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Wednesday, May 23, 2012

Mud Cakes

I read something a few days ago that I can't get out of my mind. Something that has both bothered and convicted me.

I had picked up an informational booklet about the organization Feed my Lambs, a ministry which provides housing, food and education to the impoverished in Haiti.   As I read it, I came across this:
"As soon as I arrived in Haiti I was overwhelmed by the enormous need that was all around me.  There were ladies on the side of the street mixing mud with oil and salt to bake and feed it to their families for the evening meal.  Mud cakes they called it."- Philip Rego, Founder of Feed My Lambs

I read this and my heart grew heavy. Eating MUD? No way!!  I had to Google this. Not because I doubted the credibility of the organization but because it was so unbelievable to me that I wanted to know more.  I found several reports and pictures online that provided more information.   Although most of the reports were from 2008 and 2010 directly after devastation of hurricanes and the notorious earthquake it is probably still a reality for some.

I did not consider myself naive to poverty and world hunger.   Sure,  I have seen the pictures of starving children,  I have seen begging firsthand in my mother's homeland but something about this spoke to the desperation of these mothers struggling to keep their families alive and it shook me to my core.

We are a family of six living on a single income in a country with a very high cost of living.  Over the past few years, there have been many departures of foods from my shopping cart that I once thought of as necessities. I have had to be very creative in the kitchen to make meals stretch especially when there has been more month than money.

But we have never been hungry.
                           My kids have never missed a meal.
                                                       God has always provided...
...but yet I have complained.

Complained that we couldn't afford strawberries.
                    Complained that the budget didn't allow for a new recipe I wanted to try.
                                                      Complained that we've had the same meal for a few days.

Not out loud ...but in my heart.

Wanting more.   Wanting bigger.   Wanting better.  Wanting easier....

All while mothers are feeding their children mud.

Oh God,  please forgive me.

Tuesday, May 22, 2012

WriteShop: A review

PhotobucketWe were given the opportunity to review WriteShop Primary, a parent guided writing curriculum for kindergarten to 3rd grade. I had heard of the WriteShop writing program for middle and highschool students so I was excited to try out this Primary program with my kids.  We received level B as an e-book which is geared towards first and second grade and can also be used for reluctant 3rd graders. 

"WriteShop Primary teaches the skills of the writing process at the very simplest level through activities, crafts, and picture books. It accommodates pre-writers as well as beginning and developing writers, so your youngster needs no previous reading or writing experience. Slowly and gently, the child is asked to help with the actual writing, first in simple words and later, through copywork. And by turning these stories into a little craft, he will have a project to proudly share with others." (from the WriteShop website)

The curriculum has 2 parts, a very easy to use teachers guide  and a student activity set worksheet pack.  Both are available as hard copy or e-book format.  As I was given the e-book, I printed out one lesson at a time and the accompanying activity sheets and kept them together in a 3 ringed binder.  I made a binder for each child for them to keep their completed activity sheets and other pieces of writing.

The teachers guide was easy to follow and the lessons required some but not too much preparation on the part of the parent.  Each lesson is split out into 8 parts or activity sets and can be worked through using a few suggested schedules outlined in the teacher's guide.

Here are the 8 parts of each lesson:

Activity Set 1: Guided Writing Practice only
Activity Set 2: Pre-writing Activities and Picture Book
Activity Set 3: Brainstorming
Activity Set 4: The Writing Project
Activity Set 5: Editing and Revising
Activity Set 6: Activity Set Worksheet
Activity Set 7: Publishing the Project
Activity Set 8: Want To Do More?

Here is a sample lesson plan (click on it to see it full sized)

 Here is an example of a worksheet:


Our Experience:

I decided to use the program with both Eli (grade 1) and Micaiah (grade 3).  The level was perfect for Eli and although some of it was a little easy for Micaiah he still benefited from the structure of the program.  Writing has been an area that both boys, for different reasons have struggled with to some degree but Writeshop  has help them to gain confidence in their writing.  We have worked through a couple lessons--I found them easy to teach and the kids found them fun to work through.  Eden, my preschooler has enjoyed sitting in on the lessons,  even participating at times.  In lesson 1 the focus was on writing a friendly letter and I taught the kids the "Friendly Letter Boogie" suggested in the teacher guide to teach the parts of a letter.  That was a highlight for many days and even now weeks later, I catch Eli or Eden reciting it!

The thought of writing can be daunting for a beginning writer and even more daunting for a parent who has a reluctant writer (or two:), but Writeshop breaks the writing process down into manageable chunks, and throws in fun activities and crafts.  This in my opinion is a recipe for success!  The proof for me was hearing both boys enthusiastically say that WriteShop is one of their favourite parts of school!! 

The cost of WriteShop Primary B teacher's guide is $29.95 for the hard copy and $26.95 for the e-book.  The Student activity sheets are $4.95 and $4.50 respectively.  If you are interested in trying out WriteShop now would be a good time to order as they are offering 15% off  WriteShop Primary and Junior products in the WriteShop store (including e-books) using coupon code CREW15 at checkout. This offer is valid through June 15, 2012.   Visit their website for more information or see what other reviewers had to say here.

Disclaimer:  As a member of the TOS Crew I received this product for free in exchange for an honest review (favourable or otherwise).  The opinions stated here are my own.

Saturday, May 19, 2012

CapJaxMathFax: A Review

Do your kids struggle with memorizing math facts? At our house it is something we practice over and over.  For some it is a breeze, for others...ah, not so much.   I try and use different methods to get those facts to sink in. We recently had the opportunity to review CapJaxMathFax (I know a mouthful right! I just shortened it to JaxFax)

Photobucket What is it?
 CapJaxMathFax is a downloadable math facts program

CapJaxMathFax™ system has controls that allow small-step goal-setting so progress is evident and guaranteed. (from the website)

  • Uses a computer to provide drill and practice so that practice time is not limited by teacher availability. 
  • Automatically generates exercises. Teachers don't prepare quizzes. They merely provide the parameters for them. 
  • Builds exercises for any of the four math tables (addition, subtraction, multiplication, division) or any combination of tables. 
  • Guarantees student success by taking small steps through levels of difficulty. 
  • Can focus practice at a single level of difficulty or may review earlier levels. 
  • Randomly generates problems without repetition. 
  • Allows variable numbers of problems in an exercise. 
  • Reduces learner stress by timing facts individually. 
  •  Provides immediate positive feedback for correct answers. 
  • Provides extra reinforcement for fast, correct answers. 
  •  Displays an overall performance report at the conclusion of each exercise. 
  • Prints reports for teacher review and for use as certificates of achievement.
  •  Displays and prints item diagnostic details. 
  • Uses a rating system that allows students to keep personal scores and set goals. 
  • Charts student rating progress graphically. 
  • Maintains a database of student activity over time.
Our experience

If you are looking for a program with bells and whistles, high resolution animation and game-like features, this is not the program.  This is not a bad thing - it focuses on the math facts.  I found the screen to be a little crowded and busy but this didn't seem to bother Eli who was the child I used this program with.  It was simple to download and to use for both teacher and student.  Once I showed him how to use it he was able to work through a session on his own.  He could choose to practice, or to play for a rating where he tried to improve on his current score and reach different levels.

Photobucket The per fact timing is preset at 3 seconds but this can be adjusted in practice mode for up to 10 seconds.  This will help build confidence in a child who may not be very quick to start.  The play for ratings mode is set at 3 seconds and the child is provided with immediate feedback with "super" popping on to the screen when they type in a fact in less than 3 seconds and "right" for a correct answer in more than 3 seconds.

Eli wasn't overly excited about CapJaxMAthFax but he didn't dislike it.  He does not have a very competitive nature so the level achievements were not a big motivator for him.  He did like to see "SUPER" pop up on the screen so that kept him going through the drill.  I have access to this for a few more months so it will be something we will continue to use as we try and get those facts to stick!

Other info:

PhotobucketThe program is compatible with PC and Mac and is currently available for $29.95 and there is also a free trial available.

Check out their site for more information or click here to see what my other crew members thought of this product.

Disclaimer:  As a member of the TOS crew, I was give free access to this program in exchange for an honest (favourable or otherwise) review. 


Tuesday, May 15, 2012

Judah Bible Curriculum: A Review


What is the Judah Bible Curriculum? E-mail

  • A Principle Approach curriculum for Bible class.
  • Develop a comprehensive knowledge of the Bible.
  • Build strong, Godly character in your children.
  • Study the Bible together.
  • Study the hand of God in the lives of individuals and nations.
  • For homeschool, Christian school, Sunday school.
  • Teach your children living Biblical principles to guide their lives.
  • Apply God’s word personally in every area of life.
  • The Bible is the textbook.

 From their website:

The Judah Bible Curriculum is designed to help you produce Godly character in yourself and your students.
As educators we are seeing our kids led astray by peers, musicians, cults, the media, the Internet, forceful and slick authority figures, and any number of other voices. In order to survive, our students must be able to stand on their own and truly understand the purpose God has for their lives.
Our crucial need is to educate our students to be Biblically literate. True literacy is more than just the ability to read. True literacy includes having a basis in Truth and the ability to reason from that basis to discover the answers to life's questions.

This product is more a Bible Study method guide than a curriculum.  It is a training manual to teach parents how to teach the bible to their children.  This is based on the Principle Approach to education.  This was a philosophy I was not familiar with.  If you would like more information on this you can read about it here.

What do you receive?
1) Judah Bible Curriculum K-12 Manual;    
2) Elementary Notebook Ideas booklet;   
3) Eight-lecture Teacher Training Seminar.

What is the plan?
This curriculum is designed to be studied over 6 years, working through 5 themes per year.

Theme 1  Creation 
Theme 2  Plan of Redemption Begins 
Theme 3 Kingdom of Israel 
Theme 4 is Kingdom of God 
Theme 5 is Early Church

Students are encouraged to develop a notebook which will be built upon each year and are based on key sheets that are filled out through out the study.  These sheets outline key events, key individuals, key institutions, key documents.

After reviewing this product on my own it was clear to me that this was not a good fit for our family at this time.  When choosing any curriculum one of the major factors I need to consider is preparation time.  The Judah Bible Curriculum requires considerable preparation on the part of the teacher. While time is not the only factor to consider, I eventually had to accept that this curriculum required much more of me than I was able to give.  Perhaps when the kids are older and can participate more in the actual digging into the word we would have more success with this method of study.  A clear, solid understanding of the principle approach is necessary, in my opinion, for the successful implementation of this program.


Judah Bible Curriculum Pack hard copy $69.00, plus 5.00 p&h
You get:
1) Judah Bible Curriculum K-12 Manual;
2) Elementary Notebook Ideas booklet;
3) Eight-lecture Teacher Training Seminar on CDs.

or you can get the same documents in a downloadable format for $44

You can read more reviews of this product here to help you determine if this would be a good fit for your family. 

Disclaimer: As a member of the TOS crew I was given a free copy of this curriculum in exchange for my honest review.  The views expressed here are solely mine.