## Wednesday, March 28, 2012

### Wordless Wednesday: Walking the Line

While at a doctor’s appointment, Aikman was attracted to the pattern of the tiles on the floor, which formed a loop around the waiting room.  He walked the line in several different patterns, but the favorite was trying to do “heel to toe” in the zig-zag pattern at the corners.

Does your child(ren) still walk the line?  What’s the “pattern” that has gotten the most attention?

## Tuesday, March 27, 2012

### Studying fractions

Since December, we’ve deviated from the addition tables to work on other areas of math. For the past few months, we focused on fractions.

To introduce fractions, I used our set of fraction circles from Alison’s Montessori.  These are stiff plastic pieces, labeled from 1 whole to 1/10, and come in a really nice wooden case.  I was a little nervous about getting these, but have determined that they are WONDERFUL!  They are very study and are a more economical version of the metal fraction circles – a very practical choice for energetic hands.

First presentation:  Introducing the parts of a whole

For our presentation, I showed Aikman the box and the 1 whole circle.  I told him that this was 1 whole, and that it was represented by a 1.  Then I showed him 1/2, pointing to the 1/2 on the top of each fraction.  I let him build a circle with the halves, which came through normal exploration.  As he pulled out each piece, I said the name of the piece – one-half. As he built, I asked him how many pieces made a whole.

I initially thought that we would do just 1/2, 1/3, and 1/4 and then stop, but he enjoyed it so much that he wanted to build them ALL.  So, I repeated the above step – build a circle, say the name as he built, and then asked how many pieces made a whole.

Second presentation:  Introducing the representations of each part

For our next presentation, I had Aikman trace each fraction part and label it.  As part of the presentation, I traced each image myself first, and then said its name/representation (ie one-half) followed by writing the fraction (1/2).  He then carefully followed suit for each of the fractions.  I reminded him that three 1/3 pieces made a whole.  At this point, I did not introduce the concept of more than one part of a whole (ie 2/3, 3/3, etc), but was reserving this as part of a follow-up presentation.

The cutest part, though, was that at the end of each lesson, I have Aikman write his name on his paper and put it away.  In the submission bin, this is what I found…

It’s it adorable?  And what thought went into correctly making the divisions for his name!  I don’t know if you can make out the numbers, but he correctly labeled 1, 1/2, and 1/3 under each letter of his name and within each partitioned circle!

Do you have other ideas for teaching fractions?  Let me know in the comments below!

I’m linking up to Montessori Monday and Math Monday.

Disclosure:  A special thanks to Alison’s Montessori for providing the fraction circles to us, as a part of the compensation from the December Alison’s Montessori giveaway.

## Sunday, March 25, 2012

Internet security is always an issue looming inside many parents’ minds, especially those with older children.  It is a fine line between learning how to use the computer with the equally scary dangers that potentially could occur.  That’s where Action Alert comes in…

Action Alert offers many different features for their software.  You can block or even filter websites.  You can control the amount of time and the time of day that the child can get on the computer.  You can even receive notifications if anything suspicious occurs and to receive reports/activity on the computer.

One of the aspects that I really liked about this program is that they offer two different versions of the software – a free version as well as maximum protection.  Amazingly, this company is offering most of the features for FREE!  (Talk about a company devoted to internet security!)   The free version will block sites, filters content, utilizes the time controls, and even will email/text you if it finds suspicious activity.

Maximum protection grants you all of the free version, plus an additional toolbar with added functionality, AND it will record every keystroke and screen just like you are watching it play out from the DVR.

So, any worries that you have about cyber-bullying, sexting, online predators, or even accidentally bringing up a website with questionable content can be avoided.

Note: Action Alert only works on Windows PCs and notebooks that has Windows XP or higher.  Likewise, Action Alert was previously released as PG Key, but has been improved upon.

What we thought:

Since Aikman is 5, he really doesn’t use the computer very often, other than very controlled settings when we are sitting next to him.  Action Alert looks like a really good program; it just wasn’t used very much since we didn’t need it at this time.  It was easy to install and to set up – only a quick second to enter in my email and set up a password.  It was user-friendly.

You can download the free version or get the Maximum Protection for \$29.99 here.

## Friday, March 16, 2012

### TOS Review: The Art of Argument

**Note:  As a part of The Old Schoohouse crew and a math geek, I offered to complete an informational review of The Art of Argument by Classical Academic Press.  This curriculum is WAY beyond elementary level education, and is more suited for grades 7-12.  If you do not have children in this age range, please ignore this post.

I love logic.  In fact, when I taught high school math, I taught logic to my geometry as well as to the Senior math students.  So, when I was chosen to review The Art of Argument, I was quite intrigued to see what content was contained within this book.

The Art of Argument presents 28 different fallacies, or invalid arguments, including different appeals to emotions, red herrings, presuppositions, and fallacies of clarity.  Each fallacy is defined and explained, and sample advertisements are shown to demonstrate each principle.  A short argument is given at the end of each section, which encourages the child to review the argument and determine where the fallacy lies.  Oftentimes, a commentator – Socrates – explains on the next page why the argument was a fallacy.

Upon reading several of the chapters in the student text, the information presented is correct, but the content can sometimes be a little thick to understand.  At the beginning of each unit, there is a small “skit” between 2-3 characters:  a girl named Tiffany, a boy named Nate, and the ancient Greek philosopher Socrates.  These skits present what the upcoming unit will be discussing, and in general terms, Socrates points out why there are holes in these type arguments.  Personally, this makes reading the chapter a little difficult, especially if you are not accustomed to reading lines, rather than a straightforward text.  However, the points are humorous and engaging to the reader.

At the end of each chapter, there is a review section.  The child defines each fallacy studied, reads an argument and determines it’s fallacy, and then asks the child to apply this information to a real-world scenario of their own (or one he/she has heard in the past).

A teacher’s edition is also included with this bundle.  However, it is nearly identical to the student edition, but with the answers filled in on the blanks.  Chapter and unit tests are included at the end of the book, along with a final exam.  I do wish that they would have included more explanation and resources for further information in the teacher’s education, for the average parent who has not studied arguments before.  If you do not have a background in this area, then you may be learning it with your child, especially since the reading is a bit heavy on content without a lot of explanation, at times.  Likewise, I do wish the tests at the end would have included some visual advertising questions (rather than just text questions) for the students to analyze.

A 5-DVD set is also included with this bundle.  It contains more than 8 hours of explanation total, including a video for each fallacy.  Each video is approx 20 minutes each.  The videos that I previewed are shown as a panel type setting, with a teacher in the center and 4 students surrounding him.  The teacher then asked questions, and had students respond with scenarios that they had encountered, and then explains how these fit into that category.

If your child enjoys this book and wishes to continue studying logic, I’d recommend a book on formal logic (my favorite topic to study!).  Classical Academic Press has a book over formal logic called The Art of Deduction.  Likewise, if you want your child to learn how to make better arguments, and not necessarily to analyze them for fallacies, then you would be interested in The Argument Builder.

The Art of Argument bundle can be purchased for \$88.95.  You can also purchase the books separately:  student book for \$21.95; teacher’s edition \$24.95; and DVD set for \$54.95.

## Tuesday, March 13, 2012

### TOS Review: Creek Edge Press

I’ve been on The Homeschool Crew for nearly a year now, and honestly thought that there weren’t any Montessori-inspired products out there that would test the TOS crew to see what they though.  Luckily, Creek Edge Press choose prove me wrong!

Creek Edge Press is a fairly new company, started in 2011, which creates materials that combine Montessori, Charlotte Mason, and Classical education together.  The creator, Amy, began making task cards for her oldest daughter when she was a first grader.  She wanted to build upon the Montessori environment that her daughter, then a first grader, had received while in preschool, while “using a classical education scope and sequence and the nurturing qualities of the Charlotte Mason approach.”

I was given the chance to review the Earth and Space Task Cards – a teachers’s guide and a set of 34 cards which each contain a set of tasks pertaining to the topic listed on each card.

Topics include:

• layers of the earth
• earthquakes, volcanoes, and geysers
• rocks and minerals
• fossils and caves
• oceans and currents
• coral reefs and icebergs
• rivers
• weather and seasons
• sun, light, and rainbows
• the water cycle
• types of clouds
• solar system, stars, and constellations

The teacher’s guide introduces how to set up the environment, use these task cards, and list recommended books to read.  These are NOT intended to be a “boxed” curriculum, where you will have all of the worksheets already pre-made and activities planned out, but rather an introduction to a topic, and then have the child independently explore that topic via living books, researching the information, and making posters.

The teacher guide suggests that independent readers complete 1 task card per week, and then check off each item as it is completed.  Each card begins with encyclopedia research – research found in an encyclopedia-type resource, such as the DK Children’s Encyclopedia, followed by “further reading” about a topic using living books from your local library.  Afterwards, there are other ideas to study the topics listed on the cards, typically involving making a poster or collage, drawing a picture, or watching videos.

What we thought:

I was elated to be selected for this review, since it truly was one of the few Montessori-inspired products that was listed for this year.  I could not wait for it to arrive!  Unfortunately, I quickly learned that it jus wasn’t the best match for our family at this time.

The product says that it is designed for K-8; however, we struggled using the product.  I believe it is for an older child – most likely grades 3-8.  It’s intentions is to make the child independent and let the child be responsible for their own learning, but this is not  the case for those children who cannot read.  As the author points out, for grades K-2, the parents should be reading the material to the children and writing down narrations for the child.  This is counter-intuitive for me, since I am trying to teach him to be as independent as possible, and not rely on me so much for his education, other than as a resource to help him discover the answers to his own questions.

Likewise, many of the task cards seem too scattered, without cohesion nor focus, while others go into great detail for (potentially) weeks on end.  For instance, card #1 asks the child to read about Earth, draw a picture of Earth as it is located in space, but then the next task is to study floating plates, followed by the layers of the earth, and ending with a pangea poster.  Researching information about the planet Earth is also discussed in a latter card (#23).  I think the card would have been better about discussing the layers of the earth and the continents, in order for it to connect floating plates to pangea.

On an additional note, only a select few landforms (found in both the Montessori primary and lower elementary curriculum) are mentioned on the task cards – volcanoes (#2) and caves(#4).

The second half of the cards cover space (#19 – #34).  Unlike the beginning section on Earth – ranging from topics as wide as rocks and minerals (1 card) to weather (6 cards) to a few biomes (2 cards) – each topic in space received it’s own separate card.  So, each planet would be studied in detail for a week, as well as several of the constellations.

Since we have been studying the constellations, I did pull out cards #29 – 33.  We have been primarily reading books about constellations, including this glow in the dark book, as suggested on the task card.  (I will be sharing my list of books in an upcoming post, so stay tuned for it.)  We are also planning on visiting a planetarium this weekend (Unfortunately, we discovered last week that our local science center only shows programs about the stars on the weekends.).

My one request would be that the teacher’s guide include a list of experiments (with materials needed) to complete with the task cards.  Science with experiments is so much more engaging for my son that just living books.

This product would be best for a family who has older children (like I said grades 3-8), who are wanting to make the children more self-directed in their learning, and who do not mind using living books and a CM approach to learning.

You can purchase these cards for \$18, or any number of sets of cards over science, history, art, music, geography, or even grammar for \$18-32 per set.  Or, you can purchase the entire science set for \$65 or geography/history set for \$90.

You can read what other crew members thought here.

## Sunday, March 4, 2012

### TOS Review: K5 Learning

We were given the chance to review K5, a web-based learning program.

It is based around 4 core subjects:  Reading, Spelling, Math, and Math Facts.  Reading covers just that – from learning the sounds, to sight words, to reading comprehension.  Math covers topics such as geometry, measurement, time, money, and even calendar skills.  Math Facts works on the math tables for addition, subtraction, multiplication, and division.

It is designed so that the child is self-sufficient, and does not need a parent assisting him with the program.

One of the aspects of the program that I like is that your child is assessed in reading and math and is then placed according to what he/she needs to work on. So, your child can work on topics that may be above or below grade level – depending upon the child’s needs.

However, for a 5 year old in kindergarten, I think the assessment takes a little too long, which can take up to 45 minutes per subject.  It does include short breaks, with educational games to let their minds rest for a few minutes, but I think the program could have figured out much quicker than it did what he did and did not know, without quite so many questions.

I do like how the assessment report does break things down nicely for the parents.  It shows where the child stands per general grade guidelines – above, at, or below grade level.  However, for many homeschooling families “grade level” really doesn’t make a difference.

Another aspect of the program that I really like is that you can assign specific topics for the child.  Are you study geometry in your math curriculum, and she needs a little extra practice?  You can have the program reteach this subject, and have the child complete the activities dealing with this, without having to reset all of their other work just to practice this one skill.

One thing that I wish I could see within this program is the list of assignments, specifically which ones my son has completed/mastered (including from the assessment), and what topics he is headed to next (or even when he has completed all of the assignments for a specific grade level.  The way that it is set up now, I have to compare 3 different charts/reports to determine what he has completed and where he is heading next.

Aikman’s favorite area was the math facts section.  I liked that it had a table showing which math facts he had learned.  The table, similar to the one to the left, shows exactly what facts the child has learned.   My problem, however, is that it took a very long time to move from one level to the next.  Aikman began on the +0 facts, which had already knew.  He then moved on to the +1 facts (again something that he already knew).  But, according to the system, he had worked on these facts for nearly 2 hours total over the trial period, and he still had not yet finished the +1 videos, and therefore, had not finished the quiz over +1 facts.  So, the only green column showing mastery on his table were the +0 ones.  Disappointingly, after 2 hours over nearly 6 weeks time, he still did not show a gain in his addition facts.

He did work on the reading one also, but it placed him in the vowels section, and had him sounding out simple CVC words, which he has already mastered.  He did enjoy the sight words section that was mixed in between these, but the exercises were too long and repetitive for him, and he would often exclaim, “oh, I have to do this again!?!”

We did not try the spelling section, since this is not a skill that we are emphasizing at this time.

There are also reward games that the child can earn the chance to play.  However, for a 5 year old, it was too complicated for him to figure out how to play them.  I did not like that it did not contain an option to turn off the games, especially since they were frustrating him so much.  Instead, we had to wait until the game timer went off.

Overall, it was a decent program.  It wasn’t one that he asked for, and I often had to beg him to use it each day of the trial.  However, I think it may work better for a child that is a little older – say 2nd or 3rd grade – and prefers online programs.

You can purchase K5 Learning for \$25/month for the first child and \$15/month for the second child, or an annual subscription for \$199 for one child or \$299 for 2 children.  You can also try out the program with a 14 day trial.

Read what other crew members have to say here.

Disclosure:  We were given a 6 weeks trial of K5, in exchange for an honest review.

## Friday, March 2, 2012

About a year ago, I heard about an online program called Reading Eggs through one of my yahoo groups.  I wasn’t really sure about its effectiveness, so I decided to give it a 2 week trial.  Was a surprised when my son begged me to play it every single day for the entire 2 week period.

By the end of that period, he had gotten into some harder material that he had not fully internalized and was struggling on every question.  At that point, I thought that this program just wasn’t for us.  A few weeks later, I saw on offer on the Homeschool Buyers Coop for Reading Eggs.  I looked over it once again, and discovered that when the learning becomes too hard, you simply move the child backwards a few levels.  In fact, it states that the child needs to see the material at least 3 times in order to fully learn the material.  I took a chance, bought a year’s membership, moved him back 7 or 8 levels, and let him try again.

Needless to say, we have not regretted purchasing that membership!  Of ALL of the educational programs that we’ve tried, this is THE ONE that has made the biggest difference in helping Aikman learn to read, segment, and put “connect the dots” to reading!

Reading eggs is an online reading program designed for ages 4-7.  It contains 120 reading lessons split between 12 maps.  Each map contains 10 lessons. The lessons are designed around fun games and short animated and interactive clips that teach sight words and word families.  Each lesson consists of 10-12 activities to reinforce new skills and review words already learned.

This is what a map looks like.  The funky bird on top of number 71 is the child’s avatar.  This child is on lesson 71. At the bottom, you will see the different maps.  Number 8 is the current map that the child is working on; all previous maps are unlocked while maps 9-12 are locked until the child completes the current map.

To the top left of the screen, you will see a small picture of the avatar’s face, along with how many eggs the child has opened (70), and how many golden eggs the child has accumulated.

Golden eggs are the reward the child gets for completing an activity.  These eggs can be spent at Reggie’s shop, to customize the child’s house and avatar – from fun furnishings in the house to new clothing and accessories for the avatar.

To the right of the screen, you’ll see all of the other fun options for kids in Reading Eggs – lessons, playroom, arcade, puzzle park, driving tests (spelling), music cafĂ©, and Aikman’s newest edition to the screen (and greyed out on the screen to the right) – STORYLANDS!

Worried about the kids playing just games on the arcade?  No worries!  The games can be turned on or off in the parent dashboard, which I initially turned off; that is, until I realized that playing them required you to spend some of your hard-earned golden eggs on them!  So, in order to play the games, you must complete some lessons!

Here is a screenshot of what one of the instructional games looks like. Sam the Ant is trying to put the words into the correct order to form the sentence “I can play my lid.”  Each time, the child has to put the words in the correct box at the top.  When the sentence is complete, it will read the sentence again, and the drop the words back to the ground.  The child will repeat this 2 or 3 times before completing this exercise.  Once complete, the child will earn 2-4 golden eggs.

At the end of the map, there is a quiz.  The quiz determines if the child has learned the material from all of the lessons so far.  In order to move forward, you must pass the quiz.  Aikman is always intimidated by the quiz, but he has definitely learned that in order to pass the quiz, he must take his time and read the quiz carefully.  I typically sit right beside him, reminding him to read it carefully, and to not rush.  This has helped tremendously, especially since he has completed the last few quizzes entirely on his own and without me sitting next to him.  He is now becoming a confident reader!

Wanna see Aikman’s current house and avatar?  He’s all about customizing his house and dude.

A new portion of Reading Eggs has recently opened, called Reading Express, designed for ages 6-8 on improving spelling, vocabulary, writing, and comprehension skills. Since Aikman is still working on the maps in Reading Eggs, we have not ventured over to Reading Express, but am looking forward to when we will be venturing there in the next few months.

Interested in Reading Eggs?  You can get purchase an online subscription here for \$9.95/month, or a year subscription for one child for \$75.00 (additional children are 50% off the subscription price).  You can also purchase level 1 and level 2 book packs for \$65 each or both for \$114.95.  By registering, you can receive a 2 week trial of Reading Eggs for free ~ no credit card transaction necessary!