Saturday, June 30, 2012

Review of Homeschool Spanish

My husband's family is from Cuba, and he is a native Spanish speaker, so I was thrilled to review Homeschool Spanish Academy's online Spanish classes.  Why should the children of a native speaker need formal classes, you ask? Well, if one doesn't speak the language to his children from birth (and almost exclusively), the children will not be fluent.  Given that I only had some school Spanish to fall back on, we just never considered speaking Spanish to our children.  My in-laws *do* speak Spanish, though (along with English), and I would love for my children to be able to speak to them.

Homeschool Spanish Academy offers online Spanish classes for young children through adults.  The classes are one-on-one, via Skype, with a native Spanish speaker.  The two teachers my ten year-old daughter have had thus far are delightful ladies from Guatemala.  The lessons range in time from 25 to 50 minutes, depending largely on the age of the learner.  Officially, Homeschool Spanish Academy denotes the shorter time span for children up to ten, with the longer time slot used for children ten and up.  My ten-year old has Spanish for the 50 minute time period.  I would think that the appropriate time might best be determined by the teacher in conjunction with the parent, given that some younger children could benefit from the longer class time, while some older children may not have the attention span for the longer time.

For specific information on how Homeschool Spanish Academy works, see any of these helpful videos. In general, my daughter's classes have all had the same format.  The teacher introduces new vocabulary to her and then asks her questions requiring her to answer using the new vocabulary.  She has learned fruits, vegetables, seasons, numbers, and colors.  With her first teacher, she only learned one lesson per class, but with the teacher she has had recently, she is doing up to three.  I think the classes work best when they move at the pace of the student.

Everyone has the opportunity to explore Homeschool Spanish Academy, as they offer a free lesson.  Simply follow these directions.

If you're the kind of homeschool parent who appreciates companies that help others, Homeschool Spanish Academy is a must!

Top-quality in-home Spanish instruction can be yours for the prices shown below.  If you have two students you want to take Spanish, you can receive a discount on the second child.

My daughter loves Homeschool Spanish Academy, but, in our particular situation, I don't find it worth continuing the program when our review period ends.  My husband can teach all of my children the vocabulary (which is what Therese has learned so far), and they can learn grammar a little later, from a book.  If you don't have a Spanish speaker in your life, though, this program would be invaluable.  The founder is wonderful and the teachers are super supportive and encouraging.  This is a great option for homeschooled students! To see other opinions, check out the Crew blog.

DISCLAIMER: I received Homeschool Spanish Academy classes free in exchange for my honest review.  The classes were free, but the opinion is all mine!

Wednesday, June 20, 2012

Review of IXL Math

As a member of the TOS Review Crew, I received a six-month subscription to IXL Math.  I have long wanted to try this site replete with math practice at all levels, but I have always been somewhat anxious about the price.  I can safely say that I am no longer anxious about the price at all.  It is well worth what I now consider to be a nominal charge!

What is IXL? Used in more than 150 countries, IXL is a full complement of practice math problems from Pre-K through Algebra (with plans for even higher levels of math!).  

IXL is aligned to state standards, so you can always be sure that your child is on-level for math skills acquisition.  Of course, if your children are like mine, it is wonderful to have the option to be able to work on higher levels of math.  When gifted kids skip levels of math, or complete them in about half the time, having access to a practice site like IXL is invaluable.  You, the parent, can make sure that your child really has mastered the skills at a particular level of math! How can you be certain, though, that your child is doing what she says she is doing on IXL? Thorough reports are emailed to you weekly and, with your parent account, you can keep up with all of your children's progress.

Reports tell you the amount of time your child spent on IXL altogether, along with a breakdown of individual skills attempted and mastered.  Finally, you are shown a "SmartScore." Using a proprietary algorithm, IXL gives your child a numerical rating for each skill.  They are even color coded so you can see where your child stands at a glance! Green means your child has mastered the skill in question.  Blue is good.  Orange is satisfactory.  Red is better get more practice! Finally, the report gives you a pie graph so you can see at a glance which skills your child spent the most time on.

So parents get reports...what's in it for kids? Awards!

Students earn achievements and certificates for completing levels and skills.  Kids who like some visual element to a reward will love this feature!  Also, for kids who like instant feedback, the SmartScore is continually updating on the right side of the screen.  Seeing that number edge up is a huge incentive to keep practicing! (The picture below is of a problem from a grade level my children are not studying, but it does illustrate the feedback instantly available to your kids.)

What do you pay for 2,000 practice problems at all levels?

I'm not ready to make a final decision, but I strongly suspect that we will be purchasing IXL when our complimentary subscription ends.  There is just so much here!

My kids love IXL; to see how other kids responded, have a look at the Crew blog!

Disclaimer: I received a subscription to IXL math free in exchange for my honest review.  Honestly, I don't love math, but I do love IXL! The subscription was free, but that is my honest opinion!

Saturday, June 16, 2012

Review of Pearson's MyMathLab Algebra I

For the past six weeks, my ten year-old daughter has been using MyMathLab's Algebra I in our homeschool.  In first grade, Therese began moving ahead in math very quickly, skipping two years entirely and often doing two years' work in one. Her progress has not been without bumps, though.  We have switched math programs several times (often through the impetus of receiving a wonderful review product from The Review Crew!), have gone through periods during which math was a tear-fraught struggle, and, sometimes, went a few weeks with no math at all.  It was with some trepidation, then, that we began this particular math course.  Happily, my fears were unfounded: Therese loves it!

The Pearson Homeschool Edition of Algebra I is a complete Algebra course.  It offers all of the necessary instruction, practice problems, and tests, including thousands of instructional videos.  The program is 100% online and is fully customizable for families.  Fair warning: I found the set

up a tiny bit confusing, but the instructions were clear and I was able to navigate it with no outside help. Therese had absolutely no problem jumping right in and getting started.  Best of all, I did not have to urge her to work on it for our review; she has been doing several lessons per week.

The approach of Pearson is fairly standard for online programs. Concepts are introduced and sets of problems are presented.  The student can choose to see the problem solved step-by-step, after which he will be given another problem that is solved the same way.  This is one feature of the program that I really appreciate: getting help on the problem does not mean that the student gets a "pass" on that problem.  Instead, it is used as a teaching opportunity which is then immediately "tested" when the student has the chance to solve another problem on her own.

Much of what you see on the screens can be customized. So far, I have let Therese work as she wants, but I love knowing that I can have a heavier hand in her schedule if I want to.

Algebra I is available for $49.97.  Parent access is an additional $30.  For the price, the course is excellent.  It would be excellent for twice the price.  I can definitely say that we will be continuing with Pearson for Algebra II.  I am so grateful to have been introduced to this wonderful product!

For more opinions, see the Crew Blog!

DISCLAIMER: I received the course, MyMathLab Algebra I, free in exchange for my honest review.  The product was free, but the opinions are mine.

Friday, June 15, 2012

The "Not a Review" Post

I'm sure it's not just me, but sometimes I feel very misunderstood.  I blame Facebook.  I often post political and/or religious things on Facebook, and most often I post just because I like what is said.  I am not trying to "start something" or make a point.  While I enjoy a spirited debate, I do not like real conflict.  However, I do feel passionately about the subjects of politics and religion, and I will defend anything I post.  Henry treats Facebook as a "read-only" document.  He takes what he wants away from it, and he ignores most of it.  I have tried to take that approach, but I've found it difficult.  In general, I no longer post on others' controversial (to me) statuses (stati?), but if I post something that is commented on, I feel compelled to respond.  Otherwise, it looks like I agree with what was said.  Well, that's how it feels anyway.

I have Protestant Facebook friends, and I have Catholic Facebook friends.  I also have a couple of atheist friends, and I'm sure there are some agnostics as well.   I value all of those friends, but I am unapologetically Catholic.  Unless I am engaging in Apologetics, of course.  Then I am Apologetically Catholic.  I will not compromise on those beliefs in any way.  I submit to the Magesterium (the teaching authority of the Church).  I am truly puzzled about many of the differences between Catholics and Protestants.  What is patently obvious to me about Catholicism is clearly not obvious to those not raised in the Faith.  Having said that, I so appreciate having friends with whom I can talk frankly about religious questions.  I would always prefer that someone ask me about what Catholics believe, rather than assume that the way they are portrayed in the media (or from the pulpit) is accurate.  If I don't understand why Protestants believe something (or about how one flavor of Protestant is different from another one), I'll ask.  I won't debate the issue with you (unless you want to).  I would love for all of my friends to do the same.  (Oh, and if you don't even believe in God or his son, Jesus Christ, there is no reason even to say something about my religious posts.  I know you don't agree, and I know my next statement will upset you: I'll pray for you to know the same peace I do - the peace that comes from being a child of Jesus.)  I think that's about it ;-)

Saturday, June 9, 2012

Review of Mobile Education's Rainbow Sentences

One of the main reasons I wanted an iPad was for the educational opportunities it opens up.  With apps to drill math facts, quiz SAT vocabulary, and travel through time virtually, the iPad is a one-stop educational tool.  Prior to a month or so ago, when I received, free, in exchange for my honest review (/disclaimer) Mobile Education's app Rainbow Sentences, I hadn't really thought about using the iPad for Language Arts.  Fortunately, Mobile Education did!

Rainbow Sentences helps students create sentences by color-coding the parts of speech. Students can drag the necessary sentence parts to fit correctly into the sentence.  They can either read the words themselves or have the computer read the words to them.  Students can also record sentences in their own voices.  The app includes six levels of sentence complexity, with 165 images from which to create sentences.  By correctly completing sentence, students earn puzzle pieces.  Puzzles, when completed, animate.

In order to see far more about Rainbow Sentences and how it works, watch this video:

I used Rainbow Sentences with my seven year-old twins, and while they liked it well enough, once I told them they had used it enough for review purposes, they have not gone back to it.  The reason, I am sure, is that they are too advanced in their grammar studies to derive much benefit from it.  I can't find an exact age recommendation for the product, but would assume that seven is very much within the parameters.  For children who have not already learned all the parts of speech and parts of sentences, this app could be very useful and enjoyable. I think that if my twins had used it two years ago, they would have loved it!

Rainbow Sentences is available from the App Store for $7.99.  To me, the price is steep, but if you don't like teaching grammar and want something your kids will enjoy without even realizing how much they're learning, it might very well be priced reasonably. 

This review is just one magistra's opinion.  To read others, check out the Crew blog.

DISCLAIMER: I received this app free in exchange for my honest review.  I wouldn't lie to you -the opinions are all mine.