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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.

SAT ® and ACT® preparation is on anyone’s mind if they plan to go to college. Most of our curriculums will help prepare you for the writing, verbal, and math portions, but one section tends to stump a lot of us, and that is vocabulary. Where do they come up with some of those words? Finding a good resource that is interesting is the key. If you are blind or deafblind, the resources are very limited, as well. VocabAhead may just be the choice for you and your students with its “entertaining and effortless vocabulary building solution”.

VocabAhead’s SAT Vocabulary: Cartoons, Videos, and MP3s is a simple, but handy study aid for any trying to bone up on their vocabulary. The main product of this company is a book. I will describe it first for those blind and deafblind with some residual sight for use with a CCTV. Each page covers one word. The page lists the correct spelling of the word and its part of speech. It then lists the definition along with a humorous cartoon illustrating the word’s meaning. The cartoon has two to three different sentences describing the cartoon using the word or using the word appropriately in additional example sentences. The page concludes with a short list of synonyms and antonyms for the word. There are 30 units which group words in loose categories of similarity. At the end of the unit, a review exercise is provided of matching and fill-in-the blank practice of the words in that unit. Answers are included in the back of the book. This is a great way to build visual connections to easily learn and reinforce that learning.

Visual learning is not the only style supported by this little aid. You can download the narrations of each page on MP3 files to your favorite player and listen and learn on-the-go. This is great for blind and auditory learners and those with reading difficulties and dyslexia. There are also videos to download that will allow you to take the book with you in a digital fashion on your IPod, IPhone, and IPad which for some students with special needs is a great plus. The narrations of the videos are not closed captioned, but the deaf will find it useful as the book is if they prefer apps for learning. Some autistics are learning to use the IDevices to spur their learning and reinforce their memory and attention spans. The audio files and the videos are free for download of their website. I also hope the team will add a feature. That is a pronunciation guide for the word. Some students need that visual key to help them with learning to pronounce words. Regardless, this is a perfectly priced study aid for vocabulary improvement.

I must add a caution to parents and to adults who are wary of the content they put into their minds. There are some cartoon and sentence examples that some may consider inappropriate for some readers.  One sentence for anathema describes a girl using voo-doo to put a curse on her boyfriend. A cartoon for the word carnal shows a busty woman. Each parent or adult needs to decide if the material presented is suitable for their student’s use or even their own. This reviewer would never ask you to present material for use that you feel is inappropriate. I make note of these possible things when I can to help you make an informed decision about the product.

To my great surprise, I found on their website that an IPhone/IPod app is available for this study aid. Being Deaf and Blind, I was happy to see a lite or free version available for testing. That means this review will also go on my DeafBlind Hope blog to help DeafBlind people know what can help them. To add to my excitement, I found they did a great job making the app accessible to braille output for the most part. Everything in the “Study Words” section works fine with braille. The flash cards work well too except for the tap to hint section which can be selected on a braille display, but because the hint is only an image, the braille display goes blank. This would definitely confuse a person needing the braille. They might not know what to do next or think the program closed or locked up. I suggest that they add a text hint here such as a synonym or a sentence using the word or a text description of the image that would help with the word. In the quiz section, the main page is accessible. The buttons work and even the dial a word section which is more of a graphic is accessible. You can scroll through the list to see which words will be on the list and change the list from the “don’t know yet” list and the “mastered” list for continued practice on all the words. Once you click the start quiz button and change to the first word on the test, the app loses it on accessibility. The home and back button work fine. You also can see which word you are being quizzed on next, but the multiple check boxes of possible definition answers only shows on the braille display as “btn” which means button.  You cannot read what the choice is at all. You can check with the select button on the display, but you don’t get any response as to right or wrong as you should. You only get the text “dmd btn” which is demand button. I also couldn’t figure out how to move forward in the quiz by braille display either. You do a one finger flick on the touch screen. That isn’t always easily understood by people who are totally deaf and blind, so a next button should be added. These are easy fixes for the app developers, though. I am hopeful that this will be updated soon because I am sure the developers would like to make their app fully accessible. I am going to email them with my suggestions as their app boldly asks for which is a positive point for the developers. They obviously want to get suggestions for improvement. When it is, I can tell you that the app will be worth buying even at $9.99 if you are blind or deafblind because it covers 1000 words. It is already a great app for other users including some special needs students.

 

Between the book, the audio files, the video files, and the IPhone/IPod app, VocabAhead SAT Vocabulary: Cartoons, Videos, and MP3s should have everyone covered. To find out more, go to http://vocabahead.com. This neat study aid can also be purchased easily at Amazon.com for $12.95 in book form. A DVD version is also available for $24.99. This could be a fun way to a higher SAT® or ACT® score or just to get a little smarter.

 

I was provided a free product to write this review. I was not compensated in any other way. The opinion expressed here is entirely my own.

As a child, I remember listening to Bible stories on records as I followed along in a colorful book. Those stories planted a lot of biblical truths in my heart as well as a deep love for my Savior. I also loved to listen to Children’s Bible Hour as a young child. Those stories were so good and full of good lessons. Recently, I received a set of books with CDs that brought back some of those memories. CBH Ministries developed these sets from radio scripts from the radio program, Children’s Bible Hour, which ran for over 60 years.

Seasons of Faith is a perfect name for this series as the stories are presented to teach lessons based on biblical truths for all the periods of a Christian walk from new life in Christ through to the deep struggles and times of trials. The stories are alive and meaningful regardless of decade. The books are illustrated by John White with detailed rich and colorful pictures that enhance the story. The narration is done by Uncle Charlie VanderMeer who is loved by many and his regular appearances on Christian radio are sadly missed. His voice alone is enough to make any story fun.

Learning Disabled children will enjoy the book/cd format helping them with their comprehension. The reading level is not too difficult for most children, especially with the read-along narration. Most low vision students should find the font size and type large enough and clear enough for easy reading with or without magnifiers. The books can be brailled on clear sheets and placed in blank areas and picture areas without too much difficulty. The books are light weight and easy to hold at 10 X 8.5 inches with a softcover. Paper is thick enough to be fairly difficult even with weak or unsteady muscles. An extra large book holder might prove more helpful to hold up the larger, slightly floppy pages for those who need the book raised for reading or who can’t hold books. Overall, there are many who can benefit from this series which is not easy to find.

The Series, Seasons of Faith, and other stories are available on the website for CBH Ministries at http://www.cbhministries.org. The book sets are available for a very affordable $10.00 each, and right now my readers can use the code FREESHIPAPR15 for free standard shipping from now until April 15, 2010. These could make a great gift for the Easter basket or summer time fun.

CBH Ministries provided me with a copy of each of the Seasons of Faith series, but I received no other compensation for this review. The opinion is entirely my own including accessibility suggestions which are based on my experiences using the products with my students. There is no guarantee these will work with your student, since all children are unique.

Last year I reviewed a DVD from MathTutor. The company provides a DVD with a teacher standing in front of a white board explaining math concepts from basic math on one DVD to Algebra concepts on another. You can read my MathTutor review for those DVDs from my archives. When I got this one on counting for preschoolers, I was a bit hesitant because the teacher before I had been kind straight to the point with no humor and no flash at all. It had been fine for the age group and especially for the length of each lesson. A student could focus on the needed concepts for the time needed without any distractions. I really didn’t think the method would work for preschoolers. Fortunately, the method for Young Minds: Numbers and Counting was right on target for the age group.

The DVD has wonderful full-color pictures and video showing different objects, people, or animals. Along with beautiful classical music from Bach, Mozart, Beethoven, Vivaldi, and others, numbers are placed beside the objects, people, or animals in each scene one at the time as a narrator, a child, demonstrates counting. The child makes a sentence using the counted objects, and if it is an animal or a machine; the sound is played after the child narrator says, “___ makes this sound.” Each chapter counts up to a different number from 1 to 10. The things or people counted are numerous in each chapter to give the child plenty of experience with counting to that number. Bonus chapters use counting with puzzle pieces of pictures and connecting dots to finish pictures. Several preschool skills are addressed with this DVD besides just numbers and counting. The child is exposed to various objects, people in different activities, and animals along with sound recognition skills for the appropriate animal or machine. The bonus sections help the child with picture recognition skills, adding details to an unfinished picture of easily recognized objects, and small part to whole recognition practice with the “Guess what I am” activity.

Although many parents do not like to use television for young children, Young Minds: Numbers and Counting could be beneficial if used periodically for short periods. A parent could use it for a quiet moment together listening to the music and together naming and counting the objects in a chapter. Do one chapter at a time and repeat a chapter a few times before going to the next over a period of a few weeks. The bonus materials could be done similarly. As far as accessibility, I used it with several of my children with Autistic Spectrum Disorders with no problems of significance. It worked well here in the sense that these students need activities with a clear cut beginning and ending. Using the DVD by chapter only gave that clear cut ending. The child narrator already uses brief sentences, but for ASD or other receptive language disorders, the teacher probably needs to shorten the statements to one or two word chunks such as, “Fire Truck, 1, 2.” Or, say, “Red Fire Truck.” Low Vision students will benefit from the full color and contrasting pictures especially with the fact that there is limited motion. Deaf children used the DVD, too, and understood the concepts and were on task without a teacher signing or verbally repeating the narration. I do suggest that communication be added for normal use though. If possible, the MathTutor producers could consider adding closed captions that would benefit some, especially Deaf parents using the DVD with their Deaf children. There are lots of uses for this DVD if a parent is willing to give a little television time for the purpose of learning. Using the program with the child rather than letting the program be a break time for mom could help the program be more of a benefit, too, and relieve some of the fears about overusing the television at this age.

For $19.99, the program is affordable enough to give it a try. Many children will find the program fascinating and find learning to count fun. For more information, go to http://www.mathtutordvd.com/products/item58.cfm.

 MathTutor provided me a copy of Young Minds: Numbers and Counting for the purpose of writing this review. The opinion expressed here is entirely my own. I was not compensated in any other way or asked to write a specific type of review.

Finding good reader series and reading programs can be difficult. Often times, the series vocabulary doesn’t match the students’ learning set. Many times, a student will be learning a set of vocabulary for reading and a totally different set in spelling even if the curriculum is designed with reading and spelling combined. For some students, this can be frustrating if not a fatal blow to their learning process. Last year for The Old SchoolHouse Crew, I reviewed a program called All About Spelling which I found to be a good method to use for many students. You are welcome to check out my All About Spelling review from last year. The authors are creating a series of readers, The Beehive Readers published by Takeaway Press, which follows the levels of their spelling levels which gives excellent support for both reading a spelling in this coordinated style.

For review, I was given level one of the new series. My first impression was more aesthetic, since I am DeafBlind. I approach new things from the angle of touch and smell. The sturdy binding and glossy cover got my attention reminding me of those expensive, but much desired reading books teachers wanted when I was teaching in public school. The durabinding as it was often called lasted much longer and was well worth the cost in the minds of teachers. The Beehive Readers seem to be constructed basically the same way which is a definite plus in my mind. Opening the book, the thick, textured pages were reminiscent of old textbooks from the 1950’s and earlier which had such excellent quality that many are in good condition today. That textured feeling along with the aroma like that of many a good book from that era had me pleasantly remembering stories I read as a child. Many an hour I sat reading books and living adventures much like this one loving that feel and smell all of which kept me longing to be in the pages of a good book. Beehive Reader is made just that way. I can see more students developing that love of books with this quality in their hands. The illustrations are fabulous with the contrast of line drawings similar to a pencil sketching with just the right amount of detail that is focused on the specifics of the words on the page. This format supports the reading process without distracting the student from the reading of the words. Many think color is always necessary to motivate, but that isn’t necessarily true. Autistic Spectrum Disorder students actually do better with simpler line drawing art to help them stay focused.  Other readers also find the line drawings and pencil type sketching fascinating and inviting. Beehive Readers have the quality to entice your student to reading.

Along with quality in the book’s making and illustrations, you need a story that is fun and readable for your student at that level. The authors of Beehive Readers specifically build their stories around the vocabulary in their spelling series by level. They build the stories with as little additional words as possible including avoiding sight words that must be memorized and trip young readers who are still learning the concepts of phonetics and sounding out words. The student can easily learn to read at each level based on what I saw with level one and the description from the web site on how the rest of the series will work because almost every word can be sounded out using the principles of phonetics. The student does not have to be using the All About Spelling program to learn and enjoy this series. The stories can be easily decoded, and the stories are simple to follow and interesting to the students at that level. My students asked to read the book again after we tried it with each the first time. An older student smiled when he was able to read the book’s first chapter on his own by sounding out the words. He said, “There weren’t any words that break the rules.The Beehive Reader level one helps many students learn to read. With or without using their All About Spelling program, students will find the ability to read and enjoy the stories while improving their phonetic skills as an accomplishment they can achieve. At $19.95, parents will find the book excellent quality at an affordable price. Go to http://www.beehivereaders.com/ to find out more.

Piano instruction can be very beneficial to any child. It can also be fun and rewarding for all. One of the best times to begin instruction is the Pre-school years. Students are naturally curious and love to move their bodies to music. Capture those moments to begin teaching skills that are fun, but transferrable to many other things in life. One of the best of the few programs available at this age is Kinderbach. I received a free three month subscription both last year and this year to review this product. You can find my post from January 6, 2009 here at https://wynfield.wordpress.com/2009/01/06/piano-instruction-for-preschoolers/  to get a full review of what I thought then. As I was requested to take another look at the program, I decided to do two things: first, check with my parents who had chosen to use the product after reading my blog last year to get their first hand experiences, and secondly, try to program with another DeafBlind student who loves the feel of music. You may be wondering why I would want to bother working with music with a child who can’t see and hear. Well, this child can see a little, and with special systems can hear a little, but regardless of the degree of vision and hearing loss, this child is able to feel music. With fun activities, I wanted to see if he could get any benefit with the program.

 First, I checked with the several families that I know who are using Kinderbach with their families. The students range from two to eight with various ability levels. One has an older child of nine who is autistic. The mother found that her daughter enjoyed joining in with the preschooler in the family. The mother was delighted because it was the only time the autistic child would interact with other members of the family except mother and occasionally, father. Another parent noted that an older child of twelve who took formal piano lessons outside of the home who was often nearby when she worked with the six year old in the family with Kinderbach would be tapping his foot or pencil in time with the beat bugs. The mother asked if he like the Kinderbach DVD to which he responded, “Nah, that’s baby stuff.” However, the piano teacher asked a few weeks later about the beat bugs and what did it mean because the son’s understanding of notes and rhythm seemed to have improved and was showing in his performances of music he had previously struggled with. The mother chuckled, and said, “Why, Kinderbach!” All of the parents seemed to enjoy the program. A few were pleasantly surprised that their young children were actually playing music on their own. One parent stated that it was the easiest part of her day. “We began with doing music just one day a week, but it is now done every day. We have so much fun.”

With all the glowing reports from the other parents, you wonder just what would happen with a DeafBlind child. You can’t help, but be realistically pessimistic. There are obvious problems with the program in regards to a deaf or deafblind child. The child has to be able to access the program in some way to get any benefit, of course. In this case, we plug the child’s FM system (a device that sends the sound source directly to the child’s hearing aids through radio transmission) which allows him to get some amount of speech, music, and/or noise from the monitor. The parent also sits the child very close to the monitor allowing the child to see better with his telescope glasses. The parent also has to sign in the child’s hands the dialogue for the program and the songs. I provided a stuffed donkey to represent Dodi who is the primary character for representing the keyboard in the program. We make the Dodi’s house cutout for him too and sign “Dodi’s House” to the child. It is important for us to introduce the props and basic idea of “we are going to find out where Dodi, the donkey, lives today.” As we present the program, we allow the child to indicate if and when we continue. Of course, it is the actual music that gets this child interested. He bounces whenever music is played, and often touches the speakers to see if he can feel even more of the vibrations. In time with lots of patient signing, we were able to get the child to understand that he could play the white key outside of Dodi’s home and make music that sounded like the DVD. We played the DVD initial lessons just a few times over a few days. After a weekend, the child continued his daily routine without coming to see me. We weren’t sure if there had been any impact until the child the next week began signing “Dodi Music” over and over. The parent had to come borrow my DVD and small keyboard. He asks for “Dodi Music” every day now. The two haven’t gotten very far in the lessons, but the child is fascinated with making his own music. Fortunately, we can plug the keyboard into his FM system, too, but he still likes to touch the keyboard to feel even more vibrations from the keyboard itself. Kinderbach is not designed for the deaf or deafblind, nor should they be expected to be. It was just nice to have this type of program available that we could work with, since neither I nor the parent are necessarily music inclined. Using Kinderbach, we have been able to expose this child to something not necessarily within his realm of possibilities. For a deafblind child, the mere exposure is the ability to mark a milestone for understanding of the world around him.

 The vendor may be surprised with this review using such a unique tactic, but I feel it shows that Kinderbach is a good quality program for delivering music foundations in a delightful way to the young child at a time when learning those skills can also be beneficial in other aspects of the child’s developmental growth. There are now six levels to the program at a maximum cost of $40.95 per DVD level with combination packages of DVD and CD of activity pages increasing savings, and an online version for as low as $7.99 per month with annual prepaid subscription of $95.88 or $19.99 per month. You can try the online version for $5.95 for one day to see if it is a good fit for your family. Check out http://www.kinderbach.com to bring a little music into your family’s life.

 The vendor did provide a free product subscription for a specified time in return for a review, but the opinion expressed in this view is entirely my own.

Recently, I received from The Old SchoolHouse Magazine as part of the Crew a request to do a review for MathScore. As with other products, I received the chance to use it for free, but I will review it based on my own opinion. MathScore is an online math assessment and practice program. It provides thousands of randomly chosen problems to assess your student’s math level and practice their weak concepts. Math levels covered include first through Algebra I. This site could provide a much needed assessment tool for schools and homeschoolers.

 The program, developed by graduates of MIT, is designed to accurately assess and prescribe practice regardless of math curriculum or method taught to the student. Students have access to a basic Core assessment test which then lists the results and any necessary topics that need to be further taught. The system has worksheets and mini lessons for each topic covered. The student can access as many worksheets as needed to practice the skills taught in the mini lessons. The student can then be reassessed for the topic after practice. Student gets detailed results of their assessments and practice answers. Parents have a separate log in that allows them to get detailed results and teaching suggestions including details of their students’ use of the program. Each time the student logs in, the program keeps detailed records of total log in time, time spent actually working, number of problems done, percentage correct, and percentage of attention span. I had several students at different levels try out the program. I even tested each student with the television on nearby, too. Of course, I never allow TV watching in school, but I wanted to test this attention span percentage. The program very simply, but accurately gave me a report to let me know just how distracted my students were while doing the lesson and worksheets. I also received emails letting me know when my students worked and how much was accomplished. This could be a useful tool for a busy parent to monitor their children’s working time without having to actually sit by them the entire time. If they don’t work you know it. When they do work, you can tell just how much effort was put into the work and how successful they were doing it. I particularly liked the Copy sections of the program which helps the student learn to type their answers more accurately and more quickly. This is a much needed skill for most students. The program wasn’t designed originally to be a teaching program in the sense of a full curriculum, but the site information states that many homeschoolers do use it that way because of the presence of the mini-lessons. I personally don’t recommend that blindly, but it could be used as a tool to decide when the student needs additional and more teacher-focused instruction.

In regards to special needs and/or accessibility, most parents and students will find the program easy enough to use. Children with reading difficulties will find there isn’t a lot of difficult text to read, but if there is a problem reading a text to speech reader such as Text Aloud or any free program should help there. Hearing blind using a screen reader will find it useless as will braille readers because the site uses frames, and the main text frame isn’t provided for the sc reenreader to use. This is a major reason why accessibility rules of the ADA and FCC require web sites to maintain a text only or accessible version for alternate use. Flash, Java, JavaScript, frames, etc. are not seen by screenreaders and braille displays; thus, it makes these types of pages inaccessible to the hearing blind and deafblind user. On MathScore, some of the links are available and can be followed, but the main part of the program or details on the page sent to by a link is in the main frame inaccessible to the reader because it is not actually on that webpage, but accessed from a separate file. Therefore, I can’t recommend this program to many of my readers at all. Although useful to some, a web site needs to be accessible by all, or it is discriminatory. A reorganization of the interface could easily eliminate these issues and broaden the market of the program.

The MathScore program, though not a good solution for all students, is affordable. The cost for one student is $14.95 per month, but can be as low as $9.95 per month with a time commitment. Additional students can be added for increasing discounts to as low as $3.95. Check it out for yourself at http://www.mathscore.com.

Looking for a Keyboarding class that isn’t a game? Even more importantly, are you wanting a Christian Keyboarding class? Well, you aren’t going to find many of either. The game programs are fine for some students as a complete curriculum, and fine for even more as a supplemental course, but many times the student concentrates too much on the game aspects. There have been many teachers who have used the game programs and discovered their student loved the program, but wasn’t really learning how to properly keyboard. Hence the search for a more traditional program begins. You can find them, but you won’t find any that are Christian-based. That was the dilemma for one Keyboarding teacher at a Christian school. Like many teachers before her, Leanne Beitel set about writing her own. The result was Keyboarding for the Christian School, a great blend of tradition and scripture.

Using many of the traditional methods of teaching typing, but with scripture as practice exercises, Leanne Beitel created a course that most teachers can be happy with using every day. There are two separate programs depending on the age student: Keyboarding for the Christian School, grades 6-12 and Keyboarding for the Christian School, Elementary Version. Both versions have simple, but thorough lessons covering the important topics of keyboarding such as the touch typing technique, alphabetic keys, numerals and symbols, number keypad, centering, and enumerated lists. The Elementary version then provides timed writing practicing. The older version continues with topics such as the tab key, the footnotes styles of MLA and APA, cover pages, works cited and bibliography pages, letters, envelopes, and proofreader’s marks before it begins also with timed writing practice exercises. Most of the scriptures used are good life affirming ones from the Psalms. Typing these scriptures for practice will write them on the minds and hearts of your students to be used by the Holy Spirit throughout their lives to guide them and help them to praise the Lord. The other writings used in the older versions will teach your students as they type Biblical truths and better discipleship. The programs are easy to follow regardless of age group. The elementary version is very similar to the older version, but written with a little simpler language and uses colorful charts to guide the student for finger placement and correct key finding. If you start your student in elementary grades with this program, you can use the older version to review the basic skills if needed or skip straight to the additional topics that an older and more advanced student needs. I personally love the way the author included coverage of the number keypad and introduction to the formatting and reference citing styles of MLA and APA. The keypad skills I learned in school are seldom taught now, but those skills have aided me in my personal life from quickly using calculators and adding machines for bills and taxes and even in the grocery store to some degree with ATM and cash register use. As a blind person, it has been as invaluable as the touch typing skills I have acquired. I was able to even apply this skill to some degree in reverse to use a telephone .With report writing, many students might learn a little about giving credit in later years of high school, but never hear the acronyms for the two most accepted formats in the literary and psychological fields. Their knowledge of how to give credit and type it correctly is weak. Then, in college, depending on their class, they are expected to know which format to use having heard of neither. These courses are very well-designed and will prove beneficial to many homeschool and private school settings.

As far as accessibility, the .pdf format is a drawback for blind and deafblind students, but the author left the security open. With additional software, you can convert this to a more usable format for screenreaders or braille displays. Of course, this is never a perfect conversion which makes .pdf formats less than desirable for accessibility purposes. Hearing blind would benefit from an audio version of the programs, but keyboard shortcuts are needed in the step implementation first. However, keyboard shortcuts would be beneficial for all students since it makes many steps quicker and simpler. Many of the keyboard shortcuts are standard for basic word processing steps so this wouldn’t be too difficult to provide. DeafBlind students would need a .txt or rtf version of the program once keyboard shortcuts are added. An audio version would also help students who are LD or auditory learners for use in conjunction with the text. With just a few simple modifications, the programs could have a much broader audience and be even more useful for the students to use.
Keyboarding for Christian Schools is an excellent program for homeschool and private Christian school use. The programs are also quite affordable for homeschool and Christian school use. The homeschool price for e-books of both versions is just $22.00. A Christian School can get an unlimited license version for $159.95. You can find more options and additional products at https://www.christiankeyboarding.com/Home_Page.php. The lifelong benefits of good keyboarding skills and scripture knowledge gained from this program can be so rewarding.

Tortoises and hares and pretzel vendors and contrabassoons and cellos are all playing together in one place? Just what could this mean? It is a delightful story adaptation brought to life with the sounds of an orchestra. This story brought back wonderful memories of the old cartoons like Bugs Bunny with the orchestra sound effects. The developers of Stories in Music™, Bonnie Ward Simon and Stephen Simon, take that idea to its fullest benefits with dramatized narration and full orchestral sound affects to enhance the story and encourage better listening skills and appreciation of music.

Each audio cd begins with the story narrated with the orchestral sound effects. The story is followed by narration telling about the story, its history, type of literary story such as a fable, and the purposes of the story type. The cd also includes the original song played separately to allow children to learn the song for singing and performance. The music is included with words once to help teach the song and another instrumental version is at the end of the cd to allow for student performance. It is a great way to get the students involved with the story and experiencing music. Another important feature of the cd is a narration explaining how the composer used music to help tell the story. Music samples of various instruments are played such as a contrabassoon with its low, droning sound and how its sound was used to create a particular sound effect or represent a character such as the tortoise with its slow movements. The story is played again after this narration encouraging the students to listen carefully for the sound effects explained. This is a delightful way to explore how music affects us and can be used in so many ways such as story narration. It also encourages active listening skills to recognize these instruments and how they are played to add to the story.

Each audio cd set has a booklet with full color pictures of orchestra instruments, information about music and music reading, and information related to the story theme. In Tortoise and the Hare, there is information and pictures explaining the difference between turtles and tortoises, and rabbits and hares. There are crossword puzzles and word jumbles and other fun things to do that reinforce the information taught in the booklet and on the cd. There is also words and music to a fun original song written and included as part of the story.

The accessibility for various special needs students here could be limited, but learning disabled, autistic spectrum disorder, and hearing blind students will certainly benefit. The little booklet is short enough to read to a hearing blind or even be brailled. Hard of Hearing, Deaf, and DeafBlind students may also benefit with a little modification and role play. Tell the story in print and ASL using a speaker large enough for the student to feel some of the subtle vibrations of the music. Role play the sound effect use such as running and walking in the Tortoise and the Hare. Simulate other effects such as crowd noise and other story action. Experience with actual orchestra instruments would be excellent allowing the student to place his hand on the instrument or near the sound hole to feel the vibrations. Allow the students to create their own sound effects with available instruments or handmade ones, too. Drums or pots could be used to beat out a running or walking pattern. These activities can reinforce the connection between story elements and music for these students.

The web site, http://www.maestroclassics.com, has additional learning activities that can be used for many students to reinforce the concepts and skills presented with these wonderful stories. Each cd set is $16.98 or 3 for $45.00 with a code. You can purchase many stories, such as Casey at Bat and The Story of Swan Lake, with more in production. Explore music with your child with these delightful stories. The blessings will last a lifetime.

Stories in Music™ authors provided a cd and booklet set to be tested for this review. The opinion expressed in this review is my own.

Two things I hate more than anything are math and exercise. No, I am not 500 lbs. I just don’t like exercise that is boring. I prefer to backpack and rock climb. Yes, I am a teacher, and I teach math and do a very good job at it. I have always struggled with math because I am dyslexic and learning disabled. I taught myself how to do math, and now God uses me to help children who need it. I don’t have to like math or exercise to know it is good for me. Being honest with my students helps them to learn that, too. I am also honest when I say that I groaned when I found out that the product I received free to review for the TOS Crew was an exercise DVD that incorporated math. And no, the vendor doesn’t control what I say about their product. However, I am fair, as well as, honest. This isn’t about me, but about helping my parents find products suitable for their students. If you read my blog regularly, you will know that once again I was pleasantly surprised at what I found.

The DVD, Gymathtics, created by Carrie Scheiner and her family through Suncheine World, LLC. Is well-produced and developed. Ms. Scheiner uses the premise that learning is enhanced by making as many connections in the brain as possible. Information from even seemingly different topics can be joined together and taught through activities to increase the connections leading to even stronger learning connections. In this case, math concepts are connected with physical exercise movements. Many students will find this odd, but this odd difference lends to its interest and fun. The program provides a warm-up section that has your body making lines, circles, and polygons that stretch your muscles preparing them for the more strenuous exercises to come. Your student will practice various ways to count as they do aerobic exercises, and then the intensity increases with pattern power as your student will do various pattern movement activities that strengthen the muscles and heart. On the screen there are diagrams with math information about polygons, circles, different kinds of visual patterns, and skip counting methods. Most are self-explanatory. During her exercise instruction, Ms. Scheiner also gives more math information verbally. The DVD finishes with the “Well-being Wind Down” section where she leads in relaxing stretches cooling down the body from the aerobic activity while explaining healthy lifestyle choices. These choices are placed on the screen as text at the end of the exercise program. The multisensory concept of math and exercise together is unique, but many students will find it delightful.

Being multisensory, many special needs students will be able to access it and benefit from its information such as those with autism, learning disabilities, dyslexia, attention deficit and attention deficit with hyperactivity, especially. Deaf students will be able to get a lot of detail from the math concepts as well as being able to follow the exercise steps pretty well visually. Ms. Scheiner often demonstrates the moves before the exercise begins. She could do this every time to be more beneficial. A Deaf student might benefit more from the math concepts if more of what Ms. Scheiner relates verbally is added to the diagrams on the screen or more diagrams were used during the exercise segments. Blind students will be able to access the music and dialogue of the DVD. Ms. Scheiner, trying not to overdo the verbal content for probably time purposes and interest of the student, may at times not give enough instruction of the movement of the exercise for a totally blind or mostly blind student to easily do the exercise. A little more specific instruction could probably be done to allow for more accessibility by a blind student. Math concepts could really use more verbal information added to allow for more benefit of the blind student, as well. Ms. Scheiner does a good job without probably even trying to provide accessibility. I am pretty certain that she could do an excellent job when aware that her DVD’s could be used by an even wider audience with just a little more thought and planning of verbal script and diagramming. You may think that there is no hope for the DeafBlind student. Well, I participated right along with my student helpers for this review. I, of course, could not get any information directly being DeafBlind. My students tactually explained to me the moves and the math concepts. I didn’t always do them perfectly, but it allowed us to giggle a lot. My readers know that I like lots of giggling during my lessons. Giggling equals fun, and fun equals better learning and longer remembering.

Gymathtics is a unique, but great way to get your students moving and possibly learning some math. They may not even realize they are” doing math”. This is their first DVD, $24.99,  but more are available and others being developed. Their website at http://www.exploramania.com has these DVD’s and other products like exercise mats and balls using math.  Check them out, and you may soon be giggling over doing polygons and parallelograms.

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