Monthly Archives: December 2009

TOS Crew: Educaching

I remember, when I was a kid, we’d make up treasure hunts. We’d put some sort of treasure in a jar and bury it in the backyard, or hide it somewhere in the house, make up clues leading to the treasure, and then hide all the clues except for the starter.

Geocaching is sort of like those treasure hunts of my childhood, only better, involving use of a GPS device — what could be better than pushing buttons? With nearly a million geocache locations around the world, there’s a lot of treasure out there to find! (Use an internet search engine to find out more about geocaching, and locations in your area, if this is the first you’ve heard of it and you want to know more.)

Educaching takes the concept a step further. Jason Hubbard and the staff at SDG Creations, Ltd., have worked out a GPS based curriculum for teachers, aimed at grades 4-8, but suitable for multi-level learning and whole families working together. You need to have a GPS device that meets certain minimum requirements (a rocker keypad or joystick, waypoint averaging, decent battery life, and durable waterproof), bought separately.

We learned to use a GPS device when our homeschool science class studied wilderness survival. We used the gadget for the class exercises, and for the three-day camp that followed the course, where we put our new-learned skills to use, collecting water, building a fire with one match, making debris hut shelters, and more.

We used the GPS for some months longer, tracking our progress on Volkswalks (see for more information on their organized walking events) but eventually the GPS took up residence in our “techno” drawer and was sort of forgotten. (I mean, we knew it was there, felt a little guilty at having spent so much money–even though it was a class expense, and we certainly used it during the class and exercises–but really not finding a reason to take it out of the drawer and use it.)

The arrival of the Educaching e-book for review by the TOS Crew changed things. All of a sudden the GPS device was needed! Liberated from its cubbyhole, its face shone with promise and adventure… only the batteries were dead from long inactivity.

One new set of batteries later, the adventure began.

Well, not quite.

I held my breath after reading the introductory section of the e-book, detailing the required GPS features–our device was several years old. Would it measure up?

(Side note: I doubly bless our science teacher. She made a group purchase, for the class, after doing a lot of research on GPS units. She got a good price–though it seemed spendy to us at the time–and as a result even our older model had the features we needed for educaching.)

To summarize the experience, educaching is sort of like any of the science experiments you might find in a textbook. Sometimes it works better than at other times. It’s a good idea to really know how to work with your GPS device before you try to do a lesson. I strongly urge you (unless you’re already very familiar with the workings of your GPS) to go through the preliminary exercises in the teacher training, and make up additional exercises if you have to, before actually hiding boxes and hoping your students can find them (for one example).

The Educaching manual is well organized and easy to use. It begins by defining terms and explaining GPS features, as well as laying the foundation for using educaching with students. (Homeschoolers don’t necessarily need to get a principal’s permission to hide “treasures” on a school campus, but if you’re working outside your own yard you’ll need to get permission from anyone who owns the land where you’re hiding your caches.)

In the teacher training section, you’ll find information on promoting teamwork, as well as a step-by-step plan for introducing GPS use to your students.

A series of 20 lesson plans follows, divided by ability (beginner, intermediate, advanced, depending on your familiarity with using a GPS device as well as the time required, start to finish, to complete the lesson). Learning to use a GPS is a sort of by-product of these lessons. I mean, you use the GPS device to set up (if you’re the teacher) and find (if you’re the student) stations where the students do educational activities: observe, measure, calculate, record, etc. The lessons are math- and science-based, and align with national standards. The GPS is not the focus of the lesson, it’s merely a tool that adds interest and excitement.

For example, learning about the different sorts of triangles can be sort of ho-hum. You (if you’re the student) draw them on the board. You click on them in a computer program. You color them on a worksheet. (Are we done yet?)

Or… you lay out a giant triangle (right, equilateral, isoceles, or scalene) in a field. You have to figure out how to achieve the prescribed angles, how to make sure the sides are the right lengths. When your triangle is perfect, you use your GPS to record the waypoints where the vertices lie. Then go inside and accurately record the location of your triangle on a map! It’s a little more time consuming, perhaps, but it is definitely hands-on learning.

Reproducible field sheets are provided for each lesson plan, for your students to record their findings and calculations.

Most of the lessons require a fair amount of teacher prep time, for you’re laying out a course, after all, filling containers with materials or clues or problems to solve and recording coordinates for your students to follow.

The book concludes by addressing practical questions, such as how many GPS devices might be needed for a class (for our family, that means one, shared by everyone, in part because that’s what we have), and how to write a grant request to purchase GPS devices for a school. (Hmm, I wonder if our homeschool co-op might want to look into that idea?) “Beyond the Basics” is the final section, going beyond the lessons with ideas for expanding an educaching program, including forming a club. The authors say from the start that the Educaching book is intended as a jumping-off place; the included lessons are just the beginning of the adventure.

For example, we’re starting to plan summer activities. On a group campout, how about a treasure hunt leading up to a meal? Hide various canned goods and have students add each can to the pot as it’s found, a sort of variation on Stone Soup? The girls think it’s got possibilities…

Go to the Educaching website for more information. Here you’ll find an informational video, answers to frequently asked questions, and ordering information.

The 116-page Educaching Teacher Manual is available at the website for $32 plus shipping and handling. It includes a CD of reproducible student forms. You can also download samples at the website to get an idea of a lesson.

To see more TOS Homeschool Crew reviews of Educaching, click here.

Disclaimer: The publisher provided a free PDF download copy of Educaching to TOS Crew reviewers who already owned or were willing to purchase a GPS device to use with the book. TOS Crew reviewers receive no monetary compensation for using products and writing their impressions.

TOS Crew: Guardian Angel Publishing

Members of the TOS Homeschool Crew received several e-books from Guardian Angel Publishing, a publisher of e-books, e-books on CD, full-color picture books, and book-video DVDs.

The publisher’s stated mission is inspiring. Ffrom their website:

[O]ur publishing goals are to lovingly create fun, affordable and educational print books and ebook computer experiences for your preschoolers and primary age children.

Guardian Angel Publishing believes we can change the world by investing in children one child at a time. The seeds of the influence from our books will live longer than we do. A harvest of knowledge and vibrant faith will help transform a time we may never see.

The books our family received certainly fit. Here’s a brief description of each, followed by our general impressions.

Andy and Spirit Go to the Fair, by Mary Jane Kelso, illustrated by K.C. Snider, is a middle book in a series about Andy, a boy who has a special friendship with a horse. Both Andy and his friend Spirit have differences that set them apart from others. Andy’s in a wheelchair; Spirit is an albino horse. Together, however, they make a winning team. This heartwarming tale shows how you can rise from adversity, even in the face of opposition from a bully.

Even though this is not the first book in the series, it stands alone well. That said, we wanted to read more about Andy and Spirit when we were done.

No Bones About It, by Bill Kirk, illustrated by Eugene E. Ruble, is a rhyming tour of the skeletal system, from bottom to top. The couplets on each page address the names of the various bones, while “Factoid” boxes supply facts (often unrelated to what else is going on in the story) about the skeletal system. In addition, there’s a built-in hide and seek (see tiny boxes on the two-page spread above, each with a picture of a bone) for readers to identify various bones after going through the book. The book concludes with a blank chart for you to quiz yourself on the names of the bones, as well as a list of references, including websites you can click on from within the PDF document.

Stubby’s Destiny is a gentle story of friendship, with the motto “Aim high and always do your best.” Stubby is a little pony, friends with a high-stepping stallion. Both have the ambition of carrying a king some day. Stubby, however, can’t do things with the same style as his big, strong, handsome friend. Perhaps he doesn’t have a special purpose after all? In the end, however, he ends up serving the King of Kings on a very important day. If you’re familiar with Bible stories, you’ll know what’s going to happen. However, even knowing the end of the story, it’s enjoyable to read.

Maybe We Are Flamingos is a silly take on the old Ugly Duckling story. Two young flamingos don’t look at all like the flock. Maybe they aren’t flamigos? The anxiety only lasts a few moments, however, and when their mother reassures them that they really are flamingoes, and their pink color will come eventually, they relax and begin to imagine all sorts of other colors that might (or might not) be possible…

Hamster Holidays is one of a number of academic stories, where children are practicing a skill (such as grammar). This is a story that helps young readers practice identifying nouns and adjectives while reading a silly story. Hamsters observe different holidays than we do, and the hamsters in this book all celebrate a little differently from each other, giving lots of scope for different adjectives to pop up. Activity pages wrap up the book. Even though this book is for a younger age group than our girls, one of them read it through with me and benefited from the grammar reminder.

The final book  we looked at  is a picture book where the pictures have texture and look three dimensional. Rainbow Sheep is the story of a cheerful shepherd who encounters a sad rainbow. How the shepherd cheers the rainbow makes for a very colorful story. The pictures are made by a craft technique I’ve been hearing more and more about lately: needle felting. At the end of the story are directions on how to get started doing your own needle felting.

General Impressions

We found Guardian Angel Publishing to live up to their promise: They deliver colorful stories in a number of different categories, both fiction and nonfiction. The stories promote positive attitudes while entertaining or teaching concepts.

PDF download e-books like the ones the Crew received are $5. Books are also available in other formats, such as printed or an e-book on CD. Some are even available as DVD videos. Go to the Guardian Angel website to see the wide variety of products, download free e-books and coloring pages, order products, and more.

To see more TOS Homeschool Reviews (including reviews for other titles from this publisher), please click here.

TOS Crew: Professor in a Box

To be honest, I’m still getting a grip on high school. Eldest hasn’t quite reached high school level in her endeavors, though she works very hard at learning. We just keep plugging along…

But Middlest is, according to the State, in 8th grade this year. (We just go along with the State grade levels for the younger two, when it comes to mandatory state testing. Makes things easier. It was not easier when Eldest was taking tests. But that’s a story for another day.) That means that high school is here, breathing down our necks, if not already. I mean, I could count this year as high school, at least so far as history and literature go, because of the co-op we’re in. Rigorous stuff. But math…

Middlest does not care for math. It’s been a problem. I had her working through an online math program, pretty steadily, with the promise that once she got through the high school subjects she could quit doing math, even if she was only 13. Well, something spooked her and she backed off her efforts. Math is a struggle again.

A lot of that has to do with the abstractness of math problems. Middlest is one of those people who wants to know why this stuff is relevant, especially why it’s relevant to her. If it’s not, then she’s not motivated.

That’s where Professor in a Box comes in.

Here is a high school math curriculum that is intensely practical and applicable, especially if Middlest wishes to start her own business.

Professor in a Box is a course in financial accounting. You take the course using your computer.

The teacher is a homeschool dad and college professor teaching–what else?–courses in the Department of Accountancy at Villanova University. To see more about him and hear him introduce himself and Professor in a Box, click here.

For a PDF listing of the 12 chapters (divided into 28 lessons), click here (Lesson Plan). If you look at the lesson plan, you’ll see that a lesson takes roughly three hours, more or less (some more, some less), and that you wouldn’t necessarily want to do an entire lesson in one sitting, but rather break it out over the course of several days. There’s also a “lite” version of the course included in the teacher’s materials, which omits some material but seems to take about the same amount of time, from what I could tell just looking at the two lesson plan PDFs.

A course syllabus and grading information is available here. There is also a sample chapter available online, but we couldn’t get it to work on our computer. (The DVDs worked just fine, however.)

There are four simple steps to taking the course:

1. Watch the lecture.

2. Do the homework.

3. Check solutions.

4. Take exams.

Let’s look at each of these, briefly.

Watch the lecture

The course comes on a set of DVDs. The lectures are basically slide shows–you look at slides while the instructor explains the material. He tries to make the material interesting for young adults. For example, in the first lesson, you examine the income and outgo for a record company. Slowly, step-by-step, you build an understanding of how the business works, financially.

I’ve heard it mentioned that the instructor has a strong New Jersey accent. *Mental shrug* Could be. Doesn’t bother me, even though we’re on the other coast. It doesn’t sound all that strong to me, but then, maybe if I lived in another part of the country with its own strong accent, it would. You can hear samples at the publisher’s website if you think it might be a concern.

This is no creampuff of a course. I worked through the first lesson with Eldest looking on, and the material started out simply but quickly built, layer on layer. You can do the course in a year for a full high school credit in math. (You could also do the course as a one-semester college course, but I think Middlest would expire from an overdose of math if we tried to do that.)

Do the homework

The homework has you solving problems similar to those presented in the lessons. For your convenience, worksheets are provided in spreadsheet form. You can use MS Excel, or download the OpenOffice equivalent from a link conveniently provided on the Professor in a Box website, to use the worksheets.


Reviewing the solutions actually happens at the start of each lesson. In this way, you’re reviewing the previous material before jumping into something new.


Each exam covers four chapters of material. Exams are comprehensive and cumulative. Be ready to allow two hours for the first two exams, more for the third.


Professor in a Box is available for $149.99 (regular price, but right now there’s a special price of $139.99 and free shipping) from the publisher’s website. There’s a money-back guarantee. If you complete the first three chapters (that’s 1/4 of the course) and the course is not a good fit, you can get a full refund.

There is no textbook. Lessons are presented in lecture form, with slides, to introduce the material, and practical exercises to apply learning. (I haven’t taken financial accounting myself, but apparently it is common to have to read 40-page lessons if you take high school or college accounting courses, or so I gather from the author’s advertising.)

Content covers material found in the CLEP exam for Financial Accounting. (I’m all for testing out of college courses! Did it myself, once upon a time, and thus was able to take more courses that I wanted to take, rather than had to take.) You can earn 3 college credits by passing the CLEP test.

Prerequisites include a basic understanding of math at a high school level. You’ll need a computer with a DVD-Rom drive and the ability to play Flash lectures.

Our take on Professor in a Box

The TOS Crew is supposed to use the review materials we’re sent, and I have to admit we haven’t used this one. Yet. I’ve got it penciled in as Middlest’s math course for next year. I think it’ll be a good fit, especially considering how intensely practical it is.

Disclaimer: TOS Crew members were provided a free copy of Professor in a Box for our family’s personal use and review purposes. We receive no monetary compensation for offering our opinion. Opinions offered here are our own.

For more TOS Crew opinions of Professor in a Box, please click here.

TOS Crew: ABC Teach

I already had membership to a couple of subscription-type teachers’ sites when the word came that the TOS Crew would be reviewing abcteach. With all the free resources, plus my subscriptions, I was pretty content, but happy to make the acquaintance of the new (new to me, anyhow) site, just to see what abcteach had to offer.

I explored the site, finding lesson plans and worksheets, but it was when I started playing around with their handwriting worksheet generator that I really got excited. You see, I’ve been looking for a “pretty” italic handwriting font for months now, and hadn’t found much, until I found one of the fonts at abcteach that approximates pretty well how I write, and how I’d like our girls’ writing to look, at least while they’re developing a style of their own.

I have a program that I can use to generate handwriting sheets, but it’s old and cumbersome and not very easy to use. By contrast, the feature at abcteach is intuitive enough that I was able to use it without having to go through the tutorial first. However, there is a tutorial, just in case you need one.

But there’s so much more than just handwriting sheets.

Not just primary materials

My first impression of the site was that most of the materials were for elementary students, but that was just a first impression, from glancing over the home page. When I began to explore, I found middle-school material (some things I was able to adapt for high school), things I was able to use right away, from book report forms to writing rubrics, graph paper and math worksheets, graphic organizers, exercises, posters/bookmarks/fact sheets suitable for mini-offices, and more.

The site offers over 35,000 worksheets suited to use with grades Pre-K through 8, with more being added weekly. There are also tools for creating your own learning materials.

But can’t I find this sort of stuff on the web for free?

Yes, I have found things like graphic organizers and book report forms free online, but I’ve had to do a fair amount of hunting and gathering and bookmarking. The most frustrating thing is when I can’t remember where I found something and an internet search doesn’t take me back to where I thought it was… At abcteach all these learning materials are in one place, organized in a way that makes it easy to find what you’re looking for. As a plus, as I mentioned earlier, you can create your own materials using the site’s tools.


abcteach is a subscription site. Subscriptions cost $40 a year or $70 for two years. (That makes a two-year subscription less than $3 a month.) Group memberships are also available. If you get a group of thirty or more people together, you can each join for $25 a year.

Sign up at the abcteach website. Check it out! There’s a 10-day money-back guarantee, which means you can cancel within ten days of joining and request a refund if you find the site doesn’t fit.

There’s also a free newsletter that you can sign up for.

To see more TOS Crew reviews of abcteach, please click here.

Disclaimer: Members of the TOS Homeschool Crew were given a one-month membership access to the abceach site for personal and homeschool use. Crew members receive no monetary compensation for reviews. Opinions offered here are our family’s.

TOS Crew: Friendly Chemistry announcement

Just to let you know, if you’re interested in Friendly Chemistry (link leads to my review from last year, where you can also find a link to other TOS Crew reviews)…

Just got word from the folks at Friendly Chemistry that they’ve extended their fall sale on all their Friendly Chemistry curriculum until January 31st, 2010:  33% off regular price for both the student and teacher’s editions.

TOS Crew: Sue Patrick Workboxes

This has been one of those challenging reviews, and I’m afraid I’ve procrastinated badly on putting it up. It’s been sitting on my desk on paper for a long time now, waiting to be typed in and uploaded.

Sue Patrick’s idea for setting up workboxes, as detailed in her Workbox System, has its good points. It is true, as she claims, that people who set up an organized homeschool plan will accomplish much more in a day than if they didn’t. I’ve seen that in my own life, when I set up a schedule following the advice found in Managers of their Homes. I have a lot of trouble sticking with a rigid schedule, but with a schedule I accomplish a lot more in just the first two hours than I would accomplish all day without a schedule.

If you do an Internet search on “homeschool workbox” you’ll find oodles of people blogging about how they’ve made the system work for their families. There’s a lot of good here!

I understand that the Workbox System is especially valuable to families with autistic and other special needs children, for whom structure and predictability are essential. The System promotes individual, independent learning while accommodating group learning. The author developed her System by pulling together the things that worked for her son, and found it worked so well that she wrote a book and teaches workshops on implementing the system the way she uses it.

That, by the way, is the problem I have with the Workbox System. I have trouble sticking to anything that is rigid and does not allow for tweaking. The author insists that you use the system as written, and that it will work for any homeschool family.

It will work very well, provided…

– You have enough self-discipline to set up the program and to put in the daily organizational effort necessary to keep it going

– You’re willing to make the initial investment of money and space (about a dozen plastic shoeboxes and a rack to hold them, for each child using the system)

– You are contented with a homeschooling approach that resembles school-at-home

That said, I think there’s good to be gleaned from the system as presented by the author. Though I’m not sure she’d be pleased to hear me say this, I’d like to encourage you, if you’re struggling with homeschool organization, or if your children need structure that you’re at a loss to provide, to check out the Workbox System, try it as written and then tweak it to fit your family’s needs.

You can get Sue Patrick’s Workbox System e-book for $19 at her website, or the printed book for $19.95. Various starter kits are also available for purchase. On the website you’ll find a number of links, including an informative video introducing the system, with photos that will give you an idea of how it works. There are also downloads free with book registration, and consulting is available if you need extra help implementing the system.

To see more TOS Crew reviews, please click here.

An informative discussion of workboxes sponsored by The Old Schoolhouse’s Homeschooling with Heart is available here.

Disclaimer: Members of the TOS Homeschool Crew were provided a free copy of Sue Patrick’s Workbox System User’s Guide Ebook for review purposes, along with several weeks’ access to the free downloads available with book registration. Opinions expressed here are those of this reviewer. Your results may vary.

TOS Crew: Kinderbach (revisited)

We reviewed Kinderbach with last year’s TOS Homeschool Crew (click here to see that review). Kinderbach is an online (or DVD based) keyboard-teaching program for young children aged 3-7, using cute little cartoony characters to help children learn the different keys (for example, Dodie the donkey lives in his little house on the “D” key, and once you see that, you can find all the Ds on the keyboard), coloring sheets, clapping and listening games, jingles, and more.

Our youngest is well past the age of seven, but pronounced the lessons “cute.” The pacing is fairly slow and always upbeat, well-suited to preschoolers and children of early elementary age.

You can purchase a subscription for online lessons, or buy the course on a DVD. Online lessons start as low as $7.99 per month for a year’s subscription, or $19.99 on a month-by-month basis. The online subscription gives you access to all six levels. The six levels are also available on DVD, at a cost of $40.45 per level. You can also buy songbooks and audio CDs with simple songs that enable children to be playing music fairly quickly.

To get an idea before you buy, you can see an introductory video, download free songs, and get two free weeks of Kinderbach lessons at the website. Click here to learn more!

More TOS Homeschool Crew reviews of Kinderbach are available here.

Disclaimer: TOS Crew reviewers received a little over two months’ free access to the Kinderbach website. TOS Crew reviewers receive no monetary compensation for writing reviews.

Whew! (proud mama post)

It has been busy around here!

We spent the entire month of October sick (some sort of virus that lasted 2-3 weeks, multiplied by five people and spread over the course of the month). It might have been flu. It might have been *that* flu. It might not.

November was catch-up month. We got behind in a lot of areas! As a result, we didn’t get quite as much done in the areas of science, history, and especially literature, as we’d planned last August.

But Lego League–there’s another story.

This year's board

You see, this year was our team’s first year in the FLL First Lego League. On Saturday, the team (made up of homeschoolers in upper elementary-middle school age, who chose the name “Zip” for their team, perhaps to illustrate their robot zipping merrily along on its missions) competed at the regional level.

(Photo from the FLL website of a typical competition)

They’d been told not to expect much. They’d been told to go to the competition with an attitude to make it fun, rather than looking to win some kind of award. In addition, they were supposed to get ideas for next year by watching the more experienced teams who were competing.

Here comes the unbelievable part.

Team Zip took the championship in the regional competition against 17 other teams. They’re going on to the state competition next month.


Congratulations, Team Zip!