Thursday, May 25, 2017

CompuScholar, Inc. Web Design Course Review

Four years ago I was given the opportunity to review a high school computer programming curriculum (My review of Teen Coder Java Series) produced by Homeschool Programming. They are expanding their horizons to include public and private schools as well as homeschoolers, and are rebranding their company as CompuScholar, Inc.  (Hey! How do you like that? So many companies retool what they're doing to include homeschoolers. I love the fact that a company that started out focusing on homeschoolers is expanding into the public/private market!) In the course of that rebranding, they have given the Homeschool Review Crew the opportunity to review their programs again, including their newest offering Digital Savvy, as well as Java Programming, and  Web Design, which is what my 16-year old was chosen to review.

Web Design is a two Semester course with no prior computer class prerequisites. One thing that I greatly appreciate about this program is that it is useful for both MAC and Windows operating systems ~ so often there seem to be directions for only one or the other. Twenty-eight chapters are divided into thirty-four weekly lessons. Each chapter includes programming labs which my son found to be straightforward and relatively easy to complete.  The complete course syllabus can be found on the website.

The lessons start out with the very basics of web design and chapter one moves fairly slowly. My son said that one of his main impressions is that someone who knew nothing about computers or web design would be able to use this program very easily. However, I am happy to inform you that even my more experienced son was learning things that he hadn't learned before. From chapters 2 and on it advances at a more rapid pace, while still explaining things clearly.

The student dashboard is made up of icons that lead the student through the program. Here you can see the flow at the end of the first chapter~ Each lesson has a video, lesson text and a quiz (here you see Lesson Three) accessed by clicking on the icons. The next section is the lab activity, and the chapter concludes with a multiple choice exam.
Note: many lab activities (including this one) have an "Activity File" icon, which means that there are files that the student will need to download to their computer in order to complete the activity.

This screen shot shows the lesson video that pops up in the right-hand corner of the screen when that icon is selected. My son wasn't able to ever open it full screen on his computer, but that didn't end up being an issue for him.

This next screen shot is from the lesson text that my son accessed after watching the video. He found it very useful to skim the text to make sure that he didn't miss any points made during the video lesson.
This is an example of part of one of the lesson quizzes: 

Now, there are also some helps for those of us administering the course, assuming that we aren't all computer science whizzes...
This is what the teacher dashboard looks like, open to the first chapter.

The program grades everything but the Lesson Activities, but don't worry, they have help for us there. The Professional Development Tab opens up a slew of videos that walk the instructor/administrator/mom/dad through the entire process, with FAQs common to all the courses:

As well as specific tutorials for each one~ here is a screenshot of the training available for the Web Design Course: 

When you click on one of the video icons the instructional video will open and walk you through each specific step.

And remember I mentioned help grading the student activities? Here is a bit on one of the included rubrics, just to give you an idea of how it works (This is a screenshot taken from one of those very helpful "professional development" videos, not the actual rubric):

However, I should also mention that if administering the course and grading activities sends a shudder up your spine, you can also subscribe to a teacher led course (smile) at an additional cost.

Based on our experience with Web Design, I would sum it up by saying it is a very clear program that should produce successful results regardless of student or "administrator" experience.

Not So Nutty Nitty Gritty 
  • Company: CompuScholar, Inc.
  • Product: Web Design 
  • Ages: Grades 6-12
  • Price: 
    • Self Study $15/month or $120/year
    • Teacher Led $35/month or $300/year
    • (Sibling discounts may apply)
Visit CompuScholar, Inc. on their social media sites on Facebook and Twitter
and their sister site Homeschool Programming also on Facebook and Twitter

Please click the banner below to visit the TOS Homeschool Review Crew and see what others had to say about all three CompuScholar Inc. courses. As always, I hope that this review was useful to you as you choose where best to spend your homeschool budget.
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Wednesday, May 24, 2017

The Pencil Grip Inc. Thin Stix (Art supply review!)

A couple of years ago I did a review for The Pencil Grip Inc. , reviewing their Kwik Stix Tempera Paint Sticks around Christmas time. We had a couple of fun projects we did with them, so if you didn't read that review, be sure to go check it out later. This spring the TOS Homeschool Review Crew has been sent their newest product to review, the Thin Stix 6pk of Classic Colors. As I mentioned in my first Kwik Stix review, the original product is reminiscent of a glue stick in shape and form. While a lot of fun to work with, they lacked the ability for adding finer detail, so I was delighted with the opportunity to check out their Thin Stix cousins.

One of the main benefits to the Kwik Stix line is that they truly are paint in an almost mess free form. No spills and drips, and they dry in 90 seconds (the only negative to that is if you are trying to blend two colors, you have to work FAST! :) ).

My college-aged daughter and I enjoyed playing with the new Thin Stix, and experimenting with a few things.

I used the original Kwik Stix to draw the outlines of the flower and the leaves, the thin stix to draw the detailed lines on the petals and the leaves, as well as the black "pointillism" center.

This picture was drawn almost exclusively with the thin stix~ I wonder if you can figure out where I used the thicker original Kwik Stix???

Here I was experimenting with layering~ Using the white Kwik Stix over the tree trunk on the top "vine" to see if it eliminated the transparency of the bottom two lines~ worked pretty well, don't you think?

My daughter drew these flowers mostly with the Thin Stix~ she ended up using the very edge of the original Kwik Stix to make the orange lines~ definitely much easier to use the Thin Stix overall.

My son used the Thin Stix for a project that I've been wanting him to try for a while, a
3-D hand picture. The Thin Stix were ideal for this project as the lines to fill in with color end up being pretty skinny. He enjoyed using the Stix for this instead of a marker or pencil, as the coverage makes it very nice to look at.

One other project that I did just a bit of was using the Thin Stix on large wooden popscicle sticks. We had seen the idea of making a "deck of cards" out of these as an easier way for smaller hands to hold a bunch of "cards" and still be able to see them all, for games like go fish, crazy eights, and more.


I think this would be a neat way to create some math "flash cards" as well, to practice basic operations. You could even decorate them and glue magnets on the back to give as gifts to moms and dads, grandparents and more.

Not So Nutty Nitty Gritty 
You can visit The Pencil Grip Inc. on their social media pages: Facebook, Twitter, and Pinterest

Please click the banner below to visit the TOS Homeschool Review Crew and see what others had to say. As always, I hope that this review was useful to you as you choose where best to spend your homeschool budget.
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Thursday, May 11, 2017

Algebra for Breakfast (Elementary Age Review)

Youngest has just about finished his math program for the year, so the timing of our latest review, an algebraic math supplement from Algebra For Breakfast was pretty good. Let me tell you a little bit about it.

Bob Hazen has produced a number of video lessons for grades 3/4 and 5/6 to introduce them to algebraic concepts and help them to work comfortably with the unknown. Each lesson includes the video (sometimes as short as a minute or two, other times closer to 10 minutes in length), and more often than not a worksheet as well. You can see what the dashboard (where lessons are accessed) looks like below, and further down are some screenshots which also show where worksheets can be downloaded in each lesson.

There are 45 lessons that can be accessed in the 3/4 level (Which is the one we received to review). The lessons cover basic concepts such as identifying (or naming) known and unknown numbers and end with trinomial factoring and polynomial addition using the manipulative blocks included in the full membership pack. The blocks enable young children to experience the symbolic work of algebra in a concrete manner.  You can learn more about the topics included  and how it works directly at the AFB (Algebra For Breakfast) website. 

There are some definite plusses to this program~ *I* actually learned how to utilize skip counting songs (Which have baffled me from the very beginning of my homeschooling career~ I had never seen the value in them until using this program! What I missed all those years! :) ). 

The concrete expression of these algebraic functions using blocks should make doing algebra later on more accessible and successful. The progress in the 3/4 lessons is fairly incremental (slow).

A couple of cons to this particular program, which are more superficial, but I feel they should be mentioned. One of the benefits to homeschooling is the ability to complete lessons swiftly without "crowd control" and the negativity that tends to bring to the classroom. Unfortunately, because these are videos of a "live" class, much of that comes through. Bob repeats his instructions three times for almost everything he says in every lesson (Which is wearying to *me* although I admit that it could be helpful for a child who processes more slowly), and he often calls out kids in the class (who aren't even really misbehaving that I can tell) which makes all of us watching uncomfortable. This could easily be remedied if the same material were taught simply to the video audience, and not to an actual live class. I believe that would greatly enhance my overall impression of the program. However, another option is to watch the videos yourself and teach your student the material. 

An additional thing that might be an problem for some of those children with auditory processing disorders is that the classroom of children using manipulative blocks on plastic desk surfaces creates a noisy, squeaky background which could be more than simply annoying, if your student has a sensitivity to sound. Again, this can be solved by simply watching the videos yourself and teaching the material to your child. 

Other than the matter of the live class video negative, based on the lessons we used (and some that I skipped ahead to check out before teaching the concepts to my son), this seems to be a very solid program that has the potential of showing great benefit in later math studies.  

Oh, and one of the fun things that is part of the program is the inclusion of math games utilizing math dice. The games are fairly simple, but are a great way to practice moving numbers around in a variety of combinations while having fun. 

Not So Nutty Nitty Gritty 

  • Company: Algebra For Breakfast
  • Product: Algebra For Breakfast
  • Ages: 3rd-4th grade (5th-6th also available)
  • Price: 
    • Complete Member Package $122 first month (For materials included below), $22/month thereafter
      • 164 piece Math Manipulatives
      • Skip Count CD 
      • Math Dice
    • Reduced Membership Package $42 first month (For materials included below. This package assumes that you already own the Mortensen Math Manipulatives) $22/month thereafter
      • Skip Count CD 
      • Math Dice
    • Content only package $22/month (This package assumes that you own a skip count music of some sort, the math dice, and the Mortensen Math Manipulatives, as they are all required to use and complete this course) 
You can visit Algebra For Breakfast on Facebook.

Please click the banner below to visit the TOS Homeschool Review Crew and see what others had to say about this as well as the 5th-6th grade package. As always, I hope that this review was useful to you as you choose where best to spend your homeschool budget.
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Wednesday, May 3, 2017

Peggy Consolver - Author Shepherd, Potter, Spy--and the Star Namer

Being a Bibliophile who enjoys Historical Fiction, I am always appreciative of  new, well written stories, so I am delighted to write this review of Peggy Consolver - Author's Shepherd, Potter, Spy, and the Star Namer. This is the story (mainly) of Keshub, a young  (13 year old) Gibeonite shepherd boy during the time of Israel’s conquest of the Promised Land. In addition to following his activities, there are short segues into the Hebrew perspective as seen through the eyes of young Hosiah,  a nephew of the infamous Joshua. 

It is quite interesting to read the story as told from such a different viewpoint than that of the conquering Hebrew people of the Bible. Although in many ways, I am sure Keshub’s life is very similar to that of a young Israelite shepherd~ he has to train to protect his flock, and do many other chores as part of his family responsibilities. 

There is a fair amount of "quiet"action (I appreciate that this isn't a gory story!), and some subjects such as sibling rivalry and bullying are lightly touched upon in the course of the story, as the main character grows and matures. 

As the drama unfolds around Jericho, Keshub joins in spying on the Israelites and reporting back to his family and neighbors. His desire for adventure must certainly be filled, as God’s amazing miracles take place before his very eyes. 

Peggy Consolver spent time in Israel as a volunteer with the Associates for Biblical Research and it is obvious that her time spent on archaeological digs, handling ancient pottery from the locations written about in Joshua 9 and 10 gave her new insight into Ancient times. Her writing is filled with details that bring one right into the story, and bring those ancient, exciting Bible times to life. 

 Not So Nutty Nitty Gritty 
I  also want to mention that an interactive 45 page study guide with 13 units is also available. You can find a free sample on her website to get a feel for the content of the study guide. 

Peggy Consolver can be found on Facebook!  Go say "Hi!" :)

Please click the banner below to visit the TOS Homeschool Review Crew and see what others had to say. As always, I hope that this review was useful to you as you choose where best to spend your homeschool budget.
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Monday, May 1, 2017

Apologia Educational Ministries Readers in Residence Volume 1 (Sleuth)

Some of my readers may remember my review of Apologia Educational Ministries' Writers in Residence last spring. This Spring we were given the opportunity to review the next installment in Debra Bells' series, Readers in Residence Volume 1 (Sleuth).

The set-up is very similar to the Writers in Residence curriculum, with a large, ring-bound student text/workbook and teacher manual.

This first volume includes six units, with One, Three, and Five using specific books, with units Two, Four and Six being "On Your Own" units using books of your own choosing. Because this curriculum is appropriate for grades 4-6, there are a variety of suggestions for the On Your Own units, and each is listed with suggested grade levels so that you can choose appropriately for your child. I appreciate this level of detail.

The three main units contain 4 modules each, focusing on the specific book genre and various reading tools, the follow-up on your own units are only one module, typically focusing on the same genre.

Unit 1: Sarah, Plain and Tall              Genre: Historical Fiction
Focus: Character Development, Inferences, Context Clues, Analysis, Theme

Unit 2: On Your Own Historical Fiction (Choose your own, or use one of the suggestions: Adam of the Road, The Bronze Bow, The Door in the Wall, The Golden Goblet, Johnny Tremain, Number the Stars, A Single Shard, The Sword in the Tree).
Focus: Character development, Comparison and Contrast

Unit 3: Charlotte's Web                    Genre: Animal Fantasy

Focus: Plot Development, Denotation, Connotation, Figures of Speech

Unit 4: On Your Own Animal Fantasy (Choose your own, or use one of the suggestions: The Lion the Witch and the Wardrobe, The Mouse and The Motorcycle, Mrs. Frisby and the Rats of NIMH, Perloo the Bold, Redwall, Stuart Little, The Trumpet of the Swan).
Focus: Plot, Comparison and Contrast

Unit 5: Because of Winn-Dixie       Genre: Contemporary Realistic Fiction
Focus: Setting, Figures of Speech, Turning Point, Theme

Unit 6: On Your Own Choice ~Any Fiction title (Choose your own, or use one of the suggestions: Caddie Woodlawn, In the Year of the Boar and Jackie Robinson, Kindred Souls, My Side of the Mountain, Pictures of Hollis Woods, The summer of Riley, The Wheel on the School).
Focus: Setting, Comparison and Contrast

Because another curriculum I use included Sarah, Plain and Tall, I decided to do what we homeschoolers do best, and tweak it to work for me. I didn't want youngest to miss out on many of the focus lessons that were covered in the first unit, as they build on one another and reference previous lessons, so we worked through those that weren't exactly title specific first.

I love that this manual/text/workbook includes a suggested schedule ~ it made it very easy for me to keep track of which lessons we had gone over since I wasn't going through the first Unit in order.

Here are some of the workbook pages- a few youngest filled out, others he dictated to me as I didn't mind being his scribe. 

Each Module includes Word Sleuth vocabulary sections, Aha! sections that cover comprehension of the story, Ruminate sections that help the reader learn to connect the story to their own lives, in addition to sections that relate to the focus topics for each module. One other section that sets Readers in Residence apart from many typical reading programs is the Sowing Seeds section. Sowing Seeds looks at the book with a Scriptural worldview and poses discussion questions that relate the book to the reader's life and both of those to passages in the Bible. Love this part! 

A Ruminate section for an On Your Own Historical Fiction Selection
This would be a fantastic curriculum to use in a co-op setting or book club setting, which is actually highly recommended in the manual. There are suggestions for book club party/gathering/get togethers for each of the three assigned books as well as a final gathering when the entire workbook is completed. There are suggestions for themes, food, activities and of course, discussion questions.

I think that any student who completes this Readers in Residence course will come away with tools that will last a lifetime as they learn not only to enjoy "story" but to also appreciate the crafting of the story by the authors and illustrators. They will also learn to relate what they read to their own lives, no matter the era or setting of the story.

For more information, you can visit the Apologia Blog where you can find a free sample download of the first three modules and more FAQs related to the curriculum.

Not So Nutty Nitty Gritty 
Visit Apologia on their Social Media Pages:
Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, and Pinterest 

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