Box of IDEAS Pearl Harbor
Unit studies are popular with homeschoolers for a variety of reasons: hands-on activities, cross-curriculum work, in-depth study on a topic of interest, and hopefully, something *fun* that helps to make the material memorable.
We’ve been working our way through a new product, the Pearl Harbor unit study from Box of IDEAS. Box of IDEAS describes itself as “a company dedicated to creating delightful interactive learning modules centered around random subject areas”. IDEAS stands for Ideally Dynamic Enrichment Activities, or in simpler language, “perfect hands-on educational games.”
Box of IDEAS Pearl Harbor is recommended by the publisher for students ages 9-16. I would agree, with the caveat that to take full advantage of the study, and really enjoy it – even almost all of the games – students need to be fluent readers. At bare minimum, younger students or non-fluent readers would need to have a great deal of help with some of the activities.
There are ten “modules” – or units – in Box of IDEAS Pearl Harbor. In most Box of Ideas studies, it doesn’t matter which order the modules are done in, but because this one is focused on a historical event, it really needs to be done in chronological order to get the most out of it. The modules are named by their time in relation to December 7, 1941 – which I thought was a neat idea at first – and then I kept getting so confused by it, I gave up and numbered them all in order!
There are two different formats available: print and downloadable PDF. We received the PDF version for review. While the print materials are completely ready-to-use when they arrive, there is quite a bit of prep work necessary for the PDF. Copy paper, card stock, and a generous supply of both black and color printer ink are also needed.
Though printing everything out seems like it’s going to be a huge chore, it wasn’t nearly as difficult as I expected it to be. Each module is in a separate PDF, which might seem complicated at first, but I found that it made it easier to find my place when I’d gotten called away to do something else while in the middle of printing.
The first page of each module includes a related quote and color picture, a list of contents, printing and cutting instructions, and a reminder that “If all the printing, cutting and assembling is not your idea of fun, you can order our complete, ready to use WWII Pearl Harbor Box of Ideas and we will ship it to your door.”
I did wonder, though, just how much paper and ink we were using – and added it all up.
|reg||card||b & w||color|
The “reg” and “card” lines are regular and cardstock paper; b&w and color are pages printed in ink. “Must print” is required pages, optional is pages that may be printed or read on the screen, student pages you will need one set per student.
Printing isn’t all that bad; cutting, on the other hand, is a pain, and it didn’t need to be. The biggest problem with cutting is not the cutting itself. It’s that only the interior lines were drawn, leading to cards that are all different shapes and sizes, and are pure torture to even out. (I’ll think I’ve finally got them all – and we’ll be in the middle of a game, and find a few more. Grr.)
Having made quite a few of our own card games, I know this is a simple thing for a designer to fix – you don’t assume that the edge of the paper is going to be what it is on the screen, you draw the entire outline of the card as a cutting box. And then you print it out and cut it out and try it out yourself to make sure it works.
That’s my only rant against the actual design work; I have to say, this is probably the most visually appealing unit study I’ve seen. I have no regrets about printing out everything on cardstock or using color ink. There is one module where the images leave a lot to be desired – we really struggled to figure out what any of the pictures were, and finally gave up. I realize that their hands are tied, because they’re using actual images from the time period, but in this case, it might have been better to choose a different activity rather than use photos that just don’t match up to the quality of the rest of the imagery.
It’s unusual for a unit study covering a historical war event to give even token notice to what the place was like before the event that brought it into primary focus. For many of us, the only association that we make with Pearl Harbor whatsoever is with the attack on December 7, 1941 – so it was quite interesting for me, as an adult, to have that change in my perception. I live in an area that had a large Japanese immigrant and Japanese-American population at the time of the bombing of Pearl Harbor. As a result, I know more about local response to the events in Pearl Harbor than I do about Pearl Harbor itself.
Each of the ten modules has five different parts in addition to the instruction sheet: a short lesson, a list of extension activities, a list of web links, a portfolio piece, and an activity. The short lesson is approximately half a page, single spaced, and may give enough information to complete the portfolio worksheet. The three extension activities vary, but include field trips ideas, research suggestions, interview possibilities, and by including many of these, it would go a long way to round out the course into a full semester’s worth of history credit. The three web links are sometimes needed to research the information necessary to complete the portfolio piece.
Those first four parts, though, feel almost as though they’re there just to give a token nod to rounding out Box of IDEAS. It’s easy to see that they feel the true heart of the curriculum is in the activities, because that’s where they lavish almost all of their time and color.
There were two activities that we absolutely loved: Module 1’s 3-card memory and Module 4’s timeline game.
The 3-card memory is a fantastic idea. We’ve all played memory as a young child, the game where all the cards are face down, and we take turns, looking for the pairs that match, right? And then we lose interest, because for the most part, it’s gotten too simple and easy, and there are more complicated games to play. This memory game is different. The cards are not in pairs, but sets of three, and instead of all the cards directly matching, the cards are of an endangered animal, the product derived from it that made it endangered, and the location in the world where it lived. (Small icons on the cards all showed the endangered animal, to aid in matching the cards.) And the rules were the same as the traditional memory game, but with three cards, rather than two. This was an absolute hit – and quite a challenge – and we’re ruminating over our own adaptations, because we’ve found it’s quite an effective learning tool.
The timeline game is the other one that we really loved. I’ve never encountered a game that would actually get dates to stick in my head and attach them to events, and this, by golly, actually makes it happen. And it’s fun, on top of it! There are forty cards. On the top half of the card, there is an image of grey clouds, and a date and a time. On the bottom half of the card, there is a description of an event. At the start of the game, each person is dealt three cards; these are their starting timeline. On their turn, the person to their left reads them just the event on the card, omitting the date and time. They decide where on their timeline the event should be placed. If they are correct, they get to keep the card, and they place it in their timeline. If they are wrong, the timeline goes back into the bottom of the pile. The game is over when someone gets ten cards in their timeline. The replay value is high, because with forty cards, it’s going to take a while before everyone has the cards memorized – and though players are learning events and dates/times, no knowledge is necessary beforehand.
Unfortunately, many of the other activities had directions that were not complete, didn’t make sense, or didn’t work well when you actually played the game. It led to a lot of frustration on our part. There were several of the games that we’d be skeptical, but start playing it by the given rules anyway, to get halfway through the game, and realize that yes, we were right, there was no way that was going to work out into anything that made sense. So we’d adjust it into something playable and try it again.
To be specific, the yachtzee-like game (played with cards instead of dice) called “Power in the Pacific” about the different branches of the military was a particular nightmare. If you’ve played yachtzee, you’re familiar with the rules of scoring. On the top portion of the scoresheet, a certain number of points is scored of the assigned numbers on the die. On the equivalent space on this scoresheet, it lists “one of a kind = 1 point” on up through “five of a kind = 5 points.” Then on the lower portion of the scoresheet, it lists “three of a kind = 9 points”, “four of a kind = 12 points”, “full house = 25 points”, “small straight = 30 points”, “large straight = 40 points”, and “Super Power of the Pacific = 50 points. (which can be made of five cards of one type, or four cards of one type plus a wild card.”
Now, I have no quibble whatsoever with the full house, small straight, and large straight. Those make sense. But to have Super Power – which is 5 cards that are the same, or 4 and a wild – be 50 points, while 5 of a kind, up there at the top, is only 5 points, and is exactly the same thing… um, we’ve got issues. Add in the 4 of a kind and 3 of a kind… and our issues have subscriptions and they’re settling in for the long haul.
We ended up assigning those 5 top ones to cards, and then leaving the scoring alone. It wasn’t entirely satisfactory, but at least it was somewhat playable.
Oh, and one more thing? In the game’s original directions, there is no equivalent of rolling the dice – you were stuck with the hand you were dealt. We promptly threw that rule out, and played it as we would yachtzee, with two “rolls” of turning in as many cards as desired and drawing more. (And this resulted in my 16-yr-old renaming it Super Power Poker Yachtzee.)
Of the seven other activities, most did not need this level of adjustment – but all needed some. I’ve given this because it was the most extreme example. As we played through the games, I really began to feel like we were playtesting them, not reviewing them. Some of the games seemed as though no one had actually played them through to completion before. One, Shipbuilding, where the goal is to draw cards, and put together ships, seems relatively simple and foolproof, until you reach the end of the game. The rules state to continue until all the cards are gone, and that whoever has the most complete ships is the winner – but what are you to do when you reach the end of the game, and no one has any ships completed, there are no cards left, and there are no rules to cover trading any more cards? For us, it was a reaction of “ok, that was silly – yes, that one needs its rules fixed, too,” and we move on to the next module. That was module 7, and we were getting tired of fixing rules by that point.
Box of IDEAS is $49 for the PDF edition, $79 for the print edition, and $4 for additional print student modules. Value-wise, I’m going to have to say no to recommending Box of IDEAS at this time. The print version is priced too high, and the PDF version is ridiculously high in comparison to comparable unit studies, even if there weren’t any problems with the activities. Add that many of the activities are simply not usable with the current set of instructions, and I’d have to say pass until it’s been updated significantly and the price has be adjusted to something realistic. (Price for PDF, plus paper and ink could easily pass $65-70, depending on your printer. We went through most of a set of ink cartridges. Thankfully, I refill my own.)
To see other reviews, check out the Box of I.D.E.A.S. post at the Schoolhouse Review Crew. Some crew members reviewed Pearl Harbor like we did; others reviewed a title called, oddly enough, “Salt“. Box of IDEAS usually centers their unit studies around random themes: other titles currently available are Quilting, Laundry, and Eleven. I really like the random theme idea – it appeals to me, and if they weren’t priced so high – and if I had assurance that the quality level had improved, I’d be tempted to check them out.
In summary – the stuff that was good, was really, really good, but the stuff that was bad, was horrid.
**Disclaimer – As part of the Schoolhouse Review Crew, our family received the PDF download version of Box of Ideas World War Two (Pearl Harbor) so that we could provide you with an honest review of it by our family.**