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Monday, January 31, 2011

Times Alive! Review

I have a product I'm excited to share with you!  To understand why I'm excited, you might need to know a little about homeschooling in our family.  See, I have a 13 year old extremely reluctant student who is on the autism spectrum and WAY behind in all subjects.  WAY BEHIND.  We just have recent begun two digit multiplication, and while he knew some of his multiplication tables by heart, others he was not so strong on, and I'd catch him skip counting his way (very slowly) to the answer.  So this reluctant learner of mine...this child who never wants to "do school" or anything educational...he willingly sat himself at the computer and watched THIS WHOLE PROGRAM in one sitting.  No, that's not the way it's intended, but still, he did the whole thing, and I did not have to beg, plead, or threaten one bit!  And since then, he's actually re-watched it too!


So by now you're thinking, that's great, but what IS it?  Times Alive! is a computer program that teaches kids their times tables the "fun way".  So what is the "fun way"?  The fun way involves turning each math equation into an imaginative story that gives students clues to the number facts and giving meaning to the numbers.  The stories are unique and memorable.  Research has proven that Times Alive! is effective in raising comprehension of facts by up to 95%.  Each child starts by taking a Nuts and Bolts pre-test assessment to figure out what they know, and what they need to work on.  This allows parents to see what areas each child is weak in and also allows students to skip sections they already know.  As each group of math facts is learned, tests are given to check retention, and parents can access a "progress report" to see exactly how their student is doing.  Students get verbal and visual feedback as they progress through the program.


The pros: I like that each fact is taught not only with an animated story, but also has a song to go with it.  I have noticed an improvement in my son's multiplication skills, and when he gets stuck, I just remind him of the story and he can recall the answer.  And I like that I am not involved actively in this process.  We use a very parent-intensive math, and it is such a blessing to have something that teaches them their multiplication facts (or reinforces the ones they already know) and frees me up to work with another child.  And I most especially like the fact that they LOVE it.  Not one of my three children who is old enough for multiplication complains a bit about getting on Times Alive!  I don't think there is any other product for any subject that I can say that about! 

The cons:  Sometimes I feel like a broken record, but I do wish the price was a bit lower.  The downloadable version of the software is $44.95.  And while I think multiplication is a critical, foundational math skill, for many homeschoolers that's a big chunk of change on one skill in one subject.

The bottom line:  City Creek Press, the company behind Times Alive!, has some great samples on their You Tube Channel, and you should definitely check it out.  For us, Times Alive! bridged the gap between knowledge and mastery in a short period of time, and in a very painless and pleasant way, and that is priceless.  It helps too that I have four children, so I will have multiple users.  In fact, my 5 year old has picked up some of the information just by being around while the other kids listen.  Take a listen for yourself:

To check out Times Alive! either in its downloadable version, or the original book, or to see other math the "fun way" products by City Creek Press, go HERE.  To see what other members of the TOS Crew had to say, go HERE

Legal Disclaimer:  As a member of the TOS Crew, I received a free download of Times Alive! for my family to use.  This software was the only compensation I received for my review.
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Saturday, January 29, 2011

My's the new Facebook

I have a friend who left blogging a while ago because she decided that it took too long to blog, and Facebook allows for short blurbs and instant gratification.  Most of the time I disagree, but for tonight, I'm going to treat this post like several Facebook statuses...they will have nothing to do with each other at all, I warn you!

I got pulled over today.  Going to a children's ministry meeting at church.  With my daughter in the car.  While actually driving the SPEED LIMIT.  It seems there is a newish law in FL that says if there is an emergency vehicle, or police car, or tow truck on the side of the road with lights flashing, you MUST change lanes out of the lane closest to the side of the road they are parked on, or slow down to 20 UNDER the speed limit.  I was driving down the road, there was a police car, he did not have anyone pulled over, but his lights were flashing, he WAS NOT out of his car, I drove by (doing the speed limit) and swerved over to the left about half a lane, and BAM! he pulled out and pulled me over.  He was MAD.  Actually, furious describes it better.  Very initially quite short with me and unkind.  Told me this information is on every gas pump and all over the TV.  I told him we don't have the TV (only Netflix), don't get the paper, and I don't read gas pumps as one of my four kids is usually harassing me for something when I'm pumping gas.  (Okay, I DID say all that, but not at the same time, it was over the course of our "conversation" in which I was terribly sorry, meek, and kind (THAT had to come from GOD, as anyone who knows me well will tell you).  TO add to it, I had last year's expired registration.  Not. Good.  He was sooo made, he slammed the door on his squad car.  But then, maybe because I genuinely did not know I had broken a law, or maybe because I had been nice (again, that was a total God thing since at least 10 cars passed us in the SAME lane I was getting a ticket for driving in while he was actually standing at my car...for the record, I TOTALLY would have gotten over if he had been OUT of the car, or even had another car pulled over), or maybe it was all the praying I was doing, but he just gave me a warning.  So now all you FL drivers, consider yourself warned, because that ticket is $166.

Scholastic is having a sale on the downloadable books-over 500 titles for $1 each.  This link should work, but the sale is through the 31st of January only, so act now!

I'm feeling better, but my husband is sick and GRUMPY.  Really Grumpy.  Grumpier than usual grumpy.  Please pray he feels better soon for all our sakes!

I'm meeting with someone tomorrow about possibly shooting their wedding.  That's a big deal, since I haven't done weddings before (other than pictures for my family members).  I'm letting this one be totally in God's hands.  Ha, that sounds ridiculous...of course it's totally in God's hands whether I let it be or not, but you get the idea.  No stress, it's His deal.

I actually ran week 4 of couch to 5K tonight.  I started week 4 last week, but since week 3 involved 9 total minutes of running, and week 4 involves 16, it was a HUGE jump and I resigned myself to doing the first 3 running sections and just doing as much of the 4th as I could.  (It goes 5 minute warm up walk, 3 min. run, 1 1/2 min. walk, 5 min. run, 2 1/2 min. walk, 3 min. run, 1 1/2 min. walk, 5 min. run, 5 min. cool down walk.)  Anyway, I changed my route tonight, so I had NO idea, based on visual markers, where I was in each run, and I finished the final 5 minutes, much to my own surprise.  Woo Hoo!!!

I've been struggling with a few things lately that relate to some people in my life.  The thing is, normally I would just blog to get it off my chest, but those people, or people who know them, read my blog, and so I can't.  And that's good, because I really shouldn't anyway,and I know that, but I just sometimes need to, well, whine discuss the injustices of the world and how they bother me even if I don't let it seem like they do.  I know talking to God about it should be enough.  I KNOW that, but I'm just not that holy yet...I still need a real person sometimes.

I just heard a HUGE bang outside, and now there are all sorts of emergency sirens...wonder what's up?  There are enough sirens that it sounds big.  I should be praying instead of just being nosey!  Okay, just did.  Whatever it is, there is suddenly a lot of traffic on my little road...I wonder if the main one is closed and traffic is being detoured?

I've washed the same load of towels THREE times now.  Seriously!  I. will. get. it. dried. TOMORROW!!!

I need to go to bed.  Really.  And I really need to do it WAY earlier than I do most nights.  I'm struggling SOOOO much right now with all the things I "should be" doing as a wife, mother, homeschooler, friend, daughter....the list goes on and on.  So I guess that makes personal struggles on two fronts-my own inadequacies and the disappointments in behaviors of others. 

I'm starving, and it's 11:30.  P.M.  So what to do?  Eat, and end up being up even longer, or not eat, and try to fall asleep with an empty stomach.  To be fair, I had a chicken thigh at 4:30 as dinner, so it is justifiable to be hungry, just not convenient.

Okay, off to bed.  Night y'all.

Oh,and I realized I have fallen away from my commitment to PRAY at the end of each non-review post to remind myself that I am indeed One Blessed Mamma.  How is it that it is soooo easy to fall away from the things that are soooo important?  Anyway, let me try to do better, starting now.

God, I thank you for today.  It didn't go like I had planned, but You knew how it would unfold before I ever opened my eyes this morning.  Thank You for Your provision for me.  You very real and physical provision of a house, and a family, and food, and a warning not a ticket.  But also your provision for saving me from the wretch I was, and still would be, without You.  You have a plan to prosper me and give me a hope and a future, and that's true for my children too.  Let me draw solace in that, and in the fact that You love them more than I ever could.  In Jesus' name I pray.  Amen
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Friday, January 28, 2011

So today....

Hello.  Remember me?  The homeschooling mom?  The one who still lives here, on this blog, in this house, with these kids, as much as I might try to pretend otherwise?  I started out this school year with the best of intentions to blog all our school exploits, but now here we are 4 months in and I have totally neglected to mention schooling at all except in the context of reviews. 

It's not that we haven't been doing school.  In fact, this year we have been much more diligent than any other year in actually accomplishing "stuff"...and that of course spirals into the whole "the more we do the more I realize how behind we are" and get TOTALLY freaked out that my kids will spend the bulk of their adult productive years asking people if they'd "like fries with that?"  And that's on good days...

So today I determined that we would hike up our boot straps and actually DO IMPORTANT STUFF...stuff like history (hey, so far this year we have actually made it to the Minoans and we've never made it past Egypt before) and science (are we REALLY still in chapter FOUR of our science book???). 

So today we talked about Pollination, how the female parts of a flower get pollinated by the male parts of a flower thanks to God's perfect design.  I LOVE Apologia Science!  Umm, but back to reality, we covered only about a third of the chapter and didn't do any of the mini-books for our lapbook, so there's tons of work to still be done.

Then we went on to History.  The Mystery of History to be exact.  We covered Abraham and Sarah, Isaac and Rebecca, Jacob and, well, Leah, Rachel, Bilhah, and Zilpah and his 12 sons...oh, and one daughter.  Which for some strange reason prompted me to offer up to the kids more information about Dinah.  You know, THE STORY.  Why?  Well, we made a huge family tree for Abraham's descendants, and they were asking why it focused on the BOYS, and wasn't there a daughter, and who was she born to, and suddenly I opened my mouth and inserted my foot...a little to late ;-).  So I read them the Biblical account (skipping the word r@pe and just alluding to what happened with the older kids definitely getting the gist of the act although  not the non-consensual part).  But that's not the best part...then...THEN there's how her brother's strike a deal with Shechem.  You know.  "Become a Jew, be circumcised, and you can have her as your wife"...ummm, mommy, what's circumcised and how did that make it easy for them kill all the men?   Yeah, you can see where that conversation went...
My girls are still giggling, and I can guarantee you the boys have spent more than a few minutes in the bathroom today "checking thing out" if you know what I mean.  And it of course prompted Sari to drag out the old pictures of a very young and very naked Scott in the tub where some things usually hidden are visible.  Which prompted more giggling by the girls and humiliation by the boys. 
Oh yeah, it was time to change the subject in a BIG way.  So we read another chapter of The Hobbit aloud and everyone moved on to writing, which I am really loving.  With papers about Pillbugs in hand, Daddy (who is on death's doorstep) became the judge of whose paper was the best and TJ got to go with me to the Redbox to pick out a movie (Alpha and Omega-not Christian as the name might imply, but not awful except the hokey dancing wolf scenes).  Scott finished his science work (he is one or two chapters from being done thank GOD!) too, so that was a bonus.
So that was today...just a glimpse in the life.  I think maybe we should change our focus to something tame like basket weaving that doesn't involve multiple wives, forced s*x, s*d*my (that was complements of Lot's part in the Abraham story, but I skipped that), and circumcision but then it wouldn't be the true history of our sinful world.
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TenMarks Review

I can't imagine what it was like to homeschool even 20 years ago.  Then, homeschooling was largely illegal and finding curriculum to use was challenging at best.  Now though, curriculums abound, and have even progressed from the traditional paper versions to online offerings.  And TenMarks is one of those programs. 

TenMarks is an online, "Intuitive, interactive, and fun way for students to practice, learn, and master math".  TenMarks is geared toward students in grade 3 through high school.  Over 300 are covered and it parents/teachers are able to select their state so that what is covered lines up with their state's standards for each grade.  The program features virtual worksheets with 10 problems each that students work through.  They are given the opportunity to watch a step by step instruction video to go with the concept and each problem offers the chance to read 3 hints as well.  Mastery is determined by scoring at least 6.9 on the worksheet (out of 10), but credit for mastery is deducted for watching the videos or using the hints since if you need help solving the problem, you haven't actually mastered the concept.  The program generates a "do over" if a score of 6.9 is not achieved.  Students can also choose to "practice" a concept for as long as they need to. 

A sample screen shot of a worksheet (not from my son's level)

The pros: TenMarks offers the chance for students to take an assessment and then customize their program according to their score on that assessment.  It also allows parents to request that a child's grade level be switched and gives parents the ability to adjust the order in which the skills are covered.  Parents also receive a weekly e-mail telling them what worksheets have been assigned to their student for the week.  Using you parent log-in, you can check your child's progress on each topic and see what areas or even specific problems they are not getting, and which ones they are sailing through.

When students click on "reward zone" they get a visual representation of what they have accomplished.
The cons:  I think this program tends to be "ahead" of grade level.  In 7th grade, my son had problems like "Graph the function y = x2+ 1 and tell whether the function is linear or non linear" and "Which ordered pair is NOT a solution of y = x2 - 2? A) (0, -2)   B) (-2, 2 )  C) (2, 4)   D) (4, 14)" and "Find the ordered pairs for the linear function 'y = 2 - x' when the inputs are 3, 0, -3.   A) (3, -1); (0, -2); (-3, 5)   B) (3, 0); (0, -3); (-3, -6)    C) (3, 0); (0, -1); (-3, -5)    D) (3, -1); (0, 2); (-3, 5)".  Now, I know it's been a while since I was in 7th grade, but that just didn't seem like 7th grade stuff to me-especially the last one.  I asked a friend of mine who is a former High School math teacher (in our state) and still actively tutors, and she too said it was a bit advanced for 7th grade.  Now, that's not too big a problem because you can request that they change your child's grade level anyway, and it may be null and void if you do the assessment and customize the program, but for our purposes, it definitely was a little (okay, a LOT) smarter than my son.  I also had random problems with videos not working, or pages taking a long time to load, and once my son took the whole quiz and then it wouldn't actually process it and mark it as complete, but I guess glitches like that go hand in hand with the electronic medium.  One other con is that since the answers are presented in multiple choice format, your child can guess at them.  Now granted, statistically, they should not be able to guess their way through to a level of "Mastery", but you'd be surprised how far my son got today with guessing when the videos he needed were offline (they had a glitch in the system that they are fixing-their customer service is very fast!).   I learned I had to monitor his work to be sure he was actually "getting it"-you know, taking the time to work it on paper and actually figure out the correct answer rather than just narrowing the field to 2 and picking one. 

The bottom line:  My son actually liked TenMarks, and he doesn't usually like anything.  It was totally challenging for him, and yet that did not deter him.  When he passed one entire component, "Patterns, Functions, and Graphs," he printed out the certificate because he was so proud.  I like TenMarks because it removes me from the equation, at least mostly.  I step in and explain a little more and show him how to solve the equation on paper, and poof! he's off.  I do wish it "taught" a little more, but that may really have to do with him being at too high a grade level and the program assuming an amount of knowledge that he just doesn't have to solve some of the problems.  But for now, I plan to have him actually take the assessment (since we don't use a "traditional math", I really wanted him to try the 7th grade one and see how he faired), and to continue using the program through the end of this school year, and that is one of the highest complements I can ever give a product.

To check out TenMarks, go HERE.  They offer an edited version that is free to real classroom teachers and the "premium" version for homeschoolers and parents who want at home reinforcement for their children.  The premium version is $10 a month.  To see what other members of the TOS Crew had to say, go HERE.

Legal disclaimer:  As a member of the TOS Crew, I received a 6 month membership to TenMarks in exchange for my honest assessment.  That access to the program is the only compensation I received.
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Destination Disney- Unique Disney Photos

My friend (and boss) Heidi with Reviews and Reflections sponsors a weekly Disney meme called Destination Disney.  She took a hiatus with the meme for a while, but is back again.  This week's theme is Unique Disney Pictures- you know, the ones your average tourist DOESN'T take, LOL.  I have endless pictures, but here are a few...not to mention the pictures in the 3 posts right before this taken at Animal Kingdom on Monday.

The angel on top of the tree at Epcot at Christmas

The moon next to a spire at Epcot

Mom, the robot ate my hand!!!

Italy Pavilion

Butterfly at the Flower and Garden Festival

A wild bunny among the pretty Disney marigolds-you'd think with owning a bunny my kids would not be nearly as captivated, but every time we see a wild one at Disney, we have to stop and watch it ;-)
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Thursday, January 27, 2011

And by the number 4

As in four children at Disney...but only 3 of mine!  My friend's oldest daughter had her co-op classes, and her son decided he didn't want to go.  In addition, he decided that he wanted TJ to stay with him.  And TJ jumped at the chance.  So, Red and I took my youngest 3 and her youngest one and enjoyed the day.
Look mom, a boa...constrictor

Mimi couldn't resist the tarantula-that's what her IEW assignment was about

Red's daughter specializes in funny faces

This was the most serious picture I got of her all day!

My son suffers from the same "can't take a normal picture" affliction that J does.

Gotta love kids who give THEMSELVES rabbit ears :-)

An animal butt, just for Aunt Fanny

Okay, that's it.  Only I can make a one day trip to Disney into 3 blog posts over 3 days!  Sorry for the3 long, drawn out, interesting only to me post ;-)
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Wednesday, January 26, 2011

And by the letter "A"

as in Animals.  We saw a ton of them on the safari.  Here are some pictures:

 And a few more NOT on the Safari (it is called Animal Kingdom after all)

And lots of pretty birds:

Oh, and then the strange (relatively) hairless kind of animal:

Nice, huh?  Teenagers!
A few more pictures to come, but I'm off to bed for now!
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Monday, January 24, 2011

Today's homeschooling brought to you by the letter D...

as in Disney.  The public schools in our county had a day off today, and our friends had Disney passes expiring this week, so we took our "school" to Disney to learn about the Animal Kingdom ;-).  ( Okay, I might be stretching a bit.)

We began our day getting fast passes for Everest.  Then we headed to Dinoland to ride Dinosaur...or at least everyone but Sari and I rode Dinosaur.  She has decided she doesn't like that ride, and she wanted to meet Pluto and Goofy instead.  So we went to wait in line. 

We waited.
See how happy she is waiting?

And waited. And when it was our turn...TOTAL freak out.  She was NOT going up there without me.  Lovely. 
Here are some pictures of BOTH of us with Goofy and Pluto.


Then a quick ride on the flying triceratops ride and off to Everest where we met Presley and her family.  There my shy Sari turned into thrill seeking Sari who couldn't get enough.  Here are all the other crazy thrill seekers. 
They all rode twice and then Presley went off to lunch and we went off to the Jungle Trek.  We saw some animals and some hidden Mickeys:
That's a tiger in the background

Can you spot the hidden Mickey?

Scott lends a hand pointing this one out.

Let me just say S is a WAY better mother than I she is picking up Sari to see the animals.
Okay, more's past bed time and I'm beat!
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