Wednesday, October 29, 2014

{Wordless Wednesday} One of the Best Things About Cheering on my XC Runner

This is all going to sound quite selfish. I don't mean it to be, but I'm afraid it will sound that way.  Not my intent.

  I love that Ben runs cross country.  He has found a sport that challenges him.  We have had a very positive experience integrating with our town's high school team and the kids.  I'm grateful we live in a state where home educated students can readily participate in sports;  I've got two more boys who are up-and-coming Red Raiders.   

I love cheering for him!  I enjoy seeing the team's -- um-- unique chants and other ways of supporting one another.  I love seeing the boy's team run around the course cheering on the girls.

And, I love those warm fall days, standing around waiting to get a glimpse of my son working hard.  I enjoy finding a good spot along the course to cheer on the team.

Last week, we found a great spot to glimpse the kids running around this horseshoe pond. Ben made a PR time on this 5K course!

Doesn't this look so tranquil?  The pond is located on the campus of one of the community colleges.  I think this is the best photo I've ever taken with my iPhone!  Not bad for the ole iPhone 4, eh?

Tuesday, October 21, 2014

{Weekly Report} Week 7, Year 10

The best thing about this week was this:

Luke was assigned to draw a picture to go along with his explorer poem for his writing class in Classical Conversations.  He knew what he wanted:  a man standing on the bow of a ship, sighting for land.

I pulled out a book we had about the Mayflower -- certainly, it had a ship in it!  Instead of his original idea, he was inspired to copy a different illustration:

Not to be left out of watercolors, for pete's sake, Levi began working on this:

Oh! to wrap up this day in hugs and love and memories and a beautiful satin bow and keep it in my heart forever.

Monday, October 20, 2014

{Crew Review} Middlebury Interactive Language Course for Elementary Students

Middlebury Interactive Languages has offered us a semester long Spanish course for review. Knowing how much Levi loves learning languages, I chose the grade 3-5 program for him.  He has really been enjoying this course!

Though I had not heard of Middlebury College (in central Vermont), they have apparently been providing language learning immersion courses for some time, but mostly in residential programs. The Middlebury Interactive Languages program is a joint venture between the college and K12, which provides online curriculum for public schools and home educators.

You can view a variety of promotional videos at their online language course website.

What We Received: As I mentioned, Levi has been working several times per week on his Spanish course, which is composed of 45 lessons spread across 7 units plus a review unit.  Topics for learning are:

Adjectives/ Feelings
Community/ Professions

Although composed of several features, lessons do not take too long.... maybe 15 minutes or so.  A lesson had several parts/ screens so you could take longer to go though an individual lesson, but Levi is not that sort of kid -- he completed each part in one sitting.  We aimed to work through 2 or 3 lessons per week; let me tell you -- this part of school was one of Levi's favorites! This course is a semester long and costs $119.  There is also a second semester for this grade range as well.

Technology needs:  You will need a wi-fi connection whenever your student logs onto the course.  None of the components are offline or downloadable.  You'll also need up to date Flash Player.  I was having difficulty with the program because my virus protection software was preventing pop up plug-ins; I ended up disabling the Norton plug-in for Chrome and it now works fine.  I spent a few minutes in technical support with Middlebury Interactive about this, and they were so kind and patient to help walk through my issue.  I love pleasant customer service!

How this worked:  Levi absolutely loved this program.  Being able to be so independent with an online course was a big confidence boost for him.  He loved grabbing headphones and recording his responses;  his confidence in speaking his answers into the microphone while others were around definitely improved through the review period.  The only writing component of the course I noted was typing at this point;  there were not off-line PDF worksheets to practice handwriting in Spanish.

What I love about it:
  • Levi is getting an opportunity to read and hear Spanish spoken, with native speakers.
  • He can do it independently, which really helps me.
  • I do love that he is getting an introduction to computer-based learning and classrooms.  I do not think this type of learning is going to go out of style anytime soon.
Some things we've had to get used to:
  • While hearing an native speaker is great, there were a couple lessons (I'm specifically remembering when he had to record his phone number) when he could have used a slower model.  To him, the entire sentences sounded like one LONG word!
  • This is an immersion-type program.  Once or twice Levi had to ask me, "How do I say..." because he didn't realize that the sentence prompts he'd been using in the lessons were the prompts he was to use for his recorded speaking quizzes.  
  • Speaking tests are not graded by Middlebury Interactive Languages.  In fact they end up in the "awaiting grades" section of the gradebook:
For the first two weeks, this was a limbo land for me -- I didn't realize that I would need to listen to these to make sure Levi's comprehension of the vocabulary was appropriate.  I have a background in Spanish, so this isn't an issue for me (at least with beginning Spanish), but it would have been had we tried one of Middlebury Interactive Languages other language courses:  French, German or Chinese.  For an additional charge, there is an option to have a teacher for the course (I'm assuming he/she will do the listening and grading), so that would be a good feature for a language that is new to mom and student.
The rest of the gradebook, however, is great.  Multiple choice and matching questions are automatically graded, so I feel comfortable that his comprehension of listening and reading is coming along nicely. 

In all, we give this program double thumbs up from both Levi and me.  It is such a fun program for Levi to work through that I'm sure he'll want to complete it on his own.

I think my favorite part of this course for my 3rd grader is that he is gaining some confidence in learning a foreign language. (How many of us were hesitant to speak our high school foreign languages outside of class?)  The course is laying down listening patterns which will help him be a more fluent speaker and is tuning his ear to help him understand the language at a conversational level.

Middlebury offers courses for students as young as kindergarten up through high school.  There is even a specific course to help students take the AP Spanish and Culture exam. To hear how it worked for other families and other languages, you can click below.

Read more reviews of different languages and different grade levels at Schoolhouse Reviews.

Saturday, October 18, 2014

{Crew Review} Standard Deviants Accelerate Supplemental Courses

For the past month or so we've had the opportunity to try out a product from Standard Deviants Accelerate, the makers of supplemental educational materials.  I've seen their DVDs in our public library for years, but have never given them a try.  With Standard Deviants Accelerate, you get the benefit of their quirky humor and online, educational and interactive content.

You will need an internet connection for using these courses.
Our one year membership included full access to all their courses from elementary to high school:
  • Arithmetic - Grades 3+
  • Fundamental Math - Grades 4+
  • Earth Science - Grades 6+
  • Nutrition - Grades 6+
  • Algebra - Grades 7+
  • Biology - Grades 7+
  • Chemistry - Grades 9+
  • English Comp. - Grades 9+
  • U.S. History - Grades 9+
Annual subscriptions for the courses above are $99, but you can also purchase monthly subscriptions for $24.95.  

They also offer AP courses:
  • AP Biology - Grades 11+ ($14.95/month)
  • AP Chemistry - Grades 11+ ($14.95/month)
  • AP U.S. Government & Politics - Grades 11+ ($14.95/month)
  • AP U.S. History - Grades 11+ ($14.95/month)
  • AP Eng. Composition - Grades 11+ ($14.95/month)
Make sure you click on homeschool pricing for these online supplemental courses.

The purpose behind these courses are to supplement and quiz students on the basic content of each course.  Each course is divided into chapter topics with sub-topics that walk through five similar steps.  At the end of each chapter is a quiz, which involves customized quiz question review + free response sections.  There is even an opportunity to use rubrics to grade these free responses.

Each of the five steps for each sub topic include:
  1. A quirky video which explains the content. These lasted us approximately 10-15 minutes.
  2. A review of vocabulary
  3. The diagram  section is an interactive component.  Students can drag terms and answers to match questions.  Some of the courses do not have this step (chemistry, for example), but all the courses we used (math, algebra and biology) Here are examples from Biology and Algebra:  
  4. Next is a quiz section.  This is five multiple choice questions.  Correct and incorrect answers are collected for review at the end of the chapters.
  5. The written answer section is a free response section in which students answer short answer questions (the sample below is from the US History course):  

How we used this: My younger boys and I watched various sections from the Fundamentals of Math and Arithmetic courses.  Both of these courses are advertised for students in upper elementary and above.  Although Levi sat in, I was mostly curious to see how they worked as review of concepts for Luke, who is a 6th grader.

To use the program to its fullest, each student is enrolled in a course via their email address.  Luke and Levi don't have email addresses, so I just signed on to my teacher account and we worked through the chapters and questions; this means some of the student features were not avaiilable to him, such as notetaking and recording of his quiz scores.  For my purposes with Luke, this was fine as I really just wanted to see how the video content served as a review/ alternate teacher for him.

For Ben, however, I was able to create a class, send him an enrollment link, and then he could access the content as a student.  Here's a great video which explains the student account:

You can few several other videos describing how to use this program for homeschool at How It Works for Homeschool. They even will set up a personal webinar with you to walk you through the program -- great customer service!

I advertised the videos as "funny" to the younger boys, but they quickly pointed out to me that they were not "funny ha-ha" videos.   I probably should have described it as "witty" or "eye-rollingly quirky" or "dry."  Definitely appropriately wry/ quirky for my 15-year-old's taste.

We found the videos to be pretty fast moving, switching between the students who are explaining content to graphic slides explaining concepts.  This could be a good technique -- or not, depending on your students' processing needs.  I think this style was a little much for my younger boys.  Sometimes I notice that Luke zoned out a bit, and it made me think that the content was presented too quickly.  It is possible to print out transcripts of the videos, so students can follow along, highlight, and basically take notes of the lectures.  This is something I will probably do with Luke towards the end of this school year, but for now, he needs to focus on either listening or reading, not both.  However, I'm glad the program has this option to cater to the learning needs of a wider audience.

The boys did really enjoy the diagram section, as any drag and drop interaction is almost game-like to them.  *grin*  I wish the vocabulary section was more than just a list of vocabulary words -- this is a great section to create a bit of interaction to help with retention.

For my high schooler, however, I found the Biology material to be perfect for his needs. (He's taking the PSAT this weekend so I think a year of Algebra review will be good, too.)   I do love having Ben work material from multiple viewpoints (we do that with his math courses through our co-op, which uses a different math program than the one we use at home), so having Standard Deviatnts Accelerate is a wonderful tool for a homeschooler. I also love that the quizzes are automatically graded (one less thing for me to forget) and that review of the material is built in.  The only part that I didn't think was particularly helpful for us (at this juncture) was the final tab -- the written answer.  I thought some of the questions were appropriate, but I prefer to use these as discussion materials and only if I've read the transcript or listened to the course myself.

I know that as the year goes on, we'll get plenty more use for this -- especially as we consider AP and CLEP testing to demonstrate mastery of material.  Second semester, Ben will be taking a US government course, and I'll appreciate the extra information from Standard Deviants Accelerate to flesh out his texts more.  I even plan to have him work through the Nutrition and US history course as well. Biology will definitely be something he'll continue to use throughout the year, however, and now that cross country season is over, we'll have much more time to coordinate it with his course instead of picking and choosing topics of interest.  However, I'm not planning to have Luke use the math courses for review or re-teaching of hard concepts, unless we've exhausted all our other resources.

Connect with Standard Deviants Accelerate:

To read more reviews, click on Schoolhouse Review Crew!

Wednesday, October 15, 2014

{Not So} Wordless Wednesday

We arrived early to Levi's soccer game, and I was excited to see a see-saw.  How many places have these old playground toys?!

Levi had no clue how they worked!

I love it when the boys play together, especially oldest and youngest.  It doesn't happen often, but when it does happen, it makes my heart sing.