Tuesday, June 14, 2011

Switched on Schoolhouse Review

Last year, I was able to get a great deal on the Switched on Schoolhouse curriculum for my 5th grade son. Daniel was getting a bit overwhelmed with all of the textbooks, and I was overwhelmed with all of the paperwork involved with using the textbooks. Going to a computer-based curriculum was tempting, and the reviews I'd read praising SOS really encouraged me to give it a try. It was going to be a huge leap for us, because I'd never used any computer-based curriculum for my son. However, the ability to nix the books, paper tests and quizzes, averaging grades, etc. was quite tempting, so I gave up my traditionalist ways and forked out the dough.

There were good results and there were bad results.

Let me go through the disciplines one by one, and I'll tell you what I liked/disliked about each one.

Let me say that I absolutely loved the Bible curriculum. I was a little worried, because we're a KJV family, and I was a little concerned that the curriculum wouldn't allow that option. I was relieved to find that I could select for all verses to show KJV. The lessons were really good for my son. There were video clips, links to online maps, and games. He thoroughly loved the Bible lessons, and his grades in Bible were always good. I attribute that to how well my son enjoyed the lessons. He looked forward to his daily Bible lesson.

History/GeographyThis curriculum was satisfactory. Once again, there were video clips in some lessons, links to maps and resources. History is one of Daniel's favorite subjects, and the curriculum was challenging for him.

Language ArtsThe language arts curriculum encompasses reading, language, writing and spelling. I found this discipline to be fairly satisfactory, but somewhat limited. Some of the lessons were a bit choppy, and confusion reared its ugly head from time to time. There were some lessons that required my interception because my son didn't understand after reading the lesson. But all in all, I felt Language was satisfactory.

MathThe math curriculum is what I really just didn't like. With almost each new lesson, I'd have to step in and demonstrate for my son. In fact, it was so bad at one point during the school year that I told my husband that I'd just rather teach math myself! Some of the math lessons were severely limited. Detail wasn't always there. And the example problems were so easy that the problems he had to work in the lesson were confusing and frustrating for him. The problems he had to do were a lot harder than the example problem.

ScienceScience has always had a love/hate relationship with Daniel, so I didn't know exactly how this year would turn out with SOS. Right off the bat though there were projects that required a microscope. This was a problem for us, because we didn't have a microscope and the local university didn't have any for us to borrow. I ended up spending almost $200 for a microscope for the science projects. There were other projects that would've required us to fork out some more money, but we chose to skip those and pursue lessons from outside sources that weren't as costly. The lessons themselves were pretty good. I don't have any beef with the lessons.

Other AreasLet me cover some other areas that don't involve the disciplines.

Many of the links in the lessons themselves arrive at a dead end--i.e. a 404 error. This was a disappointment to my son sometimes when he was looking forward to learning more about a topic.

Programmed GradingThe curriculum automatically grades the lessons for you. However, if a child doesn't spell something quite right or maybe a word isn't capitalized, a response may be marked incorrect. I had to make sure I went over each problem for each lesson/quiz/test and read each response to make sure his answers weren't incorrectly marked wrong.

BugsAt one point during the school year, I received a database error, and I was not able to access the curriculum at all. It had worked just fine the day before, there were no new updates that I had missed, and it just made no sense to have that problem. I had to scour the internet for several hours to figure out what the problem was. I downloaded a "fix" from the AOP website that fixed the problem, but I was worried that maybe I'd have the problem again. This was a big worry for me, because the curriculum is NOT cheap. If I had some kind of error that kept the curriculum from being used at all, this was not a good selling point for me to purchase their curriculum in the future!

Other necessities requiredI've found that requiring my son to keep a notebook of vocabulary words and basic notes was a must. Reading the lessons wasn't enough to ingrain in him what he needed to know. There is an option in the curriculum that you can print off the lessons, but when you consider how much money would be spent in ink and paper, it becomes a little frustrating. He had a notebook for each subject so that he could take notes and write vocab. words. When he didn't take notes, his grades showed it.

What I loved about SOSIn spite of all of the cons that I've listed, there were things that I truly enjoyed about SOS. I had purchased a laptop specifically for the use of SOS, and it was a wonderful thing! Having SOS on the laptop meant that I had more freedom with schooling my children. I was able to make visits to family and bring the schoolwork with us, and we didn't have a ten-pound backpack full of textbooks to lug around. I will miss that next year once I have to lug all of those books when we visit family.

I loved the administrative tools. I didn't have to do any averaging; I could just input some dates, and his grades popped right up on the screen. Simple!

My son loved the games that accompanied the lessons. My youngest son would often watch him play the spelling bee game.

I think I would give SOS a 3/5 stars. I can see how other families would really like it, but it was a no-go for us. I wouldn't mind using the Bible curriculum in the future; that was a big hit. But as far as Language, Math, and Science go, I prefer to teach that because with SOS I was having to intercede anyway.

My son sent me a little message in the program saying that he was glad to go back to textbooks next year, that SOS was just too confusing. That pretty much made up my mind completely that SOS is not for us.

For sixth grade, we'll be going back to ABEKA and Bob Jones. And that's ok with me. :)

I was not paid to give a review for SoS. My opinion is my own.

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