Tuesday, February 23, 2010
Monday, February 22, 2010
Math Mammoth specializes in custom fit math programs for elementary aged students. Founded by Maria Miller, MA in mathematics with minors in physics and statistics and educational studies, Math Mammoth offers four different types of curriculum to meet the unique needs of homeschools. Customers may choose:
- the BLUE series- worktexts organized by topic
- the LIGHT BLUE series- complete comprehensive curriculum for each grade level
- the GOLDEN series - worksheet practice for grades 3-Algebra 1 level
- the GREEN series -worksheets by topic (designed for grades 3-7)
Math Mammoth products are relatively inexpensive, but do require a bit of publishing on the part of the consumer. Customers choose between ordering a CD for their computer or downloading files immediately upon payment. I am not a fan of printable homeschool materials, simply because of the extra effort required to print, hole punch, and organize the materials once they are loaded to the computer. However, an entire 2nd grade level curriculum complete with instruction, 2 semesters of work-texts, cumulative reviews, tests, answer keys, worksheet generators, links to free on-line games to support each topic studied and a final comprehensive diagnostic test costs only $29.70. In addition, Math Mammoth allows unlimited use of products purchased within the family's homeschool, saving curriculum costs for future children studying the same level.
My 2nd grade daughter, Sierra used Math Mammoth Level 2A over the past few weeks. Miller sent us a link to download the zip file free of charge in exchange for this review. Math Mammoth, Level 2 Light Blue series consists of 249 pages; more than enough for an entire school year. According to the Math Mammoth text, students in grades 1 and 2 will need to spend 25-40 mins. each day to complete the curriculum over a span of 200 days.
After a rocky start with the curriculum, I learned it is very important to open ALL the PDF files that come with the instant download. I thought, initially, we had not received an answer key or teacher's guide. I was wrong. Another mistake I made was to NOT have Sierra take the optional placement test offered by the company. Many of the review topics presented in the first section of Level 2A were taught in a different format than Sierra's previous mathematics experiences. This created a mountain of frustration for her and I as we tried to work through the beginning work-text lessons.
I remedied our frustration by locating the User Guide filled with helpful advice regarding curriculum use, testing, cumulative reviews, using the worksheet maker and contact information for Miller for further questions. After reading the User Guide I had Sierra take the Level 1 comprehensive final test to check her mastery of topics required for Level 2. Students must receive a score of 80% on the test to be ready for the next level. Sierra was not ready as I had suspected. I readily agree with Miller's recommendation to use the placement tests, available on the website, to avoid purchasing the wrong product or frustrating the student.
Although students in the early grades can complete Math Mammoth without manipulatives, Miller encourages use of a 100 bead abacus or base ten blocks for 1st grade. "For the most part, the curriculum does not specifically emphasize manipulatives, but visual models", says Miller in the User Guide. "However the exercises that use visual models CAN be done equally well with manipulatives (beans/counters, base ten blocks fraction manipulatives, etc.)", she said.
Work-text pages of Math Mammoth are colored to aid visual learners and keep interest high. The beginning of each lesson provides brief instruction with a few sample problems surrounded by a blue box. Sierra struggled a bit with certain math topics and I found the instructions often were not detailed enough to meet her needs.
Miller offers suggestions in the User Manual to mix up instruction a bit or reach a struggling student. She advises teachers to make use of the Worksheet Maker, choose word problems from subsequent chapters relating to the topic or to simply incorporate one of the many on-line games listed at the beginning of each chapter for extra practice. The goal of Math Mammoth is mastery and Miller has created a host of opportunity for students to reach that level.
An optional test follows the conclusion of each chapter of Math Mammoth. Miller recommends using the tests only for diagnostic purposes or record keeping. The optional comprehensive final test is provided for each level of the Light Blue series as well. This is the same test on the website used for placement.
Cumulative review chapters are sprinkled throughout the curriculum. These chapters are available in PDF, doc, or htm file formats to allow teachers to customize problem sets for their student's specific needs. Miller recommends using the cumulative review chapters only as needed.
Although our experience with Math Mammoth was less than desirable due to (cough) user error, Sierra had only positive memories to share about her experience. "I like the directions and the colors on the pages," she said. "Math Mammoth colors things in so it's not confusing. The lessons seem pretty long, but I think I learned a lot", she added.
For more information about Math Mammoth visit their website at www.mathmammoth.com. Samples of the curriculum are available as well as the option of purchasing smaller portions of the curriculum before committing to a full package. Level 2A or Level 2B of the Light Blue Series retail for $15.50 each and is only available as an instant download. In addition, Miller offers a free 7 day virtual math educators e-mail course or tour of Math Mammoth filled with benefits on the site.
A rainbow of choices and seeming endless supply of customer service and support guarantees Math Mammoth is certain to fit the needs of most homeschool families in search of quality math curriculum for the elementary years.
Thursday, February 18, 2010
According to the publisher, Presidential Penmanship is appropriate for handwriting practice for grades 1-12. I personally do not see the need to practice handwriting at the Jr. High or High School levels of education, but it is helpful to know the curriculum is comprehensive enough to span a variety of grades. Presidential Penmanship is described on the packaging as "a supplemental handwriting program....based on the writings and quotes of America's founding fathers and presidents." In addition, the company suggests using the short quotes used in the primary years for memorization practice. They believe these quotes will become a foundation for future instruction in government and civics. The sixth grade level includes a "final exam" requiring the student to copy the Gettysburg Address.
I have never taught anything but block style handwriting to my children simply because it is what I knew. Getty Dubay Italic Style handwriting has a few more curves to printed letters connecting them together much in the way traditional cursive writing does. Fans of Getty-Dubay Italic believe it develops neater handwriting by helping children who tend to struggle with letter reversals. According to research published by Portland State University, "The hand position and movements for the italic are natural and result in an easy flowing motion when writing." Presidential Penmanship is available in 6 different handwriting styles through ZeeZok Publishing.
My Presidential Penmanship Complete Program arrived as a computer CD-rom neatly packaged in a plastic box similar to packaging for DVD movies. There was no instruction booklet to read through, so I simply placed the CD in my computer to begin instruction. Unfortunately, there wer no detailed teaching instructions leaving me to interpret the numerous PDF files appearing on my computer screen on my own. After reading the package description printed on the back of the cover and opening several of the files I determined my student should spend one week each on a quote. All worksheets print from the CD and provide lined areas for printing practice. Each session of handwriting practice allowed for copying the quote once, but I printed a few extra practice pages provided just in case we would need them.
I chose to test drive Presidential Penmanship Italic Style Complete Program with my 2nd grade, left-handed student, Sierra. Being left-handed is not without its challenges especially when your teacher is right-handed. I always forget to remind Sierra to turn her paper the correct direction, etc. because she is a mirrored reflection of my habits. I hoped the simplicity of Presidential Penmanship and incorporation of Getty-Dubay Italic style would empower Sierra towards neater handwriting.
Week One of Presidential Penmanship, Grade One offers handwriting practice using the quote, "It is better to offer no excuse than a bad one." ~ G. Washington. The first day Sierra and I read and discussed the quote's meaning plus spent time remembering George Washington and his importance to our country. Sierra followed up our discussion by tracing inside bubbled letters that directed her strokes and placement. By having the mini history lesson first and following it with handwriting practice, the lesson seemed natural and purposeful.
Day 2 of the week was spent tracing over pre-printed letters and then following with an "On Your Own" section to practice writing the quote without prompts or helpful guidelines. The third and final day of week one of Presidential Penmanship was spent identical to day two. Students were expected to trace over pre-printed letters before trying to write the quote solo. Each day's practice took Sierra approximately 10 minutes to complete; an easy thing to incorporate into any day.
Sierra seemed to enjoy Presidential Penmanship. When asked for her opinion she eagerly shared. "I really liked it because it shows you how the letters should be so I always remember. I learned a little about the Presidents too", she said. A lifetime fan of Abe Lincoln she added, "I can't wait to do Abraham Lincoln. That will be awesome."
Presidential Penmanship Italic Style Complete Program retails at www.Zeezok.com for $39.99. It is available on CD or in e-book instant downloadable formats. Sample pages can be viewed on the company website. For customers not wanting the comprehensive version of the program separate grade level options may be purchased for $9.99 each.
Wednesday, February 17, 2010
I remember one conversation in particular regarding homeschool philosophies. I shared my personal views and Annette immediately, related, "Oh yes! I can tell you are very "Debra Bell"." At the time, I had no idea who Debra Bell was or why I was just like her, but I decided it must be a compliment and took it as such.
A few months ago, I learned that Apologia Science would be sending me a product free of charge for review as a member of TOS Homeschool Review Crew. Assuming it would be some sort of science curriculum, I was pleasantly surprised to find a comprehensive homeschool resource inside the package. As I glanced at the cover I noted that The Ultimate Guide to Homeschooling was written by Debra Bell. It was finally time for me to become acquainted with Debra Bell's philosophy of home education
Bell is a veteran homeschool parent who has lived to tell her tale. Having homeschooled her four children from K-grade 12, she also helped lead a successful homeschool co-op, hybrid homeschool and private school, and assisted in the development of a thriving youth theater company during their homeschool years. Bell did not rely solely on her own expertise to write The Ultimate Guide to Homeschooling, however. She states in the text, "Beyond my own family's experience, I draw heavily upon the lives of my dear friends who are great sports about figuring unadulterated into my tale. Homeschooling would have never been quite as rich an experience if we had not had a large homeschool and church community to share the journey with."
The Ultimate Guide to Homeschooling retails at www.apologia.com for $20.00. It is part of their Apologia Press resources for parents. A 509 page paperback resource, The Ultimate Guide to Homeschooling offers detailed helpful advice for seasoned veterans or families new to home education. Topics covered in the text include:
- Homeschooling: Is it for you?
- Choosing a Curriculum
- Organization and Planning
- Preventing Burnout
- What to Teach--When and How
- Homeschooling Teens
- Computers in the Homeschool
- Creative Solutions
- Measuring Your Success
- Resource Guide
Although I have homeschooled for 14 years, I never tire of support group meetings and gatherings with other homeschool families. The Ultimate Guide to Homeschooling reads like a support group meeting filled with ideas, honest confessions, encouragement and great teacher education. Homeschool families will want to keep this broad resource on their bookshelves and re-visit it often. And just in case you were wondering....Annette was right. I am very "Debra Bell".
Saturday, February 13, 2010
Everything old is new again with Dollar Homeschool's Eclectic Education Series or EES. EES is a collection of textbooks used in the American public schools between the years of 1865-1915. Due to limits of copyright, all of these texts are available for distribution free of charge in various locations. Dollar Homeschool has located and organized them by subject, scanned them and placed the texts on CD.
Wednesday, February 10, 2010
Math Tutor DVD, a unique math curriculum company developed by Jason Gibson who says he "gets a thrill out of making seemingly complex topics suddenly easy to students" has a new product for the youngest of students. I received the Numbers and Counting DVD, the first installment in the company's Young Minds DVD series free of charge in exchange for this review.
Monday, February 8, 2010
Sunday, February 7, 2010
In summary, according to the Kinderbach website, Kinderbach offers:
* Solid Curriculum
* Fun Characters
* Multi Learning Styles
*Hands on Pages
*Music Theory Games
*30 Day Money Back Guarantee
Since we last spent time with Kinderbach, a few extras have been added to the program. On-line lessons currently cost $19.99 a month or $95.88 a year. With the purchase of an on-line membership families receive unlimited access to Kinderbach curriculum divided into 6 different levels of instruction. In addition, Kinderbach now offers an optional Crafts and Games Level I, II and III for $9.95. The Crafts and Games subscription provides additional activities which match up with the lessons. Other downloadable PDF file extras like
a floor keyboard, music posters and flashcards are available with price points of Free- $2.95 each.
For families unsure about commiting to an on-line subscription, Kinderbach offers a FREE two week trial of their product. In addition, free song downloads are available at http://www.kinderbach.com/ and samples can be viewed on Youtube by searching under Dodies Story.
Monday, February 1, 2010
After logging into the site for the first time it guided me to register up to 4 students. Students are represented by a basic avatar, labeled with their name. Once logged into the site even a younger child can find his account by simply clicking on his name. Since I only had two students needing to develop fluency in basic math facts I quickly had everyone registered and we were ready to begin.
Non-readers easily continue without assistance as all directions to create a personalized avatar character for the lessons are spoken and written. After creating the avatar by choosing a body, clothes, etc. students are ready to attempt their first pre-test to check their fluency level.
Facts First is fun oriented for the kids and practical for the homeschool parent wanting to monitor time spent "playing" on the computer. When logged into an individual student account parents can view a detailed report for each time test. Clicking on the title of a time test shows dates of the attempts, whether the student completed the task or not and a final score or percentage calculated by measuring their mastery speed level. The report also details how much time is spent on with each time test.
Facts First is comprehensive in its scope of basic math skills. Within the topic of addition there are 40 different time tests to master, not including pre-tests and final or post tests. Addition topics include:
- Adding 0
- Adding 1 and 2
- Adding 5
- Doubles (ie. 2+2 and 4+4)
- Doubles plus one (ie. 1+2 and 2+3)
- Sums 9 to 11
- Sums 12 and 13
- Sums 14 to 17
- Eliminates the need for timed math tests
- Is paperless
- Promotes mastery learning
- Is Proven to raise test scores
MathScore rewards speed and therefore to enable maximum success students need to have basic computer keyboarding skills. To assist with this issue, the first topic or lesson to complete is the Copy Cat Topic which teaches using the number key pad. This aspect was especially important for my 2nd grader who did not have much experience with keyboarding skills. Once Sierra successfully completed the Copy Cat Topic a screen appeared which said, "Congratulations" and small fireworks exploded. She was also promoted to the next level of expertise, that of Trainee and was so impressed by this that she ran to me shouting, "Mommy! I completed the level! I've been PROMOTED!" Wow! Excitement over math practice equals a very good thing.
I was pleased my 2nd grader was motivated, but in my opinion the true test of this product was to appeal to my somewhat skeptical 7th grader. I sat down with Micah after she had been using MathScore for three weeks to have her show me around the website and share her honest opinions.
After Micah logged in with her student user name and password she chose "Topics" to begin. A list of 92 different topics are available to choose from for the 7th grade level. Users can choose to review the list alphabetically, show only the critical thinking topics or simply leave them as presented. Once a topic is chosen, users may elect to view a mini-lesson, practice a worksheet of problems relating to the topic or simply do a worksheet. Timed worksheets vary in difficulty and length; the more difficult the concept the fewer the problems and more time awarded to complete. Students work against a designated time to solve problems and once successful in completing the worksheet are awarded points and promoted to the next level or higher. For example, while working on the "Fraction Division" topic, Micah completed level 4 worksheet in record time, was awarded 75 points and promoted to level 7. MathScore read her speed in level 4 as proficiency and rewarded her accordingly. This aspect of the program ensured Micah didn't waste time reviewing mastered concepts.
"They usually make you jump up a level if you have more time left than the time you've spent", explained Micah.
There are many aspects of MathScore which encourage students to pursue more math study. A "High Scores" section lists students using MathScore who have achieved the most points while using the program. Students are simply identified by initials, rank and score. An "Awards" section records the various levels of accomplishment the student has met throughout the entire subscription time with MathScore. All students begin as Trainees and unlock various rankings as points are scored. For example, at 27, 904 points Micah was ranked as a Lieutenant and would move to the next ranking at 30,000 points. The ability to print her list of accomplishment was a nice feature if I desired to have a written record of time well spent. Finally, in addition to points and rankings students can be awarded virtual "trophies" as certain topics are mastered.
"I think it makes it more fun to earn points and move up in ranking,"commented Micah. "It's kind of addicting, actually", she added.
A "Statistics" section of the website detailed a summary of Micah's activity on MathScore. By choosing to click on this button I quickly learned that she had spent a total of 23 hours and 59 mins. in math practice over a three week period. As her parent I also received daily report summaries through email each and every day she spent time on the site noting the updates to her status.
Although, we did not take advantage of the math assessment feature of MathScore, students in grade 4 and older may take an assessment test on the site which identifys student strengths and weaknesses. At the conclusion of the assessment, MathScore recommends topics to be studied based on test results. Assessments are an optional part of the MathScore program and recommended to be taken only a few times a year. Concentrating on working through the math topics is the intended focus of MathScore.
I have reviewed quite a few math related websites over the past two years. I really like the simplicity of MathScore; the competitive nature which taps kids' natural motivation and the accountability aspect of reporting activity to me on a daily basis. Micah was able to use this product without any assistance from me, but I was able to keep tabs on her progress through the email updates and quick checks of her summary. The fact that she completed her traditional math lesson quickly so she could spend more time with MathScore is in my opinion high praise for an educational product geared to mastery not entertainment.
MathScore has a rather complex pricing system in an attempt to meet the unique needs of homeschoolers.
- Free half month trials are available to those wishing a test run before purchasing a subscription. After the trial period a subscription purchased month to month costs:
- First child: $14.95/month
Second child: $5/month
Each additional child: $3.95/month
- When logged in to your MathScore account, users can choose to purchase a 9-month subscription that reduces the price for the first child to $9.95/month. Once the purchase is made, the new pricing is locked in permanently, so after the 9 months, you can still pay the new rate on a monthly basis without prepaying for 9 more months.
Another price option is a lump sum payment. If you prepay $50, you can get $60 account credit (20% bonus credit). If you prepay $100, you get $140 account credit (40% bonus credit). The lump sum payment option is the most favorable for parents who have already locked in the lowest rate.
MathScore also allows subscibers to freeze their account for vacation times, then reactivate once home without any penalty. When an account is frozen account credit is awarded on a prorated basis so when the account reactivates no credit has been wasted.