Sunday, December 26, 2010

Year in Review 2010

Welcome to the family Christmas letter.  I didn't manage to get it out on time (heck half my cards are still waiting to get addressed and my parents christmas present is one of them.  So here goes

This year has been one of happiness and heartache for our family.

John, after being employed with Sun Microsystems for 13 years was laid off at the end of January.  Within two weeks he was hired at a friend's startup.  He no longer worked from home which was an adjustment for the whole family.  He left the startup in September for a position in Oracle.  He started serving in Awana again in the fall after taking the last year off.  He also continued to be the Den Leader for Neil's cub scout den.  The den got so big that it was split and John now has 6 boys at our house just about every Monday.  He still enjoys running but hasn't managed to get out to do it much.
Traci wrapped up the remaining reconstruction surgery in January and was cleared in March by the oncologists and surgeons to get back to life.  Easier said than done as she was spiraling into depression.  I won't go into the details but it was ugly.  John got her to the gym and she took up running in preparation for a sprint tri in early May.  In June she tore her calf and entered physical therapy.  She took some time with girlfriends on a weekend trip to Seattle (so much cheaper than therapy).  She ran two more 5k's in October and November and hopes to be able to continue.  She still homeschools the kids and has become a reviewer for homeschool products.

Claire is now 14 and a freshman.  We continue to school her at home.  She enjoys singing in the high school level choir.  She has been babysitting for a lot of people lately and saving up for summer camps. She is also a well loved volunteer on the toddler hall and Cubbies.  She has become quite the accomplished baker.  Traci hasn't had to make a batch of cookies in over a year.  You can find her on facebook most days.  She is still taller than Traci and working on passing John.

Hannah is almost 13.  She can't wait to turn 13 in order to get her own facebook account.  She still plays the piano but doesn't take lessons anymore.  She too is becoming quite the baker.  She loves to draw.  Her math lessons often have a doodling theme and coloring scheme making them fun to grade. She continues to serve in the Kindergarten sunday school class and in Cubbies.

Ian continues to play baseball spring and fall.  He just earned his arrow of light award ( the highest award a cub scout can earn) a few weeks back.  He is eagerly looking forward to joining the Boy Scout Troop at our church. He has started taking some responsibilities on around the house because when you camp with the boy scouts the youth are on their own.  We have seen great growth in his attitude just in the two months he has been interviewing a troop.

Neil played baseball in the spring and soccer this past fall.  He LOVES soccer.  It is a natural fit for his bouncy personality.  He is a wolf scout this year enjoying a new pack with his dad.  He is in the second grade absorbing information like a sponge.  He continues to excel in math and science.  He still loves the Wii but can also be found swinging away on the playset out back.

Avery at 6 is catching up to Neil in height.  She played soccer in the fall too.  She just loved the pink uniform!  She will be taking the spring off of soccer since she had many leg pain complaints over the fall.  We took her in early for her annual orthopedic appointment and it looks like she will  have surgery again sometime in 2011.  The original bone tumor is coming back but it is another one in the same knee that is giving her trouble this time.  We go back in February (back on the every six month plan) to evaluate her limb length discrepancy and discuss surgery.  She is also a Daisy scout gearing up for cookie sales in January!  Other than that she is very much the princess, attitude and all around her.

The family took two trips this year.  One was to Colorado with all of John's side of the family.  16 of us rented a huge mountain home and spent the week romping in the woods, playing cards and just enjoying each others company in a lovely setting.  Our second trip was to Washington DC.  We spent one week in the city and then headed down to Virginia to see friends and the Historic Triangle.  It was a great two weeks filled with history and fun.  We also took one other small weekend trip up to Palo Duro Canyon where we camped.  It was too hot to hike so we explored Canyon, and Amarillo Texas, sightseeing along Route 66
Merry Christmas Everyone

Monday, December 13, 2010

Thanksgiving in Texas

What a crazy weather day for Thanksgiving this year.  Our guests started arriving around noon dressed in shorts and t-shirts (we are way casual around here) by the time they left around 8 they needed heavy jackets!  I believe the temp at noon was 84 and by 8pm it was 43.  We had the windows open at first because both ovens were going and it was just warm inside.  Then the cold front blew in with one of the kids coming in from playing and we quickly got the windows shut.  When dessert rolled around the kids took to lighting the gas fireplace!  A fun time was had by all.  There were 11 others for dinner besides the 7 of us and 7 more joined us for dessert.  We cooked two turkeys, one in the oven and one in the Big Green Egg.  MMMM nobody went home hungry and all left with turkey leftovers!  My parents flew in from Arizona to join the festivities too.
The kids played phase 10, rockband, and general silliness in the green belt.  The adults ate, ate and I think we talked between eating.  We had yummy appetizers ( My sister made some brie spread that was good I hear) to start the stomachs properly.  Then it was on to the birds.
This little bird was an oven bird.  Brined overnight in the cooler
This little bird was smoked in the Big Green Egg.  Also brined overnight in the cooler.

This little gem is my sister-in-love's recipe for cranberry sauce.  A few years ago she taught Claire how to make it.  I just get to watch the cranberries pop :)


I have 1 math lover, 1 math hater, and 3 math tolerators.  Yep, if you do the math that is 5 kids and only one who is passionate about math, he happens to be in the 2nd grade - working in a 3rd grade level math text at the moment.  So when I pulled up ALEKS for the first time it was my second grader who wanted to try it first.  

What is ALEKS?
From their website... 
Assessment and LEarning in Knowledge Spaces is a Web-based, artificially intelligent assessment and learning system that uses adaptive questioning to quickly and accurately determine exactly what a student knows and doesn't know in a course. ALEKS offers truly individualized instruction that meets the student at her learning level and instructs her on the exact topics that she is most ready to learn. As a result, no two students will experience the same learning path while working in ALEKS. Learn more by watching a quick 2-minute video.

When you first use ALEKS it has you set up a master account for the parent to oversee the student accounts.  You then set up individual student accounts.  When the student gets on it takes them first to an assessment.  I loved the assessment part.  It took the kids through a series of questions and assessed what they knew.  The student has an option of "I haven't learned this yet" button if they haven't learned the concept yet.

After the assessment the student is given a pie.  "My ALEKS Pie" as Neil called it.  In fact he would often say he was going to go "eat some ALEKS pie" and he would log himself on.  The pie shows both parent and student what they have mastered and what they need to work on further.  The student can select a topic to work on.  ALEKS then has them do a few questions and if they master it they move on. ALEKS works towards mastery, it isn't just a one right answer - you know it deal.

I liked several aspects of ALEKS for all my kids.  The assessment was good.  The pie gave them visual of their accomplishments and what they needed to work on.  The questions gave them an "explain" option where the problem was explained in detail, then another question of the same type was offered for them to solve on their own.  Like I said earlier my math lover loved ALEKS and considered it a  treat to log on.  My math tolerators tolerated ALEKS.  They found the interface enjoyable enough though to come back to it once or twice so I could see how the program worked.  My math hater is just really hating math right now.  The nice thing about ALEKS for her was to show her her pie and just how much Algebra she really knew. I can see ALEKS being a huge asset as a tutor to the upper level math programs.  

Overall ALEKS is a good program with an easy interface, good customer service.
Subscription for an individual child is $19.95 a month.
ALEKS offers a family discount for more than one student for either the 6 month or 12 month time frame here.

The button below gives you a free one month trial of ALEKS!  This is a great way to see if ALEKS is for your family.  Their website only offers 3 hours of use in a 48 hour period so click the button below to get started.

Visit ALEKS for 1-Month Trial

See what my fellow crew mates thought of ALEKS here.

Disclaimer:  I received a free trial period of Aleks for review purposes only

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

TOS REVIEW ~ Master Ruler

Master Innovations

Do your kids ever get frustrated using a ruler?  Do all those lines confuse them?  While grading the young ones math do you discover they used the centimeter side rather than the inch side?  Well the master ruler will help with all that!

The Master Ruler is several  clear plastic rulers that are bound together.  The clear plastic helps one with seeing through the ruler.  A huge plus for little ones trying to manipulate a ruler on a math sheet.  The several rulers are actually different measurements.  For example on the inch ruler you have a 1/2, 1/4, 1/8, and a 1/16 ruler.  To eliminate the lines for the smaller dimensions if you child is merely looking for inches then you just open it up to the inch.  As you teach the smaller ones you can add them in.  It gives the kids a great visual that a 1/2 inch is 1/2 of an inch and so on.  They also carry a metric ruler as well. Both are available for $9.95 each.

Master Innovations
Along with the two rulers I received Master Innovations also sent along a work book (pictured above) and a measurement poster ( pictured below).  The workbook has lots of fun worksheets that encourage the use of the ruler while introducing the various measurements.  Listed in the upper corner of the worksheet is the measurement used for example on the "Birds of Beauty" page it indicates 1/2 inch.  This workbook provides  a lot of ruler work.  The 24 page workbook is available for $15.95.  The poster that was sent has made a great addition to our school room wall.  It shows length, capacity and weight.  It also gives kids some reference points as to how big an inch is.  

Master Innovations

The Master Ruler is available through Master Innovations website.  Also on the website you will find videos that show how to use the ruler and how to use it to help teach fractions.  Overall I think the master ruler is a good tool to have in the classroom.

Check out what my crew mates thought of the Master Ruler here

Disclaimer:  I received a free copy of the product for review purposes.