Thursday, March 5, 2015

Our Curriculum Review

After 1.3 years of homeschooling we have tried out quite a few different curricula, and I'm sure if you are a homsechooler you have too, or perhaps you are just beginning and want to hear from other people about what has worked for them. I will attempt to categorize by subject and degree of satisfaction as well as to give a brief description.  The curriculum or resources I LOVE or RECOMMEND are in RED.



Online


We are doing a Virtual school this year and have had the opportunity to sample a couple of online options.  My son and daughter had different experiences/successes with the online options.  After seeing how they work, I am not a big fan.  There are definitely some good points to them, but I think personally, after this experience I am leaning towards paper and paper with experiential options.

Pros in general:  


  1. Supposed independence.  We start our day with the online curriculum and during that time, I prep breakfast, take care of my 4 year old, do dishes.  I need a portion of time to get these things done. I found, though, that if it is too difficult, I am still needed to be present.
  2. Self Graded. This is a time saver for sure.  They provide immediate feedback.  They have some built in algorithms that attempt to tailor the lesson to help with weaknesses.

Cons in general:

  1. If you are a part of a Virtual School, they may have deadlines.  These online options can be rigorous with extra requirements such as math projects and essays.  You need to "keep up" This may not  be an issue for some.  One of my children zipped right through and was done with the whole year a little bit half past the half year mark, but with my other child, it was a struggle to keep up, and a source of tears and frustration.  
  2. Screen Time:  You have to ask yourself just how much screen time you are okay with your children spending.  Those screens cannot be good for their eyes. I believe there is radiation exposure.  One of my children gets very distracted by being on the computer and the temptation to go onto games can be too alluring. 
We sampled Four Online curriculum:
Acellus, Odyseey, Rosetta Stone, and Duolingo

Acellus:


My review 3/5 stars

My son HATED Acellus while my daughter was okay with it.  It is mastery based.  There is a short lecture/video with a teacher/projector screen type format like in college.  Each video is about 3 minutes long and it is explained quickly.  You can watch the video as many times as you want when you are in that section and then the video disappears.  I did not like that I could not go back to see past units.

If you understand the concept, you move through the questions quickly and move onto the next concept.  In order to keep up with the school's pace, you need to go through 2 concepts/day.  If you do not understand the concept and have too many incorrect responses in a row, it repeats with more questions and a repeat of the same video.  If you are stuck, you are stuck on that one concept and cannot move forward, so if you are stuck, you cannot do 2 concepts a day.  The combination of the requirement of 2 concepts a day with having to "master it" in that one day, can put you behind, and it creates a lot of stress for that child.  If you are able to master things quickly, it can be rewarding.  It might be fine if you are allowed to go at your own pace, for some this may be once concept a day, but with a deadline for mastery, it can be a terrible experience.

Odyseeyware


My review: 4/5 stars

There is more variety in this program.  There are spelling tests with avatars.  It is more reading based than video/lecture based.  There are units with due dates and you have 3 chances to improve your score.  It has a notetaking option where you can print out your notes for the test.  You have only once chance with exams.  There are essays to write every couple of weeks.  It is a little gentler than Acellus and a little more interesting with a little more variety to its structure.  

Rosetta Stone

My review: 4/5 stars

This depends on what version you have.  This is an extremely difficult program for kids even with the easiest version.  It is excellent for language acquisition and it has an interesting interface, but it can be very hard if you have time constraints.  Our virtual school was experimenting with it and had a time limit of 2 units a semester, but most kids were unable to complete this.  They changed their expectation to 1 unit a semester.  That, I think, is more realistic for elementary.  Again, pace is everything.  One thing I have learned this year is how much pace impacts our whole experience and it is important to be sensitive to your child's learning pace.

This program has a few versions, so be careful of what version you get. For example there is online, CD-Rom, and Homeschool options.  

Duolingo

My reivew: 4/5 stars

This is FREE and it seems to be easier and more kid friendly.  I do not think it is quite as comprehensive as Rosetta Stone, but it is a great program for introducing a language and did I mention, FREE!

Choremonster

My review 5/5 stars
I LOVE this ap for tracking chores for kids with built in rewards and immediate feedback.  My kids 10/11 really like it too.  You can ulock new monsters when you fulfill enough chores.  

Google Drive

I really like Google Drive for homeschooling. You can share documents and edit from different accounts and computers.  It makes it easier to access my kids files from my computer and to share them with the school as well.  They save as you type and track older versions from the day before. 

Supertracker


This might be useful to tracking PE time. We used it for while, but it gives extra information we don't really need, so I'd rather just use a spredsheet.

30 Day Fitness Challenge


This has some helpful videos for specific exercises.

YOUTUBE

I love that we can do a unit on identifying minerals and then look it up on youtube and find lots of supplementing videos on that very topic.  I use these short videos all the time.  


Math

Saxon

My reivew 5/5

I love Saxon so far.  It has a spiral approach which may not be for everyone, but for my son, it is a great fit.  It gently introduces a new topic with a few practice problems, then it goes back to review for the rest of the lesson.  The next lesson, the same thing, while spiraling in the previous topic, so you do not quickly forget what you just learned, and you have multiple opportunities to practice. I also like that each problem has a lesson number next to it, so if I find a cluster of errors, I know what concept he is struggling with.  It can be more work to grade than an online option, but it is much gentler if your child feels insecure about his/her math skills or is sensitive toward getting the wrong answers.  You can go at your own pace and be as gentle or as pushy as your child needs you to be with him/her.  I also think it is a STRONG curriculum that teaches toward college preparation.  (so I've heard)

Life of Fred


I cannot give this on a review yet; we have not used it enough.  I hope to use it some more as an alternative "fun" math. It is literature based and contains more "real life math" and how it applies to living.  It is also humorous and cute.  I have also heard about the I Hate Math series, and Family Math.  It is good to have some non-traditional math to try.  I hope that next year we have more time to experiment with "fun" and applicable math.  

Teaching Textbooks


My review 4/5
Teaching Textbooks is pretty non-threatening math, it self grades and allows for independent learning.  Both my children used this curriculum and had success with it.  The only thing I might worry about, though, is that it might be a bit on the "easy" side and might not be as strong of a curriculum as Saxon, but I am not sure.  It is mastery based, but seems much "kinder" than Acellus. It is available in book and CD format.
Math Mammoth/Khan


Language Arts

Moving Beyond the Page

My review so far 5/5

Using Story picture books to teach 

I think I am going to LOVE this curriculum!  It is integrative, it is unit based, thematic based, and can tie to science, social studies, math.  We are just beginning to try this out.  It also incorporates art!  I am excited about this approach.  For example, we are studying 1600-1700's US History right now, and reading Witch of Blackbird Pond, MBP has a unit on this book that incorporates studying the book, the geography and history around the story; it introduces the vocabulary, incorporates grammar, art, writing, comprehension, and MORE!  

Using Picture Storybooks to Teach Literary Devices

My reivew 5/5


I love this resource too.  This book has a directory (it has different volumes with different books recommendations in the them). This directory is organized under thematic topics, so you can look up  books on Metaphor for example and find a list of books that contain metaphors, check them out form the library, and then you can give your children many examples of metaphors. It is also interdisciplinary and includes information on the types of art used in the books and also how the books may relate to science or social studies as well. I found that after a lesson from this book, we naturally lead into an art project that related to the medium or ideas from the book(s) we read that particular day.  

Spectrum

We used a little bit of Spectrum for grammar last year and it is good when you want a simple grammar unit isolated from the rest of the curriculum.

Well Trained Mind/

I have not used this yet, but it looks good and want to try it.  

Social Studies

Harcourt, Maps, YouTube and library books

We have been using these textbooks and I think they are very good for getting the basics of history and social studies skills.  I supplement with maps, videos, library books, projects and field trips.  There are museums that are great to visit to learn more about history.  I think putting maps on the walls to always have them handy.  Geography, map skills, map puzzles and games are good for building skills. I often pick novels that relate to a time period we are studying.  I love integrating social studies with language arts, and even science at times.  

Science

Stratton House

My review 5/5 (except it needs a little more supplemental info for each lesson)

I love working with Stratton House!  It is activity based and makes leaning more of an active experience as I think science should be.  I do need supplement; however, as I think we need a little more instruction, but that is easy enough to do with YouTube, a science book, or a website.  You receive a box of materials and thematic lessons. This year we have the units, light, birds, and astronomy.  I have learned quite a bit alongside my children.    

Harcourt and Pearson



I like to buy used science and social studies books on Amazon.  So far, I like Harcourt and Pearson textbooks.  I wouldn't want to use a textbook alone without doing hands-on activities as well; experiments, field trips, this is where I think Stratton and a textbook go well together.


What is your favorite curriculum?




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