Tag Archives: TOS Crew

TOS Crew: Say Anything from Northstar Games

Some reviews practically write themselves (especially when we’re enthused about a project!) and some are difficult to write — either we’re really excited about something and I’m afraid the written word won’t do it justice, or it didn’t work for our family… but let’s not go there, because that certainly isn’t the case today!

When the TOS Crew learned that Northstar Games would be participating in this year’s cruise, you should have heard the cheers!

You see, last year our family reviewed Wits and Wagers, and had a blast doing it. What fun!

(Don’t just take our word for it. You can find this year’s Crew impressions of Wits and Wagers at this link, by the way.)

It was a different kind of game, in that it evened out the playing field. Youngest had just as good a chance of winning as anyone, and sometimes better! (She knew, not guessed, the number of Disney princesses… and other unique trivia questions, and when she guessed, her guesses were as good as anyone else’s, and she soon figured out a strategy that worked very well for racking up the points.
One fun thing about NorthStar Games is the Meeples. We’ve fallen in like with these cute little “people” who populate the games, serving as game tokens, or decorating the boards (more about the boards in a minute). They make fun mascots!

Say Anything! — a new family pastime — is another game where you don’t have to have a storehouse of trivia at your fingertips, and if (like Youngest) you struggle with spelling, it’s okay because creativity trumps spelling in this game. In other words, even if your handwriting is hard to read, or your words are oddly spelled, just so long as other players can read your writing, you can play. Younger players may want to team up with older players to get around the “8 and up” (which helps assure the player can write) suggestion.

Here’s how the game works. You each have a dry erase writing board and pen. The person who’s “It” (the “Judge”) draws a question from the stack of cards and reads a question aloud. (“What’s the best way to spend a rainy day?” is an example I just thought up out of my head, but with the stack of questions included with the game, it may well be in there. There are six questions on each card. Having a choice of more than one question gives the reader a little latitude. For example, if you’d be uncomfortable with the topic “What would be the weirdest secret to hear about my mother?” or you don’t know what an A-list celebrity is (“Which A-list celebrity is most likely to be forgotten in 10 years?”), you can fall back on “What’s the best thing about living in the country?” — a sampling of one card.)

All the other players write down an answer to the question, wacky or serious as you wish. The Judge secretly selects one of the answers and then everyone else tries to guess which answer the Judge likes best. You place your tokens on one or two of the answers and when all bets are placed, the Judge reveals the winning choice.

You get points for choosing the winning answer and also for writing the winning answer. There can be a lot of jockeying for position and strategy involved. Knowing the Judge well (and everyone gets to take a turn at judging) is a definite help!

Materials are sturdy (well, fairly sturdy — we almost wrecked the Judge’s secret choice recording device until we realized it wasn’t supposed to be used as a spinner — memo to self: read the directions before trying to play the game for the first time and don’t count on a kid who says she read the directions already…), colorful, and convenient. All play is done on dry erase boards, even scorekeeping! Pens are provided with the game, but when they run out (and ours haven’t yet), you can probably use dry erase crayons or any dry erase markers. However, if you’ve had the game for less than a year, they have a fantastic replacement policy.

From the Northstar Games website:

Free Parts Replacement – Don’t let a lost or broken component stop you from playing. If any of our game component(s) should fail (or even be lost) within the first year of ownership, we will deliver an identical or comparable replacement to your door free of charge! Requesting replacement parts is a breeze… simply e-mail us the requested part(s) along with your mailing address. We’ll send the parts out within two weeks.

Suited for 3-6 players (and you can have more if you play in teams), ages 8 and up (but again, younger players can team up with older players) Say Anything is available where games are sold and retails for $19.99.

Be warned. This game is addictive. (And fun!)

Check out more TOS Crew reviews of Say Anything here.

Disclaimer: Our family received a free copy of Say Anything for review purposes. No additional compensation was involved.


TOS Crew: Visual Latin

We’ve tried a few different approaches to Latin over the years, and so when the girls heard that we were reviewing Visual Latin, I’m afraid there were a few groans.  Youngest was already happy with the Latin she was learning with a group of friends. She wasn’t interested in trying something else. Her older sisters are up to their chins in Biblical Greek, a college level course with lots of homework. They weren’t all that interested in adding Latin to the schedule.

I’d heard good things about Visual Latin, though, and especially wanted to see how Youngest, our wiggliest learner, would take to the course. It looked like this was going to be a tough review to manage, with nobody (except me) interested in this course.

And then I put the DVD in the computer drive and started watching. Pretty soon there were people watching over my shoulder, talking back to the screen, laughing, calling out responses. Youngest said, early in the first lesson, “Let’s switch to this Latin course, Mom. He makes things so easy to understand!”

What’s special about Visual Latin?

This is a video-based Latin course, for one thing. It’s not a textbook-based Latin course for which you, if you are a parent who never learned Latin in (or out of) school, can buy videos to teach the course for you. The videos themselves drive the course: You watch a presentation and complete a worksheet. The lessons are short and lively (or maybe I should say the instructor is lively, but more about him in a minute). Many of the worksheets combine explanation of the material covered in the video with application of the concept learned in the lesson (“practice on paper”).

There are ten lessons on the DVD, each lesson in three parts: Grammar, Sentences, and Reading.

Grammar: Introduce the concept covered in the lesson. Concepts are broken down into small, manageable bites. You learn a lot about English grammar, too. (Not surprisingly. I didn’t learn much, if any, English grammar in school until my first high school foreign language class.) Mostly lecture, although “lecture” is such a boring, mundane word it doesn’t really fit with what you get on the video.

Sentences: This is where the teacher applies the grammar, working through examples on a chalkboard.

Reading: This was a fun part! The teacher reads aloud a short, easy story which draws a lot of its words from material presented earlier. After the explanatory Reading section in Lesson 1, the Reading sessions are all in Latin. You hear the teacher read the story all the way through, then a sentence at a time, and then you read through the same story on a worksheet and translate what you read. The stories build on each other, beginning in the Beginning. Literally! By the end of Lesson 10, you’ve worked your way through the Biblical account of Creation, up to Day Seven, and all in Latin.

You watch a part (which takes less than ten minutes, sometimes as little as four minutes) and then do the associated worksheet. You could easily fit Latin in at the rate of a lesson a week, for example, setting aside 20 minutes or so on Monday, Wednesday, and Friday to watch a video segment and complete a worksheet.You could whiz through all three parts in one sitting, I suppose. We did that with the first lesson, just because the material was easy and familiar and the girls were enjoying the presentation so much.

The teacher, Duane Thomas, is not only an experienced Latin teacher, but he’s a homeschool dad. This (along with his teaching style) makes me think that he understands wiggly kids like mine.

Watching the video, you feel almost as if you’re taking part. Our girls were calling out answers, and not because I told them to, but because the instructor has a deft sense of timing, a way of engaging the camera that makes it seem as if he’s talking directly to you. He’s good at keeping up the interest level, with jokes and unexpected moves. (Just wait until you get to the lesson where he loses his chalkboard eraser…) However, learning is going on the whole time.

Duane is constantly throwing in English words derived from the Latin words he’s using as examples. He’s real, and not afraid to make mistakes and own up to them. As a matter of fact, Middlest commented during an early lesson, “I like this guy. He’s real. They’re not constantly cutting and editing the video to make it look perfect.” Somehow, his easy manner makes Latin simpler to tackle, less scary, and mistakes less dreadful.

There are several free downloads on the Visual Latin website. Four introductory videos plus the first two lessons in the program are available to download for free. You can also watch a sample lesson online, and download the associated worksheets.

Visual Latin is available on DVD or as a download. Latin I, Lessons 1-10 (which is the DVD our family received) costs $30 for a single family purchase, or $150 for a group license to use the material with a class of five or more students. A single-family download version costs $25.

Lesson video formats include High Definition (HD) mv4 files usable with Apple iTunes on a Windows PC or Mac, an iPad or iPhone 4.0; and iPod mv4 for use with Apple iTunes, iPod, iPhone, and iPad. Worksheets and answer keys are also on the DVD in PDF format, or available to download free from the Visual Latin website.

In case you were wondering what material is covered in Lessons 1-10, here’s a list from the vendor’s website:

1. Being Verbs Basics | To Be and Not to Be
2. Being Verbs Basics | Predicate Nominatives and Adjectives
3. Gender | Boy Words and Girl Words
4. Singular and Plural | E Pluribus Unum
5. Declensions | Meet the Cases
6. Adjectives Learn to Agree with Nouns
7. The Case Files | Nominative and Genitive
8. Counting to 10 in Latin
9. Active Verb Basics | Indicative Mood
10. The Case Files | Accusative

Once you finish lessons 1-10, more lessons are available. Latin I consists of 30 lessons, suitable for a full year of Latin instruction at the rate of a lesson a week, or a semester if you do two lessons a week. A Latin II course is in the works, with the first ten lessons available now and more to come.

I wasn’t sure what to think of Visual Latin before I actually saw the lessons. I thought it sounded easy. Too easy. I was wrong. As Duane Thomas likes to say, Latin is easy! (A whole lot easier than I ever thought it could be…) But don’t take my word for it. Check out the free lessons available for download, and see if you agree with me.

Read more TOS Crew reviews of Visual Latin here.

Disclaimer: TOS Crew members were provided a free DVD or download copy of Visual Latin, Latin 1, Lessons 1-10 for review purposes. We receive no monetary compensation for offering our opinion. Opinions offered here are our own.

TOS Crew: Alethia Magazine

Our teens are constantly writing, whether it’s elaborate notes in a make-believe world (complete with calligraphy and sealing wax), stories, poems, hymns of praise, even ongoing posts to an online role-playing game (Warrior Cats, if you wanted to know).

Even so, they don’t get much chance to read what other teens have written, outside of essays for their King’s Meadow (formerly Gileskirk) moral philosophy class, or blog posts, or the occasional Buzz. (Is that how you spell it? I don’t have a Buzz account, but many of the young people in our circle do, and seem to be constantly posting some thing or another.)Enter Alethia, a literary magazine by teens, for teens (though I must admit I enjoyed reading it as well). This 40-page, glossy, full-color magazine features stories, artwork, photography, poetry, and more. The writing in the issues we’ve seen is of high quality, and better yet, the platform strives to hold to Biblical values of truth and beauty. (“Alethia” means “truth” in Greek, as a matter of fact, something we just learned this week in our Biblical Greek class.)

The magazine is geared toward Christian youth, ages 13 to 19, so you see differing styles of expression, a spectrum of maturity of expression and interest, and a variety of topics which include reflections on a passage of Scripture (see the latest Writer’s Challenge, deadline October 15 if you’re interested in entering), nature, relationships, adventure, fantasy, the search for meaning (from a Christian perspective), and more.

Writing varies from relatively simple to sophisticated, as I’d expect with the authors’ range of ages. The artwork is beautifully rendered, the photography is breathtaking.

Regular features plus spotlight on youthful Christian writers

In addition to the contributors’ works of art and literature, the magazine offers regular features: book reviews, excerpts from classic Christian writing, the aforementioned Writer’s Challenge, a featured contributor, nature photo, and interview.

Our impressions

Of course, I imagine you want to hear our teens’ impressions of Alethia. Eldest was impressed. Youngest, not much of a reader, gave it a little more than a glance but really didn’t do much more than look at the artwork and photography.

Middlest, our most serious writer, was impressed with the production values most of all, especially the artwork. Since she is an avid reader, read at a college level early on, and enjoys such authors as George Grant, Dorothy Sayers and G.K. Chesterton, she has very high standards. It was interesting to hear her critique of the stories she read. (That one is a born editor.) Overall impression: acceptable. (Coming from her, that’s high praise.) Would she submit her writing to Alethia? Maybe.

Pricing info

A one-year subscription to Alethia Magazine is available for $26, and includes four full-color issues as well as shipping and handling.

To read more TOS Crew reviews of Alethia, please click here.

Disclaimer: Our family was provided a free print copy of Alethia’s Fall 2011 issue, as well as a digital copy of the Summer 2011 edition for review purposes (I think I lost the digital copy in our computer crash. At least, I haven’t been able to find it since getting our computer back just a few hours ago, thus I’m unable to go back and refresh my memory about it. Still, the quality of the print issue, and this free preview available online, is high). No additional compensation was involved.

TOS Crew: Tri-Cross, from Games for Competitors

One of the fun things about being on the Crew is getting new games to play. We’ve had a lot of fun over the last four years, having been acquainted with a number of family-friendly, innovative, imaginative games.

Tri-Cross, from Games for Competitors, is our latest and most challenging. At first glance, this award-winning strategy game looks a little like a variation of Chinese checkers crossed with a war strategy game I grew up playing with my brothers. (Our girls have carried on the tradition with friends, since they have no brothers to play war strategy games with them.) It incorporates aspects of chess and checkers into a game that encourages logical, abstract thinking and planning ahead.

The game is made of sturdy materials, built to last. There aren’t very many of the heavy-duty, scratch proof plastic pieces to keep track of, and the game board is also made to stand up to wear and tear. We received both the boxed version (Standard Edition) and the travel version of the game, which was specifically made to be eco-friendly, with the board and container (a drawstring bag) made of organic cotton. It certainly is travel-friendly, easy to pack in a purse or backpack.

The first time we played, trying the easiest version, the game was over in very few moves. Youngest looked puzzled, as if to say, Is that all there is to this? I, on the other hand, had been a little slow to digest the instructions, but had an inkling that there was definitely more to this game, and so we set up the board and started again, this time thinking seriously about our moves.

Youngest won the second game, and she had to do some thinking in the process. (And so did I!) We set up the board again, tried some different strategies, and I managed to win by the skin of my teeth. Our blood was up!

…in other words, the game is addictive…

We kept playing until we’d each won several games. Every game was different. Each time we played, the game was more drawn out, lasted longer. We were learning.

This was all the open-face version of the game, where all the pieces are laid out face-up, their values are known from the start, and you can plan ahead, based on where your pieces are, and where you see your opponent’s pieces. (Or opponents’ pieces, as the game can be played by two, three, or four people, or even teams of people.)

For more challenge, there are other versions of the game where you lay out the pieces face-down, move your pieces into position, and challenge your opponent. Based on the variation, you might know where each of your pieces are at the start of the game, or you might know where each of your opponent’s pieces are, or you may not know where any pieces are until they’re revealed upon challenge.

A challenge happens when two pieces come abreast, and then the higher piece is able to jump the lower piece. (Or maybe I should say it has to jump the lower piece, because sometimes jumping can put you further from your objective. Huh. What a concept.)

You win either by removing all your opponent’s pieces from the board, or by occupying the center square for four consecutive turns.

Sounds simple, but we’re finding it more challenging by the day.

Tri-Cross is intended for ages 10 and up, though players as young as 8 can learn to play the game. This game is available at the Games for Competitors website or at local game stores (a list of stores is available at the website listed above). Pricing info:

$24.95 – Standard Edition
$35.95 – Wood Edition
$19.95 – Eco-Edition

To read more TOS Crew reviews of Tri-Cross, please click here. (This review is published belatedly because of our computer crash. Sorry about that!)

Disclaimer: Our family was provided free copies of the Standard Edition and Eco-Edition of Tri-Cross for review purposes. No additional compensation was involved.

TOS Crew: Read for the Heart (Apologia)

I can’t believe that this year’s TOS Cruise is nearly over. This is the last review for 2010-2011. A new Crew has signed on, and is getting ready to embark.

Well, we saved one of the best items for the last review.

Sarah Clarkson’s Read for the Heart resonated with me, from the first time I peeked under the bright cover. It brought me back to the first steps of our home education journey.

We had no clue as to what we were doing. All we knew was that we thought we could do better by our special needs daughter than the System was doing, and at the very least we could keep her safer from the bullies who were tearing her down, making her so miserable that she’d stopped trying.

She ended first grade not even confident of 1+1. I figured out, not long after I began to work with her, that her brain was tricking her. She’d add 1+1 so quickly that she didn’t believe she was finished adding, and so she’d take that “2” and add it and get 4. Thus, 1+1=4. Her teacher, busy with a classful, didn’t have time to troubleshoot. All she did was mark our daughter’s answers wrong with a bold red pen.

Anyhow, my husband knew a homeschooling father (this was back when homeschooling was barely legal, so homeschooling hardly seemed like a viable choice, but it kept getting brought to our attention). He convinced me to try to teach our daughter the addition tables (up to 10+10) over the summer. If I could do that, I’d have done way more than her certified first grade teacher.

Working together, one-on-one, with the loving patience (and sometimes not so patience) that is more likely to come from a mom than a stranger, we worked our way through the addition tables. Before the end of July, she could add up to 12+12, and not only that, but she could add columns of multi-digit numbers (thanks to the math curriculum we chose, well-suited to special needs as well as average and gifted children).

That was it. We notified the authorities and we were on our way.

One of the best pieces of advice I got from the wife of that homeschooling dad (yes, the one who suggested homeschooling to us in the first place) was to start a family readaloud time. I’m so thankful that my husband’s work schedule left his evenings free at that time. Every night, he read aloud for half an hour to an hour, usually at the rate of one chapter a night. Occasionally we’d be successful in entreating him to read more. One night, eleven chapters from the end of Pollyanna, we were all so eager to find out what would happen, we kept on reading (well, he kept on reading, and we kept on listening), chapter after chapter, until long past bedtime!

This is what Read for the Heart is all about — establishing a reading habit, and planting and growing a lifelong love for good books. For each of a number of genres (see the Table of Contents here), the author introduces the genre and follows with a list of authors, titles, and series.  These aren’t bare booklists; for every book listed you get a brief description/synopsis, and often an aside from Sarah Clarkson as to her own reaction, or her family’s thoughts, on a favorite book.

For a sampling, check out this sample chapter. I can vouch for many of the books included here. They’ve been favorites of our own family, pulling us from chapter to chapter. (I can always tell a good book: The end of a chapter leaves the girls begging for more.) What makes Read for the Heart so valuable to us, when we already have so many good books under our collective belt, is all the books listed that we have not yet read! Hoorah, more grist for the mill…

Read for the Heart is available from Apologia Press (check out their great list of Resources for Parents for $17 in softcover.

Read more TOS Crew impressions here.

Disclaimer: Members of the TOS Crew received a free copy of Read for the Heart for review purposes. No additional compensation was involved.

TOS Crew: Institute for Excellence in Writing

This is a review that I’ve been excited about for quite awhile. You see, not only were the good folks at Institute for Excellence in Writing incredibly generous to the TOS Crew in terms of the materials they sent us to review, but they gave us months to use the program, to get a real feel for how it works, and to see the results.

…fondly known amongst home educators I hang out with as IEW. (And that’s not pronounced “eeew” — because it’s just the opposite; definitely a “Yes! I can do this!” Say, instead, “eye, eee, double-u” and you’ll sound like an old pro.)

I was first introduced to Andrew Pudewa and his methods for teaching writing when Middlest was a second grader.  Our church sponsored an IEW seminar. Now, I didn’t know what IEW was, only that it had been spoken of highly by other homeschoolers in our church, some of whom had been using the program for a few years.

Attending a live seminar…

It was like drinking from a firehose, only strangely refreshing. I learned so much over the course of a few days. The room was full of moms, sitting at tables, doing what we’d soon be practicing at home with our students. It was teacher training at its best and most intensive (at least, the most intensive I’ve experienced). We were not just learning theory, we were doing.

We went through the exercises, did the writing and the talking and the raising hands (not that you necessarily have to raise your hand at home) and the contributing to the discussion. We called out answers to Mr. Pudewa’s questions; we wrote key-word outlines; we paired off and spoke from our outlines to each other; we composed our paragraphs. The pace was fast, yet not hurried. We had fun… and yet we worked hard, and better yet, we learned about learning to write, and helping someone else learn the skills that we as adults may well take for granted and not quite know how to pass on to our children.

Frankly, I don’t remember all the details of that live seminar. I’m pretty sure we didn’t go through all nine units in Teaching Writing: Structure and Style, though Mr. Pudewa occasionally mentioned the more advanced units, especially during question-and-answer sessions. I remember when I got home I was rather dazed, and I probably didn’t absorb all the information that was presented.

Later I had the chance to work my way through the old VHS version of Teaching Writing: Structure and Style with a small group of moms. That was much better! (Edited to add: If you have the opportunity to go to a live seminar, GO! You’ll learn a lot, and you’ll lose a lot of that fear of teaching writing as you pick up practical tools. When I said “better” I meant I was able to retain more, at the slower pace of a little bit every week, with opportunities to rewind and watch something over again if needed. But the live seminar was a great jump start into writing.)

Our homeschool group bought the video tapes, and each of us bought our own copy of the syllabus. We met once a week. We’d watch a lesson, stopping the tapes to do the practice exercises, discussing the material after the lesson, sometimes trouble-shooting and problem solving. That was a long time ago, and I sort of got away from IEW-style writing, in part because Eldest is a special learner and took years to understand how to make a key-word outline. I fell back on copywork and narration, first oral, and then written, though I still listened wistfully to friends who’d used IEW over the years, and how well it had worked.

…versus DVDs

One of the products our family was privileged to review was Teaching Writing: Structure and Style. This is the drawn-out version of the live TWSS seminar. The course is $169, including DVDs and seminar workbook, plus the additional TIPS DVD (see below).

When the Crew was offered the chance to review IEW materials, I thought it time to give it another try, and now I wish I’d started a few years ago with Middlest and Youngest, who took to key-word outlines with no problem at all, and soon were ready for the next step, and the next. But I’m getting ahead of myself…

Back to Teaching Wrting: Structure and Style. The set contains ten DVDs and a workbook. It’s a “video seminar for teachers and parents,” but it also contains three student workshop DVDs, for grades 2-4, 5-7, and 8-10, where Mr. Pudewa demonstrates the IEW approach with a roomful of students, whose voices can be heard responding to his conversational style of teaching. (Lots of enthusiasm, punctuated with laughter. Think of it: Writing made painless.) As a bonus, a DVD with “Tips & Tricks for Teaching through the Nine Units” is included.

The first six DVDs are teacher training, introducing each of the nine units that comprise IEW’s methodology. The units start with very simple concepts and build from there. You start out with an established piece of writing. (Do you know what that means? You don’t have to sit there and stare at a blank page and think of something to write!) You learn to pick out key ideas, to take notes that will become a basis for your own writing.

Eventually, you’ll end up with your own written passage. It restates the information in the model, but it’s not plagiarism. You’ve taken the ideas and re-formed them in your own words. Along the way, you’ve learned some stylistic techniques to enrich your writing (different types of sentences, adverbs, strong verbs and adjectives, and that sort of thing).

In some ways, the writing is mechanical. IEW provides a step-by-step method for teaching and learning writing. You learn how to take notes, how to rewrite a passage, how to come up with a title. You work with fiction and nonfiction. You learn to synthesize from multiple sources. You learn to write reports, and eventually, essays and critiques. (We haven’t gotten to the reports and essays, yet.) You have a checklist and word lists for reference while writing.

In other ways, the writing is creative and fun. The examples Mr. Pudewa has chosen for his lectures helps, and he’s got subjects to appeal to boys and girls by turn. “Gooey, mushy” vulture bees, for example — doesn’t that sound like something a boy could really… well, not exactly sink his teeth into, but perhaps push his pencil along with a bit more relish than if he’s been assigned a description of his bedroom as a writing topic.

Teaching Writing: Structure and Style is not just a nine-month (one academic year) course. It doesn’t work that way. Well, I suppose it can, if you can manage to teach one unit a month. (If you did approach it that way, you could repeat the course each year, using more challenging materials each time through.) The way the course has worked for us, is for each of the girls to work at her own level. That means that Eldest, after several months, is still working to master concepts from Units 1 and 2, Note Taking and Summarizing from Notes, with just a few “Dress-Ups” or stylistic techniques thrown in. Youngest is slightly further along, having mastered the skills presented in Unit 6 (Writing from Pictures) but still needing to practice drawing from multiple sources to produce a report. Middlest has sprinted ahead, but can benefit from more practice from the standpoint of the organization and discipline imposed by this formal approach to writing. (Whoa, that was a cumbersome sentence. Sorry, Mr. Pudewa!)

Anyhow, we will keep working at these writing skills at each of the girls’ levels. One of the beauties of the IEW method is that they can apply these writing skills in just about any of their academic subjects: Bible, history, literature, and science, to name a few.

Student Writing Intensive

…which brings me to the second product we reviewed. The Student Writing Intensive  is sort of like the Student Workshop from TWSS, only on steroids. Mr. Pudewa teaches directly to the students. This product comes in three levels ($99 each level):

– A: Grades 3-5
– B: Grades 6-8
– C: Grades 9-12

Each level comes with DVDs, teacher notes, source texts, and student handouts which may be copied for the students within one family. You can buy additional student handouts for co-op or multiple family use.

It was really hard to choose just one level! …especially with the three girls at such different levels. At last I elected to try Level C, even though two of the girls are slightly below that grade level. One of the deciding factors was the list of topics included in each level. (See diagram below.) Taking notes from a live lecture is a skill that all three of the girls need now, and this skill is covered in Level C. (Also, when I asked a friend’s advice, she thought that all three girls would be able to manage this level if I let them move at a slower pace, and did additional exercises as needed if somebody didn’t grasp a concept right away.)

We took about four weeks to go through the four DVDs included in the Student Writing Intensive, and this summer I’ll probably go through it with them again, just to see how much more they understand (or maybe I should say, to see how much more I understand) after using Teaching Writing: Structure and Style.

At the IEW website, you can get both Teaching Writing: Structure and Style and one level of the Student Writing Intensive for a combined price of $239 (a savings of $29 over buying each individually). These IEW courses may seem expensive at first glance, but they are non-consumable, and you can use them year after year. If it’s still too much of a stretch, you might consider joining together with another family or two to buy the sets, plus additional student materials as needed. You could either pass the DVDs around, or (as we did, years ago with the course on VHS) get together for regular sessions. (Actually, it’s kind of fun for students to work together and share their creativity!)

I almost forgot, we also received the Portable Wall ($7), a nifty (did I just say “nifty”?) reference tool for those using IEW as a writing course, or IEW techniques in your other academic subjects. It’s a pocket folder with an extra page, and its surfaces are covered with IEW writing charts and words lists. I’d already bought one before I knew the Crew would be reviewing IEW materials, and because the girls liked the look of it so much I already had plans to get more copies so that all four of us (the girls and I) could each have our own. It’s a valuable reference tool and a handy place to keep your current writing project.

IEW has other products as well, related to spelling and speaking, grammar and literature. Check out their website and catalog. There’s also a yahoo group for users of IEW materials.

In Conclusion

Writing doesn’t have to be painful or stuffy, for the student or the teacher. IEW gives the student the tools to succeed at writing, whether an enthusiastic yet disorganized spewer-of-words or a taciturn pen-pusher. In addition, it gives the teacher a method to follow, as well as clear direction on how to evaluate your child’s writing and encourage improvement.

Andrew Pudewa’s presentation crackles with energy. He shares his insight into how people learn. He speaks in clipped, precise tones, displaying a dry wit. He doesn’t take himself too seriously, though it’s obvious that he takes his subject seriously, and he challenges his students to do their best.

Excellence in Writing?

You bet.

Disclaimer: Members of the TOS Crew received materials from the Institute for Excellence in Writing for review purposes only. Opinions are our own. No additional compensation was involved.

To read more TOS Crew reviews of IEW materials, click here.

TOS Crew: GoTrybe

I kind of missed the boat on this one.

TOS Crew reviewers had until April 30 to sign up their children on this online fitness site, GoTrybe. I registered Middlest… and then got busy with other things.

May 1st I realized…

Even though the deadline had passed, at least I had one of the girls set up with an account. She’d selected a user name and password, set up an avatar (an online persona, that can look something like you look, or not at all),

clicked around a couple of places on the site, lost interest, and went off to do something else.

Frankly, my first impression of the site wasn’t great. The cartoony figures that greet you on the welcome page are kind of edgy, in terms of posture and appearance. (Middlest’s avatar — and she didn’t have a lot of choice in the matter — looks challenging, perhaps even trying to appear sexy, though if you’re used to that sort of thing you might not have a problem with it. We’re big fans of modesty around here.)

Finally, today, I put my foot down. I was going to have to write a review of this site, and unless I basically wanted to quote the informational material from the GoTrybe site, Middlest was going to have to use the site!

She sat down, signed in, and began to put together an exercise routine. This consists of a number of segments, strung together: warm-up, cardio (three of these), strength training, and stretching. Altogether she put together about half an hour of exercise.

Here’s what the screen looks like:

You pick each piece of the workout individually. There must be hundreds of videos to choose from! First you name your workout, and then you choose a warm-up routine from the available selections, lots of categories to suit your circumstances. There’s a thumbnail description for every video, which tells you the category, whether it’s something you can do in a classroom, special equipment needed (if any), levels of difficulty and intensity. Among the categories we saw:

– basketball
– track and field
– Pilates
– Yoga
– kick boxing
– salsa dancing

…and I’m sure there were more. You can mix and match them, too, doing a track-and-field cardio followed by a kickboxing cardio and then a Pilates selection. Middlest put together a workout routine, choosing mostly kick-boxing videos. Then we cleared the area around the computer desk (it’s in our dining room, so we moved a few chairs out of the way and pushed the table back), and started the workout.

I’m not in shape, but I did a lot of the moves along with her, modifying them somewhat. I’m familiar with Aerobic Dance classes (almost became an instructor, in fact, which people who know me now would probably never believe), so the workout looked familiar, even though the moves might have been somewhat different.

Each of the segments has a leader who introduces him/herself and the assistants and then starts the exercise segment. The segments we watched did not have music, but did have a background, pulsing beat. (The kickboxing “beat” sounded different than the salsa “beat” but I can’t tell you about the other choices, as we haven’t played around with the program that much, yet.)

From my experience with workouts, I’d say the program looks sound. The leader explains the moves as you do them together, occasionally giving you a choice for modifying your moves, or going into detail about body position. Middlest had a little problem with a few of the moves, but I was able to help her modify the routine, and also helped her to adjust her crunches so that she was working the right part of her abs and not lifting with her neck and arms. (If you’ve done crunches or situps, you know what I mean.)

Reaction: Enthusiasm! Fun, even!

Middlest kept talking through the workout, about how something didn’t feel good (we adjusted), or she could feel her pulse-rate increasing, or she could feel the stretch, that sort of thing. At the end she was feeling good, glowing, grinning, and feeling a sense of accomplishment.

Her younger sister wandered in partway through, and wanted to jump in. I let her put together a workout, and she and Middlest went through it.

That’s the “fitness” portion. There are some sit-down instructional areas on the site as well: nutrition, motivation, and wellness. For each of these, you read a short selection and answer a multiple choice question at the end. (Middlest pronounced this “dumb” as the answers were pretty obvious.) Points are awarded for completing a workout, as well as going through the reading-and-question selections.

With accumulated points, you can buy clothes and accessories for your avatar. (Middlest got a virtual kitten for her efforts, among other things.) One of the fun aspects of the site is that you can adjust the color of the clothing items that you’re buying, meaning you can put together some pretty wild or carefully color-coordinated outfits.

All this to say, I think Middlest is sorry she procrastinated so long on trying out GoTrybe. She loved the workout, is excited about putting together more workouts, varying the elements, and really thinks that GoTrybe will be a great tool for getting back in shape after a long, cold, rainy winter.

GoTrybe has programs available for different age groups:

  • ZooDoos is for the elementary ages, K-5th grade
  • Trybe180 is for middle school ages, 6th-8th grade
  • NexTrybe is for high school ages, 9th-12th grade

Try GoTrybe for free!

You can try GoTrybe for free if you sign up here and use the promocode GETFIT. After your free trial, you can get a year’s subscription for $19.95. (The regular price is $39.95, so it’s a real bargain!)

GoTrybe also has blogs with fitness tips, a forum for questions and discussions, a friends list (don’t know how this works, haven’t got around to using it yet), and a list of high-scoring users).

To read more TOS Crew reviews of GoTrybe, click here.