Saturday, September 22, 2012

Architecture Alphabet, Outing #1

We decided to do a little architecture study of our hometown and while we were at it, snap some A-Z photos.  Some letters, like O, are easy.  Others, like B, R and Q, not so much.  We are splitting this project into several outings because it's still so hot outside, even though it's "fall" (in Florida, the air quotes are necessary).  So, here's what we captured today, mostly at Florida Southern College, some in downtown Lakeland.  We can't decide what we like best for "X", so for now we have two of those.  And couldn't resist the exclamation point in the hedges!  I know what you're could you not have the iconic Lakeland swan in any of your photos?!  Don't worry, that's a trip for next week.  She will become an S, a Z or a question mark, depending upon her posture that day. 

Wednesday, September 12, 2012

So, Anyway....Back to Me

As many of you know, I have been reviewing educational products and services for the Old Schoolhouse Magazine for the last year and a half.  This month, I made the decision to amicably resign from this position.  I found myself drowning a bit in obligation, as much as I loved most of the products. 

I'm finally getting back to what I love most--teaching my kids, tending to my husband and home, quilting, baking and planning field trips like crazy. Not to mention keeping 5 hens happy, facilitating a book club for 12 ladies, and shuffling children to things like archery, riflery practice and other things that scare the crap out of me.

So, more everyday posts about chickens, quilts, the Louisiana purchase, ukeleles, classic films and baking disasters.  It's good to be back!

Tuesday, September 11, 2012

Math 911: Review

The Introductory Algebra course may be downloaded for free at Math 911.  Topics are categorized  by chapter, section and levels. Within each level, you will find problems that identify the concepts that your students must be familiar with in order to be successful in algebra including word problems and graphs.

I noticed  that the program was pretty "no frills"  in appearance. It is a far cry from other math programs that we use that are more "fun" to look at and to operate.  Because there isn't really any teaching or lessons to speak of, it would be difficult for us to use this as a full program. If a student got a problem wrong, the only way to figure out why they got it wrong would be to study the solution.  The website does have free downloadable PDFs for algebra that teach the concepts, but these teaching helps are not provided for the upper level courses.

However, some students may not need the slick appearance if they are self-motivated and the content itself is quite good.
The content of the program is as follows:
 Step By Step Introductory & Intermediate Algebra Tutorials:
Intro Algebra
Intermediate Algebra
College Algebra

There are also free PDF lessons consisting of:
Intro To Whole Numbers
Addition & Subtraction
Multiplication Factors
Division of Wholes
Intro To The Integers
Multiply Divide Integers
Combine Like Terms

Math 911 Premier Version can be purchased as a USB flash drive, it is regularly $49.95, now $9.95, using code homeschool. There is also a free version so you can try it out first. I think that the price of $49.95 is fair for what you get with the program, which is essentially five high school level math courses.

**Disclaimer:  I was provided with a free download of this program in exchange for an honest review. 

See what the other crew members thought of Math 911  here.

Saturday, September 1, 2012

Notable Novelists, card game by Calico Kids

Notable Novelists is a card game published by Calico Kids.  It is a "go-fish" style game that includes 18 different novelists of the 20th century.  The object is to collect "literary sets", meaning one Author Card (their picture), one Library  Card (their famous works) and one Bio Card (author's information).  What I love most about this game, besides the incredible price ($10.95) are the beautiful illustrations of the authors.  Ernest Hemingway is seated at his office in a khaki safari-style shirt with a taxidermied animal head mounted on the wall.  F. Scott Fitzgerald is looking quite dandy at his desk with a picture of his wife Zelda in a frame against Jazz-age wallpaper and decor.  The reverse side of the deck of cards is a lovely marbled-paper design--classic and elegant.

This game would be a nice thing to have in a high-school classroom for a group activitity, something librarians would have for children who check out their books early and need something to occupy 10 minutes, or anyone looking for the perfect gift for a literary enthusiasts.  This game could be played by adults or children, depending on their exposure to the literary works mentioned--my best guess would be upper-middle school and beyond. 

You can purchase Notable Novelists and other games by Calico Kids at the above link.

See what others on the Homeschool Crew had to say about "Notable Novelists" here.

Disclaimer: I was provided a free copy of this product in exchange for an honest review.

Costumes With Character

This month I'm reviewing "Costumes With Character" by Amy Puetz  Amy is a homeschool graduate, lover of history and creator of this wonderful book of ideas for fashioning costumes to coincide with American History studies.  Her idea is, by starting with one basic dress, you can make basic changes in the embellishments and change your Puritan outfit to a Pilgrim, your Pioneer dress to a Civil War ensemble, just by making simple changes to the collar or by removing the apron. 

This collection of looks if accompanied by historical information that could supplement your history curriculum.  If I had daughters, I know we would be making all of these outfits, probably wearing them in public every chance we got!

 I like that a color photograph of each style being modeled is available for you.  Instructions for making your own patterns is at the start of the book.  The patterns, as they are written, are designed for an "average" 16 year old girl, but modifications are shown for all ages that should make this relatively simple for someone with basic sewing skills.  The book is infused with historical and literary quotes and more tips on modifying the looks to suit a different time period.  There are patterns for sunbonnets and capes to top it all off! 

Costumes with Character is available as a soft-cover book for $37.00 or as a digital download for $21.95.  A seperate e-book of printed patterns that can be printed right to legal-sized paper is available for $15.00.  Some larger pattern pieces must be fit together once they are printed, but not many.

I think this is very unique product that needs to be on the market.  There are patterns currently available at fabric stores if you enjoy historical sewing.  However, Amy's book brings it all together in one place and shows how to save money and time by changing the look of a simple frock pattern to suit your style.  My only wish is that there could be something for boys in the book.  For the rare family that is comprised only of females, this book would be a great value.  But for most families who have sons that would want to be included in the historical reenactments or whatever the occasion may be, they would have to seek out another product or pattern line for their boys.  I personally have only boys, so I'm not sure I would buy this product at all, besides the fact that I secretly hope to be cast as an extra in a Jane Austen movie one day.....I think adding a few simple elastic-waisted pants paterns (that could be long or knee-length) and maybe a simple collarless shirt that could be modified for boys, plus a vest or two, would greatly enhance this product's appeal for families needing a bit of both.

Amy does, however, have many other history books and products available at her website (link is at the top of the page). 

Please see what the rest of the Homeschool Crew thought of "Costumes with Character" and Amy's other history products at

**Disclaimer:  I was provided an e-book version of this product in exchange for my honest review.

Wednesday, August 15, 2012

Vocab Videos: A Review

Vocab Videos in an online learning tool that uses videos to illustrate over 500 SAT level vocabulary words.  It is compiled of several ongoing series, broken apart into segments.  Each segment contains 20 vocabulary words that are illustrated in about 20 seconds.  The program utilizes auditory and visual aspects of learning as the narrator says the word and the meaning, the actors participate in a scene that illustrates the word, and then the narrator recaps how the definition relates to what the student just saw in the video.  It is all very fast-paced and modern--not drudgery at all.  I wish Vocab Videos would have existed when I was in high school, studying sheets of paper with defintions on them.  Ugh. 

The videos are humorous, sometimes hilarious, and really help solidify these sometimes-tricky words into your brain for good. Some of the series are TV show parodies of shows like Lost, The Office, Gossip Girl, etc.  If your student doesn't watch these shows, the satire might go over their heads, but nevertheless, they will still learn the meaning of the vocabulary words.

Click here to see samples of some of the Vocab Videos.

In addition to the videos, there is an opportunity to print activity sheets for the words, take online quizzes, and even make your own set of digital flashcards using your own definitions and even your own images!  I liked this part of the program, as it does exactly what I used to do last year by hand with our history curriculum.  I used to hunt down images for each word and then print them out for my kids to use as flashcards.  This will save me so much ink!  The flashcard feature also brings more value to the product, as you can use it with your younger kids as a tie-in with their curriculum, and use it as it was designed (with the pre-loaded SAT vocab videos) with your high schoolers.

And I say that because it really is designed for older students, not just because the words are upper-level, but the subject matter (dating and so forth) is more mature.  Also, in one of the Lost parodies that I watched, the words "pissed", "what the hell", "sucks" "Oh my God" and "are we lovers?" were uttered, and not just once. Granted, the character has amnesia and is frustrated when his attempts to survive are a miserable failure, AND the company is trying to appeal to today's teenagers by setting itself apart from other boring drill-style programs, so I see where they are coming from.  But conservative families need to be aware of this before purchasing.

Teachers and educators are able to add students to their "class" and monitor each student's indivdual progress as they take the online quizzes.  There is also a glossary that lists all 500 words alphabetically for ease of use or reference.

I think this is a program that I would use with my kids when they are a little older.  I have enjoyed watching the videos and brushing up on some of those forgotten words myself.  I aced a few of the quizzes, but got an 18/20 on another.  I still have some stuff to learn :)  But just for the sheer sake of the language and situations, I wouldn't make it a part of my 5th and 7th graders' daily assignments. 

Student Memberships to Vocab Videos are $24.99 for  6 months and $39.99 for 12 months.  This gives access to all 500 videos, online quizzes, worksheets, downloadable crossword puzzles and the online flashcard maker.

Teacher Memberships include all of these features, as well as the classroom management functions to monitor student progress. These are the costs per year:

1 Month Educator Trial is FREE
Small Educator Account (up to 20 students) is $74.00
Medium Educator Account (up to 40 students) is $134.99
and a Large Educator Account (up to 100 students) is $254.99.
If you have more than 100 students, you will need to contact the company for pricing. 

And now, there is a Vocab Videos Workbook that you can purchase for $11.99 to use as a supplement with your online subscription.  Click here to order the workbook.

Check out other reviews of Vocab Videos by clicking right here.

**Disclaimer:  I was provided access to Vocab Videos in exchange for an honest review, which I have provided here. 

Monday, August 6, 2012

Math Made Easy

Phew!  Two math products to review in just a few weeks!  However, this one is a little different because instead of delving into fractions and pre-algebra concepts, it focuses on something a little more basic:  mastering multiplication facts.  Don't be fooled.  Just because my sons are entering 5th and 7th grade this school year doesn't mean they don't still use their fingers or go through an entire song in their head before telling me what 9x8 is.  And that means that they never memorized them.  Boy, are we in trouble.

Even though "Multiplication Teaching and Learning Made Easy" is geared for grades 1-6 and even though most of the exercises looked a bit juvenile for their liking, I've still made them sit down and go through the program.  I don't make them color every worksheet (and there are alot of coloring sheets with clowns and kitties and bunnies that made my sons look at me like "Whaa?").  But there is still some quality material here that I think is worth some merit. 

For instance, I love the way the author teaches the simple things first.  The Zeroes.  The Ones.  The Tens.  The Elevens.  And then she shows you that if you look at a multiplication fact chart (1x1 through 12x12) and cross off all the 0,1,10 and 11 facts and then cross out all the duplicate problems (keep 2x4, nix 4x2, etc.), that you only have 36 problems remaining to memorize!  Split that up into 6 weeks and you only have to memorize 6 facts per week!  That is more than doable! 

There is a pre-test to give on day one, a post-test to give on day 36 and plenty of resources packed in the back.  There are perforated flashcards, a "Chutes & Ladders"-style math game, a spinner-type study tool, and a game where you build a Native American Indian's headdress by adding feathers that match the math facts. 

I'll admit, at my first glance of the cover (rainbows and balloons), the copyright date (1989) and the interior pages (remnants of a coloring book from my childhood--and I'm kinda old), I was turned off by this product.  However, I like the way the author has broken it all down into manageable lessons.  And judging from my sons' current method of multiplying, the teaching tool NEEDS to be simple like this to work. 

The only other negative that I would point out is the price.  I'm not quite sure the collection of worksheets is worthy of a $24.95 price tag.  The copies of the pages don't seem as clean and crisp as other products on the market, it has a comb binding, and honestly, there are many pages that in my opinion, would not be utilized with children in the older range of the age bracket (especially boys) just for sheer lack of interest.  So I'm not sure the value warrants the price.  There are some parents who may feel this is completely reasonable and have no problem with the cost.

So my final word on Math Made Easy is that it could use an updated look to appeal to today's children and it might consider a $19.95 price point.  But the heart of this program is quite good.

Click here to order the product or to learn more about their other products for Addition.

**Disclaimer:  I was given a free copy of this product in exchange for my honest review, which I have provided here.