Friday, April 21, 2017

The Power of Black Super Heroes

When KingMan was younger we always had the same debate in the toy aisle.  He wanted the white super hero, but I wanted him to have the Black super hero.  I understood why he wanted Goku - it was what he saw on television.  I also understood why he wanted John Cena, instead of Kofi Kingston.  But for me it was the principle.  So the compromise was I bought both.  It was important to me to that he had super heroes who looked like him too.  After I watched a film called The White Man's Burden, I knew I was right.

Nkosi ~ The Noble Fire

While visiting the vendors at a Rites of Passage graduation I noticed someone holding a super hero coloring and activity book featuring images of Black people. I had to have one.  I searched until I found the creator of Umoja Force, Akinseye Brown.  He was packing up and couldn't take my payment, but gifted me with the book anyway.  I am so grateful he did.  Umoja Force Heroes for Unity is a coloring and activity book that introduces four Black Super Heroes.  I love it!

Nisir ~ The Quantum Eagle

Unlike many comic books, which feature the tired old story of the villain, the good guys and the bad guys with the predictable ending, Umoja Force  has a message of unity.  Throughout the activity guide you find references to ancient wisdom and how to recognize forces that exist to create confusion and disunity.  I sat down and read the entire story to LionHeart.  He loved it.  Because it is a coloring and activity guide, he'll get a chance to re-read it and meditate on the message as he colors and completes the activities.  Coloring is a form of meditation; why not focus on something positive!

“The most important thing that Black Superheroes do is help African people to see themselves as powerful and beautiful,” says comic book creator Akinseye Brown. I could not agree more.  Brown is the creator and owner of Sokoya Productions, which publishes Umoja Force.  Founded in 2006, his work includes Vejo Capoeira, Umoja Force,  Sannkofamaan, and Dara Brown: 1996.  His most popular work, How To Draw Afrakan Superheroes  won a Pioneer Lifetime Achievement Award in 2016.

Brown calls his work African science fiction.  “It is simply good storytelling whose narrative uses elements of technology, science, spirituality, fantasy and mystery, to connect and reconnect the reader/audience with their African culture through past, present and future.”  But more than that, Brown aims for his work to have a larger goal.  “If people see themselves as s/heroes, they then begin to act as someone who is responsible for bringing good to the world.” God knows we need more people who think like that!

Brown has a large body of amazing work, including a series that teaches young people who to draw Black comics. You can see more of Brown’s comics and his incredible art work at his website:

Sunday, April 16, 2017

Clever Dragons ~ Online Learning for Boys

As a working, single-parent homeschool mom I am busy.  Busy, beyond busy! There are times when our day moves like a bullet train.  If we don't get as much done as I would like, my homeschool guilt surfaces.  We homeschoolers bear a heavy responsibility and we want to make sure we get it right.  When I had the opportunity to review Clever Dragons, an online curriculum that could potentially lend a helping hand, I jumped at the chance.

Clever Dragons 

My Right-Brain learner is computer savvy and uses YouTube to teach himself anything he wants to learn.  I had my fingers crossed that he would like Clever Dragons.  I loved all of the things I read about it so I really wanted him to like it.  It's an online, game-based learning environment created specifically for boys ages 7-12.  When he logged on and was immediately excited about creating his Mini Me (avatar) that was a definite plus.  He was pretty impressed that Nike was included in the gear he could purchase for his Mini Me, but disappointed that more African-American hairstyles, like Afros and Locs weren't included.

Learning Paths

The Learning Paths are the core educational areas.  The math section was the first area LionHeart visited.  The philosophy behind Clever Dragons is that drills and practice don't have to be boring.  Practice and repetition are always more fun in game format.  The more you play, the more you master.  There are no feelings of feeling of failure, just fun.  I watched LionHeart answer a question incorrectly and say to himself, "I'm going to keep trying so I can earn some coins." Core subject areas of Clever Dragons include Language Arts, Science, Geography & History, Music & Arts, and World Language studies. I especially love that keyboarding is included in the curriculum - a necessary skill. Parents can create unique learning paths based on the child's interests and strengths.  LionHeart loves dogs, so I will be sure to add the learning path on Dog breeds. Click here to read more about learning paths.


LionHeart is a visual learner and the use of videos as a teaching tool are perfect for him. He has been skipping the videos and heading straight for the lessons. He likes to work this way.  It's almost as if he has to see the need for the learning video first.  He loves that the videos are short and the explanations are straight forward, but would like to see more animated graphics.  His favorite videos are the ones uploaded by users, probably because he creates NBA2K17 videos.  I'm sure he'll be uploading his own.


This is what I love most of all about Clever Dragons ~ the learning through games.  My son is a Right-Brain, kinesthetic, visual learner.  Exploring, discovering and watching is how he learns best.  He is also an avid video game player so learning games are especially appealing to him.  Best of all he can earn coins by answering questions correctly.  Virtual currency is a powerful motivator.  Virtual currency can be used to build castles on Castle World, feed virtual pets and more.  In the process, users learn budgeting skills. Re-taking a quiz is not drudgery when you can earn more coins. Through games, LionHeart can learn the states, how to type, classical music and more.  I noticed that he was much more willing to explore core subjects and new concepts through games.  A homonym worksheet would be a struggle, but learning homonyms through a game is a way to earn coins.  It's all about the coins! He loves earning gold coins and gives me constant updates about how many coins and badges he has earned.  The pride is real!

The Clever Dragon Weekly

The writer in me really loves the newspaper feature of Clever Dragons.  Another core subject area ~ writing ~ is interwoven into the program in a fun way.  The newspaper is written by Clever Dragon users and moderated by staff.  Users will have the opportunity to practice different writing formats, including poetry, prose, recipes and more.  I plan to encourage LionHeart to write about his “cheat codes” for NBA2K17.  As an incentive for submitting writing, users get a free issue of the paper as well as special items for their Mini Me.  Deadlines are each Thursday.  I just love it.  Real world experience!

My World

LionHeart is a very creative child and he loves to use his creativity in the My World section.  He can create clothes, have a pet, decorate a home and connect with online friends.  What kid doesn't want to have his own house! In My World he can also practice pet care-taking skills because he actually has to feed the pet.  He can even design his own clothes and sell them to his online friends.  Wow! LionHeart is a budding entrepreneur and this feature will allow him to hone those skills. There is also a feature that allows you to indicate when your online friends are also your real life friends (pictured above with his twin homeschool buddies who also use Clever Dragons).  When you can't learn with friends in person, the next best thing is online.  The chat rooms are heavily moderated for safety concerns.  According to the website, Clever Dragons provides a "Facebook-like experience for kids, all in a safe, controlled setting."

For the Parents

If you need documentation for your homeschool portfolio area, the Parent Portal is your friend.  Opt for the premium subscription, which allows you to customize the learning experience by assigning specific lessons, requiring a specific lesson be complete before exploring other areas, and see a list of incorrect answers, which can be used for further learning.  The premium subscription also allows you to set goals with your child, track how much time is spent on specific tasks, and document the learning through custom reports.  You can also designate the grade level as you see fit or stretch across several grade levels, as I did.  Parents also receive weekly email reports.  I personally love this feature because it reminds me to utilize all the parent features.  Having the option of choosing specific assignments, educational videos, practice work, and learning assessments makes Clever Dragons much more than an educational game fill-in.  

The Founders

Dr. Johannes and Swenja Ziegler, parents of five, are the creators of Clever Dragons.  They, along with a team of team of educational experts including teachers, academics, and homeschooling parents, developed this program with boys in mind. 

Sunday, April 9, 2017

Word Root 4 - The Critical Thinking Company

The Critical Thinking Company's Word Root Level 4 teaches vocabulary by first dissecting the words and defining each part - the root, prefix and suffix. Once the student learns these parts of the words, this knowledge is used to decode unfamiliar words.  There is a pre-test included to get you started and a post-test to use once the text is completed to see how much has been retained.

Students then attempt to master new words through the following lessons: matching words with their definitions, filling in a sentence with the correct word, writing the definitions of words, and writing complete sentences for each word. There are also plenty of review lessons included.  

The program is thorough, but for KingMan he felt something was missing.  It was a bit confusing for him and too much was left out for him to determine the correct answer.  For example, if he determined the meaning of a word incorrectly, then all of the subsequent work would be incorrect as well.  Maybe this was intended as a part of the "critical thinking" process.  But it frustrated KingMan.  In some ways, the lessons assume some knowledge of Latin, which KingMan did not have.  Another frustrating aspect was similarity of meaning.  If a prefix or suffix had similar meanings, how was he to determine which to use?  

For example, KingMan deduced that dogma meant one thing in Word Roots, but when he went to the definition was different.  For example, in Word Roots dog/dox is defined as "opinion, praise" and ma as "something done."  So when KingMan wrote his sentence, "My dogma about Oklahoma City Thunder has always been overpowering."  He was using "praise and opinion" in the right way.  But when we looked up the definition for the word on it said, "a principle or set of principles laid down by an authority as incontrovertibly true."  Kingman's response to me was, "how can it be an opinion and incontrovertibly true?" I  think some additional discussion about the roots would have been helpful in determining proper usage.

Again, this may be a part of the "critical thinking" aspect of the program. If your child enjoys sleuth work, he may enjoy Word Roots.  On the other hand, if you have a straightforward learner, who prefers more explanation, this may not work.

Word Roots is a part of Timberdoodle's 10th Grade Curriculum Kit.

Wednesday, March 22, 2017

How to Recognize Bad Reasoning - The Fallacy Detective

I jumped at the chance to review the Fallacy Detective because I live with the Great Debators, otherwise known as my two sons.  All of a sudden, I have gone from knowing everything to not very much.  Well, we may as well put that faulty reasoning to the test.

The easy-to read Fallacy Detective is 38 lessons on how to recognize bad reasoning.  It was written by homeschooled brothers Nathaniel Bluedorn and Hans Bluedorn.  The book doesn't look boring and there is plenty of white space and comic illustrations throughout.  The chapters and review questions are short, yet engaging and thought-provoking.  It's the kind of book that doesn't get the eye roll when you pick it up and announce that it's time for some lessons on logic.

What I love even more is that some of the expressions my children say "old people use," are included as lesson topics, for example,"Loaded Question, Straw Man, Slippery Slope" and my favorite "Bandwagon."  I can't tell you the number of times I have urged my children to not jump on the proverbial Bandwagon.

There is an answer key included, as well as game instructions in the back of the book for you to create your own Fallacy Detective games.  I used it on LionHeart just the other day.  We were visiting a new recreation center and he asked if he could walk to the nearby 7-Eleven with this "friends."  I gave him the you know this is going to be a long conversation look and began with a simple question.  Are you saying that because you played basketball with a boy for two hours he is now your friend?  LionHeart smiled sheepishly knowing the answer to the question: assuming someone you just met is a friend is most certainly employing faulty reasoning.

There are so many great topics in this book that will help young people become critical thinkers, such as "Red Herring, Analogy, Snob Appeal, Propoganda," and KingMan's favorite: "Generalization."  He loves to tell me, "mom you are making a generalization!"  The book is written for ages 12 an up, but we enjoyed reading it together as a family.  The Fallacy Detective is a must have to develop critical thinking skills in a fun way.