Monday, November 9, 2015

{Review} U.S. History Detective, Book 1

Being Classical homeschoolers, we actively seek out and use a multitude of history resources from primary source information to well written historical fiction. Workbooks and standard textbooks are rarely part of our plan, yet I've often wondered if they still have a place in our educational style. Recently we were offered the chance to use U. S. History Detective, Book 1 from one of our favorite curriculum publishers, The Critical Thinking Co.

Unexpected Homeschool Review: U.S. History Detective Book 1. A critical thinking history textbook!

I must admit I was intrigued to see how a textbook from The Critical Thinking Co. differs from the average textbook we've used in the past. I'll tell you up front, we were not disappointed in this curriculum. For the purpose of the review we received the physical textbook, U.S. History Detective, Book 1 which is also available as an e-book instant download (but listed as currently only available for Windows computers).

The softback textbook covers American history from the Colonial Era through the Reconstruction after the Civil War and is geared toward grades 8 through 12, but the publisher notes that the vocabulary and content are based on common standards for 8th grade. U.S. History Detective can be used as a full stand-alone history curriculum, a supplement for another history product, or as review lessons for older students.

The consumable curriculum contains 65 lessons plus topical overviews and review activities every few lessons. There is no need for a teacher's guide as the answer key is included in the back of the hefty 330 page textbook. Additionally there are a few pages written directly to the teacher to explain the usage of the book.

Unexpected Homeschool Review: U.S. History Detective Book 1. A critical thinking history textbook!
Lessons at home.
Each history era to be studied begins with an overview that gives the student a glimpse of what is to come, and then proceeds with the lessons. Every lesson includes reading text on the current topic along with full color images, maps, time lines and other graphics.  Each sentence in the text is numbered to assist in answering the lesson source location questions. Finally, the lessons also include fun fact boxes.  After the reading, each lesson includes multiple choice and short answer questions along with a short essay prompt / question.

It is in these questions we see the uniqueness of this curriculum. Critical thinking is incorporated into each lesson by asking more than simply fact regurgitation. An emphasis is placed on finding supporting evidence in the text to answer the questions. The nature of the course helps students better their reading comprehension, writing skills and vocabulary. The lessons also teach the student how to better draw inferences and conclusions while distinguishing between fact and fiction.  Finally, the short essays used are often the type found in college-level or AP courses and help the student to prepare for upper level courses.

The review lessons are interspersed every few standard lessons and utilize alternate learning techniques to further challenge the student. Concept maps, Venn diagrams, mapping, vocabulary, cause & effect, and many other assignments make these review lessons a powerful part of the curriculum.

For teachers concerned about grading the short essay answers, not only are the multiple choice and short answer solutions provided in the answer key, but also key points for the short essay written responses. This style makes it fairly simple to ensure your student has grasped the concepts being taught in the current lesson.

Unexpected Homeschool Review: U.S. History Detective Book 1. A critical thinking history textbook!
Lessons on the go.
How Amber Used U.S. History Detective, Book 1:
Although I was fairly curious about how a textbook / workbook would fit into our Classical homeschooling method, Amber was not as enthusiastic at first. She remembers the dull years of parochial school history and our initial ventures at home too. Thankfully, she also is enamored with The Critical Thinking Co. and was willing to give this curriculum a chance.

We did chose to use U.S. History Detective as a supplement to our regular history lessons where we are currently studying the Colonial era and approaching the Revolutionary time. Amber did the first few lessons fairly rapidly to catch up with our current studies. Right away she noted the book was not as easy as she expected it to be. Not that anything was difficult enough to cause frustration, but she expected an easy read plus answering a few questions. The book, instead, required her to think and analyze the information she had read. This was a definite positive in her mind and mine.

Unexpected Homeschool Review: U.S. History Detective Book 1. A critical thinking history textbook!
And still on the go!
Amber uses the U.S. History Detective mostly as an on-the-go school resource to either introduce a new topic for our history studies, or to summarize and finish our current topic. Additionally on a few busy days at home she has replaced her regular history assignment with a review lesson from this textbook. Either way she enjoying the variety in instruction techniques.

We feel with U.S. History Detective, Book 1 The Critical Thinking Co. has provided yet another excellent resource for homeschooling parents, no matter your schooling style. Our personal recommendation would be to use it as a supplemental learning tool, however for those who find history less enthralling than our family this textbook is an appropriate full history curriculum.

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  1. What a great review. I always enjoy seeing what you think of things.
    Blessings, Dawn

  2. I am attending a homeschool convention this week. I have looked at this book at the vendor tables and have considered purchasing it with hesitancy. Your review is wonderful and has given me the push that I needed to purchase the book with confidence.


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