Wednesday, December 29, 2010

TOS Review: Teaching Boys and Other Children Who Would Rather Make Forts All Day

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I've often noticed how much time my non-homeschool friends spend teaching their children. Sometimes I think that they could benefit as much from homeschool materials as those of us that teach our children on a full-time basis.

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Recently I watched a video presentation done by Andrew Pudewa from Institute for Excellence in Writing. I would definitely recommend it to all of the parents I know, both homeschool and non-homeschool parents. In his Teaching Boys and Other Children Who Would Rather Make Forts All Day DVD, he describes the differences between boys and girls and includes the scientific studies that support the informal observations that have often been made. Moreover, he shows how to adjust your teaching style to reach the audience, whether it's all-girl, all-boy, or mixed.

In the presentation, he cites studies that have shown that newborn girls are capable of hearing sounds that are three times softer than newborn boys. This difference continues years later in life. Perhaps my teaching problem lately is not that Brennan isn't paying attention to me when I read. Perhaps he isn't hearing me as well as his sister does when I read to them in a normal conversational tone.

Andrew Pudewa also talks about the differences in the eyes of boys and girls. Boys see action easier than girls do, and they often fail to see differences in color or texture. He gives examples of how to use this knowledge to more effectively reach boys. When helping boys with writing assignments, they may balk at the idea of adding more description (i.e. adjectives). They may, however, be willing and even excited to add more action to their writing assignments (i.e. more adverbs). Writing assignments that rely on a lot of description are typically going to be more difficult for boys. I look back at the past few years and now understand why Brennan and I struggled to finish writing assignments that required x-number of sentences to describe a handful of dirt. Maybe he would've done better if we were trying to list a certain number of things that could be done with that handful of dirt.

If this DVD only covered gender differences and provided ways to teach to those styles, I'd consider it worth watching. The second half of the video goes on to discuss types of motivation and ways to make an assignment relevant to students. It then reveals Pudewa's two secret weapons to use when trying to get a student to learn. The two parts work together to make this presentation an excellent resource for teachers and parents alike. 

This video is available as a DVD for $10. If you'd prefer to just listen to the audio, it's available here to download for $3. Institute for Excellence in Writing also offers several other audio downloads, including some that are free.

Rarely do I consider something a "must read" or in this case, a "must hear." I truly believe that watching or listening to this presentation can make a difference for every parent that is trying to teach their son. Over the next few weeks, I intend to listen to some of the other presentations that Andrew Pudewa has recorded. I wonder how many of them will also make it on to my "must hear" list.

You can see other reviews on The Old Schoolhouse Homeschool Crew blog. Later this year, some of my crewmates will be reviewing IEW's writing skills programs. I personally can't wait to read their reviews in late May.

Disclaimer: I received this DVD as a member of the 2010 TOS Homeschool Review Crew, and I received no other compensation. In return, I agreed to give an honest review of the materials and how they worked for my homeschool family.

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

A Basketball Birthday

Even though Brennan isn't officially 10 yet (2 more days), we celebrated his birthday last weekend.

He was really hoping that he'd get a basketball hoop and therefore asked if I'd make something "basketball" for his cake.

I did all the decorating after he went to bed one night. He walked into the kitchen the next morning and immediately opened the oven door. (That's my traditional spot to hide the cake so that nothing happens to it before the party.) He was super-excited and declared it, "AWESOME!" You might not be able to tell from the picture, but the basketball is actually 3-D. It's one of the coolest cakes I've done.


He chose to have a bacon-wrapped dinner that night. We had sunshine chicken (grilled chicken wrapped in bacon w/ a pineapple mustard sauce), green bean bundles (the beans are wrapped in bacon), and smash hot potatoes (topped w/ cheddar and bacon bits). I drew the line at wrapping the dinner rolls with bacon.

Afterwards, we made him hide while we wrapped his gift. It had been safely stashed at his great-grandmother's house a few hours away from here, and Tim's parents brought it when they came to celebrate.

It's difficult to disguise a basketball goal, even if it is still in the box and covered in wrapping paper. I think he figured it out right away.

The next morning we bundled up to go outside and assemble it. We eventually remarked that it was almost as much fun as putting together a new Lego set.





And finally, one of the first few shots the birthday boy took:



Friday, December 17, 2010

TOS Review: Tiny Planets

Many of the products I've reviewed so far this year have been geared specifically for homeschoolers. Recently, however, we've been playing around with a website that could be a lot of fun for any child, homeschooled or not.

Tiny Planets is an award-winning website providing educational entertainment for children from ages 4 to 12. I tried it out with my 4 and 9 year olds. My 12 year old tried it briefly, but she much prefers to spend her computer time keeping up with her friends from back in DC and working on their blog.

Lauren (4 years old) spent most of her time watching the TV episodes. I watched a few of the short episodes and was reminded of the Disney movie Wall-E -- the action is portrayed through the character's actions and various sound effects, not dialogue. She seemed to enjoy the shows, but at this age, she prefers the familiar characters she already watches on TV. She plays computer games on other websites, but most of the ones offered on Tiny Planets were still too difficult for her to manage.

Brennan (9 years old) was drawn to the large selection of video games. I later went back and played nearly all of the games myself. I was surprised and pleased to find such a large selection of non-violent games. As far as I saw, none of the games involved shooting or fighting. Some followed the fairly typical video game pattern of maneuvering among platforms without getting bumped by the bad creatures, but I found a few games that were more intellectually challenging than most I've seen online. In particular, Star Fractions involved putting broken star pieces back together, and the Building Game required the player to piece together pipes that would connect certain places on the gameboard.

PhotobucketA big part of Tiny Planets is the My Tiny Planets area. It reminds me a lot of the Webkinz world that was all the rage around our house last year. You create and take care of your own planet. As you navigate around Central Space you can play mini-games, solve galactic missions, and earn stars. The stars allow you to personalize the planet, similar to the way my children once built mansions for their Webkinz pets.

Tiny Planets also has ebooks and a learning area. For younger children, a parent (or older sibling) would need to read the book because it does not have an audio option. The learning area has downloadable worksheets covering such skills as letters, numbers, basic addition, and a couple of easy craft. I never did show Lauren the learning area because I know that she would have wanted to print page after page of the gorgeous full-color worksheets.

Most of the activities on Tiny Planets are offered free of charge. Some of the TV episodes and ebooks are only available by purchasing keys. Ten keys (enough to buy one TV episode or a book) costs $1.95. They offer package deals with more keys -- 25 keys for $3.95 or 85 keys for $9.95.

I was very impressed with all that children can do when they visit Tiny Planets. For children that play online often, this site would be a fun change of pace. Tiny Planets will definitely stay bookmarked on my computer so that my children can have easy access to this again.

You can see what other homeschool parents thought about the Tiny Planets website on The Old Schoolhouse Homeschool Crew blog.

Disclaimer: I received full access to the materials on the Tiny Planets website (including content that normally is paid for with keys) as a member of the 2010 TOS Homeschool Review Crew, and I received no other compensation. In return, I agreed to give an honest review of the materials and how they worked for my homeschool family.

Monday, December 13, 2010

TOS Review: ALEKS

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ALEKS (Assessment and Learning in Knowledge Spaces) is a web-based math program that uses artificial intelligence to customize math instruction to your child's needs. When you chose a course for your child, he is given an initial assessment to determine what skills they've already mastered and what skills they need to learn. When the assessment is over, the computer generates a pie chart that summarizes the student's current knowledge and shows him what topics he can learn next.

Addison's favorite part was these pie graphs. Brennan also seemed motivated to finish working in a particular area so that he could see that section of the pie completely shaded.


Both of my kids appreciated that the program didn't make them spend a lot of time reviewing material that they already knew well. On the other hand, though, they didn't like the way that they would be asked a question, and then they'd either guess incorrectly or admit that they didn't know. I guess they'd like the program to read their minds and stop asking questions when they get to something they haven't learned. They didn't necessarily mind answering, "I Don't Know" in the assessment, but they found it frustrating when they were trying to learn new topics. They prefer to be taught first, and then asked questions.

In terms of the teaching, both of my children had a little trouble adjusting to written explanations (see example below) after spending the past few years working with video math based instruction. Brennan in particular didn't really catch on to some new topics when they were presented. It was fairly easy for me to help him read through the explanation so that he could understand it, but it wasn't always something that he could do independently.



As a parent, I like the broad spectrum of topics covered. From my experience looking at the product, my children were introduced to a lot more math related topics than they have seen with their current math curriculum. If I cared about their standardized test scores, I'd be tempted to get a subscription just prior to testing so that they could brush up and be familiar with all the topics they could see. For older grades, I might purchase a subscription so that I can make sure that they have a firm grasp of all the topics that would normally be included in that course. For instance, when Addison finishes her regular pre-Algebra course in a few months, I might have her use ALEKS as a review and to fill in any gaps before she moves on to Algebra 1.

I appreciated all of the tools ALEKS provides for parents. I could log in to my account and see how long each child worked, find out how many topics they covered, track their progress, assign new assessments, and create quizzes. When I created a quiz for Brennan, I could chose to make it a cumulative review or to have it cover a few selected topics that I want to emphasize.

Parents of older students might appreciate ALEKS college credit options. (You can read more about it here.) This is something that I will consider for my kids when they start taking advance classes. In addition to several math options, ALEKS also offers some upper level science courses. I tried out College Chemistry and found it quite challenging.

ALEKS costs $19.95 per month, with discounts available for six-month and one-year subscriptions. There are also family discounts when you are purchasing for at least six-months.

If you'd like to see what other homeschool families thought about ALEKS, you can find their reviews on The Old Schoolhouse Homeschool Crew blog.

Also, ALEKS has generously allowed me to pass along a special offer to any new users that are reading my review. You can click the button below to request a free one-month trial so that you can see for yourself how it will work with your child. (Normally, their free trial is only for a few days.)

Visit ALEKS for 1-Month Trial

I received a one month subscription to ALEKS for two of my children (and another subscription for me to use) as a member of the 2010 TOS Homeschool Review Crew, and I received no other compensation. In return, I agreed to give an honest review of the materials and how they worked for my homeschool family.


Friday, December 10, 2010

TOS Review: Good Morning, God

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PhotobucketAfter seeing her big brother and sister getting to try new homeschool materials, I was excited to show Lauren a package that contained a new book just for her. Apologia Educational Ministries sent me their new book Good Morning, God to review. 

Lauren requested that I read it at least a half-dozen times the first day and many, many times since then. She loves to read along with the repetitive parts on each page. Perhaps her favorite line is, "I wake up with lots of energy!" She was already familiar with the days of the week, but she has them down pat now. 

This book shows a young boy going through the days of the week as his parents teach him about God. About half of the pages are done in gorgeous water colors, are the rest are in black-and-white. Lauren wanted to color the black-and-white pages in. Hopefully I can get her to hold off until we order the coloring book from Apologia ($4). At the end of the story, the author has included Bible verses and questions that could extend this story and make it very appropriate for an older audience.

As a parent, I noticed a few extra features that may appeal to some of my readers. The family featured in this book is a larger family than is usually depicted in the books I read with Lauren. There are five children, and they all sit in church together, fix lunch together, and look like they are all enjoying a hike in the woods together. As a homeschool parent, it was nice to see a subtle reference to a family that doesn't go to a public school. Lauren was interested in the illustration that showed the youngest boy coloring a picture in the school room. Lately, several people have talked to her about going to school soon, and this was a concrete way to show her that not every child goes to a school building.

The book retails for $14.00 and would make an excellent gift for a preschooler that you know. Perhaps my biggest endorsement, however, came from Lauren herself. While I was typing this review, she wandered by and asked, "Why did you type my favorite book on your computer?"

You can see other reviews of this book on The Old Schoolhouse Homeschool Crew blog.

Disclaimer: I received a free hardback copy of Good Morning, God from Apologia, and I received no other compensation. In return, I agreed to give an honest review of the materials and how they worked for my homeschool family.

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Thursday, December 9, 2010

The best mess we've made in a long time

Last weekend, my kids went to a holiday party and brought home gingerbread houses made out of cardboard milk cartons, graham crackers, and lots of candy. I felt sad for Brennan because although he did a great job with his gingerbread house project, his peanut allergy means that he wasn't allowed to eat any of the candy that they had provided.

The next day, I went to Target and stocked up on peanut-free candies so that we could make our own gingerbread houses.
Brennan's favorite part was using the icing gun.





I thought about seeing if my blog readers could match the gingerbread house to the corresponding child. Unfortunately, the candy that I was going to offer as a prize isn't left anymore. The pictures above probably give too many clues anyway.



Wednesday, December 1, 2010

TOS Review: The Master Fraction

Master Innovations Pictures, Images and Photos

According to their website, Master Innovations started with a single math manipulative -- the Master Ruler. It is a hands-on way to make learning measurement easy and fun. Since then, they've expanded their offerings to include the Master Clock, Master Angles, and Master Fractions.


Master Innovations Pictures, Images and Photos
Master Innovations sent me The Master Fraction ($17.95) and The Master Fraction Workbook ($15.95) to review. The workbook helped me to understand how I could use the fraction pieces to show fractions and to work simple fraction problems. For Brennan, the workbook was a good introduction to the concept of fractions in general. Brennan really has had no formal experience with fractions prior to reviewing this product, and he did really well with the assignments he tried in the first half of the book. For fun, I jumped to some of the problems later in the book and he was able to solve them with the help of the Master Fraction.

The Master Fraction itself is a set of three sturdy spiral bound tools, each roughly 6 inches square. One goes up to 12ths, one up to 16ths, and the last up to 20ths. The clear sheets flip over each other so that you can see equivalent fractions. For instance, if you use a dry-erase marker to color in one-fourth of the square, you can flip the next sheet to see that it is the same as two-eighths, and then flip again to show four-sixteenths.

Even though our current curriculum uses a hands-on model to illustrate fractions, I will probably continue to use the Master Fraction as an additional option. The spiral format allows the overlays to match up perfectly, which will definitely help Brennan see the fractions accurately. I also like the way that the system is condensed down to just three different pieces (which are all large enough to be easily found). Many other fractions models I've seen have a lot of smaller pieces that are likely to be misplaced in our house. The Master Fraction is useful for both easy fraction problems (is one-fourth bigger than one-sixth?) and for more complex operations (simplify twenty-two-sixteenths and write as a mixed number).

Bottom line: The Master Fraction would be a great addition to any math curriculum -- either for a homeschool student or for a child who struggles with visualize fractions on their regular math homework.

If you'd like to see what other homeschool families thought about the math manipulatives from Master Innovations, you can find their reviews on The Old Schoolhouse Homeschool Crew blog.

I received The Master Fraction and The Master Fraction Workbook from Master Innovations  as a member of the 2010 TOS Homeschool Review Crew, and I received no other compensation. In return, I agreed to give an honest review of the materials and how they worked for my homeschool family.

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