Friday, April 29, 2011

Review: Greek 'n' Stuff

It has always been my intention for Schnickelfritz to study a foreign language.  He's taken a few co-op classes that give some Spanish vocabulary along with a study of Latin American culture.  Imagine my surprise when we were chosen to do a long-term review of actual Latin.   Greek 'n' Stuff provided us with Level 2 of their curriculum Latin's Not So Tough!  I looked at the title and certainly hoped so.  I had studied French, my husband had picked up some Spanish.  The only family member I knew who had studied Latin received her only F in the class, so she wouldn't be of much help.  Our materials included a student's worktext ($18.95), a CD pronunciation guide ($10),  and an answer key($4).  The material could have also been purchased as a kit for $36.45 and included a set of quizzes/exams and flashcards on a key ring.  We used the pages in the back of the worktext  to cut out and paste our own flash cards.

Although this was our first exposure to Latin, we began with Level 2.    Lesson 1 is intended for VERY young students and only covers the alphabet, diphthongs and special consonants.  All this material is covered in the first four lessons of Level 2.   In the remaining 32 lessons the student will learn 50 vocabulary words, have 5 vocabulary practices and a 2 part final review.

 A typical lesson begins with a half-page box showing the word and its definition.  The student then practices writing the word while repeating it out loud.  The writing space includes a dashed center line common in elementary level penmanship.  Next comes a cumulative review of vocabulary learned.  This may take the form of true/false  questions, drawing connecting lines to words and their definitions,  circling the correct word from a series of similarly looking words.   This process repeats itself with the second vocabulary word of the lesson.  At the bottom of each page is a reminder to practice with the flashcards.

I did appreciate the amount of review built into the program, both the flash cards and review exercises.  In my experience with learning French we would study a list of vocabulary around a theme—say learning the names of food, but after the test for that chapter we’d move on to a new theme and never see the words again until the final exam.  Rather than set up the typical flash card with a word on the front and English translation on the back, we put each component on its own index card.  That way we could play games like Memory.  I might hide the English translations around our basement and then hand Fritz one Latin word at a time.  He would then race around the basement looking for the match.

The course was true to its name, the Latin we learned was not so tough especially at the pace we learned it.  There are 36 lessons so I presume it is meant to cover one year.  Fritz was able to move along more quickly.  The disappointing factor is that after finishing the book, were still not able to form one complete sentence.  It's a good thing the program is designed for elementary students because older children would be very frustrated with the pace.  The nouns we learned jumped from obvious choices (boy, girl, son, daughter, water) to things that would seldom come up in normal conversation (trumpet, sword, sailor)  The lessons don’t teach us any articles (a, an, the) and I don’t even know if they’re used in Latin.  The choice of verbs seemed odd as well (all are taught as the 1st person singular conjugation): I capture, I fight, I seize.

I really had to step back and consider how studying a dead language differs from learning French.  I studied to be able to communicate as an exchange student in Rouen.  I needed to be able to greet people, ask directions, and make my needs known.   Since my son and I will never be traveling to where we need to converse in the language, there’s no need to learn the Latin equivalent of “Ou se trouve les toilettes?”

Since I am not seeking a classical education for my son, where Latin is learned for its own sake,  the only benefit we would have for studying it is to give insight into derivatives of Latin words and prefixes in our own English language.   This made the vocabulary choices of the course make more sense.  I could see that “patria,” meaning “native land” is the basis for our English word “patriotism.”  The text however makes no such mention of the similarities.

If you our interested in the curriculum, you can find sample pages and Tables of Content for all six levels of Latin's Not So Tough on their website.  You may also want to check out their eight levels of Hey Andrew! Teach Me Some Greek or Bible Study Series.  You can see what my fellow Homeschool Crewmates thought of all these Greek 'n' Stuff products by clicking here.
Disclaimer: I received free materials as stated above from Greek 'n' Stuff for the purposes of completing this review.

Thursday, April 28, 2011

The Science of Disney Imagineering: Design & Models

Recently I blogged about a new series of DVD's we've discovered by Disney covering basics in science, mostly physics.  I'd seen some of these movies listed on the Disney Movie Club website but never felt like I could find enough information about them to feel secure in purchasing them.  They have a hefty price tag ($30 for a 30 minute program).  I decided to start writing more thorough reviews for anyone interested in buying the DVD's or at least knowing which one's they might like to acquire through inter-library loan.  Our most recent view is Designs & Models.  The host for all the titles is an Imagineer named Asa.

Asa's Invention:  For the first time Asa is not working on his own quirky invention.  Instead he uses the example of tutu-clad monkeys invading your living room to explain the process of the Engineering Design Process.

  1. Identify a need or problem (you have to get the monkeys out of the house)

  2. Define design requirement & constraints (you don't have any bananas)

  3. Brainstorm Solutions (there are no bad ideas--even the dressing up in yellow and wearing banana scented perfume)

  4. Decide on an approach

  5. Build models (it is much easier to change the design on a small scale first)

  6. Build the final project


Defined Terms:  Design, Requirement, Constraint, Scale, Model, Iterative  (there is usually a cartoon accompanying the definition to aid in understanding)

Disney Rides or Attractions that exemplify the Theme:  

 The first is Expedition Everest and it receives the most extensive coverage.  Imagineers determine the need-a thrill ride at Disney's animal kingdom.  Brainstorming ideas include a mythical creature theme, but since it will be placed in the Asia section of the park they settle on the Yeti.  Imagineers travel to Nepal to pick up theming ideas and concept drawings are created.  A model of the mountain is sculpted in progressively larger scales with modifications made.  A Cad-Cam system shows how the track and support structure needs to be place and the stages of construction (at one point it was discovered that a support beam would have shot right through a section of track).  Artistic considerations like lighting and sound design are explained.

Second comes Toy Story Mania.  The original model was actually two folding chairs and a paper towel tube!  They knew what they wanted to do but required a lot of play-testing and redesigning to determine the best kind of shooters for the interactive ride.  The key to this segment was showing that problem solving is a process and requires perseverence.

Finally we saw a brief glimpe of latest attraction being built in California--Cars Land, based on the Pixar movie.  More high tech wizardry:  a machine that build models by adding layer upon layer from a computer representation and a visor that let's you view and walk through a  virtual world.  The imagineers discovered that the mountain range of the Cars ride needed to be higher to block the view of electric power lines from the riders.

 The Quiz:  15 questions

Try It Yourself:  Using soda straws and tape, Asa builds a bridge from which is hanging a paper cup.  He begins filling the cup with pennies but it soon collapses--our model didn't work, time for a redesign.  Then he walks you through the process of buidling a suspension bridge.  This design holds a lot more pennies.  I would have prefered it if we were given the opportunity to brainstorm our own design rather than be handed the answer.  I suppose we can always improve on the improvement.

Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Hank the Cowdog

It's a red letter day in our household.  The library called last night and said the latest book in the Hank the Cowdog series had arrived and was waiting for us.  Hank is truly my son's favorite storyteller.  We listen to audio stories in the car and frequently check out two books at a time from the library.  Last week my son got it in his noggin to read an entire book outloud to me (a reversal of roles).  He started at 11:30 and didn't finish until a little after 5 pm.  He read to me while I folded laundry, worked on dinner, and lay on the couch (I hope he didn't notice the little nap I took through chapter 7).  He is very familiar with the Original Adventures of Hank since we also have the audio version.  Sometimes he would pause in his reading to hum out the music that is usually playing in the background.

This new book (#57 if you can believe it) is The Disappearance of Drover.  Drover gets lost at a cattle auction.  Schnickelfritz had the release date written on his calendar last November.  He's hounded the librarian, who was left to explain that it takes several days for an ordered book to be shipped and processed and the library.  He's the first to get his eyetracks on the pages and we're already up to chapter 5.  Want to know what he did when we took a break for lunch.  He got on Amazon and discovered there's already a listing for #58--The Case of the Mysterious Voice.  It will be out in October.  It's almost like the anticipation is better than holding the book in his hot little hands.

Thursday, April 21, 2011

Review: See The Light

  Every now and then I feel pangs of guilt that I'm not giving my Schnickelfritz a well rounded education.  We cover our state's core requirements  but things like music and art just don't make it on my to-do list.  Perhaps part of the problem is that I don't feel qualified to teach such things.  Art class was never one of my strong suits in elementary school and in middle and high school I never signed up for a single class.  Our co-op's one art leader has taken time off to enjoy her new baby.  I needed to find someone who would do the teaching for me--and now I have.  We received a copy of the first DVD in a series of Art Classes by See the Light .

A second concern for me was the sincere dislike my son has for putting pencil to paper.  Writing is his least favorite schoolwork.  And while he will sometimes draw maps on our whiteboard, his preferred art medium is to create images by laying Jenga blocks on their sides.

Pat Knepley was the instructor for the four lessons on our DVD.  She was enthusiastic and made the whole idea of being able to draw approachable and acheivable.    Most of our lessons could be done with a simple #2 pencil and sheets of typing paper.  I put in the DVD to preview it alone and before it was done, Fritz had gathered his own supplies and was following along--with no coaxing or cajoling.  Now that's a good art teacher.

As the name and subtitle suggest, this is definitely a Christ-centered art program.  Each lesson included scripture reading or a reference to a story from the Bible.  For example lesson one talks about the tools we need to create art and then the discussion turns towards the Genesis account of creation.   Lesson two uses an apple as the subject for studying contours and the Biblical application was the Forbidden fruit in the Garden of Eden (which bothered me somewhat because no where in scripture does it say that Eve gave Adam an apple).   The bonus lesson on the DVD was a chalk drawing featuring the three crosses on Calvary.

The lessons were 9 to 15 minutes in length  (the bonus lesson was longer and featured a different instructor).   The children may attempt to draw along with the DVD or just watch the artist and do their own work later.  Below is my Schnickelfritz doing what was the hardest exercise in the lessons.  If you look carefully at his eyes, they are focus on the contour of the apple and not on his paper.  This is training the hand to follow the eye and even Pat was not able to have the end of her line meet up with the beginning on her first demonstration.  I'm sure this was intentional on her part, but it did help my perfectionist son see that there is a learning/training curve to drawing and we just have to keep trying.

 I'm including copies of MY work for lessons three and four.   Fritz took the whole "need to draw lightly" idea to heart and I could not get a good scan of his drawings no matter how I manipulated the image. As mentioned above,  I never learned to draw well either so I did the lessons right along with Fritz. 

[caption id="" align="aligncenter" width="716" caption="Apples and image depth"][/caption]

[caption id="" align="aligncenter" width="716" caption="My Shoe"][/caption]

 The Art Classes videos can be purchased as a set of DVDs (36 lessons on 9 DVDs) for $99.99 or viewed online through a monthly subscription.  Each month would cost $10 and you would receive access to 4 lessons each month (retaining access to prior lessons).  If you are wondering if your family would enjoy the Art Series, you may access the first three lessons online for free.  You can also click on the Curriculum tab to learn what is covered in each lesson of the other DVDs.   I would say the lessons are geared towards elementary students although I certainly never felt "talked down to"  so you may be able to use it with older students who have never received art instruction before.

You can read whatfellow Homeschool Crewmates have to say about Art Classes by See the Light by clicking here.
Disclaimer: I received a free DVD of Art Class Volume 1 for the purpose of completing this review. 

Monday, April 18, 2011

IEW: There's no such thing as too much help

I am so thankful for the additional teaching helps IEW offers through free downloads of articles and workshop audios.  I honestly believe that without them we would never have worked through the learning curve of the program and just tossed it aside as "not for us." 

For our review, we received the DVDs for the student intensive program.  When we began IEW, I used the same technique for viewing the video lessons that we emply with Math-U-See.  Whenever Mr. Demme asks a math question I would pause the video and give me Schnickelfritz the opportunity to answer before the childrem blurt it out.   Fritz is very good at math and has no problem coming up with a correct answer.  This is not the case when it comes to writing.   I would hit pause when Mr. Pudewa asked for key words and allow Fritz to underline his choices.  When it came time to testing our keywords I would again pause the video and tell Fritz "Now you make a sentence using these three words."   The results were poorly chosen key words, fragments of sentences, a frustrated student and teacher.  According to the teachers DVD  forming sentences was supposed to come naturally to native English speakers.   I began to worry that there was more than just a dislike of writing and perhaps a real learning problem here.

Then I listened to a workshop entitled "The Four Deadly Errors of Teaching Writing."  Error number two is holding back help.   I was doing the equivilent of throwing Fritz off the diving board in the deep end of the pool and expecting him to learn to swim.  I saw that Fritz was making poor keyword choices but rather than steer him to something better I was waiting for him to discover it on his own during the keyword test.  I had never explained to him that a sentence needs to be a complete thought and the only grammar he's been exposed to are Schoolhouse Rock videos.   It wasn't a learning problem but a teaching one--I think I've admitted before that one of the reasons I was excited to try IEW was because I had no idea how to teach writing on my own.

Mr. Pudewa encourages a lot of group brainstorming at each stage of the writing process so that kids with more language skills and larger vocabularies can help the weaker students.  They call out suggestions for keywords before Mr. Pudewa writes them on the whiteboard.  They build lists of adverbs and stronger alternatives to overused words like "goes" or "said."  Fritz is literally in a class by himself though.   I had to turn to the kids in the videos to be his surragate classmates.    We watched the videos again and this time I didn't hit pause until after the examples had been given.  I figured out that my literal son was trying to form sentences with only the keywords so I had to rephrase myself and ask "What sentence are these keywords trying to remind us?"   Incidently, it isn't a problem if the child quotes back the original sentence verbatim.  We're not worried about plagerism at this stage.  The child will be learning how to "dress up" the sentence by adding adverbs, combining sentences with who or which clauses, and replacing weak verbs and adjectives.

When we needed additional practice I showed him the Unit 1 section of the Teacher's DVD as well as the Student Writing workshop samples included with the TWSS.  Kids have a remarkable way of letting you know when they no longer need your help.  As Fritz became more familiar with the techniques he would blurt out "Pause the tape! I know!."

Sunday, April 17, 2011

Easter Egg Hunt

Last year Schnickelfritz attended a wonderful Vacation Bible School program at a Baptist church in a nearby town.  You can read about that here.   We learned that they also host an Easter egg hunt so Fritz and I attended with his two best home-schooled friends.   True to their reputation, it was a class act all the way.   This church really knows how to serve others with joy and show Christian hospitality.  I only took a few pictures because  more often than not I was trying to catch up to 3 excited boys and carrying their baskets.

After registering, each child got to pick out an Easter basket to keep.   They had all shapes, colors and sizes.  Fritz's two friends went for sports-themed,  wicker baskets and Fritz went for his favorite color --blue.  The big draw really shouldn't have been called a hunt.  It was really an exercise in picking up quickly and not stepping on the hundreds of eggs scattered across the gym floor.  (I was so thankful this was indoors because we had a windy, wet, and cold Saturday).  

 Scattered throughout the building were more activities: face painting, family portraits, cookie and cake decorating,  crafts for preschool and school ages, games, and free hot dogs and nachos.   One game I liked best was a shell game, but in honor of the ressurection you were trying to keep track of the empty shell.  Guiding us to visit all the activities was a scavenger hunt.  At registration we received an empty egg carton and a clue sheet.  The 12 clues were all written in rhyme and directed us to a different area of the church.  When we arrived we would ask the volunteer if they had egg number whatever.  If we had guessed correctly we received an egg, then we could do the activity.  (I had a terrible time getting the boys to do the activity right then, they wanted to stay on the egg quest but we returned later). 

When we found all twelve stations (and the last one was actually a women dressed as Mary who wandered around the building), we ended up with our own set of Resurrection eggs!  There was a puppet show that discussed the symbols in each egg and the wonderful message of the empty twelfth egg.   Unlike the hunt, these eggs were ours to keep so we could share the gospel message with others.  The boys were quizzing each other in the back seat as we came home to make sure they remembered the contents and what they stood for.

Thursday, April 14, 2011

A boy without a name

I will confess as I see gas prices soaring and my dollar not buying as much at the grocery store that I start having little pity parties for myself.   I compare my family to my neighbor's or my fellow homeschoolers and this mental list of "Don't Haves" starts accumulating.  I don't have a pool, a new car, season tickets to Silver Dollar could go on and on.  Last night I heard the testimony of a man named Peter and I will never allow myself to start a "Don't Have" list again.  He had me beat--as a child, he didn't even have a name.

Our church is taking part in a pilot program of Compassion International to pair up churches with means in North America with churches without means in improverished areas of the world.  Our sister church is in Peru.  No one really knows how this program will work yet.  We've just agreed to a two year commitment and during that time our church must sponsor 50 kids in the area of our sister church through Compassion International.  We doing so now as part of our annual Easter project.  Our family picked an 8 year old boy named Jose--perhaps he'll grow to be a penpal with my Schnickelfritz.

What does this have to do with the boy with no name?  He came to our church last night as a representative of Compassion International.  He had a sponsored child himself in his home country of Rwanda.  The death rate for babies and young children there is so high that his mother refused to name him for fear she would grow attached and then lose him to starvation and malnutrition.  He ate one meal every other day.   After running away from an abusive father, he became a boy of the streets--doing odd jobs for scraps of food.  It wasn't until he became a sponsored child receiving food, education, and medical care that he dared to hope for reaching another birthday.

I DO have  a warm bed, air conditioning in the summer and heat in the winter, food in the fridge and pantry, a loving family and a loving God.  From now on I will be writing out a Do Have list and remembering to thank the Heavenly Father who has bless me with so much.

Monday, April 11, 2011

Show Me Missouri

A fellow Homeschool Crewmember was looking for volunteers to write a little information about their home states for her blog. Since I was already gathering information about our state's history to teach Schnickelfritz next year I volunteered to share about Missouri.

Father Marquette, a Jesuit priest, and Louis Jolliet, a French explorer are credited as the first two white men to lay eyes on the land that would be called Missouri while travelling south on the Mississippi River. According to Marquette's journal---
….we heard the noise of a rapid, into which we were about to run. I have seen nothing more dreadful. An accumulation of large and entire trees, branches, and floating islands, was issuing from the mouth of the river Pekistanoui [Missouri], with such impetuosity that we could not without great danger risk passing through it. So great was the agitation that the water was very muddy, and could not become clear.

Pekitanoui is a river of considerable size, coming from the northwest, from a great distance; and it discharges into the Mississippi. There are many villages of savages along this river, and I hope by its means to discover the Vermillion or California Sea. Judging from the direction of the course of the Mississippi, if it continues the same way, we think that it discharges into the Mexican Gulf. It would be a great advantage to find the river leading to the Southern Sea, toward California; and, as I have said, this is what I hope to do by means of the Pekitanoui, according to the reports made to me by the savages. From them I have learned that, by ascending this river for five or six days, one reaches a fine prairie, twenty or thirty leagues long. This must be crossed in a northwesterly direction, and it terminates at another small river, on which one may embark, for it is not very difficult to transport canoes through so fine a country as that prairie. This second river flows toward the southwest for ten or fifteen leagues, after which it enters a lake, small and deep, which flows toward the west, where it falls into the sea.  I have hardly any doubt that it is the Vermillion Sea, and I do not despair of discovering it some day, if God grant me the grace and the health to do so, in order that I may preach the Gospel to all the peoples of this new world who have so long grovelled in the darkness of infidelity.

Father Marquette wasn't the only man with aspirations to find a water route to the West. Over one hundred and thirty years later President Jefferson would send Lewis and Clark and the Corps of Discovery up the Missouri River in search of the same goal. The most famous landmark in Missouri—the St. Louis Arch commemorates Jefferson's vision and Missouri's role as a "Gateway to the West."  Missouri was the starting point for both the Sante Fe and Oregon Trails.  The starting point for the famous but short-lived Pony Express  was St. Joseph,  Missouri.

Along with Western Expansion, a great overlap between Missouri and United States history is the issue of slavery.   Missouri  territory wanted to form a state government and seek statehood but that would have thrown off the balance of power between slave-holding and free states.  In 1820, the Missouri Compromise allowed the territory to form a government and write a constitution but prohibitted slavery in any of the origianl Lousiana territory north of the 36 30' parallel.   Later, this legislation was declared unconstitutional by the Supreme Court in the Dred Scot case, stating that the congress  didn't not have the authority  to prohibit slavery in U.S. territories.   (Incidently, even though the steps of the Old Courthouse in St. Louis was often the site of slave auctions, a jury there originally found in favor of the Scots' freedom). 

[caption id="" align="aligncenter" width="547" caption="The Old Courthouse"][/caption]

During the Civil War Missouri remained loyal to the Union although it continued to allow slavery.  This border state was truly the site of brother fighting against brother.  More that 100 battles or skirmishes took place in the state--making it the third most active state after Virginia and Tennessee.



Thursday, April 7, 2011

Review: Science Weekly


The latest product we've been sent to review is the Science Weekly newsletter.  The four-page production is available in six learning levels from Kindergarten to Grades 5-6.  Although titled "Weekly,"  a subscription actually has 15 newsletters (for one specific level) during the tradition school year.  The experiments (at least the one we received) may also take longer than a week to complete.

The lower levels (K to 2nd from left to right) feature a large picture on the front with labeled objects.  Each progressive level has more vocabulary words and more sentences growing to short paragraphs.

The upper levels rely more on text to explain material although pictures are still included.   New or unfamiliar terms are followed by parentheses with a syllable breakdown but they aren't exactly pronunciation guides because there are no phonetic symbols.

The inside spread may include a math problem, penmanship practice, or a crossword puzzle but always at least one lab experiment.   Like the reading assignments on the first page, each level is a little harder or more complex.    The kindergartner traces a few letters in each vocabulary word, traces numbers in an addition problem, orally covers what they ate today and what could go in a compost pile, and creates a small amount of compost in a plastic bag.   Level B (the one I used with Schnickelfritz )  has alphabetizing and penmanship practice, math involving a calendar, and a lab with a control and two variables. 

The lab experiment was to attempt to make compost in a bag (like Level Pre-A) but in addition to the regular bag you would have a bag with water but no air and a bag with air but no water.  The student would observe the bags after one, three, and six weeks.   Fritz is already quite familiar with compost and helps me feed our tumbler with kitchen scraps and yard waste so we did not perform the actual lab.  Upper level experiments begin to follow the scientific method by requiring the students to hypothesize about results.

I would have like to have the entire four pages of the newletter devoted to science.  Having a kindergartner trace 9 + 6 = 15 can't be logger as a math lesson and since I only have one student I don't need time-filling exercises that a teacher juggling a class full of kids might.   If I were a mother with kids of varying age I'm not sure I would purchase a subscription for each level.  First, it would be expensive at $19.95 per level.  Second, I don't think you could keep up with separate experiments for each level.  In the composting sample I received you would need 6 plastic bags,  7  gallon size buckets, and 2 5-gallon buckets to cover all six levels and some labs lasted 4 weeks and others 6 weeks.  I think I would get the highest level appropriate for my kids and just let the information trickle down to the younger ones.   The teaching notes (a separate newsletter included with your subscription) contains answer keys and lab information about all the levels so you could make your own math and vocabulary worksheets.

You can view samples of each level on Science Weekly's website.   And you can see what my fellow Homeschool Crewmates thought about Science Weekly by clicking here.
Disclaimer: I received a free copy of each level of Science Weekly and the Teacher's Notes for the purpose of completing this review.  I received no other compensation.

Science of Disney Imagineering

Several weeks ago I posted about some videos we watched during an illness that were entertaining  to a sick kid but could still count towards school.  Now I've found a whole new series I want to share!!  We've just booked our vacation to visit the mouse in Florida and I had looked into their educational field trips but they just weren't going to work for us.  One link led to another and I discovered a set of educational DVD's put out by Disney that explains the science behind some of their theme park rides.  There was a period of time that I wanted to be an imagineer and of course my Schnickelfritz plans to open his own theme park someday--called Seven Flags (we've already started a copyright infringement lawsuit fund).

The videos give a foundation in physics and show that science can be fun.  Imagineer Asa is our guide.  He defines terms with cute stick figure cartoons and then heads out to the parks to show how the theory of science is put into practice.  Our first video covered Trajectory.  Asa defines several terms like trajectory, projectile, etc. while introducing his new invention THE CHURRO-MATIC 5000!!    This goofy machine launches sugar coated, fried snacks to hungry park guests.  Since we have discounted wind resistance (we're in his workshop) and the launcher only has one speed,  Asa  must alter the angle of fire so the churro lands in the basket.  Of course this is Disney and for entertainment purposed several churros go awry first.

Then it's off to Disney World to see how important trajectory is in setting ramps for the car stunt show at Disney Studios.  Another imagineer explains how computers simulate perfect trajectory (no wind resistance) in Toy Story Mania.   We learn that projectiles don't need to be solid object as evidenced by the hopping water fountains outside the Imagination pavilion in Epcot.

My son laughed himself silly, but he did learn as well.  The DVD comes with a bonus feature quiz and he would have scored an A- if this had been an actual test.  Fritz is only 8 and the video is geared towards 5th to 8th graders so I think he did quite well.  This is just an introduction to the principle.  We learn there are complicated formulas in calculating trajectory but nothing further.  In fact, we learn that humans have a natural ability to do this without thinking--when's the last time you sunk a basketball in the hoop?  You didn't need a slide-rule or calculator for that.

There is also a "Try It Yourself" lab experiment--in this case building a three man slingshot.  We'll have to save that for a summer water balloon extravaganza.

We're requesting the entire series through our inter-library loan.  Other titles cover Gravity, Magnetism, Energy, Electricity, Friction, Fluids, Levers and Pulleys, Designs and Models, and Animal Adaptions.  (I may preview the last one before I show him to see how much evolution creeps in).

Biblical Feasts and Holy Days

Our local co-op is offering a new series of classes on the Feasts and Holy Days of the Bible.  We had about ten moms and 30 kids at our first class which was an overview of the Jewish calendar.  The goal is to meet a few days or weeks before the event to learn more and then celebrate with our own families when the holy day occurs.  This topic has been an interest to me since our church held a Passover Seder.  The leader was a messianic Jew and in addition to teaching us the historical and traditional Seder service, he also showed us how the symbols can lead us to the true Messiah. 

The leader of the class invited us to her home to celebrate Hannukah last December.  She's been celebrating the biblical feasts for 16 years so she has a lot of information to share.  She's a homeschooling mom herself (although all her kids are pre-school age), so she came prepared with quiet activities for the kids who wouldn't be able to sit for a two hour lecture.

I'm looking forward to the whole series.  Coming up first--Passover.

Monday, April 4, 2011

Review: Go Go Kabongo

We were recently given the opportunity to test out an online game site designed to help 4-7 year olds develop reading skills.  According to their site--

GoGo Kabongo develops cognitive skills that are essential to reading such as:

  • Attention and Focus

  • Memory Skills

  • Processing

  • Planning

  • Visualization

  • Comprehension

By way of full disclosure,  we don't encourage video or computer games in our family.  My son is also just outside the age range for these games and a proficient reader.  He did play some of the games but quickly tired of them so I played them myself.  The site consists of a Tree-house home base and three habitats (purchased separately) each containing three activities or games.  The games all have six levels of play.  Each location has a alien host to let the child know what activities are available and how to play the games.


 this is homebase and allows the children access to the rewards they've earned by playing skill games in the other habitats.

Avatar Maker:  Unlike most games, your child will not be building an avatar that resembles them.  These are all alien creatures with multiple eyes, tentacles, etc.   The child chooses a head, torso, and feet.  The creature will always have roller skates or be standing on a skateboard.  You can change the avatar's appearance as often as you like.

Skateboard Park:  Your child puts together a series of ramps and jumps (earned by playing other games) and then watches his avatar follow the course.   Clicking the mouse causes the character to jump and avoid obstacles or reach other levels of the course.

Comic Book Maker:  The child can choose from a series of colorful, space- themed backgrounds and apply "stickers" they've earned in other games anywhere on the page.  Some stickers include captions and you can click the listen button to hear what they say.  You may print out the the full-color image when you're finished.  There is not an option to print out in black & white and allow the child to color it in themselves.

Your child can earn accessories to decorate the tree house after playing the skills games.  The tree house also contains a map to give access to the three other habitats (assuming you've purchased them). 

Photo Safari--  You child needs to take pictures of the animals hiding throughout the scene (they are only half-hiding, it's not difficult to find them).  The challenge is they only have a limited number of pictures available --think back to the days of film cameras and only 24 exposures.  When you capture the critter on film it will show a caption bubble where the creature asks for a specific object which can also be found in the scene.  Clicking on that object will earn more picture opportunities. 

Robo Bobo-- A colorful picture is displayed but you quickly notice it is not completed.  A conveyor belt brings the missing pieces by and you must click on the piece and drag it to the correct place in the picture.  There is no need to rotate the pieces and they will snap into place if you get them in the general area.  If you miss a piece it will cycle around again.


Rocket Racer--   You mission is to guide a rocketship down a skate path and collect letters.  The alien host will tell you the order in which to collect them.  You need to avoid other letters and objects in your way.  We could not get this game to run during several attempts.  After the rules were explained we were just left on an empty path with no rocket or letters (Kabongo  is still listed as a Beta product).




Desert Dash-- This game is similar to Rocket Racer above only now you are crossing the desert on a motorcycle and sidecar.  Instead of telling you which letters to collect you must listen for a phonogram.  This may be made by a single letter or a group of letters.  I had a difficult time hearing these sounds clearly and couldn't find a way to get the sound repeated.  There's no penalty for incorrect guesses so just drive over any letters you come across and you're bound to be right sooner or later.

Crazy Maze-- The object is to get a bouncing ball from one corner of the maze to the opposite corner and complete a simple word.  You guide the ball by dragging the mouse in front of it.  None of the mazes are difficult and any of the three letter choices will complete the word.




Design a Door --  The game begins by showing you a completed door and giving you time to study it.  Look at the color and any stickers that may be attached to the door.  When the study time is over you will have a blank door and you must recreate the sample by adding stickers in the correct locations and possibly repainting the door.  The first level  only involved adding one sticker.

Scuba Dude--Like Desert Dash and Rocket Racer but this time you will be searching for colored starfish and sea shells.   The instructions say you must gather the objects in the correct order but in the levels I played I was never given more than one object to look for at a time.  This may be tougher than it appears because you have to match color and shape and once your told what to look for, the object disappears and you must rely on your memory.

Critter Sizer-  A conveyor belt travels by carrying a zoo full of animals.  As each animal enters a window and its name is announced you must categorize it as "Big" or "Little."    You can do this by clicking your mouse on the appropriately labeled button or using the up and down arrows on the keypad.  This was the fastest moving game on the whole site in my opinion and the only one with a keyboard option.

Going Buggy--A scene appears on the upper right side of the screen.  On the left side are one or more sentences describing the scene.  You must place objects from the menu boxes into the appropriate places to make the scene match the sentences.  The sentence are read aloud for non-readers and you can click on a button to hear them again if needed.   Once you click on an insect or object four or five places within the scene are highlighted and you click on the appropriate one.  In the beginning levels there may be several sentences but you only need to add on object, the others are already in place.  My son played this game several times and often he was given the exact same scenerio so he tired of it quickly.

After each skill game the child is given a choce of three rewards--a section of skateboard track, a new comic book sticker, an object to decorate the treehouse.  This was one area that seemed to have the most glitches.  Often the boxes would be blank or the same reward would appear in more than one box.  We played these games on a dial up system.  There was a delay in loading each game--as long as 40 seconds, but we never had a game stop in progress.

Right now you can sign up and get two habitats for free--Laughter Lake and Galaxy Gardens.  Twister Top is available for $4.95 per child for lifetime access.   I'm not sure how much of a bargain  that will turn out to be as I fear any child familiar with video games will find these very slow.    You can read what others on the homeschool crew think of Go Go Kabongo by clicking here.
Disclaimer: I received free access to all habitats of Go Go Kabongo for the purposes of completing this review.  I received no other compensation.

Saturday, April 2, 2011

Karate Tournament

Every since Upwards basketball ended I've been looking for a sport where Schnickelfritz can get exercise, meet other kids, and just have fun.  Being the little competitor that he is, winning awards isn't a bad thing either.  As the weather turns warmer we'll start orienteering again, but until the end of the school year (the public school where the class is offered) he'll be taking Tae Kwon Do.

Today was his first tournament.  I hesitated to sign him up because I didn't think he would be ready.  He insisted because without participating in a tournament his next belt color would carry a white stripe.  He really applied himself over the last two weeks, practicing his forms and how he would approach the judges every day.  Granny came out and she, the Toolman and I formed his little cheering section.


Here he is prepared for sparring.  Although punches to the face are illegal, I chose headgear with a face mask so he could concentrate on what he was doing and not worry that a misplaced punch might know out one of his two loose teeth.

Here he is in front of the judges and his hard work pays off.  In a large gym with several rings going at once the other competitors couldn't be heard over the din.  Fritz makes a good first impression and the judges know his name style and form.  Another boy's instructor apparently forgot to cover what's expected at a tournament and he stood there and said "What now?"  When he couldn't answer any question but his name the judges politely suggested he just bow and take his seat.

Here's the big finish.  Fritz got first place for his forms.  Not only will he not bear the burden of a white-striped belt, but his instructor promised all first place winners would automatically move up to the next belt color.
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