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Game playing is a wonderful way to bring a family together. It is even better during the tough economic times. As a family, we are always looking for new games, but that can be difficult in my family due to special needs issues. Recently, I was sent a product called Wits and Wagers Family from North Star Games. My husband was excited. He had played the game with the same name, but not a family version, years ago from another company that no longer exists. He was very happy someone had decided to publish it again. As per our tradition, I got the game out after Thanksgiving Dinner. We would just see how it went.

With overfull bellies, we got the game out to play rather than sleep the afternoon away. My children and a girlfriend who are grown and just out of college or in college groaned when their Dad said he had played it years ago. The idea of playing something he liked long ago didn’t sound very promising to them. With that, we opened the box and as promised, explained the game play in just a couple of minutes. My husband explained it to me by fingerspelling the steps as I needed to do something. First, a question is chosen and read aloud. My husband fingerspelled it to me. We each had little dry erase boards to write our answer on to and place face down when done. Our first question was how many different colors of Froot Loops are there? Everyone tried to imagine their morning cereals from breakfasts past and wrote down a number and placed their card face down. When everyone was finished, the cards were turned face up and placed in numerical order. We each then got to decide if we wanted to stick with our answer or try to help our chances by backing another’s answer. You each have two little meeples or wooden people shapes. One is larger than the other at about ¾ of an inch high and each set of meeples is a different color than matches an answer board. The large meeple is worth two points and the smaller one is worth one point. You place your meeples on any of the answers you think might be correct. You can place them all on your answer board if you are really certain you are correct, or you can place them on one or two others to help your chances of gaining points. The answer to our question was six. I had written 4 as a guess, but I knew there had to be more. Other answers given were 5, 6, and 8. I decided to put a large meeple on 5 and the small one on 8. If your card answer is right, you get one point. If your meeples are on a correct answer, you get one or two points for a possible high of 4 points if all of your meeples are on the right answer. I totally missed that one. My younger son’s girlfriend, Rachel, got that one right as I had watched her count imaginary Froot Loops. The only question I got right for the game was how many feet are in a mile. My two sons missed that one. I guess I didn’t teach that fact very well, did I? Rachel won despite not getting too many questions right as did none of us. That is the beauty of the game. Even those of us who have gotten foggy in our brains have a chance to win by mooching off the right answers of others. We all laughed at our silly and far-fetched answers and even enjoyed our temporary status of victors with appropriate trash talk. The game proved to be a hit.

Well-made and durable, the quick play of about twenty minutes is also perfect for most families regardless of ages involved. North Star Games states that it is best suited for those 8 and over and with three to ten players. As most of us know in homeschooling families, you often have younger children around. “The questions are varied and range from easy to hard making the game fun and easy for young and old people”, Rachel said. If you need a few easier questions though for a much younger child, you can let all of the family help you write up a few more to mix in. Brendan felt that “some of the questions could become outdated”, but you could also add a few more timely questions to replace them if you want. Brian thought it was really fun and “worked well for all ages” to play despite differences in abilities, but he agreed with his brother about some of the questions becoming outdated. Most though will stand the test of time and popularity. My husband really liked that it was the game he played and enjoyed so long ago, but also had a good playing and scoring format for families that might not feel the connection to wagering was a good example.

I liked the game setup and durability of the materials. The questions can be redone in braille, large print, or signed for family members with sensory impairments quite easily because the questions are short and simply stated. Scoring is simple even for the youngest members. North Star games can easily add additional question packets to be purchased separately to address issues of outdated questions or for providing special play topics, too. The game is easily modified for any family and their specific needs and a perfect fit at $19.99. There is the more adult party version available, too, if your family needs more of a challenge.

Check http://www.northstargames.com for more information about Wits and Wagers Family or any of their other games.

I was provided a free product to write this review. I was not compensated in any other way, and the opinion expressed here is entirely my own.

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You may have heard of the Advanced Placement tests offered on different subjects by the College Board. If not, the AP tests allow a student who has studied advanced material on a subject through college level to take a test to receive both high school and college credit for the material. It is a good program for students who excel in one or more areas. Learning the material isn’t necessarily enough. Additional preparation on completion of essay writings required, topics covered, test-taking strategies, etc. could mean the difference between credit and no credit. The Cerebellum Corporation now presents their Light Speed Advanced Placement video program to clear the way for success.
This new program uses a format similar to their popular Standard Deviants series sold on DVD and seen on PBS. Through young actors and on-screen graphics, the program covers extensive research on essential test topics of Chemistry, U. S. History, U. S. Government and Politics, and English Composition and Language. The producers say it is a rapid and thorough approach to the topics. I received U. S. History to review. As the date for my students’ testing was only about two weeks away when I received the tape, I could give the students’ limited time to review the material before the test date. I showed the video on one school day, and let them use pages from the digital workbook provided with the program. The workbook pages are very concise and detailed to reinforce the material presented on the video. After viewing the video, I asked the two students to write comments about the experience. Both stated that they enjoyed the time spent viewing the video and thought it was helpful to them. It seemed to allay some concerns about the test and strengthen confidence at the very least. The essay section seemed to be the most helpful to the students. They felt the material was presented very clearly and concisely. One felt the actors were a bit corny and felt that was a little distracting. I definitely wouldn’t normally present the material in one session and only a couple of weeks to use the digital workbook. The program was designed to be used in small sessions and repeatedly throughout the year of preparing for an AP test. You can’t judge the program for its effectiveness in improving scores, of course, but both students felt more confident about taking the AP test after viewing the material. That is a plus in itself.
I have a little complaint with the DVD because I was not able to view this program myself. For deaf students, the DVD is not closed-captioned. Blind students would have some difficulty with the digital workbook because of the .pdf format limitations for speech readers and braille output. You can copy to another program for accessibility, but some of the pages consisted of pictures with information that can’t be view with a braille display or spoken with a speech reader. I certainly hope the producers will at least consider using closed captions in the future.
Although we can’t say how the program affected my students’ scores, their increased confidence even with the short time they had the program should count for something. At the cost of $14.98 for each title, Cerebellum’s Light Speed AP U. S. History should not be considered a waste of money. For the rest of the year, you can receive a 20% discount off any product using the code OSH20 at checkout. Check out their full listing at http://www.sdlearn.com.
I received a free U. S. History program to write this review. I didn’t receive any other compensation, and the opinion expressed here is entirely my own.

You might be like many homeschool moms out there who have developed homeschool burnout. A case noted by a sink full of dishes, arts and crafts, textbooks, paper sprawled everywhere, and a haggard looking mom bent over the kitchen table full of research books, lesson plan books, and teacher editions trying to create that perfect lesson to spark the glow in her children’s eyes over bugs or pronouns. As the school year dwindles down to a close, you might be finding yourself in the description above. If so, Ideal Curriculum thinks they can help make your life easier if you have pre-schoolers and early learning students.

Ideal Curriculum is a curriculum program designed to fully cover the academic concepts of literacy, oral language, math, calendar, science, and social studies. The curriculum uses art, music, play, and movement to make learning fun. With literacy in mind, the activities cover letters and sound, phonological awareness, sight words, and concepts about print. Each unit includes a read-aloud text for each major concept, full-color flash cards, letter cards, sight word cards, and music files. Lesson plans are provided for each subject Literacy, Math, Science or Social Studies based on the monthly theme. In fact from start to finish, everything you need is provided along with every detail you need to implement it.

The monthly kits are available as print or downloadable .pdf files. Either of which can be made more accessible for either disabled students or parents with a few modifications. Low Vision can copy or print out the pages in larger print or blown up. The files are left open and accessible for copying to a braille translation program or read by Adobe’s text to speech reader. Letter cards can be made tactile with glue or tactile paint. Pictures can be recreated with objects if detailed, or if line art, they can be made tactile with glue or tactile paint. Tactile images such as letter cards or word cards are useful for the blind, deafblind, low vision, and learning disabled. Most of the activities are accessible or easy to modify as needed.

The monthly kits are $95.00 for print, and $30.00 for downloadable files. In the coming months, packages will be available that will combine parts of the curriculum and provide a savings for buying them together. The website also has a blog with interesting information about literacy and useful tips for teaching. Check out http://www.idealcurriculum.com for more information. With Ideal Curriculum, you can develop your children into strong readers and writers while teaching them to love to learn.

I was provided a downloadable copy of monthly kit 1 in order to write this review, but I was not compensated in any other way. The opinion expressed here is entirely my own.

We recently talked about World History, so now let’s jump right into American History with the American Heritage: An Adventure in Liberty CD. As publishing companies and secular historians try to rewrite our country’s history to fit their own agenda, it is a breath of fresh air to see this curriculum hit the field.

The American Heritage Education Foundation, Inc. makes the social studies/civic K-12 lesson plan resource CD available to free to educators. The foundation’s mission is dedicated to the understanding and teaching of our nation’s factual and philosophical heritage to promote constructive citizenship and freedom, unity, progress, and responsibility among our students and citizens. This resource planner implements that mission in a wonderful and beneficial way. The lessons are well written and hold a child’s attention. The activities provided stimulate continued interest and encourage interesting discussions. The program has three levels on elementary, middle school, and high school level. The elementary level is also provided in Spanish. The file format is Adobe Reader .pdf, and they provide a version of Acrobat Reader for installation if you do not have it on your computer. The Acrobat Reader is free and current versions can be downloaded from the Adobe Acrobat Reader web site for future use as updates become available. The material, itself, is written clearly and simple enough that the same basic lesson information is the same across the levels with the activities being a little more involved and covering more in-depth analysis in the higher levels. This makes it ideal for a classroom setting with students having various ability levels and learning needs and for a homeschool setting where there may be several students, but in different grade levels. Instruction can be simultaneous in either setting with modifications made when necessary and activities tailored for ability and grade levels. More importantly, the information is historically accurate and places the emphasis on the key facts that this country was founded by Christian men who planned the government to allow for freedom of religion, but acknowledging that there is a sovereign God who must be our guide in government matters. All of these factors make this a great choice for your lesson plan resource.

As far as accessibility which is very important to most of my readers, the .pdf format is as discussed here before not very accessible for some of my readers who are DeafBlind as I am. Adobe has removed their features that allowed braille access and locked their program down to use only their built-in text-to-speech program which doesn’t allow for braille access. The authors do have all security measures allowed including copying for accessibility which allows you to copy the text to Word which allows for some braille text access. The majority of the document is text in this case, so that is a great help for DeafBlind users. You will be able to get use of the product with a little bit of manipulation of the text. I appreciate the authors allowing that copy ability. The lack of alternate text tags for the images will present a small problem for all blind and deafblind users. The authors didn’t set up the file for accessibility at all within the Adobe format, so this can present problems even for the built-in reader. It is a simple problem to correct by labeling alternate text tags for the images and specifying language for all the text along with a few other simple corrections. I certainly hope they will do so to make it easier for text-to-speech reading to be correct and ease the transition to Word for braille use. Overall, the authors are commended for making the effort toward some accessibility.

The American Heritage Education Foundation also provides additional resources to further enhance their An Adventure in Liberty program on their website at http://www.americanheritage.org . Check them out for information on how to order the CD resource, as well. Wynfield Christian Academy will definitely be adding it to their curriculum resources for American History and Civics instruction. I don’t think anyone can go wrong with trying this program for instilling a God-based and historically accurate foundation for our American Heritage into our children. Our next generation really needs this kind of background to help keep America on a straight path as a God-fearing nation.

There are two important things that I want students to learn when I teach them. First, I want them to learn to love reading and learning. Second, I want them to learn how to learn, so they will continue it for their entire lives. From those two things, everything else from the alphabet and numbers to concepts of gravity and democracy will fall into place. Curriculums should be written from that stand point. The Five in a Row curriculum series by Jane Claire Lambert does that.
Using good books to weave a plan of learning and fun is the design of the Five in a Row series. The books are carefully chosen to present, as the Lamberts explain, “close family relationships, personal triumphs, and persevering in times of trial”. Activities and discussions are laid out to present how to read and critique books which blends into learning about many subjects through the adventures of the characters.
The method is the most important factor of this curriculum. It is imperative that a parent read each book to the students each day of the week. I love this time of closeness. The students do, too. The modeling I do while reading is important for the children. They get to hear how to glean meaning from the words by the inflection in my voice and the pauses for commas and the stops for periods. They hear my enthusiasm in my voice. They feel the love for the words and the life within those words. Also, hearing the story each day and then doing activities and discussing different aspects of the story or how it relates to another subject like math or science reviews those aspects as many as four times.
The layout is simplified to allow even beginning homeschoolers the ability to succeed in the unit study format of Five in a Row. There are five main subjects used in the units to allow activities to be used in a five-day format. Teachers can choose from many different activities in each subject or even do them all and choose when during the week to do the lessons. Sample lesson plans are provided to help the teacher organize, but it isn’t necessary. Many teachers just check off in the book the activities they wish to do with their students. All of the books used in the series can be found free at the public library making this an easily affordable curriculum to use at any age level. I need braille to read to my students, but I have plenty of time to get the National Library to send me via download the braille text for each book. I often purchase the book and print the braille on overlay plastic to glue with clear glue to the page. I can read the story in braille as my students read the print and look at pictures. This keeps me actively involved with my students’ learning.
There are many levels to the Five in a Row curriculum covering ages 4-8. Each level can still be used for a family of multiple students in that age level easily. The authors even suggest hints for using activities with younger and/or older children. The appendix has the copy sheets for the activities in the book as well as that sample lesson plan. Story disks which are round circles with story pictures on them which can be cut out, colored, and laminated are used in many activities such as geography where they place the story disk on areas of the map such as the water areas found around the island of Nantucket where a story you read takes place. That is a wonderful way to remember about lakes and oceans and other geographical features. You can purchase a set of these on their website if you prefer things pre-done, too.
A teacher will find the series quite complete for ages 4-5 or 6. When you feel your students are ready to introduce phonics or formal math lessons, the authors help you integrate the subjects easily into your day while still seeing the benefits of the unit study series.
The authors have other series for ages 2 thru high school. I have personally used most of them and found them to be very fulfilling and intriguing. There are also additional unit studies for all levels that can be purchased inexpensively on their web site. Check them out at http://www.fiveinarow.com. Unit studies are a great way to teach a lifelong love for learning. Five in a Row and all the other age levels from this author are an easy and wonderful way to accomplish this important goal.

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