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, www.professorinabox.com. 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 http://www.exploramania.blogspot.com.

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, www.exploramania.com, 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 Exploramania.com, Barnes and Noble, Amazon.com, 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, www.avko.org, 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 www.avko.blogspot.com, 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 www.americanheritage.org. 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, http://www.actadvantage.org/. 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.

ABC Teach

If you ever wished you could find quality supplementary worksheets for your homeschool in one central location, then you need to become familiar with ABC Teach. Membership to http://www.abcteach.com/ opens up access to over 35, 000 of worksheets, games, puzzles and other printable educational resources. Divided by subjects, themes, and age groups teachers can search through the seemingly endless options available by category or through use of the site’s search engine. Membership is available on a yearly basis for $40.00 per user per year or two years for $70.00. Groups of 10-29 can purchase a yearly membership for $35.00 per user per year and larger groups of 30 or more for only $25.00 per user per year.
Serving teachers of students in Pre-K through grade 8, ABC Teach is an amazing educational resource that offers:

*Broad range of subjects and levels.

*New materials added weekly to reflect current events and seasonal topics.

*An extensive educational clip art collection that will add color to your classroom.

*No advertising on the member site.

*Customer service representatives who are always available to address your concerns and requests.

I received a trial membership from ABC Teach in order to review the website for the TOS Review Crew. I was overwhelmed at first due to the vastness of the site. My mind does not naturally think in worksheets and therefore many times I don’t realize the benefits of supplementary paper work in the homeschool unless I see it first. I felt frustrated with the amount of time I used as I first searched through topics and subjects trying to take in all the site had to offer. Time is a precious commodity for me since I am teaching four students spanning grades K-10 this school year. I loved all the worksheets and other items I stumbled across, but when I tried using the search engine I could never seem to generate exactly what I was looking for.

My first goal in making use of ABC Teach products was to find resources to help my 5 year old learn to count to 100. I chose various search phrases including “100 day activities” and “counting to 100”, but found very little. I was surprised since most schools and educators spend a good deal of time teaching children counting skills.

I did find, however some terrific counters called Number Beads. The number beads are pre-programmed colorful circles which I printed out on cardstock just moments after locating them. Suggested activities accompanied the number beads representing numbers 0-50. I cut the circles out, punched holes in the top where indicated and gave them to Aidan along with a pipe cleaner to string them on in order. He loved the activity and even spent time organizing the number beads on the floor before adding them to his pipe cleaner. This simple math activity has brought a multitude of counting lessons to our house over the past few weeks helping Aidan and I accomplish his goal of learning to count. A plus for me came in finding and prepping the activity; all done from my home computer in just moments.

As I searched for other topics I joyfully discovered ABC Teach offerings for foreign language study. Our family spends a good deal of time with foreign language education. This year, for example, my kids are learning Latin, Italian and French. Finding quality curriculum is hard enough in the area of foreign language education, but supplemental resources are even scarcer. ABC Teach has supplemental worksheets, matching vocabulary cards, games and puzzles that could be used with any foreign language curriculum for several languages other than English. For example, I found 65 pages of Italian language supplemental worksheets! Included in the mix were pages which could be used to create an ABC book of Italian vocabulary. Very cool!

Another wonderful opportunity for members only is access to ABC TEACH custom worksheet generators. The mini programs allow teachers to create ABC Sort, handwriting practice, shapebook and border paper, word wall segments, scrambled word, crossword puzzles, desk tag templates, math, bingo, sudoku, word shape puzzles, spelling lists, missing letter and circle and spell worksheet activities. Short tutorials are available on the site to ease the learning curve in using the program, but the results are seemingly endless in possibilities especially for teachers with a creative bent. Samples of the custom worksheet generator are available for non-members at the ABC TEACH website.

ABC Teach offers a monthly newsletter filled with alerts to seasonal and new offerings on the website. The most recent newsletter listed 53 FREE links to supplemental resources along with helpful tips on how to use them with my students. In addition quick links to additional web resources and other helpful information regarding ABC TEACH were accessible directly from my email newsletter. I thought it exciting to have so many resources organized for me in one helpful newsletter.

Although anyone can access the company’s nearly 10,000 free resources I found the truly unique maps, foreign language study and of course access to worksheet generators were only available to members. Resources will mostly benefit teachers of students in pre-school through middle school; however some resources like foreign language study, make great teaching aids even for high school. Considering all ABC TEACH offers its members for $40.00 a year I think it is definitely worth the investment.

Vantage Learning/ My Access!

MY Access!® Home

"If there's a book you really want to read, but it hasn't been written yet, then you
must write it."� -- Toni Morrison

Something happens to my children when they enter 7th grade. I lose a bit of my all knowing powers and they begin to question many things I share with them during the school day. Some would say it is a sign of disobedience, but I really think it is a sign of growing up. As they begin to learn and grow during these years they are also preparing for life away from me. It is during this time that I encourage independent study especially in the areas of subjectively graded
subjects, like writing.

Vantage Learning sent me a one year membership to their on-line writing curriculum, My ACCESS Home Edition, to use with my children in exchange for a TOS Review Crew review. I was thrilled to oblige as our homeschool is currently experiencing the joys of teaching 7th and 10th grade writing. With my limited all knowing powers surfacing on a daily basis I was in desperate need of a fresh curriculum to help me with teaching. I discovered MY ACCESS is a homeschool Mom's dream come true.

A complete on-line curriculum, MY ACCESS allows teachers to set goals and
requirements and then, acting as a teacher's best friend, holds the student accountable. With clever on-line lessons, evaluation tools, and follow up activities and suggestions for revision, MY ACCESS teaches writing for excellence and proficiency. Available as a yearly subscription for $99.95 which allows use by up to 6 students, My ACCESS Home Edition is an incredible value for homeschool families.

For any homeschool teacher who has shuddered at the thought of teaching the art of essay writing My ACCESS includes a complete writer's guide. The writer's guide, an on-line textbook, is designed to help familiarize readers with the writing process and the key writing traits which My ACCESS concentrates on throughout the curriculum. These writing traits include: focus, content development, organization, language use and mechanics.

When I first received my email acknowledging my account subscription, user name and password, I registered my students quickly and easily. Logging into the site took seconds and once on I found the registration process straight forward and easy to understand. Tutorials, a Parent User's Guide, Student User's Guide and Frequently Asked Questions page were accessible from the home page if I needed them to guide me through the learning curve of understanding all the facets of the program. After spending about an hour reviewing all the information I felt I had a good handle on how to make the most of My ACCESS and was thrilled by all the possibilities.

I registered Micah, 7th grader, Jonah, 10th grader and Sierra, 2nd grader on my account choosing essay selections for each student based on their ages and abilities. Each student was assigned a unique user name and password allowing them to log in at a later time to check assignments and begin work. After registration My ACCESS allowed me to set deadlines, print out master schedules and set award levels for each student based on points earned. For example, in an effort to bribe, I mean encourage, my 7th grader towards diligence I chose a point value for various activities and writing assignments completed. Next, I chose an award incentive and deadline to receive the award. Since I had already chosen to receive email notification of progress reports to help me track student progress without direct daily intervention, I knew nearly as quickly as Micah that she had met her goal of 250 points by her deadline of 10/31 and should receive her award of a special movie night with Mom.

As I chose the suggested topics to assign I was pleased to note a customize option. Both Micah and Jonah participate in a Philosophy co-op class and had a written assignment due. I easily added a description of their assignment under the My Topics option allowing My ACCESS to coach them through getting their assignment to its final draft.

If I still needed inspired writing prompts for assignments which would please everyone My ACCESS offered a topic wheel option for optimal creativity. The topic wheel assists the teacher in randomly choosing a beginning, middle and end for the topic. After giving it a spin I came up with Write a rap (beginning) that convinces a famous actor (middle) to transform into something else (end). All of these options were made available to me after deciding I wanted a persuasive essay for ages 15-18. Fantastic!

I sat down with 7th grader, Micah to watch and take notes as she logged on to her personal account the first time. She needed very little instruction from me in regards to locating assignments and choosing options presented to her. "It was easy because all you had to do was put in your user name and password and then click assignments and you were basically there", she commented.

Micah chose to attempt Informative Essay writing first. Rather than diving into writing I asked that she watch the helpful tutorial lesson first. My Access lessons are hip and interesting all based around the premise that the student has just been hired as a reporter for the My ACCESS Daily News and will receive some on the job training. The "editor", a smartly dressed cartoon version of a young professional woman, greets the student welcoming them as they begin Chief Reporter Training. For Informative essays the training consisted of three modules of lessons all taking about 5 mins. to read through and complete. The third module taught how to read and benefit from the My ACCESS evaluation rubric which appears once the student submits their first draft of their essay. Other modules included information regarding writing an introduction, body paragraphs and conclusion for their essay. Each lesson concluded with a vocabulary matching activity for terms discussed within the lesson. This activity was graded immediately and allowed the student to print results for easy record keeping.

While Micah wrote her essay she discovered an on-line translation tool for English to Spanish and an on-line dictionary complete with synonyms and usage examples. She made use of the dictionary as she revised her essay saving her a trip to the bookshelf for the thesaurus.

"I think MY ACCESS is one of the most fun writing curriculums I have used. I like how you can go and do activities or exercises to help you understand everything. I also like how it takes you step by step through everything with the evaluation rubric making sure I understand and grading me", said Micah.

My 10th grade student, Jonah, made use of a customized assignment I had chosen to help him meet the requirements of his essay required for Philosophy class. He and I discovered that once complete we could ask My ACCESS to publish the essay in the ACCESS Daily News and have the current edition delivered to any email inbox; a great way to keep grandparents and other interested family members up to date. Student's essays are published in a typical column format on a mocked up newspaper page. My ACCESS allows the choice of page color, type and style. We chose a light beige paper with a font we thought supported an essay that compared and contrasted the rhetoric of Socrates and one of his students. When Jonah's essay arrived in my inbox I thought it looked impressively well written and professional. I was pleased to note the look of satisfaction from Jonah and positive comments seeing his work published in such a format.

When asked his opinion regarding My ACCESS Jonah said, "It's a good writing curriculum. I like it because it grades your essays giving you a percentage to know where you are at. You don't have to guess at what you need to change to make your paper better. I would recommend My ACCESS for high school writing assignments".

Each time I signed into MY ACCESS after registration I easily checked on student progress by utilizing an abbreviated report on my home page known as the Writing Dashboard.
Writing Dashboard
Student:Jonah SpoerndleSubmissions:3
Overall Progress:
Student:Micah SpoerndleSubmissions:5
Overall Progress:
I liked using the Dashboard for quick checks on student progress in case I forgot to ask them personally in the midst of a hectic day. The Writing Dashboard displays the number of essays submitted for each child, plus an average writing performance labeled either below proficient, proficient or advanced proficient. Additionally it allowed me to easily access the drafts of each student's essays seeing where their specific strengths and weaknesses fell, revisions attempted and development from rough draft to finished product.

I was impressed with all My ACCESS Home Edition offered me in the areas of lesson planning and supervision options. When juggling multiple subjects for multiple students in upper grades I can use all the assistance a curriculum can offer. My ACCESS Home Edition is an excellent tool for teaching, encouraging and providing instant feedback to young writers. Who knows it may even help you regain some of your all knowing power when you need it the most.