Monday, October 29, 2012

Crew Review: Science in a Bag

"Where Fun and Education Fit In The Same Bag"

Sugar Maple and Balsam Fir love science experiments. And what's not to love, right? It's hands-on learning fun! So, I was excited to have an opportunity review Activities in a Bag!

What We Reviewed
For our review, we received a PDF download of 3 Science Experiments in a Bag eBooks ($39.00). Science Experiments in a Bag eBook 1 included 25 experiments for Biology, General Science and Nature. The 2nd eBook had 25 more experiments for Chemistry, the Human Body and General Science. And the 3rd eBook provided another 25 experiments in Chemistry. These experiments are recommended for grades K-8. Check out a sample here or here to fill out a survey to receive a free Activity Bag e-Sampler.

What We Did
Downloading and saving these Science Experiments in a Bag PDFs were quick and easy so I got started right away. I found the PDFs very well organized!

Now, these Science Experiments in a Bag are made for "swaps" or making 10 or 20 experiments (complete with instructions, safety warnings and materials) to "swap" with other educators or caregivers so that each person ends up with 10 or 20 different, ready-to-use experiments for their homeschools, co-ops, church, or other groups. Read more about "swaps" here. Each PDF includes information on organizing a "swap", and each gallon Ziplock experiment costs about $1 to assemble.  Doesn't that sound like fun? Not to mention convenient and economical!

But here's the thing: we don't attend a homeschool co-op or any activities with Sugar Maple and Balsam Fir that would work for a "swap" with other families. 

Yet, these experiments are even perfect for a single family to use because Science Experiments in a Bag breaks down the experiment material lists into 1 bag or 10, 15 or 20 bags!

Now, I'm already running low on printer ink this school year. (Yeah, just 7 weeks in! ::sigh::) So, I need to be "frugal" with my ink and paper. After reading through the first PDF, I found a one-page list of experiments by number and supplies needed. This list was really handy to see what might enhance a particular science concept and see what materials are needed. I printed THIS out for my AT-A-GLANCE concept AND shopping list! These science bags DO require quite a bit of printing to assemble bags for both single family and group swaps so be prepared with ink and paper! (Cardstock or scrapbook paper would ensure more durability.)

Each experiment includes: experiment description, grade range, experiment type (i.e. Biology, Chemistry, Nature, etc.), supply list, instructions, warning or safety label, a lab recording sheet, and an answer and notes sheet.

We've been getting the garden ready for winter and studying Botany so creating a Worm Farm to learn how valuable they are to plant soil seemed like a perfect hands-on project to start with. I even had all the materials, although we opted to use a big, clear plastic tub rather than a clear, plastic 20 oz cup for our farm. Go BIG, right? ::wink:: And we certainly had all the earthworms we needed right in the garden! ::laugh:: For a week, we observed our worms in their temporary habitat, filling out our recording sheet.

We also made a Garbage Viewer. Yep, garbage! ::laugh:: Ever wonder what happens to trash and food as it decomposes in soil? Well, Science in a Bag has a project to help kids learn just what happens. It was such a simple experiment to pull together! We'll be watching it over time to see just what happens to every day trash as it breaks down!

We're actually pretty excited about the 3rd Science in a Bag PDF as it's Chemisty! Once our Botany is wrapped up, we're moving onto Chem and the kids can't wait to see what Science in a Bag has for activities! (Shh! I know and they're going to love it! ::wink::)

Now, I have to say that I'm just not crazy about PDFs in general. I enjoy having an actual book or workbook to work with, making copies as needed. I like to physically mark books with Post-its, and that can't be done with PDFs without printing and binding (which are additional costs and time commitments). I would love for Science in the Bag to have book purchase options!

Would we recommend Science in a Bag PDFs? Absolutely! Whether you do a co-op or group swap of experiments all assembled in baggies or just use them has a family, these experiments are easy to put together, fun to do and even have recording sheets! With all 3 PDFs you'll have General Science, Biology, Nature, and Human Body to supplement your every day curriculum for K-8 or just to have handy some rainy day activities or to plan a swap within a co-op. Lotsa options!

Disclaimer: Our Side of the Mountain received this product to review for the TOS Blog Crew. All thoughts and opinions are our own. For more info click on the highlighted links above or visit the TOS review crew here.

Thursday, October 25, 2012

Weekly Wrap-up: Session 1 Week 8

In My Life This Week
This really was a wrap-up week! We wrapped up our last week of Session 1 and will be on vacation next week, visiting family and having some Trick or Treat fun with Cousin Noodle. (We're trying something new this year: We have 6-8 week sessions with scheduled one week vacations in between.) We wrapped our our election unit study, but see those details below. Soccer has wrapped up for all 3 Saplings. Next up? Basketball! But we have a break until December. And we wrapped up our last TOS Crew Review which will be posted very soon. Although our experience with the crew has been fun, I decided that simplifying our school days was necessary to my sanity planning.

Homeschool High School
White Pine and I talk often about his school goals and how to manage his time to meet those goals. It's definitely a learning curve for both of us! For him, juggling school, soccer, scouts, and chores with "down time" has been going well. He's missed some goal deadlines, but we have ambitious ones. For me, I'm learning to "let go" and I think it's still harder on me. ::wink::

English: English Grammar 101 (Adverbs Modifying Adjectives, Cumulative Review, Module 1 Self-Test), Thoreau Essay, Algebra: Algebraic Expressions, Conditional Equations, Distributive Property, Exponents, and Decimals, Biology: Cells and Photosynthesis, Boy Scout Camperee Weekend, Soccer

Homeschool Elementary
Sugar Maple and Balsam Fir attended a Portland Symphony Youth Concert with Blue Spruce, and listened to and learned about Tchaikovsky.

The Saplings baked Apple Crumble Bars this week. We used our homemade canned crockpot chunky applesauce and it came out great! Now, we decided that the bottom crust was too thick so we suggest you spread it out on at 13x9 rather than a 8x8, but double up on the apple filling in the middle. More apple-y goodness that way!

And Sugar Maple wanted to bake and decorate some special cupcakes for her soccer teammates. Aren't these cute? Tomorrow is their last game! Go, Red!

We completed our Election Unit Study, filling out our remaining mini-books from Homeshool Share, putting our lapbooks together, finishing up See How They Run: Campaign Dreams, Election Schemes, and the Race to the White House (Goodman and Smith), and watching "You're Not Elected, Charlie Brown" from Netflix. We'll have our Patriotic Tea Election night.

Balsam Fir is SUCH an interesting boy! While I was going through his clothing, throwing out the ripped stuff and making a donation pile of the outgrown stuff, he snagged a button-up, white dress shirt I'd just hung up from the To Grow Into Pile (which he's now grown into). He decided it was a LAB JACKET and asked, "Mom, do you have science kit for me?" I found a lone plastic tote of various science odds and ends and he spent hours experimenting with the different pieces. Amazing what a focused, imaginative 7-year-old can create from "nothing"!

Sugar Maple's Accomplishments
English: Prefix (re-/pre-), Main Idea, Synonyms, Spelling With Samson, Math: Fractions, Geometric Shapes, Temperature, Multiple Digit Addition/Subtraction, Election: Requirements, President's Cabinet and Laws and How a Bill Becomes a Law, Wrote Letter, PSO, Potholder Loom, Mancala, Clarinet/Band, Soccer

Balsam Fir's Accomplishments
English: Sight Words and Spelling with Samson, Grammar Ninjas, Math: Addition Facts, Place Value, 10 Less/More Than, Election: Requirements, President's Cabinet and Laws and How a Bill Becomes a Law, Calendar (Starfall), PSO, Potholder Loom, Mancala, Cub Scouts, Soccer

Something Silly to Share
So, I purchased yet another vacuum cleaner last week. It doesn't matter if it's expensive or cheap, vacuums just don't last around here. ::sigh:: Anyway, it was nice to have clean carpets again! Ironic that this funny popped on Facebook the same day I purchased it. 

Well, that's another wrap-up from Our Side of the Mountain! Thanks for visiting! Leave us a comment and let us know what's going on with you! We'll be off this coming week, but check back the week after! See you then!

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Monday, October 22, 2012

Crew Review: Samson's Classroom

Did you watch the video? Samson's Classroom looks fun, huh?

Samson's Classroom is an on-line educational video game program that provides sight word, spelling and reading instruction for grades K-5. Samson is a cute Hound dog that goes on learning adventures with your child. Prices are $30/year for 1 student and $50/year for 4 students. For complete pricing information, click here.

After setting up an account (which was super quick and easy), the player chooses either Sight Words, Spelling or Reading then level 1-4 for Sight Words and Reading or a Spelling List, and finally whichever list in that level they are currently working on. And that's it!

Balsam Fir started our review off with Sight Words with Samson Level 1 List 1. The repetition in this program was awesome for his learning needs! Now, some kids may find the repetition boring or you may find it unnecessary, but these concerns can be remedied by clicking on a higher level to challenge YOUR learner. He found the point-and-click games well-paced as he could enter an answer without waiting for instructions if he already knew it. Players should have some computer mouse skills though. We did find that Sight Words was both reading AND spelling, so combining these subjects together would work for this game.

Sugar Maple worked on Spelling with Samson. Word lists can be provided either by a school, YOU or Knowledge Wand (which are lists done for you). She used Knowledge Wand for this review since she wanted a break from her usual Spelling curriculum and started at Grade 3 Level 1. Spelling is a challenge for her, but she quickly finished 3rd grade and is continuing on with 4th. Although she wasn't thrilled with Samson - any Spelling program! - she did seem to find some enjoyment in playing games rather than studying lists of words.

Balsam Fir really liked the "karate chopping" Spelling game he saw Sugar Maple playing, so he used Spelling with Samson as well. He started with the very first Wand list, having no formal Spelling instruction, and continued on from there. I was pleasantly surprised at how quickly he picked up spelling! But, unfortunately, he would get frustrated when he would need to redo a list for ONE error. 

In Samson's Classroom for Sight Words With Samson and Spelling with Samson, learners must have 100% accuracy or they would get see a Needs Work yellow sign once the game is completed. And if they want to earn green dots (rather than red) or karate belt incentives, 100% scores are needed. This frustrated Balsam Fir. Oftentimes he would click too soon on the correct answer and get an X and have to redo the entire list knowing that he did know the answer.  Slowing down is very hard for him, but especially not being given a 2nd chance to correct a mistake. ::wink::

I tried Reading with Samson with Balsam Fir, starting at Level 1 as well, but we found that his reading level and speed made this game too much of a challenge for him. Or it could be visual tracking issues due to being on a computer screen? He was quickly frustrated and didn't want to continue. 

Samson's Classroom also has additional links in the Resource Section where you can print out worksheets, lesson plans, letters to parents (for a school classroom), and awards. Although we didn't utilize the worksheets, I did print out a level mastery award to present to Balsam Fir when he completed his first Sight Word word list. I included the lists of words he mastered on the back as well. This made for a great additional to his school records!

What Did We Especially Like?
Quick, repetitive lessons! My Saplings NEED repetition for "sticky learning". Lessons were also well-paced with little lag time between screens and activities.

The ease of use! Setting up an account was very easy as was figuring out how to play the games. The Saplings could independently use this program.

Striving for MASTERY rather than OK! Moving on and earning incentives means showing that that the learner knows the words well.

Lots of levels to choose from! Nothing like being able to choose just that right level for each learner.

What Did We Find "Eh"?
Teachers or Homeschool Moms can check the progress of their learners by clicking on the "My Scores" button under their page. "My Scores" gives students a rating of "did not attempt", "needs improvement" and "perfect score". It would be nice to have a "good work" or "satisfactory" rating when 1-2 errors have occurred in a level. 

Sugar Maple and I found Samson's Scramble, a game for Spelling with Samson, difficult to play. The object was to move Samson left or right to collect letter tiles to create Spelling words, but getting Samson to move left or right was nearly impossible. After trying it several times, I decided that it would be better for us to skip this Spelling Step.

ETA: Since my posting of this review, Samson's Classroom has changed the controls on Samson's Scramble. It is much easier to move Samson around to play the game and now one of the kid's favorites!

But Would We Recommend Samson's Classroom? You betcha!

You can try out Samson's Classroom free demos by clicking here

Disclaimer: Our Side of the Mountain was given a free subscription to Samson's Classroom from the TOS Review Crew in exchange for our honest use and opinions. All thoughts are own own. Please check out the highlighted links for more information or click here to see more TOS reviews.

Friday, October 19, 2012

Crew Review: Crossbow Education - Colored Reading Rulers

I was pretty excited to see Crossbow Education's colored reading overlays up for review. The overlays are on my Amazon Wish List! ::grin:: But I have been debating whether or not to get them for Balsam Fir. Why? I've purchased similar tinted reading trackers before and, well, I'm using them, not Balsam Fir! ::wink::

These rulers come in a pack of 10 different colors! Did you know that some kids and adults struggling with reading do better when reading black text through a specific color? Or even someone who isn't struggling but experiences "eye strain" reading for longer periods of time will find a certain color allievates "tired eyes"? Finding that personalized color can be a real challenge of trial-and-error, but with Crossbow Education's Pack of 10 you can inexpensively ($16.95) try different colors to find just the right one!  

Sugar Maple, Balsam Fir and I all used these reading trackers during our review period. My original plan was to have Balsam Fir use them as he has visual tracking and convergence issues due to his SPD and struggles with reading word-by-word and line-by-line. But Sugar Maple and I like using cool bookmarks too! ::wink:: And why not? We're BIG readers at Our Side of the Mountain!

What's really handy about these rulers are the two different areas for viewing text: a narrow area for single or two line reading (depending on the size of the type) and a wider area for multiple line tracking.  All of us used the narrow side for our reading, but I like that the option is available to view more lines if wanted. And there's also a glossy side and a matte side. We tended to use the matte side. Choices are awesome!

I was pleasantly surprised at the thickness and durability of these rulers. Our first experience with tinted reading trackers from another company were flimsy and within a couple of months the tinting was scratched and chipped off and even the corners bent! Although Crossbow Education recommends storing their reading rulers in plastic baggies when not in use, we experienced no cracking of the plastic or chipping of the tint during our review! And these were used EVERY.SINGLE.DAY at home, in the van and even on soccer fields since books go everywhere with us! They fell on the grass...and tar...and in sand and traveled inside books or plopped in school bags. (I'll admit that we can be a tad bit rough on things. ::wink::) We did end up with a few scratches, but I'm totally not surprised as the rulers were put to a serious test at Our Side of the Mountain! Solid reading rulers!

I also used these for our daily reading curriculum, slipping a ruler into our Story of the World and Apologia Botany books. They were GREAT for highlighting areas of text that I wanted to focus on or have the Saplings take notes on for their journals. I'm sure CrossBox Education didn't intend for their rules to be HIGHLIGHTERS, but it worked perfectly for us! And we didn't have to mark up the text to highlight them!

And I can honestly say that they did seem to help Balsam Fir. Reading with him is quite, hmm, challenging. I haven't figured it all out, but visual tracking is related to the vestibular sensory system, and his VS is off. When he reads aloud, he rocks and wiggles like he has ants in his pants! With these tinted rulers, those movements seemed to calm down some and he was able to read smoother and easier with less corrections.

Curious what colors worked best for us? Well, Sugar Maple settled on matte blues and Balsam Fir liked matte greens (but had to try out several colors to make sure of course) and I snagged matte orange (and no I was not reading The Lorax in the first photo I took...Balsam wanted to try out orange LOL). But sometimes it depended on the LIGHT which color suited our needs best. Having 10 different colors really makes it easy to chose-and-use! 

We'll be using these for quite some time! Thumps up!

Disclaimer: Our Side of the Mountain received Crossbow Education's Eye Level Reading Rulers: Pack of 1o free as a member of the TOS Review Crew in exchange for our honest use and review. All opinions are our own. For more information, click on the highlighted links above or visit the TOS Blog Review website here to read more reviews.

Weekly Wrap-up: Session 1 Week 7

In My Life This Week
We lost our first hen this past weekend. Cheeper was our the only chick to hatch from our first clutch of incubating eggs in May 2011. The others arrived 4 weeks later during our 2nd try of incubating. She was very attached to us and we were attached to her. Her passing was unexpected and quick. She will be missed.

On a happier note, we're mostly ready for winter. We raked up the leaves and did a final mow, cleaned out the remaining withered plants in the gardens, and started putting away warm weather outside toys and furniture. We've made a pile of sticks to burn some cool evening in Balsam Fir's fire pit and another pile of bulk waste (i.e. broken bikes, siding, etc.) to be disposed of at the Transfer Station. But we need to clean out the gutters and snow-proof the coop and run soon.

Homeschool High School
Guess what? I finally took photos of SOMETHING high school. ::grin:: White Pine did a Succession experiment to show how living things change over time in a soil, aged H20, decaying leaves, and dead grass habitat.  For those of us who might need a Biology review - Me! ::laugh:: - succession is a "series of predictable changes that occur in a community over time..[as] older inhabitants gradually die out and new organisms move in" (Prentice Hall, 2002). And just to make this experiment more challenging interesting, Sugar Maple and Balsam Fir joined in! ::wink:: We'll be checking out the habitat under the microscope again in 2 weeks. Wonder what we'll find?

Oh, and my White Pine was elected as Patrol Leader for Boy Scouts on Tuesday! Such a GREAT opportunity in leadership for him as well as becoming a responsible, encouraging role model for younger Scouts. Go, White Pine!

Thoreau Creative Writing Essay, Emerson Approach Paper, Grammar: Prepositions Acting As Verbs and Adverbs Modifying Adjectives, Algebra:, Biology: Populations and Humans in the Biosphere and Succession and Plant Competition Labs, World History: Australia Geography and History, Basketball, Soccer, Boy Scouts

Homeschool Elementary
Sugar Maple and Balsam Fir made us a much needed warm crockpot jambalaya dinner over the weekend. We're not a "spicy" family so they toned it down a little by omitting some seasonings and adding a little corn (because they decided it need a "splash of color"). It wasn't a pretty dish, but smelled and tasted fabulous!

The Saplings also rolled newspaper to construct a Geodesic Dome structure for our handicraft project this week. (We still need to finish the coasters as SOMEONE got the wrong size hot glue sticks...) It was quite a learning process to construct a dome with paper triangles! Their finished domes were, um, interesting! But it's the learning that happened that's most important, right?

We also started a new science review - our last with the TOS Review Crew as we have decided not to continue - and did a really neat hands-on lab with Activities in a Bag. (Check back at the end of the month for our full review.) This week we made an earthworm habitat to learn and observe how they behave and enrich soil. Our worms were found in our bean and pea garden! ::grin::

Did you notice Balsam Fir's sneakers? Well, not HIS sneakers! ::wink:: He was in such a hurry to hunt worms that he slipped on ONE of his big brother's sneakers and ONE of MY sneakers! ::laugh::

And we delved into the election and voting process in preparation for the presidential election next month. I'm reading aloud See How They Run: Campaign Dreams, Election Schemes,and the Race to the White House (Susan E. Goodman and Elwood H. Smith). The Saplings completed these mini books for their lapbooks: election vocabulary, voter registration card, electoral college, election parties. (Want to do your own lapbook? Click over the Homeschool Share here! ALWAYS a FAVORITE RESOURCE!) We also watched this School House Rock video on You Tube about the electoral college.

Sugar Maple's Accomplishments:
The Penderwicks, Spelling with Samson,Cursive, Reading Comprehension, Vocabulary, Math: Multiplication, Lines, Tally Marks, Fractions, Factors, %, and Solve for N, Handicrafts: Knitting Potholders and Geodesic Dome, Worms, Election Lapbook, Cooking: Jambalaya, Soccer, Girl Scout Sleepover, Library

Balsam Fir's Accomplishments:
Nate the Great Goes UndercoverStarfall Calendar, Sight Words and Spelling with Samson (on-line), Handwriting, Coin War, Mancala, Math: Tally Marks, Place Value, Addition, and 5/10 More Than/Less, Puzzle, Handicraft: Geodesic Dome and Potholder Loom, Worms, Election Lapbook, Cooking: Jambalaya, Soccer, Cub Scouts, Library

Helpful Hint
Do you use Saxon? Frustrated with the repetition? Well, here's what we do: Sugar Maple takes the exam BEFORE doing the lessons. If she scores an 85% or higher, she moves onto the next exam, skipping those lessons covered inbetween. When she gets below an 85%, she does the lessons between exams, retakes the exam, and then moves onto the next exam. Now, this won't work if you're a "gotta do every problem" homeschooler (which there is nothing wrong with), but for Sugar Maple this moves her along to more challenging problems and cuts down on the tedious repetition she doesn't need.

Something to Share
Wow! Wouldya believe it?! MAINE had an earthquake on Tuesday! 4.5 magnitude! It was the first time I/we had ever felt an earthquake and it was, um, both exciting and a little scary. Unfortunately, a friend and her family DID experience some damage that left them without hot water and gas for cooking, but we're all relieved that it wasn't anything too awfully serious.

Thanks to all the wonderful ladies at these blog hops! Why not head over and join up! See you next week!

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