Friday, March 27, 2015

Things That Make Me Smile 3/27/15

Jake (9), Alyssa (6½), Zac (5), Tyler (2½), Nicholas (3 months)

Happy Friday! What a week! The kids were getting over being sick, Alyssa celebrated her 7th birthday, we went to visit my niece's brand new baby, Tyler celebrated his 3rd birthday, and Leighton was out of town for days so I was holding down the fort at home by myself. Lots of busyness and lots of Smiles.

1. Zac, eating caramel corn: "You used popcorn to make this? How embarrassing."

2. Alyssa: "On your birthday, every idea is a good idea."
Jake: "Yeah, except the non-good ones."

3. The kids were playing with the Mr. Potato Head stuff. Jake took one of the potato kids and put it in one of the regular potato heads.
Me: "Hey, it's kinda like a mommy with a baby."
Jake: "And it comes out its butt!"
Zac: "Did the baby come out your butt, Mom?"


5. The adults on The Little Rascals kissed and all the kids on the movie made faces and gagging sounds.
Me: "Kissing is not gross."
Jake: "Yes, it is."
Me: "You're not going to kiss your wife when you grow up?"
Jake: "Well, yeah. But only once! How else am I going to get married?"

6. Alyssa, because I handed her a napkin after she dragged her shirt sleeve in sour cream: "I have a tongue for a reason."

7. Zac: "When you're a grandma, I'll actually be your son."


 9. Tyler: "Can I get my Duplos?"
Me: "Sure, but you have to pick up your trains first. Do you want me to help you?"
Tyler: "Yes."
{I start gathering tracks.}
Tyler: "Can I watch you pick them up?"

10. Tyler, crying: "Mommy! Zachry won't give me something that's his!"

11. Tyler: "Nicholas is my favorite baby."

12. Jake: "Nick's cheeks are like marshmallows. They're large and fluffy. And delicious."

What made you Smile this week?

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Sunday, March 22, 2015

Things That Make Me Smile 3/20/15

Jake (9), Alyssa (6½), Zac (5), Tyler (2½), Nicholas (3 months)

Happy Weekend! I am thankful this week is over. Our family almost never gets sick. This week, all the kids, (except the baby, thankfully) have been ill. It's so hard to see your children suffer. We're heading into this new week much healthier and ready for spring. We celebrated Alyssa's 7th birthday yesterday and are preparing for Tyler's 3rd in a couple days. There is much to Smile about.  

1. Me: "Remember the cantata at church?"
Zac: "Yeah, I love the cantata! It's filled with candy!"
Me: "That's piƱata."

2. Alyssa hadn't been able to kiss Nicholas because she had been sick. Once she was better she asked him, "Do you need some kissies? I have a whole bunch for you!"

3. Zac, eating a piece of banana bread:"Did you notice you put chocolate chips in this?"


5. Zac: "What if there was a time called o'clock o'clock?"
Me: "That would be silly."
Zac: "Yeah, but it's not real, just like an old fairy tale."
6. Tyler, looking out the front window after the snow began to melt: "Look! The grass! I see the grass!"
7. Zac, eating dinner: "Mmm, this is good. High-five, Mom! Fist bump!"
8. Zac: "Do you want to play a board game?"
Alyssa: "But I'm not bored."
Zac: "But I am."
Alyssa: "Well, I can't play. They're for when you're bored. That's why they're called bored games."
What made you Smile this week?
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Thursday, March 19, 2015

GPA Learn

Math is a subject that is used in everyday life, whether it's for your job, in your home, or at the store. That's why it's so important to have a good grasp of understanding. Since math builds on itself, I want to make sure that my kids have a solid foundation now, so that future learning of more difficult concepts is made easier. I was thrilled we were given the privilege to review a subscription to GPA LEARN

GPALOVEMATH is an online math program for students in kindergarten-5th grade. The lessons are taught by animated characters, or "learning coaches." Each grade has over 150 lessons and more than 10,000 practice problems. By doing 4-5 lessons a week, a student can complete an entire grade in 10 months.

Each grade level has its own learning coach. We're currently using kindergarten, 2nd grade, and 4th grade. The kindergarten level is led by Detective Digits. Every time Zac logs in, his coach says, "Hello, problem solver pal," which makes him feel important. Second grade is coached by an island girl named Adirehs. Fourth graders follow a wise owl name Pemdas on his question for knowledge. My kids were immediately pulled in by the cute videos that introduce the coaches. They were disappointed though once the regular lesson videos started and they were narrated by a robotic voice, instead of the voice from the introduction.       

Each grade has 3 different paths of learning to follow: green, purple, and blue. Each path focuses on a specific math concept. You can set up the program to follow the recommended order of learning in which the student needs to complete the next lesson on the path before another will open or you can open up the entire grade level in which the student can complete any lesson from the topics.

The lessons include instruction, practice questions, and a quiz. The instruction portion is narrated by the learning coach, while the practice and quiz sections are to be read by the student. A child can click on the text though, and the coach will read the directions to him. My kindergartener took advantage of that feature a lot.  

Completing lessons also earns the student points and rewards. You can custom create the list of rewards or use the ones provided, like choosing what is for dinner, your parent completing a chore, and staying up 30 minutes later.

An email is sent to the parent after each lesson is completed. The email lets you know absolutely everything you might want to know: the title, the time the lesson was started, the time it ended, the total time it took, the percentage of the instruction completed, the percentage of the practice questions completed, and the number of questions answered correctly on the quiz. It also lets you know if a lesson needs to be completed again because the student got too many problems wrong. I, personally, found these emails a bit too much. With 3 kids working through this and completing multiple lessons a day, I get many emails about it. I would like there to be an option to turn it off. However, I do appreciate the weekly digest email. While it doesn't give as much detail, I find that it lists the aspects that are important to me: the number of lessons completed that week, the titles, the duration of the lesson, the outcome (closed before finishing, excellent, try again, etc.), the percentage completed of both the instruction and practice, and how well they did on the quiz. I can quickly look at that list and see exactly where my children are excelling or struggling. 

Each school day, the kids have to do at least 1 lesson. Oftentimes, they will more because they enjoy it. I allow them to decide if they want to listen to the instructional video or skip right to the quiz. If they head right to the quiz, I require them to complete 2 lessons. For instance, Zac is 5 and working through the kindergarten level. The beginning lessons focus on number recognition, shapes, and beginning addition. He has known these things for years. Instead of opening all the topics and picking up where it would be challenging for him, I decided to let him speed through the easier portions. If he, or one of the other kids, decides to listen to the instructional video before completing the practice and quiz questions, then he is required to complete only 1 lesson.

This is what my kids had to say about the program:

Jake (9): "I like that you can win things and that there's different people. I like that there's different paths." 

Alyssa (6): "I like that there's different characters to teach the lessons. I like some of the lessons. And I really like the videos."

Zac (5): "I like that it's short (lesson). I like that it's like a super agent! I like that I can skip to the quiz. Sometimes I don't like skipping to the quiz, because then I have to do two (lessons)."

This program is working very well in our house. The kids complete their lessons without complaint (most of the time!). I like that they can choose whether or not to listen to the instructional video. It's there if they need it, but doesn't make them crabby if they don't. The weekly email lets me see exactly how they're doing and what they're doing. We will continue to use this program. 

You can connect with GPA LEARN on the following social media sites:

You can read more reviews of this program on the Schoolhouse Review Crew blog.

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Tuesday, March 17, 2015

The Critical Thinking Co. Review

One of the reasons we homeschool is that we want our children to be able to think for themselves, to be able to problem solve to find a solution. It is our job to prepare them for life, not just memorize facts from a book. While rote memorization is profitable in certain areas, we don't want to solely rely on that method for our children's education. We strive to give our kids the tools necessary to make clear, reasoned judgments. In other words, we want to develop their critical thinking. Critical thinking has been defined as "the intellectually disciplined process of actively and skillfully conceptualizing, applying, analyzing, synthesizing, and/or evaluating information gathered from, or generated by, observation, experience, reflection, reasoning, or communication, as a guide to belief and action." Or more simply, identifying and evaluating evidence to guide decision making. What better way to strengthen their critical thinking than by using products from a company with the same name.

The Critical Thinking Co. is "committed to developing students' critical thinking skills for better grades, higher test scores, and success in life." They offer many books and curricula to prepare students. We've been using Math Analogies Beginning Software, a Windows program designed for kindergarteners and first graders to enhance their critical thinking skills. 

An analogy is a likeness or comparison between two things. Analogies play an intricate role in the solution of problems such as memory, perception, and decision making. And since problem-solving is a fundamental part of mathematical development, understanding analogies is an important skill that gives young students a good foundation for learning math.

Alyssa (6 yr) was the one practicing the analogies. I set her up with the program and helped her through the first few questions. They start with simple picture comparisons and work toward more difficult word  connections. Like typical analogy questions, the : is read as "is to" and the :: is read as "as".  So, in the example two : 2 :: one : ? is read as two is to 2 as one is to. Once I explained to Alyssa that she needed to find the connection or similarity between the pictures, she got right to work.

The program shows a simple screen with each question. On the top is the analogy; on bottom are the choices. To answer the problem, you drag your choice to the question mark. If you answered correctly, the word correct is shown in green font. If you answered incorrectly, the word incorrect is shown in red font.

There are many different things that are used for the comparisons: shapes, numbers, letters, cake with candles, smiley faces, coins, time, measurements, and more. The many choices keep the program interesting. The first day, Alyssa did 75 problems before questioning if she could be done. When you begin, you click on the First Attempt button. We weren't sure exactly how it worked at that point. I assumed it would be a few questions and then the lesson, per se, would be over. After that, I had her complete 25 analogies a day as part of her math work. On the 5th day, she was done almost the moment she began. Once she hit that 152nd problem, it sent her back to the main page. She was then able to click on the new Second Attempt button. That time, she completed 9 problems. The third attempt gave her 1 single analogy. The program is designed to repeat missed problems. Once you answer all 152 problems correctly, you have completed the program.

Alyssa easily completed this by herself. There were a couple times when she didn't quite understand what it was asking of her, but the simple design was not overwhelming at all. Some of the analogies made her really think about the answer. I loved watching her as she figured them out. Problem solving is what it's all about. The only thing I wish that would be different is having the option of multiple users. I had wanted a couple of my boys to try it out, but it only allows 1 user at a time. If you want someone else to complete the program, you have to cancel out all the work that has been done. It's easy enough to do, but it would be nice to be able to use it with more than one student at a time.

I think this is a good program and would like to see the higher levels of the analogy software. I like that it makes the student think. It's a wonderful foundation for those young learners.

If you'd like to read more reviews of this program or one of the many other products from this company, head to the Schoolhouse Review Crew blog.

You can connect with The Critical Thinking Co. on the following social media site:

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Sunday, March 15, 2015

Things That Make Me Smile 3/13/15

Jake (9), Alyssa (6½), Zac (5), Tyler (2½), Nicholas (2 months)

Happy Weekend! I hope you've had a great week, like we have. Feel free to share your own Smile either here on the blog or on Facebook. We'd love to Smile with you!

1. Me, to Nicholas: "Hey, little peanut."
Tyler: "He's not a peanut! He's a baby!"

2. Alyssa: "Mommy, sometimes when I'm not with you, I feel lonely."

3. Me: "I don't think we've taken any pictures of Nick today."
Jake: "I didn't realize we were supposed to take pictures of babies every day."
Me: "Well, yeah."
Alyssa: "Yeah, especially cute babies, like Nick."


5. Jake and I were playing Mario on the Wii. A 1-up fell and he told me, "You get it. You're going to need it."

6. Tyler: "Where's Daddy?"
Me: "He's at a meeting at church."
Tyler: "A meeting at church? I want Daddy BACK!"

7. Zac: "Can I put a granola bar in the new cabinet, right here?" {points to his stomach}

8. Zac: "How many badges do you think I have?"
Me: "Four?"
Zac: "Yes! You're so smart! Who do you think is the smartest person in the world?"
Me: "Mommy?"
Zac: "No."
Alyssa: "Daddy!"
Jake: "Papa?"
Zac: "Probably Great Grandpa and Great Grandma!


10. Zac: "Cheater, cheater, pumpkin-eater hanging from a telephone wire."

11. Alyssa: "I know who colored on this."
Me: "Tyler?"
Alyssa: "Yep, because nobody scribbles better than him."

12. Zac: "Nicky's so cute. I'm glad we have a baby that looks like this."

13. Zac. "Mommy, you were the first one born?"
Me: "In our family, yes"
Zac: "No wonder you're the oldest!"

What made you Smile this week?

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Wednesday, March 11, 2015

Visual Learning Systems

Science and electronics. Those two words describe the interests of my oldest child. He is very much like his daddy. They both want to know the hows and whys of the way things work. Me? I'm just happy to know they work! And while I may not share in their love of understanding all-things science, I do want to encourage my children to pursue their passions and further their learning. It's subjects like this when I'm especially grateful to review online curriculum, like this one from Visual Learning Systems. Mixing science and electronics, what could be better?  

This multisensory program offers two levels: Digital Science Online: Elementary Edition (grades K-5) and the Secondary Edition (grades 6-12).  Included in the annual membership is a collection of science videos, clips, animations, images, assessments, student activities, and teacher's guides. Everything needed to teach science is right here in one place. After all, its mission is "to reignite a passion for teaching and learning science." 

The younger kids participated in some of the course work, primarily watching the videos, but I focused on Jake for this program. Since he is 9 years old, he is using the elementary section. This section is broken down into 3 branches: physical, earth, and life. Within each branch of science is many subtopics.

  • Electrical Circuits
  • Forming Bonds
  • Investigating Chemical Reactions
  • Things in Motion
  • and 17 more
  • Exploring Fossils
  • Reading Maps
  • Stars and Galaxies
  • Weathering and Erosion
  • and 13 more
  • Blood and Circulation
  • Exploring Desert Biomes
  • Food and Digestion
  • Microscopic Life
  • and 21 more

The individual videos can be watched all at once or broken into chapters. We've found that the videos are around 15 minutes each. These narrated videos feature original live-action footage, closed-captioning, frequent on-screen questions, repetitious vocabulary, and clear visual cues for understanding. There are also short animations and and still images that accompany each lesson.

The teacher guides are easily accessed from the student's account. These include preliminary and post-tests, laboratory investigations, vocab exercises, and hands-on activities, along with other worksheets. 

You can choose to use the program as you wish, but this is how we utilized it. We school 4 days a week. This is the typical schedule Jake followed every day. Since the teacher guides that accompany each lesson vary, his assignments did, as well.

  1. Choose the subtopic.
  2. Complete the pretest.
  3. Watch the video.
  1. Watch the video.
  2. Complete the Video Review sheet (while watching video).
  3. Complete the Vocabulary sheet.
  1. Watch the video.
  2. Complete one of the remaining worksheets (i.e. writing activity or other).
  1. Complete the post-test.
  2. Watch the video to find answers to any incorrect problems.
  3. Complete a hands-on activity.

Jake has been enjoying this program and retaining a lot of information. He's been focusing on the physical topics and has been enjoying learning about things like subatomic particles, the periodic table of elements, and hydraulic systems. One of the hands-on activities that he chose was creating a barometer. He and the other kids gathered the supplies and got to work. Thankfully daddy was home, because they had a difficult time getting the balloon over the can. Daddy to the rescue! Since I was making dinner at the time, he also had the idea to hold the barometer over the steam from my pot to show it in action. See, I told you he was a science guy! We were able to watch the reaction happen quickly, which made it that much easier for the kids to understand.

Visual Learning Systems is a thorough online program for learning science. It has been working well for our family and I see us continuing to use this resource.

If you'd like to see how other families used this program or learn more about the high school level, you can read more reviews on the Schoolhouse Review Crew blog. You can also connect with Visual Learning Systems on Facebook and Twitter.

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