Wednesday, November 20, 2013

The Old Schoolhouse Review Crew: Year End Roundup

It was such a blessing (not to mention a lot of fun!) to be on The Old Schoolhouse Review Crew this year! I am very thankful for the opportunity. This year, I have learned so many different things, not only about homeschooling, but about blogging, writing, graphic design, and day to day aspects of homeschooling that I never even thought about before! I have been a part of a community of amazing homeschool parents, and shared in their joys, triumphs, and burdens of homeschooling and raising children.

This past year, I have had the privilege of reviewing 41 different items in our home!  Some were 'fun' and others were hard work. Many of these items were brand new to me - I had never even heard of them before! Others were ones that I knew 'something' about, but was glad to investigate them 'in depth'.

First of all, the entire Crew voted on their favorites for the 2013 Blue Ribbon Awards.  The kids helped me vote, picking all their favorites. As expected, many of our favorites were also favorites of the other families, and won the most votes for their category. The kids were pretty excited to see what won, and also to share which review items were their favorites for the year!

I would like to share our family's personal "Top Ten Review Items" for 2013:

1) All Around Favorite, most awe-inspiring product: Homeschool Spanish Academy  Laura had been saving up her own personal money to purchase a semester of this program. When it became available for review, we were ecstatic. She really, really loved it and I loved the fact that she was enjoying her Spanish so much! Her teacher was so sweet, and it was absolutely amazing to be conversing in Spanish with a lady in Guatemala while sitting in the comforts of our own home! Laura voted this program as her most favorite review item of the year!

2) The program that made Mom really happy: ok....where do I go from here? There were several....but I have to say that High School Prep Genius is a pretty amazing book. Amazing enough that I purchased several copies and have given/lent them to other high school homeschoolers. Homeschooling high school is definitely not for the faint of heart, and I really felt like this book thoroughly equips a parent for the journey.

3) The program that Mom had the most fun with:  Again, hard choice. But I will settle on Picaboo Yearbooks for this one, since it seemed like all fun and no work to put it together. It came at a very convenient time. When we started the review, Heather had just graduated, so I took the opportunity to make her a special graduation keepsake album of her Senior Year, which she treasures.

4) Family fun:  The Presidential Game brought us many happy 'family game night' memories.

5) Kelly's favorite:  Hands down....Kelly loved the Lily Lapp Books from Baker Publishing. Actually her and Melissa both loved these books....enough that I have purchased the rest of the series! They go on the website and do the activities for the books, they have used them for book reports, and they have shared them with their friends. I love the clean living and wholesome stories that are presented.

6) Melissa's favorite: While we had an abundance of Spanish curriculum reviews this year, which was great for Laura and Kelly, Melissa has always wanted to learn French! There are not as much materials and resources available for learning French as there is for Spanish, so this had been placed on the back burner for awhile, or at least till Melissa is older. We were so pleased to be on the review for French Essentials! Learning French has been a lot harder than Melissa thought it would be, but she is so thrilled about it, and voted it as her favorite!

7) Best Overall Addition to our Homeschool: We have dabbled with Apologia Science in the past, but this year, we jumped in full time! While we are currently studying Anatomy & Physiology, we had the blessed privilege to review the brand new Exploring Creation with Chemistry & Physics curriculum and were very pleased! Melissa thrives on the hands on approach to Science, and has been learning and retaining so much information. When we complete our current Anatomy study, we are going to change gears and finish what we started in the Chemistry program.

8) Wow..."I Can't Believe I Made This" Award: This definitely goes to Rosie's Doll Clothes Patterns. Melissa is learning how to sew, and this couldn't have come at a more perfect time. By watching the online videos, and following the pattern and directions, she was able to create an outfit for her American Girl doll all on her own without my help! Such a confidence booster for her! It was so exciting to watch her grow so much in this area with just the help of this one program.

9) Dabbling In the World of Lapbooks: Until this school year, we had not made a lapbook before. I had heard about them, but really didn't even know what they were! This year we had the privilege to review several lapbooks from several different companies, and found out that Kelly and Melissa really enjoy building them! I think the one from Homeschool In The Woods really impressed me the most.

10) Too Cool For Words: Rounding out our 'top ten' list is Adventus MusIQ. This is a really unique program that gives interactive piano instruction through the computer. While we have not used it as much as I would like, it is always enjoyable when we do get to use it. The girls have a keyboard that hooks right up to the computer and then they are able to receive instant feedback on their music practice.

Thank you so much to my Review Crew friends and leaders who have made my first year really enjoyable! Looking forward to another 'Tour of Duty' in 2014!

Tuesday, November 19, 2013

Apologia Anatomy & Physiology Unit Two: Build A Spine

As we continue on the study of the Skeletal System, we discussed the spine and how absolutely perfect it is for our bodies!

Not only is it our 'backbone' and main support of our body, but it is also the conduit for our Central Nervous System. The most amazing attribute of the spine is it's flexibility. Can you imagine how hard life would be if we could not bend?

We built a model spine to demonstrate the combination of vertebrae and discs, showing how each vertebrae has a cushion and shock absorber. This combination of bone and tissue is able to bend as we move our bodies.

The girls found this pretty fascinating!

How to build your own model spine:

This is a pretty simple, quick, and easy project! For supplies, all you need is wagon wheel pasta for the vertebrae, gummy Lifesavers for the discs, and a pipe cleaner to hold it together. (We also discussed how the bundle of nerves passes through the center of the vertebrae and discs, much like the pipe cleaner runs through the middle of the pasta and gummies).

Build your 'spine' by placing gummies and pasta alternately on the pipe cleaner. Bend the ends of the pipe cleaner to keep it all in place.

Demonstrate how a spine can be straight when we are standing, but also how it can be flexible when we bend over.

The best part about this experiment? The kids love eating all the gummies once they are done!

Copyright 2012-2013 - "Be The One" -  All rights are reserved. No text, photos, or content may be reproduced without direct permission from the author.

Monday, November 18, 2013

Apologia Anatomy & Physiology: Unit Two - Skeletal System As Helper & Protector

Apologia Anatomy & Physiology: Unit Two

How our Skeletal System helps protect us and support us!

As we continued through our study of the skeletal system, we completed two very simple projects that really illustrated some important jobs of our skeleton and bones!

First, we studied how the brain is protected by our skull! The skull is so interesting. An infant's skull is made to 'grow with them' and then fuse together when the head has completed it's growth. Inside the skull, our brain is surrounded by fluid, which allows it to be 'cushioned' and not get scrambled when we move around.

We illustrated this by taking an egg (the brain) and putting it inside a plastic container that was just a little bit bigger (the skull).

We then filled the container with water, put the lid on, and Melissa ran around the house with it, up and down stairs, and jumping all around. The egg was kept safe and perfect! It didn't suffer a scratch! (And as far as we know, it wasn't scrambled either!)  The egg 'floating' in water inside a container illustrates how the fluid inside our skull protects the brain.
We then drained the water out of the container, leaving the egg inside, and in a very vulnerable position. Melissa repeated all her previous movements, and then checked on the egg.....

Uh Oh!!! Scrambled egg with shells! Without the fluid to cushion it, the egg shattered. It is amazing how God designed us perfectly, allowing our body the ability to protect itself from harm.

We then explored just how important our bones are to our body by making a 'man' out of clay. The first attempt was 'just clay', and Melissa was disappointed that she could not seem to make a man that would be able to stand on his own.

After discussing how the main purpose of our skeleton is to support our frame, and give structure to our body, she then used toothpicks as bones and inserted them into our clay man. With this extra support, I am happy to say that he was actually able to stand up all on his own! (although he was a little top heavy!)

Don't you love his little toothpick smile?  :-)

Healthy bones play a vital role in our overall well being. It's been fun and interesting to learn about them.

Copyright 2012-2013 - "Be The One" -  All rights are reserved. No text, photos, or content may be reproduced without direct permission from the author.

Wednesday, November 13, 2013

Fall Flavors: Gluten Free & Dairy Free Pumpkin Muffins

Image from - photo sharing, by Robert S. Donovan
If you love fall like I do, then you probably also love the flavors of fall....the layers of flavor available from various types of winter squash, apples, and grapes.
Here is a recipe that uses pumpkin to make a flavorful fall muffin that goes great with a mug of warm apple cider!
Best of's gluten and dairy free!
Tip: If you would prefer to use fresh pumpkins as opposed to canned, you can easily do so. All you have to do is cut a pumpkin in half, scoop out the seeds, and place it with the inside part down in a large roasting pan. Pour enough water in the pan to cover the bottom, then put the pan in the oven at 350 degrees. Cooking time will vary according to the size of your pumpkin, but typically you can plan on at least an hour. Larger pumpkins will take longer, of course. The pumpkin is done cooking when the surface starts to brown and the inside flesh is very soft. Remove the pan from the oven and allow it to cool. Then scrape the pumpkin flesh out of the rind, and run it in small amounts through a food processor until smooth. This pumpkin flesh can then be frozen for later use, or used in any recipe that calls for canned pumpkin.
Pumpkin Muffins - DF & GF recipe
1 cup pumpkin puree (see instructions above or use canned pumpkin)
1/3 c. canola oil
2 eggs
1 1/2 c. gluten free flour blend
1 tsp. baking powder
3/4 tsp. xantham gum
1/2 tsp. baking soda
1/2 tsp. salt
1 1/2 c. sugar
3/4 tsp. cinnamon
1/8 tsp. nutmeg
1/4 tsp. ground cloves
1/8 tsp. ground ginger
(or if you can substitute 1 1/2 tsp. pumpkin pie spice for the above 4 spices)
First blend your dry ingredients together in a large bowl. Make a space in the middle of the dry mix to pour the wet ingredients into. In a separate bowl, blend the pumpkin, eggs, and oil until well combined, then pour into the middle of the dry ingredients. Gently stir until just blended, but do not overmix or your muffins will turn out with a chewy, tough texture.
Prepare your muffin pans by either greasing them or lining them with paper liners. Fill 2/3 full with muffin mix and bake in a 350 degree oven for about 20 minutes. Muffins are done when a cake tester poked into the middle comes out clean.
Enjoy! These are especially delicious when still warm. :-)


Copyright 2012-2013 - "Be The One" -  All rights are reserved. No text, photos, or content may be reproduced without direct permission from the author.

This recipe is linked with "Try A New Recipe Tuesday" at Home to 4 Kiddos

Monday, November 11, 2013

Review: French Essentials

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Nearly all the foreign language studies in our household, especially this past year, have revolved around various forms of Spanish curriculum. While that has been wonderful, one of my children has always had a strong desire to learn French instead!  Until this point, we had not explored this further as we simply had not come across a suitable and affordable program for her to use. Then we were given the opportunity to review French Essentials through The Old Schoolhouse Review Crew. We were given one year to the Full Access Online Program on the website.

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Online Portal

French Essentials began as an effort of two native French homeschool parents, Greg and Irene Shone, who put together French tutoring lessons at the request of their friends. It developed into a DVD program. In order to grow and be more affordable for more families, they decided to build an online portal where families could purchase the lessons in modules, and access all parts of the lessons in one central location.

There are 6 modules currently available, with another 4 modules being developed and coming soon. Students can move at their own pace through the modules. If a student already has some French knowledge, they can start off with the online placement test to see which module they should begin with. If they have no previous French instruction, then it is suggested to start with Module 1.

What is the recommended age for this curriculum? Students need at least a 3rd grade reading level to be able to work in this program. Modules 1-5 are equivalent for use in grades 4-8. Modules 5 and 6 are suggested for junior high level. High school level (grades 10-12) can use modules 7-10 (with previous use of this program, or prior French instruction).

What is this program like? French Essentials really is a total immersion French program. Once you purchase access to the online program, you will be able to download your written lessons for your entire module. The lessons contain built-in audio links, so that everything you need for the lesson is right on your desktop. The lesson will instruct you to 'click a link to hear the correct pronunciation, and then repeat it', or give directions to practice with your teacher. The audio links can be repeated as often as desired in order to practice the new words or phrases.

Not only does French Essentials have written lessons that contain audio links, but once you are on the website, you can go to the interactive section that corresponds with your module, and have further review. There are a number of varied review opportunities, such as flash cards to review new vocabulary, games, and tests. The flash cards and games have numerous options, such as choosing English to French, or French to English. You also have the option of choosing to listen to the words/phrases being said, or reading them.

Testing: The online tests have several options - fill in the blanks, multiple choice, or matching. The parent can choose the level of difficulty depending on the student's age and abilities. Older students would be required to know actual correct spelling, and not just 'how to say' the words, for example. Younger students, on the other hand, might be required to be able to just recognize the correct matches, but not have to know how to write them out. The tests are graded immediately by the computer, to make it easier for parents.

Does a parent need to know French for their child to use this program? No! The parent may want to learn alongside the child, but everything the child needs to work through this program is included for them, right at their level. Each module contains a handy parent checklist that allows the parent to keep careful records of what the student has accomplished, and to keep track of their test scores. It really helps the parent to know that all the material has been covered.

Parent's checklist

What about written work? Each lesson contains downloadable worksheets for plenty of review! I was amazed at how much book work was included in addition to the actual lesson. The worksheets vary in intensity, with a good mixture of fun breaking up the tedious review exercises. And never fear....there is a teacher key available on the website for the parent to download. Again, a working knowledge of French is not a necessity for the parent!

A really neat feature: Melissa really enjoyed the French culture videos that accompany the lessons. Level One includes six short videos describing various aspects of French culture. We were surprised to learn how many countries have French as one of their official languages! It was about three times more than what I expected!

Total immersion: French Essentials seeks to meet the needs of all types of learners. The work is presented with diversity to satisfy all the learning styles. There is written work, audio, video, and plenty of review options. The only thing missing is having an actual French person sitting in the room with you, giving you instant feedback.

How we used this program: My 7th grader, Melissa, is the student using this program. After signing up and gaining access to the website, I easily downloaded the first few lessons of module one, and we began to work on it. Module one contains twenty lessons, and my plan was to get through the first 'introduction' lessons quickly, moving Melissa on to the meatier portion of the module. I found out that she was not ready to move as quickly as I thought and was getting very frustrated, so we slowed it down, and have completed one lesson a week, spending about four days on each lesson. This has been a much more enjoyable pace for her.

Module one lessons are about 70 pages long total, and start the student off with learning the French alphabet, as well as simple greeting and friendly phrases. Overall, they will learn about 160 new vocabulary words and phrases. Because of the varied review methods, the students really do learn this vocabulary inside out. Each lesson has a set of printable worksheets, and I also printed those out and put them in a binder for Melissa.

We typically would spend two days on the actual lesson itself, reading it over, and listening to the audio prompts in the lesson. Melissa would practice and repeat as instructed. The corresponding worksheets for the lesson would take us one to two days to complete, and then Melissa would spend one day on the website doing extra review games and practice for that lesson. This is also when she would explore the culture videos or take the online test. I haven't used the tests a whole lot yet, since she is just beginning, but I know they will come in handy as she progresses into more difficult material. Each day had an overlap of various activities...we would start the lesson first, but then move on to worksheets and complete one or two pages each day, until they were finished.

My opinion:  Prior to beginning this program, Melissa knew about ten French words. She desperately wanted to learn French, though, so we set off on our journey. I have to say that this program was much more work than I was expecting! When I first learned that module one was considered appropriate for third grade and up, I think mentally I was prepared for much easier lessons. The program is definitely more intense than I anticipated. This actually turned out to be a positive factor though, because although we have had to go much slower than I planned, Melissa is learning a lot more than I thought she would! I view this program much more as a junior high/senior high school level course, and not as an elementary course, although younger students definitely could get something out of it. When using all aspects of the course as instructed, be prepared for an intense study of the French language, and a thorough workout of all your linguistic tendencies!

For the future: Melissa is enjoying learning French, and seems to have a natural knack for repeating words with the accents of the speakers in the video clips. I am excited to have her learning the language that she had such a longing for. She will continue with module one, and I hope to have her complete module two this year as well. Since we were given a one year membership for this review, I will have Melissa use that time to go as far as she is able in her French journey. I would definitely be interested in purchasing more modules in the future so that Melissa could further her studies. I think the layout of this program is more than adequate to give a thorough French education to my aspiring Francophone!

Computer requirements: Since this program is accessed through an online portal, the user should have a good working knowledge of downloading so that they are able to acquire their lessons. The program is available for both Mac and PC users, and utilizes Adobe Reader and Quicktime. There is a good deal of technical help on the website in case you run into problems with any aspect of the program.

So what does it cost? There are two ways to purchase this program. Modules can be purchased separately, one at a time, allowing 90 days of complete access to all components of the program, for $69.95. Or you can purchase full access to the entire set of modules currently available for a whole year for $149.95.

See how other Crew members are using French Essentials in their home by clicking the banner below:

Copyright 2012-2013 - "Be The One" -  All rights are reserved. No text, photos, or content may be reproduced without direct permission from the author.

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Review: Apologia Educational Ministries

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Homeschool Science Made Fun and Easy!
Apologia Educational Ministries is a well known name in homeschool circles. They are especially known for their amazing hands-on science curriculums, which we have been blessed to use in our homeschool.
This fall, we were given the privilege to review Exploring Creation With Chemistry and Physics, the newest textbook set in the K-6th grade Apologia series. We also received the Exploring Creation with Chemistry and Physics Notebooking Journal for Melissa to review, and the Exploring Creation with Chemistry and Physics Junior Notebooking Journal  for Kelly to review.
About Apologia: Establishing a Christian world view in the lives of your students is an important foundation in Apologia's Curriculum. Also equally important is the methodology used to teach the concepts - a very hands-on, engaging approach.
About this book: Exploring Creation with Chemistry and Physics is a large 280 page hardcover textbook with 14 chapters covering the following topics:
  • Introduction to Chemistry and Physics
  • Moving Matter (Properties of matter)
  • Building Blocks of Creation (atoms, elements)
  • Compound Chemistry (crystals, acids, reactants)
  • Multitude of Mixtures (solutes, colloids, alloys)
  • Mechanics in Motion (Newtons' Laws of Motion, inertia)
  • Dynamics of Motion (friction, adhesion, gravity, centripetal force)
  • Work In the World (types of energy)
  • Sound of Energy (conductors, frequency, bioacoustics)
  • Light of the World (spectrum, sources of light)
  • Thermal Energy (thermodynamics)
  • Electrifying Our World (electricity)
  • Mysterious Magnetism
  • Simple Machines (planes, levers, pulleys)
Since there is so much information on the Apologia website, including a downloadable sample of the book, I would like to focus on how we used this material.

We set aside our current Science studies, and completely focused on this Chemistry & Physics material for the last 5 weeks. In the book, there is a plan that we loosely followed, to complete each chapter (or lesson) in about 2 weeks. We started right at the beginning, and completed Lessons 1 and 2. I wanted to get the most out of this material for review purposes, so we did every experiment in the book! (There are plenty to choose from to illustrate the concepts - you don't have to do all of them, and can choose which ones are most appropriate for your children).

Since Melissa is a 7th grader, I wanted to make sure that she is really working this material inside out and soaking up all she can out of it. Not only are there a good number of activities in the book, and the notebooking journal, but there is also an "extras" website available, that has more information to be incorporated into your studies for students who wish to 'delve deeper' or parents who would like more information on explaining the reasoning behind why some of the experiments worked out the way they did.

The way the textbook is set up, both my 3rd grader and 7th grader were able to use the book. We did the lessons together, and then each wrote notes in their respective journals. The regular notebook journal has much more room to record observations about experiments and notes from the textbook lessons. It also has a page of review questions, an intense vocabulary crossword puzzle, and extra mini-book projects (similar to what you might find in a lapbook). The only thing that Melissa thought was 'too young' for her was the copywork pages. (A page with a Scripture verse to copy that is applicable to the lesson).

The junior notebooking journal contained coloring pages, (which Kelly loved), a simpler crossword puzzle (which made her feel important - she had a 'harder thing', just like Melissa!), and pages to record her notes and observations about the textbook lesson and the experiments. She also had a mini book project, as well as copywork. (Which she is more used to doing, so it was not a problem for her).

The program is set up to do science lessons 3 days a week. We did it 3-4 days a week. We found that we had more time to complete all the experiments that way. It was also easier to break up the notebooking journal into smaller assignments over more days.

What we studied:

Here is a sampling of some of the topics we covered in the first two chapters:

We made four varied concentrations of salt water, illustrated by four different colors. We were able to layer them in a clear straw, according to their density levels.


Using salt water again, we were able to float an egg (and a bunch of other household items!) in salt water but not in tap water. We also layered a number of household liquids in a glass bottle, and dropped items into the bottle to see how far they would drop. This was probably the favorite experiment! The entire household was gathered around, guessing which layer the various items would end up, and cheering when they were right!

Trapping air in a cup while dipping the cup underwater never gets old! The kids did it over and over again. I loved the idea of wadding up a piece of paper to fit into the bottom of the cup, to prove that no water was getting inside the cup!

Exploring surface tension by floating a needle on top of the water, and learning cohesion of water molecules by running them around a piece of wax paper!

When learning about the properties of matter, we created a gas by combining pop rocks and carbonated soda. We also built tin foil rafts to learn the best way to displace weight over the surface of the water. The girls' rafts held about 2oz of coins, but Mom's raft held 6.2 oz of coins!!!

Another fun project that received lots of "oohs and aahs" was creating an amorphous solid (it's matter that has the properties of both a solid and a liquid!) The girls 'studied' their pan of goo for about an hour before Mom made them clean it up! It was rather fascinating to feel a liquid that didn't splatter!

My highlights: I love the thoroughness of this text. It is written in simple enough language that a child can understand, yet has enough 'deeper' information that an older elementary (or in this case, junior high) student can really sink their teeth into it as well. There are enough activities and experiments to make it a complete study, although each chapter also has extra resources suggested to round out further studies. We did end up utilizing some of those as well (library books and videos).

My best endorsement of this book has to do with the strong Creation foundation that is given, right from page one. I love how matter is introduced by discussing Creation. The teaching completely aligns with the worldview that I am striving to teach my children.

I am also amazed at how much of this science the girls have understood. It is said that you completely understand something when you can explain it. They have been able to 'narrate' or explain back the concepts they have learned, and by doing all the hands-on experiments, they have been able to understand how those concepts relate to real life, further solidifying it in their minds. They have never retained so much material on this subject matter as they have after completing the first two lessons of this book!

What do the kids say? The success of this book can best be summed up with this one liner from Melissa, "Mom, this science is SO FUN!"

How much does this cost? The hardcover textbook is $39 and the notebooking journal and junior notebooking journal both sell for $24 each.

What grades are covered? This book is intended for K through 6th grade. As you can see from our example, we are successfully using it in 7th grade. It is intended for use with multiple grade levels at once in a homeschool situation.

I wholeheartedly recommend this homeschool science curriculum! See what other members of The Old Schoolhouse Review Crew thought of it, and how they are using it by clicking the banner below....

Copyright 2012-2013 - "Be The One" -  All rights are reserved. No text, photos, or content may be reproduced without direct permission from the author.
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Happy Veteran's Day

I would like to take this opportunity to thank all the United States veterans who have placed themselves in harm's way and dedicated their lives to protect this country that I hold dear. I am so thankful for your service to our country. Whether in war or peacetime, our veterans have done something that I am not able to do, and I am very grateful.

Thank you, also, to the many families who stay behind and support their service men and women. Your sacrifice is not forgotten either.

I would like to share a really neat video of the USMC Silent Drill Platoon. These guys are amazing, and my kids love watching their videos.

Wednesday, November 6, 2013

Review: IXL Math and English

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"Perfect Practice Makes Perfect"
When homeschooling, there are so many choices that can be made, ranging from which curriculum to use, what to invest money in, what learning style do your students have, what teaching style you want to utilize....on and on it goes. No matter what you end up choosing, there still is only one way for students to improve....practice! Whether students gain math and English skills through a mastery plan or a spiral style of learning, all students still need some form of practice and repetition to cement those skills in their mind. I recently learned of,  and had the opportunity for Kelly (3rd grade) to review their Online Math Membership and Online Language Arts Membership. 
What is IXL? IXL is an online program that helps students practice their Math and English skills. It is very thorough - all concepts are covered with multiple questions, organized by topic.
What IXL is not: It does not have lessons that teach the concepts to the student - it is reinforcement and practice for skills already learned. (Although when a student answers a question incorrectly, they are given an explanation of why their answer was wrong, and how to find the correct one).
What grades are covered? The Math activities begin with pre-school concepts such as counting and number recognition, and have a skills set for each grade level through eighth grade. There are currently three high school math categories: Algebra 1, Algebra 2, and Geometry. The Language Arts
section covers concepts of second through fourth grade.
What is the program like? Each student is given a unique log in, with a graphic of their choosing. They are able to start on their grade's home page. Skills that they have already mastered have a small gold medal next to them on the list. They are able to choose a skill to work on, and start on that set of problems. Once they open the skills to practice, there is only one problem on each page. The problems are listed simply with either a simple answer to type in, or a multiple choice answer to click. On the right side of the page, there is a box showing how many questions the student has answered, how much time they have spent, and what percentage is their mastery. (They are shooting for 100%). Each time they answer a question incorrectly, their mastery number goes down and they have to work at increasing it again. They do not have to completely master a skill area before going on to something else. It will keep track of where they left off.

How much does it cost? An IXL family membership can be purchased for $9.95 a month or $79 a year for the first student, for either math or English. Purchase of both subjects is $15.95/month or $129/year. Additional students can be added for $2/month or $20/year. There is also an iPad app, although we didn't review that.
How do I know where my student fits into this program? There is a list of categories and corresponding skills for each grade level. There is no limit placed on which area your student can access. If you want them to practice skills from a lower grade level, than that is what you choose. If they are advanced, and can practice higher level skills, that is available as well. They have access to all the skill sets to practice, not just their own assigned grade level.
How much practice is available? Will I use it all up before my one year membership is finished?  I will talk about third grade, since that is what we reviewed. There are 230 "skills" listed for third grade math, and 106 "skills" listed for third grade Language Arts. Each skill has quite a number of practice questions. Even if a student mastered one skill daily, there would be plenty just in their current grade level to keep them busy! Not to mention, they could also access other grade levels for extra practice!
How will the parent know what the student is practicing? IXL has one of the most comprehensive report systems in place that I have ever seen in an online program. The parent, by clicking on to their "reports" section, has complete access to everything that the student has completed. They can see exactly what sections were completed, where the proficiency level is, whether the student has 'mastered' a concept, or is having difficulty with it, where the "trouble spots" are, and how much time was spent. The reports have both lists and colorful graphs. They also measure improvement and student progress.
What's in it for the student? Of course, parents know that students need to practice these skills, but let's face are not always thrilled about this idea! Especially if they have already completed book work for the day in Math and English, they might not be thrilled about spending some extra time on the computer "doing more problems". So how does IXL motivate them? The biggest motivation I found was the "rewards chart" in the Math section. After so many correct responses, students earn medals and rewards that they are able to unlock, and fill in a graph on their rewards chart.
Kelly's Math rewards chart
Some extra rewards: IXL emails a certificate to the parent's email address, when the student has met certain requirements in the program. Kelly would earn certificates for 1) reaching a plateau of time spent on the program, 2) reaching mastery level of a skill, and 3) answering a certain number of questions.  These can be printed out. Kelly was very excited whenever I told her that she received a new certificate. She really enjoyed this extra acknowledgement of her efforts!


How did we use this program? Since we already have both a Math and Language Arts curriculum that has been serving us well, I used IXL as I believe it's intended purpose is....for reinforcement and extra practice. Kelly used the program approximately four days a week, after she was finished with her regular work for the day. Some days, she was on a roll and stayed on the program for quite a while. Other days, she completed one small set of questions and was done. Most days, I would select a skill for her to work on, and then allow her to select one that she wanted to complete. My choices were things that I knew she needed extra practice in, such as division, word problems, and number comparison, and thus were more difficult for her. Her choices typically included 'fun' things such as graphs and counting money. In Language Arts, Kelly worked a lot on parts of speech, types of verbs, antonyms and synonyms, and verb usage in the sentences. I really liked how the Language Arts sentences were set up - simple and interesting.

Was it hard to keep Kelly motivated? In the beginning, Kelly rushed to complete her regular work, so she could "do IXL" on the computer. Of course, once all the easy and fun skills were mastered and it got a little harder, she was not quite as enthusiastic, but she does still enjoy it, and often will log in on her own without me prompting her. Any program that will offer solid reinforcement and practice of math and English skills without making it seem like grueling work is a success in my book!
Improvements I would suggest: There are a few things that I think would make this program more user friendly:
  1. It would be so much easier if there was a way for the parent to create assignments for the child, and then track their progress on those assignments. While I really appreciate all the feedback and reports, and how careful IXL is to inform me of all that was completed, it would be so much more efficient if I could map out the week of practice time and then have the student log in and complete the work that I want them to be doing.
  2. The rewards chart was a good motivation for Kelly. Often she would 'hang in there' and practice just a little more because she was close to earning a reward. She was very disappointed that the rewards chart was only on the math section, and not on the Language Arts section.
  3. As a homeschool teacher, I was disappointed that one section of the performance reports measured my student against my state's standards. As a homeschooler, while I use the state standards as guidelines, I do not prescribe to them as the foundation of my homeschool. My children do take annual standardized testing, and do well on those, but it is confusing to me to see one performance report showing a 25% mastery of third grade Language Arts, then another report showing only a 9% mastery of State common core concepts. I think it would be easier to understand if the reports were consistent, and just measured individual student progress, or performance comparisons over time. To measure a student against a state common core standard when they are not enrolled in a common core program could be an unnecessary discouragement to a homeschooler, and I don't believe it accurately reflects their real-life achievement level.
  4. We had a hard time understanding how the 100% mastery was achieved in some of the skills sets. If only one question was answered incorrectly or slowly, the number would go down, or would not increase as quickly. It did not seem to be a consistent scale and it would frustrate Kelly that sometimes she achieved mastery quickly, and other times it seemed she could not gain that elusive '100' no matter how hard she tried.
In the future: Thanks to IXL, we received a one year membership in exchange for our review. I plan on having Kelly use this program for practice and reinforcement for the duration of the school year, and then over the summer to reinforce concepts in preparation for fourth grade. IXL has plans to expand their Language Arts program to include more grade levels in the future. I think that the questions are excellent preparation for the standardized assessment testing that Kelly will take in the
Spring, because some of the questions and concepts are worded differently than they are in her current curriculum, so this exposes her to various ways that the problems may be worded on the assessment testing.
I am very thankful for the opportunity to add this program to our homeschool! I have found it to be thorough and enriching!
Click the banner to see what other homeschooling families thought of this program!
 Copyright 2012-2013 - "Be The One" -  All rights are reserved. No text, photos, or content may be reproduced without direct permission from the author.
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Monday, November 4, 2013

Review: Carole P. Roman

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Our family really enjoys learning about other cultures. We place a big emphasis on foreign missions, and make supporting missionaries a priority. We have many missionaries come visit our church, and the children are always fascinated to learn about the far off places where those families live. When I found out about this new series of books from author Carole P. Roman  and Away We Go Media, to introduce children to other cultures, I was very interested!

Carole is in the process of writing a series of six books called "If You Were Me And Lived In..." Through The Old Schoolhouse Review Crew we had the privilege to review four of those books:

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"If You Were Me and Lived In Norway"

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About the books:

Each of the books is about 25 pages long. They are small, square shaped, lightweight books with a durable soft cover that easily fit in a child's hands. There is writing on the left side of the pages, and cute full color illustrations on the right side. The book introduces the country, shows where it is located on the globe, then proceeds to tell the child that "If you were me, and lived in.... this is what some of your favorite things would be."  It is short, and can be read in just a few minutes. While native words are used, there is a pronunciation guide at the back of the book, so that the reader will know how to say the words correctly when reading it. Each book lists favorites from the perspective of a child - something they can easily relate to - such as favorite foods, places to go, toys, popular names, sports, and what daily life would look like.

What age is this for? The books are recommended for children in pre-K through grade 3. Obviously, for the younger ages, a parent would use this as a read-aloud. My 3rd grader was able to read it all by herself, but enjoyed having it read to her as well because of the unfamiliar words. While my 3rd grader enjoyed the books, they did seem a bit young for her, and I think kindergarten level students would make an excellent target audience for these books.

How we used these books: My 3rd grader enjoyed them so much that she read all four in one day! The older children in the family also enjoyed flipping through them and checking them out!  To make the books a little more challenging, I had my 3rd grader make a poster of what she learned about children around the world from reading these books. She wrote a list of 'favorites' from other cultures on poster board, and found pictures of the particular things that were described in the books, to glue on to her poster. She also looked up the flag for each country and drew a small flag on her poster.

How can you purchase? Carole P. Roman has a link to Amazon and Barnes & Noble on her website. The paperback books can be purchased for $8.99 and the Kindle version is currently selling for $.99.

My recommendation: If you would like a creative way to introduce your young children to children from around the world, and show them that children in other countries live differently than we do, then you would be happy with these books. The author accurately describes the books as "an introduction to learning about other cultures".

See what the rest of the Crew thought about these books by clicking the banner below!

Copyright 2012-2013 - "Be The One" -  All rights are reserved. No text, photos, or content may be reproduced without direct permission from the author.

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American Girl History: Westward Expansion & Josefina

The Alamo - courtesy of
Following our study of Colonial America, we began learning about how the nation grew following the Revolutionary War. We started off learning about the Erie Canal and how the frontier expanded, then branched out into the Westward expansion of the country, finally ending up with the American Southwest. We used Josefina as the basis for this study, because much of early American history surrounds the Native Americans across this land.

Here is a list of resources to study American expansion following the Revolutionary War.

Josefina Resources:

Meet Josefina (American Girls Collection)
Welcome to Josefina's World: 1824 (American Girl)

Hands-On Josefina Activities:

Josefina's Craft Book: A Look at Crafts from the Past with Projects You Can Make Today (American Girls Pastimes)
Josefina's Cook Book: A Peek at Dining in the Past with Meals You Can Cook Today (American Girls Collection)

For information specifically about Native Americans:

Hiawatha (Puffin Pied Piper) A beautiful illustrated version of the famous poem
Alone Yet Not Alone: Their faith became their freedom
Trail of Tears (Step-Into-Reading, Step 5)
My Name Is America: The Journal Of Jesse Smoke, A Cherokee Boy
The Pueblo (Lifeways)
The Complete Sacagawea Saga  (This link goes to my review of this book)

American Expansion materials:

Amazing Impossible Erie Canal (Aladdin Picture Books)
Into the West: From Reconstruction to the Final Days of the American Frontier (Has some really great information - we particularly used the section on the Transcontinental Railroad)

Learning About the Southwest:

New Mexico: Land of Enchantment (World Almanac Library of the States)

Learning About the Alamo:

Kids' Facts Website
Two short videos from the History Channel
Remember the Alamo - A Beka

Online Resources and Interactive Activities:

Interactive Lewis & Clark Adventure Game

Copyright 2012-2013 - "Be The One" -  All rights are reserved. No text, photos, or content may be reproduced without direct permission from the author.