Tag Archives: Middle School

Learning Math Online ~ a Crew review

Disclaimer: I received a FREE copy of this product through the HOMESCHOOL REVIEW CREW in exchange for my honest review. I was not required to write a positive review nor was I compensated in any other way.

Math learning can be challenging. Math teaching can be challenging. MathandAlgebra.com is an online subscription that can take the challenge out of it all.

Presented in a combo online/offline format, the goal of MathandAlgebra.com is to help student learns math in a fun and accessible way. This increases not only skill but also confidence. The instructor is Rick Fisher, a math teacher with over 30 years of experience. He has been able to help many students increase their math skills by using his classes for 20 minutes a day.

MathandAlgebra.com has four available classes – Basic Math, Advanced Math, Pre-algebra, and Algebra. A subscription provides access to all four of these courses to work through at your pace.

Each lesson is composed of just a couple of steps. First, Miss L would watch the video. Each video is fairly short; most of the videos we watched were less than 5 minutes. These videos have Mr. Fisher’s voice teaching the concept while you see him writing on the white board. Students are encouraged to copy the exercises as he teaches. Miss L wrote them in her notebook with each page dates and the lesson number included.

showing work complete on left and the video for the current concept
at the bottom of the page you have access to the worksheet and answer key, as well as the place to mark your lesson complete

Next, access the worksheet. It can be viewed online or printed. We did some of both. Work through each of the questions. Again, Miss L wrote them into her notebook.

Once the student has answered all of the questions, the answer key can be accessed. Grade the worksheet at this point. Miss L had to correct any missed questions. Unfortunately, if a question is not understood, there is not an annotated explanation of the answer. Hopefully, the parent assisting can figure out what was missed. So far, in the algebra class, we did not hit any that I could not understand.

Miss L worked through the first few weeks of the algebra course. It came along right after she finished her pre-algebra work. There was not a placement test of any sort, so she had to begin at the start of the course. If you know your student well, you could probably have them skip over parts at the beginning of the class, especially if they are just coming off a course that covered those exact same concepts.

The interface is fairly easy to use. You can see what lessons have been completed in working on the course by the green checked circles. Also, if you have completed the lesson, than the “mark complete” at the bottom is grayed out. The student can easily know where to start each day by remembering to click that “mark complete” when they finish checking each worksheet.

The simplicity of this course is appealing. It doesn’t have lots of bells and whistles and jumps straight into what is needed to be learned for that lesson. Watch the video, do the worksheet. After completing the unit, take the quiz. Move on to the next one. Straight-forward.

The teacher/parent does have access to a simple report listing what quiz the student took on what dates and the grade received. The daily work is not graded online. That is graded by the student or the parent/teacher. If you want to include it in the overall grade, you will do that on your own.

If you are looking for a straight-forward, online math program with a video component, this might be a good fit for you. It is just that. Math taught without bells and whistles to confuse things.

Want to see what other families thought? Visit the Homeschool Review Crew to read additional reviews.

Blessings,
Lori, At Home.

Middle School Science for a bit

Miss J finished up the boxes and crates that she had to work with over the past couple of months. She helped me review a set of creator kits from Pitsco Education. We then had some additional kits to review from a different company. We may or may not share a review about those as they were an individual review to be posted to a different website. I am still trying to figure out how exactly I felt about those. She did work on those in robotics (her favorite of the three), flight, and the microscopic world.

So, now what? She doesn’t really know. I am looking for a middle school level chemistry that is something like “chemistry in the kitchen” but haven’t found it yet. She is interested in hands-on, real-life chemistry, not compounds and lab science stuff. She also has a bit of an interest in physics. She and her dad followed a rabbit trail the other day about vaccuums, weight, space, gravity, etc.

I spent a couple of hours looking over sites like SchoolhouseTeachers.com, Guest Hollow, all the reviews we have done for science, Easy Peasy, Khan Academy, and more. I haven’t found what I am looking for so I popped into the local education store and picked up a couple of books to keep her going somewhere while I look for what she wants to learn.

Fred Investigates Force and Motion by Carol Marsh will hit on the physics interest she wants to explore a bit after the rabbit trail with her dad. This will be a simple introduction to it. This will help her investigate the language of physics, forces (like inertia and momentum), gravity, levers and pulleys, and more. There are inventions and inventors related to this area of science, also. With hands-on explorations along the way, this should take us a week or two to go through.

Mandy Mixes It Up With States of Matter by Carol Marsh will touch on some of the simple ideas of chemistry including some of the ideas she’ll need for chemistry in the kitchen. Vocabulary, tools and equipment, scientific investigation and method, scientists, and inventions are all again included. Plus, the pages cover all the states of matter, plasma included, energy, melting point, sublimation, vaporization, and more. It looks like it will be a good introduction that will help build the vocabulary to make a chemistry in the kitchen class stronger. Again, this is expected to take a week or two.

You can see pictures from these two at ChristianBook.com –
Mandy Mixes It Up With States of Matter
Fred Investigates Force and Motion!

So, I’m still looking. Anyone have a good chemistry in the kitchen class or am I going to have to build my own? I’ll be visiting the library soon to see what adult level books there are to help me!

Blessings,
Lori, At Home.

Learning Tech and Coding Skills with Simply Coding ~ a Crew review

Disclaimer: I received a FREE copy of this product through the HOMESCHOOL REVIEW CREW in exchange for my honest review. I was not required to write a positive review nor was I compensated in any other way.

Simply Coding is a company that has created a huge number of classes over topics related to learning to write code for computers and learning technology skills that will benefit everyone. Coding for Kids Annual Membership gives access to everything on the website for one year. They have a 10 day free trial to find out more. But let me tell you about the company, what they offer, and our experience.

Simply Coding is a company that was born out of the understanding from the founders that everyone needs to have a background in technology and some basic code writing skills. Computer science is growing and changing before our eyes and these guys recognized it. Setting up a “summer camp” for their nieces and nephews, they tested their idea and curriculum. Thus, Simply Coding was born and it continues to grow and thrive through summer camps, in school and after school programs, and with online pathways.

The mission of Simply Coding is this: to prepare youth with the core principles of how all software is created so they can feel confident and able to contribute to technology of the future.” – on the About page from the website

In order to fulfill the mission, Simply Coding has over 40 courses that members can access. The site says it is for ages 11 – 18 but there is a lot on there that adults could benefit from, also. There are four areas these courses fit under:

1 – Simply Coding – how to work with various code languages, building websites, using Java, creating games and apps, and more.

2 – Simply Media – classes on photography, videography, different Adobe programs, and more.

3 – Simply Tech Essentials – different application programs, particularly Microsoft but also Google applications and Prezi, plus some general introductions to computers

4 – Simply Tech4Kids has a number of options that will help younger students get into some different technology areas that might be more interesting than the programming websites and such. This includes electronics, blogging, photography, and keyboarding skills, in addition to creating a YouTube channel. Lots of interesting things that I wish we had found earlier! This seems to be materials directed more towards the younger end of the age range for the Simply Coding site.

With the variety of materials on here, it seems there would be something for everyone. The classes run in different formats, depending on what you are learning. I started the photography course and it is simple. An instruction video runs (a few minutes up to 10 minutes per video) and then there is a short quiz to see if you were paying attention. After a few videos, it was time to upload some projects. I was disappointed that I couldn’t go further without uploading projects because I was wanting to learn more about photography but I don’t have a DSL camera. Since I couldn’t upload the projects, I could not continue. Maybe sometime soon. . .

Miss J is 11 and thought that learning to code a simple website would be fun. She started the Intro To Websites course. It us a fairly straight-forward navigation but you must be on a computer that you can download and save to. Which means this is not a portable program for us but we knew that ahead of time. 🙂

Each section of the lesson lists what it is at the top and you can navigate there through a sidebar to get to where you were working. You read the instructions and the work in the box on the right to complete the task being asked for and see what it does. This clear example is very helpful. If you need a video to teach you what is on the screen, the green button top center will do that for you. This was helpful for Miss J several times as she worked with the program because she just had a difficult time following the instructions. They just didn’t make sense to her. These video reviews really helped.

While this is a great skill to have, it quickly became obvious that Miss J was just not going to enjoy learning to code. This was not a good fit for her. I also struggled with using this program but it had more to do with my time at home on a computer that could work with their coding program.

Simply Coding is a strong company and the way they handle instruction is very good. The variations in styles of instruction varies with instructor and course, which is good. Different courses need different styles of instruction. The video based instruction runs from a video of the actual instructor (photography), to a video of animated instructors (Blogging For Kids), to an audio over a video of the computer screen showing what actions need to be taken for that programming/coding step (Intro to Coding). This variety does a good job of fitting the type of audience the course is aimed at and the type of instruction actually being given/what is needed.

Many students will benefit from Simply Coding and the courses they offer. There is much to be gained from this site and we are going to continue to explore some of the other course options that are not programming. Perhaps one of the girls will want to use the Blogging For Kids course, which is only 5 modules. Or maybe the photography or keyboarding classes.

Any family can gain much with the many different options available on Simply Coding for learning any number of technology-based things.

Be sure to visit the Homeschool Review Crew to read about other families experiences with Simply Coding because a lot of them have had great success with this company and it was a terrific fit for their tech interested students.

Blessings,
Lori, At Home.

Reading Eggs for all things reading (plus some math) ~ a Crew review

Disclaimer: I received a FREE copy of this product through the HOMESCHOOL REVIEW CREW in exchange for my honest review. I was not required to write a positive review nor was I compensated in any other way.

Reading Eggs is an online program that many are familiar with. It is hard to go very long in the online education world without coming across this program from Blake eLearning Inc. There is a reason for this – their products do a very good of just what they are supposed to do: support students in the many different aspects of reading (aka language arts) and math (for their math component). I was so pleasantly surprised last time we used the program and we were pleased to take a look at it again this summer.

Reading Eggs site has programs for ages 2-13, depending on the child and family choice. These programs can be accessed through an internet browser or their new app, including iOs and Android apps. We typically use the browser but I have downloaded the Android app and it works pretty well. There are five programs in the Reading Eggs company:

1: Reading Eggs Junior – ages 2-4: toddler games, songs, and activities designed to build pre-reading skills such as alphabet knowledge and phonetic awareness

2: Reading Eggs – ages 3-7: games, activities, and books to work on reading and language arts skills such as reading comprehension, phonics, spelling, and vocabulary

3: Fast Phonics – ages 5-10: helps instruct students in all 26 letters of the alphabet and the 44 sounds in English while reinforcing reading and spelling (Note on site says it moves more quickly than Reading Eggs so they recommend not trying this any earlier than age 5)

4: Reading Eggspress – ages 7-13: students build skills in reading comprehension, spelling, and vocabulary while reading real books

5: Math Seeds – ages 3-9: students work on their core math skills and problem solving skills

There are so many highly engaging activities that the students really seem to stay involved in the learning process and are motivated to do their best by an integrated reward system. This reward system allows them to earn eggs for payment towards upgrading their avatar, the avatar’s home, and pets. This is a safe online place for the student to learn while playing.

Miss J has used this some this summer to keep her “thinking cap” on. She is working at a 6th grade level and is 11 years old. She has worked in the Reading Eggspress portion of the program. As you can see, she was on 150 for this screenshot.

She enters and chooses the lesson to work on for the day.

We required one lesson to be completed each time she logged in before she could do any of the other games or spend time on her avatar and home. These lessons could be really quick (15-20 minutes) if the book she was working with wasn’t too challenging. Most times, though, it took a bit longer than that.

Each lesson had multiple parts to it, as you can see on the left hand side of the image below. For examples, on lesson 150, she had to look at the cover of the story and answer questions based on the cover. She had to do a dictionary activity and then work on “who, what, where, and what.” Following that, there was an activity on making inferences and a fill in the blank acticity. Next she had to work on words in context and a reading comprehension activity. Finally, she had to complete a quiz related to all of the previous activities. If she was unable to complete them all during her time, it would allow her to pick up where she left off so no work was lost.

She didn’t mind it too much but it definitely was not as engaging for her this year as it was last time we used the program. She did like the races that she got to do on spelling and word forms in the stadium after she finished her lesson and she absolutely adored getting to play with her avatar’s home. But, she is definitely at the upper end of the appeal for Reading Eggs.

One thing I plan to have her use more often this fall is new to the Reading Eggs family. In Math Seeds, you will find Mental Minute. This is a one minute challenge of math facts. This is an area that most students need to shore up a bit so we will be having her log into this area once or twice a week. She will need to work in both the addition and subtraction section, as well as the multiplication and division area.

Between the programs that have been around for a long time with Reading Eggs and their new ones such as Fast Phonics and the Mental Minute, there is a good bit to continue challenging your student from their very young preschool years up through their middle school years. Add to it the easy access for the parents to see what kind of growth is being made and this is a great program. As you can see, growth is shown from the dashboard in various areas.

The Homeschool Review Crew has had a number of families using Reading Eggs from Blake eLearning Inc. You can read reviews of their experiences with students of all ages by visiting the Crew website and choosing several other reviewers to read.

Blessings,
Lori, At Home.

Writing Class for Middle School – IEW ~ a Crew review

Disclaimer: I received a FREE copy of this product through the HOMESCHOOL REVIEW CREW in exchange for my honest review. I was not required to write a positive review nor was I compensated in any other way.

One of those companies that I have heard about for a very long time is Institute for Excellence in Writing® (IEW). Their reputations as a strong writing instruction program is just a given in most circles of home education. But I was intimidated! The program was overwhelming to me to look at and think about the required prep for. That has definitely changed! Structure and Style® for Students is their new, redesigned writing program and it is so easy to implement! I am sold.

We received the middle school level of this program for this review. Structure and Style® for Students Year 1 Level B is where we began with our 6th grader and while it took a bit to get into (due to the student, not the program), it has been a good fit. We received everything we needed to get started except for a pen/pencil and some blank notebook paper. The program comes with:

  • student pages and binder
  • teacher’s manual, and
  • access to the streaming video with “forever” access

This is a video based teaching structure with Andrew Pudewa. Mr. Pudewa teaches a class on the video. This is a class with live students that has been recorded for our benefit, to see real students using this material and for our students to get the benefit of a live class setting. Each video is about an hour and a half but is set up in the lesson plans to viewed over 2 class periods.

During each class period, Mr. Pudewa has the students interacting, writing, and taking notes. From there, he gives some specific writing assignments to be completed throughout the remainder of the week. The lesson plan runs for 4 days but can be stretched to 5 easily enough. We have even had to stretch it longer, which I’ll explain in just a bit.

Each week, the instruction is based on well-researched source texts, such as the example below, that IEW has put together. They have done their own research and writing so that parents can know that these source texts are quality materials. There are printed copies of this in the student pages and each week the student is given organization tips to help them learn to keep materials in order and easy to find.

A full piece of writing is completed each week of this 24 week course. This creates quite a strong set of writing by the end of the course. It begins with learning about a key word outline and creating this. Some of the outline is done during the class video and the rest is completed without the video. By the end of the course, the student is writing formal critiques. The entire set of styles that will be addressed in the 9 units includes:

  • Note Making and Outlines
  • Writing from Notes
  • Retelling Narrative Stories
  • Summarizing a Reference
  • Writing From Pictures
  • Summarizing Multiple References
  • Inventive Writing
  • Formal Essay Models, and
  • Formal Critique

In addition to writing, vocabulary is a strong component of this course and is integrated well into the teaching class. No need to separate it out. Additionally, grammar is discussed creating a seamless inclusion of these parts of good writing. If you need more, they recommend adding Fix It! Grammar, another IEW product, to your class day.

Student Pages and Binder –

The student sets up the binder on the first day of the course, following the guidance given. Instructions are written to the student and are clear. Once the binder is set up to start, new organization instructions follow throughout the video lessons and at the end, as needed, to help the student learn to stay organized.

Teacher’s Guide

The Teacher’s Guide is spiral bound and contains all the information the parent/teacher needs to support the student through the video based class. There are clear reproductions of the student pages in the Teacher’s Guide, as well as gray boxes that provide additional information for the teacher. Some of these boxes include complete information on what Mr. Pudewa writes on the white board during the video and I have found these very helpful. I don’t sit down with Miss J for this class without my copy.

example of gray box in the Teacher’s Guide next to the student page reproduction

Streaming Videos

The videos will be found in your online portal through the IEW website. When you purchase the program, you create an account with them. You then have lifetime, 24/7/365 access to the videos through your account. You visit their website, login, and click the tab that includes you SSS videos.

tabs on my IEW account

Mine says SSS-1B Video since we are in Year 1 of Level B. Click that, select the lesson you are on, and off you go. There is a white mark partway through that shows you where to break between day 1 and day 2. You cannot see it in the screenshot below. Each part of the lesson run 30-45 minutes.

Video for lesson 4

Our Use and Thoughts

I have been very pleased. It takes a long while for Miss J to work through the lessons but she has come to enjoy them. Mr. Pudewa cracks a lot of jokes and that is something that Miss J doesn’t love. She calls it “misuse of jokage” but she laughs just the same. 🙂

The Teacher’s Guide claims that it takes between 30 and 45 minutes to work through each day’s materials but we have found it take a lot longer, especially since there is often a bit more to do after the videos are finished and they are often 45 minutes. Our solution is to have her work at completing the day’s materials on day 1 and day 2. We minimize other things if need be and she takes a couple of breaks since writing (the physical process AND getting words out of her head onto paper) has always been a challenge for her. She doesn’t necessarily have a problem, it has just not come easy to her. For the other two days on the lesson plans, she can take a day or two longer if needed. Since there are checklists on her weekly outlines, it is easy to see what she still needs to do for the lesson at any given point.

This is especially important to give her time since she has finally decided that her writing (the physical putting words to paper) is important and she wants to have good cursive. This last writing assignment took her 6 pages to write out. So, I gave her plenty of time to do her best. And it provided good, solid, high-quality writing.

I am very pleased with this IEW product and so glad they have come out with this new version of their writing program. As I said, with the old program, I was intimidated by it all as an adult. I couldn’t bear to share that intimidation with my girls but Structure and Style® for Students is a VERY accessible program that the student can enjoy being a part of. It has been a great fit for Miss J and I am pleased to recommend it to others.

The Homeschool Review Crew has been using this program at all three levels – A, B, and C – with their students for the past few weeks. Those who used Levels A and B are sharing their thoughts about it this week. Level C is going to be delayed just a bit but they should be joining the linkup before too terribly long. Click over to the Crew blog to read more.

Blessings,
Lori, At Home.

Understanding Math with CTCMath ~ a Crew review

Understanding Math with CTCMath

Disclaimer: I received a FREE copy of this product through the HOMESCHOOL REVIEW CREW in exchange for my honest review. I was not required to write a positive review nor was I compensated in any other way.

We have tackled math from so many standpoints over the years! It is always good when a child feels like it is working. CTCMath is a program that we have tried several times. It has become a good fit for all three girls now that they are older. Miss E and Miss L were a part of the review last year and stuck with the program the whole year. Miss J tried it last year but it wasn’t a good fit for her. This year, though, it has been just what she needed!

CTC-Math

Screenshot 2020-07-28 at 9.07.28 AMWe received a subscription to CTCMath with their 12-month Family membership. This gave us a login for each of the girls, plus a separate parent login for management of student accounts. There is a single membership for one student and the family membership covers the whole family. Each student has access to the entire set of lessons, from kindergarten lessons through Calculus.

CTCMath is a full math curriculum on one site. The site itself is very easy to navigate. Miss J is working on 6th grade math. Miss L is finishing up middle school math/pre-algebra and about to dig into algebra 1. Miss E is finishing up algebra II and will be starting geometry very soon.

If you are interested in a placement test to find where to start your student on this program, there is one available. It is a progressive test so it may take a good bit of time to complete. We have always chosen to forego the placement and make the best decision we can based on what the girls are successful with when we start lessons.

Each lesson has a video, a set of questions and/or a worksheet, and a printable lesson summary. These videos run between a couple of minutes, especially at the lower levels, up to 17 or 18 minutes for algebra II and geometry. The online questions are generally a set of 10, though we have seen as few as 8. The worksheet is in addition to the online questions, in our experience, and have a good number more questions to answer. The girls answer these online and have the computer grade it.

Screenshot 2020-07-28 at 9.09.02 AM

The computer grades the online questions and the input answers from the worksheet. The parent/teacher can set the passing level. Our girls’ are set at 80% correct for passing. The reason for this is if we put it at 90% and they make one silly mistake or click something wrong, it fails them. 80% passing allows 2 mistakes. If the topic is not passed, the student can redo it and the program will average the grades together. This makes it really important for the student to try their hardest, even when they know they will have to do it again.

For the most part, the videos do a very good job of explaining topics. In algebra II, we have found that At Home Dad needs to be around to help with the explanations because there are quite a few that the online video is not enough of an explanation for. The worksheets for middle school and high school math tend to throw a couple of twists into the questions and they are not always twists that make sense to my girls. They often need assistance with this part of their daily lesson.

streamers in the background

For 6th grade math, Miss J can finish her lesson in under 20 minutes. She gets really proud when she does well because at her level, she gets streamers in the background if she gets 100%. Miss L tends to take between 45 minutes and an hour. Miss E has her lessons vary widely. Some days she flies through them in 20 minutes. Other lessons it will take her multiple days to work through.

The parent side of the program allows the parent/teacher to set daily tasks and assign work. You can set up weekly reviews.

screenshot-2020-07-28-at-9.03.14-am3

You can create worksheets based on topics that need more work and print those out.

screenshot-2020-07-28-at-9.03.54-am2

You can access and print out different types of reports to keep track of your student’s progress.

Screenshot 2020-07-28 at 9.04.47 AM

Another feature I really like is that I can log into the girls’ site from the parent portal when they are struggling and see the exact lesson they are struggling with. Being able to watch the video and work the questions without messing up their work is a great thing. While most of these actions are intuitive, there are video tutorials available if you need more assistance.

There are weekly reports sent via email that keep the parent/teacher up to date on what the student has done. These can be downloaded and saved. They are also available through the parent portal.

screenshot-2020-07-28-at-9.02.43-am2

What the girls thought:

Miss J – I think this is an okay program. I like the teacher. He is pleasant and smart. He makes math concepts that I don’t know easier. Not always because sometimes he makes them more complicated for me but he does make most of them easier for me to understand. I like that it is easy to complete my lessons.

Miss L – It doesn’t have the overwhelming amount of review that other programs have had. The videos themselves are easy to understand and I feel like I grasp the concept. Most of my problems come when I get to the worksheet and they ask a question that was not explained in the videos. It is on the same topic but with a twist or two that I cannot figure out. That is definitely the most frustrating part. But overall, I like it better than other programs.

Miss E – One of the things I like about CTCMath is that it is very straight-forward and it is very easy to use. I feel like I have adjusted well to this program and I understand how things are presented. This simplicity makes it a good program for me. I have noticed that there are some adjustments that I have to make due to the fact that I have not used this program for several years straight. Some of the terms used I need additional help understanding because I know them by a different name or I have learned to work a concept in a different way. I still like the program and am pleased we are keeping it.

Still not sure about the 12-month Family membership? There is a free trial available on the website. Or you can visit the Homeschool Review Crew to read more reviews from other families who have been using CTCMath with their students for the past few weeks.

Blessings,
Lori, At Home.

an online k-12 full math curriculum with video instruction

Moving On – summer learning despite the heat and virus

Moving On

Typically, we do not do a ton of book learning over the summer. The girls generally get to spend their time at church camps, serving others, mission trips, and other camps or classes. The girls are typically gone every other week, on average, during the summer. As with so many other things, this summer has the theme of “everything is different.” No camps. Not any of them. No mission trips. Serving others locally looks different. VBS will be online. Everything is different.

So, what do we do?

We decided to move on. We started our school year July 6. Miss E is working on 11th grade and getting her dual credit information taken care of. Miss L started 9th grade and is learning with a very different curriculum, so she is getting used to that. Miss J started her 6th grade and being encouraged to work much more independently than before.

Is it hard? You bet. I am definitely getting the question of “why do we have to do school?”

A lot. But, we are planning to take some good chunks off in the fall when we typically get a bit burned out. Maybe we will take from Thanksgiving to after the New Year off this year. That is typically a difficult time frame for us due to activities. That would make it easier. And knowing that, they are able to move on without too much grumpiness.

And, dance classes make everything a bit better, too. The girls are each taking five weeks of dance classes. Each class is an hour to an hour and a half. They are taking 6 classes each. It is a good bit of activity as the temperatures climb (hit 104 here this week) and they don’t want to be outside much.

We are also working on virtual materials for church. We spent part of last week making videos of puppet scripts to share online. They did 4 scripts and 3 sets of songs. Miss E assisted in the sign language interpretation of the song videos and will hopefully be able to add sign interpretation to the puppet scripts videos. We are working on that part of it still. The girls wrote the scripts (in collaboration with another young lady). They are about to tackle scripts for Vacation Bible School, which will be done virtually in August.

The two older girls are also helping teach Wednesday night Bible classes this summer. And being asked to assist on some of the Sunday morning classes.

Much of these activities would not have happened or would have happened differently had COVID-19 not been affecting things life as it is. Great lessons on adaptability have been learned and they have been able to participate differently in some activities. They also have been able to take more of an active role in some teaching opportunities.

Moving on with our learning has been different, not necessarily “good”, but a good thing to do.

Blessings,
Lori, At Home.

Creator Kit from Pitsco Education ~ a Crew review (& giveaway)

Disclaimer: I received a FREE copy of this product through the HOMESCHOOL REVIEW CREW in exchange for my honest review. I was not required to write a positive review nor was I compensated in any other way.

a Crew review by At Home_ where life happens

Hands-on learning engages the mind like nothing else can. It turns it on. Maybe that is why Pitsco Education uses the hashtag of #handsonmindson . I really like that! We have been using the Middle School STEM Creator Pack (46204), which is designed for grades 6-8. It has been a great fit and we have enjoyed it tremendously.

Pitsco Education is a company that has products designed for hands-on learning and  problem solving that engage the brain in discovery learning. The company is striving to provide real-life learning and training that does more than boost their scientific knowledge. Rather, they are trying to build the relevant skills to help the academic skills thrive alongside. This includes social interaction, working with others, observing and testing ideas, and guiding open-ended projects. Pitsco has worked to make sure their products meet national standards and guidelines, as well. The core mission is student success.

Pitsco-Education-Logo

Pitsco Education works to meet this core mission of student success through products and activities they offer. There are products available for all ages. Whether you are looking for a STEM kit of activities, a set of family challenges, or a programming activity, there are several choices for you. The Crew has been reviewing these products:

Elementary STEM Explorer Pack (46198) – Grades K-5
Middle School STEM Creator Pack (46204) – Grades 6-8
High School STEM Innovator Pack (46210) – Grades 9-12
Family Design Challenges Kit (TRG kit 46235) – Grades 3-8
Code Cube Single Kit (45843) – Grades 3-5
Smart Buddies at Home  – Grades 3-5
Arduino Education Student Kit (46239) – Grades 6-12

(You can read more about each one and see more information on the giveaway by visiting the Homeschool Review Crew blog.)

Creator Pack

STEM Creator Pack for Middle School (grades 6-8)

We received this fully-packed box in the mail and had a joy opening it to see what we were going to get to do.

The kit included the following activities:

  • Creating a Friction Climber
  • Creating da Vinci bridges
  • Creating Rolling Vehicles
  • Creating Catapults
  • Creating My Invention

Each package had the materials needed to complete the activity and an instruction booklet (the Creator’s Guide) with additional activities and interesting facts. We did have to provide a couple of things from home like scissors and a ruler.

Most of the Creator’s Guide instructions were easy to follow and Miss J was able to complete them on her own. She did need an extra pair of hands for several things but she was able to tell me what to do in order to help her. We had a couple of times where we had to modify the plans because we could not make them work as written, such as when working on getting the catapult set up, the o ring would not hold the sides in place so we added a piece of tape to hold the sides together. Another time was in trying to put wheels on the car. The holes in the plastic wheels were not wide enough so we had to widen them a bit with a knife. While it would have been nice for these to work without needing modification of any type, it was fine to have to problem solve how to fix these minor issues.

Let’s look at each kit just a bit.

rolling vehicle

We started with Creating Rolling Vehicles. The templates were included so Miss J picked one and colored it, then cut it out. She followed the instructions for adding the axles. She got it together and had a good time sending the car back and forth across the floor. The Creator’s Guide asked her to work with push power first and had her use an elevated plane to evaluate some of the ways in which it worked. There were questions for her to consider, such as “Where does the energy come from for it to roll down the ramp?” The guide included charts to fill out when comparing things in an activity, which was nice. After a few activities, she added a balloon on a straw to the vehicle to make it powered differently. This was fun and it allowed them to talk a bit about jet engines and increasing speed.

The da Vinci bridges Creator Guide was difficult to follow. The instructions, I can imagine, were really difficult to write. We ended up having to look for a video on building a da Vinci bridge and still struggled. We did get one that could hold weight but we could not build it very big.

That was a bit disappointing and we hope to try it with larger pieces of wood. We felt like the craft sticks were just too short to use effectively. That would be a nice change for the company to make to this particular kit.

catapult

Creating Catapults was a kit that Miss J loved. She had a great time with the catapult. It was fairly easy to make using the die cut pieces in the kit. The questions guided her to consider how to increase the accuracy, precision, and distance. The Think About It sections really had her evaluating what was going on and creating and testing hypotheses. She worked hard to learn how to aim and be precise with her throws. The one thing this kit did not include that may or may not be lying around the house is a pair of safety glasses.

designing an invention

Creating My Invention was a fun kit that even had Miss J doing a bit of research. It discussed elevators a bit and then asked some questions. She had me look some things up for her and we talked about it. She then drew a picture of how she was going to build an elevator. Well, as is always true of inventions, the first incarnation did not work so she had to reevaluate and redesign. She eventually came up with an elevator that could lift a small doll. She was super proud of that and played with it for several days. There are plenty more materials left for her to design more inventions.

The final kit was Creating a Friction Climber. This one was super disappointing for us. Even with me reconsidering all of her work and making sure she followed all of the directions in the Creator’s Guide, we could not get this to work. We have made friction climbers before and we still could not figure out why this one will not work. Just the same, it was good for her to experience that not everything works perfectly the first (or second or third, etc.) time and sometimes you have to abandon what you are doing and just move on. We will revisit this one with a fresh attitude in a bit.

Final Thoughts

We have really loved this Middle School STEM Creator Pack (46204) for Grades 6-8. It has provided quite a few hours worth of interest and activity. She has learned a lot, worked independently and with someone else, approached some things she thought she could not do, and failed at some thing that she thought were simple. All of these are great outcomes and don’t even touch the STEM learning that occurred. Hands-on, minds-on learning is wonderful. Interested?

Pitsco Education is giving away one of each of the kits being reviewed by the Homeschool Review Crew, including one of the Middle School STEM Creator Pack. Head to their website to enter the giveaway for the Middle School Creator Pack. Want to know about some of the other kits and enter those giveaways? Visit the Homeschool Review Crew to read about them and find the links for the other kits being given away.

Blessings,
Lori, At Home.

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Logic & Math Skills with The Critical Thinking Co.™ ~ a Crew review

Disclaimer: I received a FREE copy of this product through the HOMESCHOOL REVIEW CREW in exchange for my honest review. I was not required to write a positive review nor was I compensated in any other way.

Logic & Math Skills

The Critical Thinking Co.™ has so many products that we have used and loved over the years of home education. There is always something to discover that we didn’t know before and this is yet another gem. Mastering Logic & Math Problem Solving (Grades 6-9) is available as either a physical book or a downloadable ebook (Windows only) and is packed full with problem solving.

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In the introduction to the book, problem solving is defined as “any problem or activity that requires a series of thinking skills.” (p. iii) This means that it is a multi-step function in thinking and requires more than just simple arithmetic skills. They can be games, puzzles, brainteasers, and other formats; they just have to engage the brain in a series of steps in problem solving.

Mastering Logic & Math Problem Solving is set up  with some introductory material, ten chapters, an answer key, and two appendices.

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It is rich and full and can be used in a number of different ways. We used it as a fun activity for my 9th grader and my 6th grader. They both have brains that love logic and challenges that require in depth thinking. I wanted to engage them in challenges without it being a “curriculum” piece. I placed the book out on the table and it was not even a full hour before it was picked up and snuck off with. It was placed back on the table a bit later and I found out that my 9th grader had taken it to solve a few puzzles in her closet. (A closet learner! I LOVE it!)

We have been carrying it with us back and forth to dance classes as they prepare for recital and it has been a good fit for this purpose. This was just a good fit when we need something new do during the long hours of sitting in the car (since the social distancing means that no one except students and teachers can be in the dance studio and we are doing about 20 hours of dance a week). We would pull it out and pick a few that look fun.

Mastering Logic & Math Problem Solving

Mastering Logic & Math Problem Solving – standing at the car working on some problems

Often we would choose some that were mental skills. These did not require a copy of the page or a piece of paper and pencil. Just mental considerations for the most part. (The Critical Thinking Co.™ has one of the most generous copyright agreements I have seen. The owner of the book can copy as needed for their family or classroom. The digital owner can print as much as needed for their family or classroom.) We would do a few and then go on to some other activity. This prevented a stressing situation and became something fun and different. The freedom to choose activities meant they were finding something appealing to them and that they wanted to work on. This freedom is part of what has made this use of the book so successful for us. No pressure, no expectation, just fun.

Mastering Logic & Math Problem Solving

Mastering Logic & Math Problem Solving – a “crossing the river” problem

Mastering Logic & Math Problem Solving

Mastering Logic & Math Problem Solving – a classical brain teaser

There were some days when I pulled it out at home, too. I would leave it on the table and just grab it and start looking through it. Often, Miss J would walk up beside me and watch over my shoulder as I worked on one. She did this when I was working out how many rectangles were in this picture. We talked about ways to solve it before reading their tips at the bottom of the page.

Masteric Logic & Math Problem Solving - working on a counting challenge

Mastering Logic & Math Problem Solving – working on a counting challenge

This book will stay close at hand all summer long as enriching and engaging activity for the girls through the hot days. They will pick it up to do on their own or to challenge each other with. Sometimes, just to see what Mom can do, too. 🙂

We have enjoyed having this around and I know it will continue to get use in the weeks to come.

Blessings,
Lori, At Home.

Please visit the Homeschool Review Crew to read more reviews on products from Critical Thinking Co.™  Also reviewed were:

Who Is This Kid? Colleges Want to Know! (Grades 9-12+)

Dare to Compare Math: Beginning (Grades 2-3)

Creative Problem Solving Level 1 (Grades PreK-2)

Click on the link below to visit the Crew blog and read more.

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Logic & Math Thinking Skills for grades 6-9

Mastering Essential Math Skills ~ a Crew review

Disclaimer: I received a FREE copy of this product through the HOMESCHOOL REVIEW CREW in exchange for my honest review. I was not required to write a positive review nor was I compensated in any other way.

Mastering Math Skills

Math is a subject that we strive to be consistent on – consistent in our choice of curriculum, consistent in our daily requirements, consistent in our approach. It is easy, especially with math, to say “This isn’t working. I need something else.” Much of the time that something else is just a bit of practice and changing up how you do that practice can be very helpful. Enter Math Essentials. They have several products but for practice, we have been using Mastering Essential Math Skills Book 2 Middle Grades/High School.

Mastering Essential Math Skills

Mastering Essential Math Skills is not a complete curriculum in itself but is meant to supplement something else and provide practice on skills that need refreshing or strengthening. That is how we used this book with our 11 year old, rising 6th grade student – practice on the things that need reviewed and/or practiced for speed and accuracy.

The book is set up simply:

  • introductory notes to the teacher or parent and on using the book
  • table of contents, skill by skill with page numbers – includes whole numbers, fractions, decimals, percent, geometry, integers, charts and graphs, and word problems
  • workbook pages (5-127 are the student work pages)
  • answer key (128-148)
  • glossary, important symbols chart, multiplication table, common prime numbers chart, square and square root chart, and fraction/decimal equivalent chart

The plan? One page a day should take approximately 20 minutes and then on to the regular curriculum lesson for the day. Designed to fit neatly into a classroom schedule, it works beautifully in a homeschool setting. Actually, it may fit even better because when we found a skill that was stumbled over, we always corrected work with the student talking about her mistake or we repeated the page when there was a good bit missed and it was clear something wasn’t understood or remembered. This ability to customize the use of the book is just one more reason homeschooling is so student focused and Mastering Essential Math Skills fits perfectly to this customization.

So what does a page look like? There are five sections to each page.

  1. speed drillsSpeed Drills – These are two sets of problems, one is an addition set and one a multiplication set. The teacher chooses the number of the day – say 2 – and the student goes around the circle as quickly as possible, adding 2 to each number and writing the answer in the outside ring. In the other circle, the student multiplies each number by 2. We would set a timer for this section and see how quickly Miss J could complete it. If it took her longer than a minute, we used the same number the next day.
  2. Review Exercises – 4 problems that review much simpler concepts and should not take the student long.
  3. helpful hints sectionHelpful Hints – Tips and ideas that will help the student solve more quickly. These can be as simple as a reminder like “find the difference” means to subtract (p 7) or “Add as many zeroes as necessary.” for dividing decimals (p 63). Some of the tips could also be a reminder to draw a diagram or find a formula to help.
  4. Problems – There are two sample problems for the teacher and student(s) to work together and then 10 problems for the student to work individually. There is an answer box on the right for the student to put the answer in to make grading easier if the teacher has a large number of books to grade.
  5. Problem Solving – Each page has one word problem related to the concept for the student to solve. This is a great way to include word problems without the overwhelm of a whole unit just on word problems.

completed page

Each day, Miss J completed one page. We would correct it together, talking about her mistakes. The pages did not have tons of room on them for her to work her problem so she often had to get scrap paper to work on and then transferred her answer to the worksheet. If your student writes small and neat, there is likely plenty of room. We are still trying to reach that point, though. We did have several times where we repeated a day but we have finished the whole numbers section of the book.

working on a page

We are going to be using this a piece at a time, not the whole book all at once. But as Miss J works through a sections, such as the decimals that she just finished in her main curriculum, we will pull this book and use some of the pages to review while she moves on in her other curriculum. Once she moves past the geometry in her main math, we’ll move to that section and use the pages that fit what she knows.

A different options would be to use this as your main math but to complete more than one page each day in it, taking time to teach and review any concepts that are not already known. But since these are skills that should be understood by high school, a semester of solid review is not a bad thing. And some sections could easily be flown through, like adding and subtracting with whole numbers.

No Nonsense AlgebraOne note – there are videos available to accompany this book. We did use them since we were in the whole numbers section but they might be helpful in some of the other, more advanced sections. There is a video set for each main concept section of the book and the information on how to access them is shared in the front of the book.

We have used products from Math Essentials before. We reviewed No-Nonsense Algebra a while back and Miss E used it for her algebra I class. Miss L will use it next fall when she begins algebra I. We like the easy and simplicity of the books and definitely recommend them where they fit your need.

Blessings,
Lori, At Home.

Please visit the Homeschool Review Crew to read additional reviews on Mastering Essential Math Skills Book 2 Middle Grades/High School but to also find reviews on No-Nonsense Algebra and on Math Refresher for Adults. Click on the banner below.

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