Thursday, April 16, 2015

Orphs of the Woodlands by Star Toaster: A TOS Crew Review

Star Toaster Review
 Orphs of the Woodlands from Star Toaster is an online book, designed for kids in Grade 4 and above, which offers you much more than reading and phonics. It is “an educational journey that combines a reading adventure, an academic treasure, and a rewarding game”.

In this extremely well done program - you student gets to enter into an adventure to save the "Orphs of the Woodlands" - aka - orphaned creatures.  While on this reading adventure, they also complete activities in a variety of subjects like: math, science, vocabulary, Latin, Arts, famous quotes, music, and even cooking & recipe ideas.  This program is completely filled with learning activities, and character lessons - but, they make it all look like pure fun!

The Bentz Test Laboratory was a bit skeptical when I told them I had another "online reading program" for them to test.  But, one peek at Orphs of the Woodlands - and they were hooked.  They keep begging for more time!   The graphics are amazing, the storyline keeps you on the edge of your seat, and the activities woven seamlessly throughout don't even feel like "learning"!

In this story- The Treasure of Hightower , each of my testers completed their own "application" to become a spy and defender to the Orphs (helpless woodland orphan creatures - that will not survive without YOU!).  Each of my testers designed and named their main character - including character traits they posses..  My testers LOVED that while each of them were doing this program (up to three children) and they each had individual characters!

Over the course of 15 chapters, which your child reads independently (ideal for grades 4-7), they are taken on an adventure. Once the story has drawn them in, they get to complete activities which earn them "gold stars".  These are the currency of the Woodlands, and can be used to purchase the supplies the Orphs need to survive and thrive. 

The reader is instantly drawn into the story as a vital, providing character. My testers loved that the program remembers where you left off, and returns you to the exact spot next time you get some computer privileges from mom. (Take if from me, Mom - you will want to grant these with this program!)

Star Toaster Review
My testers appreciated that this program was teaching higher level concepts...not just the beginner level.  The vocabulary alone makes it worth getting!  Being the rescuer of the Orphs was a HUGE incentive to them as well.  Great character lessons are woven throughout the adventure.

Easy-to-create parent accounts allow you to keep track of your students progress.  Progress emails are also used to update you on what your child is working on.  This is a beautifully done program - the graphics, the design, and the story are some of the best I've encountered!

With summer break right around the corner, this is the perfect way to keep them learning - but, shhh - don't tell them... They will think this is for fun ;-) 

Go ahead and check out their FREE Trial of the first 100 pages of the book, plus more than 50 lessons.

One of our favorites by far - my testers keep begging for more!  Good news - the next edition is already in development, my testers are not-so-patiently waiting!!
Don't miss out on this one, it's a real keeper!
Star Toaster Review
See what other members of the Crew thought here
Star Toaster Review
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Wednesday, April 15, 2015

New American Cursive: Penmanship Program Workbook 1 from Memoria Press: A TOS Crew Review

Memoria Press Review

Memoria Press Review
Is cursive necessary anymore?  Many schools have opted out of teaching cursive.  However, I personally feel this is a BIG mistake! Thankfully, so does Memoria Press,   creators of New American Cursive:  Penmanship Program Workbook 1 This series is designed for your First Grader, many schools wait until Third Grade to introduce cursive, if they do at all any more. 
The Bentz Test Laboratory was super excited to get this one!  My 1st grade tester was begging me to get to start learning cursive (yes, we still teach this valuable skill at Bentz Academy).
This program is based on years of experience and features friendly "Mr. Meerkat" to guide your student through learning the simplified strokes of "New American Cursive - NAC" style. 
The author choose meerkats due to the fact they are one of the few animals that actively teach their young. (looking for more meerkat trivia - 
  My tester thinks that meerkats are the most adorable animals ever - so she was hooked before she ever opened the book!
I love the educational philosophy behind starting cursive early.  By later grades, the student has very fixed writing habits, and it is much harder to learn cursive.  This program includes some great introduction information to help you get on board , the Teaching Guide is included in the Student Workbook. 
 They even offer a supplemental "Startwrite/NAC software ($29.95) which allows you to create customized worksheets for more practice.
I found the Teacher Guide extremely helpful.  A couple of key points I want to share:
  • Cursive improves your students continuity in thought and writing - it's brain training!

  • Cursive helps improve neural connections in the brain - since my tester struggles with apraxia and dyslexia - this is a huge benefit for her!

  • Cursive is a hands-on process that develops both the mind and fine motor skills - focus, attention to detail, patience - just to name a few.

  • Cursive is more individualistic - Can you close your eyes and picture or instantly recognize your mom's handwriting?  It's much more artistic and expressive than printing.

My tester absolutely loves this program!  She's working very independently with it, and I've noticed a huge improvement in her handwriting overall.  Like I mentioned, she has several "learning gifts" that have allowed her to learn slightly differently than my other children.  This program has really boosted her confidence - afterall, she's "Only in First grade, while they didn't get to learn cursive until Third grade."

It only takes about 15 minutes a day.  Capital and lowercase letters are introduced together.  Mr. Meerkat reminds them how to position the paper, and the 3 steps to follow:  Say the Letter, Feel the Letter & Write the Letter.  Once they have completed their practice, they circle their best letter.  I really like how this encourages them to slow down and look critically at their own work.

"Fun exercises & Artwork" pages allow for them to work on connecting letters in words and a space to draw their own artwork.  Cursive encourages them to be creative!  Toward the end of the book, they are already copying the Pledge of Allegiance. 

This is one we'll keep for sure!  They have 3 workbooks in the series.  Just $22.95 each.

Other members of the Crew reviewed another Bentz Test Laboratory favorite - First Start Reading  be sure to check it out!

Memoria Press Review

See what other members of the Crew thought here
Memoria Press Review
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Wednesday, April 8, 2015

History Club - Fun!

We have been enjoying being part of a LitClub & History Club this year.  (More about LitClub later...) 

For History Club - we are walking decade by decade through the 1900's - a lot of major history during this time period! We meet once a month and discuss, then each student has an assignment to work on until the next meeting.

Their assignment has been to select 20 facts from a variety of topics  ( i.e. - famous people, inventions, music, religion, daily life, etc. ) and to put those facts on a collaborative time line (we use TimeGlider) and to integrate them together into a unified presentation.

Creativity is the key here - the sky's the limit!

I absolutely love how this has stretched my kiddos into using technology and thinking up new creative ideas every month.  We've had Prezi's, board games, even a lego creation "Decade at the Museum"  - I may need another blog post!!

This one has to be one of my favorites - the new "movie trailer"  - Hope you enjoy it too!

Wednesday, April 1, 2015

Greek Morphemes Lessons (It's NOT Greek to Me!) from Ready to Teach: A TOS Crew Review

Ready to Teach Review
Ready to Teach Review
Greek Morphemes Lessons (It's  NOT Greek to Me!) from Ready to Teach

Teacher's Manual - Includes a CD-rom with PowerPoint presentations for each lesson, quizzes, and templates for transparencies (future buyers will receive these digital files on a flash drive).

Student book - includes lessons and colored flash card pages.

Designed for secondary students, Greek Morphemes Lessons (It's NOT Greek to Me!) includes 12 lessons based on over 200 Greek morphemes (roots, prefixes, and suffixes). You can check out a sample lesson.

The Bentz Test Laboratory choose to do this program as a "class". My testers were 8th, 9th and 11th grade boys... a real lively class :-)  They were in desperate need of something to bring some excitement back into vocabulary study, and this was just the ticket!

Each lesson is divided in to several bite-sized sections designed to introduce, practice and commit these morphemes to your memory bank. 
To begin a Lesson : watch the Powerpoint presentation of the morphemes & record the meanings. There are three types being introduced: Roots - Prefixes - Suffixes

  • Assignment A - "Work" 8 new words (Assignment A). This is breaking down a word into it's morphemes systematically. Once you identify each morpheme's meaning, you come up with "MD" - my definition. The final step in working the word - look up the "DD" - dictionary definition, and see if you are as smart as the dictionary!

  • Assignment B - Repeat the "Working the Words" (Assignment B) process for the remaining 8 words in the lesson.

  • Assignment C - Create context clue sentences for any 8 of the words you have worked, and label the sentence. Also, create 2 NEW words with your new knowledge. 
  • Assignment D - Break down more words with your morphemes, and write possible definitions. Then, match the definitions to them. Can you create funny definitions? 

Create your own set of Study cards - colored templates are included in the Student Book. However, I went to the office supply store and picked up some handy notecards, already the punched and with a ring. (they are sturdier than the paper versions as well - a plus with my testers!)

Last, take a test and see what you learned!!

My Testers are willing to give most anything a try. What surprised all of us, was how much they enjoyed this easy-to-use program... It didn't need shiny, colorful, highly animated bells and whistles - it was still fun and very effective.   They worked on one assignment per day, so it was a manageable amount. Depending on your student, you can adjust the pace to their needs. By learning to look at words and "see" their parts - they are able to break down new vocabulary and build words - sorta like legos, only with morphemes! 

The repetition really cemented these useful language tools into their minds. Then, by getting to do something "hands-on" with this new found knowledge - through making study cards and creating silly new words... they kept what they learned! It's even spilling out into other subjects! Yeah!!

Vocabulary skills are extremely important for the all important college exams, but often overlooked in the secondary grades. I think Greek Morphemes Lessons (It's NOT Greek to Me!) has been the most useful program we have ever tested. It helped them learn the process to breaking down new words, and was much more fun than boring lists of words to memorize.

Definitely go and check this one out!

Birthday Season has Begun!

March is the official beginning of Birthday Season at the Bentzs!

We have tons of family traditions- my favorite is our Birthday journals.  Instead of cards,  I purchased a blank journal for each family member.  We all write a message to the Birthday person. 

What a treasure these journals are!  We read them to the Birthday person at breakfast.  It's a way to celebrate each of them, and what we love about them.  Reading back through them is a great memory book as well.

Happy Birthday to my March babies!!

Thick as Thieves from Circle C Milestones: A TOS Crew Review

Thick as Thieves Book Review

Thick as Thieves - Circle C Milestones - $9.99 plus $2.50 shipping & handling

Thick as Thieves is the first book in the Circle C Milestones series.  This 176 page, 26 chapter book is set in the 1880's.  Circle C is a ranch in California.  The main character, Andrea Carter, is a horse-loving 14 year-old girl.   To begin Andi's saga - check out the Circle C Beginnings (ages 6-9), Circle C Adventures (ages 9-14) Circle C Milestones are great for ages 12 and up.  For your sons, check out Goldtown Adventures (ages 8-12).

Horses, Horses, Horses!  Anyone else out there have a horse-crazy daughter like me?  My newly 12 year old daughter has an equine love affair going on... 

When I told her that Susan K. Marlow has a new series,  she jumped up and down!  A huge fan of her other books - she begged (yes, really!) for the new book - Thick as Thieves.  When the book arrived, my daughter disappeared.  She could not put it down!

From the first pages, you are caught up into Andi's world.  She is a plucky, strong, and Godly character.  My tester loves Andi - she's a horse lover, she's got annoying older brothers, and she loves Palominos (so, basically - "she's just like me, Mom!")  This is one of the parts I love best!  It's hard to find fiction for our young ladies that shows them a character that they can use as a role model.  However, this series is a perfect fit - great characters, interesting settings, and a plot that draws you in.  

This is a great addition to our American history studies.  Historical fiction brings the time period to life - the 1880's.  The author weaves suspense and surprise into the story and has you at the edge of your seat.

My tester has really enjoyed growing up with Andi - and living the horse-lovin' life through her eyes.  Since we are smack dab in the middle of suburbia,  this is a wonderful way for her to escape to a different time and place.

Susan K. Marlow's books are more than just an enjoyable read,  woven throughout are valuable life lessons for your children to learn as well.  Friendship is a main theme in this story as Andi must learn to overcome differences and trust others.

Be sure to check out the FREE - downloadable Study Guide - 40-page study guide contains not only vocabulary and comprehension questions, but also further explorations of the themes in the book, including the care of horses and a closer look at some of the places that Andi would have been exposed to in her late 19th century lifetime. There are crossword puzzles, diagrams, a foal timeline to fill in, and even math problems from 1880. We learned about lice, cattle rustling, and the Palace Hotel in San Francisco. This additional resource turns this into a fun unit study for your horse lovers!

You can also check out Andi's Blog - a fun way to learn more about her and her life.  Pictures of Andi and her family, ranch news and more - a great place to visit!

You can read a sample chapter of the book here - Warning - you'll be hooked!

Circle C Milestones Book 2, Heartbreak Trail, coming July 2015

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Read what other members of the Crew thought here

Koru Naturals Review

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Thursday, March 26, 2015

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