Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Review: Vocabulary Cartoons by New Monic

I first became aware of the Vocabulary Cartoons resources this spring at my local homeschool convention (Don't cha just *love* the Rainbow Resources booth?). I was looking for something new for vocabulary. While last year's workbook program was fine for Ben, I was looking for something that we *all* could do together.

And, who doesn't like a good cartoon?

The basics.  For this review, I received a copy of New Monic's elementary edition.  This book retails for $12.95, and online retailers often sell it at a discount.  You can view New Monic's website and all their vocabulary building resources (as well as some teaching tips) here.  The publish a number of books for different grade levels.

Rather than me explain how mnemonics work, I quote from the company's website:
Vocabulary Cartoons works on the principle of mnemonics. A mnemonic is a device that helps you remember something by associating what you are trying to remember with something you already know. A mnemonic device could be in many different forms like; rhymes, songs, pictures to name a few. For example, "Columbus sailed the ocean blue in fourteen hundred ninety-two" is a classic mnemonic rhyme which helps you remember when Columbus discovered America.

Following the mnemonic principle of association, Vocabulary Cartoons link together an auditory (rhyming) word association and a visual association in the form of a humorous cartoon. These powerful mnemonics help students retain the meanings of words longer and with less effort than trying to memorize definitions straight out of a dictionary.

Here's a sample of an entry in the book:

Each entry also includes several sample sentences using the target word.  A review is offered after every to words which allows you to match the word to its definition as well as a fill-in-the-blank sentence completion exercise.

Our experience.  As I mentioned, I was looking for something that was not  a vocabulary workbook for this year.  My second grader is not a strong reader (yet), and I knew that a workbook had the potential to really frustrate him.  Vocabulary Cartoons is a perfect alternative and really just what we need.  I started using this with my 2nd grader a few weeks ago.  He loves the cartoons!   We went through several of the words, laughed at the pictures, talked about the words and how they might be used in The Real World (one word, guerrilla, began a short history discussion). A few days, later I asked my son about the words, and he still remembered their meaning.  Wow!

As I mentioned above, the website offers many, many teaching suggestions to engage students in the new meanings and uses of the words.  I hadn't turned to their website until I went to write this review, but some of them  could easily be adapted for homeschool use.  In my family, my plan is to go over several words a week and make them target words that we have to somehow incorporate into our family conversations.  I am not above offering a candy reward for those who successfully complete their mission.  Just sayin'.

Vocabulary Cartoons is a fun way to incorporate exposure to advanced vocabulary in a novel way.  Homeschoolers are such a creative lot, and I'm sure there are a million ways that this book can be used.  I'm looking forward to reading some of the other reviews from Crew members so I can glean some other ideas for using New Monics resouces in my homeschool.  Click here and read some with me!

FCC statement: I received a free copy of this resource in exchange for my honest opinions about this resources. No other compensation was received.

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Review: Salem Ridge Press

A month or so ago, I received several down-loadable books from Salem Ridge Press, -- Down the Snow Stairs and Young Robin Hood -- as well as a softcover bound book Soldier Fritz.

Quick review:  Love. 'em.

*smile*  OK, OK,  I know that won't cut it.....

The Company. Review Salem Ridge's website and you get a real sense of mission in the founder, Daniel Mills, a homeschool graduate:

The underlying philosophy of Salem Ridge Press is found in the Bible: "Finally, brethren, whatsoever things are true, whatsoever things are honest, whatsoever things are just, whatsoever things are pure, whatsoever things are lovely, whatsoever things are of good report; if there be any virtue, and if there be any praise, think on these things (Philippians 4:8)."  Daniel firmly believes that what we read matters and what we take into our minds is a major factor in forming our ideas and character.  His goal is to be a blessing to others by providing reading material that fits the qualifications outlined in the Bible.
(Note: not every book is Christian in nature, according to the website.)

The majority of books are published in both hard and softcover.  My copy of Soldier Fritz was softcover at $10.95.  Others with this type of binding ranged up to $14.95, and hard covers seem to be about $10 more than their softcover counterpart.

The book selections range from historical fiction for your church history, American and world history courses.  They also have allegory and adventure stories, and a selection of books for young readers (ages 6-10) and a selection of junior church history books for ages (starting at age 8 years).  And, (phew!  there's a lot of options) the sell sets at a discounted price.

You can order the books from a variety of locations listed here.  Note that e-books of all the titles are available from The Old Schoolhouse store for prices ranging from $7.95 to $12.95.

My thoughts.  I really enjoy reading literature written from different periods -- the style of late 19th century writing really stretches comprehension skills (in a good way!).  I also appreciate the vocabulary that is present in writing from this era.  Salem Press really makes the writing style accessible to 21st century students by putting short footnotes to define some vocabulary words (palfrey), and also placing pertinent scripture footnotes when scripture is quoted in the text.

We are a Tapestry of Grace family, and are familiar with historical fiction books, as they are sometimes used to enrich and deepen our study of a specific era.  We will be studying the Reformation this year, so reading Soldier Fritz was fortuitous.  What I appreciated about this particular book was the care in discussing the spiritual condition of young Soldier Fritz.  I think this book will be fabulous as an example of the growth and maturity that the Christian experiences in his/her life, and I really look forward to using it as a read aloud with my sons.  I also look forward purusing Salem Ridge's other books to find additional gems to enrich our lives.

You can view additional reviews here.

FCC: I received a free copy of one of SRP's books and two e-books to for this review.  No other compensation was received.  

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Review: Pyramath Cards

I love the idea of math games to help reinforce my boys' recall of math facts.  We are Singapore Math users, and I love to use their suggested dice games and card games to reinforce math facts -- way more fun than a worksheet!

Pyramath Speed Game layout
Pyramath cards are one of four sets of cards that are meant to engage children in learning important math skills through play. Others include Fractazmic (fractions), Prime Bomb (prime numbers), and I See cards, which are simple object cards with numerical values that can be used for basic math, language development and foreign language learning.

The colorful face of each card shows the name of the digit written in several languages.  In addition to English in the upper left side, Spanish, French, Roman numerals, Arabic and Chinese translations and symbols are given.  This is a nice addition for introducing foreign languages or using them in a multi-lingual environment (such as ESL teachers).

Pyramath cards are certainly an affordable tool -- $6.95 for a deck of 54 laminated cards numbered 0-9. You can use these card to play a number of solitare and multi-player games: War and a game called Speed are two easy ones that can be adapted for your child's learning needs.  Rather than me trying to explain how game play goes, I'll refer you to Pyramath's wiki page for detailed rules and video demos:

You can play the games using only one math operation (say you need to practice addition with your 1st grader) or using any combination of the four basic arithmetic operations.  When my 6th grader and I played,  I noticed his tendency to use addition/ subtraction skills more readily than multiplication an division;  being the "mean mommy" that I am, the next game I changed the rules and we could only use multiplication and division (insert evil laugh here).

There is one quirky bit of information that will help you determine if this is a good product for your child, especially younger ones.  When  the answer to your math problem is a two-digit number, the value of the card (for example, a 8), can be used to signify any two digit number with 8 in the one's place: 8, 18, 28, etc.  OK, here's an example.   Ben and I play a game of War.  I play a 3 and he plays a 6. The first person to play a 9 card to represent the sum (because 3+6=9), or a 3 for the difference (6-3=3), or a 2 (6/3=2).  Alternately, he or I could play an 8 to represent the product of 3 x 6 -- 18.  In a different game, the 8 could represent the product of 6 x 8 -- 48    I took a few games for Ben to get the hang of this, but then the universe returned to normal -- and he beat me at several games.  
I really like that I can just pick up the deck, shuffle and begin working on math facts with my kids, without having to sort through a traditional playing deck to pull face cards or draw a number on a joker card because I need just one. more. number.  Pyramath is easy to pick up and throw in my purse for a quick math drill review... just about anywhere. 

For purchase help,  You can check out a  free, online version of Pyramath Speed or their Fractazmic Speed game here (and try to win a free deck).  
You can read additional reviews about this product, and many others at the Crew Blog.
Disclaimer the FCC requires:  I received a free deck of cards from the publisher in exchange for my opinion about this product.     I receive no compensation for this review.

Saturday, September 11, 2010

September 11

Where were you on that day?
.....Laying on the couch at my MILs, near Boston, where we were living a the time. My oldest was 2 and got up each morning insanely I was napping and he was watching PBS Kids. My SIL called to tell me to turn on the TV.

....Tried to not cry in front of my baby. I knew the world had changed at that very moment. It was impossible not to cry.

..."Mommy," he says, "Why did that building fall down?"

....All that death. All that horror. All those innocent 2 year olds who wouldn't see their mommies, daddies, uncles, grandpas, aunts again....... I just hugged and hugged my son and cried.

.....My MIL lives over Logan Airport's flight pattern. It was SOOOOO quiet at her house without the planes flying over that the quiet was LOUD....

We will not forget... 

all those who went to work on a beautiful September morning, expecting nothing more than a usual day at the office,   
those who answered the dispacher's call and raced to help,  yet perished,
the men and women reached down into their souls and took up the banner to defend our country in the military, but did not return,

Friday, September 10, 2010

Review: America's Math Teacher

Sample worksheet for Fractions
I'm really thankful that I've had a chance now to review multiple math programs.  Often times I'll hear other homeschool moms say they are afraid to teach math.  This is not the case with me. I like math.  I like to teach it.  What I am often afraid of is using the wrong program for my child.  Having the opportunity to try so many different types of programs has given me more clues into my children's learning styles and preferences.

America's Math Teacher is an honest-to-goodness online math program covering math concepts appropriate for 4th grade through algebra.  The instructor, Rick Fischer, is a math teacher who has the credentials many parents want in a math teacher:  a math major in college!  According to the website, half of his 6th grade students skip 7th grade math and move right to 8th grade algebra.

The Basics. The website link is here.  They've posted samples of online lessons (which can be viewed with 24/7 access) and corresponding worksheets for each lesson.  Here's a sample of an algebra lesson teaching multiplication of integers.  There is a set or corresponding worksheets (and answers) for each topic except for Algebra.

You could really make this your mail math curriculum for those late grammar/ early middle school years.  Each worksheet has a math fact drill in a unique concentric circle format;  you can also use it free online.

 Purchase price is $195.00 for a 12 month subscription.  There does not appear to be any month-to-month purchase options at this time.

My impressions. The first lesson I watched taught division of fractions. Now, a lot of my friends and I prefer to use programs for math that teach the "why" behinds algorithms and techniques for solving math problems.  We can all remember following our teacher's model but not really understanding why we were doing what we were doing.  Think of division with fractions -- do you know why we "invert and multiply?"  Well, I did not until this spring! So, I was curious to know if Mr. Fischer's program was a "why"-based program.  It is not.  At least for fraction division.  He does a thorough job of teaching and explaining what a reciprocal is and how to do a variety of problems, but he doesn't explain why we do what we do with fractions.  I'm not saying this is a negative of the program, but I do want you to be aware of this.

I like that the lessons are short (11 minutes is the longest I've noticed) and the instructor encourages the students to grab their paper and pencil and work alongside him as he completes the problem.

I think that the worksheets do an admirable job of including all the basics that your middler student is going to need:  fact review, a couple questions about previously learned material, practice with new concepts and word problems.  With all that in each lesson, I'd have to characterize this program as a spiral learning approach versus mastery-based program.

I'm not sure if it is a website mistake, but the Algebra Learning Center page does note that the student should complete "the written exercises after each and every lesson," but I could not find them in the Resource Center.

My son enjoyed doing the lessons online -- he likes just about anyone else besides me as a math instructor!  I think he especially liked the calm demeanor of the instructor.

My only hurdle to signing up on the spot for a year's worth of lessons is the price.  $195 is a big chunk of change for us to lay out for one subject -- especially something that has an expiration date.  Since I have only one student in the skill range this program is targeted for, it is a bit pricey.  If you had more students in the 4th through 8th grade range, however, it could be a fantastic deal to get a high quality, national math standards driven curriculum. However, the credentials of the instructor make me want to think about it more.

If you'd like to read more reviews about America's Math Tutor you can visit The Review Crew here.

FCC disclaimer: I was given a 60-day trial membership in exchange for reviewing this product or my honest feedback.

Wednesday, September 8, 2010

Review: Math Tutor DVDs

I was really pleased to receive Math Tutor's PreAlgebra DVD set 1 and  the Texas Instruments TI-84 Calculator Tutor for review.  Because sometimes, you just need a fresh face to explain something new.

At least in this house.

Now, I'll admit off the bat that I haven't had a chance to look much at the Calculator DVD.  We've had family issues in addition to start-of-the-school-year issues, so I've had to prioritize what I watch for my review time.  But, I have watched several of the Math Tutor's issues and have liked what I've seen.

The Basics.  The instructor for the Math Tutor DVD's certainly has the backing of impressive credentials -- this tells me he knows his stuff!

The DVDs I reviewed cost $26.99 each, but pricing is really varied depending on what you want.  Sets of DVDs are sold as well.  You can view the extensive collection of DVDs here.    I just noticed that physics is also sold as well!

The Math Tutor also has a membership area that includes forums, additional worksheets (for some of the courses), as well as access to all their videos.  Cost is $19.99 per month.

My Impressions. From watching his DVDs -- even in very basic topics -- he employs a step-by-step process that really breaks information down into manageable chunks.  Mr. Gibson makes few -- if any -- assumptions about a student's prior knowledge of the topic and starts at square one.  I appreciate this in a product that I might consider using to supplement my teachings or our math curriculum's explanations.  I think this allows the DVDs to complement nearly any math program.

I can definitely see that having these DVDs would be a big help around here.  Sometimes, my oldest son and I butt heads about math.  I like our math program (and my son isn't one who likes a lot of change) and do not want to switch, so having these DVDs as a resource could be a huge help for our family.

I will work hard to make time to review the Calculator DVD later this month or next.

If you'd like read more reviews about this product, head on over to The Crew Blog!

FCC:  I received two DVDs to preview in exchange for my honest opinion about these products.

Friday, September 3, 2010

Review: Time 4 Learning

I approached this Time4Learning (T4L) trial with curiosity and a tad of skepticism.  Computer-based homeschooling is so opposite of what we do around here (not that I'm opposed to the computer -- seeing as I'm using one right now).  My children have used math fact drill programs online and my 11 yo participated in four science webinars last winter.  But to have all his major content classes online?  That is so different from what we do.

My curiosity was piqued because I have a dear friend who used T4L last year for their main curriculum.  Faced with an infant and major construction on her home, she used T4L for her two school-aged children.  She had mixed success with it (one child loved it, one did not), so I was interested to have my own try with it.

The Basics.  From their website, T4L's main emphasis is on language arts and math;  science and social studies are "thrown in" as freebies. You can sign up your child at a specific grade level (they recommend first signing them up at their traditional/ expected level), but you'll then get access to a grade level above and below, so that you can make adjustments.

They seem to have a lot of up-front help for those families considering T4L:
T4L costs $19.95 per month of use for the first child, and $14.95 for the second (and subsequent).  That averages out to about $180 for the first student or 9 months of school and $135 for the second student's tuition. Monthly tuition payment is automatically debited against your credit card of choice. You can view billing FAQ here.

The Program.  My curiosity was greatest for my 6th grader.  I was pleasantly surprised that the math  material for 6th grade dovetailed nicely with our progress in Singapore Math (we're using 5A this fall).  Topics included estimating, fractions, decimals and percents, graphing, among others.  It is similar to Singapore in that it is mastery based. (link takes you to a forum discussion about it).  I was also pleased with what I saw of the Language Arts programs.  They have two components:  Language Arts and Language Arts Extensions.  I appreciate that many language arts skills are taught within the context of contemporary children's literature.  For example after reading Growing Up in Coal Country, my son was asked to write a letter of complaint, compare and contrast information, and learn about prepositional phrases.

Arithmetic practice for my 2nd grader seems a bit light, but topics also mimicked our Singapore Math 2A/B curriculum for this year.  I would definitely need to print out additional worksheets for my son. Both boys really enjoyed the science and social studies lessons -- and I suspect the nutty, multi-media presentations were a huge part of the reason why.  Multi-media quizes and activities sure are way more fun than paper-and-pencil tasks. 

The K-level material that I worked through with my youngest was just plain fun for him.  Much was review for him (along the lines of a basic skills workbook you could purchase at Walmart), but I'm hopeful that it increases in content as the K year goes by.  Although we didn't use the Language Arts program (I'm trying to focus on phonograms with him versus letter names), by the end of the program, children are given the opportunity to read short vowel CVC words in story format.

How it worked for us.  In order to check my children's progress everyday, I had to sign into each of their accounts and look in their "backpack" icon.  There, I could see which activities they'd attempted and completed for they day and see their percent accuracy on quizzes and tests.  I really, really wish I could log into only one account (the parent account) and view all my kids' progress in one spot -- it would make the program so much more efficient for families with more than one chid that is using the program.

You can print out reports of your child's lessons and learning activities on a weekly or monthly basis, This would form a "lessons completed" log of the child's progress.  The logs report the child's quiz and test grade (in percent).  The program sets a 70% or better criteria for advancement-- anything less than that and the assignment is not considered complete, requiring a re-do by the student. Unfortunately, the 70% criteria cannot be changed at all.

I was not pleased that I couldn't view my child's responses on their quizzes or tests -- only percents are reported.  I'm one who gleans information on my child's errors, so I'm not able to analyze error patterns and assess progress.

On one math quiz (about rays, lines and planes), my son got nearly all the answers wrong.  Aaack! After talking with him and re-starting the quiz, he realized that he'd typed in all the answers in lower case vs. upper case letters.  It's too bad more specific directions weren't given to the child to prevent something like this.

My friend warned me to watch the wording of some questions, as she found questions that were worded so poorly she couldn't figure out what they were asking.  Now, I didn't notice this problem, but perhaps that's because we weren't methodically working through every lesson in all four subjects.  Or, better yet, perhaps they've made some corrections.

One of the things I (wrongly) expected about a computer based curriculum is that I could be more "hands-off" than with the resources we currently use.  Now that I've had a chance to use this (albeit only for a short time), I can see that I would still want to monitor my children's progress.  Add in potential internet connection issues or pages not responding (an issue we didn't deal with during our time using the program), and I would certainly want to stay in the area while my kids' worked.

I can certainly see us using T4L as a supplemental item for certain subjects (especially math for my oldest or science for my middle son, who just. can't. get. enough.).  I wish there was a way to purchase just specific subjects.   After our trial month, I'm much less skeptical of the computer-based educational alternatives and can certainly appreciate their use for a variety of homeschool situations.

If you'd like to read more T4L reviews, click here

FCC note: I was given a month's free membership to Time4Learning in exchange for a my honest opinions and thoughts about it.