Jun 112012

I always loved school.

I love the look, feel, and even the smell of a brand new textbook.

I was transported back to my own public school days when I received the 3rd grade enVisionMath textbook from Pearson Learning. You know the stamp in the front of a textbook that has a place to write who is issued the book each year? I don’t think it has changed since I was in school.

When I actually opened the book, I quickly realized that this was not the 3rd grade textbook that I had in, um, 1979. For one thing, it is WAY more colorful. The illustrations in the book are bright and engaging. I think that the content has changed significantly since then as well. This text places great emphasis on problem solving. There are also fun facts throughout the book that integrate other subjects with math.

For example:

Bamboo is one of the fastest growing plants on Earth. It can grow about 36 inches a day. Can it grow more than 200 inches in a week?


What is the record length of the “World’s Longest Apple Peel?”

The text is very well organized with a predictable format for each topic. Every lesson includes Guided Practice, Independent Practice, and Problem Solving. There are Going Digital exercises to be completed on eTools. Also included is a comprehensive Electronic Teacher’s guide and a QuizShow math practice computer game.

The Electronic Teacher’s Edition is loaded! It has teaching helps, printable pages of all the exercises in the book, plus extra practice pages, tests, the answers to the exercises, ideas and printable pages for centers, and more.

I think this would make a great text for many children. It might be an especially good choice for a student

    • who is transitioning to homeschool from the public school (and was doing well in math there.)


    • who needs to stay on the standard scope and sequence because he is likely going to be attending public school in the future.
It was unfortunately, a very poor choice for my 10 year old son who is struggling in academics.
  • The bright color was very distracting for him. I found him unable to understand concepts that he had previously learned (like place value).
  • He needs a work text. Transferring problems from a textbook to a separate page is next to impossible for him. (This difficulty can be reduced by printing the exercises from the teacher’s guide. However, this program is already expensive, and having to print every single exercise is both time-consuming and more expensive.)
  • While my son liked the Quiz game math practice, I did not.
    • First, the multiple choice made it possible for him to just guess. There was no explanation of incorrect answers.
    • And even more disturbing was the fact that the game insulted the student for missed answers! I have several other children who can sarcastically belittle my son for not knowing things. I do not need his math curriculum telling him things like, “The key to this game is selecting the CORRECT answer.” and “If the goal were negative points, you’d be headed in the right direction. “
  • One additional problem for me is that the software, though supposed to work on Macs, only works on very old Macs. That is not a major concern since we have both a Mac and PC’s  in our home, but it would definitely be a problem in a home with only a Mac computer because the Teacher’s Guide would not work.
The enVisionMath homeschool bundle is available from Pearson Homeschool for $99.99.


Disclosure: I received the enVisionMath homeschool bundle from Pearson Learning to review for free as a member of the Schoolhouse Review Crew. I was not compensated for this review. The opinions expressed are my own.


May 202012

Learning math facts brings up images of studying boring flash cards. And I don’t just mean boring for the kids! I really do think drilling math facts is important, but it has not been something that I’ve made enough time to work on with my kids. It takes time and my time is spread really thin homeschooling 5 children and working part-time.

What’s the answer, then?

Have someone else guide the drill. Or in this case, something.

There are many options for computer-based math fact drill. I’ve recently been given the opportunity to review one that I was unfamiliar with: CapJaxMathFax.


CapJaxMathFax is a simple computer program designed to drill students on all 4 mathematical operations. It allows students to master their math facts in a systematic progression. There is immediate feedback for the student and reporting capability for the teacher. It allows children to study math facts independent of the teacher, freeing up the teacher for other tasks.

The program is very simple to use. There are no distracting graphics and sounds. The problems are presented in a large font. Both horizontal and vertical problem orientation is used. The mouse is not used during the drill time, only the number keys (or keypad) and enter key. The student is challenged to not only get the fact correct, but to earn a SUPER rating on every math fact. The default setting for SUPER rating is answering in under 3 seconds. The student can practice or play for rating. Students build their rating over time and their progress is remembered in subsequent sessions. A bar graph is built on the screen allowing the student to visually see their progress.

I had my 10 year old son test serve as my main tester of this program. He has some learning difficulties and is behind in math, so he does need to work on his facts. He specifically needs to work on memorizing his multiplication facts, so that is where we started. I changed the Super Seconds from 3 to 6 for him. That is still tough for him. It just takes time for his brain to process what the problem is, then think of the answer, and then type in the answer. His progress on multiplication has been slow. Thinking that maybe the 6 seconds was an unrealistic target for him, I tested him with addition facts. I discovered that he can do the addition that fast because he knows it well. That definitely gives me hope for the multiplication!

He doesn’t love the program, but he doesn’t hate it either. (I know that doesn’t sound complimentary, but it actually is. He hates most everything that has to do with school. We’re really struggling.) I think that the program does exactly what it claims to do – helps students to master math facts. It is an ideal program for students who are easily distracted by games and sounds.

CapJaxMathFax is available to purchase through their website. A 12 month license is available for $29.95.


Disclosure: I received a 6-month license in order to review this program. I was not compensated for this review. All opinions expressed are my own.

Apr 262012

I don’t think I’ve made it a secret that I’m a math geek. I love algebra, especially word problems. And even though I call(ed) myself a classical educator, I’ve differed in my philosophy of math education. I’ve always stressed conceptual understanding over computational skills. (In hindsight maybe I should have stressed computational skills and memorization a bit more. But I’ve got more kids, so hopefully I’ll figure it out eventually.)

My older daughter is finishing up the 6th grade and has almost completed the Singapore Primary Mathematics series. She’s done very well with it and is anxious to begin algebra next year. I’ve been waffling a little over whether she is ready for algebra or if she needs a pre-algebra course. Needless to say, I was very happy to receive Balance Math Teaches Algebra! by The Critical Thinking Company to review.

Balance Math Teaches Algebra! is part of the Balance Math series. I have not seen any of the other books in the series, but I have used several different products from The Critical Thinking Company, and I’ve been impressed with them all. Balance Math Teaches Algebra! is no exception. Like the other products from Critical Thinking,

  • The lessons are short and focus on understanding.
  • The pages are reproducible for your family or classroom.

Balance Math is a fantastic way to introduce basic algebraic concepts. I love the way it demonstrates visually how to manipulate equations. But it also explains how to move from the visual balance concept to the using variables and adding and subtracting from both sides of an equation.

Here is a sample page so you can see what I mean.

I am really impressed with this resource. My daughter enjoys it and thinks it’s almost like a puzzle.

Is it a complete algebra curriculum?
Absolutely not.

But it is a wonderful introduction so that the student can begin algebra with confidence, not fear. I feel this is just the bridge that my daughter needed before beginning an algebra curriculum.

Balance Math Teaches Algebra! is available from The Critical Thinking Company for $14.99.


Disclosure: I received a copy of Balance Math Teaches Algebra! in order to complete this review. I was not compensated for this review. All opinions expressed are my own.


Mar 042012

K5 Learning is an on-line program for students from kindergarten through grade 5. Designed to be used by students for after-school practice, it is also works well in a homeschool setting. K5 provides lessons in reading, spelling, math, and math fact drill.

I selected my almost 10 year old son to test K5 Learning. Officially, I say he is in 3rd grade. However, most of his skills are a bit behind 3rd grade. We received the program right as it was time for him to memorize the multiplication tables in math, so he spent most of his time working in the math fact drill section of the program.

Before studying a group of math facts, there is a pre-test. If the student passes the pre-test, then those lessons will be skipped. (Or that’s what I’m assuming. My son did not pass any of the pre-tests so that I could see.) In a lesson, a new fact (or 2) is taught. I like that the fact is shown and read to the student. The student quickly gets to practice the new facts. Previously learned facts are added,  providing continuous review and reinforcement. After a lesson, the student is allowed a fun game as a reward. This time is limited though, and the student must work through lessons to earn arcade time.

The goal of the fact drill section is quick recall. Therefore, the default settings for mastery of the fact requires the student to answer very quickly. I found this setting to be unrealistic for my son, but I was able to lengthen the amount of time in the parent account. The program provided detailed instructions for changing this. After every lesson the child can see how he is progressing through his math facts.

K5 Learning

I also had my son take the reading assessment so he could test the reading program. The assessment was very long. It was difficult for him, since he has struggled with reading. I had to guide him through the assessment to make sure he completed the questions. I tried not to assist him except in explaining what he was supposed to do and helping him to stay focused on the task. However, I think that the program placed him too high in reading comprehension. It might have been because I made him read the stories with me. When he was trying to use the program, he had a tendency to just guess the answers. I could sit with him and make him do the reading and guide him through the questions. But if I’m using an on-line program, I want my child to be able to use it virtually independently. To me the biggest value in an on-line program is that it provides instruction or practice for my child that I don’t have to give. On-line programs need to free me up to work with other children. Maybe if I had not watched him during the assessment, the program would have placed him at a level that he would be able to read without my encouragement.

Overall, I think K5 Learning is a fun way to provide additional instruction and practice for students in core subjects. I think most students would be able to use the program independently.

To learn more about K5 Learning, visit their website. The site offers free assessments and a 14 day free trialSubscriptions are available for $25/month for one child. An additional child can be added for only $15. Yearly subscriptions are also available for $199 with an additional child for $129.
 Disclosure: I received a free trial of K5 Learning in order to write this review. I was not compensated for this review. All opinions expressed are my own.

Jan 092012

Disclosure: This post contains affiliate links. If you purchase through an affiliate link, I will receive a small percentage of the sales price.

As an elementary student I don’t remember being too fond of math. I didn’t hate it, but I didn’t particularly like it either. I do remember shedding tears over division of fractions. I just didn’t understand WHY division was the same as multiplying by the reciprocal, and that really upset me. That and the fear that I might make a bad grade. But that’s a topic for another day.

Everything changed when I started Algebra. I was blessed with an excellent teacher. He had worked as an engineer, but for various reasons had decided to become a math teacher. (The reasons did not include not being a good engineer. He really knew his stuff.) It was in Algebra I that I learned to love word problems. Call me crazy, but I really like a good word problem.

I think largely due to that Algebra teacher’s influence, I ended up majoring in engineering. (I not only had him for Algebra I, but also for Algebra II, Algebra III, and Advanced Physics, in addition to being the coach of the math team. Yes, I was on the math team. Go ahead and snicker.)

And what does all this background have to do with my homeschool curriculum choices?

Quite a lot actually. The single most important objective I have for my children in their math education is that they understand math. I do still want them to know their math facts. But if I had to pick, I’d chose mathematical understanding and application over computational speed. No question. That definitely influences my curriculum choices.

My oldest son has always shown a high aptitude for math. When I started researching homeschooling curriculum (way earlier than I care to admit) I finally settled upon starting with a combination of Miquon and Singapore Math. I didn’t do anything fancy trying to coordinate the two curricula to mesh the topics together. He just worked through Miquon Orange, then Singapore 1A, back to Miquon for the Red book, then back to Singapore 1B. We kept alternating until we ran out of Miquon books. (There are 6). Then he continued using Singapore Math through Singapore 6A.

It was in Singapore 6A that he began to point out that there really wasn’t anything new he was learning. So I went to work looking for Pre-Algebra options. What I settled on for him is Life of Fred. Life of Fred is a series of math books in which all the math is taught in the form of a story. My son loves Life of Fred because of Fred’s crazy adventures. He likes the quirky sense of humor. I love to hear my son laughing doing his math. Life of Fred books go off on some wild tangents that have really gotten my son to think. He does a lot of thinking about mathematical patterns. He asks me theoretical questions that I cannot figure out. My son is midway through Advanced Algebra, and he is understanding math.

I’ve read many reviews of Life of Fred that say it’s a good curriculum for a more literary inclined student. Maybe that’s because it might catch the interest of a student who likes to read. But that makes it sound like it’s watered down math. I assure you, it is not. And my son is far from literary. He likes to read computer manuals and books of facts–not literature.

This sequence of curricula has worked great for my math minded son who needs very little practice to understand a concept. Who, in fact, detests anything that seems even remotely like “busy work”. I have a hard time getting him to write enough of the problem steps down.

I used to be under the crazy delusion that I could pick out curriculum once and just use the same thing for all my children. I have determined that I—-

  1. Like to research curriculum way too much to find one thing for the whole family to use forever, and
  2. Have 5 extremely different children.

Starting with Singapore and Miquon was also a good fit for my oldest daughter, but she has already told me she doesn’t think she could learn from Life of Fred. And my middle son has some learning issues that made Miquon and Singapore poor choices for him. Who knows what will be the best choice for my youngest 2 children?

The freedom to tailor the curriculum to meet the needs of each individual student is one of the reasons that homeschooling works so well. It’s a good thing I’m a curriculum junkie!

For more Virtual Curriculum Fair Posts visit these great blogs:

Math Lapbooks—Virtual Curriculum Fair Week 2 Angie Wright @ Petra School

Virtual Curriculum Fair Week Two: Discover Patterns, Mathematics, Logic and Some Science by Leah @ The Courtney Six Homeschool

Our Choices For Math by Melissa @ Grace Christian Homeschool

A Magnificent Math Manipulative by Letha Paulk @ justpitchingmytent

Our Math Choices – Virtual Curriculum Fair by Tristan @ Our Busy Homeschool

Math Literature?!?! by Christine @ Crunchy Country Catholic

Learning Math at My House by Jessica @ Modest Mama

Math Using Hamburger Paper by Debbie @ Debbie’s Digest

Math Facts or Fun? Why Not Both! by Beth @ Ozark Ramblings

Heart of Dakota- The Fine Details- Part 2 Science by Lynn @ Ladybug Chronicles

Learning Math Block by Block by Laura O in AK @ Day by Day in Our World

Plugging Along with Math by Cindy Horton @ Fenced in Family

What’s Working and What’s Not: Math Edition by Leann @ Montessori Tidbits

Math Anyone? by Cindy @ For One Another

Ahh, Math. by Nicole @ Schooling in the Sun

Flying Without a Parachute: Math with no Curriculum by Pam @ Everyday Snapshots

Math in Our Homeschool by Christine T @ Our Homeschool Reviews

Math, Math, and More Math by Dawn Chandler @ tractors & tire swings

Discovering Patterns: Math, Logic, and Some Science by Christa Darr @ Fairfield Corner Academy

The Science of Math by Brenda Emmett @ Garden of Learning

“Mom, did we do math today?” by Chrissy at Learning is an Adventure

Math, Math, and More Math by Joelle @ Homeschooling for His Glory

Disclosure: This post contains affiliate links.



Sep 152011


It’s kind of a dirty word to students and some educators. It invokes images of tedious copying of spelling words or rote recitation of math facts.

And in all honestly, it’s not something that has been a strong point in our homeschool up to now. I’ve got some “good” reasons. (Or maybe I should call them excuses since I’m being honest.)

  • Son #1 has been blessed with a memory that doesn’t require much drilling.
  • The attitude about drill has been less than stellar.
  • It takes me time  to go through flashcards or quiz effectively.

But to lock something into long-term memory there is going to be some drill required. Really. There is just no way around it. One could make the case that anything someone uses often they will remember, and if they don’t use it often enough to remember, then they can just look it up or figure it out when they need it. But I personally disagree. There are some things that I want my children to KNOW.

Big IQ kids

I was excited to find that I had been selected to review Big IQ kids.com as a member of TOS’s Homeschool Crew. Ideal for students in 2nd through 5th grades, Big IQ kids is designed to make practicing spelling, vocabulary, math, and even learning the states more fun than flash cards. In addition, children are rewarded for their time spent practicing with credits in the game area.

I assigned my middle son to work on Big IQ kids, since he is the only one in my family that falls in ideal age range.

We started out with math on the default setting.  There were a lot of problems in the problem set! (I think it was 50.) That was way too many for my son to do and maintain his focus.

Thankfully, I found the option to modify the math lessons.

That was a huge help. You can customize the problems so that your child is practicing what he needs to practice, and you can customize the length of assignments.

My son loves maps so he tried out the U.S. States program next.

I like the way this game starts out very easy. In Level 1, the student is shown the location, spelling, capital, and abbreviation and asked to click on it or copy it. But I wish that there was an option to turn off State Spelling. Or maybe make it Step 4. Typing in the spelling of the states (even though it was just copying) was too tedious for my son, who has difficulty reading and types by copying one letter at a time. So we didn’t get very far with this section.

The final section that we tried was the spelling/vocabulary section. First, I had the program generate a word list. The words were reasonable, but I soon realized that to use our time more effectively, I should enter my own spelling lists. That was simple to do.

Practicing the spelling words on-line was helpful to my son. It was nice that the program automatically included a definition of the word too.

Overall, I think this is a good program to provide extra practice in a fun way. Our favorite was definitely the math portion.  I recommend trying out the free versions and seeing if they program is a good fit for your child.

All of these programs are available in both a free and premium version, except the Spelling program. The Spelling is always free! The main difference between the premium and free versions is the progress tracking capability in the premium versions. The programs are available by subject, so you don’t have to subscribe to the whole program, just the subjects that you will use. You can compare the free and premium math versions and the free and premium state versions in greater detail on the website.

The MathFacts Program is available for $9.99/month or $49.99/year. The U.S. States Program is available for $39.99/year.


Disclosure: I was given a free subscription to both the U.S. States and MathFacts Programs in order to do this review. All opinions expressed are my own.





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Aug 192010

This is my son’s latest video. It is a card trick that he figured out himself. What I think is even more amazing is that he came to me with the algebraic formulas he had figured out because he wanted to show why it worked! I had to show him how to solve the equations, because he hasn’t actually had algebra yet. I am definitely looking forward to algebra with him. (Yes, I’m serious. I’m a math geek!)

I love it when I can teach him things without calling it school!

Apr 212010

Last week was standardized testing in our home. The next day I accidentally discovered something that has been very helpful to my younger son (8 years old) who has difficulty concentrating on his assignments.

I had left the stopwatch sitting on the table, and my son picked it up while he was doing his math. He said “Go!’ pressed the start button and proceeded to do the 2 math problems that were in the first box. (He uses Math Mammoth and there are lots of boxes around groups of problems.) When he finished, he said “Stop!” and stopped the time. He sat there for a second, said “Go!” and repeated the process.

I stood there with my mouth hanging open. He was able to complete his math in record time and he only missed 1!

Letting him use the stopwatch definitely Works for Me!


Mar 292010

When I look back over this year on the Homeschool Crew, I’ll always remember it as the math year — the on-line math year. I have had the opportunity to review lots of math products this year, and Math Galaxy was somewhat at a disadvantage with its review being later in the year. When I first went to the Math Galaxy website, I wasn’t impressed. I didn’t think my kids would be impressed either.

However, as I got more into the product, I discovered there’s a lot more to it than I thought. I made the mistake of assuming that the simple graphics meant that the program itself was too simple to be valuable. I was wrong. Math Galaxy is not a simple math fact drill program. It actually teaches the mathematical concepts! There are step-by-step demonstrations of hundreds of different types of math problems.

Math Galaxy

There are programs available in all levels. These include:

  • Whole Numbers Fun
  • Fractions Fun
  • Decimals, Proportions, % Fun
  • Word Problems Fun
  • Pre-Algebra Fun
  • Algebra Fundamentals

These programs all work the same basic way. The student chooses a topic to study. He is presented with a problem, and then solves the problem step-by-step as the program directs. With each problem, the student earns a robot. There is a labyrinth game to play, and each of the robots earned by solving math problems is equal to one life in the game. This was very motivating for my 8 year old son. (The fact that he isn’t very good at the labyrinth game is helpful. He isn’t able to play very long without dying, so then he has to do more math problems to play the game.)

In addition to the Math Fun Games, Math Galaxy also has Math Riddler worksheet generating software. The software automatically generates worksheets for your choice of practice topics. The worksheets each have a fun riddle on them that the student fills in as he solves each problem.

If this sounds like something that would be helpful for your child, visit MathGalaxy.com to try out some of the games on-line. The software is available to purchase for $19.95 for each of the different levels. This is not a subscription, but a one-time purchase price.


Disclosure: This product was provided to our family for free as members of the 2009-2010 Old Schoolhouse Magazine Homeschool Crew. Reviews and opinions expressed in this blog are our own.

Sep 072009

I’m planning on having my son work one addition, subtraction, multiplication, and division problem daily just to to make sure that he remembers the methods. We’ve fought and fought over him doing most of his math in his head. It might not be so much of a problem if he got all the problems correct. But he does not. He definitely understands math concepts for which I’m very thankful. That is what I’ve stressed. But, I’m realizing now that he doesn’t KNOW his math facts adequately, and he does not do well at computational math. I knew his speed was poor and we are drilling multiplication facts to help with that.

I’ve come up with several possibilities for delivering the problems.
1. Worksheets

I’ve been looking for a free worksheet generator, but I’ve been unable to find one that generates a small number of problems, do the mixture that I want, and make the problems complicated enough.

2. Write the 4 problems down on the whiteboard daily.

That’s definitely an easier option that continuing to scour the internet for the software I want. However, I know myself and I’m afraid that if the daily problems are dependent on me writing them daily it won’t happen.

3. I could make up the problems and type them into his assignment sheets.

I can’t format them like a worksheet, but he could write them in his notebook. And writing down the problem is a lot of the issue, so maybe that would be the best solution.

I’d appreciate suggestions for worksheet websites and any other advice. (I, of course, reserve the right not to take it LOL)