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Wednesday, April 16, 2014

Birthday Palooza Month

Just stopping in to let you know that we are in the middle of Birthday Palooza month here.  Three of my girls have birthdays this month.




I have not yet figured out how to get pictures from my camera to my I have to load them on the desktop and then squeeze in some time on that computer to upload bear with me.  I have no pictures today....but they are coming.  I would actually like to figure out how to download my pictures onto an external hard drive that I can just plug in to whichever computer I am working on....but that takes time....and brain cells.....neither of which I have this month.

Today is the last of the birthdays for the month, then we head into, yes, it is busy.

I will be back soon with pictures of how old and lovely my ladies are getting.

Monday, April 14, 2014

Curiosity Quest

This is a review.

We got two fun DVDs to review in our school.  They are considered to be geared towards ages 7-14, but V-girl, age 4 loved these, and so did I....and I am a lot older than 14!

They are from the Curiosity Quest series.  We got  DVD Combo Pack - Produce series and  DVD Combo Pack - Swimmers of the Sea.

These DVDs are from shows hosted by Joel Greene. In some areas, they air on PBS.  The premise is that for each show, he goes on a "quest" inspired by a question from a viewer with something they are curious about.

He is a super high energy, fun host that isn't afraid to jump in and try his hand at sorting mushrooms on an assembly line, putting on hip waders to head out onto a field of cranberries that has been flooded for harvesting, or climbing  a ladder and cutting oranges off the tree without bruising them.  Sometimes he messes up, but just laughs and moves on.  He is fun to watch.

We received 2 combo DVDs that had 3 episodes on each one.  Each episode is about 30 minutes long and spends that time digging deep to answer the original curiosity question and any other than happen to arise once they start learning stuff.

In addition to the behind the scenes looks, they sprinkle in some fun trivia or "fun facts", and interviews on the street with kids asking them about facts from the episodes.  Although, I am not sure if they did it on purpose, it was a little like  "Jay Walking" from The Tonight know......where the people they ask never know the answer to the question.  In this case, the kids never knew the answer either....which then the episode would answer.

The first DVD we watched was the DVD Combo Pack - Produce series, because we are in the middle of reviewing Florida and Washington in our Geography class....and have learned about apple and orange farming.  The Produce series went behind the scenes and taught us how oranges, cranberries, and mushrooms are grown and eventually end up at our stores.

First, we watched the episode on mushrooms.  I found this one the most interesting out of all of us, because I am the only one in this household that willingly and with full knowledge eats mushrooms.  But, even though I am the only one that eats them, the kids found it interesting.  Gross in some parts, but interesting.  I know they were interested, because I was only planning to have them watch one episode a day and they asked to watch the next one too.  So, we did.

Have you ever seen the Unwrapped series on Food Network?  Back in Minnesota, many nights that would be what we watched before we went to bed.  We loved that show, because it was entertaining, fascinating, interesting, and you always learned something.

That is exactly what we found with the Curiosity Quest series.  The Produce Curiosity Quest in particular, seemed like the smart man's or maybe I should say healthy man's Unwrapped.

We learned things like how important it is not to bruise oranges, even just a little bit....and why.  We learned why those guys in the cranberry commercials are standing in their hip waders in what looks like a lake full of cranberries.  We learned how incredibly smelly it is at a mushroom farm when they are letting the spores develop.

I mean, when you think about it and see behind the scenes as to how many people are much work is much machinery is involved in getting our food from the field to the is amazing.

 (This is the host, Joel Greene, learning the right way to cut an orange and place it in his bag....up on a ladder....which gets really heavy.)  You know what I learned?  I learned that I could NOT do this job.

This series teaches basics about the food, but gets you behind the scenes tour of facilities, fields, and factories that normally you would have to try to arrange for your homeschool co-op.  Believe me....this is way easier.....and you don't have to be doing headcounts all day to make sure you haven't lost anybody along the way!

We loved seeing all the work that goes into getting some of our favorite foods from the farm to the store, to our fridge.  I can't tell you how many times one of us said....."I didn't know that!  Did you?"

The second DVD was the DVD Combo Pack - Swimmers of the Sea.  This one covered Sea Turtle Rescue, Penguins, and Salmon.  Host, Joel Greene does a really good job of describing everything he is seeing, hearing, feeling, and even smelling while he is trying to answer our Curiosity Quest.

Honestly, we watched all the episodes on this one in one it was a movie.  You get sort of sucked in....which, in this case, isn't bad because you are learning useful stuff and not just being entertained.

This series taught us things like penguins have 100 feathers per square inch.  Did you know what penguins sort of sound like dolphins?

I am not exactly sure why, but this one was V-girls favorite episode.  Although, they are really cute and they all had fun people names, so I guess it isn't that surprising!  She can't wait until her Grandma comes to visit because she loves penguins.  V-girl has plans to sit Grandma down as soon as she gets here so she can learn more about penguins.

The Sea Turtle Rescue episode covered what happens at a Turtle Hospital in Florida.  I want to go and feed Bubble of the turtles who lives there.  Yes, just because of his name.  Emoji  Oh, and remember in the movie Finding Nemo when the turtles were riding the gulf stream?  Dude!  That actually happens.  They probably don't talk in surfer dude speech....but they really do travel and move around that way.

(By the way these baby turtles were a little freaky to me....they were just in constant motion....just flapping around....reminded me of a thick spider or something.  I liked the baby loggerhead turtles much better, they were just real chill and just hung out in the rubber bins!)

The Salmon episode gave a really cool way to remember the 5 types of pacific salmon that are found in Alaska, using each finger on your hand.

  • Chum is your thumb, 
  • Sockeye is your index finger (imagine poking someone’s eye out), 
  • King is your middle finger,(tallest/biggest) 
  • Silver is your ring finger, and 
  • Pink is your pinkie.
It was really interesting to learn how salmon imprint or "smell" their place of birth so then they come back to that place when they are ready to spawn...or have babies.  Yes, I said.....smell.  Salmon always go back to the stream that they were born in when it is time to spawn.....because they recognize through their olfactory glands the "smell" of their home stream.  Always.

These DVDs are very well done and not cheap looking.  I was also super impressed with all the people/experts that were guiding Joel through the episodes. Yes, there is an occasional mention of evolutionary theory, but that didn't bother me.

You know how sometimes when you go on field trips or listen to an educational discussion, they are a little stilted in their delivery and uncomfortable?  The people in these DVDs were all sort of chipper, happy, occasionally sarcastic, but always smooth and conversational in their delivery.

They have a whole Curiosity Quest Goes Green series that deals with recycling, compost, and repurposing. Actually, the Sea Turtle Rescue episode is part of this series.

There are lots of  DVDs available as part of this series.  Go browse around and see if there are any that peak your curiosity!

Honestly, this is my kind of learning.  It is fun.  It is fast paced, but not cartoony.  They seem to always ask the questions that I was thinking in my head while I was watching.  I liked these DVDs a lot.  They will be coming out as reminders when we get to studying any of the episode topics.

Every episode ended with Joel Greene saying this:

Every Great Journey Begins With Just One Person's Curiosity!

It is so true.

Take a peek at Curiosity Quest and maybe even send them on a Quest!

The Combo Pack DVDs are available for $24.95.  Go see what other TOS Review Crew members thought about Curiosity Quest.

Wednesday, April 9, 2014

Victus Study Skills Systems - A Review

A-girl and I recently got a chance to try out Victus Study Skills System system.  We got the Teacher's Edition for me and the Student Workbook for A-girl.  But, wait....even if you aren't a homeschooler....keep reading, you are going to want to hear about this one!

The general premise of this course is that all students are expected to study, but sometimes those skills aren't just naturally developed or figured out on their own.  Sometimes just trying harder actually isn't enough to do well.

Actually, Susan Ison, President of Victus Study Skills System said that she started a tutoring association back in 1977 and found that lost of times, students didn't actually need academic help, but instead, needed to know how to study.

Victus Study Skills teaches some actual skills and methods and follows the premise that it will work best when this set of skills becomes a way of life.

This course can be used with your kids from grades 5 through 12.  Honestly, I got some good ideas for myself too.

For high schoolers, this course could be completed in about a week.  For younger kids, they recommend taking longer to work through the material.    The creators of the study system say that each lesson, for older students, should take about 30 minutes.  Ours took longer than this, which I will tell you about in a little bit.

For me, I don't ever remember taking a course in how to study and I have (almost) always done well in school.  I have developed habits and skills over the years.  It seemed to just come naturally to me.  I have worked out systems to memorize things when I needed to (usually using silly acronym type phrases).  I have usually been able to figure out what sorts of things would be on the tests and highlighted them or paid particular attention to them while I was reading.

Keep reading to discover my light bulb moment about my college days in chemistry class that I will share with you later.....and the reason for the "almost" in parentheses above.

I thought that everyone worked that same way.  I thought anyone with half a brain could/should/would figure out those tips on studying.

I was wrong.  I would actually say that maybe 1 of my 6 children seems to have figured out some helpful study skills on their own....or, they actually listened to my nagging advice over the years.....not sure which.....but, really, 1 out of 6, isn't that great, though, is it?  I had begun to worry....especially for A-girl as she is in 8th grade and her schedule is filling up with harder and harder classes and her workload is getting heavier and heavier.....and, honestly, I was seeing her struggle more and more.

I could see her starting to fall apart.  I could see her struggling.  I could see her wanting to do well....trying harder to do well....and falling short.  Then getting frustrated and depressed and thinking she wasn't smart.

It was not a cycle that I wanted to continue.....for numerous reasons:

I didn't want her feeling stupid.

I didn't want her feeling like she wasn't smart enough.

I didn't want her to just give up when things didn't just magically fall into place.

I wanted her to have academic matter where or what type of schooling she has, in the future.

You see, on that last point, A-girl and Rainman and I are considering some different schooling options for A-girl next year.  One of those options is attending the school that D-man has attended for the last year.  It is a college prep high school nearby.

I posted questions to my on-line homeschooling friends about how to tell when your child was ready for "high school".  The answers varied....and didn't give me a lot of clarity.

Then this product review came up and I thought....hmmm.....maybe this is that missing piece of the puzzle that will help me "test" her readiness and teach her some long term life skills all at once.

It did.

Here is how it worked.  The Victus Study Skills Student book is divided into three "Foundational Cornerstones":

Where Am I Now?
Where Do I Want To Be?
How Do I Get There?

The Teacher book breaks it down into Ten lessons (which should take about 30 minutes to complete):

One:  Introduction and Study Habits Checklist
Two:  Learning Strengths
Three:  Mission and Goal Setting
Four: Time Management
Five:  Organization and Study Environment
Six:  PQRST (Preview, Question, Read, State, Test)
Seven:  Listening
Eight:  Note Taking
Nine: Test Taking
Ten:  Review

Lessons 1 and 2 correspond with the "Where Am I Now?" section of the student book.  Lesson 3 corresponds with "Where Do I Want To Be?" in the student book and the remainder of the lessons go along with the "How Do I Get There?" section.

Before I talk details, I need to give you my opinion on something.  In many courses that I try, you don't really need the teacher's book.  In many cases, there is enough information given in the student book or you can figure out what needs to be done by just taking a look.  That is not the case for Victus Study Skills.  In my opinion, you need the teacher book.  There are just so many little details and approaches that you can take that you would really miss out on without the teacher's book.  So, plan to get a copy of the teacher's edition and a student workbook for each of your students.

Okay, now the our experiences:

First of all, you need to know that there is much to be gained by working through this course alongside your student....which means there is a little planning/preparation needed by the teacher.  Most of the time, this just meant reading through things before your class.  It really wasn't a big deal for me to read through ahead of time.  The pros of this course outweigh any inconvenience that a little extra class prep time took.

The lessons started out interesting for both A-girl and I as we delved into pinpointing what her current study habits were and how she best learned.

For example, learning styles can be categorized into 3 main types:  Visual; Auditory; Kinesthetic

We have looked at these things before with all the kids as I periodically try to change things up to help match their individual styles.  I had thought that A-girl was primarily an auditory, in the past, I have read aloud to her whenever possible.

But, through Victus, we found that she is actually scored a little higher in her visual category of learning styles. Her auditory scores were high too....just not as high as visual......which is probably why her mind would wander sometimes when I was reading aloud to she didn't retain whatever I was reading to her. She needed to be visually stimulated too for it to really stick.

That one detail right there helped she and I to look at things differently in our approach to what has been working well and what hasn't been working well in her schooling.

As we moved deeper and deeper into the lessons, I asked A-girl what she thought of Victus Study Skills, knowing full well that she wasn't exactly thrilled when I told her she and I were going to do this.

In A-girl's own words, "I think this is great for people like me, who aren't very organized.  I think this is something that I will use my whole life, not just for school.  I am learning things about how I naturally want to do things, and how some of those things work really well for me and how I need to change other things to do better in school."

I was sort of surprised to hear her be honest about her natural lack of organization skills.  It is true. She is not naturally organized....or neat and tidy.  I was just surprised.

Earlier in this post I mentioned that A-girl and I took a little longer than the creators recommendations.  We took a little over a week to complete this book  For us, we spent quite a bit of time going back over her assignments and tweaking her work...and some of it took longer because it required deep thought.

One of the things that we spent quite a bit of time tweaking and revising were A-girls goals.....because she was too broad and general, in her first attempt.

For example, she originally put down a goal that was something like this: "Doing more math so she is ready for next year".  But, Victus Study Skills encourages setting real, attainable and measurable goals.  "Doing more math" doesn't really say anything.  So, she revised it to say that she would "finish her Algebra I course in the next 6 weeks"....and then made an action plan with how many lessons that meant she had to complete each week to stay on target. ( By the way, that is 3 lessons a day.)  Poor girl....but, the beauty of this is....she came up with that goal...AND the action plan on her own.  Honestly, I didn't even give her any ideas....other than helping her revise this goal to be measurable and specific.

So her goal setting and action plan steps took her a while when you factored in her revision time and doing the background work/research to figure out how each goal could be measurable.

I really enjoyed working through all the lessons in the "How Do I Get There?" section.  Especially digging into the PQRST and  note taking section of the course.  Partly because I feel like that is one of the most tangibly useful parts of the course for her long term education goals.  The great thing was, that I think she really got it.  We did the practice note taking from a reading section in the book and then I tested her on the passage.  She didn't get one question wrong!  Not one.  That is a big deal for her as she has always struggled with retention after reading passages of information.

So let me tell you a bit about my light bulb moment as I was helping A-girl work through Victus Study Skills from my college days.

I was a nursing major.  I had plans to be a nurse from very early on.  I was going to be an R.N.,  until I hit my college chemistry class.  I can't tell you exactly what went wrong, but I remember sinking....and sinking fast....and not really knowing what to do because that had never happened to me before.  I had always been a straight A student.

Like I said, I was always, in my opinion, a good studier....I knew what stuff would be on tests and had cute little ways of making myself remember things.  For some reason, my tried and true ways did not work in this class....and I had nothing else in my bag of tricks.


Since this had never really happened to me before....well, except for 9th grade Algebra with Mr. Anlauf.....I was too afraid to ask for help.  That had backfired with Mr. Anlauf anyway.  I really just remember sitting in class sort of bewildered and trying not to let anyone around me know.

So, I just assumed that because I didn't "get" this class and got a C that I was a failure and obviously should NOT continue on and become an R.N.

I didn't.

I got a job, in a medical office, with vacation time and benefits, but no hands on patient care.

I still wish I had stuck it out.  I still feel a sense of belonging when I am in a medical/hospital I should be there.  I really wish I had stuck it out.  I really do....especially when my friends, who continued their training, assured me that they don't use anything from that chemistry class in their day to day job!

My light bulb moment was that the Victus Study Skills System gives you more things in your bag of tricks.  I am sure that if I had used this system in high school, that I wouldn't have just done well on tests, AND, I could have aced this class in college.

I really think that Victus Study Skills would have helped me break down the class into smaller bite sized pieces and I would have swallowed my pride and found a study-buddy that was smarter than me to help me through the rough patches.....or, (gulp) talk to the professor that seemed like a really nice lady.

(Oh well, I ended up training to be a massage therapist and being a mother of I get lots of "nursing" experiences....both the nurturing kind and the bloody kind!  :)  )

Both A-girl and I are really happy that we worked through Victus Study Skills together.  She feels much better prepared for her college prep courses next year.  I feel confident that she has the underlying skills necessary to take even the hardest class and make it manageable.  I feel confident that she has figured out she needs to have real and specific goals that she can measure, not just New Year's Resolutions that will be abandoned and forgotten year after year.

We are both pretty excited about what this one little course has done for her future!

This is definitely one of those products that is NOT just for homeschoolers!  It isn't even just for students.

If you want to try and see what Victus Study Skills can do to help you or your child, the Teacher's edition is available for $40 and the student workbook is $20.  This is a $20 investment that I will be making with the rest of my kids.

Check out what others on the TOS Review Crew thought about their experiences with Victus Study Skills.