Tuesday, October 21, 2014

Standard Deviants Accelerate - A Schoolhouse Crew Review

How can you not be intrigued by an online learning program with the name Standard Deviants Accelerate? At first, the name wasn't familiar to me, but when I checked out their website, I liked their approach of infusing humor into educational videos. We had the privilege of reviewing the Standard Deviants Accelerate Homeschool Courses over the past couple of months.
Standard Deviants Accelerate Review
Standard Deviants Accelerate has been producing quality education videos for over 20 years, using humor, varied presentations, and bite-sized chunks of information to help students learn what they need to know. The idea is to condense core academics into a few hours of instructional videos that are entertaining and funny. Standard Deviants Accelerate Homeschool Courses take this approach of humorous video instruction combined with printable text, interactive diagrams and quizzes; making it easy for homeschool families to use these courses as supplements or as a study spine to cover a variety of subjects. All the instructional material is included in the videos, so homeschool parents aren't kept scrambling for books and materials. The courses are entirely online, so they can be accessed anywhere you have an internet connection. Students can work at their own pace, and a large part of the grading is done automatically.

Standard Deviants Accelerate Homeschool Courses are for Grades 3-12. The following courses are available:
  • Earth Science - Grades 6+
  • Nutrition - Grades 6+
  • Biology - Grades 7+
  • Chemistry - Grades 9+
  • Arithmetic - Grades 3+
  • Fundamental Math - Grades 4+
  • Algebra - Grades 7+
  • English Composition - Grades 9+
  • U.S. History - Grades 9+
  • AP Biology - Grades 11+
  • AP Chemistry - Grades 11+
  • AP U.S. Government and Politics - Grades 11+
  • AP U.S. History - Grades 11+
  • AP English Composition - Grades 11+
Each course includes video instruction with accompanying transcript; critical thinking questions; multiple choice questions; graphic organizers; and vocabulary words. Transcripts, written work, and quizzes can all be printed.
Standard Deviants Accelerate Review
How did we use it?  We received a full annual subscription to Standard Deviants Accelerate Homeschool Courses so that we could try out as many of the courses as we wished. Although I briefly explored several of the courses, our focus was on the Nutrition course. Because a half-credit course in Health is now required for our homeschooled high schoolers, we thought the Standard Deviants Accelerate course in Nutrition would be a fun way for Landon (Grade 10) to get this requirement. I got Kennady (Grade 8) signed up for the same course, so that she can complete that half-credit early, and so they could do the group activities in the course. As it turned out, Landon got ahead of Kennady in the lessons, so the group activities didn't work out for the two of them quite as I'd planned, but that's okay!
Okay, I know you probably can't read those chapter titles, so I'll summarize what's covered in this course: The Intro to Nutrition chapter lays groundwork and explains macronutrients; What Your Body Does With Food covers digestion and metabolism; Food Spectrum teaches the food groups; Micronutrients explains vitanmins and minerals; Preventing Nutritional Disorders provides a basic understanding of nutritional disorders and how diet and weight management contribute to disease and to overall health; Eating in Context explores body types, alternative diets, and psychological factors involved in our eating habits; Where does Your Food Come From? discusses fresh, frozen, and organic foods; and The Savvy Eater sums it up, encouraging students to be informed consumers and make healthy food choices.

For each topic in the chapter, there is a video lesson that is about 10 minutes long. The SDA actors and actresses present the information in a dialogue-type video presentation that includes jokes and cartoons and a little silliness. The student can follow along in the transcript beside the video screen. Landon often got impatient waiting for the video to load or to stop hiccuping (we have slower internet, so that's on our end!) and would just read the transcript. He was getting all of the information that way, just not all the visuals and audio. See the yellow button that says, "Print Full Transcript"? That's right, you can print it out so there's something in your notebook if that's what you need for studying, or for your records. There is a space on the screen where the student is encouraged to take their own notes, and those can be printed too.
Following along on the tabs across the top of the page, the next step is the Vocabulary Words. Each is defined, and clicking the speaker icon allows the student to hear the word and its definition. Again, this page can be printed if needed.
For many of the chapters, there is a drag-and-drop graphic organizer type of diagram that tests the student's understanding of the material taught.
And finally, there is a multiple-choice Quiz, and a Written Answer assignment to test the student's mastery of the topic.
The student's work is graded automatically by the program, except for the Written Answer. In the Teacher or Admin area, there are rubrics provided in the Grading section, but the answers themselves were not. It would have been very helpful to have the screen show me some suggestions of what the student's answer should include. So for example, the question "How can fiber intake help prevent weight gain?" was asked in a Critical Thinking question, but the Grading section did not summarize the answers to that question that would have been referenced in the lesson. I had to either know the answer myself, or review the lesson material to find it. Of course, some questions ask the student to summarize what they've learned, or how they can personally apply what they've learned.

There are progress reports for both the student and the parent/teacher. Both versions make use of a graphic that shows how much of the material has been mastered, and how much the student has done. The progress wheel in this particular report shows that Landon has completed the Written Response and Tests and Quizzes for this section, but not the Subject Review or Group Activity. And in the second screen shot, the quizzes and assignments along with their scores and average are shown.
Each of the Nutrition chapters open with a Pre-Assessment Activity, and most of these are intended to be done as a Group Activity. Some are very easy to adapt for only one student, such as the journal writing activity, or could be done individually instead of working in groups. However, if Landon saw the words "working in groups..." at the beginning of the assignment, he figured he couldn't do it, so most of those have been skipped so far. If Kennady had been able to do those along with Landon, most of them would have been doable. I will need to decide if he has to go back and complete the Group Activities in some way in order for me to consider the coursework complete, or if it's okay to just leave them out. That said, the program did not prevent him from moving on if he didn't complete the activity. 

What we liked best:
  • information is presented in different formats so just about any learning style can be accommodated. Students can hear and see the video, but also read the transcript. Vocabulary words are listed and defined, and are recorded so the student can listen to the pronunciation.
  • I love that we can easily print out almost everything. This makes it a lot easier to show what we've done during an oversight meeting.
  • The coursework is condensed, so the lessons don't take up huge chunks of time; and it's all self-contained.
What I need to mention:
  • SDA is a secular, non-religious curriculum and attempts to stay neutral. So you should be aware that the Earth Science and Biology courses include teaching of Big Bang Theory and Evolution.
  • I had some trouble navigating through the grading tasks. I would have preferred a grading page that showed me everything that needed grading, rather than having to select each chapter and topic to find out if there was anything to grade. I also would have liked if the grading section had provided suggested answers for the written answer work.
  • for high school credit (for the Nutrition course specifically), some additional reading, projects, or writing assignments would be needed in order to round out the course. The courses are intended to be condensed supplements, and not stand-alone complete courses.
Our bottom line: For the Nutrition course, this is working out well for us right now. SDA provides a light-hearted but focused approach to learning the basic material that has the right balance of flexibility and simple structure. I would recommend SDA for students that work well independently and enjoy the videos. These courses are good for getting the essentials of the subject covered efficiently, but will not provide in-depth coursework for students that want or need to dig deeper. Some of the other courses hold appeal for our family  as well (I'm thinking Algebra, in particular, for Kennady), even though we couldn't make use of them immediately, but I think they will be useful as supplemental material as we go along. 
Standard Deviants Accelerate Review
Would Standard Deviants Accelerate be a good fit for your homeschool? Here's what you need to know:
Visit the website: http://www.SDAccelerate.com
See the full list of Standard Deviants Accelerate Homeschool Courses and an overview of How It Works for Homeschool.

Pricing: Core Curriculum Subjects (one student, one teacher) are priced at $24.95/month or $99 annually per course. AP Subjects (one student, one teacher) are priced at $14.95/month per course. See the Plans & Pricing: Homeschool page for details. A six-month free trial is available.

Recommended Ages: Grade levels are given for each course, but generally age 8 or Grade 3 and up. 
The Nutrition course that we are using is intended for Grade 6 and up.

You can follow Standard Deviants Accelerate on Facebook, on Twitter, on Google+, and on Pinterest.
Standard Deviants Accelerate Review

Visit the Schoolhouse Review Crew blog for more information and to read other reviews. Crew members reviewed all of the homeschool courses at SDA, so be sure to check out all of them! 
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