Thursday, March 26, 2015

{Crew Review} Lord Heritage HomeSchool Office

Are you a planner?  I LOVE to plan, and part of the fun for me is trying out new systems and tools to use.  I love trying new things.

For years, when Ben was young, I used  computer software to create master plans for my homeschooling, knowing that I could reuse the plans for subsequent children.  Of course, then I realized that all of my children are different types of learners, and I was never really able to reuse my carefully created plans.  Also, as I added more kids into the mix, time became precious. So, I ditched computers and used paper planners.  But the opportunity to try a new web-based planner Lord Heritage's HomeSchool Office ($79 annual subscription; 30-day free trial) was too exciting to resist!

My plan in trying to get back into some computer-based organizational system was to first implement it with Levi-- his subjects are easy enough to plug in.

Technical Needs: You will need an internet connection to utilize this program; there is nothing offline or downloadable.  Additionally, you will be able to access this through any browser.  I use Chrome, and it has worked flawlessly.

You can read about Lord Heritage's POWER strategy, which provides the foundation of the program.

Setting Up HomeSchool Office:   Upon registering and signing in, the green menu bar has lots of handy icons in order to name and provide census data for your homeschool, add students, courses, resources and plan and grade for a year.  I was an eager beaver to try it all out without using any support, but I found that I just could not figure it out.  I consider myself pretty savvy with computer programs. But I have to say that I could not have set up HomeSchool Office without all the support and technical guides -- they have done a good job of including detailed guides for getting set up.

The handy "Support" tab that outlines, step by step, how to build your schedule and lessons became my friend, and the knowledgebase article "New User Instructions – Getting Started with HomeSchool Office and I became friends.

Step 1 - HomeSchool Office's Quick Set Up walks you through entering information about your school, reporting agency, teacher (that would be you) information, and student information. Here you will also enter student grading methods.  It appears that each student can only have one type of grading method, which is too bad;  however the choices are descriptive, percentage and letter grade.

Next you'll move on the the Plan section, in which you enter each child's classes.  We are not traditional textbook homeschool people, so it was a little hard for me to enter things like "Classical Conversations."  You'll see that there are, however, TONS of courses to pick from, but not a way to enter individualized classes without having the vague "other" moniker.

Once all your courses are entered, you can monkey with the school year calendar to identify how many school days you'll have in the year as well as plan vacations and holidays.

The next step was learning about grading.  This seemed a little weird to me (I mean, I haven't even planned out the completion of any lessons), but I am good at following directions, so I plugged along.  I can see that for someone who just wants to record lessons as they are completed -- as opposed to planning out which day each lesson will be done first -- that this is a simple way to track grades:

Now, if you want to use the HomeSchool Office to the fullest extent and plan out a week or month or even year full of assignments, you will need to jump to the Advanced Instructions:

Master Scheduling is creating a weekly plan for when coursework will be completed during the day. I LOVE this sort of grid, but I did find it a little cumbersome to add in multiple instances of, say, math time during the week:

This is where HomeSchool program can be helpful for organizing appointments, special events (think: field trips or play dates) and integrate them into your school calender.  I didn't enter any other events, because I am primarily interesting in how I can schedule and organize assignments.

In each subject that you've given to your student, you can create assignments.  I decided to plan out the last few lessons of Levi's Math U See program; they are pretty easy to enter:  28A, 28B, 28C, etc.

These lessons will show up sequentially on your Master Calendar, and thankfully you can drag and drop them wherever you'd like.  You can also reorder them and push them forward or back using a pop up screen.  You can even mark them completed (from both the calendar screen and this one, above), but I did not find a way to enter grades more automatically when using this feature.

How This Worked for Me: For me, the big  hurdle for any non-handwritten planning program is the ease in which I can get up and going with the program and how intuitive it is to me. This program has a LOT of features, and you could theoretically add in an address book, to do list, as well as a homeschool budget, and resource list.  You can even set user names and passwords so students can check off their own assignments (this is a feature that I did not use with Levi).

However, the program was not as easy to set up as I had hoped, and I found that entering information and tracking grades was more difficult for me to use than I had hoped.  I do hope they will consider adding in more features so that you can copy courses easier for day-to-day use on the Master Planner. I would also like to see different access points where grades can be entered for ease.

If you live in a state where careful homeschool records, attendance and tracking of hours of schoolwork are necessary, then I suggest you consider this program -- it will probably be a great help to you.

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