Wednesday, October 22, 2014

Middlebury Interactive Languages Review

Middlebury Interactive Languages Review

We had the opportunity to review a German Course through Middlebury Interactive Languages. Middlebury has courses for students in kindergarten through 12th grade. The German course we were given to review was the high school German geared towards students in 9th-12th grade. Upon first opening the course, it is inviting. The picture displayed was colorful and interesting.

A table of contents is listed on the left of the screen when beginning each day. Students can click through to where they left off. Once a lesson has been completed, a check mark is placed in the box to the left of the lesson. All lessons have a written script and a speaker, so the important parts of the lesson can be heard by the student. The first screen for each new unit details the objectives of the unit—what the student can expect to learn. Then there is a vocabulary guide and an introduction to the vocabulary. A pronunciation button is available for each word. This was, obviously, very helpful for my son as he sometimes had to click it over and over again because he'd forget how the German word was pronounced. It is a bit inconvenient, however, that a bar showing how long it takes them to say the word pops up right over top of the word. The list of vocabulary can be printed out.

As we went through the German lessons, I thought it would have been helpful if some of the words were said a little bit more slowly. There were words I'm sure we were pronouncing wrong because they said them too quickly. Interactive lessons are provided to learn the vocabulary words. I thought these were a lot of fun. You have to drag and drop the right answers onto the pictures. There is also a speaking lab—an opportunity to record your voice. The sentences provided are long. Unfamiliar words are underlined so students can click on them to learn what they mean. Speaker buttons are provided. I felt, again, that the speaker said the words faster than we could catch all the syllables and nuances. There is also no way to really compare your own attempt to the native speaker. You can listen to your own voice, but there is no direct comparison provided on the screen (no side-by-side voice comparison) to see how your own voice differs from the original.

An exercise comes next that allows the student to listen to a conversation and fill in the missing words. It seems to just be so the student can learn to pick out the vocabulary words from the conversation. It wasn't very difficult. After this exercise and the matching exercises for the vocabulary, the student is able to check his work by clicking the check mark in the top right of the screen.

The second unit teaches the German alphabet. I appreciate this part of the program. A lot of other language programs do not teach the alphabet, but I find that it is helpful to know how each letter sounds so you can at least try to figure out how to pronounce new words. After all, isn't that how we all learned English? Because there are four different letters and some of the letters that are the same as in English just pronounced differently, the student almost needs to take notes. There is an option for printing the script, which might actually be very helpful in this instance.

Some of the interactive exercises allow the student to drag and drop the answer while others require the student to actually type in the answer. I don't feel there is enough repetition of the words in the lessons to bring the student to the point where he feels comfortable spelling the words. I noticed my son getting visibly frustrated during these exercises. "How am I supposed to remember?" These exercises require a lot of going back and forth, unless the student actually writes down every word he learns throughout. He says there is also no instruction in how to type the German characters that aren't also in the English language.

Various topics are covered throughout the course: alphabet, pronouns, greetings, definite and indefinite articles, plurals, school words, adjectives, verb conjugation, etc. There are also cultural topics: Berlin, Burg Eltz, pastries, German economy, Berlin Wall, Brothers Grimm, and so on. I really enjoy the cultural pieces. It adds so much to the study of a language when you are able to catch glimpses of the life of the people.

At the end of each unit, there are two tests. One is multiple choice. The other is either writing or speaking. I've got to say, "These tests are hard." I'm not sure I could pass them without a LOT of review of the words.

A semester of Middlebury German for high school without a Middlebury teacher is $119. If you choose to use one of their teachers and obtain credit in this manner, the cost is $175 for a semester.

I love learning languages, and there are so many different programs available. Middlebury has some things other programs do not, and there are some things that it could do better. I wish there was more review of the vocabulary and better instruction in pronouncing the words. But I liked the interactive exercises and the cultural bits.

The following images are screenshots of different exercises available throughout the program, as well as the various programs that are available:

Middlebury Interactive Languages Review

Middlebury Interactive Languages Review

Middlebury Interactive Languages Review

Middlebury Interactive Languages Review

Middlebury Interactive Languages Review

Middlebury Interactive Languages Review

Middlebury Interactive Languages Review

Middlebury Interactive Languages Review

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foreign language learning
world language learning
second language acquistion
digital language courses
digital language learning
online language course
kids language course
kids language learning
Middlebury Interactive Languages  
Spanish, French, Chinese, German

Monday, October 20, 2014

Standard Deviants Accelerate Review

Standard Deviants Accelerate Review
Bringing a different approach to education for more than 20 years, Standard Deviants Accelerate began by providing videos and now has a website to share that same quirky teaching method with students. Standard Deviants Homeschool Courses include earth science, nutrition, biology, chemistry, arithmetic, fundamental math, algebra, English composition, US history, AP biology, AP chemistry, AP US government & politics, AP US history, and AP English composition.

My ninth grader participated in this review by taking nutrition which is geared towards students in grades 6 and up and English composition for students in grades 9 and up. There are actually homeschool courses for children as young as 8 years old. Upon entering the course, a table of contents is listed at the bottom of the page. The student clicks on this to return to where he left off. The ninth grade (and up) English composition class covers topics such as analyzing writing, research strategies, building an argument, rhetoric, writing, researching, citing sources, business writing, nonfiction and fiction,

Standard Deviants Accelerate Review

Each lesson plays a video. Everything that is said in the video is offered as text beside the video with the option of printing the transcript. There is also a blank area below the video where students can take notes. These notes can be saved to the "Locker," an area where students and parents can monitor progress.

The videos are chock full of information, maybe too much information in just one video. The folks in the videos try to be humorous, though my son didn't find them very funny. He said he felt that he learned some but that the lessons were a bit too childish for him.
Standard Deviants Accelerate Review
Vocabulary along with pronunciation is present after each lesson. There are diagrams, or exercises, for students to test their comprehension of what they heard/read. These were a little frustrating. It is a drag-and-drop exercise. Only the right answers stick, but they have to be dragged to the right place in order for them to stick. They can't just be dragged to the right box but have to be strategically placed.

Quizzes are available. If the student gets any of the answers wrong, they know right away and are encouraged to re-watch the video which pops up at the bottom of the quiz. The section of the video that corresponds to the missed question is provided. The quiz grades are available in the Locker.

The last section is the written answer section. Throughout the English comp course, the same questions were asked: How does the perspective of the thematic question (How does learning to write affect thinking?) inform your understanding of the topics covered in this section? and How does what you have learned in this section provide new dimensions to your understanding of the thematic question asked above? My son did not understand why they kept asking the same questions over and over, so he often did not answer them. He gets frustrated when there is too much repetition. There seems to be a lot in this program.

Each chapter review is broken down into a group activity, post-test, and a critical thinking section. Since my son never had a group of three to four other students, he did the assignments on his own. He actually enjoyed some of them. Students are given a few different topics to choose from, and they have to develop a mini-lesson plan focused on one of five different groups. The lesson plan has to be taught in such a way as to engage that particular group. My son liked it when he was able to pick comic-strip readers. Some of the other chooses for other chapter reviews include forgetful people, aliens from another planet, mimes, peasants from the dark ages, and so on. So, not everything is practical, but the creators of Standard Deviants Accelerate do try to have fun with the students.

The post-test cannot be taken until all of the quizzes throughout the lesson have been completed. Then it is all online and interactive. Like the quizzes, students know right away what they got wrong, and videos are available to re-learn the information. Students can then retake the quiz. The critical thinking part through my son for a loop, I think. He would rather have to write about something specific, something he learned in the lesson, but the second half of the critical thinking assignment required hypothesizing. I was glad to see, though, that he was really trying to do his best with these assignments.

My son spent more time in the English comp class, but the nutrition class is set up similarly. Some of the topics are the body processes regarding food, sugar, salt, oil, vitamins, minerals, nutritional deficiencies, organic foods, and making good food choices.
Standard Deviants Accelerate ReviewPricing for one child is as follows: An annual subscription for one subject is $99.00. A monthly subscription for one class is $24.95. One AP class is $14.95 per month.

I have mixed feelings about this program. It is set up so that I don't really have to teach anything; it is all online and taught via video. That I like. I can print our progress reports, which I also like. I don't feel, though, that it is deep enough or challenging enough for my son. There might not be much out there that is, however.

Standard Deviants Accelerate Review

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Monday, October 6, 2014

Two Words or Not Two Words

As I edit, one of the most common errors I have found (though there are many) is when authors do not know whether a word is supposed to be two words, one word, or a hyphenated word. Using Merriam-Webster's Collegiate Dictionary: Eleventh Edition, allow me to share some words and their actual spelling.

all-time (as an adjective)
ice-skate (as a verb)
seat belt
shutdown (as an adjective)

For the sake of needing to get this blog up, I will post it now. I will add to it as I come across more words during my editing.

Saturday, September 20, 2014

Time Travel is Possible!

I was transported back in time last night while I sat on my couch and watched the movie that played on our television. I never believed in time travel but always thought it would be amazing if it were possible. With my son's most recent paycheck, he purchased the DVD for a movie he had seen a few months ago in the theater. Knowing how much I enjoy movies and thinking I'd really like this one, he was eager to sit and watch it with me. (I love that we share a penchant for movies.)

What was this movie that had the ability to return me to my childhood? Why, Godzilla, of course.

The story begins with a family living in Japan. The mother and father work at a nuclear power plant. An accident happens, and the mother is killed. Fast forward 15 years, and the son is serving in the military in the States. He must go to Japan to bail his father out of jail for trespassing in a restricted zone. He just wanted to go back to his old house and gather some of his belongings … and discs to prove the existence of an unknown species.

While in Japan, the father and son end up at the old power plant and come face to face with the creature (or its offspring) that was responsible for the prior destruction. Once this creature, which feeds on radiation, decides it has had enough of Japan, it travels to Hawaii, which just so happens to be where our hero, Ford Brody, has a layover on his way back to his wife and child in California. Honolulu is destroyed, and the military follows this MUTO (Massive Unidentified Terrestrial Object) to Las Vegas where it proceeds to decimate the city and eat anything it can find that emits radiation. Oh, and whenever it chooses, it can emit an EMP to wipe out everything electronic and shut down the grid.

MUTO backtracks (wait, it might actually be the other half of the MUTO couple … how cute!) to San Francisco where it meets up with Godzilla who has not really made any kind of appearance until this point. Of course, Godzilla knows that this is where the action has to take place since Ford's family lives there. There would be no suspense if it weren't for this fact. I guess the other millions of lives don't really matter.

Now, as I watched Godzilla last night, I tried to work at the same time. I wasn't getting anything done, so I closed my computer and focused on the movie. I was actually enjoying it, right up until the point when the male and female MUTOs had an affectionate moment. These massive extraterrestrial creatures that towered above skyscrapers met in the middle of a crumbling city and hugged … or kissed … or something. It was at this moment that I was transported to my childhood.

I was sitting in my living room watching Godzilla. Extremely poor Japanese actors played out the scenes with even poorer quality English dubbing over the original Japanese. Godzilla fought every strange creature that the creators of these movies could think of. They wrestled, they threw each other, they bit. It was like watching a WWE match before its time.

This 2014 version of Godzilla was only missing the dubbing. Godzilla and MUTO1 and MUTO2 threw each other into buildings with no regard for the people who would be crushed as the structure toppled. There are only a few times we are asked to care about the loss of human life. Once is when a school bus full of children tries to make it across the Golden Gate Bridge before Godzilla tears the bridge apart. It just so happens that Ford's son is on this bus. Another time we are asked to consider the human element is when Ford's father pays the ultimate price. If they had only listened to him when he was alive, they might have avoided all the mayhem. But, then, there wouldn't be a movie. And don't forget Ford's wife who is working as a nurse in an area hospital. She stays behind to take care of the sick (of course) and is almost crushed as Godzilla and MUTO continue to destroy the city.

I won't give away the ending of the movie, though I'm sure you can figure it out as it follows the same story line as those old Godzilla movies. I did find some things quite humorous as I watched this newest version (besides the kissing MUTOs). The military thought they could inflict their own damage on Godzilla with their puny military-grade weapons. Really? Godzilla is a gigantic creature covered in hard skin and scales who is known to eat his own fair share of radiation, which came in quite handy in his fight against MUTO. Out of nowhere, Godzilla breathes blue fire filled with radiation. He only does it twice, so he is not a show-off, but it seems strange that he is able to summon his radiation breath right when he needs it. If he didn't have this, would he have been able to win the battle?

There were points when I thought the movie might be truly frightening … if I could actually see it. We had to turn the lights out so we could see what was happening on the screen. Most of the action took place at night or in a city so dark from dust you couldn't see what was going on.

I feel like the writers worked hard during the first half of the screenplay but then chose to rely on the past for the second half. It was predictable, and it was hard to watch. I've recently seen a two-and-a-half-hour movie that felt like it lasted 30 minutes. I remember thinking at one point during Godzilla, "Wow, this is a long movie." It is 123 minutes long, and we were just over an hour into it. I suppose when a movie is predictable and replete with repetition (fighting monsters knocking over buildings) then it will seem long.

I can recommend the first half of Godzilla but not the second. It's just not worth it. I feel bad. My son loves the movie. I enjoyed watching it with him, but unless you're a die-hard Godzilla fan, it will seem to be lacking some … things. If you're in it for a chance to just kick back and forget about reality, then go for it. If you're looking for a plot, you might want to look elsewhere.

Wednesday, September 17, 2014

The 7 Minute Life Review

7 Minute Life Daily Planner Review

As a highly disorganized person, I am always looking for something that will help me to become more organized. Since the Schoolhouse Review Crew hasn't asked me to use and review a personal assistant, I decided to try the next best thing: The 7 Minute Life Daily Planner. This spiral-bound, 270-page daily planner sold by The 7 Minute Life is marketed as more than just a daily planner; the website says I can change my life in just seven minutes a day.

7 Minute Life Daily Planner Review

The 7 Minute Life Daily Planner works under the premise that people typically have an attention span of seven minutes and can only remember seven pieces of information at a time. The planner opens with 14 pages of instruction. You can also watch a 12-minute video to learn how to use it. Now, I don't have a lot of free time. I like my instructions to be concise and simple. Fourteen pages was just a bit too much for me.

We are also asked to perform a self-evaluation of priorities and purpose. I've got to tell you, if I'm looking for organizational aids, I'm not usually interested in evaluating my life purpose or my strengths and my weaknesses. I've taken spiritual gifts assessments. I know these things. I want to organize my life. That's it. I've got three jobs. I homeschool. I have a junior who is dual enrolling but doesn't yet have his license. I have a daughter who helps teach dance classes on Tuesday but has her own classes on Thursday. I assist with youth group on Wednesday nights and have my own Bible study on Thursdays. God is my first priority, then my husband, and then my kids. Though most of what I do revolves around my top three priorities, I still have to work. I enjoy my job immensely, and thankfully I am able to do it in and around all of the other things. So, priorities are in order. I need to organize. At this stage of my life, simplifying isn't really an option. All of the things on my list need to be done. I don't think I'm doing anything that is superfluous. Things that aren't important simply don't get done here.

7 Minute Life Daily Planner Review

The daily progress reports allow you to track your daily contacts—those people you attempt to contact. I can also give myself points for various contact activities. Like I said, I want simple. I don't want to add another thing to do, especially one that has no value for me. In my job, I have two people I contact on a daily basis. In my life, those contacts change on a daily basis—sometimes zero, sometimes a few. There is no rhyme or reason. When I think of someone I need to call, I usually just write the name down on an index card. When I make the call, I throw away the card. I'm not sure why I'd want to keep track of people I tried to call. There is a section for choosing three people to connect with. While connecting with three people every day is a great and wonderful thing, I hate talking on the phone and don't have a lot of time to visit. I email or text as I think about people; most of the time it is just one sentence to let them know I've been thinking about them. 

7 Minute Life Daily Planner Review

There's a section for appointments—this is a section I use. But I don't use the "What I Spent" section. I've got a checkbook for that. I don't like the unfinished tasks section; it depresses me to see what I haven't finished. Likewise, the question at the bottom makes me feel guilty: "Did I do what I said I would do today?" Let's look at the rest of that green box. I am supposed to write how many hours I sleep, minutes I exercise, minutes I reflect, and minutes I read. Most days I will only have a number in sleep. Some days I'll have some reflection if I count Bible, which can also double for reading, but there are days when they'll be blank. Besides the fact that this gives me something else to have to keep track of, it makes me feel like a failure when I see blanks or low numbers. There is a section on the next page of the daily progress report for thank you notes and one for voice mails. I'm not going to send a thank you card, let alone three, every day, and I have no need for writing down my voice mail messages. They are saved on my phone. 

The last section I haven't mentioned yet is the "What I will do … 5 before 11" section. This is a doable section for me. I am simply supposed to list five simple tasks that can be completed without having to spend an hour each on them, things like organizing a drawer, dusting the bookshelves, cleaning the glass on the French doors, etc. Accomplishing these tasks among the bigger tasks of the day give me a sense of pride.

The 7 Minute Daily Planner is $24.95. Many other products and videos are available on the website.

While many folks have used this and have changed their lives through it, I simply don't have the time for all of the different tasks that are contained within it. I want a planner that just allows me to list my job-specific tasks, times when the kids need to be somewhere, and appointments. The 7 Minute Daily Planner is not for me.

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