November 1, 2015

Online Courses w/Standard Deviants Accelerate {Curriculum Review}

I am always exploring new ideas for curriculum and especially love finding out about new online curriculum. Little Britches loves using the computer and with his audio/visual learning style, online programs work very well for us---the sillier the better! After learning about the popularity of Standard Deviants Accelerate, we were eager to have a chance to review their Homeschool Courses in our family.
Online Homeschool Courses with Standard Deviant Accelearte: A Review

Product Summary

Standard Deviants Accelerate
Standard Deviants Accelerate (aka. SDA) was born about 20 years ago by two college graduates who had this crazy idea to record full academic courses on video--and to make them humorous! Flash forward to today when SDA now has hundreds of videos on everything from English Composition, to Algebra, to Organic Chemistry to US History and more for middle and high school level students. The company uses teenagers and young adults to present all the material in an entertaining, and sometimes hilarious manner.

SDA currently offers the following subjects:
*Earth Science (grade 6+)
*Nutrition (6+)
*Biology (7+)
*Chemistry (9+)
*Arithmetic (3+)
*Fundamental Math (4+)
*Algebra (7+)
*English Composition (9+)
*US History (9+)
*AP Biology (11+)
*AP Chemistry (11+)
*AP American Government and Politics (11+)
*AP US History (11+)
*AP English Composition (11+)

The pricing plans are $9.99/month for 1 subject and up to 5 students (with each additional subject for $4.99/month) or a one-time price of $745 for 14 subjects and up to 10 students. This is a supplementary learning website that offers 30-40 hours of course material in each subject.

We reviewed the Homeschool Courses focusing on the Arithmetic course with Little Britches (age 9) as this was one of the two courses they offered that fell into his grade/age range. I used the program with Chrome on my laptop

How Did We Use This Product?

Because SDA is an online program, we began by logging in and setting up an account for Little Britches. We had the option of being able to do any of the subjects that are offered as part of the SDA program. I knew I wanted to do the math courses for Little Britches (4th grade level), but as I looked through the choice of subjects, I decided that he would probably be able to do the Earth Science as well.

Setting up the class was a bit tricky…one of the main things you need to know is that each student has to have their own email address. You are not able able to use your own for their account. Since my boys do not have this, I simply used a secondary email of my own for their log-in.

From this point, there really wasn't any more prepping to do. I simply let Little Britches log-in to his account. Any of the classes that he is listed in show up as soon as he logs in. I set him up with Fundamental Math, so this was his math. When he clicked on the subject, it opens up a secondary menu that lists all the lessons within this subject. Every lesson is grouped according to a theme. There is also a subject review to be completed once all the lessons are done. Every lesson also has a chapter review.
I found the videos created for those wanting to see how the homeschool courses work to be very good place to start for knowing what to expect.

We looked through all the options and he decided he wanted to do angles and shapes first—so he clicked the first linked up lesson in the chapter. This pulls up a screen that looks like this...
This is from the US History, but the screens are the same in any of the subjects
You can see that there is a full transcript of the lesson on the left, a video on the right, and a box at the bottom. The box is a place where your child can type up their own notes as they watch the video. This can then be saved in their locker for reference later. The notes can only be typed by watching the video in small screen. I noticed that the full transcript can even be printed out. We chose to always watch the videos in full screen mode—especially since we had no need for the note box.

Little Britches was pleasantly surprised to find that kids and young adults were the teachers. It was also full of silliness and fast paced. All the lesson vocabulary was showed up on the screen, along with any diagrams or examples of the lesson being taught. Little Britches was 100% engaged right from the start. The video lesson was only about 5-10 minutes long. When it was done, he moved on to the vocabulary page—this page allows your student to review all the vocabulary that was introduced, and instead of simply reading the words, you can click on each word to hear the definition read to you.
After the vocabulary, came a diagram relating to the lesson. These are usually an interactive match up where your student clicks on a word from the word bank and moves it into the correct spot on the diagram. If your child is right, the word “sticks”. Once they are all in the right place, the computer tells you how many movements it took them to get it right. Now they move on the lesson questions. 

These are all multiple choice questions, and just five in all. The questions are straight from the video dialogue. Once your child has selected their answers, they click the button “throw it at the wall and see if it sticks”, which is the submit button. At this point a pop-up box will inform them how many questions they got right. Any questions they got wrong will be noted on the quiz itself, along with a video snapshot they can watch which gives the correct answer. 

The final part of each lesson is Critical Thinking—which is a written answer. The question however, is very vague and relates to the topic as a whole. I noticed that every chapter of the topic asks the exact same question. The question was so vague, we just decided that Little Britches wouldn’t be required to do it.
I can't even answer this and there is no guide WITH the actual answer.

Once the lesson has been completed, it will show up on the student’s chapter list with a tiny green check mark to denote all components have been completed. I discovered that as long as your student did the diagram and quiz, they would receive a check mark. The written answer was not required to be completed.

Once Little Britches worked through all the lessons in the chapter, he completed the chapter review. The chapter review consists of three parts:

*Act it Out: This is exactly what it says. You will act out something related to the chapter you just covered. It offers suggestions for a homeschool setting as well as a classroom setting. The child presents something according to the thematic suggestions to the teacher. The teacher grades this separately.

*Post-Quiz: This is a selection of 10 questions taken straight from the lesson quizzes. All are multiple choice. Any questions your child missed on the lesson quiz, will show up here again. There is nothing new on this quiz. Once it’s been completed, your child submits it—and they get an immediate response as to how they did—including video snips for any questions they missed.

*Critical Thinking: Here we have written answer again, but discovered that this one is must more specific and Little Britches was capable of responding. Because he’s not a strong typer yet, I had him dictate to me what he wanted to write down as his answer with each of these. I did not guide him more than allowing him to fully understand the question. This cannot be completed until the Post-Quiz has been taken.
Sample of the chapter review page
As with the lessons, once the chapter review has been done, it too receives a green check mark. We did not do any of the Act It Outs, and again, we still were able to get the green check mark.
You can see the chapters that have already been completed and what we have left
Once we began the math successfully and got the hang of how the program worked, I enrolled Little Britches into the Earth Science class, and allowed him to work through it as well. This followed the exact same format as the math class, so he was able to navigate it on his own and complete it independently.

What about grading?
Within my parent/teacher log in, I would grade assignments. I simply clicked “grading” at the top and then opened up either “grade” or “progress report”. From here I simply picked the subject to work in, the chapter, and the assignment. I only needed to grade the written response portions. This was done using a rubric—a basic on with grade 1-5—5 being the best. I discovered I could revise the rubric to fit what I wanted—but since I was just doing it for one child, I left it as it was. I clicked the appropriate number on the rubric, and then “submit grade”. Done. 
Grading screen...this shows that I have logged a grade already for this assignment

What about progress reports?
I am able to get a progress report for Little Britches for each subject he is working in. When I click progress report, I again choose my subject. If I had multiple students, I can see them listed here. A quick glance shows me if there are any red flags.

You can see that I was alerted that he had two red flags...this shows me what they were for, and then I can clear them
If your student struggled with either the diagram or quiz, they will get a red flag. When I click their name, it will show me the areas they received a flag in. I can look it over and then I can clear the flags. This shows me anything that I might need to go over or suggest they re-watch a video. 
Clicking on the test & quizzes part of the circle pie, allows me to look at all their tests and quizzes to see percentages. (This is the round circle in the graphic above. You can click any slice of the pie)
To create a progress report, I click on the little report icon next to the students name. Now I can get an overall percentage based on all the work that has been graded either by me or the program. I am able to print this off for my records.
If you have multiple students they would be listed here and you would just choose the one you want
I can see his average for the subject, with it broken down by sections in the evaluations

If your child is enrolled in more than one subject on SDA, you can also find out their overall grade too. I discovered this by logging into SDA as Little Britches, and then clicking “Locker”. From here I can click the round pie on the Test &  Quizzes. This shows me all the test and quizzes they have taken for all their subjects. Underneath this window I can see a comprehensive percentage. 
You can see that of the three subjects he's done, his overall test/quiz average is 85%
Your child can also review their diagrams while in their "locker" which allows them to study for their chapter and subject reviews. They also can (if they did it) review any video notes they took.
As of right now, I am letting Little Britches choose his own chapters to complete and I just log in at the end of the week to do any grading and to check his progress. I am only asked to help if he doesn’t understand a question, or to help him with the chapter review written answer. As of this week, we have completed three complete chapters of Arithmetic, 1 chapter of Fundamental Math, and two chapters of Earth Science. He is currently working in another chapter of Arithmetic and Earth Science.

What Are Our Thoughts?

Little Britches: 
“I have no complaints. I love the videos and think they are very fun. The diagrams are easy and the quizzes are pretty simple since it’s right from the videos. I like getting my score right away. I’m not really excited about the written answer, but since mommy helps me, it’s okay.”

Me:
There are a lot of things to mention, so I will try to keep it as brief as I can to give you my thoughts.

#1 I am glad he enjoys it. This means that I never have to pull teeth to get him to do it—even the math. The program is presented in a manner that is very attractive to my auditory visual learner and its fast pace is ideal for him.

#2 I love that he’s almost completely independent. This allows me time to work with his brother, by giving me about a chunk of 20 minutes per subject. I appreciate the fact that I can log in to view his progress and get reports to save for my records. 

#3 Progress reports are great, but…I was only able to print out the ones for Earth Science. The Arithmetic ones would not print anything but a blank page. This was a bummer as these were the ones I really wanted to print. I plan on sending the company a note so they are aware of this.

#4 I found the parent/teacher menus to be a bit difficult to navigate. I would like it if I could pull up the accounts by student, not subject. It would be easier, especially if you want to look at one child in multiple subjects.  I think it’s geared more towards a classroom use, so I see how something like that would be easier for a teacher…but for the homeschool parent, I think pulling it up by student as an option would be greatly appreciated.

#5 Student Log In…the only username you can give your students is an email and it has to be different from your own. Little Britches is only 9 and obviously doesn’t have an email. I would greatly prefer it if they can have an actual username, or be able to log in under my email. Having a dummy email account or using one of my secondary accounts isn’t a good option for me.

#6 Evolution. We are a Christian family that believes in an Intelligent Designer. A good portion of the Earth Science and Biology is devoted to promoting the evolutionary theory. This means that there are whole chapters that I won’t even cover with my child, making the subject review have some gaps in it as we will not cover those chapters at all. I know that this was originally designed for classroom use and the evolutionary theory is taught there, which is why I am not surprised to see it. However, if they are going to open this up to homeschool families, I think it would be nice to have a version that does NOT include the evolutionary theory, as a vast majority of the homeschool community does not teach the evolutionary theory.

#7 Math practice. The math is great in regards to lecture and review over the thematic principles and vocabulary, but there just isn’t any actual hands-on math practice to put it into use.  I want to be able to know my child knows how to put what they've learned to the test. The videos are more just like acted out textbooks. This leads me to the next thing.

#8 I do not consider this a complete curriculum for math. There just isn’t enough actual math use for it to be considered as such. It’s like having the lecture and review over the lecture without the workbook or assignment. Because of this, I would not justify paying for a subscription knowing that I would need to use something else to go with it. I can't just give my child the lecture portion without having them apply what they've learned to demonstrate they do know understand it.

#9 Science is more complete than math, but....it’s still missing the experiments aspect or the USE WHAT YOU’VE LEARNED part. Now, I think it would be easier to create something like that for the science over the math, but again. I think of these science lessons as more a supplemental program.

#10 Arithmetic vs. Fundamental Math. So when I first got this program, I accidentally set Little Britches up in Fundamental Math. Imagine my surprise when it is pretty advanced—talking about figuring out area of shapes and more advanced geometry. But here’s the thing. The information was explained so well that Little Britches STILL did well on the diagrams and quizzes! He completed a full chapter of it before I had him switch back to Arithmetic. Fundamental Math is geared for 4th grade+ while Arithmetic is for 3rd+ I would actually put the Fundamental Math more at a 5th grade level at the soonest after listening to several of the lessons. Arithmetic is definitely geared towards no less than a 3rd grade level, unless you have an advanced student.

Will you continue to use this product?
Yes. I will use it for math. When he’s done in Arithmetic, I plan to move him back to Fundamental Math. Because I don’t think it’s a complete math program, we will continue to use one of our “normal” math programs with it.  Earth Science will be continued as well, until we only have the evolution chapters left. We will move on to Biology at that point and continue in it until we get to the evolution portions as well. I may check out some of the other subjects as we move forward for as long as our subscription lasts. Interestingly enough, though it's geared for middle school, Little Britches seems to be very able to keep up with the information and do well on the quizzes.

Would I Recommend This Program?

If you are looking for something different in math and science, that is fun, entertaining, fast paced and high quality, yes. If you want something where the emphasis is on the concepts more than the application, this is a good match for you. If you like the idea of a more independent program where you can simply leave them to it and then check their work on your own, yes.  

If you want a program that includes hands on work and assignments, then this won’t be for you. If you want a program that does NOT promote evolution in their science, no, this won’t work for you. If you don’t have a good internet connection, this won’t be a good match for you. 

The way the program is set up, you would have one subscription for up to 5 students, and each would have their own account to do their own work. If you want them to be working on it all together at the same time, you would need to have them on separate computers, but even then...they would be working independently of each other. Like a classroom.
The other thing is that the website says it provides a year's worth of content for each subject. We must have a different idea on what a year is because there is no way I can drag out each of these subjects. Fundamental Math has 7 chapters. Each chapter has 3-4 lessons and a chapter review. For us, we do a lesson a day. This means we finish a chapter a week. Thus this subject is just 7 weeks of material. That's not a whole year. None of the subjects Little Britches is signed up for has more than 9 weeks worth of lessons. To me, this isn't even a semester. Another reason why I said this is NOT a full curriculum. It is definitely a supplemental website. Interestingly enough, in the FAQ, they state that it's actually 30-40 hours of content within each subject. Nowhere close to a year.

Will we purchase it when our subscription is done? No. Even though Little Britches loves it, I don’t see it as a good match for us in the long run for what I’m looking for. 

Want to Know More?

We reviewed the Homeschool Courses available at Standard Deviants Accelerate. You have seen what we thought about the product, but please head over and see how it was used with the rest of our Review Crew!
Standard Deviants Accelerate Review
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While it doesn't fit all of our usual criteria for an online program, Little Britches is greatly enjoying the time with Standard Deviants Accelerate and I know will enjoy finishing out our subscription!
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