Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Review of IEW - Phonetic Zoo

For the past couple of months, I have been using the most wonderful spelling program! I received the Institute for Excellence in Writing's Phonetic Zoo in exchange for my review.  Auditioning spelling programs is almost a sickness with me, so I was delighted to get one from a company with such an amazing reputation as IEW. I chose to use the program with my seven year-old son and, after giving him the suggested placement test, found that he fit comfortably into Level B.  This level is typically recommended for grades 6-8, but my seven year-old is highly gifted, and is a natural speller.  The program has turned out to be a perfect fit for him.

The starter set for Phonetic Zoo includes the following:

• 5 audio CDs (Level C has 6 CDs)
• Spelling and the Brain and Introduction to The Phonetic Zoo DVD with the following:
    - Spelling and the Brain video seminar
    - Introduction to The Phonetic Zoo video
    - The Phonetic Zoo teacher’s notes PDF file
• Lesson Cards with all three levels of spelling words and jingles
• Personal Spelling Cards to keep track of your student’s typical misspellings
• Zoo Cards, which serve as a way to practice jingles or as rewards

The program is almost entirely self-teaching, which is another reason I love it.  Given that my son is seven, he still needs my guidance with many subjects, even though he works at an upper elementary/lower jr. high level. Any program that teaches him for me is a huge plus in my book.  Further, my son's attitude toward school is hit or miss at best.  He has never really taken to a spelling program before, and he loathes wasting his time. That lets out any program with practice worksheets or sentences, or anything of the kind.  Phonetic Zoo will not waste either yours or your child's time.  Your child will learn a phonics rule, and then view words that exemplify the rule.  He will then simply take the spelling test testing that rule until he can spell the words correctly (with one iteration per day).  The best part is that the included audio CDs do all of the talking for you, freeing you to work on other things.

Phonetic Zoo will cost you $99 the first time you use it, but the words for all three levels are included.  Thus, every other time you use it, you will only need to purchase the audio CD portion of the program.  If you prefer, though, and I have to recommend this option for anyone interested, as I really believe that this is a superior spelling product (and I've tried all of them! None of them would hold my child's interest!), IEW does offer a budget option, available here.  For $29, you can have the entire Phonetic Zoo program, minus the audio CDs. While I do love the narrator's voice (I hear it in my sleep it's so soothing), the cost savings to do without the CDs make this program affordable for everyone.

To find out more about Phonetic Zoo, visit their website, or call them at 800-856-5815.  If you know your child should be studying spelling (or phonics!), but just can't seem to find the right program, and if your child is in upper elementary or older, this option is definitely one you will want to explore!

Find out what other crew members had to say about IEW's amazing products here!

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Review of Wits and Wagers Family

Given how much my family loves to play games, I was delighted to receive Wits and Wagers Family free in exchange for my review.  When I read some reviews prior to receiving the game, I got even more excited! The hype surrounding this game is completely well-deserved.  My four children (9,7,6, and 6), my husband, and I have all had a wonderful time playing Wits and Wagers Family, so much so that I have sought out other games by North Star Games to give as Christmas Gifts.

Wits and Wagers Family has a very simple premise.  From the North Star Games' website,

"...every player writes down a guess to a fun question. Then players try to score points by choosing which guess is closest to the right answer without going over. That is it!
The game features 300 new family-friendly questions. And even better than that, Wits & Wagers Family includes Meeples-- fun, cute, human shaped wooden pieces that the players use to select which answers they think are correct." 
Although the game suggests that players be at least 8, I found that, with minimal help, my 6 year-old twins could compete just fine.  The game truly is a full family experience.
Wits and Wagers Family is for 3-10 players, and team play is definitely a viable option.  Each game takes around 20 minutes (the estimate given by the manufacturer is right on - we've played enough games to get a good average!), and every game is different from the last -- and just as fun!
You can read more about Wits and Wagers Family on the  North Star Games website, and you can purchase it wherever games are sold (The North Star Games site will direct you to Target online to purchase, but as of this writing, it is out of stock there).  It retails for around $20. 
This game would be a hit with any family, and would make an excellent Christmas present, particularly if you are buying one present for a whole family.  It truly is fun for all players, from the youngest to the oldest.  You don't actually have to know much about anything; you just have to be able to guess well! My twins have proven surprisingly apt guessers, and their actual answers to questions such as, "what is the most tennis balls a dog has ever held in his mouth at one time?" have been hysterical.
For more information about anything sold by North Star Games, including Wits and Wagers Family, visit their website.  To read about other Crew members' experiences with the game, click here.

Monday, December 13, 2010

Review of ALEKS

Recently, my family was given free for our review a one-month trial subscription to ALEKS (Assessment and LEarning in Knowledge Spaces), a web-based, artificially intelligent assessment and learning system for grades K-12.  The beauty of ALEKS is that, because it quickly assesses what your child has learned, there is no needless repetition of skill sets which have already been mastered.  For my children, this kind of program is a gift!

Initially, I had my qualms about ALEKS, only because my daughter gave me much resistance when it came to doing the placement assessment at the beginning of the course.  There is a very small learning curve for people who have never done a math program on the computer before, and I think that was what was causing her trouble.  When she finally sat down to work, though, she never gave me a problem again.  Simply put, she loved ALEKS.

 My daughter is nine, but is quite advanced in math, so placing her in any program is a challenge for me.  After a few days, we finally settled on ALEKS grade 7 for her, and it seems to be the right fit.  ALEKS lets me know that it is the right fit by providing me with the most comprehensive updates of her progress that I could imagine.  My daughter also loves seeing her progress on her "pie."

The above chart is T's actual progress pie in 7th grade math.  It shows how many of the skills she has mastered and how many she has left to conquer.  Presented graphically in this way, as it is to her throughout her lesson, it provides such a wonderful, but completely non-pressuring motivation.  She wants to complete her pie! In fact, she asks for extra math time with ALEKS so that she can improve on her pie's ratios.  You can't get a better recommendation for a math program than that!

If I log on to my parent account, I can get additional reports about T's progress, such as the one below:

 Further, I can see exactly what T has done thus far, as well as which skills are about to be introduced for mastery:
 I truly appreciate how easy ALEKS makes it to master her progress on an ongoing basis.  Both she and I feel that we know exactly where she stands mathwise.  Also, as a homeschooling mom, there aren't enough words to describe how much I love the fact that ALEKS is coordinated to state standards.  At any time, I can pull up the Texas state skills test standards and see *exactly* how T measures up against them.  Because she is three grade levels ahead in math, it is very important to me to be able to determine that she is, in fact, at the level that I think she is.

In addition to K-12 math classes, ALEKS also offers higher education business and science classes.  Based on our experience with 7th grade math, I would not hesitate to enroll my children in any of them.  I am especially excited by their offering of statistics for the behavioral sciences.  I have a Ph.D. in a behavioral science, and can attest to the fact that computer based learning for this type of statistics is really the only  way to go.  It's wonderful to see a class being offered at the high school level that allows for this fact.

I used to think that ALEKS was expensive, but after actually using the program, my opinion has changed dramatically.  ALEKS costs $19.95 per student, per month.  A six-month subscription costs $99.95, and a full year is $179.95.  Given the cost of some other math programs out there, and given that they represent only one math course, whereas you can complete as many math courses per year as you are able to master with ALEKS, I have come to  think of ALEKS as a tremendous bargain.  Further, ALEKS wants homeschoolers to use their program, and offer a multi-child discount to prove it.  Read about those rates here.

Although I have not had the occasion to use ALEKS customer support, the avenues to reach them are readily apparent on the website.

The best endorsement that I can give to ALEKS is the fact that when, a week ago, I received an email from them telling me that our one-month subscription had been increased to three months, T yelled, "YES! Now I can finish my pie!" She was genuinely excited.  As for me, I am seriously considering paying for ALEKS when my free subscription is up.  I love that my daughter is loving math.  I love that both she and I can keep track of her progress daily.  I love that this is one less subject that I have to hold her hand through (given that she has three younger siblings!).

If you are interested in finding out more about ALEKS, please visit their website: ALEKS or use this form to contact them.

If you are interested in seeing what other Crew members thought about ALEKS, please visit the Crew Blog.