Thursday, April 27, 2017

The Gospels (A Homeschool Crew Review)

What could be more fun than traveling through the Holy Land, visiting the very sites that Jesus himself stood, walking where he walked?  Well, not all of us are able to have such an amazing experience, but we can live vicariously with Dave Stotts, the host of Drive Thru History®  as he zips around in an old Land Rover named after late actor Steve McQueen in the new series Drive Thru History® – “The Gospels”.
A short time ago, I was given access to the first episode of this new series as a bonus for preregistering for an upcoming homeschool convention and after watching it, I was absolutely hooked.  You should have seen my happy dance when the entire series was offered for review and I was on the list. I can honestly say had I not been selected to be on this particular review, I would have purchased the series anyway - it's that good.

Drive Thru History® – “The Gospels”  is an 18 part series that takes viewers back into the life and time
of Jesus Christ while presenting a very factual based presentation of how many of the political  and social influences of the time directly impacted the events that led to Christ's crucifixion as well as how these same events would have impacted the writers when they wrote the four Gospels of the Bible.  Each episode features host Dave Stotts as he takes viewers along with him on more than 50 locations during his travels to some pretty amazing locations as his backdrop.  From the Wailing Wall, the Pool of Bethesda, to the Church of the Nativity, we are given a backstage pass to some of the greatest events of all time: The Birth, the Life and the Death and Resurrection of our Lord and Savior.

Stotts makes for an enjoyable host throughout the series, combining educational with humor.  Each of the 30 minute episodes avoids leaning towards any one particular religious doctrine but instead focuses on only the facts as presented by both the Scriptures as well as historical documentation from the period while throwing in entertaining segments such as cooking  "Texas" BBQ on the engine of his ride during a lengthy road trip.  (Sorry, Mr Stotts, but this Texan can tell ya, that's not how it's done lol).

The set is packaged very nicely in a hard covered book style case which contains three DVDs as well as an attached full colored booklet. This booklet serves to provide a quick summary of each episode as well as discussion questions, scripture suggestions, additional tidbits that are referred to as "Side Roads" and beautiful photographs of religious artwork as well as many of the locations Stotts visited during his two month adventure in Israel.  A full colored slip cover helps keeps the contents protected.

Covered in each Episode:

Episode 1: The Historical Landscape
Episode 2: The Announcements
Episode 3: Jesus is Born
Episode 4: Jesus Grows Up
Episode 5: Jesus Starts His Ministry
Episode 6: Jesus Returns to Galilee
Episode 7: Jesus Begins His Miracles
Episode 8: Jesus Teaches with Authority
Episode 9: The Sermon on the Mount
Episode 10: Jesus Travels the Sea of Galilee
Episode 11: Jesus Travels North
Episode 12: A Final Trip to Jerusalem
Episode 13: Jesus Arrives in Jerusalem
Episode 14: The Last Supper
Episode 15: The Trial of Jesus
Episode 16: The Crucifixion of Jesus
Episode 17: The Resurrection of Jesus
Episode 18: Who is Jesus?

What We Thought

As mentioned before, I had already had a preview of this series by given access to the first episode prior to this review, so I already knew that I was going to enjoy the rest of the series.  I was already a fan of other Drive Thru History® series such as their American History and Ancient History series. Because of this, I went into this review already knowing what to expect.

Once I received the DVDs, I debated if I would just watch them all in one setting during my alone time or if I would wait on my family to watch it with me.  The decision was made for me when my husband announced he would really like to watch them as well, so the two of us, along with my teenage daughter spend the last few Saturday nights forgoing our usual movie night to watch the episodes together.

We found the series to be very well done, with great cinematics, proper volume levels (I hate when you have to constantly adjust the volume because parts are either too loud or too quiet) and packed full of interesting material.  Dave Stotts makes for a perfect host as he's got a face for television (in other words - as my teenage says - he's a cutie) as well as a pleasant voice and a personality that shines through in each episode.

The only negative?? Well, my daughter found out she was going to have to go to Texas for 6 weeks this summer - which means she's going to have to miss the Homeschool Convention we are going to attend.  Guess who is going to be there?? Dave Stotts.  So yeah, after watching the series, she's actually pretty heartbroken that she is going to miss out on meeting him in person.  Sorry sweetie - I'll try to get our copy of The Gospels autographed for you.. LOL But yeah, that's the only negative I can come up with for this series.

If your looking for a great series, beautiful settings, an entertaining host and an AMAZINGLY presented, factual based presentation of the life of Jesus, I highly recommend this series.

#hsreviews #drivethruhistory #thegospels

To learn more about Drive Thru History® – “The Gospels” as well as other series from Drive Thru History® , be sure to visit their website or one of the following social media sites:

The Gospels {Drive Thru History® Reviews}

Wednesday, April 26, 2017

Wordless Wednesday

Man, does time fly when your having fun!!!!  This week, I had to pour through all the photographic memories to find photographs of my oldest daughter for a slide show that the school will present during her graduation ceremony.  There were soo many to choose from - not counting the one of her at about 5 months old butt naked or the one of her at about 1 year old looking like she was sucking down a beer (a Canadian beer, no less).

We finally agreed on the following photos that I felt represented her the best.  Since this is my first graduate (and I have a good 9 years before the next one), it's been an emotional roller coaster to say the least.  I already know I'll be stocking up on waterproof mascara and eyeliner before her ceremony.

Day Care - Mother's Day 2002 - Age 2  (Almost 3)

First Day of Kindergarten 

Kindergarten Portrait
Kindergarten Graduation

6th Grade 

Senior Portrait

Tuesday, April 25, 2017

Daily Bible Jigsaw (A Homeschool Crew Review)

Sometimes, I wonder why I have a cell phone. I don't call anyone on it, I rarely text anyone on it. But one thing that I do use my phone for is playing with a few different apps throughout the day.  For the last few weeks, I've been having a lot of fun playing Daily Bible Jigsaw from Planet 316 and trying to beat the time of my friends on the Crew who are also playing.

Daily Bible Jigsaw is available to play three different ways: as a mobile app for both the iOS and
Android as well as on Facebook. Each day, players are given access to a new puzzle which features a beautiful full color photograph or piece of artwork.  These puzzles are not very big (30 pieces each) but can be rather challenging at times as players have to rotate pieces to fit them together.  Once the puzzle is completed, then a verse from the Bible is overlayed over the top of the image (it would make it too easy to have it on the original puzzle) and a small "celebration" for completion is show, complete with confetti and streamers.

Players can also either purchase coins or earn them by completing tasks such as finishing a set number of puzzles from a given day or completing the puzzle in a set amount of time. A coin is also awards during puzzle play when a specific piece is highlighted and is fit with one of its corresponding pieces.   These coins can be used to replay the day's puzzle in hopes of getting a better time, unlock past puzzles, or to use "cheats" such as auto-rotating the pieces or to work with only the edges of the puzzle to start with, making the puzzles a bit easier, especially if your going for a faster time.

Once the daily puzzle is completed, you are awarded stars based on the amount of time it took to complete. It's also at this screen that you are shown the times of your friends who have also completed that same puzzle.   You are given the option at this point to replay the puzzle if you think you might be able to complete it faster.  Shockingly, I was the top time on the puzzle below - trust me, I'm usually 2nd or third on the list.  You can also challenge other friends who haven't played the puzzle yet from this screen.

If you opt not to replay the puzzle, you can select to go back to the calendar for the month. Each time a daily puzzle is completed, you are awarded a puzzle piece for that day.  As you progress through the month, the puzzle pieces begin to form a picture.  Missed puzzles can be purchased using coins, so if your missing a piece because you weren't able to get to the app that day, you can still complete the monthly puzle.

At the calendar screen, you also have the option to play bonus puzzles.  These are a selection of additional puzzles that are free to play without having to spend coins. You can play these as many times as you would like. These puzzles are more challenging, containing 56 pieces but you can still spend coins on the cheats if you would like.   From the calendar screen, there is also a Verses option. These are images of the puzzles that you have completed that can be shared on social media such as Facebook.  The calendar page also allows you to see awards you have earned while playing the app, as well as those awards you haven't yet achieved and how many coins you will earn once you do complete that task.

The calendar screen also has a small icon at the bottom for the app settings. These allow you to either turn off the sound completely, or turn of the music that accompanies the app so that you do not have to turn the volume down on the phone.

What I Thought

I love jigsaw puzzles but I am not able to work a physical puzzle in my house as pieces would quickly get lost before I completed it. Because of this, I love working puzzles on my phone. There's a running joke in my house that if I'm on my phone, I'm probably doing a puzzle on it.  So this app was right up my alley.

I found some puzzles more challenging than others but overall, none of them were extremely easy. One of the awards is for completing the puzzle in under 1 minute - needless to say, that award still alludes me. LOL   However, they are easy enough to be completed within a few moments, making them great for a quick break.

I absolutely loved the photos/pictures and the accompanying verses were inspiring and uplifting. Put together with the photographs, they are really nice. A few of them I even wished I could get printed out to put on my wall - they are that nice.

I admit, I'm a cheater and I use the edges and rotate tools a lot.  I blame this one the competitive aspect of the game, so that I can try to shave a few seconds off my time to beat one of my friends.

Occasionally, the app would not load properly and would stick on the loading screen. This is easily fixed by simply closing the app and reloading it and I don't think this is the fault of the app itself but maybe my phone or my internet connection.

This is a great app and one that I've enjoyed throughly and will continue to play daily. It's also an app that I would not mine my children playing as there is no questionable content included and it would not be too challenging for them.
#hsreviews #dailybiblejigsaw

To download the game to your Iphone, Android phone or to add it to your Facebook games:

  • Google Play (Android devices)

  • Apple App Store (iOS devices)  

  • Facebook (Mac or PC computer web browser...Chrome and Firefox work best)
  • Facebook Gameroom (PC computer . . . this is Facebook's new PC game platform similar to Steam) 

  • You can also find Planet 316 at the following Social Media links:

    Twitter:  @planet_316 

    Daily Bible Jigsaw {Planet 316 Reviews}

    Wednesday, April 19, 2017

    Wordless Wednesday

    May is almost upon us and for my Senior girl, that means Graduation is only weeks away. But first, that means PROM is right around the corner.

    As an early graduation present, my husband and I gifted Alyssa with a new formal dress to wear to her prom.  We're a military household which means that formal dresses are a bit different that in some other households - many dresses today are low cut, backless, strapless, and have slits up the thighs. However, rules of etiquette in the military community say that a formal dress can have one of these things, but not all of them.  We abide by these rules (honestly, we LIKE these rules) and so when shopping for a dress for our daughter, we opted for a strapless dress with full coverage in the front, back and sides.

    Alyssa loved it and it was a wonderful surprise for her as she thought she was going to wear one of her older dresses.

    SpeedyPrep (A Homeschool Crew Review)

    Most of the reviews that I do for the Review Crew are taken with the kids in mind.  When I decide if I want to try an item in my home, I consider if it's a good fit for my two youngest kids. Sometimes, I take in consideration if it's an item my oldest daughter can use, even thought she attends public schools.  However, when I was given the opportunity to review SpeedyPrep, it wasn't my kids I had in. mind but my husband. For the last few weeks, Charles has been studying to take the Natural Science CLEP test using SpeedyPrep's CLEP Study Course.

    For those unaware of what the CLEP, it stands for College Level Examination Program. Administered by the College Board, the CLEP is a series of standardize tests that allow students to earn college credits without taking classes by showing proficiency in those courses.   By taking and passing the CLEP, students can save much time and money from not having to pay tuition and take those classes in a classroom setting.

    Most often, CLEP tests are taken by current college students pursuing their college degrees. However, there are many occupations that require their employees to continue their education in order for advancement in their career field.  One such employer is the United States Air Force, which my husband is a proud member of.  As he advances in rank to a Senior Non-Commissioned Officer, he is expected to work on and eventually obtain a college level degree. Luckily, the Air Force has it's own college (The Community College of the Air Force) that awards over 22,000 Associate Level Degrees in Applied Sciences in more than 65 degree programs.  To help their Airmen further, the Education Office allows service members to CLEP many of the required classes.  Even better, the first attempt at each test is offered to service members for free - saving members the $80/per test price tag.  

    Because my husband is at the current stage of his career where he needs to begin taking classes or taking CLEP tests for credit, I was pretty excited for him to have access to this valuable service offered by SpeedyPrep.  Charles has been out of high school since 2005 and being able to have the proper study materials would help him in having the best chance at passing the CLEP tests that he needs. 

    About SpeedyPrep

    The SpeedyPrep service is an online website that prepares you for the CLEP exam. Their materials meet the College Board perimeters set for each subject that most colleges accept CLEP testing for. Passing the CLEP the first time is guaranteed if a student takes the CLEP test after first achieving a 90-100% score on the SpeedyPrep study sessions.  It is advised that students using SpeedyPrep have at least completed the high school equivalent of the subject being studied before attempting to use SpeedyPrep.

    SpeedyPrep works well on most website browsers but we were not able to load it on the Opera browser. I had no issues getting it to work well on Chrome, Microsoft Edge, and Firefox.  SpeedyPrep is completely online and runs from the website - internet access is necessary to access the website and nothing is downloaded to the computer.

    SpeedyPrep is easy to use. Upon logging in, you are presented with a list of the  CLEP courses available for study such as Literature, Spanish, Natural Science and Government.

    Each course gives you the option of viewing an introduction to the course that gives a breakdown of what will be studied and how much weight that particular aspect of the course weighs on the CLEP exam.

    A second option allows the student to review videos that are used during the study sessions that explain and teach the material covered in the course. (Note: These videos are NOT the program and just watching the videos without working through the study material will not prepare you for the CLEP test).

    Once a course of study is selected, the student is given a list of specific topics that are covered within that topic.  Students can select which of these options they wish to study during their session or they can select all of the options. Once selections are made, you then begin the actual study session.

    During the study session, you are given a series of questions.  While the CLEP tests are given with multiple choice answers, SpeedyPrep instead uses a fill-in-the-blank format that they refer to as a "flashcard" system which requires the student to come up with the answer from what they have learned.  The understanding is if you can recall the answer and write it in, then you will easily be able to recognize the correct answer when taking the actual CLEP exam.

    Once the answer is submitted, SpeedyPrep will then immediately let you know if your answer is correct or not and then provide study materials to read.

    Some of the answers also gives the student access to one of the videos that correlates with the topic. For example, when given a question in regards to Angiosperms, a video option was given that explains Angiosperms and their traits.  By watching the video and retaining the information provided, students will then be able to answer the previous question as well as other questions in relation to Angiosperms.

    After going through the questions, students are then given a percentage as to how they scored on the questions.  This helps to give a good indicator as to how the student would score if taking the actual CLEP exam.  By working through the questions and actually reading the study material provided and watching the videos, students should be able to increase the score until they are above a passing percentage.  At that point, students should be able to pass the CLEP test of that subject.

    How We Used It

    My husband has been working through the Natural Science course in preparation of taking the Natural Science CLEP for his Associates degree. I will admit, he hasn't used it as much as we would both like - being military, he recently tested for promotion during the same time he's been using SpeedyPrep and had to dedicate much time at studying for that test. Because of that, he's only in the last couple of weeks been able to focus on studying for the CLEP that he hopes to take in June.

    During his second session at answering the flashcards on SpeedyPrep, he realized exactly how little he remembered from his high school years. I say the second, because his first session was answering Astronomy questions, something he is very involved with as a hobby.  He did really well with the Astronomy questions and it gave him a bit of overconfidence when he went into the second session of study. He didn't do very well - I think he scored 32% on that second session.  However, he read through the material and when he repeated that section of the course, he scored much higher.  SpeedyPrep keeps a record of how well you have done during each session, both in percentages as well as how many questions were answered correctly, making it easy to gauge your progress.

    Charles is very meticulous when it comes to studying. He likes to concentrate on one particular aspect until he feels he has a good grasp on the material. What works best for him is to study for a few days, then take a break from the material and then return to it to see how much he has retained from the study session.   His first main focus was the section on Electricity and Magnetism. For his first study session with the program, he scored pretty low overall. After reviewing the study material given after his incorrect answers, he then returned to the questions and tried again, scoring much higher. He again studied the material for the answers he got incorrect.  After taking a break from the material, he returned to that section to try again, that time getting all the answers correct.  From there he has moved on to Heat, Thermodynamics, and States of Matter Part 1. He'll likely work through the entire Natural Science section using the same technique.

    Here's what Charles had to say about using SpeedyPrep:

    "I was a bit skeptical about the fill in the blank format because I had never used that format before, but after using it, I feel like I am able to store and recall the information better and I am able to recall the information much better when I return to the study sessions. Since it's all online and there's nothing to download to a computer, I am able to access the website from computers at my work to work through questions during downtime as well as from home. The website is easy to navigate, I am able to go back and look at past study sessions and trends in my performance. From what I have seen, I feel very confident that as long as I put the work into studying, I should be able to pass the CLEP exam without any problems.  Of course, the biggest proof if the program works will be whether or not I do pass the CLEP exam when I take it, which will be a great indicator that the program works as promised. "

    Another Airmen in my husband's unit is also currently studying for his Natural Science CLEP, using the typical study guide that can be purchased at most book stores.  My husband had the opportunity to flip through this study guide to compare it to the questions and information that he's studied using SpeedyPrep and found that the questions are almost exact. However, unlike SpeedyPrep, there is no immediate feed back when a question is missed and there are no videos explaining and teaching the information so that retention is achieved.

    #hsreviews #collegeprep #clepprep

    My husband is aiming to take his first CLEP in early June and I have no doubt that this program will be the key to him passing it his first time around.  He's also hoping to knock out at least two more tests before our 6 month subscription is over with.  After that, I can easily see us continuing our subscription with SpeedyPrep as he knocks out the other tests necessary for his Associates degree.

    For more information about SpeedyPrep, be sure to check out their website or visit one of their social media sites:

    Twitter:   @speedyprep

    College Level Examination Program Preparation {SpeedyPrep Reviews}

    Tuesday, April 18, 2017

    Readers in Residence (A Homeschool Crew Review)

    When it comes to trusting homeschool curriculum to be aligned with Biblical truths, there's one company that instantly comes to mind- Apologia Educational Ministries.  Most homeschool families who wish to teach a spiritual based science curriculum are familiar with the line of Apologia Science offerings, but what many may not be aware of is that Apologia also offers curriculum in the line of Language Arts.  For the past few weeks, Ashleigh has been working through Readers in Residence Volume 1 (Sleuth), a reading comprehension curriculum for grades 4 and up.

    For the purpose of this review, we were given the two book full set which includes:

    Readers in Residence Volume 1 (Sleuth) Student Text and Workbook 
    This 562 page, full color, spiral bound text includes both student lessons as well as all activities and work required. Targeted Grade Level: 4-6 (but could used with struggling readers at higher grades)

    Readers in Residence Volume 1 (Sleuth) Answer Key Book 
    This softbound answer key book contains all the answers for the activities and questions found in the Student Text and Workbook.

    This two book set can be purchased together from the Apologia website for $89 .

    About Readers in Residence 

    Written by Debra Bell, Readers in Residence Volume 1 (Sleuth) is a one year Language Arts curriculum that focuses on helping students develop the tools necessary to read "beyond the lines" in order to comprehend the story they are reading beyond just face value.  Sleuth is the first offering in the Readers In Residence series: other books in the series will be released in the future.

    Readers in Residence guides students as they read through various genres of fictional books. Genres include Historical Fiction, Animal Fantasy, and Contemporary Realistic Fiction as students read through novels such as Sarah, Plain and Tall, Charlotte's Web and Because of Winn Dixie.  (Books must be acquired separately and are not included with the set).  While reading each book selection, students also read lessons in the text about things such as plot, setting, context, personification, metaphors and similes and hyperbole.

    Activities in the workbook focus on skills like recognizing the characters and recognizing "clues" that the author uses to help you understand each character better, learning to make inferences based on what the author has written, discovering the meaning of unknown words based on the context in which they are written, and understanding the accepted conventions authors use when writing. Students also learn the skills necessary to recognize literary elements that authors use and understand their intent in writing a particular story.

    Vocabulary Building and Learning How To Use a Dictionary

    Also included are lessons entitled "Sowing Seeds" which focus on important lessons that can be learned from the text that can be used in the student's everyday life and pairing them with scripture from the Bible to reiterate how these are behaviors that God wants from us.

    How We Used It

    While Readers in Residence  is aimed at Grades 4 and up,  I decided to use this program with Ashleigh to help push her beyond her comfort zone when it comes to reading.  While we consider Ashleigh a 3rd grader on paper, she does excel beyond her grade level in Language Arts and Reading and I felt this might be a great option to help accelerate her beyond where we currently are with her.   After researching the Readers in Residence program, including downloading the sample pages available on the Apologia website,  I felt that the workload and reading level would be perfect for her.

    Deep Concentration 
    This is a program that older students could easily do independently as it's easy to follow and stay on track as students work through the text. There is a schedule provided in the beginning of the workbook which gives suggestions to how much work should be completed daily and students are able to check off each assignment as it is completed.  Since Ashleigh is a bit younger than the intended targeted age group, we did lessons together rather than have her complete them independently.  Typically, I would read the lessons aloud to her, she would read the required chapter of the novel to me and together we would read and discuss the questions and work through the daily activities.  This worked well for the both of us, allowing Ashleigh to work on her reading but also avoiding being overwhelmed.

    Currently, we are working through the book Sarah, Plain and Tall which is a book we have not read
    before. After Ashleigh reads through each chapter of the book, she returns to the workbook to complete the activities that coincide with the chapter.  We found that the suggested schedule seems to fit well with what she can handle each day and the activities, while challenging for her, are not too complicated for her. The text does a great job at breaking down each concept into terms she can understand easily and require very little extra explanation from me as the teacher.

    One of my biggest gripes about workbooks for the kids is that there never seems to be enough writing space for them, as they tend to write letters bigger that the lines typically accommodate. Because of this, Ashleigh (and Garrett as well) tend to get extremely frustrated when doing work out of a preprinted workbook.   I do not have this gripe with this workbook.  Each question provides enough lines and plenty of space between each line  for Ashleigh to write her answers, which really cuts down on her frustration.

    Loads of Writing Space Means Less Frustration for Younger Writers

    Overall, I'm really impressed with Readers in Residence Volume 1 (Sleuth) and it has been a perfect fit for Ashleigh.  First, I am grateful that the books included are popular books currently in print and are not more obscure texts that are harder to find.  Paperback copies are easily acquired online or at a brick and mortar book store. They can also easily be found at any public library.  Second, the workbook text and questions are at the perfect level for my advanced 3rd grader.  I also like that the answer key is separate from the student text/workbook, meaning that I don't have to worry about Ashleigh simply copying the answers from the back of the book.  I like that the material breaks down the concepts into understandable text that young students can understand.  I like that this material is challenging enough for Ashleigh without being over her head.  It pushes her just enough without overwhelming her.  We've had no tears in the four weeks we have been using this curriculum, which is always a plus, and she's actually enjoyed the reading as well as the book work.

    #hsreviews #readersinresidence #homeschoolreading

    To learn more about Readers in Residence Volume 1 (Sleuth) and Apologia Educational Ministries, be sure to visit their website or one of their social media sites:

    Instagram:   @apologiaworld

    Twitter:   @apologiaworld

    Readers in Residence Volume 1 (Sleuth) {Apologia Educational Ministries Review}


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