Category Archives: Review Web Sites

Samson’s Classroom


Our family recently reviewed Samson’s Classroom, an online learning program for kids in Kindergarten through 5th grades.

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Samson’s Classroom is designed to help students in various academic areas.  Currently they have developed fun interactive learning games and activities for Sight Words, Spelling, and Reading Comprehension.  This is such a fun way to learn, we are enjoying using the program and hope they will continue to develop more subject areas in Samson’s Classroom.

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Who is Samson?  He is a fun dog that befriends your student and assists them in various learning challenges.  He reads out loud to your student as you work through the programs in the classroom.  When you have successfully mastered learning challenges, Samson also shows your scores and achievements. 

We are very excited about using Samson’s Classroom and we have been including it as a supplement in our Language and Arts studies.  I am using this program with four of my kids: one who reads well (age 12), one struggling reader (age 9), and two beginning readers (ages 7 and 5).  The program was too challenging for my 5 year old to do without me sitting next to her and providing additional assistance.  However the 7 year old was able to do a lot of the program with little assistance.  Children need to be able to read to do the program.




SIGHT WORDS WITH SAMSON

Sight Words With Samson helps children master common words used in the English language.  It focusses on 224 of the most commonly used words through a series of 4 levels of word lists.  Each level has 7 word lists.  Each word list contains 8 words to learn for a total of 224 words (8 words x 7 lists x 4 levels = 224 words). 

To learn the 8 words on each list, the student completes a series of 5 steps:


Study – Study how all 8 of the words in the list are pronounced and spelled.  Samson reads each word and uses it in a sentence on the screen.

Missing Letters – Spell the word using letters provided.  Samson asks you to spell the word with letter tiles provided on the screen.


Letter Scramble – Choose the correct spelling. Samson gives you several words to choose from, reads the correct word to you, and asks you to choose the correct word.


Spell Words – Click the letters to spell the word.


Missing Words – Choose the correct word to complete the sentence.  Samson reads the sentence to you, and you must pick the correct word to fill in the blank.  Each correct word is connected to a treasure chest with a gemstone inside.  Collect all seven gems to complete the challenge.



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If the student does all 5 steps correctly, then they master the word list and can move on to the next list.  If they don’t master the list, they can move on, but do not pass until they go back and complete and pass that section again. 



For each list they master, they receive a star. They can receive 7 stars for the 7 lists on each level. After finishing 7 lists they move on to level 2, and so on. 



But there is another incentive besides stars to get kids to complete the levels.  The goal is to achieve a black belt with Samson.  From the website: “For every 4 stars a student earns, they will advance to the next level in the belt system. Once a student has mastered all 28 word lists, they will become a “Sight Words with Samson Black Belt Master.”  My kids are very motivated with this incentive.   You can read more about beoming a Black Belt Master on their website.

One thing I love about using the Sight Words With Samson is that there is a “Hear Again” button. If my kids didn’t hear the question, or don’t know the answer instantly, they can press “Hear Again”, and Samson repeats the question for them. This is a very helpful feature.  One of my kids is a little hard of hearing.  In everyday life, he can miss some of what is being said if there is background noise or if more than one person is talking at a time.  With Samson’s Classroom, if he misses hearing something, he can press “Hear Again” as much as he needs to help him better understand what is being asked of him.  I love programs that actually read out loud to him, go slow, and allow him to hear it again if he needs it.  I also like how the program gives verbal encouragement “Way To Go” “You Mastered Step 3” “Good Job!” etc. These verbal praises are very encouraging for kids to hear.

The 5 steps of learning activities in the Sight Words With Samson is a very good program for learning spelling, vocabulary, and reading.  It also teaches the kids to follow a system to master skills in language.  I think this is a great idea and I really like how this feature works.


SPELLING WITH SAMSON

In Spelling With Samson, you can create your own spelling lists or use lists that are already created for each grade level.  There are four steps to complete and master each list.

Study
– Study and listen to the word and how it is used in a sentence.

Missing Letters– Help Samson karate chop the missing letters.



Spelling Scramble– watch out for a spider that tries to get Samson as he tries to collect letters to make the spelling words.

 
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Crunch Time
– Help keep Samson warm and dry in the wet freezing cold icebergs and ocean waters by spelling words correctly.  Watch out for Wally the Walrus who bites off chunks of the ice your are standing on, and watch out for falling into the cold water as you jump across patches of ice.

 


Spelling With Samson is a really fun way to play games with spelling words.  They are fun activities, and while having fun, the kids must try to beat the clock while they answer challenges correctly. 


READING WITH SAMSON

In Reading With Samson, the student reads a passage of a story.  Then they answer questions about the story.  They can choose from four different reading levels.

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If they answer the questions correctly, they earn swings for Samson to hit the hammer in a carnival game.  If they help Samson hit with the hammer hard enough, they will ring a bell and knock the spider silly that sits above the bell.  This is funny to watch and a motivation for the kids to read.

The Reading With Samson section of the program required a student to read well to complete the activities. This section was more appropriate for my independent reading student, but not my younger students who do not read well. 



To be honest, my kids did not enjoy the Reading With Samson section of the program.  This section does not read out loud to the student like the other sections of the program did.  Also the reading level is higher than the suggested word skill levels we were using in the spelling and sight words portion of the program.  The passages are long and sometimes complicated with lots of details.  The kids became quickly frustrated with this.

Another reason they did not enjoy this part of the program was that it also does not allow them to go backwards.  If they quit before finishing this section, all the questions are marked as incorrect and they do not pass.  Needless to say, the 9 year old became frustrated and gave up on this section right away.  Only the 12 year old could work through this section on his own, but he did not enjoy it and it was a struggle for me to keep him in this section.  He preferred to return to the other two sections, both Sight Words With Samson and Spelling With Samson, both of which he really liked.


What The Family Had To Say!

The Spelling With Samson is their favorite section of Samson’s Classroom.  The also enjoyed the challenges in Sight Words With Samson, except for the very first challenge called “Study”.  But I thought the “Study” challenge was a very integral part of the learning, and helped them to master the other challenges. 

All that being said, none of the kids liked the Reading With Samson section.  First of all, it was above the reading level of 3 out of 4 of my kids who used the program.  It is definitely not for beginners or for early readers.  You need to be a strong reader and able to go back and locate information to complete this section of the program.

My children would have benefited more from the Reading With Samson section if it had read out loud to them and they could follow along, or read it out loud and then allowed them to practice reading a second time through. It would have also helped to have the questions and the multiple choice answers read out loud to them.  Another suggestion would be to have a level with shorter passages to read.  It just seems to be way above an early reader’s capabilities and was even frustrating to my student who is a strong reader.

But the main reason the 12 year old didn’t like the reading section even though he is a strong reader, was because if you get one of the questions wrong, it automatically gives you a hint and then counts that hint against you. He likes a challenge, but he did not want the hint. He wanted to try again on his own.  He became discouraged with the reading section of the program and afraid if he got it wrong he could not reach a perfect score.  He isn’t a perfectionist, but he felt he could not master it.  He was also frustrated that he could not leave that section without all of it being counted as incorrect.  If he completed some questions correctly, and wanted to leave the passage to move on, it was all counted against him.

I plan to work with my independent reader with the reading section.  I think he will enjoy it more if he can see he can succeed at it.  We will talk over some of the questions and possible answers before he actually answers them so he can work through the different options.  This will help him gain confidence and eventually improve his comprehension skills to remember details about what he is reading.  

Another thing I like is that Samson’s Classroom is available 24 hours a day, and you can use it from anywhere you have internet access. This makes it very handy to use from home or when you are on the go. It provides up to the minute reports for parents and teachers about student progress. It also has
printable achievement awards, lesson plans and activities, worksheets, and more.

I hope the Samson’s Classroom designers will take this great learning program and make it even better!  I hope they will use this as constructive criticism and improve a great product so the various sections, such as the reading section, will be more usable for more skill levels.  I also hope they will add more subject areas in the future, because they have a great system of teaching and the kids like learning with Samson.

I do think it is a great product.  This program will help students improve their skills in spelling, reading, using sight words, and language arts skills.  But it could be even better and more user friendly and adaptable for a broader range of different learning levels with a few adjustments.

 
The Nitty Gritty!

Samson’s Classroom is a fun interactive learning program.  Check out this 3 minute video explaining how Samson’s Classroom can benefit your student and improve learning skills.

A 1 user home subscription to Samson’s Classroom costs $30 a year, and a 4 user family subscription costs $50 a year. There are additional subscription levels available for classrooms and schools. You can also try out a
demo version for free.

Please stop over to the
Schoolhouse Review Crew blog and see what others are saying about this product.


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Disclaimer:  I received this product as a member of the Schoolhouse Review Crew in exchange for writing an honest review.  All opinions expressed are my honest opinion.

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Zoo Whiz


We have been working through the Zoo Whiz online educational website since this school year began.   This has been a good addition to our daily school routine and is helping to enrich my 7 year old’s desire to “learn and earn”.

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Zoo Whiz currently has over 100,000 registered accounts in over 70 countries and it is growing.  It has won the Northern Inland Innovation Awards for research and education, and continues to develop.  Zoo Whiz has thousands of features.  Some of the features are still in development and new features are added as they become available.   It is an academic website for kids to learn math, word skills, reading, gramar, and vocabulary, and more through fun learning games.  Zoo Whiz is designed to be used by children ages 5 to 15.



Zoo Whiz was produced by Graham and Barbara East from EdAlive.  EdAlive , the parent company, holds over 60 major awards and is one of the most awarded publisher of educational software in the world.  EdAlive is used in over 10,000 schools worldwide and has sold over 800,000 copies of their educational CD’s. Graham East has been using computers in the classroom since 1986.  You can read more about their company here.





There is a FREE version of Zoo Whiz, and a PREMIUM version.  We were given the opportunity to review the Premium version with one of our children, and I signed up two of my kids on the Free version too.


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When my kids log in to the program, there is a map on the screen that features a Learn & Earn building, an Arcade, a Biodome, and a Milestones tower.  When the kids click on different buildings on the map, it takes them to the different areas of the program. The kids can keep track of their progress in the Milestones tower.   The kids earn coins for answering questions correctly and advancing levels. The coins can be used for learning games in the Arcade, or they can be used to purchase animals for their own personal zoo in the Biodome. To earn the coins, the go to the Learn and Earn building and complete assignments.  In the premium membership, you are also given coins for opening the account, and you also earn coins for logging in each day too.

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When the student has earned coins, they have the option of playing games in the arcade or going into the shop and purchasing animals for their zoo.  When you click on an animal, a description about the animal, where they are from, how they live, what they eat, etc. is provided.  They learn if the animals are endangered,  and they learn about mythical animals too.


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The kids can set up an avatar as a Zoologist too.  They are given several options of boy and girl avatars and accessories.  They must spend a coin to set up their avatar.  At the bottom of the screen they can see their avatar, how many coins they have earned from doing their lessons, their educational score, and the animals in their zoo.


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Our Thoughts


I thought many of the questions w
ere challenging for the kids.  This program has a great theme and has a lot to offer.  My kids enjoyed the program, but they had no choice either way, as I required them to include it in our school time each morning. So all three put in their efforts with the program each day.  You can read more about how the Zoo Whiz learning program corresponds to curriculum on their website. 

My oldest, age 12, liked the program overall, but he did not like some of the limitations with the free program.  He wanted more interaction with his animals.  He is not into the mythical animal options, so those were of no use to him.  



The free program is limited to basic information about the animals, where as the premium membership has access to lots of information about the animals and has more animals to choose from.  The 12 year old wanted more freedom to use the program and be an actual zoo keeper. He was not satisfied to just know he had animals.  He wanted to know all about them, place them in a zoo, and tend to their needs.  He is used to using other online learning programs, and this one lacked some of the special effects and control he was used to.  

 

The  7 year old and the 9 year old both enjoyed the website.  They enjoyed the games, but to earn coins to play the games, they had to learn and earn their coins.  They become frustrated because a lot of details on the screen (questions, problems, directions, etc.) are above their reading level.  The problems were usually right on target, but the directions for the problem was where they had difficulty. They also lost interest sometimes because the program was slow to load.  They like fast action and do not like to wait.  I would say that 15 to 20 minutes, with encouragement, maxed out their interest level each time they used it.


 



I would definitely recommend the premium account over the free account.  The free account has some limitations and this was discouraging to my 12 year old.  The 7 year old was signed up with the premium account, and I wish I had used the allowed premium spot I was given for the review for the 12 year old, or that all three boys could have had a premium account, because I feel that having full use of the program would have made a difference in their interest level.  The 12 year old is able to work independently and would have benefited even more from using the premium version of the program.





I liked being able to set the learning “floor” of my child’s skill level for Reading, Words, and Math.   I liked the parental pages available in the Premium account, and I was able to follow my child’s progress.  There are some fun free printables offered too, such as greeting cards, stationary, wallpaper, coloring pages and more.  You can use the free printables to further learning when you are “offline”.  I liked all the “helps” for parents and teachers that are offered on the website.  This helps to plan using this program as a supplement to your curriculum.

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However, the program required me to read to the younger kids, a lot.   They were not able to use the program independent of me.  I read instructions and problems to my younger children, and this made it a little cumbersome to me.  My 7 and 9 year old son’s are learning to read, but are not strong readers yet.  I personally did not like having t
o sit at the computer and read every question to them.  If it had required only a little assistance from me, it would be ok.  But it required me to sit and read every question because they could not read the long descriptions, in depth explanations, and questions themselves.  

Some the words were very long and above their reading levels, and I felt this is an oversight in the design of this program.  The program designers should have created a version more appropriate with simple words and explanations for younger age levels and should use language that is at a younger age level of understanding and designed for early readers and children with special needs.  

Overall, I liked the program and would recommend it as a learning resource for homeschools and classrooms.   I do hope they will ad audio to all of the sections and enhance the product by reading the questions to the younger children, and children with special needs, so that a parent does not have to sit at their side the whole time they are using it.  It would be nice for the kids to be able to use Zoo Whiz independently.  I am looking forward to the printable certificates when they are ready. Certificates are a great motivator to my kids.  But even in its current stage of production, Zoo Whiz is a good addition to a homeschool program. 


Cost

Zoo Whiz Premium costs $59.95 for a whole year, and is currently on special sale 75% off for $14.95  This seems to be a very reasonable price for this educational product.  But you can try before you buy.  Just sign up for a FREE account and let your children get started using Zoo Whiz in your learning adventures today.
        
Be sure to read what other 
Schoolhouse Crew members had to say about this product.



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Disclaimer: I was given a free 1 year premium membership for my child in exchange for an honest review.  All opinions expressed are my own honest opinion.

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Vocabulary Spelling City


One of the first online resources I found out about as a homeschool parent was Vocabulary Spelling City.  For several years, my family has used the free basic version.  When we started using it, it was called Spelling City.  It has since been upgraded to Vocabulary Spelling City to reflect that kids are learning vocabulary and spelling at the same time.  It has been a terrific addition to our learning.  It is a fun website for kids and they don’t even know they are learning.  My kids practice their typing and computer skills while learning about spelling and language. 

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We were recently asked to review a paid premium membership to Vocabulary Spelling City. I had no idea it could get any better or be any more useful to us than what it was.  But now I see this resource in a whole new light.  It is amazing.  
VocabularySpellingCity Premium Membership Features
 

Here is a short video explaining all that Vocabulary Spelling City has to offer through a premium membership.


 
Here is a cute video explaining how fun Vocabulary Spelling City can be and how it can transform learning from boring into exciting!



As a parent, I am always looking for fun worksheets for my kids to enhance our learning.  With Vocabulary Spelling City I can print off lots of different kinds of worksheets that pertain to a given topic.  I can also print off handwriting skill sheets and puzzle games.



But to find a worksheet template that you can customize to what your kids are learning is a rare find.  On Vocabulary Spelling City web site, you can make lots of different kinds of custom worksheets.  Here is a short video on how to make a custom sentence worksheet using this web site templates.



They have pricing for families, classrooms, and schools.  I have six children, 5 of them can use this website this year.  It costs $29.99 for a 1 year family membership and it is available to us 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, 365 days, the whole year!  Wow.  For my family that is $6 per child for the entire year.  Why didn’t I do the premium membership sooner?  I don’t know.  And if you are subscribing for a classroom it is as cheap as $2 per student; or a school, you can get bulk discount pricing for as little as a $1.40 per student per year. 
































How Much Does It Cost Per Year?
FamiliesUp to 5 students
$29.99
ClassroomsUp to 25 students
$49.99
Schools26-299 students
$1.95/student

300-999 students
$1.75/student

1,000-4,999 students
$1.55/student

Over 5,000 students
$1.40/student

For inquiries, contact sales@spelling.com

I am excited to share about our experience with Vocabulary Spelling City.  It has been a fun addition to our homeschool.  It could be very helpful for schools, tutors, and families to benefit from.

I hope lots of homeschools will take advantage of this quality resource to help their children improve and expand their vocabulary and spelling skills.  Whether you use the free version, or the paid premium version, it is a great resource to have in your “tool belt”.  

Please stop in and read what other members of the
TOS Crew had to say about this product.


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Disclaimer:  I recieved a copy of this product as a TOS Crew member in exchange for writing an honest review.

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Homeschool Library Builder

 
I am always searching for quality books for our home library.  When I was younger, I used to dream that one day I would have a special “library room” in our home with walls filled from floor to ceiling with great books.  Truth is, though I do not have an entire library room, I have managed to build a nice home library on a few book shelves. 

A home library is an ongoing project.  It is always growing as I find another treasure to add.  As I build our home library one book at a time, and we share reading these treasures together, I hope to pass my excitement about books on to my children.  



  • Are you building a home library for your family? If so, would you like to find books for your library at a discount?
  • Do you struggle to find just the right “bargain” book for curriculum? 
  • Do you want to give books for gifts to friends and loved ones, but don’t want to overspend on them? 
  • Would you be interested in a wider range of higher quality books, if you could acquire them at 50% off or more?


If you answered “yes” to any of the above questions, you might want to check out the Homeschool Library Builder website.

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I recently learned about the Homeschool Library Builder.  They have unbelievable discounted prices on many books.  I found books that normally sold for $30, marked down to $5.   I was also impressed with the wide selection of products they carry that fit into my homeschool needs.

One really special aspect of the Homeschool Library Builder website is a feature to look up books that go with different curriculum options.  Here is an example; if you are pursuing Ambelside 3rd grade, you can click on the link and find all the books they have at a discount for this method.  They offer lists for Ambelside, Five in a Row, Sonlight, Tapestry Of Grace, Beautiful Feet and more.  If you are using one of these methods, I encourage you to check their website and see what deals are available before you pay full retail price somewhere else.

Homeschool Library Builder is owned by two homeschool families who are making a difference in helping other homeschool families acquire quality books at an affordable (cheap!) price.   There is so much to choose from like fiction, non-fiction, parenting, curriculum, science, literature, activity books, and more. They also have special bins marked down to $5, $3, and $1 too.

Description from their website: 



  • New and used literature

Whether a book is hard- or softcover, like new or ex-library, in good or fair condition, our items are clearly rated by condition and priced accordingly.



  • Guidance for selecting worthwhile books

Items are organized by categories and age level, so you can easily locate what you need!


They have thousands of books marked down 10% to 97% off.  Some of these bargain prices are cheaper than finding treasures at local used book sales, thrift stores, or garage sales.  It could cost you more in gas to go pick up used books at a local garage sale, than it would to use this discount bargain website.  There are some really great deals that meet a wide range of needs.

Here are a couple of examples I found to share with you:

Magraw Hill  Reading 4th Grade   curriculum retails for $76.50 on sale for $5
Savings of 93% 

 A Midsummer Nights Dream  retails for $18.95 on sale for $3.00
Savings of 84%

The Heart: Our Circulatory System retails for $6.99 on sale for $3.99   
A savings of 43%

The Magic School Bus Inside  A Hurricane  retails for $5.99  on sale for $3.99
A savings of  33%


Be sure to stop over and check out the Homeschool Library Builder.  In addition to their already marked down bargain prices, they offer a free membership too.  Membership has lots of perks such as bonus book points for purchases, and more book points for telling others about them such as putting their logo on your website, a newsletter with additional monthly special discounts, free ship dates, and more.  So it’s definitely worth signing up for the free membership.

Homeschool Library Builder offers special discount offers all the time.  For the whole month of May 2012 they are offering an additional 25% off your entire order.  Thats a great deal on top of a great deal.  I hope you will check them out and see if their books are a good fit for your home library.

If you would like to read what others on the TOS Homeschool Crew thought of the Homeschool Library Builder website, be sure to check out what they had to say here.


Disclaimer:  As a member of the TOS Homeschool Crew, I was asked to review the above mentioned website.  I did not receive any products in exchange for my honest opinion. 


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