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.  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:
Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/SDAccelerate
Google+: google.com/+Sdaccelerate 

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.

Tuesday, October 14, 2014

iWitness Book Set by Apologia {Crew Review}

I love reviewing the products from Apologia Educational Ministries.  They usually are interesting to the boys and I learn a ton from them as well.  This new product is not exception.

I received three books by Doug Powell from Apologia Educational Ministries:

Each of these books sells for $14 are are suggested for a variety of ages (My 8.5 year old really enjoyed most of them), but they do have a reading level of at least 11 years old.

The purpose of these books is to provide evidence and explanation for the reasons for our faith. Researchers, scientists and educators have been pouring over Biblical evidence for several centuries, and these books make a convincing argument that our faith is grounded in the reality and veracity that Jesus was who He said He was -- God's Son sent from heaven to die for our sins. You can read more about author Doug Powell at the Apologia website.

How we used these books: The boys and I used these books as add-ons to our Bible studies during the review period.  They are each a little different in their focus, but the three fit together nicely.

I let the boys pick which they wanted to read first, and they chose Biblical Archaeology.  This book does a wonderful job of explaining how archaeology has proven the historical accounts of the Bible.   More than half of the book focuses primarily on Old Testament discoveries.  Main topics include:

  • The Flood
  • Noah's Arch
  • Egyptian Chronology
  • The Exodus
  • various inscriptions (house of David, YHWH, etc)
  • Old Testament History
  • Dead Sea Scrolls
  • Oldest Old Testament Copies
  • Hadrian and Constantine
  • Jesus' World
  • The Burial Shroud of Jesus
Luke was particularly interested in this book, and I think Levi would've been a bit more interested if it included additional definitions and explanations -- such as "What is a bulla?" (It is a seal.)  There were a few pages that seemed to repeat themselves (as if they had originally been in separate books and were later combined into this one volume), but I think that was only apparent to me.  

The next book the boys wanted to read was New Testament iWitness.  This book answers the many questions asked about where the Bible came from -- who its authors are, why the books included were chosen (as opposed to the many others that occasionally make the news), and how differences between copies are reconciled.  I really enjoyed reading about how different books of the Bible were categorized by Eusebius in 432 AD and the origins and fates of the extra-Biblical books.

The third book, Old Testament iWitness, is similar to the New Testament book.  It explains the authorship of the OT books, differences between it and the Hebrew Bible, short biographies of the major and minor prophets and a little on archaeological finds from the Old Testament periods.  The book explains what a covenant is and how it differs from a contract. What I found most interesting, however, was the history of the Apocrypha books.  

I'll admit that I didn't read much of the Old Testament book to Luke or Levi right now;  I'm not sure that they would find the Apocrypha section as interesting as I do.   

Outside of adding a glossary of terms, there is not much I would change about these books.  They are visually appealing, so those who wouldn't open up a textbook might find them inviting to pick up for short periods of time.  I'm glad to add these books to our reference library and we  will continue to dig into the Bible and discover God.

To read what other Crew members thought, please click Schoolhouse Reviews.