Saturday, December 18, 2010

We Used To...

The main road into town from our home is being completely remade. So if I forget to find an alternate route, we sit in line for 15-20 minutes. Since I am usually running late barely on time not super early I try to remember to find another way into town. My favorite alternate route is beautiful with tree edged lanes and few houses. Driving along that road so much lately reminded me of things we used to do.

One of those things was to visit historical sites. Along my favorite route there is a Civil War Prison Camp. Only recently (maybe the last 10 years) has it been developed, so now there is a kiosk with historical information, a small log cabin and a walking path. It is less than 15 miles from my home, but I haven't ever taken the kids to see it.

Driving home from town one day, I just pulled in the parking area and we hopped out. There never seems to be a perfect time to go, but we went anyway. We read the information at the main kiosk and explored the little cabin. We only stayed for about 15 minutes but now I know we will go back and walk the whole trail.

That fifteen minute experience reminded me of how much I and the kids enjoy history in the form of museums, displays, and parks. It reminded the older kids that we haven't visited places like that in a few years. After FRitW was born we did quite a bit of exploring around our state. But by the time MT was born, Dad wasn't traveling for work as much and we began to stay home more. I wasn't quite ready to venture out as much with four children (-two in diapers). But my little guys are growing up. No more diapers and everyone can walk - so look out 2011! Our family will be out and about again!

So what about your family? Have you explored the history near you?

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Friday, December 17, 2010

Fit Mommy Friday 10 Week Challenge - Week 8

Only two more weeks of this 10 week challenge and I am getting very excited. As my trainer and I sat on the floor between ab exercises, she asked me if I'd checked out a scale lately. I was so excited to tell her that YES! I had and that I had lost a full 10 pounds since I began working out with her (that's only 8 for this challenge, but still excited!). She mentioned some changes she's noticed and I'm seeing some definite slimming going on!

My walking partner and I decided to shake things up a little so we tried a step class instead of walking. Tired. That's the only word I have for how I felt afterward! It was fun though. One of the other moms in the class had to bring her 2 year old boy in since there wasn't childcare that day. He had one of those cars with the friction motors - you know, the type that keep going when you push them off? Well, it went under my stomach when we were doing planks, under my knees during crunches, into my ankles during stepping. The mom felt terrible, but I just laughed. Having three boys, that's nothing new to me! He really wasn't doing it on purpose, he just wasn't fast enough to grab it.

I did exercise 4 times this week, but one was super short so I'm not sure it counted. I haven't checked the scale today, but it had dropped another pound earlier this week - so I think I'm right on track.

Go over to Got Chai to see the Week 8 check-in and take a minute to comment on each Mom's post. I think everyone could use a Congratulations! or a little pep talk.

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TOS Homeschool Crew Review: Tiny Planets


Tiny Planets is an online universe created so children can play in a safe environment. Tiny Planets main focus is to encourage children to learn more about space and be ecologically responsible.

Tiny Planets is the home of Bing and Bong, two little fuzzy white aliens that fly through space on a souped-up couch. There are six areas to the website:


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My Tiny Planets - "Cadets" earn their own planet. The planet has limited atmospheres and foliage until the cadet either earns or buys more things for his planet. Stars are earned by playing games or maneuvering around space. The planet parts that must be purchased may be done with 'keys' which must be bought by parents.

Tiny Planets TV - This area is for watching Tiny Planets television episodes. Many of them correlate with Tiny Planet Books and Lesson Plans.

Tiny Planets Labs has a number of games that require critical thinking.

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Tiny Planets Learning includes lesson plans using Tiny Planet TV and Books. There are printable worksheets to strengthen counting and letter sound skills.

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Tiny Planets Books has online story books about Bing and Bong.

Tiny Planets Fun has games and puzzles. Bong's Corner has printable comics, mazes, puzzles, and coloring books. Bing's Corner has online interactive games.

Tiny Planets has a number of child safe policies in place. There are no advertisers and all material is designed to be child friendly. If you choose to create cadet accounts for your children the names are created by the site to avoid inappropriate name choices. If your cadets choose to "chat" with other cadets online, they must choose from a list of preprogrammed questions or emoticons on the site. This is to prevent inappropriate language or exchange of personal information.

There are free books, TV, and games throughout the site, but some things are available only with the purchase of 'keys'. Keys are available through the parent account.

Key prices are as follows:

10 keys - $1.95

25 keys -$3.95

85 keys - $9.95

250 keys - $25.95

600 keys - $49.95

Books and TV episodes seem to average around 10 keys each. Items to add to your planet were 2 to 5 keys each. Once you purchase something, it is yours to keep. Don't forget that some items can also be purchased for stars which are earned by the cadet.

We had an account for each of our four children. Since this was the first time we had ever played on a site like this, we were hesitant at first. Each of us tried different portions of the site and there is definitely a learning curve. We never did chat with anyone, although I finally discovered how to. We found out that the ship shooting at FRitW repeatedly was actually sending him messages, asking him to come visit his planet and just saying hello. Unfortunately, FRitW cannot read so that limited his conversation skills!

Many of the games did not have clear instructions. We did figure out some games, but some we just gave up on. This may be a result of Mom being technically challenged or a lack of familiarity with gaming sites but it was frustrating especially for Kirk and Maggie (and me!).

Overall, FRitW enjoyed the site more than any of the other kids. MT just didn't understand what he was supposed to do on the games, and he didn't want to sit still to read the online books or watch the TV episodes. Kirk spent some time exploring but felt it was too childish for him. Maggie played several games in the Fun area and the My Tiny Planets area but mostly helped FRitW navigate the site. FRitW definitely enjoys Tiny Planets - and is in fact rather impatiently waiting for me to complete this review so he can have access to the computer to play some more. He, with help, explored and enjoyed far more of this site than anyone else.

I think that the free portions of Tiny Planets are sufficient to see if this site is a good fit for your family and if you enjoy it, the cost for keys is very reasonable. Personally, I appreciated the scripted comments for chatting and other security measures. I found several printable games and puzzles I think the kids will enjoy and I think that FRitW and maybe Maggie will continue to visit the Tiny Planets site.

Several of my TOS Crew members also reviewed this site. Please click here to see what they had to say.

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**Any products reviewed by me as a member of the 2010-2011 TOS Homeschool Crew have been given to me free of charge in order for me to provide you with an honest review of the product and/or how we used the product within our family. I do not receive any other form of compensation for the reviews posted on this blog.

Monday, December 13, 2010

TOS Homeschool Crew Review - ALEKS Math

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We have been trying something completely new in this house. For the first time ever, we are using an online math curriculum. As a member of the TOS Homeschool Crew, I received a free one month trial of the ALEKS website, with student accounts for myself, Kirk, and Maggie. (You can also get a one month free trial - just click on the button on my sidebar to register.)

ALEKS or “Assessment and LEarning in Knowledge Spaces is a Web-based, artificially intelligent assessment and learning system that uses adaptive questioning to quickly and accurately determine exactly what a student knows and doesn't know in a course.” – I’m not sure that I fully understand this quote from the website, but after using ALEKS for the last month, I am truly impressed.

I assigned Kirk and myself to the Algebra 1 level and Maggie to 6th grade math. The first time we each signed in we were given an assessment. This is a 25-35 question quiz to determine the student’s understanding of the chosen course. Upon completion of the assessment your "Pie" is set.

The pie gives you a clear picture of your progress. To begin learning a new subject you simply click a slice of your pie to choose a type of problem to learn. Once the problem appears you can choose to see an explanation of how to complete this particular problem or attempt to solve the problem if you think you understand how to do so. Once you complete 2-3 sets of that problem correctly you are given credit for that subject. The next time you log in to ALEKS the problems you completed are added to a review list so you can confirm your understanding. As your knowledge builds and your pie fills, new subjects become available.

A few particular things we like about ALEKS:

The written explanation for each problem - Remember hearing "Show your work" in math class? Well that is exactly what this is, but with written explanation as well. This can be printed out or simply read and it is specific to the problem you are attempting.

Everytime you practice a problem it is different. The system constantly changes the variables so the problem is new, but still the same type.

The problems are very specific types. For example, in the Algebra 1 pie there is a slice for “Exponents & Square Roots” and within that slice one of the problem types is “Square Root of a rational perfect square”. When you select this you will be taught exactly how to find the square root of a rational perfect square and nothing else. For me this was much easier than being presented with 3-4 similar problem types and receiving explanations for all of the types then having to try to apply it to the correct problem.

ALEKS offers quizzes and worksheets tailored to your student. You can allow the ALEKS system to choose questions based on recent work or create your own quiz from available problem types. You can choose the number of problems on the quiz as well as the points earned for each problem.

The system is easy to navigate. It is so simple: just log in, click on a pie slice and answer the question.

I loved the report system as well. From my Master Account I was able to see exactly how much time Kirk and Maggie spent in ALEKS and how many topics they attempted or completed. I also printed out a progress report with a detailed breakdown of the subjects studied and understood by each student. From this I was able to see where each child is struggling or succeeding.

ALEKS users can receive college credit for completed courses at colleges that accept ACE credit courses.

Our family is so pleased with ALEKS that we already purchased a 6 month extension on our accounts. ALEKS appears expensive at first glance:

$19.95 per student, per month

$99.95 per student, per 6 months

$179.95 per student, per 12 months

But ALEKS offers family discounts for each additional child and you can use all of the courses available. Many homeschool math curriculums are comparably priced for just a one year curriculum.

As I mentioned earlier, there is a one month free trial ($19.95 value) available by clicking the button on the sidebar of my blog. If you go to the ALEKS site you will find a free trial there, but it is only good for 3 hours of use within a 48 hour period so this is a wonderful opportunity!

Also take some time to read the reviews of my fellow crewmates by clicking here.


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**Any products reviewed by me as a member of the 2010-2011 TOS Homeschool Crew have been given to me free of charge in order for me to provide you with an honest review of the product and/or how we used the product within our family. I do not receive any other form of compensation for the reviews posted on this blog.