Wednesday, October 22, 2014

Middlebury Interactive Languages - Chinese Courses: A TOS Crew Review

Middlebury Interactive Languages Review

Ni Hao from Middlebury Interactive Languages - Chinese Courses - $119 per semester (w/out teacher) - $175 (w/teacher)

This immersive approach will captivate your children, and have them excited to learn a new language, in the most user friendly, and effective manner.  Designed by linguistic experts, Middlebury has been training the mastery and fluency of world languages with a proven approach, helping educators, diplomats and many more to make deep connections with other cultures through languages from around the world.

Middlebury Interactive Languages Review
This program offers full semester courses for grades K-12.

All levels are self-paced, so the student can speed ahead or slow down as needed.

The Bentz Test Laboratory was excited to get a chance to check out the middle  school Chinese Courses by Middlebury Interactive Languages.  My tester is my 6th grade daughter, who wants to one day be a missionary to China.   She's been begging to learn Chinese - so this was a golden opportunity!  

Middlebury Interactive Languages ReviewMiddle School Chinese 1 is an interactive online program for grades 6-8 that targets four key language skills: listening, speaking, reading and writing. Students are introduced to vocabulary themes, grammar concepts, sentence structure plus culture through detailed online instruction, guided learning and progress at their own pace.  This program has a total of 90 lessons per semester, with the recommendation that students complete a lesson per day for 18 weeks.  Introduction to Chinese-speaking countries, as well as history, food, and literature, heightens cultural awareness and appreciation of the Chinese-speaking world. Both Chinese characters and pinyin are presented together throughout the course.

Middlebury Interactive Languages Review

It's easy to get started, and best of all -  mom doesn't need to know Chinese!

It's easy to log-on to the online program where my tester could see a calendar of lessons and begin learning.  This is an immersive approach, much like how you learned to speak your native language.  Words are introduced with colorful pictures and real-life scenarios to make it very engaging.  A variety of activities accompany each lesson.  She was able to complete a lesson in under 15 minutes, so - you could do more than one lesson a day if you wanted to.

My tester was able to print vocabulary sheets that contained the Chinese characters, pronunciation and English translation.  These were helpful to have handy as she worked through the online lesson.

Many times, I joined her - just to watch how she was doing.  I must say, I was impressed by how much Chinese I was beginning to recognize!

Middlebury Interactive Languages Review

The program automatically scores activities and  keeps track of your progress, so - you can return right where you left off. Chinese is a very difficult language to learn, so even just the exposure to it and the Chinese culture was well worth the investment in the program.  My tester found that she needed to listen, and relisten to certain phrases or words - this was easy to do in the self-paced format.

Middlebury offers 4 language courses :Spanish CoursesFrench Courses,  German Courses & Chinese Courses.  They're a great way to expose your children to the world - without leaving home!

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Monday, October 20, 2014

Standard Deviants Accelerate Homeschool Courses from Standard Deviants Accelerate: A TOS Crew Review

Standard Deviants Accelerate Review
Standard Deviants Accelerate Review

Standard Deviants Accelerate Homeschool Courses from  Standard Deviants Accelerate

Standard Deviants Accelerate ReviewOnline courses available in:
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+

Ages 8 through adult 

$99 for a year, or $24.95 per month (one student).  
AP test prep courses are available for one student for $14.95 per month

I've got two questions for you - 
1. Do you have any middle or high school students? 
2. Do you have plenty of extra time lying around to search out great supplements and high interest learning tools to keep them motivated and eager to learn? 

 If you answered "yes" to my first question, and "no" to my second - you may want to check out Standard Deviants Accelerate Homeschool Courses from  Standard Deviants Accelerate

These are 14 unique, online, supplemental courses in math, science, history, composition and even AP test prep.   designed to capture their interest and keep them excited to learn! 

 I just love this quote about their approach: "It’s simple:  Teach, Test, Re-teach, Laugh, Rinse and Repeat. It’s a teaching system that emphasizes both breadth and depth of knowledge, instructing students on a thorough range of topics while continuing to engage them in higher levels of thinking."

The tester from the Bentz Test Laboratory is a 9th grade high school genius (just a bit of bragging...sorry!)  It's relatively easy to set up an online learning classroom.  Once you have done this, your child needs their own  email to complete this step, you can easily add the courses they are interested in.

For our review, my tester used the Algebra and Biology courses, since he is already studying these subjects.  Standard Deviants is not intended to be full curriculum, but it makes a great supplement!  Since it's online and self-paced, my tester could pick and choose what topics he wanted or needed to spend more time on. A general course outline makes it easy to see what topics are available.  

In addition to short 3-15 minute instruction videos, the program offers review activities, quizzes, writing assignments, and tests.  

My tester is a tad too serious (keepin' it real) and he found the videos a bit goofy.  I'm sure many kids this age would LOVE them - I thought they were hilarious and CLEVER!  

One of the best features of the program, in my opinion, is the use of humor and plenty of silly characters to help teach the concepts and make them stick.  I wish someone had taught me RAINBOW math during algebra ;-)   I love adding some zany humor now and then, just to keep us laughing! 

My tester enjoyed the humor, in spite of himself, and really liked getting to pick and choose what suited his needs.  This is a fun program, but - there is plenty of serious learning going on as well.  

We took a peek at almost all of the 14 available courses.  I thought each was well done, and plan to go back and integrate Standard Deviants into more of my student's assignments.  One note of caution - Standard Deviants is not produced or taught from a Christian worldview - your students will hear evolution and big bang theory... but, you can also choose to skip those parts easily.

You can choose to print off hard copies, or work online - or both.  My tester really liked the flexibility of this program.  I was impressed by the depth of information.  

The grading for most of the student's work is done online.  ALL of the prep work is done for you - you don't have to spend hours looking for high interest teaching tools!  Standard Deviants makes it easy on you as the teacher.  Check out this video to learn more about how the Teacher Account works: 

This is an effective tool, especially for your visual or auditory learners.  It's engaging and easy to use.  I would recommend taking a peek at it yourself!

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Standard Deviants Accelerate Review

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Tuesday, October 14, 2014

Apologia Educational Ministries : A TOS Crew Review

Apologia Review

iWitness Biblical Archaeology - $14 ,  New Testament iWitness- $14 & Old Testament iWitness - $14   from Apologia Educational Ministries

Apologia ReviewApologia Review

The iWitness series 
from Apologia Educational Ministries, recommended for ages 11 up a series that presents Biblical information in a fun, fresh way.   Each book is designed to look like a stack of documents.   Your student gets to investigate them and explore for answers on their own.

Instead of being a dusty textbook approach, your student gets challenged to look for answers on their own.  These books tackle many of the most common questions they may get challenged on as Christians, or even have themselves.  By getting them involved in looking for the answers, you get them to really own the information.  These books just beg to be explored!

The interview with the author - Doug Powell,  is an excellent place to find out more about his unique perspective and approach.

The Bentz Test Laboratory tester is my newly turned 15 (gulp) high school son.  My tester is fascinated with archaeology, so iWitness Biblical Archaeology immediately captured his attention.

The book is jam packed with information! Investigations of artifacts from the Flood to Jesus' Burial Shroud entralled him. Each section has a number of tidbits of information, plenty of pictures, and lots of evidence to explore. We both love how examining the evidence leads us closer to God. History is his story revealed to us, and this book does a great job of creating a desire to know even more.

New Testament iWitness takes you on a exploration of the Early church leaders, like Athansius and Eusebius, what criteria was used to create the canon of Scripture, the Church Fathers, the copying of Scripture, texual criticisms, information about recovered texts. 

This was a fascinating look at the Bible and how we got it. Since we had just studied this time period last year in history, it was even more appealing to my tester. I highly recommend this for all history students!

Old Testament iWitness tackles some important questions like - Who wrote the books of the Bible and where did they come from? How can we know the Old Testament is historically accurate?

The Tanakh, Canon, Septuagint, Torah, Nevim, Ketuvim, Apocrypha, & Vulgate are all explained and investigated.

Information about the prophets, Dead Sea Scrolls and Intertestimental Periods are introduced as well. Ever wonder why some books were included, and some not?  This books does a great job showing how carefully Scripture has traveled down time to us.  My tester and I,  enjoyed learning about this rich history of the Old Testament.

The books in the series are very nicely done with solid information and lots of visual interest. The combination of photographs, sidebars, and artwork create an invitation to study them.  My tester's only criticism was that the fonts used sometimes made the text hard to read (he's kinda picky that way...) many of the fonts are designed to look "handwritten".  In my opinion - it just added charm to the book.   These are great additions to your Bible study, and to your history studies.  In fact, these are they type of books you don't want to miss!

I personally love how Apologia keeps bringing us great tools to teach our children with - thank you for another homerun.  Our Bible study time has come alive with this new series.  We can't wait two new volumes in the series to be released in 2015. (Resurrection and Jesus iWitness books)

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Sunday, October 12, 2014

Take the Time to Shoot!

I have to tell you,  sometimes you just got to take the time to shoot!

My awesome son just turned 15,  he's way into archery.  So, for his birthday - I took him to the Archery Academy and signed him up for the membership.  Yep, card carrying Texan Archers!  His membership includes me... and some siblings too.

I was thinking, I'll just sit and watch....  But, not this day!  The attendant asked if I wanted to shoot too?  What?  I haven't done that since I was a kid.  But, since I didn't want to grade papers anyway...  I gave it a try.

Guess what?  I GOT A BULLSEYE!!  Yes, I did! (yes, I made this picture extra large so you couldn't miss it!)

I hate to admit this, but my next shot almost took out the air conditioner at the shooting range...

But, you get my point - you just got to shoot - or you'll never get a bullseye.  Not to mention, you can make unforgettable memories with your teenage son :-)

Thursday, October 9, 2014

Essay Rock Star Textual Analysis Writing Course by Fortuigence: A TOS Crew Review

Fortuigence Review
This is ideal for ages 12-18.  Cost: $57 per semester

Does teaching your teenage students to write well make you quiver in fear?  You don't have to worry anymore - they can become rockstars at writing, even if you have doubts about your writing ability.  Essay Rock Star Textual Analysis Writing Course from Fortuigence takes the fear out of writing at the upper levels.

Each semester long Essay Rock Star writing program has four writing units and takes about four weeks to complete.  The four semesters cover:
The author and founder, Lily Iatridis will become your teenager's guide through each step in the writing process.  This helps take the burden of being the one to critique your student's writing off of your shoulders, and we all know how much our teens LOVE our constructive feedback, right?
The Bentz Test Laboratory tester for this course was my 11th grade son.  He's a strong writer, due to plenty of positive teaching and encouragement from talented moms in our previous Co-op (thank you KCA!).  However, we just moved, and it's just us learning together again.  I was excited at the prospect of having someone to help guide us through this year's writing.
We choose the Essay Rock Star Textual Analysis Writing Course for our review.  What is "Textual Analysis"?  Well, "Whenever a student is told to write a review on someone else’s work, that is a textual analysis essay."   Most definitely, an essential skill for heading off to college level work! This course consists of 7 sequential lessons.  By the end of the course, your student will have .125 of composition credit for the completion of each of the four Rock Star courses -- a complete .5 credit in all.
Essay Rock Star courses are offered online so that your students can go at their own pace, work on the course at whatever time of day they want.  The best part of this method is that they are still able to get feedback and direct interaction with the instructor whenever they need it as well.  It's truly like having your own personal "on-demand" writing tutor.

It was very easy to set up.  All you need is a personal email address for your student (recommended that it's one you can monitor) and Essay Rock Star will set up their personal online classroom.    The online class room consists of video lessons, text, PDF printable pages, and assignments.  Their assignments are submitted online.  The instructor responds to their assignment personally via email within 24 hours, and then "unlocks" the next steps in the lesson.

My tester found it very easy to use.  I introduced him to it, and turned him loose.  If your student ever has a question about a lesson, all they have to do is click on the “Ask A Question of the Instructor” prompt - and they can correspond directly with the instructor.  This was great training for how college course are going to be managed. This was an added bonus lesson being learned by my tester in addition to improving his writing. 

Essay Rock Star courses follow a Five Step Writing Process:
  • Step 1: Brainstorming - different activities are used for each type of essay assignment,

  • Step 2: Organization - main and supporting ideas are chosen and organized into an outline,

  • Step 3: Free Writing - here students write their first free written draft with attention focused not on grammar but on explaining their thoughts and ideas,

  • Step 4: Revision - students do major structural revision to their essays as well as craft a thesis statement, introduction and conclusion, and

  • Step 5: Editing - we review grammar, punctuation, spelling and mechanics issues in detail until a finished product is complete.

I was genuinely impressed with the level of effort that my tester put forth.  He was eager to please the instructor, and to get positive feedback,  not something I always get from him.  Her feedback was very encouraging, and helpful.  I could tell by her comments that she was investing time on monitoring his personal progress - and not just putting in some "canned" type comments.  The instructor began by asking for a sample of my tester's writing.  Building from that she was able to guide him through the process to complete an AP worthy essay! 

We're looking forward to completing all of the Essay Rock Star courses this year.  I'm breathing a sigh of relief, and my tester is really excited to tackle some other writing challenges.

With their Guarantee - you have nothing to lose - I think you'll enjoy a break from shouldering the writing burden for awhile, and your teen will learn some valuable writing skills from a trusted teacher.
SP - ERS - Gold Guarantee Seal

"Our Guarantee - If you purchase the course and find it isn’t a good fit for your teen’s learning style, we’ll give you a full refund up to 14 days after they start the course. You can purchase the course now and start it when your schedule allows. Once your teen does begin, 14 days gives them enough time to do at least two lessons and get a good feel for our teaching method and online classroom system. On the other hand, if we discover that your teen isn’t ready to take the course yet, we will also give you a full refund or a full credit to take an Essay Rock Star course with us when they are ready."
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Tuesday, September 30, 2014

Fix-It Grammar from Institute for Excellence in Writing: A TOS Crew Review

Fix It! Grammar Review
Fix It! Grammar Review
Fix It! Grammar Review  
For grades 3-12 - use this handy placement test  to see where to start.  Watch the Webinar to see how this is a fresh new approach to grammar instruction.
The Fix It! Grammar series is a 6 books series:
  • The Nose Tree
  • Robin Hood
  • Frog Prince (or Just Deserts)
  • Little Mermaid
  • Chanticleer
  • Sir Gawain and the Green Knight. 
Each  book provides a full year of grammar instruction and practice with editing skills. Each book has 33 weeks of daily passages broken into bite sized pieces. By spending only 15 minutes a day searching for the errors, and correcting them, your student will be practicing their grammar skills in a very painless way...just one sentence a day.  One book can be completed in a year, or double up the pace to finish in a semester.
This is not your average grammar program that teaches a rule and then "drills and kills" that one rule over and over on a page.  This is a more real-life learning approach that will help your child take the grammar they have been taught and integrate it into their writing, the ultimate goal, right?  The Fix-It  series makes your student slow down and really think about what they are reading, and then writing.  Editing skills are very valuable, and this program will help them fine tune those skills,  you will get better at it as well as you help them correct their work :-)
The Bentz Test Laboratory tester was my 6th grade daughter.  Let me tell you, grammar is not her strong suit.  Maybe since she's #4 in the lineup, she hasn't gotten enough focused grammar teaching (my fault).  Whatever the reason, grammar is not a subject that she looks forward to...usually it produces tears and gnashing of teeth (mine again).
When I saw that Fix It! Grammar: The Nose Tree [Book 1] from Institute for Excellence in Writing (IEW)  was coming as a review,  I hesitated.    We had tried an older version of this program last year - but, this is a brand NEW, revised version.  But, I decided she should take another run at it.  I AM SO GLAD WE DID! 
First off, if you have seen Fix-It! Grammar in the past, this revision makes it so much easier to use and understand. I love how IEW is committed to making our teaching job easier and more effective, I have never been disappointed with their products.
The Teacher's Guide is a must have component.  In fact, you get a download for the Student Guide with every Teacher's Guide (making it nice for multiple child families).  We were blessed to get both the Teacher's Guide and Student Guide in the spiral bound editions.  Save yourself the hassle and preparation time,  I strongly recommend starting off with it printed and ready to go.  Plus, the printed version offers the grammar cards printed on cardstock and ready to use. The grammar cards are a great way to reinforce and review the concepts being taught.
Each lesson starts with the "Learn It" section where the grammar concept it taught.  The Teacher Guide makes it easy to teach this and gives you a step-by-step instructions.  
The "Fix-It" section explains the steps to the week's lessons.  Starting with vocabulary (over 100 new vocabulary words are introduced), and moving into 3 days of editing ONE SENTENCE per day, and ending with rewriting their corrected sentences, this is designed to be completed in just 15 min. per day, 4 days per week.  
This is where I began to see a change for my tester...  grammar wasn't a dreaded subject anymore!  No more full pages of endless sentences to work through - she only had a single sentence to focus on. Just a few grammar points to learn.  No more tears (hers or mine!) 
If you are using IEW Writing courses (and if you are not, you should be...), Fix-It! Grammar will reinforce the style techniques they are learning as well.  The Teacher's Guide & Student Guide also contain a handy Glossary of grammar and writing terms that you can refer to. 
The final step of each lesson is to rewrite the corrected sentences.  Once finished, your child will have their own handwritten copy of the story.  This step can be used for copywork and handwriting practice, as well as reinforcing the proper grammar in their writing.  It's fully integrated with a finished product they can be proud of!
My tester is a believer -  this is her direct quote:  "Grammar's not that bad anymore Mom, I actually like doing Fix-It! Grammar..."
Never thought I'd hear that one...  Better check this one out and see for yourself!
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Friday, September 26, 2014

Exodus 14:14

Do you ever have a verse, you've never seen before, suddenly appear everywhere?  Well, this is that verse for me!

Starting with the National Bible Bee competition 2 years ago, my daughter Lydia decided this was the one verse she could memorize for the summer.  I always tell them that God has at least one verse he want's them to memorize.  She picked it because it was the shortest...

However, this verse came alive for me last summer as I went through treatment for breast cancer.  Lydia has this one engraved on her heart and frequently reminded me of it when I was discouraged. 

And, of course - God keeps reminding me of it over and over.  My job is to be still, HIS job is to fight for me.

Now, this has become a precious promise... and I smile each time it appears in my news feed, my daily devotion, or even when I glance at the sign a precious friend gave me to remind me of HIS promises.

I'm so very grateful that the Bible is living and active, aren't you!