Wednesday, December 29, 2010

TOS Review: The Phonetic Zoo

I first discovered Andrew Pudewa and the Institute for Excellence in Writing nearly four years ago.  At the Midwest Homeschool Convention, on a whim, I skipped out on a lecture by Jessie Wise (of the Well-Trained Mind fame) and instead went to hear a talk by Mr. Pudewa on "Freedomship Education".  I was blown away!!!  Mr. Pudewa has some very keen insight into how to teach, what to teach, and why you should teach them.  Although this isn't really a review on Pudewa or IEW in general, I'd like to start out by highly recommending the audio download on Mastery Learning.  It's only $3, and worth $300 in the incredible amount of information and ideas you'll get for it.  I tell everyone I meet that it's a must-hear for every parent, teacher and definitely every homeschooler.  Mr. Pudewa is very entertaining to listen to, so let your kids listen too!  Even my 5 year old asks, when we go on trips in the car, "Are we going to listen to Andwew Pood-wah?"

Since hearing Mr. Pudewa speak for the first time, I've eagerly looked forward to the day when I could start using some of the IEW products in our homeschool.  I actually have been saving up for the Teaching Writing Structure and Style/Student Writing Intensive, without realizing that there was a real GEM of a product, for a fairly low price, right under my nose the whole time!  The Phonetic Zoo (set A - $99.99)!

My oldest child is an excellent speller.  Like his mom, he tends to pick up spelling intuitively.  The rest of my children are forever turning in papers with "creative" spelling, or asking me "How do you spell...?" for every single word on the page.  We've tried several different spelling programs, with very little to show for it.  Maybe they retain the words long enough to take the test, but that's it.  Two or three weeks later, they're right back to the creative spelling, or asking me to do it for them.

The Phonetic Zoo has been a lifeline in this household.  I only wish I could hurry my younger three children through it at a faster pace.  (Patience, mom, patience!)

The Phonetic Zoo program teaches spelling using a multi-sensory approach.  The child sees the word, hears the word and then hears the spelling.  As Andrew explains in the included "Spelling and the Brain" DVD, just seeing a word can allow letters to be transposed in a child's brain.  That's why we so often see a child spell BIRD "brid" or TWO "tow".  The sequence of the letters doesn't get fixed in the brain when the child just sees the word and hears the word.  In order to have the sequence fixed in their brain, the child must repeatedly hear the correct spelling of the word.  That's the first part.

The Phonetic Zoo also teaches the child the spelling rules.  This can help a child beyond the limit of a set of words they learn for a test.  When a child understands, for example that the long-a sound they hear at the end of a word is most likely spelled ay, they have a basis for spelling words they don't know.

The program is short and simple.  Each set of words is on a card, with the rule on one side and the rule "reminder" on the other.  You teach the rule to the child several times, until they can say it with you.  Then you give them the card to study their words (the words for program A, B and C are all on the card; they only work on one program at a time).  When they think they're ready, you give them a cd-player and a set of headphones.  They listen with headphones because that puts the sound right at their ears, without any distractions coming between them and the spelling words.  They then spend about 10 minutes listening and writing.  First, they listen to the word and spell it on their paper.  Second, they listen again, and re-spell the word next to the first one based on the CD track, which says the word, then spells it.  This allows the child to self-correct, by marking out any words they spelled incorrectly the first time around.  The child must spell every word in a set correctly two time in a row before they receive their "zoo card" (a collector-type card with the rule on it that can be kept and displayed) and move on to the next set.

You can find out more information about the Phonetic Zoo and how it works by checking out the first two pages (after the Table of Contents) of this document.

This program definitely works better for my creative spellers than any other program I've tried.  It works on the same principle as working on a spelling lesson with mom (20 years ago for me!) - say the word, spell the word, correct the spelling, re-spell the word - you just do it over and over until it is solidified in the child's mind.  It's short enough that even my child who bounces off the walls after sitting for 10 minutes can do it and be done, without the dragging "do I have to?" every single time you start working on it.  It makes sense to study the words that have the same spelling rules together.  We will continue using this program for my three younger children, and will most likely continue on with set B and set C when the time comes.  I think the investment is well worth the results!

The Phonetic Zoo complete program comes with:

  • Spelling and the Brain video seminar
  • Introduction to The Phonetic Zoo DVD (showing how to use the program)
  • Phonetic Zoo teacher's notes PDF
  • Phonetic Zoo CDs (5 CDs for level A and B; 6 CDs for level C)
  • Lesson cards with the rules (or "jingles") and spelling words
  • Zoo cards collector-style cards for reminders or rewards
  • Personal Spelling Cards to keep track of misspellings 
Each program set is $99.  You can also choose to use the audio program only, for $79, or to get the budget package (no audio CDs) for $29.

Any of them would be an excellent investment for a child that struggles with spelling!

Want to see what other people have to say about this program, or Andrew Pudewa's "Teaching Boys and Other Children Who Would Rather Make Forts All Day" (also an excellent listen!)?  Check out their reviews here.

Disclaimer: As a member of the 2010-2011 TOS Homeschool Review Crew, I received a complimentary set of The Phonetic Zoo Spelling Starter Set A in exchange for my fair, honest and unbiased review. No other compensation was received.

Monday, December 13, 2010

TOS Review: ALEKS Math


I can't tell you how often I hear this in my house, but it's at least once a day, and always from my younger son - Aaron, age 11.  He's struggled with math ever since finishing up the workbooks with those pages where you count the owls in this box, then count the owls in that box, and then you add all the owls together.  I think the problem is that he has never mastered his math facts, but knowing that and fixing that are two totally separate things.  We've struggled with this for years, because the older he gets, the more resistant he is to doing what he calls "baby math"; that is, doing the basic math facts review, repetition and memorization that most kids learn in the early elementary grades.  Flash cards, Calculadders, workbooks, computer games - we've tried them all and every single try results in melt-downs, tears, screaming and my son sometimes even hitting himself in the forehead going "I'm stupid!"

That's why I was SO surprised to find that he not only would do ALEKS without a fight, but that he actually was asking if he could do it.  We received the ALEKS program shortly before we had a couple of planned week-long school breaks, then had one unplanned break for some family problems, and then had computer problems.  But through all of that my son continued to do his ALEKS math without complaint, and it was him reminding me that he needed to do it.  When I sat down to finish this review, I asked to tell me honestly, on a scale of 1 to 10 (10 is "I love it" and 1 is "I hate it"), where he ranked the different math programs we've tried over the years.  He gave ALEKS a solid 8, and it was the highest (by 2 points) that he ranked anything.  When I asked him if he'd like to continue using ALEKS instead of something else, he quickly answered "Absolutely!  YES!"  Then mumbled "if I have to do math..."

So, with that kind of endorsement, you might be asking yourself "What is ALEKS?"

ALEKS stands for Assesment and LEarning in Knowlege Spaces.  It is a Web-based, artificially intelligent assessment and learning system that uses adaptive questioning to quickly and accurately determine exactly what a student knows and doesn't know in a course. ALEKS offers truly individualized instruction that meets the student at her learning level and instructs her on the exact topics that she is most ready to learn. As a result, no two students will experience the same learning path while working in ALEKS.  You can check out a 2-minute video that explains the ALEKS system.

ALEKS offers highly-targeted, individualized instruction from virtually any computer with Internet access, making it a comprehensive and mobile education solution for your children. A subscription to ALEKS offers access to all courses and your child may take as many courses as needed during their subscription period.

Here is what ALEKS has to offer:
  • Complete Curriculum Solution for Math with Access to Full Course Library
  • No Textbook Required
  • Artificial Intelligence Targets Gaps in Student Knowledge
  • Assessment and Individualized Learning for Grades 3-12
  • Master Account Includes Quizzing and Automated Reports to Monitor Learning Progress
  • Unlimited Online Access - PC and Mac Compatible
  • QuickTables- Complimentary Math Fact Mastery Program for Multiplication, Division, Addition, and Subtraction
Let me walk you through the ALEKS program - there's a lot to see, but it's definitely worth the time!

1.  Student Assessment - Each student using the program starts ALEKS by doing the online assessment program.  This helps ALEKS determine what your child has mastered, and what they need to work on.  ALEKS then generates the... 

2. MyPie page, to show both student and teacher the results.

As you can see, each part of the pie shows a dark area (near the center) and a lighter area (toward the edge).  The dark area is what your child has mastered.  The light area is what they need to work on.  From this pie, the student can select any item that shows up in the rectangle when you hover over that section of the pie.  The student starts working.

3. Aleks uses a free response environment and special Input Tools that require an actual answer, instead of multiple choice.  This helps the students demonstrate mastery of the skills they are learning.

4. Learning Mode:The Learning Mode provides students with practice problems, and offers explanations of topics and procedures as needed. Once a student has demonstrated mastery in the Learning Mode, the topic is added to the ALEKS Pie, and new material that the student is now ready to learn becomes available.

5.Explanations: When a student is working on a particular problem, she can access an explanation of that problem by clicking on the "Explain" button. The explanation typically provides a step-by-step solution, with commentary. In some cases, an alternative or more detailed explanation is also available.

6. Feedback: Students receive immediate feedback, and depending on what they are working on, sometimes they also receive instructions or suggestions for fixing the mistakes.

7. Worksheets can be printed out, if desired, to give the student further practice or review.  Each worksheet is uniquely generated based on the student's current knowledge.

There are a couple of other items the program offers, both of which I feel are great tools.  The first tool is ALEKS QuickTables. QuickTables is a research-based, math fact mastery program for multiplication, division, addition, and subtraction.  QuickTables is EXACTLY what my son needs to help him master his math facts, but since it's part of the program, it doesn't make him feel like I'm the one pushing him to do so.

The other tool is the Interactive Games.  The games are unlocked as the child masters subjects, and while they are technically still reviewing and learning, they see it as playing.  Win-Win!

That's just the student's area.  As the parent, you have access to a whole set of tools to help you follow your student's progress through the program.  
Above is the Master Account homepage.  This links you to each student account, where you can view their attendance records, their progress reports and MyPie charts, create quizzes for them and view the quiz results.

Attendance Report will show you how often they are using ALEKS and for how long.  It also allows you to view what they worked on each time.

Progress Report tracks student progress made throughout the course. The blue bar represents the percent of course material that the student has mastered during an ALEKS assessment; the green bar represents the percent of new topics the student has mastered in Learning Mode since the last assessment; and the yellow bar represents the percent of topics the student has yet to learn in order to complete the course.

Quiz Results: Quizzes are automatically graded and the results are available to both the parent and student immediately. You can view a detailed quiz results sample report (PDF).

So where do you get started?  Well, let me first suggest that you take advantage of ALEKS' free 1-month trial offer.  This is a $19.95 value, and it will give you plenty of time to explore the program and see if it works as well for you as it has for us.

Visit ALEKS for 1-Month Trial

After that, a subscription to ALEKS is
  • $19.95 per student, per month, or
  • only $99.95 every 6 months, or
  • only $179.95 every 12 months.
ALEKS also offers a Family Discount Program, if you have more than one student you'd like to use ALEKS for.  Yes, the program is pricey, but if you're dealing with the same problems I've been dealing with in my 11-year-old, it might just be worth it!  The best part about ALEKS is that the program will "patiently" continue to work on a math subject until it is mastered, no matter how long it takes the child.  That is definitely an area where mom is not so advanced herself!

Find out what other TOS Crew members have to say about ALEKS here.

Disclaimer: As a member of the 2010-2011 TOS Homeschool Review Crew, I received a complimentary 1-month subscription to ALEKS in exchange for my fair, honest and unbiased review. No other compensation was received.

Friday, December 10, 2010

TOS Review: Apologia Press - Good Morning, God

In my opinion, a good children's book has the following: Lots of repetition, a simple story line and detailed, engaging illustrations.  Good Morning, God, written by Davis Carman, contains all three of these, and so much more!

Good Morning, God - $14.00 from Apologia - is a very simple, sweet story told from the point of view of the little boy in the book.  It goes through a whole week in his life using the same pattern for each day.
"Good morning, God.  Today is (Sunday, Monday, etc.).  I wake up with lots of energy.  I worship God with my family and with all of my (being, heart, etc.).  Mom and Dad teach me when I'm sitting, when I'm standing, and especially when I'm (at church, running, etc.)."
The pictures of the activity where mom and dad teach the little boy are definitely worth 1,000 words!  For instance, "Mom and Dad teach me when I'm...climbing." shows the little boy climbing on the counter, reaching up for the cookie jar.  Obviously the lesson he learns from that incident are more than just about climbing.

The story goes on to describe an activity in his day.  Our favorite was:
"In the school room, I color a picture."
The school room in this story is just the family's living room, which both I and my children loved.  It's not often you find a book in which the family is obviously homeschooling, without the story specifically mentioning it.  All the illustrations - by Alice Ratterree -  are phenomenal.  Beautiful, detailed, calm and engaging.  We often spent each reading with more time looking and and talking about the pictures than in reading through the story.

Each day then ends with,
"At bedtime, I pray to God.  I say, "(variety of prayers each day)"   Good night, (Sunday, Monday, etc.).  Good night, God.
The repetition of the story is great for little ones.  My five year old, who is just learning to read, feels like she can follow along with the story and "read" some of the parts out loud herself.

The book doesn't end with the story though.  At the end are a week's worth of discussion questions and activities.  They could be used to turn this simple, lovely book into a week-long Bible curriculum.

What we did was read through the book once each day, then use the discussion questions and activities at the back of the book to extend our reading into some though-provoking discussion and family time.   We had to skip one activity (Take a bike ride) because it's been freezing and either raining or snowing almost constantly since we received the book!  But the kids really enjoyed the discussion times and activities (especially the family game night, which we need to do more often).   The ideas we discussed carried through to the following weeks and came up again and again.  I've been asked by my two youngest (5 and 7 years old) to read the book again, many times.  You can take a peek inside for yourself, with the sample chapter offered on Apologia's website.

Overall, this was a fantastic addition to both our home library and to our homeschool curriculum.  I also discovered that Apologia offers a companion Coloring Book ($4.00) for this book, which would be a great addition to using the book.

Apologia offers lots of other products as well.  We use their science curriculum (creation-based) and we love it!  I'm really impressed with everything I've seen from them, and this new book is no exception.  Want to see what other crew members thought about the book?  Check out their reviews.

Disclaimer: As a member of the 2010-2011 TOS Homeschool Review Crew, I received a complimentary copy of Good Morning, God from Apologia Press in exchange for my fair, honest and unbiased review. No other compensation was received.

Sunday, December 5, 2010

Great Giveaway

I love free things!  Happily Domestic is giving away a free Nutrimill grain mill on their blog.

We have this grain mill at our local "co-op" for member use.  You have to pay a one-time fee for use, and get trained to use it.  It's a great mill, very simple to use.  But my biggest problem is REMEMBERING to take my grain to grind it on co-op days!!!  Having one of these at home, so I could freshly grind my grain every time I wanted to make something would be so awesome.  I hope I win!

But in case I don't, you should enter too, for a chance to win.   Click on the picture above or click this link to enter.  There are LOTS of entries to gain in various ways, so get going!

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

TOS Review: Master Ruler

Which lines on the ruler indicates 1/4 inches?  What about 1/8 inches or 1/16 inches?  It can be frustrating and overwhelming for kids to try and figure these out.  And what if you get interrupted while you're trying to count your way over in 1/16ths?  The Master Ruler to the rescue!

The Master Ruler from Master Innovations is a unique concept.  Hold it up, and you see the different measurements in different colors.  But that's just the beginning.  Each fraction of measurement is actually on a different layer of clear plastic.  The larger the measurement, the longer the line.  A spiral binding holds all the different layers together, making it easy to flip to the one you need.  On the back is a quick run-down of the different  measurements and their equivalents (1 ft = 12 inches, etc).  This video explains the concept of the Master Ruler and how it works.

We received the Standard Ruler ($9.95), the Metric Ruler ($9.95), the Master Ruler Workbook ($15.95), (these three items can be purchased together as part of the Master Ruler Starter Set at $41.25), as well as a Marvels of Measurement Poster ($10.00).

Marvels of Measurement Poster

The Master Ruler Workbook was very helpful, as I found that I had trouble getting started with how to use the product with my kids.  It had plenty of lesson ideas, and the consumable pages of the workbook are allowed to be copied for family use - very helpful for those of us with larger familes!

The Master Ruler has been, and will continue to be, well used in our house.  Not only does it help children learn basic measuring skills, but it teaches fractions at the same time.  My older son, who has been struggling with fractions suddenly gained a very real understanding of how to simplify fractions just using this ruler!  We haven't done this yet, but the Metric Ruler can also be used to teach decimals.

The Marvels of Measurement Poster has been a fantastic addition to our wall.  I'm pretty picky about what posters end up hanging on the wall, but this one was definitely worth the space.  Though we haven't done much to actually study it, the children seem to be absorbing the facts on the poster - well enough even to know some answers to trivia questions at Thanksgiving (when we play lots of family games together).

Master Innovations offers other math tools, including Master Clock, Master Angles and Master Fractions.  You can check out what the other members of the Homeschool Crew have to say about all the Master Innovations products here.

Disclaimer: As a member of the 2010-2011 TOS Homeschool Review Crew, I received a complimentary Master Ruler, a Metric Ruler, the Master Ruler Workbook in exchange for my fair, honest and unbiased review. No other compensation was received.