Thursday, December 18, 2008

Aleks online math program

Looking for a math program for your independent learner?
Want to eliminate tiresome overuse of drills for topics already mastered?
Do your children enjoy "seeing" the progress that they are making?

The ALEKS(Assessment and LEarning in Knowledge Spaces) online math program may be something you will want to explore! As a TOS Crew mate I was given a 2 month trial, and we have enjoyed using it! ALEKS is offering a special 1 month free trial (a $19.95 value, instead of the regular 48 hour free trial)to readers of the TOS reviews, so read on, and then check it out!

Before I tell you my impressions, a little background from their website:
"ALEKS is a web-based, artificially intelligent assessment and learning system. ALEKS uses adaptive questioning to quickly and accurately determine exactly what a student knows and doesn't know in a course. ALEKS then instructs the student on the topics she is most ready to learn. As a student works through a course, ALEKS periodically reassesses the student to ensure that topics learned are also retained. ALEKS courses are very complete in their topic coverage and ALEKS avoids multiple choice questions. A student who shows a high level of mastery of an ALEKS course will be successful in the actual course she is taking.
ALEKS also provides the advantages of one-on-one instruction, 24/7, from virtually any web-based computer for a fraction of the cost of a human tutor."

You can read more about ALEKS' background and how it works here.

Now for our thoughts on this program~
I was very impressed with the Artificial Intelligence component from the initial assessment and on through the program.

I appreciated that there wasn't just a general "Grade" category to place my children, but an actual assessment of what they already know, and what they are probably ready to learn. Any gaps were targeted, and my children were started right where they needed to be, rather than having to endure tiresome drills of topics that they already had a competency in, or being placed at a level that they were unable to master.

This is very much an "online textbook" approach, and your student will still require scratch paper to complete their math problems. This is a good thing, in my opinion! :)

There is a unique component that a typical textbook is missing... if a topic was mastered the student could move on, without endless repetition. We also liked the visual of the student's mastery of topics. Each student is given a pie chart, and the independence of choosing what to work on next within the parameters of what they are ready to learn. As each topic is mastered, the pie chart is filled in.This was a great motivator for my 11 year-old learner. She is pretty much a no-nonsense math student, who chose Saxon math as her preferred textbook (as long as I only assigned some of the problems). She asks every day for ALEKS, and has enjoyed her break from Saxon while we work on this review.

I am thinking that this is a great program for any child that is already working somewhat independently, as the ALEKS program does a very good job of explaining how to go about each problem. However, if you have a student that requires you to explain what is already in the textbook(more of a hands-on learner), then you will probably have to do the same with this program. I have an 8 year-old 3rd grader, and he needed my assistance (even if it WAS just reading the explanations to him.... I'm assuming this is a developmental thing...) for a good portion of his work.

Another thing to note is that ALEKS gives you the option of printing up worksheets. This is a great option if you have a student that actually does require extra work, OR if you need to free up the computer for someone else to do some work.

I also have to note that we had trouble for the first week (Until I realized that I needed to contact Customer service... well, DUH! that's what they are there for! :}), because we couldn't "find" the answer boxes. The solution was for us to switch browsers (From FIREFOX to SAFARI.... we're on a MAC), and then all was well.

So, how much is this great program, you ask?
A subscription to ALEKS is

Check it out! I think you'll be impressed! We were!

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Trigger Memory Systems

Hey, ho! Here's a GREAT bunch of items that I'd like to tell you about, in case you haven't heard of Trigger Memory Systems.

Perhaps you have heard of Times Tales?
Here is a snippet from the "About us" page:
"Times Tales is the brain-child of Jennie. While teaching her two boys multiplication facts, she noticed they were consistently struggling with certain problems. Answers for the lower facts came easily since they could quickly add them in their head when they got stuck. However, the higher facts, such as the 6s, 7s, 8s and 9s, were much more difficult to process mentally. To overcome this problem, Jennie turned these higher facts into memorable stories, enabling her boys to memorize the facts quickly and with little effort. With very little review, they could recall the facts even months later. Jennie was so impressed with the success of this method that years later, she joined with two partners to fully develop the program. Times Tales is the outcome of that endeavor. "

Simply put, Times Tales is a set of mnemonics (in this case stories and pictures) that can make it easier to recall the upper times tables for 3s,4s,6s,7s, 8s, and 9s.

I was sent the new version of Times Tales (Times Tales Deluxe) to review, as well as the complete set of Clean-N-Flip charts (Zone Cleaning, Bedroom Cleaning, and Laundry for kids).

This was a really fun review to do!
Now, I have to say that we already knew about Times Tales because I had the old version, which I used a little with my daughter when she was learning her times tables. It worked alright with her, but wasn't quite as much her cup of tea (She preferred learning the facts, versus learning stories about the facts... yup... she's pretty much an oldest child, and things are black and white for her....)

Well, It was now time to begin thinking about teaching number 2 the times tables, and imagine that! I have to do a review on Times Tales! The timing couldn't be better! :)

The updated "Deluxe" version includes the upper 3's and 4's times tables, along with division work that was missing in the original. If you happen to still have the original version... no worries~ there is a supplement available for purchase

OK, so now... the review.... we sat down and went through the first 4 stories(6x4, 7x3, 8x4, 9x3,), and he caught on pretty well. That night he went through them with dad, and got everything right.

Next day, review the first 4 and learn the next four(7x4, 6x3, 9x3, and 8x4)... great! He's got it! These seem to be down pat. We do "Review" for the rest of the week (Love those short math lessons! Particularly in November and December!), working in the concept of fact families and division as well.

Following week, day 1 (7x7, 7x8, 7x6, 6x6) Had a little trouble with the 7x6 and 6x6 stories, but hey, so far we've been doing great! Day 2 Review, and try the next 4 stories (7x9, 8x8,9x9,8x6)
Day 3 review. Still stuck on the 7x6 and 6x6... oh well everything else is there, so we'll move on.
(8x9, 6x9)

I'm impressed... with the exception of two stories that just aren't "sticking" for him, my 8 year old has pretty painlessly and easily learned the hardest bunch of times tables.. and it was fun!! :) 4 weeks later, he can still recall the answers to these problems with very little work on his part.

This one gets a HUGE thumbs up from me!

Now the other handy little items, the Clean-N-Flip charts....
They are set up with step-by-step instructions with illustrations to enable children to learn how to help around the house.

I have to let you know... we are somewhat domestically challenged in our home, so I was looking forward to trying these out!
My daughter pulled the Clean-N-Flip charts out of a stack on the table, and asked if these were part of the review as well? Yep! Sure are! She decided to read them, and then the 8 year old decided that he needed to check them out also.

Well!! He read through the Bedroom Cleaning for kids and said "Hey, this almost makes me want to clean my room!" ;) He then decided that he actually DID want to start to work on it (It had become an overwhelming mess, so this was huge that he was even interested in working on it on his own).

We had tried to give him a box to put away, a box to sell or give away, and a box to throw away, but that system wasn't working for him. He really got into the idea of a container for toys (To be put away), a container for books (To be put away), a container for clothes(To be put away), and a bag for trash. I didn't see him for another hour plus, and he actually made a huge dent in his disaster! Thank you, Trigger Memory gals!

We have yet to put the Laundry chart into action, and the Zone cleaning can only work when I get MY piles of books and papers, etc out of the way, so that they can work on the light cleaning, but this is going to be one of our New Year Resolutions! And with the help of the Clean-N-Flip charts, it truly will be OUR resolution, not just mine, because my kids now have some "Black and White" (Actually, they are in color, but you understand what I mean...) tools to help them help me get the job done!

Quick facts:
Times Tales Deluxe: $29.95
Times Tales Supplement(For original Times Tales owners):$12.95

Clean-N-Flip charts
Bedroom Cleaning for Kids:$7.95 (Laminated pages with "Day of the week jobs" that can be marked with a dry erase marker)
Zone Cleaning for Kids:$17.95 (laminated pages that work with a dry erase marker!)
Laundry for Kids:$7.95 (NOT laminated pages... don't let your little ones mark things off on this one!)
Set of all Three: $29.95

Oh, while you're there, you might want to check out all of the nifty products that the Trigger Memory Ladies have created....( Trigger Memory Elementary Math Terms is one that has my interest!) and/or include on their website....

OK, that's it for tonight~

The Little Man In the Map~ A US Geography Book

Here's a fun one to check out with your children young and old, if you are just learning the States, or if there are some whose location is always baffling to you or your children!(when I was little I had friends in Hawaii who could have used this book... they had very little knowledge of mainland USA geography!)

The Little Man in the Map is a fun book from Schoolside Press that is made up of poetry and mnemonic devices to help with the memorizing of the placement of all 50 States.

My kids enjoyed this book and the poetry, for the most part(Although we were all dismayed that my natal state, Montana was described as a monster! A mountain man might have been a better choice....;) ). I only have one that is at the stage of learning the states, and this has been a fun way to practice!

I like that it is split into regions, and that the first set one learns, those that make up MIM, the little man in the map, are the central states, instead of starting on one of the coasts, as is usual.

For those who avoid ALL mention of "magic" (Used in reference to the imagination here, so not really "magical"), elves, and monsters, and the like, I should let you know that they do appear in the western states, but personally I didn't find that to be an issue, except for that poor critter from Montana, previously mentioned, and that only because I am fond of my home state! ;)

This is a nice, hardcover book priced at $19.95.
Right now there are two specials running
Free shipping within the USA, for the holidays,
and a "Combined special"
The Little Man In the Map, Book and Wall Map Combo for a flat $35! (Save almost $7!)
(the map is a 38 x 22 inch full-color wall map, laminated front and back)

There is a teacher's guide which should be ready soon. It includes cross-curriculum activities to reinforce the learning for all learning styles, and a nifty crossword puzzle as well!

Oh, and Mr Martonyi, the author, has created a blog, Frogs Jump USA for those that like to check out the bloggy pond... :) Here's what he has to say about it:
"The idea behind the name of the blog is that there are frogs in every state and region of our country. I would like to make my blog interactive with kids and teachers. I encourage the kids to post on my blog anything that they find interesting in our land. Whether it is places they have visited, or it is something in their neighborhood, or even in their own back yard."

Check it out!


Monday, December 15, 2008

Time4Learning Educational Website

Hey, it's me again, with another review for you all~

This time it's an online curriculum supplement called Time4Learning. As a TOS crew mate I was given a two month free trial, in order to review this site for you all.

Here is some general information about Time4Learing:
Time4Learning is an online educational program consisting of math and language arts from preschool through eighth grade. As a bonus, they include science and social studies.
All members are provided with an automated reports section , parent forum , scope and sequence, getting started guide and much more.

I don't know that I would consider this to be a complete curriculum, but a different sort of supplement, to change things up a bit for those that don't already use computer curriculums, etc.

It's fairly easy to sign up and register. As the parent you determine "where" your child should be placed. When your child signs in, they are able to work one level below and above your determined placement.

Once inside the program, there are options to work on either Math, Language Arts, Science, or Social Studies. When you click on the desired curriculum, you are brought to a Table of contents, with Icons for each topic. Clicking on those topics brings you to the lessons in that topic.

There are some features that could be considered either pro or con, depending on your family and/or the personalities of your children.

The upper level math has "cartoon" instruction. This could be helpful for those that are reluctant learners(keeping their interest), but if you have an even semi-serious math student, they may find it to be far too slow-paced and even annoying(yes... this describes my 11 year old's reaction).

The Language Arts section makes use of "talk show" and "Game show" cartoon formats to teach. There are some attempts at humor that some families will find uproarous, and others will find inappropriate (bodily functions and things of that sort, for the most part).

The science and social studies section are more like an online textbook. The format is mostly "Read", "experiment"(for the science~ offline), and answer questions. There are some animations, that work very nicely as examples. Other than mention of evolution(this is a secular program, so I expected nothing less), the science and social studies modules are my favorites out of the four curriculums.

Now for the nitty gritty

The Pricing:
"The monthly membership fee is $19.95 for the first child and $14.95 for each additional child. At the time of sign-up, a recurring monthly payment is set up. Members can cancel at any time.
Time4Learning tries to keep costs as low as possible. We want everyone who wants to use the program to be able to afford it and so there are ways members can earn extra cash to help with their monthly membership fee. For example, we have a review and referral program which many of our members participate in. We also have payment alternatives which help reduce the cost."

Some Pros:

Preschool to 8th Grade interactive curriculum
Totally Web-based, no software to install
Multimedia lessons that can make learning fun/keep a reluctant student's interest
Tracks and reports on progress
Parent forum

Some of our "difficulties":

There is a place that mentions "Assignments", but this is not an option for homeschoolers. Apparently only "Schools" have this option, so that they can tailor the experience for each child in the classroom. The response that crew members received when asking about this wasn't overly satisfying, to my way of thinking....

"The assignments function is used by schools only, where each student is assigned a learning path by their teacher. Time4Learning is a home-based curriculum, which does not have the ability to access the assignment function. Rather, students are provided with all material needed for the grade level they are in.
For your planning purposes, we have provided the online scope and sequence (ie: lesson plans) for our grade levels and subjects.
For parents who use the scope and sequence as part of an overall way of looking at upcoming lessons and student progress, Time4Learning suggests three steps:
  • Review - Parents can first review the scope and sequence for the appropriate grade level and subject to get an idea of the lessons and activities that their student will be completing.
  • Preview Upcoming Lessons - Parents can access upcoming lessons by logging in as their child.
  • Progress Reports - To see a report on finished lessons and to see progress, parents should login as a child and look at the reports section."
These are all good and helpful, but it seems that homeschoolers would appreciate the individualization option as well, as this feels like discrimination against homeschooling teachers. Most homeschoolers create individual learning paths for each of their children as well. My hope is that Time4Learning will pass this idea along to the company that is responsible for the software.

We also had an issue with the navigation of the site. My children were constantly frustrated when they would complete the module, and try to exit out, but not receive "Credit" for doing the work because they didn't leave the lesson in the correct manner. The way it is set up seems to be very counter-intuitive. There appear to be number of ways to leave a page (a back arrow, and exit button, and an "x" out the page, and a "home" icon), and only one of them will give the child credit for the work, with the correct form varying depending on age and topic. Tutorial on leaving lesson properly. The icons really should be clear and intuitive to eliminate this confusion, not require a tutorial.....

Further, I had a hard time figuring out the thinking behind the process of the math instruction.

For example: I have an upper level student, and a lower level student:

In the lower level, the student either has to read the instruction themselves, or actively click on each bit of print to have it read out loud to them. This level is very dry for a younger student. In the upper level, there is automatic animation. There is no way to stop it or skip ahead if the student already understands the concept. It seems to me that these two methods would work better if they were reversed, with the cartoons for the younger set, with the read, and move on method for the older student. Or, for the sake of homogenity, it could be helpful if the entire program used a uniform method... either one or the other, or a combination, depending on the topic...

I hope that this review gives you some idea of what the time4learning website is like. There are clearly some benefits, as well as some things that need ironing out. Speaking of "ironing out", there is another bonus to this site... the folks at Time4Learning are happy to respond to your questions, and do try to take your thoughts and requests into consideration.

If you think this might be an interesting option for your homeschool, you can check out some free demo lessons or sign up for risk-free, 14-day money-back guarantee trial....

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Salem Ridge Press

Looking for a good read?

I am a huge fan of the written word, especially the well written word. I happen to have two children who seem to be following in my footsteps, so I was very pleased with the opportunity to review 3 books for Salem Ridge Press, a new publishing company established in 2005 by homeschooling graduate Daniel Mills. Daniel's desire is to republish books from the 1800's and early 1900's~ to provide wholesome reading for our children. Books that will help to form good character, with an emphasis on those things that are honest, just, pure, lovely, and of good report(From Philippians4:8).

I am extremely happy to have a company that has this as its mission. My daughter, Rebecca, is an avid reader, but also a very sensitive reader, so finding appropriate material is always an interesting task.

The first book, Mary Jane~ Her Book (ages 6-10) is a sweet story about 5 year old Mary Jane, and her daily activities and adventures with her family and friends. My daughter and 8 year-old son took turns reading chapters aloud to us, and there were definite chuckles and general amusement with the entertaining descriptions of life with Mary Jane. Rebecca likens this story to the general "feel" of the Milly-Molly-Mandy books. There can't be enough of this type of gentle read for young readers.

The second book, American Twins of the Revolution (Ages 8-adult) is a historical fiction title. It is a fairly gentle treatment of a difficult and exciting time in our nation's history, on a level that can engage the young reader, without giving too many details. Again, we found this to be an interesting and wholesome read that detailed what life was like for some during the Revolutionary War.

The third book, Glaucia the Greek Slave (ages 10-adult) is a well written "church history" book, set in 59-64 AD. I have to admit that I haven't had my "sensitive" 11 year old read it yet, because of the treatment of some of the slaves, and the general "feel" of Nero... (She is on the lower end of the age range, and just isn't *quite* ready for the side theme of the persecution of the early church, although I know that she would greatly enjoy the main story line).

On the whole, I think that these books are a breath of "fresh" air in this world of extremely graphic novels, and "anything goes" attitudes. We are in the habit of scouring Library book sales for " good, old" literature, and it is so nice to have some of it being brought back into print!

You may want to check out Salem Ridge Press' complete listing of current titles. You can search by age Time Period and Location, Author, and Age Range from links on this page as well.

Each individual book page has a link to a pdf of the first chapter, so that you can preview, and get a feel for which books are right for your family.

You can purchase Salem Ridge Press books from, and Barnes and Noble online, but you may wish to check out their "Where to buy" page, with listings of homeschooling operated businesses (like CBD), that are carrying a variety of Salem Ridge Press books. Prices range from $12.95 softcover to $26.95 hardcover.

Spears Art Studio K-8 Christian Art Curriculum

Looking for a good, solid art curriculum that will last through the elementary years?

Diane Shields Spears has created a wonderful curriculum that answers that need, with art instruction from a Christian World-view!

As one of the TOS Crew members, I was given the opportunity to try it out.... here are my thoughts, and some basic information for you.

You can check out the table of contents and overview, as well as download some sample lessons for free, Spears Art Studio K-8 Christian Art Curriculum. (note.. these are all PDF files, so you will need Adobe AR)

The 35 lessons are presented with monthly/seasonal “themes” as well as specific Art Skill Themes

This curriculum is very detailed, and well thought-out.
The weekly themes include scriptures to read and suggested art work to look at for all students.
From there they are broken down into projects for everyone, and lessons by grade. Sometimes there are individual lessons for each grade, and sometimes they are grouped together K-2, 3-5, 6-8, etc…

Each Lesson includes:
The project objective
Scripture references
Teacher Prep
Motivation and Focus
Materials necessary to gather for project
And, finally, the detailed instructions for the Activity

Diane has included Teacher Rubrics for ease in “grading” the artwork, and instructions on how to go about a “Class Critique”, if using this for more than a couple of students, or in a co-op setting.

My kids were extremely excited to learn how to draw trees, and have them look fairly realistic. They both tried each other’s “Grade” lesson, which made it even more fun! Unless the projects seemed terribly difficult, or too easy, I used my discretion, and let them each choose which project they wanted to do for a specific week. I’m figuring that eventually we will hit them all to some degree or another. I have to honestly say that I was less excited about the Thanksgiving, Christmas, and Valentines projects(they were more "Traditional" , and less innovative than I had hoped for), but I think that’s OK, because many families choose to slow down their schooling around those times, and do “other” projects anyway. ☺ And… my kids enjoyed them anyway, which is a major concern in any art curriculum.

So… what is the cost of this curriculum, you ask?
Well, in my opinion, for what is being provided, it is very economical
$39.95 (Shipping included) CDrom with the entire manual broken down into smaller PDF files that you can easily access from your computer, or print up as you desire.

If you have more money than time and inclination to check it out on your computer and print,
$ 134.95 will give you a Black and White hard copy in a three ring binder, along with the CD Rom (Which has MANY color illustrations (a cost of $14.99 per grade level for an entire year)

Now, I must also mention the High School Art Survey which is a full 1-2 year course for the high school student. Diane graciously sent me this on CD-rom as well, so that I could preview it for my 11 year old, who has done a lot of drawing and painting. True to Diane’s thought, there is a lot more “meat” in this curriculum than my “middle-school” DD could digest. The actual art instruction could be useful to advanced “young” students(and I may utilize some of it right now), but there is a lot of research, art appreciation and journaling that are beyond the scope of the average, or even above average “Tween”. I could highly recommend this for anyone that is looking for a hefty 1-2 year course for their high school student!

Here is the breakdown in cost for this course
$29.95 for Full Color CDrom version of the High School Art Survey Teacher’s Manual
$69.95 for a hard copy, 3-ring bound Manual with both black and white as well as 52 coloe illustration
$84.95 for a combo hard copy and Cd-rom pack
and finally,
$69.90 for a CD-rom combo pack that includes the K-8 CD, the high School Survey CD, and a Beginning Calligraphy Workbook, for grade 5-adult

Don’t forget to check out the free lessons, and if you like what you see, I’m sure that you will be pleased with the rest of the program! I am! ☺

Final note:
My kids do enjoy creating artwork, and the Spears Art Studio is a blessing, because it doesn’t require expensive and/or difficult-to-locate materials. However, if you hate to shop for those items that you don't have, Diane has made it easy, by teaming up with Dick Blick Art Supplies. Here's a link to a page that has reduced the DB catalog to most of what you might need for the Spears Art Studio(Keep in mind that the list is for the materials needed for all 9 years, K-8, and need not be purchased all at once).




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