Sunday, January 31, 2010

Review: describes itself as online math practice software.  The material covers grade 2 through Algebra 1 courses.  One nice feature about Mathscore is that students aren't locked in to a particular grade even though you designate one when setting up the account.    The topics list on the left will show lessons for one grade but you may click the arrows to go to lower or higher grades or see the more than 200 all topics at once.  

 I decided to tackle Mathscore myself since I had already exposed my Schnickelfritz to so many new math products this month.   The first lessons are "copy cats,"  designed to help students in keyboard mastery.  I found that more than just 10-key pad skills are necessary.  In some cases I needed to use the mouse to click on the right answer or click on a drop down box to reveal the choices.  I also had to know how to add the dollar sign ($) to questions involving money or my answer would be counted wrong. 

The student introduction recommends working on both the Copy Cat Preparation and Copy Cat topics until scoring a 100 rating before proceeding.  I found the next suggestion odd:  Mathscore recommends working on Fast Multiplication first, then Fast Division and THEN going back to do Fast Addition and Fast Subtraction.  I don't know if suggestion is just for older students who need to review their basics or it they are suggesting younger students be exposed to the subject in this order as well.

 When you first click on a topic  a new page will appear ranking its importance and difficulty, the number of possible points, and a brief topic description.  There's also a Milestone Chart showing the complexity, number of problems and time limits at each worksheet level.  Mathscore does not rely on colorful cartoons or "learn through play" techniques.  It presents math problems plainly and simply. The mini lesson tab may use visuals to help explain an idea, but even those are minimalist in nature.   There is also a tab for sample problems that may be printed out for practice work before starting the worksheets.

When it came to the worksheets, I found it difficult to get the problems done on the screen.  If you think about it, with the exception of division we are taught to solve problems by starting with the units and working to the left.  When typing an answer into the computer we are forced to type from left to right.  I was having to write the problem down on paper and solve it completely and then return to the computer screen to type my answer.  With larger problems this was difficult to do in the time allowed (parents can increase the time limits for worksheets).

At the end of the day I received an activity summary via email.  It let me know all the topics my student (really me) had worked on,  the number of worksheets completed, the overall accuracy and the time to complete the worksheets.  There was also a topic called "engaged time."  I'm assuming it would show me if my student were loafing at the computer. 

You can try for yourself with the free two week demo.   If you decide it will work for your family subscriptions runs $14.95/month  for the first child, $5.00/month for a second child, and $3.95/month for each additional child.

You can see what my fellow crewmates thought of by clicking here.

 Disclaimer: I received a free two week trial subscription to for the purposes of completing this review.  I received no other compensation.

Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Owl Calls

This evening while walking our dog, Fritz and I heard our first owl call.  Okay, we've probably heard it before but this was the first time we could identify it thanks to our training at the Missouri Dept of Coservation.   It was the "Who cooks for you, who cooks for you-all" sound of a barred owl--and my Schnickelfritz identified it.   I've been very pleased lately as I've seen Fritz able to recall and use some of the information we've covered in school.  

Review: Factsfirst (Saxon Math)

Mathematics can be used to accomplish some pretty amazing things.  I still sit in awe during that scene of Apollo 13 where they have to figure out the math to transfer the navigation system to the LEM -- and doing it all with pencils and slide rulers!!   As complicated as math can be, it is all based and begins with simple facts like 1 + 1 = 2.  We need to make sure our students have these down cold before moving on to greater things.   Factsfirst is an online math program that helps students with the necessary drilling of these math facts, but in a way that keeps it fun (so that they won't hate math going forward).

The lessons for all four areas of study (addition, subtraction, multiplication, and division) are available in English or Spanish.  On your first visit to each subject  you build a cartoon character of yourself and take a brief typing speed test.  (Once your character is built it will  appear as the base character and you can just save it rather than start from scratch).  

You will then be taken to the menu for that math function.  All the lessons for that function will appear and you can take the lessons in any order.   When you take the quizzes at the end of the lesson, be warned that they are cumulative and will ask questions based on all prior lessons whether you've done them or not.

Your cartoon appears in a scenario that will be used throughout the lesson --for example Fritz's character was supposed to sell tickets to a play for $5 each when we covered the X 5 facts.  With the exception of facts involving zero, only two facts are covered per lesson (e.g. 1 + 2, 2 + 3).  After the new facts are presented, there is an opportunity to practice the facts before taking the quiz.  There is audio for the facts presentation and the practice but not the quiz.  Mastery is determined not only by getting the right answer but typing it quickly so make sure your students know how to use the 10 key pad well.  I found the cartoon environment distracting even though there was no movement, just the changing of the math problems.  Fritz didn't seem to mind it.

After the quiz, Factsfirst provides the student with a visual progress chart. 


This chart is similar to the one used in our normal math curriculum.   Again, a student may have all the right answers but if their keyboarding skills aren't up to speed it might not appear as though the facts have been mastered.  It is possible for a parent to change the timing required to show mastery.  It may take more than one run through a lesson before a math fact is coded green.  I set myself up as a student and ran through a lesson as quickly as possible but the progress chart still showed the facts as striped for "Not Sure Yet."

The carrot pulling the students through the lessons is the opportunity to play in the arcade for five minutes after each lesson.  The student my work on their cartoon character or play one of four games.  Fritz's favorite (the only game we played in fact ) was Shutter Bug--a spot the differences between two pictures game.  In between rounds he had to answer three math facts from his lessons.  

A one-year subscription to Facts Firsts costs $49.99.  You'll be able to set up and track the progress of up to four students.   I'd recommend Factsfirst if you have a student just learning math facts, or an older student who struggles with higher math concepts because he doesn't have these basics down pat.

You can read what my fellow crewmates thought about Factsfirst by clicking here.

Disclaimer: I received a free trial subscription to Factsfirst for the purposes of completing this review.  I received no other compensation.

Math Overload

Someone neglected to tell me that January has been designated "Math Month."  At least that's how it feels.  By my count we have five math products to review right now for the Homeschool Crew.  At least it's Fritz's favorite subject but I'm a little concerned about jumping from product to product.  We're waaayyy ahead of schedule in our Math-U-See Beta book so I'm giving it a rest for the month.   I do recognize the importance of giving kids a strong foundation in math.  My mother has started volunteering at her church's school.  She tutors 3rd and 4th graders in math and reading.  She swears that she must have had the measles or something and been out of school when they covers 7's, 8's and 9's in the times tables.  To show the students how important it is, she's committed to learning them right along with the students.  

Monday, January 25, 2010

Why I Love Homeschooling #3

We are not tied down to a school or a school schedule.  Last Thursday we took a long anticipated trip to see grandparents in Indianapolis.  We could leave on Thursday rather than waiting for the weekend.  We practiced math by subtracting mile markers from our exit numbers to see how much farther we had to go.   Friday Fritz had "school" at the Indianapolis Childrens Museum with his PaPa.   That evening he showed off his reading skills snuggled next to Grandma (and read more at one time than I can coax him to read during "class").    

On Saturday he got to travel on the local hospital's monorail system.  As a bonus, he got to watch it being repaired for nearly twenty minutes when they got stuck.  Now how many people would have found that a major inconvenience rather than a learning experience?   

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

What about .... (you know the rest)

...Socialization?   The question every homeschooling parent expects -- and I expect in spades because my homeschool has only one student.   I can't help but laugh and wonder if the questioner thinks I have Schnickelfritz locked in a box in the basement and when I release him at 18 he will be babbling his own made up language like that movie Nell.   It's become such a talking-point word in the homeschool debate, but I've never actually taken the time to learn its true definition.

I first consulted my Webster's 1828 dictionary--no luck.  Of course, when this dictionary was compiled, public schools weren't the norm either.  I had to turn to a more modern source for my definition.  Here's what has to say: The process whereby a child learns to get along with and to behave similarly to other people in the group, largely through imitation as well as group pressure.

I can certainly handle teaching Fritz how to get along with others here at home.  He knows how to say "please" and "Thank you" and other manners.  He is perfectly comfortable introducing himself to strangers.  He knows how to ask pertinent questions to experts we meet on field trips.  Years ago he developed the habit of holding the door open for others without being asked.  Most importantly, he knows how to see and accept everyone as individuals rather than classifying them as jocks, geeks, potheads, etc. and treating them as stereotypes. He  plays with several disabled children displaying both acceptance and patience. 

Secondly,  I'm not sure I want Fritz to behave similarly to others in the group unless I have a say in who the other group members are.  In a public school setting, the only given is that the kids will be the same age and from the same district.  There are three boys on our street that would be classmates of Fritz if he attended public school.  One is a compulsive liar--whatever you can do or whatever you have he can do it faster and better and he has three of them at home, all better than yours.  Another boy came over to play and snuck down to our chalkboard to draw a picture of himself urinating complete with a crude (and misspelled) caption.  I don't want Fritz to pick up the lying habit or the insecurities that are the root of the problem.  I certainly don't want him to seek attention with shock value or bad behavior.

Finally comes group or peer pressure.  I don't think even parents of public school students want their kids to bow to this.  "If all your friends jumped off a cliff would you do it too ?"   Was there a need for "Just Say No" and "Talk with you kids about ...fill in the blank" public awareness campaigns before children began spending more time with their classmates than their families?  I want to raise a man who can think for himself, even if it means choosing the least popular answer.  "Enter by the narrow gate; for the gate is wide, and the way is broad that leads to destruction, and many are those you enter it. For the gate is small, and the way is narrow that leads to life, and few are those who find it." Matt 7:13-14

I go out of my way to make sure Fritz has a chance to interact with other kids -- homeschool co-ops, Royal Rangers, Upwards Basketball, Sunday school.  In each case, I am making sure the group he socializes with has a Christian worldview.  He is free to imitate the godly behavior he sees and the peer pressure should be the positive kind. 


Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Review: Keyboarding for the Christian School

It's funny how certain activities can trigger memories.  As I sat down with Keyboarding for Christian School  I was drawn back to seventh grade and a room full of students clacking away on typewriters--the old kind where you had to slap a metal bar for the return carriage.  We might as well have been monks copying books by hand.  It's a skill that still needs to be learned in today's computer world.  This course has  been updated to cover the 10 key pad and several word processing tasks.

It all begins the same way though-  learning to place the hands on the keys and tap out repetitions of ffff and jjjj .   Rather than print out all the pages, I opened both the Keyboarding e-book and Microsoft Word and arranged them on the screen like this:

We've been doing so much math with the computer lately, I actually started my Schnickelfritz with the Number Pad lessons.   He wasn't thrilled with typing the same numbers over and over again--there are no bells and whistles or games to make the typing fun. I tried to help him understand that this practice would help him improve his time/scores with several of the online math programs we've been using lately (where there are game rewards).  

The Christian aspect of the lessons come from the choice of texts for typing practice--Bible verses at first and Psalms when learning about centering text.  There are also Bible verses at the beginning of each lesson (I Cor 16:3 for learning letters and Matt 10:30 for learning numbers).

 The elementary version of Keyboarding for Christian Schools is available for $12.95.  The version for grades 6 and above is $15.95 and includes some additional lessons on business letters, bibliographies,  proofreader marks, etc.    Through February 28th use the coupon code NewYear5 to save $5 on orders over $12.95.

You can see what my fellow crewmates thought of Keyboarding for Christian Schools by clicking here.

I received free ebooks standard and elementary versions of Keyboarding for Christian Schools for the purposes of preparing this review.  I received no other compensation.  

Saturday, January 16, 2010

Crisis vs Inconvenience

A tree fell on our house today.  The deck railing toppled over (it probably also took the brunt of the blow and kept the tree from ending up in our dining room.  There are several holes where branches poked through the roof and a noticible trough, the gutter is bent and torn off.  On any other given week I would probably be more upset by this,  but I've had 4 or 5 days of seeing glimpes of sheer devistation in Haiti.  I know that my family's all safe, no one is waiting days and days for food or medical treatment.  I will face the inconvenience of dealing with insurance and contractors and bills for a few weeks and then my life will return to normal.  I doubt that many in Haiti will have a permanant roof over their heads by then.  I thank God for the perspective to see that what I have is an inconvenience and will continue to pray for those who are truly facing crisis. 

Friday, January 15, 2010

Review: Zeezok Publishing

I am always on the look out for biographies to read to my Schnickelfritz.  A lot of them deal with rather rugged men  (Daniel Boone, David Livingston, etc).  My thinking was the action in the story would keep my wiggly seven-year-old's attention.   I wasn't sure how he would accept the two books from Zeezok Publishing's Great Musician Series::  The Young Brahms and   Franz Schubert and his Merry Friends.   With the exception of Brahms' Lullaby (actually titled Cradle Song), I wasn't even sure I could name one of their compositions.  Fritz was also familiar with this piece from way back in his crib days (he refers to it as his night-night music.) Since that was our only point of reference, we started with The Young Brahms.

The author enticed into the story by following an organ grinder and his monkey through the streets of Hamburg.   In the listening crowd we meet young Johannes Brahms.  He could immediately play the tunes on his little flute after hearing them.   As we learned more about the title character and his home my Fritz had a "eureka" moment.  "Hey! That boy is seven and he wants to play the piano, just like me."   My son was hooked, and the story continued to reel him in as we read about a city-wide fire and learned that the young boy was run over by a carriage shortly before his first public concert. 

Our Special Offer package included the two softcover biographies, study guides for each book, and a cd of both composer's music .  Both books contain sheet music that your student may be able to play or you can listen to the track and try to follow the printed notes.  

The study guide includes a map, a timeline of the composer's life and world events that occurred during that time,  reading comprehension questions, and tidbits of interest to flesh out the story.   I did not use the reading comprehension questions with Fritz.  Some of them were very explicit. For example: With what toy did Johannes enjoy playing?  Unless you're studying to be a detective, I don't find it necessary to pick up on such details.  Instead I had Fritz list the ways he and Brahms were similar and dissimilar.   I may show him how to put the information in a Venn diagram and we can compare and contrast Schubert as we read his story.   

I really enjoyed reading the Tidbits of Interest and Character Qualities.  These might help you adapt the story for older students if you were sharing the story with your whole family.   We used this book as a read-aloud so I read the tidbits ahead of time and could refer to the ones I felt were appropriate as we reached that point in the story.  There were also a few recipes you could make ahead of time and then sample during reading time.    The Character qualities can help you point out admirable qualities displayed within the story:  persistence, obedience, leadership, etc.  Both the Tidbits and Character Qualities provide the applicable page numbers from the book.

The chapters are a little bit long to complete in one sitting--at least they were for my Schnickelfritz.  However,  when I did put the book down my Schnickelfritz was sufficiently engaged and interested enough to ask "What happens next."   

The special offer we received (2 books, 2 study guides, 1 cd) is available here for $35.80.  Other composer titles available in sets or individually include:

  • Sebastian Bach, The Boy from Thuringia

  • Ludwig Beethoven and the Chiming Tower Bells

  • Frederic Chopin, Son of Poland, Early Years

  • Frederic Chopin, Son of Poland, Later Years

  • Stephen Foster and His Little Dog Tray

  • Handel at the Court of Kings

  • Joseph Haydn, The Merry Little Peasant

  • Edward MacDowell and His Cabin in the Pines

  • Mozart, The Wonder Boy

  • Robert Schumann and Mascot Ziff

You can read what my fellow Crewmates thought of their Zeezok Publishing products here. 

Disclaimer: I received a free Brahms/Schubert special offer from Zeezok Publishing for the purposes of completing this review.  I received no other compensation.

Friday, January 8, 2010

Owl Prowl

One of my favorite movies is "So Dear to my Heart."  In it, a young boy keeps a scrapbook with sayings by The Wise Old Owl.  Turns out owls aren't so wise.  Their eyeballs take up so much head space that there's very little room left for brains!  This is just one of the things my Schnickelfritz and I learned at the MO Conservation Dept's Owl Prowl. 

Missouri is home to four types of owls year-round with four others that visit occasionally.  Even the snowy owl can be found this far south in the years that the lemmings plunge into the sea (forcing the owls to search elsewhere for food).  Year round residents include the great horned owl, the barred owl and barn owl.  Our lecturer had stuffed birds of each to show us -- it is illegal for anyone to have a live or dead owl in their possession.   The best visual of the evening was when he called Fritz up front and held up two whiffle balls in front of his face.  If Fritz were an owl, these balls would represent the size of his eyes.

Studying animals always reminds me what a wonderful Creator we have.  Did you know the owl is the only bird God designed with a movable toe?  They can position three toes in front and one in back for perching or switch to two in front and two in back to grasp prey.   The "plate" of feathers around their eyes is actually a way of channeling sound into their ears.  One ear is located higher than their eyes and the other lower than their eyes.  This gives them an extra dimension to be able to locate the source of sounds and actually catch mice in total darkness.

Our evening ended by going outside and trying to attract some owls (this is actually a great time of year to spot owls as they are looking for mates).  We had several commercial and homemade owl calls and a recording to play.   We even tried our best owl imitations.  The owls had the last laughs however.  They may not be wise, but they were smart enough to not be standing in the snow hooting in the 8 degree weather.

--Followup:  We disected owl pellets today (Sat).  I found some lab guides online that included diagrams of the skeletons we were likely to encounter.  We were lucky enough to find the skull of a mouse and its spinal column.  Fritz loved this activity.

Thursday, January 7, 2010

Truer words were never spoken

My husband just arrived home from a long commute--the snow and wind making it take almost twice as long as normal.  He collapsed at the table.  And for some reason this time of day is when my Scnickelfritz gets an extra burst of energy (I think he anticipates Della going "crazy dog" when my husband gets home).   Tonight though, he noticed the tired look on his father's face and asked "Is there anything I can get you Daddy?"  My husband replied "Just some peace and quiet."  Fritz shook his head and said "I'm sorry, that's just something I can't deliver."  Well, at least he's honest about it.


Another Reason I Love Homeschooling

Winter has arrived with a vengence.  We had snow throughout the night and today we're supposed to have winds up to 40 mph.  I didn't have to be up at the crack of dawn watching the school closings or worrying when the day would be made up.  We knew there would be school although we had a special "snow day" agenda.  We popped popcorn and made cocoa and snuggled together to read Little House books.  Schnickelfritz chose to listen to audiobooks rather than turn on the TV.  We've got Hank the Cowdog's The Case of the Blinded Blizzard and The Measled Cowboy which both deal with snow.  We worked on K'Nex rollercoasters in the basement and the science of looping coaster tracks. PE was thirty minutes outdoors making snow angels and sledding before heading in for more hot chocolate.

I've decided it's time for the teacher to learn something new so I'm trying to bake bread using Sue Gregg's cookbook so the house smells wonderful.  And the Burpee catalog arrived today so we can dream over summer's bounty and future botony lessons.



I have mentioned before that my little Schnickelfritz loves his math.  During his free time it's not unusual for him to ask to watch his "math movies."  He drags the whiteboard and manipulatives upstairs pretends to be Steve Demme.  He's already seen all the lessons for this year and next, so when two videos arrived from it was like Christmas had come early  for my son (I seriously thought about wrapping them and putting them under the tree).

The first video was more for the age level of his two year old cousin-- Young Minds: Numbers and Counting.  I'm not one to buy into the "we can make our baby a genius by exposing him to classical music" trend.  In this case the music provides a soothing background while still pictures worthy of National Geographic slowly zoom in and out or pan side to side (and a  few video clips).  I couldn't find a listing of the music anywhere, but I recognized Pachabel's Canon in D,  Vivaldi's Four Seasons, and  pieces by Bach and Beethoven.

 A child's voice counts the objects on the screen and there's often more information for a toddler to learn:  the sounds made by animals, colors, the names of fruit, etc.  It's mostly the pictures that capture your attention--even Fritz  stopped his energizer bunny routine long enough to watch all the counting to four's.

There are also a few bonus games on the DVD--very simplistic to accommodate the target audience.  You can watch jigsaw puzzle pieces being assembled into a landscape,  a connect the dots puzzle, and a name the animal game.

Young Minds--Numbers and Counting is on sale for $19.99 at the vendor's website.  (You can also see a sample video clip here).

The second video was actually two discs--eight hours of math problems. 

These DVDs do not teach math, they teach how to use the math you already know to solve word problems.  Specifically, they teach how to identify key words in the problem to know whether you need to add, subtract, multiply or divide to solve.   The presenter solved 5-6 problems in each subject, first using whole numbers, then with decimals, fractions and percentages. 

I had assumed that this DVD was geared towards helping students improve their scores on the SAT's or other standardized tests and was expecting the problems to be well over my son's head.  But the first problem was very basic:  "If Bob put 7 pencils in a box and Penny put 5 pencils in a box, how many pencils would there be?"   Not only wasn't it over Fritz's head, he actually got bored during the 4 minute explanation in solving the problem.  The problem was read twice, it was acted out, the presenter even drew a box and pencils on the white board.  

A second pet peeve in the whole number section at least was the constant use of counting on fingers to add or subtract.  Our regular math curriculum emphasizes that students need to memorize basic math facts rather than rely on counting. 

 On the positive side, I was pleased to see the presenter always label the units while writing down the problem.  By this I mean in our example of adding 7 + 5 he also wrote the word "pencils."  This may seem unimportant at this level math but when you get to the multiplying and dividing of things like "feet per second" or "miles per gallon"  those units  become really important.

The Basic Math Word Problem Tutor is available here for $26.99 .   You can also see a sample video clip.  

I would  consider giving the Young Minds DVD as a gift if you don't have toddler's of your own.  The Word Problem Tutor may be helpful if you student knows how to solve straight math problems  but struggles when they're written in story form.

You can read what the rest of the Crewmates thought of the products by clicking here.

 I received free copies of Young Minds: Numbers and Counting and The Basic Math Word Problem Tutor dvds for the purposes of completing this review.  I received no other compensation. 

Tuesday, January 5, 2010

Paperclip Solar System

It's one of those frigid days when you don't want to step outside of the house so my Schnickelfritz and I have had to amuse ourselves indoors.  We just completed a project to discover the relative distances between the planets of our solar system.  I found this in the supplemental website for Apologia's Astronomy book.
This first photo represents the first four planets.  The wall to the right is the sun so Mars would be the pink Lego on the left (we didn't have a red Lego).  We had to count 3-4 paper clips to find the releative orbits for each planet.

The white blob is Mars washed out by the flash.  The ball down the hallway represents Jupiter.  You can see we had to count a lot more paper clips.

 Many, MANY paperclips later we put down Neptune.  We actually ran out of hallway and house before we reached Pluto (which is technically not classified as a planet anymore).  Since it was in our book and since it's still a favorite in my mind we "went around the corner" to finish our paperclip line.

Monday, January 4, 2010

First Day Back

Like most students and teachers around the country, we started back to school today (actually we didn't stop entirely over Christmas-my Schnickelfritz still insisted on math).   Here's how things are shaping up:

Math--we're way ahead here.  We in lesson 24 in Math U See Beta.  I found a secondhand copy of Gamma that we'll probably be in before the schoolyear is over.  Today Fritz is also watching a Homeschool review product on solving word (he calls them story) problems.

Reading - We started reading Step Into Reading Level 2 The Story of Balto.  Fritz only read two pages.  He could read more but this is one of his least favorite activites.  I figure it's better to get 2 pages of good work out of him and leave hope that he'll someday enjoy reading rather than push through the whole thing with him kicking and screaming.

Writing -  We're wrapping up our Handwriting Without Tears.  I'm thinking about starting copywork--like writing out our Royal Ranger's memory verses.

Science - Judging by my Edu-Trac, this is a subject I have been ignoring unless it involves a field trip.  We're starting Apologia's Astronomy.  Fritz has already loves it when Daddy gets out his laser pointer and shows us various constellations or the planets.  Hmm, I'll have to go back and see if I logged those hours.

Music-  We've got two Homeschool crew products that involve music.  Kinderbach and two Zeezok books on Brahms and Schubert.  Fritz is really relating to Brahms (a fellow seven year old boy who loves the piano)


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