Thursday, April 30, 2015

You Can Be a U.S. History Detective, Too! [a book review]

I was given the opportunity to use and review the U.S. History Detective, Book One, by The Critical Thinking Co. My children all studied U.S. History this year, so I was thrilled to be given the chance to try one of their books. My oldest child was given this one since it is written for students in grades 8-12+.

The curriculum we chose for U.S. History this year was very thorough, I'm sure, but my daughter found it very dry and boring. The reading was lengthy and she found she was not retaining much. Then she started using the U.S. History Detective book. She was much more excited about the shorter length of the lessons, the way the pages are laid out (I have a real personal struggle with curricula that is written well but laid out badly - read, overwhelming to the student), and the frequent review sections. To expect a student to read an entire chapter of 8-10 pages of history facts and figures and then answer only a few questions always seems silly to me, and The Critical Thinking Co. must agree because they have sections about 2 pages in length before asking for student feedback. The way it is broken up is much more conducive to retention, in my opinion.

There are multiple choice and free response review sections, charts and diagrams, a "Fun Fact" section for each lesson, and lots of pictures to help with the multiple ways a student needs to get the material into the brain's memory banks. I am always impressed with The Critical Thinking Co.'s ability to make their books interesting and interactive as compared to other texts.

This is one example of what I really liked about the book:

It is a review activity using a Venn Diagram to help students compare and contrast indentured servants with slaves. That is a literary process! I love when our subjects can be combined in a meaningful way - it takes the busywork out of language arts to write about something you are already learning in another subject area. :)

My daughter really likes this book and finds that it works well with her learning style. She tends to have trouble retaining a lot of text, so having it broken up in meaningful ways and with frequent student response sections has really helped her make more sense of U.S. History. If only we'd found this book earlier this year! ;)

If you are about to study U.S. History, or if you need a summer review, I recommend the U.S. History Detective. And since it is Book One, I intend to keep looking out for Book Two on their website (it isn't there yet, but I think this one will be a success, so it's just a matter of time)!


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I also get to offer my readers the following deal from The Critical Thinking Co. as part of my agreement to write this review. If you ask me, that is a major bonus!
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15% Off Any Size Order!
Details: Offer expires 5/31/2015 at Midnight PST. Use Coupon Code BLOGR315. Online prepaid orders only. Valid one per customer. Offer does not apply to iOS or Android apps, or manipulatives such as Attribute Blocks, Interlocking Cubes or Pattern Blocks. Offer may not be combined with other discounts or offers, and is not retroactive. Not valid on wholesale orders.

*Disclaimer: I was given a copy of the above-mentioned book for free with the intent to use and review it honestly. A positive review is not required and the above review is my honest feedback after using the book.

Critical Thinking Co.'s "Understanding Algebra I" [a book review]

I was given the opportunity to review two great books for The Critical Thinking Company. The first one is called Understanding Algebra I. Since my oldest child is just wrapping up Algebra 1, I thought this would be a great overview after-the-fact as math is not easy for her.

One thing we noticed right off the bat were well-laid-out pages. There was color, charts, diagrams, and plenty of white space! One thing I personally think math textbooks get wrong too often is jamming too much information onto a page, and the student can start the lesson overwhelmed. That often happens with my oldest, so this was a bonus right away.

Another thing that we liked was the opportunities to practice each concept at the end of the section. I actually felt like she had more practice problems related to the concept than her current math program. Part of that, in my opinion, is the nature of having a very spiral approach since there are so many review problems in each lesson. I am not opposed to it (I actually prefer spiral math), but I think her current mathematics program could add a few more problems to each section that are specifically related to that lesson so that the child has ample opportunity to master the concept before moving on. Understanding Algebra I did that very well, and even threw in Word Problems sections and More Practice sections.

There was a time or two that she saw something in the book that she didn't already know and neither she nor I felt it was explained well. Part of that could be that her current math program is not known to be advanced and some Algebra I courses could be more advanced. I'm not sure the reason, but it only happened a couple of times - so that is likely just due to our difficulty with that particular concept each time.

Additionally, we battled a lot of illness and my daughter participated in a high school musical with her tutorial program during the time we were reviewing this book, so we did not complete it. We intend to finish it, though, because she has to take a test to demonstrate mastery over Algebra I shortly. :)

In conclusion, I think Understanding Algebra I is a great resource! If a parent doesn't understand Algebra, this would be a great book to put into the hands of the student who needs a better explanation of the subject (or if the parent just wants the student to learn independently!).

EXTRA!! As part of my review, The Critical Thinking Co. is offering my readers the following deal - Happy Learning! :)
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15% Off Any Size Order!
Details: Offer expires 5/31/2015 at Midnight PST. Use Coupon Code BLOGR315. Online prepaid orders only. Valid one per customer. Offer does not apply to iOS or Android apps, or manipulatives such as Attribute Blocks, Interlocking Cubes or Pattern Blocks. Offer may not be combined with other discounts or offers, and is not retroactive. Not valid on wholesale orders.

Disclaimer: I was given a copy of the above-mentioned book for free with the intent to use and review it honestly. A positive review is not required and the above review is my honest feedback after using the book.

Thursday, April 2, 2015

Confession

Over the past several months, more than a year if i'm honest, i have faced more mountains than i could move. During that time, i thought i was doing well holding up my end of the bargain: i kept my head up, i kept my feet moving, and i never shook my fist at God. The rest, i figured, was up to Him.

Sure, i trusted Him. Most of the time.
And i leaned on Him. Sometimes desperately.
And i praised Him. Even when it hurt.

But i forgot to hold on to those lessons He was teaching me. I allowed my focus to stray from the moment-to-moment, peace-in-the-storm joy of the Lord...and my focus became my own suffering.

I became battle weary. Understandable, some might say. As did i.
But then i did something that i never should have done: i gave myself permission to whine. I was justified, after all; I was going through a lot!

But when i gave myself permission to whine, i constructed an idol. My idol wasn't a statue or a religion or a person; my idol was my pain. I dragged it around and showed it off - "look at my pain," i cried! I let myself make all of my decisions based on my circumstances. My circumstances began to define me.

Now, don't get me wrong, there are seasons of suffering in which we must take care of ourselves. Self care is not selfishness, it is necessity. Even God, in all His infinite wisdom, built rest into His own calendar - and then into ours. Respite gives us needed energy to keep moving and strength to endure.

What i am talking about is the stage during which we must RISE OUT of the ashes and become what God has been shaping us to be. During that metamorphosis from broken to beautiful, we are meant to take off the old and become something new. From a caterpillar to a vibrant butterfly! An amazing miracle of God's hand! We cannot become the butterfly if we hold onto the caterpillar's hardships.

At one point, i knew i had to be doing something wrong; i recognized that i was in sinful disconnect from God, just based on my personal experiences. The problem was, i couldn't put my finger on it! I even asked God repeatedly to show it to me! But God... in all His gentleness, knew i wasn't ready to hear it or see it. My focus was still wrong.

So this morning, after 2 weeks of physical suffering, i awoke without pain and without illness. I have never been so grateful to see 6am and my normal routines! I took joy in my work, delight in my day's obligations, for the first time in months.

And God, being God, finally removed my scales and allowed me to see my sin.
Here i sit, wanting to weep, laugh, praise, and dance... knowing i have broken through the chrysalis - finally! - and ready to see what God wants to use me for in this next season.

I have been prepared for something. We all have. The only choice we have is how we allow ourselves to be used for the Kingdom. Or even if we allow it.

My selfishness, my sin, my pain nearly kept me from whatever God has planned for me. That would have been a far worse fate than anything i have suffered this past year! Praise God, He never gives up on us!

Life can be hard. We can get battle weary. But our earthly circumstances should never define us, and our joy cannot rest in our situation. This life is fleeting, and the moments are temporary. The painful moments and the joyous ones. But the Joy of the Lord is eternal, lasting, and surpasses all this earthly realm has to offer!

Today, i choose joy. And i submit my pain to the One who can make beautiful butterflies out of caterpillars and strong trees after devastating fire. And i cannot wait to see what He does with me! :)