Tuesday, June 27, 2017

{Review} Shakespeare Tragedies - Lightning Literature & Composition

Some of my fondest memories of high school literature revolve around the various Shakespeare plays we studied each year. Yet, I worried about providing my high school daughter the same quality experience I had.

I've previously discussed our journey and struggle to find a high school literature program that suits Amber's desires and needs. Eventually, we happily landed with Hewitt Homeschooling and their high school level studies. The British 19th Century program seems to be a perfect fit for Amber, so I decided to give their Shakespeare Tragedies a try as well. Fortunately for me, we were offered a chance to review it right at the end of 9th grade.

Review: Shakespeare Tragedies - Hewitt Homeschooling - Lightning Literature

Shakespeare Tragedies & Sonnets

For the purpose of the review, Hewitt Homeschooling sent us both Lightning Literature & Composition Shakespeare Tragedies Student Guide and Teacher's Guide. Although the sonnets studied are included in the student guide, your student will still need the following four plays in order to complete the course:

  • Julius Caesar
  • Hamlet
  • Macbeth
  • King Lear

Amber and I both suggest purchasing the editions recommended by Hewitt Homeschooling. It will make the lessons much easier, although it certainly is possible to use other editions of the plays. We purchased all four plays through the Hewitt Homeschooling website as soon as we knew about the review. It eased my mind to know no matter when I assign a particular play, we will already have the proper edition.

Review: Shakespeare Tragedies - Hewitt Homeschooling - Lightning Literature

Teacher's Guide:

This set of 54 pages comes three-hole punched and single stapled at the top. It's a no-fuss, store-it-your-way type of teacher's guide. Despite the appearance, everything you need to guide your student through Shakespeare's tragedies is included. The Teacher's Guide:

  • Explains how the student guide is set-up. 
  • Provides grading tips for non-fiction, fiction, and poetry assignments.
  • Checklists for grading non-fiction, fiction, and poetry papers / writing assignments.
  • Grading templates.
  • Detailed schedules for completing the student guide in both a single semester or a full year. 
  • Answers to the student guide comprehensions questions for each play.
  • Writing exercise options for each lesson (play or sonnet).
  • Discussion questions for each play.
  • Project suggestions  - art or history based.
  • Memorization passages for each play.
I absolutely loved the layout of the teacher's guide. I did not need to sort through pages of extraneous information to find the information I wanted at any particular time. Instead it was all easily found and well organized.

Review: Shakespeare Tragedies - Hewitt Homeschooling - Lightning Literature

Student Guide:

This is a textbook sized, soft-back book around 184 pages written directly to the student. The guide begins with an introduction that explains why we read and how to read literature. It then moves into instructions for paper writing.

Since this entire student guide is based on the works of one author, there is first a section solely on William Shakespeare. The student learns about the writer himself, the types of works he created, and the language he used.

The eight lessons are then broken down into four units of two lessons. Each unit starts with one of Shakespeare's plays as the initial lesson. The lessons are then patterned much the same way for the plays:

  • A plot summary by act and scene to help with comprehension.
  • Comprehension questions to ensure your student is not struggling overly much with the language.
  • Literary Lessons on Theme, Character, and Language.
  • Writing exercise options (which are also in the teacher's guide).
The sonnet lessons then follow their own pattern:
  • The two sonnets to be read are printed in their entirety.
  • Literary lessons on Content and Language.
  • Contrasting the two sonnets.
  • Writing exercise options (again, in the teacher's guide too).
Each unit is concluded with a section called Perspectives, which does exactly what it sounds like. The literary works are put into perspective given the time of writing.

The student guide also has a set of appendices that include:
  • The same discussion questions found in the teacher's guide.
  • Project ideas, just as printed in the teacher's guide.
  • Memorization suggestions for each play.
  • Movie & Video recommendations of the plays.
  • Both the semester and full-year schedule 

Review: Shakespeare Tragedies - Hewitt Homeschooling - Lightning Literature

Our Experience:

Amber has been anxiously awaiting the time when she would finally be studying Shakespeare; she even attempted to read through a few plays on her own. I don't think I've seen a student more eager to study Julius Caesar than my daughter. Still, I worried because I'm a worrier. And because we've had such a struggle to find the right literature guide fit. I need not have been concerned.

We opted to go with the semester schedule, although the year-long schedule was tempting. In our other Hewitt Homeschooling studies we have basically gone at our own pace, which is anywhere between the semester and year-long schedule depending on the assignment. I'd like to say we stuck strictly to the semester schedule with the Shakespeare Tragedies, but we did not. Again, we wandered about in our timing.

Review: Shakespeare Tragedies - Hewitt Homeschooling - Lightning Literature
She started the introduction the day it arrived!  Reading and question answering.

Amber easily completed reading of the Introduction and section on William Shakespeare in a single day. She moved right on to the Julius Caesar introduction and began reading the play itself. While reading the play she was sure to keep open her guide to answer the comprehension questions and read the plot summaries. This is where she fell behind a bit. It took her into the second week to complete the reading (totally my fault too - we were busy).

Next she was scheduled to re-read the play and answer a few While-You-Read questions. Instead, I opted to combine a couple of assignment steps. She watched a faithful video performance of Julius Caesar on YouTube while reading along and answering her questions. Amber said this was one of the best parts about the lesson. She knew what to expect in the performance because of the initial reading, but was able to see the actor's interpretations of the lines and feel the emotion. It made the play so much easier to understand. I'm glad I made time for the viewing by combining it with the second reading. We plan to schedule all of the plays like this in the future.

Amber then moved on to the literary lessons and the writing exercise for Julius Caesar. While working on the writing exercise revisions, we began reading the sonnets for this unit - Sonnet 5 & Sonnet 6. Amber found she did have more trouble understanding the poetic language of the sonnets than the plays, so we took the advice of the Lightning Literature guides and I had her rewrite the sonnets out in prose. That simple task made all the difference in her understanding and enjoyment of Shakespeare's sonnets.

Review: Shakespeare Tragedies - Hewitt Homeschooling - Lightning Literature
Watching and reading together; Initial reading with questions; Discussion questions with Mom.

After completing the literary lesson that accompanied the sonnets, we found that one of the writing assignment options is to rewrite the sonnets as prose. So I let Amber go with that option this time around. Next time she will need to pick a different assignment even if she still writes her sonnets in prose for understanding.

We are just now ready to start Hamlet, but will let that wait until the formal start of 10th grade in August. Amber cannot wait for more of the Shakespearean world to be unlocked for her after years of waiting.

Why Hewitt Homeschooling Works for Us?

This is a harder question to answer.  After all of the searching and struggling, why does Hewitt Homeschooling's high school level Lightning Literature work for Amber?

  • There are not any major assignments to do while reading. Amber prefers to keep her momentum going and read. It helps with her comprehension too.
  • The comprehension questions are not endless. They really are there to assist the students in their understanding. If the student can't answer the questions, then they probably are not getting what they need from the reading.
  • The plot summaries - Amber reads the scenes first, but then goes back to read the provided summaries to ensure she caught the gist of the scene. It is a fantastic way to boost her confidence while studying Shakespeare.
  • Writing assignments vary in type and difficulty. We can choose those that address where Amber needs to grow as a writer. 
  • Literary lessons are concise and well demonstrated. Amber finds them to be the best of all the programs she has tried.

Review: Shakespeare Tragedies - Hewitt Homeschooling - Lightning Literature
Part of her Shakespeare notebook
Will we continue with Hewitt Homeschooling for Shakespeare? 

I can't imagine a better way for Amber to enjoy the writings of William Shakespeare than the Lightning Literature & Composition Shakespeare studies. She has thoroughly enjoyed the Shakespeare Tragedies, and I've already purchased the Shakespeare Comedies student and teacher guides along with all of the associated plays. Since Amber will work through only a few of the plays per school year, we are prepared with Hewitt Homeschooling to study Shakespeare for the remainder of high school.



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Other members of the Homeschool Review Crew reviewed a wide variety of elementary, middle school, and high school products from Hewitt Homeschooling. Please follow the link in the graphic below to read their reviews.

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Monday, June 26, 2017

{Review} General Chemistry - Novare Science & Math

Homeschooling high school science can be difficult, even for a science major like myself. I have struggled each year to find the right curriculum match for my not-so-scientifically minded daughter. Countless hours have been spent researching options for high school chemistry with only vague parameters from my high school daughter.

Overall she is fascinated by chemistry and occasionally voices the desire to go through the most in depth course available. The next day she might be in a dysautonomia flare and decides she needs easy to understand concepts. One course I ran across in my research when flipping through a Memoria Press catalog, was General Chemistry from Novare Science & Math.  I honestly had never heard of this company, but if our favorite classical curriculum company was listing it, then I was going to put it on my research list.

Review of Novare Science & Math - General Chemistry (High School)

I can't even count how many times I have visited the Novare Science & Math website checking out descriptions and going over the samples provided. Their General Chemistry book looked exactly like the kind of chemistry I would want to take (and did take).  Yes, it does require at least algebra 2 to complete many of the calculations in the lessons and question, however that was not a concern for us, since Amber had already completed algebra 2.  Still, I was not sure if this was the course for Amber, since she wavered weekly on the type of chemistry she wanted to study. It wasn't until we were offered a chance to review the Novare Science & Math General Chemistry text that she made the firm decision to try a standard chemistry course.

Novare Science & Math - General Chemistry

We received the hard back text book for review, along with a special digital download of their physical Resource CD.

Review of Novare Science & Math - General Chemistry (High School)

General Chemistry book - A 404-page standard style text book covering every topic you would expect from a general high school chemistry class.  There is no accompanying teacher's guide, so the book starts with a preface for the teachers to document the student audience, views of the author, and recommendations for teaching the text. Novare Science & Math does use a Kingdom view of the world when teaching science, which was a positive to us.

While the preface to the teacher states that laboratory work is essential for every high school chemistry class, the textbook does not come with laboratory assignments. There is an accompanying experiment text for homeschoolers, Chemistry Experiments for High School at Home, as well as The Student Lab Report Handbook. Both are valuable resources to turn this text into a full high school chemistry lab course.

Review of Novare Science & Math - General Chemistry (High School)

Each chapter of the book is written in an informative tone with plenty of details to explain every single topic. The pages are peppered with color graphics and models to assist in explaining the information and to break up the lengthy text. Complete steps are shown for all example problem calculations, although the student still needs to be familiar with the math concepts.

The chapters end with a set of exercises that cover the topics of the individual sections in the chapter. Some questions require writing descriptions of information given, while others are require calculations. The back of the book does have answers to selected exercises from each chapter; these are mostly the exercises that require calculations. It does not include the complete solution, but just the final answer to help your student ensure they are on track.

Review of Novare Science & Math - General Chemistry (High School)

Resource CD Content

We received a downloaded version of the companion Resource CD for General Chemistry. It includes:
  • Quizzes over select sections of each chapter
  • Chapter exams
  • Term exams
  • Answer keys for all quizzes and exams
  • Answers to the verbal questions (basically, anything that isn't a computation)
  • A lesson schedule to keep you on track for the year

Between the suggested answers to the written exercises in the Resource CD and the answers to selected exercises in the textbook itself, I had a pretty good handle on grading Amber's assignments. If you need more help with the math based exercises, Novare Science & Math also has a companion Solutions Manual that shows the step-by-step procedures for the computations.

Our Experience

Amber had already finished her scheduled science for the school year when we began this review, so it was a new and fresh topic for her to be excited over. We had to make a few decisions though about how we would approach this class. In the end, we decided to forego experiments for right now. I know it is not ideal, but Amber already has all of her required laboratory science classes for high school and we do not have the majority of the supplies required to complete the experiments in the companion experiment book.

Amber found she really had to concentrate to understand the readings and it was very slow going for her. There was not much of this course that she could do independently, even though she had already completed physical science, biological sciences, and algebra 2. Thankfully, I had enough experience with chemistry in college that I was able to teach her the concepts in a way she understood.

Review of Novare Science & Math - General Chemistry (High School)

She worked hard to get through the exercises for each section, but they were often a struggle for her. The computational questions turned out to be the easiest for Amber, unexpectedly. There were many questions where I just asked her to explain her answers verbally since she couldn't seem to get the words out. We talked through the questions and she eventually came to an understanding. Still, it was extremely laborious for her.

Our Thoughts

Personally, I think this is a fantastic high school chemistry text and it is exactly what I would pick for my high school student - if she was a carbon copy of me. However, she is not scientifically inclined and really struggled through this. She is interested in scientific topics, yet her mind works in languages and not science.

Review of Novare Science & Math - General Chemistry (High School)
She was trying to explain back to me what she had read. It was a difficult day.

Although the General Chemistry text alone does not provide the means of completing a full laboratory chemistry class, Novare Science & Math does have a complete line of associated publications to support the General Chemistry text.

General Chemistry is well suited to science minded students who have completed at least algebra 2. Students who struggle with science may find this course difficult and will need the support of a good tutor or parent who can spend time working through the exercises & lessons with them.


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Saturday, June 24, 2017

Summer Summary 1

We've had a hectic and busy few weeks of summer so far.  I'd not say this has been a restful time for us, but at least we haven't been terribly worried about school lessons needing to be accomplished. I'm ever so thankful Amber has completed all the school hours needed for the 2016/2017 school year.

Amber has worked on a few school subjects, mostly review items, during her spare time and that's been enough for school for us. I'm not sure we're up for more than that this summer.

We did manage to finally start the botany genetics lab with the Wisconsin Fast Plants this week. That will be an ongoing project for the next 45 days or so.  Assuming we don't kill off the plants. After only one night and we already had forgotten to go down to the basement to check on them the next day. I'm happy they have a water system that needs refilling occasionally and not daily, because we are not good with plants around this house. Now that we have had cats for six years, I can blame our lack of plants on the cats. But in all honesty, we didn't have plants before then. I can't keep inside plants alive.

Amber did question my sanity with the fast plants project, knowing my aversion to leaving lights on and my unique ability to kill off  plants. I too am beginning to question if the value of the project is worth the hassle. I'll see how this goes when it's time to fill the water system and nobody remembers. Still, it has been fun to occasionally go down and photograph their progress.

Besides the minimal amount of school work, we've been busy with fun and not so fun things.
  • Amber has been attending weekly Project Write meetings. Her group has a great idea for their one-act play and has begun working on their script.
  • Amber had a flute recital on Father's Day weekend and did a fantastic job on La Flute de Pan. I so enjoy hearing her play her instrument.
  • We've continued our weighted blanket sewing days with Amber's friends. The group is making fantastic progress through the blanket materials we have. Six blankets are complete, eight more are in the final stages.

  • There have been numerous medical appointments for both Amber and me. Honestly, too many to list out. It's been an exhausting couple of weeks, but the gist is that Amber is in a good place with her treatments and is stable.

    I'm a work in progress, but have had some useful test results along with a successful set of spine injections. I finally have a probable diagnosis of my autoimmune disease, but still have follow-up appointments to do before I feel confident about this diagnosis. Then it looks like many appointments to check on the effects of treatment. It will be a long-ish and permanent road if these results hold up.
  • Amber has been playing Horizon: Zero Dawn on the PS4 with some of her free time. It's stressful for her though and she likes to have me sit with her for moral support - and to look up how to do specific tasks on the iPad while she plays. I read aloud pertinent parts of walkthroughs or show her videos, and she wanders about with Aloy (the character).  It's actually fun to work together on the game in this way. I don't have to worry about sitting still the entire time and we still spend time together that isn't school related.
  • Amber and friends from the homeschool group got together as a team at the local library for a teen trivia night. Our girls took 3rd place! They were thrilled to receive their choice of books as a prize and had a fantastic time with teens from the area. Oddly enough, they ran into other kids they know from various avenues who were participating with other teens.

We even made team shirts for the trivia night. 

Kitty Update:
Our smallest kitty, Rosetta, has gone from daily to weekly, and now on monthly injections for her arthritis. It's one of the worst cases of arthritis the vets have ever seen, and she's only four years old. She does take medication at home now too though. She has started to regress a bit from her recovery and had to have one cold laser treatment again this week. I'm hoping that's it for now.

Biscotti is still separated from the other cats because of his fear after the cat fights in January. We did determine a while back that Milori was the aggressor and have concentrated our effort on reconciling Biscotti and Rosetta. That was actually going well with both of them off leash in the same room for a period of time. However, after Rosie had her injury that alerted us to her arthritis and then needed a lot of attention, medication, vet trips, and general assistance, we fell behind on our cat re-introductions. It's time to start that back up. 

We purchased a new refrigerator in May that fits the space differently than the old one. Biscotti used to squeeze between the fridge and the wall and paw at the wall for attention. He tried it with this one and was very frustrated he couldn't get around the fridge.  
The cats all still play well at the doors together, passing toys and pawing each other. They do not hiss or growl when seeing each other. They have no issue with the smell of each other because we switch around who is in which room multiple times a day. It's exhausting.  Yet because of Rosie's arthritis, she is not to be allowed to do the huge jumps and climbs she loves. Which means if we cannot be home (or awake) to watch her, she must be put in a safe room that limits her jumping ability. She and her brother Milori need to be together. Thus we spend part of each day re-arranging cats - it is time consuming and exhausting. The upside is that Biscotti is out at night now and anytime we are gone, but not when we have visitors (nobody wants to deal with his stranger anxiety).

We've also had to start putting Milori and Rosie in a "safe room" in the evenings when various critters come out and prowl around the backyard. Milori has become very upset over the critters, which is what triggered his attack on Biscotti in January. Milori has become increasingly upset with any wild life, and has taken to attacking his sister now too whenever he sees anything with four legs. We have an upcoming vet appointment to discuss this behavior. He may need anxiety medication, just like Biscotti. We're hoping this will bring some peace between our once harmonious animals. Biscotti is perfectly willing to get along with them, he's just scared. Rosetta is happy with them all. Milori is normally the sweetest cat, but has lately become rather anxious and scared of everything. His go-to action is to attack, which we do not understand. We've had him and Rosetta since they were 12 weeks old and they've never been in a situation where they needed to defend themselves. 

Homeschool Group Co-Op Update:

Our group found a new (temporary) location for our classes. I'm not sure how many semesters will equal temporary, but our fantastic leadership board found a new place. We will have roughly the same amount of space as we've always had, even if it is in a different shape. And our classes are not limited to a few hours either, which our previous location needed to do because of their new pre-school. There are many benefits to this new location and some things we will have to accustom ourselves to doing differently. But it is an answer to our prayers... and it is so much closer to our house than the first location. So, bonus for Amber and me. This was a weight lifted from our minds because Amber needs her time at co-op, although it wasn't looking good for her to spend much time at co-op with the limited space and schedule.

Father's Day at church. Wonder Woman 3-D, and my beloved Volvo has rolled 100,000 miles. 


This week is VBS at our church and Amber has volunteered as a group leader again this summer. It will be a long and difficult week for her. We have to adjust her schedule to allow for rest most afternoons with an early shower and bedtime. I decided to not volunteer this year since there is not much I can do. Even the kitchen / snack was too much work for me last year with my back. This year I'm in a better place with my back, but that amount of standing and lifting will cause a setback as well as trigger a flare with everything else. I'm also exhausted all the time, most probably from the anemia (possibly hemalytic anemia from my autoimmune). It will be a miracle if I manage to get Amber to and from VBS each morning without assistance from Fred. I just can't function that early anymore.

We will be taking almost all of July off from school, excepting for our botany genetics experiment, and any review items that come up with the Homeschool Review Crew. We're just too tired to deal with anything else and desperately need a break.

Happy Summer Weekend!

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Weekly Wrap-Up  Homeschool Coffee Break
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