Monday, April 29, 2013

Writing Fiction [in High School] by Sharon Watson: A TOS Crew Review

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Writing Fiction [in High School] by Writing with Sharon Watson

From their website:

 photo obj383geo450pg9p9_zpsb5b67bce.png"Two-semester course for English credit
-No prerequisites needed
-Practical lessons and approximately 100 interesting assignments
-Written to the student in a conversational tone
-Can be self-taught with guidance or used in co-ops or private schools
-For the teen who loves to write stories
-13 fact-filled chapters, approximately 300 pages"

Cost - $25.05 
Teacher Guide - $9.95

 "Writing Fiction [in High School] refers to The Last Book in the Universe by Rodman Philbrick (sold separately) in many of its chapters. Sharon Watson recommends buying that book and using it with the textbook. That way, students can more easily see how a complete novel and its elements work as they discuss characters, characterization, setting, meaningful discriptions, dialogue, voice, plot, scenes, conflict, the hero's journey, and much, much more."

The Bentz Test Laboratory had the perfect tester.  My "budding author" could not wait to get his hands on this.

Writing Fiction [in High School] is written directly to your student covering topics like Facts About Fiction, Point of View, Fairy Tales, Characters & Characterization, Conflict, Dialogue, Description, Words, Theme, Plot, Scenes, Beginnings & Ending, and Getting Published.
The Teacher Guide offers List of books, short stories and media for each chapter, as well as a Discussion Guide and Answer Key.
The course is designed for a year-long adventure in writing.  The "Manuscript Track" is extracurricular and for students already writing a short story or novel.  That is my tester - he's begun his own "novel" and is hoping one day, to become a published author.
A suggestion he implemented right away, was to form a "writing club" as a place to share, critique and encourage his friends that love to write as well.  They have dubbed themselves... "The Inklings Redux" (after a favorite author...!)
The used several of the ideas - writing hooks, free timed writing and several others directly from this curriculum.  All of the ideas were a huge hit!  My tester was so pleased to have direction on how to start his "author's club".  And the pointers for critiquing have been a valuable lesson for the members of his club. (and light-hearted at times as well... "Try not to cry" being one of my favorites!)  If you have an aspiring writer, you will want to add this to your writing toolbox.
My tester began to work independently through the curriculum, completing one section a day.  He found the exercises to be enjoyable and easy to do.  He has really enjoyed this program! One of his favorites was taking a passage and writing it from each of several different Point-of-Views.   He is currently typing furiously for the next meeting of "Inklings Redux" to present his story for his first critique.
This is a well-organized, easy-to-implement writing curriculum.  If you have children interested in writing their own stories - this is for them!  If you have students that are not as interested in writing stories - this may be the just the curriculum to change their minds!
Other members of the TOS Crew reviewed The Power in Your Hands: Writing Non-Fiction in High School - I'll be checking out this as well, so should you!
Click to read more reviews from the Schoolhouse Review Crew

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Tuesday, April 23, 2013

Math Rider: A TOS Crew Review

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From their website:
"MathRider combines fun math game play with a highly sophisticated question engine that adapts to your child. The game propels your child to mastery of all four math operations using numbers 0 to 12 in record time."
Cost: $47 (including free software updates for life) 
Try it free for 7 days!  - Plus a "30 Day Risk Free Guarantee"
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Mastery of basic math facts is one of those "just got to get through it" aspects of schooling.  But, why can't it be fun along the way?

If you agree - you will love Math Rider!  The Bentz Test Laboratory is well-acquainted with this excellent program, we been using it for the last 3 years!  Watch this introduction video to find out more...

 My testers have thoroughly enjoyed this program.  It supports multiple players, so everyone can take part in the fun. 
 You customize it to each "rider" - working on the math operation they need most (addition, subtraction, multiplication and division are all included numbers 0-12)
 It is engaging, and challenging - but, it doesn't feel like math fact drill to them. The program is easy to use as well, no complicated controls - just type in the correct answer to the math equation, that's it.   I have consistently seen their math scores improve time and time again. 
This program actually customizes to your student, allowing them to practice exactly what they need to.  When a question is missed (or not answered) the program stores that information, and re-introduces that fact until mastery has occurred. I can see the statistics to monitor their progress along the way. 
My daughters love the Quests.  A story, and a map of their progress  make the practice fun and promote a sense of achievement along the way.  Each function contains a different quest to complete.

We have added Math Rider to our weekly math program.  Each tester used Math Rider several times per week as practice.   I offer it as a "reward" for finishing other math work in a timely manner, that's how much they enjoy it! 
I can not say enough positive things about this program!  Math Rider has helped us master our math facts, and have fun while doing it.
Just a note - good customer service is what keeps a customer returning.  Math Rider has world-class customer service - if you have an issue, you will get prompt, personal attention.  Plus, they offer unlimited free updates - no continued access fees!
Click to read more reviews from the Schoolhouse Review Crew
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Sunday, April 21, 2013

Progeny Press: A TOS Crew Review

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Progeny Press

From their website:

"The Mission of Progeny Press - "To teach our children to think clearly, to understand literature, and to rely on the scripture for truth and values, and enjoy themselves while they do it!"
I was so excited to get a chance to tell you about one of my favorite literature curriculums... I could hardly wait!

The Bentz Test Laboratory was given 2  Progeny Press Guides:

 photo a64736b13871cd6e873942_m_zps5e484c2e.jpgEagle of the Ninth Study Guide - Grades 7-9   by Rosemary Sutcliff

Price: $16.99
$18.99 Printed Booklet
$16.99 CD
$16.99 Instant Download

 "In the early second-century A.D., Marcus, along with his best friend and former slave, Esca, begins a quest deep into the northern wilds of Britain and Scotland. Determined to recover the lost eagle standard of his father's Ninth Roman Legion and redeem his family's honor, Marcus also seeks to discover his father's fate and that of the men who mysteriously disappeared under his command. Along the journey, Marcus will discover the true meaning of freedom, friendship, and honor. "

Beowulf Study Guide  - Grade 10-12 by

Price: $18.99
 photo a64736b1384e26ea12427c_m_zpsd85a8791.jpg$21.99 Printed Booklet
$18.99 CD
$18.99 Instant Download

"Beowulf is the first great English, Anglo-Saxon, literary epic, chronicling a hero's exploits as northern European clans teeter between Christianity and the old religions. A monster, Grendel, has descended on Heorot, mead hall of King Hrothgar, bringing death and chaos for 12 years. Beowulf, hero of the Geats, travels to the land of the Danes to free them from Grendel's grasp. With boldness and God's help, Beowulf defeats Grendel and Grendel's mother when she comes seeking vengeance. Finally, at the end of a long reign as king of the Geats, Beowulf faces a dragon to save his people and burn his name into the pages of history."


I could not have chosen more perfect pieces of literature for my middle and high school sons.  One of my favorite aspects of Progeny Press is the number of choices you have. That's right, you don't have to read from a pre-selected list are free to CHOOSE!  They have excellent sections in every grade level.

Each guide begins with an introduction to the book as well as some pre-reading and background information on the author.  Progeny Press recommends that each study will take approx. 8-12 weeks to complete (complete 4 in one year, and you have a High school literature credit).

Vocabulary exercises, reading comprehension questions and suggested activities are incorporated throughout.  Your student will be learning all the valuable tools of literature - i.e. hyperbole, foreshadowing, imagery and more.  The Guides are written to the student - so, your independent learners can take them and dig right in.  The "Dig Deeper" section will inspire your readers to find out more, complete a project, or write about it.  "Optional Activities" are included as well that add to the understanding and enjoyment of the work of literature they are studing.

My favorite feature - scriptural analysis is also used throughout the guides.  My boys were reading and learning to discern with a Christian worldview! 

Both testers read the book first.  Then,  they began to work through the guide doing a page or two per day.  I was immediately impressed with their mastery of the vocabulary presented. 

The end of each guide offered "Essays and Projects" as well as "Additional Resources" to complement the study.  Each tester chose one to show the rest of us what they had learned. I learned something new from them!  "Chekhov's Gun" - a literary technique (sort of like foreshadowing...) was a new concept for me.  Now, they are looking for it in their other reading. My other tester can't wait to get the book "Grendel" that tells the story from the perspective of the monster of Beowulf.

These guides are a great way to delve into classic literature with your children.  Best of all, Progeny Press has made it easy for you. 

Click to read more reviews from the Schoolhouse Review Crew
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Thursday, April 18, 2013

Knowledge Quest: Sacagawea : A TOS Crew Review

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Sacagawea (Brave Explorers Every Child Should Know) Complete PDF e-book - by Knowledge Quest

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From their website:

"Sacagawea is an interactive historical novel that challenges readers to dig deeper into the true lives of extraordinary individuals AND stretches the idea of how stories themselves are told. Sacagawea is a riveting account and intimate look into the life of one of America's most beloved women.

Although one seamless novel, Sacagawea was written and released as 4 shorter, sequential parts, or episodes. Ebooks can be read sequentially or the complete saga of Sacagawea can be purchased in one ebook - $3.99 (Amazon) in its entirety."
Read a sample chapter to see for yourself!

The Bentz Test Laboratory loves history. Loves reading. Loves adventure.  So, it goes without saying... we LOVED this book  Sacagawea!

My tester for this book is my 10 year old daughter.  We choose to easily download the book onto our Nook. (learning on the go!)  She had a hard time putting it down... A favorite feature is the thousands of interactive links throughout this book.  Each time she came to the highlighted text, she could simply click and follow the link to additional information.  This isn't just a "book" to be read, but an adventure to be explored!

Sacagawea is your guide in this story, telling her story within the story.  My daughter's imagination was captured and she was transported into Sacagawea's world.  Best of all, it has ignited a passion for learning more about this amazing woman and this time period. Bulls Eye Knowledge Quest!  Just what I want learning to do!! 

Don't miss the other title in the Brave Explorers series - I know we'll be adding them to our library as well.  This series is written for readers 10 years and older, but would make an excellent family read aloud as well.

We have been long time fans of Knowledge Quest (watch this introduction video - you'll be impressed too).  Be sure to check out the TimelineBuilder iPad APP that other members of the TOS Crew got to look at (just another reason to buy that iPad I've been wanting...)

Click to read more reviews from the Schoolhouse Review Crew

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Tuesday, April 16, 2013

National Geography Bee Update

Remember I shared with you my slightly bragging post... about my sons finishing 1st and 2nd in our homeschool Geography Bee?  Here's an update on what happened next...

Luke was given the opportunity, as the winner, to take a written test.  The top 100 scores of these tests are invited to participate in the State level of the National Geography Bee.

Luke took the test...and we waited...and waited... and waited.  Finally, the call from our coordinator came - along with the letter inviting him to participate in the State Bee!! 

Next, the studying began in earnest.  He had about a month between finding out, and the big day.  He completely took charge of this on his own.  He did online questions at the National Geography Bee site (take the Geo bee daily quiz yourself), read some books, looked at maps and beat all of us at any geography trivia game we played (he actually got a little attitude after awhile...claiming we "weren't much competition")

 The big day arrived.  The top 100 of the state were divided up into 5 groups of 20 to compete in preliminary round.  We were not able to observe this, due to space.  I calmed my nerves with a coffee date with my wonderful husband...  They were each asked 8 different questions.  The competitors with the best overall scores would advance to the Top 10 Finalist round.

As they began to come back in,  I heard other children telling their parents how they thought they had done.  "I got 5 right out of 8",  "I think I got 6 right, mom".... 

Finally, Luke's group was returned.  I knew right away from his huge smile, he had done well!  He excitedly sat down and reported, "I only missed one!"

He was one of only 8 children (out of 100) to only miss 1 or less in the preliminary round!!

The Finalist Round was a variety of different types of questions.  Some multiple choice, some naming, some identifying a location on a map.  The most difficult (I thought) was identifying a city form a Google earth screen shot and a couple of clues. These kids are impressive!!

Luke made it through 6 rounds before being eliminated - finishing #6 in the State. We are so proud of him!! 

The AR winner won his unprecedented third win in a row, never missing a question. We are planning on watching the coverage of the National Geography Bee in late May.

 Who knows maybe next year...Luke will be there!

Monday, April 15, 2013

American Girl - Kirsten

American Girl Club - Kirsten is back on track!

This meeting we focused on some necessary skills for every pioneer girl... mastering threading the needle!

For our project, we bravely attempted 2 projects this meeting, we made Bunny Pincushions and Braided mats.

I'm getting wiser - I pre-assembled all the pieces for the bunny into a ziplock bag first. The body, tail, eyes, whiskers, ears - even the precut thread and needle.  It made it so much more streamlined for them.

Our braided mats/rugs went over well too. The girls enjoyed the braiding.  They taped the strands to the table and braided outward.  After the braiding was done, they wound and sewed small holding stitches.
It's been so much fun to see our girls master threading the needle.  I know it seems simple at first, but - with 13 young ladies... they had to learn patience (and so have we!).  I'm grateful that even if they never become fans of sewing - at least they'll be able to thread a needle.
Our Half-Pints had fun making paper hats! 
And the MCA (masculine club of awesomeness for those who don't know them)  were doing a push-up contest when I walked by....
We have something for everyone here!

Sunday, April 14, 2013

U.N.I.Q.U.E.: Growing the Leader Within: A TOS Crew Review

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Leadership Garden Legacy

From their website:
"What is a Leadership Garden? Our answer is simple. A Leadership Garden is a fun and engaging metaphor for growing leadership."

U.N.I.Q.U.E. KIDS: Growing My Leadership Garden  - $18.95
Recommended for ages 5-12.
U.N.I.Q.U.E. KIDS Activity Guide & My Leadership Garden Journal – PDF Downloads $8.95
U.N.I.Q.U.E. KIDS Audio Book MP3 Download $8.95

UNIQUE Kids book photo leadership-uniquekidsbook_zps3822722c.jpg"  U.N.I.Q.U.E. KIDS is designed as an interactive leadership development tool with the participation of grownups or older students who can read the book with children (ages 5-12) and provide mentoring and reinforcement of the concepts and discussion.

A central mnemonic is the acronym, U.N.I.Q.U.E.: Understanding, Nurturing, Inventive, Quality, Unstoppable, Expression. Taking one letter at a time, Slover walks the reader through creating and encouraging the life-affirming, esteem-building, leadership skills characteristic, and harnessing the six qualities together to form a "Leadership Garden Legacy" based on mutual respect, cooperation, teamwork, and other values."

U.N.I.Q.U.E.: Growing the Leader Within - $18.95
Recommended ages - high school through adult
The Leadership Garden Guidebook $18.95
U.N.I.Q.U.E.: Growing the Leader Within – Audio Book MP3 Download $14.95

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"Combining an illustrated fable, practical exercises, and a solid gardening metaphor, author Debra Slover presents a new view of leadership based not only in our skills, but also in our self-confidence. U.N.I.Q.U.E. stands for the Understanding, Nurturing, Inventive, Quality, Unstoppable, Expression of leadership."
See bundled toolkit discounts here

Also - take advantage of an additional “Spring Special Discount” of 20%  on all the ‘Empowerment Tools’ Enter the discount code: TOS-SS20D at checkout to receive this discount. This code expires on May 31, 2013.
The Bentz Test Laboratory is filled with future leaders. (okay, I'm a bit biased...but, I'm right!)  I was excited to get our products from Leadership Garden Legacy.  I had done a bit of pre-research on their products online and was eager to get them in my hands.
The physical books are high quality, the downloads are easy to access, and the customer service is very attentive and helpful.
I began reading the U.N.I.Q.U.E: Growing the Leader Within book - recommended for ages high school to adult to get a grasp of the program.  I must say, it was a bit disappointing to me.  The Prologue introduces the author, and she explains some of her personal struggles - a mother's suicide, a divorce, a secret life.  She discovered her "leader within" and her purpose, to encourage others to develop their leaders within.
The book uses a metaphor of a farm as fable and teaching tool to express the author's message.  Hugh - the main character is a "lost sheep" that represents each person.  Hugh takes the reader on a tour of the leadership farm.  Each character he meets represents another aspect of our "leadership journey". 
As I read the book, I found myself getting confused.  The author begins well with the metaphor and fable, but frequently jumps out of that storyline to examples of her own life.  It was a bit hard to follow. 

These materials do not mention God - they do not claim to anywhere, so I did not expect a Christian worldview message.   The main focus on getting rid of the "weeds" - our weaknesses,  and choosing to plant "seeds" of leadership.  Not a bad idea...just a bit misleading.  I truly believe that God is the only redeemer of our poor choices, and not amount of personal determination can replace his amazing power to redeem and restore.  All in all, I found the materials disappointing - not enough explanation of how to utilize the journals for us to complete very many exercises.  The vocabulary was confusing (and I even have a degree in psychology).  
The U.N.I.Q.U.E Kids included color illustrations, with the same metaphorical story.  I asked several of my testers to read it and report.  They were confused and needed further explanation of the story, and it's purpose.  They did enjoy the illustrations, however.
I love the idea of this product. We need to cultivate leadership qualities in ourselves and in our families - intentionally.  But, this wasn't the best fit for our family. I believe the author has a sincere desire to encourage - we just got lost on our journey through the farm.  
Click to read more reviews from the Schoolhouse Review Crew
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Tuesday, April 9, 2013

ABeCeDarian Company : A TOS Crew Review

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ABeCeDarian Company

From their website:
"ABeCeDarian Reading Program, a research-based, explicit, comprehensive, multi-sensory decoding program."  Key features include:

  • Explicit, comprehensive, multisensory phonics instruction
  • Sound blending and segmenting explicitly taught and practiced
  • Letter/Sound correspondences taught in the context of reading and spelling words
  • Letter sounds taught before letter names
  • Code knowledge organized by sounds with engaging sorting activities
  • No rules!
  • Precise practice routines and error correction procedures
  • Integrated handwriting and spelling instruction
  • Expert oral reading fluency practice

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    Student Workbook A1 - $12.25
    Teacher Manual A1 - $28.50
    Set of 10 Storybooks - $21.50

    Don't miss the FREE Supplemental Materials  and Samples pages!  Placements tests available to help you find the right level.

    ABeCeDarian is divided into 4 levels:
    1. Level A: for students reading at kindergarten through mid-1st grade level
    2. Level B: for students reading at mid-1st grade through 2nd grade level
    3. Level C: for students reading at 3rd and 4th grade level
    4. Level D: for students reading at 5th and 6th grade level
    Bentz Test Laboratory chose our 5 year old, pre-reader for this product.  She has just begun mastering letter sounds, and is eager to learn to read.

    However,  for the first time... Bentz Test Laboratory has encountered a "special needs" meets "learning to read" student.   This particular child, does not learn the same way as my other children.  She and I have quickly discovered that we are going to need to learn a new path together.

    It must have been God's hand that sent us ABeCeDarian to test at this exact moment in time!  We were both getting frustrated at each other, and our lack of progress in this area.  We put our old program aside, and picked up ABeCeDarian - Book 1A

    Right away, I fell in love with the Teacher's Manual.  The author, Michael Bend Ph.D., speaks like a real person!  He clearly explains what to expect, what your child needs to decode well and the strategies used in this program.  I found it easy to follow along in, and in no time - my tester and I were opening the Student Book to begin.

    It was like a miracle!  The simple page, the multisensory approach (using letter tiles from the Free supplemental materials page), plus the repetition all added up to instant success for her.  SHE WAS READING! (and spelling correctly too)  This was a huge confidence builder for both of us!  Trust me, we have tried other methods - but, ended up with frustration and disappointment both for her and myself.

    "Tap-and-say", "turtle-talk & people talk", and writing/spelling practice all gave us a language to speak to each other that made complete sense.   The lessons were short and to the point.  There isn't a lot of distracting illustrations.    The Teacher Manual offered additional games and variations to use with the lesson.  By the end of the third unit - she was reading sentences, and in the fourth unit she began with the storybooks!

    I can not stress enough how effective this program has been.  A key is presenting the letters organized by their sounds rather than by the letter.  Additionally, the repetition leads to fluency and not just mastery.   The Teacher Manual is a "script"  for you so you can easily follow along with to successfully teach each lesson - step by step.  

    One huge takeaway for me that has helped us  - "Always end on perfect performance".
    So, when she had a 100% correct - we were done. 

    One of the best moments in homeschooling for me, is when my child begins to really "read" - and I am right there to watch the transformation take place.  ABeCeDarian was right there with us smoothing out our path.

    This is a great program, and you can't beat the affordable price!

    Click to read more reviews from the Schoolhouse Review Crew

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    Monday, April 8, 2013

    A Very Good Day!

    It's been kind of tough around here lately...  a broken foot, double ear infection, sinus infection, spring homeschool burnout...  I've been feeling a bit beaten down. (not to mention...slowed down!)

     God always has a blessing waiting for us at just the "right time". My sweet, passionate, wild and crazy daughter decided to be baptized!

      And, my darling, compassionate-but-fiery son joined her!

     Best of all, they both were baptized on my Birthday.

      Best Birthday Gift Ever!

    My wonderful husband has had the honor of baptizing 7 of us now! (including me)  What a very good day.  Thank you God!

    Just because my God is so abundant - we've gotten several very large anonymous donations for our trip to India this week - we are 55% of the way there!