Friday, 17 April 2015

Orphs of the Woodlands - TOS Review

Over the years I've waxed lyrical about the 'living' books we use - stories that teach math, science or history concepts as you read. We were asked to consider reviewing Orphs of the Woodlands by Star Toaster and when I discovered it was in effect a living book but online, I jumped at the chance.

Orphs of the Woodlands is described as an online education game, its an interactive and fun way to encourage kids to read (and secretly learn loads)

Your first task when you have logged in, is to choose a name for the main character (who is a secret agent in training) and then you start reading. The story is funny and really engaging - its the adventurous journey of an orphaned, bitter squirrel who becomes a caring, educated agent whose task is find the treasure of High Tower and save Orphs. You are pitted against the Night Creatures, who are also after the treasure.

In the truest sense of a living book - as you read the story, you learn! It's packed full of word definitions, math knowledge, science, famous quotes, nutritional information, critical thinking, character skills, music and loads more. The story is interactive, so not only do you learn via the story but if they read a word they are unsure of they can click it to find the meaning, there are also pop up lesson movies from various characters as well as clickable sound effects, music and recipes.  The story is fifteen chapters long and it can take a good 45mins to read a chapter and complete the 'jobs'.

At the end of each chapter your character has the chance to work using the knowledge gained from the story and earn gold stars (the currency of the woodland) which you then use to rescue and care for orphaned woodland creatures (you can buy them plots of land, food, clothing, defence, medicine, water etc. the better you get at caring for the Orphs, the more come to you) 

These 'jobs' are based on what you have learnt whilst reading the chapter and are divided into different categories (the more you get right in each category, the more gold stars you earn). In case you don't remember everything you read there is a review snippet before each job. The jobs are usually a multiple choice question. For example you can earn gold stars by working in a print shop (vocabulary jobs - defining word that were in the story), working as a cookie consultant (advising on the nutritional value of ingredients) or as a talented tutor (teaching another character about algebra)

The Parent page is easy to navigate - you can check you child's status, view the skills completed and view lessons as well as read the book.

Lilly(12), Sunflower (10) and Tulip (8) all used this (Rose felt left out and thought it looked fun so she ended up sitting in with Tulip while we read the story together). Both Lilly and Sunflower used this without any help from me - they loved it and it was often hard to get them off the computer because they were so engaged : )
Tulip falls just outside their suggested age range of 4th - 7th grade, so I read it with her them - she did require some help with the jobs but neither of the older girls did.

When I asked the girls for their thoughts on Orphs of the Woodlands they said:
"Best game ever - I loved building new homes for the Orphs"
"My favourite part was Prof Forp always saying to learn 'New Information Daily' and when they used cute animals to encourage me to be industrious or believe I can do it"
"It's so much fun - I can't wait for book two"

Their only disappointment was that a number of the recipes contained nuts (he is a squirrel) and they have nut allergies - Sunflower thought the nut bread looked especially appealing.

I loved the amount they learnt (I even got told to have a peppermint tea when my tummy was sore) 

and how engaged they were by the story - It's so well written and really captures their imagination. I thought the game looked amazing - its really pretty and well designed. I think Orphs is a great product and is defiantly our favourite review so far.

Orphs of the Woodlands is available for $19.99 for a 60 day subscription for up to three students (and only $6.99 for a 30 day extension) and Star Toaster are offering a free trial (first 100 pages) so you can see how much fun it is.

You can see what my crew mates thought over at the TOS Blog

Saturday, 11 April 2015

Schooling through a move

Lessons have been a bit hit and miss at the moment as we are in the middle of a house move - that said there are a number of living books we have been reading that make me feel like we are still learning something : )

My favourite by far has been 'A Gebra named Al' where a young girl explores math land, learning along the way about science and math concepts like order of operations, atomic mass, isotopes, Bohr models etc.

My second favourite is in the Sir Cumference series from Charlesbridge Math 'Sir Cumference and the Off-The-Charts Dessert' were they had a giggle learning all about pie charts and bar graphs (and spent the rest of the afternoon baking).

What's your favourite math book?

Sunday, 5 April 2015

Don't you just love.....

...when the kids find their own work : )

We are in the middle of packing for a house move and while packing up the school supplies, I found some old writing prompts I downloaded from Teachers Pet  (Free). I left the to one side to throw away - only for the girls to 'discover' them and spend the next three hours writing stories.

and continue as soon as they woke up.

Friday, 27 March 2015

Gotta love Spring homeschooling

The girls loved how much time we spent last week on spring activities - not only did they get to see the eclipse 

 and learn all about the spring equinoxbut their chicks hatched - all on the same day : )

HomeSchool Office - TOS Review

I was asked to review HomeSchool Office which was created by Lord Heritage, It is a complete, online homeschool management program that allows you to organise, arrange contacts, plan schedules, create assignment calendars, track resources, manage lesson plans, budget, record attendance and grades all in one integrated program that also produces reports. 

When the log in details arrived my first task was to enter all the relevant details in the team section - these included address, school district, students, additional teachers etc. It only took a few minuets to enter the information.

The concept behind HomeSchool Office is to giver the POWER back to you. The planner contains six sections based around this acronym.

P is for Plan. This is where you create your master schedule - you enter subjects for each student (I really liked that the kids are given a colour, so schedules are colour-coded), In addition you assign times for each subject and you can also can also assign how long you expect an individual assignment to take. This section contains a customisable school calender which is really useful for recording number of school days and making note of your yearly schedule (dates you want to school, free dates, trips etc,). You can also plan projects for the year (including a materials list) and my favourite section - Budgeting, to help me plan and keep my school spending on track. 

O is for Order. Here you can create a to-do list, integrate your personal calendar with you school calendar and create reminders. It is where you view or print schedules (can be daily, monthly or weekly).Allows you to view your Calendar in a monthly, weekly, or daily format, and to create daily and weekly "To Do" lists as well as schedule events, reminders, etc

W is for Work.
This is the section you children will mostly use - you and your child can view their calendar, follow daily lessons and manage to-do lists. Within this section, individual assignment's can be marked as complete, or pushed forward to another date (which moves all the other assignments forward as well) if more time is needed to understand the subject. Alternatively they can pull assignments forward and do them earlier than planned if they've grasped a subject quickly..

E is for Evaluate. Here you can keep track of attendance (full attendance, 1/2 day, absent etc.), track hours per subject and grade each subject. I like that assignments can be assigned a weight (so 30% assignment, 30% lab, 40% exam etc.)

R is for Report.
This does what it says on the tin. You can generate reports and transcripts. It takes minuets to mark the boxes for subjects and term I want on the report.

I did feel the program offered more than I needed - probably because I'm in an area where the Education Officers involvement is almost non-existent, so I don't need to create reports or attendance records - However for those who do live in more stringent areas I can see this being a real benefit as well as very helpful for those with larger numbers of children to organise (did I say how much I loved the colour-coded chart for each student?)

I loved that I could plan projects, create materials lists and manage my budget - I found these ideas to be a great plus to my homeschool management .I think this is an amazing program to help both parents and kids keep on track - I saw the benefit from the kids knowing which assignments they needed to do in advance and plan their workload.

I did find that I needed to refer to the “help” section when filling in the 'Plan' and the articles here were very helpful and good at talking me through the task.

HomeSchool Office is available for $79 for the year. They even have a 30 day free trial so you can see how it works for your family and how it could benefit your homeschool planning.

You can see what my crew mates thought over at the TOS Blog

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