Wednesday, October 3, 2012

Box of IDEAS {Schoolhouse Review Crew}

(Edit on October 23:  It appears that the website linked throughout this review has changed.  If these links do not work, try this one: - Kym)

As a rather eclectic homeschool mom, I was quite intrigued by something called Box of IDEAS when we had an opportunity to review one of their products for the Schoolhouse Review Crew.  I like ideas. And it looked kind of like a unit study - I like those.  So we gave it a try!

Box of IDEAS are perhaps best described as unit studies with a bit of a twist.  They are designed to work for teaching multiple ages (they are best for ages 9 through 16), and to get kids together around the table and an activity for learning rather than sitting in front of a computer.  They are topic-focused but can touch on many subject areas.  Here is what I found from the Box of IDEAS website that is a bit different from other unit studies I've seen:

Each Box of IDEAS...

  • is easily portable to provide excellent waiting room and traveling activities to create learning opportunities on the go.
  • is filled with interesting topic-focused activity based learning.
  • contains 10 (and sometimes more) modules with exercises designed around a captivating aspect of the Box topic
  • provides 10 (or more) engaging and thought provoking portfolio pieces to record the student's journey through the box.
  • is packed with many additional ideas and suggestions for delving deeper into an area of interest.
  • has a variety of thoroughly researched web links to encourage further exploration of the topics.
  • A timed SAT style summary test is included in each box
These are available in two formats - a pdf file, which we received to review, or a pre-packaged box like  this one.  It looks like Christmas, doesn't it?  It's Box Day!
The Schoolhouse Review Crew reviewed two of the available kits, Salt and World War II: Pearl Harbor.  We received the World War II: Pearl Harbor kit.


Because we received the pdf version, it was up to me to print whatever we needed.  I realized early in the process that it was going to require a fair amount of cardstock and color ink to get the job done.  I supplied the paper/cardstock and ink, and the only other supplies we needed were pencils and a pair of scissors.  I admit I was a little jealous of the Crew members that received the physical box because EVERYTHING is in there, and each module is already packaged in a zipped plastic bag!  Now that's what I call "ready to go"! We had to do a bit of prep work.

The World War II: Pearl Harbor box contains eleven modules that move chronologically from the time well before there was any military presence in the area to the decades after the attack during WWII.  Because it deals with an historical event, this kit should be completed in order, while most of the others (like Salt) can be done in any order.

I suspect I'm like a lot of people in that I haven't given much thought to the fact that a place named Pearl Harbor even existed before December 7, 1941 and that it originally had little to do with the military!  The first units were definitely our favorites as they dealt with Pearl Harbor before the military presence.  We learned about oysters and pearls, and the portfolio piece (this is the set of notebook pages the student will have to put in his portfolio) allowed us to practice measuring pearls and we learned a little about how they are valued.

As we went on through the units, we learned about how the shipping and military industries grew in Hawaii, and then followed a timeline through the weeks leading up to the attack, the Date of Infamy, and the hours and days and years afterwards.

I loved that there were newspapers and photographs from the time of the events, and the full text of Roosevelt's speech and the Instrument of Surrender.  Seeing Roosevelt's handwritten edits to the typed speech, and the signatures of all the world leaders present at the signing of the Surrender was fascinating.

As well as a couple of pages of an activity for the portfolio (identifying military abbreviations, brief writing assignments or timelines, for example), there was an activity included with each module.  For the Pearl Harbor Box, almost all of these were card games of some kind.

We enjoyed the card games, but felt that the entire kit relied very heavily on them, and there really weren't other hands-on activities.  Granted, hands-on activities are difficult when you're dealing with an historical event like this!  But, for instance, one of the modules included a portfolio piece about code-breaking while the activity was a card game that was a little like rummy, with the players collecting cards to represent building ships.  An activity that involved using a code might have been a good change of pace.

There are Extensions and some suggested websites with each module as well.  The Extensions are further research or writing activities.  We did not make much use of the Extensions during our review period other than to discuss the questions and issues they raised.  And those did lead to some good discussions!  We did not use the timed test at the end - or at least not yet - but I think it's a great idea to include something like that for older students.

What we liked best:

  • interesting and well-planned study of a subject that gets little coverage otherwise.
  • real pictures, newspaper views, speeches, etc.  There was something extremely sobering about looking at a variety of newspapers dated Dec. 8, 1941 and seeing the headlines about what had occurred.
  • self-contained - I didn't need to hunt down other books or websites to get what we needed to complete this study.  If we wanted to visit the suggested websites, we could, but it wasn't necessary.  
What we weren't crazy about:
  • lots of paper, cardstock, and colored ink needed.  Yes, you can buy the ready-made box to avoid having to do that yourself, but in either case I personally felt that the price was more than I'd be comfortable paying.  
  • the card games got repetitive after awhile.  Each game was a bit different, but in the end they were all card games and as Kennady said, "The games are fun, but I got tired of it always being a card game."
  • the games needed at least two players, so you need someone to play with.  If one of the kids had lost interest or was busy with something else, the other couldn't easily play the game alone.  
What I need to mention:
  • I've already mentioned it, but I think it bears emphasizing - one of the huge appeals (to me, anyway) of this product is the grab-and-go ability which is optimized in the physical box.  With the pdf, I had to devote the time (and resources) to printing and preparing all the pieces, and if I wanted to have them ready for a student to grab for school on the go or to work on independently, I had to package the materials that way.  Frankly, I couldn't be bothered, so it wound up being another study that we did at home.  I can definitely see the value of having something like the Box sitting ready for those days when you need to run out the door, kids in tow, but they can grab a module or two and do some fun learning in the minivan.
I am planning to revisit most of the modules in the Box of IDEAS when we come to World War II in our American history study this year.  I think putting it into the larger context will really add to our understanding.


Would you like to have a Box of IDEAS handy in your homeschool? Here's what you need to know:

Visit the Box of IDEAS website to learn more, and see the other subjects available.  With unusual subject choices like Pigs, Eleven, and Laundry, there's sure to be something that will catch your interest.  

You can also visit Box of IDEAS on Facebook.

Box of IDEAS - World War II: Pearl Harbor is available as a pdf download for $49, or as a physical box for $79.  If you choose the physical box and have more than one student, additional student modules can be purchased for $4.

Visit the Schoolhouse Review Crew blog for more information and to read other Crew member reviews.  Crew members also reviewed the Box of IDEAS: Salt so be sure to look at some of those reviews too!


Disclaimer: As part of the Schoolhouse Review Crew, we received a complimentary copy of this resource in exchange for our honest opinions.


Vickie said...

Great review. These look interesting. I like the total idea of it. I'm not keen on the price tho.

Thanks for sharing and I'll check out the website :)

God's Blessings

Dawn said...

Your link to the box of ideas website is broken. Looks like ya'll had a ton of fun. :)

Kym said...

Dawn - thanks for the heads-up about the links, I am checking it out. It looks like it is a problem with the vendor's website at this point.

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