Review: Switched-on-Schoolhouse (Biology)

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We’re almost finished with our first full year of Switched-on-Schoolhouse (Grade 10), Alpha Omega’s award-winning Christian homeschool curriculum. If you’ve missed them, you can read my initial overview and my subject spotlights on English and Geometry.

I’m just going to be brutally honest here: we have a very love/hate relationship with Switched-on-Schoolhouse. We both feel like it’s the best fit for Brianna of all the things we’ve tried, and we’ll use it again next year, but I wish certain parts of it were a bit more user-friendly.

Maybe love/hate is a little strong. Maybe it’s more of a good fit, but I get irritated with some of its quirkiness sometimes relationship.

I’m still discovering things that I wish I’d known at the beginning (and, in all fairness, I might have if I’d read the manual from cover-to-cover or explored all the available tutorials, but I’m very much and jump right in there, hands-on learning kind of girl).

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Tips and Tricks for Switched on Schoolhouse

In order to make your life a little bit easier, if you’re just starting out with or considering Switched-on-Schoolhouse, I thought I’d share my newfound tips with you.

Just last night I discovered that I can click the bar at the top of my parent assignments page – where it lists the assignments I have to check sorted by headings such as subject, assignment, due date – and sort the assignments by those headings. (Sort of like sorting your email by either sender, subject or date received.)

Sorting the assignments by subject makes it much easier for me to check all assignments for a given subject while the disc is in the disc drive (since we opted not to save everything to Brianna’s hard drive) without having to visually scan the list. Wish I’d discovered that sooner.

Another quirk I wish I’d discovered sooner was that when you add school days to the school calendar, they aren’t necessarily marked as school days until you go in and manually change each one by right-clicking and making sure the line that says “school day” is checked.

Not knowing this and using the auto-assign feature resulted in Brianna having such a huge overload of schoolwork that she was struggling majorly to stay caught up – and not always succeeding through no fault of her own.

Finally, another tip from my “recently discovered” file: you can manipulate the grading system a bit using decimal points. I’m not talking about cheating of any sort here, but some of the questions have an odd point system. There might be a 3/3 possible, but there are 2 answers – or 4 or some number other than 3.

For example, last night I was checking part of Brianna’s math. There were certain types of problems that were each worth a total of 9 points, but some of them had three parts (easy: each part is worth 3 points), while others had four or five parts.

Sometimes there might only be one point possible, but there is more than one part of the question. Maybe your child got part of it right or she got the gist of the answer right, but could have been more specific. So the answer may not be entirely right, but it’s not entirely wrong either.

I’m probably not explaining it very well, but if you’ve ever used SOS, I bet you know what I’m talking about. I’ve found that you can use decimals to give partial credit. For example, a 0.7 in the points box might net you a 70% instead of a 100% for an answer that isn’t quite right or a 0% for one that’s not completely wrong.

No, I’m not trying to make life easier for my kid – or harder because this manipulation isn’t always in her favor. I’m just trying to grade her work in a way that more closely matches the way I would grade it if it weren’t on the computer with the grading decided for me.

So, those are my tips. I hope they help.

Subject Spotlight: Switched on Schoolhouse Biology

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Biology is Brianna’s arch-nemesis – even more so than math. However, she finds SOS’s biology much easier to understand that what we attempted in the past. She said that the thing she dislikes most about the SOS’s biology is that it over-explains things. That is something that, quite possibly, only makes sense to a teenager, but I gathered that it was something along the lines of information overload.

You will need a microscope in order to complete the biology labs. I’m not sure if this was stated anywhere that I should have seen it. Brianna thinks it might have been mentioned in the text of the disc at some point, but, if so, she dismissed it because we have a microscope.

I like that she still gets to complete biology labs with a microscope since that was one of my favorite parts of biology. One thing I don’t like is that some of the items needed are hard to find. I wish that Alpha Omega sold a kit to go with the biology disc.

On that note, I’ll add a third installment to “things I wish I’d know that I’ll share with you so you’ll know”: There is a science supply list for biology on AOP’s website. I just discovered it last night when I went to double-check the existence of a science kit before writing this review. The list contains prices and a link to buy some of the harder-to-find items.

I still wish they sold a kit. (Edited to add: Thanks to a couple of readers, I can now add a fourth installment to things I wish I’d known. Homeschool Science Tools sells kits for all the Switched on Schoolhouse and Monarch science levels. Nice!)

Students watch a video of many (but not all) of the experiments so that they know how to conduct them. They also write up a lab report for each. The lab reports are one aspect of biology in which I think Switched-on-Schoolhouse has done a stellar job.

The lab report form has the heading written out for the student such as name, date, hypothesis, conclusion. Next to the main headings it will have instructions for the student such as (and this is from memory, so it’s my paraphrased version):

Hypothesis: Write a brief, descriptive paragraph detailing what you expect to prove in this experiment.

Conclusion: Summarize what happened in the lab. (Followed by several suggestions of questions students should answer in formulating their conclusion.)

I told Brianna that it was very important that she learn this pattern of writing up lab reports because the way SOS is instructing students to write up their labs will teach her a great method that will stand her in good stead for college lab reports.

Overall, we’ve been pleased with Switched-on-Schoolhouse’s biology, particularly with the number of experiments – the part that makes biology fun.

I received this product free for the purpose of reviewing it.  I received no other compensation for this review.  The opinions expressed in this review are my personal, honest opinions.  Your experience may vary. Please read my full disclosure policy for more details.

 

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6 Comments

  1. We use Monarch, which is the online version of SOS and I totally agree with your assessment. Another item for the "I wish I knew before" list is that Home Science Tools carry kits for SOS/Monarch on their website.

  2. Kris,

    Just an FYI, http://www.hometrainingtools.com sells science kits for many of the popular home school curricula, including SOS. The kits include almost everything you will need for the science experiments except normal household items. You can even order animals to dissect. If you have time check it out!

    In His Love
    Toni Money

  3. I teach HS Apologia Biology at our homeschool co-op and I am big on lab reports!  They may grumble but I've told them they'll be ahead of the game in college when they have to write lots and lots of them.  Kudos to SOS!

  4. We started using Monarch for LA with all three of our kids in January. I'm so thankful that some of my feelings about the program are echoed in your review. Good to know that I'm not just an anomaly of a parent. 🙂

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