Monday, December 28, 2009

ACT Advantage: PLAN Test

ACT Inc., is a name synonomous with College preparations. In fact, this year, ACT, Inc. is celebrating their 50th anniversary providing standardized testing services to students, parents and colleges. The ACT of 2010, however, is a great deal more than just a standardized test to add to your college application process. ACT, Inc. currently has a host of opportunities to help students and parents EXPLORE, PLAN and DISCOVER their options for post secondary education.

Earlier this school year I reviewed with the help of my 15 year old son Jonah, the ACT Discover program designed to assist students with discovering a vocation to match their interests, personality and personal goals. Today, Jonah and I took a look at the PLAN test designed for 10th grade students. EXPLORE, PLAN and DISCOVER are components of ACT, Inc.'s ADVANTAGE program available to families through ACT, Inc.'s Homeschool Solutions portion of their website.

The PLAN test administered by many public schools to assess 10th grade college readiness may be purchased by homeschoolers at the ACT, Inc. website, The test
packet sells for $22.95 and includes:

  • Testing booklet titled Sample Test Booklet and Answer Sheet
  • Using Your PLAN Results brochure—a brief overview of score results and the process
  • College Readiness Standards handbook—a handbook that provides ideas for progress in each subject to prepare students for college or the workforce

Jonah and I viewed PLAN as a pre-test for his scheduled ACT test he will take in February as a part of his application process for post-secondary classes at our local University in the fall. Similar to the traditional ACT test, PLAN assesses students in the areas of:

  • English
  • Mathematics
  • Reading
  • Science.
According to the ACT Plan website, PLAN will answer the following questions for parents:

Where does my son or daughter stand right now?

The test will evaluate students abilities in the four major subject areas listed above by identifying their strengths and weaknesses.

How can I help my son or daughter advance in the four core subject areas?

An "ideas for progress" section in the College Readiness Standards Booklet provided in the packet offers tips and suggestions to assist students in problem areas over the next two years of high school.

How do I know if my child is on track for college?

The Plan Test will reassure homeschool parents who suffer from that "nagging voice" that keeps asking, "Did I cover enough?" Consider PLAN an opportunity to receive a well deserved pat on the back.

The total testing time for PLAN is just over 2 hours; similar to the traditional ACT test taken for college entrance. Students spend 30 mins. answering 50 questions on the English portion, 40 minutes answering 40 Mathematics questions, 20 minutes answering 25 questions for the Reading portion, and conclude with 25 minutes for the 30 questions of the Science test. Sample test questions can be found at the ACT, Inc. website.

Jonah concluded his test in one sitting. He is very familiar with standardized tests including the ACT since taking it the first time last Spring, and the PSAT this Fall. When I asked him if he thought the test was similar to the ACT of last year, he quickly agreed.

"IT was just a normal test; just like the ACT. It was probably a little bit easier because I think it seemed shorter. I think there are fewer sections too, because on the ACT I think the Reading is split up into two sections and the English is split up into two sections", commented Jonah.

Instructions and answer key sheets are included in the test packet for parents. It took me about a half hour to score Jonah's tests and determine his raw, scale and percentage scores. I thought the directions were thorough, but a bit confusing the first read through. Students fill out a bubble sheet for their answers which I had to read through while scoring and then transfer those results to another answer key sheet to compute the raw and scale scores.

I was thrilled to learn that Jonah is very well prepared for college. His composite score of 23 placed him in the 97% percentile for high school sophomores and well on his way towards his goal of acceptance into the University Post-secondary program for the 2010-2011 school year.

* I received the ACT Advantage PLAN test packet free of charge directly from ACT, Inc., in exchange for this personal review.

Friday, December 18, 2009

Maestro Classics

My childhood was filled with music. Memories of choirs, bands, and private music lessons are ones I treasure as music remains a beautiful source of enjoyment and entertainment for me. Although I didn't homeschool, I credit my grandmother and parents for my early music education and fostering my love of music.

Maestro Classics,, like my parents and grandmother, are committed to helping young children discover the joy and beauty of music. Their "Stories in Music" series of CDs blend storytelling, great music, knowledge of history and composers, and an entertaining introduction to the orchestra and its components. According to the company mission statement, "Maestro Classics guides audiences as they expand their listening horizons and discover the magic that can only be called music".

There are currently 7 stories in the series with two in production. I received Maestro Classics latest release, "The Tortoise and the Hare", for free in exchange for this review. It arrived in high quality packaging covered with delightful illustrations of the story, a pocket to hold the mini story book accompaniment, and a section to hold the CD securely when not in use. The story booklet for "The Tortoise and the Hare" included a diagram of the orchestra with color photographs of the instruments organized in sections like a real orchestra, 2 pages of basic music theory, 2 pages of facts of turtles, tortoises, rabbits and hares, music and lyrics of an original song sung by one of the characters in the production, 4 puzzle pages and biography information of the conductor/composer, producer and narrator. Many good things came in this small package.

The "Tortoise and the Hare" CD retells the classic Aesop fable with a French twist. The Hare understanding he is well ahead in his race against the Tortoise takes time off from racing to visit a French Bistro. The twenty minute narrated story/music performance on the CD is followed by a 3 min. explanation of the story, a second performance of the "Pretzel Vendor of Paris" song, followed by a second opportunity to listen to the musical story performance designed to encourage application of newly acquired musical awareness. The total running time of the CD is approximately 54 minutes.

The "Tortoise and the Hare" was adapted for Maestro Classics by Bonnie Ward Simon, former executive director of the Washington Chamber Symphony and co-creator of the Symphony's successful "Concerts for Young People" series. "The Tortoise and the Hare" is one of the original works premiered by the Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts in Washington, D.C. for their children's concerts. Simon created "Stories in Music" believing they, "introduce great music and classic stories, and provide the opportunity to develop important listening skills". (Maestro literature)

Every great story in the series has great music to accompany it. Stephen Simon conducted and composed all the music performed by the London Philharmonic Orchestra for the CDs. Simon served as music director of the Washington Chamber Symphony and resident chamber orchestra at the Kennedy Center for 25 years, and has guest conducted for symphonies all over the world. He was known as the "Magic Maestro" at the Kennedy Center, and according to his bio "loves music more than anything else in the world.....and believes that every concert should be wonderful entertainment".

The story of "The Tortoise and the Hare" is narrated by Yadu (aka Dr. Konrad Czynski, professor of Humanities at Minnesota State University-Moorhead). Yadu was the original narrator of the series at the Kennedy Center his voice rich and engaging on the CD. The music is performed by the London Philharmonic Orchestra.

The "Stories in Music" CDs are available for purchase on Maestro Classics website. They include:

*Mike Mulligan and His Steam Shovel

*Juanita the Spanish Lobster

*Casey at the Bat

*The Sorceror's Apprentice

*Peter and the Wolf

*The Story of Swan Lake

*The Tortoise and the Hare

* A Soldier's Tale and My Name is Handel are currently in production.

All CDs with accompanying mini program book retail for $16.98 on the website. Customers can find local specialty children's stores offering the series through a search engine at Gift sets of storybook and CD are available for $24.99. Those wishing to purchase three or more CDs in the collection can take advantage of a special offer provided by the company of three CDs for $45.00. Look for coupon code MAESTRO45 on the website.

Wednesday, December 16, 2009


If you need to re-energize your child's interest in mathematics you might try Mathletics. Toted on their site,, as "America's no. 1 Math website", subscription based Mathletics promises to challenge K-8 math students through the spirit of competition while they learn. As a member of TOS Review Crew I received a free 45 day subscription to Mathletics to use with my 7th grade daughter in exchange for this review.

We began our experience with Mathletics by registering Micah on the site. She created a personalized avatar complete with skin tone, eyes, mouth, hair, clothes, hat and accessories to represent her while on-line. Micah signed up to be a part of Team USA represented with a little US flag icon to the left of her avatar. Mathletics is used by millions of students worldwide.

We discovered Mathletics 7th grade curriculum covered the topics of:

* Decimals
* Number Theory
* Integers
* Addition and Subtraction Facts
* Multiply and Divide Fractions
* Pre-Algebra
* Geometry
* Measurement
* Ratio, Proportion and Percent
* Data, Probability, and Statistics

Micah used Mathletics independently during our testing period. She began each session by choosing a topic to study, then completing 10 practice problems designed to test her skill and ability to solve problems related to the topic. If she completed all ten correctly she was rewarded with a cute little cartoon of a young girl in a pink convertible racing to the center of the screen raising her arms in victory plus a coveted gold bar. Sound effects of cheering accompanied the scene providing a fun way to end a study session.

To enhance the serious aspect of Micah's results, she only needed to scroll down the last screen to view a copy of all practice problems attempted complete with answers. If she happened to miss a problem or two they were marked with an X instead of a check mark. Clicking on the "support" button in the upper right hand corner of each box containing a problem, linked to a new web page with a cartoon character standing in front of a blackboard ready to explain on the board how to solve the problem. At this screen Micah could chose to view additional examples of varying difficulty levels for each of the missed concepts. Incorporating a cartoon visual with concept review kept the program light-hearted, interesting and fun for her.

When Micah answered all 10 of her practice problems correctly requiring no review she clicked back to the menu. The menu page allowed her to view all topics for the 7th grade curriculum and her progress in studying each of them. Since she had just completed one of the sections of Geometry as she showed me how to use Mathletics, it displayed a gold bar with the word "perfect" written across to show all practice problems had been answered correctly. On the menu page I noted some of her previous attempts at other topics were marked with a red bar that said, "great work" instead of the desired gold bar. The red bar designated her need for more practice with the topic before she could answer all 10 questions correctly and earn the "perfect" gold bar.

Micah completed all sections of the Geometry section and chose to take the final test. The test consisted of 16 problems and once completed awarded her the same cheers and cartoon character hurrah. Clicking back to the main menu we noted it then displayed she had completed the entire geometry section and earned another gold bar for her efforts. I liked the fact Mathletics was not concerned with speed as much as accuracy. The curriculum taught to excellence and rewarded Micah accordingly with points, gold bar rewards and certificates.

Mathletics awards certificates for points earned for answering problems correctly. This incentive keeps students working towards a goal even when the math topic proves to be a bit challenging. Once Micah earned 1,000 points she received a bronze certificate. If she earned 5 bronze certificates in a week she would also earn a silver certificate. Four silver certificates within the week awarded her a gold certificate. Micah's two bronze certificates earned during the last week of our review period could be viewed on a specially designed web page called the "Bronze Cafe" and were easily printed for record keeping and encouragement.

When asked her opinion of Mathletics Micah said, "It's fun and easy to get used to. The program was really self-explanatory. I liked that the no. 1 player of the week is ranked and you can be listed on the web page for it. They rank top 100 students and top 50 schools from all over the world; that is also very cool".

Micah took advantage of an additional problem solving section for 7th grade students on the Mathletics website. Problem solving consisted of games for the math minded providing a break from regular curriculum study and competition. Micah played "Mind Twister" similar to a memory matching game with four levels of difficulty. The game challenged players to use logical reasoning to solve puzzles. She earned another gold bar for completing all four levels of Mind Twister; placing her one step closer to the 92 bars needed to complete grade 7 requirements.

Mathletics has a comprehensive Parent Centre accessible only through a parent log in with user name and password. The Parent Centre offers complete student and parent books in PDF format which can be printed one page at a time or in their entirety. Parent books include answers to the student workbooks, assessments and an outcomes or standards section. The workbooks are encouraged by Mathletics to "support on-line content to help children reach that light bulb moment".

A one year subscription to can be purchased for $59.00 on the site. Subscriptions are for one child for the year and cannot be shared. When you consider the quality and content of the site, plus additional workbooks for further study included I believe Mathletics is a good investment especially for students lacking motivation for math. Mathletics offers a 10 day money back guarantee if customers are not completely satisfied.

Mathletics is great for homeschoolers since it encourages independent study while teaching to mastery. Students set their own pace and of course the site is accessible 24 hours a day/ 7 days a week wherever internet access can be found. Mathletics' fresh approach and techie appeal guarantee kids will want to keep pace with their math studies.

Friday, December 11, 2009


Tektoma is a techie kid's dream! Making the most of modern technology, Tektoma, a membership based website founded in 2009 by Tom and Matilda O'Connor, offers "24 hour access to engaging video game tutorials that teach children game programming". The O'Connor's have taught technology to children through camp experiences since 2003, and now offer the world access to their established program at their website, Once members of the site students access a free download of Gamemaker Lite software, step-by-step video tutorials using Gamemaker and private and secure discussion forums to answer student questions and problems during the creation process. Membership to Tektoma's website is $14.95 a month or $140.00 a year, but anyone can test drive the program with a free 14 day trial. Tektoma gave our family a free three month membership to their site in exchange for this review.

Gamemaker allows kids to create video games similar to "old school" games made famous by Atari. Students can choose between a Racing Game, Arcade Game, Platform Game, and Fantasy Adventure Game. When I first looked at the site I was intrigued, but admittedly a bit overwhelmed by the need to download software and understand what tools I needed to get started.

Fortunately, the downloads went smoothly and efficiently since my computer had just been upgraded to Windows XP. According to Tektoma, their program will currently only work with Windows XP or VISTA users. Mac techies will need to wait as a MacIntosh version is under development. With GameMaker software downloaded I called my 12 year old daughter Micah to the computer to set her lose in making a video game.

I thought I had followed the necessary steps to help my "7-17 year old" make their own video game, as stated on the Tektoma website, but as Micah began working through the first tutorial she hit a major road block. She was unable to find the necessary "Sprite" file even though the tutorial explained it simply and directly. After my unsuccessful attempt to solve her problem we asked my professional computer consultant husband for advice. He determined, after about an hour of research, that we needed to switch the Gamemaker to "advanced mode" from its setting of "basic mode" to operate it correctly.

"We knew where the Sprite was because we downloaded the game resources pack. I thought it was on "advanced mode", but for some reason it turned off. Dad found out that we needed to switch it back. It was kind of frustrating for me", said Micah.

Thinking we had solved all of our problems Micah attacked the video game creation process again, only to get stuck within a few minutes. "After I made the game race track and I did what the tutorial told me to do with it I opened it and the race car wasn't there like I placed it. I had no idea how to fix that and I just wanted to quit", said Micah.

"I think Tektoma is a good idea because lots of kids like to play video games and its really cool to know how they are created. I think the tutorial should explain things a little bit more detailed like showing how to solve different problems when you come across them. If I could solve the problem I would try to get through creating the whole game because it was actually kind of fun.", she added.

I would love to recommend Tektoma, but unfortunately we were never able to successfully use this unique product. In all my years of homeschooling I have never seen a similar product designed to help kids make use of technology in a format they love. I love the idea of using educational play in the learning process and creating a video game is just that. However, as a homeschool Mom I always need a user-friendly product when teaching subjects I desperately lack expertise for. Tektoma needs to work a bit to become more user-friendly for the less techie minded in my opinion.

If you are intrigued by Tektoma I highly recommend taking advantage of their FREE 14 Day trial. With Christmas break on the horizon it just might be the perfect inside project to keep kids amused; especially if you have a techie kid dreaming of creating their own video game.

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Professor in a Box

How many times have you wished you could find an expert to teach your high school level student? Wouldn't it be great if UPS could drop off a Professor in a box along with the curriculum for challenging courses? Financial Accounting by Michael P. Licata, Ph.D. is figuratively and literally a Professor in a Box. The course is taught by Licata, Ph.D., Associate Professor in the Department of Accountancy in the Villanova School of Business at Villanova University in Villanova, Pennsylvania, and is described as a first accounting course for homeschool high school students. The course promises to introduce students to the study of accounting described as "the language of business" .

Licata has taught the content of Financial Accounting dozens of times during his 24 years as a professor at Villanova University. He presently specializes in teaching distance learning courses at the graduate and undergraduate levels. According to Licata's bio he is consistently rated by his students as one of the best teachers in his department and in his college. Licata's connection to the homeschool community is a natural one as he and his wife Jeannie home school their two children in South Jersey.

Financial Accounting is designed for the independent learner and busy homeschool parent. According to the company website, "This course is taught in a non-traditional format. There is no textbook and no 40 page chapters to read. All necessary course content is included in the Flash lecture slides and a brief key concepts and terms file for each chapter. "It retails for only $134.99, a true bargain for any college level course.

According to literature accompanying the program Financial Accounting promises to be ".... similar in content to the first accounting course taken by all students in university and college schools of business across the country. Any high school level student with basic math skills can handle this course". Professor in a Box, Financial Accounting covers the following topics:

Chapter One: Introduction to Accounting

Chapter Two: The Financial Statements

Chapter Three: The Accounting Cycle- Recording Transactions

Chapter Four: The Accounting Cycle

Chapter Five: Accounting for a Merchandising Company

Chapter Six: Short-Term Financial Assets

Chapter Seven: Inventories

Chapter Eight: Long-term assets-Property, Plant & Equipment and Intangible Assets

Chapter Nine: Liabilities- Current & Long Term

Chapter Ten: Stockholders' Equity: Contributed Capital

Chapter Eleven: The Statement of Cash Flow

Chapter Twelve: Financial Statement Analysis

I received Professor in a Box, Financial Accounting free of charge in exchange for this review. My son Jonah, a 15 year old high school sophomore, assisted me by using the course over a five week period and educating me in regards to its assets and liabilities. Jonah has recently completed an Algebra 2 course and was ready to begin a new math elective.

Financial Accounting arrived with a supplementary calculator and pencil plus the entire curriculum and accompanying Instructor's guide on CD. For traditionalists preferring less screen time pages can be printed from your home computer including a terms file pdf , lecture slides, and even homework problems. Having the ability to print makes life easier for the student and teacher on the go without the benefit of a laptop.

Jonah began Financial Accounting at the beginning of November and worked consistently daily for 1-2 hours a day. The accompanying syllabus recommends completing 2 lessons per week with the course consisting of a total of 28 lessons over the 12 chapters including exam days. If a student held to that schedule they could complete the course in one semester or 14 weeks. Jonah has completed 8 lessons and one exam over about a five week period which included a short week for Thanksgiving break. When asked if he thought this schedule was a bit ambitious he said, " No, it is a nice alloted amount of time. I usually spend at least this much time on my math lessons".

Beginning the course is as easy as slipping the CD into the computer and clicking on the first lecture for chapter one. Each of the course's twelve chapters are sub-divided into 2-3 parts. Lectures are audio with power point slide visuals to aid in comprehension. Lecture time spans 2-4 hours per chapter (15-40 slides), and concludes with homework practice problems.

According to Jonah homework took an average of "about an hour to an hour and a half" to complete. When I looked for an example I discovered Chapter 1-part two lecture concludes with asking the student to record various described transactions for a one month period on a balance sheet, record the effects of transactions on a a balance sheet for a company's one month period of business, interpret the effects of business transactions on a balance sheet, prepare a balance sheet for various transaction scenarios for two different days of the company's history and match 17 vocabulary terms with definitions listed.

Topics included in Chapter One part two were:

* Distinguish financial accounting v. managerial accounting
* Discuss the need for integrity in the field of accouting
* Define and discuss GAAP (the rules of accounting)
* Define the roles of the FASB and the SEC
*Discuss the accounting profession, career opportunities in accounting and the requirements to become a CPA

Jonah had a few constructive comments in regards to the lectures of each chapter. " I thought Professor Licata was easy to listen to, but he sometimes repeated stuff a lot which kind of got annoying. I didn't really have any trouble completing the homework based on what I had learned in the lecture. There is a solution section that you can click on to check your answers so if I got something wrong I knew about it right away and saw what I did wrong so I could correct it".

Students are graded by three exams, one after chapter 4, one after chapter 8, and one after chapter 12. Each exam is worth 150 points. A suggested grading scale 0f 90-100, etc., is listed in the product literature as well.

I did not use the instructor's CD at all. I found this to be a HUGE plus as my high school student prefers to work independently for long hours. Financial accounting allowed me to simply act as doting mentor Mom and helped Jonah to continue developing his strong independent study skills.

Customers can purchase Financial Accounting at the company website, The informative site provides curriculum samples, excel spreadsheets and access to a forum for curriculum users.

I have seen a great deal of curriculum in the past 14 years of homeschooling. I am not often impressed with new finds, but Professor in a Box, Financial Accounting is by far one of the best elective courses I have ever seen for high school students. It is written by an expert in the field, designed for independent learning, responsibly scheduled and planned to fit a high school kid's life, and affordable. I am VERY, VERY impressed. The true test of any curriculum, however, lies in its effectiveness with students. I asked Jonah for his final comments regarding Financial Accounting and he easily obliged my request.

"I like it. It's confusing if you don't know how to do it, but once you learn how it's easy. It presents information in a good way. I liked how Dr. Licata went over problems in the lessons for examples. I found it easier to understand the information he gave this way. I would definitely reccomend this course to other homeschool families"

Life on the Farm by We R Fun

A few months ago my college aged children convinced me to start playing a new Facebook game, Farmville. Many of my grown up friends make fun of me, but Farmville brings more to my life than organizing cows, pigs, chickens and crops. Playing this virtual game is another way I can connect with my grown up kids who all have very busy lives running in directions opposite of mine.

When those same college aged kids were young I deliberately planned board game days during school hours. Rolling dice and counting the dots, counting the spaces on boards, reading
directions, clues, keeping track of scores, etc.; board games provided endless learning practice in a variety of disciplines without the pressure of filling in all the blanks of a worksheet. The best kind of learning builds memories. I hope my older kids remember fondly our long afternoons of PayDay, Clue, Uno and Yahtzee.

When I received We R Fun's Life on the Farm board game to review for TOS Review Crew
my heart filled with warm memories of game days past. Board game days have sadly disappeared from our schedule as a regular part of school curriculum
and Life on the Farm reminded me to bring back the fun. I received Life on the Farm as a gift in
exchange for this review.

Life on the Farm is designed for 2-6 players aged 8-108. It won the Teacher's Choice Award from Learning Magazine in 2006 and 7 other awards from various organizations. Ranking Life on the Farm against previous board game experiences I found it to be of superior quality in construction, easy to set-up and capable of promising hours of family fun.

The object of Life on the Farm is to "retire" by building a herd of 60 cows (long game) or 30 cows (short game) plus have all the money you originally start the game with. The money distributed with Life on the Farm comes in 1,000's with cows on the face, 500's with sheep, 100's with chickens, 50's with pigs, 20's with geese and 10's with dairy farmers. It is organized neatly on rows of a plastic tray for banking ease throughout the game. Cows collected are represented on small cards much to my little kids disappointment. They were hoping for small plastic cows, but I was secretly relieved not to have so many tiny parts to care for over time.

After spending about 15 mins. to unwrap money and read the brief playing instructions I recognized that Life on the Farm played like a distant cousin of Monopoly. Instead of collecting property and railroads, however, my empire would consist of cows while attempting to hold on to some sort of income as I experienced thrills and spills of life on a dairy farm. My test marketing team of Micah, age 12, Sierra age 8 and Aidan age 5 assisted me, but after one hour of playing time Sierra and Aidan wandered off to other interests. Micah and I continued play for another half hour before stopping for lunch still far from nearing the end of the game. Micah collected 14 cows and was rolling in money, but I had only 10 cows and I think, $40.00 to my name. Life on the Farm is tough for some.

Players begin the game by rolling two dice and moving the appropriate number of spaces. Instructions along the game path direct play and can include things like, "A Hunter cuts your fence and you have to pay both neighbors $10 per cow". Once players have found their way around the board they simply begin another round with the benefit of collecting "milk money" or $100 for each cow in their possession. Besides collecting milk money, players earn income from Farm Income cards stacked neatly on the board and played when directed. One quickly learns that Life on a Farm is often difficult and full of tough decisions. For example one income card states "slaughter one cow and collect $300. Remove one cow from your herd". In addition, Farm Expense cards can be played which include financial penalties for things like electric bills, tractor repairs, and fertilizer purchases.

I tend to have bad luck with board games and true to form I constantly landed on depressing scenarios for my dairy farm which cost me money and cows. I thought most of the scenarios were excellent learning opportunities giving players a glimpse at the reality of farm life. I was
not prepared however for the discussion which evolved from one Farm Expense card stating, "Pay artificial inseminator to breed your cattle. Pay $100 x roll of 2 dice". Surprise! It was time for a quick biology lesson too involved for the 8 and 5 year old to understand.

When asked for their review of Life on the Farm the marketing team enthusiastically gave Life on the Farm two thumbs up.

"Life on the Farm is really fun. I like how you get the cows. There are many things in the game that are different like getting paid for the milk and losing a cow. It's kind of like a real dairy farm, but its a game. I liked the different animals they made on the money. I hope I can play it again with my family soon", said Sierra age 8.

"It was good. I liked it very much. I liked when you get all the cows and got some money. I want to play again some time, like tomorrow", said Aidan age 5.

"Life on the Farm is a fun twist to a plain old Monopoly game. I didn't mind spending lots of time playing the game, because it felt very productive. You could sell cows, buy cows and each turn brought new experiences. I definitely want to play this game again and would highly recommend it to all my friends whether city folk or farm people " said Micah age 12.

Life on the Farm retails for $25.00 on the company website. A pre-school version requiring no reading skills and color matching practice is available for only $20. Based on my family's experience I think it is a good investment for hours of educational family fun. If you need to find a new "udderly delightful" learning experience for your homeschool, you should play too.

Friday, November 20, 2009

Exploramania: Gymathtics

Fueled by a life long passion to help children and empowered with education and business experience, Carrie Scheiner, developed her dream of combining math lessons with exercise fun into an award winning DVD, Gymathtics.

"My passion is to help children learn math through fun interactive techniques. Synergizing, my math background and corporate expertise, I launched a new
business that encompasses all my passions and experience to help children exercise their minds and bodies", she states on her blog found at

Her company, Exploramania, operates under the philosophy that children learn best through multi-sensory exploration; the more senses engaged in the learning process the greater the retention of knowledge gained. Exploramania products, available at the company's on-line store,, encourages kids to move their bodies while engaging their minds. Exploramania sent me a copy of Gymathtics to use
in my homeschool in exchange for writing this review.

Scheiner shares on her website she never expected to create an exercise video for kids, but didn't let her lack of experience squelch her dream. After discovering the need for her product she relied on her neighbor, Joanne Baizan, fitness expert, to guide her in the process. Her determination to bring her ideas to reality resulted in a new business venture for her and her family. Scheiner narrates and leads all the exercise portions of Gymathtics and her two children appear on the screen along side her.

Gymathtics has won three 2009 awards from Dr. Toy including "10 Best Active Product", "Best Children's Product", "100 Best Products", and "Best Vacation Product". In addition, Gymathtics was named a "DVD of the year" by Creative Child Magazine and has received many other awards. Samples of the DVD are available for viewing on the website along with an amazing array of video taped celebrity endorsements. Gymathtics retails for $24.99 and can be purchased at, Barnes and Noble,, Glamma toys and Can Doo Products.

I love the idea of combining math and exercise and couldn't wait to run the DVD with my kids to get their reaction. I know as a busy homeschool Mom deliberate exercise for me often is very low on my priority list. I loved the idea of everyone benefiting from an exercise DVD designed to appeal to younger kids, aged 12 and under.

Gymathtics has a short 30 min. running time, but covers a lot of ground. Divided into four parts the DVD helps kids with stretching, aerobic exercise, and relaxation techniques. The entire DVD, as suggested by the title, combines math concepts with exercise. When we first viewed Gymathtics the intro music reminded me of a fast-paced spy movie theme song. The spirit of the song definitely motivated me to move and exercise. My kids, Micah age 12, Sierra, age 8 and Aidan age 5 were eager to start too.

The first section titled, "Shape Stretches Warm-Up" began by connecting stretches to the concepts of lines, circles and polygons. A graphic appeared beside the video demonstrating the exercise which displayed the math concept being taught through a voice over commentary. The graphic enabled us to visually learn while listening to the definition of the math concept. For example, straight lines, parallel lines, intersecting lines and perpendicular lines were drawn beside the video while the exercise participants showed us how to use our parallel arms to stretch head to toes in a straight line.

Scheiner consistently uses math vocabulary when leading her exercise routines. When reviewing the geometric terms of rays, acute and obtuse angles, Scheiner says, "Each of our arms are rays and two rays make an angle. We can make a big obtuse angle or a small acute angle." Within minutes of our exercise routine we had experienced wavy lines, semi-circles, congruent circles, similar circles, center, radius, diameter, ovals, and polygons including triangles, pentagons, quadrilaterals, rectangles, squares, rhombus and trapezoids through body movement and visual and auditory description. Add in the fact that most exercise videos should be used multiple times within a week and you have a no fail solution for math review. Very cool!

Scheiner spends a great deal of time encouraging the kids in the DVD including those working along at home. Although some might view her virtual high five towards the camera a bit corny, I thought it sweet and encouraging for young viewers. The entire last section of Gymathtics, "Well-Being Wind Down", is dedicated to relaxation and stretching mixed with positive phrases like, "Good health and well being are important for a fantastic life" or "Try to get a good night's sleep every night".

I was impressed with the quality of Gymathtics , but the real critics are always the kids. My test marketing team was unanimous in their approval and brought interesting points to our discussion of the merits of Gymathtics.

"It was a very fun way of learning different math concepts. It seemed to go by really quick. I wish they had a similar DVD for older kids too or spent a little more time with each math concept", said Micah age 12.

"It tells you what kinds of parts of your body are being used and why it is important to be healthy. Some of the exercise parts were hard and a little stressful, but I liked it. In the video my favorite exercising thing was the jumping jacks. I would recommend this DVD to my friends", commented Sierra age 8.

Having been a parent for over 20 years, I have watched endless hours of children's television programming, videos and DVD's. I think Gymathtics could easily become a favorite for kids especially those that love to be active. Although it definitely is not a stand alone curriculum, Gymathtics makes an excellent supplement for any young math student.

I love the idea of blending exercise and math concepts, especially for kids who tend to be a bit math phobic or who just need a change of pace in their school day. I have learned that any time my young children can engage their body with their mind the result is lasting retention and lots of enjoyment. I am definitely a fan of Gymathtics and according to my test marketing team they are too.

Wednesday, November 18, 2009


Founded in 1974, the AVKO Educational Research Foundation promises in their mission statement to "provide free and low cost resources to home and school educators in order to achieve literacy for all even despite learning challenges or dyslexia." Their website,, offers a low cost yearly membership to the site providing resources and support for those coping with or teaching a dyslexic reader. As a member of TOS Review Crew I received a complimentary Basic membership to the AVKO website in exchange for this review.

Serving as the Research Director of AVKO, Michigan native, author and educator, Don McCabe
is passionate about teaching literacy. His passion probably stems from his own personal struggles. His autobiography, To Teach a Dyslexic chronicles events of his life that enabled him to read, write and also teach. McCabe is dyslexic and has made it his life pursuit to decode the logic of the English language being quoted on his website with the following statement:

"English does have an internal logic that good readers and good spellers somehow subconsciously learn without being taught. Dyslexics tend to be logical and try to follow what
they have been taught. But the way reading is
taught today has nothing to do with this internal logic. English has highly consistent logical patterns. So, if we exclude the very few (but highly common) "insane" words such as was and does, English can be said to be 99.9% phonically consistent. The anti-phonics people fail to realize the vast difference between phonetics, phonemics, and phonics."

In addition to serving as Research Director for the AVKO Educational Research Foundation, McCabe has authored over 20 books and articles relating to teaching reading and spelling including The Patterns of English Spelling, a reference tool for teachers providing all English words which follow any particular spelling pattern. McCabe has set forth a challenge on his website for any researcher or politician willing to fund it which provides for achieving a 97% Satisfactory Literacy for American 15 year olds in 25 years or less. McCabe is committed to the study of language and teaching of reading.

Our family has never had a struggle with dyslexia, but my second daughter absolutely struggled with learning to read and spelling. Reading over the information provided on the AVKO website I began to understand how I might have taught her better while she learned to decode English. Many homeschooling families are familiar with the AVKO spelling curriculum Sequential Spelling. I have not used it in my homeschool, and found it a bit too late in my daughter's primary education to benefit from it, but it is my understanding the curriculum follows all the principles discovered through McCabe's research and is highly successful in teaching students to spell who have been unsuccessful with other approaches.

I used my complimentary membership to the AVKO website to educate myself since I presently have no dyslexic students. As a member I had access to supplementary worksheets that coordinate with the Sequential Spelling curriculum, access to 6 audio workshops on MP3 files, a variety of free e-books downloadable from the website, and a 25% discount on all other AVKO materials. I chose to listen to McCabe's workshop, Accentuate the Positive, Eliminate the Negative, Don't Mess with Mr. Inbetween. I found the sound clear and uninterrupted, but the lack of visuals left me a bit uninspired. All workshops are designed to help teachers become better educators of reading and spelling.

A Basic Membership for one year costs $25.00 and includes:

Payment for membership can be made with VISA, MasterCard, Discover, PayPal, AMEX or e-check. For those who prefer NOT to shop on-line the foundation will accept a personal check mailed to them.

For more information regarding teaching dyslexic students and the resources offered by AVKO please visit their website, read their blog at, become a fan on Facebook, or follow on Twitter.

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

American Heritage

There is a saying that "the best things in life are free", and this certainly holds true with American History curriculum provided by the American Heritage Foundation. I received a CD from American Heritage with their Elementary English language, Elementary Spanish version, Middle School and High School level American History curriculum to review for TOS Review Crew. Although American Heritage always provides their curriculum for FREE I promised to review this product in exchange for them mailing it to me.

The American Heritage Foundation is "a non-profit corporation dedicated to the understanding and teaching of our nation's factual and philosophical heritage to promote freedom, unity, progress and responsibility among our students and citizens." (AHEF purpose statement) AHEF provides materials to students, families and schools to help students become "thoughtful, active and productive citizens." Their curriculum, America's Heritage: an adventure in liberty consists of 10-14 different units designed to focus on four key themes at all levels. The themes are Freedom, Unity, Progress, and Responsibility. The program is designed to be used as a year long supplement or as an intensified study during the month of November proclaimed American Heritage Month by the foundation.

Each level of America's Heritage contains an 11 page essay written for the teacher and intended as background to aid in teaching the curriculum. Detailed lesson plans listing the purpose, objective, theme and core knowledge points, expected time required for each lesson, materials and preparation checklists are written on the first page of each unit. Elementary lessons are designed for grades 1-5, middle school for grades 6-8 and high school for grades 9-12.

The elementary level lessons include directions and text for activities like group discussion, essay writing, role playing, games, songs, puzzles, journal entries, art and other creative ideas. One such activity suggested in the Colonial America unit is a game that requires students to play the parts of King of Great Britain, Parliamentarian Governor, Merchant or Colonist with variations for classes with 20, 25 or 30 students. Since America's Heritage is designed to be used with classrooms of children it makes an excellent curriculum for homeschool co-ops.

My friend and fellow teacher, Kelley Chin, chose America's Heritage to use with her homeschool co-op class this school year. When I asked her for her opinion of the curriculum she eagerly responded. "I am using this curriculum. I love it! The students really seem to enjoy it too! Every lesson is interactive to give the students a tangible way to learn the material. It is very patriotic! All of the lessons are based on the founding principles of our country. As soon as I saw the add in TOS magazine, I knew that this was the way I wanted my children to learn about the birth of our nation!!" she said

Elementary units of the curriculum cover the following points of American history:

* Colonial America
* Declaration of Independence
*John Hancock's Signature
*George Washington
*U.S. Presidents
*The Great Seal
*History of Thanksgiving
*The United States Flag
*The Star Spangled Banner
*The National Motto
*The Statue of Liberty
*The Pledge of Allegiance
*America the Beautiful
*What is an American?
* plus an extra teacher's supplement regarding religious expression in public schools

Middle school lessons and activities are varied much like the elementary level of America's Heritage. A sample activity while learning about the Constitution involved learning the Preamble of the Constitution in sign language. The 182 page Middle School curriculum has units for the following topics:

*Colonial America
*Lives, Fortunes, Sacred Honor (the history of the men who signed the Declaration of Independence)
*Declaration of Independence
*U.S. Constitution
*Bill of Rights: Rights and Responsibilities
*Our National Documents
*The U.S. Flag
*The Star Spangled Banner
*The Gettysburg Address
*The National Motto
*The Statue of Liberty
*The Pledge of Allegiance
*What is an American?

The high school level curriculum offers greater opportunities for vocabulary study and discussion compared to the elementary and middle school levels. For example, students are instructed to read through the text of the Constitution and Bill of Rights, included with the curriculum, and then write their own personal Bill of Rights. High School level units include:

*Mayflower Compact
*The Declaration of Independence
*Federalist 47
*U.S. Constitution
*Bill of Rights: Rights and Responsibilities
*The First Ammendment
*Our National Documents
*Entrepreneurs in History
-Cornelius Vanderbilt
-Andrew Carnegie
-James Hill
-John D. Rockefeller
*America's Creed
*U.S. Flag/ Federal Flag Code
*Religious Expression in Public Schools
*What is an American?

America's Heritage: an adventure in Liberty is an excellent curriculum for students of all ages and the price is right! Persons interested in obtaining their own copy can do so by ordering a FREE CD on the website or if preferred purchase any level printed and placed in a binder for only $19.95 each. Payments can be made on-line through PayPal.

For more information about America's Heritage or the American Heritage Education Foundation become a fan on Facebook or visit their website at Once you have I think you will agree that some of the best things in life still are free.

Tuesday, November 3, 2009

ACT, Inc.-- Discover program

This is a big school year for my 15 year old son. He is a sophomore in highschool and in our house that means time to start thinking about college. As a member of the TOS Review Crew I have received a multitude of products this year designed to help kids sift through the soul searching process of answering, “What do I want to do when I grow up?” Jonah is benefiting in big ways from these products as this is the year when he needs to start sifting through choices, prepping for college entrance exams and seriously plotting out his future endeavors.

I have been familiar with the ACT name since I was in high school. In fact, although I am not quite this old, ACT, Inc. is celebrating their 50th anniversary providing standardized testing services to students, parents and colleges. What I didn’t realize was all ACT has to offer students and parents in the way of career exploration. ACT, Inc. sent me access to their ACT Advantage Discover program so that I might review it for TOS Review Crew with the help of my son Jonah.

The ACT Advantage DISCOVER program is an on-line based career planning program developed to serve the interests of students aged middle school through adult hood. Through a series of interest inventory tests taken on-line Discover guides students through the thoughtful process of considering the next step after high school. Inventory tests explore personal likes and dislikes in regards to various activities, rating of abilities, and an evaluation of work related values. Data results are shared instantly through graphs and explanations. Students may also access current information on potential college majors, colleges and careers that line up with their interests. Discover is appropriate to help students prepare for:

four-year college

two-year college

professional/graduate school

career/technical training

military service

immediate employment

Jonah and I sat down together to use the ACT Discover program which took just under an hour from start to finish. Each of the inventory quizzes consisted of a series of questions designed to identify strengths and weaknesses in the student. For example, the uniact inventory determined strongest interests by asking the student to identify if they like, dislike or are indifferent to a series of descriptions of activities. To keep the quiz interest high the descriptions are accompanied with photographs of people using the described skill.

There were three inventory quizzes to take and then the fun really began with ACT Discover. A detailed report is available immediately after answering the last question of each of the inventory quizzes. The one to two page report displays a World of Work colored map, a circular graph identifying the various types of occupations on a broad spectrum. Based on Jonah's answers he was identified as a person who prefers working with People and Data. To the left of the graph were two boxed areas of short lists noting specific occupations relating to People and Data. For example, Jonah's list included: employment related services, marketing and sales, management and regulation and protection under the broader area of administration and sales. A button at the bottom of the box allowed us to click to receive a more detailed list of suggested occupations relating to these interest areas. All of this information was based on his one quiz relating to his interests only.

Jonah took the other two inventory quizzes which measured his abilities and values. At the conclusion of all three quizzes a master results page was available which pulled together his answers from the three profiling quizzes. I was pleased to see suggestions available as to where to go from here. The recommendations included exploring careers in one specific area, medical diagnosis and treatment which appeared at the top of two of his results pages, and researching additional career options based on his interests. The answers did not reveal any magic solutions, but thoughtful information with links to lists of careers and easy access to search colleges offering majors that would relate to career choices matching Jonah's unique desires, goals and personality. In my opinion considering the small amount of time Jonah had to invest in the Discover program, it offered a tremendous amount of insightful information for him to make use of.

The real test is to ask the student, however, and Jonah seemed pleased over all with his experience. "It was interesting. It helped me discover more about myself. It confirmed for me that I know which major I should study for college", he said.

ACT Discover is part of the ACT Advantage program available exclusively from ACT, Inc. You can purchase access to the online Discover testing service at their website, Subscriptions range from 19.95 for a three month term to $24.95 for six months. I found the value of Discover was its ability to identify and organize students thoughts and desires. Decisions regarding careers and future study can seem overwhelming even for most adults. Making use of the tools Discover has to offer allows high school students to conquer this behemoth task and move easily into their bright future.