Archives For curriculum

Virtual Nerd Review

Heather —  January 12, 2011

When I first logged onto Virtual Nerd and took at peek at the online math and science tutoring site, my first thought was, “Wow, what will they think of next?”


I was pretty impressed. And, I’m not a newbie to what’s available online for kids.

As a homeschool educator and mom, I try hard to keep an eye out for new technologies and experiences that are available to assist my munchkins students. I mean, I have Brainpop and algebra apps loaded on my iPhone for even my five year old…seems like we have internet enabled everything and subscribe to all kinds of stuff!

And, I have taught my kids that one type of intelligence is that, while you may not know the answer to something, you know how to find the answer. But, these days, you really can waste a bunch of time searching though data to get what you need.

So, anyway, imagine I am holding my head trying to explain quadratic equations to my high schooler. Yes, this type of thing happens around here. Luckily, I have a sophomore who is a genius at math, so we often end up going to him for answers.

And when he explains something, it makes sense. And when it doesn’t, I can just say, “well, wait–what do you MEAN by xyz”? And then, he will back up and lead us through until we get it. I had a high school friend like that from Germany–Lucy actually taught me Algebra, as I never did understand the teacher. Have you ever had someone who could explain things like that?

Well, what led me to recall all this is the fact that Virtual Nerd works in this fashion–almost like you have a live helper or tutor. It is really a new unusual technology–rather than just watching a video about a particular math or science topic, you can find your topic and then, as you watch this video, you can click through a “smart” database for additional help and/or more detail–within almost any portion of your original question. Virtual Nerd calls this “drilling down.”

Some of the main perks of the Virtual Nerd system:

  • Dynamic Whiteboard™-This e-learning board can anticipate student questions and offer pre-requisite tutorials
  • Multimedia video presentations- 1,000+
  • FAQs, terms & definitions
  • Personalized interaction & control-you can access 24/7
  • Textbook search capabilities

Here’s the Official Word:

Virtual Nerd offers online tutoring in math and science to students grades 7-12.  Our service is both affordable and convenient, providing help whenever and as much as needed.  Using our patent pending Dynamic Whiteboard, each student has a very interactive and personalized learning experience.  While watching our pre-recorded videos, they can drill-down for more information and access FAQs, terms and definition to assist in their learning process.

Virtual Nerd currently offers hundreds of tutorials in Pre-Algebra, Algebra 1, Algebra 2, and Intro Physics.  More Physics, as well as Chemistry, Pre-Calculus and Calculus  are on the way.

Go take a look at how this works on Virtual Nerd website. You can also follow Virtual Nerd on Facebook and Twitter. I am enjoying reading their blog. (Haha, I know, what a nerd…I mean geek!)

Virtual Nerd offers several payment options, including a two hour free trial, a few one-time “help me” deals and larger plans such as $49 monthly, $129 for three months. To be honest, as a homeschool mom, that monthly price is high for a supplemental curriculum. I mean, we give up stuff to homeschool. BUT, that being said, I love this site! I think the value is here–especially if you have a struggling high school student–this site could help them say “I am good at Math” and that is worth trying to afford. I had fun on the site, myself–it was neat to relearn some of the things I had forgotten and I liked the teachers and how the whiteboard worked.

Take a look at how the creators explain the site in a recent interview with CNN:

See what my crewmates have to say about Virtual Nerd

I received a six week subscription to VirtualNerd through the TOS Crew for review purposes. I have given my honest opinion.

Wits & Wagers Family

Heather —  December 19, 2010

wits n wagers family

Looking for a fun party game to play with your kids? I just got the chance to try out a game called Wits & Wagers Family Edition, from North Star Games. My husband and I got the biggest kick out of this game. It is actually a trivia game, similar to the popular Wits & Wagers, but from what I gather, made a bit easier for families. You can play with individual players, or groups with kids 8 and up (although we let Emma on a teamJ

The game surprised me, in that I expected the game to be more verbal—while it IS a trivia game, each answer is given using a number! This threw me a bit, but my boys loved this. You can work in teams and even win without knowing the exact answer…because you can also score points by placing your piece (Meeples) on a teammates guess. Whoever comes closest to the correct number, without going over, wins the points.

I liked the game parts and pieces- everything is simple, not lots of stuff to piece together or lose, but well made scoreboards that you use w/dry erase markers and lots of question cards. The little wooden Meeples, are people shaped playing pieces—my kids loved those.

This is a fun addition for game lovers for the Holidays. You can find Wits & Wagers Family at  Toys R’Us and I just saw this at Target…I also saw Wits & Wagers Family on sale right now on Amazon (sign up for Amazon Mom and get in time for Christmas with free shipping!)

See what my crewmates have to say about  Wits & Wagers Family!

I received materials from North Star Games for review purposes. I have given my honest opinion.

The Write Foundation Review

Heather —  November 10, 2010

How do you approach teaching your child writing? I generally teach writing as a portion of our literature studies. My son loves to read and so I try to use that as a jumping off point to get his attention and then incorporate things like grammar and writing structure.

I received The Write Foundation curriculum to review and I immediately noticed that they stress the actual writing process as the base for their teaching approach. It is almost an about face from how I have done it. They say:

“Many writing curricula focus on the different types of writing, such as creative writing, story writing, poetry writing, persuasive writing, argumentative writing, informative writing, descriptive writing, book writing, fiction writing, novel writing, but the basic foundation of writing is assumed. The Write Foundation begins with the writing process, how a student formulates a topic, then a thesis, then supporting points, and by incremental teaching drills in the basics. In most grammatical subjects, we have found that failure is almost totally because the basics have not been learned.”

I appreciate this angle and felt that this review might help my son go back and reinforce some writing skills.

I requested Level 2: Paragraph Writing   Suggested Ages: 12-15.

About Level 2, (From their site):

  • Lesson plans formatted in an easy-to-follow system
  • Begins with steps to writing the basic paragraph
  • Improves sentence structure with basic grammar and figures of speech
  • Teaches different styles and techniques each week
  • Teaches the organizational process of  brainstorming, outlining, rough draft and editing.
  • Progresses to writing two-, three-, and four-paragraph papers
  • Introduces the five-paragraph formal essay
  • Creative poetry writing
  • Guidelines, checklists and correct structure
  • 30 lessons with lesson plans for either a one- or two-year format

See a syllabus for this level.

As we began this program, I had a hard time adapting to a different approach. I had trouble incorporating the lessons into our daily life. I read that the lessons were originally developed for a coop setting and I do think that the presentation of the teaching materials could be improved.

Overall, I think the program needs some tweaking to make it easier on the Homeschool teacher to teach. That being said, I think the concept of using a more foundational writing system for a curriculum is sound and can really help an unenthusiastic writer, especially. I give it a 3 out of 5.

I do like that the program is written from a Christian perspective and I hear that the customer service is great for this company. In addition, there is a Write Foundation Yahoo group.

See samples for all The Write Foundation Curriculum

Find ordering information here. Costs vary a bit depending on how fast you work through the program and your choice of materials, but range from $65-$100.

See what my crewmates have to say about The Write Foundation

I received materials from Write Foundation for review purposes. I have given my honest opinion. Book Collector
book mess

book mess

I adore books. One of my dreams is to have an old fashioned library, complete with deep, dark cherry workwork…a meticulously organized book collection…comfy leather seats…

But, I don’t have that yet. In fact, I have a hard time just barely storing all our books….they often look like the photo above, I’m sorry to say.

One of my sons, Nick, is a crazy book lover like me. He has attempted to catalogue our books many times. He is creative and has tried “our own” system and many free versions of cataloging software.

To be frank, I have never put time aside to try to help keep track of our library and I do regret that. I think Nick had the right idea.

So, I was intrigued when I got Collectorz to review for the TOS Crew.

We received a book collecting software from called the Book Collector Pro Version that allows us to catalog our book collection on our computers!

Basically, the program is pretty intuitive—you can just catalog your book collection by ISBN.
Just enter ISBNs or scan ISBN barcodes, and the program automatically adds book details and cover art. Book Collector key features allow you to:

Try Book Collector Free for 30 days (100 book limit)

Nick and I have been playing around with it and I like it! Some of the features strike me as very useful. For instance, we can print out lists of our books, keep track of any books we lend out, and we can even update our lists with the iTouch.

You can also catalogue your existing ebook and audio book files just by scanning your folders…

And, you can upgrade your Collectorz account to Book Collector Connect and do even more:

  • Browse your personal book collection online
    Search and sort your collection in List, Detail or Cover View.
  • Publish your book database online on servers
    Access your book inventory from any online computer or mobile device.
  • Share your collection list with friends & family
    Make your collection public (optional), then just email a web-link
  • Connect is a fully stand-alone book organizer tool
    Connect is a cool add-on to the Book Collector downloadable desktop edition for Windows or Mac, but it can also be used on its own, as a super-easy online book cataloging tool.

Book Collector Standard Version is $29.95, and Book Collector Pro Version costs $49.95. has all kinds of options.  Go check out their site! I know my kids are waiting to try out the Movie Collectorz and Game Collectorz!

See what my crewmates have to say about Collectorz!

I received Collectorz for review purposes. I have given my honest opinion.

I got this in my email this morning–


Standard Deviants is celebrating the release of a new Biology Series with a 40% off code!

So, right now, through November 30th, save 40% on ALL Light Speed video programs.

I just love these things. The Biology Series looks really interesting and Nick is doing biology right now. I enjoy how they add humor into their videos. Anyway, Just FYI.

Not an affiliate or anything for this one, just really like these!

Math Tutor DVD Review

Heather —  September 8, 2010

Math Tutor

Review & Summary: 4 This company specializes in Math Curriculum, packaged in DVD and online formats for all ages, from beginning Math to Physics. We received two specific DVDs, Pre-Algebra Tutor Volume 1 and a TI83 / TI84 Calculator Tutor.

Overall, I felt the curriculum was solid…the presentation for the older ages is very much like taking Math in a class.

Now, while Math Tutor does have a range of math products that includes colorful and fun videos for younger children,when you look at  the material for the older students, you are getting serious, lecture style instruction. The instructor is Jason Gibson who has several math related degrees.  As he lectures, he uses the whiteboard and is quite clear and very specific. You can see a sample from the Pre-Algebra video here:

I am not a math lover, myself. I will basically do anything to avoid Algebra. But, I do understand Jason…so that is a start. I have one child whose eyes just glazed over when I put it in…and another who excels in Math said he could use this easily and move forward quickly. So, for the cost, I think this could be very useful. I intend to use the DVD as a help–to do review or get extra help when my Algebra student is stuck.

item63Now, the graphing calculator DVD is supposed to “unlock the power” of your graphing calculator. And, it does! With 3 DVDs you can see all kinds of functions. I am ashamed to admit this, but it helps you to put it in perspective. The main thing I have done with a graphing calculator lately is to type in numbers and turn it upside down to see if I found a new word. With this tutorial, I can show off some new skills. I did not watch all 8 hours, but I think it is cool that I could.

My three teenagers felt that this DVD was really worthwhile–all of them are using/or will be using the TI calculators through High School. As in most of the Math Tutor materials, you learn by watching your teacher DO. For this one, it is neat to see a close up of the calculator itself as the teacher works example problems on the calculator. You can see a clip of this in action on the math tutor page. (Drag down a bit).

I think this curriculum is worth taking some time to look at. While I feel less sure about my opinions when it comes to upper level math, I think this curriculum does have some excellent courses and is very reasonably fantastically priced. If you are looking for a long term plan or just some help for Math, definitely stop in at the Math Tutor DVD site. They have plenty of samples and videos and worksheets to peruse to see if the style works for your family. They also offer an online plan for $19.99 per month.

The Math Tutor DVDs reviewed today are currently on sale for $26.99 each.

Find tons of FREE sample lessons, online calculators and math references and articles–even a podcast at Math Tutor.

To see what my TOS crewmates have to say, click here

The 2 Math Tutor DVDs were provided to me for the purpose of my review. I have expressed my unbiased opinion on this product.

Settlers of America Meets the Kids

Heather —  September 8, 2010

Some days, I am an amazing, inspired mom. And the kids all get along and play intense strategy games with educational value while working together around the beautiful coffee table I gave them for games and eating brownies…

Ok, So there were no brownies, only pretzels. And, ever since I put an adorable coffee table downstairs for them, they want to play on the floor.

But, still, the kids all got together to play the Settlers of America Trails to Rails, from the Catan history series.

I asked them to help me review the game…but I did have a secret plan…a plan to find a game that was difficult enough to hold their attention, yet fun…and one where they would not fight…you know, the trifecta.

I definitely hit the mark on finding a game that would challenge the kids. And the X Box stayed silent. I think kids really like board games deep down, sometimes where they don’t even know it.

This game has…game. Seriously. To begin, just take a look at the pieces:

  • 120 railroad tracks (in 4 colors)
  • 48 cities (in 4 colors)
  • 8 train engines (in 4 colors)
  • 8 settlers wagon (in 4 colors)
  • 1 outlaw
  • 40 goods cubes (in 4 colors)
  • 40+ die-cut gold coins (in 1 and 5 denominations)
  • 4 building cost overview charts
  • 1 map board
  • 2 dice
  • 12 die-cut number tokens
  • 95 resource cards
  • 24 development cards
  • 1 rulebook

And you will need the rulebook for the first games. I liked the quality and artwork of the board and cards and the wooden pieces. Our little one liked them, too. I liked that she was able to get some ideas about the settling of America while just hanging out with her brothers.

So, we began by getting all the pieces together and checking out all the resource cards. The game action is set in the 19th century and the players are in on the quest for westward expansion. This educational game is the latest in the Catan History Series, and just one of the many educational games Timberdoodle carries.

As play progresses, players collect and trade resources in order to build settlements, acquire locomotives and railroad routes, then race with other players to deliver the most goods.

I did especially like that the players have to work together during each turn. While ultimately there is one winner, the game had a feel that everyone was working towards a common goal. (I love that!) There was a lot of trading and building going on.

You know, I did not get this game specifically to “go” with a homeschool curriculum. I was looking for a game that had a good storyline…a theme…and wasn’t too easy.

The fact that the game could also be used to reinforce or to introduce American History and the concept of westward expansion, well that is just icing on the cake.

Overall, I think this is a good game. It is difficult, I believe. The game lasts about 2 hours and requires 3-4 players. It is marked for ages 12+ and I agree with that…although we did have one 5 year old playing.

She enjoyed all the playing pieces and really got into the resource cards. I think she learned a bit. I have no idea why her hair looked like she was from the Netherlands somewhere back in time.

I think the kids will be playing again soon…we even added a player towards the end…

The list price is $54.95, but it is on sale right now at $44.95. Also, I have not played any Catan games before and this one has me curious to go look at the others. For families, this would be one to play with your kids. Like I mentioned, it is not easy the first time, but is fun and worth learning how to play.

Check out Timberdoodle’s homeschool vodcast for all kinds of educational ideas for your kids. I really like their games and other homeschool curriculum and homeschool supplies.

As a member of Timberdoodle’s Blogger Review Team I received a free copy of Settlers of America in exchange for a frank and unbiased review.

You can't go on field trips everyday...what do you do for fun in lessons?

Are you good at making learning fun? I am not, really. I just do not have that “creative gene”. I know this because my mom used to be the most fun science teacher…ever.

I, on the other hand, I tend to get focused on our work and straight reading and such. I could just use textbooks all day long and be happy. Not so my kids! I know my kids learn much better through games and hands on activities.

In reviewing my curriculum last year, I found that Mystery of History and Illuminations from Bright Ideas Press really helped me spice up my lessons….and, once I had a clue what I was doing got going, I had a great time with these lessons. And, I got to be the fun teacher:)

This year, I see that BIP is offering many items that complement The Mystery of History and Illuminations and some that even stand alone, like Literature Guides. They have some great titles, like Phantom Tollboth, The Canterbury Tales and many others. Another thing–BIP has curriculum for multi/all ages.

While you may be all set for much of your curriculum for the year, adding in a couple Literature Guides and Folderbooks might be fun and simple…even for the teacher! Another good thing about these is that they are all immediate downloads–so you can quickly add these into your day and not pay for shipping, etc.

I have signed up for BIP’s monthly newsletter and I get an email with teaching tips and updates…and special coupon codes each month. (I recommend signing up!) Anyway, here are some of their new releases, from my BIP email:

  • Challenge Cards–these go with Mystery of History (MOH). They offer 3 questions and answers for every lesson in the MOH text. They currently have cards for MOH 1 and MOH 2. MOH 3 to come. Get these in a digital download deal at $14.95 for each volume.
  • Folderbooks—Kind of like lapbooks for MOH. But even cooler. They are on sale now.
  • Literature Guides—I used these from the Illuminations curriculum last year. They take great literature titles and create a unit study. I adored these. They are fun for the kids, but also in-depth studies. Last year, you had to purchase Illuminations to get them, but now you can buy them individually!

I am an affiliate for BIP. I think they produce worthwhile curriculum and I like sharing information about them.