Tuesday, 26 August 2014

UberSmart Math Facts - TOS Review

I am always happy to improve our math skills so was quiet excited by the chance to review UberSmart Math Facts from UberSmart Software

UberSmart Math Facts was created by David Kocur, a homeschool dad. His wife asked him to find a math fact programme for his kids but he couldn't find one that guaranteed to cover all the math facts so decided to create his own. 
He created a downloadable software programme for Windows (XP, vista, 7 or 8 - it doesn't work on Macs.) that teaches mastery of addition, subtraction, division and multiplication facts.This is a review program, not a curriculum and is designed to be used daily for best results.

We received the 4.0 version which is available from Sept 1st. It's really easy to download and fairly easy to use. Once loaded the first task is to set up profiles for each student (up to 8) - I set up a four profiles for the girls.

The icon now sits on our desktop (you can download to multiple computers in the same home but I've just set it up on one) when they click on the icon, it opens to a tabbed page where there are several options to choose from:
  • Learn
  • Practice
  • Test
  • Compete
  • Report
  • Maintain
There are two options - Beginner or Intermediate. Beginner covers addition and subtraction using dot cards. Intermediate uses flash cards and covers addition, subtraction, multiplication and division. You simply view the problem then click show to view the answer. 

This section is again divided into Beginner and Intermediate but it also allows for keyboard practice - they show you a number on a flashcard and you have to type it in the allotted time.

(Rose did get stuck on this section for a while - in fact she got so frustrated with keyboard practice that we skipped it and moved onto the 'real' section where she just read out the sum, told me the answer and I'd type it in for her.)
Practice is similar to learning (beginner get dot cards and intermediate gets flashcards) except the student has to enter the answer before moving on to the next question. If no answer or the wrong answer is entered, the correct answer is shown (you have about 7 seconds to answer). These sections are about 2 1/2 mins long.

This has 2 sections. First an assessment test which looks at counting dots, odd/even numbers, counting forwards etc. The second section is the mastery test, this is a timed test but you can opt to hide the 'time bar'.

This allows you to compete to be ranked against other users scores. You get to answer a series of problems on flash cards and you can compare with other UberSmart Math Facts users globally. This is not a live competition but when all of the questions are completed, your score and rank are shown. For this, you can also choose grade level (elementary, middle, high, or adult) and user.

This details the progress of each student by topic and is really useful if your children use this independently.  It shows a series of smiley faces and highlights areas that need more work.

This is a password protected admin area that lets you add new students and get updates. 

I will be honest and say that Lilly and Tulip didn't really 'enjoy' this, but regardless of that it has worked - I've noticed a vast improvement in their ability to recall facts and they are much quicker with their math work since using it. Sunflower on the other hand, loves it! she is obsessed with getting 100% and starts over if she makes a mistake.

I am really happy with this, it does exactly what it says on the tin - It teaches math facts mastery.
I loved that once downloaded it is there until I've finished with it, so I can wait a year and then use it for Rose when she is more ready for it. I also liked that you could select different levels of problems in multiplication and division (up to times 20) for each individual. UberSmart provides a simple, easy way to drill your kids independently.
UberSmart Math Facts is aimed for children from K to grade 6 but would suit anyone who needed to review their math facts. It is available for $24.95 but there is a discount code for 30% off the new version, valid until Sept 30th  - v4 Early Bird 

You can see what my crew mates thought over at the TOS Blog

Friday, 22 August 2014

Afician Drumming

We had an African Drumming session last week. Our drummer was from Senegal and bought  all the drums and instruments with him.

They started by explaining how to drum - the outside makes a high noise and the middle a deep bass noise. After practicing they learnt a couple of tunes,

played a few rounds 

and finished by learning some traditional dances.

In the afternoon they had access to various worksheets to learn about Africa.


Thursday, 21 August 2014

TOS Review - Happy Kids Songs

We have just spent the last few weeks reviewing Happy Kids Songs. 
We were given three download albums to use Friends & Sharing, Happiness & Attitude and Manners & Character along with a copy of Happy Kids Songs Workbook: Hands-on Activities to Build Character, Social & Emotional Skills

Happy Kids Songs are the creation of child psychologist, Dr. Don MacMannis (known as Dr.Mac) who spotted a need - entertaining music paired with lyrics that will strengthen character. Along with his musical partner, Brian Mann, they have so far created eight award-winning albums that provide a creative way of teaching character skills to children. Topics include bullying, telling the truth, sharing friends, consideration, handling limitations, feeling down, happiness. manners, attitude and more.

Each of the three albums we received contained 5 songs.

Friends and Sharing : This set deals with different aspects of friendship. Shyness, reaching out, including others in your play, sharing and dealing with goodbyes.

Manners and Characters: Honesty, the golden rule, respecting others, appreciating differences and learning manners.
Happiness and Attitude: This set focuses on your choices and how you feel and act. Compliments, positive attitudes, paths to happiness, handling limitations and frustration and being together and apart. 

The workbook is a great way to reinforce the content they listen to in the songs.  It is a 125 page book that contains the lyrics (so you can follow and sing along), colouring pages, activities and lessons that will help reinforce the concepts. Activities include arts and crafts, drama, games, discussions and more. Its packed full of reproducible activity sheets that are ideal for group lessons.

I started by downloading the songs onto their school ipod. Initially we would listen to a song, do an activity and complete the workbook. 

It wasn't long before the songs were burnt onto CD for sing alongs on car journeys (at Rose's request)

I loved that the tunes are reminiscent of musicals - they are really catchy and stick in your head. It's also nice to hear both children's and adult voices singing along with a variety of musical styles and instruments. Dr Mac really knows how to capture a child’s attention and encourage them. Tulip (7) did think some were a little babyish but I have caught her singing them whilst playing. Rose (5) loves them and asks for them all the time. 'Sailing on the Seven Cs' is her favourite. Even Lilly (12) has even been seen singing 'Shake it out and dance' whilst bogeying around the front room

Happy Kids Songs are aimed at ages  3 - 8. Each album is available for $4.95  and the workbook is $12.56.

You can see what my crew mates thought over at the TOS Blog


We just finished up a review with Happy Kids Songs.  We received Happy Kids Songs Workbook: Hands-on Activities to Build Character, Social & Emotional Skills and three albums:  Friends & Sharing (Set 1), Happiness & Attitude (Set 5) and Manners & Character (Set 6).
The albums were digital and we burned them to CDs to be able to enjoy them in the car as well as at home. 
- See more at: http://chestnutgroveacademy.blogspot.co.uk/2014/08/review-happy-kids-songs-tos-review.html?utm_source=feedburner&utm_medium=email&utm_campaign=Feed:+ChestnutGroveAcademy+(Chestnut+Grove+Academy)#sthash.E8ctPjJe.dpuf
We just finished up a review with Happy Kids Songs.  We received Happy Kids Songs Workbook: Hands-on Activities to Build Character, Social & Emotional Skills and three albums:  Friends & Sharing (Set 1), Happiness & Attitude (Set 5) and Manners & Character (Set 6).
The albums were digital and we burned them to CDs to be able to enjoy them in the car as well as at home. 
- See more at: http://chestnutgroveacademy.blogspot.co.uk/2014/08/review-happy-kids-songs-tos-review.html?utm_source=feedburner&utm_medium=email&utm_campaign=Feed:+ChestnutGroveAcademy+(Chestnut+Grove+Academy)#sthash.E8ctPjJe.dpuf

Friday, 15 August 2014

Curriculum Choices 2014

Now I've finished all my planning, I thought I'd share my curriculum choices with you. You may recognise some of them from the TOS reviews we did ; )

I create most of our science materials myself, but that said there are a couple of outside sources I will be using next year. These include - Botany in 8 lessons and Cells both by Ellen McHenry will be used by the older two girls (age 9 & 11), Supercharged Science (which we loved when we reviewed it as it is full of great lessons and hands-on experiments) and Brainpop for informational videos.

I'm using Classical Conversations as the backbone of our history work along with the Veritas Press timeline history cards, Story of the World, some Knowledge Quest history maps and a number of living history books.

Again I'm using Classical Conversations for map work but I've also picked Ellen McHenry's Mapping the World with Art which is an amazing 30 week course combining history, art and geography - by the end they will be able to draw a freehand world map.

Sticking with Compass Latin as the girls loved it : )

I'm sticking with Life of Fred, Math Mammoth and using lots of Living Math books.

Last year we used the Dragon Box math apps to introduce algebra to the girls and even 5yo Rose mastered it - this year I'm taking them forward with Hands on Equations both the kit and the app.

Still staying with our Montessori manuals but also adding in some activities from Janice VanCleaves Geometry for Every Kid.

Using a combination of Montessori and Charlotte Mason methods. along with ideas from Susan Wise Bauer's Writing with Ease.

The girls enjoy Mango Languages so will be sticking with that this year.

Art & Music
Again using Classical Conversations as our backbone for Art and some of the music lessons. The girls will also be studying piano.

Nature Studies
This year we will continue with our nature journals but I've decided to add a specific herb to study each month using the Herbal Roots zine. 

We will continue using Branch Out Worlds Picture Book Explorers, Think and are hoping to do a couple of engineering projects from the James Dyson Foundation

What have you chosen to use this year?

Sunday, 10 August 2014

Five Tips for Easier Planning.

As a homeschooler it's easy to fall into the planning trap - spending most of your spare time planning and trying to create educational activities. 
I decided to share a few ways I've found to save time planning my lessons.

1) Incorporate more group lessons.
This year science, history, Spanish, Latin, geography and some math lessons are all joint - these require only planning once for all 4 kids and I just have to tailor the assignment/activity to their individual levels. We also use lots of living books in our joint lessons - if you are interested in finding some, living Math list them by topic.

2) Don't be afraid to use other peoples work.
I've started using unit studies more as they provide a great educational hands on experience for the kids and give me a much needed break. My favourite's at the moment are Homeschool Share and Picture Book Explorers by Branch Out World. Wether its part of our fossil study, natural history or basic electronics - I know I can find an mini unit study or lapbook that will make thing more interesting for them.

3) Get the kids involved.
I've sourced topics from the girls and even had them typing our schedule for me on excel (a sneaky ICT lesson). They also love the responsibility of laminating and filing which is great for me. I've even had them make a 'wish list' of books they would like to read for specific topics.

4) Don't plan all at once. 
This is confession time - last year I spent my 6 weeks of summer school planning my year. I was really good and did all my printing, laminating, filing and even had my books for that week in my file box so I was already to go. Unfortunately it resulted in me starting the year with burn out : (
It also meant that during the year I missed out on researching or inventing new activities for the upcoming topics or seeking out new books, as in my head they were already planned.                 
This year I've scheduled our school topics for the year and decided to work in 6 week clumps, this means I've printed, laminated etc everything for the first 6 weeks and will tackle the next batch when we are on week 4 of school and so on.

5) Pinterest is my secret helper. 
I allow myself some time each week to use pinterest to research new ideas for lessons. I am a visual person so seeing ideas is great for me. When I'm planning I type in each topic and collect pictures of the best ideas which I collate onto a sheet and pop in the front of that weeks file so when I pull it out I can see what additional 'activities' I want them to do that week.

This, for example, is whats in the front of my folder for food webs and chains,

it has photos of activities I like, book for group reading and links to various clips I want them to watch.

I also wanted to share one final piece of advice that has almost become my mantra - Remember your schedule is just a schedule. Don't get stressed if life throws you a curve ball and you fall behind, being with your kids is what matters most and is the schedule falls by the wayside a little then you can always pick it up again next year : )

If you have any tips that make planning easier I would love to hear from you.

Thursday, 7 August 2014

TOS Review - Roman Roads Media - Visual Latin 1

We love classical learning and have often browsed Roman Roads Media as they  are a Classical Christian education company providing great Homeschool curriculum choices - they have a wonderful selection of visual, classical products at affordable prices. So when the chance to review some of their products came up I felt very blessed.

We chose Visual Latin 1, which is the brainchild of Dwane Thomas - he is your teacher and guide into the living world of Latin. Dwane has a friendly, fun approach to teaching, this combined with his humour and short, easy to understand lessons makes Visual Latin 1 a joy to use. Dwane really knows his stuff and explains it so it makes sense - its funny, short, interactive and applicable.

There are 30 video lessons in Visual Latin 1(across 3 DVDs but we opted for the download version) combined with printable worksheets, tests and answers, to help students understand grammar, sentence structure and reading Latin. Each lesson is broken into 3 video sections - grammar, language and translation - each lasting approx 15 mins. Each lesson follows the same format: you watch Dwane present the new information and incorporate it into what you have studied in previous lessons. The next section shows you how to use in it sentences. In the final section he reads in Latin, you repeat the sentences and translate. There is a worksheet for each section which provides a great reinforcement of what they've just learnt.
It is recommended that you use Visual Latin three times a week. I downloaded these onto my pod so the girls could watch on the TV, but you could just as easily use it on a PC. Both Lilly and Sunflower worked through one lesson each week, watching a section a day over three days, followed by a worksheet each day with the test on day three. 

Lilly and Sunflower are hooked on these lessons especially as they found words they recognised from day one - they both took great pleasure in explaining to DH that peninsular is Latin and means 'almost' an 'island'.
I loved the integration of seeing, reading, hearing, writing and speaking the language and the way he integrates Latin into everything - proving it's not just a dead language. He touches on history, poetry, philosophy, the romantic languages and more. It also doesn't require any planning on my part - just play, print and leave them to it : )
The only downside was downloading does take a while (but tuned out to be well worth it)
We were given the download version but a DVD is also available. Visual Latin 1 is currently on sale at a reduced price of $85 (normally $100). It is recommended for grade 4 and above.
Roman Roads Media provided a number of other products for review including 
You can see what my crew mates thought of these products here .

Saturday, 2 August 2014

Summer School - Historical Dolls

Summer School this week took an unexpected twist. We started our week of balloon experiments but then the girls got sidetracked by an old paper doll stencil they found. They have literally spent hours each day making paper dolls.

They started with the usual; schools, ice skaters etc. but very quickly they moved onto historical paper dolls - these involved researching the clothes worn in different time periods then creating suitable outfits : )

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