14 November 2014

Snake Oil from Out of the Box Games {Schoolhouse Crew Review}

Out of the Box Games Review
If your family plays games, you have likely played a game created by Out of the Box Games.  It wasn't until looking into Snake Oil that I realized all the games we have played that are Out of the Box Games.  In addition to the Snake Oil ($19.99) game we are reviewing (for ages 10+), there is Snake Oil - Party Potion ($14.99), for ages 8+, that can stand alone or be added on to the original Snake Oil.  Snake Oil has won numerous awards and is considered a great classroom game.  I was skeptical.
Out of the Box Games Review
Because all of us wanted to play, but only some are 10 or older, we played with teams.  The children paired up - and older and younger sibling for each team and mama on her own (sniff).  Once I we read through the directions it was easy enough to get started.  The biggest difficulty in the beginning was the younger ones wanting to draw the cards.  That's easy to accommodate them.  After playing a time or two, my nearly 9 year old son had no problem playing on his own, without an older sister.  You can play with as many as 10 players (likely due to the number of cards and time rather than actual limitations with 10 players) and we found more players = more fun. 
The directions weren't clear whether the stacks of cards are to be face up or down, so we chose face up.  Through playing a few times, we saw how the directions and their ambiguity is one of the beauties of the game.  When we are getting used to the game and playing with younger siblings, everything is face up and easier.  Keeping the cards facedown means their selection is truly random and more difficult.  There are variations given on the direction sheet to help when playing with larger groups or to use more word cards.
There is a whole section on the website for using Snake Oil in the classroom or at the homeschool dining table (look under the educational tab halfway down the product page).  There are things I never would have thought of using the game for - public speaking and critical thinking.  After playing, it seems obvious, but beforehand I just wasn't sure.  It surely doesn't come across as your typical educational game.  And that might be one of the reasons why it is fun to play!

The whole game is based off of the idea of the stereotypical snake oil salesman.  The history of snake oil is on the direction sheet and my children loved reading about it.  True snake oil is actually a good remedy, but oh-so-easy to fake.  Even before reading the history, my older daughter could see a few other stereo types that fit the snake oil salesman mold.  Once we learned that we would be trying to sell our customer on something that may or may not actually work or truly exist, my more literal children had a much easier time having fun with the game.
They loved their turn being the customer.  The game really encourages role-playing in that the customer has a particular persona.  The customer cards are double sided with a different customer/character on each.  We did not object to any, but have some friends who may not wish to use those for a witch or vampire, etc.  We did find a few (4 I think?) objectionable (for our family) word cards.  The word cards are the cards used to determine your product.  We read through each of the cards when we first opened the box to be sure everyone knew what the words meant.  Because we had first read through the customer cards, this really helped them to see both logical and silly product ideas.  I was starting to see the critical thinking component to the game.
Once we actually played a few times, I knew this was a winner.  My children had fun, were creative and used those critical thinking skills.  These are the type of games we like to use for game school days.  They don't even realize the practice and application of skills - Yay!  My youngest children did not have as much fun.  The playing was fine, but not having their team's product chosen was not so fine.  I am so torn between modifying things to please them - like points earned for their sales pitch versus one winner each time.  I know they need to learn how to lose gracefully - and at home rather than among peers.  It's a tough call sometimes being the mom.
Out of the Box Games Review
Be sure to check out all the reviews of both Snake Oil and Snake Oil - Party Potion.
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Thank you Out of the Box Games!
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13 November 2014

Purposeful Design: Understanding the Creation by Jay Schabacker {Schoolhouse Crew Review}

Purposeful Design Review
When we were given the opportunity to review a book about creation, of course we said yes.  When we received this beautiful hardcover book, everyone crowded around to look through it.  Full of photos and other images illustrating various aspects of creation, the book, referred to as a coffee table book, is a feast for the eyes.  We don't have a coffee table, but we do enjoy the size and photographs in coffee table books.  Purposeful Design: Understanding the Creation ($24.95 - see special offer at the end of the review) is an award winning book (deservedly so) written by Jay Schabacker.  In addition to the book, there is also a downloadable curriculum to accompany it available on the Purposeful Design website.
Purposeful Design Review
Throughout the book (93 pages), the creation account found in Genesis is the foundation.  The chapters focus on each day in succession.  Within each day, purposes for what has been created or put in place are shown.  Often, scientific thoughts are what is shown, though this is not a science book.  We love when we can see how science supports God's plan.  
In addition to the scriptures from Genesis referenced, there are others throughout the book praising our creator.  These are often found over photographs of beautiful things in nature.  These images are crisp and clear.  There are some other, smaller photographs that are not clear, but seem to be poorer quality.  They do not detract from the book, but stand out due to the magnificence of the others.  I hope this was a printing issue that will not be present in future printings.
All of our family enjoyed reading through the book.  The youngers were mostly oohing and aahhing over the photos.  The olders kept reading aloud this fact or that.  There is a good balance of text to graphics and images.  It was interesting when we tried to read aloud.  As much as my children enjoyed looking through and/or reading on their own, it wasn't as conducive to reading aloud.  It's hard to pinpoint and exact age range for this book.  The reading level might put it higher, but the sheer wonder of looking through the pictures makes it appealing to all of my children - preK and up - including mom and dad.  
The coordinated curriculum, Young Explorer's Club, is free to download ($7.95 valaue).  There are two files, workbook style pages and a separate teacher's key.  The questions and activities, about 3-4 pages for each chapter, are suitable for a range of ages.  There are some questions which will lead to good discussions - especially your middle school and older children.  There are drawing activities - my children love that!  There are additional scriptures given that can be used as copywork, memorization or just for reading.  The curriculum is very open ended in how it can be used.  I did note on the download page that there will be some revisions eventually made to group activities by appropriate ages.  That will be a great benefit.  We added a few simple crafts to make the younger ones happy.  This made a nice family study to get even more out of the beautiful book.  You know how we homeschool moms are - everything can have a lesson built around it.  It is hard to leave a book alone.
Seeing just how much God loves us to have put so much into what He made is the point and it is well made.  Our home, the earth was not chaos resolving itself but intentionally, purposefully designed and executed by God out of love for us.  Wow!  
A special for the holidays (not sure when it will end) is $18.95 and free shipping.  It is also mentioned that the curriculum is part of this special - maybe indicating that it won't always be freely available.  Snag this deal while you can!  
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Thank you Jay Shabacker!
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12 November 2014

IXL for Math and Language Arts {Schoolhouse Crew Review}

Christmas Book Review

We have been using IXL in our family ever since our first time reviewing this great program.  Long known for math practice that children enjoy using, they keep adding more and getting even better!  Not only have my children been practicing a range of math skills, but my some of my children have been practicing language arts skills, too.  They have been thrilled to work on the desktop or the iPad through the app.

My youngest son, four years old, is thrilled to have his own school - and on the computer or iPad makes it even more exciting for him.  He is working in the beginning level of math - having fun while identifying shapes, comparing sizes, and of course, counting various objects.  It is easiest for him to use the app on the iPad; the touch screen makes it easy for him to manipulate.  The audio reading the questions and answer choices for him allow him to work independently - just like his older siblings.  He is working through what he knows and learning how to use the program.  Before long he will have finished all the skills in Level A.  It will be easy to select Level B and continue on when he's ready.  Math skills are available for the earliest learners (pre-K) through senior in high school levels (pre-calculus).

My youngest daughter, six-year old first grader, is working on math also.  She does most of her work at grade level.  When she is really enjoying a specific skill and completes all the Level C work for it, she chooses Level D and continues with that skill.  We really enjoy how easy it is work at just the level that the child needs, changing as often as necessary.  This daughter has been working on IXL for a year now.  The addition of using the iPad for some of her daily work is always fun.  We are limited to only being able to use the app when we have wifi access.  This is a bummer when we are on the road, but wonderful when we are spending the day at Grandma's or the library.  This daughter has even enjoyed working playing while we grocery shop (so happy on of our regular stores has wifi!).

My 3rd grade son, 6th grade daughter and 8th grade daughter are all working on both math and language arts skills.  Language Arts is available from 2nd through 8th grade levels.  My children don't really know what level they are working on though.  There is an option to have the levels labelled by letter instead of grade number.  My 6th grade daughter is actually working on many of the same math skills at the same level as her younger brother.  This would really affect her confidence if she knew.  I am so thankful for this option.  It lets my children focus on their learning and practice and not whether they are doing the work others say they should be.  We also have the option to compare the skills and levels in IXL with our state's standards.  It automatically has our state shown because of our address information.  We do not do any portfolios or testing in Indiana, but if we did, it would be nice to know what would be expected to be learned for each grade.

It is important to note that IXL is a membership website for practicing skills.  There is not instruction but practice for specific skills.  If a problem is answered incorrectly, then an explanation is shown.  This is shown below the initial problem and correct answer.  If the incorrect answer was just an error in inputting the answer, it is easy to go on to the next problem.  If there is confusion, it is easy to scroll down and review the process.  If there are continued difficulties, a lower level for this skill can be selected.  This has been so easy for my children to navigate on their own.  For most of their basic math learning they are able to progress simply by working through IXL.  My one daughter that struggles with math concepts is still progressing, just with some needed instructional help from mama.  My dyslexic daughter is really enjoying the new feature having the question presented with audio.  Previously, this was only an option for the youngest grade levels.

You may be wondering how I can keep up with all that my children are doing.  I get frequent emails of my children's progress.  I can also easily access reports from my own sign-in on the website.  I can choose which student, which levels (great when they are working across a few levels) and which subject.  My only question is their motivation.  They earn little rewards (a sticker in a square on a grid) for completing skills, or practice for a certain amount of time or number of questions.  I like that there are several opportunities to earn these rewards, I just don't know that this simple reward would have been enough to motivate me at their ages.  There are no flashy graphics or extra games.  It is not boring practice, but there really are no bells and whistles.  And it works!  My children are all making good progress and ask to do their math.  On our busiest days when little formal schoolwork is accomplished, I know doing math will be no problem.

IXL is a subscription site.  A membership can be configured in numerous ways for most any need.  The initial student for one subject is $9.95/month or $79/year.  Add $2 per month for additional students ($20/year) in one subject - math or language arts.  Want to do both subjects?  $15.95/month or $129/year for one student.  For two students, both subjects it is $17.95/month or $149/year.  It is easy to figure exactly what your costs will be by choosing monthly vs yearly, number of students (1-10) and math and or language arts.

Be sure to check out the other reviews from my fellow Crew members.  You can also visit the IXL website and sample problems from all levels and both subject areas.

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Thank you IXL!

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