[DVD Review – Documentary] No Kidding, Me 2!

Welcome back!

Honestly, I’m not someone who watches many documentaries. Though I admire the use of television and movies to educate, I typically look to those media as ways to escape for a while. That said, occasionally a documentary will slip through and catch me completely off guard.

In my own life, I’ve seen glimpses of what alcohol and drugs can do to a person. And more recently, I’ve caught glimpses of what bipolar disorder can do to a family. And though you can find help for people with these diseases and addictions, they have to somehow acknowledge and accept the help or it doesn’t really help. You can see this again and again in the entertainment industry with folks going in and out of rehab like it has a revolving door.

So learning that an accomplished actor like Joe Pantoliano has been fighting his own battle with mental illness and is doing everything he can to help others likewise afflicted is not only motivating, but a sign of hope in a time when most of us are concerned about things beyond our control like the economy that others are focused on making a real difference in people’s lives.

Pantoliano started a foundation – NKM2 (No Kidding, Me 2!) – to fight the stigma of mental illness and raise awareness across the board. Largely focused on education, NKM2 is really trying to open the eyes of the general populace and get them to understand how mental diseases affect individuals and their families to hopefully break down the barriers between so-called “normal” people and folks with “issues”… Since according to the NIH one in every four people has some sort of mental illness – there is no “us” vs. “them” mentality – we are all affected.

The No Kidding, Me 2! documentary clearly expresses Pantoliano’s own road from being a victim of mental disease to having it under control with the help of medical professionals, friends, and family, but it goes beyond that and shares the stories of several others on their own roads to recovery. People from all walks of life – a surgeon, a psychologist, a war veteran, and three high school students – share their stories of where they were and where they were as of the filming of the documentary. These are heartbreaking stories but also hopeful ones and that’s the key I think. Not only must we figure out what we can do to get this type of disease into the limelight but we must listen to the people who deal with it every day to better understand what we can do to help them, and therefore ourselves, not only cope with it but improve their quality of life.

The lesson to take away from NKM2 is that we must listen because the lives that we help may be our own. Pantoliano and NKM2 have done an amazing job so far, but they need your help. May is National Mental Health Awareness Month. A portion of the DVD sales will go to the NKM2 foundation, but they can always use more help. Let’s do what we can. It’s an eye-opening documentary that everyone should see. Check out the NKM2.org website for more information.

This article originally appeared at Blogcritics.org here.

–Fitz

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Movie Review: LeapFrog Math Adventure to the Moon

Hi there!

Back in May, I had a chance to review LeapFrog Letter Factory with my youngest daughter who will be starting kindergarten in the Fall. We enjoyed exploring the alphabet with Tad on his musical journey. And we were on the lookout for more fun educational videos to help give her a head start and the LeapFrog brand has always provided.

Now we have seen the LeapFrog Math Adventure to the Moon, which focuses on counting, sorting, patterns, and simple addition. This time we have Tad and Lilly learning about counting for a school project. They have to come up with a collection of ten things, but they are having a hard time counting that high or figuring out what to collect.

For the next 30 minutes, the viewer, Tad, and Lilly are led on a long trip by their good friend Edison, the firefly. Edison has a few tricks up his sleeve to help the kids learn how to count by 1s, 2s, 5s, 10s, and so on as well as other math-related skills. Where does Edison take the pair? To the moon of course! What would be more cool than to show a collection of ten moon rocks in class?

The LeapFrog team has once again put together a great lesson integrating fun songs, activities, and comic elements as well as a bit of suspense. The suspense part surprised me a bit, as it seemed a bit dark and destructive for a kindergarten-age audience. In this case, it was a space storm threatening to either suck everything in or blow everything away. Everything worked out alright in the end and the trio managed to save the day for some space aliens along the way.

I was impressed with the seamless integration of patterns into the story. The characters had to unlock the launch code to take off in their spaceship. And to do that they needed to figure out the pattern of shapes and colors and enter the right pattern to start the ship. It was a great way to introduce the pattern concept while also introducing the idea of a password or “launch code” to start something up.

My only complaint with this adventure was that it seemed too short. That however may have been because we were enjoying ourselves and didn’t want it to end. At 36 minutes long, it’s about the same length as LeapFrog Letter Factory so I shouldn’t have been surprised.

In addition to the main adventure, the DVD includes a few special features including a Sorting Game you can play with the DVD remote, a few sing-along songs, and the Alphabet Song from Let’s Go to School (another LeapFrog adventure).

If you’re looking for a good math-based educational adventure for your kindergarten-aged youngsters, LeapFrog Math Adventure to the Moon should be a great fit. I know we’re looking forward to finding other LeapFrog adventures to enjoy!

–Fitz

p.s. Click below to find this and other LeapFrog adventures at Amazon!

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Book Review: The Girls Know How Series: Smart Alex by Ellen Langas Campbell

Hi there…

When you were in elementary or middle school, did you ever feel like you didn’t fit in or couldn’t get interested in some of your school subjects? Alex seems to feel that way. Smart Alex is about Alex Martinez, a smart, sassy 7th grader flirting with trouble and spending far too much time in detention after school. She sits with the table of misfits in the lunch room – the only group she really identifies with. And over the course of the book, she begins to see her own potential and gain some confidence in her abilities.

Though I’m definitely not the target audience for The Girls Know How Series, I wanted to check it out for my eldest daughter who just turned 9. The goal of the series is to help girls see some of the career choices they may not normally consider – journalism, construction, or education are covered as the first three books of the series. It also aims to help readers see the benefits of working together, helping their communities, and applying what they learn in school to different areas of their lives.

Alex’ journey from a loner with low self-confidence and little direction doesn’t happen all at once in Smart Alex. She goes through stages, first discovering her talent for math and joining the MATHCOUNTS team. MATHCOUNTS is a program where a team of four students from one school competes against a team from a different school. During the competition, both teams are given a math problem. The first to buzz in and provide the correct answer gets the points. The team with the most points wins.

Once she joins the team and sees her potential, she tries to answer every question herself – never stopping to ask her team for input. Unfortunately she doesn’t get every answer correct, which causes her team to lose a few competitions. Over time she begins to see that teamwork has its advantages and that her teammates may have the right answer even if she doesn’t.

She also is asked to help a younger student, Ronna, with some math tutoring. Alex initially can’t find a way to help Ronna see the benefits of math, but she begins to see ways to approach the problem through Ronna’s love of baseball. Multiplication, fractions, percentages – all are used in computing batting averages and other important player statistics. And by showing Ronna how the math she used for baseball applied to other areas, she began to see the light.

What I really appreciated about the story was that it never stooped to preaching right and wrong to the kids. Through examples most students will encounter during their academic careers and social issues common to growing up, the lessons learned are much more organic.

My daughter read the book and said she really liked it. “It makes kids think they can do anything they set their mind to,” she said. And I agree. Through the application of effort, a little creativity, and the ability to learn, no task is impossible.

If you’re looking for a good series of books with solid lessons for ages 8 to 12, I would highly recommend you look for The Girls Know How Series. The three books in the series so far are Will Stephanie get the story?, Raising the Roof, and Smart Alex. Be sure to look for them at your favorite bookstore or library. Check out the website girlsknowhow.com for more information.

–Fitz

p.s. Look for these books at Amazon!

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