Thursday, November 5, 2009

Review: All American History (Bright Ideas Press)

If you've followed my past postings, you've may have picked up that I have trouble getting history into our studies. I know, I know...I wonder if I'm a "real" homeschooler too. Most homeschoolers love history, don't they? I sometimes wish I shared that love of history I see among the homeschooling community;I just didn't have a good example of how to enjoy studying history. All I remember about my high school history studies was the sheer joy my teacher took at boring us to tears. Really. She was not a nice woman. The end result is I dabble, but never manage any systematic history studies. Having my kids read and listen to a ton of historical fiction has been fairly successful. However, I must admit that I've been feeling the pressure with an upcoming high schooler. It seems like our history studies need to have a little more oomph and direction for high school credit.

Ironically, I've been blessed with a several history programs to review since my time with the Crew. Wow. That high school history teacher really did me a disservice. History isn't all that bad! I've been very pleased with the latest history curriculum that has come my way - All American History Volume 2 by Bright Ideas Press.

All American History Vol 2, for grades 6-12, covers the Civil War to the 21st century.
The author, Celeste Rakes, developed the All American History curriculum as a result of teaching history in a homeschool co-op classroom and having difficulty finding a curriculum that met her criteria. With a history degree and experience teacher her own children and others, she had definite ideas of what she desired in a curriculum. Rather than a boring fact-regurgitating curriculum, she desired an engaging curriculum that told the story of real people through the ages. The end result is a curriculum that provides structure with a chronological and thematic presentation of material while including reading opportunities, writing projects and artistic/hands-on work to enhance the textbook. The set comes with a Student Reader, a Student Activity Book, and a Teacher's Guide & Answer Key.

Student Reader ($44.95)

The text, or Student Reader, is broken down into four units with eight lessons each. Each lesson is about 12-14 pages long. The reader is texbook style, but does have plenty of black-and-white pictures of people, places, and events discussed in the chapter as well as maps for further understanding. Each chapter concludes with a bullet-point “Impact” section that summarizes the main points of the chapter. The suggested pace is to complete one chapter a week.

The Units Covered in the Volume are:
  • The Civil War and Reconstruction
  • The Gilded Age
  • Two World Wars and A Great Depression
  • The Cold War and Beyond
For a complete Table of Contents, click here.

Student Activity Book ($16.95)

The Student Activity Book contains notebooking pages, map work, review quizzes, and suggestions for further study. There is also a final review for each unit. In the back of the book, students will find images and maps to be cut and pasted on to the notebook pages. The author suggests that students fill in the information on the notebook pages while reading or being read the text. The development of note taking skills will progress with this method. The Further Study section offers topics and question to explore. For example, one suggestion is:
Define the political terms referendum and recall. Why do you think the Progressives favored enacting these measures?
The chapter review quizzes are in a traditional style with a collection of true and false, matching, fill-in-the-blank, and multiple choice questions. While it is sold separately, the Student Activity Book is considered not optional. I agree that one should not go without the Student Activity Book; it is an integral part of the curriculum.

Click here for sample pages.

Teacher Guide & Answer Key ($18.95)

The Teacher Guide & Answer Key starts out with a clear explanation on how to get the most out of the curriculum. Suggestions for adapting for younger or older children, a co-op, classrooms, or a family studying together are included in this section. Section Two includes teaching resources for each chapter. Project possibilities, timeline dates, review games, and suggested family activities are all included. Section Three has supplemental book lists for each unit divided by ages K-4, Middle (5-8) and Secondary (9 and up). Section Four contains the answer key to the “For Further Study” questions, including younger student adaptations. The last section, Section Five, is the answer key to the Student Activity pages. I often elect not to purchase teacher guides, but this one contains valuable information and I would recommend not skipping out on it.

Click here for sample pages.

In Our Home

I originally started this curriculum with my 5th grade son. I found it to be just a bit much for him, especially considering that we are not accustomed to including history in our main studies on a regular basis. Our biggest obstacle was the notebook writing portion and remembering of details for the notebook pages. At first, I didn't realize the notebook pages were to be done while reading the text and we were doing them after the fact. Switching to completion while reading helped some. My son enjoyed finding the appropriate image and flag for each page. With the suggestions in the teacher guide, I believe adapting Vol 2 would have been obtainable. However, I soon realized that Volume 2 was just about perfect for my 7th grade daughter's needs.

Overall, I found this to be a well-thought out and thorough history curriculum that caters to a variety of learning styles. The activity pages are not overwhelming for the target grade levels, yet really solidify the learning and keep the student engaged during the reading. With two very different learners in my home, I appreciate that the author provides many suggestions to make this curriculum adaptable. This is actually a curriculum that I can use with both of my kids. I like the structure the textbook provides in combination with the supplemental reading suggestions, games, and activities. It gives me the systematic approach I've been seeking, yet takes the bore out of a pure textbook approach.

One of the dangers of being on the Crew is that I often end up making more purchases as the result of liking the products I review. Such is the case with All American History Vol 2. In the end, I ended up purchasing All American History Vol 1, covering Exploration - 1840, for grades 5-8. Volume 1 has the same format as Volume 2, but the chapters are slightly shorter. The level of Volume 1 worked better for my son, yet is still appropriate for my 7th grader. We'll follow up with Volume 2 next year.

All American History Volume 2 can be purchased as a set for $68 (a savings of 16%) or the Student Reader, Student Activity Book and Teacher Guide can be purchased individually from Bright Ideas Press. You may also enjoy the All American History Yahoogroup for users to share ideas.

Bright Ideas Press also publishes many other products, including the popular Mystery of History and the new Illuminations. Check out the website and also visit the TOS Crew official blog to read more reviews on All American History and other Bright Ideas Press products.


Debra said...

So, Heidi, my big question on this -- how balanced is the approach to history. Is Columbus a saint, an evil white man bent on destroying native culture, or somewhere in between?

I hate history materials that go to extremes, and I've been leery to try this one... I try to get my hands on things before I spend money.

So???? :)

Heidi said...

I'd say somewhere in between. :)

For example, the Vol 1 text mentions that Columbus prayed for the voyage to the "regions of India" and for "the measures that could be taken for their conversion to our Holy Faith". It says he thanked God when he first came ashore and planted a cross with the Spanish flag. That's it.

On the flip side, the text mentions that Columbus "brought back" several Indians, mentions he asked natives where they had gotten the gold and that Ferdinand and Isabella desired to make Spanish claims to the land explored. It is presented matter of factly.

The majority of the text on him covers his four expeditions, what was discovered, how his reputation was damaged, and how his voyages set the stage for a trade route and eventual settlement of the New World.

BIP calls this curriculum "distinctly Christian", but I didn't find it extreme or overwhelming.