Thursday, July 26, 2012

Infusing Visual Learning Strategies with Zane Education

My boys really enjoy integrating videos and movies into our homeschool subjects. It is pretty easy to find short clips on the web, but sometimes, I feel like something is just "missing" when I pull off a clip from a random online source.  I'm not always sure of it's appropriateness for our family viewing standards or for our worldview...and sometimes I feel like we need a bit more "back story" to improve our understanding our what we are seeing.

So, reviewing Zane Education prior to our school year was a huge blessing for our family.  I had not heard of Zane, but had heard of many other subscription based media services for education.

Zane offers over 1,600 of videos (running in duration from just a few minutes to around 25 minutes long) in such a wide variety of topics, that I'm sure you'll hit one of these this year: skills studies.
{The website says ESL and foreign languages are coming soon!}

Educational videos are available for grades pre-school through high school and beyond. 

Zane also offers quizzes, lesson plans, and study tools.  They have several resource guides available to help you align their videos with your Christian homeschooling content. You can compare Zane to other streaming video sources to really see how much you get with a video subscription.

Speaking of subscriptions, Zane can be purchased in several different levels of access:
  1. Gold ($17.99/ month or $197.89/ year) - access to the entire Zane library
  2. Silver ($12.99/ month or $142.89/ year) - access to all videos for an age/grade range
  3. Bronze ($8.99/ month or $98.98/ year) - access to all videos for a subject (say, geography)
They have a "topic tester" $5/ month service to try Zane.  You can learn about all the features of the subscriptions at their Membership Information page.
Use the following {case sensitive} code to receive 35% off your annual subscription!  The code is: ZE744HSM (good through August 31, 2012)

    And, they have a free membership that gives you access to a smaller library of their video.

    Forgot to mention: Sex education videos are included on this site.  There is one for boys, one for girls, and a teen-focused one on pregnancy and childbirth featuring two teens who are pregnant and follows them into the birth room. I watched the boy video and the pregnancy one:  it is well done and covers the basics of a secular sex education.  You'll want to pre-watch them before your children.

    Our thoughts and recommendations: I had no trouble setting up or getting started with Zane.  When I signed up for our Gold access membership account, I was given just one account log in.  At first I wasn't sure how I'd track the boys' quiz scores, but then I read that results can be emailed to an account for tracking. I found that many of the videos we watched were a piece of a larger topic, and the quizzes were testing at a topic level, not at an individual video level.

    I encourage you to watch the free video of the day to see if this is the sort of presentation that your children will like.  The videos are a combination of some moving video and slides.  We watched a movie about the impressionistic painters of the late 1800s, and that was a slide show of important works from the time.  The video we watched entitled "Becoming Americans" was a clever re-telling of events leading up to closing of Boston's Harbor after the Boston Tea Party.  It was definitely meant for early and middle elementary-aged students, because it was a set of slides that were illustrated as if in a children's picture book (the screenshot below is from this video).

    I need to be totally honest:  my kids were not thrilled with the videos.  I think they were anticipating something a big more "History Channel"-ish, so the combination of "slides," moving action, and subtitles (which I totally love, and think is very important for my son, Luke, who struggles with reading fluency - You can read more about Zane's distinct advantage, closed-captioning, by clicking  The Missing Piece (c).) was a disappointment.  My only disappointment was in the size of the video screen.

    I've set the size of this picture to "original size" so that you can see the size of the video.  The video does not "pop out" and become larger like you can opt to do with other streaming video sites (like YouTube).

    You might be wondering about the magnifying glass symbol, the "Q & A" and the set of books on the right side of the video screen.  I've been wondering about them since I first logged into Zane.  While I was re-reading about the company, I discovered this quote:
        Since 1989, our sister company Zane Publishing has been electronically publishing the best educational material in partnership with leading textbook and curriculum publishers. Each title has been specifically designed and developed to teach that material as per the requirements of the K-12 curriculum.
        Now, these same titles originally published as educational software on CD-ROM and used in schools, libraries and in home education across North America and many countries around the world, are available to you online as the world’s most comprehensive library of purposely subtitled educational video, accompanied by a variety of online study tools, lesson plans, additional study resources and online testing – using our on-demand subscription system.
    Ah, so this is the same content that was on the CD-ROM they made that integrated with textbooks used in schools!  Makes more sense, now, that the videos are multi-media: video, slides, drawings, photo, etc.  My thought is that on a CD-ROM, the icons clicked over to additional resources -- resources that Zane has made available on their website through the quizzes, lesson plans, and Study Center:

    I think this is a great resource, and I am pleased to see that Zane has so many different subscription options.  I know that (in spite of my kids saying they do not like it) we will use it a lot this year as we study the 20th Century.  I'm sure they will get used to it and I know they will learn from it.

    Please check out what others on the Schoolhouse Review Crew thought of Zane:


    Disclaimer: As a member of the TOS Crew, I received a complementary Gold Access 12-month subscription to, at no cost to me, in exchange for my honest review. All opinions are mine. 

    Wednesday, July 25, 2012

    Crew Review: Mastering Essential Math Skills- Pre-Algebra

    At the beginning of the summer, I was given an opportunity to review Math Essentials' Mastering Essential Math Skills: Pre Algebra Concepts ($33.95) with Ben.  Ben is a good egg, and was willing to work through the book, instead of progressing through our usual math program.  I'm really grateful that my kids are willing to switch gears and try some new products often.

    In the fall of 2010 ago I had an opportunity to review master teacher Rick Fisher's America's Math Teacher online math program for middle school students (Click Rick's name to learn more about him).

    Instead of that online, all encompassing program, the Math Essentials arm of Rick Fisher's program provides targeted help on skills kids need to succeed in math.  He offers a whole line of workbooks for upper elementary and middle schoolers who might need help with a a specific skill area -- fractions, for example.  {There is an Algebra course offered through Math Essentials -- it was reviewed by the Schoolhouse Crew -- just click to read reviews.}

    What differentiates this skills-focused workbook from other resources is the accompanying DVD with Rick Fisher’s direct, straightforward teaching.
    Here is a sample from the book:

     The top portion of the daily page contains several problems for review of previous material.  The section Helpful Hints highlights (in writing) the basic principals that Mr. Fisher teaches in the DVD.  After this, the student completes 2 problems with their parent/ teacher (to check that they understand what to do), then they work an additional 10 problems, filling in the answer chart on the right hand side of the page (sure makes finding answers easy!).  The final Problem Solving section is a word problem for the student to complete.

    In all, it took Ben less than 30 minutes (he slow completing math) to finish a worksheet + watch the DVD.  His thoughts:  “It was OK (my note:  that’s about as high as praise goes for math).  But watching the DVD got annoying because the guys would constantly say he was ‘America’s Math Teacher.’”

    If you would like to know what is covered in this pre-algebra course, you can view a PDF of the table of contents.  There are definitely topics here that we had not touch on very much when we stopped using Singapore Math (like probability and statistics, so it was worthwhile for Ben to have some exposure to it.

    My recommendations & thoughts:  I would definitely recommend this series to help supplement a math program or for review over the summer.  The teaching is solid, the lessons are to-the-point, and it was easy to correct.  I appreciate that math is provided in several modalities – written and audio/visual – to help kids with different learning styles.

    We also received the Fractions workbook.  It follows the same format of review, teaching, and practice problems and, like the pre-algebra book, I would recommend this for supplemental practice or summer review.

    To see what my Schoolhouse Review colleagues thought of the programs they reviewed, please click the banner below:

    Disclaimer: As a member of the TOS Crew, I received this product, at no cost to me, in exchange for my honest review. All opinions are mine.

    Monday, July 23, 2012

    Planning for Planners

     I think I might have found the perfect, ready-made planner for Ben. I saw this at Staples (there were a few different covers, but this was the best one for a male teen).

     I'm not a fan of planners that are divided horizontally with 10-15 blank lines.  That might work well for writing down homework asssignments.  But, in our homeschool, we need to have a student version of a lesson planner for the week.

     I liked how each weekday had a column, with pre-written subjects for the major classes - Language Arts, Science, Math and Social Studies.  We don't use those tittles, but it is workable.  Each day as three additional sections for other classes.  At the bottom of the page are blank lines with check boxes.

     Under a small Saturday/ Sunday section, there is a fun educational corner with middle school appropriate content.  The back has plenty of helpful charts (periodic table, maps and such).
     And then there are many stickers which can be used for games, field trips, quizzes.  We won't use all of them, but Ben might like some of them.

    The book has monthly calendars as well as weekly (starting in August through July 2013) and there are two bookmarks can can be moved around the coil binding. It is a convenient 9 7/8 x 7 3/4 size.  and has a durable plastic cover and back (the cover is guaranteed to last for the whole school year).

     It does not have any goal setting pages, but those are pages that (when we use them), I tend to keep separate for reviewing together.

    Unfortunately, I have not been able to find this product on Amazon, the Staples website or even at, so I do not know if it has (already) been discontinued. Even my barcode scanners could not find pricing information for it online.

    The only other ready-made planners that I've seen to consider are Apologia's Ultimate Weekly Planner {just not enough subject spots for us} and the Well Planned Day, which is a horizontally oriented planner and I do not care for that (I like boxes, not lines). Of course, I have access to The Old Schoolhouse planners, which are type-able PDFs that I can set up and print out blanks.  I'll likely be using the Old Schoolhouse materials for Luke's planner, but I wanted to find a pre-printed one for Ben.

    I am looking forward to learning what Ben thinks of it.

    Saturday, July 21, 2012

    Adding to the Family

    Introducing..... Tiger. 

    Or Mittens. Or... some yet undetermined name.

    Friday, July 20, 2012

    Beginning The Whole Enchilada Years: Planning for 2012-13

    Welcome to the first of five The Whole Enchilada Years.

    "Whaaa?" You say.

    Enchiladas suizas

    Here's the deal:  finally, all three of my boys "count" this year (in my state, we begin sending letters of intent when the child is 6 years old by Sept. 30th).  Now, I tend to think that my kids have "counted" since, like, birth; but from a strictly legal standpoint, Levi's education now "counts" as he begins his 1st grade year.  I'll be Whole Enchilada schooling for the next five years. 

    I'm amazed at how little time that reads.  Just 5 years, and Ben will be graduated.

    One of my favorite purchases this spring was Debra Bell's The Ultimate Guide to Homeschooling Teens.  Her book The Ultimate Guide to Homeschooling gave structure to my thoughts and ideas about homeschooling my young son (and his future siblings) when the idea was first mentioned by my husband.  That book pointed me towards resources to consider and educational models to explore.  And she was funny, to boot, which I needed during a long, cold, white New England winter.

    On of the big things that her Teen book inspires me to do is flesh out a (working, changeable, non-permanent) 5-year plan for Ben.  Fortunately, he has a dream and a goal for after high school, so we are going to gear the 5-year plan towards that. I am actually looking forward to this discussion with him, and I think it will encourage him to take ownership in his education {he is amazingly responsible for much of his school day, and I am very grateful for that.}

    This will be Luke's first year with his own "planner" from which he'll need to work.  He's mentioned wanting to have a time-specified day (an interesting request from a kid who gets side-tracked so easily).  So, after determining his courses, I'll sit with him to plan his schedule.

    And Levi.  He'll probably have the best education of the bunch.  I  know he'll learn -- I know he'll forget things. I now know what things I need to in introduce earlier (writing) and what things I'm not going to stress out about (math -- he'll get it).

    This coming year will have significantly less out-of-house activities.  And, I think that will be OK, especially during the fall, when we'll be out of the house for soccercrosscountryandfootball, oh my.

    My first step is to figure out what subjects I'll be teaching the boys this year and which topics to cover (not to hard to figure out, actually).  We'll still be reviewing products for The Old Schoolhouse magazine through the fall, so I try to schedule in some "review school" time.

    So far this is where we are at:

    • History, Literature, Geography, Worldview: TOG with a virtual Co-op and monthly History group (for art and music of the time period)
    • Science: Apologia's Physical Science
    • Grammar:  Not sure if I'll continue with Easy Grammar or switch to Fix-It Grammar {from IEW} along with the Blue Book of English Grammar
    • Math:  Continue on with MUS
    • Spanish:  We're going to try our state's virtual charter school for Spanish, and I'll be teaching the little boys some Spanish at home, so we should be good.
    • Writing:  We have some good choices!  We'll either use Writing with World (a review from last year) or IEW.  If we use IEW, we really need to move through it!
    • Spelling:  Ben will be using, which we are reviewing right now.
    • I'd like to offer some "electives" to Ben this year.  I have computer programming, informal logic, and some critical thinking materials as well.  I'd like to try to make them not last a whole year, so that we can introduce some variety.
    • History/ Literature/ Geography: TOG
    • Science:  Christian Kids Explore Earth Science section.  And, we're going to use  Developoing Critical Thinking Through Science because the science book we're using does not have a lot of experiments, and the boys have been begging me for experiments.
    • Writing: WriteShop Junior Book D.  This has some grammar and I think that if we use this + the Fix-It program, Luke will be good.
    • Spelling:  A combo of SWR words on and SWR exercises with me.
    • Math: MUS Gamma
    • Spanish
    • Critical Reasoning books
    • I also need to be listening to Luke read more!
    • History/ Literature/ Geography: TOG, probably listening in with Luke's Upper Grammar and some lower grammar readers.
    • Science: with Luke
    • Writing:  I've got WriteShop Junior Book A in my shopping cart, and I'm just trying to decide if I do that or not.
    • Grammar:  I purchased a Critical Thinking Language Smarts Level B book for him.  There's grammar, punctuation, some phonics and some editing in it.  I think it will be a good mix of information.  I might use parts of  First Language Lessons for the 3rd and last time, if I can stand it (I love the book, just not maybe a third time).
    • Spelling/ Phonics: Spell to Write and Read and
    • Math:  MUS
    • Spanish
    • Levi also needs to read aloud to me.  
    We have a great family devotional set that we started 4 weeks ago.  I haven't blogged about it yet, but it's coming.

    I hope to  pull out our Sing the Word CDs and do much more verse memorization this year.  It is an area that I'm embarrassed to admit we've fallen behind in.

    I have to admit that I do not plan for each school year in the same way.  Some years I feel like I know exactly which resources we're going to be using before the previous year ends;  other years, I've still been ordering materials in September!  This year, I hope to have most everything purchased by the beginning of the school year, but...ya never know.

    Want to see what others are using? Link up and read what others are planning on using at Blessed Beyond a Doubt:

    Tuesday, July 17, 2012

    Crew Review: MapTrek e-book Set by Knowledge Quest

    I love maps.

    My kids seem to have inherited a bit of my love, and I hope as they get older, that love and fascination with the world will grow.

    So, yes, we do a fair amount of geography to coordinate with our studies. 

    I have been impressed with Knowledge Quests products for some time, and own a few.  For this review, we were given the downloadable versions of the MapTrek 6-ebook set ($47.00).

    This 230-map set includes practically every historical map you could EVER want for your students.  History is broken into 4 time periods: Ancient, Medieval, New World and Modern (I’ve provided links to each level so you can see which maps are included in each set). The US set contains 235 maps that cover just US history.  There is over lap in the US and World History sets when the US was involved in an international event, such as a World War I .

    Here’s what you get with each set of maps:
    1.  Fully colored, labeled and correct teacher map.
    2.  Unlabeled, lightly colored student map.  The map’s title is printed on it (so you can identify which map goes with which set of instructions)
    3.  Lessons plans divided up by classical age levels:  grammar, logic and rhetoric.  This collection will last you for all your students.  This are really fantastic.  Just today, we re-visited American Immigration (a topic we studied in May), and these were the directions for my grammar kids (level A):
    Now that I think about it, I could have bumped them up to complete the labeling of all the states, since we learned them well last year.  Hmmm, maybe we will pull out the maps tomorrow and finish labeling them!
    4.  A glossary of terms used in the lessons is included, just in case you haven’t covered “axis” or “NATO” quite yet.  Or in case a certain someone cannot recall what “immigration” means.  In the fall, we’ll be using the Modern set of maps, and I will copy the glossary for my older two (8th and 4th grades) so they can have them handy.
    DSCN0997I like to use atlases and maps while the kids are doing map work.  This way, they are learning to use reference books and are not relying on me to point to each spot they need to find.  Saves my sanity and helps them learn more. 

    After Levi wrote out all the state abbreviations for his map, his hand was getting tired.  I used clear tape with the label maker so he could finish the map and label the ports of entry timely and without tears. 

    Luke, on the other hand, needs to practice copying and labeling more.  I wrote the names of the ports on a dry erase board and he copied them to his map.  Quite a colorful map, don’t you think?

    My recommendations and thoughts:  While I do think that this is a great family activity (with younger kids finishing before the big kids), it could easily be handed to a student who is a good reader.  Provide them with a variety of historical atlases and have them complete the directions independently.  You can then check it against the teacher’s map and grade it.   I will probably do this with some of Ben's geography work this fall (8th grade), because he needs practice using references and researching.

    I highly recommend this set of maps.  You can use them with a wide variety of history curriculum.  You can download samples (opens in a pdf file). Don’t forget to see what other reviewers thought of this product AND Knowledge Quest’s Time Maps.


    Disclaimer: As a member of the TOS Crew, I received this product, at no cost to me, in exchange for my honest review. All opinions are mine.

    Wednesday, July 11, 2012

    Vacation Post #4: "Are We There Yet?" or What To Do In The Car

    I love, love, love driving vacations.  I love packing the car and making a place for everything (I'm weird, I know).  I love the anticipation of the drive.  I love the scenery as we drive through the US.  And, believe it or not, I don't mind the "Are we there yet?" questions.  Usually.

    When the question isn't excessive (my boys are usually pretty good), I think it shows a healthly amount of anticipation for the next part of the trip.  Since kids can have a pretty strange sense of the passage of time, I like to think of it as "training" in how long an hour (or two) really is.

    {As an aside, I get mad at myself when I say, "in a minute" and multiple minutes -- or even an hour! -- pass by.  Not good for teaching a sense of time!}

    We spent a LOT of time in the car, but it really wasn't that bad.  As I mentioned before, we had a lot of bathroom breaks and there were many days that everyone's bladders were not in sync.  Urgh.  A few times we had bathroom/ sugar bomb stops.

    Sugar bomb stops?  This is when someone (me) decided that apples, baby carrots and granola bar snacks were for the birds and we needed Twizzlers and Skittles.  The boys loved those stops!

    Last year's car trip really brought out the ultra creative in me -- I made travel activity books for the kids.  This year's trip came too soon on the heels of the last day of school, and I just didn't have the time or desire to polish them up or find new things to add to them. Instead, I just went shopping for a few extras to help pass the time.

    Scavenger Hunt for Kids was a hit, and a good variation on the traditional Car Bingo.  It had cards for spying as well as cards for feeling things -- like a bump -- or hearing a noise.  You could trade in your dud cards (like trying to find a guy wearing a hat -- that was a hard one) to keep the game moving along.  Even Dave got into helping us out when he was driving.

    Another huge hit was the purchase of some mega dot-to-to books:

     The boys loved them because they were hard.  Outside of knowing the theme of the book (we bought a sport one, animal one, and American one), it was really hard to guess what you picture you were working on.  I was hoping the kids would color them when they finished.  But honestly, they were just happy to finish one of the puzzles and move on with life!

    Levi talked me into this rather cool color by number book:  

    {I took a couple Mad Lib books, but the boys really didn't explore them until we got home.}

    Another things we did was audiobooks.  Unfortunately, Dave didn't appreciate them as much as the boys and I did, so we didn't listen to all we had available to us.  I really prefer these to DVDs.

    OK, we're not the perfect little family, and we did rent a few Red Box DVDs along the way.   I have their app on my phone, so it was easy to find an outlet to rent and return to.  As a general rule of thumb, though, Walmart is everywhere (in case you hadn't heard!!) and Red Box is usually at one or the other entrances.

    Or course, books always come with us.  We had every measure of 21st century ways to read books -- real books with pages to turn, iphone apps and a Kindle or two.  Ben is reading leisurely through a few free, public domain Kindle books -- one of Grimm's fairy tales, plus regular books.  Luke, sadly, seems to have inherited my propensity for car sickness with reading.  He usually doesn't get more than 15 minutes or reading in before he feels woozy.

    Of course, there are naps to help pass the time, but my 13, 9 and 6 year olds are not as fond of them as their 40+ year old parents!

    Tuesday, July 10, 2012

    Crew Review: Hewitt's Lightning Literature 8th Grade

    Having been 'round the homeschooling block now for 8-ish years, I've heard often the mention of  Hewitt Homeschooling -- usually related to their home school friendly standardized test, the PASS Test.  I've also heard of the Lightning Literature middle school literature program on various online forums for years, but not until I signed up for this review did I realize that Hewitt is the publisher for Lightning Literature.

    Literature is one subject that I admit to not feeling very skilled to teach.  I was one of those students who didn't really get why we study literature until well into adulthood.  Even in college, I took only the bare minimum of lit classes, despite the fact that I LOVE reading fiction.

    I was impressed by the books that arrived from Hewitt for this review of Lightning Literatures's 8th grade Literature and Composition Course.  My packet included these books:

    You can purchase Lightning Literature in several ways.

    The base program includes a teacher guide ($20), student guide ($25) and a consumable student workbook ($25) can be purchased individually or in a set with the literature books for  $125.95.  If you already have the book  Stories and Poems for Extremely Intelligent Children, you can purchase the remaining literature books and the Lightning Lit 3-pack for $108.85.  

    I was very impressed by the thoroughness of the teacher's guide (TG).  It includes a comprehensive explanation on how to use the course and it's components, a weekly planning guide, and book-by-book answers and guides.  The schedule shows that there will be some weeks of just reading the novel/ selection and other weeks of combined literature lessons and reading and writing.

    Each literary work includes (in the student text with worksheets in the student workbook):
    • Comprehension Questions for each chapter in the novelThese are basic questions to test comprehension of the story.
    • Literary lessons ~ these include the following topics: author's purpose, setting, imagery in poetry, sharing culture, details in writing, character development, figurative language, conflict, symbolism, humor, meter in poetry, and writing a literary analysis.
    • Mini lessons ~ these related to the reading (such as genre fiction) or a composition skill (such as taking notes or citing sources in a paper)
    • Writing lessons  ~ there are choices here.  The author of the guide recommends that a student complete one  for each unit.
    • Workbook lessons ~ these can be related to the literary lessons, the mini-lesson, a thinking-skill page, a grammar/ mechanic review, exercises to help practice literary analysis, puzzles (like a crossword), or extra challenge pages.  The puzzles and extra-challenge are meant to be optional (my son does not care for crossword puzzles, so I would not assign many to him at all).
    • Discussion questions ~ these are meant to be dinner-time discussion questions, not testing questions.  The teacher's manual explains: "these are meant to bring the student beyond just the literary aspects of the work to questions that deal with their lives." (p. 5)
    I really appreciated all the work that went into the teacher's guide.  It isn't an open-and-go program, but it is very understandable and easy to get started.

    The Student Guide is a non-consumable text for the 8th grader.  Each chapter begins with an introduction to the author of the work to be studied.  A list of vocabulary words is defined for the student with comprehension questions following.

    Next, the literary lesson is written for the student to read (as the teacher, you do not have to teach this literary topic -- but I sure would pre-read it and prepared for discussion).  For this review, I made a deal with Ben that he could read The Hobbit (he loves J.R.R Tolkien) -- Chapter 8 in the study -- which taught about conflict.  We had studied conflict this past year, but not with such a clear student-focused description of the types of conflict in literature (such as man vs. nature, man vs. man, etc.).  After reading this, Ben completed an exercise (in the student workbook) to solidify his ability to discern different types of conflict.  I thought this was a great lesson, and I know it really helped him.

    The mini-lesson is next.  Again, it is written for the student to read to himself.  Workbook pages help to solidify this lesson.

    The final part of each chapter in the student guide is the writing assignments.  This is meant to be completed after the additional workbook pages (for the lesson, mini-lesson, grammar, etc) are completed.  For The Hobbit, Ben had four choices -- each different types of writing:
    1. A short story/ recollection
    2. A re-write of a scene in The Hobbit
    3. A genre fiction short story
    4. A research paper
    {Total disclosure -- writing is not close to one of Ben's favorite things to do, so I did not make him complete one of these assignments for this review.  Total rebellion and mutiny would have been real possibilities.}

    In other sections of the course, students are asked to write with poetic devises, write opinion papers, write persuasive papers, write a letter... like I said, a wide variety.

    My thoughts and our experience:  I think this is a great literature program!  I would highly recommend it for someone looking to incorporate more literary analysis into their program -- especially if you feel your background is not strong.  I think it is well laid out for student and teacher. If your child has not been taught basic composition skills (how to write a paragraph, how to write a three-paragraph essay, etc.) I think would would want to supplement with resources to teach these writing skills.  I wouldn't rely on LL to fill that need.  And I would not consider their grammar to be comprehensive -- it is meant to be a quick review.

    Please click on the graphic below to read about other literature courses for middle and high school as well as some of Hewitt's grammar level resources for research/ writing:


    Disclaimer: As a member of the TOS Crew, I received this product, at no cost to me, in exchange for my honest review. All opinions are mine.

    Monday, July 9, 2012

    Crew Review: Professor B Math (Level 1)

    One of the things I try to do each summer is make sure we do math several times a week.  As I live and breathe, we will not have another summer like we had in 2008 when we took a complete break from math, only to restart school in September and realize that my sweet son had practically forgotten what a "+" sign looked like and what it meant.  No foolin'.

    Levi is right smack in the middle of learning subtraction, and I really wanted to keep the ball rolling this summer, so I was happy to give Professor B Math a try.

    Professor B is unique in many ways.  It is an online program, but it is used in a novel way. Whereas a lot of online programs remove the parent as teacher, Professor B does not.  Instead, Professor B provides a complete curriculum for preschool up through middle school that is parent taught using an online "textbook."  You, as the teacher, read Professor Bee's words, making you an instant Master Teacher.

    The bee flits around the screen, and you (the bee/ teacher) read his speech bubbles to teach the lesson.  Various graphics such as arrows, the bee himself, and numbers move on the screen -- similar to the appearance and disappearance of graphic elements in a PowerPoint presentation.   However, it is very professionally done.

    I'd really encourage you to take at look at the sample lessons.  You can find them here on the home page:

    Another distinctive of this math program is that there is not necessary a workbook page after each lesson.  The workbook (which is included in the program) is a PDF file.  The online text will tell you when to do the workbook pages -- which are called facility exercises.  In level 1 -- which is what I used with Levi -- there are 63 facility exercises, which are one to three page exercises.

    Here's an example of what the screen looks like when you get to the written exercises:

    Some of these distinctives (and more) are discussed more in the FAQs. You can read about the genesis of Professor B as well.

    Pricing: You can purchase this program on a month-to-month basis or as an annual subscription.  The cost is based on how many levels you are using:

    One level = $20/ month
    Two levels (used at the same time) = $20/ month for first level + $15/ month for second level
    Three levels (used at the same time) = $20/ month for first + $15/ month for second + $10/ month for third level

    You can also purchase annual subscriptions.  Pricing update as of 7/11/12 direct from Professor B: "We also have a new price change on our yearly subscription.  Our program can now be purchase for $100 for 3 years access to each level. Our IT department is working on changing the site.  However, if the customers call 678-765-6655 we will be able take their order and honor the new price." 
      Our Experience:  I'm  used to using non-traditional math programs with unique scopes and sequences, and Professor B is no exception.  In level 1, addition and subtraction are taught using number bonds and are taught together so students can see the relationship:

    4+3=7   3+4=7
    7-4=3    7-3=4

    Part/ whole relationships between number bonds are also stressed using a "game" called The Circle Game:

    There are no unit or topical tests, but at the home page, each level has a placement test which you could use to test your child out of each level. 

    As the teacher, I found the curriculum to be a little confusing to start.  I wish there had been an instructor's guide to explain how best to get started with the curriculum, a scope and sequence (which, to be fair, is the Table of Contents once you log into the online program) and a bit of a "road map" to help expain how the PDF Facility Exercises dovetailed with the online program.

    As a student, Levi had a hard time getting into the swing of things.  I think he expected an online, interactive math program -- which is something he enjoys -- and was a bit shocked when I started reading the instructions to him.  Levi is a student who likes workbook pages, so it was disorienting for him to work through several lessons and not have anything to do.  At the end of most lessons we finished we received a reminder to work on skills taught for 5 minutes a day on our own.  A dry erase board would be a great tool to use to quickly complete teacher-generated exercises, like counting by 2x starting at 1 or counting backwards starting at 9.

    My thoughts: I think this program would be good for working with students who might be behind in their skills.  Since there are only three levels, a student who is behind in their basic math would not have to discouraged by working in a lower numbered book.  Also, those students who are ahead in math might appreciate this program as well, since there are three years of content in each level.  It could be quite economical to use this program!

    Parent teachers who might appreciate this program should consider how much they  might learn in teaching this program, so if you are nervous about how to teach math, this might be the program for you.

    If you are interested in what the other Schoolhouse reviewers thought (especially those who used Level 2 or Level 3), please click the link below:

    Disclaimer: As a member of the TOS Crew, I received a one year subscription to this product, at no cost to me, in exchange for my honest review. All opinions are mine.

    Monday, July 2, 2012

    Vacation Post #3: Breaking It Up

    The second leg of our trip was a marathon drive:  we were just west of  Kansas City, Kansas and needed to get to Colorado Springs -- hopefully before nightfall, so we could see the mountains rising in the distance.

    We plotted out a driving course of about  580 miles, which Google said would take us 9 hours and 3 minutes. Without stops.

    Oh, did I mention that before we left, Dave and I watched Fat, Sick & Nearly Dead and that Dave decided to start a 60-day juice fast?  This might seem like it doesn't pertain to the topic of this post, but guess what happens when you juice-fast?

    You need to make lots of bathroom breaks!

    So, that helped to break up the drive.  a. lot.

    The other thing that helped was a bet between Dave and Ben.  They each have to run one mile a day.  First one to quit owes a $20 prize to the other.  If Dave wins, Ben is buying him a big ol' breakfast.  If Ben wins, Dave hands off a $20 itunes gift card.

    {No, I have no idea who will win.}

    So each day we had to make sure they did their run. 

    In Ohio, they ran laps at a spacious rest area:

    In Kansas, Dave decided to surprise Ben and the boys and run across the Kansas-Colorado border.  So we found the town of Kanorado, Kansas and stopped there to run a mile:

     This is me driving 5 miles an hour behind Dave.  Ben and Luke are ahead of him not because he couldn't keep up, mind you.
     This is Luke just steps from adding another state to his list of been-there-done-that.

    Dave, being from New England, had a hard time believing me when I told him the border between Kansas and Colorado was an actual road.  This road, going off to the left, is the border.

    Another thing we did along the way was stop at short little touristy spots.  Dave mentioned something about the World's Largest Prairie dog in Kansas.  We laughed about it until he actually found it and we stopped!  

    Yes, we paid the admission so we could all go see the prairie dog at Prairie Dog Town.

    The owner's wife (cannot remember her name) was working that day, and she and I got to talking.  She shared with Dave and I that they hope to retire (for sale signs were posted) from their nationally recognized zoo (or whatever credential a zoo needs to have) so that she can pursue what she likes to do:  hunting.  They have had this place for 45 years!As a matter of fact, she seems to be  the person locals come to when they need to get rid of rattlesnakes.  When I asked her, "How did it come about that you started hunting rattlesnakes?" she told me that she was afraid of them, but didn't want to be, so she started learning how to pick them up, get rid of them, and manage them.  Very admirable.

    The Prairie Dog

    They have a huge, lighted enclosure with rattlesnakes (I thought they were fake, until the lady hit the wall -- then they started rattling!) inside, and the kids were given a small amount of animal pellets to feed the goats and animals.  Some of the animals were a little sad to see (the five- and six-legged cattle), and there weren't a whole lot of animals to see.  But, I really enjoyed speaking to the owner's wife, and it was a better pit stop than just running into a convenience store and staring down the Skittles.

    We made a couple of other great driving breaks towards the end of our trip, but I'll save those for later.