Friday, January 28, 2011

Review of TenMarks

For the past couple of months, I've had the privilege of reviewing the math program, TenMarks, in my home.  I was given a six-month subscription to this online math program in exchange for my honest review.  Well, honestly, the best word I can come up with to summarize TenMarks is AWESOME! 

My nine year-old daughter has loved math for most of her life.  The exception seemed to be when she was doing 4th grade accelerated math.  Something about that year changed her attitude about math.  Even though she still excels at it, it is not the subject she will run to when given a choice.  Because of her sometimes unwilling attitude, I was thrilled to have the chance to try an all online program.

I registered my daughter, Therese, for 7th grade math, and a quick browsing of the program assured me that it was the right place for her.  Each week of TenMarks lessons comes with five worksheets, each on a related topic.  When the student begins the day's lesson, the screenshot shows how many videos are associated with that particular topic.  The student has the choice either to "learn" or to "practice." There are some topics for which my daughter has chosen to skip the videos and go straight to the worksheets.  If she finds that she is having trouble with a particular problem, she has the option to access up to three hints on it.  The hints work her logically through the problem-solving process.

Every time Therese begins a new week's worth of worksheets, I receive an email.  If she completes the week's worth early (and she usually does the work in one day), she has the option of fast-tracking herself and beginning the next week's worth of work.  She can track her own progress through the grade's concepts by looking at her completion graphic:

I can track her progress by viewing her report card.  It allows me to see how many questions on each worksheet she answered correctly and how many hints she used.

One feature I especially appreciate about TenMarks is that it allows Therese to go back and redo the problems she answered incorrectly.  In this way, she has the opportunity truly to understand that which she was apparently unclear on at the outset. Another great feature is the snapshot view of which concepts Therese has mastered.  In this screenshot, she has earned certificates of mastery in Patterns, Functions, and Graphs and in Geometry. As a reward for mastering these concepts, she has unlocked three games to play. 

 I tried to get a screenshot of a video lesson in action, but for some reason I can't get my software to recognize the white board writing.  Essentially, you are watching an arrow move across a white board as numbers appear on the board.  The teacher is a man with a very pleasant voice, although you never see his face.

I can't think of a reason not to love TenMarks.  For a homeschooling subscription, TenMarks costs only $10/month, which makes it less expensive per year than many more traditional programs. I love the fact that you can subscribe on a monthly basis, and I love the freedom of having so many courses from which to choose (3rd grade through high school Geometry).  Being able both to track Therese's progress and to have her complete more than one week's work per week is wonderful.  I have no doubt that when my complimentary subscription to TenMarks is over, I will be paying for this wonderful program.

To find out more about TenMarks, visit their website, or email them at  To see what other Crew members had to say about TenMarks, visit the Crew blog.

Sunday, January 23, 2011

My Depression Confession

Depression runs in my family.  I don’t want to out specific family members and their particular struggles, but suffice it to say that more than half of my immediate family has experienced a profound struggle with depression.  I grew up with a very melancholic personality.  I felt things deeply, took things personally, and sometimes spent hours in an empty bathtub, fully clothed, crying.  I remember my mother sitting on the edge of that tub trying to talk me down off the ledge (or out of the tub, as it were).
My teenage depression peaked my senior year of high school, which was one of the lowest points in my life.  My three years younger brother was heavily into drugs and alcohol, and his mental problems absorbed the majority of my parents’ time and emotional resources.  My older sister, my best friend and worst enemy, had just left for college, and my boyfriend of three years had just left for the Navy.  My tiny support system had crumbled.  I still resisted telling anyone how much I was hurting.  Even to this day, there are only a couple of people who know how very hard that year was for me, and how dark my thoughts were.  The worst part was that I was starting to head down a path, morally, in which I did not believe, and which could have seriously derailed my future goals.
It was right as I started college that God revealed Himself to me in the most direct way He had up to that point, or since.  
Read the rest of this post at Heart of the Matter Online, where I am blessed enough to be a contributor and an editor: 

Friday, January 21, 2011

Review of Speekee Spanish Language Program

Since I am married to a native Spanish speaker, I was extra excited to receive a temporary subscription to Speekee in exchange for my review.  Although I took Spanish in college, Latin was and is my first love.  Hence, I have never been as diligent about learning Spanish as I should have been.  After almost two decades with my husband and his family, I can follow conversations, but I lack the basic grammar to fully engage in them.  I've already made one mistake in not immersing my children in Spanish from the start (which would result in adults like my husband - equally fluent in Spanish and English, with perfect native accents in both languages).  Speekee is a great way to begin immersion training with very young children.

There is much debate on the best way to teach children a language.  Some people are partisans of immersion training, in which one experiences repeated exposure to Spanish-only speaking, with an emphasis on learning vocabulary trumping the need for formal grammar.  Speekee fits this mold perfectly.  

Speekee comes from the UK, but thanks to their online videos, the program is equally accessible in the U.S.  After a free trial two-week period, subscribers can continue to use Speekee for the price of $7.50 per month.  

So what does your subscription to Speekee buy? Essentially, the course consists of ten videos, each approximately 15-20 minutes long, featuring native Spanish speaking children engaging in daily activities with Speekee, the title character puppet.  Speekee and the children (along with the adult, Jim) sing and dance while teaching children basic Spanish vocabulary thematically.  One video focuses on modes of transportation, so there are several different vignettes in which the children use the words "barco" (boat), "coche" (car), etc.  The emphasis on the theme words is punctuated by repetition of small phrases in Spanish, like those meaning, "is it yours?" and "it is mine." Finally, along with each video, there are downloadable worksheets to complement the lesson. 

My first impression of Speekee was that my children would not like it.  It seemed too simplistic and young for them.  I was hugely surprised to find out exactly how much they loved it! My nine year-old was definitely too old, plus with several years of Latin under her belt, she is used to learning language in a far more systematic way than Speekee presents it.  My seven year-old and my six year-old twins, however, can't get enough of Speekee! The definitely think the program is funny, but they also love the songs and they love feeling like they have started to learn Spanish!

An advantage of not being a seasoned reader is the fact that you don't have time to assimilate the subtitles in Speekee, so you truly are learning by immersion and exposure.  For young children who don't really have the tools to study language more formally, Speekee is the perfect introduction to Spanish.  It is gentle and friendly, much like an episode of Sesame Street. 

Although the Speekee website indicates that the program is intended for ages 2-10, I think much depends on the individual child.  As I said, my nine year-old is too old for the program, but I know several ten year-olds I think would love it.  As for my own children, I can definitely attest to the fact that 6-7 is a perfect age. 

Because Speekee is intended to be immersion and, hence, each video should be watched several times, you should certainly plan on subscribing, rather than assuming you can watch all of the videos in the free two week trial period.  The advantage of the monthly subscription is that you can decide how long to use Speekee with your children.  If they learn very quickly, you are not out a large sum for an annual subscripton. 

I learned a valuable lesson with this review: I don't always know what will appeal to my children.  Thus, if you think that Speekee may not work with your kids, I really encourage you to take advantage of the free trial before making a decision.  If you are interested in subscribing, or in learning more about Speekee, visit their webiste at Speekee.  You can find other ways to contact Speekee on their contact form, but email will probably work best, as the company is based in the UK. 

To find out what other Crew members thought about Speekee, visit the Crew Blog.

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

Review of Virtual Nerd

If you're anything like me, teaching history and english to your homeschoolers comes fairly easily to you, but once past the elementary school years, math and science become a bit scary and mysterious.  If you're nothing like me, then congratulations, and how I envy you! For the math and science-wary, however, may I introduce you to Virtual Nerd, online math and science tutorials sure to ease the way when teaching upper-level math and science courses.  I was given a temporary subscription to Virtual Nerd in exchange for my review.

Virtual Nerd is a website comprised of short tutorial videos in the subjects of Pre-Algebra, Algebra I, Algebra II, and Intro to Physics.  Using a dynamic version of Whiteboard, an engaging tutor will walk your student through various concepts in each of these subjects.  The videos range in length, but many of them are only a couple of minutes long.  The videos' brevity means that when your child has a specific question about a concept, she can seek out just that answer, rather than sitting through an entire chapter's worth of material to learn.  You have the option of keyword searching within your course, or of successively narrowing down by topic until you can literally have your precise question answered with a clear example, and within a couple of minutes.

For example, my daughter was doing her Pre-Algebra homework when she came across a problem involving polynomials.  She knew the term, but forgot how to perform the requested operation (addition).  Going to Virtual Nerd, she looked at the Pre-Algebra topics and chose polynomials and non-linear functions.  From there she selected adding and subtracting polynomials.  Her final choice, adding polynomials, pulled up three short tutorials.  The ability to find exactly what you want (or need!) to learn is a huge advantage of Virtual Nerd.  With other math video tutorial websites, you frequently have to watch a chapter's worth of material, even if you only need clarification on the meaning of one term.

For students in Algebra I who use one of four standard public school textbooks, searching is even easier, since Virtual Nerd is aligned by chapter and lesson to these four texts! Were I the parent of a student who used one of these texts, I would be very excited about this website, and more than happy to pay the associated costs (see below), given that they cost far less than a live tutor (and you can replay the videos as often as you need to to understand a concept!).

Virtual Nerd's pricing is straightforward.  When you purchase a subscription, you are buying access to the whole site, and not just to one course, so the prices below include all of the courses presently offered by Virtual Nerd.  (Chemistry, Pre-Calculus, and Calculus are currently planned for 2011-2012).  As you can see, a free two-hour trial is offered, and that would be a great way to decide if Virtual Nerd is right for your student.

If you'd like to find out more about Virtual Nerd, visit their website where you can find FAQs, more detailed information for students, parents, and educators, and the most comprehensive contact form I have ever seen!

If you'd like to find out what other members of the Crew had to say, find out here.