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Wednesday, July 29, 2015

UnLock Math-Review

Isn't that what we all want? To "unlock" math for ourselves or our kids?!?

We got the chance to try out this very cleverly named product this summer.

UnLock Math and, more specifically, UnLock Pre-Algebra  gave L-girl a little head start on her 8th grade made for the upcoming school year.

There is kind of a unique, interesting background from the husband and wife team, Matthew and Alesia, that created UnLock Math.  Both of them were homeschooled starting in the 4th grade.  Alesia actually went back to public school for high school though.  I think that gives them a very unique and important perspective to parents who are now choosing to homeschool.  They understand us from the inside out.  

To get a little insight into the creators, go read this blog post. by Alesia. about whether success in math is attributed to a gift or an ability.  

So, what is UnLock Math?

It is a series of video lessons, taught in small, bite sized chunks.  The stated goals for their videos, taught by Alesia,  are to "engage, explain and entertain".  I am a big proponent of it being perfectly okay for children to be bored now and then, and for learning how to still succeed and make good choices even when they are bored.   However.....if I would have had the chance to be engaged and entertained when I learned math (especially my old nemesis Algebra).....I shudder to think of the things I could have accomplished in this world!  

UnLock Math uses different types of assessment techniques (basically asking questions in different ways) to make sure your student is really understanding the material and not just accidentally guessing the right answer with multiple choice.

Your student gets to know if they got the answer right immediately and then the right answer is explained.  (Again, normally, I am against any kind of immediate gratification....but, in the case of teaching math concepts to my kids.....I have decided to relax my standards.)

They only show the students one question at a time.  Seeing a page full of questions, especially when you don't understand what you are doing can be overwhelming, so keeping it small and seemingly manageable seemed like it worked well.  Although L-girl is the type  to see the page full of questions and challenge herself to get them all done in a certain time frame (she is her father's daughter, after all)

L-girl would practice problems and review concepts as much as she wanted (But, let's be was summer, so she didn't want to very much.)  

One of the little things I liked about UnLock Math started before L-girl even took her first class.  They are incredibly clear in how to really get started.  With most of these programs, the first time you log on, you end up sort of randomly clicking on things and stumbling through the first few times.  Usually I am successful in getting the kids signed up with log-ins and passwords and all that jazz, but, it was nice that UnLock Math actually had a start up guide that truly showed me everything I needed to do to get the kids started.  (There were even screen shots so I knew I was looking at the right screen). They had the same start up guide for the gradebook system.  Sort of like UnLockMath for dummies.  

What do I like about UnLock Math?

I like that it really handles pretty much everything on its own without me needing to be hands on.  From instruction, to practice, to homework, to testing and grades.  If you are the type that like the details of things like you go....

Grades care calculated by giving practice problems a weight of 30%, the "stay sharp" questions are weighted at 10%.  The challenge problems (basically a bonus question that doesn't count against them) gives them a chance for 5% bonus.  And, any review work  and warm-up is weighted at 0%, but they take notice of whether it has been completed or not.  Quizzes have a weight of 15% and tests are at 30%.  (Note that students have a chance to take the quiz or test twice and can use their best score).


Customer Service with UnLock Math has been phenomenal.  There was a technical glitch with things about halfway through the review period.  Matthew and Alesia were on it and sent out message to us that it was happening and that they were working on it.  They have communicated with us quite a bit during this process, checking in, making sure we had all the ways to contact them and all of that jazz.  Yes, this is a review, but, I really get the sense that they will be available to us (and any other student) even after the review process is over.  Just my gut feeling.  

I asked L-girl to fill me in on her thoughts about UnLock Math and here is what she had to say. 

  • She pretty much knew all the lessons/stuff they were teaching her already (we are pretty aggressive in our math curriculum, so in retrospect, she probably would be been a better fit for for the Algebra curriculum and not the Pre-Algebra)
  • Video length varied from 5 minutes to 15 minutes, so it was hard for her to know how long the lessons were going to take her (to me, that wasn't a significant thing, but it seemed like it was for her)
  • She liked how there was always a review of past lessons because it made it easier to do well on the quizzes.
  • The teacher was pretty funny. 

You can subscribe to UnLock Math and pay a monthly subscription, or a yearly fee.  If you go monthly, it is about $49/month or the better deal is yearly for $299.  One thing that we homeschoolers with large families like to see is a sibling discount...and UnLock Math has one.....and gives you 50% off.  I have a little (actually really big) deal for my friends to be able to get a discount on their subscription.  Click here to take a look....but it expires on August don't wait too long.  

Social Media Stuff for your viewing pleasure:

Wednesday, July 22, 2015

Home School In The Woods - Review

We are working through and reviewing something from Home School In The Woods, called Project Passport - World History Project - The Middle Ages.

It is an activity based study of different periods of world history, recommended for grades 3 through 8.  We are working through the Middle Ages study. (We have been out of town a few times, plus VBS, so we are still working through this one)

This study is done as a project where you "travel" through the time period learning all about the people, places and things that were in that era.  The Middle Ages study was broken down into  25 stops on your travel itinerary. Do your kids know what that word means yet?  Mine

The travel planner (which is basically a table of contents) gives you a very brief idea of what you are going to be learning about in that stop and then it shows icons of the kinds of activities you will do.

You can make each "stop" last as long or short as you like...depending on the attention span/interest of your little traveler.

Stop 1 has you print a little more than most stops because you have to get stuff set up for your trip.   Things like creating a passport, a luggage folder, scrapbook of sights, timeline and a newspaper.

These are great hands on products......that are better than just reading about stuff in a book.  The beauty of homeschool type learning, I tell you.    You can get history passport projects for Ancient Egypt and the Renaissance and Reformation in addition to the Middle Ages.

Let's take a look at a few of the stops and see what happens.  Let's look at Stop 4 on our itinerary - Family Life.  First we have a "snapshot" moment where we are asked to color the "feudal system begins".  First you learn what a feudal system actually is (a peasant received a piece of land in return for serving a lord or king and were expected to do various duties in exchange for their areas of land).  Then, we move onto our second assignment adding to the newspaper called "The Medieval Times" by adding an illustration of arranged marriage announcements (that proved for an interested discussion and a unanimous vote that none of my children would like for Rainman and I to arrange....anything for them.  LOL)  and an article and illustration of "New Castle is Erected".

Next on this part of the itinerary stop, we move onto a doing a scrapbook and/or a lapbook covering the medieval structure of classes.  Our last assignment at this stop involved  and audio tour and in interview among the classes.  I have to admit that this was my favorite part of our "world tour"....well, the audio AND the edible project.

Let's skip ahead a bit and see what we do on Stop 10 of our tour.  This one deals with Science and Invention.  It starts with coloring and adding people to our Snapshot Moments, then add to our newspaper the article about Gutenberg and the printing press, then we move onto our mail.  We have postcards!  From people like Roger Bacon (scientist, inventory, philosopher).  Then we did one of the yummy hands on activities and pretended we were alchemists (back then, this was a mixture of science, philosophy and mysticism) and made Gold Coins (boiled maple syrup that hardens into little disc like coins).  Yes, they were yummy.  No, they didn't last long.  Yes, they are pure sugar.

I will tell you that we did not do everything in every single tour stop.  But, even though we kept things a little more simple than we needed to (I do blame summer and VBS for that), the kids  (and I) still learned a lot of stuff.  Which is exactly the beauty of both homeschooling and hands on/activity kind of learning.
For some reason, the people in this household are not lapbook kinds of people...even though, in theory, it makes sense that we would be.  Because they are a great idea.....we just can't ever seem to get them to work/look the way they are supposed to.  That said, I still love the idea of Project Passport completely!  A-man wants us to try the Egypt one next (boys and mummies, you know?!?!)

You can try out the Project Passports with either a CD version or the download version 

Take a look at what other TOS Reviewers thought of their Project Passport journey.

Monday, July 13, 2015

Homeschool Planet - Review

My latest entry into the on-line planner world came courtesy of Homeschool Buyers Co-Op.

It was called Homeschool Planet.

It is a full service life planner that is on-line and can be used for your homeschool planning/lessons AND your regular life....stuff.

Now that I have turned into this older lady that is (occasionally) bewitched, bothered and bewildered by technology, I have not been a big fan of on-line planners.  I prefer paper planners.  I know, I know....old lady alert.

I am sure my affinity for paper planners comes from the fact that I do not have a smart phone that can hook everything in my life together and be carried with me all the time.

But, it is what it is.  I am not planning to get a smart phone anytime soon.  My little slider keyboard phone works just fine for me.

So, with all that said.   I still prefer paper planners, but Homeschool Planet did tempt me a bit with its breadth and simplicity...if that makes sense.

It has the capability to be a very thorough and all inclusive of the stuff going on in all 8 of our lives.  The stuff that gets a little jumbled up sometimes in my paper family calendar.  When we have written something in pen and then it gets changed, or someone's work schedule gets changed, so then we end up with arrows and scribbles crossing things out.

I loved the capability for each person to have their own color-coded stuff in the calendar.  I could even create the event/appointment and then click "All" if it was a family activity or just click individuals or even two of them for "Rainman" and "A-girl" when they had a golf lesson.

I liked that I was able to personalize my home/landing page with quotes, Bible verses, local weather information.  My favorite item on my side bar will not surprise any of you that know was the To Do list.

I LOVE a good To Do List, don't I?  I could type in all the phone calls I needed to make, the appointments that needed to be scheduled, and the chore changes that I had been thinking about.  The good news is that they were all in one place that wouldn't get lost in the shuffle amidst the clutter on my side table (where my papers normally go).

Since this was summer, I didn't get to use the homeschool planning part of this product, but I did take a look around and can see where it would come in pretty handy for quite a few aspects of our record keeping.

You can actually schedule lessons right in this planner, so their "stuff" is all in one place too.  And, as is prone to happen in homeschooling, things can get adjusted and changed to new days with just a few clicks of a button. (Again, the beauty of not crossing things out and drawing arrows to new due dates, etc.)

You can make things recurring with just a simple choice when you create it.  You can keep track of attendance.  You can keep track of grades.  Again...all in the same spot as you keep track of family doctor's appointment, your grocery list, and when the out of town company is coming.

You can also generate various reports from your Homeschool Planet planner.  Things like:  assignment lists, class notes, grades, class hours.

You can enable grading within the planner and then there is a Grading Helper available within the program that will help you keep track of what is waiting for grading (because yes, we homeschoolers do give grades, but we do sometimes forget).

You can even preschedule reminder message to be sent out that are connected to events or lesson assignments.  If you were a higher tech person than me, can you see how that would be a tempting option?!?

Where this planner tempted me the most was with its capability to print daily or weekly summaries so you can have a physical copy of what you have coming up.  I absolutely LOVE the fact that they give you the option of "economy" or "color" before you send it to your printer.  While I do love the color coding options for each individual person, colored ink is expensive, you know?

Here is a little video that gives you an overview of how you can customize this planner and make it work for you.....with the unique quirks and needs of your family.

Here is the good news for you higher tech people than me, you can try the planner for a 30 day free trial.  So, you can dig around inside the depths of this planner yourself and see how easy it is to connect all the aspects of your lives.  If you do decide to move forward with Homeschool Planet, you get a yearly subscription for $6.95/month.

Did I love Homeschool Planet?  Sort of.  As much as low tech/paper me can like an on-line planner.  So, I definitely recommend this one because I know I am weird and strange with my paper desires.

Want to know what the more tech savvy TOS Reviewers thought of Homeschool Planet?  Me too.  Emoji  So, go ahead and take a look and see what they thought!

Saturday, July 11, 2015

Yes! This!

I saw this video this morning on Facebook and thought to myself....Yes.  This. This how I have felt for so long now.

It is sort of funny to watch a polar bear do it, but not so funny when you are trying to live your life and are dragging your head around, you know?

We have been trying to adjust my thyroid medication since my surgery. Started with one type.  That wasn't working spectacularly, so we switched.  We also realized that my vitamin D and calcium levels were really, really low.  So, I started supplements for those.

I felt better and more like myself....for a little while....then, it sort of gradually declined.  So slowly, that I was thinking it was all in my head.

Was I just becoming lazy?

I was feeling sort of "foggy" throughout my days.  Here, but sort of not here.  Hard to explain, but I just wasn't thought or deed.

I had a follow up appointment with my doctor last week and told him that I was still tired and not feeling like myself, but not so much that I could pinpoint anything.  I sort of trailed off at the end like, "....maybe this is just how I am....and I forgot....maybe I am just kind of lazy...."

My sweet, wonderful doctor, did a little half smile and told me that we would see what the blood work showed and save our judgments and self recriminations until after we got the data.

We got the results back and I am happy to report it wasn't just in my head.  My TSH numbers were way off.  So, we have increased my dosage of this second medication (so far I feel no different).

I am still tired as soon as I open my eyes in the morning.  I am still fuzzy and disconnected.  The only thing I do feel different about is I am mentally kicking myself a lot less. Although it is hard because, I do sort of feel like a loser.  My house is messier than normal.  I have gained back every bit of weight that I lost last year.  Seemingly mundane tasks like cooking my family dinner or getting laundry done just seem.....daunting.

I know Rainman is quietly feeling frustrated with me.  Thankfully I am married to a really great guy and he isn't saying or doing anything mean to me.  He just stomps a little bit when he has to load/unload the dishwasher...again....when he gets home from work.  That is when my brain kicks in and says, "Oh, yeah....that is what I was supposed to have the kids do before he got home."   Then it cycles into thoughts (when I let them) like "I am such a loser.  I am so stupid. I am such a horrible wife."

I cycles even further down that bad rabbit hole of thoughts, when I try to get dressed and things that fit me a few months ago now don't.  My wardrobe options at this size are already quite limited and even more so now that I have gained that weight back.  I don't want to go out and buy more "big lady" clothes.  I don't want to be that big lady.  I don't want to wear most of the styles that are available in big lady clothes.  But, when I am in the thick of it and letting my thoughts cycle downward, I just think, "I give up.  I am just going to be the big lady....pass the ice cream."

Much like a teenage girl, my self esteem still seems to revolve around how I think I look.  Even though I tell my kids that it is who you are that matters, NOT how you look.  I know that deep down inside....but, when you look in the mirror at the tight, ill fitting is hard to believe it.

It does not help that we are getting ready to leave for Rainman's family reunion where I will be surrounded by his family who is 99.9%  slim and trim and eats/drinks as much as they want.  They are just naturally slim people and I don't think they have any concept for people who aren't built like them.  I love them.  They are wonderful, funny, fun people.  It is just hard to be around them and not feel like...well....a big, fat, loser.

In reading through symptoms of hypo-thyroid issues....brain fog, fatigue and depression are all listed there.  I think I am definitely at that point.  Again, it is frustrating to be able to identify a problem, but not really be equipped to do anything about it, or to take the time necessary to find the right balance of medications to help.

It is definitely a downward all aspects.  I don't have energy, so I don't work my Jamberry business.  I don't work at my Jamberry business, so I don't make any extra money.  I don't make any extra money, so I feel bad about myself.  I feel bad about myself, so I don't care about my appearance.  I feel bad about my appearance, so I don't want to do things.  I don't do things, so I sit around my house and feel bad.

Blah, blah, blah.  Whine, whine, whine.  Right?

Good thing I have an all powerful God who knows me and loves me.  I know that.  I believe that.  I preach it to my kids.  Your worth is not tied into how you look....or even how much you accomplish.  I even have a fantastic husband that doesn't love me based on my looks (or even how great of a housekeeper I am).  

I need to beat myself over the head with that knowledge right now.....because, I really do feel like the polar bear shoving my face and upper body across the snow.  I really do.

Somehow, even though all my doctors told me it might take up to a year to get everything balanced just right in my system and for me to feel like myself wasn't supposed to apply to me.  I was supposed to bounce back and be "me" right away.

It is always a huge bummer when you realize you aren't a super hero, but just a regular, old, person.

Wednesday, July 8, 2015

Minnesota.....Ahh How I Miss You.....

Recently, we took a quick weekend trip up to Minnesota to see family and attend my nephew's graduation party.  We decided to fly, since we can do it for free...even though it is standby.  Rainman had been checking flights and while they weren't empty, it seemed like there were plenty of flights that we would be able to get on.

Then, the night before, he announced that the flights were now all overbooked!

Seriously....I LOVE Minnesota and all....but how many people actually decide they need to fly there at the last minute....from Atlanta?!?  Apparently a LOT of you!

We ended up having to fly to Milwaukee, spend 3 hours at their airport and then continuing on to Minnesota.  That was fine.  I will fill you in on our flights home later, because this was really not meant to be a post where I whine about something we get to do for free.  Honest.  It was meant to talk about Minnesota.

I really didn't take any pictures of our weekend in Minnesota.  (I took some at the Milwaukee airport though.)

The fact that I have no pictures of our time there and the people we spent it with bums me out...even though I am the mook who chose not to take my camera out and capture those moments.

I think my excuse is that I was so enjoying being there...being in the moment.....watching the kids run around with their cousins....just sitting there talking to my mom and sisters....playing Buzzword.....that I didn't want to interrupt that stuff with the camera.  I don't know.  I guess I don't really have an excuse.

Somehow, I forget how much I love those people when I don't get to see them.  If that makes any sense.

I loved seeing my kids run laughing and giggling with their cousins.

I loved playing games with my sisters and being accused by Rainman and my kids of having had too many drinks because I was laughing so hard I was crying. (By the way....I hadn't had a drop of alcohol.) We are really funny when we are all together....even if we are the only ones that think that!

I loved driving near my sister's house and being flanked by the farms....the growing crops....seeing the silos in the distance.  I even tried explaining to Rainman that I missed that view.  I missed the feel I got from driving around surrounding by the farms.  He sort of got it...I think....for him....a city boy.  He said, "Yeah, we don't really have those down in Georgia.  I can't think of a single place where it looks like this."  He is right.  With our house, I have been able to find a place that is similar with trees and the lake....but, not driving through farmland to get places.  Oh well, guess you can't have it all.

On our way back from my sister's place, we even stopped at the very same Baker's Square where Rainman and I met on our first date.  We ordered our pies to go, this time.  But, it was fun reliving what each of us remembered from that night for our kids and my mom.  And, the pie was, as always, phenomenal.

We even attended services at the little church I grew up in before heading to the airport.  My mom asked me to sing.  So, I did.

We said our goodbyes and headed to the airport, where apparently everyone had also decided that a last minute trip to Atlanta was just the thing for a Sunday afternoon/evening.  Uggg....

There wasn't room for us on the next 4 flights, which is where Rainman decided to get creative.  In looking at our chances for Monday morning flights...things were not looking good either.  So....we took the last flight out of Minneapolis, to a rental van and 15 minutes before we got there....surprised his mom with overnight guests!  Yes, all 8 of us! (Funny side note:  Our normal van that we drive around in at home is a big, full size, extended top "party" van - as my friends call it.  My kids were enamored of the mini-vans that we rented on our trip.  The little kids are convinced that we should get one and drive around in it all the time.  The big kids understand how foolish that would be, but appreciated the ease of having doors on both sides of the vehicle and that it was kind of fun to sit right next to people that you were teasing instead having to be a whole arms length away!)

When I say that Rainman's mom had "overnight" guests, I am using that term loosely, because we got to her place about 11:00 and then headed back to the airport at 4:30 the next morning.  But, it was fun for the kids to see both their grandmas in the same 24 hour period.

I have felt behind and sort of internally hectic since we got home.  Partly because I had to cancel things we had scheduled for Monday, from the road.

I have just felt sort of.... paused.... between my two worlds.

My Minnesota life has a different vibe than my Georgia life.  Neither is better than the other, I think. Just different.  I miss my Minnesota people.  I miss my Minnesota scenery.

Whenever I think about missing my family back in Minnesota, I think about the pioneer days and the fact that, when people moved away from family, many times they actually never saw each other again.  They only had letters.  I have e-mail, Facebook, Skype (but I have yet to be truly successful in getting that to work right), and yes standby flights  - that might be inconvenient and annoying - but eventually, I do get to actually see and hug my people.  So, I can't complain too much, can I?