Saturday, June 30, 2012

Skip Rock Shallows (Tyndale Book Review)

Skip Rock Shallows, Jan Watson's sixth novel (but my first experience with her story-telling), explores coal mining in Kentucky, and the oddity of a female doctor in the world of coal-mining Appalachia in the early 1900's (Or thereabouts).

The narrative follows Lily Gray Corbett as she serves her internship as an interim doctor for the coal mining community of Skip Rock Shallows while she waits for her beau in Boston to finish his residency at a hospital there. Skip Rock Shallows is a very closed community that is suspicious of almost any newcomer, but even more-so a female doctor~ That is just about unheard of!

It is intriguing to me that this young woman actually grew up in Appalachia, but had the opportunity to study medicine in Boston, where she met her beau, Paul. Paul's "gentrified" background appears at times to be at odds with Lily's Appalachian roots, and her strong attachment to the people of Skip Rock Shallows.

Another player in the story is a miner who has an attachment to Lily, although she herself is unaware of it throughout much of the story.  There is a back-story to his attraction, which helps to explain much of what is going on.

I enjoyed getting to know the people who made up the community of Skip Rock Shallows (especially some of the children and women who are "supporting characters") and learning more about the life of Appalachian coal-miners and their families.

While some of the character development may require a little bit of reading between the lines (particularly in Paul's case, and Lily's feelings towards Paul and her admirer), that didn't interfere too much.

Skip Rock Shallows is a pleasant, light, summertime read with a variety of interesting medical and historical facts woven in.


Book~ Skip Rock Shallows by Jan Watson
Publisher~ Tyndale House
Pages~ 379
List Price~ $12.99 (Available from CBD, Amazon, and other retailers)

Disclaimer: Tyndale House Publishers has provided me with a complimentary copy of this book.I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission's 16 CFR, Part 255: "Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising."

Tuesday, June 19, 2012

IXL ~ Online Math Practice

Math~ Love it or hate it, we all have to master it (Or suffer the consequences.....)
For kids who hate writing, workbooks, and "traditional" pencil and paper math practice, computer based programs are a boon. IXL is one such program, and one of our latest review items as part of the TOS Review Crew.

IXL is a standards-based online subscription math practice service, with a goal of helping your students exclaim that "I Excel at math!" (Just a note~ it took me awhile to "get" the "I Excel/ IXL" connection~ color me slow...)
There are thousands of math skills addressed from Pre-K - Algebra (Geometry, Trig, etc are in the "Coming soon" category).

Here is what we liked about this program: 

  • Skills are practiced with a wide variety of question types, from multiple choice and fill in the blank to interactive responses. 
  • In the Pre-K - 1st grade section the instructions are "audio-enabled"  by clicking on the "Volume" icon, so that even pre-reading and beginning readers are able to be fairly independent. 
  • The student is given control over which topics they practice, which is not as much of a factor for my youngest, as he isn't reading the topics yet, but Middlest was very pleased to be able to skip around and work on skills of his choice.
  • Immediate feedback for incorrect answers, with explanations~ Here are some screen shots from an example problem that I answered incorrectly (mind you, I did that on purpose, for the purpose of sharing how it works... ;) ): 
  • The reports section helps me to see where each child needs improvement in those skills (At which point, I can just tell them which sets to practice for a bit~ ;) ) Here is a screenshot of a portion of my Middlest's report:
  • You can see that he skipped around some (pie chart table shows problems from 6th-8th grade). In the Skills Practiced table I really like the "Time spent/Problems Attempted/Smartscore" columns. I particularly appreciate the highlighting in red of skills that need improvement as well as yellow for skills that are satisfactory, and  blue for skills that are good. This makes it very easy at a glance to see what needs work.
  • Newsflash  and weekly reports that are sent directly to my email~ Here's an example~ "We're happy to say that Xxxx has been hard at work on IXL! Xxxx has answered 500 math problems so far. Print certificate. To view a full report, please sign in to IXL and click on the Reports tab. You'll be able to see how Xxxx is doing on each skill, and you and Xxxx can set new practice goals together." And for those little ones, the certificates are a great incentive! :) The weekly reports give you access to the exact problems that your students worked, and what their answers were~ this helps to pinpoint problem areas, as well as keep track of outstanding achievements. :)

  • Another great incentive, particularly for the younger set (Although I have known my Eldest to be very "Competitive" when given "Achievements" to strive towards), is a chart with virtual prizes to be earned. All the pictures are earned prizes~ click on the picture and it will tell you how it was earned. The squares with a "?" tell the child which skills need to be mastered in order to earn that award. It's very helpful for those younger learners, as the skills are clickable links that bring them right to the practice page. 
  • What Middlest particularly liked: The ability to try many different skills, including testing his skills in higher grade levels... :) 
  • What Youngest particularly liked: "Mastering" skills and earning those sticker prizes.

Now for what we wish was different, and/or "other" comments 

  • I think a "placement test" would be very helpful~ it would eliminate time spent on skills that have already been mastered. 
  • Perhaps a different "Award system" for 5th or 6th grade and up, as filling in a sticker chart isn't really much of an incentive as they get older. I do think the certificates are nice, tho'.
  • Important to note~ this appears to be not so much a teaching program as a practice program. The explanations are useful, but may not be enough to constitute a stand-alone program in every situation.
In general, we are fairly impressed and pleased with the IXL Program~ You can try 20 questions per day for free (but keep in mind that there are no reports available, and only limited practice~ ) to get a feel for the program yourself. 

 ~ The Not-so-Nutty Nitty Gritty ~

  • Company~ IXL
  • Ages~ Pre-K Through Algebra
  • Pricing~  $9.95/ month or $79/year 
Be sure to click on the banner below to see what my fellow crew-mates thought about IXL, and discover if this might be a program for  your homeschool. I hope that this review was helpful to you as you choose where to spend your homeschool budget.



Disclaimer: I received this/these item(s)/service for free as part of the TOS Review Crew Program. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission's 16 CFR, Part 255: "Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising."

Wednesday, June 13, 2012

Rainbow Sentences iPad app Review (TOS)

We've had our iPad for almost a year now, and boy howdy have we been having fun! :) In addition to all the fun games, and "portability of the web" that we enjoy, I am very pleased and amazed with the number and quality of educational apps that are out there.

One such app is Mobil Education Store Rainbow Sentences for iPad,®, which some TOS Review Crew members received for review (others received the Story Builder app for review).

While Rainbow Sentences was developed as a speech and language tool to help developer Kyle Tomson's daughter (who is on the autism spectrum) with her language delay, it is a useful tool that I feels defies some of the more common "labeling."

Because I am not a fan of reinventing the wheel (and I don't have an iPad simulator... ;D ), I'm going to share the Mobil Education Store Rainbow Sentences video tutorial with you. While it runs close to 10 minutes, it really gives a great feel for the app, and will help my comments on the app make complete sense. If you have time at all, please watch this first.

Rainbow Sentences teaches and/or reinforces basic sentence structure and builds up to more complex structures. This is done through color coding of sentence parts (there are 55 sentences in each level to allow for plenty of practice and success).

Level 1 includes
Who or What  the sentence is about
What they are doing

Level 2 adds
Where the action is taking place and sometimes
what the subject is doing the action to.

Level 3 is the most complex level, and adds to the previous 2 levels
Why the action is taking place, and sometimes
What the the subject is doing the action to.

Here are some of the things that really impressed me with this program:

All learning styles are addressed with this app, as is true with many apps, but I felt that Rainbow Sentences really succeeds very well on many levels. 

Visually there are pictures (Which stimulated all sorts of "Why is that happening? or What do you think they did that for?" sorts of questions from my 4 year old) as well as color coded words and/or lines (There is an option to turn the color coding off either word or lines or both. What a great tool for learning!).

Auditory~ I think the best way for you to get a sense of the auditory features would be to see (or rather hear) the app in action. If you didn't already watch the video I included above, hit play and then drag the cursor to the 2 minute mark, when actual play begins. The instructions are very clear, and depending on the amount of structure your child needs, can be turned on or off (More on the auditory aspect in a bit).

Finally, the kinesthetic value comes into play when dragging the correct word (as it is spoken in the program) to the correct line. Each correctly built sentence receives positive auditory reinforcement, and incorrect sentences are given further chances to be built correctly. After a second incorrect attempt, an instructive screen appears that shows how a sentence of that type should be built. The student is then returned to the previous screen. The words in the correct positions remain, and the incorrect words are returned to the bottom of the screen to be dragged up once again, hopefully to the correct spot in the sentence.

After the sentence is correctly assembled, there is an option for the student to record the sentence. This is where I really appreciated the "Speech" aspect of this program. I put together the following clip from a couple of the saved sentence files which I emailed to myself~ the first one with the kangaroo was the 8th sentence we saved, the second, with the ants was the 45th sentence (He's almost done with level one!). In addition to working on his "s" sounds, we started working on the "f" sound. The difference between "Falling" and "Food" was amazing to me! :) 

This is definitely an app that I see growing with my youngest, and one that I feel will help him learn basic sentence structures somewhat organically. I have to say that I was delighted to realize that he does recognize when beginning to drag the words up, whether they make sense. The foundation for sentence structure appears to be fairly strong in his little brain already!

I can't really say that I found any cons to this particular app. The only suggestion I might make would be to label the parts of speech with their color coding in the information section, so that a more independent child would know exactly what they are looking at. 

~The Not-so-Nutty Nitty Gritty~

As always, I hope that this review was useful to you as you determine where to best spend your homeschool budget. 



Disclaimer: I received this/these item(s)/service for free as part of the TOS Crew Review Program. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission's 16 CFR, Part 255: "Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising."

Friday, June 8, 2012

Expectation~ Five Minute Friday ~

Fridays are for writing for five minutes.
Only five minutes.
Stream-of-consciousness style. Like you did when you were in 9th grade.
Write and see what comes out. There’s no right or wrong. 
Got 5 minutes? Come and spend them writing 
1. Write for 5 minutes flat – no editing, no over thinking, no backtracking
2. Link up on 5 minute Friday (click on the button over there on the right) and invite others to join in.
3. And then absolutely, no ifs, ands or buts about it, you need to visit the person who linked up before you & encourage them in their comments. Seriously. That is, like, the rule. And the fun. And the heart of this community..

Expectation~ Big word with a whole lot of anxiety wrapped up in it~

What are my expectations of myself, my husband, my children, my friends?
Do they meet them? 
What are their expectations of me? 
More importantly, what are God's expectations of me?
Do I meet them?

There is a fine line between unrealistic "Great Expectations"  that are almost destined to be disappointments, and the expectation that pushes you to achieve your goals.

Here is a great expectation in my mind~ Micah 6:8 He has shown thee, O Man, what is good; and what does the Lord require of you, but to do justly, and to love mercy, and to walk humbly with your God?

Puts my expectations of myself and others  into the proper perspective.

So, what do you Expect? (I am trying to expect great things in unexpected ways ) :)

Friday, June 1, 2012

Dive into your Imagination DVD/Curriculum

My latest product received as part of the TOS Review Crew is from "Dive Into Your Imagination" and when they say "Dive" they mean scuba dive!

Crew members were sent one of three DVDs

  • Dive Into Diversity
  • What Makes a Fish a Fish?
  • Who Lives in the Sea? 

We enjoyed watching our Dive Into Diversity DVD, which was filled with stunning film from undersea dives. Dive Into Diversity has 8 "Chapters", as well as a "Meet Annie" (The founder and CEO of Dive Into Your Imagination) and "Meet Craig"(The music producer of the video) section. I recommend watching "Meet Annie" before jumping right in to the various chapters. It is a great introduction to scuba diving gear, underwater photography, and a tiny bit of ocean ecology.
There are 8 chapters in Dive Into Diversity

  1. Night Diving on the Reef
  2. Dive into Diversity
  3. Be a Submarine Pilot
  4. Swim in a Kelp Forest
  5. Invertebrates of the Sea
  6. Coral Reef Living
  7. Sea Animals with Backbones
  8. Wacky, Weird, Crusty Crustaceans

Here are my pros and cons for this series, based on our viewing of this DVD

  • The photography is absolutely stunning! Your children are likely to be riveted to the TV or Computer as an incredible array of ocean creatures make their way across the screen. The photography is just stunning!
  •  Some great little factoids about some more obscure animals.
  • Good introduction to ocean ecology. 
  • Interesting to a variety of ages (including adults). My Eldest, listening along commented that it *is* important to care for and keep our oceans clean as the greatest number of oxygen producing plants live in the ocean (kelp).
  • Great vocabulary with explanations included. 
  • Using my Christian worldview it is easy for me to extrapolate ~ With such an incredible amount of diversity in the ocean, it is just SO apparent that we didn't all come from one big bang! The fact that everything is so finely tuned and balanced~ In Ocean Annie's words: "Diversity in nature helps to protect the balance that is necessary in the world." I can't imagine that our world's ecology could have existed and thriven without that delicate balance all along.
  • A little nit-picky, but in my opinion worth mentioning. I have to say that the narration and many tonal inflections of this film grated on me, personally. There are so many pauses... between phrases... that I'm thinking... that it sounds... like a script is being... read "Clearly" ...but without much ...conversational quality... or personality. It also reminds me of some of the videos I've seen that were intended strictly for toddlers. I have to admit that my youngest wasn't bothered by this at all, and my Middlest didn't mention it, but my Eldest definitely agreed. While I would like to say that these videos are totally appropriate for all ages, because of the style of narration, they are *mostly* appropriate for early elementary. That being said, I am very likely to contemplate purchasing other videos in this series, because they are just so beautiful.
  • There are a few factoids that made us wonder about their inclusion (The wrasses that change from female to male, and clown-fish that change from male to female...) ~ we just commented on how "odd" that is...
Personally, I feel that the pros(incredible, crisp, clear photography and scientific information) far outweigh the cons (Which are mostly personal taste). I also have to mention that once the video has been watched for "content" there is the option to play it with music only~ what a lovely background, or "quiet down" time. There is also a Spanish Language Option, for those who are interested.

Here's a sample from Dive Into Diversity so you can see for yourself some of the stunning photography, however, I have to caution that the quality of the DVD is so much brighter, clearer, and more pristine that the quality of this YouTube video~ I can't emphasize enough that the DVD photography really is fabulous!:

I would be remiss if I didn't mention the Educator Guides that can also be found on the website(s). Each DVD has 2 Educator Guides (PreK/K and 1st-3rd) that can be utilized for extended learning and activities. My littlest is the only one that they are appropriate for, and right now he is into coloring, so the coloring pages that came along with this guide were perfect. He was paying such close attention to detail~ he pointed out to me that he made the seahorse's eye green (Can you see that? It's tiny! His motor skills are coming along! :D). However, coloring pages aren't the only things included in these guides. The Pre-K/K guide alone has over 300 pages~ That's a lot of material!

From "How to use this book" For each chapter of the video there is a lesson plan that includes:
a. Character education and imagination play for your students.
b. A set of student questions correlating to the lessons designed to prompt discussion and enhance learning during video and multi-media viewing.
c. Ideas and support materials you can use to build learning centers in your classroom which combine science with other core subjects.
d. A glossary of scientific terms, eco-tips and websites for educator content support.
e. Suggested book lists and extension activities that can be used to bring an ocean of imagination flooding into your class.

Now for the Nitty Gritty~
Company website(s) and
Product: Ocean DVD Dive Into Diversity  ($19.95) and optional Educator Guide 
Running Length: 45-ish minutes
Special Offers:
  • Free shipping for orders placed on during the month of June 
  • Free Educator guide with DVD Order (As a special for the Homeschool Crew and The Old Schoolhouse Magazine and followers, Annie Crawley of Dive Into Your Imagination will gift you a set of PDFs with purchase of the DVDs. When you place your DVD order, just let her know in the notes that you are a Homeschool Parent!) If the Educator Guides are something that you are remotely interested in, be sure to order soon, as the price appears to be rather cost-prohibitive for the average homeschooling family if not ordered with this special. (I do not know how long this offer is valid, but I would expect through the month of June, along with the free shipping?)
Ages: For Educational Purposes, Pre-K through 3rd Grade, but I feel that these videos can be enjoyed by all ages. They really are spectacularly filmed!
I hope that this review is helpful to you as you choose where best to spend your homeschool budget. Please be sure to stop by the TOS Review Crew blog and see what others had to say about the DVD's that they received for review.

Disclaimer: I received this/these item(s)/service for free as part of the TOS Crew Review Program. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission's 16 CFR, Part 255: "Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising."



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