Math Rider

So far, I’ve been fortunate enough to review a few math facts practice programs for the TOS crew. However, I have to say that Math Rider has been the best. Using artificial intelligence, that adjusts the program to your child’s level, Math Rider allows your child to work towards mastery of all four math operations. Click here for a video about how it works:

My fourth grade son really enjoyed the “quests” in this game. (He’s a big fans of knights in general, so that was a bonus! 🙂 ) The game has three levels: easy, medium, and hard. Each operation (addition, subtraction, multiplication, division) is played on each level. So the child begins with easy addition, and eventually works his way up to hard addition. As they play,  you can keep track of their mastery level by logging in and looking at their mastery chart:

(You can create an account for more than one child with this program, so each child has their own game) This will show you how far your child has gotten, and which facts are particularly difficult for them. As they play the game, facts that are missed are reviewed with an audible read out of the fact, and a visual representation at the same time.

The quests get progressively longer as the children move up in level, and each time, new backgrounds are added. The game is visually stimulating, but the focus is still on the learning.

As they play, children jump “hurdles” on their horse to practice each fact. If they answer the problem correctly before the horse reaches the hurdle, then it is cleared and they get points. If not, the fact is reviewed right then and there. I believe this goes a long way toward helping cement the fact in the child’s mind. My son has quickly moved up to the medium level in addition and subtraction, and is going to begin the medium level multiplication soon. The biggest thing for me, is that I have seen a BIG improvement in his mastery of facts in his daily math work. Division was something he was just learning, and it was a STRUGGLE, but now when we do math, I find he is getting those facts much quicker!! (and I don’t have to do endless drills with flash cards 🙂 )

Each day, he checks his “map” to see where he is on his quest, then he begins.

The program requires little input from me (other than when I check his chart to see how he is doing) which is good, because it frees me up to have some one on one time with my other son.  And the biggest thing is, he REALLY enjoys it! I don’t have to fight to get him to do it, and a lot of times he wants to complete more than just one section in a day. I truly think that by the time he is done with this program, he will have a very good mastery of the basic operations, and then, with a daily timed-practice or so, he should be able to keep them up. I also suspect he’ll want to continue to “play” math rider even after he masters it!

Math Rider costs $37.00, and is available as an instant download to your computer. This is a program we will definitely invest in, because mastery of the four operations is soooo essential in math, and this is by far the best program I’ve seen to help your child gain that mastery. You can check out the website here:

http://mathrider.com/

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Great books for boys!

Do you find it difficult to find books that engage your son? I mean, books that he can relate to, get lost in, and WANT to read? I often found it difficult in my classroom, and I have to say it is still difficult at home. Even though my oldest is a reader, it’s difficult to find books that challenge him. Not in the sense of being difficult to read, but in the sense of challenging him to think, form an opinion, and to grow. I have loved books my whole life, and I truly believe that the best books are ones that make us think, that make us come away with a different point of view.

With this in mind, I’ve decided to post about some books that I think really do this, with boy readers in mind. This is not to say that finding good books for girls is easy, but, in my experience, it is easier. Since I have two boys, books for boys are always at the forefront of my mind, and the first one I want to tell you about is called The Wringer, by Jerry Spinelli.

The main character in this book is Palmer, a boy who is about to turn 10. Unfortunately, his tenth birthday leads him to a point where he has to make a major decision, to be (or not) a wringer. Palmer’s town has a tradition for 10 year old boys. They all become “wringers” at the annual family fest, an activity that raises money to support the town park. They do this by charging men to take part in a “pigeon shoot”, and the wringers help collect the pigeons and wring the necks of ones that are not shot dead.

Now, the topic of this book is heavy, however it is not graphic in an over-the-top sense. And I should say, I am liberal about books in general, because I love a good story. This book has the potential to allow you to have some very real discussion with your 12-13 year old boy about right vs. wrong, standing up for what you believe in, fitting in vs. being who you are, all topics which will play a major part in their lives. I believe books that encourage discussions like these are very useful. By “living” through the character, a child can project what they might do in a similar situation in their own lives.

Naturally, readers sympathize with Palmer as he fights his desire to be “one of the cool boys” and his absolute disgust with the Family Fest activities. Things don’t get easier for him when he stumbles across a pigeon who becomes his pet, and he enlists the help of his neighbor, Dorothy (a girl!) to protect him. I first used this book as a read-aloud in my sixth grade classroom, and I was surprised at how engaged my students (boys and girls) became. This is a book that many of them remembered two years later as eighth graders! It allowed us to talk about things like: what’s more important, being part of the crowd or going your own way? can one person really make a difference? does the fact that something has “always” been done a certain way mean it always has to be? how do you choose friends? is it acceptable to hurt someone else in order to make yourself more popular? etc. etc.

This book is a beautifully written drama, and is also good for teaching story arc, internal vs. external conflict, and characterization. Through it, Palmer grows from an insecure boy who just wants to fit in, into a more confident young man, who decides standing up for what is right is more important. As my son read this book, he truly felt for Palmer, and his pigeon, Nipper. The book helped to reinforce an important message I always try to teach my children: doing what is right is what matters most. I would definitely recommend this book for boys ages 12 and up. If your child is particularly sensitive in nature (which mine is), know that it has a happy and satisfying ending which will likely resonate with him. As always, I believe parents should pre-read (or at least pre-skim) any book before they give it to their child, but I think, if you do, you will find this story rich with ideas for great discussion with your child.

Kid Scoop: Reluctant Reader Solution

Do you have a child that cries almost every time you say it’s time for reading? (I do) Are you looking for ways to make reading more fun and less of a fight? (I was) Well, if that’s the case, Kid Scoop may be for you!

For this review, I was given a download of Kid Scoop’s Reluctant Reader Solution, as well as access to their online publication the “Kid Scoop News”.  The program is designed to allow for daily reading practice that is fun and easy. As part of the Reluctant Reader Solution, you get to download 365 reading worksheets.  I know you may be thinking “worksheets? but those are sooo boring.” These worksheets are different. They range in topics from hockey to butterflies, to germs etc.  The worksheets typically consist of a short reading passage, and then activities that include puzzles, vocabulary, word searches, connect the dots….and on and on and on. The worksheets can be studied in chronological order or, you can just pick a topic and go with it.

I wanted to pick topics my younger son (the one who dislikes reading of any kind) would enjoy. We began with hockey, then went on to bigfoot and fire safety (because daddy is a fireman 🙂 ). Printing the worksheets was easy. Each topic has about 6-7 pages to go with it. You can use them all, or pick and choose certain ones.  I can honestly tell you that from the first day, this became the favorite part of my son’s reading time. Because the pages are fun, my son looks forward to them, and that seems to distract him from the fact that he is READING! Since the topics are interesting to him, he is motivated to read on his own and then complete any puzzles or activities that go with it. Some days, he asks to do more pages!!

Of course, we still do a daily reading program, but Kid Scoop is a great supplement to any program. For a child that is reading on their own (from about a 3rd grade level on up) they can do these without a lot of parent support, which means they’re great to use when you need to spend time with another child. I usually do these as a warm up before we begin our other reading instruction, and while my younger son is working on Kid Scoop, I can help my older with math.

I know it sounds fantastic already, but there is more! In addition to the worksheets, you also get access to 12 full-color editions of the online Kid Scoop Newspaper. The Kid Scoop News reminds me of the weekly Scholastic Newspapers my teacher used to get when I was in school! (I loved those things! 🙂 ) Each edition contains articles, puzzles, art projects, games etc. that kids can access online. I’ve begun allowing my son to spend his reading time on Friday perusing the online paper, and he looks forward to that too.  You can print the paper if you want to, or just allow your child to go through it online. My son likes to read online, because anything “computer” is cool. Usually he picks a couple of pages, reads it, then tells me if he wants me to print a game or activity.

The Reluctant Reader Solution costs $97.00, and comes with a 365 day unconditional money-back guarantee! How’s that for confidence in a project. You really have nothing to lose by checking it out. I’m very glad I got a chance to do so. The Kid Scoop website also has a newsletter with reading tips you can sign up for (free!) and other free activities for kids as well. Check out Kid Scoop here:

http://www.kidscoop.com/

The Curiosity Files

Join Professor Ana Lyze, an “expert in outlandish oddities” as she takes you through activities and experiments designed to help you get up close and personal with some very interesting science topics!!

For this review, I was given a download of an e-unit study by TOS magazine. The Curiosity Files are a series of science unit studies on topics ranging from Puffer Fish and MRSA to Quicksand and Zombie Fire Ants! For curious, bug-oriented, and a “fascination with all things strange and a little gross” boys like mine, these unit studies are golden!

Since we live on the coast in Florida, I chose to review the Red Tide unit study, because this is a topic we will hear about frequently on the news.  The unit studies are multi-age, which is good because I like to teach science to my 4th and 7th grade boys together whenever possible. The study begins with information about red tide, written in an almost conversational style.  However, this doesn’t mean it’s “simple”. Real scientific terms are used, and explained, in ways both of my children could clearly understand.  There was also a multiple choice “quiz” after the reading, which allowed my boys to process what they had learned (we did it together).

The red tide unit study included math activities on grams/kilograms, which was timely because my 4th grader was working on those topics in math at the time! Math/history/geography/writing and vocab activities of some form are included in all of the Curiosity Files unit studies, making them a complete unit that you could easily add library books to if you wanted to stretch your study of a particular topic out. There are even suggestions for books you can look for at your local library!

The writing assignments in Red Tides included a descriptive and persuasive essay. The descriptive essay was perfect for my younger son, while the persuasive was great practice for my older. They even included an elementary and middle school and up vocabulary list! There was also a section devoted to “looking at a scientific research paper” aimed at older students, which my son found very interesting. The multi-age aspect of the Curiosity Files is VERY well laid out.

Directions for experiments were included, and we studied the food chain, as well as algae in our food (ewwww!) 🙂 . We also enjoyed the “fun” activities, like the word search, and the coloring pages. For the creative-type student, some lapbook projects were included, and you could easily add more based on other research you do into the topic.

Depending on how in-depth you want to go, these unit studies could last a week, or longer. We spent about 2-3 weeks on this one, using books from the library, and internet research we did on our own. We also took a field trip to our local beach, and nature center, where we were able to get some more information about Red Tide. This unit study was a lot of fun, and my boys are already after me to get the one on quicksand!!

You can buy the “bundle” of 9 Curiosity Files unit studies (in downloadable ebook form) for $46.00, or you can buy the CD for $49.00. To purchase individual units, refer to The Old Schoolhouse Store website for pricing details:

http://www.theoldschoolhousestore.com/index.php?main_page=product_info&cPath=335&products_id=18203

VocabAhead

For this review, I received a copy of the VocabAhead book. The book comes with information about how to download videos and MP3S for the words in the book. The book itself is aimed at building vocabulary skills for the SAT using cartoon illustrations to help kids remember the definitions.

I used this book with my older son, and I have to say, I was impressed with it’s effectiveness. The book is organized into sections of about 10 words each, with a review at the end. The vocabulary words chosen were difficult, some I had never even seen before (mawkish? that’s a word? really? 🙂 ). When I first looked through it, I thought it might be too difficult for my 7th grader, even though he’s a pretty advanced reader, however, I was wrong.

It seems the idea of using cartoon illustrations really resonated with my son. First, he thought they were funny, but they also really seemed to make the definition of the words clear to him, and he remembered them easily! We focused on doing one section per week. On the first day, he just read the words and looked at the picture, and copied the definitions down into his vocabulary notebook. The next day, we focused on studying the synonyms and antonyms listed for each word. My son recognized some of the synonyms and antonyms, which did make it easier for him to understand the word (i.e. a synonym for harangue is lecture!!). This was another effective tool in the book. We would then spend a day or two working on the review section, and then I would give him a quiz on the words. So far, he’s aced every quiz!

He also enjoyed using the company’s website, which has video’s for words, games and a study section students can utilize. In the study room, students can take quizzes, use flash cards, create their own word lists etc. You can also enter your email to receive a “vocabulary video of the day” in your inbox! Here is a link to the VocabAhead website if you want to check it out:

http://www.vocabahead.com/Home/tabid/37/Default.aspx

VocabAhead has been a very effective way to build my son’s vocabulary, without a lot of busy work and stress! The book sells for $12.95 on Amazon.com, and you can take a peek inside it here:

http://www.amazon.com/VocabAhead-SAT-Vocabulary-Cartoons-Videos/dp/0984313516/ref=sr_1_3?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1296524519&sr=1-3

Virtual Nerd Update

In January I wrote a review for Virtual Nerd, a math tutoring website with videos on math topics from Pre-Algebra on up. The site is a wonderful tool for math-phobic moms like me! 🙂 At the time of the review, there were no homeschool discounts available, but that has changed. If you sign up before 3/31/11, you can receive 50% off the 1-month ($49) and 3-month ($129) subscription plans. Just enter the discount code: homeschooldeal when registering. You can check Virtual Nerd out here: http://www.virtualnerd.com/

Roman Town (by Dig it! Games)

How would you like to visit a town that was destroyed by the eruption of Mt. Vesuvius in 79 AD? With this game, you can! Dig it games has created a game that allows your child to be part of an archaeological team that is excavating Fossura, a town located neat Vesuvius in ancient times.  While playing, your children will dig up ancient artifacts, LEARN about them, and play games, complete puzzles, and even take quizzes about what they are learning. Here is a link to a video about Roman Town: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=JciCliSwgzw&feature=related

As part of the TOS Crew, I received a free download of this game, and I was really excited to get it. Both of my boys enjoyed playing this game, although my 4th grader actually played it more. Roman Town was designed by a teacher, and uses authentic artifacts and historically accurate information to help kids learn about Roman life. As they unearth a new artifact, kids can click on a button to learn more about it through the games interactive encyclopedia called “L.E.A.R.N.”

Kids are led through the program by “guides”, the professor, and a Roman boy and girl, who help to explain things along the way. There are six parts to the excavation, each consisting of items that belong to a different “room” of the Roman house. Kids are able to reconstruct some of the objects they find through puzzles (which was a part of the game I really liked! 🙂 )
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You can also tour the different rooms of the house, and the graphics are amazing!
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Once an excavation is completed, and the kids have also finished the puzzles and activities that go with them, they take a quiz on what they have learned. There are different forms of the quizzes, true/false, matching etc. Students can take all of the quizzes if they want, but they need to complete at least one of them to go on to write the final report and move on to the next dig site.
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I could easily see using this game to supplement a study on Ancient History, but it also has value in using Latin, studying specific parts of the Roman Empire (i.e. furniture, currency, daily life etc.). The fact that it’s fun makes it even better! Parents also have the option of using the companion Educator’s Manual, which includes information about archaeology, a glossary, detailed descriptions of each level of the game, and suggestions for additional activities and discussion topics to enhance the study. The Roman Town website has additional games in the arcade section, such as hangman.

Currently, Roman Town is only available for Windows operating systems. It can be purchased for $39.95, with the Educator’s Manual costing an additional $19.95. However, if you order the game between now and Feb. 21 using the code TOS2011, you can get a $20.00 discount!! Woohoo! I love a sale. 🙂 You can check it out at the Dig It games website here:

http://dig-itgames.com/