Monday, August 31, 2009

ALEKS - math program

ALEKS is a math program that can be used in multiple settings. It's like having a tutor in your own home. This program is great for an individual who is independent, takes instruction well and likes to work at their own pace.

I watched my kids work on this program for a few weeks now. Normally, they are quite independent although sometimes they need different types of instruction in order to fully understand something. All three kids complained that it was boring, but as I watched each child master a topic, I knew they were complaining about nothing. Yes, this program doesn't have videos, bells and whistles but it is comprehensive and challenging.

This program allows the parent to keep up with what's going on via e-mail progress reports and a master account that can control the student's progress. By sending weekly updates, the parent can see what topics have been learned, the hours spent on the progress and quizzes. The parent can print worksheets anytime for extra practice. The program generates these worksheets as a review and challenge of any topics covered. The parent can also schedule quizzes as needed.

Students also have the option of printing worksheets themselves and clicking "review" periodically to assure mastery of subjects. As their "pie chart" fills, they gain more confidence in themselves and their abilities. Even my son, who dreads math, has found several topics actually fun!

The program has what is known as Artificial Intelligence (AI). I decided to test this AI myself. I created a trial account for myself and went through the assessment after choosing a relatively low level. The AI picked up on my correct answers and proceeded to challenge me further. It finally got into things I had long forgotten since college. The only drawback here that I noticed is that it left me on the low level but picked topics for me to challenge and teach me in the areas I was weak. I would have guessed that I tried to pick a level around 4th grade, but some of my topics were definitely higher than that. Not many 4th graders I know are already doing X,Y line plots on a graph to solve an equation.

For my family, it isn't budget family. Our looneybin has 3 kids, 2 adults and 1 dog. My husband is a pastor, so every penny counts. ALEKS can be purchased month-to-month for $19.95 per month, or $99.95 for 6 months, or $179.95 for 12 months. Family discounts are available for 6 and 12-month subscriptions when purchasing for multiple students. Even with the discounts, I can't justify this with my family. I will admit it is a great program and it will be missed when our trial runs out, but right now, we just will passing on this great offer. For everyone else who takes up this program and fully enjoys it to its fullest potential, I say, "May you have a full pie!"

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Maverick Books - Hank the Cowdog

Hank the Cowdog is a series of books that takes the reader through the so-called adventures of a dog who thinks of himself as Head of Security at a ranch in Texas. His inflated ego proves for hilarious commentary. Our family reviewed three products from this line.

The first, and by far, the favorite of the products was a game called Tornado. It comes with a cassette. This game and cassette are based on a book in the series by the same name. This product sells for $12.99 on the website. Tornado plays a lot like Sorry or Trouble. The way it folds up and stores all the pieces is ideal for travel! Trust me, I was stacking some things on my already overcrowded computer desk (I am consistently a clutterbug) and inadvertantly knocked over this game and some other items. I was just dreading finding four sets of buzzards and dogs(two colors of dogs, mind you) that belonged with the game. I ran around the desk only to find that the game was still tightly closed. Now, my kids had already been having a great time with this game and the evil thought of keeping them occupied for long hours on the road was running through my head. This game could survive in my truck! The pieces themselves seem to be sturdy and shouldn't dislodge easily either. To me it seems like a win/win situation. All in all, I would say this would be a great buy for people with kids who can understand or are learning to lose graciously, travel, or love these types of games for their family.

The next product on my list was the Tales and Tunes CD. It's sort of a sampler of audio from 10 of their books plus nine songs. This is where I want to proceed with caution. I understand that not everyone views the world the same way and different families have different "limits" on things. That's wonderful. For my family, I think this would be a "no, thank you". While I see the humor in the stories and the songs, I was concerned about some of the words used. My husband wasn't impressed either. We aren't super-strict people but we do like to control what comes into our home. I listened to the CD first before deciding whether to allow my kids to listen. The humor is directed toward kids under 12, I believe. The wording though...well, I'll be specific. I don't allow words like "stupid", "idiot", "shut up" or "dangburnit?" to be used. I will be honest and admit that on occasion I accidentally let "shut up" slip but the other words are viewed as bad words in my house. Although at $3.00, you do get a taste of Hank the Cowdog for yourself. It's a very inexpensive way to find out if your family would like it or not. I personally know several families who would love this series, it's just not for our family. And like I said before, the dog's ego is funny as well as some of the situations he comes across.

The last of the items was a book in the series. It is book #8, entitled The Case of the One-Eyed Killer Stud Horse. My youngest daughter had read the book before and proceeded to tell me how much she loved it. She immediately claimed it for her own, but I explained I had read it myself. The wording in the book was what I had come to expect from the CD. It disappointed me. This was a great book. Hank is going from case to case and acting like a nutcase! The books on the website are priced from $4.24 to $5.24. Audio versions of the books are also offered for about $17.99. Book #54 just came out, so apparently the series is going strong. I was just slightly disappointed in some of the content. Like movies nowadays though, something always has to be thrown in that really wasn't necessary. It makes me sad.

The website also offers a variety of signs, games and shirts as well. There is a place to join Hank's team. Just watch out that he treats you better than Drover!!

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

A Wonderful Way to Share the Bible!

Am I allowed to gush??? I do not believe I could say enough about this exciting Bible study program.

First of all, let me say that I am NO artist. I've been doing stick figures most all my life. Even my trees look sickly. Second of all, my creativity is often under question when it comes to teaching my kids. I really prefer them to be independent learners because of the age gaps. And thirdly, my kids rarely get excited about anything to do with school and ask to do it. So needless to say, I started this program carefully!

Out of the all the wonderful options available through this company, I chose the Old Testament Catechism. It's a basic overview of 225 questions covering the entire Old Testament that is free of doctrine. It has questions like:

How did God view all that He created?
What happened to Job in one day?
Name Jacob's wives.
What furniture was in the Holy of Holies?
How many kings did Daniel serve?
What three things do we know from the Old Testament about the Messiah?

All three of my kids (ages 13, 10, and 8) fell in love with the book immediately. They enjoy helping each other review questions while I prepare papers for the day. They simply got the paper they needed and their colored pencils when I was ready to teach and went to town drawing and learning. Hard to remember details are made simple with this book. My husband always tells me if you see something, write something, and hear something; you're more likely to remember it. Well my kids are seeing the drawings come alive as they write them after they have discussed answers with me. Their memory on concepts is greatly increased.

I guess my favorite part of this whole lesson so far has been near the beginning. My little "nuts" and I discussed God. There were only two simple questions on this particular day and two scriptures. The questions were: Who was in the beginning? and What did God do in the beginning? The scripture was Genesis 1:1 and John 1:1, both of which the kids could quote. The discussion that day got deep even with little minds present (mine, of course). We began to talk about what and who God was in our lives and why it was important for us to establish that before anything else. My kids amaze me at every turn with their profound answers. They end up teaching me so much. So when they drew their purple triangles to represent God that day, other aspects became very real as well.

The teacher ebook in this series is only $19.95 and the student ebook is the same price. Print books are also sold with the teacher book being $24.95 and the student book being $19.95. I have found that ebooks are much easier to deal with since I have three kids to teach (and there is the luxury of no shipping costs with ebooks!). This is just one of Grapevine's multi-level courses, so all kids can jump right in and have a blast. You just print the copies you need when you need them and there is no waste. Of course, my kids love doing things their own way, but then most homeschooled kids do, right?

Grapevine also has other levels for specific ages and shorter studies those who want to either go deeper in a subject or just spend a short amount of time getting to know the program. I was just browsing their list and came across a study in Esther, Biblical Feasts and Holy Days, Birth of Jesus, and New Testament Timeline.

When I signed up on the e-mail list, I began to get FREE mini-lessons each week from the other studies. This is terrific and allows you to get a glimpse into the study it comes from to see if you would be interested. Again, these are NO COST samples. Can't really go wrong with that! Besides, what homeschooler doesn't love the word "free"?

Right now, Grapevine Studies is offering the readers of this blog a whopping 30% off on all their books until September 15, 2009! Just use the coupon code CREWS. You will not regret this order. I know I can't wait for them to come out with a New Testament Overview and then I'm going to dive in deeper with some of the other studies.

Have fun with stick figures!

Sunday, August 2, 2009

Works in progress

You know we are all works in progress. Even adults as old as, well me. I think there should be a learning curve in life somehow, somewhere, especially when it comes to kids. Maybe I could take a mulligan here or there. That way they won't repeat my words or act like I do too much of the time. I see myself in my teenager so much. Sometimes, that is scary enough in of itself. You see, like the name of my blog implies, I'm a little nuts, down to earth, but a little nuts.

Other works in progress around here is my house. My husband and his father are in the process of remodeling the attic of our new home to put in some bedrooms and a bathroom for my girls. Now that is a more stable work in progress albeit an expensive one! I'm excited about the changes taking place around me.

I have now survived VBS and a youth trip to Eureka Springs. I feel like I've accomplished a lot!

Now I need help accomplishing something else. This is a new blog and well, I'm depending on my few followers to help me find some more. I would really like to take this places. I plan to share some of my looneybin homeschool antics as the school year starts. That ought to be enough but on a semi regular basis, I would love to have giveaways. I have a few things in mind starting in September. So we have a few weeks to spread the word. In the meantime, I'm going to be figuring out how to put a video of my beagle on here. Don't turn me off yet, people don't believe me when I say we get him to do an "inside bark". Actually, it's me who does the training of this trick. I got tired of the absolute beagle bark in my house since he's an inside dog. I figured if you can train a dog to do tricks and train kids to use "inside voices" then surely you could do an "inside bark". Sure enough, he'll do it for me.

So hopefully, these things will give you a reason to help me promote my blog. Reviews are coming near the end of the month for 3-4 products of which I'll be doing some giveaways using those products which my family has done or doesn't need. It's always great to get free stuff!

Until next time, blessings and looneys to all!!