Tuesday, August 26, 2014

Review: Essential Skills Advantage


Over the summer, we have had the privilege to review the complete online program (Premium Plan) from Essential Skills Advantage. It is a comprehensive Language Arts skills review program for grades K-6 and can also be used for remedial work for older students.



What is covered in Essential Skills Advantage? A membership includes access to literally thousands of activities of the student and parent's choosing, covering all grade levels from beginning skills of Kindergarten through spelling and grammar challenges of middle school.  Specific subjects that are covered are grammar, reading, reading comprehension, spelling, vocabulary, creative writing, and sentence structure. The program is online, and uses cheerful, interactive games to review concepts.

Is this a curriculum? Essential Skills Advantage does not teach concepts, it reviews them. It would be used as a supplement and review for students, especially those who might need some extra help in reading and language.

How did we use it? Kelly just completed third grade and reads very well. Once we set up her account, she was able to log in on her own and I allowed her to pursue her own interests, choosing her own activities. We used it as a tool to keep her reading and language skills fresh over the summer, so she will not lose any ground before starting fourth grade in the fall.

When a student first logs into the program, they see a page with choices listing each of the areas and grade levels that are available:



They are able to click on one, sign in to their own account so their progress is recorded, and then choose an activity within that subject area. Here are some of the activities that Kelly enjoyed:

Reading Comprehension. A story comes up for the student to read. Difficult words are highlighted, and the student can click on them to hear them pronounced. There are questions that follow. This is a fourth grade level reading selection.



One of Kelly's favorite games was Concentration. Once the words were read and matched, the cards would disappear to reveal a fun picture beneath.



I thought this was a very unique way to teach a student to remember the way a word was spelled - by using word shapes. 



How difficult are the levels?  Kelly was mostly able to work right on grade level. There were a few things she dropped down to second or third grade just to have it be a little more familiar though. Some of the fourth grade material included concepts that she has not learned yet, so we just went back to reviewing third grade or having fun with second grade activities. 

How can a parent keep track of a student's activities and progress? There is a parent portal where the parent can log in and assign activities or see charts showing the student's completed activities and scores. It also shows how much time they spent on each activity and the time and date that it was completed.
  

Student rewards: Students are encouraged and rewarded at the end of each activity that they have mastered with a fun graphics page. There are also certificates that the parent can download and print for the student.




What is necessary to run this program on your computer? A computer needs internet access, Java Script enabled, Flash Player 10 or higher, and speakers for sound (many of the reading and spelling programs have the words read to the student). 

How do you know if the program will match what you are teaching at home?  This program was developed by experienced teachers and covers basic concepts of the English language and learning how to read. When an online membership is purchased, it gives access to all levels, so if the parent finds that the student's current grade material is too hard or too easy, they can easily explore the other levels and find something more suitable for the student to work on. There is a breakdown of skills covered in each learning module level on the website.

What does it cost?  A membership costs $9.95 per month. When you first sign up, the first 14 days are a free trial, and the membership can be canceled during that time with no charge. Essential Skills Advantage is currently offering a coupon code for a 50% discount on the cost of the monthly membership fee. If you would like to take advantage of this great offer, use the coupon code TOS50 through October 1, 2014 for half off the monthly fee. This discount will apply as long as you are a member and will reduce the monthly fee to $4.99 per student. You might also be interested in a new feature which is a free sponsored site. This can be accessed at ESA Learning, and gives a simplified version of the program with sponsored advertising and fewer features. 

Here is the difference in the two programs:


My recommendation:  I think this program is very beneficial. Language Arts can be complicated subject matter, and many children have trouble with one or more areas. Whether it's spelling or reading or grammar, this program can help them solidify the concepts in a fun and interactive way. Kelly has enjoyed using this program very much, and logs in on her own without being told in order to work on the program. The dancing dog at the end of her activity makes her laugh. She enjoys the activities, and I think they are challenging enough to keep her skills sharp.

One thing I would improve: The only little detail that we found annoying was that Kelly had to log in again at the end of each activity. It would have been nice to log in once and be able to move around within the program rather than at the start of each new activity. This wasn't much of a problem for Kelly because I went in to the settings and gave her an easy log in name and password that she could remember and do all on her own, but a younger child may have more difficulty with it, and the parent would have to log them in every other minute while they are using the program and switching to various activities!

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Review: UberSmart Math Facts



Memorizing math facts can often be tedious and boring, yet it is a very necessary part of advancing in math. Time is saved later on when learning advanced math if the brain can quickly and easily add a column of numbers, or think of answers when multiplying and dividing. Having a good handle on times tables is almost a complete necessity when stepping up to long division, in my opinion.  I was happy to review UberSmart Math Facts from UberSmart Software over the past six weeks, to see how it would work to help Kelly keep up her facts, especially over the summer.

I have tried a myriad of computer programs over the years to help the kids master math facts. Our math curriculum, A Beka, is founded on rote memorization and mastery of addition, subtraction, multiplication, and division in the elementary years. Most of my kids have done well with daily flash card practice, but I am always on the lookout for better means of practice.

What is UberSmart Math Facts? This is a Windows based program (works on Windows 7, 8, XP, or Vista only) that can be purchased and downloaded. Once you buy it, it is yours forever, and doesn't run out after one year like most other programs I have tried. It was designed by homeschool dad David Kocur, for his own children who needed an effective way to learn their math facts. When he couldn't find what he was looking for, he made up his own program! Since it was so successful in his own home, he decided to publish it for other families and schools.

How does it work? The program itself actually works very similar to a deck of flash cards. Children can log into the program, use the dot cards to learn combinations first, then practice their facts. There are many options - parents can help their child select a number set (0-20 or all), select a function (addition, subtraction, multiplication, division) and also choose to do their practice timed or untimed.

What are some of the features?  First there is an assessment test that a student can take to see where they need the most help. The program does tailor itself to the student, giving questions most frequently missed more exposure, and slowly eliminating questions that are quickly answered correctly on a regular basis.

There is also a keyboarding lesson where students learn to use the keyboard to correctly input numbers:


There are dot cards to teach facts in a visual way:


 Lots of options are available to choose from when practicing or testing:


After the test is complete, the student can go back and review the questions they got wrong. The program shows them their answer, in red with a line drawn through, then shows them the correct answer to help reinforce it in their mind:


The test shows the previous and next questions, on either side of the current question:



Practice cards allow the student to go through each set of facts without having to input answers, but just review the facts themselves. It is a good idea to have the student say these aloud when reviewing them.



Helps for the teacher: UberSmart Math Facts has a complete teacher section that has various styles of reports. It shows how much the student has mastered for each function. Here is an example of Kelly's multiplication mastery chart. Once the parent sees where practice is needed, they can set their child up to work on those number sets that need the most attention.


There is also a nice gradebook that shows how much work the student has done, when they did it, how many times they went through, and what their final score was. Records are kept by the week, so a parent can easily see how much work was accomplished that week.



What age is this for? The program is recommended for grades K-6. I think it is extremely helpful and important especially for grades 1-4, when all of these facts are being introduced and need to be learned to build a strong foundation. It can also be used remedially for older students, or even adults. There is a "competition" option that allows you to compare your time of completion and accuracy to all other users your age. 

How much does it cost? This software can be purchased for $24.95, which is a one time fee. There is also an option to try the program free for 30 days to see if it works for your family.  It can be used by multiple students in a homeschool setting, and there is also a professional/school version of the software that is available.


How we used it: I set Kelly up on the program as soon as we received it. She has used it about 3 days a week over the summer, except while we were away at camp, of course! Each day I would set a timer and have Kelly work on it for about 10 minutes. I would also allow her to 'purchase' game time on the computer for herself, by doing extra on this program. Kelly started on some easy addition practice to help her get used to the program, but we have mostly used it to keep her multiplication and division facts fresh in her mind over the summer, in anticipation of her start in fourth grade this fall. 

What does Kelly think?  Kelly is 9 years old and was not real thrilled with this program. She found it to be 'hard work' and tedious. She did it every time I asked because she was told to, but never chose to go do it on her own, unless she was 'earning' game time.

What does Mom think? Ha Ha - glad you asked! Obviously when the kid thinks the program is 'hard work' my interest is piqued. I even tried my own hand at completing some rounds on this. I LOVE this program. Why? Because it has no frills - no crazy music in the background, no distractions, no strange graphics....it just works. It does everything I would like to do with Kelly on a daily basis with flashcards, but makes it available for her to work on mastering facts whether I am available for flash card practice or not. I can set a timer for ten minutes and know that Kelly actually practiced math facts for that time. I can log in to the teacher reports section and see how she did, and where improvement is needed. I can reward mastery of number sets, and Kelly can see her own progress as well.  Best of all, all my children can work on it, and I never have to renew my license. I own the program forever. 

Final Words: If you are looking for a sensible and simple way to have your children practice and master their math facts easily, this is the program for you!  Thank you UberSmart for creating the program of my dreams for math practice! 

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Copyright 2012-2014 - "Be The One" - www.aclassofone.blogspot.com  All rights are reserved. No text, photos, or content may be reproduced without direct permission from the author.

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Sunday, August 24, 2014

Obscure Bible Heroes {Blogging Through the Alphabet - Q}


Q is for Quartus

Romans 16:23- "Gaius mine host, and of the whole church, saluteth you. Erastus the chamberlain of the city saluteth you, and Quartus a brother."

Quartus was such an obscure Christian that he is only mentioned once in the entire New Testament, and even that is just a small note in passing. Paul is writing and mentioning several of the 'brothers' that are hosting him and taking care of his needs, and passing on their greetings to the church at Rome. He mentions Quartus only as "a brother".

Now we know that there were many believers that were acquainted with Paul, and that were in these New Testament churches. It is special to be named in the Bible, even if it was only a small mention. Not everyone can be a Paul or a Peter. Actually, while the church only has a handful of leaders, there are a whole bunch of faithful men and women who work and serve faithfully without ever receiving any recognition. No one but God knows their names, identities, or personalities. No one but God sees what they do to keep things running smoothly. They are just in their place at the right time, and serving out of a heart of love.

I imagine Quartus to be this kind of person. He has a 'Roman' sounding name. Perhaps he left Rome and traveled with Paul, or maybe he was uprooted from his home and moved somewhere else, and was sending a good word back to those he missed. All we do know is that he is a 'brother'.

The life of Quartus, and the very brief mention of him in the Bible, inspires me to be in my place, doing what the Lord has called me to do, whether anyone sees or not. Obviously the work of Quartus was enough that God chose to mention him in Scripture. God recognized his faithfulness, and I'm sure at the Judgment Seat of Christ it will be rewarded. God has called me to a work as well. It is enough if I am just known as a "sister in Christ" and can be available for God to use to perhaps say an encouraging word or lend a helping hand whenever the Lord would have need for a sister to do so.

God tells us that those things which are done in secret will be rewarded openly. Like Quartus, I want to be faithful in every task that the Lord has given, and may my labors put a smile on the face of my Lord! 

Matthew 6:4b - "and thy Father which seeth in secret himself shall reward thee openly."

Ben and Me

Copyright 2012-2014 - "Be The One" - www.aclassofone.blogspot.com  All rights are reserved. No text, photos, or content may be reproduced without direct permission from the author.

Sunday, August 17, 2014

Obscure Bible Heroes {Blogging Through the Alphabet - P}


P is for Philip

Acts 8:5-6 - "Then Philip went down to the city of Samaria, and preached Christ unto them. And the people with one accord gave heed unto those things which Philip spake, hearing and seeing the miracles which he did."

When we think of the 'big name' preachers of the New Testament, often Paul and Peter come to mind. They were such 'larger than life' characters, full of great stories and amazing exploits. Paul is responsible for the earthly authorship of about 1/3 of the New Testament. Peter walked on water. They are both amazing examples of true Christianity.

Another man comes to mind when I am thinking of an amazing example to follow though, and that is Philip. One thing I can relate to with Philip is that he had four daughters who shared in his ministry. (Acts 21:8-9)

I love to read about the faithfulness of Philip - how he would go anywhere on a moment's notice and preach and share the Gospel with anyone who was seeking after it. Another thing we see from Acts 8 is that Philip preached to the Samaritans. Many people would not go minister to them because of past prejudices, but Philip did a great work for God among them and saw many saved. 

One of my favorite New Testament stories is when the Ethiopian man was riding through the desert reading the Scriptures, and in his heart, he was questioning God about what he was reading. God sends Philip there, and Philip immediately runs to the Ethiopian man's side. He did not question God or have concern for his own safety - he just made sure to mind the Spirit's leading and do his part. 

Of course, we know that Philip used the opportunity to preach the Gospel to the Ethiopian man, who trusted Christ as his Savior, and excitedly chose to be baptized immediately. This was a man who was very wise and a great leader among men, yet God used humble Philip to show him the true way of salvation. As soon as Philip was done, and the encounter was over, he was taken away to his next task, and the Ethiopian man went home rejoicing, a better man because of what Philip shared with him.

Acts 8:26-39 "And the angel of the Lord spake unto Philip, saying, Arise, and go toward the south unto the way that goeth down from Jerusalem unto Gaza, which is desert.
And he arose and went: and, behold, a man of Ethiopia, an eunuch of great authority under Candace queen of the Ethiopians, who had the charge of all her treasure, and had come to Jerusalem for to worship,
Was returning, and sitting in his chariot read Esaias the prophet.
Then the Spirit said unto Philip, Go near, and join thyself to this chariot.
And Philip ran thither to him, and heard him read the prophet Esaias, and said, Understandest thou what thou readest?
And he said, How can I, except some man should guide me? And he desired Philip that he would come up and sit with him.
The place of the scripture which he read was this, He was led as a sheep to the slaughter; and like a lamb dumb before his shearer, so opened he not his mouth:
In his humiliation his judgment was taken away: and who shall declare his generation? for his life is taken from the earth.
And the eunuch answered Philip, and said, I pray thee, of whom speaketh the prophet this? of himself, or of some other man?
Then Philip opened his mouth, and began at the same scripture, and preached unto him Jesus.
And as they went on their way, they came unto a certain water: and the eunuch said, See, here is water; what doth hinder me to be baptized?
And Philip said, If thou believest with all thine heart, thou mayest. And he answered and said, I believe that Jesus Christ is the Son of God.
And he commanded the chariot to stand still: and they went down both into the water, both Philip and the eunuch; and he baptized him.
And when they were come up out of the water, the Spirit of the Lord caught away Philip, that the eunuch saw him no more: and he went on his way rejoicing."

I like to ponder on the simplicity, humility, and obedience of a man such as Philip. He was very devoted to the ministry, and we can read about him throughout the book of Acts. He was known for his faithfulness. He was not too self-absorbed in his own life to overlook any opportunity for the Lord to use him to preach the Gospel. He ministered to those that others would not go to. I think the Lord sent him there because he was so willing to do whatever God asked, and I'm sure there are many people in heaven today because of the faithfulness and willing spirit of this one humble preacher.

Like Philip, I wish to be always looking to the needs of others, and looking for opportunities to minister to those who are hurting or seeking after God. I want to be open to the call to go wherever, and to whomever God sends me, to share the Gospel. I am looking forward to seeing God bless those humble efforts!

Ben and Me

Copyright 2012-2014 - "Be The One" - www.aclassofone.blogspot.com  All rights are reserved. No text, photos, or content may be reproduced without direct permission from the author.

Sunday, August 10, 2014

Obscure Bible Heroes {Blogging Through the Alphabet - O}



O is for Onesimus

Philemon 1:10-11: "I beseech thee for my son Onesimus, whom I have begotten in my bonds: 

Which in time past was to thee unprofitable, but now profitable to thee and to me:"

Slipped into the New Testament is a short letter by Paul to a believer called Philemon. There are so many sweet thoughts and lessons that can be learned from this very short book - only one chapter long, but I would like to focus on the man that is discussed in this letter for just a moment. 

This man is named Onesimus. From reading this letter, it is believed that Onesimus was once a servant of Philemon, but did him wrong and ran away unauthorized. It says in verse 11 that in times past, Onesimus was unprofitable to his master. Whether that means he stole from him, as many believe, or he did some other wrongful deed, I cannot say for sure, but we can tell that Onesimus had left on bad terms.

Along life's journey, Onesimus met the Apostle Paul and got saved, trusting in Jesus Christ. It drastically changed his life. No longer was he the runaway slave with a bad record, but he now became "useful" (that's what the Greek name Onesimus means) to Paul as a fellow laborer in the ministry. 

As it is with all negative things in our past, in order to grow we must confront them and make things right. Paul assisted Onesimus in this by writing a letter to Philemon, and sending it back to him at the hands of Onesimus and another faithful brother Tychicus. 

We have to imagine that under any other circumstances there would be a great price to be paid and restitution to be made by Onesimus returning to the master he had wronged. It is clear from the Scriptures that there was a huge change in the life of Onesimus. 

Colossians 4:9 - "With Onesimus, a faithful and beloved brother, who is one of you."

What believer of that era would not have been deeply touched by a personal letter from the Apostle Paul? It is clear that Paul thought highly of Onesimus and the man he had become since meeting the Lord Jesus Christ. He does his best to communicate that value to Philemon concerning this fugitive servant. I love how Paul personally vouches for Onesimus by asking Philemon the master to charge to Paul's account anything that Onesimus owed from his past mistakes and misdeeds.

Philemon 1:17-18 - "If thou count me therefore a partner, receive him as myself. If he hath wronged thee, or oweth thee ought, put that on mine account;"

From the life of Onesimus, I am encouraged that no matter what is in my past, I can be 'useful' and 'profitable' in the service of the Lord. Onesimus was able to grow in grace, and God gave him the strength and courage to make right the wrongs of his past. He who was once a fugitive with a bad reputation became known as a giver, a faithful helper to Paul, and ultimately he was restored to a good relationship with the one he had wronged - Philemon. He is a tremendous example to Christians everywhere. 


Ben and Me


Copyright 2012-2014 - "Be The One" - www.aclassofone.blogspot.com  All rights are reserved. No text, photos, or content may be reproduced without direct permission from the author.