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Archive for the ‘Blind and DeafBlind Product Reviews’ Category


 

You can find all of my articles including those on the now-closed Homeschool Mosaics site at Tactile View.org . The adventures of my life in the Dark Silence continues there with a few surprises, too. Follow along! I would love to see there.

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TeenCoder™ Logo image of professor reclining by the words TeenCoder Java Series.

I used to love programming, and I still love to watch my students learning to love programming. There have only been a few homeschooling programming curriculum choices, and we have used them. They are usually limited to basic stuff and not much in the way of modern languages. Past that, we introduce students to the various industry standards available at most local bookstores in the computer section. I go back to BASIC, Fortran, and COBOL (shh, like any respectable programmer from way back when, I am not really admitting that I know COBOL), so yeah, I’m old and old school. Having had to learn so much over again in life like reading, living skills, computer skills using assistive technology because I am Deaf and blind, I have lost much of my interest in programming at this age and time. However, there are many DeafBlind programmers in the industry, so it can be done. As a teacher though, I am always looking for good curriculum even for programming. I recently got the chance to review Homeschool Programming.com’s TeenCoder™: Java Programming course.

 

With TeenCoder™ courses, you get everything you need to learn and apply the skills taught for a good solid foundation. Course begins with using the basic textedit/notepad and terminal for hand coding and compiling for your first program which is the famous “Hello, World” popular since the beginning days of programmings. The course carries you through Strings, User Input, Basic Flow Control, Debugging, Object-Oriented Java, Graphical Java, Swing Input Controls, Arrays and Collections, Derived Classes, and more. Every concept you need to jump start your learning and carry you through to more formal applications. Explanations are clear and easy to understand with the why you do it fully covered. Activities are fun and apply the concepts learned well. There is plenty to allow you to build your expertise as you move through the chapters. Solutions are provided including screen shots to help you know what you are supposed to get. As you step into development packages, the course recommends and uses free software and gives detailed instructions for downloading and installing. You do not need to purchase anything beyond the course materials to complete the course. Having used other course materials and industry-standard, I can tell you that this textbook is a much better read.

 

My fellow reviewers at Mosaics Reviews have spent a lot of time with this course and other TeenCoder™ courses, too. I will let you read their detailed reviews and opinions here. As usual, my main objective when possible, is accessibility. Several felt that their students enjoyed the courses and could easily do the work on their own which is a plus for a family where the parent may not be into computers, especially programming. I know my students were reluctant to stop the course each day wanting to continue through more than one subject time. That sounds like a win to me. Another parent and I both agree that with other courses used or industry-standard texts the students just didn’t seem to learn much. These TeenCoder™ courses seem to get much more information across and allows the student to really be able to apply the concepts to very detailed activities. One parent stated that their student did the work on their own, but got  great help from TeenCoder™ staff when he emailed them directly about a problem. Some of the courses have videos available to according to one parent who used them. That could be a great help to some parents. Read the detailed reviews to get even more  information and tips.

Accessibility is the big question for me and my students always. My regular students loved the program and took off with it with almost no help from me or anyone. My blind and DeafBlind students along with me struggled at first trying to read the book. We had assistants sign in ASL or read the book to us which was slow, but because the book was so well-written we were all able to accomplish the tasks. The fun was there, but dampened some by the lack of true accessibility. I asked the developers if they would send us some accessible documents for the time-being because I felt from what we had done that the course materials could be useful and easily made accessible. They, after some thought, did so which I commend them for because giving strangers full access to your hard work can be scary. Upon looking at the materials, their were only a few images that wouldn’t be accessible to a screen reader and/or braille display which made it wonderful to us. Most everything including the code boxes to show exactly how the code was to look was actually text-based making it accessible to us. The few images could easily be tagged and the information listed as text, too, with little work. The document with the most images, of course, was the solutions book, but there were few screen shots even in that book. Almost everything had been described in text and text-based boxes. Perfect!

 

By making the books available through iBooks or e-pub formats from text-based source documents or through Bookshare.org, Homeschool Programming could offer their courses to not only regular education students, but also print disabled including dyslexics, blind, and DeafBlind with very little extra work and no extra expense. That would be a win for everyone as it would widen their market to all students and even schools.

 

Worried about the software they use for developing? Well, the textedit and terminal programs for hand-coding is text-based and naturally accessible. Their choice of Eclipse for IDE or Integrated Development Environments is perfect. It is almost totally accessible already. We found the tab close buttons were not linked to the screen reader, so we couldn’t close those, but opened tabs didn’t hinder us in any way. All of the instructions could be easily followed as listed by commands, instead of with the mouse as intended, of course. We used the command listings as is to use the menus for access. The initial screen had an image-based click environment where you had to click an image of an arrow. Of course, our screen reader couldn’t see that arrow image, but in the menu we were able to get get past the initial “desktop” image to get to the actual workbench area. Once there, we could use the keyboard to follow the steps in either the work area or the top menu to navigate, open files, type code, run programs, etc. Now, we are slower, especially since we didn’t have accessible documents in the beginning, but we are picking up speed now. Our fastest student has made it through Chapter 13 of 16 chapters which goes through page 262 of 310 including the Index. That chapter began activities that sight would seem beneficial to understand if you had never had sight. We had student assistants help our student with tactile representations of the images to give him the grasp of what the program was trying to accomplish. However, other activities to come shouldn’t be that difficult because all of our students play chess and other similar type games, so we should be able to understand the reading and some 3D representations of the visual aspects of the program will certainly help us know what the program is designed to do on screen for visual users. With that understanding, we blind and deafblind programmers can code visual games, too. This course will really go a along way helping our blind and deafblind students enhance their mental mapping skills, too.

 

This is a screen shot showing the working braille window in the Eclipse IDE program.

This is a screen shot showing the working braille window in the Eclipse IDE program.

As far as the few accessibility problems with Eclipse IDE, the program is totally usable, and we will contact the developers of this freeware program to help them make the few adjustments to accessibility. Even if that doesn’t change, this course is beneficial and usable to all populations if the interest to learn exist. Hopefully, the few statements needed to explain to blind and deafblind users how to follow the steps through the menu  instead of the mouse and the other couple of modifications or lack of access can be added to the course instructions because they really would be only simple additions. If the Homeschool Programming staff will make the course available through Apple’s iBooks or bookshare.org, we know we can learn programming through their material, and that would make us very happy, indeed!

 

The company has many different courses and different levels, too, so you need to check out their  web site athttp://homeschoolprogramming.com. The TeenCoder™:Java Programming can be purchased as textbook only $75, videos only $20, or package of book and videos $90. Videos, according to one parent may not be detailed, complete lessons, but can be very useful especially for those whose learning styles use multiple visual inputs and/or auditory input. Unfortunately, the videos are not closed captioned, so they are not useful for deaf students overly. That could be easily fixed, so maybe the company will do that in the future.This is an excellent course to introduce and build programming skills in Java. In fact, this old programmer may have just gotten interested again because the accessibility proved to me that I don’t have to start over learning again! Thanks, Homeschool Programming. You made my day for sure!

I have received a copy of the above product to help facilitate a frank and honest review. A positive review is not guaranteed. All opinions are my own. Your results and opinions may vary.

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discovery-kitMany students struggle with learning to read. Many also learn to read despite poor teaching as more and more schools leave out phonics and reading fundamentals. Students who do well regardless of teaching seem to pick up on these basics naturally. They may not understand what they are doing completely, but the students sense these elements and use them to recognize words and meanings. Other students with and without learning difficulties may not fully sense these factors, and it hinders their reading development. What is needed is a a program that teaches reading basics well and in a multi-sensory method allowing it to be more beneficial for all types of students. One such program was sent to me a few months ago to review. I have been using it with several students since then with great success. One student is a five year old beginning reader. This student is fairly average in all ways except amazing cuteness. Another is a high schooler with learning disabilities including dyslexia who continues to struggle with reading. One is blind and hard of hearing and is nine. Two others are six and seven and have some mild learning issues. The program is Reading Horizons: Discovery. There is an online version. I won’t be reviewing it due to accessibility issues because I am DeafBlind. The website listed below has a page that lists reviews for their products from independent bloggers like myself. You can check out the other reviews for this program and the online program, too.

The introduction to Reading Horizons Discovery states, “Reading Horizons Discovery is an explicit, systematic, research-based phonics program based on the Reading Horizons method. Multi-sensory techniques are employed via direct instruction and the use of interactive computer software programs. The manuals and computer software are correlated to support each other, but each can be used independently of the other for instructional purposes. All students can benefit from using the explicit, sequential, direct instruction the Reading Horizons method has to offer.” The program is ideally suited for students with learning disabilities including those with dyslexia, but it is also very beneficial to all students because of its multi-sensory techniques and methods that integrates not only phonics, but also basic language arts skills. In addition, vocabulary development and spelling are integral parts of the program.

Providing posters, worksheets, software, online support, Reading Horizons’ method, in a nutshell attempt, involves using hand directions to dictate a letter, sound, or word, use hand directions to receive that letter, sound, or word repeated by the student. The letters, sounds, or words are dictated twice and the students repeat twice. The students will then write the letter, sound, or word once. These aspects helped the student to learn to focus and prepare to listen carefully. Another aspect of the method, is the markings and slide which are taught early on and used throughout the program. The program teaches 42 sounds of the alphabet. The vowel “a” is taught first. The consonant “b” is next. The slide is then introduced to teach, emphasize, and remind students to slide from the consonant to the vowel sound smoothly developing fluid pronunciation from the beginning. In word decoding as the students progress, students learn to mark the vowel first. Then slide through pronunciation of the consonant and vowels before adding the ending sound. The program teaches not only phonics, but also phonological awareness besides just phonemes, all of which is imperative for developing good reading skills for all students including dyslexics. The well-designed program of Reading Horizons ensures that these skills are not only learned, but mastered. The thorough teacher’s manual including complete, scripted lesson plans helps the busy teacher with lots of Reading experience and the less experienced teacher in the classroom or home.

Reading Horizons Discovery program is suitable for many types of students because it is multi-sensory and that phonics and phonological awareness are emphasized. What about other Special Needs besides Learning Disabled or developmentally delayed, for example? In my case, that question would be, “is it Deaf, Blind, and DeafBlind suitable?” Obviously, there are some that the program or any program based on auditory alone or visual alone would not work. With modifications, it could work for those who are hard of hearing, hearing blind, low vision, and DeafBlind who have some residual sight and hearing. As always, if you wish to try this program with these populations, you must focus on modifying the material and the methods emphasizing the primary mode of communication. Use ASL or a visual communication mode to go along with the hand motions of the program to ensure that the student understands the letters and words being taught. For low vision students, use larger print. For braille users after tactile readiness has been developed, you might think that there is no point, but many braille courses for young learners puts little focus on phonics or phonological awareness. Braille is still reading, but recognizing letters and words by feel, so the need for phonics and phonological awareness is still there and should be emphasized more to improve reading skills. Also, homeschoolers, who are an audience of my blog, often find that braille curriculum is too expensive for them and their blind students to use. Therefore, it is often necessary to modify regular programs for braille learners. Using the auditory cues of dictate and repeat either with or without tactile hand motions (DeafBlind, especially need), the student will still be taught to focus and prepare to listen carefully. Marking can be done verbally to note aspects such as finding and identifying the vowel sound first as can “slide” where the vocal or tactile motions are the reminder for the steps to help the students decode the words they feeling with their fingers. For those with less sight and hearing, we were using these signals both verbally and with hand motions that the student could feel with their hands as we spoke the reminders. At first, you would think this must be frivolous additions, but we have been finding these techniques are useful for helping students decode regardless of their learning issue. It was an easy task, too, understanding what the markings and motions were intended for to modify the techniques as needed while working with our students who have varying degrees of hearing and vision loss. For those who use less speech, their comprehension was occasionally gauged more on their signs and fingerspelling, though most had some ability to speak and/or receiving speech therapy time. Even the braille learner used the techniques while reading with fingers. We did the steps after the student read the individual letters first and indicated what the letter was. Then used the steps to indicate what the sounds were followed by using a motion of the hand forward to indicate the slide (the word “slide” was also spoken)  as the slide of the sounds (ex. fa) was then pronounced verbally. As with anything, some of our initial modifications were cumbersome or ineffective, but we recognized that the system can be useful if we are thoughtful of the purposes of the techniques and adjust as needed. The best educational research always goes on in the grassroots of  the individual classroom.

This has been a description of Reading Horizons Discovery in a nutshell. There is no way to cover it well here or cover the many types of students and how the program can be modified to help these special populations. I also know that there is no one program, text-based or software, that is suitable for all students. I can say that Reading Horizons Discovery does work for those I am working with and can for many others. As in my own case, I always have to be creative when using some product, but it is often worth the effort. Reading Horizons Discovery was worth the effort for me and several of my students.

Pricing information for the Discovery at Home reading set is as follows:

Discovery Product      Pricing 

Discovery Online Software     $  199.00

Discovery Instructor Materials     $  299.00

Discovery Software and Instructor Material Bundle     $  439.00

Discovery Little Books Grades 1-3     $  159.00

Discovery Little Books Kindergarten     $    29.99

To learn more about Reading Horizons Discovery program, go to http://www.readinghorizons.com.

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Girl Budgeting

Growing up, I liked the things it could bring when I had it evidenced by my circling toys and dog-earring pages of my much loved “Sears Wish Book” catalog each year.  If I wanted a coke, I walked from the house down the country road into the little town looking for empty glass coke bottles that I would return for money. I usually found enough to buy me a coke and occasionally enough to also get peanuts to put inside the bottle to eat as I drank my coke. If I was really lucky, I got enough empties to get a Moonpie with the coke instead. Ah, those were the simple days. I cared little for learning about money. At six, my parents got me a savings account with a small deposit. I added birthday and Christmas money to it when I got it. I received an allowance. I could save it longer term if I had something I wanted that required more than a few allowances. At sixteen, my parents opened a checking account for me. I received $100.00 per month then to buy gas for the old family car that I now drove and buy whatever I needed. I learned the ways of checking accounts, budgets, and such the hard way. Saving, though, didn’t come quickly. I was well into my adult years and had a family of my own, struggling, before I took that seriously. I believe many children may be like me, though. School never covered these topics, even economics. A little help might have gone a long way. Recently, FamilyMint sent me a simple, but thorough course to review. Let me tell you about it.

The FamilyMint Money Management Certification program is a work book program ideally suited for students  in grades 5 and up. Children from age 6-14 with parental involvement can benefit, though. The booklet is about fifty-seven pages long including printable pages of checks, deposit slips, check registers, budget planning forms, and exercise assignments. The booklet can be used as a stand-alone product or with their online software which provides a simulation of the more modern way to do your banking tasks, web banking. After instructions on how to use the course, there are four chapters on Tracking Your Money, Goal Setting, Budgeting, and Interest-Growing $. There are topic related exercises in each chapter with an overall, learning summary at the end which is a short essay form to allow the student to describe in their own words what they have learned throughout the course. Though filled with vocabulary and concept type questions to aid comprehension assessment, the assignments are actually more project-based allowing the student to set up a virtual bank account (either on paper or online through the web banking simulation) to practice hands-on the elements of financial literacy. The student begins by making a deposit and listing it on the General Savings Tracking Worksheet which can be copied from the book or printed from or kept on-line, and then start keeping a record of all money coming in and going out. This begins the process of discovering how the student uses money and begins thinking about the best ways to manage money.

The chapters include clear, concise explanation of concepts and a vocabulary list. The lists of vocabulary are in sidebars on the pages that use those words. Throughout the reading, the vocabulary words are found in bold print to draw attention to how the vocabulary words are used in context. You have definition and context use within close proximity to enhance comprehension without breaking the flow to go back to a main list of definitions. There are also “Fun Money Fact” boxes throughout the chapter giving extra, tidbits of information that interesting to remember. The chapters end with exercises designed to give the students hands-on practice over the chapter’s objectives.

I love the fact that the material is not overwhelming, but still covers all of the essentials of good money management. Also, the pace can easily be set by the student, and the parent can decide when the material is mastered by observing the performance progress. I also loved the ways that the author explained interest. The student could easily relate and see the concept, especially if they actually do the activity the illustration describes. Now, the program might could cover more topics, but for the age range, it covers the essentials and does it pretty well for most students. Parental involvement, which they encourage, will help others ease into the material.

Unfortunately, being Deaf and blind, I can’t review the web site, though I was given access, because the site uses Adobe Flash which is totally unaccessible to a braille display and screen reader. I will have to leave that part of the review to others on the Mosaics Review Team. I hope the developers will look into ways of making their site accessible in the near future.

As far as the text-based curriculum, I had to scan it in with optical character recognition software to reduce it to a text document that would allow me to read it in braille. That isn’t easy because that doesn’t always work overly well even with the best of copies. There are usually mistakes that I may or may not be able to figure out by myself. Hopefully, the program can be provided to Bookshare.org, so that organization can provide it to blind and dyslexic students in various formats. As far as the checks and deposit slip templates, they can be used with check writing guides or even made tactile enough with wax pencils are puffy paint lines. The other forms like check registers and tracking logs and goal sheets can be recreated in a text file in a more understandable format for the blind and DeafBlind. Hearing blind can usually use talking software like Money Talks from American Printing House for the Blind. We have been using the program with an older Special Needs student with developmental delays with great success. The key, of course, is parent involvement. A parent who is also teacher knows what their child can grasp and how to best present it to them for best reception. The Family Mint Money Management Certification program covers the essentials in a clear way which should give the parents the tools they need to teach these financial essentials to most students capable of using the daily services of a bank and preparing financially for the future.

The program has several pricing options that make it affordable. If you don’t wish to use the internet, then purchase only the workbook. Normally, the subscription service for the online software is $24.99 per year or $4.95 per month which allows multiple student accounts. However, you can not purchase the workbook and get the premium upgrade for a lifetime subscription to the online software usable by multiple students for $29.99. If you wish to try the online program first to see if it suits your needs, you can get a 14 day trial subscription for free. There are some features of the paid version that you will not have access to with the free trial, but the trial does give you access to the basics needed. You can also order additional workbooks, if needed, for 50% off. The program, written by MBAs has won numerous awards. After using the program, I feel I can completely recommend it for teaching the appreciation of money and financial planning.

To check it out further, go to http://www.familymint.com.

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Homeschool Mosaics has now published two wonderful e-books full of so many blessings for you and your family. The first is called Sanity Savers, and it is full of ways to save your sanity in household tasks, homeschool tasks, and more. The other is called Christmas Blessings, and that is certainly what you will get plenty of from this e-book, lots of blessings. The e-books are in Kindle format at present, so they aren’t braille accessible, but Kindle has text to speech capability, so it will be accessible for many of you. You really need to check them out. You can find them at Amazon right now. You will always be able to find them on Amazon.com by searching for Homeschool Mosaics. For now, I have the link for you here.

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Thinkwell is an online math education site. I have heard so much about it that I thought I would try it out. I wanted to see if it was accessible for the deaf, blind, and deafblind. I also wanted to see if the program would be suitable for an accredited umbrella program that required the parent-teacher to submit documentation such as copies of tests and grades for credit. I had heard from many that it covered several age levels from middle school through high school and Advanced Placement and college level, too. While educationally, it might not be a suitable option for everyone, the program is high quality and proves beneficial to many.

While, I may not be discussing the academic portions of this program, I will quickly describe it to you. There are numerous chapters in each course covering a full curriculum of objectives for each course. Each chapter has a video lecture followed by practice assignments, a quiz, and a chapter test. There are also interactive activities for added interest, practice, and enrichment. Along with that, you will also find printable worksheet type exercises for off-line practice, too.  A fellow contributing writer and co-founder of Homeschool Mosaics reviewed this site a few months ago following actually using the programs for two years with her own son. You can get her educated opinion by reading her review on Homeschool Mosaics here:  http://homeschoolmosaics.com/thinkwell-for-math/ .

Now, let me tell you what I found out in regards to accessibility and umbrella programs. Although, the site isn’t totally accessible to a braille display, I was impressed by how much the site developers did try to consider handicapped students. Their lecture videos which are the key to the program are closed captioned. You can turn them on from the buttons at the bottom of the video window. In addition, I was shocked to see that they had a complete print transcript of the video’s audio with detailed descriptions of the examples written on a chalkboard in the video. This would make it very easy for a hearing blind student to follow the video during play. It also would make it possible for a blind student to use a screen reader to read the transcript for the video to further understand the teacher’s lecture. A deaf student could also use the transcript to augment the closed captioning, if needed, since the problem examples are described well. In addition, the transcript file is a text .pdf making it accessible to a braille display, too, so a deafblind student could use this transcript to access the all-important teacher lecture. I highly commend the site developers for taking this much needed, but rare extra step to add accessibility to the site. Normally, the deafblind student would not have the ability to use a site at all even if a transcript is provided, since most provide image-based rather than text-based .pdf files. The practice worksheets, quizzes, and tests that I have mentioned that follow each video lecture are also available in two formats:  the online, computer checked format and the .pdf format. There is no audio connected with the practice tests, quizzes or tests, so a deaf student can easily take the on-line test to receive their results. A hearing blind student can possible do the on-line format with the screen reader. I can’t verify that because I am DeafBlind, so I am unsure if the screen reader is voicing the on-line version. Regardless, the .pdf format of the worksheets, quizzes, and tests are also text-based instead of image-based, so a braille display will be able to read these. To facilitate this use, open the on-line version and let the student orally answer or open .pdf version , print,  and use a braille and slate to record the answers for these assignments. The teacher can then use the on-line format to record the student’s answers for computer grading and record-keeping.  This is definitely an easy way to do the program for the blind and deafblind. There are some animated flash interactive activities that are not accessible for blind and deafblind and possibly not to the deaf for the ones that have audio that is needed for completing the task. However, these are enrichment activities that are not critically needed to ensure successful completion of the courses. Although the blind and deafblind can’t do the entire site independently, the quality of the education is high, and there is sufficient access along with a simple step for modification to make this program a beneficial choice to those students who are already good with using a computer with a screen reader and/or braille display. So, if you need or want an on-line choice for your student’s math curriculum, Thinkwell is a beneficial option to try.

In addition to usable access for the disabled, Thinkwell pleases me as Principal of an accredited homeschool umbrella program, too. Regardless to whether the program is a divided home/center program or a home only program such as mine for the most part, Thinkwell has the capability to fit your documentation and contact hour requirements. The courses cover objectives for each subject and level well with suitable instruction and practice for a typical school year. All assignments can be printed as blank assignments to be used for on-site observation, as needed. Completed on-line activities can be printed with answers to show correct/incorrect questions specifically, as well as, the overall grade on the assignment. In addition, there is a suitable number of activities to allow for the programs that meet one, two, or three days a week and allow for practice at home through practice worksheets and interactive activities, as needed. Since there are also courses that are Advanced Placement level, students in these programs have access to AP materials that can be difficult for some students to obtain easily or affordably. Some colleges also use Thinkwell to provide actual college courses for them, so that adds to the evidence that Thinkwell provides quality instruction with a high quality content level, too.

A twelve month subscription to Thinkwell is $125-$150 for full year, full credit course, but there are many places that provide discount codes if you look for them. Either way, it isn’t too bad for a high quality program that is accessible and suitable for many accredited umbrella programs, too. You can find out more at http://www.thinkwellhomeschool.com/.

 

I was not asked by Thinkwell or anyone else to review this program. I chose it to review to provide options for disabled students and students involved in umbrella programs. I did use their advertised free trial to gain access to the program as any consumer can do. I have not and will not be compensated in any way for this review. The review expresses my honest opinion of this program.

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Knot Genie actually lives up to its name! I recently received one free to use and then write a review. I wasn’t expecting anything much to come out of it, but I have very, very thick, long hair. Morning brushing is always painful, but I considered it part of the deal for wanting long hair. In truth, my hair still was tangled when I had short hair. I live by my great-grandmother’s adage of brushing your hair one hundred strokes a day and always have, but it seemed to do little to help my tangles.
After a recent hospitalization that kept me in bed sleeping for days on end, I found myself finally better the day before release and needed to brush my hair. I had terrible knots and mats in it. We washed it with one of the hospital’s chemical type –no shampoo- things, wet it, and anything we could think of, but we just couldn’t get a brush or comb through it at all. My husband wound up cutting some of the knots out. I knew I never wanted that to happen again.
Then a few weeks ago, this review request came through my email. I decided to go for it. What could I lose? Well, I received the Knot Genie in the mail and began using it. It looks similar to a clam shell with no handle. It is made with very light-weight plastic. A hard rubbery type plastic is used for the bristles that are of different sizes. Knot Genie claims that the different sizes and bendable bristles are the key to how the KnotGenie works so well. The rubbery plastic slides over the lip of the harder plastic side that is styled similar to the old clam-shell brushes of old. The brush is almost bigger than my hand, so it did make it a bit uncomfortable for me to grasp and hold on to it. I repeatedly dropped it on the floor as I tried to brush through the back of my hair. It would hit the linoleum floor with a clatter and come apart. It was easy to put back together, but dropping it was a bit annoying. Their web site does show two sizes. I got the silver regular size. I didn’t think I had small hands, but maybe I do. They have a Teeny size one, too, that seems a little smaller.
I stopped using my regular brush the day I got the Knot Genie. I had used my regular brush about a week since last pulling all of the hair out of it that the brush pulls from my hair because it gets so tangled. Now, after using the Knot Genie for almost four weeks, I can see a real difference. It doesn’t hurt to brush my hair in the mornings. That is hard to prove, though. So, I took pictures of something that most of us don’t really want to see and never want to show others. I took pictures of both my brush and the Knot-Genie. If you get get past the fact that it is hair, a stranger’s hair, you should see what I mean. Remember, I had used my original brush for only about a week before it was overdue for a cleaning. I used the Knot-Genie for almost a month. During that time, I also used a rare weekend with nothing to do outside of the house to stay in bed, read, rest from an allergy attack, and just not brush my hair at all. I used the long, Columbus Day weekend, so I had Friday evening through Tuesday morning to go without brushing my hair at all. I even skipped my evening one hundred stroke brushing while watching TV ritual. Tuesday morning, I had plenty of tangles, but other than a few snags that came out fairly easily following the Knot-Genie’s instructions, I had an easy time brushing my hair that morning. Now, the proof is in the pudding, I hear, so brace yourself and take a look at these two pictures. You decide.

My original brushed which is overflowing with hair after a week from cleaning.

My original brushed which is overflowing with hair after a week from cleaning.

Knot Genie brush I used for 4 weeks with a lot less hair than my original.

Knot Genie brush I used for 4 weeks with a lot less hair than my original.

Well, it seems pretty clear to me! I think Knot-Genie won the “Battle of the Brushes”! If you want to try one, the manufacturers are giving my readers a deal! The regular prices are $19.99 and $14.99 for the Teeny with both sizes coming in lots of colors.  IF you use this link, you, my readers, get $4.00 off, so why not give it a try? Click here for a U. S. Family coupon for Knot Genie.
After printing your coupon, go to Knot Genie http://www.knotgeniestore.com/Shop-Now_3 to pick up your brush that “magically gets rid of knots, not to mention complaining.”

I was given a free product to write this review, but the opinion here is entirely my own. I have not been compensated in any other way for this review.

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I was recently asked by Critical Thinking Company to review a couple of their products with my students. I didn’t hesitate because I have reviewed some of their products before and felt that they can be useful products. Worksheets and work booklets can often be used for nothing more than busy work and lead to a lack of progress, but if the sheets are well-produced to teach specific concepts and used appropriately by a teacher, benefits can be provided. Critical Thinking Company has a variety of work booklets that do present specific concepts well. I was sent two different topics for two different ability levels. I will begin here with the elementary level for grades 2-3 called “Editor In Chief: Beginning 1”.

This new booklet is the first in the Editor In Chief series, though the series has been in publication for many years. This is an addition as the publisher takes the series to earlier ages which had already been expanded to cover eight levels for grades 2-12+. There are sixteen lessons across sixty-seven pages of content including multiple review pages. Each lesson covers a specific concept from capitalization to verb tenses to subject/verb agreement to homophones and everything in between. Each lesson presents the rules for the concept and ample practice exercises. The publisher states the booklet can be used in individual and group activity for instruction, reinforcement, practice, and assessment of English grammar and mechanics. There are multiple selections to provide instructional examples and others for assessment of student understanding. There are mini reviews and reviews provided throughout the lessons to provide short-term and long-term assessment during the use of the material. Each lesson is also pre-perforated to allow easy removal for use. Answers are also provided in the back of the booklet. The writing samples are varied and interesting to most students to provide motivation to focus on the lesson. In each of the lessons, I, especially, like the list of rules stated clearly with a good example as the introduction to the concept. The rules are not buried in narrative making them easier to refer to as the student progresses through the exercises. Thus, the student frequently reads the rules while making decisions about its use case by case aiding retention and application. Another good feature for this level is the marking of the number and type of errors to the right of each selection. If there are two comma errors and four contraction errors, each are listed with the number of circles with the number inside the circle, so the student knows what to look for and can mark them off as they find them. This guides the student and helps to prevent frustration and possible loss of interest. Editing your writing is always the best way to reinforce your learning. These exercises teach these skills that are often only vaguely learned rules with no grasp of how they are used. Editor In Chief can go a long way helping to improve your student’s writing.

For regular and Special Needs students, the booklet uses a clear, crisp font and a large size for easy reading of the rules and the exercises. Spaces are placed between the lines of the paragraphs making them easier to read and mark to correct errors. The error-tallying feature is also great for some Special Needs students that need more structure and guidance along the way. The age and grade levels are marked, but I also found the Editor In Chief: Beginning 1 useful for high school students who had significant issues with certain concepts or had lower reading levels. The simplicity of the writing samples helped many of the older student’s practice the skills they had not mastered earlier without needing to focus heavily on content helping them to concentrate on rules and practice for retention. The short samples on various and more interesting topics also helped me with providing instruction to my blind and DeafBlind students. Being short, but interesting, I could quickly and easily braille them for use by my blind students to supplement their limited and expensive curriculums. I would like to suggest to educational providers to consider providing for a cost an additional .txt file with the purchase of their booklets for teachers such as I who need more materials that can be embossed in braille for our blind and DeafBlind students.

Critical Thinking Company’s Editor In Chief: Beginning 1 can be used in many ways to help a student. This booklet and many others on various topics in Language, Math/Science, and logical thinking can be found on their web site, http://www.criticalthinking.com. Editor In Chief: Beginning 1 is available for $14.99. This series is a fun way to improve your child’s writing by learning the skills and learning to apply them.

Look for my review here of Critical Thinking Company’s Mathematical Reasoning: Middle School Supplement in a few days. You won’t be disappointed.

Though I was provided a product to review for this blog, I have not been compensated in any other way, and the opinion expressed here is entirely my own.

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I have often been asked for products that teach the concepts of fractions besides the old and possibly tired fraction pie resource. TOS Crew has reviewed a few good and different ones in that you can check out in the Blog Cruise archives. Recently, though, a couple of fun game products were sent to us to review that I think are quite unique. If your student really doesn’t feel motivated to learn fractions, the one I was sent is definitely worth a try. Fractazmic is a fun game that teaches fractions and numbers and measurement. And did I mention that it is a game! What better way to learn!

The basics of the game are to create a hand and have the most hands before any player runs out of cards. A hand is created by adding together the fraction cards of the same suit to equal one. There are three suits in three different colors. The sixteenths suit is red, the twelfths suit is blue, and the tenths suit is green. Within a suit, the cards show fractions that can be added together. When you have cards that total together to equal 1 in that suit, you have a hand. For example, in the twelfths suit or blue cards, you might have ¼ and 1/3 and 5/12. Those fractions when changed to equivalent fractions with the same denominator can be added to equal 1 such as 3/12 plus 4/12 plus 5/12 equals 12/12 or 1. Using graphical depictions on the colorful cards, the student can quickly make the mental calculations required while learning and reinforcing the concepts of equivalent fractions and adding of fractions. Each suit uses a different application for representation of the fraction amount such as eggs in a cartoon for the twelfths suit, water in a water bottle for the tenths suit, and a close up view of a ruler for the sixteenths suit thus teaching the concepts of numbers, fractions, and measurement. To aid even further the quick mental calculation, the ruler graphic used in the sixteenths suit also depicted cute little brown ants and green grasshoppers to visually and quickly see one sixteenth unit and 4 sixteenths units. This visually helps the student to remember that 1 grasshopper is 2/8 or 4/16 allowing for quick denominator change and adding along with the addition of the number of ants to better see and calculate the ones. This is an excellent use of visuals for mental calculation and concept reinforcement.

Along with the colorful concept depictions, the game play is simple and fast moving to motivate and encourage even the most reluctant of math learners. The play really does make it fun while teaching the complex concepts and the “why it works” behind the math.

Many special needs populations should benefit from the colorful representations of the fractions in comparison of equivalency especially learning disabled students. I will give suggestions for modifying the cards or adding to the cards that can work, especially if you wish to include your special needs students in play with your other students. These are merely suggestions. You may feel that they are more complex or work intensive than the benefit brings. You can decide that for yourself. If you have students who really need more tactile and kinesthetic representations, start with tutor-aided demonstration games where the student has a tutor to help him manipulate real objects of an egg carton with wooden or plastic eggs, a liter water bottle with the same graduated increments (if the student needs more than just counting the line markings to visually see the amount, use a clear water bottle and pre-measured colored plastic page strips that can be slipped inside the bottle to represent water to the desired level), and an oversized ruler or card-drawn ruler (if needed or to add more textured manipulation for the student who needs multisensory input to attach meaning to objects and words, and allow for the same visual effect for quick mental calculation, use appropriately sized models of an ant and a grasshopper). For blind and DeafBlind students, I would use the real objects first to help the student grasp the representation of the fraction and addition of fractions. The cards are easily brailled with the fractions each card represents and the word name or fraction name with the word suit to distinguish suit differences. After the student fully grasps the object representations, tactile markings can be placed on the cards to remind the student of the components for calculation. Or the cards can be brailled with the additional cell for the suit fraction such as the ¼ card of the twelfths suit can be brailled with “3 eggs” or the 3/12 fraction cells. Thus, the card would have the ¼ braille cells (with or without the number braille sign), the word twelfths or the number 12 and ths cells for 12ths representing the suit, and the braille cells for 3/12 or “3 eggs to cover all of the needed information to play the game successfully depending on the memory aids needed for the student. It must be noted that tactile markings and braille cells will make it necessary to be gentler when shuffling and during game play. Tactile markings may have to be reapplied occasionally, too. Again, these modifications are just ways to try to make the cards more useful to more student populations.

Fractazmic can be found at http://www.fractazmic.com for just $6.95. The website also describes other ways to play and listings of other great card games to learn other math concepts.

 

To read other reviews about this product and others from The Old SchoolHouse Crew, go to the TOS Crew blog.

Though I was provided a product to review for this blog, I have not been compensated in any other way, and the opinion expressed here is entirely my own.

 

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As in a recent post, I mentioned that I have taught many subjects in public, private, and homeschools over the years. Technology is one of them. My students always seemed to love robotics. Recently, I was sent a neat little robot kit called “Bug” from TeacherGeek. Most robot kits are that I have used over the years are similar even if the theme was different. This one’s theme was a bug. There were a couple of differences though to this that I like.

One difference from the kits I have had in the past was the fact that once you built the robot using the instructions and then programming it once in some way either by a device on the robot itself that let you do minimal directional changes or the robot merely would go until it hit something and then change directions via a sensor or you used a very simple computer software program to give limited directions. Now as a teacher, I had access to other ways and programming languages to do more advanced programming, but the kits never gave you that kind of thing. So, you would build the kit and play with it a little bit doing the simple things you could do with it, but mostly you just watched it move and twirl some. Neat at first, but it was quickly boring. This kit includes a manual called “Electronics Lab” (teacher’s key provided as a download with a code with purchase) that uses inexpensive alligator clips found at hardware and electronics stores or the TeacherGeek web site that you use at first for connecting to switches, creating different circuits, and exploring different elements of electronics as you change the bug in different ways. You can’t do that with most of the other kits I have found.

Another difference is that the Bug is a simple build with student-friendly parts making it easy for students as young as third grade to create and enjoy a fun project. It is also capable of being used to go further as mentioned previously with the lab manual and a few inexpensive parts. Most kits I have found were just too simple or way too complicated and involved. I like the fact that I can use the same kits with all my students and let them go as far as their interest and ability allows them to go.

I also must mention what might be a third difference and is the final wiring manual. After building and exploring, the last manual does an excellent job as a last challenge to permanently wire the bug including soldering. It checks understanding of schematics by letting them figure out the final schematic, followed by placing the wires according to the schematic, and then prepare the wire for wiring, and finally soldering. The teacher check’s off at each step to make sure the final results in a robot bug that goes forward, can be reversed by pushing a switch, and most importantly, doesn’t short circuit. The soldering instructions are included and are easy to follow and clear making first time soldering as easy as can be made. Some kits require you to look up soldering somewhere else, or their instructions are very lacking in detail and unclear. My students enjoyed the build and are still exploring much to all our delights.

 

Accessibility isn’t really advisable here for every group, but with supervision, this could be used by many tactile learners, learning disabled students, and some ASD students, especially Asperger’s. I brailled the steps for me by scanning the documents in, but I needed sighted help, of course, checking things some. I could feel the wire placement and even soldering once cooled, but I still will use a sighted aid. Blind and DeafBlind students who are older and more skilled can learn to do these projects, too, if you braille the instructions, give them a sighted helper, and teach them to know what they are feeling. I only let the oldest and most capable blind students solder, but feeling where they would solder first and then lightly and carefully, they can be taught with patience and practice. Try on practice parts first, of course.

Check out this project, accessories, and other products from TeacherGeek at http://www.teachergeek.com. The best thing about this project is the price. The single bug kit is $29.98, but multiple packs of 10 and 50 allow you to get enough for the whole family or co-op classes for as low as $6.29 for each bug. For the next three months, my readers can also get 10% off any of the TeachGeek products by using the code:hschool. Now there is no excuse not to try. In fact, this comes just in time for Christmas, so why not get Bugged!

 

To read other reviews about this product and others from The Old SchoolHouse Crew, go to the TOS Crew blog.

Though I was provided a product to review for this blog, I have not been compensated in any other way, and the opinion expressed here is entirely my own.

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