Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Review: The Quarter Mile Math...Math Practice Made Painless!

I was excited to receive software to review from Barnum for The Quarter Mile Math practice. I have seen the product and have heard others tell of how much they liked it but it was just one of those extras I hadn’t quite convinced myself we needed for our homeschool. And though some things that I review are tried and then set aside, this program will be enjoyed in our home for a long time!

The Quarter Mile Math is math drills in an easy to use, kids-don’t-realize-this-is-school sort of format. From Kindergarten math through pre-Algebra approximately grade 9), the 70,000 problems are guaranteed to continually offer challenges and learning opportunities for your children.

Racing against their five best scores, the student competes against himself in order to beat their best time. They have a choice of racing an old fashioned dragster or a horse. With sensitivity to families that may object to any semblance of horse racing for the sake of gambling, the horse does not have a rider and is simply racing through a meadow. In fact, the folks Barnum are extremely homeschooler friendly! Their website features a section exclusively for those that homeschool. They want to hear your suggestions and readily ask for help in improving their product from everyone enjoying it.

Their website is full of tips and suggestions for getting the most from your purchase and they also send a newsletter (email) that gives helpful hints. For example, here is something new I learned about the benefits of the format of The Quarter Mile Math, in an email just today: “If a student enters an incorrect answer, the car or riderless horse doesn't slow down. It maintains its current speed until the student types in the correct answer. Other software programs tend to inadvertently reward students for answering incorrectly because the animation associated with a mistake (explosions and crashes, for instance) are so entertaining. Students start to purposely answer incorrectly to see the animation again, wasting precious computer time.” I had never thought about this sort of animation as actually encouraging incorrect answers but that really makes sense now that I read it!

Speaking of animation, I would say that, with today’s very sophisticated animation being so prevalent, The Quarter Mile Math is a bit old fashioned…although that is not a reason not to enjoy it. The picture is somewhat grainy, in a digital sort of way, and very basic. However, when I spoke to Christopher Wright, president of Barnum Software, about some technical difficulties I was experiencing, he mentioned to me that they are in the process of updating the graphics so that detraction should be rectified fairly soon.

Unfortunately I did have some technical difficulties. At this point it seems their system has some compatibility issues with Window’s XP and Vista, though there is a way to work around the problem. When I first installed the program with my Window’s Vista, it ran fine for a few races and then froze up. In their handbook this problem is addressed and I was able to find out how to install an older version of it that fixed the glitch. However, the older version blows all of the graphics up even bigger and grainier so it looks sort of funky, but still operates fine.

The reason I called for technical support was that we forgot one of our passwords. I could not really find anyway to retrieve that information and it seemed we were at an impasse to continue with this child’s progress. To my surprise, Mr. Wright himself answered the phone and was most helpful and very concerned with my issue. After helping me correct the problem, he realized that there needs to be more clearly stated instructions for those that forget their password, and he said he would address this issue. That was a great example of humility in action! I had read on their website that they want suggestions to improve their service/software and I believe that is not merely hollow words.

So, how can you enjoy painlessly strengthening your child’s math skills? I would recommend that you visit their website and click around on all the information there, to begin. If you go to you can learn a lot about the practical application of these exercises.

Then, you have a choice as far as how you want to purchase the product. The Standard version comes with a CD to install, you can order one specific level for $39.95, or up to a bundle of three levels for $89.95. Your other option is to get the Deluxe version which includes all the levels for a monthly subscription rate of just $2.95. That is for your entire family! If you prepay for one or two years upfront, you can save up to $20.

With the Deluxe version you can download straight from their website, or you can be sent a CD to install it for just $5 more. If you do both (download and purchase CD), you can easily download onto one computer and install it with the CD on to another. The database at Barnum software keeps track of all scores for you too! Furthermore, you can compete in real-time tournaments with other friends or family members using other computers…even if they are in another state! The Deluxe version does require an internet connection; however the student never needs to get on the web.

All in all, The Quarter Mile Math is one product that everyone can enjoy for years. It is also an investment in math drills that pays back with your kids wanting to participate and coming away from the computer smarter and more confident in their math skills! Now that’s big dividends!

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At the Intersection of Creation and Evolution: A Dream

The alliterating story below is based on a dream I had several years ago. Please contact me for permission to reproduce.

Darkness devours me.

I am enveloped in emptiness.

Are my eyes open or are they closed? I strain against this shroud of night and still see nothing.

What is this place?

An image illuminates in front of me. A large, leafy tree streaks past and vanishes.

It deserts me to the darkness again.

In a moment, more images appear. A rapid succession of snapshots and thoughts clamor before my eyes and mingle in my mind.

I see seedlings. Several supple shoots have emerged before me and then swiftly stream away.

“The first trees on earth were not seedlings”, my mind observes. “They were not created as small insignificant saplings.”

That thought is rapidly replaced with a vision of a man.

He’s maybe 30; he is muscular and needs to shave.

He fades away.

In his place I see an infant.

A tiny bundle of pink skin upon a soft blanket flickers briefly in my brain.

“Man was created with age,” is the next statement I hear. “Adam did not begin his life as a baby, he began as a grown man.”

The voice seems like my own.

The thoughts do not.

Reeling before me now is a blur of rivers, forests, mountains and even layers of the earth. It is like a movie rushing rapidly before my retina.

The soundtrack of this epic is proclaiming a peculiarly plain concept:

“The earth was created with age. Creation and evolution are not in total opposition. There is a reason that science finds the earth to be quite old: it was made that way.”

Thoughts continue to tumble through my mind; pictures parade before me. I listen in amazement to what seems to be puzzlingly profound and yet rather apparent all at once.

“Adam was created as an adult. Trees and plants were made fully grown.”

I suddenly feel quite certain that, if I were to chop down some of the trees that had been spoken into existence, I would find a range of rings running through their trunks.

“The earth was brought to life with age built into it… just like Adam. He did not begin life as an infant. The earth came into being with what it would need to sustain the life that was created. It was old when it was young. The world was
made with maturity; it was also produced with purpose.”

These thoughts are thrilling. Why had I not seen this before? It seems so simple. Obtusely obvious. Had others not observed this correlation? If they had, why wasn’t it being candidly conveyed?

In the span of thirty seconds I have been ravaged by a radical revelation. I feel the weight of its worth resting on me; it is tantamount to tangible.

I am neither a theologian nor am I a scientist. I don’t claim that the ethics of evolution are completely compatible with the Bible’s account of creation. But certainly Science can come concurrent to creation and affirm our faith with facts.

Of course, the Omnipotent Originator of the Universe is exceedingly elusive to what our mind could ever envision. Above what science could ever extensively elucidate.

Accordingly, creation is confounding too. Each diverse discovery deems it more marvelous to grasp. Many scientists have reluctantly relented to the theory of Intelligent Design.

That’s why, alongside those facts, we also need faith.

Lying inexplicably at the intersection of those two essential elements is an exceptional endowment: the intermittent insight of our dreams.