Friday, February 25, 2011

Review of Math Rider

For the past couple of months, my children have had the opportunity to use the program Math Rider, which I received free in exchange for our review.  Given that teaching math facts is not my strong suit (and for one of my four children, learning them was proving nearly impossible), I can say with all the earnestness of a mother who desperately needed a new approach that Math Rider works!

Math Rider uses a fairy-tale scenario to walk children systematically through the memorization of addition, subtraction, multiplication, and division facts.  Children are presented with a short story which necessitates the completion of a quest for resolution.  The quest is advanced, and then completed, as students ride their horses through the Mathlands jumping fences comprised of math facts.  If they answer the fact correctly, the horse clears the fence.  If not, the horse stops and students both see and hear the math fact.  That math fact will then show up within the next two facts to provide reinforcement.  Kids can check their progress on a quest map at any time in order to see their degree of mastery.

One of the best features of Math Rider is the ability to choose between easy, medium, and hard facts.  In this way, children can learn at a relaxed pace, ensuring successful assimilation of the facts.  Because learning the facts is presented in the context of a story, and because kids get instant feedback on their answers (unlike, for existence, a worksheet of math facts), Math Rider really works.

The question any parent on the verge of paying for yet another school aid wants answered is, of course, "Will my kids like it"? All I can say is that all four of mine (9,7,6, and 6) love it.  It is my twins, those who needed the program the most, who actually fight over who gets to be first with Math Rider every day.  That is the ultimate sign of success!

Math Rider is available as an instant download for $49.95, but it is on sale as of this writing for $37.  Considering that you can register multiple children (I can vouch for at least four), the cost is negligible.  It works.

If you have any questions about Math Rider, send it along on their contact page.  You know that I loved Math Rider; find out what other Crew members thought on the Crew Blog.

Friday, February 18, 2011

Review of Critical Thinking Co. Books

 I have long been a fan of The Critical Thinking Co.'s Logic series (Building Thinking Skills), so I was very excited to receive free from Timberdoodle, in exchange for my review, copies of Mathematical Reasoning Levels C and D and Building Thinking Skills Level 2.

The Critical Thinking Co.'s Mathematical Reasoning books cover a year's worth of math skills in a brightly colored, beautifully illustrated large soft cover book.  This is definitely not Saxon Math! According to The Critical Thinking Co.'s website, the program is aligned to national standards and contains a full year's curriculum.  Levels C and D, which I am reviewing here, cover 2nd and 3rd grades.
While my other math curricula cover things like the temperature example above, none covers it so...gently as does The Critical Thinking Co.  By using such vivid and fun pictures, the lesson is driven home in a concrete way without ever cluing a child into the fact that he has learned a key math concept.  Like other popular math programs, Mathematical Reasoning takes a spiral approach, which both reinforces the concepts taught, and keeps children from getting bogged down in one particular concept area.

My children have really enjoyed working with these books, largely because it doesn't feel to them like they are doing school!

The downside of these books for me is that, because my kids are used to a much more rigorous approach to math, there is no way that these books actually constitute a full year's math program.  For a child who might be reluctant to do math, however, I believe that these books would be a Godsend.  As hard as it will be for them to believe, they will be doing school! What a break for moms who experience meltdowns at the mention of math.

Building Thinking Skills is actually the true strength of The Critical Thinking Co.'s line of products, in my opinion.  These books have a little bit of everything, but all of the activities are geared toward developing a student's logic skills.  There are analogies, spatial reasoning puzzles, and math puzzles, to name a few.  My oldest daughter is thrilled to work in this book.  If she ever has a few minutes between assignments, this is what she pulls out.  It is self-teaching, and with the available Teacher's Guide, self-correcting.  My daughter definitely does not think of this book as work.  In fact, she doesn't even have to be in school to reach for it!

 I love that analogies are introduced to younger students.  The ability to understand them will not only lead to a higher SAT score in the future, but it truly does develop critical thinking skills.

I would strongly encourage parents to check out The Critical Thinking Co.'s line of products, available from Timberdoodle.  Buying through Timberdoodle not only gives you the best customer service in the homeschooling world, but it earns you 5% back on all your purchases, redeemable as Timberdoodle purchases!  There are many wonderful Critical Thinking Co. products from which to choose, and the purchase could end up being just the energy injection you've been searching for to liven up your homeschool.

Review of Kid Scoop

For the past month, I have had the opportunity to review Kid Scoop's Reluctant Reader Solution with my seven year-old son.  The program was provided free to me in exchange for my review.  Sometimes I have trouble wrapping my mind around the concept of a reluctant reader, but since my son is perfectly capable of reading just about anything he chooses...but chooses not to most of the time, I decided that he could qualify for this title.

The program consists of a combination of the online Kid Scoop newsletter,
 which is filled with activities and short reading selections geared around educational topics which don't feel educational at all.  Because the newsletter is interactive and on the computer, it feels very much like a game, and not nearly as much like homework or learning.

The second component of the Reluctant Reader solution, and the primary means of addressing reluctant readers, is the downloadable set of activities.
Each set of sheets revolves around a particular topic and consists of 5-7 pages of readings, activities, experiments, and other fun and topical subjects.  The best thing about the 60 or so topics included is that there is no particular order in which they should be done.  Thus, if you start the program in May, the Mother's Day packet is right there for you to access.  If your child is a baseball fan, introduce him to this new program with the baseball worksheets.  More "academic" subjects like Constitution Day are also included, but every one of the topics is presented in a fun and non-threatening way.  

My son, Nicholas, enjoys this program.  He doesn't object to working with the worksheets, and he really enjoys the online Kid Scoop newsletter.  The graphics and colors are reminiscent of a restaurant menu for kids, with all of its games and activities and riddles, etc., and what kid doesn't love to be presented with one of those? I know Nicholas is savvy enough to realize that this is "school", but it sure is more palatable to him than being handed, for example, a dry history book.

The Kid Scoop Reluctant Reader Solution includes a subscription to the online edition of the Kid Scoop newsletter, along with the 60 topic downloadable set of worksheets.  The program costs $97 and comes with a 365 day unconditional satisfaction guarantee.  In other words, you have absolutely nothing to lose by giving this program a try if your child is hesitant about stretching his reading wings.

To find out more about Kid Scoop's Reluctant Reader Solution, visit their very informative website.  Any potential question you might have will be addressed there.  To find out what other Crew members thought of the Reluctant Reader Solution, visit the Crew blog.

Friday, February 11, 2011

Review of Curiosity Files MRSA

Last year I had the chance to review The Curiosity Files before they were made available for purchase.  For this reason, I was thrilled when I was given the opportunity to review another title in the series for The Old Schoolhouse.  TOS provided me with a free copy, in exchange for my review.

I'll be honest; I had no idea what MRSA was before working through this unit study.  I selected the topic with confidence, though, because I knew that Professor Ana Lyze, the narrator of the unit study, would walk me through MRSA step-by-step.  True, these studies are designed for children, but I find them both informative and delightful.

The MRSA study begins with a six-page description of MRSA.  It is replete with scientific fact, but is presented in such a manner that my seven year-old son had no problem getting a handle on the material.  The presentation of facts is followed by a short recall activity, in which students can demonstrate their understanding of what they read.

The Curiosity Files study then really begins to shine.  People who know unit studies are familiar with the format.  A unit study typically takes one topic and explores it from the perspective of various disciplines.  In this case, specifically, MRSA (and bacteria in general) is explored from a biblical, mathematical, geographical, historical, musical (!), and language arts perspective.  For example, you and your child will perform science experiments, study timelines, do spelling activities, engage in creative writing, do copywork, and so many more things.  While a study of MRSA is the take-off point for every activity, you don't have to love science to find this unit study completely engaging.  In fact, you just might find yourself more interested in science than you ever have been.

If you're interested in checking out this title, or any other Curiosity Files studies, head over to The Old Schoolhouse's store, where you can usually purchase them for $6.95 each.  However, as of this writing, these unit studies are on sale for $1.00!

There will definitely be a place in my schoolroom for The Curiosity Files series.  If you're interested in seeing what other crew members had to say about these unit studies, visit the Crew blog.

Monday, February 7, 2011

Review of VocabAhead SAT Vocabulary Book

Recently I had the honor of reviewing VocabAhead's book, SAT Vocabulary: Cartoons, Videos, & MP3s, in exchange for my honest review.  It is safe to say that this has become one of my favorite books.  Granted, I'm a huge word nerd so I'm completely biased, but I found this book completely delightful!

The premise of the book is simple: 300 SAT words are presented, one to a page, with an accompanying cartoon. 

The word is defined, a very humorous cartoon is presented, the word is used in hilarious sentences, and synonyms and antonyms are presented. The words are presented so vividly that they are immediately impressed on the brain. However, further reinforcement is available! The purchase of this book entitles you to access the videos which accompany the words, available as a download on the website. The videos are under a minute long each, and need to be seen fully to be appreciated. Fortunately, you can sample them here.

Finally, VocabAhead offers MP3 downloads of these words, completing your internalization of the words. There is no way that this program cannot enhance your vocabulary, and I would be shocked if it did not up your SAT Verbal (or GRE!) score.

In terms of kid appeal, in the interests of full disclosure, my 9 year-old daughter is as big a word nerd as I. Hence, I was not exactly surprised to see her settle down and read this book as if it were a novel. She loves it. I have to say, though, that I think the approach of the book is ideal for more reluctant learners. The words are presented in a very non-threatening way; it doesn't feel like learning at all. In my brief stint as a "real" teacher, I would have embraced this book as a means of teaching vocabulary.

The VocabAhead website is a treasure trove of resources. A full, 1000 word, word list is available on the website, along with a study room in which you can quiz yourself on the words you've learned. The website alone will make you want to buy the book, which you can at VocabAhead SAT Vocabulary: Cartoons, Videos & MP3s.

While I think that learning Latin is the very best thing you can do for your vocabulary, using this book definitely ranks second!

I loved this book (clearly), but if you want to find out what other Crew members thought, head to the Crew blog!

Friday, February 4, 2011

Review of Dig It! Roman Town

For the past month, my children have had the pleasure of playing Roman Town from Dig-It! Games, a game I was provided free in exchange for my review.  From the outset, I was excited about the prospect of a game that allowed my children to take on the role of an archaeologist in order to excavate an ancient Roman town.  Within the context of the game, children can choose a tool in order to dig for artifacts, learn about the artifacts they have uncovered, explore Roman buildings, and learn about Roman daily life.  Since the game was designed by a professional archaeologist, you can be assured of the authenticity of the excavation experience.

The game begins with a small back story establishing what is known about the town under excavation.  Armed with all of the available knowledge, kids "from 8 to 88" can then begin their own excavation.  Flags mark off the portion of the field that needs to be excavated,  and the tools available for use are shown on the right side of the screen.  Children are taught which tool will accomplish which task, and then they dig within the given parameters. 

Depending on the tool chosen, the artifacts will be revealed in due time.  Once the artifacts are shown, children can then opt to learn about them in the Roman Town lab.

They can put pots back together in order to see what they once looked like.

In addition, children can play minigames and tour Roman buildings.

Although Roman Town suggests 8 as a lower limit for this game, my six year-old twins and my seven year-old loved it, while my 9 year-old found it a bit simplistic.  I would say, then, that the game will appeal to a wide variety of children of all ages.  Children who have studied Rome extensively, or who prefer to learn through reading and research than through games my not get as much out of Roman Town.  If you have a child that loves to play games, though, or who resists learning unless it is disguised as a game, then Roman Town will be right up your alley.  I loved the excavation aspect of the game!

Roman Town is available from the Dig-It! Games website, and retails for $39.95.  For non-homeschoolers, there is Teacher's Edition of the game approved for classroom use.  Finally, a Teacher's Guide to Roman Town is available as a $19.95 download.

Due to the way that I typically teach history, this game is not one I would probably purchase.  For the right kind of learner, though, this game may be just the right introduction to Ancient Rome.