Wednesday, April 15, 2015

Review – Orphs of the Woodlands From Star Toaster

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Our daughter has had so much fun with a reading game these past week.  What has she been using?  Orphs of the Woodlands from Star Toaster!

 

What Is Orphs of the Woodlands?

Orphs of the Woodlands is an online interactive book and game.  It's intended for children in the 4th to 7th grade.  The story is about a squirrel who is a spy and helps to save and defend the orphs against the night creatures.  The orphs are little orphaned animals who's family have been lost to the evil night creatures.

Orphs of the Woodlands Game Map

As the child reads the story words that they may not know are highlighted and they can click on them to read a definition of the word.  Woven through out the story are many fun lessons on science math, vocabulary, grammar, logic, art, life skills and more!  At the end of every chapter the spy works to complete jobs to earn payment of gold stars.  They can then use the gold starts to pay to build settlements and care for the orphs.

Parents can keep track of their child's progress by accessing a skills page that shows what your child has been learning and how they are performing on these skills.

 

What Do We Think

Our oldest daughter (age 13) was the one I picked to use this program.  She was so excited since she had looked at the previews that she was constantly asking me if she could start the program!  When we were ready to start she dove right in.

When dd logged on Orphs of the Woodlands started out by having her fill out a job application.  I thought this was such a cool idea!  She was given some questions and had to pick from multiple choice options.  There were questions about the character of her squirrel.  Was he hard working and kind etc.

The book that makes up the story of the Orphs is The Treasure of HighTower.  It is 15 chapters long.  The first chapter is about 30 pages long so it took a while for her to read.  She made it through because it was interesting enough to draw her in and she really wanted to get to the end to try the "jobs" and start helping the orphs.

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Not long after we started using this program they added a helpful page counter to the screen.  She has really liked having this there.  As the chapters are fairly long knowing just how much is left helps to motivator her to keep reading.

At the end of the chapter the jobs area is shown.  She could pick from jobs in science, language, math, vocabulary, life skills etc.  With each job she completed well she would earn gold stars.  With the gold stars she could buy homes for the orphs and buy supplies for caring for them.  Her favourite job sections are the vocabulary and life skills.  The life skills area has many fun recipes that we've copied into a word processor to print of and try.

 

What Dd thinks

I think it's pretty fun because it's set up like a game.  I like that it can teach you any type of school lessons like math and vocabulary.  The jobs are really fun to work on.  I really like how you get to save the little orphs and buy them homes, food and clothes.

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Would you like to try out Orphs of the Woodlands?  They are currently offering a FREE trail!  This gives you access to the first 100 pages of the story.  Their normal subscription plan is $19.99 for 60 days access for up to 3 children.  You can also extend your subscription for 30 days for a $6.99 fee.

I think Orphs of the Woodlands is a really fun way to encourage children to read and practice skill subjects.  I would recommend this to anyone with children who love interactive or strategy type games.

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Saturday, March 28, 2015

Around The Homestead ~ Birthdays and Sickies

Goodness it’s been a crazy week!  In the past week we celebrated our oldest daughters 13th birthday.  I still can’t believe how fast she’s growing up. (sigh)  I can still see her as this little baby.  Time goes by so fast doesn’t it?  We had a nice bday with her and she loved being spoiled by her sisters.

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Unfortunately ds started to get sick on dd’s birthday.  By that evening he was really sick to his tummy and a few days latter most of the kids were down with it to.  It’s been a long, long week with round 3 or 4 of the tummy bug.  We had just finally started feeling better after the last round. (sigh)  So I’m up to my eye’s in mt. washmore, still a bit sick myself.  I hope we can get back to normal this week!

We also discovered that our UV water filter had stopped working.  We had to replace that this week to.  Ouch!  I didn’t realize they were so expensive.   The one we had was here when we bought the house.  It was getting very old!

Some more good things this week, our seed orders have started coming in.  Yippee!  I’m about half way done our school shopping for the rest of this year and next.  I haven’t yet made up my mind if we are going to use My Father’s World Exploring Cultures program or if I’m going to put together my own.  It seems to be pretty close to what our kids were asking for, so I might just go with it.  Anyone used it?  Did you like it?

IMG_4771 At least we’ve had a few days of nice sunny weather!!

Wednesday, March 25, 2015

Review ~ HomeSchool Office From Lord Heritage

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Planning and record keeping is one of the most talked about homeschooling subjects and one that I've explored quite a bit.   I’m a busy mother of 6 children in ages ranging from 13 down to a baby, so planning and having some form of order is important to me!  I've been looking at new options for keeping track of our lessons this year so I was really excited to have the opportunity to review HomeSchool Office from Lord Heritage.  I received a 1 year subscription to this program.

 

What Is HomeSchool Office?

Lord Heritage HomeSchool Office is an online program that offers a wide variety of tools to help the homeschool family plan, organize and manage your homeschooling needs.

HomeSchool Office uses a philosophy of POWER.  This stands for Plan, Order, Word, Evaluate and Report.
When you first login you need to fill out the information in the team section.  This includes your school name, email address etc.  Then their are tabs for school district, educators, students, resources and friends.

PlanLessons

In the plan section this is where you set up your subjects, school year, master schedule and budget.
HomeSchool Office has just about every subject listed that I could think of. 

Order

In the order section you can schedule lessons, home activities and set up reminders.  You can also add customized to do lists for any of your other needs.  This could be chores or errands. 

Work

In the work section you can give access to your students, then they can log in to view their schedules and check off work as it's completed.  It's easy to view or print of individual schedules here.   This section looks identical to the order section. 

EvaluateEnterGrades

In the evaluate section you can keep track of the lessons your children are doing and track attendance and hours.  This is also where you enter grades for each lesson.

The Report section you can print transcripts and report cards.  This is very helpful if you need to send in reports to your state or province!

 

What Did I Think?

When I first logged onto HomeSchool Office I was really confused about how to start using the program.  I did read the help pages and in some cases it did help, however I still found the program confusing to use at first.  Many of the sections in the team area don't really seem to apply to my needs as a homeschooler.  I don't need to keep track of my school name and address and as for entering the teachers name, that is obviously me!  However I can see these options could be more important if you have older children and needed to prepare high school transcripts.

One thing that I think could be improved is that there is no way to copy a task to each day.  So for example if I'm setting up a chore schedule and I want to have wash the dishes listed every day I have to type in in for each day. It would save so much time if you could enter something once and then tell it to repeat it on the selected days and times.

One other problem I had was it took me a long time to figure out how to actually add lessons.  It was easy to set up the master schedule but after that I was lost.  I finally discovered when your in the plan section on the subjects tab you need to click on the little settings icon next to each subject.  It looks like a paper sheet with a wrench on top of it.  This opens the edit window for that subject.  In this menu it gives you the option to add lessons.  Except that the button doesn't say add lessons, just lessons.
Adding a lesson is very easy, you just fill in the lesson name, expected time (optional) and any lesson plan notes.  You need to do this for each lesson for each subject.  Since a lot of our work is shared as a family such as Bible study, I really wish there was a way to copy the lessons to multiple children.  It would save so much time!  Once you’ve created your master schedule the lessons automatically appear in the correct slot on the calendar in the order that you’ve created them.  On the lesson page you can move lessons up and down the list to change the order easily.

What I do like about HomeSchool Office is that once you do figure out how it works, it is easy to add subjects, lessons and make reports.  I really do like that you can set up each child with their own login.  I think for older children this is great and lets them take more control over their schedule.

If you would like to try out HomeSchool Office to see if it's right for your family they have a FREE 30 day trial.

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Saturday, March 21, 2015

Around The Homestead ~ Rabbits!

This week our weather has been a real mix.  We've has some really nice days that got up to 10C and then today it's -5 C and we've had some snow!  The winds today are crazy, it sounds more like January outside.  Burr!

I mentioned a while ago that we were going to be raising rabbits again, we have really missed having them!  We had a friend that was retiring from rabbit raising and he gifted us with 6 does and 2 bucks.  That was such a nice surprise!  We had planned on buying just a doe and buck to get started with this spring, now we have a nice start.  We've brought home the 3 adult does and 1 buck so far.  The does are due to kindle early next week.  Then when we finish setting up the cages for the younger does we'll pick them up.  Likely in the next week or so.  They are younger and just ready to start breeding.

We are trying something different and raising them in a colony style this time.  So far it is working very well and the rabbits are happy with the large pen.

We've also been working on the greenhouse a bit.  Hubby has started to put up new shelving and we hope to have that all done soon.  Just a few more weeks until we can start our seeds!

Wednesday, March 18, 2015

Review ~ GPALOVEMATH From GPA LEARN

I'm always on the look out for fun and interactive math programs for our children, so I was really excited to have the opportunity to review GPALOVEMATH from GPA LEARN!

GPALOVEMATH is an online math program for children covering grades K to 5.  It offers over 150 math lessons and over 10,000 practice problems for each grade.  Each grade has an animated character that helps teach and guide the student through the math lesson.  

GPALOVEMATH parent dashboard GPALOVEMATH parent/teacher dashboard.

When you first sign up you set up your teacher profile, in this area you then add your students.  For each student you setup their user name and password and then you can pick what grade level you would like them to work at.  A recent change for GPALOVEMATH is that your subscription gives you access to ALL math levels available for your student.  So you can move them up or down a level if need be.  The student can also adjust this in their own account dashboard.

GPA Grade KGrade K sample problem 

One way that GPALOVEMATH encourages students to work on their math is through a rewards system.  When you set up your child's account it has standard rewards available.  These are a collection of popular rewards.  Things like saying up 15 minutes passed bed time or having a play date.  You can add new rewards from their list or create your own.  The more rewards you add to the list the more often the child will receive them.  I picked out a few that I thought our children would enjoy.  Staying up a little later, picking a movie to watch and baking a cake simple and fun things.  I have it set so they receive a prize every 6 to 9 lessons depending on their age.  You can customize the prize list for each child.

GPA Grade 1Grade 1 sample problem 

When your student first logs in there is an orientation video that they must watch.  This explains to them how the program works.  After this is finished it unlocks the first set of math lessons. 

When a student first starts a math lesson it begins in the introduction section.  Here the character introduces a simple story line and explains that they are going to learn to solve a math problem to catch a bad guy or something similar to that idea.  Then they start explaining the math concept.  This is basically like a slide show.  It gives a problem that is read aloud by the character with an on screen visual.  Then the child has to click on the arrow to progress to the next screen.  It goes through this until it has shown how to solve this type of problem a few ways.  After this the child moves on to the practice section.  Here the student is given math problems similar in style to the introduction level.  The questions are read out loud and if they need it to be repeated they can click on any words.  If they are really stuck they have 3 life lines they can use to see the answer.  No scores are kept in this section, the idea is just to practice.

When the student has finished the practice round they move onto the quiz.  In this section again they are asked questions but it is graded.  They have to pass the quiz to finish this math unit.  If they pass then it unlocks more coloured squares on their dashboard and they can pick what lesson to do next.

GPA Grade 3Grade 3 sample problem 

What Did We Think?

I have really mixed feelings about GPALOVEMATH.  When I first saw it I thought it might be exactly what I was looking for in a math program.  It was suppose to be an animated character and fun stories that walked kids through learning math concepts.  I personally don't really think the character is animated in the way that I expected.  When I hear animated character I'm thinking something like a cartoon and also something that is more interactive.  This program is more like a slideshow with audio, at least during the instruction parts.

At first our children LOVED using this program, but we quickly started having problems. 

The first big problem was the grade 4 program our daughter was working so hard on but when she would get a few questions into a quiz it would randomly freeze or resets on her.  Then she would have to start it all over again.  With GPALOVEMATH any time you stop the lesson then go back to it, it loses count of all the time you've spent on it.  It only counts the time that you spend when you finish the lesson.  So she could have worked for 30 minutes through the instruction and practice problems, but then when the program froze she only received credit for the time it took her to finish the quiz.  She found this really frustrating!  The freezing problem seems to have been fixed, at least we haven’t had a problem with that in the past few weeks.

GPA Grade 4Grade 4 sample problem 

Another problem we had was with the audio.  The characters voices all sound pretty much the same and are very robotic.  This isn't a big deal and the kids didn't seem to mind that.  I was just glad we had headphones for the laptops!
The problem was often the audio would get so jumbled together that you could not understand what it was saying.  It sounded similar to a old cassette tape being chewed up!  I found it was the worst with the grade 5 program but often happens on the others as well.  Since our daughter using that level is dyslexic not having the audio was a problem.  Since the teaching was woven into a story line it would take a long time to get through compared to reading a demonstration on a worksheet.   She could read it but it would take much longer.  I contacted GPA about the problem and heard back a few days later that they were working on upgrading the audio for the grade 5 level.  They said that it should be working ok in a few weeks.  However it's been over a month since and it still doesn't work.  By the time you get to the 3rd problem it sounds like a chipmunk talking.
We've tried the math program on multiple computers and using different browsers and the sound problem happens on all of them.

GPA Grade 5Grade 5 sample problem

I did recently find a way to get around the audio problem.  I found a Google Chrome app called SpeakIt!  When this is installed you can highlight text then click the SpeakIt! button and it will read the text aloud.  I wish I had thought to use this sooner!  It would have been a big help since then I wouldn't have had to sit and read all the lessons to each child.  I do hope GPA can fix their audio problems because if it wasn't for that I think it is a great program.

One thing I really do like about GPALOVEMATH is that every time a student completes a lesson I'm emailed a summery of the results.  I can see what child it was, what lesson they worked on and how much time was spent.  Also their score of course!  I also have received weekly summaries of all of our children, but I really like getting the daily report.  I also like that in the teacher dashboard you can view the lessons to see exactly what your child is learning.

Overall I think GPALOVEMATH is a good program but has some bugs that really slowed down our use of the program and effected what our children thought of it.

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Monday, March 16, 2015

Review – Math Analogies Beginning Level From The Critical Thinking Co.

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Math is a really important subject but it goes far beyond just memorizing facts.  I believe that to really understand math properly you need to develop a good sense of logic.  So I was really excited to receive a copy of Math Analogies Beginning level from The Critical Thinking Co.

 

What Is Math Analogies Beginning Software?

Math Analogies 1_zpsej1po8c8 Math Analogies Beginning software is a Windows only program, however there are versions available for Android and iPad tablets.  It is also available in book format.  This program is intended for children in grades K-1.

System Requirements for the Windows version are:

  • Windows 8/7 and Vista
  • CPU: 1 GHz or faster
  • RAM: 512MB

Buying this software lets you download it and install it on up to 2 computers ($6.99).  There is an option to buy licences for up to 6 computers on their website if need be.

When you first open the program you can set up your user account with you child's name.  After this it's very simple to get started.  The software has a total of 152 analogies.  As you work through them it keeps track of the total number of analogies you have tried as well as the percentage that you have answered correctly.

mathanalogies1

Once the child has worked through all of the 152 analogies they can try a second attempt.  On this second round only the questions that they answered wrong in the first round are shown.  After all of the analogies have been answered correctly it doesn't offer anymore attempts.  There is an option to select to restart the program.  Choosing this deletes all of the old user stats and starts everything fresh.

mathanalogies2

Each question is displayed on a divided screen.  On the top are 3 pictures and a question mark.  On the bottom are another 4 pictures.  The child has to look at the top series of pictures and figure out what picture from the bottom should come next.  Then they click on the picture and drag it up to the question mark.  They are then told if they answered right or wrong and the program moves on to the next question.

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How We Used It

I installed Math Analogies Beginning on our children's laptops.  I found that it installed quickly and easily.  When we've been running it, it runs nicely and doesn't seem to be a resource hog.  This is an older laptop with 1 GB of RAM and runs Windows 7.

I intended to use this with my children aged 6 and 7 but I found my 9 year old loved it as well.  I had first planned that we would use this in the afternoon fun learning time for about 15 minutes.  The problem was my children enjoyed using it so much they were always wanting to use it for longer periods of time and through out the day!  This is a good problem to have and showed me that the Critical Thinking Co. has made a great program.

Our 9 year old just loved using the program and after I showed her what the program was expecting of her, she flew through the questions.  That was expected since it's below her grade level.  Now that I know she enjoys this type of mind game, I'm going to have to get more in this series for her.

The 6 and 7 year olds I've moved a bit slower with.  Many of the questions they can do on their own.  These are the ones that are just matching images.  Other questions that use analog clocks or word patterns they need my help to read them. 

Workspace 1_018 Workspace 1_017

My Thoughts

We have really enjoyed using Math Analogies!  As I mentioned earlier I think that developing the skills to look at problems and situations logically and pull out the bits of information to solve the problem are very important.  This applies not only to math but all areas of life!

I think this software program is well suited to a visual learner.  All of our children are visual and prefer online interactive methods over workbooks.  If your child does prefer a workbook style then this program is available that way to. 

You can try an interactive FREE demo on their website if you would like to see if it's a good fit for your family.

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Saturday, March 14, 2015

Around The Homestead ~ Spring and Maple Syrup

This past week the weather has been so nice!  The temperatures have ranged from 3 C to 10 C.  Yes I know,  you know you live in Canada when you think 3 C is warm!  LOL  It was yesterday that our temps. reached 10 C it was so nice outside, I made sure to spend some time out in the afternoon.

sky

It’s so nice to see some blue sky!

This week we tapped the maple tree near our house.  The sap wasn’t running well so yesterday hubby redid the taps and now the sap is flowing very well.  He was talking to a syrup producer in the area and heard that the sugar content of the sap this year is lower then normal.  Sure enough when we tasted our sap it isn’t as sweet as it normally is.  I wonder why that is?  Is it because last year was very wet and cold?  Ether way we just tap our tree for fun.  If we get a pint of finished syrup then that is great!

 maple syrup buckets maple sap dripping

The chickens are enjoying the spring like weather to.  Our leghorn hens started to moult when that deep cold weather hit in February.    Our brown hens kept laying but at a slower pace, well with this warmer weather the leghorns have started laying again.  Likely in a few weeks all the hens will be back to full production.  We are thinking of adding 6 more hens to the flock to.  I love having fresh eggs but 8 isn’t quite enough to cover breakfast and baking needs for our family.

Another project we will be starting soon is raising rabbits.  I’ve raised rabbits most of my life and we used to have a nice sized heard here.  About 5 years ago we sold them off but are ready to get started again.  This time we are trying something a little different.  We’ve decided to try a colony method of raising rabbits.  However instead of having a pen on the ground we are using a large raised cage that hubby has built.  I’ll be sharing a little more about this over the spring and summer.

What’s happening on your homestead?

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