Friday, June 23, 2017

An Online Planner & More! ~ A new TOS Review!

Affiliate links are included in this post which will earn us Smart Points at no cost to you.

I first learned that we were going to be getting a one year subscription to Homeschool Planet, from Homeschool Buyers Co-Op back in late May and I have become so thankful for this wonderful gift. Usually I keep our plans in several different locations like the wall calendar for things we do with the kids, in our Gmail calendars - so hubby and I know what each of us are doing and what's going on at church. But then there's also the special events either through Facebook or last minute invites, not to mention chores and school that are generally just all roaming around in my brain ... which as we all know can get crowded and then we tend to forget things. So wouldn't it be great to have a place to have all of these scheduled events in and that would be emailed to you daily and even to each individual? Oh and you could also have to do lists and a grocery list and a reading list. Well that is exactly what
Homeschool Planet has done. That and so much more!

Homechool Planet
So I am going to try and show you the major parts that I have found to be most helpful to our house. One of the great things about this online planner is that it is easy to customize to your needs and you can start in minutes by clicking on the calendar and then adding your school assignments, appointments, and anything else. It allows you to track your students progress through their classes, their attendance, grades, etc. You can be super detailed or just put in the highlights - whatever fits your needs and personality. There are separate logins for each of your kiddos and you can even have their assignments emailed to them daily or weekly or you can even choose to print those out if you have someone who likes to have paper in hand. Once they are done they can login and check it off as done either after each subject/chore/event or at the end of the day. There are widgets you can add to your page to have To Do Lists (one of my FAVORITE things), Daily Quote, Weather, Daily Bible Verse, Meal Plans, Grocery Lists, and you can send text messages straight from within the planner!

When you first enter into Homeschool Planet you will see this screen:
The main view is the calendar view and you can choose to see everyone's or just one individual. The items are color coded and when they have past you can see that they become dull and muted instead of bright with check boxes available. Once you check in the box it becomes green when done, yellow if in progress, and red if not complete.

If you have assignments that haven't been marked off you will see this screen asking if you'd like to move them and how you would like that done. This is called the Rescheduling Helper and can also be accessed by clicking Helpers on the top right.
If you need to add in special events, birthdays, appointments, chores, etc.
You can also have a daily digest emailed to you and your students. My email comes to me and tells me what everyone is doing. My daughters can get an email that shows them just their list for the day. I haven't fully integrated all their chores and appointments into the system yet, but I do plan to. Arianna has enjoyed getting her email and knowing exactly what needs to be accomplished for school that day. Since she is older and has different subjects that she does totally on her own, we spent a few hours one afternoon figuring out the exact pages and lesson numbers and scheduled for most of June. We are getting ready this weekend to do it again for July and thru mid-August when the "new" school year starts (and our possible move out of state).
The planner view is a little different and has everything in a list. Both this view and calendar view allow you to see a day, a week, or a month at a time and you can choose everyone or just an individual. You can then be able to print these lists out (I'd chose weekly if I was going to print) so that each child can have their own printed list. This allows you to have the best of both worlds - paper and technology.
Another GREAT feature is that you can purchase pre-made lesson plans that go along with what you are teaching and using. There are many to choose from including BJU Press, Rosetta Stone, Family Time Fitness, Mystery of History, RightStart Math, IEW Fix It! Grammar, All About Spelling, Math Mammoth, Fun With Math Life of Fred, and so many more. I expect they will be continuing to add more and more. 
We picked the Virtual Field Trips and Mystery of History Vol. 1 (they have all 4 volumes.) Last year we had done Vol 1 so I picked that one so I could see what it looked like and man how I wish I had that last year! With a few clicks of a button it would be all integrated in my lesson plan. I can't wait until I can start planning for next fall and add in any lesson plans that they already have. But as you can see in the above picture under My Lesson Plan, I was able to create a lesson plan for the literature my eldest daughter was working on. Once you click on apply lesson it puts it into the days with the specified lessons for each day. It also gives any links to other materials you need. And you can upload your own extra resources and links so they are all there in one place.

There is also a resource view so you can add in the books you are using. And there's a way to enter it by ISBN.
You can personalize the colors of the subjects, see a view of the entire calendar year and how many days of school have passed, and there's a feature to Share in and Share out your calendar to other calendars like Google Calendar or Yahoo.
You can also customize your "theme" and add 'widgets' (like extras on the side and bottom of you main dashboard look). At the beginning I had the original theme (which was pink) and then changed it to the one that's blue with spirals. Some of the widgets I've already mentioned, like To Do list, Daily Quote, Weather, Book Lists and some more.

I believe that Homeschool Buyers Co-Op has made a revolutionary product in Homeschool Planet. Right now you can purchase a subscription and try it out yourself AND you can get a 30 day FREE trial (you know I love FREE!!) and if you do it in June 2017 you will receive a free lesson plan too!

Homeschool Buyers Co-op
Now to be honest I don't usually do a great job of scheduling and assigning school. We usually just do the next lesson and if you need help let me know. At the end of the week or sometime over the weekend I usually go over all they've done and make corrections, especially for the girls who do a lot more on their own. But I have been seeing the signs that this won't be a great system to have as we move into one in high school, one in middle school, and then one also in elementary school. Even though we still do some subjects together (history, science, art, music, and Bible lessons) there will be some things that only my high schooler will do either because it's her interest or because she's in HIGH SCHOOL (oh my that is so weird to think about)!!

But I think Homeschool Planet will truly be a life saver for us. And my husband has even said that he likes the tedious and most time consuming part of entering all the page numbers and lessons (for those that don't yet have lesson plans created for them). With us working on these tasks together I think we can finish our summer plans and get a good head start into fall. I still think I'll only do a month or 2 at a time at least through early fall. With our prospective move to help plant a church, I don't want to constantly have to move the assignments ahead (even though that option is always there) or even delete them all together. I plan on doing more while we are still here and then slow down in August and September to just the basics (math and reading). 

Be sure to check out that FREE 30 day trial and get your FREE lesson plan (but only through the end of the month). But if you'd like to purchase Homeschool Planet it can be done monthly ($6.95/yr) or annually ($65/yr). I'd love to hear from you if you do try it out! Leave a comment.
And be sure to check out the other reviews by clicking the banner below!
Homeschool Planet {Homeschool Buyers Co-op Reviews}

Thursday, June 22, 2017

UnLock Math Algebra1 ~ A New TOS Crew Review!!

This post may contain affiliate links.

I know that there are many out there that dread the high school years mainly due to the thought of having to teach high school math whether it be Algebra, Geometry, or even Calculus. Well that was one of the reasons I asked to be part of the review team and take a look at what UnLock Math had to offer through their UnLock Algebra1 curriculum.
UnLock Math
Arianna is just finishing 8th grade, but she and her siblings are pretty gifted when it comes to math. They kind of have to be with the 'math heritage' they come from with their dad, aunt, and great-grandmother (all on my husband's side) being math teachers and professors. Earlier this year Gran (my husband's grandmother) thought Arianna was ready for Algebra and took it upon herself to start teaching it to her several times a week. It was shortly after this began that Gran started really feeling the effects of chemo and so their studies had slowed quite a bit. But, when I heard that we were picked for the review of UnLock Algebra1 I knew it could only help bolster and continue her studies of Algebra 1.
UnLock Math Algebra 1
Unlike many families, math isn't as much of a dread or fright for us. The plan has ALWAYS been that when it came to upper level mathematics that dad would be the main instructor, especially since he does have a Master's in Mathematics. However, I help co-lead a large local homeschool group and I meet/chat/message with many homeschool parents as a homeschool consultant and I love having programs that are strong, solid choices that I can offer to them. I believe whole-heartedly that UnLock Math is just such a program/curriculum. They offer a variety of high school course including UnLock Algebra1, UnLock Algebra2, and their newest program UnLock Geometry. They also have plans of UnLock Pre-Calculus coming in 2018 followed by UnLock Calculus in 2019.

So how does the program work? When you first enter your course there are a series of locks and rockets. You click on the first lock and then hit the rocket to "launch" your session. Each lesson has 4 parts. One thing that could be a pro or a con is that all of the lessons are essentially "unlocked" ... meaning that your child can go into any of them at any time. This was nice for my husband and I so we could see the different concepts that would be taught in the lessons, but you might not like this option since the child could click on the wrong section and still proceed with the lessons.
Opening Screen
Once you are in your launched lesson it starts with a warm  up section of 5 questions. These are there to help you get your brain awake and going with math. Then there's a video presentation of the lesson for the day. This is where the teacher explains definitions and goes over several examples of the problems you will face. These videos are embedded into the lesson so you don't have to worry about clicking on something incorrectly. Next are the 10 practice problems, which are based on the lesson. The Stay sharp section is next and is comprised of 10 review questions of previous concepts.

Lastly there is a singular challenge question. This is done to really make you think, ponder, and stretch your brain. My husband liked this part the best. He believes it is totally OK if you think and ponder for up to 15 minutes on these challenge questions and still get the answer wrong. It helps the student learn to "play" with math and really soak in the concepts and how they work. It is also totally fine to not get the correct answer because it doesn't affect the student's score. The very last thing that's available is called Reference Notes. You can use these in a variety of ways -- to read when the lesson is done, print out the ones your student feels are most necessary, or you can download them all 472 pages of them!
Sample Question
The UnLock Math curriculum is totally online and can be used as a full curriculum with all of the teaching, testing and grading done for you. It could also be used as a supplemental program to back up what you are already learning. There are also progress reports and gradebook that can be viewed from the student page. There is also a pacing guide so you know how long each section is supposed to take, which is really helpful if you have a student who is working primarily independently. I haven't needed to use their customer service, but I hear they are speedy and knowledgeable. You can access it straight from their website by clicking on the "contact me" option.
Gradebook
UnLock Algebra1 starts with 19 lessons of pre-algebra (no quizzes or tests) and then 12 units in the Algebra 1 lessons covering topics from equations to radical functions to even trigonometry and probability.  My husband looked the units over as well and said it was a really strong program that would fully prepare your student for Geometry (which remember, UnLock Geometry is NOW available!)They also have quizzes, tests, a mid-term and final exam. One word of caution though is to be sure and click the BLUE word (so in the Practice Problems it is the word NEXT) and not Submit the assignment until all the questions have been answered. Also the quizzes are to the right while the daily lessons are on the left. Each quiz covers several daily lessons, but they could be easy to miss.

The students are afforded unlimited practice and review where they can choose to redo the questions if they feel they need more practice. The student is also given one question at a time so that they won't get distracted or overwhelmed by a page of problems.  In math sometimes we have to use special symbols like for multiplication (*) or for exponents.  They do give instructions of these special instructions on the first time the student will need to use them for the assignments.
How did Arianna like the program? Well, she has a love/hate relationship with math all the time. Some days she just plain forgets the concepts she just learned. And she likes to get things right the first time no matter what. That can be quite discouraging when you are learning new concepts. So we decided to start off at the beginning with the pre-algebra section. She has just finished that section and began the first unit today. We plan on continuing through out the summer so that we don't lose all of our math skills. Plus, we are year-round homeschoolers so it's normal for us to school all through the summer.

Arianna really loved the video instruction of the lessons. The teacher shows you how the problems are done in bite-sized chunks. My daughter says she suggests the student takes notes ... it's more helpful for her when she does that once she gets into the lessons. She also says that the challenge questions do take a long time. You should do them ... it'll help you see just how far you can go. ;)

If you'd like to check out a sample lesson and see for yourself I'd suggest that for sure. The price for a single subscription is $49/mo. or $299/yr. And there is a sibling discount for up to 3 kids for 50% off. And if you click this LINK then you can get $50 off of an annual purchase! You can also find them on Facebook, Twitter, and Pinterest. And as I mentioned earlier there are other programs that UnLock Math has to offer -- UnLock Algebra1UnLock Algebra2, and their newest program of UnLock Geometry -- so please be sure to check out what others on the Crew have discovered for those programs as well by clicking the link below!
Pre-Algebra, Algebra and Geometry {UnLock Math Reviews}

Monday, June 19, 2017

The Kindness of Strangers

So our trip to Columbia to speak at the R.E.A.C.H. 2017 Expo turned into an adventure.  A couple of days ago, the van decided to just click instead of start when I, Stephen, turned the key.  But then it started right up, and continued to do so for a few days.

We drove up to Columbia the night before so we wouldn't have to get up super early.  The hotel was nice and convenient to the venue, but had a very small breakfast, but Waffle House was right across the street!!! With plenty of time to spare, we finish a big hot breakfast, walk out to the van, and click, nothing! ARGH!!!!

The gentleman in the next booth comes out as I am realizing that the brand new battery connector I recently put on had not made a good connection to the starter, and melted the housing, pushing the wire out, thus the click.  I only had one problem   . . . somehow my tool set had been removed from the van.  So there I stood with a button down shirt and dress shoes attempting to fix the van.


He normally has tools in his truck, but drove his car today.  Luckily his daughter had bought him small tool kit for the car.  Sadly, it didn't have the right tools for this situation.  Since he lived right down the road, he 'ran' home to get the right tools.  He returned shortly, with a brand new set of Allen wrenches so we could finish fixing the van and make it to a parts store.  Once I arrived at the parts store, and bought a $6 part, they let me borrow all the tools needed to completely replace the connector and re-crimp all the wires.  All this left us with 12 minutes to get back the the venue, now 10 minutes away.

Then all the people in line where we needed go to get into the event, saw me sweaty, greasy-handed with a back pack, and just let me 'cut' in line to enter and cleaned up before my talk.  None of these people knew me or ever met me before, thus the title of this post.

Friday, June 16, 2017

Jack Reacher by Lee Child

{Affiliate Disclosure: This post does contain affiliate links. If you purchase through these links I will earn a small commission.}

I know, I know . . . I'm a little late to the party as far as these books, and movies go.  I finally got around to seeing both films this weekend.  I didn't even know they were based on books, let alone a whole series of them.

My main purpose for writing a short post about this is not to purely promote the books or movies, as they may not be appropriate for all audiences, but instead, to comment on Lee Child's interview on the first movie's DVD special features.

This is one of the best interviews by an author of a book turned movie I have ever seen.  Even though his books are successful, he was genuinely grateful they were considered movie worthy.  He explained his writing process and, if you are well read, you could see the inspiration he has drawn from other authors.  You can clearly see the influence of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle in his framing of Reacher as a fully developed character that does not so much grow and change as you read about him.  The experience is more about discovering who this person IS, how he handles situations and then solves problems.

Again, I am not directly endorsing the movies themselves (for the appropriate audience, they can be enjoyable).  I am definitely endorsing the interview with Mr. Child to anyone who enjoys writing and literature.
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