Thursday, September 26, 2013

Review: Math Mammoth

After having been homeschooled through early elementary, my mom put me in public school in the 5th grade.  The school, not having any academic history for me, randomly placed me in the highest level math class (and the lowest level English class).  The first day of class we were given timed tests: 5 minutes to complete a page of 100 addition problems.  Then subtraction.  Then multiplication.  By then I was getting in over my head.  I understood that multiplication was essentially a form of addition, so I started frantically making hash marks to count up to the answers.  I didn't finish my 100 problems, but I struggled through the 5 minutes and did the best I could.  Next we were given a page of 100 division problems.  By this time I was completely overwhelmed and burst into tears.  The teacher gently ushered me next door to the lowest level math class where I spent the rest of the year, cheerfully using my multiplication cheat sheet that was taped to the inside cover of my math book and earning tickets for Mrs. Dasenbrock's Jello Jigglers.

When I was given the opportunity to review some products from Math Mammoth, I was glad, but not overly excited.  Miss M was about to move from two digit addition and subtraction into multiplication and I figured I could use an extra resource in my arsenal.

I picked out four worktexts from the Math Mammoth Blue Series by Maria Miller: Add & Subtract 3, Multiplication 1, Clock, and U.S. Money.  Each book in the Blue Series covers a mathematical topic that is not divided up into grade levels.  For example, Clock covers all the time telling information typically presented in 1st-3rd grades in one 78-page book.  A worktext is a book that includes textbook instruction alongside problems to be solved so you do not need a separate teacher's manual.  It is perfect for review, remedial work, or just an in-depth study of a given area.

What's so great about it?

When I started looking through Multiplication 1 I got pretty excited!  Here was a book that not only presented the concept of multiplication from the ground up, but explained that concept from a variety of perspectives to give the student a truly comprehensive grasp of the idea.

Multiplication as addition.
Multiplication as a number of equal groups.
Multiplication as an array.
Multiplication on a number line.

If one perspective didn't click with a student, there were still several other ways of explaining the idea to her!  Each lesson also included a variety of problems to solve so Miss M didn't get bored with one problem type repeated over and over across the page.

Then, moving beyond the concept of what multiplication is, Maria Miller has created a systematic approach to memorizing the times tables.  This is hugely important!  Until basic math facts are memorized, a student is handicapped and hard-pressed to move on in the world of mathematics.  Miss M is in the process of memorizing the multiplication facts through "structured drilling," a process Maria Miller describes in this YouTube video.

Multiplication 1 also introduces the Order of Operations in a way that is easy to understand and makes sense.

We have nearly completed Multiplication 1 and Miss M has a much stronger grasp of what multiplication means and how to solve a word problem that uses a combination of multiplication and addition or subtraction.  Once we finish this book, we will return to our regularly scheduled math curriculum with confidence that multiplication is something that can be easily conquered!

How we used it

You can purchase Math Mammoth books in electronic form as PDF downloads or in a printed book format.  Though I generally prefer to have a textbook in a bound format, I actually enjoyed being able to print off the pages I needed for Miss M and put them in her workbox for that day.

We then hole-punched them and filed them away in her 2nd grade notebook under the "math" tab.  She likes seeing her work collected into one place where she can thumb through and recall all the things she's learned.

Also from Math Mammoth

  • Blue Series: worktexts arranged by topic for grades 1-7, prices range from $2-7 to download
  • Light Blue Series: a full year curriculum for grades 1-6, $34 to download
  • Golden Series: workbooks arranged by grade without instruction for grades 3-8, $6-9 and answer keys for $2
  • Green Series: books arranged by topic without instruction for grades 3-7, $5.50 each to download
  • Make It Real Learning Series: math problems taken from real life (i.e. choosing a cell phone plan using real data) for grades 3-12, $4.99 each to download
If you are still confused about the different series that Math Mammoth offers, you can sign up for a 7-day email tutorial. Each day for a week you'll get an email that describes the differences plus 300 free worksheets

Doing Math Mammoth Multiplication 1 outside in the hammock!

I'm determined my kids won't slide through their math lessons without learning their math facts the way I did in Mrs. Dasenbrock's 5th grade math class.  Excellent resources like Math Mammoth are there to be sure I can make that happen!  Math can be both fun and rigorous!

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Cocoa Krispie Sod House: a model you can eat

Ahh! I just realized I haven't blogged our Adventures in U.S. History since Week 26!!  What happened?!  We've just been plugging away contentedly at our work and are nearing the end of our school year.  So, while I go get myself sorted and whip up the rest of our weekly reviews for you, I thought you might like to see our latest project.

A Cocoa Krispie Sod House

  • 6 tablespoons butter
  • 6 cups miniature marshmallows
  • 9 cups cocoa krispies
  • 3/4 cup fancy shredded coconut ("fancy" looks more like grass, but any shredded coconut will work)
  • green food coloring
  • extra butter or cooking spray

Also needed:

  • large sauce pan (or large microwave safe bowl)
  • wooden spoon
  • jelly roll pan or cookie sheet
  • waxed paper
  • small glass bowl
  • fork
  • knife
  • clean scrap of cardboard
  • popsicle sticks
  • kitchen shears


Melt butter in a large sauce pan over low heat. Don't let the butter brown!  When melted, add in the marshmallows and stir until they too are melted and well blended.  Low heat is key.  (Pssst! You can do this step in the microwave!)

Stir in the cocoa krispies until fully coated in marshmallowy goodness.

Butter a jelly roll pan or large cookie sheet and press mixture firmly into it.  Press the mixture thinner than regular krispie bars, about 1/2 to 3/4 of an inch thick.  Buttering your hands or using a piece of buttered waxed paper can help with this process.  But be careful not to burn yourself!

In a small glass bowl, mix a few drops of green food coloring into the coconut with a fork.  Sprinkle it liberally over the top of the krispie mixture and press it down so it adheres to the sticky surface.

Allow to cool completely before cutting.  When cool, cut into long narrow strips about 1 inch wide by 2 1/2 inches long.


Your cocoa krispie bars are now sod bricks!  Arrange them grass (coconut) side down the way the pioneers did.  Select slightly wider bricks for the bottom of the wall and use narrower ones at the top.

Stagger the bricks for stability just like a bricklayer does. Trim bricks as needed to fit the end of each row.

Don't forget to leave a space for the door!  If you want windows, leave a space in the third row up from the ground.  Support the doorway and window openings with wooden popsicle sticks cut to size with kitchen shears.

Build up the back wall of your sod house slightly higher than the front of the house. Taper the side walls to match.  Lay popsicle sticks across the walls and layer sod slabs over them for the roof.


Don't try to make your soddie too large. They were, by necessity, rather small structures averaging 10 by 20 feet.  That's about the size of your living room!

I would love, love, love to see your cocoa krispie sod house model! Please drop me a note if you make one!

Monday, September 2, 2013

Review: TeenCoder Windows/Game Programming

My dad is a computer programmer.  Like many youngsters, his passion for computers started out as a hobby.  When he realized people would pay him to program it was like in the cartoons: jaw dropping, eyes popping out, AHH-OOO-GAH!  And he's never looked back!

My love for technology also developed in my youth.  We first got dial-up internet when I was in 8th grade...good old AOL.  Before long I was dabbling in HTML and launched my first website on GeoCities, in a virtual neighborhood with a street address everything!  How times have changed!

Technology may have changed over the years, but the pull it has on the imaginations of young people remains the same.  Many computer programmers write their first programs in middle school.  Homeschooled kids are uniquely situated to excel in this area due to the ability to streamline their time spent hitting the books and allocate their remaining time to learning a coding language.

Homeschool Programming, Inc. was started in order to teach kids from 4th to 12th grades everything they need to know to get started writing their own programs, games, Android apps, or web pages.  Best of all, the only prerequisite to their entry level classes is the ability to use a computer!

The Courses

  • KidCoder: Beginning Web Design, a first semester course introducing HTML and CSS
  • KidCoder: Advanced Web Design, a second semester course on HTML5, CSS3, and JavaScript
  • recommended for 6th-8th grade students
  • requires a Windows-based computer

  • TeenCoder: Windows Programming, a first semester course introducing C#
  • TeenCoder: Game Programming, a second semester course teaching C# game programming
  • recommended for 9th-12th grade students
  • requires a Windows-based computer

  • TeenCoder: Java Programming, a first semester course introducing Java
  • TeenCoder: Android Programming, a second semester course teaching Android programming in the Java language
  • recommended for 9th-12th grade students
  • compatible with both Windows and Mac OS-based computers

Each course is available individually for $70, or bundle both semesters for $120.

Microsoft Visual is a free developmental tool. That means no extra cost to purchase the right software!

Though I don't have kids the right ages for any of these programs, Hubby and I volunteered to try out the TeenCoder Windows and Game Programming courses for the purpose of this review.  Just think of us as Big Kids.

Each semester contains a textbook and installation CD to set up the program on your computer.  There are also instructional DVDs available to supplement the textbook for about $15 extra.  I had access to these resources in digital format only, but take my word for it, the physical product is preferable! 

The Good

You don't have to be a tech savvy mama or papa to teach your kids to code!  I've noticed that moms not much older than me are oftentimes significantly less tech savvy than I or moms younger than me are.  In other words, there's a generation gap!  But that doesn't preclude them...YOU...from using this program!  Each of the courses is a self-study program designed to be completed by the student at their own pace on their own computer.  Each course comes with a complete solutions guide!  There are also tests and answer keys and guidance on how to evaluate your student's progress.

The textbook is laid out in a careful and methodical manner.  Plus it's peppered with cute cartoon characters.  Oh, and it's a printed-and-bound book.  Did I mention how tricky it was to juggle it on my screen as a PDF for this review?  Yeah, big plus having it on paper!

If you get stuck, there are several resources to help you out.  Not only does the textbook hold all the answers you need, but there are help files, and the videos are a huge help.  But best of all is the customer service.  Homeschool Programming offers fast, free, personalized technical support to all customers.

The Bad

Computer programming is not for the faint of heart! A misplaced or forgotten semicolon can ruin an otherwise glorious bit of coding.  This is as true for the student as it is for the long-time veteran.  But the veteran has the benefit of knowing what to look for whereas the student may find his frustration level running high as he seeks for his error.

Hubby didn't appreciate some of the over-repetitiveness of the text.  The fact that certain things were repeated sometimes threw him for a loop, making him think he had missed something and that it was referring to something else rather than the same thing he already knew.  I didn't have quite the same experience when I worked through the exercises, but I could see how he would interpret some sentences as if they were introducing new information rather than referring back to information previously mentioned.  Bottom line: you could tell the text was written by a dense/technical type, not an artsy/intuitive type...for better or for worse.  But that is true of much of the coding world including the coding languages themselves!

The Results

Hubby and I were quite giddy over our first successfully completed computer programs!  Granted, they weren't much to look at, but the simple fact that we made them was amazing!

My first computer program! Ain't she grand?

Neither of us has had the time to finish the entire semester, but I could totally see my teen-aged self getting really into this and mastering it all in a fairly short time.  If my kids express an interest in computer programming in a few more years, we will definitely revisit these courses!

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