciple, truly I tell you, that person will certainly not lose their reward.”
I am not comparing my lot to that of Peter or John. 

I fail. So many times I fail.

May God help me to take my eyes off of what I am suffering. May He help me focus on those around me who just might need a (warm) cup of water. Or a smile. Or a good word.

This isn't anything I have to wait to do. I can do it today. This very minute.

It's something to think about it.

Just a little note: When we got home today I crashed. When I got up from my nap I noticed a big glass of water next to me on the bedside table. Now I hadn't said a word about how much my little friend had blessed me this morning by making sure I had water. Josiah had just taken it upon himself to provide me with a glass of water for when I got up. It further confirmed what God had been speaking to me about in my heart. made this mama's heart glad. ;<)

Thursday, October 16, 2014

A Review: Family Toolbox

Umm. My son is going to be a teenager. NEXT MONTH!

I'm in denial, really.

For one, I am not old enough to be the mother of a teenager (a-hem) and it was just yesterday that I was snapping up Josiah into his cute little onesies.

It's not that I dread the passing of time. This isn't my first rodeo with teenagers. My husband and I spent 7 rewarding and fruitful years as youth pastors before senior pastoring. They were great years...they were also challenging years.

But I haven't actually parented one (a teenager) yet.

I was excited to be able to part of the launch team for the Family Toolbox. It is a resource for teens and their parents from the National Center for Biblical Parenting. 

It really is easy peasy to use. 

I received a DVD and workbook for review. There are 8 lessons in the package. 

  • Lesson 1 - It starts with the Heart
  • Lesson 2 - Following Instructions Well 
  • Lesson 3 - Handling Pressure without losing your cool
  • Lesson 4 - Value of Correction
  • Lesson 5 - The importance of Responsibility
  • Lesson 6 - Accepting No as an answer
  • Lesson 7 - Dealing with your own Anger
  • Lesson 8 - Consider the Needs of Others

During the course of the lessons we learn these 16 Life Principles. 

  1. Be Respectful Even When It's Hard.
  2. Develop Internal Motivation
  3. Develop Healthy Habits for Following Instructions
  4. Look for Ways to Contribute to Family Life.
  5. Solve Problems Instead of Generating Conflict.
  6. Instead of Sarcasm Develop the Skills of a Peacemaker
  7. Learn to Value Correction.
  8. Apologize Well.
  9. Develop a Plan for Being Responsible.
  10. Take Responsibility for Your Mistakes.
  11. Train Yourself to Accept No as an Answer.
  12. Avoid Arguing.
  13. View Your Family as a Team and Look for Ways to Work Together.
  14. Learn Self-Control to Manage Anger.
  15. Practice Flexibility When Plans Change.
  16. Learn to Handle Unfairness Well.

The DVD segments are divided into two parts. The first part is for parents only. This is a 10-minute talk with host Gerado Davila with Dr. Scott Turansky and Joanne Miller, RN, BSN. They give practical advice to help us parents deal with these tricky topics. 

The second part is a 2-minute dramatized interaction between families. 

The Workbook contains material providing discussion questions, etc. There is a parent page, discussion questions, biblical references and more. 

I sat down and watched the parenting segments. Ouch. It isn't that the segments are harsh or unforgiving. They are extremely helpful and encouraging. 

I just needed to hear some things...

The first lesson deals with issues of the heart. Mama's heart needs to some work, as well. We are not perfect parents, by any means. Thank goodness for God's grace!

And thank goodness He equips us with wisdom like the kind found in the Family Toolbox. 

Just breathe in and out. And take one day at a time. 

There are a few ways you can purchase the Family Toolbox. I have even used a lesson last week in our Teen Small Group. 

I can't tell you what a blessing it is to have this awesome resource as part of my own personal toolbox. 

A TOS Review: iWitness Books (explore Bible history!)

In our house history is the favorite subject. Unless, Xbox is considered a “subject.” Which I am guessing it’s not.

I, myself, have always loved history. When I was younger I wanted to be an archaeologist. One Christmas, my parents bought me a really cool book about ancient Egypt. I poured over the pages and planned my ‘round the world adventure.

haven't  had the opportunity to travel ‘round the world, but I still enjoy reading about early cultures and peoples.

Josiah and I got to review the neatest history resources recently.  

When the IWitness Books from Apologia Educational Ministries arrived in my mailbox I once again found myself pouring over the pages of some fascinating history.  Not only that, but these books are filled with historical and archaeological references and resources that point to the infallible truth of Scripture. 

Who would guess that 3 little books would be packed full of such intriguing stuff? We received iWitness Biblical Archaeology ($14.00), Old Testament iWitness ($14.00) and New Testament iWitness ($14.00). They can be read by independent readers ages 11 and up, but can be enjoyed as read alouds with the whole crew.

I decided that Josiah and I would read these books together. 

I left it up to Josiah to what book we would dive into first. He chose iWitness Old Testament.  I need to first tell you that my father is a Biblical Languages Scholar. I have heard him speak about many interesting and intriguing facts about Bible history. There was plenty in this book I had never heard before. I was just as fascinated by the material as Josiah.

Mr. Powell shared with us how the Jewish Scribes came up with meticulous practices and rules when copying the text. The scribes even had to follow rules about bathing and wearing certain clothes.
(On a side note. I’m considering implementing that rule myself. Young teenage boys!)
The books also contains some really neat Archaeological finds.

This is a picture in the books of the Tel Dan Stele which is from the 9th century BC. It part of a victory monument discovered in Israel. It is significant because it mentions the House of David.

Old Testament iWitness also has a wonderful timeline (love the timelines!).

New Testament iWitness is just as neat. As a Christian, I was probably a bit more familiar with some of the information. A few years ago, I took a summer Greek class my Dad offered. I have to tell you that I didn’t learn much Greek, but I did zero in on some fascinating Bible history. Sorry, Dad!

The criteria for what was placed in the “Canon” is just fascinating. Did you know that a book had to be written by an apostle or companion of the apostle who accurately recorded his teaching? Or that the book had to be written while the apostles were still alive?

This is just a picture of one of the oldest fragments of the New Testament. It comes from the Gospel of John. It is dated AD 125-130.

Another interesting tidbit is that we have more copies of the New Testament than any other ancient book.  5813! In fact, I seem to remember Homer’s Illiad being required reading There are only 1757 copies of it.

I loved, loved iWitness Biblical Archaeology. Doug Powell tells us that the world uses archaeology to argue against the Bible. Here he has given us some information that helps us understand Bible history better and introduces us to some great archaeological finds.

A recent movie (no need to mention any names) was about a Great Flood. Another reading assignment I had in college was of Gilgamesh. It is a Babylonian flood story. Naysayers generally dismiss the Biblical account of Noah as such mythology also. I loved the whole section and the search for Noah’s Ark. Fascinating stuff!

There is so much more!

We are also given information about the times and travels of Jesus. This picture is of Peter’s house. It was discovered in 1968.

My Thoughts

These are gorgeous books overall.  The struggling reader will have a harder time with them. The fonts used made it difficult for my dyslexic boy to read them on his own. However, I personally loved the use of the photographs, paintings and historical finds. They have the look of a scrapbook. I also like how pieces of information are divided among scraps of paper and scrolls. They really are a visual history story. 

I also used the book in our Teen Small Group at church. The information was easily accessible and so interesting.  I can see myself going back to them time and time again.

I love having all these resources in one (or three!) handy location. There is so much good stuff. I think you will be inspired.

Take a minute to read this interview with Doug Powell, the author of the iWitness books. He actually is an accomplished musician as well! 

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