Saturday, June 16, 2012

IXL: A Fantastic Site for Math!!

I've heard my friends who have children in public school rant and rave about IXL.  They just love how their kids can work on their math skills at home, even over the summer.  Well, what product soon comes my way for review?  You guessed it!  It was meant to be....

The kids and I have thoroughly enjoyed IXL the last month or so.  It reviews every skill under the sun in the realm of Math, grades Pre-K to 8th grade, plus Algebra.  Advanced topics such as Trigonometry and Geometry are on their way to being added to the site soon. 

Within each grade level, there are seveal different topics and sub-topics.  For example, if you click on "Fourth Grade", there are 22 general topics to choose from (Money, Time, Fractions, Coordinate Graphs).  Within each topic, there are subtopics which match up to your state's standards.  For instance, in "Money", you will find 8 different money topics, including "Making Change", "Unit Pricing", "Rounding Money Amounts".  You see how it goes....

What I love about IXL is that you can set the grade level for each child and it is kept hidden from their view.  I have one that works below grade level (for now) and it is often deflating for him to see that constant reminder on some of his assignments and workbooks.  Right now, he just knows he works in Level E.  The problems are presented using colorful pictures or some other type of visual to help them understand the problem being asked.  In fact, the Pre-K, Kindergarten and 1st grade problems come with an audio feature to read the problem to the student!  Love that!

You can set up your parent account to receive emails daily or weekly to receive progress reports on your child.  You will see what they have been working on, how long they worked, how many problems they completed and what the outcome was.  This is all presented in a very easy to understand report, complete with a pie chart to see where they have been spending their time.  When you are signed in with your Parent login, you can poke around in all of the levels, even trying out the problems, and no progress is recorded.  I loved that feature.  Sometimes you just want to see what they are going to ask your child (did we cover this?  is the difficulty too low, too high?  etc.)

You will receive notifications when your child has mastered a topic, worked 100 problems, worked on IXL for 1 hour, etc.  You are able to print nice, colorful certificates to present your child, right there from these progress emails.  This was a nice touch.  I started not to print them (my kids are about to enter 5th and 7th grade).  But they still appreciated the certificates, so I'm glad I did :)

One of the coolest things about IXL is the virtual reward system.  Once they reach certain goals, colored ribbons show up in their sidebar.  They can then go to the Awards screen and uncover virtual rewards, such as a yacht or a starfish, etc.  Even my oldest son got excited.  We would all gather around when he finished his lesson and when he revealed his award on the chart, he, myself and his younger brother would yell (in a really exaggerated way)  "Oh my goodness!!!! It's a walrus!!! Woo-hoo!!!"  LOL.

What you need to know about IXL is that it does not TEACH your child concepts.  It is designed to work ALONGSIDE your math curriculum as a review, skill-builder, extra-practice.  It will not present a lesson or lecture.  If it did that, we would abandon all math curricula and just do IXL forever.  That's what my kids want, anyway! 

According to the IXL website, here are the benefits of membership:

  • Complete coverage of math curriculum from pre-K to algebra. Your kids won't miss a thing!
  • Unlimited questions in over 2,000 skills.
  • Fun and colorful practice formats.
  • Questions that adapt to your child's ability, increasing in difficulty as they improve.
  • Immediate feedback and question-specific explanations to solidify understanding of each concept.
  • Audio for all pre-K through first-grade skills.
  • Weekly e-mail updates on your child's progress.
  • Informative, detailed reports pointing out successes and trouble spots.
  • Awards and certificates for you and your children to print out as they reach important milestones.

Pricing for family memberships starts at just $9.95/month or $79/year. Each additional child costs $2/month or $20/year.  When my trial subscription is over, this is something I will definately be getting for the 2012-2013 school year.  I don't want to be without IXL again!

**Disclaimer:  I was given a 6-month trial subscription to test-drive IXL for review purposes.  No other compensation was provided to me and my honest opinion is what I have provided here.

See what the other reviewers from The Homeschool Crew Review Team thought about IXL here

Creation Illustrated Magazine

Creation Illustrated has been around for almost 20 years, yet it wasn't until I had a chance to review it this month, had I even heard of it.  Where have I been?  Probably perusing popular book-chains who would rather carry magazines whose covers I wish I could...well, COVER UP.  With Creation Illustrated, you don't have to worry about the cover.  It is not only family-friendly, it is beautiful!

 Creation Illustrated has been called the "Christian National Geographic" by many readers.  It is a publication that you'll want to read and then save to read again and again.  Each issue is a keepsake.
 Each issue contains motivational, uplifting articles that spotlight all of the wonderful thing that God has made for us to enjoy in this world, from the largest whale in the ocean, to the smallest eye on a fly.

This is a magazine devoted to nature, family and glorifying God in everything, even the pattern of a leaf or the stillness of a forest.  It truly is a treasure.  However, I didn't realize it at first glance.  My first thought was, "Where are all the cool graphics?  Where's the edgy, modern feel?".  But that's the point.  We get enough of that in society, on the news, in television programming, texts, tweets and whatever.  Creation Illustrated is something you'll pick up to read when you want to get away from all that and focus on the beauty of God's creation, while learning at the same time.  And while your kids are learning, they are also picking up great character and values from the content and tone of the articles, as well as the focus on scripture. 

I got a chance to peruse the last 4 issues and they seem to all follow the same format.  "In Nature", "In Scripture" and "In Living".  There are freelance articles and photography that are scrutinized for the upmost quality and content.  "In Nature" contains articles from a first-hand experience in nature by the author (Charlotte Mason would approve, I believe).  "In Scripture" contains lots of "creation confirmation" moments and news on scientific finds that support creation.  "In Living" will include recipes from nature, children's stories, photo contests for youth and (I love this part)...Instructional Guides!  You can use this magazine as part of your education with your children by using the guide questions to go with the articles. 

Creation Illustrated is published quarterly in the United States for $4.99 per issue.  You can also subscribe here, using the following rates:

1 year subscription is  $ 19.95
2 Year subscription is  $ 37.95
3 Year  subscription is $ 53.95

Those who pay now with a credit card will save another $5.00 per year per subscription.  ALSO, YOU MAY REQUEST A FREE SAMPLE COPY TO CHECK IT OUR FOR YOURSELF!

**Disclaimer:  I received 4 free issues of the magazine to use for this review, in exchange for my honest opinion.  All opinions are mine, and no other compensation was provided.

See what the other reviewers thought about Creation Illustrated magazine here.

Friday, June 8, 2012

Buying Used----Frugally Homeschooling

For the second year in a row, I've worked at a large used curriculum sale in Orlando.  Boy, is it big!  It is also two days of hard-work, lifting, loading, categorizing, assisting shoppers and cleaning up.  I find it to be well-worth it for the spoils I bring home.  Yes, those are brand new 7th Grade Daily Grams workbooks for $5 each!  The Fallacy Detective for $3!  IEW Theme-based writing for $5! Novels in excellent condition for 50 cents!  Encyclopedias! Wall charts! Jonathan Park on audio! Biography magazines!  Card games!  Board Games!  Math Manipulatives!  I got nearly everything on my list this year in "gently used" or "brand new but discounted" condition.  I was thrilled!

All of this was purchased for $186, and some items were in the "FREE" area--oh, how I love free.

I used to be very snobbish about used items.  I liked everything to line up on my shelf in pristine condition so I could marvel at its perfection and beauty--LOL.  Now, after calculating the costs of homeschooling two boys in the manner in which I want to homeschool them, I've realized that it ain't cheap.  Ebay is fine, if you can find what you want and don't mind paying for shipping (or finding a box a packaging materials if you're the one selling).  But I much prefer to buy/sell to local homeschool moms.  I belong to two homeschool support groups and we are fortunate to have a "forum", where moms can chat about curriculum, field trips and used items up for grabs.  Also, just recently, a Facebook page was created for our area specializing in curriculum exchange.  So, it's been nice to get what I need for relatively little this year. 

I have had a few splurges......we bought Rosetta Stone Spanish at the Homeschool Convention (new, but at a great promotional price for Levels 1-3).  Sometimes I'm leary of buying software used, fearful that the alotted number of registered users has been surpassed and it will be unusable to me.  I've purchased used copies or borrowed Teaching Textbooks in the past and we were easily able to add new registered users to that, so I got lucky there.  Always do your research before buying anything with CD-ROMs.

Do you have a fantastic library?  Does it have used items for purchase?  I do and I have to say that is the #1 way I've built my personal collection over the past 15-20 years.  New, hardback versions of best-sellers and classics---$1, or even 50 cents!  Anything I no longer use that isn't "curriculum" or of possible interest to homeschooling families gets donated to my local library.  I like to give back to the service that has given so much to me :)

So, check out your area and see if they have used curriculum sales.  If they are small-scale, encourage more people to participate.  It's much more fun!  If nothing exists, create something!  Local churches are usually more than happy to provide a fellowship hall for use on a Saturday, in exchange for a small fee for electricity.  This can be re-couped by charging sellers $5 or $10 per table.  Everyone wins in the end and it's a great way to promote homeschooling in the area with signs and advertisements.  Never underestimate the power of word of mouth (i.e. Facebook posts!). 

Good luck with shopping frugally this summer!  I'd love to hear of your best deals!