Monday, March 31, 2014

Review: Captivated Documentary

Media DiscernmentWhen the opportunity arose to review a documentary on media and discernment by Media Talk 101 I knew it was something I needed to see.  However when the Captivated DVD arrived in the mail I promptly left in the catch-all spot near my front door and didn’t touch it for three weeks because I also knew it was something I didn’t want to see.  I made the assumption beforehand that I would just be made to feel guilty about how much time my family watches TV and my son plays video games.  I already had the excuses ready to shout back at the screen –“It’s been a bad winter and we’ve been stuck inside,” or “My son is an only child and all the other kids in the neighborhood are still in school when we finish for the day.”  Still I had to watch it for the review….and you know what?  I learned something.

I always thought of media as a product (and its over-consumption as a problem) of the modern age.  You know television, internet, texting, and video games…but there’s nothing new under the sun.  The first telegraph message was sent in 1844. It didn’t take long before telegraph operators were missing their work by playing a “virtual” checkers game and “chatting” over the lines.  The wireless operators on the Titanic were working so late on a backlog of messages for passengers that they missed the one warning about icebergs that could have saved the ship.  The only differences today are the variety of media available and the speed at which they now fly at us.

Captivated is broken into five sections:




  Here we listen to just how much time is spent on media—watching TV, playing games, texting. And it’s becoming a round-the-clock binge. 





   Music, movies, games, etc. can either bring positive or negative messages—not just negative but harmful to children.  This statement came from the Motion Picture Production Code of 1930—a promise to self regulate before state and federal  censure laws were enacted. The code was changed, skirted and liberally interpreted for years and finally abandoned in 1968.




Studies show that playing virtual games can produce the same feelings of accomplishment as real life, but you really haven’t done anything.  The lady on the left was so obsessed with Farmville she set up false accounts to “gift” herself objects for the came.  She wore herself out  doing virtual chores for hours.    Now she tends to real gardens in her yard.





 Media is not neutral.   The bottom line is that this is a battle for our minds and our children’s mind—how we think, live, vote, etc.  The first step is to put on the full armor of God.





Practical tips to implement a media fast in your family.   Fair warning, kids will probably be grumpy.  Go outdoors (leave the cell phones and IPads inside).  Plan activities to fill the void.  One of the best choices would be to add family Bible time.



In the Bonus Features, there are extended interviews of the experts from the documentary (9 interviews, 5-23 minutes long) and a message from the producer to clarify that he’s not anti-technology/anti-media.  I can confirm this through outside sources as Media Talk 101 has recently taken over sponsorship of the Christian Worldview Film Festival in San Antonio, TX.  

I watched this video by myself with a pad and paper to write things I wanted to remember and ideas I wanted to try in our home.  I didn’t make my son watch it, but I have hade discussions with him about some of the things I learned.  Now when I see him watching game shows I’ll stop and ask “Is this a wise use of your time?”   I didn’t feel the guilt I expected to feel—in fact, I see we’re ahead of the game in a lot of areas – we only allow video games rated E, we have picky standards of what movies and TV shows we watch,  we rarely partake in social media on the computer outside of work and our son doesn’t use it at all.  The next step will be for my husband and I to prayerfully consider a media fast for our family.

The Captivated DVD ($16.95) contains a 107 min. documentary and 4 bonus features.  It is meant for parents –you may choose to share portions with your kids.  I recommend it to all parents but homeschoolers especially.  We’ve gone to great lengths to keep certain worldviews away from our kids by teaching them at home, but how much of those same worldviews are we letting sneak in through our TV’s, DVDs, MP3 players, and computer screens.  This documentary gives a lot of food for thought. There are Spanish subtitles available through the Setup menu. According to the setup screen English closed captioning for the hearing impaired should be available through my TV, but I couldn’t get them to appear.

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Friday, March 28, 2014

Rescued Book 13: The Winter at Valley Forge


Last Monday we were driving home from karate class in a mini-blizzard.  Tuesday morning the ground was all white and I worried about the daffodils that had already started to pop up.  Both my son and I complained about the winter that would never end….and then we stopped.  You see, this week we’ve been studying about Valley Forge.  It’s a name nearly synonymous with the American Revolution and yet no battle occurred there.  Unlike those soldiers, we had shoes for our feet, a full pantry and refrigerator, and a warm home – we could live with a few snowflakes (that were gone by the next afternoon.  This week we look at another Landmark title… 

The Winter at Valley Forge

Mason, F. Van Wyck, and Harper Johnson (Illus.). New York: Random House, 1953.  173 pp.

The 15 chapter book could almost be divided into two parts—the first five chapters set the background for the winter camp.  It actually begins with the battles at Brandywine Creek (Sept. 1777) and Germantown (Oct. 1777).  It was the custom at the time for armies to “take the winter off” from active fighting.  Even before arriving in Valley Forge, Washington’s army was short on weapons, powder, medicine and food.  A supply train with 6000 blankets was sent in the opposite direction of the troops.  Sometime later they managed to get 200 of those blankets back which were immediately cut up to wrap shoeless feet.  The British rounded up nearly 700 cattle from the region to feed their own troops in Philadelphia.   The Continental Army has strict rules against confiscating anything from civilians who were generally unwilling to sell their crops and animals for worthless paper money.  And then there was no way to transport the food when heavy snow closed the roads.

After setting up the scene the author turns his attention to two specific volunteers—Gil Weston and Silver Hawk (one of the few Native Americans that sided with the Americans).  The forward makes clear that these are fictional characters but that all the events they witness and partake in either actually took place or were typical of the living conditions.  They scavenge for food, attack British supply wagons, and eventually  take part in a skirmish between Gen. Charles Lee and the (in)famous Dragoon Banastre Tarleton.  Other real persons we meet are Gen. Washington, Prussian baron von Stueben,and the Marquis de Lafayette. 

Finally in June 1778 the long winter was over and Washington led his army out of the valley to pursue the Redcoats leaving Philadelphia.  The book ends with this passage:

Behind them they left the rude shacks, the unmarked graves, the fortifications that never had come under fire….They left the hospital where so many men had dies and so many others had prayed for death. They left the whitened bones of starves horses and the stumps of trees hacked down for precious firewood. They left the hard-packed parade ground where Gen. von Steuben had made soldiers out of farmers. They left behind Valley Forge where the cause of Liberty was supposed to have been frozen, beaten and starved to death…

The Army sang smartly as its ordered regiments marched out of Valley Forge…ahead of the men lay bitter struggles…Ahead also lay victory and freedom!

My copy of The Winter at Valley Forge had originally been someone’s Christmas present judging from the note in the cover.  I picked it up at the Greater St. Louis Book Fair.

You can see all my rescued books by clicking here.

Tuesday, March 25, 2014

Szechwan Chicken Pasta

Last week we made a thick and hearty bean soup—perfect for cold weather days.  But with Spring and Summer, I prefer lighter dishes.  This recipe takes advantage of one of the first things ready in my garden—snow peas!  Normally, I make this dish in a wok, but this day I tried it in my new favorite kitchen appliance: a Ninja 3-in-1 Cooker.  You can do it all in here, including cooking the spaghetti noodles beforehand.

Szechwan Chicken Pasta

  • 1T. vegetable oil
  • 4  boneless, skinless chicken breasts
  • 2 C. fresh pea pods
  • 2 cloves garlic
  • 1 large bell pepper (I prefer red)
  • 2 green onions
  • 1/4 C. soy sauce
  • 2 T. white vinegar
  • 1 t. chili oil
  • 1/2 t. crushed red pepper flakes
  • 8 oz. spaghetti, cooked per directions (I prefer to break in half)
  • 1/2 C.  roasted peanuts

The key to stir frying is to have everything prepped and ready while you heat the oil.  You won’t have time to leave the pan and make the sauce or chop anything else.  Also, practice kitchen safety and don’t cut the veggies on the same mat as the raw chicken.

So, rinse & pat dry the chicken. Cut into 3/4 inch cubes.  Coarsely chop the pea pods. Mince the garlic, slice the green onion. You may either slice the bell pepper or chop in into chunks roughly the size of the pea pods.  In a bowl combine soy sauce, vinegar, chili oil and red pepper flakes.

Heat vegetable oil in wok over high heat (or set Ninja on Stove Top High) Add the garlic and stir fry for 15-20 seconds before adding the other vegetables.

Stir fry for 1-2 minutes until crisp-tender, then remove from pan.

Add 1/2 the chicken to the pan, stir fry 3-4 minutes (chicken needs to be cooked through, not just browned on the outside) and remove.  Repeat with the remaining chicken.  Return all chicken to the pan, add sauce, veggies and noodles.  Stir to coat & heat through.  Sprinkle portions with peanuts to serve.


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Friday, March 21, 2014

Rescued Book #12 Ethan Allen

In an age when the average man on the street can’t even name the Vice President, this is probably not a big deal—I always used to get Nathan Hale and Ethan Allen mixed up.  I don’t know why.  Perhaps because both their names have “than” in them.  I know they’re both famous for a quote they made and they both had their 15 minutes of fame during the American Revolution and then disappeared off the radar.  Okay, one was hanged for spying but why did the other one not have a glorious military career?  They probably only got a sentence or two in my history books and may not even be mentioned in today’s books. 

I say “used to” because now I have a biography for Ethan Allen, one of the Landmark Books.  He’s the one who wasn’t a spy and now he’s more than just a quote (“In the name of the Great Jehovah and the Continental Congress” if you’re wondering).  That’s the great thing about living books over text books and this week’s rescued book is…

Ethan Allen and the Green Mountain Boys. Brown, Slater, and William C. Moyers (Illus.)  New York: Random House, 1956. 179 pp.

For our history study, we focused on the chapter of the Allen leading the capture of Fort Ticonderoga.  The quote was his answering the question posed by the British Captain turning over his sword, “By whose authority have you and your mob entered His majesty’s fort?”   The fort guarded the waterways formed by Lake Champlain, Lake George and the Hudson River.  It was key in preventing a British attack coming south from Canada. The guns and ammunition captured were later transported by Henry Knox to Boston and caused the British to withdraw from the city.  The only casualty in taking the fort may have been the captain’s pride (he had been sleeping and didn’t even have time to put his pants on).    

With such great success, why didn’t Allen play a role in the rest of the war? Well the easy answer is to say he was captured and spent 30 months either on a prison barge or imprisoned in London.  But even before the capture, Ethan Allen was never offered an officer’s commission.  The Continental Congress actually took a dim view of the whole Ticonderoga affair. This took place in May of 1775—after the shot heard round the world but more than a year before the Declaration of Independence.  Here’s a passage:

[Congress] felt it inadvisable at the time to advertise to the world that the Colonies had taken the offensive against England. Ethan was therefore stunned when a letter arrived from Congress ordering that the cannon and military stores captured at Ticonderoga be …held…so they may might be safely returned to His Majesty George the Third when the ‘former harmony’ between America and England ‘so ardently wished for’ by the Colonies could be restored. 

  Ethan’s plan to invade Canada was rejected (nearly 18 months later just such an attack was attempted, but failed).  The Congress did authorize the organization of a regiment of Green Mountain boys under officers of their own choosing, but the older, wiser men of the territory passed over Ethan Allen for command—probably due to his actions and attitude Ethan Allen and the Green Mountain Boysin the past.

The first six chapters of the book deal with the land dispute between the New York and New Hampshire colonies over the territory that would become the state of Vermont.  Ethan tried to settle the matter in court once, but things escalated to combat.  Shots were fired, homes were burned, officials were harassed.  In one instance a land owner with a New York patent tried to populate his holding with recent immigrants from Scotland who knew nothing of the dispute.  When Ethan discovered their settlement he ordered the cabins burned, the gristmill pulled down, and the millstone smashed and thrown over a waterfall. 

Ethan’s excuse for his actions was the need to keep out tenet farming and the Feudal system being imposed by Yorkers sometimes required desperate measures.  He penned many articles for the local papers on “Life, Liberty, and Private Property.”  Nothing I read in the book though gave me the impression that the Yorkers were imposing the same tyranny that led the colonies to declare independence from King George III, nor did I find mention that Ethan Allen was acting on behalf of the New Hampshire government. 

Ethan Allen may have been a great man, his past experience made him the right man for the job of capturing Ft. Ticonderoga, but I’m not sure I would label him as a good man with the qualities of say, Gen. George Washington.  Still, I’m glad for the opportunity to read about him.

You can see all my rescued books by clicking here.

Wednesday, March 19, 2014

Star Chronicles Giveaway

We are a dark sky lovin, star gazin' family.  We bundle up in sleeping bags and sit outside in the dead of winter to watch the Geminid meteor shower,  we'll be pulling an all-nighter next month (April 15th) to see the lunar eclipse.  As believers the God created all that we see, it can be hard to find educational resources that don't either turn to the Big Bang Theory or Astrology hocus pocus.  Later this month we'll be sharing a review for a new publication--Star Chronicles: A Bible-Based Study of the Stars by Dawnita FoglemanIn the meantime, here's an opportunity for your to win some great resources for Astronomy study and beyond!
star chronicles giveaway  

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Star Chronicles Giveaway

To celebrate the upcoming release of Star Chronicles, I am excited to be joining the Star Chronicles Launch Team in sharing this fantastic giveaway, a perfect compliment to the Star Chronicles study and just plain fun for your homeschool! 

Here's what you can win: 

Star Chronicles: A Bible-Based Study of the Stars (paperback) $20 Celestron 70mm Travel Scope, sponsored by the following blogs: Ben and Me, Our Simple Kinda Life, Tots and Me, Marriage, Motherhood and Missions, Acorn Hill Academy, Family, Faith and Fridays, Our Homeschool Studio, As He Leads Is Joy, Angels of Heart, My So-Called Homeschool Life, Best Homeschool Academy by Mom to 3+2 Adopted Sibs, There Will Be a $5 Charge for Whining, Life Off the Paved Road $60 Astronomy and Space Unit Study and Lapbook + $30 gift certificate from A Journey Through Learning $42.50 Nature Study Bundle from Shining Dawn Books, including: Captivating Clouds, Remarkable Rain, and Flying Creatures of the Night $27 Moonfinder by Jay Ryan $15 31 Organizing Utility Tote  in Sea Plaid $30 DVD Collection from 2 Kingdoms/Cathy Friedlander, including Seed Messiah, He Calleth Them All by Their Names, I Want to Explore, Raton Pass Hummingbirds, But Ask Now the Beasts, and Tzon El: Our Zionist Dream $80 A total value of $275!

Enter to win!

To enter, use the Rafflecopter below. Residents of the U. S. and Canada (excluding Quebec), age 18 and older only. See Rafflecopter for additional terms and conditions.  a Rafflecopter giveaway

star disclaimer

Tuesday, March 18, 2014

U.S. Senate Bean Soup

It’s wacky weather time – one day in the high 70’s, the next is snowing and we don’t even reach the freezing mark.  And when it’s cold I want the comfort of a thick soup.  This recipe was passed on to me from someone who knows I like freezable dishes.  A version of this soup has been served daily in the Senate dining room for over a century (no political jokes about “hot air” and beans at this time).

U.S.Senate Bean Soup

  • 1 lb. dried great northern beans
  • 1 meaty ham bone
  • 2 large onions, chopped
  • 3 garlic cloves, minced
  • 1/2 C. instant potato flakes
  • salt & pepper to taste
  • parsley or chives  for garnishing 
Place beans in a saucepan and cover with water; bring to a boil and boil for 2 minutes.  Remove from heat and let soak for 1 hour.  Drain and rinse beans.  In a large Dutch oven, place beans, ham bone, and 3 qts. of water. Bring to a boil, reduce heat, cover and simmer for 2 hours.  Add onions, garlic, potatoes, salt & pepper.  Simmer 1 more hour.  Take the bone from the soup, remove the meat, dice meat and return to the soup.  Serve with chives or parsley garnishment.  Makes 2 1/2 qts.
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Friday, March 14, 2014

Rescued Book #11: Voices of 1776

Last week we started a series of several books relating to our current history study –the American Revolution.  The Landmark Series book by that title is a great overview for upper elementary students.  This week’s book is more for the high school student or adult –although you could certainly read passages aloud to younger kids. 

Voices of 1776. Wheeler, Richard.  New York: Crowell, 1972. 430 pp.

Like the title implies,  voices of men who were eyewitnesses to the events and battles of the American Revolution are brought to life on the pages.  The majority of the text is made up of excerpts for journals and letters.  The author weaves together the narratives with introductory information (anything written in italics comes from Mr. Wheeler).   The book covers the entire war, not just 1776—beginning with Paul Revere’s ride to warn “The regulars are coming out!” (You see, when we consult original source documents we learn he never said “The British are coming”) to Cornwallis’ surrender at Yorktown.  The book ends with a clip from a New Jersey newspaper: “…our illustrious Washington…like the meridian sun, has dispelled those nocturnal vapors that hung around us, and put the most pleasing aspect upon our political affairs that any era of the present war has ever beheld” (you don’t read journalism like that any more).

You’ll find b&w reproductions of portraits of key figures on both sides as well as the great maps of all the major battles drawn by Col. Henry B. Carrington (who actually fought in the Civil War but published a book on the American Revolution in 1881).

The Battle of Trenton or Washington’s Crossing the Delaware
Wheeler presents both  American and British writings—as if we needed proof that there are two sides to every story. Sometimes both sides were actually fighting together, like Ethan Allen and Benedict Arnold disputing who had the command (and the glory) of the capture of Fort Ticonderoga.  You can read both accounts.
Speaking of Benedict Arnold, there’s a whole chapter devoted to his treason.  In it I read, of all things, a letter written by Maj. Andre to Gen. Washington requesting he be shot by firing squad rather than hung—he believing the former to be the more honorable way for a soldier to die.
Sir: Buoyed above the terrors of death by the consciousness of a life devoted to honorable pursuits and stained with no action that can give me remorse, I trust that the request I make to your excellency at the serious period, and which is to soften my last moments, will not be rejected.  Sympathy towards a soldier will surely induce your excellency and a military tribunal to adapt the mode of my death to the feelings of a man of honor.  Let me hope, sir, it aught in my character impresses you with esteem towards me—if aught in my misfortunes marks me as the victim of policy and not of resentment—I shall experience the operation of these feelings in your breast by being informed that I am not to die on a gibbet.
You see why I don’t recommend it for young students—the pattern of speech and choice of words would be beyond them.  But for us older students of history—how fascinating.
My copy of Voices of 1776 came from a recent library book sale.  My parents volunteered at the book sorting event and my step-dad knew we would be studying the Revolution this year.  He told me about the book (and where he tucked it away on the tables).  Later this year I’ll share about the other book he recommended:  The Chronicles of America.  If you’re interested in your own copy there seem to be reasonable priced used copies out there.
You can see all my rescued books by clicking here.
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Tuesday, March 11, 2014

Review: Glow in the Dark Easter Eggs

Who doesn’t love a good Easter Egg hunt?  And I do mean hunt. This is not some event where it’s impossible to walk without stepping on an egg, I’m talking about searching high and low and looking in every nook and cranny.  Well the folks at Egglo Entertainment have kicked the annual  tradition up a notch or two by allowing you to search for glow in the dark eggs. Hunting eggs can be done by any age level but the book and program guide seemed to be geared for 4-13 year olds.  For this review, we received:

Well you can’t have an Easter Egg hunt without the eggs so let’s start there.  The Glow in the Dark Egglo Eggs arrive nested together in a box (no pun intended) so the first thing you must do is assemble them.  It doesn’t sound like a job for a rocket scientist, but it’s also not as easy as you might Egglo Reviewthink.    Half of the egg sections have a cross molded on the side and because of this design the seam goes around the length of the egg not its circumference.   I just started grabbing cross pieces and plain pieces to join together –but sometimes they wouldn’t join.  It turns out that the joint is made with an “inner lip” and and “outer lip” for lack of better terms.  Half the cross pieces were “innies” and half “outies” just like the undecorated  halves.   This probably allows for more combinations (pink & yellow, blue & yellow, pink& blue, or solid color eggs), but if you choose solid color eggs (like the photos) be aware that the blue ones will have crosses on both sides and the pink ones will have no crosses at all.   You can “charge” up the eggs in sunlight (fastest method, but still 45 minutes) or artificial light.  To differentiate the colors, a sunlight charge is best.  As the glow fades it’s hard to which color is which.  In the light, you can see through the egg to see what it contains so if you hide cash in one as a treat, it will be obvious.  

The Egg-cellent Easter Adventure  (39 pp.) is not your typical Easter story of the cross and resurrection. The book takes us on a global adventure with Anastasia, Pascal, Hardy, and their dog Zeke.  They search for glowing eggs in Egypt, under water, and on a volcanic island.  The eggs pop open to reveal scripture and clues for the next hidden egg.  The great think about the story was that each child began with a character flaw: Anastasia is fearful, Pascal won’t submit to authority, and Hardy thinks of himself before others.  The scriptures they discover helps each child overcome their sinful natures.   I read it aloud to my son although the text was easy enough he could have read it on his own.  You may also want to download the audio version for kids who can’t read to themselves.

The Scripture Scrolls are made of paper and plastic and held closed with small rubber bands. The fit easily in the eggs leaving plenty of room for a Hershey’s Kiss or two.   I found them fairly sturdy but we did manage to rip the paper off from one scroll so open these with adult supervision if you want to make them last.  The scrolls contain sentiments based on scripture with the Bible verse referenced.  For example, one says “Jesus said ‘I am the light of the world.’ (based on John 8:12)” 

The Egg-cellent Easter Adventure Program Guide  seems geared towards churches or organizations that want to create a whole program, not just hold an egg hunt.  There are suggestions for decorations and snacks, coloring pages,  printable invitations and a poster.   Honestly, as a homeschooling mother on a budget I would probably just search for ideas on Pinterest.

The Final Word

The book, eggs, and all resources are really top notch.  I’ll be saving them for use again.  I can really think of only one flaw—and it is more from a sales/marketing standpoint:   When we were selected for this review, the instructions made clear that we would be using these resources outside the Easter season (in fact I had the eggs for a hunt at a Valentine’s Day party).  They ARE great for Easter, but I think the vendor is limiting their sales by making a product that’s only used at Easter time.  I kept thinking how much fun it would be if the glowing objects were shaped like treasure chests instead.  You can have a treasure hunt any time of the year.  The Adventure book even references this idea in the last scroll “Well done, good and faithful children. You have persevered to the end, and a gift you shall receive. it is the treasure you seek, the greatest of all. Not of this world, the treasure is a light to the nations.”


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Monday, March 10, 2014

Review: Algebra Tutor DVD

Algebra TutorThis is not our first review of DVD’s from ScienceandMath.comIn 2010 we used The Basic Math Word Problem Tutor and in 2012 we used  Amazing Science.   Now, another two years later we are viewing Algebra 1 Tutor: Volume 1 with its companion Fractions Thru Algebra Companion Worksheet CD.

Before we begin, let me be candid that math comes very easy to my son—and he loves doing it.  He’s only 11 (so he would be in 5th grade in a regular school setting), but he’s already doing algebra work.  Watching someone do math is entertainment in our house – yes, he pulls out math videos to watch during free time.  I know a lot of you reading this post will be desperate to find something to help math concepts sink into your kids’ heads and wondering whether or not they will even be willing to sit down and watch 7+ hours of math tutorials.  I will try to cover your concerns in my comments, just understand that’s not how we approached the DVD’s in our home.


The Algebra 1 Tutor ($26.99 DVD, $23.99 download) is geared towards  7th grade and up, but you’ll know if your child is ready for upper level math at a younger age.  I would even venture to say that the first DVD (and part of the second) could be labeled Pre-Algebra.  The three DVD’s and their topics are:

Algebra TutorDisk 1
Sect 1 - Real Numbers And Their Graphs (53:33): Math terms  are defined and examples given for Natural Numbers, Whole Numbers, Integers, Rational Numbers, Irrational Numbers, Real Numbers, Prime Numbers, Even and Odd, symbols (=, <, >) and variables.  The final 13 minutes cover marking number lines.
Sect 2 - Review of Fractions (52:44):  After explaining how to simplify fractions, sample after sample is given on how to Multiply, Divide, Add & Subtract fractions.  The final 8 minutes deals with mixed and improper fractions.
Sect 3 - Exponents and Order of Operations [View a Sample] (39:40):  The concepts of Exponents and Factors are explained and then many mathematical expressions are solved while covering the order of operations.

Disk 2
Sect 4 - Adding and Subtracting Real Numbers (1:05:11): A brief listing of the rules of signs when adding and subtracting positive and negative numbers and then example after example getting progressively harder.
Sect 5 - Multiplying and Dividing Real Numbers (36:56): The rules of signs for multiplying and dividing positive numbers and negative numbers and then examples.
Sect 6 - Algebraic Expressions

Disk 3
Sect 7 - Properties of Real Numbers (39:40):  Properties covered are Closure, Commutative, Associative and Distributive
Sect 8 - Introduction to Equations [
View a Sample] (42:09): In the  first third of this section, the speaker writes equations and gives a value for the variable, then he plugs in the number to see if the equation is true or false.  The last two thirds of the section involves the traditional solving for “X” you expect in algebra.
Sect 9 - Solving More Equations (35:27):  More solving for the unknown, but these problems require more than one step to isolate the variable.
Sect 10 - Simplifying Expressions to Solve Equations (47:34):
After a long explanation that simplification can only occur if the terms in the expression have the same variable, the speaker proceeds to simplify and use distribution in increasingly harder algebraic expressions.

 I received a download version ($21.99) of the Companion Worksheets but the website also sells a CD for $24.99.  The PDF files are organized and labeled to correspond with the sections or the DVD.  For example Section 2 on Fractions has three Worksheet files Labeled 2a-2c.  I printed out the pages of problems but let my son look on the computer screen to view the solution pages.


How I used with my son:

Most of the concepts except the very advanced equations on Disk 3 were just review for my Schnickelfritz.  I let him watch the sections in any order he pleased.  I would pause the DVD after each problem had been written on the white board and ask him to solve it.  Any hesitation or wrong answer and we would have to watch the speaker work through the problem. (Of course this means I have to be quick to solve the problems too—but math is also my strong suit).  Otherwise he was allowed to fast forward  to the next problemWe could still watch the the speaker write out the solution, but we skipped over a lot of his reiteration.   If you have a student that struggles with a concept, he or she may benefit from hearing facts repeated or explained in several different ways—one of them may just penetrate to the brain.  The day after finishing the section on the video, Fritz would work through the problems in the corresponding Companion Worksheet.


What We Liked:

  • The student is urged to to write out step by step solutions to the problems and not skip steps or solve them in his head.  My Schnickelfritz  is always trying to work problems in his head as he’s loathe to put pencil to paper, but then he can’t review and find errors.
  • There are dozens of examples of solving problems—starting with simple equations you might see in second grade and getting increasingly harder (adding parentheses and order of operations) and finally proceeding to the introduction of variables (making it look like an algebra problem).  It’s done in baby steps, just introducing one new concept at a time to help struggling students feel comfortable.
  • The Worksheet solution pages are divided into to sides—one side shows step by step how to solve the problem and the other side gives more detail about what is being done or explains why the step is necessary.  If you’re student got the wrong answer let them read the solution for themselves to see why or where they went wrong.

Algerba Tutor Worksheet solution


What we’d like to change:

  • I understand that the speaker was often trying to make learning as simple as possible for struggling learners, but definitions need to be accurate and an explanation of “why” is as important as showing “how”
  1. The definition for a fraction was “to mathematically express something less than one.”  In reality, that should be something less than “one whole unit.”  The number (–15) is less than one but it isn’t a fraction.  I’m being nit-picky, but  this is directed at kids already struggling with math.
  2. In one addition problem the speaker says “We have to start inside the parentheses or we’ll get the wrong answer.”  It would have been more accurate to say we need to get in the habit of working in the parentheses first because the sample problem he was working on was a perfect example of the associative property of addition and would work out no matter which way we solved it.
  3. The teaching of dividing fractions follows the old school rhyme “Don’t ask why, just flip and multiply.”  It’s fine to solve problems this way but there should be an explanation as to why this works.
  • I wish the sections were further divided into subsections.  My son isn’t used to 50+ minutes of math lesson at a time.  Sub-chapters would make it easier for us to find our place the following day.  You may also find that your student only needs review of the term Prime in the middle of the 53 minutes of Real Numbers and it would require a lot of fast scanning to get to it. 
  • Inclusion of Subtitles for the hearing impaired.  The speaker does a lot of writing on the white board and you can’t read lips looking at the back of his head. (To be fair, a lot of homeschool DVD’s don’t include closed captions—not just this title).

The Final Word

If you have a visual learner that benefits from watching example after example of math problems being solved then this DVD set may be beneficial.  The price works out to less than $4 per hour and you’ll never find a tutor for that rate.  

You may click the links to read my review of The Basic Math Word Problem Tutor or Amazing Science or click the graphic below to see what others think of the DVD’s.

Click to read Crew Reviews

Friday, March 7, 2014

Rescued Book #10: The American Revolution


This quarter we’re studying the American Revolution in our history text so I scoured my book shelves for titles I could read aloud or assign to my son for his own reading.  I confess I was surprised how many books I could come up with—nearly enough for one each week of the quarter.  Most of them are Landmark Books—some deal with individuals and others with events, but today’s book is really an overview of the entire war.  In fact, I venture to say I could have used this book as our history spine instead of the textbook.

The American Revolution

Bruce Bliven, Jr. and Albert Orbaan (Illus.).  New York: Random House, 1953. 182 pp.

The inside title page includes the time span 1760-1783, so the book actually covers King George III’s coronation, the end of the French and Indian war, the taxation acts, the Boston Massacre and Tea Party –all of which take place before the “shot heard round the world.”

Then come the battles, most of which have their own chapters (with brief interruptions to discuss the Declaration of Independence, Valley Forge (which wasn’t a battle), and the treason of Benedict Arnold:

  • Lexington and Concord
  • Bunker Hill
  • Canadian Invasion
  •  New York Battles and Washington Crossing the Delaware (Battle of Trenton)
  • Brandywine & Germantown
  • The Saratoga Campaign
  • The Battle of Monmouth
  • British Victories in the South
  • King’s Mountain & Cowpens
  • Yorktown

The narrative hasn’t been done in story format, that is to say it doesn’t follow a single character throughout or see the war through his eyes.  Each chapter covers the names, dates, and places of important events but in a much fuller and richer format than your average textbook.  I would still refer to The American Revolution as a “living book.”

You’ll find black and white illustrations at the beginning of each chapter.  There are also a few maps to familiarize yourself with areas but not actual battle lines or troop deployments. This is the first Landmark Book I’ve encountered to include photographs (b&w).  You can see cannons Fort Ticonderoga (presumably not the actual cannons because they were dragged to Dorchester Heights), a reconstructed cabin at Valley Forge, many historical homes used as field headquarters, even the Boot Monument honoring the unnamed hero of the Battle of Saratoga (do you know who and why his name was left off?).


If you run across an asterisk in your reading, check the bottom of the page for the title of another Landmark Book that covers the same topic more thoroughly.  There’s also a great index in the back if you’d like to focus in on certain people/events rather than read from cover to cover.

The book has been republished (Random House in 1987 and Paw Prints in 2011) and is available in many libraries according to   I don’t know if the newer editions have been edited or condensed.  I’m sure happy to have rescued my copy in a box from a private collection at a library book sale.

You can see all my rescued books by clicking here.

Wednesday, March 5, 2014

St. Louis City Museum

It’s been quite a winter hasn’t it?  Every week it seems I see a school closings list crawling across the bottom of my morning news.  Occasionally my Schnickelfritz will be up at that hour and comment “why don’t we get to take a snow day?”  To be fair, we did….the first snow of the season we drank hot chocolate, made snow ice cream, and went sledding.   Since then we’ve seen our local school district closed more than a dozen times for snow, ice, or just really cold temps (I guess they don’t want the kids waiting out at the bus stops), and I’ve heard complaints about “homeschoolers never get a snow day.”  Well guess what,  homeschoolers get to take off a perfectly fine day and go to the City Museum!  And that’s just what we did last week with several other HS families in our area.

A museum is a place where you have to talk in whispers, walk don’t run, and keep your hands in your pockets and the City Museum is anything but those things.  The kids played several games of tag and hide & seek, they’re encouraged to touch, climb, and crawl through.  I suppose they chose the name “museum”  because “indoor amusement center made of repurposed industrial parts and reclaimed architecture” wouldn’t fit on the sign.

Here is an example of a reclaimed piece of architecture.  As you approach the focal point you’ll discover a hidden passage to the side of the steps and you’re off on another adventure to who knows where.

We didn’t stay outside long this day because temps were only in the teens.


The City Museum is housed in a former shoe factory, and they’ve brought in this marvelous archway, saving it  from destruction when presumably its original building was taken down.  Now you can see the detailed work up close.

There’s even beauty to be found in the symmetry of this large vault door.  I’m sure whatever it protected was never in danger of theft.

The City Museum is above all else, a labor of love.  When you first enter, you’ll notice a series of columns.  As you get closer you’ll see that someone has covered the columns with gears (maybe from the original shoe factory) and inserted a marble into the center of each.  How many hours must that have taken?  You can see some undecorated columns in the background of the archway picture to get an idea of the scale of the project.








In other places the columns are covered with tiles and seashells.  Our kids refer to this area as “The Whale Room.”  It’s name will be obvious if you visit the first floor.  There’s a giant white whale that you can crawl through and pretend you’re Jonah.  (You can see a photo in a post about our first visit to the City Museum). There’s also a not-so-obvious tunnel entrance underneath the whale.  In fact the whole room is filled with small openings to crawl in and venture under the floor or passages of rebar attached to the ceiling if you want to pretend to be a human fly.


Here’s my Schnickelfritz emerging from a rabbit hole chiseled into the floor.  The hollowed out tree had been living at one time.  A word of warning:  when your kids first go in a tunnel, there’s really know telling from where they’ll emerge.  You’ll either have to trust they’ll show up again sooner or later or be willing to venture with them.

I’m more of the trusting type.  We moms tended to patrol the perimeter—making sure nobody left the area but leaving it to the kids to explore every nook and cranny.  I took in some of the artwork in the form of mosaic tiles on the floor like this moth or butterfly. 

Then I noticed the artist herself working on a new masterpiece in the mouth of the whale (which had been cordoned off with yellow caution tape).  She was creating what appeared to be a flying Mississippi catfish (I was looking at it upside down) and talking to a supervisor.  She was concerned that she wouldn’t have the project finished before the Spring Break rush. “What would happen then?” she wondered.  The supervisor pointed at me, peering over a wall, and said that people would probably love to watch her work.  Just another experience at the City Museum.


It’s seems there’s always something new being added.  In a separate area another worker was welding an extension to a slide.  I even heard a rumor of a much larger expansion in the works—it’s a ten story building and they’ve only opened three stories so there’s lots of room to grow.

By far the most favorite area for everyone in the caves and the slides.

The spiral structures were once used to move shoes and other materials from floor to floor in the factory. Now they move bodies – with a 3,5,7, and ultimate 10 story slide.  An attendant at the top told Schnickelfritz that the record for one day was 19 trips down the mega-slide and Fritz immediately took up the gauntlet.  Of course to go down the slide 20 times, you also have to climb up 20 times –that’s 10 stories each time.  Maybe I should log the hours as gym class?  He certainly got a workout.

The City Museum is one of our few exceptions to the free field trips we look for.  It’s not a cheap day ($5 parking and admission of $12 with addition fees to visit the roof or the aquarium).  Homeschoolers can usually find special rates ($8) in Jan-Feb and Sept-Oct when other kids head back to public school).  Also, be prepared for some bumps and bruises –even floor burns  (Heck, they sell knee pads in the gift shop).  But don’t let these trifles stop you.  If you’re coming to the city for a visit, you’ll be up for the “World’s Greatest Parent” award if you bring your kids here.


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