Monthly Archives: March 2010

TOS Crew: Family Mint

Confession time here. This TOS Crew review is due to publish today, and I don’t have a lot of experience to share with you about Family Mint, the free website that helps you to teach your children about money management. However, I can tell you that this website looks like an excellent tool for “helping kids appreciate money.”
With Family Mint, parents act as bankers as well as teachers. With this program, not only can you help your children set goals and keep track of progress, but you can motivate them to save and spend wisely. There’s a lot of educational material on the website, in the form of blog articles and newsletters. The website itself offers powerful tools that allow you to set up accounts for each of your children and help them get started managing their money in a responsible, productive way.
I set up accounts and began to explore the website, and then got swamped with real life. However, when I think about it, learning to manage your money is a big part of real life! Our children have been watching us work on our own money management, with help from Dave Ramsey, so they’re aware of how important this issue is to us. I can clearly see how using Family Mint can help them with their own learning, so I intend to reorganize my priorities a bit, to sit down with the girls and actually start using this valuable tool.
Check out the Family Mint website, read the articles, look around; and while you’re there, set up an account for your family. Don’t put it off like we did! (red face)
Read more TOS Crew reviews here.
Disclaimer: The TOS Crew was given free access to the Family Mint website. However, the website is free anyhow. No monetary compensation was involved for the writing of this review.

TOS Crew: Galaxy of Education

The good folks at Galaxy Education generously gave the TOS Crew access to any of their products that we wanted to try. These are math tutorial and/or drill programs, as well as e-books.

The first thing we explored was their Fractions Fun. As you can see in the graphic above, a lot of material is covered. The red buttons lead you to submenus. Many of these contain explanations or review of concepts, as well as problems. You can set the program to go through problems step-by-step, where the student types in numbers for each intermediate step in solving the problem, or require the student simply to do the work mentally on on paper and submit the final answer to the problem.

Each right answer gives you a robot point. These points work out to be “lives” in the Labyrinth game, where you direct your robot through mazes and logic puzzles, avoiding menaces, to collect treasure. “Labyrinth” and the other blue buttons lead to games. In “Riddles” and “Word Jumble” you match fractions to alphabet letters, slowly uncovering a word puzzle (sort of like Wheel of Fortune[TM]) until you’re able to solve it. “Bridge the Swamp” is a logic game where you try to cross from one side of the gameboard to the other, all the while blocking your opponent, by solving fraction problems. The games are set up to be one-player (against the computer), two-player, and three-player games. See the lower right two screenshots, below, for an idea of “Bridge the Swamp” and “Word Jumble.” The other screenshots are from the practice portions of the program.

The graphics are primitive by today’s standards, but workable. Our girls really enjoyed challenging each other, and didn’t seem to notice that they were practicing fractions as they racked up robot points or strove to beat each other in the games.

The Math Riddler series contains worksheet generating programs. As you can see from the menu below, quite a few topics are covered, and within some of the topics are subtopics.

You can choose from worksheets containing riddling puzzles, where you solve the riddle by solving math problems; or worksheets with straight math problems. Worksheets display on the screen, whereupon you have the choice of printing the worksheet, or displaying (and printing, if you wish) the answer key, or generating another worksheet. Here are some screenshots:

The programs have no sound, which I find a wonderful change from so many of the educational games and drills we’ve used. Middlest has a little problem with the abstract display that appears as a section of the program is loading. She has to close her eyes or look away from the screen, as the whirling shapes are a migraine trigger for her (and for me).

We also downloaded Pre-Algebra Fun and Algebra Fun, which work much the same way as Fractions Fun. (See screenshots of the menus, below.)

Now that I’ve seen and used these programs, I wish I’d downloaded more of them! I can see that these will make for hours of drill and review, and a nice change from textbook work.

Math Galaxy Tutorials are available for many levels of math learning, from little ones just learning to manipulate numbers, through elementary concepts, middle school, even high school. I should think the Word Problem exercises would be especially valuable on all levels!

System requirements: Windows 98 or Mac OS X, and a printer for the worksheet programs and e-books.

Update: Pricing information has changed since this review was posted. You can now buy any of these programs for $19.95 (download) or $24.95 (CD with free shipping). Math riddle e-books are available for $9.95. You can see screen shots of these on the Math Galaxy Tutor website. I didn’t ask for any of the e-books as we’ve been having printer problems, plus I didn’t want to be too greedy.

To read more TOS Crew reviews of Math Galaxy products, click here.

Disclaimer: Members of the TOS Crew were given a wide choice of Math Galaxy Tutor products for download, for the purpose of review and personal homeschool use. No monetary compensation was involved.

Sun-drying!

Just hung out a load of laundry on the line. I hope to get two loads dried by the sun today.

I wonder how much electricity that will save? I know our electric bill goes down somewhat in the months when I can line-dry our clothes. And line-drying balances out the summer energy demand of air-conditioning for the attic bedrooms, too.

I’d bask in my glory but I have too much to do, plus an ominous “coming down with a bug” feeling. Aargh. I don’t have time to be under the weather.

But at least I got a walk this morning, plus the first load of laundry hung out. Now to help Middlest work on her research paper. Draft’s all done, but she still needs to polish the footnotes.

How’s your day going?

Schoolhouse Expo!

Schoolhouse Expo

Have you registered for the Schoolhouse Expo yet?

No?

Well, if you register before April 1, you’ll save $5 and receive a free e-book, Creative Nature Study. That means that the conference, all the speakers and workshops will cost you less than $20!

If you don’t have time to attend in “real time” you’ll be able to listen to conference sessions on MP3. How convenient is that? (Very! Don’t know about you, but May is what we term “crazy month” at our house.)

Add to that over $300 in free e-book downloads plus door prizes and…

We interrupt this post to say with regret that it’s time to take the cat to his vet appointment. Will quickly finish up and include a link (click HERE) so you can check it out for yourself.

A list of speakers (from my email this morning):

  • Susan Wise Bauer, co-author of The Well-Trained Mind
  • Amanda Bennett of Amanda Bennett Unit Studies
  • Todd Wilson of Familyman Ministries
  • Davis Carman,owner and president of Apologia Educational Ministries
  • Andrew Pudewa,director of the Institute for Excellence in Writing
  • Diana Waring of Diana Waring Presents
  • Deborah Wuehler, senior editor for TOS
  • Gary Bates, CEO of Creation Ministries International-U.S.
  • Lee Binz, The HomeScholar
  • Mark Hamby,founder and president of Lamplighter Ministries
  • Kim Kautzer,co-author of WriteShop
  • Sue Patrick,creator of Sue Patrick’s Workbox System
  • Jill Novak,founder of Remembrance Press and publisher of The Girlhood Home Companion magazine
  • Heather Laurie,homeschooling mother to four special needs children
  • And more!

Disclaimer: Members of the TOS Crew were given free admission to the Schoolhouse Expo in exchange for letting you know about this great opportunity. Opinions expressed belong to this reviewer (and I’m really excited about this one!).

What fun!

Walking a mile and a quarter every day with Eldest and a strangely reluctant dog… priceless! (She’d rather do the distance riding in the car.) Next week it will be a mile and a half. Will the dog survive?

So excited!

I’m not labeling this as an official “TOS Crew” post, though I probably ought to as I’m talking about a TOS Crew product. But Great Latin Adventure Level I arrived today, and after reading through the Q&A on their website and looking through the materials, I’m excited! Looks like it’s going to be a great program!

TOS Crew: Pandia Press

Pandia Press is another publisher that was new to me this year on the Crew. They publish history and science curricula. I had the opportunity to use one of their History Odyssey courses. History Odyssey is a literature-based history study with some geography and writing thrown in. The approach is based on the Classical method of homeschooling from a secular viewpoint.

We received Middle Ages, Level 2 in hardcopy format, and Early Modern, Level 2 as an e-book. The hardcopy format is 3-hole punched papers, with color-printed cardstock front and back covers.

The e-book comes in PDF format. The book is intended for use by one homeschool family, but licensing for groups and co-op classes is available.

I love the interactive features in the e-book. Click on any entry in the Table of Contents, and you’re taken to that page. Click on a book title in the bibliography and you go to the Amazon page. Click on a website listed in a lesson and you’re taken to that website. (Note from the publisher: Websites were current at the time of publication, but as you know websites come and go. Use proper parental discretion and oversight when your student is accessing the web.)

Another interactive “goodie”: checkboxes that you can actually check, and then print out the completed checklist for your records. But more about that later.

Early Modern, Level 2 has 89 lessons (compared to Middle Ages, Level 2, which has 113 lessons). Lessons include historical fiction (book and resource list available online) and selected primary sources, timeline and mapwork, student notebook, activities, research, and writing.

Checklist organization

This is more a guide than a textbook. Lessons are made up of checklists with brief descriptions of reading assignments and activities. The self-motivated student could simply follow the checklist for a full year’s history course; alternatively, the parent can use the checklists for lesson planning, adding assignments to a student’s daily assignment sheets, for example.

Prerequisites

It is assumed that the student knows how to create a three-level outline and write a summary, so be prepared to teach this material if you haven’t covered it already. Our 6th grader is just starting to do outlines and summaries, and so needs much more help in this area than our 8th grader. Thus, using this curriculum in our family (we had a month to actually use this resource before writing this), I’d be working closely with our youngest, letting the 8th grader do the activities independently (with oversight, to make sure they got done). The historical fiction reading selections are suited for reading aloud together, while others are meant to be read and summarized or outlined.

Appendices contain source documents used in the lessons, as well as blank maps and worksheets. There are also instructions for writing a biography and an essay,  and evaluating historical sources, plus a list of suggested additional resources.

Activities are heavily weighted towards reading and writing. Some speaking (“Give a presentation”) is also included. Our Middlest, a bibliophile from her earliest years, thrives on this approach, while Youngest, a busy sort of person who has difficulty sitting still, struggles. She loves readalouds, but reading nonfiction, such as source documents and academic works (like the Kingfisher History Encyclopedia, one of the spines for the course) is sheer torture for her.

Thus, while one of our girls would excel with this approach, if I were to continue with the History Odyssey guides, I’d probably keep on reading the historical fiction aloud together, but find a more activity based approach for Youngest’s studies (doing art, not just collecting pictures or reporting on them, crafts, cooking, music, etc.).

Pricing and Ordering

More information is available at the publisher’s website for the History Odyssey series, including Table of Contents, Lesson Sample, and Book and Supply List for each volume. As a wonderful service to customers, there’s also a “try before you buy” feature, where you can download the introductory material and first few lessons from any of their books, both science and history.

Pandia Press provides a list of sellers where you can order print copies of their books, or you can buy the books in e-book form here. Level 1 e-books range from $28.99 to $31.99, Level 2 and 3 e-books are $33.99. Print copies are somewhat more. (Early Modern Times and Middle Ages, both Level 2, were available for $42 from one of the publisher’s distributors.)

To read more TOS Crew reviews of science and history products from Pandia Press, click here.

TOS Crew: Homeschool in the Woods

I love Homeschool in the Woods. I’ve used their timeline figures for years, and have found their history units fun as well as educational.

This year’s TOS Crew received Olde World Style U.S. Maps and World Maps downloads for review. These wonderful and intricately drawn maps are available in PDF format as downloaded files, or on CD.

The maps are beautiful, high-quality renderings with an old-fashioned look. They’re versatile, too. For each of the 50 states in the U.S. Maps set, there’s a labeled map, an unlabeled map showing rivers and other features, and an outline map (ready for the student to draw in the features).

Bonus notebooking pages are included, with a form for each state, perfect for a state study (state bird, motto, flag, etc.). A teacher key is included for each with the answers, for your convenience. There are even full-color state flags to print out, either to cut out and paste on the state notebooking page, or for other uses. Oh, and don’t let me forget to mention the historical maps that are included, both labeled and unlabeled, and the physical and political maps.

The World Map set includes both Ancient and Modern map versions. Within each category are choices: labeled, blank, no titles, sometimes no borders. Among the historic maps are Chinese dynasties, Biblical maps (such as Old Testament Israel, Israel in Jesus’ time, and Paul’s journeys).

Bonus notebooking pages provide spice for documenting your geography studies, with an imaginative flair. Design your own postcards, write a report on a fancy background, record information about people and their cultures on a variety of forms.

Both map sets provide notebook covers and grouped PDF files, which allow you to print out all the maps at once, rather than one at a time. (On the other hand, it’s just as easy to pick out just one map from the menu.) Both versions are designed to run in a browser and are both Mac and PC compatible.

World Maps and U.S. Maps are available from Homeschool in the Woods for $18.95 each as a download file, or in a combo pack for $28.95. CDs are $19.95 each or $29.95 together.

This is definitely value for the money, and a product that you can use for years to come.

To read more TOS Crew reviews of these products, click here.

Disclaimer: TOS Crew members were given free download copies of Olde World U.S. Maps and World Maps for personal use and the review purposes. No monetary compensation was involved.

TOS Crew: Children’s Bible Hour Ministries

You may be familiar with the Children’s Bible Hour. I hadn’t heard of them until now, and after perusing the list of radio stations on their website, I know why! None of our local Christian radio stations carries their programs. However, I listened to a sample Bible Hour Storytime at the website and found it charming. If you find their broadcasts in your area, tune in!

Anyhow, members of the TOS Homeschool Crew received four books, each with an accompanying read-aloud CD, from the new Seasons of Faith series. Each story is based on a script from the radio show. The stories are designed to follow the seasons in the Christian life (descriptions from the TOS Crew blog):

  • Spring: This is the time when people experience new life in Christ. Faith develops and Christians begin to share the Salvation message with others. (Race with Midnight)
  • Summer: This is the time when faith grows under God’s love and care. Fruit is witnessed and triumphs are gained through applying His Word and striving to be the best we can be in Christ. [You Can’t Come In]
  • Autumn: This is the time of struggle, temptation, peer pressure, and mistakes. Even though it might seem like nothing good can come from this time, God has promised that He will be there. He will teach us how to forgive and then grown in grace. [Seventy Times Seven]
  • Winter: This is the time when life is most difficult. Deep struggles, mourning, trying to make it through difficult times, or the death of a loved one can pull us away from God. He teaches us to lean on Him for comfort and peace. [Braving the Storm]

The stories are read by Uncle Charlie VanderMeer, who does a fine job of catching and keeping the listeners’ attention. Subtle background music adds to the action. Eldest and I listened to the CDs on an hour-long car errand, while Eldest followed along in the books, turning the pages when prompted. (By the way, the page-turn prompt is a pleasant chiming sound, inviting without being distracting.) We were able to hear three of the stories in a little less than an hour.

Each of the stories is grounded in Scripture and biblical principles. Related Scriptures are incorporated into the story, or quoted as the story concludes. Each CD ends with an invitation to trust Jesus for salvation.  Specifically, Seventy Times Seven is a modern-day application of the parable of the unforgiving servant. Race with Midnight and You Can’t Come In model how a child (or an adult, even) might tell someone about the gospel, relating their current situation to Bible truth about salvation. Braving the Storm is a parable in itself, demonstrating how growing faith roots us safely in place, like a tree with deep roots that cannot be blown over by a storm. (I have a small bone to pick with the last story. In it, after an ice storm, Grandpa suggests driving into town for hot apple cider. Believe me, we’ve been through a number of ice storms. You don’t drive anywhere after one! Even walking outside can be dangerous to life and limb.)

Quibbles aside, we found the stories compelling and instructive. Even though we knew the principles that were being taught, they were presented in a refreshing way. The stories are just predictable enough to make them comfortable for a young child’s listening. The pictures in the books are colorful and evocative (and some of them are just plain fun, like the boy pelting downhill in a wagon!).

The Seasons of Faith 4-book (each book with its own CD) set is available at the Children’s Bible Hour Ministries website for $40, or you can buy each book (with its included CD) separately for $10.

Read more TOS Crew opinions of these books and CDs here.

Disclaimer: TOS Homeschool Crew reviewers receive materials without cost for review purposes, and receive no monetary compensation for their reviews. Opinions expressed here reflect our family’s impressions.

Aargh.

Edited to add:

Thank you, Tim of the TOS Homeschool Crew, for helping us fix this problem! (His suggestion: restart the computer, press F8 before Windows boots, and select “Last known good configuration”–it worked!)

Whew.

Turned on the computer this morning and my desktop is toast. My files are still there, somewhere, some layers down (at least they are for the moment), but programs are gone and I can’t access my files under “My Documents” — “My Documents” appears to be empty. Firefox appears to have forgotten all my bookmarks and passwords. Who knows what else is missing that was there yesterday?

My pictures and downloaded files are gone, or somewhere else, or the links to them have been moved, or something.

I hate playing “hide and seek” with my computer.

Want to read something scary? Do an Internet search on “Windows Automatic Update deleted all my files”. One guy, a lawyer, was able to access his files the same way I’m able to find mine at the moment, through a kind of “back door”, but after restarting his computer again, his files became completely inaccessible, or un-openable, something like that.

We just got Carbonite yesterday, but does it have the good files and links? Did it back up programs, too, or just data? Is my desktop there, somewhere, waiting to be restored? (Or not?) I’m too new to the program to know exactly what it does.

It appears this has been happening for some years, and that Microsoft is ignoring the problem… at least, I don’t see anything posted from Microsoft that addresses how to get my computer back. Lots of advice from other people, some of which sounds pretty… um, intimidating.

And if their automatic Windows updates have been screwing up people’s computers since at least 2008 (or so I’ve been reading, and perhaps they go back further even), THEN WHY DO THEY KEEP ON DOING THEM??????

Pardon me for yelling. I’m really frustrated right now.