May 19, 2016

Bringing the Night Skies to Life with Astronomy from Memoria Press {Curriculum Review}

Little Britches loves looking at the stars. We live in the country and the stars are bright nearly every night, just begging for your attention. I could identify the basics for him, like the Dippers and Orion, but I am not doing more than making guesses about the others. When Memoria Press offered our Schoolhouse Review Crew the chance to review their Book of Astronomy Set, we jumped on the opportunity and Little Britches really hoped it would give him the information he needed to be able to learn more about the stars.
Memoria Press: Book of Astronomy Set Review

Product Information

Memoria Press is an award winning company known for producing some of the top Classical curriculum available for homeschooling. Offering up a full list of subjects, you can find products ranging from Language Arts materials to Art, Music, and Latin for all grade levels. Some of their more popular sets are within the sciences.

Book of Astronomy Set is one of these more popular curriculums. It is designed to give your student a close look at the constellations, movements of the earth, the names of stars, and the ever changing night sky, as it moves through the seasons. The lessons focus on teaching key identifiable points throughout the seasons, including the more notable Summer Triangle and fall/winter zodiacs.

It was designed for the upper elementary (3rd-5th) grades and the set includes the Teacher Manual and Student Book (retail $31.90). The website product description mentions that D'Aulaires Greek Myths book is a great resource to have on hand, since so many constellations have their origin in Greek Mythology.

We were given the Book of Astronomy Set to review with Little Britches who is in the suggested grade level.

How Did We Use It?

We were both eager for this curriculum and tore into it when it arrived. I grabbed the teacher manual and started flipping through it to get an idea on how it worked. I was surprised that there weren't any lesson plans included--or anything to really share how to teach the program. The teacher manual had the same activities and page numbers as the student book--just with the answers all filled in. 
Because there weren't any lesson plans I wasn't really sure how to go about teaching the information and just tried to guess how I could do it. Fortunately, I learned from a fellow crew member that there WERE lesson plans available--they just had to be purchased separately. I took advantage of this and spent the $5 to get them to download and print. They were just what I needed with listing what should be covered over a week and separating the book into units to be covered. 

Once I had this, I went ahead and scoped out what was covered the first few weeks and planned our lesson accordingly. The lesson plan suggested that the primary goals were memorization and recitation of the information being taught--specifically the 15 brightest stars in the sky. This is where the lessons began and what were regularly referenced. The learning of the stars was stretched out over about a 5 week period with the ultimate goal to be able to recite AND spell the fifteen stars, including referencing a few of the constellations connected with them. Because this was the goal, it gave me a great point of reference for planning out our weeks. 

One of the resources that wasn't included in the astronomy curriculum set, but was mentioned in the description as something good to have on hand was the D'Aulaires Book of Greek Myths. I knew that this was a suggested reference, so at the GHC convention, I purchased it in anticipation of receiving this curriculum---I really wanted to own it as a homeschool reference. It was very useful when I discovered it being referenced by page number in the astronomy curriculum for three of the constellations we studied: Lyra, Cygnus, and Heracles. 
Reading from the book, as part of our learning about Cygnus...and later Pollox.
Little Britches really enjoyed the Greek Myths we read and it helped him remember the constellations better. It especially was useful when studying Heracles, as the activity in the student book were questions about the myth of Heracles, including listing the twelve labors he performed. Because we had the book and read the story, Little Britches was able to easily complete this information. 
Reviewing the story of Heracles

Here are some more photos of our exploration of the stars:
Drawing Cygnus

Labeling the constellation and writing the 15 brightest stars

Working on the first ten brightest stars and their spelling
And I am happy to say that he has them memorized! 

As of today, he can correctly identify, label and draw the three constellations of the Summer Triangle, their brightest stars, the Southern Cross, AND correctly identify and draw the accompanying constellation Heracles. He can also correctly recite the 15 brightest stars and identify the three stars that are part of the Summer Triangle. He can correctly spell the names of 13 of the 15 stars and I'm confident he will have them all spelled correctly within the week. He can also give a summary of the myths of Orpheus and Heracles, including identifying several of Heracles twelve labors. This fulfills the first 5 weeks of the lesson plans that coordinate with the curriculum. We worked on the curriculum 3-4 days a week throughout the review period.

What Are Our Thoughts on the Product?

Little Britches really enjoys this program. He picked it out of the list of choices to possibly review because he really wanted to learn about the stars. He really has enjoyed learning the shapes of the constellations we have covered, and was entertained by the Greek myths I shared which matched the constellations we covered. He has done very well in the program, because with his auditory learning style, the emphasis on memorization and recitation is right up his alley. The writing is very limited with the emphasis just being on learning how to spell the the star names and constellation. Since he is a reluctant writer, this is also perfect for him.

I have enjoyed this program very much. It is very simple to use. It is what I would consider an open and go program as I didn't need any extra materials beyond the set and the D'Aulaires Book of Greek Myths. As I mentioned above, the teacher manual doesn't have a lesson plan of any kind which threw me at first. Fortunately, another crew member mentioned that there were lesson plans available for purchase. 

For just $5 I was able to get complete downloadable lesson plans for the program. I definitely wouldn't have been teaching it the way the lesson plans shared, so I really appreciated knowing how the program was intended to be taught. It took out all the guesswork, however it gave a weekly plan, instead of a daily plan. This let me still have freedom to determine how and what we did each week. I found that I actually could look ahead for what the goals were for learning and set up my own daily plans accordingly. 

There isn't just work on identifying constellations. There is also copywork (so far poetry and scripture passages) and there is review on the Greek myth stories. When we did the story of Heracles, the review asked questions from his story and had Little Britches list the name of the "Twelve Labors".  

Twelve Labors of Heracles/Hercules
I like the way the constellations are introduced, beginning with teaching about the brightest stars in the sky. This is a great beginning point because these are the stars we see when we first look up into the heavens. It's only natural to then go with teaching the constellations connected with these. I appreciate the way they teach the constellations in groupings of what can be found near each other. I found the information about the 15 brightest stars to be very interesting and detailed. I used the information to help teach the stars--mixing up the information and questioning Little Britches to see what he remembered regarding distance, colors, and unique traits for each star. 

There are only two real cons to using this set:
#1 No lesson plans in the teachers manual
#2 D'Aulaires Book of Greek Myths is heavily referenced, but not included in the set

I believe that the teacher manual should include the lesson plans, or at least it needs to be clearly mentioned in the curriculum description on the website, that it can be purchased separately. As it is right now, you cannot tell there are even lesson plans available for the astronomy curriculum anywhere on the product description page. You can only find it on the Individual Lesson Plans page under the science section. 
I also think that there needs to be clarification regarding the D'Aulaires Book of Greek Myths. It's advised in the product description that it would be a great resource to have on hand, but doesn't mention that the curriculum references it by page number AND has activities to complete after the reading of myths from the book. Because of this, I think it needs to be RECOMMENDED that the book is obtained to use with the program. Ideally, it would be nice to have a bundle version of this set with the teacher manual, student book, lesson plans, and D'Aulaires Book of Greek Myths available for purchase. I believe that this would provide the optimal resources for teaching the program. I don't think I would have had as easy of time with it, had I not gone ahead and purchased both items in anticipation of their benefit. 

Will we continue to use this program?
Absolutely! It's a great program and we both are enjoying it. I plan on continuing to use it even through the summer months when we aren't doing "normal" school.

Would I Recommend The Product?

I would recommend this program to anyone desiring an excellent introduction to the study of the stars. The program is very classical in style with emphasis on recitation and memorization. There is a lot of mastery learning required which is great for this type of topic. This program isn't a program for someone who wants detailed daily instructions, as it lets you adjust it to match your child's needs. I definitely recommend purchasing the lesson plans to give you a guide on what should be learned/covered each week. 

I also think this is a program intended for upper elementary (as it is touted), although I suppose it would be possible to adapt it for a group teaching setting with the inclusion of younger students, if you kept the emphasis on the recitation and memorization. There isn't any hands on work, but I think that it would be easy to add in if your child did well with that.

Want to Know More?
We reviewed the Book of Astronomy Set from Memoria Press and we enjoyed it very much. I hope you will take a look at the rest of the products that Memoria Press sent our crew members and read their reviews!
Logic, Greek Myths and Astronomy Memoria Press Review
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I am very pleased with how much Little Britches has enjoyed this program and the information it is presenting. I look forward to continuing the curriculum to its completion and enjoy learning about the stars right along side of him. Memoria Press continues to impress me with their high quality products that work very well for our family.

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