Tag Archives: math

Another Look at CTCMath (Crew Review)

CTCMath Review
One of our favorite math resources for the past few years has been CTCMath.  Their online math curriculum has helped both my older boys, and since the site has recently been updated, we were thankful to be given a one-year CTCMath Homeschool Membership to see what’s new with one of our old favorites.

About CTCMath

CTCMath is an online math program with over a thousand lessons for Kindergarten through high school.  At the elementary levels, it can be used as a complete math curriculum, though the higher levels are intended to be used for tutoring purposes alongside a full curriculum.  Students have access to every lesson of every grade level, so they can target specific concepts they are struggling to understand.

CTC Menu

At each grade level, lessons are grouped by subject and broken down into a series of menus.  Diagnostic tests (available with 20, 30, or 40 questions) are available to show how much the students know about that subject before they begin those particular lessons.  The tests can also be used after completing all the lessons in that subject to show how much they have understood.

CTC lesson list

Each lesson consists of a short video teaching followed by a set of questions (usually about ten.) While the students can work completely independently and click on whatever lesson they want, parents can also assign specific lessons for the student to complete.  They can also pull up various reports to check their students progress.  (Reports can be downloaded or printed as well.)

The summary report shows which lessons have been completed, the student’s average score for each subject, and scores on any diagnostic tests completed at a particular grade level.

Summary Report

A detailed report is also available, which shows how many times the student attempted the lesson, how they did on various attempts, and how many attempts it took to pass that subject.  (The default “pass” level is 80%, but parents can change this if desired.)

Detailed Report

To practice math facts, there are also “speed skills,” which allow them to see how many facts (all four operations) they can complete in a minutes, and “Times Tables Shoot ‘Em Up,” a game that gets in extra multiplication practice.

Speed skills
Times Tables game

Our Experience

CTCMathWe have used CTCMath in various ways over the years, sometimes as a supplement, other times as our sole curriculum, and there are so many things great things about it.  The video lessons are easy for the boys to understand and I love that they can work independently.  It’s also really helpful to have access to all the grade levels, because at times I’ve had both of them working either ahead of their current grade level or going back to an earlier grade to review.  Their homeschool family subscriptions also make it a great value for families like ours with lots of children who need a math program.

One thing I would love to see added would be a way for parents to go in and change a score.  There have been several times my boys have known the right answer but then their fingers slipped and they accidentally typed something wrong.  It throws off their whole average and they get really upset.  (They were especially frustrated this time around because they’ve gotten used to our current curriculum where I can go in and alter the grade book in such instances.)

This summer I chose to make it a supplement to our main math program.  In the past I have felt like CTCMath gives my boys a bit too much freedom because there’s not a set sequence for the lessons.  They can choose whatever lesson they want (unless I want to set assignments for each of them). That’s great for keeping their skills up in the summer, and it makes it really easy to find the extra help they need on specific concepts.  However it also means that they can get through all the addition lessons and then not touch on addition for weeks or even months as they go through other concepts for the year.  I have found that they really need more frequent review, so for us CTCMath works best as a supplement while we use a core curriculum with a”spiral” approach, where the boys are continually practicing concepts they have already learned.  However, CTCMath is perfect for giving the boys extra practice on concepts that they haven’t quite mastered, and having the videos to explain things in slightly different words sometimes makes a real difference.  It’s definitely going to be an important tool for us this year in making sure the boys have a solid math foundation before trying to build any further.

CTCMath Review
Crew Disclaimer

Times Tales (Crew Review)

TimesTales review
Memorizing the times tables is one of those things you just have to do.  I don’t know anyone who has enjoyed the process, but it’s such a crucial part of a solid math foundation that we push through (and push our children through) to ensure future success.  The Trigger Memory Co. has come up with an innovative way to make this task less deplorable.  Their Times Tales videos take a totally new approach to helping cement multiplication facts in children’s minds, and we were thrilled to be given a digital download to review.

About Time Tales

The crazy thing about Times Tales is that they’re not really about numbers.  Well, they are, but they aren’t.  Really, they are a series of stories about characters that represent numbers, and as children learn the stories, they also learn multiplication facts.  The video is divided into two parts (covering two different sets of facts), each leading students through a series of steps to mastering the more difficult upper times tables. (The videos teach 3×6, 3×7, 3×8, 3×9, 4×6, 4×7, 4×8, 4×9, 6×6, 6×7, 6×8, 6×9, 7×7, 7×8, 7×9, 8×8, 8×9, and 9×9.)

Here are the steps through which each video takes you:

Meet the Characters (Introduces the characters that represent different numbers–only in Part 1)

Meet the Characters
Learn the Story (Goes through all the stories, each being about one or two sentences long.  First the story is written out with a simple picture; then there is an animated sequence that further helps drill each peace into the memory.)

written storyanimated story
Story Quiz (Asks questions to make sure they remember all the important parts of the stories)

Story Quiz
At this point, they tell the students that if they had trouble remembering any of the stories, they need to go back and repeat the previous two steps before moving on.

You’re the Story Teller (They show the picture for each story.  The student pauses the video to test themselves and then checks their answer.)

You're the Story Teller
You're the Story Teller1
Practice flashcards (Using the same pause-say-play technique as Step 3, these flashcards use the characters to help students recite the facts.)

Practice flashcards
Flashcards (These flashcards use numerals instead of the character-symbols, and they are timed, rather than instructing you to pause the video while trying to remember.  This section also contains a “Division Challenge” using a combination of numbers and symbols to test how well the students know the facts.)

flashcards
At this point if students missed any of the flashcards they are told to go back and repeat these steps before taking the written test as the final step.)

The Trigger Memory Co REVIEW

In addition to the videos (which are available as downloads or in DVD format), there are PDF files included with the purchase of Times Tales.  Each of the two parts has it own set of printables which include the following:

  • crossword puzzle
  • flashcards using the character-symbols
  • flashcards using numerals
  • practice test (using character-symbols)
  • test (using numbers)
  • division flashcards using character-symbols
  • division flashcards using numerals
  • pattern for a paper cube and instructions for a game to help practice facts

Our Experience

I wasn’t sure if Elijah (6) would like this method, since the stories have nothing to do with the actual mathematical concept of multiplication.  They’re simply mnemonic devices to help get the facts implanted in kids’ brains.  However, he LOVED the videos and was absolutely gleeful about knowing all the answers.  Ian (8) also enjoyed them, though math isn’t really his thing, so he wasn’t quite as excited about them.  He definitely needs to work on memorizing his multiplication facts, however, and he’d certainly rather watch videos to learn them than a traditional method like flashcards.  Even the younger kids enjoyed watching along with the boys.

TimesTales CrosswordI think Times Tales are great for both visual and auditory learners, especially those who like to think “out of the box.”  I liked the way they showed the words of the story, showed an animated version of the story, plus told the story out loud AND repeatedly emphasized the key elements of the stories both visually and verbally so that it could really get into the kids’ brains.  I thought the printable materials were also really helpful for reinforcing what the kids had seen in the videos.

The only thing I felt was missing was a sort of “cheat sheet” for myself with all the stories written out.  Whenever the boys ask me, say, “What’s 6X3?” I turn it around and say, “Well, what was the story about the 6th grade class and butterflies?”  They usually remember immediately, “At 1 o’clock, they let 8 butterflies go.  Eighteen!”  Occasionally though, none of us quite remember the story, and I’d love to have a quick way to look it up.

Overall, Times Tales were a big hit in our house, and I know we’ll be reviewing them periodically as the kids move further into multiplication.  This is a great supplement for any math curriculum, and there’s a 15-minute sample video available for FREE (teaching the upper 9’s) so if you have kids working on learning the times tables, be sure to check them out!

The Trigger Memory Co REVIEW
Times Tales by the The Trigger Memory Co REVIEW
Crew Disclaimer

Rabbits, Rabbits Everywhere: A Fibonacci Tale (Crew Book Review)

I’ve got a little guy who is absolutely enthralled with numbers, so I jumped when Ann McCallum Books gave us a chance to review Rabbits, Rabbits Everywhere: A Fibonacci Tale.  It teaches about the Fibonacci sequence: a pattern of numbers that occurs throughout nature (written about in 1202 by an Italian man nicknamed Fibonacci).  In the sequence, each number is the sum of the previous two numbers: 0…1…1…2…3…5…8…13…21…34… You get idea.

Rabbits, Rabbits Everywhere: A Fibonacci Tale is a 32-page softcover book based on an idea Fibonacci himself used, about pairs of rabbits that reproduce according to this pattern.  In the book a town called Chee becomes overrun by rabbits due to a wizard’s spell, and when the infamous Pied Piper is unable to get rid of them, a clever little girl named Amanda looks at how the growing number of rabbits each day follows a specific pattern.  Once she figures it out, she is able to break the spell and lead the rabbits out of town.  (The original pair of rabbits are named “Fib” and “Knot,” so in the years to come, people talk about “The Tale of Fib and Knot in Chee,” which becomes “The Tale of Fibonacci,” a clever way to help children remember the name of the number sequence.)

This book was a cute and clever way to introduce the idea of Fibonacci numbers.  I read it with two of my children who showed interest when they spotted the book after it arrived.  Arianna (3) enjoyed the story just for its own sake (especially the colorful illustrations by Gideon Kendall), but Elijah, my 5-year old numberphile, realized there was more going on.  He loved the details in the illustrations that showed how Amanda began trying to figure out the pattern.DSCN0785

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The book makes the pattern so clear, it’s easy to find the wonder of the Fibonacci sequence, especially when you read the last page, which gives examples of where Fibonacci numbers can be found in nature.  Though the book doesn’t mention God, I think it’s a great tool for talking about how our world shows evidence of intelligent design, and I know we’ll read this story over and over in the years to come.  I think children of all ages, even those typically “beyond” picture books, will enjoy this story because of the fascination factor.

Ann McCallum has written several books to help children find delight in learning, not just about math, but several other subjects as well.  Members of the Crew received various titles to review, so if you want to bring a little extra fun to your school day, be sure to check out their reviews by clicking on the banner below.

Ann McCallum Books Review
Crew Disclaimer

CTC Math Revisited (Crew Review)

CTC Math
We first tried out CTC Math during Ian’s Kindergarten year, using it to supplement the math program we were currently using.  However, I was eager for a chance to review their 12-month family plan again, because this time around I wanted to try using it as a stand alone curriculum as Ian heads into 2nd grade (as well as for Elijah and a buddy, who age-wise are just old enough to start Kindergarten but academically could handle some more advanced math).

About CTC Math

CTC Math is an online math tutor that provides a complete math curriculum for grades K-6, as well as solid teaching to help supplement students’ current curriculum in higher math (through trigonometry and calculus).  Each student has access to the complete program, so there’s no need for them to be limited to just one grade level.  Lessons can be completed on any computer or tablet connected to the Internet.

In Kindergarten through 6th grade, the lessons cover four main streams:

  1. Numbers, Patterns, and Algebra
  2. Measurement
  3. Space and Geometry
  4. Statistics and Probability

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Each of those streams contains multiple topics, which in turn contain multiple lessons.

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I’m not sure if every grade level is the same, but the 2nd grade program contains 95 lessons total.  The lessons don’t have to be completed in any particular order, so students can work their way through however they choose (or how you direct).

Though there’s no placement test to determine grade level, each topic does have two optional diagnostic tests that can be used as a pretest to help you see if your child needs to go through those particular lessons.  (They’re also helpful as a way of determining whether the child has mastered the topic after completing the lessons.)  If there are lessons they already know, you can just elect to have them move on.  They’re not required to complete every lesson before moving up to the next grade.

The lessons consist of two parts: a video tutorial and a series of questions.  The tutorials are very thorough and cover everything the student will need to know to complete the questions.  If they feel confident, they can skip right to the questions.  If they need to go back and watch the video again, that’s easy to do as well.  Consequently, the students are able to work through the program with very little assistance.

In addition to the lessons, students can practice their math facts by going through the “Speed Skills.”  My boys both worked hard to beat their records for how many facts they could answer before their 60 seconds were up, providing lots of facts practice.

Our Experience With CTC Math

There are many things I love about CTC Math, but the thing that stands out the most to me is its flexibility.  I was using it with three students, with a slightly different approach for each of them.

For Ian, I just wanted a comprehensive math program that covered everything he needed to know and allowed him to work independently (since we tend to get into math battles when I’m trying to teach him).  As long as he achieved a passing score on his lessons (it’s set at 90% but parents can change that if they so choose), I let him work through them on his own.  If he scored lower I did make him repeat the lesson, but other than that I let him be pretty much self-directed as far as choosing which lessons to work through or whether or not he wanted to repeat a lesson.

Elijah and his friend both of them have a natural affinity for mathematical concepts, so I was less concerned about covering everything and more focused on just providing some stimulation to encourage them to keep learning on their own.  Whereas Ian finds math a chore to be completed, for these two, math time is more like fun computer games.  They were both full of smiles, squeals, and giggles going through their lessons.

Elijah was already familiar with CTC Math, so I started him out in the 1st grade lessons, even though he was following along with Ian’s 2nd grade lessons really well.  He’s a perfectionist, so he insisted on working through each and every lesson, not content with anything other than the “Platinum” level, which means having 100% on every lesson.  When calculating the student’s level, CTC Math uses an average of the last three scores, so if Elijah missed even one question, he would go back and do that lesson over and over again until he had three 100% scores in a row to maintain his Platinum status.  (That could get a little frustrating when a wrong answer stemmed from typing mistakes!)

“Buddy” was new to CTC Math, so we started him out at the Kindergarten level, going through the diagnostic tests to see which lessons he would really benefit from doing.  Once he’d passed all the diagnostic tests and covered a few lessons to fill in some gaps, he was thrilled to be moving on to 1st grade as well.  I love that this program works so well with gifted kids who need to move at a quicker pace rather than being locked into a grade level just because of their age!

Strengths and Weaknesses

For the most part, CTC Math met my expectations as far as being a program the boys could do independently.  One problem we have encountered with online math programs is that they don’t always provide enough instruction.  That is definitely NOT the case with CTC Math.  Every lesson does an excellent job of teaching the concept, and if I ever saw the boys struggling with a question, it usually meant they hadn’t paid close enough attention to the video.  Once they went back and watched it again, they were able to get through the questions easily.

The only time we had some difficulties was when it came to money problems.  They use dollar and half-dollar coins much more than people encounter in real life, but that my boys found that fascinating since they rarely see those coins so I didn’t really mind.  The real issue I had was the availability (or lack thereof) of virtual coins to help work through the problems.

For example, at the first grade level in the lesson on “Getting Change,” Elijah was able to manipulate virtual coins to help him find the answers.

Screenshot (32)x

This was really helpful because everything was visual and he didn’t have to keep track of anything in his head.  However, when Ian started working through the second grade “Getting Change” lesson, he was out of luck.  The lesson video showed coins, which helped teach the concept.

Screenshot (31)x

Yet when it came time for Ian to answer questions on his own, there were no tools available to help him.

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After trying to talk him through it using mental math, I realized he just wasn’t going to be able to do these problems on his own at the computer.  We ended up breaking out some real money and he sat down at the table to figure out each problem.

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It didn’t take him long to catch on, and it was great for him to have the hands-on experience, but I wish the virtual coins had been available to use in second grade just like they were in first.  Sometimes we do our lessons on the go (e.g. at the library or Grandma’s house), and this particular lesson wouldn’t have worked well for him away from home since he needed more than just the computer.

That was the only lesson we really had any trouble with.  As I said before, there is no suggested order to the lessons so I just let the boys pick which ones they wanted to do each day.  For the most part we’ve been fine with that, but occasionally I wonder a lesson would have been easier if they’d done a different one first.

My Overall Thoughts on CTC Math

If you’re looking for a complete online math curriculum that allows students to work independently, CTC Math is a great option.  We’ve used several online math programs, and this is by far the best when it comes to TEACHING, rather than just practicing.  The videos are clear and concise, laying out everything the student needs to know in order to complete the lesson.

I especially recommend it for families with multiple students, or students who might want to work through more than one grade level in a year.  The 12-month family plan provides full access to every grade level for up to 2 or more students for just $118.80 (this is the 60% homeschool discount), so CTC Math is much more affordable than purchasing multiple grade levels worth of curriculum.  They even offer a free trial, so if you’re still searching for the right math program for your family, be sure to check it out!

CTCmath Review
Crew Disclaimer

La La Logic (Crew Review)

LaLaLogic Collage
As our third preschooler, Arianna usually ends up with her brothers’ educational hand-me-downs, so I was excited to get the chance to review a new product with her.  La La Logic‘s Preschool Curriculum focuses on developing critical thinking skills, and we had barely started using it before I was wishing I had had it for my older boys a few years ago!

What is it?

La La Logic’s curriculum is intended for children ages 3-6.  Rather than focusing on academic skills such as reading and arithmetic like many other preschool programs, La La Logic concentrates on developing cognitive skills such as problem solving and logic, seeing these as the building blocks needed for future learning.  By focusing on areas like visual-spatial recognition, working memory, attention, and fluid reasoning, children’s capacity for learning is increased and they will be more prepared for the academic tasks ahead of them, whether their future lies in homeschooling or a traditional classroom setting.

There are two main components to the La La Logic curriculum:

  • The online “Brain Challenges” are essentially computer activities modeled after questions found on children’s IQ tests.  Each week’s brain challenge contains several puzzles or games for the child to work through.

La La Logic Review

  • Additional offline activities are provided in the weekly lesson plans.  These downloadable files typically include a worksheet of some sort (with practice in writing, drawing, cutting, classifying, etc.) and extension activities. 
    La La Logic Review
    In the lessons we went through, the offline portion usually consisted of a story with suggestions for related enrichment activities such as science experiments, poetry, copywork, or artist’s study. (“Use an internet search engine to find ‘Claude Monet water lilies images’. Ask your child to describe one of the paintings and how it makes him/her feel. Be sure to take time to observe the colors and the brush strokes. Invite your child to paint a scene inspired by Monet.” — from Week 5)

The two parts of the program function independently, so it’s possible to use either one without the other.  If you only want to use the online activities, you can just use the “Continuous Brain Challenge Mode,” which allows the child to work through all the online activities without interruption, rather than breaking them up by weeks.

There are 100 weeks of lessons (20 sets of 5 weeks each), increasing in difficulty as the child progresses.  For older children who could use more of a challenge, it is recommended to do 2 weeks at the same time, with activities from one week in the morning and those from the other in the afternoon.

Our Experience

Our desktop computer with a regular mouse is down, so I started out all the kids on my laptop, which proved challenging for Arianna.  I helped her with the mouse and she did okay on everything except activities that required her to drag.  Thankfully, the program also works great on tablets, so I switched her over to our Kindle Fire and she found it much easier.

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At first, I tried using both parts of the curriculum as intended, week by week.  I printed the lesson plans and put them in a binder in page protectors.  The checklists and many of the worksheets can be filled out with a dry erase marker to be reused with the next child to save printing costs.  Arianna had trouble with some of the cutting worksheets, so I saved the pieces Elijah cut (or cut a new set for her myself) and tucked them in the page protectors so she could do the activities multiple times.

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Eventually, however, we ended up just using the online portion of the program, which is fabulous on its own. I ended up using it with all three older kids, each in slightly different ways:

  • Arianna (age 3) was the main user of the program. She begged me every morning to let her get on the Kindle Fire to do it.  She definitely benefited from the way it is set up to use one week at a time, with repeated exposure to the same set of games.  I had her stick with the week’s activities, showing her how to do each one the first day, and then being there to assist if she needed help when she repeated those activities throughout the rest of the week.  She enjoyed the offline activities, though as I mentioned before, she had a little trouble with some of the ones that required cutting.
  • Elijah (age 5) wasn’t necessarily challenged by any of the activities the way Arianna was, but he definitely enjoyed them regardless.  Elijah is my “thinker,” and he loved the logic behind the online puzzles.  The offline activities we tried were all really easy for him, but he eagerly participated in them.  He didn’t need the repetition like Arianna, so after the second week I let him start checking off each week as being “completed” as soon as he had gone through it once.
  • Ian (age 7) is older than the target audience for La La Logic, but he saw what the younger kids were doing and wanted a turn.  I only had him do the online Brain Challenges, and he completed two weeks worth of activities each day as part of his regular math routine.  He found the program easy, but he looked forward to it each day.  (I could have just had him use the “Continuous Brain Challenge Mode,” but I liked having a defined set of activities for him to work through each day.)

My Thoughts on La La Logic

La La Logic was pure learning fun.  I loved that there were no penalties for wrong answers, no scores to distract my perfectionist (who will do a math lesson as many times as it takes to get 100%), and no competition between kids.  It was just a fun time for them to stretch their brains a little bit while solving puzzles.

As I’ve mentioned before, as the mother of many I am much more inclined to buy products I can use with multiple children over the years.  So one of my favorite things about La La Logic is that it has a lifetime membership which allows you to track the progress for up to five children.  There’s no rushing to try to get through all the lessons before a subscription expires so the program is very flexible.  At only a $29 one-time cost per family, La La Logic is a great investment for families with preschool aged students.  The online content alone is well worth the price, but with the offline enrichment activities included as well, this is a incredible value, especially since it can be used with multiple children as they become ready.

The only improvement I would suggest would be a way to print out the offline activities all at once (or at least in larger sections), rather than just week by week.  I would have been more inclined to continue using that part of the program if such an option had been available.

I was really impressed with the care that went into preparing each activity in La La Logic’s Preschool Curriculum (both online and offline) and would highly recommend it to anyone interested in helping their preschool aged child develop critical thinking skills.  This is one of my favorite preschool products out of everything we’ve used over the years!

La La Logic Review
Crew Disclaimer

GPALOVEMATH (Crew Review)

 GPALOVEMATH
As more of our children approach school age, I’m realizing the importance of fostering as much independence as possible when it comes to homeschooling so that I’m available to help whomever needs it at the moment.  Math has been one subject where that seems feasible, so we were excited to get a chance to review GPALOVEMATH, an online math program from GPA LEARN.

About GPALOVEMATH

GPALOVEMATH offers a complete web-based math curriculum for grades K-5.  Because the entire program is online, it can be accessed from both computers and tablets (though recent Kindle Fire updates have created incompatibility issues that are currently being addressed).

Lessons

There are over 150 lessons for each grade, so at a pace of 4-5 lessons per week, a student can complete a grade in about 10 months.  Each grade level has a particular “Learning Coach” who helps guide students through their lessons.  Both my boys have been going through the 1st grade course, so their Learning Coach is Pi the Penguin.

Learning Coaches
Each lesson consists of three parts:  Instruction, Practice, and Quiz.  In the Instruction section, the Learning Coach guides the student through the content of the lesson.  The student clicks through slides while listening to their Coach read aloud the words at the bottom of each one.Screenshot (11)

The Practice section gives the student a chance to work through problems without being scored.  They have three “life lines” available if they need help, and once they give an answer they are told whether or not it is correct.

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The final section is the Quiz, which consists of 10 questions.  Students enter their answers but don’t know whether or not they were correct until after the entire quiz has been completed.  They are awarded badges and earn points based on how many correct answers they gave.  It’s not necessary to complete the Instruction and Practice sections first, so if the student feels like they can answer the questions without going through those, they are free to jump straight to the quiz.

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Other Features

In addition to the lessons, GPALOVEMATH offers an  “Engage” section, a private social network that allows the child to interact with parents and preapproved friends online.  I don’t feel our children are ready to use the computer in this way, so we didn’t utilize this feature at all.

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My boys’ favorite feature was the “Motivate” section.  When we first created their accounts, I was able to set up a list of rewards which would be awarded after a set number of lessons.  (The more rewards I selected, the more often they were given.)  The rewards included things like extra screen time, baking cookies with Mom, getting to choose what’s for dinner, having a parent complete one of their chores… you get the picture.   In addition to these automatic rewards, students can use the points they earn after completing lessons to “purchase” rewards (which then wait for approval from the parent).  In addition to things around the house, there are even opportunities to use their points toward gift cards (available in limited quantities, but with new ones available every so often).  Talk about motivation!

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Our Experience with GPALOVEMATH

When I first created our accounts, I was worried that the program was going to be overwhelming.  It took a while to set up the rewards list (there were SO many things to choose from, and I was nervous about choosing the preselected option without knowing exactly what was included), and then I spent quite a bit of time trying to figure out the Engage part of the website and whether or not it was necessary and/or desirable for our family.

Once we finally settled into the lessons, however, things flowed smoothly and the boys were both able to work pretty independently.  The only time my involvement was required was when they had selected a reward and needed it approved.  Other than that, they pretty much just worked through their lessons on their own while I watched on the TV hooked up to our laptop to make sure they were understanding.

Ian realized right away that the first grade lessons were pretty easy for him, and he skipped right to the quiz on almost every lesson.  At the time I couldn’t find an easy way to change his grade level, so I just left him in first and figured he’d solidify his foundational skills.  (When we initially began the program, each grade level was purchased separately.  However it has now been updated so that each user has access to ALL the grade levels, which has made it much simpler to adjust.  This was a GREAT change that makes the program so much more user-friendly.)

Even without going through the Instruction and Practice sections, both boys usually found the questions fairly self-explanatory.  Occasionally we ran into problems where even I couldn’t figure out what the questions was really asking for.  (Elijah called me over when he was confused by a question that read, “Select the set that matches.”  “Matches WHAT?” he asked.  I couldn’t figure out either, and my guess ended up being the only wrong answer he got on that quiz.  We also ran across one problem that marked a correct answer as incorrect.  I emailed customer service with screenshots, and they emailed me the next day to let me know they had fixed the problem.

Aside from those minor glitches, the only real frustration we had was the appearance of the Learn screen.  Each grade level has 3 “paths,” which allows the student some flexibility in choosing what lesson they want to work on.  Once they complete a lesson, a new one unlocks.  Ian had been working for a couple weeks and his screen never seemed to change from what it had looked like after the first few lessons.  I couldn’t figure out why it always looked like this, even when I knew he had completed several lessons:

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Eventually I realized that there were arrows on the left side of each “path,” and once we clicked on those we could reveal all the lessons he had completed.Screenshot (10)

I wish this view were available automatically, because it was discouraging for him to open up the Learn section each time and never see any apparent progress.

Overall, we’ve been pleased with GPALOVEMATH.  The boys loved earning rewards, and I appreciate both the thoroughness of the program and the independence it allows.  We plan to continue using it as our primary math curriculum at least until the end of this school year.

GPA Learn Review
Crew Disclaimer

Math Analogies-Beginning software (Crew Review)

Math Analogies Review
If you’re looking for ways to help your kids develop their minds, be sure to check out The Critical Thinking Co.  They offer a wide variety of products designed to help kids build problem-solving skills in multiple subjects at every grade level.  We recently received a copy of their Math Analogies Beginning downloadable Windows software for Kindergarten through first grade.

What is it?

When I first heard the words “math analogies” I was curious as to what this program was going to include.  The only time I remember working on analogies in school was in my high school English classes, and I wasn’t sure how those word analogies were going to compare.

Not only was it easy for me to catch on to the way Math Analogies Beginning worked, both Ian and Elijah had no problem understanding what to do right from the start.  Each analogy presents a pair of related pictures, followed by a single picture for which the user has to find a match.  Four possible answers are given, and the user simply selects which picture they think makes the best match according to the relationship in the first set of pictures.

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Like the above example, many of the analogies can be understood just by looking at the pictures.  Others require some prior learning (i.e. reading ability, knowledge of U.S. coin values, telling time).  Once an answer is selected, the program lets the user know whether it was correct or incorrect.

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A few of the analogies were really challenging for my boys (ages 5 and 7), and I had to help them see the relationship between the pictures.

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In Analogy 5 above, for example, I asked them questions about the first pair, focusing on things that would also related to the second.

  • “Are the eyes opened or shut?”
  • “How about the mouth?”
  • “Is the face happy or not?”

Once they started looking at these details they were both able to figure out the correct answer.

There are 152 analogies total.  When you first open the program, it asks you to enter your name and then keeps track of how many analogies you have attempted, as well as what percentage of those you have gotten correct.

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Once the user has gone through all 152 analogies, a second attempt can be made, which only shows the problems answered incorrectly the first time through.  When all the analogies have been completed correctly, no more attempts are offered (though you can select the “restart” option at the top, which erases all previous information).

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The entire set of Math Analogies are also available in book form ($11.99).  The main difference between the software and the workbooks is that only the software offers multiple choice answers.  In the workbooks, the answers have to be drawn or written in all on your own.

Our Experience

I was really impressed with this program.  I loved that it helped build critical thinking skills without feeling like typical math problems.  Both Ian and Elijah were immediately intrigued by the analogies and dived in enthusiastically.  Ian completed over a hundred analogies the first night, and Elijah spent just as much time working on it, though he was a little slower in processing and only managed to get through 74.  (After that their enthusiasm waned a bit, so I just had Ian complete 5 a day after his regular math assignments, and Elijah just jumped in whenever he felt like it.)

math analogies 3xI liked that most of the analogies could be solved just by looking at the pictures.  Elijah won’t even be in Kindergarten for a few more months, so I’ve never really taught him concepts like how to read an analog clock.  This was the main reason I chose the Beginning software rather than Level 1.  I think both of my boys could have handled many of the Level 1 analogies, but after looking at the samples given on the website, I was afraid there would be too many that required them to know things we haven’t covered yet.

What I Liked:
  • It’s helpful to see a score based only on the number of problems attempted, rather than the total amount.
  • I love that this is a software program.  It seems like so many educational companies have turned to an online subscription model, which means I won’t be able to use what I’m paying for with my younger children without spending more money.  Since we have lots of kids who haven’t even reached school age, I really value products that we’ll be able to reuse.
  • At $6.99, I think this software is a great deal.  I love finding things that help my kids develop thinking skills, and this is an affordable way to do that without cluttering up our school room shelves.  (Requires Windows® 8/7/Vista.  No Mac version, but it is available as an app for iOS and Android.)
  • There are more levels!  Once my kids have mastered this Beginning level, there are still two more levels of software that can continue to stretch their minds.
What Could Use Improvement
  • The biggest change I would like to see in this software would be to break it down into smaller groups rather than one big lump.  After the boys’ initial voracity, they could have used something more “bite-sized” to help them work through the rest of the analogies.  Just counting 5 a day provided no sense of accomplishment when they’d finished the assignment.  When using the book versions of the math analogies, it would be easy to just assign a page; I wish there were an equivalent for using the software.
  • It would have been nice to be able to have records kept for multiple users.  As far as I could tell, only one person was able to work through the program at a time.  When we tried to open a new user, it erased all the progress of the previous one.  We were able to get around this by installing the program on 2 computers (as our license allowed–another option allows for up to 6 computers) so the boys could work through the analogies at the same time.

 All in all the Math Analogies Beginner software was a hit at our house.  This was our first exposure to The Critical Thinking Co., and I look forward to exploring more of what they have to offer.  Other Crew members have been exploring a variety of products, so be sure to click the banner below to find out what they thought of them!

Critical Thinking Company Review
 

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UberSmart Math Facts (Crew Review)

UberSmart Collage
There are few things that can hinder a child from moving forward in math more than not knowing their basic facts.  It’s the one area I’ve felt like Ian really needs some extra practice, so I was thrilled to be given the chance to review UberSmart Math Facts (from UberSmart Software).

What is it?

UberSmart Math Facts is a Windows based software program that helps students learn their math facts (addition, subtraction, multiplication, and division) through what is essentially a virtual flash card system.  Because it is software and not Internet-based, there is no need to be online once the user has downloaded and installed the program.

Main Menu

The menu bar offers several different activities to help students work toward mastering their math facts:

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Learn

This mode allows the user to work through a set of facts using dot cards (more on this in a minute) and/or numerals without being scored.  The student just tries to figure it out and then clicks “Show” to reveal the correct answer.

Practice

This mode is similar to the “Learn” mode except that now users select an answer and the program keeps track of how many they get correct.

There is also an option for practicing Keyboard Entry, excellent for students who may not type as quickly as their minds come up with the answers.  Since the tests are timed, it is a helpful skill to develop.

Test

There are two options on the Test menu:

  • The assessment test is for students who are new to UberSmart Math Facts or want to check their progress.  It tests more than just math facts.  The first section is not timed and covers counting, number sequencing, greater than/less than, and odd/even numbers. Then the timed section covers keyboard entry and math facts.  If the student starts to struggle, the test ends without moving on to the next section.
  • The mastery test shows how well students have learned a set of facts.
Compete

Students can compete against others from across the globe in a race to see who can answer fastest.  (An Internet connection is required to use this feature.)

Report

Parents (and students) can view and print progress reports showing what facts students have mastered.

Maintain

This is where parents can add students, adjust settings, change the Administrative password (required for any student adjustments), and check for program updates.

For Beginners

There are several options that allow you to customize what is shown.  For beginners you can use “dot cards” rather than numerals, which provide a visual representation to help develop number sense.  These problems are in a multiple choice format.

UberSmart Math Facts Review
Students who are already comfortable with the concept of addition can use traditional flashcards.

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How We Used It

I only used UberSmart Math Facts with my oldest son Ian, who is 6, so we didn’t really plunge into the depths of what the program has to offer.  Elijah (4) asked to do it once, so I added an account for him, but then he never asked again.  Ian used it several times a week to supplement his regular math curriculum.  He didn’t ever request to do it on his own, but neither did he complain when I asked him to use it.

We had a little trouble getting started.  The first thing I had him do was take the Assessment Test.  He missed a few question about odd/even numbers and didn’t type in the answers very quickly, so the program recommended having him just start with Keyboard Entry.

UberSmart Math Facts ReviewI took the suggestion, but within a matter of minutes he was complaining about how boring it was, and I agreed.  It would show a number and he was supposed to type that as quickly as he could.  It might be a useful skill, but it wasn’t what we were there to learn, so I decided to let him move on.

We tried to use the “learn” feature first, but we both found it frustrating that he couldn’t select the right answer.  I suppose the purpose is to allow the students to guess the answer and see if they’re right without having wrong answers marked against them, but Ian was already reluctant to spend time on the program so I just moved on to “Practice.”

This was definitely the right place for Ian, but it took some adjustments to make it work well for him.  He’s a “beginner,” so I started him with dot cards, but then he was spending so much time counting the dots, I felt like it was defeating the purpose of trying to learn facts automatically. Since he already understands the concept of addition well, I decided to switch to using the numbers.  He did okay on that for a few days, while he was mastering the 0’s and 1’s. (My laptop’s touch pad must be really sensitive because occasionally answers would be selected without Ian intending to click anything, and it took a while to get through an entire set with no mistakes.)

Capture5As the numbers started getting bigger, however, it seemed like he needed something more visual, so I went back to the dot cards.  Of course then he went back to counting, which was why we had stopped using those originally.  Finally I checked “show numbers” so he had both the dots and the numerals, and that was when things really seemed to click for him and he was able to work consistently without the frustration he had been experiencing.

Once he settled in, Ian did pretty well with the program.  He tends to be a bit of a perfectionist, so once he missed one problem he would want to start over (or quit).  With encouragement he pushed through, and he did find it very satisfying when he was successful.  He was so proud the day he could come to me and tell me he had learned his 2’s.

Ian is very competitive, but he gets discouraged very easily when he’s not doing as well as he’d like, so I decided he wasn’t ready for the competition part of the program.

What We Liked

There were many ways to customize the program to work for Ian.  In addition to the options for using the dots and/or the numbers, I was able to increase the amount of time he was given for each problem.  In addition to being slower at typing than the program wanted, his mind tends to process things more slowly than many kids, and he would have been frustrated to the point of giving up had he been expected to get everything quickly.  Once he’s feeling more confident I’ll go back to the shorter settings, but for now I’m thankful that I have the option to give him a little extra time so we could just work on the facts.

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The window for the game doesn’t take up the entire screen.  At first I worried that Ian would be distracted by everything else he could see on my desktop.  Then I discovered the “full screen” option, which blocks out everything but UberSmart Math Facts.  That was very helpful for keeping him on task.

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This program is a great value for larger families like ours.  Everyone’s going to need to learn their math facts at some point, and I appreciate being able to just add new students as needed.

What Could Have Been Better for Our Family

UberSmart Math Facts is designed to be a flexible tool.  With so many ways to customize it, you can really tailor the program to fit your students’ needs.  However, I could have used a little more guidance as to the best way to use it with Ian.  As I said before, the assessment test said he should work on keyboard entry before starting on math facts, but since the whole reason we were using it was to learn facts, that was rather discouraging.  So then I just felt like it was up to me to figure out what to do next.

Another frustration I had was that the program only drilled one set of facts at a time.  I was hoping once it marked that Ian had “learned” a specific set that it would occasionally quiz him on those as he continued working toward the next level.  That way he would not only keep those facts in the forefront of his mind but would also be able to feel successful in the midst of the frustration of learning new facts.  Unfortunately I was never able to figure out how to do more than just the current set.

Although I didn’t have Ian do any mastery tests, I did one myself just to see how that feature worked.  I found it really distracting to have three problems at a time on the screen.  It took a lot of mental discipline to keep my focus only on the problem in the middle when my peripheral vision was seeing the previous and upcoming problems as well.  I wish there was an option to show only the problem being tested, because I know Ian wouldn’t be able to block all the extra numbers out given how intentional I had to be about it.

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My Overall Impression

If you’re looking for a no-frills way of practicing math facts then I think UberSmart Math Facts is very helpful.  I know some kids do best without distracting graphics, but Ian is not one of those kids.  Without a “fun” element, he had a hard time staying on task and finding the motivation to spend time on the program.  I did see definite progress over the period we were using this program, but as he continues to work on learning addition facts, I think we’ll try to find something that incorporates more games and entertainment.

Just the Facts

  • Requires Windows 7, 8, XP or Vista
  • For grades K-6, but any age that needs math facts reinforcement can utilize this.
  • 30-Day Free Trial available
  • Download for home use – $24.95
  • Use discount code “v4 Early Bird” for a 30% discount until September 30th.

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Mathletics from 3P Learning (Crew Review)

PicMonkey CollageEver since my boys learned to read using ReadingEggs.com, I’ve been hoping to find an online program that would be equally fun for learning math.  We jumped at the chance to try out a 12 month subscription for two students to Mathletics from 3P Learning, the company behind Reading Eggs.

What is Mathletics?

Mathletics is an online math program with a wide variety of activities that help students in grades K-12 practice math skills while having fun.  (Apps are available for iOS and Android.)  Although it is intended to be used as a supplement, there is so much here that I would feel comfortable using it as our sole curriculum, at least in the lower grades.

There are several features within Mathletics (shown on the right side of the student’ console):

  • Live Mathletics – where students can compete with other Mathletics users from all over the world
  • Activities – The main curricular component, where students complete lessons to earn gold bars
  • Problem Solving – fun games that students unlock as they earn their gold bars in Activities
  • Concept Search – an “encyclopedia” of math terms with video explanations
  • Rainforest Maths – a free play area full of different fun math activities
  • Times Tables Toons – music videos to help students learn multiplication facts

CaptureAs I said, the Activities area is where you find the core of the curriculum.  Here the student first selects a topic (see above), which opens up a list of activities within that topic (see below).  There isn’t any instruction, so if the student doesn’t know how to find the answer they’ll need to click on the help option to know what to do.  (I think this is the main reason the program is considered supplemental.)  When they achieve at least 95% on one of these activities, they earn a gold bar.

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On the left side of the screen you see the two measures of progress:

  • Points are earned by completing activities and playing Live Mathletics.  The Student Console shows both daily and weekly accumulations.  It is recommended that students try to earn 1000 points each week (which earns them a Bronze Certificate).
  • Gold Bars show how many Activities have been completed (out of the total for that course/grade level).

Students can personalize the appearance of their Student Console by choosing a theme.  Neither of my boys spent any time on this, but the backgrounds automatically change from night to day, and we also noticed a fun background during the World Cup, so even without them doing anything it was never just a static page.  (They did enjoy creating their own Avatars.)

Parents can help guide their students’ progress through Mathletics in several ways by signing into the Parent Account to find the following:

  • Select your child’s course according to the standards you want their activities to follow.  Options include the Common Core and several different state standards.  (You can modify the course up to 6 times in a year with a home license.)
  • The Task Manager allows you to assign up to 10 activities for your child to complete.  (A pop-up will appear the next time they sign in and their Student Console will be locked until they complete the assignments.)
  • In addition to the online program, parents also have access to a full series of printable Instant Workbooks for every grade level (Series A-M) which complement the digital resources (downloadable pdf files).  The picture below shows what is available for Series A (Kindergarten).  As you can see, the list of workbooks is extensive (I combined several screenshots to view them all at one glance).  Each workbook is 30+ pages long.  The workbooks are one of the reasons I think it would be very feasible to use Mathletics as your sole math curriculum at this level.

workbooks

How We Used It

I used this mostly with Elijah while Ian and I were busy with other lessons.  (He’s only 4 and not even going into Kindergarten this year, but he just adores all things math-related and I knew he’d have no problem doing Kindergarten level work.)   He usually worked independently, though occasionally I would sit with him just to get familiar with the program.  For the most part we stuck with the Activities, Problem Solving, and Rainforest Maths.  I only did a little of the workbooks with him because he hasn’t done a lot of writing up to this point.

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Once Ian saw what Elijah was doing with Mathletics online he wanted to get in on the fun, so I showed him how to sign on as well.  At first he started in the 1st grade course, and he did okay on the graphs and base ten counting, but then it asked him to add 6+9+4, and he got overwhelmed.  Since we hadn’t started 1st grade yet at the time I asked him if he wanted to stay there or switch to the Kindergarten level.  He chose to go back to Kindergarten so he could do the same work as Elijah, and I figure it will be good for him to solidify those concepts and build confidence so that was fine.

(There is an button to click to select something easier or harder, but Elijah never needed adjusting and Ian didn’t spend very much time using the program, so we didn’t ever utilize this option.)

What We Liked

Mathletics is great for Elijah because he can work at the level where his brain is without being held back by his fine motor skills.  He was enthusiastic about doing the worksheets, however, so I may use those with him whenever he wants some writing practice.

Elijah really liked the way things were set up online.  He got great joy out of unlocking his “Problem Solving” games by earning gold bars.  I was impressed with the level of thinking some of them required, and he enjoyed the challenge.  I saw him go back to his favorites over and over.

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I really appreciated the weekly reports (emailed for each student), which have a lot of helpful information:

  • Participation summary (how many times they signed in, how many minutes they worked on curriculum activities or Live Mathletics)
  • Total points earned
  • Record of Curriculum Activities completed (name of activity, score, points earned)
  • Gold Bar Progress

Suggestions for Improvements

Both my boys loved the “Rainforest Maths” section and spent quite a bit of time playing in those sections.  It seemed a shame that they didn’t get points for any of the time they spent there.  I understand that it’s an “extra” and that they want to encourage students to complete curriculum activities, but since the games all had some educational value it would have been nice if the time there helped them reach their weekly points goal.

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Just the Facts

NOTE: When I signed Elijah up for the 10-day free trial, I got an email about a week into it offering 25% off if I purchased a subscription right then.  After I missed that window, there was an offer for 10% if I signed up by the end of the 10-day “Guest Pass” period.  So if you’ve decided after the first few days that you’re going to want to sign up, do so right away!

My Overall Impression

Mathletics was everything I was looking for in an online math program, with a careful balance of solid curriculum and entertaining games and rewards to keep them interested.  I don’t want to require any schoolwork for Elijah until he is at least Kindergarten age (still one more year to go), but this is perfect for him to work on according to his interest level.  And while I am happy with Ian’s current math program right now, if we need a break from it I would be very comfortable using Mathletics alone for his 1st grade math.

Connect With 3P Learning’s Mathletics on Social Media:

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/mathleticsglobal
Twitter: https://twitter.com/mathletics_usa

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More Math With Cuisenaire Rods

When I was in 5th grade my mom transferred me to the school where she taught Kindergarten, so every afternoon I would spend at least an hour hanging out in her classroom waiting for her to finish prepping for the next day.  One of my favorite ways to pass the time was with a set of Cuisenaire rods.  I was fascinated by these colorful wooden rods and used them to create all sorts of designs and patterns.  I loved how they could visually represent addition, multiplication, fractions, and many other math concepts.  (Yes, I was that kind of kid.)

P1030139Years later, when I was going through my teacher credential program, my mom told me that her school was cleaning out an old supply closet and I should come by and see if there was anything I wanted to have for my own future classroom.  When I saw a set of Cuisenaire rods, I felt like I’d found buried treasure.  (They also make plastic rods, but I have found they don’t work as well in some situations because the edges are just slightly more rounded, so if you’re looking to buy you might want to consider spending a little more for wooden rods.)

In the years I spent teaching, I must admit those rods didn’t come out much since they weren’t part of the curriculum I was required to teach.  Homeschooling, however, has been a different story.  All of my children love them and use them in different ways.  (Well, Nicholas just teethes on them when he’s lucky enough to get his hands on one, but the other kids are a bit more creative.)  I shared some of the ways we’ve used them back when we first made Our Foray into Math, but since then I’ve come across a few other ways to incorporate Cuisenaire rods into our days.

Basic Math Facts

As we worked our way through Year 1 of the Mathematics Enhancement Programme (MEP), I found the rods to be an invaluable aid.  Math isn’t Ian’s strongest subject, and I love the way the rods ensure that he can really see what the numbers mean as we work through problems.  One of the struggles we’ve encountered this year is committing basic math facts to memory.  For a while we were using xtramath.org (basically online flashcard drills), but then Ian tired of that and it became a battle rather than a help.  When faced with a practice book page with a large number of problems, he’d get discouraged before he even started because it would take him so long to get through each one.  I didn’t want to just skip the problems because he does need the practice, but using counters, fingers, or a number line was taking a really long time.

Then I remembered the Cuisenaire rods and thought we’d give those a shot.  When faced with a problem like 8+5 = ?, rather than counting out all the Unifix cubes he would need (which was a great way to learn at first), it’s so quick to just grab the 8 rod and the 5 rod (easy for him because he’s used them enough to be familiar with the associated colors) and place them on our track:

P1030136It works well for subtraction too.  For example, if Ian sees 15-6=?, he takes the 6 rod, scoots it up to the 15, and then has his answer.

P1030137Being able to work through these problems quickly has totally changed his attitude, and I hope that in time the repetition will help him to memorize the facts so he won’t need to use the rods.

Education Unboxed

My latest favorite way to use the Cuisenaire rods is going through the videos at Education Unboxed.  This site has tons of homemade videos showing how one mom used the rods to teach her children, and she has shared them all for free.  I LOVE these!  I’ll get out our rods, put on a video, and then just let the kids go.  They’ll see what the girl on the screen is doing and see what the mom is explaining, and then copy or build off of that concept.

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It’s especially helpful when the daughter in the video doesn’t do what the mom wants right away and she has to really work through the thought process.  My boys have both learned a lot from these videos, and Arianna is soaking it all up as well, though right now she just enjoys playing with the blocks and sorting them or making designs.P1030118

One of the great things about going through these videos is I don’t have to tell my kids who the lesson is aimed at.  Sometimes I’ll put one on with Ian in mind, sometimes with Elijah.  Both of them love watching the little girl in the lower level videos (who is absolutely adorable) and end up working through the lesson, even if I’ve told them they can just play.  (We’ve only watched the easier videos so far, but I’m looking forward to working through all of them eventually!

Cuisenaire rods are still my number one favorite tool for teaching math, and we may just have to add another set now that we have more kids wanting to play with them!

 

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