TOS Review: Fitting Words (Roman Roads Media)

Roman Roads MediaSo we are in my son’s senior year of high school and he has already begun some of his online classes to pursue his children’s ministry degree. As he begins his college education I realize the need for him to really be able to speak, debate, and write thoughtfully to present his thoughts and beliefs. This is one of the reasons I think it is very important to include Rhetoric as one of his subjects this year. I was so so excited to find out I was going to get to review Fitting Words Classical Rhetoric (Complete Program) from Roman Roads Media. When I first started checking this out I thought “wow, this looks really good” and when I got into it, I can tell you, I wasn’t disappointed.

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For starters, when they say this is a “complete program”, they aren’t kidding. It really comes with every single thing you need in one package. From the textbook, to the student workbook, to the exams, complete answer key and even (yes!) video lessons, it’s all here. Of course, you can pick and choose how much you want to use because as the parent, you are always in charge, but everything is right here, and it’s all put together so well that it is really easy to use.

Parents should begin by reading the introduction which explains each component and gives a very convenient schedule for either a one year or two year course. I am one of those moms who always appreciates a schedule. Yes, I will probably tweak this to suit our particular needs, but for me a schedule is a great starting point because it gives me some idea of how to break down the material. Since we are in my son’s senior year we decided to follow the one-year schedule, but if we had gotten this earlier I probably would have done this course over two years to give us more time to dive into some of the further suggested readings and other things.

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The video lessons that accompany the course are broken into two parts for each lesson, one that goes over the main lesson and one that takes students through the exercises for those lessons. Now, my son is not a great video learner. However, he did like watching the application videos a lot. Mainly because he liked how Mr. Nance (the author) explained the exercises and he said the videos helped him to better understand the figures of speech introduced in each lesson. He also watched the videos that reviewed the lessons before he took his exams. So, I allowed him to choose which videos to watch and he utilized them in the way that suited him best. I liked the way they were set up, because they were not incredibly long and the menu made it easy for him to find the videos that matched the lessons he was on.

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Okay, so getting into the program, can I just say that I really kind of got into this myself and did a lot of pre-reading ahead of my son? The lessons in this book are meaty, and actually really interesting. If you think rhetoric is a dry topic, it’s not. At least not the way it’s presented in Fitting Words. The textbook consists of 30 lessons divided into seven units that cover topics ranging from types of arguments, to emotions, to delivery and so much more. Along the way your children will read Bible passages, excerpts from Phaedrus, and all kinds of speeches and other examples that will help them bring to life the things they are learning.

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In the workbook, they will learn to apply what they are learning through activities that ask them to read Bible passages and identify the emotions of the speakers in those passages, look at historical documents and explain the methods the authors used in writing those documents, identify figures of speech in well-known writings, and have opportunities to give speeches of their own for specific purposes such as soliciting specific emotions from their audience, give a speech appropriate for a ceremony, and more.

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Each chapter approaches it’s topic directly and explains it in detail with plenty of examples. The chapters themselves are pretty short (a big plus for my son!) with sidebars that highlight key concepts and ideas. At the end of the chapter there are questions you can use for discussion that encourage students to think more deeply about what they just read, suggestions for further reading, and a short memorization exercise. In addition, students will complete the related assignments in the workbook for their lessons. The thing is, even though the information itself is meaty, my son did NOT feel like he was overloaded with work to the point that he dreaded this subject and that is really the key to success for me at this point. Because if I have to fight with him to get him to do it, chances are, it probably isn’t going to get done. That is another reason I really like this course. He’s learning a lot, but he doesn’t feel like he’s being slammed with work! You can always dig further with the additional suggested readings, and if we were using this as a two-year program I probably would, but since we only have a year, we are going easy on that, only reading those particular ones my son is really interested in.

In the appendix you will find a full glossary, the full text of historical speeches featured in the text and a listing of Biblical speeches featured as well. This was very handy for my son to use as a reference for assignments.

The amount of depth in Fitting Words was just really impressive to me. I feel like my son is going to grow as a thinker, a writer, and a speaker through using this program, and the skills he learns are going to benefit him in his college courses. I definitely think this is a great program for any high school student. To learn more, connect with Roman Roads Media here:

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TOS Review: Code For Teens

Code for TeensTechnology is increasingly becoming a more and more integral part of our world and it is very important for our kids to learn how to use it. Fortunately, many kids today seem more adept at handling modern technology than their parents. However, there are many technical aspects to computers that elude even them, such as programming. I took my first programming class when I was in college and it was very basic, I wouldn’t even know how to begin to explain the concept to my high schooler. So, I was excited to take a look at Code for Teens: The Awesome Beginner’s Guide to Programming from Code for Teens for this review.

Code for Teens 

This full-color book focuses on JavaScript and covers topics like coding with numbers, functions, arrays, loops, and even making a game. It is written entirely to the student and is very easy to follow without being juvenile or kiddish (my son’s words, he’s a senior this year so this is very important to him). There are some basic requirements for the program: you must have a laptop or computer and you must download Google Chrome. That’s about it. One very cool thing about this book is that kids start coding right from the beginning. Really, they start performing very simple stuff from the very start, which I think takes away a lot of the intimidation associated with the whole process.

As your child moves through each chapter they will complete chapter quizzes, reviews and projects that they will save on the computer in their “workbook”. Answers to these quizzes and reviews are in the back of the book (which is awesome if you are not tech-literate like me). This workbook also gives them a sense of accomplishment as they see all that they have done as they work through the program. The projects are actually fun, and not boring, which my son kind of thought they would be (because, as he told me, most end of chapter projects are). Some of them are similar to logic puzzles, or may involve writing a bio of themselves or some other sort of activity, but he enjoyed them all and there are helpful hints in the back of the book if your child gets stuck (again, thank you Jeremy Moritz for that because I would not have been able to help on my own for sure!).

Code for Teens also includes a glossary and all the words in the glossary are in bold print in the text, which is nice for context. The color illustrations were a nice touch and added some humor to the book (which was also light and funny and not super serious which is what I remember about programming class, a fact I didn’t particularly enjoy). So, if you think computer programming has to be dry and boring and really difficult, I have to tell you, Code for Teens will prove you wrong. It’s fun, but still thorough, and a great introduction for a high school student looking to learn the basics of programming. I hope the author has plans to write similar books for other types of programming too. We really enjoyed this, and I would definitely recommend you check it out! To learn more, connect with Code for Teens on social media here:

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 Code For Teens: The Awesome Beginner's Guide to Programming {Code for Teens Reviews}

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TOS Review: The Master and His Apprentices

I enjoy a stroll through a museum as much as anybody else, and I appreciate a beautiful work of art, but I have to admit, I don’t really KNOW much about art. In high school, I chose drama to fulfill my arts requirement, so when my own child expressed his interest in art (and classical artists), I really wasn’t sure what to do. Fortunately, there are curriculums out there to help homeschool moms like me and for this review we got to check out The Master and His Apprentices: Art History from a Christian Perspective a homeschool art history curriculum from The Master and His Apprentices.

The Master and His Apprentices 

This curriculum covers art all the way from Mesopotamia to today and includes chapters on Egyptian art, Early Greek Art, the Etruscan Period, Gothic art, the Renaissance, the Baroque period and more. Full color pictures invite you and your children to examine beautiful images you would likely never see otherwise, all accompanied by a wealth of information, enough to give your child a full high school credit if you choose.

Each chapter begins with an introduction that gives important background information on each period, which is important because it helps students understand the context in which the art takes place. As they are introduced to the art and the artists timelines help them keep track of everything going on. Students will learn about a variety of mediums from paintings to sculptures, and for my son, learning about the different styles of art helped to keep him from getting bored.

The teachers guide includes a sample syllabus and recommendation for grading papers and tests. I found this helpful, if only as a starting point. It is very easy to adjust this to meet your own personal needs, but as this is a very meaty program, it is nice to have a guide to give you an idea of how to structure this as a one year program if you want to do that. Basically it is set up for the student to do most of the reading on their own and be prepared to discuss what they read with you, which is appropriate for an upper level high school student. You could certainly read the material with your child if you wish, but for my junior in high school, he mostly did this as written.

There are questions for each chapter and four written papers assigned throughout the year. We did most of the questions orally, and these would definitely lend themselves well to group discussions if you wanted to use this program in a co-op setting or something like that. You could also assign the questions as written work if that suits your child better. I liked how a lot of the questions brought in Biblical principals and challenged students to think about what they learned about the art from a Biblical perspective. A lot of the time I think people don’t feel they can apply the Bible to artistic works but this program shows how this is simply not the case.

Exams are also included in the teacher’s guide and it comes with an answer key and tips to help you through lessons which I found very helpful. Overall, I thought this was a great art history program that was definitely a good choice to fulfill an art credit for high school! To learn more, connect with The Master and His Apprentices on social media here:

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The Master and His Apprentices: Art History from a Christian Perspective {The Master and His Apprentices Reviews}

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TOS Review: Silverdale Press LLC

Silverdale PressI have always been an eclectic homeschooler, using a variety of styles to suit our needs. One of the things I like to include in our learning is unit studies, especially for specific topics, like holidays. For this review, we got to check out the White House Holidays Unit Studies from Silverdale Press LLC. They offer a variety of studies on a number of holidays but for our review we focused on two of my favorites, Christmas and Thanksgiving!

Persuasive Writing and Classical RhetoricThe studies are set up for grades K-12 with different activities for grades K-6 and grades 7-12, so you could easily do these with multiple grade levels if you have a large family.  They are also completely self-contained, so you do not need any additional books to complete the activities. However, you can certainly add books from the library on the topics you are studying if you wish. Some of the activities do require art supplies, but a list of required materials is given at the beginning of each lesson so it is pretty easy to go through these ahead of time and gather everything you need before you get started.

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So, the Thanksgiving unit study is fairly short, consisting of only five lessons, each of which could pretty much be completed in one sitting. If you wanted to extend it out to one lesson per week so you could make it last the whole month of November you could do the reading portion one day, the activities another, and then add in some additional library reading on the other days. For me, I would probably just devote one of our schooling days to the unit study.
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Lessons focus on the history of the holiday and American traditions, including those involving Presidents like Franklin Roosevelt and Eisenhower. Students will read portions of Plymouth Plantation, make presentations about things they are thankful for, illustrate poems, and analyze primary source documents. I appreciate how this study gets into the history of how celebrating the harvest was so important in America and also taught me some things that I didn’t know such as why the date for Thanksgiving was moved (I truly had no idea about the controversy surrounding the date in the first place). It also includes some recipes, two from Mamie Eisenhower! I feel like this was a very interesting study and that my son and I both learned a lot from it.

The Christmas Unit Study features four lessons, which makes it perfect to roll into right after you finish the one from Thanksgiving! However, it does offer quite a few more activities, so you will probably need to spread them out over the week. As I said, you can certainly add more by checking out books from the library to read to or with your kids if you want, but everything you need is contained right here in the study itself. Each lesson in this study is unique, as it focuses on a First Lady (Jacqueline Kennedy, Betty Ford, Barbara Bush, and Michelle Obama) and their take on the White House Christmas for that year. I really found this one interesting.

In this study you and your children will learn how the tradition of decorating the White House around a theme began and create some of your own special designs. You will also get opportunities to bake, do art projects, and reach out and help others. The study starts with Jacqueline Kennedy’s Nutcracker Suite Christmas. There are links for you to listen to music from the ballet as well as an audio recording of the book. You could also buy tickets to go see the ballet in person if they are available near you.

You will also do a detailed study about the White House Nativity scene and get a chance to create your own as well as read President Kennedy’s speech from when he lit the first National Christmas Tree. Learning about the simple Christmas that Betty Ford had in the White House was very special, and the activities for that lesson lend themselves to a lot of family fun (making popcorn garlands, gingerbread houses and cookies, and cranberry trees). Plus, your house will be fully ready for the holiday season!

Some of the service activities involved in the Christmas unit study include adopting a family in need and visiting a Salvation Army store. You will also do a fair amount of internet research for this study as well. Before they complete the study students will get a chance to practice persuasive writing skills (writing a letter to the White House), track Santa, debate real vs. fake Christmas trees, and a whole lot more. This study really does have a real depth to it and is a lot of fun.

Some other observations about the White House Holidays unit study: it is set up to easily divide the activities between grade levels. You read the same lesson to your kids, but the amount of questions they answer or the activities they do will vary by age, I think this is great because it makes it really easy to do with all your kids at once. While I did not get into the other unit studies, I did take a peak at them, and they all look to be set up similarly, and they look just as fun! I am pretty sure we will hit all of them over the next year.

If you want to add some unit study fun to your homeschool, you can learn more about Silverdale Press on social media here:

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TOS Review: Something’s Fishy at Lake Iwannfisha

The Critical Thinking Co.™I love a good mystery! And what better way to teach critical thinking skills than with a mystery story? For this review, we got to check out the Whodunnit Forensic Mystery, Something’s Fishy at Lake Iwannfisha from The Critical Thinking Co.™. It is a complete self-contained activity aimed at students in grades 5-12 and we found it very entertaining.

The Critical Thinking Co.™
The mystery begins with a full set of teacher instructions that give you background on the case, witness and suspect profiles, timelines, and specific instructions on how to guide your students through the activities. This is very helpful because there are a lot of pieces to coordinate and students are meant to find out certain pieces of information at very specific times, so you need to make sure you stay on top of that. The directions are however, very easy to follow, so once you read them, you should have no trouble getting started.

Something's Fishy at Lake Iwannafisha 

Activities are designed to be completed individually or in a group, so you could easily do this in a co-op setting if you want, and I think it would be really fun actually. However, for this review, my son just did it by himself. The teacher’s guide tells you exactly which handouts you need to make copies of as well, which is also helpful. Since everything is contained in the workbook itself, the only other things you really need to complete the whole mystery is a folder to organize the handouts and a pencil.

Now, as for the case itself, it involves a few murders, and my son was immediately intrigued. When I first showed him this, he thought it was going to be some “little kid, who robbed the candy store” kind of thing, but as soon as we got into the actual crime, he got interested. The way the police reports, witness and suspect interviews and evidence reports are set up, you really feel like you are immersed in investigating an actual crime. They give you enough information that you have what you need to pull the pieces together, but it is by no means an easy thing to just figure out. Students really need to use deductive reasoning to work out who committed these crimes and how.

I like how the Critical Thinking Co.™ put this together to make it interesting and exciting, and encourage students to use critical thinking skills in a way that really requires them to apply them. Not just in the sense that they are reading and answering questions or drawing conclusions, but that they are pulling together pieces and parts of information from all different sources and synthesizing them and then drawing conclusions and using those conclusions to answer other questions. That’s the kind of critical thinking I want my son to be able to do as a high schooler, and honestly, this is just a really fun way to do it!

We took several weeks to work through the mystery at Lake Iwannafisha, but you can definitely set your own pace. I can tell you we would absolutely recommend this if you want a fun activity to do for summer or just to add something extra and different to your homeschool. I am seriously going to check out the other programs that Critical Thinking has to offer that are like this one because we enjoyed it so much.

To learn more about this program, connect with Critical Thinking on social media here:

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Critical Thinking, Understanding Math & Vocabulary {The Critical Thinking Co.™ Reviews}

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TOS Review: Memoria Press (Latin)

Memoria PressSo since most colleges ask for two credits in languages I thought it was important that my boys study a language in high school. My oldest chose Spanish, which I figured was pretty easy. However, my youngest wanted to do something different, and he chose Latin. I have to say, this terrified me, but I found a great program that I loved (First Form Latin) and it turned out to be great for both of us. For this review, I got to check out the next year of that program, Second Form Latin from Memoria Press.

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Okay, the first thing you should know is that the Second Form Latin Complete Set comes with a lot of components. Do not let this intimidate you. They all work together really well and are very easy to use. Keep in mind, this program is meant to be used AFTER First Form Latin, so the idea is that your student will have some experience with the language prior to beginning the program. Also remember that you are still your child’s teacher, and of course, you can always choose to leave some parts out if you wish.

What does Second Form Latin come with? A student textbook and workbook, a teacher’s manual and complete answer key, tests and quizzes for each lesson, flashcards, a pronunciation CD and a set of instructional DVDs. The DVDs are taught by Glen Moore, and he does a very good job of presenting the material. However, this particular child has never done well with DVD learning (believe me, we have tried many times) so I only use these sparingly.

This program consists of 26 lessons, plus additional reviews every five lessons or so. The lessons themselves are only a couple pages in the student workbook but they are very meaty. The teacher’s guide is the best place to start as it takes you through the general format for each lesson and then breaks down each lesson with individual notes. It might take some time to get used to the lesson format, especially parts like the oral drills and games if you are only teaching one student. However, what I figured out is that this is a great chance for YOU to learn Latin as well if you want. Seriously, after working through First Form with my son I discovered I learned a ton, and I am picking up more with Second Form now.

Teaching the lessons took me about 30-40 minutes at first, but once I got used to it, we averaged around 25 minutes per lesson. Each lesson takes about five days to complete, with your child working in the workbook each day. I appreciate how the workbook is set up in five distinct sections for each lesson because it makes it really easy for me to give my son a stopping and starting point each day. He generally completes the workbook on his own now, only coming to me when he has specific questions, but in the beginning, we did the workbook pages together.

The pronunciation guide was another huge bonus for me because reading Latin does not come naturally (at least at first). We listened to this together on the first day of each lesson and then referred back to it if we needed to. My son did not enjoy doing the flash cards, but really, how many 17 year olds enjoy doing drills? The fact is, they were very helpful in getting him to really remember information, especially from earlier lessons as we moved on. Also, you can use them to play games. After you complete each lesson, there is a quiz which we found helpful because it helped us figure out if there was something we needed to go back and review.

So, how do we feel about Second Form Latin? Honestly, we love it. I am amazed at how thorough it is and how easy it is to teach! I have watched my son grow in confidence over this past year as he studies, and as I mentioned, I feel like I am learning Latin too. He thinks it’s cool to be able to read and and understand more and more, especially since many people don’t understand Latin at all. Also, he is recognizing the connection between Latin and other languages and seeing where a lot of our words come from! I would definitely recommend this if you want a rigorous but easy to teach program for your high school student.

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Spelling, Music Appreciation & Latin {Memoria Press Reviews}Crew Disclaimer

TOS Review: Bytes of Learning

UltraKey Bytes of LearningAs my kids get older, I realize the need for them to become more and more proficient with technology. While my son, a high school junior, is quite comfortable with computers one area that needs work is his typing skills. At this point his style is still more “hunt-and-peck” than anything else. So, I was excited to give the UltraKey Online Family Subscription from Bytes of Learning a try.

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This program is completely web-based, which is nice because we can access it from anywhere. It offers pretty personalized lessons, allowing you to set your own goals or choosing to allow the program to set goals for you. It also offers reports for parents on skill checks, games and more. You can easily track your child’s progress, seeing which skill checks they have passed complete with errors. This allows me to know if I need my son to go back and redo something.

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Lessons are a mixture of videos and slides, and the narrator speaks in a pleasant, even tone. As students type, a picture of the keyboard is on the screen with a model of where their hands are supposed to be. This was helpful for my son as he became comfortable with the proper positioning. Lessons begin with an introduction and some initial activities with specific keys, then move on to typing words and sentences. Students are given plenty of opportunities to practice before moving on to the Skills assessment. In addition to lessons on keyboarding, there are also very helpful videos on proper posture, finger placement, and even stretches you can use between lessons.

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Since Bytes of Learning is a self-paced program it is very easy for kids to complete on their own. They simply log in and start. My son spent about 15-20 minutes a day working on lessons, which was the perfect amount of time, keeping him from getting bored or losing interest. It was also really easy to fit into our already hectic days.

UltraKey Online also offers games which allow students to practice their skills while having fun. I appreciate the fact that the games also allow students to practice other important skills like spelling and even state capitals. My son enjoyed the games and you can get reports on those too and students earn printable merit awards as they complete levels. He liked challenging himself to improve his score each time he played. The rhyming game was his favorite.

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The UltraKey family subscription allows you to add three, five, or eight students at a time for a cost of $29.95-$49.95. I think this program is appropriate for all ages, even younger students. As a parent, I appreciate how easy Bytes of Learning is to manage, the interface is very well set up and it’s really easy to review your child’s progress. I would definitely recommend this program if you are looking for an easy typing program to get your kids comfortable with keyboarding.

UltraKey Online Family Edition 

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