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 an additional $175 per semester, for a total of $294.

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
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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.