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The three covers of the Ultimate Student Planner, Ultimate Teen Planner at the top, and the Ultimate Planner for the teacher at the bottom showing the system.

The Ultimate Planner System with the teacher’s Ultimate, the Student and the Teen’s planners integrated to tame the chaos.

Photo Apr 03, 2 06 45 PMPlanners? You may be wondering why I am reviewing planners when I can’t see to use them. Well, I love planners. I have to use computer planners now, but I used to love my Day Timer when I could see. My life was so full that if I lost my Day Timer I would have a heart attack. I came close once, and that was a lesson enough to always keep it handy. When I taught school, I had a lesson plan notebook. It did its job, but without flair and whimsy. I always searched for something that I felt showed my personality and gave me features that I wanted to use. I was never successful. Lesson plan books were so boring back then. Times change. Good things come to those who wait. As a homeschool teacher, I needed a Day Timer and lesson plan book combined and more. How do you put it all together to keep you together and your students on track. Apologia has some nice planners for homeschool students and teachers. I recently got to hold all three of their planners: The Ultimate Weekly Planner for Teens, The Ultimate Daily Planner for Students, and The Ultimate Homeschool Planner. All three are designed by Debra Bell, author of The Ultimate Guide to Homeschooling with many features allowing flexibility for your needs.

The Ultimate Daily Planner for Students is bright and colorful with blank monthly grids and undated weekly assignment pages to allow the planner to fit anyone’s school calendar. There are Scripture verses and trivia questions alternating across the tops of the calendar and assignment pages teaching lessons of life disguised as fun facts and musings. There are a few pages at the beginning that let the students fill out their favorite verses, music, best friends, colors, desires, and dreams to record a little snap shot of who they are in this one year. There is also a little guide to how to study to get the student started on a life-long process of organizing and learning to help them also love to learn. There are history timelines, a clear ruler, scientific method flow chart, geography features, math facts and more to help them have useful information handy. The student can keep up with their grades, reading list, physical exercise  plans, and activities all in one place to keep them on track. I love the little calendar stickers to highlight certain events in a fun way. These are all kept in a spiral-bound, durable book built to stand up to life’s happenings in a young student’s life.

The Ultimate Weekly Planner for Teens is very similar, but dressed for the more mature. Knowing that college and career preparation is becoming more intense the Scripture and facts at the top of the pages are replaced with vocabulary words for SAT and other testing preparation. More space is allotted for more classes and a credit track guide is added to help the student get what is needed on that journey. There are also calendar pages for a few years into the future because teens have to look further ahead than when they were younger. There are still stickers because no one truly outgrows those. Though the cover is a little more mature, it is just as durable because this planner will probably go further than just the bedroom desk and floor.

The Ultimate Homeschool Planner is for the orchestra leader of all that is magical and necessary in the homeschooling lives of your family. It, too, is bright, cheerful, and durable for all the chaos in and out of the home where learning takes place including the kitchen with its soup and the dirty, wet bleachers of the soccer field. With similar features like Scripture and quotes from famous people, monthly and weekly grids, The Ultimate Homeschool Planner fits in nicely with the student and teen planners, but it goes further than that. The thing I love the most is that the three planners are actually part of a system helping you to orchestrate your homeschool and life activities coordinating with your students to keep everyone on the same page, but also learning organization skills and planning strategies for school and life now and into the future. With a user guide explaining the system and how to do yearly, monthly, and weekly planning for yourself and with your students (up to six students easily), and Monday Morning Tutorials (to help your students work in their planners) and Friday Afternoon Reviews to discuss the week and providing accountability, encouragement, and support, the planner system takes you easily through a year better able to handle the chaos that can come.You can set goals for each student, set up pre-planning guides to prioritize family needs and activities, set up resource lists needed for each student letting you know what to gather before it is needed. Another favorite feature of mine is The Lord’s Day which is the beginning of your weekly plan. You begin in a quiet place recounting God’s faithfulness during the prior week and committing to make God’s Word the key of your plan for peace. As you find areas that you are vulnerable in, you can create a battle plan to strengthen your resolve along with fighter verses you can write to refer to during the week to help you stay on track. There is even a list of these verses available free on DesiringGod.org. This along with your Friday Reviews with each student gets you started and ended in a better place each week and ready to tackle the next week. This really is one of the best designed programs I have seen and the first that truly makes the teacher and student planners coordinate and integrate for learning organizational skills and provide growth from year to year. Add the teaching tips and the year-end review helper, and you have a system that carries you forward.

As a former public school teacher, I could have used many of these features even for a classroom of forty students to keep my head in the game, and my spirit where it needed to be for my students despite these planners being focused for homeschoolers. As a homeschool teacher, I know that it fits the homeschool lifestyle to a tee with structure and flexibility to suit most families’ needs.

The prices also fit the need, too, as The Ultimate Homeschool Planner is $28.00 and The Ultimate Daily Planner for Students is $19.00, and The Ultimate Weekly Planner for Teens is also $19.00. These are affordable prices for taming the chaos and imparting skills for growth. My only wish is I had these kind of features in a digital, non-visual based planner that I could use. Well, we can’t have everything we want, but it is nice to know that some things are taming the homeschool chaos.

Check them out on Apologia’s website.

I have received a copy of the above products to help facilitate the writing of a frank and honest review. A positive review is not guaranteed. All opinions are my own. Your results and opinions may vary.

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For several years, I taught technology and computers in the public schools for upper elementary, middle school, and high school. Prior to that, I taught all subjects in middle school and high school including many special needs students. Of course, I had more vision during those years as I have Retinitis Pigmentosa. In the years that my boys were in scouting and I was Scoutmaster, the activities I did with them were often similar. Of all the things we did like building bridges out of paper and wood, making egg packages for safe drops, robots and other stuff, I have to admit building a life-size catapult with the scouts was my most memorable. Recently, I was sent a product from Pitsco, Inc. that brought back a lot of fun memories from those days. You see they sent members of the TOS Crew some projects to review. I received the trebechet and catapult kit or siege machines from one of my favorite periods in history, medieval times.

For grades 5-12 with some extensions below if providing lots of help or group effort, the siege engine is sure to provide many hours of educational fun, if not chaos. The kit provides the parts for two projects: a trebuchet and a catapult with each being suitable to lay siege to any number of miniaturized castles or villages. The spiral-bound guide provides history, numerous historical trivia facts, safety guidelines, and activities teaching concepts from science, technology, engineering, and math. You will also find additional resources to supplement and enhance your study, as well as, all the national teaching standards covered by the activities. You are given just what you are needed to begin your exploration of the fun and learning of siege machines and even going beyond.

The projects were easy to assemble. From the easy-to-remove, pre-punched parts to gluing (specific type of glue is required and doesn’t come with the kit, but it is sold by Pitsco, Inc. and is easy to find at other online sites, inexpensively) to final construction, the steps were fairly easy to follow. The pictures were a bit dark, but they were ok. You will need a few tools, but they are inexpensive and found in most homes already or can be purchased at hardware stores.

As far as accessibility, hands-on projects are usually very good for a variety of special needs students including tactile learners, learning disabled, ASD students, and even blind and DeafBlind students. For those with reading issues and learning disabilities who have trouble following complex steps, I actually made a list of step by step instructions for each of the projects simplifying the steps into easier language and more manageable steps. For blind users and myself, I scanned in the instructions making sure that the document was scanned using the Optical Scanner Recognition (OCR) software and saved it as a .txt file easily used by a brailled display. Adobe .pdf files cannot be read by a braille display. On an Apple machine, a .pdf file can be read if it is a text file and not a picture or.jpg file. There is a template page for using to bend the metal clips into specific shapes for holding certain pieces together in specific ways. I used thin lines of puffy paint or plain white paint can be used, too. This allowed me to feel how the wire needed to be bent and let me do that part myself. Even as old as I am, I still like to do as much of a project myself as I can. I am sure most students are the same way. It isn’t very fun just watching someone else do everything. Even if a child can only hold a piece as it is glued or wire is inserted and clasped, the child really feels a part of the project and remembers more if allowed to do even the smallest of things to help. The details were not hard to follow and didn’t take that long to complete, but the sense of accomplishment even for me was empowering.

Hands-on and simple designs are truly a great way to explore the complex concepts of math, physics, engineering, problem solving, and history. Even these small versions are great ways to learn, but don’t be surprised if your students ask to build a life-size one. Well, I won’t tell you not to, since I loved throwing water balloons from the one we built, but I would say consult a Boy Scout first! Smile…

To check out the Siege Machines kit or any of the other Pitsco, Inc. projects, head to http://www.shop-pitsco.com. You find this kit in the Homeschool area for $64.95 or the Trebuchet or Catapult kits individually for $33.95 and $29.95 respectively. Price-wise the kits are pretty good. I paid more money in the past for less quality materials or simply had to scrounge around for my own which was often difficult. The convenience and affordability will be plusses for your homeschool. Remember it is always best to learn by doing.

To read other reviews about this product and others from The Old SchoolHouse Crew, go to the TOS Crew blog.

Though I was provided a product to review for this blog, I have not been compensated in any other way, and the opinion expressed here is entirely my own.

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