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Standard Deviants - a review

We've tried something new this semester. Standard Deviants Accelerate gifted us with an annual subscription to Standard Deviants Accelerate Homeschool Courses. It's been a busy season as we've remodeled and worked toward moving out to the woods, so we tried a couple months of primarily online classes so I could have peace of mind that they were learning without my being able to give them my full focus. 
Standard Deviants Accelerate Review
Unfortunately, SDA required an unusual amount of teacher focus and we have sad wasted two months of our school year.

SDA offers 14 courses:
  • Earth Science - grades 6+
  • Nutrition - grades 6+
  • Biology - grades 7+
  • Chemistry - grades 9+
  • Arithmetic - grades 3+
  • Fundamental Math - grades 4+
  • Algebra - grades 7+
  • English Comp - grades 9+
  • US History - grades 9+
  • AP Biology - grades 11+
  • AP Chemistry - grades 11+
  • AP US Gov and Politics - grades 11+
  • AP U.S. History - grades 11+
  • AP Eng. Composition - grades 11+
To use SDA, you first choose the courses you would like to use and then send invitations to students via email. Students must have their own email address to register for their class, which was new for my younger students.

Once registered, students can log in to their account at any time and choose from a sort of Table of Contents section under each class. Students can choose any chapter or lesson from this section, in any order. This is helpful if you are using the course as a supplement to help learn something specific. Students can jump straight into the area they need help with.

This is not as helpful if you want them to learn in a linear fashion. The classes they have completed are not checked off in any way; they do not change colors once completed or indicate that they have been completed. This leaves 4th graders trying to remember which lessons they have finished so they can know which lesson they should choose for the day.

After choosing the lesson they would like to learn, students begin by watching a video and/or reading a transcript of the video. It is not uncommon for the video and transcript to not match each other, with one providing information that is either not listed or is contradictory to the other, so students should be encouraged to pay attention to each and to make use of the section provided for taking notes.
Standard Deviants Accelerate Review

Let me walk you through a standard lesson for students.
In Arithmetic, for grades 4 and up, students begin with a chapter intro. You can read that full intro here and you really should lest you think I'm joking when I tell you that the mathematics assignment asks students to make a poster for a shape of their choice, which they then turn into an ad with which they "sell" their shape to their fellow classmates.

After skipping this introduction since few homeschoolers have "classmates" to whom they can sell anything, students begin a video for the lesson. This introduces some great information:
  • Points
  • Lines
  • Parallel
  • Perpendicular
  • Line Segments
  • Endpoints
  • Ray
  • Angles
  • Vertex/Vertices
  • Right Angle
  • Degree
  • Rotate
  • Acute
  • Obtuse
  • Congruent
All of this is taught in a video that is 7 minutes and 20 seconds long.

At the end of this video, there is an arrow and a button that says, "Next Topic". For the first week, this button confused all of my students from the 8 year old to the 17 year old. After a week, when I sat down to grade, it appeared they had all skipped work, and they had. The button does indeed take you to the next topic, but it does not take you to the questions and activities that pertain to the current topic. Those are listed as tabs across the top.

Once the tabs are discovered, students can view the vocabulary words for the lesson. Students can read the vocabulary definitions or click a button to have each word read to them.

This next section provides the information from the video as individual boxes that can be inserted into a picture or problems on the page. The instructions clarify at the beginning that each try will count against you. The pieces will not "stick" to the wrong spot, so students can continue trying until they find the correct spot for each box. Once each data box has been placed correctly, a box pops up saying, "It took you 7 tries to complete this diagram", or whatever number is appropriate. In this particular lesson, there were 7 boxes, so 7 tries is a good score.

This section is multiple choice. In this particular lesson, there are 5 multiple choice questions to quiz students. This includes questions such as:
  1. What do we call a bunch of points in a row?
Once finished answering, students click on the button that says, "Throw it against the wall and see if it sticks." A box then pops up telling them how many questions they answered correctly.

Written Answer
The same two questions appear at the end of every section of every subject, from math, to science, to English. They are:
1. How does the perspective of the thematic question inform your understanding of the topics covered in this section? 
 2. How does what you have learned in this section provide new dimensions to your understanding of the thematic question asked above?
The "thematic question" for this chapter is:
There is a box provided for students to type in their answers. There is apparently no wrong answer. There is also no grading key or reference for what a correct answer might look like.

In this particular instance, after studying lines and angles, students should ask themselves what the most basic concept underlying the subject of arithmetic is and then explain how that viewpoint informs their understanding of lines and angles. They should also explain how learning about lines and angles provided new dimensions to their understanding of the most basic concept underlying the subject of arithmetic. Yes, my 4th grader loved that one.
Standard Deviants Accelerate Review
Every section of every chapter of every subject
This concludes the first section. After this, it is then appropriate to click on the arrow and box that tempted students at the end of every tab's assignment: Next Topic.

In this particular chapter, there are 3 sections to complete. Each section can easily be completed in an hour, if the student is able to retain all of the video's information. It is unclear how the lessons should be spread out, allowing for flexibility for each family's preference.

Now let's look at the Teacher's Account.
Teachers have access to all of the courses so they can see what their students see. Teachers can view progress reports on each student and they can grade the class activities and written answers. Teacher's can also view Progress Reports for each student and class.

From the Teacher's Account, click on "Grading". Choose the class and then the chapter, section, and assignment you would like to grade. There is no way to know until you have opened the assignment whether you have already graded it before, so you'll want to make a list to avoid wasting time opening things you don't need.

Once chosen, you can choose which student participating in that class you would like to grade. If the lesson is graded, you will see a + sign. If that lesson is waiting to be graded, you see a circle symbol. If the student has not turned in that assignment, you see a - sign.

A rubric is provided to help you grade the assignments. This can be edited by the teacher to be personal to each family's preferences. The rubric provided allows you to grade, on a scale from 1 to 5, how well the student performed in the following:
  • Address of subject matter
  • Comprehension of subject matter
  • Use of original thought
  • Grammar/Organization
To grade the Written Answer, teachers are shown the two questions repeated throughout the entire site:
1. How does the perspective of the thematic question inform your understanding of the topics covered in this section? 
2. How does what you have learned in this section provide new dimensions to your understanding of the thematic question asked above?
The students' answers are also shown here. The thematic question it references is not shown, nor is any detail about the lesson other than the chapter title. There is no answer key. Students answer according to how they feel about the material and teachers grade according to how they feel about the student's answer. Eventually mine started answering, "I felt the same way about this time that I felt about it all the other times I've answered this question." And I, as the teacher, felt the answer deserved 100%.

I emailed the company about this ridiculous scenario and was relieved to hear that the written answers are completely optional and that if students skip this portion of each lesson, there will be no points counted against them. When I mentioned that the thematic question isn't shared in the grading portion, but that I have to go to the lesson itself, I was told that they would put this improvement on their wishlist. They also offered to look up the thematic question for me if I shared the section and class that I was grading, which was very kind.

Progress Reports
Click on Grading > Progress Report > choose the subject you would like to view > and then choose the student whose work you would like to view.

By clicking on her report card, I see that my 8 year old has a 92% in Mathematics. This does not show how many lessons have been completed or what areas she might have had trouble with. For that, you view the Progress Report. This section shows you a pretty circle with four different colorful sections you can click on to view details of different areas.

If I click on Group Activity, a message tells me there are currently no grades to show for this area. If I click on Subject Review, a message tells me there are currently no grades to show for this area. If I click on Written Response, a message tells me there are currently no grades to show for this area. Were there assignments for these areas? Did my child skip them? If so, my child did not receive negative points for skipping material, so that is apparently okay. I know for a fact that there is always a Written Response since that one must be graded by me and not the program, so I can track that one down by going back to the grading section and seeing if an answer was submitted. There is one last section in the colorful circle: Tests and Quizzes.

If I click on Tests and Quizzes, a chart pops up telling me that in chapter 1, section 1, my student received a score of 80%, in chapter 1, section 2, she received 80%, etc. It does not say what she might need to work on.

There is a section that shows Red Flags for students' work. It shares a bit more detail about the grades and I can then see that in "Addition/Subtraction/Estimating: Graphic Organizer", Sarah exceeded the number of errors permitted by standards. I cannot see which specific areas she needs work in, but I can see the specific topic, so we can go back and do that lesson over again.

Going through lessons a second time does not improve scores as the first answers submitted are the only answers recorded. This was unfortunate for my 9th grader who was pretty sure he knew much of the material and wanted to pre-test himself by completing the quiz first before watching the videos. It's something I encourage them to do in our book assignments, helping them become more aware of the sections they need to especially focus on in the chapters. He didn't realize these answers were part of his permanent score. Oops.

You can view the general idea in this video below.

We attempted the following classes:
  • Arithmetic for my 8 and 10 year old daughters
  • English Composition for my 9th and 11th grade sons
  • AP American Government for my 9th and 11th grade sons
  • Chemistry for my 9th grade son

The Math class hit a snag and wouldn't let us proceed. 

English comp
The Writing class did not require any actual writing assignments, only multiple choice questions. 

AP American Govt.
We completed AP Govt, but only because it was a very short class, consisting of one chapter with 4 sections, and one review. That review, of an AP level course, included this assignment:
(no really, read it; you'll love this) 

The phrase "there's always stick figures" was worrisome, as was the idea of conveying early influences on the constitution to mimes for an AP level course, but the warning attached to the Post Test was worse:
 The Bad News 
These were the questions you answered incorrectly(and if didn't get any questions wrong, luck you — you should already know the answers!)…
I very much appreciate that they were specifically quizzing on questions my students needed help with. I'm quite certain however, that the two week class did not leave them prepared to take the AP exam.

The Chemistry class actually shared a good bit of information and my 9th grade son said he was almost overwhelmed by the data until he realized that the questions asked in the quizzes were insanely simple and barely covered any of the information thrown at him in the videos.

There were several other classes we had intended to utilize, but we changed our minds once we realized what we'd gotten ourselves into.

Things I liked:
It is an attractive program.

I like that each student was able to access their account and do their lessons on the iPad. As long as we had internet access, they were able to take their lessons with them.

I liked the incredibly fast response time of their help desk. I emailed the company quite a bit actually and I was very impressed with how quickly they responded every time.

The kindness of the staff. Every correspondence was patient and kind. They are eager to work with you.

I like that students can email me from any point in the lessons to let me know about any questions or problems they ran across in the material.

Things I didn't like:
SDA is a little less user-friendly than other online programs we've used, so it took a bit of a learning curve for me to get us set up. I accidentally set up two classes that I didn't want and was stuck with them in my teacher's page for a while.  The "archive" feature designed to remove such things didn't work for a long while, but they have since fixed it. 

While grading their work, I found that some assignments didn't show up as completed, even though I watched them do the work. We attempted to print them, but the print feature nearly always just prints a blank page. One son retook a quiz several times, but each time he submitted it, the multiple choice answers suddenly changed on the page! Eventually, he was able to submit it and it "stuck", keeping the answers the same way he submitted them. 

We ran into an important discrepancy in the AP Govt. class. The video and transcript in the first section about how the AP Test works, both said that there is 1 point added for right answers and zero points deducted for wrong answers. The answers to the test show videos to help you review wrong answers. My boys got two questions wrong based on the information provided in the video and transcript. Clicking on the Review video, a different answer is given, which states there is 1/4 point deducted for wrong answers. I emailed the company and they fixed the video for future students. However, my boys' test score was not fixed. There is no improving your score once answers are submitted. Since so few questions are asked, it is easy to bring down your average. 

When the video above says you can view the red flags, that is unfortunately all you can do: view the red flags. You cannot click on a link to see which particular questions they had trouble understanding. They cannot finish the diagrams until all of the boxes are in the right place, so viewing their finished work gives no indication of which boxes they had trouble with. You are simply aware that something in that lesson was a challenge to them.

The glitches were frustrating. It happened several times, with different students, but one example is that my daughter attempted to take a Post-Test for Chapter 1 in Arithmetic. It told her she couldn't take the test until she had completed the quiz. She DID complete the quizzes. There were no unfinished assignments, no indication of what it wanted us to do. She was stuck. We dropped that class.

We did assignments multiple times because the program erased their answers, losing quite a bit of time to redo completed, but lost, work. We attempted the lessons on desktops, laptops, and iPads. We tried it in Chrome and Safari, using high-speed internet. There was no reason for the glitches on our end.

Standard Deviants Accelerate Review

Homeschoolers can purchase the course for use by one student for $99 for a year, or $24.95 per month. AP courses are available for one student for $14.95 per month.
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