Friday, October 31, 2014

Fascinating Biology - A Schoolhouse Crew Review

In mid-September I learned that Fascinating Education was having the Schoolhouse Review Crew review their three science courses.

My son had already started studying Biology for his science this year, so I volunteered us to review their Fascinating Biology course. In our local schools, high school sciences generally go through the science courses in the following order: Biology, Chemistry, Physics (and then possibly another, such as Anatomy or Marine Biology or Computer Science). The courses go in this order because advanced mathematics are required for Chemistry, and students don't usually take advanced mathematics in 9th grade (when Biology is taken). They are often not taking Algebra II (the course I was told I needed if I wanted to take Chemistry) until 11th Grade, so the order might even go: Earth Science, Biology, Chemistry, Physics.

So I was surprised to learn that Dr. Margulies, the creator of Fascinating Education, wants students to take Chemistry before they take Biology. However I had already started my son's year in Biology and he and I wanted him to continue in Biology for this year. My son doesn't yet grasp those advanced mathematical concepts. And I already purchased the Biology materials that we had already started on, that we would fall back on if Fascinating Biology didn't work out for us, or that I could use to supplement the Fascinating Biology materials. I do not own anything on Chemistry yet, so I went ahead and requested Biology.

Well, Dr. Margulies and the folks feel so strongly about the students studying Chemistry before they take Biology that they have a "crash course" in Chemistry for students to go through if they are taking Biology first. They feel so strongly about the importance of this grounding in Chemistry that they also provided the "Chemistry pre-Course for Biology" to Biology reviewers in addition to the Fascinating Biology for purposes of our reviews. That was fabulous of them!

Let me tell you a bit about Dr. Margulies.
To start with, he is a neurologist who attended not only medical school, but also law school. He has taught neurology to over 2500 medical students and residents, and has learned a lot about how the brain works: how we learn, how we focus our attention, how we retrieve information, and how emotion and motivation affect learning. And now he has turned his focus from teaching medicine to creating audio-visual materials for middle and high school students, in an effort to prepare them for careers in Science and in hopes to excite them about Science.

So we began our Fascinating Biology by working our way through the Chemistry pre-Course for Biology. The material is very cerebral. When you begin your lesson from the day, whether the pre-course or the main course, you begin on a page with a place to select which lesson you want to work on. This "thumbprint" (about 2"x2" - is that still called a "thumbprint"?) has a selection for "Lesson", "Script" and "Test". To start you want to either print on the Lesson button, or if you do better with a combination of audio/visual and print, first click on "Script" and print that out. You can follow the printed script as Dr. Margulies works his way through the audio for the day. After watching the video, it is time to take the test.

I like the way Dr. Margulies has the course set up, particularly the testing. His perspective (and it is also my perspective) is that it is not about the grade, it is about mastery of the content. Therefore, when the student takes the test, he/she is then permitted to review the incorrect answers, be informed of the correct answers, and retake the test. This makes perfect sense. Learning is the goal.

So, as we finished the first lesson I had my son take the test. I suggested that he think a bit more about some of the answers he had selected, but nevertheless he just whizzed through and submitted his answers. His score reflected that he did poorly. He became angry and frustrated, pushing violently away from the computer, calling the program "stupid" and threatening to never do this science again. I calmed him down. I showed him that, with his score, he had been given the option to review the test, and after that to take the test again. He grumbled, but he did the review and the retest and scored well. Then he revealed that he had not scored well by studying the material, but rather by memorizing what the answers were for the ten questions given (like 1=B, 2=D, 3=A, etc.). I sighed and told him that was not the goal, but rather the goal was to learn the material. He sighed and went back and reviewed the test again, studied the material, and passed the test. I don't think he did that answer-memorization technique again, but I can't be entirely certain.

The portion of Fascinating Biology that I watched with my son covered its material in a way that I thoroughly understood. The information covered came so much so fast that I wished I were taking notes. My son was also not taking notes. I need to help him work on that; I think he will get much more out of some of his studies if he takes notes on the material covered in a lecture.

I didn't watch all that much (and have already forgotten part of it), and am an adult who never studied Biology in high school or college. Nevertheless, here I was understanding osmosis, cell membranes, etc. not to mention having a glimmer of an understanding why certain elements cling to other elements based on the number of electrons on the outer ring needing and wanting to be at the magic number "eight". I also learned that the atomic number is based on the number of protons in the nucleus, and as the weight of the nucleus goes up, the atomic weight goes down. (Now I'm feeling like I surely got part of this wrong, and therefore shouldn't have said any of this, but seriously, I find all this new science information fascinating! I'm interested! And so is my son!)

I like about the tests that they require 80% correct for the student to move on. I like that the student can review and retake the test until he/she passes. The student then has the opportunity to print the test results for their records and/or for the parent/teacher records.

Do I have anything I would recommend be changed? I'm so glad you asked!
  1. First, I'd like it if the lessons had some way that they indicated when the lesson has been completed. I'd like it if the lesson thumbnail went slightly blurry or slightly gray, was still accessible, but was indicating that the student had watched the lesson and passed the test.
  2. I would like if if the window the computer moves to, when the student is watching the lesson, had buttons on it for opening the script or taking the test. The way the program is currently set up, when you are done watching the video, it stops. The student then has to close that window and return to the initial lesson launching window to take the test.
  3. I would like for the program to save and compile the test results in one place for the teacher to access later, if needed. This way each test's results do not have to be saved and/or printed by the student or parent.
  4. I would love it if the program could send a weekly email to the teacher telling what Lesson(s) the student completed during the week, what test(s), how many times, and the score each time.
If you read my blog much, you know my son doesn't like History and Literature much. My son is good at Math, but doesn't like it. My son is a Science Guy.

Being a Science Guy, he is, nevertheless, selective in what he likes. And he is SO selective that I am always pleasantly surprised when he likes a product that we review.

My son likes Fascinating Biology, and to me that is just fascinating!

So where will we go from here with our Biology? Fascinating Biology is said to have improved Science scores for Baltimore, Maryland students, which really appeals to me.  The website's FAQs says, "Fascinating Chemistry, Fascinating Biology, and Fascinating Physics are all designed to cover what you would normally expect to find in a high school course. That said, we have many students in middle school who take Fascinating Chemistry and Biology and do very well."

What I DO know is that my son likes Fascinating Biology. And that is a good great thing! I chatted with him this morning. The verdict is in. He wants to ditch the other Biology program and stick with Fascinating Biology for the rest of 9th grade. He really, really likes it and feels that he is learning a lot.

For purposes of this review we received a full 12-months access to the Fascinating Biology website. 12-month access to Fascinating Biology costs a very affordable $79! Fascinating Biology is designed to cover what you would normally expect to find in a high school course, but many students in middle school who take Fascinating Chemistry and Biology and do very well.

Other members of the Schoolhouse Review Crew also reviewed Fascinating Biology or Fascinating Chemistry or Fascinating Physics. 
To read more reviews, please click on the button below.

Thursday, October 30, 2014

Composer Study: AO Rotation for Term 1 of 2014-2015

The Ambleside Online rotation for Composer Study for 2014-2015 is posted on their website. Here on my blog I will select You-Tube video options for the selections I will be listening to in August-September.

 Term 1's Composer is Hildegard von Bingen, 1098-1179 (This term's artist: Fra Angelico) Biography; Information about her music.
♥ AmblesideOnline's own Megan Hoyt has written a picture book called "Hildegard's Gift" for younger students (purchase at

The following selections are from the Anonymous 4 CD "Origin of Fire" (Purchase CD or mp3) I found the entire CD on YouTube:

   1. track 3. Antiphon, O quam mirabilis est (how wondrous is the presece of the divine heart that foreknew every creature) *
I have tried to find each individual selection. Here is number 1:

   2. track 6. Sequence: O ignis spiritus paracliti (O fire of the spirit, the comforter; a chant for pentecost) English lyrics and audio

   3. track 11. Vision 3 "The fiery spirit": Et imago (Lyrics - Second part of this link) OR O Jerusalem *
 I could not find this one on You Tube. It is Track 11 of the first lilnk.

   4. track 12. Hymn O ignee spiritus (Hymn, for Holy spirit) English lyrics *
Not great, but the best I could find of O Ignee Spiritus by itself:

   5. track 14. Vision 4 "Love": Et audivi vocem (Rev 14:13 and I heard a voice from heaven say write. . .) OR Spiritus Sanctus lyrics and audio
   6. track 15. Antiphon Caritas habundant in omnia (Love abounds in all) English lyrics *
   Note that each selection above has a link to either a YouTube version of the work, an audio, or an alternate work linked to YouTube. Asterisks are linked to YouTube.
Other Options:
A Feather on the Breath of God (purchase CD)
Catholic World Report offers their own "definitive list" of Hildegard's music based on the boxed CD set "Sequentia." (purchase)
"The Sacred Fire" CD has many of the selections and is available in Australia.

Letters from Esther, #11

I am writing up a series of letters my grandmother, Esther, sent "home" to her siblings in North Dakota as she traipsed around the world working for the State Department as a working woman before it was chic. Letters were chosen over phone calls because long distance calls were expensive, and it was sometimes difficult to hear well at a distance.

This letter is the next letter I have from Esther by date. It is actually a postcard, addressed to Jennie Efraimson, Perth, N. Dak R.F.D.1. (Rural Fire District 1) - 4 cent Project Mercury stamp!

Dear Jennie & All: Thought I'd drop you a card & let you know John is back in the hospital in DeSmet. He don't want to eat on account of his stomach. We just came from Desmet. He was taken there yesterday. So dont know how long he'll be there. His room no is 105. We are here in Lake Preston & having our clothes washed. Thanks for the newsey letter I rec'd few days ago. Rec'd a nice long letter yesterday. From your sister Esther. Love Esther

The postcard photo is of Vampire Peak, Cedar Pass, Bad Lands Nat'l Monument, South Dakota: "This outstanding peak in the bad lands is seen from the foot of Cedar Pass, where the park service headquarters are located."
In conjunction with this postcard, there is a partial undated piece cut from the local newspaper speaking about Esther's visit to South Dakota. This must be about a different visit, though, because on this visit apparently Jennie was WITH Esther. How funny is this?! Can you imagine an area so small that events like this made the newspaper? Here is the full content that I have:

Lake Norden
(continued from page 3)

Mrs. Marian Hanson entertained Mrs. Esther Holien of Silver Spring, Md. and Jennie Efraimson of Rock Lake, N. D., Ernest Lindstrom and Mrs. Pearl Kangas at dinner Monday at Antonens Cafe. All were guests at coffee of Mrs. Pearl Kangas in the afternoon. Mrs. Holien returned home recently from Leapoldville, in the Congo, where she spent the past year and a half as an employee of the Agency for International Development. Mrs. Holien entered the government service in 1942 at Washington, D. C. and has been in the foreign service since 1958, serving in Vietnam, Korea, Southern Rhodesia, Nyasaland (Now known as Malawi) and in the Congo. During the tense period in November, 1963, when members of the American Embassy staff were held hostage at Stanleyville, and their subsequent rescue, the murder of Dr. Carlson. Mrs. Holien was at Leapoldville, helping...

Tuesday, October 28, 2014

For the Temple - A TOS Schoolhouse Crew Review

 In early September I learned that Jim Hodges Productions would be sending selected Crew members CDs from their collection of recorded books by G.A. Henty. There was a large selection to choose from, and it took me a while to decide to request For the Temple as our book of choice, because it was a good fit with the era of history we were studying.

The full title of the book and CD is For the Temple: A Tale of the Fall of Jerusalem. The setting for the story is Palestine and Jerusalem, and the time frame is AD 70. In addition to the physical CD, we also received a digital version of the For the Temple Study Guide.


I never cease to be amazed at the way our studies regularly intertwine, making it easier for us to grasp the material we are studying. Our church has been going through the book of Acts, and in Acts 26, Paul is being tried before King Agrippa, Herod and Bernice -- all of whom are mentioned in the story of For the Temple! So immediately this reinforces to me that someone who saw Jesus could have still been alive when the temple fell! Flavius Josephus is also mentioned -- he is not mentioned in the Bible, but he was a major player in the time and left a written record that is considered a major historical source for this time period.

I love this type of learning, where the era we are studying in history and in our Bible studies can be reinforced in our literature reading and in other ways. The study guide that was created to be used with the CD makes it possible to further intertwine the educational disciplines. The study guide's vocabulary lists can be used to:
  • increase vocabulary;
  • strengthen dictionary skills;
  • create spelling lists.
In addition, the discussion questions can count toward "reading comprehension", and also make it easier to make sure your student is listening well and making sure they are following the story and understanding what is said. Additional language arts skills covered in the study guide are character sketches, personification, idioms, alphabetization and creative writing (newspaper article). Study Guide activities also cover Geography, Art, and discussions of climate. There are quizzes at the end of each chapter, and an answer key at the end. The Study Guide enables to reader to make a complete unit study out of the reading of For the Temple!

For the Temple contains 11 hours of listening, broken up into 19 chapters. That means each chapter takes less than an hour to listen to. My son did quite well focusing on the story while just listening. I myself found that difficult, as my mind would stray and I would stop listening. For some of us the best method would be listening with our ears and reading with our eyes, so I checked and found there is a FREE pdf version of For the Temple available for download. Using this I can read and listen simultaneously and stay focused.
Our schedule was carrying a very heavy workload while we were listening to For the Temple, so what was comfortable for us (to balance the listening with the Study Guide) was to listen to the story chapter and then to cover part of the study guide orally. My son is in 9th grade and already knew part of the vocabulary, and could also understand part of it through the way it was used in a sentence. I did not cover every vocabulary word, but selected ones I thought he would not know. I quickly acquired definitions through an on-line website so that I could ask him, "Do you know what 'ubiquitous' means?" And if he did not know I would provide the definition. I did run across vocabulary not in the online definition database ("sestercest"), and it wasn't in my hard copy dictionary either. The answer key does not provide definitions for the vocabulary. I'm glad I did not assign that one to my son! It always frustrates kids when you assign them something they cannot do!

I also used the reading comprehension questions to make sure my son was really getting what he was listening to. He was. (Not being such an auditory learner myself, I desperately wanted to find that he needed to read along while he listened, but he just didn't!) So at the end of a chapter, I asked him about vocabulary words and we discussed some comprehension questions. The other items in the Study Guide looked real appealing to me, but we were very busy and opted not to do more. My son has previously done some of the crafts (making model war machines) and Geography,

I was not really able to get my son very interested in the story. Now I myself am a lover of history, and I love when literature makes historical facts easier to remember, but my son not so much. History does not interest him, and historical fiction does not interest him. He also has never had any particular interest in "war" stories. So while I myself enjoyed our time learning about the fall of the temple, my son was merely obediently doing his assignment, with no particular interest, and the ever-present question in his eye ("Are we done yet?). So this historical fiction got a yawn from my son. 

I myself always appreciate recorded literature, and I consider the Henty historical fiction line to be very worthwhile. I really enjoyed listening to For the Temple with my son, and working through the study guide with him. Since I did not listen/read the entire way, there are huge chunks of content that I feel I missed, so I am planning to read/listen again to get the full understanding. It amazes me how much I miss with just listening! It amazes me how different my son and I are in that respect!

For the Temple and G.A. Henty's other works are best for ages 10 and up. The CD is an MP3, which means that it will play on your computer's CD/DVD player. It will also play on most DVD players, and it will play on any CD player that is a CD/MP3 player (not all are).

For the Temple CD sells for $25, or you can get a digital download for only $10! You can listen to a Free MP3 Download of Chapter 9 to get a taste of listening to Jim Hodges reading aloud, and you can also listen to Jim's comments on this book.  G.A. Henty historical fiction falls into the category of books that takes some patience to get yourself interested and involved in, but then builds to a fever where you don't want to put the book down (or turn the recording off, or both)! The For the Temple Study Guide sells for $12 and really expands and deepens the learning experience for both teacher and student.

If you have never "tasted" G.A. Henty, the thought of reading one of his books to your children may be overwhelming. Previously you may have dismissed Henty literature as a goal you could never accomplish. Don't miss Henty just because the the novels are daunting! Their content is amazing, and their educational value is huge! Now you can acquire most Henty books for free on line, since the originals in the public domain. Select a topic, pick a book, order the CD and enjoy a taste of living history. If you are like me, read along while you listen. Integrate the Study Guide content, and your student will have a deep learning experience that he/she will long remember.

The Schoolhouse Review Crew received a variety of G.A. Henty CD titles to review. To see other reviews of this and other G.A. Henty titles carried by Jim Hodges Productions,  click the button below.

Monday, October 27, 2014

Menu Monday for 10/27/14

Here's my carnivore/vegan menu plan for this week:

Sunday (10/26/14): (whole wheat) Rigatoni with diced tomatoes and beef, mozzarella cheese (vegan crumblies, no cheese), salad, garlic bread

Monday (10/27/14): chili (homestyle lentil soup), salad, cornbread

Confetti Cornbread
Tuesday (10/28/14): chicken Caesar salad

Wednesday (10/29/14): beef tacos, refried beans (bean burritos)

Thursday (10/30/14): pulled pork and cole slaw sandwiches (portabello mushroom cap burger sandwiches)

Friday (10/31/14): baked chicken, mashed potatoes, green beans

Saturday (11/1/14): beef stew (curried cauliflower and sweet potato stew), rolls
Curried Cauliflower and Sweet Potato Soup

Friday, October 24, 2014

Teaching Origins Objectively - A TOS Schoolhouse Crew Review

In September I learned that New Liberty Videos would be sending various Crew members one of a selection of videos they produce. 

The videos we had to consider were Anthem for a Nation, The Forbidden Book, Mysteries of the Dead Sea Scrolls, A Nation Adrift, Teaching Origins Objectively, and Warriors of Honor. After looking over the descriptions and discussing the choices with my son, we decided to request to receive Teaching Origins Objectively. We were selected for the review and this is the movie we received.
I had read, from the above-linked site for the movie, that this is a documentary covering the highlights of 20 hours of testimony that took place in May of 2005, before the Kansas State Board of Education, where 23 witnesses gave testimony over a four-day period. The hearings were on science standards designed to promote the teaching of evolution and origins objectively.

I had been told that these videos are for a general audience. Some of the material will be over the heads of younger ones and some of the videos might have subjects you are not ready to discuss with your younger ones. I opted to try watching this with my son. So, at the time I had set aside, we sat down to watch the documentary.

I won't go through the content in any sort of outline format -- I wasn't taking notes while I was watching it. What I want to do is discuss some of the salient points I took away from watching the video.

The experts giving testimony, some representing the evolutionary perspective and some representing the intelligent design perspective, took turns giving a talk to present their perspective, to present information for consideration, and to counter comments they received from Board members in argument of their perspective.

I found it really offensive the way at least one certain member of the Kansas Board of Education spoke of any religious perspective dismissively, as if any testimony given by anyone believing in intelligent design might be discounted automatically as without merit for lack of proof. What this man repeatedly failed to recognize is that there is no proof for evolution, either, particularly evidence based on the scientific method (which requires OBSERVATION as a key requirement). A person cannot observe anything related to something that did or did not happen long before they were born. And when there is not even any written documentation of a person alive who might have observed something, any conclusions about what happened are mere conjecture or theory, not fact.

The "Scientific Community" that wants to teach evolution theory (as fact), in absence of teaching intelligent design as a theory, is being closed minded and non-scientific. To take a hypothesis as a fact without proof (scientific proof, which includes being able to repeat steps in an experiment and being able to replicate the same result) is unscientific enough as it is. I get so frustrated with the way these scientists then, blind to their hypocrisy,  then dismiss the other scientists for believing a different theory for its lack of scientific evidence.

Teaching Origins Objectively goes through scientist after scientist after scientist who calmly present information rationally and reasonably that show the intricacies of natural design and argue for the reasonableness of the conclusion that such a design couldn't just happen out of nothing. There were so many presentations given, so much material to think about, that I definitely want to give the documentary another viewing, and to take notes. To sit through the documentary in one sitting was too long for me, and not surprisingly for my son also. I lost him after about an hour and a quarter. So next time I'll watch for an hour one day and watch the remainder a second day. I might be able to interest my husband and/or my daughter in watching it with me, but it is hard to say. Not many of us have much time to spare for such cerebral viewing.

This is clearly a valuable documentary for viewing in a family and at a time where the evolution/design issue burbles to the top and becomes a hot topic needing attention. It is good for such materials to be available, because it is good for our students to be equipped to know how to participate in civil, but firm discussion with those in the scientific community who will be convinced that there is no other viable option than evolution. And how can our students become prepared for such discussions if we do not prepare them. And how can we prepare them if we do not prepare ourselves.

Now I don't mean to in any way suggest that I will ever be as able to conduct such a discussion in the way the experts in this documentary conversed, but it is such a valuable thing to have this DVD as a tool to equip myself and my son. I don't know if he will go to college, but if he does he will most probably attend a state school, a liberal hot-bed of argument by intelligentsia convinced of their own correctness, unaccustomed to being crossed by anyone with an opposing view who is prepared to defend their position. I want my son to be prepared if he goes to a public college.

I highly recommend Teaching Origins Objectively  for your teaching preparation and presentation to your children to prepare them to make their own decision as to whether evolution is its own conclusion and the end of the conversation, or whether they will believe God's word and his fingerprint in the world around them.

Teaching Origins Objectively sells for $19.95. If you are interested in reading other reviews of Teaching Origins Objectively or any of the other movies by New Liberty Videos  that were reviewed by the Schoolhouse Review Crew, please click on the button below.

Letters from Esther - #10

I am writing up a series of letters my grandmother, Esther, sent "home" to her siblings in North Dakota as she traipsed around the world working for the State Department as a working woman before it was chic. Letters were chosen over phone calls because long distance calls were expensive, and it was sometimes difficult to hear well at a distance.

This letter is the next letter I have from Esther by date.

Airmail Envelope postmarked Dec 6 1961 Army & Air Force Postal Service - 7 cents stamp

E. Holien, USOM/A
APO 301
San Francisco, Calif.


Miss Jennie Efraimson

Perth, North Dakota

Dec. 5, 1961

Dear Jennie and all:

I have been waiting for my stupid check book to get here so I could send off a few checks but it looks like Christmas will be come and gone before they ever get here so will have to use some bills instead. For instance, in the package I sent you there is very little for Dad and I wanted you to buy some cigars to go with it. Will you? With the rest get something for yourself and Rudy and if there's anything left over, candy or something for the gang that will surely gather at your house.
How is everything? Fine here. I've been going to town on Christmas cards finally and the reason I really got started was that Ida has somewhere unearthed and sent to me my last year's Christmas card list with all the missing addresses. They are all fine, except Lois and Diana

Tuesday, October 21, 2014

Middlebury French - A TOS Homeschool Crew Review

In late August I learned that Middlebury Interactive Languages would be giving members of the Schoolhouse Review Crew the opportunity to review one of four of their interactive foreign language programs: Spanish CoursesFrench Courses , German Courses and Chinese Courses. So I asked my son if he was interested in reviewing the program and learning one of these languages. In typical boy fashion, he replied, "French." We are required to complete two years of foreign language for high school graduation in our state, and we've been kicking around Spanish, French and Latin for several months. French is such a classic language -- I always wished I could help him learn it. Maybe now I can!

When we filled out our form indicating our interest in the product, we indicated which language, as well as which level of the language we were interested in. I indicated Level I high school French. So in early September we received access to Middlebury's High School French I Course. If you look at the following chart you can see all the various levels of the various languages offered by Middlebury:

We quickly worked to integrate it into our already full academic schedule. It was my hope that we could cover the material at the rate of one lesson per day, five days per week, which is the way I studied French when I was young. Aim high and you achieve more that you would if you aimed low, that's my theory.

We began our French studies and very quickly fell behind my intended schedule. Once you have started with Middlebury Interactive, each successive time that you log in the program takes you right to where you left off. Initially my son and I were not seeing this -- it looked like a blank screen, 
but at the bottom of the page it says: "Next Up:" and the calendar date of the next lesson to tackle. 
Not seeing this, I clicked on a button to open a menu,

 clicked on "Calendar", 

which took us to the actual current date. 
Then I clicked the "back" button on the month to get to the lesson we were actually on. What a pain. I'm so glad they actually have a button at the bottom keeping track of where we actually are in the lessons!

When we first started Middlebury French, we received a quick start guide. The program seemed fairly easy to understand, so I let my son do his lessons on his own for a few days. That was when I realized that what might seem intuitive to one person might not be as intuitive for another. A few days into the program, and the information accessible to the teacher was not showing completion of lessons.

When you first start a lesson, you have a large video screen on the right and a selection of thumbnails on the left.  When the student has worked through the large screen or watched the video, the student must then click on the next thumbnail which sends that thumbnail to the larger screen. Each time the student finishes with screen he/she must go to the next thumbnail until the student has worked his/her way through all the thumbnails in the lesson.

I am still not sure where the format was breaking down for my son. I do know that when there is a video, when the video is complete he has a sense that he is done. If the video was from the last thumbnail on the left, he definitely thinks he is done. He did not see that there is a slider bar to the thumbnails, and that each lesson has about 20 thumbnails, and he is not done for the day until he has worked through all the thumbnails for the day.

As we got into week 2, he was becoming frustrated. He was probably still using the calendar method to get to the next day's lesson and then only watching three thumbnails a day and moving on. He was clearly missing much. At this point I think we've never caught up. I explained that he needs to scroll through and do all the sections of the lesson each day. Is he doing it now? ...the smart computer program tells me he is not. So, we are still a work in progress here.

So, how did we like it? My son seldom likes anything we review. He blew me away when I asked him. He likes it! He likes it! So, while for us it has been a bumpy go, the chance exists that we will continue. We were given six months of high school French, and if we complete the course my son can take 1/2 credit on his transcript, or can take another six months and take a full credit. (I'm not sure how that works, since a school year is at most ten months, but the goal is learning, right?)

Middlebury's High School French I Course is recommended for high school aged students. The earlier one starts, the closer one will get to a level of fluency during high school, so 9th grade is a good time to start.

Middlebury's High School French I Course costs $119, and for that amount you receive the 1 semester (or 6 month) course, but you have access to it for a full year. I was very pleased to hear that because at the rate we are going we will clearly need longer than six months! It  is interactive,  and it grades his work!

Do I have any suggestions for how Middlebury's High School French I Course could be improved? Well, I'm glad you asked! The main thing I would ask for, hope for, if it is possible to make this type of revision, would be that each lesson screen would end with a button that says "NEXT" that the student could click. If not right inside the lesson screen, than right below it. Even better would be a "PREVIOUS" button on the left and a "NEXT" button on the right, so the student could go back and check something he saw but already forgot. That's the only recommendation I have. This is a winner of a program! Some products that we review get set aside when the review period is over. My son likes this program, and we might just finish this one!

If you are interested in reading other Schoolhouse Review Crew reviews of Middlebury Interactive's various foreign language programs, click the button below.

Menu Monday for 10/20/14

This past weekend I went with my son on a Boy Scout camping trip (3 days, 2 nights). My schedule is now messed up for planning my menu and getting my shopping done. Sorry this is late. Also, for the vegan this week I am going to eat more leftovers out of the freezer, so my apologies if this leaves my vegan followers less inspired this week. Oh, and my meat-eaters have been screaming for more meat to sink their carnivorous teeth into, so it is reflecting my my meal choices.

Sunday: 2 extra large pizzas from local pizza joint; salad

Monday: spaghetti, salad, garlic bread (vegan sauce made with vegetable crumblies)

Tuesday: roast chicken, rice, broccoli (chicken patties, brown rice)

Wednesday: cheeseburgers/rolls, baked beans, salad (Amy's quarter pounder)

Thursday: barbecued chicken, stuffing, green beans

Friday: salmon, yams, spinach

Saturday: We have a XX-year high school reunion. Mom and dad are eating there; everyone else is on their own with leftovers.

SDA U.S. History - A TOS Schoolhouse Crew Review

As our school year was beginning this fall, I learned that a company called Standard Deviants Accelerate was going to give the Schoolhouse Review Crew the opportunity to review Standard Deviants Accelerate Homeschool Courses for a review. I looked at their website and thought they looked interesting, so I volunteered to review their U.S. History course for grades 9 and above with my son.
Standard Deviants actually has 14 different courses that they offer, providing a supplemental education program in various subjects for students ages 8 and above. For my son (in 9th grade), courses they offer that we could have chosen from include: Algebra, Biology, Chemistry, English Composition, and U.S. History. They offer Arithmetic for grade 3 and up, Fundamental Math for grade 4 and up, and Earth Science and Nutrition for grades 6 and up. For older students (Grades 11+) AP Biology, AP Chemistry, AP U.S. Government & Politics, AP U.S. History and AP English Composition.

And what really blew me away is that they offer a 6 month free trial! Who does that?
So, a lot of these courses appealed to me. I selected U.S. History for the review because the other subjects I was juggling with my son at the time of this review made U.S. History the subject I felt we could manage. I do have my eye on Algebra, Biology and English Composition, though, and wish I could have managed to review all four subjects for you. Maybe I can add more words about Standard Deviants' other subjects at a later time.

When you first sign up with Standard Deviants you receive an email with instructions for setting up your account. Going to the Standard Deviants website you initially log in, and then you select the course(s) you wish to use. You assign a name to the class (such as "First Period"), and the program generates a code that you share with your student(s). You email this code to your student, so your student needs to have his/her own email address.

Once the student has the code, he/she can go to the website and set up an account and enter the class you have set up. Once the classes have been set up, these class choices will show whenever the student logs in.

So, we jumped into U.S. History for 9th Grade and up. Wow! What a large amount of information in such a short time. I very quickly realized that I had missed the point that this was a supplemental resource for a student that was already studying American History. So I was doing my son a disservice by giving him this program at a time when we were not actually studying American History in our daily schedule. Standard Deviants should have been helping him by reinforcing information he had already heard before, or was learning simultaneously in the daily History class. However our History, for the past year, has been parked in the Middle Ages era, and our previous focus on U.S. History seems so long ago. My son was a bit overwhelmed, therefore, by the wonderful volume of amazing information.

As my sons scores began accumulating I could see he was not doing very well at the course. From this I came to the following conclusions:
  1. To maximize his focus, we need to reduce distractions. The table should be free of distracting papers and clutter. The radio should be off. The dogs should not be outside barking or inside fighting over a toy.
  2. My son should be taking notes. He not only found it difficult to pay attention (which note-taking would help with), but he also found it difficult to retain what he was seeing and hearing.
Do I have suggestions for how the program could be improved? To start with, I want to compliment the program. Standard Deviants utilizes a high level of technology. The videos are integrated with quizzes, some of which it keeps track of the responses and applies this to the scores. It is keeping the grades for my son! How wonderful is that?

Nevertheless, I do have some comments and suggestions.
  1. I/we found it very difficult each morning to determine what had been done/where to start the new day. The list of lessons comes up in black type on a blue background. It would be wonderful if the text for a completed lesson would change color so the student can easily see in the morning where to start the new day. Maybe there could even be a third color (amber, "caution" or red, "alert") to indicate a lesson that was begun but not finished.
  2. It would be nice if there were some way within the video that the points considered "Important" (as in "there will be a question on this in the quiz or test") were better highlighted so that the student can know, with all the information being covered, which items are more important to remember than others.
  3. The teacher needs to log into the teacher account and go to a certain tab to find out how the student(s) is(are) doing. For home schools (I mean, I have ONE student), it would be really nice if the program could generate an email sent to me, the teacher, with one page per student, giving me a summary of how my student(s) is(are) doing in each subject.
  4. The way the program runs, first the student watches an interactive video. Once the video ends, the student must open the previous page or window that the video launched from and go to the next tab on the lesson. 
    I would like  to see two things: 1) the tabs at the top of this page should also be at the bottom of the page. As my son finished the bottom of the page, where the top no longer showed, he always thought he was "done" with the material for the day. 2) I would like to see a button ON THE VIDEO at the end of the video that sends the student to the next section (instead of the student having to go back to the page that launched the video). If this cannot be IN the video, then it would be nice if the selection buttons were UNDER the video, or if the video page closed automatically and the computer went automatically back to the first page. Even a "Continue" button would be nice. It just needs a little something to ease the transition between the sections of the lesson for the day.
  5. I really wish Standard Deviants would expand their program so that what they offered was complete subjects, rather than supplements. How wonderful would it be to just have my student taking Algebra I on line, having the work graded, and me only needing to step in when he needs help. Same desire in every subject -- me just knowing that if he completed the program during the year I could confidently count it for credit for my reporting to my state and for my creating of the high school transcript.
  6. I see a lot of room for expansion with this program. Standard Deviants could expand to one day include various levels of art appreciation and music appreciation, health and other sections of history (ancient cultures, dark ages, middle ages, renaissance and reformation, Canadian history, Australian history, European history, etc.).
I have really enjoyed having the Standard Deviants U.S. History program available for my son during this review time. Standard Deviants very generously gave the Schoolhouse Review Crew reviewers access to ALL their classes for 12 months! So I am also looking forward to spending time in their other 9th grade level classes in the months to come. 

If you are interested in any of these Standard Deviants courses, you can purchase any regular course for use by one student for $99 for a year, or $24.95 per month. The AP courses are available or use by one student for $14.95 per month.
If you would like to read more reviews about this and other Standard Deviants courses, click the link below.