Tuesday, July 31, 2012

Review of Zane Education

For the past couple of months, we have been using Zane Education in our homeschool.  Zane is one of those products that I am thrilled to have received free for review, because I likely would not have found out about it otherwise! Explaining Zane is a little difficult, but essentially, it is a website composed of 1,600 subtitled online educational videos accompanied by study guides, lesson plans, and online quizzes.  Topics covered range from history to science to art.  Each video is a few minutes long, but multiple videos are compiled under specific topics. For an idea of what the videos are like, see the free daily video here.  The best way I can think of to describe the videos is that they are reminiscent of the film strips those of us in our 30s grew up with in school.  In fact, they make me a little nostalgic!

What sets Zane apart from other websites that host educational videos is the subtitling.  Recognizing that seeing words fixes them in children's minds, all of Zane's 1,600 videos are subtitled.  Thus, as they are narrated, children actually see the words on the screen.  Zane calls this innovation "The Missing Piece." Because children have different learning styles, unsubtitled videos that cater primarily to auditory learners miss the mark with more visual learners.  Subtitles address that disparity.

Unlike many companies whose main focus is either homeschool or public school, Zane has arranged its website to fill the needs of all kinds of scholars.  Although it covers topics that some Christian homeschoolers may be squeamish about (evolution), the Gold subscription includes a 420 page guide on Christian Home Learning which explains how the Zane videos can be used in way that is completely consonant with Christianity.  This factor makes this one of my favorite programs: it is equally friendly to Catholic, Protestant, and secular homeschoolers alike.  Parents are provided with the tools necessary to make the program work best for their families.

The best way to understand all that Zane offers is to read their "Getting Started Guide." It addresses all potential questions and concerns.  It will also help to ensure that you get the most out of your Zane subscription.

Because the ways a family could use Zane are almost unlimited, I will just mention how our family is using it.  So far, we are working our way through the Art History and Life Sciences sections of the site.  I hook the computer up to the TV so that all of my kids can see, and then play a series of videos (the picture below shows some of the videos we have used, as indicated by the yellow stars).

After watching the videos, we would go through and do the quiz together.  The quizzes do an excellent job of assessing whether or not we paid attention and learned! Videos are accompanied by lesson plans which are often short, but packed with relevant information such as glossary terms and discussion sections.

I could actually continue to rave about Zane, but you really have to experience it to believe it.  Further, Zane's Facebook Page is an excellent place to find out more about how to use the program.  Fortunately, they also have a free subscription option:

For those wanting the full subscription (and, trust me, you'll want the full subscription!), information on all the options is shown below.

If you're interested, though, time is of the essence! By using the code ZE725HSM you can get 35% off a 12 month bronze, silver, or gold membership.  That adds up to some serious savings!

We absolutely love Zane.  To see what other Crew members had to say, be sure to read the Crew blog.


Disclaimer: I received a free subscription to Zane in exchange for my review.  I'm glad the review is done now so I can go back to watching Zane videos!

Sunday, July 29, 2012

Review of Math Essentials Algebra

Sometimes a math program comes along that exceeds every expectation you have for it.  When that program also costs less than $30 and is reusable for all of your children, you know you have struck gold.  Math Essentials Non-Nonsense Algebra is one such program.  Math Essentials consists of a softcover textbook that devotes two pages to each lesson, the first the lesson itself and the second practice exercises.

While the instructional portion of the book is very well-written and clear, it is the online video instruction that is the star of this show.  A purchase of the book for $27.95 includes complete access to the online instructional videos (the code is in the back of the book).  The videos are presented white-board style by the author of the program, Richard W. Fisher, known as America's Math Teacher.  Mr. Fisher's teaching style is so easy to listen to and understand that all students should enjoy learning from him.  My daughter has used several online math programs, and she has never had a white-board instructor whose voice or manner she liked.  In fact, doing math became an issue for this precise reason.  After listening to Mr. Fisher for only five minutes, she turned to me and said, "I like him!" I like him, too.

No-Nonsense Algebra covers the following topics:

It is complete with chapter reviews and a final exam.  Solutions are in the back of the book.  

Any math program's intended age range is completely subjective, but almost all students take Algebra in either 8th or 9th grade, making them around 14 or so.  My daughter began this course at the age of 10, but she has been years ahead in math for, well, years! The key point is that this math program is age-flexible.  It was just as workable for a younger student as for a typically-aged Algebra student.  In fact, my next child will be 10 when he tackles Algebra, and this will be the program we use.  The one-time purchase of the book allows a whole family access to the videos.

No-Nonsense Algebra has proved an excellent fit for our family.  Mr. Fisher states that test scores will be improved with only 20 minutes' use per day.  The short amount of time per day has been perfect for my math-averse, but math-gifted, daughter,and I can tell it will also work very well for my math-gifted ADHD son.  

In addition to No-Nonsense Algebra, we also got to review one of Math Essentials' topic-specific workbooks.  Available for decimals and percents, fractions, geometry, pre-algebra, problem solving, and whole numbers and integers, these $11.95 workbooks maintain the same 20 minute per day format as No-Nonsense Algebra, but focus intensively on single topics.  For kids who have trouble with the whole fractions/decimals/percents concept, these workbooks would be a lifesaver!

The most impressive thing about Math Essentials, though, has to be this unheard-of guarantee:
You truly have nothing to lose.

Math Essentials has found a permanent place in our home.  For $27.95, you just can't beat this program, even if you only use it as a supplement (so far we have not found it necessary to use it alongside anything else, though).  Check out what other Crewbies had to say!


Disclaimer: I received Math Essentials No-Nonsense Algebra free in exchange for my review.  The only compensation I received was the benefit we have derived from this awesome program.

Tuesday, July 24, 2012

Review of Super Duper HearBuilder Program

Super Duper Publications has some really neat things for sale, and I was lucky enough to get to use one of them with my children.  HearBuilder Auditory Memory Software Program.  This strategic memory training for listening program for grades K-8 teaches students memory for numbers of 3-7 digits, memory for words, memory for 1-4 details, auditory closure (sentence completion), and memory for information (2-3 sentences/2-4 questions).  Students develop memory and strengthen recall by completing levels and missions designed to foil Dr. Forgetsit.  

The software runs on your computer, but I ran it to my TV so that all of my children could watch at once.  My children used the software every day for a week, and while they thought it was kind of funny, they did not seem to get anything out of it.  The point of the software is to improve memory through repetition.  Children are given a set of tasks and are then expected to complete them.  Memory is built through being asked to remember more and more tasks at one time.

Although this software is suggested for grades K-8, it seemed too young for my children (grades 2-7).  I suspect the reason is largely that my children do memory work every day and, consequently, have excellent memories.  Perhaps absent the excitement of realizing that their memory and retention had increased, the software just wasn't enough to hold my kids' attention.  However, for kids with trouble remembering things, and for younger children, I think this software definitely has potential.

HearBuilder Auditory Memory Software is available in a home edition for $69.95, but you can check it out for a lot less until 8/31/12.  Use the coupon code  BLGAM30  to get 30%! You may purchase the software here.  While you're on the site, be sure to look at some of the other great products Super Duper has to offer!
While this particular product was not really a good fit for my family, it has been a huge blessing to others! Be sure to check out the Crew's other reviews!

Disclaimer: I received this software free in exchange for my honest review.  I have received no other compensation.

Wednesday, July 18, 2012

Review of Knowledge Quest's TimeMaps

I am firmly convinced that Knowledge Quest cannot make a bad product.  Everything they publish is a must-have product as far as I'm concerned.  In fact, MapTrek was one of my very first homeschool purchases, and five years later I use it all the time.  I was ecstatic, then, to find out that Knowledge Quest has a new mapping program: TimeMaps.

TimeMaps show the progression of history via maps.  See the rise of the Roman Empire.

From 500 BC to 390 BC, watch the trail appear depicting the movement of the Gauls into the Etruscans and on to  Rome.  It is as if you are visually watching history happen.  You are even able to see modern countries come into focus as names and boundaries change.  Best of all, this process is completely dynamic.  This is not a succession of static maps.  It is a visually engaging and constantly in motion mini-film.  There is nothing else like it!

As wonderful as the maps are, though, wait...there's more! Each TimeMap also comes with teacher notes giving suggested activities and explanations of all the maps.  You *don't* have to know history in order to use these maps successfully.  Everything is laid out for you!

The uses for these maps are countless.  They dovetail wonderfully with just about every history curriculum I know.  They can easily serve as the basis for history-based unit studies.  Or, as my family has used them thus far, they are tailor-made for delight-directed learning.  My son is in love with maps. All maps.  I doubt he even realizes how much he's learning when he "plays" with them.

TimeMaps available currently include Ancient China, Rise of Rome, Fall of Rome, Rise of Islam, The Black Death, European Exploration, and Atlantic Slave Trade.  They are available for $9.95 each, or a wonderful price of $44.95 for the whole collection as a download.  For $5.00 more, have a CD delivered to your door.  It is great to have the option only to buy the one(s) you need now, but I can't imagine not having all of them at my disposal.

The only map I have used officially in our homeschool is the Rise of Rome (as we are, conveniently, studying Rome!), but my children and I have pored over all of the maps "just because." There is no way to convey to children the massive impact of the Black Death like showing them how it spread like wildfire.  With TimeMaps you can do that.  And did you ever study exactly how devastating the Rise of Islam was for Christianity? View the TimeMap and you'll see in an instant.

I have to confess that I am a map junkie, so I knew that I would love these maps.  The wonderful thing is, though, that they are probably most helpful to people who are not map junkies.  There is no figuring out keys or legends, no printing multiple maps to show static points in time, and no trying to convince children that history really is fascinating or that things haven't always been the way they are now.

I put off writing this review because I was afraid that I could not do TimeMaps justice.  Suffice it to say that this is one of my favorite products of all time.  To see what other Crew members thought, read the Crew blog.


Disclaimer: I received TimeMaps in exchange for my honest review.  Honestly, I really think this product should be in every homeschool.  I received no other compensation for this review.

Review of Keyboarding for the Christian School

Keyboarding for the Christian School is a low-tech typing program reminiscent of the typing program you may have used in school.  Therein lies its greatest appeal.  I have no problem with all of the online typing programs out there, but I remember learning to type.  The way I learned seems to produce greater results in a shorter period of time. I sometimes think that all the bells and whistles of edutainment impair real learning.  For that reason, I think this is an awesome typing program.

Keyboarding for the Christian School is available as a pdf download, which means that there are several ways to handle using it.  In our case, my daughter read the pages off of my laptop and then did the lesson on hers. For my other children (who, I don't think, are quite ready for typing yet), I will likely print out the lessons and then comb bind them so that they lay flat.  In my daughter's case, though, the two-screen method was ideal.

This program is a very to-the-point approach to typing.  For example, the homerow review lesson looks like this (sample lesson available on site):

Learning the Homerow Keys
Lesson 6:  Review

A.  Using the F and J Keys:  Type ten sets of fj in groups of two.

fj fj fj fj fj fj fj fj fj fj

B.  Using the D and K Keys:  Type ten sets of dk in groups of two.

dk dk dk dk dk dk dk dk dk dk

C.  Using the S and L Keys:  Type ten sets of sl in groups of two.

sl sl sl sl sl sl sl sl sl sl

D.  Using the A and ; Keys:  Type ten sets of a; in groups of two.

a; a; a; a; a; a; a; a; a; a;

E.  Using the G and H Keys:  Type ten sets of gh in groups of two.

gh gh gh gh gh gh gh gh gh gh

F.  Now it is time to combine the homerow keys:  Type five groups of the left side of the Homerow on the first line, and then the right side on the second line.

asdfg asdfg asdfg asdfg asdfg
hjkl; hjkl; hjkl; hjkl; hjkl;

 G.  Type the following using the homerow keys:

aaa sss ddd fff ggg aaa sss ddd fff ggg aaa sss ddd fff ggg
hhh jjj kkk lll ;;; hhh jjj kkk lll ;;; hhh jjj kkk lll ;;;

H.  Review Drill:  Type the following using the homerow keys:

add add add dad dad dad gag gag gag sag sag sag
fad fad fad gas gas gas lad lad lad had had had 

As I said, this is exactly the way I learned to type and the method was very effective for me.  Because the lessons are short and sweet, your child can learn typing without taking up a huge chunk of the school day.

Although this program is overtly Christian, one doesn't have to be a Christian to derive a great benefit from it.  For example, you can either work with the Psalms provided or find your own substitutes.  The method is what is so wonderful about this curriculum!

Keyboarding for the Christian School, designed for grades 6 and up, is available for $15.95.  Alternatively, you can purchase this version with the Elementary version for $22 - it's a great deal!  Best of all, through 8/29/12, using the coupon code SUMMER2012 will get you 20% off! We have really enjoyed using this program, and I will continue to use it with all of my children.  As always, see the Crew blog for other views.

Disclaimer: I received Keyboarding for the Christian School free in exchange for my honest review.  I have received no other compensation of any kind -- except for the pleasure of using this program!


Friday, July 13, 2012

Review of Professor B Math

The program my three youngest children have been using for math for the last six weeks is one of my favorite review products ever.  I literally can't say enough good things about Professor B Math.  

On its face, Professor B may not be exactly what you would expect from a math program, but I promise that if you give it half a chance, you will most likely love it.  Professor B asserts that it will teach you to be a master teacher.  By teaching you how to teach your children, your children will learn math.  In fact, Professor B says that you can learn three years of math in one.  After using the professor for nearly two months, I can say that I believe it.

When you buy a year of Professor B (either Level 1, Level 2, or Level 3), you receive access to that Master Teacher Level and Workbook/Answer Keys.  Lessons are presented as slides, much like with Power Point.  The bee "speaks" silently (in reality, his word bubbles prompt you with the exact words to say to teach your students, who are also looking at the computer screen).  So the bee doesn't actually say anything, but he provides you with a teaching script.  No work is actually done on the computer.  When a lesson is done, parents can print out the appropriate workbook pages for their child to complete.

Trying to explain this curriculum in detail is difficult, but I have been monumentally impressed with both Levels 2 and 3 (the ones we are using).  My two second graders have been learning multiplication facts, and after having taught two other children their facts, I can definitively say that Professor B's method works.  Starting with the twos, children spend days learning each group of facts.  Not only do they learn the actual facts, but they learn division with those facts at the same time.  So, they first learn visually the groups of two.  The visual cue is taken away, and they continue practice.  Then, after demonstrating that they can recite the full fact family, they are asked questions designed to get them used to the inverse of multiplication being division.  I have been so impressed with the thoroughness and user-friendliness of the Professor B!  

I don't usually rely on screenshots from a program to explain it, but in this case I wanted to use them because everything they say is true! 

Professor B costs $100 for three years of access to a single level.  It is worth it.  Along with teaching your child math, Professor B is teaching you how to teach math.  The website does not yet have this pricing information, but by calling Professor B at 678-765-6655, you can take advantage of the new pricing structure.

I have been so very impressed with Professor B.  I completely recommend it without reservation.


Disclaimer of the legal variety: I received a year's access to Professor B in exchange for my honest review.  Professor B didn't pay for my opinion, though, and my opinion is that this is one heck of  a great math program!

Sunday, July 8, 2012

Review of Lightning Literature

Literature is one of those subjects I never really gave much thought to. My kids read avidly and we talk about what they read.  End of subject.  But not really...

One of the things I have had to struggle most with in my homeschooling is reconciling my idea of what a subject should look like with my children's personalities.  For example, I already know that I will not be asking my nine year-old son to write answers to comprehension questions any time soon.  Like most boys, he resists mightily attempts to make him sit and write for any length of time.  My daughter, though, is enough like me that I thought that she would respond well to rote literature questions.  I was wrong.  She did not suffer answering questions to which the answers were obvious.  It seemed like a waste of time to her.  To that end, I am always on the hunt for a good literature program.  I have children who love to read, but I want to make sure I have children who are able to get the most out of what they read.  Enter Lightning Literature.

Lightning Literature is one of those programs I have long been anxious to check out.  In fact, truth be told, I would have probably eventually succumbed and bought the program had not I received it free in exchange for my review.  As it turns out, it would have been a great purchase!

When I saw that Early - Mid 19th Century British Literature was a review option, I jumped at the chance to use it.  My gifted (nearly) 11 year-old daughter loves Jane Austen and Romantic poetry.  What could be better than trying out the Lightning Literature take on these favorites? To see the complete Table of Contents, visit this page.  This view alone gives you a small idea of how very much material is covered in this curriculum.  Familiar literary devices (tone, description, etc.) are all covered using the best literature of the time period.  Worried about having to hunt down obscure poems and essays? Don't.  Everything you need (with the exception of the novels which can be found everywhere from public domain Internet sites to your local bookstore or library) is found in the guide itself.  You won't have to hunt down anything.

Each chapter follows the general format as this sample chapter (Jane Austen - yay!).   Before one reads, there are concepts to consider.  There are review-type questions (which can be done orally if you choose).  Then there is a lengthy discussion on the literary concept with specific references to the text.  These guides are written by people who know their stuff.  English is one of my strong suits, and I can tell shallow literary analysis at a glance.  This is not shallow literary analysis.  Best of all, a parent does not have to know a think about English literature or literary analysis in order to use this program - it's all done for you.  Finally, there are writing exercises.  You can do one or all. Depending on the age of your child, you can merely discuss, or your child can write full essays (as she would want to do if this course will end up on a transcript).

This course is recommended for grades 10-12, and is suggested for a student who has already taken a Lightning Literature course.  As with all things homeschool, though, everything depends on an individual child.  My (nearly) 11 year-old daughter had no trouble reading the selections (we got through Jane Austen and William Blake, but we're not stopping there!) and answering the recall-type questions.  We read the literary analysis together so we could talk about it, but the essay questions were definitely within reach for her.  My best advice is to consider the sample chapters available at Lightning Literature in order to decide if the program will work with your child.

The Early 19th Century British Literature Student Guide costs $29.95.  The optional Teachers Guide is well worth the $2.95 price tag, as it contains answers, suggested schedules, and more.  We love this curriculum and will definitely be using it again.  To see other opinions, visit the Crew blog.

Disclaimer: I received Lightning Literature free in exchange for my review.  The product may have been free, but my opinion isn't for sale - it's all mine.

A Cardinal Newman Retrospective

Although it all feels like a dream now, it was five years ago that I was preparing to become the third grade teacher at Cardinal Newman, a Catholic (not allowed to say that in the title, though! Argh.), classical school, or, as I dubbed it when Therese was still a baby, Great Books for Little Kids.  Seriously, this Pre K- 8th grade school was the curriculum I would teach if I were to homeschool. I wasn't wild about the idea of 3rd graders.  I had applied for middle school and thought then (and do now) that I was much better suited to that age.  For whatever reason, though, I ended up in 3rd grade teaching everything from Saxon Math 4 to Greek History.

What I Know Now...

  • I trained to teach at the college level; attempting third grade was a big mistake.
  • I treated all the kids as if they had the same capabilities as my daughter.  I couldn't reconcile the fact that, as a first grader, she was capable of higher level thinking and reading than the majority of my third grade class.  Another big mistake.
  • As per the previous bullet, I expected too much from those kids.  Some of their parents were upset with me.  More should have been.
  • I thought that God was calling me to be a part of this school about which I was so passionate, but my one semester at Cardinal Newman taught me that you can't be a SAHM and work - even if you work where your kids go to school. My vocation is as a SAHM.  I won't ever forget that again.

What I Took Away from Cardinal Newman...
  • An absolute certainty that I was being called to homeschool.  I guess I needed it in flashing neon.  I got it.
  • A few wonderful friendships.  These alone are worth my months at Cardinal Newman.
Why is Cardinal Newman on my mind? Because I'm coming up on five years homeschooling and I've been reflecting on what has worked and what hasn't. That post is coming soon.