Monday, July 27, 2015

REVIEW: UnLock Pre-Algebra by UnLock Math

Haylee had the opportunity to review UnLock Pre-Algebra by UnLock Math.



UnLock Math offers middle and high school math courses, including Pre-Algebra (grades 7-8), Algebra 1 (grades 8-9),Unlock pre-algebra and Algebra 2 (grades 10-11, coming soon).  All of the courses are completed online, so there’s nothing to download. 

Each course gives the student access for $49/month or $299/year with a 50% sibling discount.  There are also incentives for referring a friend.

Each lesson includes a warm-up, a video lesson given by a real math teacher, practice problems on the new material, a “stay sharp” section to review prior concepts, and a challenge to further mathematical thinking skills.  There’s also a printable pacing guide provided for each course so you can plan out how quickly you need to complete the course.

You can try a sample demo lesson and see for yourself how it works!



It’s no secret that math is the bane of Haylee’s existence.  If she could skip it for life, she would do it in a heartbeat!  So selecting a math program for her is probably my most challenging task every school year.  I never know what will work and what won’t, and having to persist through a program she heartily dislikes makes life difficult for both of us!

Here’s where UnLock Pre-Algebra comes into play.  She is just starting 6th grade, and typically, my kids run about a year ahead in math, and 6th grade is the point where we generally study pre-algebra.  However, Haylee has really struggled to master even basic math throughout elementary school, so I wasn’t convinced she was ready to tackle pre-algebra at this stage of the game.  Fortunately, since she’s ahead of the game, we have some extra opportunity built in to solidify missed skills before we move on.  So we had planned to do just that this school year and tackle Pre-Algebra next year.

However, UnLock Pre-Algebra takes a little bit of a different approach to teaching math.  It includes thorough amounts of practice and refreshment of past skills, while teaching new skills with a real math teacher in the instructional videos for every lesson.  Therefore, the vendor feels that the program is appropriate for even struggling math students like Haylee.  Honestly, I was skeptical, but we decided to give it a try, because frankly, I’m not sure where to go for next school year when we do hit Pre-Algebra. 

As expected, Haylee greeted this review with less than an enthusiastic demeanor, let’s just say.  She worked on it three days a week alongside her regular math program that focuses on firming up essential math skills.  Surprisingly, however, she did not complain once we were underway!  In fact, she became somewhat enthusiastic about it, because she said it didn’t take so long to complete it that she began to dislike it.

For each lesson, she did some warm-up exercises, followed by a short instructional video given by a real math teacher, then just enough practice questions to be sure she understood the material (this is adaptive so the practice isn’t overkill), followed by a stay sharp section to help her review concepts she’d learned previously, and finished up with a challenge section to stretch her thinking skills.  The layout of each lesson is the same, so it’s easy for her to log in and get going on her lesson without any navigational help from me. 

There are some key features to this program that make it unique.  First of all, it’s all online, so you don’t have to download anything on your own computer.  Second, there’s not a whole worksheet of practice problems on the screen to overwhelm the student.  They are shown only one problem at a time, and the amount of practice problems is adaptive based on how the student is doing on the new material…this ensures they get just the right amount of practice.  There’s nothing Haylee hates more than a sheet of 30 math problems to do every day, whether she needs them or not!  We found that out the hard way with other programs in the past.  Next, the student enters their answers manually, so you know for sure that they understand the questions and aren’t relying on selecting from multiple choice answers to get it right.  That’s a big difference between this and other programs we’ve tried. 

Students can complete the whole course in sequence by selecting the unit and proceeding through the lessons in order, followed by quizzes and a test for each unit.  Or if you prefer to use it as a math tutoring program rather than a complete course, you can have the student select their work based on the concepts they need to practice in any order.  This gives parents the freedom to use the program to suit individual needs.  However, the downside to this is that students whom you want to do the whole course could start to complete things in the wrong order.  This happened to us at one point because we were following the lessons vertically on the screen, not realizing that they were in sections with quizzes for each section rather than at the end.  So in the first unit, she did all of the lessons in order, then all the quizzes, and then the test.  And I was the one directing her to the next lesson, so we both made that mistake! 

What would work better, I think, is to allow parents to choose when they sign up if they want the student to complete the course in order or have random access.  This way, the next logical assignment could “unlock,” as the name of the program implies, and ensure that the student is working through the lessons and quizzes sequentially.  Also related to that, I noticed that students could proceed to the next lesson, even if they did not receive a passing score on the previous lesson.  That bothered me a lot, because I don’t always have time to log into the parent panel every day to see how she did.  I wish the program would hold her back and prevent her from progressing until she’s mastered the current material.  And since I can’t always review her work every day, it would also be helpful if I had the option to receive a notification email each time she completes a lesson so I can keep track of how she’s doing that way.  Just a quick note with her score and how long it took her to complete the lesson would go a long way to helping me track her progress. 

Haylee was surprised that she didn’t totally bomb on the material.  She thought the videos were a little bit long, but that’s likely because we were still early in the course, so much of the material wasn’t actually new to her yet.  I do think she learned some things she hadn’t understood in the past, and I saw her improve as we went along.  Overall, I think it was a very positive experience for her.  I told my husband “she didn’t hate it,” and that’s sometimes half the battle with her when it comes to math.  She didn’t complain about doing the lessons, even in addition to her other math work, and I think this program could actually work for her.  I still don’t think she’s quite ready for pre-algebra, but I feel pretty confident that if we tackle this program next school year once we’ve firmed up the basics like fractions and decimals, then I think she could do quite well with it, and I’m pretty sure we’ll re-visit this program at that time.  I’m thankful to have found it!  I love that it’s self-grading, and I love that she can look back at her incorrect answers and get a full explanation of what she did wrong so she can try again.  And that’s another thing worth mentioning…she can repeat her lessons as needed and can review past lessons at any time she feels she needs a refresher.  That’s important, too!

Check out what other Crew members have to say about Unlock Pre-Algebra by clicking the banner below.

Sunday, July 19, 2015

Cow Appreciation Day 2015

The kids and I teamed up with our neighbor friends once again and caravanned around town to 6 different Chick-Fil-A’s to celebrate Cow Appreciation Day!  There were 7 of us in two vehicles.DSCF4348

I tried to better prepare this year and make the costumes easier to manage.  I had picked up a cow-print sweater at the Goodwill Outlet for just 97 cents, and it was perfect for me.  Plus I had my cow-print purse and my “Eat Mor Chikin” sign draped around my neck, and then I taped 2 cow ears on a headband and a couple of paper spots on my shorts, and I was ready to go.  So this year, I gave my cow-print vest from an old Halloween costume to Haylee to wear, and then she did the same thing with the sign, ears on a headband, and 2 spots on her shorts.  Hayden wore the same as her, except that he put his ears on a baseball hat.  For Holden, I had to come up with something different, because his spots are always falling off his shirt!  So this year, I took an old white undershirt that had an ink stain on it and drew black cow spots with a Sharpie marker, gave him a sign to wear, put two spots on his shorts, and had him wear a cow visor that I picked up at the Target Dollar Spot a couple of years ago.  Then we all had cow noses I mounted on popsicle sticks last year.  We were ready to go!

We had such a great time.  We started out at about 10 AM, and we were home and sitting down to eat our lunch by 2 PM.  This year, we were well prepared.  We put a cooler in the back of the van to keep the food warm as we went around, and that worked really well.  We made sure to get drink carri11737833_1021466977886095_4827032479268676707_ners to hold all the cups. 

So we started off by sitting down with our friends at stop #1 and having a nice leisurely breakfast.  Yum!  A Chick-Fil-A chicken biscuit is my favorite breakfast! 

Then at about 10:30, we were off to our next stop and every one there after with the goal of getting take-out.  It got busier as we went along, but it wasn’t too bad.  By the time we finished our last stop, our cooler was full and the some, and we were ready for lunch!

When we got home, we consolidated the drinks into those giant plastic straw cups you get a theme parks, and we dumped all of the waffle fries into big Ziploc containers in the fridge.  I had cleared the bottom shelf of the fridge before we left so there’d be space to store all the sandwiches.  And then we sat down to enjoy a nice lunch.  I tried the new chicken soup and side salad combo, and it was delicious! 

So our adventure began on Tuesday, but that food lasted all of us (a family of 5) through lunch on Friday before we finished off the last of it!  It was quite an adventure, and we never get tired of Chick-Fil-A. 

I also love how friendly and fun the employees always seem to be.  The kindness abounds in the sincerest of ways!  An employee snapped this picture of us with the cow and encouraged us to enter the online contest.  They said they loved our costumes!  At one store, they hung out of the drive-thru window and announced the cows were coming!  LOL.  When we walked in the door they started ringing cowbells and clapping and cheering for us!  It was a lot of fun.

Thanks, CFA!  Until next year…


Saturday, July 18, 2015

REVIEW: Project Passport World History Study: Ancient Egypt by Home School in the Woods

Haylee and I were really excited to get to review Project Passport World History Study: Ancient Egypt by Home School in the Woods.



Project Passport World History Study: Ancient Egypt is an exciting new history adventure by Home School in the Woods.  It offers students multi-sensory opportunities to learn about life in Ancient Egypt through a variety of mini-lessons, hands-on projects, activities, audio elements, and a lapbook. 

Project Passport is recommended for grades 3-8.  It includes a variety of activities to suit an array of interests and learning styles, including games, creative writing, notebook projects, and cooking opportunities.  And it includes over a dozen high-quality projects for a lapbook that students assemble at the end of the adventure. 

It can be ordered as a downloadable version for just $33.95 or on CD for just $1 more.



If you’ve ever used lapbook projects from Home School in the Woods in the past, you know that nothing else quite compares to the quality of the finished projects.  So imagine the fun of one of their infamous lapbooks combined with really interesting hands-on projects and creative writing opportunities, and that’s what you’ve got with Project Passport!

We’ve tried other Home School in the Woods products in the past, such as the Hands-On History: 20th Century in America lapbook and Time Travelers: Industrial Revolution through the Great Depression, so we knew we were getting a quality product that would not disappoint when we received Project Passport: Ancient Egypt to review.  I was really impressed!  Haylee loves this kind of hands-on project, particularly ones with a creative element where she gets to color, decorate, and create illustrations.  It even motivated her to want to do the creative writing assignments!

Project Passport is set up like your student will be traveling through Ancient Egypt.  Through a series of 25 “stops” on the travel itinerary, your child gets to learn and experience life in this far-off land.  The whole trip is designed to last 12-16 weeks, depending on your chosen pace, but Haylee and I set out to accomplish 2 stops per week to supplement our regular history studies of Ancient Egypt.  So for us, it will supplement our studies for at least 13 weeks.  For this project, you’ll need some basic materials, to include 2 binders (one for the teacher and one for the student to create a scrapbook), an assortment of white and colored cardstock, and an assortment of white and colored paper.  You’ll also need basic supplies like a stapler, tape, scissors, and a glue stick.  I’m going to take you through the first 8 stops that we did to give you a good idea of what kinds of activities are included.

Haylee decided up front that she would like me to pre-assemble the different physical elements for her, and then she would do the actual assignments involving them.  So each week, I’d print out the pages needed and pre-assemble the elements for her before we read the lesson and completed each stop.  I also went ahead and printed out all of the lessons and itineraries for each stop to put into my binder.  I like to be really organized, so I chose to use some numbered tabs I already had to separate the instructions for each stop in my binder.

STOP #1:  After a brief lesson on the Creation and the establishment of the civilization of Egypt, we began the tasks for our first stop. 

First, we prepared a luggage folder.  It was so cute, complete with a luggage tag!  I thought it was fun to make, using a 3-pronged folder cut down to size with an included template.  It has travelogue pages inside where Haylee can record her reflective thoughts on the “trip” at the end of our adventurStop #1 Collagee. 

Next, we created a passport.  Of course, Haylee had to have a pink passport!  We had fun selecting a passport photo of her, filling out the traveler info, and adding our “passport stamp” for Ancient Egypt.  If we do other Project Passport projects in the future (like Middle Ages or Renaissance & Reformation), we’ll get new passport stamps to add for those places.

Then we prepared the student binder called the Scrapbook of Sights.  This is where Haylee would be keeping all of her projects as she created them.  Haylee loved decorating her binder cover in rainbow colors to show off her colorful personal style! 

Next, we prepared the Snapshot Moments in History timeline.  This was really cool!  Haylee loved how it all folded down to fit in the binder, but you could easily pull it open to see the whole timeline at once.  It’s a great design that’s so easy to use.  For this stop, she got to color and place the first timeline figure, “Mizraim’s people settle in Egypt.”

After that, we created the map of upper and lower Egypt.  It was neat how it folded up and down so it could be stored in the binder.  Haylee got to color and place titles for the Mediterranean Sea, the Nile River, the Red Sea, Lower Egypt, Upper Egypt, Sanai, Egypt, Nubia, and the Delta.

Lastly, we created a postcard rack to store in the binder.  This was a cardstock page with three handy storage pockets on it where she would be storing the postcards she created throughout the trip.  On this stop, she got to read the postcard from Mizraim and then draw a coordinating picture on the flip side. 

STOP #2:   After a short lesson on the importance of the Nile to the people of Egypt and how people came to settle and thrive there, we began our assignments for this stop.

First, Haylee got to color and place some timeline figures for Imhotep, Menes unites Egypt and founds Memphis, and the souvenirs for King Tut’s Tours Coach Ticket and Boat Trip Boarding Pass.  Haylee enjoyed finding their proper placement on the timStop #2 Collageeline, and she thought the souvenirs were a cool addition to the timeline.

Next, she colored and placed titles on her map for Memphis, 1st Cataract, 2nd Cataract, Swenet, and Elephantine.  Then we got to run a line of glue along the banks of the Nile and cover it with black pepper to represent the kemet that remained when the banks were flooded.  We both thought that was an awesome representation!  Doing that was a lot of fun.

Then we got to prepare the new spaper called The Kemet Chronicle.  This was really fun!  We printed it on cream-colored cardstock that made it look like an aged newspaper, and Haylee really liked that.  Then she got to write articles in the newspaper for “Nile River Floods Its Banks,” and “Upper and Lower Egypt Combine!”  She got the information for those articles from the lesson we read at the beginning of this stop.  Then she got to create an advertisement for “King Tut’s Tours” in the newspaper.  She had a lot of fun with this !  I loved that the creativity of this assignment even motivated her to complete these simple creative writing assignments.

Next, we made the first element for the lapbook called “The Unification of Upper and Lower Egypt.”  Haylee really enjoyed this assignment, because she got to read the text and take the two crowns from the heads of the rulers of upper and lower Egypt and combine then on one head to signify the unification of the two regions.  That was pretty neat!  We were instructed to save this lapbook element in a Ziploc bag, which we stored in one of the pockets of her scrapbook.

Lastly, we used the link to listen to an audio tour of Touring Down the Nile.  This was the first of eight tours we would encounter on our journey.

STOP #3:  Our mini-lesson for this stop taught us about what Egyptians wore, what they ate, and where they lived.  Then we began our activities. 

First, Haylee colored and placed a souvenir for her timeline for Satiah’s Salon & Spa Receipt.

Next, she created newspaper advertisements for Satiah’s Salon and Spa and Kushite Cuisine.  She really enjoyed making illustrations for the newspaper ads.

Then, we created a pocket page to hold craft cards in her Scrapbook of Sights.  Then we printed the craft cards for Dress Like an Egyptian (one for a girl and one for a boy) and stored them in the pocket page.  We printed the templates for the crafts but chose not to create them at this time.  We Stop #3 Collagediscussed maybe making an Egyptian girl’s costume from fabric using these templates and using it as a Halloween costume this year! 

Next, we created the Dining Out Guide and the Egyptian Kitchen booklet with recipes for Egyptian dishes, including a beverage and dessert!  We stored these in the Ziploc bag to be used in the lapbook later.

Then we created pocket pages with text that explained what Egyptian men ad women wore.  It included lots of cardstock clothing, jewelry, and accessories that Haylee cut out, colored, and placed in the pockets.  Then she was able to play paper dolls with the items to dress up the man and woman in their traditional dress.  She had a lot of fun with this activity!  It was right up her alley.  She’ll be able to use this over and over again, and it stores in her Scrapbook of Sights.

Lastly, we read about an activity where you make two types of mud bricks: one with straw and one without.  Then you’re supposed to compare the strength and durability of each to see why Egyptians liked to use straw in their bricks.  We had a hot, dry spell with the weather that made it difficult to dig up dirt in our yard, but we talked about why one would be stronger than the other, read through the text, and discussed how the Egyptians had tried to punish the Israelites by withholding the straw from their brick-making and the impact that would have had on the results.  Haylee really wanted to complete this project, so I’m sure we’ll be coming back to this activity once we’ve saved some empty milk cartons and collected some wet dirt to work with.

STOP #4:  After a brief lesson on Egyptian authority, family life, jobs and careers, and typical entertainment in Egypt, we began our projects for this stop.

First, Haylee colored and placed timeline figures for Fish & Game License and the souvenirs for Live Wrestling Admission Ticket and Gamers Membership Card.  Haylee really liked coloring the “extras” for the timeline.

Next, we created the interactive page called the Social Pyramid of Egyptian Authority.  This page was a lot of fun to make.  When viewed from the top, it looked like a brick building.  But each floor of the building had a flap you could open, whichStop #4 Collage “popped out” a picture that Haylee had colored and also revealed some text explaining each level of Egyptian social structure, all the way from the Pharoah at the top down to the slaves and servants at the bottom.  This was a unique way to visualize this hierarchy.

Then we created a gameboard for the game of Senet, a typical game played by Egyptians at that time.  It was even found in King Tut’s tomb!  The gameboard looked pretty cool, but when we started reading all the rules and instructions for gameplay, it was a bit overwhelming for Haylee, and she decided not to play it just yet.  We’ll probably come back to this another time.

Lastly, we created a really cool wheel that showcased various jobs you might hold in Ancient Egypt.  As you spun the wheel around to show a particular job, you could read about what the job entailed on the cover.  Haylee enjoyed coloring each of the workmen on the wheel.  We stored this away in our Ziploc bag to be included in the lapbook later on.

STOP #5:  In this lesson, we learned about graves, pyramids, the Valley of the Kings, mummies, funerals, and sarcophagi.  That was pretty interesting!  Then we began our assignments for this stop.

First, Haylee colored and placed a timeline figure for First Step Pyramid is Built.

Then, she used the information in the lesson to do write an article in the Kemmet Chronicle for “Making Mummies.”  She also created advertisements for “Sabet The Sarcopha-Guy” and the “Mummy-To-Be Shoppe.”  She had fun drawing for those.

Next, she read the text of a postcard from HeroStop #5 Collagedotus and drew a corresponding illustration on the flip-side to add to the postcard rack in her scrapbook.

Then we made a really cool booklet on Egyptian Mummies.  Each page explained another step in the process, and Haylee got to color the illustrations in the booklet as she read through the descriptions.  There’s even a booklet-within-a-booklet, and it turned out really neat.  We stored this in our Ziploc bag to be included in the lapbook later on.

Next, we printed out two more Souvenir Craft Cards.  There was one for how to make a mummy and sarcophagus that we really want to try when we get the muslin fabric.  Haylee went ahead and colored the faces and decorative pieces for the mummy so that will be ready to go when we get the needed supplies.  The other craft card was on how to make canopic jars.  That looked like it would be neat to go along with the sarcophagus, but we definitely want to make the mummy first.

Lastly, we listened to an audio tour of an “Interview with an Embalmer.”  That was interesting!

STOP #6:  The lesson for this stop on the itinerary was all about agriculture, trade, and transportation, and the we started oStop #6 Collagen the activities for this stop.  There wasn’t a lot to this particular portion of the itinerary, but it gave us a little bit of a break during a busy week for us.

First, Haylee wrote an article for “Wadi Hammamat Extends Trade to the Red Sea” for the newspaper, based on what she learned about trade in the lesson.  She also created an advertisement for “Trinkets & Treasures…from Beyond the Border.”

Lastly, we printed up a Souvenir Craft Card on how to “Make a Reed Boat.”  Unfortunately, we did not have access to any reeds to be able to make this one, but we still learned about it from reading the craft card.

STOP #7:  In this lesson, we learned all about education in ancient Egypt, including the role of scribes, what children went to school, and how the scribes wrote on papyrus scrolls with reed pens and ink made from soot and gum from vegetables.  The ink was solid and was then diluted with water, much like thStop #7 Collagee Chinese ink stone Haylee used last year when we were studying the countries of the eastern hemisphere.  Then we began our activities.

First, Haylee colored and placed a timeline figure for “Ostraca with Fraction” on her timeline.

Next, she wrote an ar ticle for “Official Question, ‘Are Schools Strict Enough?’” for the newspaper based on what she learned about Egyptian education in the lesson.  Then she created an advertisement for “Weni-Mart.”

Lastly, we printed another souvenir craft card for how to “Make a Papyrus Scroll.”  This is one I think we can do without a lot of special materials on a weekend when we have some free time.  The cool thing about the craft cards is that even if you don’t have time or interest in completing the crafts, you can still learn a lot about the topic by reading the information on the craft cards.

STOP #8:  In this lesson, we learned about the Rosetta Stone and its role in helping modern-day people understand the language and symbols used by ancient Egyptians.  It was really the key to decoding hieroglyphics.  Then we read about how hieroglyphics were used aStop #8 Collagend what kinds of things the ancient Egyptians wrote about.  Then we began our activities for this stop.

First, Haylee colored and placed her timeline figures for “Rosetta Stone is carved,” “Hieroglyphic language is developed,” “’The Shipwrecked Sailor’ is wri tten,” and the souvenir for “The Shipwrecked Sailor” Bookmark.

Next, Haylee wrote an article for “Rosetta Stone Discovered!” in the newspaper.

Then she read the text of the postcard from Ptolemy V Epiphanies and drew an illustration on the reverse side before adding it to her postcard rack in the scrapbook.

Next, we printed out another Souvenir Craft Card on how to “Make a Cartouche.”  This one looks like fun!  We should have some free time this weekend, so I think at the very least, we’ll do the paper version of this craft, it not go all the way and make the tablet version out of homemade salt dough.  She will get to write or carve her name in hieroglyphics on it!  That’s pretty cool.

Then we printed out a pencil-and-paper activity where Haylee got to use the guide on writing hieroglyphics to translate some writing.  She did really well with it!  That was a lot of fun for her.  When she finished with it, we stored it in her scrapbook.

Lastly, we listened to an Audio Tour of “Visiting a Temple School.”  It was interest to hear how stern the teachers were!


There were so many wonderful activities to explore in this Project Passport kit, and we’ve really learned a lot so far!  We’re only a third of the way through the DSCF4350whole thing, so I can only imagine how much more we’ll learn along the way!  I love the flexibility and variety of activities in this product.  There are already so many wonderful keepsakes in her Scrapbook of Sights that I can only imagine how many goodies she’ll have in there by the time we’re through! 

Since  this coincides with our study of Ancient Egypt in our regular history studies for school right now, we do plan to continue using this throughout the school year.  To spread it out a bit more and keep it going as a fun supplement to our studies, I think we may slow down the pace to one stop per week.  By doing that, we can make it last beyond the half-way point in our school year.  We do school 4 days/week, so it could be a fun things to bring out on Fridays to work on together.  Haylee is really into crafts and artistic things, so I think it will continue to be a fun way to continue our studies.  I love how you can pick and choose the activities you want to do, and even if you don’t do everything, there’s still good educational insight you can glean from reading through the extra projects.

As always, I’m great impressed with this new product line from Home School in the Woods, and I’m sure you will be, too!  We’re really excited to get to the end, too, and see how the lapbook project turns out!

Check out what other Crew members had to say about this and other Project Passport products by clicking the banner below.

Monday, July 13, 2015

REVIEW: Homeschool Planet by Homeschool Planet

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I had the extreme pleasure of reviewing Homeschool Planet by Homeschool Planet!



Homeschool Planet is an online planner designed to organize not only your homeschool, but also your home and life!  From assignments toaff-1-1000x1000[383] chores, appointments to online activities, and shopping lists to text messages, all of it comes together in one place with Homeschool Planet!

And because it’s an online planner and not software that you have to download, you can use it anywhere, any time you have an internet connection, and you can use it on any device with a browser…no special apps required!

Not only that, but each member of your family can be given their own login information, and YOU control whether they can view only or edit and add information, as well. 

Whether you and your children prefer a digital checklist or a printed copy to hold in your hands, Homeschool Planet offers just what you need with options for either or both.  And what’s more, scheduling and rescheduling are a snap with the built-in scheduling helper.  Missed an assignment?  No problem.  You can choose to either mark it complete, bump it to the next day, or move all assignments for that class forward to continue the same pace.

This online service is available for just $65/year or $6.95/month with no commitment.  You can also try it free for 30 days and find out for yourself how Homeschool Planet can simplify your life!


Over the course of 12+ years of homeschooling, I’ve tried a number of digital homeschool planners in an effort to eliminate the pages and pages of printed school schedules I’ve created in a word processor year after year.  But unfortunately, I’ve always found them to be too time-consuming and cumbersome to enter all of our assignments.  There were just far too many repetitive entries that had to be manually entered, and rescheduling was either difficult or impossible, or cost too much money to justify how difficult it was to use in the first place…until now!

Seeing that the review was coming up soon, I decided to start by doing the 30-day free trial that’s available on the Homeschool Planet website.  We had a few weeks of our school year left, so I thought that would be a perfect time to enter our remaining assignments and get a feel for how it worked without investing too much time in case it didn’t work for me.  So when we had a couple of days off from school, I set up my account, students, and school year information, and then I spent some time watching the simple tutorial videos that are built in to the program in the “help” section.  Then I entered just a week of school at first so I could overcome any learning curve before I got too far.  I did learn some shortcuts and simpler ways of entering information by doing it that way, so I would definitely recommend that you start with a sampling of information when you first try it out so can learn as you go.  It will definitely save you time when you sit down to enter a larger volume of information on your next try.  So all I did on this first attempt was to enter a week of assignments for two kids.  I played around with printing them out in different report settings and switching between calendar and planner formats.  It was pretty cool to see all the customization I could use to get just the right printed planner I wanted.

Once I was more familiar with it, I went ahead and entered the remainder of our school year, because I could see that it had the potential to work for us.  And once I understood better how to enter large chunks of information quickly, it was all so easy to do!  I found it to be quite intuitive for me to use, and I found the learning curve was pretty short…I pretty much had it mastered over the course of a couple of days.  I had set up personal logins for the kids, and they were able to pull up their assignments on their tablets (iPads or Nabi Android tablets) pretty easily.  We could check off the assignments as we did them on the tablet, or they could use a printed version.  My daughter found she liked having a printed assignment sheet best, so we played around with different formats until she found the one she liked best.  Since my youngest is only 7, I pretty much manage his schedule for him, since we still do all of his work together.  So I found I liked having the schedule up on my iPad to check off as we went through the day.  It’s really nice that it can be used digitally or on paper like that to suit each user.

By the time we finished up those last couple of weeks of school, I knew we were hooked on Homeschool Planet (HP)!  There’s a “contact us” section in the program where you can leave feedback on any issues you’ve had in using the program or any feedback you’d like to offer on how to make it better.  Several times, I’d offered up suggestions or things that didn’t work for me and what would work better, and I’m quite impressed to say that they always took the suggestions to heart and had already made some of the changes by the time the month was over!  That was great to see.  Whether we were chosen for the review or not, I knew we would be continuing to use it, and it would be well worth the purchase price to us!  So with that decision made, I went ahead and took some time during our week off from school to enter the whole next school year for both kids.  It was even easier this time because I’d already learned a lot from playing with the small amount of data I started out entering, and it went really well.  In no time at all, I was all set for our new school year!  So when I was chosen for the review, I was absolutely ecstatic!

Before long, I was off and running, exploring all the other capabilities this program has to offer.  With the help of one of the tutorial videos, I was able to sync HP with my Google Calendar.  It only took a few short steps, and then suddenly, my whole busy life began to converge in one place!  That was amazing.  I already sync my Outlook Calendar with my Google Calendar, so no matter which place I enter my appointments, it will all end up on HP!  Then I took advantage of customizing the widgets around the perimeter of the calendar screen.  I linked our emails and cell phones to the program so I can send text messages from HP, and then I set up multiple shopping lists, which I can easily text to my phone whenever I’m headed out to the door so that I can grab what I need while I’m out.  I can’t tell you how convenient that is!  And if my husband offers to stop on the way home, I can easily text the list to him, as well.  My daughter also loves that she can use it to text messages about her school day to her dad while he is at work.  The kids don’t have phones, so that was something new for them.  I noticed a message on the website about texting, and how in the future, they may have to add a fee for text messages, but there would always be an allowance for so many messages/month that would be free.  I’m fine with that!  We don’t use them too often, so I’m sure any future fee for texts would not likely affect me.  I just love the convenience of sending those shopping lists to myself!

I can also see the weather for the day, and even read an inspirational daily quote or scripture message!  And again, you can customize which of these widgets you want to see.  And I can even select the translation I prefer for the daily scripture passage!  That’s pretty cool.  I also set myself up in there with my daily and weekly cleaning schedule.  It’s great to be able to keep myself and my household duties on track as well as the kids.  It has really helped me keep up with housework, because I have the schedule open while we are doing school anyway.  So when the kids are working on an assignment and I’m sitting there waiting, I can look at something on my cleaning schedule and go do a chore very quickly and come back before they are done and check it off my list.  So I find it really helps me with my own time management, as well, by keeping that list in front of me throughout the day.  Any spare moment that arises becomes an opportunity for me to go and quickly knock something off that list.  I also have reminders on there of monthly things like giving our dogs their heartworm prevention or when to clean the hamster cage or change the water for the fish.  It also has a to-do list that I use a lot when we have a week off to make sure I take care of pending household things when I have larger blocks of unscheduled time.  I used it just this week to make sure I got a new battery for my car, one for my watch, and got 2 of our vehicles inspected before the week was up.

It is so easy to reschedule things, too.  I can do it manually, or I can let the automatic rescheduling helper remind me of unfinished assignments as soon as I log in for the day.  It will show me all the unfinished tasks and allow me to either leave them alone, mark them as complete, reschedule them without affecting other assignments, or move the whole schedule forward. 

Once when I was entering a large amount of data for a single class, I clicked on “save and close” when I was done, and I received an error message that it was unrecoverable and had not been saved.  I was kind of frustrated, but I’m happy to say that HP fixed that issue by adding a periodic save button.  So now you can save periodically without closing the class you’re working on.  Now I have no more problems with lost data!  And originally, when you printed the assignment list, it did not show the resource (like the book name) the assignment came from, which made it unusable as a schedule for my daughter.  I sent feedback about it, and during the review period, they added the resources to the assignment list and notified me that it had been updated!  How great is that?!?  I love that the company actually listens to its customers and values their feedback regarding HP.  It’s truly a homeschool product created by homeschoolers for homeschoolers!

At this point, the only thing I could see that could make this product any better would be if it would store my whole year’s school schedule as a file somewhere so that I could access it again in the future in its original form.  I say that because my kids reuse the same core curriculum from one child to the next with years in between.  It would be great if I could pull up the unrevised original schedule in a file and upload it again to be used in the future so I wouldn’t have to enter it all over again for the next child 4 year down the road.  And guess what…before the review period was over, I checked the list of upcoming changes in the next update, and the ability to save it as a file is on the list!  Woo-hoo!  And another suggestion I had made to them was to make it so you could reschedule a missed assignment from today to tomorrow, even if that class is not scheduled until later in the week, and they soon sent me a note saying they’d taken the suggestion to their planning meeting and had decided to make that change their top priority for the next update!  Yay!  I just love how they take customer feedback to heart!

And I should mention, too, how easy it is to “plan” out your materials using the program.  If you have books you want to read but don’t have a pre-set schedule to go with them and just want to finish them over a designated time period, you can tell HP what pages are in the book and over what time period you want to read it, and it will schedule it all out for you automatically!  And if you have a class with a repeating pattern, you can tell it the repeating pattern, and it will continue scheduling that pattern for you.  For instance, if you have a vocabulary book, and you doing lesson 1A on day 1, lesson 1B on day 2, lesson 1C on day 3, and take a test on day 4, you can set up that repeating pattern for the year, and HP will continue the pattern and numbering for you for the whole course so you don’t have to enter all of that manually.  That’s such a timesaver!

Homeschool Planet literally manages my life at this point.  It has a whole year of our school assignments, all of our sports practices and game schedules, all of our doctor and dental appointments, my shopping lists, my to-do list, my commitments to volunteer at my oldest son’s school, committee meetings, field trips, and even my due dates for my reviews, all in one place!  I can’t tell you how much that has improved my life!

I really can’t rave enough about this program.  I really never thought I’d ever find a digital planner that worked for me the way I wanted it to work, but Homeschool Planet really does!  And I even pull it up on my phone before I go to bed a night to make sure I’ve taken care of the last few chores of the day.  It’s so convenient to access it anywhere, anytime I have access to the internet!

It has other capabilities, too, that many would find beneficial, like the ability to track hours spent on core subjects, creating transcripts, and tracking grades and attendance.

Go ahead and give Homeschool Planet a try with that free trial!  I can almost guarantee you that you’ll be hooked before the trial has ended.  :)

Take a look at what the other Crew members have to say about Homeschool Planet by clicking the banner below.


Sunday, July 12, 2015

2015-2016 Homeschool Curriculum

We’ve already got 3 weeks of our new school year behind us, despite taking a 3-week break so my homeschooled kids could spend some time with their older brother while he’s off from public school for the summer.  So I figured other homeschoolers are likely beginning to plan their new school year that starts in the fall, and perhaps this would be a good time to outline the curriculum we’re using this school year.

Math Mastering Essential Math Skills, Book 2 with DVD Saxon Math 3
Language Arts McGraw-Hill Language Arts 6 McGraw-Hill Language Arts 2
N/A Saxon Phonics & Spelling 3
Explode the Code  
N/A Explode the Code Online
Houghton Mifflin Spelling & Vocabulary 7 Houghton Mifflin Spelling & Vocabulary 3
Wordly Wise 3000 Online, Level 7 Wordly Wise C
Daily Review  
Evan-Moor Daily Language Review 6 Evan-Moor Daily Language Review 2
N/A New American Cursive (worksheets made in StartWrite)
Foreign Language  
Switched On Schoolhouse Elementary Spanish (2nd half) Song School Spanish
Social Studies McGraw-Hill Our World McGraw-Hill Our Community
Geography Evan-Moor Daily Geography Review 6 Evan-Moor Daily Geography Review 2
History Sonlight Core G Sonlight Core C with Grade 4-5 Readers
Science Sonlight Science G Sonlight Science C
Supplemental Science  
McGraw-Hill Science 6 Science Fusion 2
Health & Fitness N/A Harcourt Health & Fitness 2
Bible Sonlight Bible G Sonlight Bible C
Art ARTistic Pursuits, K-3, Book 3 Abeka Art Projects 2
Supplemental Art  
Abeka Art C N/A
Music N/A Silver Burdett Music 2
Supplemental Music  
N/A Abeka Songs We Enjoy 2
Things are going pretty well so far.  Haylee really likes her new math program, which is always the biggest hurdle for her, so I’m thankful for that.  If she does well with this format, then I plan to stick with it when we move on to Pre-Algebra next year and then on to No-Nonsense Algebra in 8th grade.  Then she should be well-prepared to go on to public high school.  I’m really hoping all of the kids will have the good fortune of getting into Hayden’s charter school when the time comes. 
Holden absolutely loves Song School Spanish!  I’m so glad I had that tucked away from a review I did with Haylee a few years ago.  He really loves singing the songs.  And he also really likes Science Fusion, because I found some of the online components we can access for free by linking from a Florida public school page.  He enjoys the interactive lessons and quizzes.  With his reading, he’s doing the Grade 4-5 Readers from Sonlight.  I’ve found it to be a huge leap from the Grade 2 Readers he had last year, but the alternative would have been to do the Grade 3 Readers, in which case he would never had gotten to read all the wonderful stories in the Grade 4-5 Readers, because the readers are tied to the history program starting with Core D.  The kids told Holden he would love the stories more in the advanced readers, so he decided to go with that.  The length of the reading is pretty tiring for him, though, so the compromise we’ve reached is to have him read half of the reading assignment, and I read the other half.  So if it’s 4 chapters, then he reads two, and I read two.  And frankly, as long as he reads at least one whole chapter himself, I’m fine with that.  He’s fully capable of reading the material, it’s just that the length of the assignments are a bit much for his level of concentration and attention.  I can work with that.
I think it’s going to be a good school year!

Sunday, July 5, 2015

How to Use Photo Templates in Adobe Photoshop Elements 9

One of the handiest functions I’ve used in Adobe Photoshop Elements is the clipping mask.  It makes using photo templates a snap!  I use them to create photo collages in lengthy reviews that have lots of photos, but they are also great for digital scrapbookers.  Sometimes, several months may pass between uses, though, so I often forget the shortcuts for using the clipping mask with templates, so I’m going to highlight the easy instructions here so they are easy to find when you need them.

First, begin by opening your APE program to the editing screen.

APE Edit Screen

Then, open the files for your desired template and all of the photos and/or background papers you plan to use.

APE Open All Files Screen

Double click on the template on your tray to make sure it is shown in the editing window. 

APE Double Click Template

Click and drag a photo over the spot in the template where you’d like it to go.

APE Click and Drag Photo

Resize the photo using the handles in the corners (make sure you’re using the Move tool for the handles to appear).  Confirm your chosen size by clicking the green checkmark that appears beneath the photo.

APE Resize Photo

Then simply press Ctrl-G together to activate the shortcut for the clipping mask.

APE Ctrl G

Using the Move tool, you can drag the photo around until it’s properly centered or even adjust the size again.  When it’s positioned the way you’d like it to appear, you can use the Rectangular Marquee tool to drag a selection box around any overlapping areas you don’t want, and then click on Edit and select Delete from the drop-down menu.  Repeat for any other overlapping areas you’d like to disappear.

APE Delete Overlap

Continue this process for each window in the template.  If you’d like to add a background paper in one of the windows, do that in the same way, and add any text you’d like to add using the Horizontal Text tool. 

APE Finish Adding Photos

Once your template is complete, you can click on Layer and Flatten Image from the drop-down menu to finish off the border. 

APE Flatten Image

Then click on “Save As” and give the project a new name so it doesn’t replace your original template file.  If you don’t plan to edit the project later, then you can save it as another type of image file such as JPEG.  That’s how I use the photo collages on my blog posts.

APE Save As

Enjoy your finished photo collage!

Botanical Gardens