Wednesday, August 27, 2014

Ubersmart Software Review

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      UberSmart Software is produced by David Kocur, a homeschool dad, who came up with the program to help his children learn their math facts. It's downloadable software to practice simple math skills such as typing numbers, adding, subtracting, multiplying, etc. It can be used by eight or more students.

      UberSmart Math Facts is $24.95 for home use. There is an option for a professional license so the software can be used in the classroom. There is a 30 day trial available and worksheets for extra practice. This is for Windows 7, 8, XP and Vista only. Use discount code “v4 Early Bird” for a 30% discount until September 30th.
     The goal of this program is to be a computerized version of traditional flashcards that helps make math easier through memorization and recognition. With Ubersmart, there are several different sections of the program:

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Learn: a chance to test yourself by answering the questions in your head or out loud. This section requires no actual answer typed in, but simply gives you the correct answer when you click on the > sign.

Practice: This section is not timed and doesn't appear on your "score card" But you can practice each skill and learn how to type them in faster.

Test: a timed session with a set number of cards, practicing a specific skill (typing numbers, adding, subtracting, etc.)

Compete: Connect to the internet and join with other children around the world in a timed challenge.

     For each of these options, you can choose beginner or intermediate. The beginner setting uses flashcards with dots instead of numbers. Intermediate is answering questions and mastering the skills.

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     As the parent, you can access records to see how your children are doing. What they are completing with success and what they are having a more difficult time with.

     There is a 32 page PDF document that you can peruse when you hit the "?" symbol in the upper right hand corner. It will give you information on how the program can be used and help you understand the different sections of the program more thoroughly.
     UberSmart recommends that you have a keyboard entry time of 3.00 seconds or less for each 2-digit number that you type in. If you are not able to do that you can switch your settings to untimed, or continue to practice typing in the numbers until you can reach a faster speed.

     Originally, our plan was to use the program with our just-entering-first grader and our just-entering-third grader. However, upon reviewing the program with our younger son, we realized he was just not ready for it yet. (This program is meant for grades K-6, or anyone struggling with their Math facts, but also children develop at different rates) If your child is not able to find his numbers easily on a keyboard yet and isn't strong with his addition, greater or lesser than skills, then this program may not be at the right level for your child either. My older son was able to perform all the basic skills and did well on his beginner test, except that he was not able to type his numbers nearly as fast as the program wished him too. They asked for a speed of under 3 second for each two digit number, he wasn't able to type any faster than 8 seconds per number. You can change the settings to have a longer amount of time for each number (up to 9 seconds) but honestly, the timing of each problem stressed him out so much that we turned that feature off. He did very well with it having it untimed, and it was very good practice for him to work on typing his numbers in over and over to learn their place on the keyboard better. He also worked on the addition and some subtraction problems as well.

     This is a no-frills "flashcard" type game. It would be particularly useful for children who are easily overstimulated or need lots of repetitive drills to learn/memorize their math facts. It was also nice to have it be a download onto my computer, rather than an online game since we live in a rural community and have a very limited amount of data we can use each month.  I can see this program becoming more useful as well as my children learn more to practice their multiplication tables.

     My older son enjoyed the program. He said it "wasn't his favorite" but that he was still "interested in playing it."

     Please click the link below to check out some reviews by the other Review Crew members, especially those with older kids who checked out this program!!

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Friday, August 22, 2014

Happy Kids Songs Review

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     Teaching your children manners and how to respond appropriately in various social situations are important skills and shouldn't be taken lightly. But teaching kids these skills in a light-hearted and fun manner is a great way to make those lesson stick and help to hold your children's attention! Dr. Mac, the music director and songwriter for the PBS hit series, Jay Jay the Jet Plane, produced these songs, along with Brian Mann to boost kids’ character, social and emotional skills.

Happy Kids Songs Review

     Happy Kids Songs has a series of downloadable songs whose purpose is to help you teach your children about Friends & Sharing , Happiness & Attitude , and Manners & Character as well as a physical workbook with lots of activities to help your children learn and remember important concepts on these topics. I was happy to be given the chance to review them with my children and to tell you about them as well.

     On the album for Friends & Sharing, there are songs focusing on how to be a good friend. In the song, "Sailing on the Seven C's", it talks about the seven "C's" of being a good friend: caring, consideration, commitment, communication, concern, curiosity, and cooperation. In the workbook you'll find the lyrics to the songs as well as coloring pages, word scrambles and then in the back more parent-directed discussions to go along with each theme. My kids enjoyed The Seven C's song the best on this album, there's a picture my 8 year old son drew about it below.

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     On the Happiness & Attitude album there are songs talking about changing your "I can't" to and "I can", giving compliments, enjoying time together and more. The music is upbeat and cheerful and my kids enjoyed bopping along to the beat as they listened.

     The last album we reviewed was Manners and Character which discussed subjects like honesty, saying please and using the Golden rule. This was my favorite as a mom, since these topics come up often on our house, it was nice to have the reinforcement of someone else reminding them of the importance of consideration.

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     All the songs on these albums were upbeat and lively and my kids enjoyed listening and even attempting to sing a long with several. I believe that the true test will come as they listen more and more and start to remember the words. I know in our house we often use music to memorize our Scripture verses and I find that, even as an adult, these are the Scriptures that stick with me the longest so I have no doubt of the effectiveness of music as an excellent teaching tool for children and adults alike!

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I'd say my kids are pretty happy, wouldn't you? =)

     Children ages 0-9 are likely to enjoy these albums, which can be downloaded and burned to a CD or using an MP3 player. They cost $4.95 each. The workbook, which includes 122 pages with activities for all 8 of the albums in this series and is reproducible for your family is $12.56 through amazon (available with Prime free shipping as well)

If you would like to follow Happy Kids songs on social media, you can do so below:

Twitter: @howsyourfam

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Thursday, August 21, 2014

My Favorite Low-cost or Free apps for Kindle (for ages 3-9) - Part 2

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     Make sure you don't miss the part 1 in this 2 part series! You can find it here!

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     Here is the second installment of my favorite low-cost or free apps for Kindle for ages 3-9. All of the apps I am recommending here are ones I have personally downloaded and my own children use and enjoy!

 If you haven't heard of Starfall yet, let me introduce you!! Starfall has a great website site for beginning readers, or children just learning their phonics. The 2 apps that starfall has created here for a similar purpose are fun and engaging. In fact, my four-year-old daughter often picks these apps to play when she asks to play something "just for fun". They are cleverly produced in a way to make the learning hidden in the fun! This first app goes through several common endings for words and helps your children associate word families (such as rat, hat, bat, cat). It also has lots of short easy-reader interactive stories  for your child to click through and learn from. Each page in the book has an ear symble where you can hear the sentence read to you, but also if you click on each word, it will sound the words out for you and then say them. Each page also has a silly interactive picture for your child to play around with.

 This second app from Starfall  is for a slightly younger audience than the first, as it's teaching the sounds each letter of the alphabet makes. For each letter there is typically a short game to play or a little song clip to watch as well. Note: the vowel sounds only make the short sound for each. Both of these apps my kids go back to again and again, they really love to play them!

I found this game while searching for a way to help my second son, who was struggling with learning to count by 5's at the time. This game has a humor that makes me smirk each time I hear it come on (for instance, when it's loading it has this comical little voice singing "doo, do, da, dooo" while you wait. It has never failed to make me smile yet ;) ) It's and excellent game for teaching your children to count by 1's , 10's, 5's, and 2's. It also has a last level that is basic addition. Each skill has a easy, medium, and hard level to increase your skill level over time. In each individual game it will as you to perform the counting task by "squishing" little germs to reach the appropriate number, so if you are counting by 1's and they ask you to count to 5 you would squish 5 little germs and then click the check mark. In the easy level the narrator counts out loud for you as you count and a number pops up for each germ you squish. The medium level, still counts out loud for you, but the number no longer pops up as you squish. On the hard level, you count them all by yourself. When you complete each level, the large germ in the middle is release and you must hit him several time with you finger before he is knocked out and "captured". My kids find this game fun and engaging, and it really has helped my son learn to count by 5's!

 Not everyone will love this game. If you do not want your children to play games with monsters or mild cartoon "violence" then feel free to skip on to the next app review. You may like the other similar math app I reviewed last time called medieval math. This one was still mild enough for our standards and my children enjoy the victory over the "bad guys" that this game gives them. It's an excellent game for increasing your children's speed in solving simple math problems. You are in an ancient Egyptian tomb and mummies are coming at you, each with a math problem over their head you must solve the problem, type the answer and then "fire" your gun and the mummy will disappear in a cloud of black smoke (it's not gory or bloody, just a pop of black) some mummies require several problems to be solved before they are stopped. You collect coins over time and can use them to "buy" different guns (all look very toy-ish, like water guns). If you miss an answer the screen turns red and shakes and your "heart meter" goes down. If it gets to the bottom you will fail the level and have to try again. This game has a very fun "fantasy" type feel to it and my boys are excited to play it and practice their addition. (the app says it has subtraction, multiplication and division, but my kids haven't gotten that far yet).

The graphics on this one are really cool! The beginning of the app gives the premise of the game citing the verse in Genesis where the ark rested on the mountains of Ararat. You are trying to guide the ark safely down a fast moving river while collecting the words you need. So for example, on the first level you need to collect 10 letter "A's". You steer by tilting your Kindle from side to side. If you hit the wall you'll need to start again. This was actually easier for my kids than me! I seem to hit the wall everytime, but the make it through safely and collect what they needed to. The company that puts out Park the Ark is Truth Gaming and if they hit 500 likes on Facebook they will release the second section of the game "into the cave" so if you like this free game, go on over and give them a like!

There are a whole series of these apps for the Kindle. I have two represented here and one on my "part one" of this series. There is a free trial version if you'd like to check it out, but these are really worth the $1.99 in my opinion (the free trial will give you and idea of the app, but it really isn't functional as a full game. There are MANY grade specific apps on the Kindle but so far these are my favorite. They have LOTS of great skills to help your child learn. The first grade app has patterns, ordering, advanced counting, adding and subtracting, fractions, word bingo, compound words, contractions, spelling and verbs, nouns and adjectives. The second grade app has numbers, place values, time, multiplication, money, alphabetical order, spelling, verbs, nouns, adjectives, punctuation, synonyms and antonyms. The games are fun and give a really good overview of some concepts that your child may be struggling with.

  My kids are too young to play this all by themselves, but they enjoy when we sit and play it together. You pick your grade level 2-6th and are answering true or false to questions on a variety of subjects  (math, social studies, science, language arts and "mystery meat") by picking "that's true!" or "that's baloney!" . If you get an answer wrong it will give you a "pickle". 5 Pickles and you need to start over. at the end it will give you a review of your answers and any statement that was false, you can click on the question mark and it will tell you why it's false. This was a fun game to play together and harder than I thought it would be. Some answers I disagreed with the answers they gave, but since we were playing it together, it was a great opportunity to discuss differing opinions on a variety of subjects. I would really recommend this as a "play together" game more than a do it yourself game.

     So there they are!!! My favorite apps for kids ages 3-9. I hope you found some you will enjoy with your family as well. Feel free to share your favorites in the comments section or ask any questions you may have!!

Monday, August 4, 2014

3P Learning - Mathletics Review

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      Do your children love to learn playing online games? I know mine do, so I was interested in the chance to review Mathletics from 3PLearning. You can go to their website and try it for free yourself!

     Mathletics is an online math curriculum for grade K-12. They have games that teach math concepts (that align with common core math if that is important to you) through fun activities and games to engage you child's attention.

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      Two of my children signed up and tried the program, my oldest who is just entering the third grade, and my second oldest who is just entering first grade. There is a separate parents (or teachers) section where I could adjust the level of difficulty for each of my children and check on their progress as well. Mathletics will also send you a weekly progress report by email to keep you up to date.

     This program is not meant to be used as an entire curriculum, but instead as a supplement to your current curriculum. My children were certainly introduced to new concepts as well that they had not yet studied. For instance my third grader (who I set up at second grade level) was introduced to new shapes he hadn't heard of before like decagons (a ten-sided shape) and parallelograms. He also learned about fractions, which he has some experience with in the kitchen, but now he learned more with divided shapes.
     Both of my boys enjoyed the "Times Table Toons" that they had to introduce the 1-12 times tables to your children. They were lively and engaging.

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     My new first grader had a more difficult time with the program. I had him set at Kindergartener level and still some of the concepts that were taught were difficult for him to understand. A few of the games, we felt didn't have sufficient explanation of how to play, and even I struggled to figure out what he was supposed to do. For instance, under "Operations and Algebraic Thinking" They asked the question of my Kindergartener "Which property of addition does the number sentence show?" Then they give and example number sentence and he was supposed to pick between the answers "Commutative Property of Addition" or "Associative Property of Addition" Though my son couldn't read the question, they do provide a button to press to have them read the sentence to you. However, you cannot have it read the answers as well, and neither I nor my son were familiar with commutative or associative properties of addition were.
      However, there were other sections of the program that were using a lot more familiar concepts that my son enjoyed. My new first grader had been struggling somewhat with consistently finding the tens and ones column in a two-digit number and this section of the program was very helpful to him to reinforce this lesson and help him grasp the concept further.

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     There were also some great printable worksheets which we really enjoyed using together. My boys worked on the time and money , measurement, and volume and capacity workbooks. Some of the worksheets had a great creative aspect to them, which my boys love being able to cut and paste or draw their own ideas.

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     For a full year subscription for two students, like I received for review would be $179, though the price is currently on a discounted price of $59 per student.  (as of 8/14)
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