Saturday, May 1, 2010

My very first curriculum review!

Who, me?  Opinionated?  Well, sure, when it's important, and I think this is most definitely important.  I'm "auditioning" for a chance to be a member of The Old Schoolhouse (TOS) Homeschool Crew - a group of homeschool families that get a chance to try out new curriculum and products and share our opinions with the rest of the world.  I'm excited about this chance, and a little nervous.  As a violinist, I've had plenty of auditions; as a writer, I've had plenty of chances to write; as a homeschooling mom for the past eight years, I've tried out a LOT of curriculum and a LOT of homeschool products.  But I've never had the chance to put all three things together, and I'm praying that this effort reflects the best of all those skills.

So, without further ado...

The Product:
WannaBe Series: When I Grow Up I Want To Be A Firefighter E-book
Available from The Old Schoolhouse; $8.95

This is an E-book, which will be delivered straight to your computer, no shipping charge.

80 pages

We live 1.5 miles south of the fire station that serves our local suburban area.  Three or four times a week, we'll hear a siren screaming down the street and the kids will run to the windows to watch the truck sail past.  Then come the questions: "Where do you think they're going?" "What do you think happened?"  "Is there a fire?"
After spending a week using this unit study, the questions are the same, but they are now asked with the distinctive air of a child who knows what those firefighters on that truck do.

A quick caveat: To be honest, I'm not 100% comfortable with e-books.  I prefer the look and feel of paper, and have a hard time reading a "book" on a computer screen.  I have been known to print out 200+-page PDF files (four pages to one sheet, double-sided and in draft mode, lest you think me wasteful) to read through once, just to avoid having to read it on a computer screen.  I did print this one out, minus the first color-heavy page and the last two pages (TOS ads at the end of the file), using the fastest, most ink-saving mode on our printer.  This made it easier for me to work with, but wasn't exactly financially (or ecologically) responsible.

The review:  This is billed as a multi-age unit study.  In some ways, it worked for all four of my kids, ages 13, 10, 6 and 4. Many of the information sections were perfect for reading out loud, and the kids did seem to enjoy hearing the information.  The older three could answer my verbal questions about the information very well; the 4 year old remembered the bare-bones basics.  Overall, I agree that as a read-aloud, the majority of this study works very well for a large range of ages.

I found a couple of the sections of this study to be somewhat off-topic.  A short paragraph about how robotics are being developed to help detect and fight fires leads to the entire science section...on robotics.  That didn't make much sense to me, even though the activities in the science section are both interesting and fun.  However, I could think of several other "science" ideas and activities that would tie in much better with the theme of this e-book.  How about the way the gauges on the truck work?  How valves function in the firefighters' breathing equipment?  The mechanics of air and water pressure in the hoses?  The robotics section did not tie in very well.

Additionally, there was a page of American Sign Language finger spelling that spelled out several fire-related phrases.  I could find no explanation for this which led me to assume that it constituted the "foreign language" component of the unit study.  Wouldn't it make more sense to learn the word fire in several languages?

The activities in the book seem to be geared toward the mid- to late-elementary years.  Most of the written activities could be done orally, but only my older two could come up with the answers to all the questions.  The math was too easy for the 10 year old, but too hard for the 6 year old, so somewhere in between the two is where most of the math was geared.  The "fill in the story" activity we did together, and it worked really well.  My older two then suggested we go back through and figure out the part of speech that each "blank" was supposed to contain...and then turn it into a mad lib. {smirk}

Many of the games were a hit in our house, and the party ideas, which I'd carefully hidden under several other things on my desk, were discovered by my children and I was subject to a chorus of "please can we?"  I sense a fire-truck cake-making in the very near future.

Overall, I'd give this e-book a B-minus.  It provides some good, basic information about firefighting and life in the firehouse.  It provides a variety of activities for a range of ages, in creative writing, spelling, vocabulary, science, math, history, handwriting and ?foreign language?.  The e-book includes links to more information, and more than a page of suggested books for further study.

However, the information doesn't always flow smoothly.  Even my 13-year-old noted several times that it seemed to jump to the next topic before concluding the previous one.  Several of the sections seemed out of place.  While this is an interesting overview of the job of firefighting, it falls short of my expectations for an elementary-grade unit study.

Disclaimer: This unit study e-book was provided to me free of charge, courtesy of The Old Schoolhouse, for the purpose of this review.  I was not compensated in any other way for the review.

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