Wednesday, October 18, 2017

Reading Eggs (Homeschool Review Crew)



When Jude was learning to read, we tried a whole mess of programs, and by the time I heard about Reading Eggs, he finally seemed to have a grasp of things.  Damien flew through learning to read before I could do more than remember it existed.  When this opportunity came up with the Crew, I finally did a little investigating. I discovered that the company's offerings were a series of leveled programs, including one for both emerging and proficient readers, called "Reading Eggspress."  We signed up for their standard two-week trial before I volunteered for the Crew review, to see if it was suitable for my "older" readers.

For our review, we received a six-month subscription to the full program that includes three levels of Reading Eggs plus their MathSeeds program. The complete program spans the entire pre-to-middle school gamut: Reading Eggs Junior is for the preschool set (ages 2-4), Reading Eggs introduces phonics and early reading (ages 3-7), and Reading Eggspress (ages 7-13) helps readers grow their reading and comprehension skills.

Time for a commercial plug: if you sign up using the following link before NOVEMBER 30, 2017, you can receive a FOUR WEEK FREE TRIAL (no credit card required):

READING EGGS FOUR WEEK FREE TRIAL

If you're considering Reading Eggs, I would highly recommend giving it a try for the more extended period.  I think two weeks in, we were still in a honeymoon period...a month in, we felt very differently about the program, especially for Damien.

Each level has a placement test. When we did our early trial, Damien started with the eponymous Reading Eggs program.  Although he has been reading for quite some time, I wanted to make sure he wasn't missing foundation skills.  (Not impossible, because he raced so quickly through learning to read.)  Since Jude was going to work on this the entire six weeks, I didn't push him to move on, thinking he would be a "bonus" kid in this review, and he took the Reading Eggspress placement test when we began our "official" month-long review period.  (Jude took the Reading Eggspress test during our trial, tested into and continued on with it)  The placement test measures literal understanding, inferred understanding, critical thinking, and vocabulary.

However, while Damien has maxed out for Reading Eggs, I think he is in over his head here.  He placed into level 141 - the beginning of the "Year 5" level of the program.  I was shocked -- I expected him to be closer to 3rd-grade level (which is still a year older than his chronological 2nd grade). While he did well with the testing (the only support I gave him was reminding him to slow down, to read all of the answers before choosing one, etc.), he is really struggling with the program. He's been working for about a month, and he's only moved up through eight lessons because he's often repeating passages over several days.  I like that if a student hasn't proved proficiency with a passage that he isn't permitted to just move on, but he's getting frustrated with repeating the same sections over and over.  His scores are also not all that great.  Our family standard of "successful" is 85%.  I think a "B average" is well within my kids' capabilities, and in my experience, knowing 85% of something seems to be the cut-off between a reasonable foundation that periodic review will firm up and one that is closer to the precipice of crumbling.  Damien's scores, even after repeats, are far lower than that 85% threshold.  He tends to start with scores in the 60s, and then slowly build up after several repeats to the 70s. We have far more frustrated tears than we ought to. I think he would do better to move back down closer to a year 3 level, and then build up confidence.


Jude, on the other hand, is doing fairly well, when he pays attention.  Jude has ADHD and takes medication to help support his focus.  Reading Eggs is a program that we have found needs to be done early, while the meds are in full force.  He also often needs someone to sit with him and remind him to slow down, pay attention, follow directions, etc.  When he's ON, he has 100% scores. When he's struggling to hang onto the ability to find details, he bombs.




While his scores are below our "accepted averages" in several areas, I'm comfortable with letting Jude stay at the level he's at and continuing to move forward because his scores fluctuate so widely. When he struggles, he's in the 60s, but when he's focused, he gets 100s on the first go.  While I was hoping that this would be a program he could work on independently, I'm not surprised that he needs extra help staying on task.

There are a few things I wish were different within the program.  First, while I like that each lesson includes a vocabulary section for the passages, the student is expected to choose three words from a list of five.

The dictionary placement, pronunciation, part of speech, roots and derivatives, using the word, etc. are presented, giving a substantial word study.



However, ALL of the words are included in the passage, and in later sections, the student may be left guessing what a word means if he didn't choose that word during the vocab section.  Here, Jude chose quell, reveal, and sorbet, but that left him to have to go look up the other two to continue the next section.



I think three words at one time is a reasonable number to study, so I'd like to see a second vocab section visit so that the student gets exposure to all of the words.  It was hard to fault either boy for incorrectly answering questions that hinged on the extra words -- he didn't know the word because it wasn't one he chose!  Yes, kiddo can go grab a dictionary (and often did), but then that defeats the purpose of a self-contained program.

I also wish that it was easier to win trophies.  It takes 1000 eggs earned in one calendar week.  Doing one numbered lesson a day (10 tasks) during a typical school week gives them only 450 eggs; even adding a lesson on each of Saturday and Sunday would still leave them short.  It takes the boys about 30-45 minutes to do a lesson; doubling up just isn't an option.  While it's not a huge deal to me if they win a trophy or not, they are disappointed that they always seem to fall short.

The last part of our subscription, MathSeeds, is a program for students ages 3 to 9.  We didn't do any work beyond the placement test. It includes some geometry (plane and solid), addition, subtraction, and very early multiplication.  Damien tested into level 131 of 144, but since he is already working at a 3rd-grade level, I skimmed ahead to see what else was being presented.  His normal math program is skills-based, and he is already proficient in adding/subtracting through three and four digit numbers, which is what the program tops out with.  I felt that this wouldn't be worthwhile for him to focus on -- review is never bad, but it just wasn't efficient for us.  Though he's a  just-turned-10, Jude is already working at a 6th grade level, so he didn't even attempt the placement.

I was excited to finally try the Reading Eggs reading program.  However, I'm not sure if we will extend our membership.  I think that there are some tweaks we can try (adjusting levels, looking things up on our own, working together) but it's not what I had hoped it would be.  I was really hoping that it would be a compromise between "I want to play on my computer" and "I don't want you vegging out for hours with YouTube videos."  It's possible that with some adjusting it may turn out to be a success, but at the moment, it's not really filling the space I had hoped it would.

75 families are working with Reading Eggs. Click the banner below to read their reviews.

Reading Eggs



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Sunday, October 15, 2017

Five Minute October: Remain

Remain.

I'm drawing a blank. I keep coming back to write this one, and my mind just remains empty.  I don't have anything funny or philosophical to go with the prompt.  I guess I'll remain honest?

The best I can come up with for any deep thought is from St. Paul:

"Faith, hope, and love remain...but the greatest of these is love." (1 Cor 13:13)


Click here to read the entire series:  Five Minute October











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Saturday, October 14, 2017

Five Minute October: Try

Try.

This one is pretty easy.  "Try" was the word I chose for my "Word of the Year" back in January.  My goal was to try new things, or still get started even if I knew finishing was going to be difficult (or not happen at all.)  I can't say that I've tried everything that I've thought "Wow, I'd like to..." because inertia (and fear of looking like an idiot) are hard to overcome, but I have managed one major goal -- I've completed a 5K and am now working on a 10K distance run.

A friend of mine suggested that we celebrate our birthdays by trying as many new things as years old we were turning. They could be as simple as a new ice cream flavor instead of an old favorite,  I have a long way to go until I hit 42 new things, but I have plenty of time.  If nothing else, I've learned that life is not really about making a "bucket list" of things to do "sometime before I die."  It should be about finding experiences to create "I didn't know I wanted to do this, but I'm glad I did" list.



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Thursday, October 12, 2017

Five Minute October: Write

Write.

I'm going to admit I've written this in advance.  I've taken this week off from blogging to celebrate my anniversary, but I wanted to participate, so I'm writing ahead a little.

Writing is something I've always loved. I may have hated the research part of a paper, but writing it was something that I never really minded.  Writing a blog seemed like a good outlet for me.  Sometimes, I find it as hard as those research papers. Do I have a topic to focus on? Do I have something to say? I sometimes feel like I'm just writing for the sake of writing, without a purpose.

I want to make writing a focus again.  Something I'm learning is that I don't have to work "in real time."  I'm hoping to clear out a backlog of stories that need writing down.  I have photos and stories I want to share, but just haven't gotten that far, or figured "They were so long ago, why bother?"

Celia's violin teacher holds a contest each spring - who can practice the most days in a row.  To count as an "official" practice, it needs to be only five minutes, because the hardest part usually is just getting started.  Five minutes a day hasn't seemed so hard - often I find myself writing for fifteen or twenty once I get started.  I know that five minutes that turns into an hour isn't going to happen every day, but I think once this month is over, I'm going to set up a "just five minutes" for every other day and see what happens. Maybe I can clear out some of the backlog that's in my head!


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Wednesday, October 11, 2017

Five Minute October: Remember

Remember.

That's an easy one for today.  What I remember is getting married, 20 years ago today.



I remember my maid of honor's mother cornering me as I returned from the hairdresser, handing me a plate of food and a glass of orange juice, and saying "You're not passing out on my watch." I remember my grandmother walking into the church, stopping in the Baptistry to visit and crying as she and my dad reminisced sitting in the waiting room the day I was born.  I remember running a few minutes behind, and as we got ready my best childhood friends came hustling in. (They were always running late, so it brought another smile through the tears.)

I remember walking up the aisle and seeing Neal there, and then walking into the sanctuary.  The ceremony itself has blurred with time, but I remember we had chosen a Scripture reading from Jeremiah, and as his sister began reading, "A reading from the prophet Jeremiah..." Neal whispered "was a bullfrog..." Yes, I struggled to keep a straight face.

Most girls have ideas of their dream wedding.  I had a pretty simple "dream" -- I wasn't picky about almost anything, but I always wanted a wedding picture take in front of the Holy Family statue in front of my grade school.  Thankfully, the weather was perfect, so I got my dream picture.



I remember trying to greet every person during our cocktail hour. After getting me a third glass of wine in the space of twenty minutes, my brother finally appointed himself my wineglass holder. Every time I put it down to take a photo, my glass disappeared onto the tray of a helpful waitress.

I remember dancing with Neal - our song was Billy Joel's "To Make You Feel My Love."  I danced with my father to "Butterfly Kisses" and started to cry yet again when the singer crooned "She'll change her name today," and my father was the first person to call me Mrs. Falciani.

I remember heading to our new home.  Happy and exhausted, I sat in the back of the limo with Neal's jacket and arm around my shoulders.  I couldn't have asked for a better end to a better day, that was really the start of an awesome life.



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Tuesday, October 10, 2017

Five Minute October: Listen

Listen.

I'm reminded of the time Luke presented his Science Fair project on the physics of paper airplanes.  I'm not entirely unconvinced that the judges didn't award him first place just because he kept talking.  Aspies + favorite activities = you've got a lot to listen to.

Jude has multiple obsessions.  His current one is watching animal shows on YouTube.  Every day he has a new fact for us; tonight's was about a lizard that dives for its food and only lives in the Galapagos Island.  The other day, I was so busy listening to his dissertation on orcas that I forgot to get a grocery cart.  Rather than put out that it took us longer to shop,  he seemed rather pleased that he had distracted me.

I think sometimes it doesn't matter what they're talking about. Kids just want us to listen.


Click here to read the entire series:  Five Minute October











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Monday, October 9, 2017

CTCMath (Homeschool Review Crew)

When Jude first started doing math, it was a huge struggle.  We went through several programs before finding CTCMath and found that it checked quite a few boxes for us. It was online; one of Jude's favorite ways to learn - tick.  It was comprised of short lessons followed by a few practice problems, so it ticked the "short and sweet" box. Most importantly, it was not a Common Core program.  I know opinion on Common Core is varied, but for us, it was practical. Jude got frustrated repeating the same concept in six different ways.  He's more of an "I know how to do this, why am I doing it again?" type of kid, so learn and move on was right up his alley.  Tick.



CTCMath is it is not only homeschooler friendly but also large family friendly.  We received a One-Year Family Membership, but it really covers the entire family.  The company's founder is a homeschooling dad of a large family, so he gets the frustration of "Family" plans that only cover two or three kids.  Homeschoolers also always receive a 60% discount! CTCMath has also given me a link to provide with my readers; by using it, you'll receive the 60% discount PLUS a Bonus 6 months Free.

This is our third time reviewing CTCMath - you can read our prior reviews by clicking the following links:

June 2015
April 2014

How does our experience this time compare to the past?

I think the quality of the program is as good as ever.  The lessons are short but thorough and well presented.  The concept is introduced and reviewed, and then the student is sent off to do the practice problems.  Note: the instructor is from Australia, so he does have a bit of an accent. He speaks very clearly, so it's not an impediment, but if you're not expecting it, it may be a bit of a surprise.  It's also still flexible - we've worked in Chrome, Safari, and Firefox, on both a Mac and a Chromebook, and on an iPad.  (CTCMath runs in HTML5, no Flash required.)  Nobody can say, "I can't get online and do my math!"  It continues to not be aligned to the Common Core -- you student will learn everything he needs to know, but it's not tied to the methods of that curriculum style.

However, what once was a pro -- online containment -- in the last year or so has become a drawback.  When the boys were younger, working on just a screen was pretty easy.  A few manipulatives on the table, or even their fingers, and the early levels (K-2) were a breeze.  Working solely with a keyboard and screen was no big deal.  However, now that the boys are at 3rd and 5th/6th-grade levels, it has gotten more unwieldy.  For example, they are into "borrowing and carrying" territory.  The program does give the opportunity to manipulate numbers on the screen, but it becomes a dexterity issue.  We wound up switching to pencil and paper.  It's not a huge issue to copy the problems, but it frustrated the boys because it wasn't the way it was "supposed to be."


Since we needed a paper-and-pencil type program, we explored several and decided on one that has a different scope and sequence than most elementary math programs.  As we got comfortable with it, we drifted away from CTCMath for no reason other than we had a different curriculum to work on.

Every day, the boys do both a lesson in their main math program and an extra enrichment activity.  I thought that CTCMath would be good for this type of assignment.  I felt that it would give them an opportunity to practice their skills.  When we got started with the review, we began working on the diagnostic tests.  Jude had some areas that he had minimal difficulty with -- his usual program had covered all the topics.


However, there were some areas where he began to struggle with the test because he hasn't been exposed to them.  For example, he has spent the last six months working on everything he could want to know about fractions but hasn't begun anything with decimals.  When he got into things that required them, he got answers "wrong" because he had to just guess so he could move on.

Damien had a similar situation, where he gave up on a diagnostic test and went back to work on an area in its entirety.


They're used to learning everything there is to know about an operation/topic, and then moving on to a new one. I felt like even if I wanted to just use it for extra practice, it would take a lot of guessing to figure out where to pick things up at.  For example, Jude is in fifth grade by age but has the skills to complete some of the Pre-Algebra fraction lessons (approximately 6th or 7th grade) already. I think if you're used to a typical first grade-second grade-third grade sequence,  CTCMath would be a good choice for if you're looking for something new and fresh.  We're just atypical students.  If you're not following a "normal" sequence, you may wish to give their Free Trial a chance and see how it works for you.

And, our original reason for wanting to get away from all-on-computer still holds.  The boys get caught up in "But I have to use the numbers on the screen..." instead of just writing on a piece of paper.  A problem that literally takes fifteen seconds on paper takes five minutes by the time they grasp the slash marks, move numbers into place, etc.  Since we're using it for reviewing skills, I had allocated about 20 minutes a day into our schedule. Some days were taking close to an hour to complete the task.

I can't complain about the content of the program.  I still believe it's a high-quality program and teaches math very well.  I think we're just in a bit of an in-between phase.  Peeking ahead at the Pre-Algebra and higher levels, there is a worksheet option that gives you a list of problems to work on scratch paper with pencil, and then you enter the letter of the corresponding answer in.  This eliminates having to work an entire problem with a mouse/touchpad, or the temptation to try to figure it all out mentally and make mistakes trying to calculate and remember at the same time.  Since the program spans Kindergarten through Calculus, I would consider coming back to CTCMath (again) when the boys are back in sync with the sequence of the program around Pre-Algebra and/or Algebra.

Lots of students have been hard at work using CTCMath. To read other Crew Reviews, click the banner below.

CTCMath Online Math Tutoring {Reviews}






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