23 October 2014

Middlebury Interactive Languages {Schoolhouse Crew Review}

Middlebury Interactive Languages Review

Learning a foreign language is important.  When learning a foreign language, it is generally thought the earlier the better.  Because noone in our family is fluent in another language, we have to intentional seek out these opportunities.  When the review for Middlebury Interactive Languages came up, I knew it was time (really past time) to get our children interested in learning a new language.  My second daughter, a 6th grader, agreed to try out the middle school German course ($119/semester - no personal teacher involvement from Middlebury.  There is an option at additional charge to work with an instructor from Middlebury.).
Middlebury College's Foreign Language Schools have been around for decades utilized by many to learn not only the language but the culture of places around the globe.  In today's ever-increasing inter-connectiveness the need for current language skills in foreign countries is necessary and Middlebury has excelled at this.  Taking their methods online in interactive courses has brought their proven, rigorous approach to anyone with internet access.  You no longer need to find local speakers to be immersed.
Middlebury Interactive Languages Review
My daughter is right at the transition of elementary and middle school courses.  After looking at some of the samples available on the website, she opted for the more mature graphics of the middle school program.  The middle school program is also more rigorous and recommended for daily use as opposed to 2-3 days per week of the elementary program.  These paces will ensure the level is completed over the course of a semester.  The course is self-paced, so the learner can do more or less depending upon their understanding and ability.  My daughter worked a bit faster in the beginning and slowed her pace once she made it past a few of the sets.  I require that she utilize it four days a week.  Unlike other subjects where I don't care if they do the whole week's worth of work in one sitting, I think she needs the more frequent practice.  Less time more frequently has been very effective for her.
Middlebury Interactive Languages Review
The work my daughter has been doing has been completely on her own.  Outside of hearing her from the other room and glimpsing the notebook she started keeping for herself (not something directed by the course), I am not involved.  She has been working with her Daddy though.  My husband took German in college, but that has been a few days ago.  She speaks to him, and he is able to keep up, for now.

You may wonder how we non-German speakers can know when she is using correct pronunciations?  Middlebury has a great feature of recording the learner.  A microphone is needed for this feature.  A microphone is *not* needed to utilize the program, just the speaking lab portion.  We do not have a microphone for our computers, so we have not been able to utilize this, but I think it is a wonderful option.  Especially for some of those especially difficult sounds.
Middlebury Interactive Languages Review
There are currently four languages available for K-12 students - Spanish, French, Chinese and German.  Spanish being the only currently offered for the youngest students (K-2).  Other languages will be added to the offerings.  After seeing how much their sister has enjoyed her language learning, the younger siblings are eager to learn too.  Who knows where the Lord will call them in life.  Learning an additional language will only enable them to be more prepared - even if the language learned is not the language needed in the future.  I may even sign up to learn something.  The whole approach seems to be very incremental.  The self-pacing perfect for a busy mama.  If we can all agree to a language, it might even become a fun family project.

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Thank you Middlebury!
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22 October 2014

Homeschool Courses from Standard Deviants Accelerate {Schoolhouse Crew Review}

Standard Deviants Accelerate Review
As my children are getting older, they are obviously working on more advanced courses - higher maths and sciences, etc.  They are also working more independently.  Online resources are perfect to use for those subjects.  Standard Deviants Accelerate is not only a provider of online resources covering those higher level subjects, but they've been doing this for 20 years.  I was first familiar with their DVDs for AP courses - taking a creative and fun approach to review and test prep.  Standard Deviants Accelerate Homeschool Courses offer so much more now and obviously, as the really effective online course.  The videos are still in the same funny and definitely not boring format with interactive options for completing the lessons. 
 
There are flexible options to subscribe monthly or annually.  For home users, the monthly option allows up to four students ($24.95/month/course).  The annual option, 12 months access for a single student ($99), for home users is a bigger savings.  There is also an option, targeted to classroom teachers, which allows unlimited students for 12 months access ($249.99).  The AP courses are primarily review and test preparation and therefore less involved and lower in price - $14.95 monthly up to four students or $99.99 for unlimited students for 12 months.  

For this review period, my older girls (roughly 5th, 6th and 8th graders) have been working through the Nutrition course.  This course is intended for a full school year for learners 6th grade and older.  The video presents the information; a transcript to read along (or download to review) is alongside the video box; a box for entering text/notes is below.  My girls did not take notes - at least not in this text box.  They might have if it was in a separate window (like a smaller pop-up) that they could drag where they wanted in on the screen.  Once they found they wanted to take notes (at least one of the girls), they would print the transcript and underline and add their own notes on the paper.  The ability to keep it all online is nice, but may not work best for all learners.  My daughter found what she needed and was able to adapt.  I love that the program is so flexible and versatile that my three very different learners can use it how it suits them.

The nutrition course spans 8 modules, covering topics from macro- and micro-nutrients to the food industry to nutritional disorders to the food spectrum.  Each of these modules, or chapters, has an introduction and review as well as a varying number of segments presenting the lesson.  The Introduction gives the student the opportunity to see what they already know and learn the Big Question that will be covered throughout that module.  Within each chapter are topics and within each topic are tabs to navigate the lesson - Video, Vocab, Diagram, Quiz and Written Answer.  When you reach the chapter review, there is a Group Activity - a truly active activity planning and "teaching" a lesson - creativity encouraged, Post-Test (which cannot be complete without prior completion of the quizzes) and a Critical Thinking Question (which cannot be completed until the Post-Test is done).


Throughout the completing the course the student is able to keep notes and completed work (diagrams and quizzes) in their "Locker".  They can also let the teacher know they are ready to present their group activity.  At first, the girls tried completing the course with only one learner signed in.  They quickly realized they have different ways of taking notes, etc. and wanted to use their own "Locker".  It was easy to add the other girls once they had begun the course.  Only a unique e-mail is needed (thank you gmail!) and the girls were entered and had a code to set-up their own access to the course.  Once signed in on their own, the girls were able to do the Diagram (an interactive graphic organizer) Quiz and Written Answer (applying the Big Question to the topic) independently.

The girls watch the video portion together and do the group activities together.  The rest of the work is on their own - and they like it that way.  We do so much of our early learning with all the children together, this is a great transition for the middle girls towards independence.  The others cannot move to the next topic without completing the group activity so they are all kept to the same general pace.  They have been completing 2 or 3 topics a week roughly.  One of the girls is not a self-starter so she has been gently (and not so gently) reminded by her sisters to get her work done so they can all move forward.  Typically, we are all working as a group (in history or science) or they are completely on their own (math or language arts).  This hybrid of group and individual work has been great for my girls. 
 

While called courses, the offerings from Standard Deviants Accelerate are considered supplemental.  We have not explored the other subjects, but speaking from our experience with the Nutrition course, this would be a great spine or basis for a full course (earning high school credit).  We will be adding some other work from resources we already own as well as meal planning and preparation to round out the course as presented.

These courses would also work well in a co-op setting.  Our family is small enough, that the monthly option for homeschoolers accommodates us well.  If we had more than four learners - or in a co-op - the teacher's option would be quite reasonable and a great fit.  The functions of the teacher side of things (available to both home users and school accounts) are great for keeping track of the students progress (especially useful with multiple students) and answering questions they submit through the student portal.  I do wish there was an option to initiate a message rather than just respond, but really, I can just talk face to face with my child. *grin*

Most of the courses available through SDA are for high school or middle school learners.  There are two courses that could be used by younger learners - Arithmetic (grades 3 and up) and Fundamental Math (grades 4 and up).  From a quick perusal with my third grader at my side, this would be great for a mathy child or an older, remedial learner.  Check it our for yourself - free!    
Standard Deviants Accelerate Review

Don't forget to read the other reviews.  There are so many subjects and courses available from SDA, see what my fellow Crew members used and their thoughts on them!

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Thank you SDA!

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17 October 2014

iWitness books from Apologia {Schoolhouse Crew Review}

Apologia Review

Apologia Educational Ministries has long been a favorite among homeschool families.  Their latest series of books are not just for homeschoolers.  The iWitness series is for any family that wants to learn or share about Christian apologetics in a visual and factual way.  iWitness Biblical Archaeology($14), New Testament iWitness($14), and Old Testament iWitness($14) are three of the five available titles.  When these arrived for our review, my children quickly disappeared with them.  It was many days before I was able to get my own hands on them.  And I'm okay with that.

These books are a magnet for my visual learners.  From the first look at the cover, you can tell they are rich in detail.  The design is representative of what is inside - the iWitness Archaeology book looks like a well-worn journal.  The New Testament iWitness cover looks like the cover of an illuminated manuscript.  And that look and feel continue throughout the pages inside.

Not written like a traditional text, the inside is a feast for the eyes.  Doug Powell, wrote the text and designed the layout.  Each page contains facts, often looking like handwritten notes to go along with photos of various artifacts, tablets, scrolls and artwork.  No white space - save the "journal" pages or notes (and some of this is technically not white, but aged).  I say this not as a complaint -- I love the feel of these books.  My youngest son can experience sensory overload.  He was the only one who didn't want a turn to look at a book.  He is only four, the books are aimed at those 11 and older.  The target audience is based mostly on the reading level; there is nothing objectionable.  I do think my son's lack of interest is due to the full-ness of the pages.  He loves looking through other visually rich books (that also have a lot of white space).

iWitness Archaeology has photos of dig sites, archeologist's tools, maps and more.  It really is like looking through the journal of one who has spent time digging through history - literally.  Being fans, we couldn't help but think of Indiana Jones.  Each page (two-page spread) has a focus, which is indicated in the upper left.  Beginning with evidence of the worldwide flood (Noah's flood) and working chronologically through Old Testament wrapping up with the early church and the times of Jesus.  There is a bibliography and image credits at the back.  At roughly thirty pages, it is easy to read through in a day or spend a few weeks looking at each section/chapter individually.  

Old Testament iWitness looks at how our Old Testament came to be.  The manuscripts and canon considerations, the parts of the Hebrew Bible - Torah, Nevi'im (Prophets), Ketuvi'im (Writings) are all covered.  The Septuagint and Vulgate each have a section, as do the Apocrypha and the Dead Sea Scrolls.  The layout is similar to that in the Archaeology book in that each topic is titled in the upper left of a two-page spread.  Some topics may span two of these spreads.  This book is different in that there is much more writing.  The layout breaks up the text so that is not textbook like, yet much of the time it continues through the "journal" pages spread across the pages.  This made it more difficult for my children to read themselves, yet easier as a family read aloud.
   
We spent most of our time in the Old Testament iWitness and iWitness Archaeology books.  These fit great with our focus this year on Ancient History.  There are facts and bits of trivia that we haven't seen elsewhere.  That makes these a great companion to history studies for homeschool families.  The New Testament iWitness shows and tells how the modern day New Testament came to be.  That makes this a great reference for any family.  These are historical facts, not someone's thoughts.  That makes these books great for sharing with skeptics and non-believers. 

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Thank you Apologia!

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