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Thursday, 4 February 2010
Graphics Toolbox - A Pre-review of a Great Poduct!
Mood:  a-ok
Topic: General

A pre-review...would that be a preview? I guess not. Anyway, I am so enthused about a product that we are trying out free for the TOS Homeschool Crew, that I am going to brag about it (or maybe brag about John Allen and I) even before I write my review.

Lynda Holler, one of the creators of Graphics Toolbox has been having "Go To Meeting" web classes for any crew members that are interested. I signed up for today's and John Allen and I attended it. I had been working a little with Graphics Toolbox and had watched a couple of the other classes (she has been recording them and offering them to the crew) but for some reason after today, everything began to click! Here is something that I just finished a few minutes ago.

There are some mistakes, but it gets easier as you get the hang of it. I am really excited about this one. 

So is John Allen. He was squealing and kept saying "cool" all throughout the class because of all of the neat things he could do. Take a look at these two pics.

This is the original.

And this is his funny creation.

It's far from perfect, but this is from a kid who hadn't even seen the program before today's class and was just messing around with it! I am super impressed!

Well, more on this great program later. I hope I got your interest piqued!

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Posted by tink38570 at 10:31 PM CST
Updated: Friday, 5 February 2010 12:08 PM CST
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Saxon FactsFirst - It's Still All Joshua's Fault
Mood:  a-ok
Topic: Homeschool Product Review


First of all, don't ask me what a nine year old is doing up at 11 pm. Just trust me on this, that's all part of having an asperger's child!

Second of all, it was Joshua's fault that I missed my deadline on this review! Here's the story:

My usual prep. work for writing a review involves going over my notes (if I've remembered to write any) and looking over the materials and website. In this case, since it is an online program that I was reviewing, I was looking at the materials on the FactsFirst website. In fact, I was pretending to be a student and playing some of the great math games. In walks Joshua, wondering what was going on. When he saw that I was playing the math games on FactsFirst, he said, "Oh, Dad, can I play? Can you get me on my guy? You know the one with the tennis racket? Please?" Now what Dad is going to deny his child doing math work when he actually BEGS  to do it? NOT ME! So in my usual investigative way, I got his character on and watched him play. All a part of my review writing prep., mind you. I wasn't having fun watching him play. Not me! Finally after reviewing the addition facts that he had been working on and playing the reward game, I told him that he had to relinquish the laptop so that I could write my review. LATE! And it was all his fault!

I remember when the TOS Homeschool Crew got word that we were going to review FactsFirst from Saxon Math. You could almost here the collective groan amongst the crew..."Another math program. We have already reviewed so many of them. And this will be the fourth one that we are working with at the same time!" You can include me in those ranks. It's not that I don't like math. I love it. It's not that I heard bad things about Saxon's FactsFirst. On the contrary, I only hear good things about Saxon. It's just that I had no idea how I was going to work all of the math stuff in. Oh ye of little faith. As usual I forgot that the Lord always provides a way, even if it is just reviewing several math things at once. And, of course, it has been easy reviewing all of the things and, as you can see from the above story, Saxon's FactsFirst, was no problem at all to fit in.

FactsFirst is just as it says. A way to review the basic facts so that they become automatic. We all know that unless a child has basic addition, subtraction, multiplication, and division down pat then all other areas of math will be hindered. Saxon created this program to make it fun to review those basic facts. And, make no mistake, that's all that this program does. It doesn't go in to decimals. There are no fractions, nor is there any hint of algebra. It is basic facts.

The first thing you do when you log in to FactsFirst is create your character. This isn't just a three choice type thing, you completely create your character. Down to the skin tone, hair color, eye color, clothes, and accessories. And they give dozens of choices for each! Here is the character that Joshua created.



After you are done creating your character, you choose what facts you want to work on. I chose addition for Joshua, and multiplication for John Allen. They begin with very easy problems. With Joshua, it was just 0 plus a number. With John Allen it was 0 x ? = . This obviously is a confidence booster for a child that knows his basic facts but just needs practice. But, if you don't know the facts, then they explain them in a fun lesson. What I really liked about these lessons is that they are practical. There is no, just teaching your child what 2+1 is. They have a scenario that they work with. For easy multiplication, your character goes to the carnival. They explain that for each game that is played, you get a ticket worth 2 points toward a prize. They ask that if you have one ticket, how many points is that and then go on to explain how they figured it out. All instructions are given in writing on the screen, with a voice that you can either turn on or off that reads the instructions and explanations to you. Other scenarios take place at other locations such as a store:



The student then goes into a series of sets of problems. They are encouraged to answer the questions as quickly as possible. If they answer quickly and correctly, they get a check +. If they get the problem correct, but it takes a while to answer, they only get a check. If they get the problem incorrect, a screen with the correct answer and the voice will tell you what you did wrong. After you have done a certain amount of problem sets, the program will stop and show you what progress that you have made thus far in a neat little chart:


Now, here comes the fun part. After the screen with your chart comes up, you are given 5 minutes to play one of their fun games. Tonight Joshua chose the miniature golf game where you have to answer a math question before you can putt the ball. Other days they have chosen matching games, games where you can change the look of your character, math jong games and, my favorite, throwing a water balloon at the correct answer to a math question:


After the game is played, they have the option of continuing on with another lesson, or quitting until another time. Parents can log in at any time and check the progress of each of their students on a separate page. Here is a copy of John Allen's recent progress page.

As you can see, at the bottom there is the option to increase the time allowed to get the check + or for the child to be untimed. That makes it easy for a parent to change if a child is having difficulty.

Now, I know that I say this with a lot of products, but I really like this program. The above testimonial about Joshua asking to play is one thing that really sold me on this product. It is excellent as a supplement for a student who is just learning his facts ~ like Joshua, or for a student who needs to review his facts ~ such as John Allen. It is very inexpensive as well . A one year family (1-4 students) subscription is only $49.99. To go to the FactFirst website, just click here or on any one of the hi-lighted links above. As usual, many other TOS Homeschool Crew Members reviewed this as well, and you can find links to their reviews by clicking here. Once again, since this is a product excellent for homeschoolers and non-homeschoolers alike, I will say "Happy Home Educating"!

As a member of the TOS Homeschool Crew, I was given a free 90 day subscription to Saxon's FactsFirst online math program in order to try out and review on my blog.



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Posted by tink38570 at 1:44 AM CST
Updated: Friday, 5 February 2010 11:42 AM CST
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Wednesday, 3 February 2010
It's All Joshua's Fault!
Mood:  sad
Topic: Homeschool Product Review


Forgive me TOS Homeschool Crew but I'm going to be about an hour late on my Saxon Facts First Math Review! Why? I have a good reason ~ one that I'm going to include in my review. Check back in about an hour to find out what it is!

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Posted by tink38570 at 11:48 PM CST
Updated: Wednesday, 3 February 2010 11:50 PM CST
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Tuesday, 2 February 2010
Tuesday's Toolbox - This Week's Item - Relatives
Mood:  happy
Topic: Blog Carnivals!

I have always liked groundhog day. It's small, unusual, and not even really a holiday. And, it's about a rodent who usually inaccurately predicts the weather. I don't know why I still enjoy it. Perhaps it's because I used to live in Pennsylvania, quite close to Punxutawney where Punxutawney Phil lives.

Another reason that February 2nd, is a favorite day of mine is because it is also my grandfather's birthday. Grandpa Tinkel would have been 109 years old today. Happy Birthday Grandpa!

I was very blessed to have Godly grandparents on both sides of the family. I loved all of my relatives. We lived with my mother's father in the hills of Pennsylvanis for a number of years when Grandpa got too old to live on his own. I learned a great deal from that gristly but kind retired coal miner/farmer. Grandpa Schickling lived on the old farm in the same house that my mother was born in. What more could a boy ask for while he was growing up?

I remember Grandpa teaching me how to plant a garden ~ a very large garden. He taught me how to rotate crops, how to walk the pony when we plowed (yes, we plowed with a pony), how to weed. He even set me up with my own strawberry business when I was just a boy. Oh, I hated it back then, but now, I hold dear to those memories, and I realize how valuable those lessons were.

Grandpa Tinkel, on the other hand, was a retired minister/school teacher from rural Indiana. It was always an adventure going to visit him. Grandma Tinkel passed away from cancer when I was young, and Grandpa Tinkel chose to do the honorable thing and take care of his mother-in-law, Great Grandma Starbuck. No, not from the coffee mogul, but, yes, from the great line of Starbuck's that founded and still live on Nantucket and Martha's Vinyard. And, yes, from the Starbuck's that Benjamin Franklin was related to. Grandpa Tinkel lived in a great house on Orchard Street in Wabash, IN. I loved that house. What fun my cousins Deanna and Brenda and I had. Dad had two brothers and no sisters. All three brothers had children in the same year. Brenda, Deanna and I always had a blast when we were together. 

There are many more memories that I relish from my childhood and youth. I'd like to blog about them in the future. Perhaps make it a regular feature. I want to write them down for my children's sake. My brother, David, always said that he was going to give Mom and Dad a tape player so that they could record memories from their childhood. We always said that we would do it, but never got the chance. Dad passed away, mom is becoming senile, and David, himself, succumbed to cancer almost two years ago. Now, it's up to my sister and I to write down our memories. Memories of how Mom used to be able to say the abc's backward as quick as we could say them forward. How Dad used to wear only white shirts and dark suits when he preached. Until my sister was brave enough to buy him some colored shirts for Christmas one year. Those stories mean nothing to others, but are memories that I will always cherish.

Why did I recall all of that for this weeks Tuesday's Toolbox? Because relatives can be an invaluable source for your child's education. Don't wait until it is too late to write the stories down of your parent's childhood and your own. Here are several ideas on how to incorporate your relatives into your child's learning.

  • Have your children interview your relatives. Perhaps they can talk to their grandparents about what life was like when they were young. Maybe they could have your siblings write down funny stories about you from your youth.
  • Help them make a scrapbook or a journal with pictures and the stories that they wrote down.
  • Compare prices to things back grandma and grandpa were kids to what the prices are today ~ a good math project.
  •  Have your children create a family newspaper with pictures and stories from their relatives.
  • Ask the grandparents or aunts or uncles to teach your child something from when they were young. Perhaps a game, making candles or soap, woodworking or gardening.
  • Doing those things will teach your children respect and understanding of your their elders.
Have I gotten the ideas flowing a little? There are tons of ways that you can incorporate your relatives into your children's learning. If all of your relatives are gone, find someone that knew them, or that at least grew up at the same time as they did. Use your imagination. Remember, family can be a great teaching tool. Don't neglect it.

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Posted by tink38570 at 6:31 PM CST
Updated: Tuesday, 2 February 2010 9:03 PM CST
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Monday, 1 February 2010
Score High With MathScore
Mood:  a-ok
Topic: Homeschool Product Review
As a member of the TOS Homeschool Crew I have been given a free six month subscription to Mathscore in order to try with my children
and to review on my blog.
This year, as a member of the Homeschool Crew, I have received a plethora of math products to try out. Some have been complete curriculum, and some have been review items. As I was thinking through all of the review items this evening, I had in mind what I thought would be the boy's favorites. When I asked them this evening, however, I was quite surprised at their answers. Mathscore was among the leaders for both John Allen and Joshua!

Although the website says that MathScore could be used as a homeschool curriculum, we used it as a review tool and as a tool to supplement what we were studying using another curriculum. MathScore is very much like the timed tests that we all used to take in math class. After registration, the parent or student chooses a grade level and then chooses a topic under that grade level. Students that are not used to typing are encouraged to begin on the "Copy Cat" level where they can practice finding numbers quickly. They can then progress to whatever topic that they may need help on or whatever topic that they are studying at the time.

Mathscore is a very no-fluff no nonsense review game. First you choose a topic. Let me tell you, first, about the topics. Mathscore covers everything from simple addition on up to Algebraic problems. You can literally use Mathscore from the time a child starts school through high school. The following is a list of just the first 25 of a list of about 100 on MathScore's intro page. However, that is only a small fraction of all of the topics that are included.

Counting Squares
Fast Addition
Fast Subtraction
Mixed Addition and Subtraction
Basic Word Problems
Telling Time
Odd or Even
Number Comparison
Addition Grouping
Patterns: Shapes
Tally and Pictographs
Bar Graphs
Understanding Multiplication
Beginner Multiplication
Arithmetic Word Problems
Odd or Even Theory
Place Value to 1000
Order Numbers to 1000
Fraction Pictures
Fraction Simplification
Multiplication Facts Strategies
Fast Multiplication
Fast Division
Rounding Numbers
Long Subtraction

After you choose a topic, you can either click on "sample problems" to see ahead of time what you are expected to do or you can go right to the "worksheet". But, beware, if you choose worksheet, the time will begin right away. Generally you have a certain amount of time to complete a set of problems. The time depends on how many problems there are as well as the difficulty of the problems. The amount of problems also vary and can span from around 3 at a beginning level to 30 or more at a more advanced level.

The problems are presented one by one and to answer, all you have to do is type your response and press enter to go on to the next problem. A timer below the problems counts down and tells you how many seconds you have left to complete that worksheet. I thought that this would really effect Joshua because he gets very frustrated doing timed tests. It did at first, and then I found the handy dandy "padding" button where the parent can pad the time for a student and add extra seconds per problem for their student. I upped Joshua time to where he could feel success from the start and build his confidence. As you progress through a topic, the problems become more difficult and there are more of them to do in a required time period. If the child is still getting frustrated after adjusting the time, no problem. Just print out some of their fully customizable worksheets for your student to do untimed until he is ready for the timed online worksheets. 

The following is a sample of some of the simple algebraic problems that they may have to complete.

Complexity=5, Mode=1

1.   f + 3 = - 5
f =
 2.   c + 1 = 9
c =
3.   t + 1 = 3
t =
 4.   3t = 18
t =
5.   - 3 = q + 1
q =
 6.   3g = 3
g =

Complexity=7, Mode=2

1.   38 = 7q - 4
q =
 2.   6t + 6 = - 48
t =
3.   4w - 5 = - 41
w =
 4.   5w + 5 = - 30
w =
5.   7k + 4 = - 31
k =
 6.   3e - 6 = 0
e =


As a student moves through a topic, if he is having difficulty, the worksheets and problems will move up in small increments. If a student finds the problems easy, then the next worksheet may skip a few levels and advance the student further. Students also get points depending on what level they are on. As a child gets more points, he achieves different ranks - beginning with "Trainee" and ending with the very hard to achieve "Fleet Admiral". Let me warn you, though, that Fleet Admiral takes many years to achieve and by the time the student achieves it he can definitely work complex high school problems and, according to the MathScore website can pass any high school math achievement test. Here is what the website stated about the Fleet Admiral ranking ~ "Student is highly self-motivated and might be a genius." There are also 14 trophies that can be unlocked if you complete certain prerequisite topics.

As I said before, this is definitely a no-fluff curriculum. There are no graphics, no cutsie cartoons, just problems. For some reason, even without the glitz, my kids both loved it. Maybe it's the challenge of making a good score or moving up a rank. Perhaps it's the goal of unlocking a trophy. Whatever it is, I like it. They are learning math, and learning how to think quickly! What else can a parent ask for?

Having given all of these praises, however, let me give one slight warning. I feel that MathScore is an excellent tool for review or supplement, but not as a complete curriculum. Although the site says that MathScore can be used as a complete math curriculum, it only has what they call "Sample Problems",  They are just what they say, sample problems with not much, if any, explanation. I feel that another curriculum would need to be used to supplement MathScore.

After saying that, though, again I will say that as a supplemental tool, MathScore is fantastic and has a fantastic price. It offers a free 2 week trial to try it out. After that, it is $9.95 a month for the first child, $5.00 a month for the second child, then $3.95 for each child after that. Such a deal! You can even pay a certain amount ahead of time and they will just credit the amount of months you want to pay for. You pay for and get what you want. You can check out their website by clicking here or on any one of the hi-lighted links above. To find out what the rest of the TOS Homeschool Crew thinks about Mathscore, just click here. Happy homeschooling.

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Posted by tink38570 at 11:55 PM CST
Updated: Tuesday, 2 February 2010 12:14 AM CST
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