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Friday, April 27, 2012

The Critical Thinking Co.'s Crypto Mind Benders Review

I loved working on mental games as a child, and to this day things like sudoku are right up my alley.  Maybe that's why I love The Critical Thinking Company.

Critical thinking skills are essential to succeed in life.  And if you are ever faced with taking a standardized test, being able to use critical thinking can make all the difference in how well you do.  On the other hand, for those of us who are, ahem, getting a little older, critical thinking skills help keep your brain active and challenged.  The Critical Thinking Co. has been around for over 50 years and won more than 100 national awards.  Their critical thinking books run the curriculum gamut from word roots to math to grammar and language arts to science and social studies and everything in between.  In fact, they even offer some core curriculums.


For this review, the Crew had a choice between 4 books, and the one I chose is called Crypto Mind Benders Famous Quotations.  The website has this to say about Crypto Mind Benders:
Crypto Mind Benders® develop mathematical reasoning and critical thinking skills that are vital to achieving academic and lifelong success. They are great for introducing students to encryption, algebraic thinking, and basic computer programming operations.

Crypto Mind Benders® compel students to break a secret code so they can identify a hidden joke or quotation. To break the code, students must apply logic and mathematical reasoning to 3 sets of clues. The challenge is getting all the information out of each clue! Once students break the code, they can solve the cryptogram by substituting the numbers with their corresponding code letters. The Quotations book familiarizes students with classic quotations from famous thinkers such as Albert Einstein, Voltaire, Socrates, and more! The Jokes edition familiarizes students with classic, goodhumored, jokes that both kids and adults enjoy.

Crypto Mind Benders® develop several of the deductive thinking skills taught in the award-winning Mind Benders® series without the use of word problems. This feature makes these thinking-rich activities easier to use with non-English speakers. The classic quotes and jokes also help ELL/ESL learners further understand the English language and culture. Perfect for school, home, and travel, they are popular as brain jump-start, extra credit, sponge, or reward activities. The exercises are also great for adult cognitive maintenance

Basically, this is how they work.  On each page, there are clues, a chart to help you organize the information the clues provide, and a place for you to record your answers.  At the bottom of the page is a cryptogram that you solve by substituting letters for numbers (which is what the code helps you figure out).  The resulting answer is, in this case, a famous quotation.  Here's a not-very-good picture of what the clues and charts look like:

 The first example in the book walks you through figuring out how to solve them.  For example, with the charts above, if "a > c", then "a" cannot be 2, because 2 is the smallest number on the chart and if "a" was 2, it couldn't be bigger than "c".  Get it?  That's how the whole book works in a nut shell, except the puzzles that come later in the book use higher level math skills (o x a = (a x a) -a, for example).

The pros:  Presenting these mind benders in a cryptogram code setting engages learners who might otherwise give up when the going gets hard.  At least that was the case for my kids.  They have watched National Treasure enough to be into codes and ciphers, and that really drew them in to these puzzles.  The quotes are by folks like Einstein and Voltaire, and most have to do with education and learning to think for yourself.  Answers are given in the back of the book.  Permission is given to make copies of the pages for one home or one classroom (max. 35 students) a year, so the resource does not have to be consumable, which is very handy in multi-children homes.

The cons:  As with most mind benders, there is a learning curve.  And while it says the book is for grades 3-12+, I think you'd have to have a pretty smart 3rd grader who has already developed some critical thinking skills for them to get very far.  My daughter, who is in 7th grade, picked up the HOW pretty easily, but it still took her a while to reason through some of them as she is very creative, but not very strong in deductive reasoning.

The bottom line:  I don't think you can go wrong with anything from The Critical Thinking Co.  I'd be anxious to see the Crypto Mind Benders Classic Jokes book too, and think that solving for jokes might be even more of an incentive for my kids.  (If you click on the link above, it will give you an offer for free shipping, which can also give me a referral reward- a bonus not related to the TOS Crew at all and that anyone can sign up for on their website.)  Crypto Mind Benders is available for $10.99 in paperback or eBook format.

To read my review of another Critical Thinking Co. product, go HERE.  To see what other members of the TOS Crew had to say (4 different books were reviewed this time), go HERE.

Legal Disclaimer:  As a member of the TOS Crew, I received a free copy of the paperback version of Crypto Mind Benders for the purpose of giving my honest review of that product.  That book was the only compensation I received.
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Wednesday, April 25, 2012

Amazing Science DVD Review

What if your science could be, well, AMAZING? Well, it can be, thanks to these DVDs.

Amazing Science Volume 1 is a two DVD set by Science and Math.Com of short and fun science experiments using everyday materials that you probably already have on hand to teach science fundamentals.

The experiments covered include: Color Changing Milk, Floating Eggs, Egg in a Bottle, Keep Paper Dry Underwater,  Exploring Air Pressure, Dry Ice Bubbles, Build a Lemon Battery, Balloon in a Candle Flame, Inverted Cup of Water, Ocean in a Bottle, Candle Suction Power, Build a Motor with Lights, Amazing Magnetic Force, Simple Lava Lamp, Lift an Ice Cube with String, Invisible Ink,  Unburnable Money, Density Tower, Matchstick Speedboat, Soda Can Fizz, Reversing an Image with Water, and Build a Motor #2


The pros:  The DVDs are nicely divided so that each experiment is a chapter-so you can do as many or as few as you want to do at a time.  Each experiment is well explained and the camera work is very good-allowing you to see everything you need to see to understand the experiment.  Each experiment has a "wow" factor to it that makes it interesting and draws kids into the science that makes the experiment possible.  Our favorites?  The Amazing Magnetic Force (which we did not try because we did not have one of the main supplies, but which was awesome just to see on the video) and the Color Changing Milk.  In fact, I think we could have gone through a whole gallon of milk on that one.  Here are some pictures:

The cons:  It seems like these experiments were all produced as individual segments for some other venue before they were put into this video, and the presenter is in different clothes for each one, which was a bit strange.  In fact, each one begins with him introducing himself and welcoming you to Math and Science.Com, which is a tad repetitive if you watch a couple of them at a time.  But that's just me being picky.  The science experiments themselves seemed fun and easy to perform.

The bottom line:   Amazing Science has awakened a passion for science in my 7 year old.  She literally begs to watch the video and can't wait to try each experiment.  WOW!  Those are words I never thought I'd say about her.  And while my oldest dismissed it as "boring", he was right in the kitchen with them while they were turning milk into tie-dye works of art.  I like these videos, and I think they awaken an interest in science in children by making it fun.  Generally, after each experiment, my kids would beg to go replicate it.  That's so inspiring to see (and hear).

You can order Amazing Science for $17.99 as a download or buy the DVD for $19.95.  To see what other members of the TOS Crew had to say, go HERE.

Legal Disclaimer:  As a member of the TOS Crew, I received a copy of Amazing Science Volume 1 for free for the purpose of giving my honest review.  Those DVDs were the only compensation I received.

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Friday, April 20, 2012

The Forgiven Duke Book Review

You may remember my review a little while back for a book called The Guardian Duke.  Well, I just had the chance to read an advanced copy of the second book in the same series.   The Forgiven Duke picks up right in the middle of the action where The Guardian Duke leaves off...

Here's what the back of the book has to say:
Tethered by her impulsive promise to marry Lord John Lemon - the path of least resistance - Alexandria Featherstone sets off toward Iceland in search of her parents with a leaden heart. A glimpse of her guardian, the Duke of St. Easton - the path less traveled by - on Dublin’s shore still haunts her.
Will he come after her? Will he drag her back to London, quelling her mission to rescue her treasure-seeking parents, or might he decide to throw caution to the wind and choose Foy Pour Devoir: “Faith for Duty,” the St. Easton motto. The Featherstone motto Valens et Volens: “Willing and Able,” beats in her heart and thrums through her veins. She will find her parents and find their love, no matter the cost.
The powerful yet wing-clipped Duke of St. Easton has never known the challenge that has become his life since hearing his ward’s name. Alexandria Featherstone will be the life or the death of him. Only time and God’s plan will reveal just how much this man can endure for the prize of love.

One Blessed Mamma says:  I'm a bit of a book devourer.  My copy arrived just the other day, and I plowed through it in no time.  I couldn't wait to see what would happen with Alex, her fiance John, nad her soulmate and guardian Gabriel.  Like its predecessor, this book keeps you reading with unexpected plot twists, several of which I never saw coming.  I really enjoyed the story, and can't wait until the thrid book in the series comes out later this year! would you like to win this book? That's right, I have one copy to giveaway to a lucky blog reader. Just follow the instructions below: a Rafflecopter giveaway Disclosure of Material Connection: I received one or more of the products or services mentioned above for free in the hope that I would mention it on my blog. Regardless, I only recommend products or services I use personally and believe will be good for my readers. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255: “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising."
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Thursday, April 12, 2012

Write with World Review


Write with World is a brand new writing curriculum from the folks at World Magazine and God's World News.  And when I say "brand new", I mean I received a pilot version.  Right now, you can pre-order it, and it will ship some time this summer.  So the question you may be asking it worth the wait?


Well, before I answer that, let me tell you a little more about Write with World.

 It is designed to be a 2 year writing program for middle schoolers.  I received the teacher's manual and student book for year one.  Part of the cost of the curriculum ($95 for each year or $165 for both) will include a website that will offer real-time lessons that tie in to current events and offers more writing prompts, a teachers' forum, and the opportunity for student work to be published.  (That is not currently available, so I can't comment more on that at all.)  Write with World year one has four units, and each unit has four lessons.  Within each lesson, there are five capsules, each of which is about one day's assignment.  According to their website, Write with World covers comparative and critical reading, writing fundamentals, reporting, reviewing, critique and opinion.  But on a practical level, I'd say it offers much more.  Students learn about "voice" and how to know which one to write in.  They learn vocabulary.  They cover frequent grammar mistakes.  They develop critical thinking skills about the written word and then how to express what they feel about different pieces of writing.  Oh, and they learn to write :-).  Click to read a sample lesson.  The Intro to the Teacher's Edition gives even more information.  And you can even view the Table of Contents for the complete list of topics covered.

The pros:  I think Write with World teaches writing in a novel way that makes it different than anything else out there.  I like the bite sized lesson pieces, the "capsules", that are easy to follow.  While parents are encouraged to be part of the process, students can read and do the work themselves.  Parents are also strongly encouraged to "go easy" on the red pen.  But what I really like is that Write with World seems to cover a multitude of things I always want to cover, but never get to.   Like asking student to look at ads and see what works and WHY.  And it uses several techniques that our high school writing team used "back in the day" to get students to look at things from multiple perspectives.  And I feel like they really nailed their approach for their target age group.  Finally, I love that the books are not consumable, so you can use them with multiple students.

The cons:  This is going to sound trivial, but I HATE the teacher's manual.  no, not what's inside it, but the actual book itself.  It's printed on slightly larger than legal sized paper, and so it's just unwieldy.  It's big, and floppy, and it bugs me.  And it doesn't fit well on my bookshelf with all my other materials because it's shorter and sticks out too far.  But if that's the biggest con I have, I can get over it.

The bottom line:  Remember that question I asked at the beginning about whether it was worth the wait?  In my humble opinion, the short answer is a resounding, "Yes!" And from me, that's huge, because I already have a writing program that I love and am fiercely loyal to. But to me, Write with World offers a different take on writing instruction than any other writing program I've seen. It was developed by educators and writers with the goal of training children to become proficient communicators with an understanding of the media and worldviews prevalent today. They want to train Christians to be able to put forward high quality content that is every bit as engaging as the content the world has to offer but with a Christian worldview.  I want my children to be good communicators.  And I want them to be great communicators for Christ.  I hate Christian drivel and frequently lament the fact that Christian and quality are sometimes seen as mutually exclusive.  I look forward to Write-ing with World some more!

To pre-order Write with World, go HERE.  To see what other members of the TOS Crew had to say, go HERE.

Legal Disclaimer:  As a member of the TOS Crew, I received the Student and Teacher books for free in exchange for my honest review.  Those books are the only compensation I received.
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Tuesday, April 10, 2012

Truth Quest History Review-Revisited


A few years ago, I was introduced to TruthQuest History (see my original TruthQuest Review).  My original review is quite lengthy and comprehensive, but to summarize in case you don't follow the link above to read it- I love TruthQuest :-). 

My original review was of Ancient Rome, and this time, I chose Ancient Greece.  My reasoning was two fold.  First, next year we are moving back to world history, and TruthQuest Ancient Greece and Ancient Rome will be main components of that.  And second, my daughter is currently REALLY into the Percy Jackson books, so a short foray into Ancient Greece fit in perfectly right now!

So what is TruthQuest?  Well, in a way, WAY oversimplified nutshell, it offers brief Christian worldview synopses (short narratives) of events and important elements of each time period and then extensive recommend book lists for you to use to dig deeper into each subject. 

For example, in Ancient Greece, there is a section specifically on Alexander the Great.  Much of the narrative TruthQuest provides cross references the Biblical prophecy in Daniel about the rise of Greece over the Medo-Persians.  Then, after the narrative, there is a list of "spine" references you can use to read more (a "spine" is like a textbook-it offers a little bit of information abotu a LOT of different things).  After the "spines", there are other historical books suggested, as well as historical fiction.  There are even books suggested about Alexander and his animals and Alexander and Judah.  After all those, there is a section with a narrative about Aristotle because a) he's a famous Greek, but also b) he tutored Alexander.  Do you have to read all of those things?  No.  Do you have to read about Alexander and his animals?  No.  Do you have to read about ANY of those things? No...but you'd miss the beauty of TruthQuest if you didn't ever use any outside resources.  See, where the narratives give short dialogues about those events in history in light of a Christian worldview, the book lists help you to glean more wisdom about the time period itself in a way that is meaningful to your students.  You can do crafts, play games, or explore poetry from that time period.  Or can follow every rabbit trail.  Or none at all.  It's all up to you. 

There are also a few suggested writing assignments along the way to help you child dig deeper. And always, the focus is on figuring out the culture's Big 2 Beliefs- Who is God? and Who, then, is mankind?  The answers to those questions play a role in everything else about the culture, and figuring them out encourages your children to gather wisdom and not just knowledge.

The pros:  This curriculum is totally flexible.  You can read all of the narrative...or not.  You can find every book they suggest...or none at all.  You can feel free to substitute based on what is available at your library.  Writing is encouraged not just to write but to reinforce the key concepts being taught and to help your children learn to express what they are learning.  Wisdom is stressed over knowledge.  God, as the Creator of all mankind, and therefore all man's history, is an integral part, not an afterthought.  The guides now cover all the major eras of history and are not very expensive at all.  And you can use these with a variety of ages at the same time by simply tailoring your booklist and adding in different activites for each level.

The cons:  If you are the type of person who needs a detailed schedule that tells you what to cover each day, or at least what to cover each week, this is not for you.  Part of the beauty of TruthQuest-it's flexibility- means that you aren't bound to rigid schedules...but it also means you don't even have a loose one to follow.

The bottom line:  I can't recomment TruthQuest enough.  We used a different history curriculum this year (because of participating in a co-op) and while I loved the readers it uses, the PACE was intense and left very little time for any supplemental studies.  Too often, I felt like I was teaching the subject and not the STUDENT.  TruthQuest eliminates that by offering a wonderful list of reading materials but no rigid timeline to follow.  The pace is mine to set.

To read more about TruthQuest, or to order any of their History Guides, go HERE.  They range in price from $19.95 to $29.95 depending on the time period and on whether you want the hard copy or the pdf.  To see what other members of the TOS Crew had to say (some of them received different time periods to review), go HERE.

Legal Disclaimer:  As a member of the TOS Crew, I received a free download of the Ancient Greece pdf in exchange for my honest review.  That download is the only compensation I received.
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Friday, April 6, 2012

Amazing Animals by Design Book Review


Amazing Animals by Design is a children's picture book written by one of my fellow Crew mates!  Debra wrote it because she found that there are resources that teach about God's purposeful design of creation for older students, but none that focus on younger children.  IN Amazing Animals by Design, two children, John and Sarah, visit the zoo with their parents.  As then learn about the different animals that they see, their parents and the zoo staff fill them in on how each animal is perfectly designed to be able to eat their food or blend in with their surroundings based on their needs. 

The illustrations are simple, but represent each animal, like the caracal above, well.  And the tidbits of information about each animal are memorable and definitely point to God's purposeful design of every living thing.

Amazing Animals by Design is 24 pages long, and is available in a pdf file ($7.99) or in paperback for $8.99.  You can get it directly at Tate Publishing.  I loaded the pdf on my kindle fire, and it worked perfectly.

Legal Disclaimer:  As a member of the TOS Crew, I received a free download of the pdf version of this book.  I received that download in exchange for my honest review, and it is the only compensation I received.
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Monday, April 2, 2012

Guess what is available now?

Family lifetime memberships for Always Icecream and Clever Dragons!  These sites are fully moderated, and very fun and educational at the same time.  Here's a blurb about it below:

New: We're introducing a membership that includes the entire family! Our new Family Lifetime membership starts today with a special offer: Purchase by April 10 and get $110 off the regular price of $259! The membership is good for four children and can be used both on Always Icecream and on Clever Dragons. With the special offer, this is only $37.25 per child for a lifetime membership!

My understanding is that if you have more than 4 kids, you just have to contact them to have it applied to your whole family...but this discounted rate is available through APRIL 10th only!  It's well worth it.  My daughter has learned more geography via Always Icecream than she's ever learned from any curriculum we've done.   And all three of my youngest enjoy the games so much they don't even realize they are learning!
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Homeschool History Resources-I Can't Pick Just One!

This week's blog cruise asked us to pick our favorite homeschool history resource.  The problem?  I have a degree in Social Science Education with a minor in History.  History is kind of my thing.  And I'm a total history curriculum junkie.  So pick ONE favorite?  Not possible!

I'll start with what I'm using this year-Sonlight.  It was the first time I've used it, and I am really enjoying it.  Most of all, I've really enjoyed the readers and read alouds.  I like the use of historical fiction (and some biographies and non-fiction) to teach about time periods. 

My kids have learned SO much, and they retain it because they become engrossed in a story.  It's so much more interesting than a regular old history "spine" (or textbook).  I also appreciate the maps that help students track where everything takes place.  I would say though that I won't ever try to teach 2 cores at once again-it's too hard!  But that's part of the beauty of Sonlight-you can use it with multiple ages.  One big plus with Sonlight is that the reading schedule is broken out for you by day, which is very helpful.  But in the future, I will not use Sonlight's suggested "spine" and will use Mystery of History (or All American History) instead.  I LOVE MOH's short lessons from a Godly perspective. 

Another curriculum that I really love is TruthQuest.  (God initiates...People Respond...History Happens is their "tagline".)  In fact, I'll have a review of it coming very soon.  But basically, TruthQuest takes a time period and gives you brief overviews of the factual information from a Christian perspective combined with a suggested reading list.  So it's kind of like Sonlight, but you control the pace and content a little more. 

Just because I'm crazy, I think next year we'll be using TruthQuest to focus on Greece and Rome, and then MOH 2 for the rest, but add in Sonlight readers and read alouds.  I know...nuts!

Two more things I want to mention.  I think Homeschool in the Woods's History Through the Ages timeline figures are indispensable.  I own the CD version of all the figures, and we use them to keep our timeline.  And you can't teach history without maps.  I am very partial to two different ones.  First are the Homeschool in the Woods's Olde World Style Maps .  I love the hand drawn, old world style of them.  They have such character!

and second are the Wondermaps by Bright Ideas Press.  Wondermaps are customizable buy features like identifying labels, political boundaries, geographical features, etc. 

So there you have it- my "short list" of favorite history resources.  With the exception of Sonlight, I've reviewed ALL of them, so you can check the list to the left if you want to see my full review, but these are the ones that I continue to use in my homeschool even though the review period is long over, and that says a LOT!

Go HERE (after Tuesday, April 4th) to see what other members of the TOS Crew had to say about their favorite History resources.
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Sunday, April 1, 2012

Mimi's Passion

Mimi and her friend have had a passion for aerial silk (think the people flying on ribbons in Cirque du Soleil) for quite a while.  It started with them using a HUGE rope and hurling themselves out of a tree to "fly" and do routines.  Then, back in the late fall, they started taking real, honest to goodness classes with a real, honest to goodness aerial silk.  And Lyra, which Mimi discovered is her true love (think aerial twirling metal hula-hoop).  This week, we changed studios thanks to a Groupon offer that was too good to pass up, and I'm very excited.  The instruction was great, the teachers were so kind, and the girls learned SO much.  Here are a few pictures of Mimi.  (They didn't do lyra this week, but hopefully will next week.)

I know, the last one is blurry, but I had just my point and shoot camera and it is a warehouse, so the lighting isn't great. 
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