Thursday, July 30, 2015

Review: Heirloom Audio Productions




We have become huge fans of the audio theater productions from Heirloom Audio Productions. Our most recent CD set to review was the newest release, called With Lee In Virginia.  Fans of G.A. Henty books will especially appreciate the way Heirloom Audio Productions brings his stories to life in such a vibrant way. 

General Thomas 'Stonewall' Jackson
The Story Line: This historical fiction story follows the life of a young Southern man named Vincent Wingfield as he comes of age during the Civil War years and joins the Army of Northern Virginia. Because he is a talented horseman, he is put into the Cavalry and serves alongside famous generals such as Stonewall Jackson and Robert E. Lee. The story delicately explores the subject of slavery and also delves into the deeper battle issues of the war, such as state's rights, while educating the listener about the Civil War itself and the rich history of America during that time. Not only is the story packed with action, but there is a strong sense of Biblical teachings and character training woven throughout the adventure. Devotion to God is emphasized and demonstrated by the lives of the generals. Both Lee and Jackson were very Godly men, whose character and dedication are to be greatly admired and from whose lives there is much to be learned.

What Is Included: The package includes two audio CD's with about 2 1/2 hours of listening time. There is also a website where the listener can download a free study guide to use alongside this CD set, making this a great Civil War unit study or addition to an American History curriculum.

Age Recommendation: Heirloom Audio recommends this for ages 6 to adult. There are some vivid sound effects of war, fighting, and slave punishment, so parents should use discretion for younger listeners and make sure it is appropriate for them.

All Star Cast: There are some pretty popular voices in this production, including Sean Astin, Kirk Cameron and his son, Brian Blessed, Chris Anthony, Kelsey Lansdowne, and Jim Weiss. 




About the Study Guide: The free 52 page study guide can be downloaded and printed. There is a short lesson for each track of the CD, including three parts:
  1. Listening Well - Basic comprehension questions that test how well the listener remembers the details of the story.
  2. Thinking Further - Asks some harder, thinking questions, that cause the listener to have to dig in and study the subject matter out a bit, before being able to answer. There are also some more abstract questions included, which help the listener to draw conclusions rather than just answering comprehension questions.
  3. Defining Words - New Vocabulary words to learn for each section.
The study guide also includes several map studies, helping the student track the travels of the main character, as well as seeing the big picture of the layout of the US during this era. 



At the end of the study guide are several Bible studies that emphasize character training and Biblical lessons that can be drawn out of this story, including Duty, Loving Your Enemy, and Slavery in the Bible. I greatly appreciate the strong Biblical teachings and explanations that accompany this CD, and the explanation of slavery in the Bible in comparison to modern times is just fantastic and very clear. Throughout the study guide are historical photos and drawings that really bring the lessons to life.

General Robert E. Lee
How we used this: Since we have already reviewed "Under Drake's Flag" and "In Freedom's Cause" from Heirloom Audio Productions, my kids knew exactly what to expect and were eagerly anticipating the release of this newest audio adventure. In fact, they were stalking the website and Facebook page to see when it was complete! American History and the Civil War is one of our favorite subjects to study so they couldn't wait to hear this story.

When the package came, my 17 year old snagged it first and out it went with her to her car. We didn't even get to see it until the next day when she brought it in after listening to the entire story. Each of the kids subsequently grabbed it, one after the other, and listened to the story in its entirety. It was a few days before I was able to have a turn, and had to listen to all their feedback about how wonderful the story was before I even got a chance to hear it for myself! I had to agree - the story is compelling and attention grabbing right from the start, and I couldn't stop until I listened to the whole thing! We have since listened to it together as a family as well. The recording is so well done, and the cast is so enthusiastic that you can't help but be completely invested in the story from beginning to end. 

Listening to "With Lee In Virginia" has really opened up some good conversations in our family about the Civil War, states' rights, slavery, and how deep the divide was between the north and the south. It was fascinating to learn of the devoted Christianity of some of the Southern generals, and discuss how their Christianity helped them through such a difficult time, even in defeat. The character training lessons woven throughout the story are priceless, and so relevant.

Though we have not made as much use of the study guide as I would have liked over this summer, it will make a tremendous unit study for us to really dig into the next time we are studying the Civil War. 




Final Word: Our family absolutely loved "With Lee in Virginia"! I am planning on adding it to my Christmas & birthday shopping lists, as there are several people that I know would love it as much as we do. I wholeheartedly recommend it for educational entertainment and the kids are already investigating when the next adventure from Heirloom Audio Productions will be ready!

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With Lee in Virginia Audio Drama Review


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Tuesday, July 28, 2015

Review: UnLock Math



Melissa just finished Pre-Algebra this past school year, and will be starting Algebra 1, and high school, in September. I have found that it is helpful to have some kind of plan in place to review and keep the math facts fresh over the summer, so that the girls can jump right in to their new work in the fall without having to spend so much time reviewing and refreshing their minds. This summer we were given the opportunity to review UnLock Pre-Algebra from UnLock Math. I was very excited because the program seems tailored to the need we have - refreshing "already learned" math facts while keeping pace with new concepts.



What is UnLock Pre-Algebra?  This is a completely online course that takes a student through sixteen units of lessons preparing them to meet the challenge of a rigorous Algebra course. While each unit includes review and testing, the new concept is taught in video format by a teacher, with colorful graphics that demonstrate the concept.

What is a typical lesson like? Each unit has up to eight separate lessons. Students may work at their own pace, although there is a pacing guide included with suggestions for the teacher. Each day, students log on and pick up where they left off the previous day. They start with a quick warm up of mathematical review questions to get their brain engaged and thinking mathematically. The actual video is next. The ones we have watched so far have been around five minutes long. It is an actual video of a certified teacher (Alesia Blackwood - a former homeschool student) as she teaches the student that day's new concept. After watching the video, students follow the path on their screen and complete some practice problems that correlate with the lesson. The next section, "Stay Sharp", reviews concepts from prior lessons. Then there is a "Challenge Yourself" section that is exactly what it's name describes. The questions there challenge the student to apply the mathematical concept to some challenging problem solving. There are notes to print out that allow the student to study a printed version of the new concepts of that lesson.



How long does a lesson take? I allowed Melissa to work through this at her own pace. Typically she would complete an entire lesson in one sitting, although some days she only did one or two of the sections, completing a lesson over several days. Even on days when she completed an entire lesson, she was finished in under twenty minutes. Perhaps that will take longer as she moves on to more challenging concepts. 


Video Lessons embedded on the page

Don't lose your place! The student's dashboard contains all the units with a small lock next to each. As they complete lessons the lock graphic 'unlocks' to help them keep track of where they are at. The lessons don't actually remain locked to the student though, which does allows for flexibility if the student and parent decide to move around and do the lessons out of order, focusing on weak areas. I think it would be tremendous if there was also a way to keep the lessons locked and cause the student to work them in the order they are listed in if the parent chose to. 


Unit One


Grading and teacher preparation: There is virtually no preparation on the teacher's part. Once signed up, the student can take off running with this program and work through it. There is so much review built in that parents need not worry if the concepts were mastered the first time, as they will be visited again through the warm ups and 'stay sharp' sections. The teacher gradebook is very thorough. It includes the score, time spent, and date/time completed. Parents also have the ability to go into the program to see how the questions were answered, so they can decipher any trouble spots the student may be having. On the student's page, there are colorful graphs and charts demonstrating their completion of the course, as well as their grades and mastery of the lessons.


Grade book sample


Testing: Each unit has built in quizzes and tests. The scores are tracked in the gradebook, and a final average is given for each lesson and unit. The questions are kept "one-to-a-page" which we have found to be less intimidating and overwhelming. Most of the questions we have encountered so far have been traditional "fill in the blank with the correct answer" questions, which eliminates the guesswork that some students attempt with multiple choice answers.

What did we think? I found this program to be extremely user friendly and easy. Setting up and starting was a piece of cake, and Melissa was able to start it immediately, and has been able to work through nearly all of it on her own so far. While we are using it as review, Melissa has also found some concepts explained just a bit differently, which helps her to broaden her mathematical thinking. Melissa enjoys the video teacher, and thinks she is fun and interesting. She definitely explains the concepts thoroughly and keeps the pace moving along quickly. I think this program definitely has the potential to take a student on a journey through Pre-Algebra and allow their Algebra experience to be much more successful. As an educator who believes in mastery of  the subject matter, I absolutely LOVE the way the math concepts and reviews are layered throughout the program. The student will visit the concepts multiple times before completing the program, but in a non-tedious way because the problems are sprinkled throughout the various sections. The only challenge we have encountered so far using this program is that we have had several attempts of submitting tests, and the program not recording their completion. This has been a minor frustration, and one we have been able to work around. 

Other programs: UnLock Math also has an Algebra 1 program, and will soon be releasing an Algebra 2 program. These programs are suitable for any level of learner, whether a math whiz or a learning challenged student, because the student may absolutely work at their own pace. The built in reviews will definitely help students who have a struggle with math. 

To see how other Crew members have used UnLock Pre-Algebra, click the banner below:

UnLock Math Review

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Saturday, July 18, 2015

Review: Prasso Ministries


My husband and I have been involved in youth ministry for over twenty years. Now with teens of our own, we deeply treasure the wonderful conversations we have discussing matters of faith. It is such a blessing to work with teens and watch them begin to embrace their own faith and develop a personal relationship with God.  We are always on the lookout for solid materials to use with our own teenaged children, as well as with our youth group and Sunday School class. I was excited about reviewing the Teen Prasso Homework Manual and Teen Prasso Teacher's Manual from Prasso Ministries.

What is Prasso Ministries? The word 'Prasso" literally means "to practice".  This ministry began over 21 years ago, with the intent of providing materials to help Christians "practice" their walk with God. Practicing something makes a person stronger and more successful. The idea is that practicing a daily Bible study will grow a stronger Christian. The material is set up for individual or group study, but there definitely is an emphasis on group discussion.  The students can work on their individual journal throughout the week, but come together for weekly group discussion.

Why Teen Prasso? Teens have more practice at being children than adults. As they explore their faith and develop their belief system, they will inevitably come up with challenging questions that must be satisfied in order for their relationship with the Lord to grow stronger. The Teen Prasso series addresses specific issues that teens in our culture face on a daily basis.


What is in the Teacher's Manual? The manual is 9"x12" and spiral bound. It contains outlines for thirteen lessons, as well as amazing teacher guidelines. There are several pages that I found invaluable as a teacher. They lay out an informative list of ideas for leading group discussion and dealing with a diverse group of student personalities. Even though I have been teaching a Sunday School class for over half my life, I found these few pages extremely concise and helpful. I definitely gleaned many good tips from them.  The outlines themselves have teaching tips, a key verse, and an outline of points to magnify from the lesson. Each lesson comes with a message goal, which is like a thesis statement that summarizes the lesson, and helps the teacher stay on track. There is an continuing story with fictional characters that are fun, interesting, and extremely relatable to teens. Each lesson builds on the story, and draws out an issue from the story for the student to focus on, and examine in their own life. The teacher's manual is 124 pages long.

 
What is in the Student Journal? The smaller, square shaped, spiral bound student journal is exactly what it says - a journal for the student to really own the lessons in a hands-on way, digging into their Bible study and applying the truths to their everyday life. The journal, of course, coincides with the thirteen lessons that the teacher's manual gives. Each lesson has about 15-20 pages of work for the student to do on their own. There are six days worth of probing questions and short lessons that break down the topic for that week into bite size pieces for a teen to work through. Each day's reading and question answering takes about 15 minutes. Day 1-5 are journal assignments, day 6 is a review and re-think, and then the last page contains group discussion questions.

What kind of topics are covered? The entire study covers the following themes:
  1. God, the Heavenly Father (getting to know the nature of God)
  2. God's Love
  3. The need for the Scriptures as our guiding map.
  4. Living through trials.
  5. Spiritual Warfare
  6. Maintaining a good testimony and following others who have a good testimony.
  7. Listening to God's voice.
  8. Properly dealing with anger.
  9. Learning how to forgive.
  10. Recognizing and dealing with pride in our lives.
  11. Learning how to subdue your own will.
  12. Learning the lifelong benefits of establishing a daily walk with God.
  13. Having a good judgment seat before God at the end of our life.
What do I think? As you can see, these are some heavy topics for teens, but I have always found that teens are very invested in studying and taking charge of their own walk with God, and I think these topics are excellent choices for a teen Bible study.  This material digs into areas that most teen Bible training materials ignore. I am so impressed with this material. It is well written, and very easy to follow with little outside preparation. As a teacher, I can study the lesson and feel adequately prepared to teach it, without having to do all kinds of searching for appropriate illustrations or examples. The fictional story threaded through the book is quite captivating. (I admit, I cheated, and read the entire story to the end to find out what happened!)

How have we used this? I am going through this material with Melissa, my 13 year old. While some of the topics are a little deep for her level of thinking, they are still good exercises for her, and that's the whole point of this program - exercising and strengthening a walk with God. Each day's student journal assignment is about a page and a half, which takes no more than 15 minutes. It really is great "practice" in developing the character it takes to maintain daily devotions. It's also fun, funny, and enjoyable for her to work on.  We have completed a little of the journal, and will probably hold the rest until school starts to include it into the daily morning routine for Bible study. I am also considering going through the entire program with my teen girls Sunday School class, because I am that impressed with it.

To see how other Crew members have used Teen Prasso, click the banner below:

Prasso Ministries Review
 
 
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