Tuesday, February 23, 2010

BeeHive Reader

We have been using All About Spelling in our homeschool since I reviewed it last year for TOS Homeschool Review Crew. I have never been too excited about spelling as a subject and even abandoned it for years because I never found an effective program to use. All About Spelling, however, changed my opinion of the importance of a phonetic based spelling program. Published by Marie Rippel, literacy expert, All About Spelling is an enjoyable, multi-sensory program with step by step lesson plans and daily review.

The good news is that All About Spelling is now all about reading. The first reader for the soon to be released All About Reading program, The Beehive Reader 1 is designed to correlate with the word lists of Level 1 of All About Spelling. Our family received a copy of The Beehive Reader 1 for free in exchange for this review. My second grade daughter, Sierra was excited to receive the Beehive Reader 1 and assist me with the review.

The Beehive Reader is a hard back 5 1/2" x 8 1/2" book perfect for little hands. The illustrations are charming pencil line drawings with a soft tone. Making use of words taught and practiced in the All About Spelling program, the Beehive Reader offers instant success for beginning reading students. Unlike other beginning readers, the Beehive Reader 1 does not contain extra sight words which may or may not be familiar to the student.

"I know first hand the importance of having decodable books for young children who are just beginning to read and for older children who are struggling to read", said Rippel. "My son (now
17 years old) was diagnosed with dyslexia when he was younger. We were told that he would never be able to read fluently. The good news is that after teaching him--using the same method I lay out in the All About Spelling program-- he is now a very strong fluent reader, and he actually enjoys reading for pleasure" she continued.

Sierra truly enjoyed Beehive Reader 1 and eagerly shared her enthusiasm after reading the first chapter. "I really liked it! It was full of easy words. I like the pictures because they showed a lot of action. The kids are having fun in the pictures."

The Beehive Reader 1 is available at the All About Spelling website, www.all-about-spelling.com and retails for $19.99. The next reader in the series is scheduled to be released soon with a total of four readers available by the end of 2010. To view the table of contents, samples of the Beehive Reader 1 or read other customer reviews and testimonials visit http://www.all-about-spelling.com/beehive-reader-1.html#lookSee

Monday, February 22, 2010

Math Mammoth-Re-visited

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)
"I always designed the lessons in the books so that they would teach BOTH the parent and the child the processes and concepts of elementary math", states Miller in her User Guide for the curriculum. "Thus, the books contain very clear explanations, lots of visual exercises and pattern exercises that help children see the structure of mathematics and clearly understand the concepts of mathematics, instead of just memorizing rules", she said.

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

Zeezok Publishing

Zeezok Publishing, established in 2003 is a company focused on serving the homeschool curriculum marketplace by offering unique products designed to "assist you in developing your family's love for God and country". It's not surprising that a company with such a mission carries a handwriting curriculum titled, "Presidential Penmanship" Zeezok Publishing sent our family the Getty Dubay Italic Style version of Presidential Penmanship for free in exchange for this review.

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

The Ultimate Guide To Homeschooling by Debra Bell

A few years ago I met a new homeschool Mom named Annette. Filled with enthusiasm and energy she seemed to inspire everyone she talked to. I loved our conversations as Annette always seemed to be an endless fount of information and great ideas.

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
The Ultimate Guide to Homeschooling reads like a letter from a dear friend. Bell's style, candor and wit reach out to the reader from every page. I found myself staying up way too late many nights reading this handbook soaking up its enjoyable, inspirational and refreshing information.

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

Dollar Homeschool: Eclectic Education Series

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.

EES covers every major subject area including, science, math, grammar, history and reading. It includes well known titles like McGuffey's Readers, Ray's Arthimetic, Pinneo's Grammar, Thalheimer's History, and Norton's Science. The CD holds copies of each of the texts spanning basic educational needs for grades K-12. Customers can choose between buying the entire series on CD for $159.00 or individual subjects for $39.00 each. Dollar Homeschool offers FREE shipping on orders and a 30 day money back guarantee.

I received an email download of EES for free in exchange for this review. Since our family only had six weeks to spend with textbooks spanning an entire 12 years of curriculum we choose to focus our time with Harvey's Elementary Grammar and Long's Language Readers. Complete product descriptions, pricing and ordering information can be found at Dollar Homeschool's website, www.dollarhomeschool.com.

I was very resistant at first to make use of Harvey's Elementary Grammar. Not being a huge fan of the subject matter to begin with and being slightly turned off by the dull pages I glanced at with old-fashioned typeset, I had high doubts that information from the "good old days" truly was better than curriculum options of today. I was WRONG!

Charlotte Mason fans take note....Harvey's Grammar is a huge inexpensive resource which will fit idyllically with this educational philosophy. Broken into small simple lessons with intelligent vocabulary each lesson is designed for discussion and narration. For $39.00 customers can have an entire Grammar curriculum for 12 years of education. Wow!

My 2nd grade student, Sierra and I spent several weeks working through the beginning of Harvey's Elementary Grammar. She had never studied Grammar formally before and Harvey's was a perfect fit for her. Sierra has been a late bloomer in the area of language development and still struggles in her writing with letter reversals, fine motor control, verb tense, and spelling. Harvey's Grammar met Sierra's need to advance her conceptual understanding of language without having to constantly face these hurdles which slow her down. I could not have loved a curriculum more!

When asked for her opinion, Sierra enthusiastically replied, "I really liked it (Harvey's Grammar) because it tells you different things you probably don't know. I like some of the words that are in it because they are big words. It seemed easy because I just got to talk through it instead of like having to fill out the answers."

Eclectic Education Series is available only on CD format at this time. I am not a huge fan of e-books, but the value of this curriculum will certainly off set any printing costs incurred at home. The CD is bookmarked making it easy to locate desired texts, print and use in an alternative location from the computer.

Although we have spent six weeks with this massive curriculum I still believe we have much to discover. Dollar Homeschool has created a Yahoo group for discussion for Ray's Arithmetic. A link to the group can be found on their website. In addition, their blog, http://www.dollarhomeschool.com/blog/index.html offers customers articles of interest and helpful links to use while using their curriculum.

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Math Tutor DVD: Numbers and Counting

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.

I sat down with my five year old son, Aidan and eight year old daughter, Sierra to watch the DVD and noted from the packaging it is award winning. Numbers and Counting received the 2009 Dr. Toy Top Ten Audio Visual Product, 2009 Dr. Toy Top 100 educational products for the year, 2009 Top Choice award from Creative Child Magazine and was recipient of the National Parenting Center Seal of Approval. I had high expectations and after our viewing session Sierra, Aidan and I agreed Numbers and Counting is the "Best of the Best"!

Numbers and Counting helps young students learn to identify and practice counting numbers 1-9. Beautiful classical music accompanies gorgeous colorful nature photographs and other child-friendly images while a narration of simple facts are shared. For example, a detailed color photo of a sea turtle is accompanied with the narration, "One Sea Turtle. A sea turtle swims in the ocean". Occassionally, video is incorporated within the mix of images keeping visual interest high throughout the movie.

Even though the content of Numbers and Counting is definitely geared toward the pre-school set, Sierra enjoyed the music and images too. While "Jesu Joy of Man's Desiring" played in the background she exclaimed, "Mom! I know that song!" Watching this basic concept video is a pleasant, relaxing experience for all ages; another plus in our opinions.

Numbers and Counting is divided into 4 min. segments for each number. This division allows parents to use the video sparingly if desired to meet the attention spans of young ones. Although the video can run seamlessly, because it's a DVD, users may select various sections accessed through the menu option.

Bonus features included with the DVD include three game options, Puzzles, Connect the Dots and Guess the Animal. Numbered puzzle pieces float into place creating an image in the Puzzle game. The floating puzzles are accompanied by narration relating to the numbers and image. Connect the Dots displays a basic black and white line drawing needing finished by connecting numbers in order 1-10. Once complete the image is displayed in full color. Very fun! Guess the Animal, my favorite, consisted of close-up images with narrated clues followed by the image slowly pulling out to reveal the animal or insect in full.

Numbers and Counting has a full running time of approximately 45 minutes with an additional 15 minutes of bonus feature games. All narration in Numbers and Counting is done by a young child. The narration is clear and distinct and when combined with the classical music hints of Disney's Little Einstein videos. Aidan, a huge Einstein's fan noticed the resemblance too.

When asked for his honest opinion of Numbers and Counting to add to our review Aidan was enthusiastic and poetic.

"It was very cool! It was very special to me. It was fantastic. It was very cool, very romantic. I loved all the games!" he said.

Numbers and Counting retails at MathTutorDVD.com for $19.99. For more information regarding Math Tutor DVD's Young Minds series or any of their other products for older students visit their website at www.mathtutordvd.com.

Monday, February 8, 2010

Become a member of TOS Review Crew !

If you enjoy reading these reviews and have often thought, "I could do that", now is your chance. The Old Schoolhouse Magazine is currently accepting applications for the 2010-2011 Review Crew.

For specific information and details visit the official ad at: www.theoldschoolhousestore.com/homeschool/Homeschool-Crew-2010.htm

The deadline for applicants is March 12th so hurry! We've love to have you on board!

Sunday, February 7, 2010


Once again I received a three month subscription to Kinderbach, an online music education program, as a member of TOS Review Crew. The gift subscription was provided to me in exchange for this review.

According to creator, Kerri Gregor, "Kinderbach gives any young child the wonderful opportunity to learn music through playing the piano". I used Kinderbach in our home last year with my then 4 year old son, Aidan and 7 year old daughter, Sierra. Our comprehensive review can be read by clicking here.

In summary, according to the Kinderbach website, Kinderbach offers:

* Solid Curriculum
* Fun Characters
* Multi Learning Styles
*Engaging Video
*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

Facts First/ Saxon Harcourt

Facts First, an on-line program distributed by Saxon Homeschool and created by Skills Tutor, a sister company of Saxon, had my attention when it showed up on the review schedule for TOS Review Crew. My family has been a fan of Saxon Math since the beginning of our homeschool journey, or rather should I say, I have been a fan, my kids, well.....

Facts First is designed to develop "fluency with math facts". This skill mirrors a major portion of the Saxon Math curriculum, but math fluency complements any math program, not just Saxon. The on-line subscription based computer program drills kids in basic addition, subtraction, multiplication and division math facts through timed drills. Students as young as Kindergarten easily benefit from the program targeted to younger students. Students do not need to be able to read independently to be able to use the program independently.

Our family received a 90 subscription to Facts First in exchange for this review. My 2nd grade daughter, Sierra and Kindergarten son, Aidan couldn't have been happier.

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.

Although I selected addition to begin our trial, each time a student logs in they may choose to learn and practice addition, subtraction, multiplication or division. These are represented by large mathematical symbols for each, (+, -, X, etc.) on a button. Clicking on the math symbol takes users to the first "Welcome" lesson for the topic.

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.

Sierra began her first lesson by watching a teacher explain to her class the concept for adding zero to a number. Next she was asked to practice the concept a few times before taking a quiz to check fluency. Sound effects accompanied her rate of speed encouraging her inner competitive spirit.

Speed is very important with Facts First as students will not be awarded credit for completed work if it is done too slowly. A chart known as The Math Fact Matrix displays students progress when attempted. Facts marked in green note the rating of "excellent", yellow equals "good", red notes "needs work" and blue dashed lines mark the fact as "not sure yet".

Sierra received the award of "not sure yet" despite receiving all checks and check pluses when drilling her facts. She was a bit frustrated with this aspect which basically penalized her for slow typing skills. She had answered all of her facts correctly, but been told by the program her work was less than satisfactory. Unfortunately, receiving a 42% for answering all questions correctly left her discouraged instead of encouraged.

Parent control settings with Facts First allow adjusting the speed required for math facts. This can be individualized for each student in case someone is a slow typist, but excellent mathematician. As I prodded Sierra forward she took the her timed test two more times in an effort to compensate for the lack of typing experience. She began to warm up to Facts First as her scores continued to improve. By her third attemtpt her speed had improved enough to warrant an award of 84%.

Although Sierra struggled getting to know Facts First she said she enjoyed the program over all. "I liked Facts First, because it helped me learn math. I like when you begin the lesson how it puts your character in different places; sometimes it's the school and sometimes it's at the recycling center or at home," she said.

Aidan, a future computer geek, loved every moment of Facts First. He easily sailed through quite a few lessons and I believe learned new addition facts from his time spent with the program. Due to his age, I had not spent much if any time instructing him in addition math facts. Facts First lit a fire within him for reciting addition facts which he now readily shares with anyone close enough to listen.

After spending 20 minutes with a math lesson Facts First rewards students with "arcade" time. A visit to the arcade simply means more computer math games to play focused around a carnival theme. Arcade time is timed and even when in the middle of a really great game a message of "times up" appears and the user is re-directed back to the lessons. I thought this feature was good, allowing me the freedom to set my little computer nut loose with Facts First trusting his time would be well spent.

"I really loved it! I liked the person (avatar) on the screen because he is very cool with his video game shirt. I really liked the math games I got to play at the end", said Aidan.

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
A one year subscription to Facts First is $49.99 and good for up to four users in one home. A free demo of the program can be found on the company website at http://www.factsfirst.com/


If math education has lost its appeal in your homeschool a subscription to MathScore.com may be just what you need. Developed by MIT graduate Steven Yang, MathScore.com promises to make math practice fun and inviting to kids in grades 1-Algebra 1 level of study. Yang, who also co-founded Direct Hit Technologies, a winner of the MIT $50K Entrepreneurship competition in 1998, is hopeful that millions of children will be positively impacted by MathScore.com

" It is a challenge in educational software design to find a balance between genuine learning and motivational fun. One of the reasons why I designed MathScore was because I felt that too much educational software was fun, but very light on meaningful learning. I hope you agree that we've achieved a good balance", said Yang.

My test marketing team is pleased to give MathScore.com two thumbs up. As a member of TOS Review Crew I was given a 6 month trial to the MathScore website to use in our homeschool in exchange for this review. My daughters, Micah, grade 7 and Sierra, grade 2 took advantage of this opportunity. After watching a brief intro video on the company website, http://www.mathscore.com/ I understood the philosophy of MathScore lined up well with my approach to math education for my children. According to the website MathScore:

  • 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.
Help your kids fall in love once again with their math education. Take advantage of MathScore and watch it light a fire for math in your homeschool.