Wednesday, June 24, 2015

Review: SmartKidz Media Library

I have found that learning happens most effectively when we approach it in a multi-sensory manner, using multiple means to explore the subject matter. Often I spend so much time perusing the library's catalog, or YouTube, trying to find video clips or books that will enhance whatever we are studying, especially in the areas of History and Science. Although I enjoy 'browsing', I often find it frustrating to not find exactly what I am looking for, and wasting so much time.

When we received a one year subscription to the SmartKidz Media Library for Homeschoolers from SmartKidz Media, I was thrilled to find an entire online library of digital books, music, and videos ready for us to investigate! I was excited to see how we could incorporate it into our everyday learning. 

What is the SmartKidz Media Library? This is a complete online resource that streams video, music, and e-books. There are also fun interactive games and puzzles. All the resources are geared towards children and family friendly viewing. Many of the videos are award winning educational documentaries or animated features. 

Easily navigate the site through this menu on the home page.

A sampling of the videos available in the animal & wildlife collection

Where can it be played? SmartKidz can be viewed on any device that you currently use to stream online content, including computer, iPad, and iPhone. Basically, wherever you can log in to the account, you can watch videos. I am told that it can also be streamed to a TV using a Roku device, but we don't own that, so I wasn't able to test that out. 

What types of video programming are included? There are so many different categories of videos available that it is almost overwhelming when you first sign up! You will find child friendly videos on everything from cooking, fitness videos, history, exploring cultures, animals, science, travel, and learning sign language.

What else is available? There is a varied assortment of music available, which is pleasant to stream live from the iPad while the children are working on something else. We especially enjoyed the classical music selections. There are also e-books with plenty of classical stories, including the entire series of Aesop's Fables. Children can read along as the story is read, and watch the pages turn, bringing new illustrations to view. We didn't use the e-books much, as they seem mostly geared for younger children. The "fun zone" allows your children to play educational games and online puzzles. 

Example of an e-book

Study Guides: There is a complete section of study guides on various topics available for the student to expand their learning and vocabulary after watching the videos. As we wrapped up our Geography lessons for the year, we used the study guides on land forms to review the new terms that the girls needed to remember. 

Example of a study guide

Is there any limit to how much can be watched? There is no limit - once an account is set up, it can be accessed at any time, anywhere, as frequently as you wish. 

New Content: While I don't think even the most avid users could work their way through all the videos currently available, the site does have quite a bit of new content that is being added over the next few months, including some history videos that we are highly anticipating.

Kelly's favorite video

How did we use our Media Library? By the time we started this review, we were finishing up our formal schoolwork for the year, so I wasn't able to match videos to our current studies like I will this fall. During the summer, I always require the girls to choose at least one non-fiction book per week from the library to read, just to keep them growing and learning new things. I have used the SmartKidz Library in this way, allowing them to explore the site, and choose what topics interest them. After watching the videos, we discuss what they have learned, and they tell me at least one new thing they learned about the subject of the particular video they watched. They have also enjoyed playing the games in the fun zone, even though they are a little bit on the easy side for our ages (10 and 13). 

Our favorites: Since Melissa is interested in everything France, she has enjoyed watching the French cooking demonstrations, and even trying some of the recipes on her own. Kelly's go-to videos are always the animal ones, and she has been sharing an endless supply of facts about all different types of animals, especially sea creatures. Personally, I have enjoyed watching the travel videos that teach about different cultures. I have found them fascinating. 

Melissa loved the French cooking demonstrations. 

What do I think? With it's pay-one-price subscription, this Online Media Library is a tremendous resource for homeschoolers. I love that access is available at any time, and that it is very easy to navigate the site, with the menu bar across the top of the screen. I appreciate the color thumbprints of each video, and the short description when you hover your mouse over it. This really helps to identify the content of each video. While we haven't even scratched the surface of what's available, we also haven't found anything that I would consider offensive. There are several of the history and culture videos whose themes may be considered more 'mature', but I felt they were tastefully presented and we watch those together. (Parents of younger children may want to preview content to make sure they want their children to watch those). Through the science videos we have watched, I have not found the typical "evolution-heavy" content that usually is a given with these types of videos, and I really appreciate that. I am comfortable allowing the children to go online and access the program on their own, as I feel it is a safe environment free from the usual 'garbage' that clutters most online sites, including advertisements and inappropriate content.

Mom's favorite section - learning about other cultures

Wish List: There are only a few things that I would add to make this wonderful site an even better fit for us: I would have some type of "search" or "index" so that I could type in one or two keywords and easily find a short list of videos that contain that subject matter. I would also make a way to select videos and put them on a playlist, so that I could choose videos and assign them to various members of the family to watch. The children wouldn't mind having a "favorites" playlist, and it would be great to have some type of highlight or check mark on the videos that have already been viewed. Several times the children would get partially into a video and realize they had already watched it, so they wanted to try to mark off videos as they were watched.

SmartKidz Media Library is a well-planned resource that we will continue to enjoy regularly! I am so glad to have it as a part of our home school!

Try it for yourself! SmartKidz Media offers a free 14 day trial membership for families to check out their site to see if it's a good fit. 

Connect with SmartKidz Media online:

See what other members of The Old Schoolhouse Review Crew thought of their SmartKidz Media subscriptions:

SmartKidz Media Review

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Wordless Wednesday: Horse Love

Wordless Wednesday at Life at Rossmont

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Homeschooling High School Part One: Planning & Record Keeping

For part one of my series on Homeschooling High School, I would like to briefly discuss planning and record keeping. As your student works on finishing their junior high courses, (grades 7-8), you can begin the really fun process of thinking ahead to the high school years, and begin charting a course for them to sail.

My biggest piece of advice is to NOT stress over homeschooling your high schooler! Yes, they are getting older and will have more of a say in what their studies will be, as you guide them through, but don't let it be intimidating. As a family, once you have made the decision to stick with home schooling through the high school years, you can bravely face whatever comes, knowing that with a little help, your teen can successfully navigate high school and graduate with full honors. They can have a strong foundation to build a successful adult life on.

I would like to share a few ideas that we have implemented with our teenagers - two have graduated already, and the third is just starting her high school journey this coming fall.

First, study your child to know what makes them tick. Take notice of what their interests are, and learn what some of their goals and dreams for their future are.

Last year we reviewed a program called Victus Study Skills. While the main purpose of the program is to teach effective study skills to middle school and high school students, there is an extremely valuable piece in this program that guides the student through a self-assessment, where they determine short term and long term goals. This really helped me understand what interests my children had, which helped shape their future high school studies.

Second, call a 'meeting' with your soon to be high schooler, and interview them to see what their goals, hopes, and expectations for high school are.

Perhaps they are interested in one day opening their own business, so a year of studying business math would be beneficial. If they are interested in a health science path, then you know they will have to take four years of challenging math and science courses, and that you will be investing in all the materials to complete the corresponding lab work as well.

Third, draw up a plan, knowing that it must remain fluid and subject to change over the next few years, as your high schooler matures and their purpose becomes more focused.

I have used a basic transcript template for each of my daughters, and then fine tuned the course names according to what they planned on taking. This is helpful because it shows tangible progress through their course load, and makes it clear how much work is left until completion. It also allows the parent to save it on the computer and update grades as soon as the course is completed. (No more hunting down papers years later!)

Fourth, know your states' homeschool requirements and make sure that your plans meet them.

Perhaps your state requires a certain number of years of Math, for example, for graduation. It is your responsibility as the home school parent to make sure that all requirements for graduation are met, so that your student is not hindered down the road from graduating on time, and moving on to the next phase of their journey, whatever that might be.

Fifth - Test out those interests and give your high schooler as many experiences as you possibly can, to help them develop their talents and abilities.

Maybe your freshman has their heart set on being in medicine, but when they take some basic first aid courses, they find they can't stomach the sight of blood! This would be a great time to find that out, before they have invested time and money into pursuing higher education or a career that will not suit them. The only way they will truly find out their likes and dislikes is by experiencing them firsthand. Plan on arranging some type of travel for your student, such as a missions trip to a third world country, to not only help them appreciate their own station in life, but to open their eyes to the needs that are out there in this world, and see if something sparks their interest or talents. Let them visit and "shadow" or apprentice with someone who is currently working in their field of interest, so they can get a firsthand taste of what the job demands. This can either cultivate that interest and make the desire to work and pursue it stronger, or it will redirect their goals.

Lastly, have fun and make the most of these years!

For many families, these are the last 4 or 5 years that you will have to closely and (almost continually) spend time making memories with that child before they move on in life, going to college, working, or joining the military. High school students are a blast! They have a great sense of humor, and love to talk and hash out their thoughts with a caring parent. Be that parent and connect with your high schooler as often and as deeply as you can. Pray for them! And pray for your home school that the work you invest will pay back great dividends in years to come.

Homeschooling High School Blog Hop 2015

Visit the other blogs on the Homeschooling High School Blog Hop Tour!

Meg from Adventures with Jude on Planning Your Homeschool High School
Chareen at Every Bed of Roses with thoughts on Planning to Homeschool through the High School Years
April from ElCloud Homeschool shares Homeschooling High School: Planning For High School
Debra over at Footprints in the Butter asks: You mean I have to PLAN our Homeschool High School?!?
Michele at Family, Faith and Fridays shares Here's the Plan
Lisa at Golden Grasses says Don't Panic! Homeshcooling High School Blog Hop
Debbie at Debbie's Homeschool Corner Planning Out a High School Program
Gena over at I Choose Joy! shares her The Top Tip for Planning Homeschool High School
Kym at Homeschool Coffee Break shares on Planning and Preparing for Success
Tess from Circling Through This Life shares on Planning the High School Years
Jennifer from A Glimpse of Our Life on Planning For Homeschooling Highschool
Carol over at Home Sweet Life on Making A Plan
Wendy at Life at Rossmont shares thoughts on Planning for High School
Cristi from Through the Calm and Through the Storm shares on Making High School Plans
Dawn Oaks at Double O Farms shares Planning for the High School Years
Leah from As We Walk Along the Road shares her thoughts on Making Plans for Homeschooling Through High School
Leah from As We Walk Along the Road shares her thoughts on Making Plans for Homeschooling Through High School

Copyright 2012-2015 - "Be The One" -  All rights are reserved. No text, photos, or content may be reproduced without direct permission from the author.

Saturday, June 20, 2015

Fun Grad Party Game

We recently celebrated daughter #2's graduation from high school. Since she is homeschooled, we decided to have a fun party celebrating her accomplishments, and allowing all those who have inspired her along the way to join us. We struggled to find some party games that would be meaningful. They had to meet the graduate's requirement of not being 'cheesy' as well!

I have seen different variations of the "advice" game for life events, and decided to create one for our grad party. We handed them out to the guests and had a basket for them to place their finished creations.

After cleaning up from the party, our family sat together listening and sharing all the "advice" she received from these pieces of paper. While many were funny, there were plenty that had some really heartfelt, sincere words of wisdom from our family and friends.

At the end of the night, my daughter told me that she is so glad we gave these out to the guests - it ended up being one of her favorite parts of her party, and I know she will keep and treasure the advice that she was given.

Since it turned out so successfully, I decided to share the template here as a free printable so that others might also use it if they wish.

To download your own copy of this Grad Party Advice form, click HERE.

Copyright 2012-2015 - "Be The One" -  All rights are reserved. No text, photos, or content may be reproduced without direct permission from the author.

Thursday, June 18, 2015

Review: CTC Math

 Summer is here, and we are between grades in our homeschooling. After all the hard work we put into our studies this past year, I really don't want the girls to regress in their skills, especially math, as we take a break from formal studies for the summer. To help solve this dilemma, we recently had the privilege to review a 12 Month Family Plan from CTC Math. 

What is CTC Math? It is an online, web based math tutorial program that can be accessed from any computer or electronic device once you have an account set up. The program contains thousands of lessons, from early kindergarten through all the high school courses, such as algebra, geometry, trigonometry, and calculus. Lessons are divided by grade levels, and then further divided into 'streams' of subject matter. Once an account is set up, students have access to all grade levels and materials, so they can work and advance or review at their own pace.

How can it work for a homeschooling family? Once a plan is purchased, parents set up their student's log in accounts, and choose a grade or subject to begin working. Plans are available for single students or for a family plan, which gives separate log in accounts for up to ten students from the same family for one price!

Our Experience: I signed up Kelly for fifth grade work. Even though she just completed fourth grade, I wanted to test out the ability of this program with learning new concepts as well as reviewing old ones. She has done remarkably well with most of the fifth grade material. A typical day of work includes watching a short video presentation of a concept, then answering questions about it. There are separate sections for diagnostic testing, which we used to see if Kelly needed to study a particular section or could skip over it. There were several that she skipped over, because she demonstrated mastery on the diagnostic test.

This is a diagnostic test report for one of the sections. As you can see, the only area Kelly needed to work on was positive and negative numbers, so we skipped the other sections, and just worked on reviewing that particular concept.

Walking Through the program: 

Once they are logged in, the student's dashboard contains all the pertinent information showing what they have accomplished. It is extremely easy to navigate through the program. All scores are recorded and displayed. If the student has worked on the same concept multiple times, the average of their best three attempts is shown. This is great to eliminate the discouragement that comes when they don't do so well, and rewards their attempts at improvement.

The fifth grade material contains four "streams", each with numerous lesson sections in them. Students can pick and choose and lessons do not need to be done in any particular order. 

Lessons are colorfully illustrated and easy to follow. Most of the videos we have encountered this far have been under five minutes long, which makes it very easy to log in and work through one or several small lessons each day. As a math tutorial, it is easy to insert this into our life, and allow Kelly to review for about fifteen minutes a day.

Question pages at the end of the video demonstration are also simple to navigate, and easy to answer. In this illustration, Kelly needed to enter the answers into the blanks, submit them, and received immediate feedback.

There is also a speed skills section which helps the student practice basic math skills such as addition, subtraction, multiplication, and division in a fun way. During the school year we do math speed drills daily, so this was a big help to be able to keep Kelly continuing on sharpening her skills.

On the website, there is easy access to all the student's progress, allowing the parent to see which sections were attempted on which days, how many attempts were made, and what the grades were.

 There is also a very comprehensive weekly report that is emailed to the parent, that tracks exactly how much time was spent completing each activity.

The best part?? CTC Math is very generous with reward certificates, which are a great motivator for the students to keep striving for better grades and completion of lessons.

Here is a certificate that Kelly earned:

There are printable worksheets available for the upper level courses, but we did not use them since we didn't need them with the level of work that Kelly has been doing.

My overall opinion: I have really enjoyed using CTC Math! I think it is an extremely thorough program that is very user friendly, and also very home school friendly, since multiple students from one family can all use it for one subscription price. Some of the concepts have been reviewed or taught just a little differently than Kelly has learned them, but they are explained and illustrated so simply that she had no trouble at all following the lesson and answering the questions correctly. I am so happy to have this program to use to help Kelly review her math and stay sharp and focused in preparation for fifth grade this fall! I will continue to use this program to help her review concepts even during the school year, because she enjoys CTC Math so much.

CTC Math offers a FREE TRIAL to check out their program.

Connect with CTC Math on Facebook

100 members of the Old Schoolhouse Review Crew have been using CTC Math - read their reviews by clicking the banner below:

CTCmath Review

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Wednesday, June 17, 2015

Review: Dynamic Literacy

Vocabulary learning is such an important part of schooling. It helps in reading, understanding, deciphering, logic, common sense, and improves overall communication. I have always placed a strong emphasis on learning roots, prefixes, and suffixes throughout all our years of homeschooling, integrating these concepts into all age and ability levels. As they grow older, they have begun to appreciate the value of knowing these facts, as it helps them through the heavy reading material of high school and college.

One downside of learning roots, prefixes, and suffixes is the inability to sometimes see how it all fits together into words. Mostly, my girls found themselves memorizing lists of words so similar that they were easily confused. That's where a program like WordBuildOnline from Dynamic Literacy came to our rescue!

In our home, we have had the privilege to review this web based program for the past six weeks. There are four different levels available. For the purpose of this review, I would like to discuss two of them: Foundations Level 1 and Elements Level 1.

About Dynamic Literacy: This is a program designed specifically for homeschoolers, to increase their vocabulary through exponential learning. I was fascinated by the profound way that exponential learning was explained on the company's website. It just makes so much sense that if a student learns their roots, prefixes, and suffixes as 'building blocks' that they then will be able to go on and decode many bigger words that are made up of these smaller parts.

Short and Sweet: The WordBuildOnline program is based on the premise that a small amount of daily review is the most effective way to retain this material. The activities are timed, but not for the purpose of stressing the student to 'beat the clock before time runs out' but rather to give the student a gauge and ending point for their studies. The timer (and activities for the current unit) is set to turn off after the student has engaged in 15 minutes worth of study. If they have not finished, it will be saved for them to start right back up the next day where they left off. This was probably the BEST reason that my girls gave for enjoying this program. They knew they could work hard for a short time, and then be done! What they may not have realized is how much learning power was packed into the 10-15 minutes per day that they used this program. If the student is able to finish in less time than 15 minutes, then they can either continue with more activities or be done for the day.

Parent friendly: The sign-in and log-on process is quite simple for this program. The parent sets up their student accounts at the parent dashboard, and each student is given a unique user name and log in. The program automatically adjusts as the students work - if they are flying through the material it will make it more difficult, but if they are struggling it will slow the pace. At the end of each activity, the parent receives an email stating what the student completed and how much time was spent. It is very easy for the parent to see exactly where the student is at in their progress. The parent dashboard also contains a complete progress report for each and every time the program was used.

The program offers a rating scale that allows the parent to understand how much the student is comprehending, and how well they are mastering the material. If a student struggles and does not reach mastery, the program will repeat the activity and unit until they do.

From the Start: The student signs in to see an animated dog that guides them through the process of starting the program. There are several helpful videos on the website, that demonstrate how to use the program and why learning roots, prefixes, and suffixes is so important.

How we used the program:  Kelly is working through Foundations Level 1, which includes 25 units of foundational roots, prefixes, and suffixes. Each unit contains 5 activities. These activities can be used one a day, taking an entire school week for each unit, or they can be moved through more quickly as the student is able. The program will not advance the student if they are not ready to move on. Since "Foundations" is most appropriate for grades 2-4, Kelly was able to move through it extremely quickly. She is over halfway through the program, working on it about 3 days per week. Many of the roots are simple ones that she has already learned. Even though she was already familiar with much of the material, she really enjoyed using this program and seeing how words were "built" and fit together. She was also fascinated over how many words could be made from just a few small roots, prefixes, and suffixes. I noticed her starting to decipher more difficult words as she was reading books, simply from understanding the process of how words are built. Kelly just completed fourth grade and was able to complete most of the activities in under two minutes. This meant that her fifteen minute time limit was spent on an entire unit rather than on just one activity, which seemed to suit her well. Despite flying through the program, she retained most of the information.

An example of an activity page

Melissa has been using Elements Level 1, which is designed for students who have completed both levels of "Foundations" or are in sixth grade or older. Melissa just completed eighth grade, and had no trouble at all with this program. If a student is older and has not completed "Foundations" there is no need for worry because a thorough review is built into the beginning of "Elements", with activities that the student must complete before starting the new concepts. Melissa actually found the review to be rather boring, but she has had a good amount of training in roots, prefixes, and suffixes, so that was to be expected. There is no way to bypass the review as far as I could tell. Elements works on the same concept - completing five activities per unit in under 15 minutes per day. It also self-adjusts according to the student's performance level.

Scoring: The girls liked the concept of the Scoreboard on the bottom, but found that sometimes it didn't match up with what they actually completed, which left them slightly frustrated. After completing all five activities quickly, they wanted to see all five rewards marked on the scoreboard, and often they were not. Not sure if it was a glitch in the program or something we were doing wrong.

My overall comments: I think this program is a handy and fun way to build vocabulary lessons into a student's daily routine. I love the concept of a time limit, eliminating the potential drudgery of rote learning. The other concept I appreciate about this program is that it clearly shows how the new words are used in a sentence. The activities approach the same set of words five different ways, so the student is seeing the words repeatedly in various situations. This approach helps cement the words down in their brains, and allows them to know HOW to use the word, not just what it might mean. 

I have enjoyed using this program, and recommend it as a quick and easy way for a parent to add more vocabulary learning to their child's Language Arts studies!

Connect with Dynamic Literacy on social media:

Discount Alert! This program is currently available for $30 per student, which includes a free parent/teacher account to manage the student's progress. The company is offering a generous discount for readers of my blog. Use the code aclassofone for 10% off the online program, or 25% off the books. 

Other members of The Old Schoolhouse Review Crew reviewed not only WordBuildOnline, but also the textbook versions of these same programs. Check out their reviews and these other related products by clicking the banner below:

Dynamic Literacy Review

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Wordless Wednesday: Home School Graduation

Wordless Wednesday at Life at Rossmont

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Friday, June 12, 2015

Nature Scavenger Hunt

After recently receiving the Field Trip Journal from Apologia to review, we decided to make a fun nature scavenger hunt for the girls.  Our goal was to take some time at a local park and really delve into observing and absorbing nature, then journal about it in our new book.

I looked up some different ideas for outdoor scavenger hunts, and combined them into one list. After adding a few cute graphics, I printed out the list, two to a page, and stapled them to brown paper bags so that the 'scavenger hunters' would have a place to store their treasures as they found them.

It was a gorgeous day and we enjoyed investigating nature and basking in God's creation.

Because the girls had so much fun with this, I wanted to share and offer the hunt list in a free pdf file that you can download and use. The bags really made it easy to gather interesting items and share them at the end of our hunt.

FREE download and print your own Scavenger Hunt Pages.

Copyright 2012-2015 - "Be The One" -  All rights are reserved. No text, photos, or content may be reproduced without direct permission from the author.

Thursday, June 11, 2015

Review: Field Trip Journal

One of the best perks of homeschooling is the ability to be flexible and take field trips at any time of the school year, fitting them around the subjects we are studying. Apologia Educational Ministries has produced an amazing Exploring Creation Field Trip Journal to help home school families absorb the most learning that they can out of their field trips, and we were privileged to receive a copy of this new book for our family to review.

If you are familiar with Apologia, you already know that one of the biggest components of their curriculum is the hands-on aspect of the student observing and recording their own thoughts and observations of the subject matter they are studying. This Field Trip Journal allows families to plan and organize activities into a fun learning experience.

About the Journal: This 64 page book is spiral bound with a thick front and back cover. The pages are a heavier weight to make them sturdy, making the journal ideal for carrying "out on the road" and filling out on site at the destination. The journal has four sections:
  1. "Places I've Explored" has pages for past trips where the student can record destinations around their town, state, country, and even the world. 
  2. "Field Trip Pages" create a plan for each specific short trip. There are spots to discuss and record an emergency plan, books to read in preparation of the trip, and sites the student wishes to see. As they are on the trip, they can record specific details, draw a map, or draw some other special observation or memory. The second page has room for them to journal the "story of their day" as well as a spot to record a special memory of "Something not to forget". 
  3. "My Special Spot" allows the student to choose a location that is special and unique to them, and record how that spot looks and changes over the course of a year, detailing seasonal changes.
  4. "As I See It" gives plenty of space for drawing and writing about our world, including plenty of suggestions for things to observe in nature, such as shadows, patterns, colors, predators, prey, sky, earth, and life cycles. 
A few extras: There are plenty of instructions and suggestions for parents to make this journal an effective learning tool. There are lists full of unique activity suggestions - many that I never considered as 'field trip' learning experiences! There is also a code included that unlocks a whole page of online resources for expanding the use of the journal.

What I like about this: I love the creativity of this journal. It is set up like a fancy scrapbook for kids to really personalize with their own memories of their daily activities. It helped me to see the learning opportunities in everyday, mundane tasks. Something as simple as having a 'Nature Scavenger Hunt' in the backyard can be turned into a fun and educational memory that I share with my children. I think it really is helping me to not just "do field trips" but to really have a purpose and plan for those trips.

How we used this journal: While we have not done any major field trips yet (although we do have zoo tickets ready to use soon!) I used this journal to help the children observe and record some everyday activities that we did together as a family. Writing things down and taking pictures to go with them made those everyday activities more purposeful for learning. We wrote in the journal about going to the barn and taking care of Grandma's ponies, and we also had a 'Nature Scavenger Hunt', which turned out to be a lot of fun. The girls really enjoyed these experiences, and we look forward to making more memories and recording them in our journal!

Connect with Apologia on social media:

If you would like to read how other home school families used their journals, click the banner below:

Exploring Creation Field Trip Journal Review
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