Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Virtual Nerd pricing update -TOS

Virtual Nerd is a program I reviewed a few weeks ago.  The company is in the process of learning how to work with the homeschool community and I give them kudos for making the effort. :o)

Here is the latest email from the company.  If this was something you were interested in and the price was just too high, this may be the incentive you needed.

Thank you for your interest in Virtual Nerd!

The free-offer for Educators is intended for classroom-based teachers. We defined this approach because classroom teachers use our service as a supplemental teaching tool and then refer students (and parents) to our site, and they become paid subscribers. These referred, paid subscriptions provide the income we need to sustain our business.

We appreciate that homeschool parents are teachers as well, and want to establish a discount program for homeschool teachers that enables us to sustain our business. We are working diligently on partnering with homeschooling communities and co-ops around the country to offer special rates to homeschoolers. If you’d like us to consider your organization in our program, please respond to this e-mail with the name and contact information for your organization.

In the meantime, while we finalize these arrangements we want to ensure that you have the benefit of using our service. For a limited time, Virtual Nerd is offering 50% Off Monthly Subscriptions to homeschool families. When registering for service, please use the following promotion code:


Please note, this offer is exclusive to families who are homeschooling their children. So spread the word!

Thank you for your patience and continued interest. We look forward to seeing you online.

Friday, January 21, 2011


I have never been a fan of time travel.  You end up spending your time thinking about what should've, could've, would've, instead of experiencing this daily life you already have.  And if you could time travel, imagine all the new decisions you would face; what do you change, (after all, why relive the past if you can't change it) and what consequences is it going to have?  There is also the dread of knowing what is going to happen.  All the life would be sucked out of life.

With that being said, sometimes I do get a little wistful.  And Speekee, a Spanish program for younger kids, is definitely a wistfulness instigator.

When Dragonette was 2, she was already a master of the English language.  She could talk your ear off and if that got old, was not beyond reading your other ear off.  So I, her earless mother, was always on the look out for something to pour into that head of hers.  I tried to interest her in French, after all, I had taken four years of it in high school and her father had taken two, so I figured we could handle the basics. But that stubborn streak (I won't mention where she got that) was a mile long and dear little Dragonette insisted upon Spanish.

Now let me just begin that a decade ago in a small town NE town in Ohio, Spanish was not in abundance.  Not in the stores, nor the population, and definitely not the library.  The few videos available were, to a 2 year old, insipid.  Needless to say, other than what Dora the Explorer taught, Dragonette did not learn Spanish.

What I would have done if SpeekeeTV had been available to us like it was these last few months!  Imagine a Sesame Street that teaches Spanish instead of English.  Complete with puppets, kids, colors, numbers, subtitles in English and Spanish, and catchy songs.
Speekee, Dino, and Lupi

Speekee is program that currently has 10 episodes that are 15-20 minutes long. There is a host puppet, Speekee, along with sock puppets Lupi and Dino, a human man named Jim, and a cast of human kids.  There is a loose format to each episode, where opening and closing songs are sung, along with visiting a new place each episode (the store, the playground, the zoo, the school, etc.)  Vocabulary is covered for each place, as is a review of numbers, colors, and vocabulary from earlier episodes.  Common phrases (like "Where are we going") are used repetitively and everything is captioned on your computer screen in English and Spanish.  That is very convenient for visual learners who need to see what is being said, and for parents who don't have a clue about Spanish.
10 episodes available

Activities to download/print
But what really sets this program apart is the activities found with each episode.  There are not only recipes and activities you can try, but worksheets to reinforce what is being said.  Some writing, some drawing, some coloring, but most importantly, you are learning how to write the language as you learn it.  I wish high school language classes had been this fun.

Now the suggested ages for this program is 2-10 years old.  I don't have any little littles around anymore, but I signed up for this program because Dragonette has finally got her wish and is enrolled in Spanish 1 and I was intrigued about what she would think about the songs.

We started watch on the computer, but four of us crowded around the monitor is not a pretty sight.  We were thrilled when the Wii option was added, as watching on our TV was much more comfortable. On the Wii, Speekee was more challenging, as there were no subtitles.  This would be true immersion for first time viewing, or a good way to test if you really are picking up the Spanish. If I had young children, I would have definitely let this run often during the day, but as a family with older kids, we often found ourself waiting for Dad to get home so we could watch as a family.  What other puppets do you know that inspire a whole family to sit down and watch?

Speekee and Jim
I like the puppets; I like that it is not dumbed down; I like the subtitles; I like the worksheets; but most of all, I love the songs.  All four of us walk around the house singing these ditties because they get stuck in your head. My Latin learner and my jobsite Spanish speaker are totally into it with Dragonette, and are always having to coach poor Mom, who gets her English, French, and now Spanish very, very jumbled in her head.

So if I had a time machine, I would definitely take Speekee back to that small NE Ohio town's library and deal with the consequences. 

Speekee is available in 2 formats, DVD and streaming (SpeekeeTV).

  • The Speekee DVDs are produced in Europe and use the PAL format for colour encoding. US / Canadian systems use the NTSC format as standard. Many, but not all, North American DVD players are capable of playing PAL media. If you are based in North America, please check your equipment before purchase. Alternatively, subscribe for Speekee TV
  • 4 DVD video discs, 34-track audio CD plus 70 page guide
  • 30 money-back guarantee
  • The price is in British pounds (95.00) so your price will depend on the current exchange rate
Speekee TV
  • All 10 episodes plus the activities
  • can be streamed on your computer with the subtitles or through your Wii's Internet channel without the subtitles (great for practicing to see if you really know what is going on)
  • can subscribe monthly for $7.50 and yearly for $75.00
There is a free two week trial for SpeekeeTV.  You do have to enter your credit card number, but customer service has been excellent for the Review Crew, and not only put prices in American dollars with a yearly option at our request, but also talked to their tech guy and within a few days of being asked, had figured out how to make SpeekeeTV available on the Wii. I have very high praise for their attention to their customers' concerns.

    Thursday, January 20, 2011

    Old Fashioned or Old Fogey

    More and more, I am feeling very old fashioned.  Not Little House on the Prairie old fashioned, although I have daydreamed of living on my 140 acres off the grid, but old fogey old fashioned.  I like my news 7 days a week in my paper box on the street, listen to "oldies" from the 90's, and watch TV shows on Netflix way more than broadcast TV.

    But it wasn't always this way.  I got my first computer when I was 17, a Zeos that only showed orange on the screen.  I used shareware to type things up for school and I jumped onto the 'net  a computer or two later with dial up about 1994.  I had two VCR's (both 4-headed!) for dubbing tapes and a camcorder that used VHS-C so you could stick the tapes straight into the VCR.

    Today, I am a die hard fan of email, am subscribed to over 20 email loops, and spent two hours this December just to organize my bookmarks.  I started blogging in June for TOS and I joined Facebook reluctantly in November, after finding out it was the way to find out what my 27 first cousins and all their offspring are up to.  While I have a cell phone (I know homeschool moms that don't), the only smartness my phone has is to call the people that I tell it to.

    So I guess my whole point here is that even though I don't Tweet and Facebook my every move, I am still in the loop.

    Using my old fashioned methods, I am in touch with thousands of homeschoolers, locally and internationally.  I can suggest a curriculum or answer a question, without a stat counter or a blog follower.  I can tell you what worked and what didn't for us and our learning styles, tell you about new books, sites, and products I have heard about and who liked/didn't like them.  I can answer questions precisely and in real time, without you having to subscribe to something that might talk about everything else except what you had a question about.

    Today's world is so full of people wanting to tell me what they think before I even ask. With 20 minutes of commercials in every hour of programming, news channels that blow everything out of proportion, reality shows about anything but reality, web ads targeted to you, and a mailbox full of things I supposedly need, I cannot be the only one who values being able to ask before I get an answer.
    In other words, don't discount us old guys and our old fashioned ways.  We may snoop out the latest, and network it with thousands of people, quickly and concisely, in ways that cannot be measured by the latest google gadget.

    New Year, New Things

    I am fairly new to this blogging thing as it was thrust upon me if I wanted to take part in the TOS Review Crew.  The latest mandate from the powers that be is that I must have 4 posts a month, even if I do not have 4 products to review each month.  So I have been kicking this around, trying to decide what to do, without boring y'all and taking up your time with a bunch of drivel.

    I wanted to add a page, similar to the Books We Like page, to keep the TOS review separate from my own adventures.  However, if I divide things up that way, those posts do not end up in the Archives, but instead are just a list.  If any of my technology gifted readers out there have a suggestion, I am all ears, even though it does make me look kinda funny. But gravity is helping with that already.

    In the meantime, it looks like I am just going to have to mix things up willy nilly.  So from now on, if a post is for The Old Schoolhouse Magazine Review Crew (TOS), it will say so in the header and my disclaimer will apply.  Otherwise, I will have received nothing for my opinion, except completing that four post minimum, and maybe losing the two cents I am sharing.

    Wednesday, January 12, 2011

    Virtual Nerd

    There is nothing like a being a mother to remind you that your brain has a limited capacity.  I used to be a fairly smart person, but for a few years my brain was full of things that the ordinary person did not want to talk about (diapers, potty training, tantrums, etc).  I was well read on the subjects, but had no one to engage in discussions with other than those I was practicing my knowledge on.  Now that my children are older, I am starting to have glimmers of the person I used to be.  Random facts come out of the blue and I have no idea where I learned it or why it has not been accessible for 15 years.  Just last week I realized that I really did know how to find the square root of 56.  Who knew! And I can still string together French words into sentences!  It is a very exciting time in my life, as I work on regaining my brain, although my kids think I am really losing it instead.

    One of the most wondrous things about the human brain is how it catalogs its knowledge.  Its search engine is un-replicated.   Memories are cataloged under sights, sounds, tastes, smells.  It can jump from one topic to another to another, till you forget where you started.  It can interact with other brains by a variety of languages, artwork, chemical pheromones, and body movement.

    So imagine when a parent is interacting with another brain and they are trying to recall something that was cataloged in their head 20 years before, and the frustration when they try to rely on tools invented by other humans to jog their memories. The tools want specific input and will only return specific output.  The tools do not understand how the human brain works and its associations.  Nor do they understand that a human brain can have parts of the solution and need the other parts found and returned to complete the whole memory.

    The ability to relate one topic to another and to another until understanding is complete is what makes Virtual Nerd, a new web based math assistance program, different.  Its input and output comes in many different forms and allows you to wander all over within a topic, until you find all the pieces you are missing.

    Let's look at input.

    With Virtual Nerd, you can search for Pre-Algebra, Algebra 1 or 2, or Physics topics.  You can do this by keyword, an interactive flow chart, or in the case of Algebra 1, by the contents of 4 different math texts.

    Once you get in the ballpark of what you need answers about, you chose a topic, and are taken to a screen that is divided into three parts.

    The output for the chosen topic is in visual and auditory forms.  It is also search-able and relates itself to many other topics. 

    The Video:
    • uncluttered
    • readable handwriting
    • instructor is very well spoken
    • good volume
    The Diagram:
    • computer font
    • covers same info as video without extra written prompts found on white board
    • uses different colors for emphasis
    • writes entire worked problem neatly and succinctly
    • hover your mouse over this box and another pops up with related topics and definitions
    The Step-by-Step
    • a written script or "closed captioning" for the video
    • uses different colors for emphasis
    • fast forwarding and rewinding available by scrolling and clicking
    • hover your mouse over this box and another pops up with related topics and definitions

    This program is different from other math programs I have seen, because it has no limit of moving you sideways through a topic, giving you easy access to layers of instruction for each step made in a problem.  This effect is very similar to the human brain and how one thing can remind you of another....and another......

    I did find the keyword search at times to be not as detailed as I would like and sometimes it would bring up more subjects than I wanted to wade through.  I found the textbook searches to work best, even though we were not using one of the text books listed, when looking up a subject from a text book that Dragonette needed a clearer explanation of.

    I have very high praise for the woman on the videos.  I had no problems understanding her and she had no distracting "umms" or pauses, or mistakes while writing.  She obviously memorized the script and feeds it back to us flawlessly.

    This is not a full teaching curriculum and is not meant to be.  It is instead a tutoring tool that was created by two guys who wanted to share their love of math effectively.  The company has plans to add practice problems, quizzes, and the ability to get feedback along with more Physics, Chemistry, Pre-Calculus, and Calculus.

    The company offers a variety of pricing plans.

    1 day = $5
    1 week = $19
    1 month = $49
    3 months = $129

    The company also offers a 2 hour free trial and a free membership to educators at accredited institutions.

    I think that if you are struggling with math, this program could be very helpful.  It is a powerful and intuitive tutoring tool, and is probably cheaper and less logistically challenging than hiring a tutor.  It could also be used for review before a big test.  But at our house, paying monthly for this service would absolutely break our homeschooling budget.

    I would like to see this company develop a pricing compromise for homeschoolers.  While I understand they are hoping teachers at accredited institutions will advertise their service to their students and provide them with free access to try out the program, I don't feel it is fair to lump homeschoolers in with the general public, since we not only pay taxes to support local school, but then turn around and pay again to educate our own children with no tax breaks, usually on one income.  Perhaps while the company is expanding its offerings, it will also research the homeschool market and learn about our needs, too.  To stay afloat in the competitive market of math helps, it would behoove them to befriend the homeschool community instead of using us to fund free services for teachers at accredited institutions and their families.

    I hope the company takes homeschoolers' needs in mind, as they have an excellent product that is well presented.