Tuesday, October 1, 2013

Math Mammoth - Revisited

A few years ago, I was able to review a math program called Math Mammoth. At the time, I chose the full 3rd grade curriculum from their Light Blue Series. In a nutshell, my son did not like the way it was laid out. He is my little math kid, and was fighting me to do math.  So, when I was asked to review Math Mammoth again, I was not thrilled at the prospect. This time, though, I reviewed the Blue Series. The Blue Series is topic specific rather than a full grade curriculum. I am surprised to say that I love it.

My youngest son is now in 5th grade. We have found a math curriculum that we adore, but doesn't give a ton of practice problems. I chose the topics of division, fractions, and decimals for him. Those are really the last topics that he needs to master before we move into pre-algebra. We started with division. The e-book is about 80 pages long. The book is broken up really well. There are not a ton of problems in each lesson, which is fantastic. Yes, they do need practice, but too much practice just drives them to hate it, in my experience. I feel this is the happy medium. It is great the way it takes each step and builds on it. I also like the e-book format. I could choose to start in the middle and print off just the pages that I needed. I guess you could start in the middle of a regular workbook too, but you couldn't reprint pages that got messed up or need extra practice. They actually call their book a "worktext." It is like a workbook where you can write on the pages, but it is also like a textbook because it contains the explanations.

I'm really not sure what else I can say about it. The program is very self-explanatory. The topic specific books are a very affordable addition to any program. The prices range between $2.20 and $7.50 per book. If you want, you can order the whole set for $105. If you have a child just starting in math, I would maybe consider that. Otherwise, I would just order as needed. I may order another one for the more difficult multiplication, just to make sure he's got that down. If you're not sure where to start, they have placement tests on their website. I kind of wish they had these topic specific books for the upper levels, like algebra or geometry. My older one could definitely use some more practice in factoring.

I received these e-books in exchange for my honest review. I received no other compensation. You can read more reviews here.

Thursday, September 5, 2013

Education in Technology

When I was nine years old, my dad brought home a Commodore 64. We were one of the few to actually have a computer in our house. This helped me to be at the forefront of technology all through school. I took any and all classes I could that had to do with keyboarding and computer skills, including programming. I loved technology and anything to do with it. Then, I got married. At that point, though I still used a computer for work and other basic things. I let my husband handle all the technical stuff. Fast forward 16 years, and I am way behind in this full speed ahead field.

I was excited to get a chance to review the TeenCoder program from Homeschool Programming. It would be a great elective credit for my new high schooler, and maybe I could learn something at the same time.

A short time ago, we invested in a new computer, because all our computers were the age of Methuselah in computer years. We were having a difficult running any programs, and I knew to get my son through high school we would need to upgrade. Our new computer came with Windows 8. That alone was a bit of an adjustment for me.

There is a point to that interjection. I tried to load the TeenCoder program onto the new computer and I lost it. I am not sure what happened. At this point, my husband had to step in and save the day. He was able to find the files, but couldn't figure out how to get them to run. His suggestion was to try it on the old computer. I am very thankful for his assistance on this project. He was able to get everything loaded and working on our old Windows XP laptop.

That is when the teen got involved. He opened Chapter 1 of the Windows Programming to learn C# programming skills. He started to read, and then his brain shut off. He was completely overwhelmed and confused. I need to say that he loves the computer, and probably has more technical skills than I do at this point. He does struggle a bit with reading and following directions, though. I thought, now how am I going to review this program? Insert helpful husband back into the picture. His job is in a technical field, therefore I figured he would be very useful in trying to figure out the directions.

He opened Chapter 1 of the Windows programming and attempted to follow the directions. He could not figure it out either. He said it seemed like there was some information missing. He even cheated and went to the solution manual and still couldn't figure it out. He thought maybe the Game Programming went first. I told him no, that is listed for the second semester. He tried it anyway. Still no success. I tried to look at the chapter, and really it could have been written in Greek and made as much sense to me.

Usually, I can come up with something positive to say about most everything I review. Unfortunately, this one stumped three of us. So unless you have a kid that is really into programming, I'm not sure I would spend $130 on the complete package. However, please don't take my word for it. Go read some more reviews here. I'm sure there are other Mosaic Reviewers who had a better experience and were able to get it to work. You will also find some reviews of the KidCoder version for upper elementary/middle school.

I received this program for free in exchange for my honest review.

Thursday, June 27, 2013

The Classical Historian - Modern American History

What is Classical Education?

Classical educators believe that a student's learning is divided into three stages. The early years are called the Grammar Stage. At this stage, children are sponges. They absorb information from everywhere. It is important to focus on learning facts and rules. Around age 11 or 12, students begin to express themselves more and form more of their own opinions. This is called the Dialectic or Logic Stage. This is when students should start to learn the tools of learning. They learn things like paragraph construction. They can learn WHY people fought a war as opposed to just memorizing dates and details. The final stage is called the Rhetoric Stage. This is when students really learn to dig into research, form, and defend their opinions.

The Classical Historian uses a five step program to teach history in a Classical style of education.
  1. The Grammar of History
  2. The Tools of the Historian
  3. Research
  4. The Socratic Discussion
  5. Analytical Essays
What is the Socratic Discussion?

"Socrates noted that the best teacher and most intelligent philosopher is one who knows what he does not know." At the Dialectic and Rhetoric Stages, it is still important to cover the basic Who, What, When, Where, Why, How questions. However, now we must also ask the students "What evidence do you have that supports this?" Our job is to point them to the documents and research. This opens up a whole new level of thinking and discussion. To learn more, click here.

I really like the idea of Classical Education and the Socratic Discussion. Up to this point, we have had a very relaxed style of homeschooling. That actually fits, in my opinion, with the Grammar Stage. However, my oldest is now 14 (almost 15) and well beyond the Grammar Stage. Looking at The Classical Historian has helped me to see how I can direct him as we begin our high school journey.

This is the package I received here. The DVD is very thorough and really explains the program very well. I got three books along with the DVD. "The Classical Historian: The Socratic Discussion in History" is basically the nuts and bolts of the program. It covers in more detail the specifics of how to teach in the classical style. It also covers grading and the basics of writing an essay and more. The second book is the 32-week guide for Modern American History. This is your lesson plans and answer key. The third book is "Take a Stand! Modern American History, Reading, Discussing, and Writing." This is basically the student assignment book, including some mechanics on writing. It teaches students how to be historians. What this does not include is a history textbook. It encourages students to use textbooks and source documents to research and find evidence on their own. It does not tell them what facts need to be memorized, rather teaches them how to think. In the short time I had to review this, I am not able to judge whether or not this will work for us, however I am looking forward to digging into it more. I will definitely be incorporating it in with our history and literature program for the year.

But wait, there's more:
So my little one wouldn't be left out of the fun, we also got to play one of the history games from The Classical Historian. Ancient History Go Fish was the most fun we've had with school in a long time. My 10yo was so excited we were playing and learning on a Saturday. They have Go Fish and Memory games for Ancient, Medieval, and American History. I'm thinking I may order more of them. At $11.95 for the Go Fish games and $14.95 for the Memory games, they are certainly affordable.

I received these products for review in exchange for my honest opinion. I received no other compensation.

Wednesday, May 22, 2013

My Home School Grades - A Review

My Home School Grades is an online grade tracking program. Let me tell you, this product could not have fallen into my lap at a better time. We have been homeschooling for about 8 years. I have never really "graded" my children's work. Yes, I corrected their work and helped them learn from their mistakes. However, I didn't really see a need to track grades. We have reached the point in our homeschool life where we need to rethink that philosophy. My oldest is starting high school. I had been trying to figure out the best way to record and track his grades.

This program could not be simpler. Step one: Create an account. Step two: Add a student. Step three: Add classes, lessons, grades, activities and create your transcripts. OK, so step three may be really more than one step, but it really is not complicated. For me, the best part about this is that it is all saved online. I am not the most organized when it comes to paperwork. Trying to track my son's grades on paper, I would be sure to lose something. My other thought would be to create a spreadsheet. However, our computer technology is more than a little antiquated. I worry on a daily basis that one or both of our computers will crash and we will lose everything. Even with my tech troubles, I am able to access the website with no problems. I also know that I can go use a computer at the library if needed. No wait, on second though, I can access it right from my smart phone. If you have an Ipad or other tablet, it will work on there too. There is no app to install.

My Home School Grades is much more organized and easier to read than a spreadsheet. The bonus is that it also does all the calculating of grades and GPA's for you. Then, you can print out complete transcripts.

I could try to go into all the details of how to use the program, but they have laid out some great videos for you on the My Home School Grades website. Go check them out. While there, you can also sign up for a free 14 day trial. If you decide you love the program, the cost of $49.99 is for a lifetime membership. For me, I have 8 years until my littlest graduates. That breaks down to just over $6 per year. Not really, though. Many times, transcripts will be needed long after graduation. I'd call that well worth the price.

I received a membership in exchange for my honest review. I received no other compensation.

Wednesday, May 15, 2013

Waterproof Bible

Of all the things in the world to be waterproof, who ever would've thought of a Bible? On the flip side, of all the things in the world to be waterproof, what could be more important than the Bible? We really had fun with this review. My first thought when I saw I would be review it was, "What use would I have for a Waterproof Bible?" Then it arrived on my doorstep. I opened the box and found a pretty pink Bible. In my house when there is anything pink, that automatically means it's all mine. That is one of the benefits of being the only female in the house. At that point, I started listing all the places where it would be useful to have a Waterproof Bible.

One of my favorite places in the world is the beach. When I was in college, there was a local singing group that had a song about water and how it illustrated the Trinity. Ever since then, being near water makes me feel even closer to God. The vast ocean is even a more powerful testament of His creation. I would love to take my waterproof Bible to the beach.

However, that was not the first place I thought to test the Bible out. They wanted to me to thoroughly review this product. I was very excited to test it out. You see, my husband and I like to run in mud runs/obstacle races. We had a race scheduled in the review time frame. I really wanted to find a way to carry it with me on the race, but couldn't come up with a good way to do that. The boys were just spectators at the race. There were times when they couldn't really see anything. That was the perfect opportunity to give them the assignment to do what they could to the Bible. They also had the camera.

It got a little dirty, but not really bad enough that it would show up on the camera. The pages did not get damaged at all. It is truly amazing.

Don't worry, even though the pages are waterproof, you are still able to take notes and highlight. Regular ball point pens work, as well as pencil and dry highlighters. Gel pens and markers are not recommended as they need to absorb.

I got the NIV version of the New Testament/Psalms/Proverbs. I want to order one of the full version ones.The Bibles range in price from $24.95 to $44.95. What's really great is that they offer so many different versions. You can choose from NIV, ESV, King James, New King James, or NLT. The cover designs are pink, blue or camo. There's also an option for personalization. My only complaint is that the print is really small. I finally got my new glasses and can read it as long as I have them. I would love to see a large print version, as that is much easier on my far-sighted eyes. All in all though, I really think it's a great concept.

I received this Bible in exchange for my honest opinion. I received no other compensation.

Sunday, May 12, 2013

Ooka Island - A Review and A Coupon

Ooka Island Adventure is a learn to read game for kids ages 3 - 7.  This was a challenging yet fun product for me to review. It was challenging due to technical difficulties. Our computers are just a little bit...shall we say...outdated. I had to try on both my laptop and desktop and couldn't get it to work properly. I finally got it to work on the laptop, albeit very slowly. The other challenge was that my kids are 10 and 14. They already know how to read. The funny thing is, I never actually taught them. My 14yo learned in a preschool program and then attended the government school for Kindergarten and 1st grade. My 10yo was at home, but just kind of taught himself. The fun part, was that I got to borrow a 5yo from one of my friends.

The website claims that five year olds will begin to read after about 8 hours of using the program. Unfortunately, since I was borrowing a child, I didn't get to fully test that out. What I was able to see of the program, however, I really liked. The child had a lot of fun playing the games. Since I only could get the program to work on my laptop, he had a bit of a learning curve to use the mouse pad. Once we got past that issue, he did well. I could tell by playing around on it myself for a bit, that it's something my boys would have really enjoyed when they were that age. I encourage you to check out some of the other Mosaic Reviews to get a better picture of the program from those who were able to use it more fully than I could.

I received this program in exchange for my honest review. There was no other compensation. You, however, can take advantage of this 30% off link: http://offers.ookaisland.com/inblog?purl=etBlu
This code is valid through June 1, 2013 for 30% off any annual or monthly subscription. The annual family subscription is already 37% off the normal monthly subscription, and this gives you another 30% on top of that.

Sunday, April 28, 2013

Spanish for You!

I love Spanish. Actually, I love languages in general. I studied both Spanish and French. When my boys were little, I would take them to Spanish story time at our local library. I will often say things to them in Spanish. Not full conversations, just little snippets here and there. I wasn't really sure what to expect when I was asked to review the Spanish for You! program. This actually turned out to be a very difficult program for me to review.

Spanish for You! is a Spanish curriculum for grades 3-8. From their website: "Spanish for You! begins your child on the road to fluency. It is designed from years of experience by a Spanish teacher to effectively build speaking, reading, and writing skills as well as grammar knowledge. Students learn to creatively build sentences, ask and answer questions, and truly communicate in Spanish! And they have fun doing it!!"

I received the "Fiestas" package for grades 3-8. This included a hard copy book (but it is also available in e-format), mp3 audio downloads to help with pronunciation, lesson guides in PDF format, and self-checking worksheets also in PDF format, and PDF flash cards. The lesson guides are split into three different age groups. They are grades 3-4, 5-6, and 7-8. The higher grades are designed to take 24 weeks. Grades 3-4 are slowed down and stretched out to 30 weeks. This makes it a fantastic program for teaching multiple ages at the same time. This whole program sells for $64.95. However, if you only need one of the grade levels, you can choose which one you need and it is only $39.95. Here is a great blog post from the program creator about the flashcards. The "Fiestas" package focuses on words and phrases that have to do with celebrations. There are five lessons: birthday party, el dia de los muertos, Carnaval, Holy week, and April Fair (an event in Seville, Spain). The other full program available is called "Estaciones" (seasons). According to the website, they are working on more programs. One is set to be released in June.

I used the lesson guide for the 3-4 grade level with my 4th grader. My older son is just starting high school, so I decided not to use the program with him. The program is very well laid out. The lesson guides have very detailed step-by-step instructions. The audio files are a great addition. It makes it so that even if you know nothing about Spanish, you can do this program with your kids. Since I am semi-fluent, I did not actually use the audio files.  The main problem I ran into using this program, is that because I have exposed my kids to Spanish since they were very small, they already know much of what is covered. I ran into the problem of my son not wanting to participate because he thought it a waste of time. I would still definitely recommend the program to those who want a simple, well organized way to introduce Spanish to your kids. It is especially great if you have no or limited knowledge of Spanish yourself. I also love how the festivals give some insight into different cultures of Spanish speaking countries.

I received this curriculum free in exchange for an honest review. I received no other compensation.