Tuesday, March 27, 2012

Yes, I'm Still Here

I have been a bit busy with birthday party planning, birthday celebrations, school, illness, etc., etc.  You know, the same thing all you other homeschool moms are busy with. 

I have a couple of children who are just about finished with all of their planned school-work for the year.  How can that be?!  I'm not complaining...just a bit shocked.  With the warm temperatures we've been having, it really feels like we're close to summer & I am so excited!

I've been checking out the 24/7 Homeschool Convention over at the Home Educating Family.  So far, I really am enjoying it and can see it as a very instrumental tool in my school planning and encouragement. It's free, so go on over and check it out.

Speaking of Homeschool Conventions, will you be attending one (or more) this year?  I was really hoping to make it to either the Midwest or Northeast convention, but it really doesn't look like that's going to happen.  However, with all of the information, blogs, virtual conventions, etc., I've been able to find on-line recently, I'm thinking I just may take a weekend in June to hunker down in a coffee shop near-by and get some encouragement and make some decisions.  

Hope your school-days are going well.  Let me know what you're up to!

Wednesday, March 14, 2012

App Week - Times Tables

Category: Education
Seller: 24x7 digital LLC
Cost: FREE

Knowing the multiplication tables is key if our children are going to progress well in Math.  Most curricula do not give children a lot of time to learn them before going on to division concepts and the students who have not learned the multiplication tables begin to lag behind...quickly.  Each of my children has had a difficult time memorizing the multiplication tables.  Maybe it's because I didn't drill them enough.  (Maybe THAT'S because I've always had at least 2 or more other students to teach, laundry to do, dinner to cook, babies to change, etc.) However, once they realize how critical they are to the rest of their Math assignments, they begin to learn them.

Enter the Times Tables app.  This is a great app for the children who are just learning multiplication as well as a review tool for my older children.  With this app, just like all 24x7 digital apps (see my Teach Me post), you may track the progress of several different students.  You can take their photo, type in their name and they just click on their own avatar when they're ready to play.

Let's use my daughter, Katrina, as today's example.  She is my fourth grader and ready to dive in deep with division, but has been struggling with multiplication.  She will take my phone (with permission - ALWAYS!), tap on her avatar, and tap on the "learn" option.  Instead of messing with a bunch of flashcards (which you always have to put back in order after drilling randomly), she has 4 options to help her learn.  The first is a "grid" with all of the multiplication facts on it.  She taps on a fact, it shows up at the top of the screen (answer included) and a voice reads the fact.  This is great for all types of learning styles.  The "flash-card" option is just that - Katrina will see a card with a fact (no answer), try to answer it & then double tap on it to see if she is correct.  The third option helps her see the concepts at work as the app uses "apple trees" to illustrate the multiplication tables.  Choose a factor, multiply it by another, and the answer is given.  Again, the voice is heard to read the facts.  Tapping on the trees allows the student to skip-count in order to see how multiplication works.  Lastly, there are "list flash cards" where there will be a list of each multiplication family (without answers).  She will go through and give her best answers, then, again, double-tap to check her work.

All of this can be done independently while I am free to work with the other children on their school. *smile & happy dance*

After Katrina goes through some drills, she is able to play games.  In the "Times Tables" drills, she can choose how many facts she'd like to be quizzed on in each family.  While a timer runs, it only does so for her to gage her own progress and speed.  On "Random Problems," Katrina can choose 10, 20, 30, or 40 random problems to be tested on up through 11x11.   Or, she may choose to be quizzed randomly on all the facts up to 12x12.  Again, the timer in this game is only for her to know how quickly she is able to answer.  "Multiplication Challenge" tests Katrina on each fact family in order and she must get each level perfect before she can progress to the next level.  The last game, "Timed Quiz" gives random facts from each family and she must do it within a certain amount of time (which I set).  Obviously, some of these games are more challenging than others which makes this app so great for all ages & levels!

While I am not sitting there doing the drills and games with Katrina, I am able to check her scores, times, and the dates on which she did them for each "quiz" or game.  This will tell me what she needs work on the most.

Though simple without animation, etc., (often, that's a plus!) I believe the Times Table app is useful in our homeschool. I highly recommend it for beginning multipliers or older students who just need some review or who need to increase their speed.

Tuesday, March 13, 2012

App Week - Merriam-Webster Dictionary (free)

Category:  Reference
Seller:  Merriam-Webster Inc.
Cost: FREE

What school is complete without a dictionary?  Our homeschool has at least 4 physical dictionaries that I can think of off the top of my head.  We have two 1828 Webster's, a regular dictionary (sorry - don't remember the name & I'm too lazy to go search for it), and a children's illustrated dictionary (that is fantastic!).  I have taught my five oldest how to use these dictionaries and they have.  In fact, 2 of the children just used one of them yesterday and today.

However, one of my son's favorite apps is the Merriam-Webster Dictionary.  The one I have is the free version that is supported with advertisements.  However, I didn't realize that until I was reading the difference between my version and the $3.99 version...the ads are minimal and in a very small space at the bottom of the screen.  Totally useless on this app-user!

Anyway, we all remember well the feeling as children of being told to look up something in the dictionary; that book that weighed twice as much as we did, whose pages numbered more than we even knew to count, and which had its own prominent spot in the classroom (due to the fact that no one, adult or child, really wanted to move it around too much).

And, didn't you just love asking how to spell a word and your teacher answered, "Go look it up in the dictionary"?!  HOW IN THE WORLD WAS I SUPPOSED TO DO THAT?!

The Merriam-Webster Dictionary app makes the use of a dictionary less frightening.  First, it weighs much less - in my case, it weighs precisely 4.8 ounces.  This makes it much less painful if you actually drop it on your toe.

Searching for words is a matter of typing.  My son, Seth, will type in the word he's looking for and as he's typing, the dictionary will begin to "guess" the word.  So, instead of typing the whole thing, he usually can just click on the word once it pops up.  When he clicks on the word, the screen will bring it up along with its phonetic spelling, part of speech, definition(s), sentence examples, origin, first use, and a list of its synonyms & antonyms.  Just like a "real" dictionary! (I must say that having a list of synonyms negates the need for a thesaurus much of the time.)  This saves quite a bit of time for a younger student which saves on frustration.

When Seth doesn't know how to spell a word or is tired of typing so many words with his stubby fingers, the dictionary has a "voice search" feature in which Seth just speaks the word and it comes up with the definition.  However, he must speak very clearly or he will not be understood.  As children sometimes have a difficult time with pronunciation and enunciation, I often will speak the word for him (and even then it sometimes doesn't comprehend!).  It is a great feature, though.

Another audio feature is "word pronunciation."  When the word you're looking for comes up with it's definition and other information, there is the universal speaker symbol next to it.  Tap on it and you will hear a voice give you the correct pronunciation of the word - a fantastic tool for kids looking up words they've never heard.

While I love this app, I still believe it is important for children to learn how to use a physical dictionary.  Learning alphabetical order and having the patience to really look up a word is essential in educational growth.  This is why I had my 3rd & 4th graders using the BIG BOOK today - to keep them familiar with the "real" thing.

That said, this app is great for those days when your child has quite a few words to look up or you're pressed for time.  (Ok, so we're always pressed for time...use discretion.)  Sometimes, learning vocabulary is the goal...not the frustrating task of lifting and perusing large books.  Make the job more fun and get it done quickly with Merriam-Webster's app.

Do you use this app?  Let me know what you think!

Monday, March 12, 2012

App Week - Teach Me: Toddler-2nd Grade

*NOTE* The apps I will be reviewing this week are mostly designed for iPhone & iPad.

When I purchased my iPhone a year or so ago, I ignorantly assumed that it would be my phone.  How simple I was!  After finding some great educations games & activities, I basically have to wait my turn for the phone! Which, is hard to argue with when they're learning things and I just want to check my Twitter-feed.

App of the Day:  Teach Me: Toddler, Teach Me: Kindergarten, Teach Me: 1st grade, Teach Me: 2nd grade
     Category: Education
     Seller: 24x7 digital LLC
     Awards:  Best App Ever - 2nd place in education (Teach Me! Kindergarten)
     Designed for:  iPhone & iPad
     Cost:  $.99/app

One of the first apps I got for the kids was Teach Me: Kindergarten.  The little mouse "tells" my daughter what she needs to do on each screen.  Math, spelling, & reading (sight words) are the subjects that she works on and whenever she gets something correct, she earns a coin.  After receiving a certain amount of coins, she gets to go "shopping."  She'll pick out a scene and buy various objects for it.  She's even made me an aquarium and brings it to me whenever she thinks I need to feed my fish!

After Gloria enjoying the activities so much, I found Teach Me: Toddler for Zane.  He works on number recognition, letters, shapes, colors, counting, and phonics.  He doesn't have to work as hard for rewards, so has quite a few of them.

Both apps are very easy for the children to learn and to use.  In fact, as I was going to be doing this review, I decided to see if 24x7digital LLC.,  had released any other grades in the Teach Me series.  Good news - they have!  They now have 1st and 2nd grade...still focusing on math, spelling, and reading sight words, but each grade level become more complex.  What I love about the 1st and 2nd grade is that they children actually get to "write" on "paper" using their index finger to spell words and do "fast math."  Very cool!

And, yes, I just downloaded those as well.  It was good to know that I was able to spell all of the words & do the math problems correctly.  Ok, well, except for one.  I made the age-old mistake of not looking at the sign and added instead of subtracted.  It happens to everyone.  *ahem*

Whether looking for something to begin your child in letter/number recognition, reviewing math facts, or needing to supplement your busy homeschool day, I highly recommend the Teach Me series.  Find it on iTunes or go directly to 24x7 digital's website!

Sunday, March 11, 2012

App Week

Throughout the coming week, I plan to review a few of the apps my children and I enjoy using in our homeschool...and maybe a couple we use during our free-time, as well.

Stay tuned!

Saturday, March 10, 2012

The Homeschool Mother's Journal - March 10, 2012

In my life this week...
   While I was feeling much better, my husband has been battling the World's Worst Cold this week.  Thankfully, everyone else seems to be on the mend.  
In our homeschool this week...
     The days seem to be getting shorter as children are finishing up subjects.  I counted days this year for school, though I have no idea what day we're on; however, I'm pretty sure we're right on track as they are finishing up!  I am a bit frustrated, however, that my oldest son's science seems to have all but come to a stand-still.  But, daddy should be feeling better this week, so I hope it kicks into gear again!

Places we are going...
     Our four girls went with their daddy to a Father/Daughter night at our church on Friday night and had an absolute blast doing various relay races, playing soccer, and creating their own pizzas.  Meanwhile, the three boys and I went to a dulcimer concert at a church in my mom's town.  Absolutely wonderful!  So good to have some special time with our children.

My favorite thing this week was...
     When my 4 year old got into the van as I was putting the groceries in the back, he raised up his mittens and shouted, "Yook, Mommy," (he says his Ls with the "y" sound), "I found my mittens!"  
"Good!"  I said.  I then heard him say, as he was sitting down, "Praise the Yord! I found them!"
They say kids repeat what they hear...this was a good thing!

What's working for us...
    My kids learning how to use Google Earth, as described in this post.

Questions/thoughts I have...
     What am I going to use next year?  I'm leaning towards a unit-study for missions/geography and creating my own language arts curriculum...so much to think about.

Things I'm working on...
   I read Romans 12 today and am thinking about doing a study on verses 9-21.  That will take some time, but I think I will learn so much on truly practical Christian living.

I'm reading...
     A couple of things.  Mostly, a biography on Eric Liddell as my son was to read it this week.  He finished it.  I'm only on chapter 5!  "Chariots of Fire" is in our near future! Raise your hand if you plunked out the theme song on the piano when you were a kid! *my hand's raised*

I'm cooking...
     Right now, I have a chuck roast in the crock-pot for tonight's French Dip.  It will be served with a green salad, mashed potatoes and a veggie (not yet decided).  Brownie sundaes for dessert - the brownies just came out of the oven & the house smells heavenly!  Thrilled to be sharing this meal with good friends who have just returned from Barrow, Alaska!

I'm grateful for...
     Good health!

Things I'm praying for...
     Hurting families, hurting friends, & missionaries.

A link to share...
    OK - for the third time this week....SchoolhouseTeachers.com ---  check it out!!!

Thursday, March 8, 2012

Google Earth

At risk of sounding a bit redundant, I encourage you all to check out SchoolhouseTeachers.com. No, I'm not getting paid for promoting this site...it's just a site I really foresee having a huge role in our homeschool as it's practical, useful, and easy to access & use.

The technology assignment this month is having the kids explore and learn Google Earth.  This can be done by going to the website via a Windows computer or getting the free app on a Mac (which I love!). While my husband has used this site for a couple of years, I've never even got on it until a few days ago when I saw the assignment for this month.  I needed to see if this was something that, indeed, my children could do and would be interested in.

I never knew all the cool features on Google Earth!  The technology teacher mentioned that you could go to the "layer" section, click on "oceans" and "animal tracking" and you can discover various fish in the oceans.  My 8 year old son, especially, LOVED this feature.  He "discovered" leatherback turtles, a blue whale, tuna, & various other fish that he's learned about in his science this year and was able to "swim" with them.

My 12 year old daughter had fun finding our house and church along with other interesting places in the United States.  Seeing things from the air gives her a whole new perspective of how things are laid out, especially in local areas that she's familiar with.

My older son enjoyed viewing photos of Iwo Jima and Civil War battlefields and checking out where a missionary to whom he writes in Germany lives.  My favorite thing today was hearing him say, "I have to get my Geography book," and seeing him run to his school shelf and get it.  So cool to see him running to get a book he normally dislikes and putting it to use!!

While we could have learned all of these things on our own, I probably would never have taken the time if it weren't for the simple and fun assignment on my new favorite site!

My only complaint is that I now have to share my computer even more with my kids!  But, that's ok...I love that they are learning more about our world!

Monday, March 5, 2012

Netflix in the Homeschool

I have a Netflix account.  Right now you feel a common bond with me.

Or, you're praying that I get right  with God.

Either way, I have one.  I don't allow my children free access to it.  My husband or I choose what they see and when they see it.  They are not allowed on it without supervision.  So far, so good.

Why do I bring this up?  What does Netflix have to do with home-school?  In our life, quite a bit.

This year, we have found many documentaries and dramas that have supplemented what our children are learning in science, history, and language arts.  Is this a good idea?  I think so...being able to SEE what they are reading really helps to cement things in our students memories.  Think back to when you were in school.  We LOVED when a video/movie/film-strip (for us old-timers) were shown.  It was fun, out of the ordinary, and helped us learn.  I still remember the one I saw about Mount Saint Helens back in the late '80s (& have shown it to my kids)!

Some of our children are learning about ocean and land animals in their Apologia curriculum.  There are many documentaries that we have either ordered or watched instantly via Netflix.  Yes, some of them have evolution, but the kids are getting good at identifying the fallacies and appreciating God's creation.
     Coral Reef Adventures
     Dolphins: IMAX
     Wild African Cats: Wild Cats
     David Attenborough: Wildlife Adventures
     & many more

A couple of days ago, my son watched a documentary on Sitting Bull as he had just enjoyed and finished a biography about this "last indian" for his history assignment.  The children also enjoy "Liberty's Kids" and the show is basically right on concerning the founding of our country.
     The Best of the Real West: Sitting Bull
     Liberty's Kids

This week, my oldest son is reading a biography on Eric Liddell.  Wouldn't you know it?  Netflix has a documentary and it's on the way to our house.  (We're getting "Chariots of Fire" from the old-fashioned library.)
      Eric Liddell: Champion of Conviction
     A Man Called Peter (watched after reading excerpts of the book)

Netflix has provided several hours of schooling for our children this year.  It has more than paid for itself, in my opinion.  If you have an account, look at it as more than a means to entertainment, but another home-school resource.

Sunday, March 4, 2012

The Homeschool Mother's Journal - March 4, 2012

In my life this week...
I feel like a complainer as I feel like I've mentioned this a few times in the last seven days, but...I've been sick.  Got hit hard with a head cold last Sunday and am just getting over it now.  This sore throat is making me nervous.  Strep?  I hope not!

In our homeschool this week...
We persevered and all of my children were able to finish their assignments; even on Wednesday when I was in bed most of the day.  I am blessed that my children are older and do fairly well with independent learning.

Helpful homeschooling advice to share...
Encourage your children to do as much school on their own, especially if you have more than one or two children.  This way, you can be as involved as time permits, but their schooling does not solely rely on your daily involvement.  When you're sick in bed or have unavoidable appointments, school days are not lost.  Better to use free days for something fun and useful...for everyone!

Places we are going...
We did get to a special church meeting on Saturday night (I made sure to keep my distance from everyone).  My husband had caught the bug and we felt our kids needed to get to the service aimed towards young people.  Afterwards, there were a couple of games of Human Fooseball (a totally fun game)!  I was able to co-coach/organize the 8-14 yr age group....the group all of my children were involved in.  While that's not usually something I get involved with, I realized how much fun kids really are and I can't wait to spend some time with that bunch like that again!

My favorite thing this week was...
Starbucks coffee on Saturday morning.  I'm pretty sure if I had one earlier in the week, I would have healed much more quickly.

What's not working for us...
Apologia Physical Science.  My husband, who has a bachelor's degree in Mechanical Engineering & loves science, has taken over our son's science and says that this program gets too involved in things that don't even need to be dealt with at this age level.  We will plug away until the end of the year, however.  That's just how we roll.

Questions I have...
What science curriculum do you use for your high school students & why?

Things I'm working on...
This week, I'll be cleaning my desk and my son's room.  I hope.  If you don't hear from me next week, send out the search dogs...

I'm reading...
Too many things at once.  

I'm praying for...
A missionary family from our church who have been home the last 9 months and are returning to their field tomorrow.

A link to share:
I posted about this fantastic site this week.  I'm planning next year's curriculum around it.