Tuesday, October 30, 2012

What I'm Reading

I was asked to do a post on what I'm reading these days. The stack above represents the readings I'm working my way through for the first semester of a graduate degree I've begun working on. It looks like an intimidating stack to this bibliophile and I must admit that reading is taking up the majority of my time these days! As a homeschooler, this isn't really a new thing but in the 10+ years since college I'd definitely gotten used to reading whatever I want and am finding assigned reading to be a bit more cumbersome. My undergrad degree from Hillsdale College was great preparation for this "Great Books" graduate degree and I find myself wishing I had kept more of my class notes.  

This semester I’m taking three classes. The first is Plato and Augustine and I’ve been reading some Hesiod as well as The Republic. The class will be starting City of God in a few weeks and I'm looking forward to that.  I’m really interested in this course as we’re discussing justice, good, and politics. The dueling notion of earthy and heavenly cities and how those idea affect our lives is fascinating to me. It has reinforced my belief that an educated citizenry is absolutely essential for the existence of a good government. Reading these books that have existed for millennia certainly puts our political situation into proper perspective. 
My next course is Dante and Milton and we’ve read a couple of Aristophanes plays to establish classical ideas of comedy. We’ve finished Dante's Comedy and I loved re-reading the InfernoPurgatory and Paradise were new to me and I really enjoyed Purgatory. Dante is challenging to me because I'm much more of a prose girl and the tercet format Dante used sort of lulls me to sleep. This week I'm breaking open Paradise Lost and think it will be fun to contrast Dante’s comedic vision of the world and afterlife with Milton’s tragic vision. 
Finally, I’m taking an Old Testament survey course that will take me through the books of Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, Deuteronomy, Joshua, Hosea, Judges, Ruth, and Samuel. So far I have found this course to be amazing. The professor ties everything to the New Testament showing how it all foretold the coming of Christ. It sort of boggles my mind in a lot of ways and I’m finding it stretching. So far my class has read through Genesis and Exodus and I've been working my way through Leviticus, Numbers, and Deuteronomy this week. I must admit that I have found listening to these particular books much more engaging than reading them. I find that for my learning style, I get more out of listening to these particular books. There is a lot of repetition and you can tell that they were originally part of an oral tradition so I've been using this website to listen to them while I cook or clean. Very glamorous, right? 
I will admit that this amount of reading is challenging to me. I find that some days it feels like drudgery and it's all I can do to focus my mind on the words that seem to be blurring into each page. In order to ensure that reading does not become something I no longer enjoy, I have also joined a couple of book clubs. I find that if I can mix up the reading a bit the academic continues to be pleasurable and I get more out of the non-required reading. Does that make sense?
So there you have it, my current reading. What are you reading? Do you find that keeping up with your children and student's reading is all you can manage on top of regular life? If reading is an escape for you or something you cannot live without, how do you make time for it? 
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Friday, October 26, 2012

Author Feature: Jeanne Bendick

"If I were a fairy godmother, my gift to every child would be curiosity." -Jeanne Bendick

When we were starting out on our publishing adventure our main focus was finding great treasures of yesteryear and bringing them back in to print for a new generation of young readers. The first entirely new book that we commissioned was Along Came Galileo by Jeanne Bendick and it was an absolute pleasure to be able to work with such a talented author and illustrator.

Excerpt from Along Came Galileo

Born February 25, 1919 in New York City, Jeanne learned how to draw from her maternal grandfather, an artist himself. She had this to say about his influence in her life: "Grandpa Charley was my hero, a scholar and an artists, gentle patient, full of humor, and endlessly generous with his time." He also sparked her interest in science with weekly trips to the American Museum of Natural History and it was from these hours together that she would be inspired to make scientific principles accessible to young minds. She later attended the New York High School of Arts and Music and graduated from the famous Parsons School of Design in 1939. She helped pay for her tuition by working as an illustrator at Jack and Jill, a children's magazine, as well as teaching children's art classes. When she graduated she was given an opportunity to study in Paris for a year but World War II was tearing apart Europe at the time and she decided to stay at home. Bendick went on to write and/or illustrate over one hundred books and has gained a reputation for her thorough research, engaging texts, and endearing illustrations.

Along Came Galileo
Bendick has explained her work in the following way: "One part of the job I set for myself is to make those young readers see that everything is connected to everything-that science isn't something apart. It's a part of everyday life. It has been that way since the beginning. The things the earliest scientists learned were the building blocks for those who came after. Sometimes they accepted earlier ideas. Sometimes they questioned them and challenged them. I want to involve readers directly in the text so they will ask themselves questions and try to answer them. If they can't answer, that's not really important... Questions are more important than answers."
I have personally loved Bendick's books for over 15 years and am enchanted by her ability to take complex principles and break them down into accessible parts. If you're wanting an introduction to ancient science and those first brilliant minds who observed the laws of nature, you have to check out Archimedes and the Door of ScienceGalen and the Gateway to Medicine opens a window into the dynamic and crumbling world of the Roman Empire in the second century. Along Came Galileo is one of the best ways to show your students how Galileo turned the world of science on its head. Throughout all the titles Bendick's simple pen and ink drawing bring the stories to life. 
Galen and the Gateway to Medicine
Our big sale is a great time to be able to stock up on these titles! Check it out here, it ends on the 29th so be sure to take advantage while it lasts! And while you're at it, check out titles from our other favorite authors:

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Wednesday, October 24, 2012

History Points: The Cuban Missile Crisis

October 24, 1945

This week marks the 50th anniversary of the Cuban Missile Crisis. Gathering together all sorts of resources to understand this confusing period in American history, The New York Times in conjunction with John F. Kennedy Library and Presidential Museum has put together  a great resource for teaching high school students about the 13 day standoff. You can read a brief introduction to the events here. Once you've read that, I would recommend checking out the interactive website here. The Times has also put together a fantastic archive of photographs from the era that really brings this whole era and event to life. 

And don't forget to check out our sale! It's a great opportunity to build that family library and try some study guides you've been wanting to check out. 

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In case you missed it:

Monday, October 22, 2012

BFB Sale!!

Check out our First-Ever Discount Sale! 

15% Off Everything (excluding packs) for one week only! 
October 22-29th. 

Get books, maps, timelines, study guides, cds, all at 15% off our already discounted prices! 

See our website for more details!

Use discount code: BFBSALE
Does not apply to packs.

Been wanting to check out some of our products? This is a great opportunity to do just that while saving money. 

Some of our favorites:
Get inspired with some great resources.

Check out some of our favorite authors: Ingri and Edgar d'Aulaire, Genevieve Foster, Albert Marrin, James Daugherty, Brinton Turkle, and many more. 

Or pick up a couple study guides you've been thinking about trying.   

 Hurry, sale ends October 29!

Friday, October 19, 2012

Opting out of standardized testing.

Photo credit: Diana Zavala for The New York Times
"Dear Teacher, Johnny Is Skipping the Test" from The New York Times this week is a fascinating article on some parents' approach to required standardized testing. While all the parents in this article have their children enrolled in public schools, I find it encouraging that they're taking a stand against the state and federal love-affair with standardized tests. We've talked a lot about standardized testing on this blog and its affects on educational focus and outcomes and I think that those unintended consequences are making their ways into peoples homes and that means people will start to notice.

I would love to hear your thought on standardized testing. What have your experiences been? Is it required for home educators in your state? Do you find it helpful for evaluating your students?

For those of you who missed it, Monday's blog entry was an encouragement to all of you who believe education is essential in the fight against ignorance and oppression. Your work is changing lives. 

And, as we had talked about writing a little bit ago, I thought you would enjoy this article from the Chronicle of Higher Education on the importance of written expression. 

October 19, 1765

The Stamp Act Congress, or First Congress of the United States,  drew up a Declaration of Rights and Grievances in response to the British Parliament's passage of The Stamp Act. This foundational even in American history does not get a lot of coverage but it was at this point that the American colonists expressed their unhappiness and disgust with their treatment at the hands of the British. It was in this document that the colonists demanded rights we barely even think about today such as:
  • No taxation without representation
  • Trial by jury
  • American colonists possessed the same rights as Englishmen
  • Parliament could not represent the colonies without granting them voting rights. 
To learn more about the Stamp Act and the early movements of the American Revolution, check out the following titles:

America's Paul Revere by Esther Forbes

Boys and Girls of Colonial Days by Carolyn Sherwin Bailey

The Forth of July Story by Alice Dalgliesh

Johnny Tremain by Esther Forbes

Have a wonderful weekend! 

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Monday, October 15, 2012

Education as a revolutionary movement

Veronique de Viguerie/Getty Images
Over the past week I have been struck by the power of education to reform. The heartwrenching story of Malala Yousafzai highlights the ability of free education to transform not only people but entire countries. Malala, a fourteen year-old Pakistani girl who became famous for her work in advocating for equal educational opportunities for girls, was brutally shot by the Taliban as a warning to her and others seeking to liberate themselves through education. Thankfully doctors are hopeful for a full recovery  and her story has gripped the world's attention magnifying Malala's voice and the impact of her work. 
It is hugely convicting to see a young girl pay such an incredible price for her education. In a country where we have a vast array of educational opportunities open to us, it's so easy to take our educations for granted. But in a country like Pakistan there is a very real battle for freedom being fought and it is mainly being fought in classrooms. The Taliban has been very effective in using their schools, known as madrassas, to "educate" young men in extremist views and violence. In schools like the one Malala attended, they are standing for freedom and equality of opportunity. Nicholas Kristoff in The New York Times quoted one young woman from Peshawar as saying: “This is not just Malala’s war. It is a war between two ideologies, between the light of education and darkness.” How true that is! She recognized what Plato saw as the value of education. He thought of education as the force that would bring us out of the darkness of the cave of ignorance. 
And so, I want to encourage you as educators, whether you're at home teaching your children or standing in front of a classroom, your work matters. By teaching your children about the history of human affairs, and introducing them to ideas in story books and literature, you are part of this movement. While there are probably many days where it doesn't feel as though you're breaking through walls of ignorance, you are. Education is a process and your faithfulness and diligence will yield results. Here at BFB we are blessed to interact with some of you each day and we see your diligence, your passion, and your convictions coming through. In your own ways you are partnering with those who see educational opportunities as a way to improve people's lives and change nations. Our prayers are will Malala and others like her who sacrifice so much in the fight for schooling and we are blessed to parter with you in your essential work. 
On another note, today we are introducing a new series that we will be adding to our blog. It will be a "On This Day in History" and will feature historic events and figures from all over the world. We will be sharing resources to help you mark historically significant days and we hope you find this series useful and inspiring. We will continue with our usual entries on educational trends and developments, product features, giveaways, and everything else you've come to expect on the blog. We look forward to sharing all sorts of interesting historical events and people. If you have a suggestion for something to include in the series, please leave a comment below and we may feature your idea! 

October 15, 1860

Eleven-year-old Grace Bedell of Westfield, Ny wrote a letter to presidential candidate Abraham Lincoln suggesting that he could improve his appearance, and thus have a better chance of being elected, if he were to grow a beard! He took her advice under consideration and when she met him during a stop on his campaign trail, she was delighted to discover he had grown a beard! The photo above is of a sculpture in Westfield, NY and commemorates this moment. To read more about this charming and true story, check out the following websites:

And check out these titles to learn more about Lincoln:

Abe Lincoln Grows Up by Carl Sandburg

Abraham Lincoln by Ingri and Edgar Parin d'Aulaire

Abraham Lincoln by James Daugherty

Abraham Lincoln's World by Genevieve Foster

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Wednesday, October 10, 2012

Lessons from Slums

Charles Leadbeater shares lessons on educational innovations he's seen taking place in some of the poorest and most crowded places on earth. His observations have led him to advocate an educational paradigm based on "pull, not push." I found some of his comments fascinating and thought you all would enjoy the video. He also really brings home the challenges our world is going to face over the next decades as millions of students with illiterate parents enter educational systems for the first time. What an exciting time to be alive for these children who face overwhelming odds but have been given opportunities their parents and grandparents never thought possible. Leadbeater shows how education is coming "out of the box" in these situations and is sparking and encouraging the growth of children's creativity and imagination, along with teaching them lessons of survival and practical application. I hope you enjoy and I would love to hear your thoughts, so feel free to leave comments! 

Tuesday, October 09, 2012

We have a winner!

a Rafflecopter giveaway

Congratulations #90: Jamie K! Email me at rebecca (@) bfbooks (.) com and we'll email you your copy  of the Medieval History Through Literature Study Guide right away! If you didn't win, you can check out the study guide here.

Thank you to everyone who entered the giveaway! We are looking forward to doing more in the future. Do you have any suggestions for future contests or giveaways? We'd love to hear from you. Just leave a comment below.

Monday, October 08, 2012

Happy Columbus Day

Hello friends!

Happy Columbus day to all of you. This week we have some really interesting topics we want to cover! First our Medieval History Study Guide giveaway ends at midnight so make sure to get in those entries! Later this week we will be looking at self-directed learning and I think you'll enjoy that.

As today is Columbus day, I wanted to provide you with some resources for marking this historical day. First up, here's our favorite biographies:

Additionally, here are some links to crafts, articles, activities and more:

Craft Activities for K-3:

Craft Activities for 5th-8th:
Resources for High Schoolers:

Friday, October 05, 2012

Writing Old School

Earlier this week I wrote about urban homeschoolers and the way that the homeschool movement is expanding and going more mainstream. That entry was inspired by The Atlantic magazine's special report on education. This entry is as well. One of three proposals for reforming and improving our national education system included homeschooling and another was teaching writing 1950's style. The Writing Revolution by Peg Tyre makes the case for returning to a more traditional form of teaching writing and veering away from the creative and social style that has been de rigor for the past couple of decades. I wholeheartedly agree. I would highly recommend clicking the link above and reading through the article.

According to the article, for the past twenty to thirty years educators have not had formal training in teaching writing and have adapted to a process championed by some educational reformers that promoted the idea that writing could be "caught, not taught." The theory stated that if children could work together on "creative expression" projects, they would automatically pick up what they needed to know about writing. "Formal lessons in grammar, sentence structure, and essay-writing took a back seat to creative expression." Add to the mix the No Child Left Behind policies that only tested reading and math and you have a situation ripe for failure. As schools increased the focus on reading and math, writing was pushed even further down on the list of educational priorities. As many of us have personally experienced, it seems that this experiment has been a dismal failure. American high school graduates, for the most part, are unable to write coherent essays or express a logical flow of ideas. Anyone who has had to grade college papers knows that the state of writing in our country leaves much to be desired! As quoted in the article, "Writing as a way to study, to learn, or to construct new knowledge or generate new networks of understanding has become increasingly rare" said Arthur Applebee, the director of the Center on English Learning and Achievement at the University at Albany.

Enter New Dorp School, a troubled school that has made a revolutionary change. In a new program instituted in 2009 the school is now focussing on writing in every subject area. Whether it's science or history, students must write papers in every class and these writing assignments are specifically designed to help students develop a logical and rhetorical way of thinking. Every aspect of the paper writing process is guided. There are prompts to help students think more clearly. Learning how to use phrases like "specifically, for instance, for example" enables students to express their thoughts clearly and concisely. Even discussion in the classroom is governed by specific prompts in order to reinforce the ideas espoused in the writing curriculum. A poster in front of each class provides the following prompts:
"I agree/disagree with ___ because..."
"I have a different opinion..."
 "I have something to add..."
"Can you explain your answer" 
Such simple cues have resulted in remarkable changes at the school. In 2007 the school had a 40% graduation rate and was one of the "2000 or so lowest-performing high schools in the nation." Today their program is being looked to as a model for improving student performance. In addition to the improved test scores, it seems that learning how to write and express oneself is empowering. Students who thought high education was not an option no longer accept that as fact.

This has all reinforced my belief that one major reason so many students and graduates now struggle with writing is due to the fact that they have never been given the tools they need. Just like you cannot ask a carpenter to create a cabinet with a shovel and some cardboard, so students who have never been taught the fundamentals of writing will be frustrated and develop an intense dislike of any assignments in which writing is required. Give them the tools and training and writing can become a skill that is not only useful but maybe even enjoyable. It provides a creative outlet, a way to be heard, a valuable job skill, and a vehicle for personal fulfillment.

Again, the article is fascinating and provides a glimmer of hope for educational reform. While most of you are homeschoolers I thought it may also be encouraging to you as nearly all the home educators I've encountered over the past 20+ years do focus on developing their students' writing abilities. At BFB we believe that writing is essential and all of our study guides have writing prompts, research assignments, and comprehension questions designed to help students assimilate the information they glean from their reading, process it, form opinions, and express those opinions.

I would love to hear what you do to teach writing in your classroom? Is your program more traditional? Is it a mixture of creative and rhetorical training? Do you struggle in teaching writing? Do you have tips for making it easier?

Finally, don't forget that our giveaway ends this weekend! Be sure to get in all your entries and share the giveaway with your friends. To enter, click here.

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All quotes above taken from "The Writing Revolution" by Peg Yyre, The Atlantic, Oct. 2012, 96-101.

Wednesday, October 03, 2012

Urban Homeschoolers

Source: jonesdesigncompany.com via offbeatmama on Pinterest
In a sign that perceptions of homeschoolers are moving beyond the stereotypes seen in much of pop culture, this month's issue of The Atlantic features a special education report called "New Ideas for Schools". I found the entire report fascinating and would recommend picking up a copy if you're interested in educational trends, reform movements, and reports with lots of info-graphics. The report offers three ideas to improve education: Have students grade teachers, homeschool, and teach writing 1950s-style. Today I'd like to share some thoughts on the second option. 

Here's a link to the article on homeschooling, The Homeschool Diaries by Paul Elie. This article also goes well with one published earlier in the year in Newsweek Magazine entitled Why Urban, Educated Parents are Turning to DIY Education by Linda Perlstein. Both articles mark a trend that sees the appeal of homeschooling expanding. While the majority of parents who choose to homeschool remain those motivated by reasons of faith, this new batch of home educators are generally highly educated urbanites who are priced out of outrageously expensive prep schools and are unwilling to turn their children's education over to local public schools. 

As a homeschool grad myself, I think that this trend is wonderful! To me in signals a growing confidence in parents that is allowing them to take responsibility for their children's education. The first people to pull their kids from schools back in the 1970s and 1980s constantly dealt with criticism from friends and relatives who thought that education should be left to the professionals. The urban growth of homeschooling shows that this prejudice is being questioned. As schools have become more bound to curriculum dictated by standardized testing, some parents in urban environments have begun questioning the quality of education their children are receiving and suddenly realize that they have a world of resources at their fingertips. "The practical reasons for homeschooling are paramount. When you set the city's gorgeous mosaic of intellectual and cultural offerings against its crazy quilt of formal education, you can't help but want to supplement your children's schooling with outings to museums, zoos, historic sites and neighborhoods, and the like."

Another reason urbanites site for choosing to homeschool has to do with an increasing understanding that learning is not something that can be restricted to the classroom. Elie quotes one homeschooling dad as saying "One reason we were tempted by homeschooling is that is seemed to us that we could easily build our home life around learning in a way that would be fun for the whole family." Taking such a holistic approach to learning has always been one of the strengths of homeschooling and it is good to see that more and more parents are seeing that.

Finally, the aspect of Elie's article that I found to be really refreshing is right at the very end. From the beginning homeschoolers have always worried about the transition to college. For many a high school junior or senior the prospect of entering into an academic atmosphere after years of studying at home can be intimidating. Elie, as a professor at Georgetown University sees it differently. In thinking about what the future holds for his sons he says:
"Meanwhile, when they sit down at the table with protractors or head to a museum, it is college I am thinking about. Not just because a university education is our unquestioned aspiration for our children, but also because it seems to be the closest model for the education we are now trying to provide. Tightly focused class sessions, expert presentations complemented by individual instruction; hands-on learning in areas that vary from day to day and year to year; education undertaken in the wiser world–there aspects of our so-called homeschooling are basic to postsecondary learning. Higher education in America may be very different in 2022, when our twin sons would enroll, but I like to think that they will have had a taste of the university already."
Having made that transition from homeschooled teen to college student, I can say that is true in my experience. College was not such a big change for exactly the reasons Elie states. 

As a person who has been involved in homeschooling for the vast majority of my life, I can see this trend enriching homeschooling for all its participants. New curriculums will be developed, museums will expand their program offerings to home educators, and more support will be available for homeschooling families.

I would love to hear from you! Are you an urban homeschooler? If so, what motivated your choice to keep your children at home? For all homeschoolers, what do you think about this expansion in the homeschool demographic? 

And, don't forget to enter our giveaway. Click here for details on how you can win a download of our new Medieval History Through Literature study guide!  
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