Sunday, January 30, 2011

The Icestorm Cometh

We've had two days of 40+ temperatures and most of our snow had melted. I confess to even starting to think that the day after my birthday (we won't say which one) the groundhog might NOT see his shadow. Imangine my surprise to wake up this morning and find out we're under a winter storm watch from this evening until WEDNESDAY! We're supposed to start off with freezing rain and accumulating ice (.1 to .5 inches), enough to bring down power lines. Whatever doesn't come down in that form will be snow-- 8 to 10 inches. I can remember two bad winter storms in my life. The first was an ice storm over New Years Day. We were already out of school and I felt like we got gypped out of a snow day. No power for 4 days. I slept in the living room (for the fireplace) with my parents and the tropical fish.

The second storm (also on my birthday) I spent trying to find the car in the snowdrift in the driveway. We didn't lose power that time. I had gone to school that morning only to hear during mornigh announcements that they were sending us all home--and with our rides gone we had to walk in six inch deep snow with more coming down by the second. My stepdad came home early and I made hime take me in the 4-wheel drive to the store to buy Trivial Pursuit. All three customers in the store had the same idea--okay maybe we bought bread and milk too, the snowstorm staples.

My concern this time is the loss of power. Everything in this house relies on electricity: the furnace, the fridge, the pump on the well. I'm filling up all the jugs with water and cooking up a storm. If we lose power, at least we can eat cold meatloaf sandwiches. The best birthday present I could get would be for God to just blow the storm past our house.

Thursday, January 27, 2011

New series of posts -- Institute for Excellence in Writing

You may have seen that some of the Homeschool Crew have already posted reviews on other IEW products,  a DVD on Teaching Boys and the Phonetic Zoo.  Others of us have been given a much longer time to work with IEW's signature products--  Teaching Writing : Structure and Style (TTSS), various levels of the Student Writing Intensive (SWI), or both.  I received the combination package of Teaching Writing and Student Level A.  I will be the first to admit  these are big ticket items,  not something you're likely to pick up with spare change just to see if it will work with your kids.   I also want to to justice for the company for generously providing me with a copy to use and review.  I am therefore going to try and keep a weekly log of how we integrate this writing curriculum into our homeschool.

So to begin at the beginning--I didn't know anything about IEW before this review.  What I did know was that Language Arts is the one area I feel least competent about teaching.  Give me subjects with right and wrong answers,  physical laws that can't be broken, or names and dates etched in time.   I could probably cover the rules for diagramming sentences (in fact, I enjoyed this in my own schooling), but writing is more art than science.  Top all this with the fact that writing is my Schnickelfritz's least favorite subject and you see why we  procrastinated starting any real writing program and now we're in second grade.

While I waited for the books and DVDs to arrive I did some online investigation.  I recommend finding and downloading the audios for some of Andrew Pudewa's workshops.   My two favorites are Reaching the Reluctant Writer and the Four Deadly Errors.  The former is available on the free download pageof IEW's website.  The latter can also be obtained for free if you use the coupon code available on page  18 of the company's magalog (be sure to check it out before the 2011 magalog comes out in March).    I put these on my MP3 player to listen while I walk the dog or while I'm washing dishes.  For those of you who do better with reading material, there are plenty of articles and workshop handouts on the site (look under Help & Support).

One thing I did learn (and right now I can't remember which audio it was on),  the technique used in IEW in not new.  It was in face used by Benjamin Franklin to help him improve his own writing skills (the Bible says there is nothing new under the sun).  Here it is in his own words...

About this time I met with an odd volume of the Spectator. I had never before seen any of them. I bought it, read it over and over, and was much delighted with it. I thought the writing excellent, and wished, if possible, to imitate it. With that view, I took some of the papers, and making short hints of the sentiment in each sentence, laid them by for a few days, and then, without looking at the book, tried to complete the papers again, by expressing each hinted sentiment at length and as fully as it had been expressed before, in any suitable words that should come to hand. I then compared my Spectator with the original, discovered some of my faults and corrected them.

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Review: Lifeway Christian Stores

In the past year my Schnickelfritz has stepped up to the task of running the sound for the children's ministry.   This is no small task.  In addition to staying for both services once a month, he has had to commit to daily prayer and Bible study.  We've been reading our way through the Old Testament in school this year.  Recently we received an excellent study tool from Lifeway Christian Stores -- The Holman Illustrated Bible Dictionary for Kids.  This 212 page hardback book is chock full of maps, charts, definitions, pronunciation guides and beautiful color photographs of Biblical sites and artifacts.  In cases where photos aren't available (wouldn't we all like to see how short Zacchaeus really was or the beauty of Queen Esther), a vivid color illustration is provided.

At the time, we were in the book of Judges.  We turned to the J entries to learn the judges were the leaders between Joshua's death and the annointing of Saul.  The was even a map showing the general area in which each judge lived (my cartophile son's favorite part).   In our Bible we read that Gideon made an ephod from the gold captured from the Mideonites (Judges 9:27).  I will confess that in my past 30 years of Bible study I just assumed from the context that this was some sort of statue or idol.  Looking up "ephod" in our new dictionary we learned that it was an apron-like piece of clothing usually worn by the priests.  When the Israelites worshiped it, it was probably being worn by someone--Gideon himself perhaps?  No wonder the Bible says it became a trap for Gideon and his family.  No wonder his son wanted to kill all his sibling rivals and be on the receiving end of all that worship.

Some of the definitions may seem superficial in an adults eyes.  Angels  are listed as "Created beings whose only job is to serve and worship God. In Bible times, angels spoke messages from God to people."  There is no reference to the different types of angels, cherubim for example, or even the names of some angels or the mention of fallen angels.   If you're reading the Bible with your child, you may want to see what upcoming words are listed in the dictionary.  Fritz and I were interested in the false god Baal, but there was no reference in the book.  For the target audience, I'd say elementary age kids, this is an excellent starting point for Bible study.

Some of our favorite entries were the various charts.  You can see the Weights and Measures sample above.   Others include the Names of God and Jesus,  the Parables of Jesus, the divisions of the Old and New Testament.  There are also multi-page spreads with photos of animals, plants, and food of the bible.  If you'd like to see more sample pages, you can download the Introduction to Parents and Teachers and all the A entries at Lifeway Christian Stores' website.   This is also where you can purchase the book for $14.99--a bargain for a quality kid's Bible study tool.

You can see what others on the Homeschool Crew think of the Holman Illustrated Bible Dictionary for Kids by clicking here.
Disclaimer:  i received a free book from Lifeway Christian stores for the purposes of completing this review.  There was no further compensation for my honest opinion.

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Biology of Behavior Week 3

Schnickelfritz and I have tackled our six pills a day for the last week and now I fear comes the hardest (for me that is) week of all--cutting back on sugar.     I'm the one that has a secret stash of chocolate.   I'm the one that will have to come up with an alternative to the easy bowl of Honey Nut Cheerios for breakfast.  I'll be making Sue Gregg's blender batter pancakes and scrambled eggs.   As for Fritz, we have already recognized that sugar can really rev up his motor.  Sometimes we can almost recognize the instant and will say "Oh, the sugar kicked in."   He is only allowed root beer on rare and special occasions and we never drink soda at home.   We don't Trick or Treat or fill Easter baskets with candy.  On occasion a kind neighbor (who has diabetes) will  regift her sugary treats to Fritz, but we usually stick those in a cabinet and he never asks for them.  It's the end of January and I just threw out some gruesome Halloween treats.  One area we will have to work on is drinking water instead of lemonade or juice.  Perhaps I can dilute some our normal drinks to start with?   I may come up with a satisfying drink with lemon juice and a little stevia?   

 As far as behavior changes--I pulled out the workshop handout from Dianne Crafts Biology of Behavior.

Sensitive to loud noises -- The loudest noise right now is the buzzer at Upwards basketball.  Last week's practice and game were cancelled due to snow.  Fritz did say that the buzzer doesn't bother him as much during the game, perhaps because there's a lot of other noise going on to drown it out.  At practice he still resorts to putting his hands over his ears.

Touch --  The tags on his pajamas are still flipped to the outside.  He did have to wear a new karate uniform that I didn't find very soft and there was no complaining.  He has stopped pulling on loose strings in his socks.

Mood Swings/anger/irritablity --  I have seen some improvement here as well.  Fritz always takes discipline very hard and will often say things like "I'm the worst kid ever."  This even carries over to simple correction in school --how to form letters in penmanship or pointing out where a math problem went wrong.  His reactions have softened and he is beginning to understand that criticism of actions are separate from criticism of self.

Other physical characteristics--  Fritz is able to fall asleep much easier. 

Attention--Fritz  has been willing to sit and do some reading for himself.  I don't know if that is an improved ability to focus or just great reading material for a young boy (Hank the Cowdog and the Case of the Garbage Monsters from Outer Space).    He has taken initiative to make a new pitcher of lemonade when it's empty, something he has never done before but I guess he's watched me.

I've been pleased with the improvements I've seen and I can wait to get to the weeks where we add B vitamins and Essential Fatty Acids.

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Review: Maestro Classics

It's been said that music is a universal language.  If that is the case, then one of the first lessons in the ABC's of this language for many people is Peter and the Wolf.   The Composer,  Sergei Prokofiev, introduces the listener to various instruments and sections of the orchestra as they represent characters in a story of a young boys first steps to manhood. 

Peter --  the string section

The Bird --  a flute

The Duck --  an oboe

Grandfather --  a bassoon

The Wolf --french horns

The Hunters --  timpani and bass  drums

The Cat -  a clarinet

I can remember my copy of Peter and the Wolf--an actual record album.  Recently, we received a CD from Maestro Classics of the same piece for review.  This new version has so much more to make this a learning experience. 

Track 1     Peter &  the Wolf  (29 minutes)

       ---  by the London Symphony Orchestra and narrated by Yudu.  The narrator's voice reminds me of a leprechaun, lilting and inviting, sharing his treasure of a story with the listener.  I don't think I'm giving away any spoilers when I say the the Duck gets eaten.  This might upset some younger listeners, although we're not really told that the duck dies.  In fact, the narrator says if you listen very carefully you can still hear his theme so perhaps he's just sitting in the wolf's belly like Geppetto in the whale of Pinocchio.  The wolf is taken to a zoo.  I thought this might be some sort of new environmentalist ending,  but after some research on the internet I concluded that this was the original ending.

Track 2   The Life of the Composer (5 minutes) 

---Did you know Prokofiev was a child genius along the lines of Mozart?  Did you know he chose to return and live under the Communist regime of Stalin? Did you know that a teacher approached him with the idea of writing a piece of music to introduce children to instruments of the orchestra and that's how Peter and the Wolf was born?  Well then clearly you haven't listened to this track.

Track 3  A Russian Peter  (2+ minutes)

---The themes we've grown familiar with in Peter and the Wolf are played with traditional Russian instruments.  I recognized the balalaika but I wished there had been an introduction to help us recognize the other instruments.

Track 4   The Magic Maestro Talks About Peter & the Wolf  (6 minutes)

---The conductor of the London Symphony gives us a little more insight on Peter & the Wolf.  We learn that we can recognize characters by their theme as well as the intrument being played. We hear excerpts demonstrating how the base them is varied as the characters go through changes in the story.   

Track 5    Peter & the Wolf without narration  (21 minutes)

---Now we get to test what we've learned.  Can we tell what is going on in the story by the themes being played and their variations?  Can we hear the rope being lowered, for example.

Track 6 -- Invitation to Grandfather's Party (26 seconds)

---Really just an introduction to the next track

Track 7  Kalinka --Dance Along (3 minutes)

--Another track where I wish there had been a better introduction.  It sounds like a tradition Russian folk song played by folk instruments, but there is no explanation about the song or what is used to play it.

Included in the package is a booklet with games and puzzles that tie into the story--a crossword puzzle, several coded messages, and a match up puzzle of characters and instruments.  If you have more than one child, you'll need to copy the pages.

We listened to the CD several times in the car.  Schnickelfritz got very good at acting as the narrator during the music only rendition.  Any age can enjoy the music although it is probably geared towards elementary school children.  Maestro Classics has several other Cd's (click here for our review last year of The Tortoise and the Hare).     Each CD is $16.98 at Maestro Classics with a price break of $45 for three selections.  You can hear samples of all the stories on the website as well.  They appear to be creating lesson plans for the titles, although they don't have one for Peter & the Wolf yet (not to worry, there are plenty of teaching ideas available with an online search).

You can read what others on the Homeschool Crew think of Maestro Classic's Peter & the Wolf by clicking here.
Disclaimer: I received a free CD of Peter & the Wolf for the purposes of completing this review.  There was no other compensation for my honest opinion.

Monday, January 17, 2011

Biology of Behavior Week 2

Today we start Week 2 of Dianne Craft's Biology of Behavior protocol.   I quickly realized that I needed some help in remembering to take our daily pills.  I made a chart for each week with boxes to check as we our doses.  It's posted on the refrigerator (where the primadophilus is kept).  Whenever I pull a meal out of the fridge I have this great little reminder.  Schnickelfritz went from total fear of swallowing a pill to rolling his eyes and saying "I knew that was coming" to pointing to our chart and saying "Don't forget about our last pill, Mama." 

Other than the change in attitude about the pill regimen, I can't say I noticed any great changes in his behavior.  Of course, I didn't think yeast overgrowth was an issue for him.  He can probably count the number of times he's been on a course of antibiotics on two hands and none since we've moved to Missouri two years ago.  He's always loved yogurt and I've given him powdered probiotics in his drinks after each antibiotic treatment.  I will say that we may have benefited physically from the increase in good gut flora this week.  The Toolman caught his annual sinus/chest cold--this time with a very sour throat.  One night Fritz woke up in tears with a sore throat of his own.  "Uh oh, here it comes," I thought.  Usually we are very generous in the sharing of illnesses in our family, sometimes passing it back to the originator and starting a second round.   I cancelled my own doctor's appointment the next morning so Fritz wouldn't expose the children of the lady who agreed to watch him while I was gone.  The symptoms never progressed.  By the following afternoon, the sore throat and phlegm were gone.  I had heard that immunity, like behavior, is dependant on a good gut.

This week we add grapefruit seed extract.  I know in its liquid form that it can be good for so many things--rinsing pesticides of produce to creating a nasal wash.  We're taking it in tablet form, the equivilence of a dozen or more drops with out the bitter taste.  In addition to its antibiotic and antifungal properties, it may help alkalizing (raising the PH levels) of the body.

Saturday, January 15, 2011

Tornado Cleanup

I began my accounting education at a small liberal arts school in the Midwest.  The tenured professors taught straight from the textbooks and those books were gospel.  I'm not saying there was anything wrong with the material we learned, only that we were dealing with theory.  Two years later I transferred to a business college near Detroit.  The people who taught our classes were not professors, but business men and women contracted to teach a specific class.  My marketing teaching had been the director of marketing for General Motors.  My tax instructor was a consultant for the government during the Savings & Loan crisis.  My accounting teachers either worked for the big three automakers or were CPA's.  They would teach us theory from the book, but always qualify it with "Here's what we do in the real world."  Their practical experience made all the difference in the world to me.

Why do I bring this up?  We have made a conscious effort to make sure Schnickelfritz receives a Biblical education--we read and discuss a chapter of the Bible to begin each school day,  he sings and learns about God's love at Sunday School and Royal Rangers.  We prayed for the victims of the tornadoes that tore through our state on New Year's Eve.  That was all just theory.   As a parent, I need to make sure Fritz has practical experience acting as God's hands and feet.  A town just south of us put out the call for help today with cleaning up.  The church and many homes were damaged and destroyed.  The trees looked like cotton candy with pink insulation coating the branches.  Toolman joined the chainsaw gang bringing down broken trees and cutting them into manageable chunks.  Fritz and I couldn't run chainsaws or lift large pieces of twisted metal, but we could grab a trash bag and pick up debris or pile up broken branches for a bonfire. 

There were probably 50 or so volunteers, mostly men.  Fritz was the one of two kids and the youngest.  We spent two hours just helping one women pick up  insulation from her snowy yard and knocking it out of the trees.  She has no insurance.  Her neighbor's trailer had lost its roof and part of the front wall and yet there were still books lining the bookshelf in the exposed living room.    We puposely did not take Fritz to see the damage right after the event when there might have been a lot of confused and distraught people around.  By this time people were over their initial shock and grief and were focusing on getting this as close to "back to normal" as possible.  This was not an exercise respecting the power of the storm, but in seeing the good that can be accomplished when neighbors extend a helping hand to one another.

Friday, January 14, 2011

Biology of Behavior

Last spring I sat through several of Dianne Craft's workshops at our homeschool expo.   She works with kids that have "learning glitches" to use her own term.  I tried her figure eight exercise to help Schnickelfritz  move the letter forming motions to the automatic side of his brain.  Now we are starting the eight week program described on her CD set, The Biology of Behavior, to see if it helps Fritz with his mood swings and sensory issues.  I'm not seeing an issues severe enough to seek a professional diagnosis, but he has had a few quirks like sucking on his shirt, disliking the sound of flushing toilets in public restrooms, etc.   Ms. Craft even suggests that things like being bothered by clothing tags or wrinkles in socks can have a biological origin.

The key is Iam not medicating my son.  Each week we add a new supplement and observe changes in behavior.  We only add one at a time so we can watch for adverse reactions.  The hardest part this week was convincing Fritz he could swallow the capsule.  He's been boasting for a while about being able to swallow macaroni noodles whole so I knew it was possible, but this was a "hard" object.  Since I'm doing the program too (Ms. Craft suggests this) I showed him my technique first.  By the end of day one he was an old pro and bragging to his friends about his new skill.  For anyone interested in the program with kids too young to swallow pills, you can open the capsules or use liquid alternatives outlined on the CD's.  I was able to find everything at Swansons Health Products.

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

Snow Again

We got hit with 4 inches of snow overnight.  Schnickelfritz was looking for it as soon as he woke up to the sound of the snow blower.  Schools all over the area have snow days.  We, on the other hand, started school at 6:30 this morning so we could be finished in plenty of time to hit the sledding hills with everyone else.  And we won't have to make up a day come summer.   We started with the Bible (we in Judges now), read about contour feathers in Flying Creatures, wrote a paragraph in Handwriting without tears,  watched our Math U See lesson, practiced our Bible verses for Upwards basketball and Royal Rangers, and tested our keyword outline for Institute for Excellance in Writing.

Monday, January 10, 2011

Review: Easy Classical

Let me say up front that this will not be an ordinary review.  Rather than receiving a book or product that I can use in lessons with my Schnickelfritz I received a schedule of lesson plans by Easy Classical to evaluate specifically, Early Modern Times: Explorers to 1820.    So how to review a product without actually using it?  I will be sharing with you the questions I ask myself about any new curriculum I'm considerring and using the Early Modern Times as my example.

1.  Does it fit my educating style?   I like to use a combination of Unit Study and Charlotte Mason approaches to teaching Fritz.   I like to combine subjects where possible--history, writing assignments, reading, hands-on crafts, etc.  and I prefer "living books" over text books.  As the company's name suggests, Easy Classical is based on the Classical Education approach espoused by Susan Wise Bauer and The Well Trained Mind.   The grammar stage of a classical education involves learning facts and rules, mostly through written or spoken word and memorizing (not through videos or self-discovery).   Reading through the schedule I do find the use of copywork (a Charlotte Mason technique) and a lot of "living books" I would have selected myself: Johnny Tremain, The Witch of Blackbird Pond, and Pocahontas and the Strangers for example.  The schedule, while mostly history, also includes  drawing exercises, geography, writing assignments, and literature for read aloud or free reading time.   In other words, it's a lot like my unit study approach although it lacks science (math and phonics are usually done outside of unit studies anyway).

2. Does it fit my son's learning style?  Schnickelfritz is a kinesthetic learner--he has to be moving in some way to absorb information.  He's not fond of reading himself and if he's listening to me what's often going through his head is "how much longer?'  The books and stories have to be lively to keep his attention and we have to take frequent breaks to bounce on the trampoline etc.  This schedule is HEAVY on reading and reading aloud.  Mondays are especially rigorous with multiple chapters in four different history sources and one or two read aloud books.  There is some project work through the use of History Pockets and a Geography workbook, but this is too much reading for my son at this time.

3. Will this save me time?    I only homeschool one but my time is still precious.   This schedule provides daily assignments for 36 weeks.  Each week includes a list of comprehension questions (and an answer key) so I don't have to make those up myself.  Best of all I think is a post it note in the corner of the schedule with a list of what materials I need to have on hand for the following week.  I don't have to pull out each book and build my own list.  I can gather things up ahead of time so we don't have to stop mid-lesson and look for a hole punch.   There is a book list for Read Alouds, picture books, geography and writing resources and history texts so I don't have to search on my own for books to fit the topic or time period.  Early Modern History covers:  Explorers, Colonies, Colonial America, Road to Independence, Revolution up to Slavery and the Missouri Compromise.

 4. What is the cost?   The schedule is available in digital form for $29.95 and preprinted in a 3-ring binder for $35.95.  Once you have the schedule though, you need to have access to all the materials required in the schedule.  Some are available exclusively through Easy Classical:  Geography with History, Writing with History, and Early Modern History copybook can be bundled with the schedule for $95.95 in digital format and $135.95 for print.  Several of the books are used throughout the 36 weeks so you probably need to purchase these rather than continually check them out of the library.   The Story of the Thirteen Colonies and The Story of the Great Republic are available through Google books, but the four volumes of A History of US  run about $11 each.  I also checked with my local library to see if they had most of the read aloud and free reading titles.  We have a small rural library and they didn't carry 90% of the books on the reading list.  That means I would have to use inter-library loans and hope they arrived to fit the schedule or make more purchases.  Of course I could substitute titles, but then what is the point of having purchases the schedule in the first place.

5. What is the worldview of the company?   Most of societylives in a compartmentalized world.  Religion, if there is any, belongs in the compartment of Sunday morning.  History and science and math belong in other compartments on other days.  Our family prefers to view everything as being under God's authority--He created everything (science), He is a God of order that allows us to discover the laws and principles of math (2 + 2 always equals 4) and history is HisStory.  I did see where the schedule covers the Great Awakening and the About Us page on the company's website the family describe themselves as church attending Christians.

Because of the heavy reliance on reading and the lack of available books, this curriculum would not be a good choice for our family, but I hope that by taking you through my evaluation questions you will be able to determine if it is a better match for yours.  Easy Classical's website also provides sample pages and book lists.  You can read what my fellow Homeschool Crewmates this of Easy Classical's history schedule by clicking here.
Disclaimer: I received a free copy of Easy Classical's Early Modern History for the purposes of completing this review.  I received no other compensation.

Friday, January 7, 2011

Review: See-N-Read

I have to say, one of the blessings of being on the Homeschool Crew is learning about items you never knew you needed before.  We recently received three such items--samples of the products available from See-N-Read.  Oops, I should say four.   In addition to the three tangible reading tools there is a "virtual" version to help with reading online.

The tools are thin rectangles of plastic, mostly blue-gray in color with a clear window allowing you to focus on one line of text.   The 3 x 5 1/2   size is perfect for paperback and softback books.  The 3 x 8 1/2 inch size can be used with textbooks and anything written on typing paper.   The third sample is a Memory Mark.  It is availalbe in the same sizes, but rather than being clear the window is cut out to all for highlighting or underlining text.  I was concerned that the cut out feature would compromise the intregity of the plastic and would quickly tear but I've been using it for a month with no problems.

As I mentioned, I wasn't aware we needed these tools.  My Schnickelfritz has really improved his reading skills this year.  Sure, he occasionally skips a word or substitutes "a" for "the,"  but I thought we were doing well.  We did much better though when he held a See-N-Read tool over the page--no more skipped words.  He even mentioned that things didn't seem to wiggle around as much--I didn't even know he perceived words on a page that way. 

I confess to have kept the Memory Mark for myself.  I don't like the tools for casual reading as I felt they slowed me down, but in some cases slower is better--like Bible study.  And I was able to make crisp, clean underlining (wiggly lines take my attention away from the words I was trying to focus on the first place).   We found a second handy use for the Memory Mark in math class.  By turning the tool vertically it helped Fritz keep his columns lined up in multiplication.

There is a free 7-day trial available for the eSee-N-Read, a virtual tool for use on PC's.   We're not big fans of reading at the computer but it would certainly help in this age of downloading and reading out-of-print books available on sites like Project Gutenberg.    You can also find research articles and  testimonials  on the effectiveness of these tools at the website.

The eSee-N-Read costs $29.99 for  one seat license, $69.99 for 3 and $99.99 for  5 seats.  It is available for most Windows formats and a Mac version is coming soon.  The smaller See-N-Read and Memory Marks are $2.99 and the larger sizes are $3.49.   There are discounts for purchasing in bulk.

You can see what my fellow Homeschool Crewmates think of the See-N-Read products by clicking here.
Disclaimer: I received free See-N-Read and Memory Mark procducts and a free trial of the eSee-N-Read for the purpose of completing this review.  I received no other compensation.

Tuesday, January 4, 2011

Review: Math Facts Now

Years ago, I was grocery shopping when the power went out in the store.  Generators came on to save all the frozen foods, but the computers and cash registers were still acting strangely.  You couldn't pay by credit card and for some reason, the cash registers couldn't tell you how much change to return to the customer.  It became painfully obvious that some of the clerks had no idea how to subtract in their heads--some resorted to pulling out paper, others just stood there befuddled.  The check out lines grew and grew.  In this age where we all rely on computers and calculators to do the figurin' for us, maybe we could all use a refresher course in the basic math facts.

Math Facts Now!  does just that.  There are no bells and whistles, no games or cartoon characters.  It is the computerized version of flash cards.  The parent begins by entering the names of the students that will be using the program.  I only added Schnickelfritz and myself, but I'm unaware of any limit on the number of students.  Next, you set up the lessons. Each lesson only needs to be set up once and can be used by all the students. 

For lesson setup you must choose which math funtion to drill (I'll use multiplication for example) and what facts to be includedby clicking boxes next to the numbers from 1 to 12.  For each number selected, the program may generate any problem multiplying that number by  all numbers from 0 to 12. 

Here's the next screen in lesson set-up.  The time limit per problem must be between 2 and 60 seconds.  Wrong answers must be re-entered between 2 and 10 times.  In the version I downloaded,  there must be 50-200 correct answers to finish the lesson--more on this later.   Next,  the parent gives the lesson a name and has the option to  type in a reward the student can earn by getting all the problems correct--playing outside or TV time for example.

Schnickelfritz was not crazy about the number of problems he had to answer and apparently he wasn't the only one.  Several Homeschool Crewmembers mentioned this to each other and one actually had the brilliant idea to contact the company.  The result is an updated version requiring much fewer correct answers (somewhere between 5 and 10, but I've exceeded my download limit for the month and couldn't get the update for myself).

  I was particularly pleased with how Math Facts Now handles incorrect answers.  First the student has to  type the correct equation  the required number of times.  For the remainder of the lesson, the previously missed equation will reappear frequently with a "Be Careful" to jog the student's memory.   When I purposely missed the first problem, it reappeared 8 more times in a 50 problem lesson.  For math functions with the commutative property, the corresponding equation will not carry the warning.  In this case,  the problem 6 x 2 will not include the "Be careful."

There is also a brief report available for parents listing what lessons the student has completed.   The list is based on the name you created so you might want to be more descriptive than I was. 

Math Facts Now!  is available as a download for $15.95 or a CD-Rom for the same price plus shipping. The program is basically a digital version of flashcards which only cost $1. And since Schnickelfritz only has division facts left, I'm not sure the program would be worth it if we had to buy it.  I'm assuming the CD version would still have the 50 problem minimum.   The program runs on Windows 2000, ME, XP, Vista and Windows 7 but not on Macs.   The program is basically a digital version of flashcards which only cost $1.  You can try the program online or download a limited version for free and decide if it is worth it to your family.

You can see what others on the Homeschool Crew think of Math Facts Now! by clicking here.
Disclaimer: I received a free download copy of the full version of Math Facts Now! for the purposes of completing this review.  I received no other compensation.
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