Friday, December 18, 2009

Maestro Classics - A Review

Product: The Tortoise and the Hare - Stories in Music
M.C. Tortoise and Hare

Price: $16.98/set, $45/3 sets

Company: Maestro Classics

Where to buy: Maestro Classics (1-888-540-2811)

Other titles available:
Casey at the Bat
Mike Mulligan and the Steam Shovel
Juanita the Spanish Lobster
The Story of Swan Lake
Peter and the Wolf
The Sorcerer's Apprentice

Others available soon:
The Soldier's Tale
My Name is Handel

Brief Overview:
Each set includes an enchanting story set to great music, superb recordings by the London Philharmonic Orchestra, educational tracks describing the creation of the music, composer's lives, musical composition and an innovative activity booklet. (From the company's literature)

In-Depth Look:

Maestro Classics has taken classic stories and set them to music from the London Philharmonic Orchestra. Seven titles are available. Two more are coming soon. The target age range is 5 years and up. The series has been awarded over 35 national awards.

Each set includes a classic set to music, educational tracks, and an activity booklet.

I reviewed The Tortoise and the Hare. Conducted and composed by Stephen Simon. Narrated by Yadu. Story adapted by Bonnie Ward Simon. The story expands on the original lesson of "slow and steady" in Aesop's Fable. Hearing unique voices help to bring the story to life. The philharmonic adds such a lovely touch: up and down, fast and slow, changing with the moods and emotions. I loved the musical addition. And several studies have shown the added benefits of listening to classical music, especially at a young age. The brochure mentions a few benefits of setting the story to music.

1) Expand listening horizons.
2) Develop listening skills and accumulate musical memories.
3) Encourage adults and children to listen to music together.

The booklet has lots of extra information. One page shows the pictures and names of the instruments in the orchestra. Another section explains the notes, fractions, and time signatures. Another section tells a little about a turtle vs. tortoise and a rabbit vs. hare. Some activities are a dot-to-dot, song from CD, word jumble, and acrossword puzzle. A short bio is included for the conductor, composer, executive producer, and narrator.

Total running time of this CD is approximately 53 minutes. There are 7 tracks.

1) The Tortoise and the Hare 20:43
(Plays the story)
2) About the Story 2:49
(Talks of the original tale)
3) Pretzel Vendor of Paris Song 2:06
(A cute song)
4) About the Music 4:49
(Tidbits about the symphony)
5) Now That You Know a Little More 20:43
(Plays the story again)
6) Want to Have Some Fun? Prepare to Perform :35
(Prepare for sing-along)
7) Pretzel Vendor of Paris Sing-Along 2:06
(Sing-Along of the cute song)

I liked the cd, the story and the music. The moral of the story was an additional bonus. The extra "tidbits" on the cd were interesting. I found it enjoyable to listen to this CD. My children didn't enjoy it as much; I think they would have enjoyed one geared towards an older age group more. But I think younger children would enjoy it very much.

My only complaint: When mentioning the time frame for Aesop, the narrator refers to BCE instead of BC. This is one of my pet peeves. In case you haven't heard, there is a move to switch from BC (Before Christ) and AD (in the year of our Lord) to BCE (Before the Common Era) and CE (Common Era). In the Year of our Lord has worked just fine for 2000 years. An attempt to change it now is upsetting to me. Granted, I realize the producers of the CD didn't come up with the new term, but they did make a decision to use it.

To see what other crew members thought, click here.

Disclaimer: I received this CD free of charge to review, as part of the TOS Crew. The above is just my opinion. Please remember that opinions may, and do, vary.

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Mathletics - A Review

Product: Mathletics

Company: 3P Learning

Price: $49.95/year (Just answer the human calculator's favorite number. It is 9.)
10 day unconditional guarantee

Where to purchase:

Brief Overview: Give your student access to math curriculum activities and enjoyable fun math activities 24 hours a day. The activities are grouped by grade level and provide immediate feedback. Students can also compete live against other students.

In-Depth Look: is $59/ year. If you enter the human calculator's favorite number (9), the fee is $49.95. It comes with an unconditional guarantee. This provides access to the site 24 hours a day.

Your student enrolls by grade level, so the curriculum and mathletic challenges are geared towards the appropriate skill level.

Your child designs their own avatar to identify them. My children always enjoy designing their own character. Using credits, they can open up new features for the avatar. Credits are earned for doing various activities, such weekly participation certificates or setting new high scores.

In the practice section, you can choose from several categories and finish off with a test. In 2nd grade, some examples under "modeling numbers" are "count backward patterns" and "compare numbers to 100". Each practice section ends with a test. The questions are pretty straight forward, nothing fancy. Each set is in groups of 10. If you get a question wrong, it shows you the correct answer. At the end of the 10 questions, you can click on help for any of the questions. And some cute little characters will walk you through the problem. I thought this was really cute. If you complete the section more than once, you can begin to compare your performances with graphs and such, which is neat. If you set a high score, you earn credits. At the end of each section, there is a 24 question test. Nothing too fancy, but nice and colorful. You get a test score, help on problems at the end and credits for high scores.

The site has a problem solving section. In 2nd grade, some examples under "money" are "honeys money" and "skip jump". The problems are so cute and colorful and encouraging. It actually makes doing word problems fun. It is very interactive and makes it so much easier to "see" what the question is all about.

There are some cute games in the "game" section. They are cute and simple, but allow for good review. In 2nd grade, I found a "bead the necklace game", following patterns, and a "tally the score" game, where you add up similar items and tally the results.

I found a link up top to Jenny Eather's Rainforest Math. I spent a few minutes looking around. The activities are sorted by grade level. The activites are colorful, with onscreen "manipulatives". Some of the 2nd grade activities are counting blocks and number lines.

If you click on "concept search", you will find an amazing tool called "Animated Maths Dictionary". You click on a concept; the dictionary gives you a definition and an example. Click on "Concepts" and you will find an even cooler tool. First, pick the grade level that you want, which will limit to relevant topics. Then click the topic. You will get definitions and animated graphics illustrating the concept. It is fun to randomly click on items, just to see the graphics.

The most popular section is probably "Play Live". You compete with other students in your grade level. Usually 2 or 3 other children. It is completely safe as there is no interaction or communication with the other kids. You simply compete for the best time, answering questions as quickly as possible. My daughters enjoyed watching to see what countries they would be up against. They played against other students in the USA, Canada, the United Kingdom, Australia, and more. If you get 3 strikes, you are out of the race. You can pick level 1 - 5 and can also choose to play against the computer.

The parent will receive their own login information to a dedicated parent center. You will find a task manager, where you can select up to 4 activities that your student must complete before they can move onto other areas. This is good as a way to review, to push your students to try harder tasks, or to lock out the games to be used as a reward upon completion. You can view weekly progress reports, print certificates of completion, check-up on your child's progress.
You can print instant workbooks, from Level A to M. You can also print the parent's guide to go along with it. The workbooks can be printed in individual chapters or as the whole book. The books have graphics and are in black and white.

In summary, this site has a little bit of everything. Practice, tests, games, problem solving, competition, concept dictionaries, printable workbooks. The kids' section is colorful, animated, interactive and provides immediate feedback and lots of help. A reward system helps keep kids motivated, with earning credits and printing certificates.

At approximately $4/month, I think this site is well-worth the value.

Check out what other crew members had to say here.

Disclaimer: I received an online membership to free of charge to review, as part of the TOS Crew. The above is just my opinion. Please remember that opinions may, and do, vary.

Sunday, December 6, 2009

Tektoma - A Review

Product: Game Tutorials for Kids

Price: $14.95/month. $140/year.
Free 14 day trial.

Company: Tektoma

Where to buy:

A brief overview:
From their site: "Tektoma was founded in 2009 by Tom Marx and Matilda O'Connor, to provide 24 hour a day, 365 days per year access to engaging video tutorials that teach children game programming. " It allows children the opportunity to learn game programming at their own speed.

In-Depth Look:
Tektoma is geared towards children approximately 6 to 16 years of age. The site offers 5 full game tutorials (3 beginner, 1 intermediate and 1 advanced level). The time requirement varies from 1 hour to 2 1/2 hours.
1. How to make a racing game.
2. How to make an arcade game.
3. How to make a memory game.
4. How to make a platform game.
5. How to make a fantasy adventure game.

The site also has 6 shorter tutorials, varying in length from 5 to 63 minutes. 3 are beginner, 1 intermediate and 1 advanced.
1. Using tiles to build a racetrack.
2. Using tiles to improve the look of a platform game.
3. How to create and use custom icons.
4. How to create a stand alone version of a game.
5. How to make your game play in full screen mode.
6. Adding an inventory system to your game.

All of the tutorials use a software called GameMaker and the GameMaker Resource Pack. These are available as free downloads from YoYo Games. GameMaker allows you to make games using a drag-and-drop action. It doesn't require you to know any code. If you begin using it regularly, you may wish to upgrade to the ProEdition for $25.

After downloading the GameMaker and Resource Pack, your child will be ready to view the tutorial on "How to use the Tutorials". It is supposed to be about 4 minutes, but mine locks up everytime I try to watch it. After that, your child chooses the game that she wants to create. Your child should probably start with a "beginner" level, because the higher levels assume that you have already been working with GameMaker and are familiar with it, so the tutorials are not as detailed.

First open up the GameMaker. Make sure you are in "advanced mode". Then open up the tutorial. Pausing the video as needed, you follow the step-by-step instructions. The advantages to a video tutorial are that you can pause and rewind as needed. I did have some trouble with the tutorials, such as a brief instance in the car racing video...when 2 people are talking at once on the tutorial.

If you are interested in using GameMaker software, then Tektoma is a good place to start. It starts you at the very beginning, assuming you know nothing about the program. It "holds your hand" and walks you through a few games in great detail. The speaker not only talks you through it, but he also shows screen shots where you can actually see everything that he clicks and types. By the time you finish all the tutorials, you should have a very good sense of how the GameMaker software works and have enough knowledge to make some basic games of your own.

It might be a good place to start, for someone interested in game programming. As it helps you get a feel for the thought process involved in game programming. But this is not actual coding. You won't be using a programming language. So there other options out there, for someone that wants to jump right into using an actual programming language. But keep in mind, that GameMaker is intended for youth. Not for someone trying to make a career out of it.

I tried some of the game examples on their site. I didn't find the games to be interesting or user-friendly. Playing them might give you a feel for whether or not your child might be interested.

My husband, a computer programmer, sat down with my 11 year old daughter, who wants to learn programming, and tried some of the sample games and looked into the tutorials. They found several bugs/problems in the sample games. My daughter quickly lost interest in the tutorial. Later, I sat down to try the car racing tutorial. It moved slowly and I quickly lost interest as well.

But I would like to mention that several of the other crew members' children absolutely loved the tutorials. They have finished them and are now working on their own customized games. So check out their reviews as well and then decide.

An additional benefit is a member discussion forum.

The owners also operate another company:

Bits, Bytes & Bots Computer Adventures runs summer camps, birthday parties, after school classes and workshops in robotics, game creation, movie making, 3D and animation. Licenses available worldwide. Currently located in Albany, NY, Austin, TX, Boulder, CO, Denver, CO, Memphis, TN, Portland, OR, and Westchester, NY.

Disclaimer: I received an online membership to Tektoma free of charge to review, as part of the TOS Crew. The above is just my opinion. Please remember that opinions may, and do, vary.

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

All About Spelling Level 1 and 2 - A Review

Products: All About Spelling Level 1 and 2

Company: All About Learning Press, Inc.

Price: Prices vary per product. See List.

Where to purchase: All About Spelling

Brief Overview: "All About Spelling" is a multi-sensory program for spelling success. It includes step-by-step lesson plans, teaching tools for interactive learning, and a built-in daily review. It is customizable for most every student.

In-Depth Look: I received Level 1 and Level 2 of "All About Spelling".

Level 1: Level 1 includes a set of AAS letter tiles, a phonogram CD-Rom, and a material packet. You will need to provide an index card box and lined notebook paper. Optional items are stickers or colored pencils for the Progress Chart, letter tile magnets and a magnet board.

The program focuses on all 3 learning styles. Visual, Auditory and Kinesthetic. Students tend to retain more when the lesson uses all 3 styles.

Visual - watching the color-coded letter tiles, seeing the words written down, looking at review flashcards

Auditory - reviewing flashcards orally, segmenting words aloud, saying sounds of phonograms

Kinesthetic - writing down dictated phonograms, phrases, & sentences, building new words with tiles, and practicing spelling on various surfaces with pointer finger

Through hands-on work and continual review, your child will learn 32 phonograms, how to hear individual sounds, how to represent sounds using phonograms, and solid spelling rules.

There are 4 types of flashdcards. They will be kept in a "Spelling Review Box", also known as a file box.
Phonograms - Yellow cards offer visual and verbal review. 32 phonogram cards are included.
Sounds - Red cards offer aural and tactile review. 32 sound cards are included.
Keys - Blue cards reinforce new concepts. 16 key cards are included.
Words - Green cards offer aural, verbal, and tactile review.

The goal of the review box is permanently ingrained learning. This is by beginning each day's lesson with a review of the previous material.

Each lesson is spelled out clearly. The program tells you exactly what order to go in and even what to say to your child. There is very little pre-planning and very little setup required. It is extremely user-friendly for a homeschool parent to use.

The basic premise for each lesson is the same, broken down into 6 steps.
1. Read the lesson before you teach it.
2. Gather the materials listed in the "you will need section".
3. A time of review.
4. Teach new concepts. All you need to do is follow the script. Very simple.
5. Dictation.
6. File flashcards in either the Review or the Mastered dividers in the Spelling Review Box.

In addition, the lessons have "Don't forget" reminders and lots of tips. As I said, it is definitely set up to help you succeed as a teacher, so that your student can succeed as a speller. One of the best tips is to bring a great attitude and to praise your child when he does well. I love this quote that they included.
"Kind words can be short and easy to speak, but their echoes are truly endless." - Mother Teresa

Level 1 starts at the very beginning for pre-readers. Your child will learn the first 26 phonograms in the 1st lesson. It then continues to segmenting words, such as the first sound and the last sound of the word. Not the letter, but the sound. Your child will learn consonant vs. vowel and long vowel vs. short vowel. digraphs such as "sh" and "ch". Lessons will cover syllables, blends, c vs. k, doubling some letters (f, l, and s) at the end of a word, compound words, and plurals. Students will learn to recognize if a syllable is open or closed.

The back of the book includes a Certificate of Achievement and a Scope and Sequence.

Level 2 -You will need the Level 2 material packet, the AAS letter tiles, phonogram CD-Rom, Index card box, yellow colored pencil and lined notebook paper. From Level 1, you will need the phonogram cards 1- 32 and the sound cards 1 - 32. Optional items are stickers or colored pencils for the Progress Chart, Letter tile magnets, and magnet board.

Same as Level 1, Level 2 uses all three of the learning styles to help reinforce concepts for long-term retention. The same four types of flashcards are used again.
Phonogram - 32 phonogram cards from Level 1, 11 new ones from Level 2
Sounds - 32 from Level 1, 11 new ones from Level 2
Key - 9 key cards are included in Level 2
Words - Each contains a word to spell in Level 2

Each lesson is set up the same as in Level One, with six easy steps, reading scripts for the parent and built-in daily review.

Eleven new phonograms are taught in Level 2. Be sure to familiarize yourself with the sounds, so that you can teach your child. Listening to the CD is a great way to do this. Also familiarize yourself with the best way to set up the letter tiles, either on a magnet board or a table, leaving working space for your child to spell the words.

After learning how to spell with closed syllables in Level 1, you now study four more kinds of syllables (Open, Vowel-Consonant-E, Vowel Team, R-controlled and C+le). Learning to recognize syllable types will be a tremendous help to your child in the more advanced levels.

A cute idea is the "jail" for rule-breaker words. There is a jail card in the material packet. When your child learns a new word that doesn't follow the rules, he gets to put in "jail". This helps to make the word stick for him. Neat idea!

Lesson 1 is a quick review of Level One. From there, you will cover blends, syllable types and divisions, silent E, C vs. K, plurals, and vowel teams. You will study the sound of "er", "ar" and "or". It covers the soft sounds of C and G.

The end includes a Certificate of Achievement and a Scope and Sequence.

My thoughts: I enjoyed the ease of use of this program. All the important stuff is included. The rest of the required materials are easy to find. The lessons are very detailed and thorough and even scripted.

I appreciate the variety of ways that it uses to help the concept stick. Using letter tiles, tokens, flashcards, etc. Offering creative ways to help retention, such as writing the letters with your finger on a piece of carpet or writing a word with your finger in pudding. These are the kinds of things that help keep the lessons from getting monotonous and help use different learning styles to help your child remember.

I also appreciate that the program includes dictation. I think this is an important skill to master. To be able to hear the spoken word and put it to paper.

To read other crew members reviews, click here. (The link is not yet active. So I will update this post once it is.)

Disclaimer: I received All About Spelling Levels One and Two free of charge to review, as part of the TOS Crew. The above is just my opinion. Please remember that opinions may, and do, vary.