Review: Switched on Schoolhouse Update

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You probably already know that we’re reviewing Alpha Omega’s Switched-on-Schoolhouse this year. I posted my overview late last school year, when we started, and I’ll be doing updates throughout the school year, with a focus on each of the individual subjects.

We’re using the 10th grade complete homeschool curriculum for Brianna, which includes: English II, Old Testament Survey, World History, Biology, and Geometry. She’s entering 11th grade this year, but after a rough year with another biology program last year and not having taken geometry yet, we felt like the 1oth grade curriculum was the best fit for her.


Switched on Schoolhouse Installation Tips

You may recall that I had some installation issues frustrations when we installed SOS last year. Well, thanks to Brianna’s hard drive crashing, I got to completely reinstall the program. I’m happy to report that the second installation went much more smoothly. I wanted to pass along a couple of tips that made a big difference for me.

First, I recommend having your school calendar written out ahead of time if you’re going to use the custom calendar feature. Knowing what our school days were going to be made setting up the calendar quick and easy.

Second, it was much easier to install all the subject discs at once before clicking “next.” Last time, I had thought that I would like to install one subject and see what it looked like before moving on. That made the whole installation process a huge hassle. Installing all the discs and once, clicking “next” and having the program generate the assignments all at once was much simpler.

Pros and Cons of Switched on Schoolhouse

One of the things I have noticed about all the Alpha Omega products that we have used is that there can be a lot of material. For example, Horizons math, which we used from 2nd through 6th grades for Brianna, has something like 160 lessons, plus 16 chapter tests. That’s 176 day’s worth of work for a 180-day school year. Seems like there were quizzes, too.

Suffice it say that we never finished a math book in just one school year. That was a bit of a problem when it came to using the auto-assign feature with SOS since we don’t do all academic work every day of the year, such as field trip days. There was one day last week when Brianna was assigned for biology an experiment, a project, a quiz, a reading assignment and a chapter test – all in one day!

I think I’ve taken care of that, though. I added four extra weeks to the end of our school year and labeled them “summer term.” That way, the assignments are spread out in a more manageable fashion and I can either have Brianna work on the assignments over the summer, reassign them for the beginning of the next school year, or ditch the extras. I’m not necessarily a stickler for finishing all the assignments in every book.

Although Switched-on-Schoolhouse is very textbook-y, which is something we’ve always shied away from, it’s the perfect program for Brianna for right now. She says it’s her favorite of all the things we’ve tried for high school. She loves that she can do her work in a reasonable amount of time; the assignments are, for the most part, easy to understand; and she can choose to have the text read to her if she needs to, a bit plus for a kid with dyslexia.

I love that lesson-planning and grading are done for me. Other than having to personally check things like written reports, essay-type answers, and problems that Brianna has flagged for me, the majority of the grunt work is done for me. There is no butting heads about answers because the program is doing the grading and giving the feedback, not me.

You may be wondering about the variety of problem types in a computer-based learning program. While there are your standard true/false, multiple choice, and fill-in-the-blank, there is more to Switched-on-Schoolhouse than that.

There are concept answers, which have to be manually checked by the parent. These usually require two to four sentence answers. The teacher section tells you the key concepts that should be included in the answer, making it easy to grade even though you may not be completely familiar with the material.

Written reports are also required. These are written in your computer’s word processing software. When you go into the teacher section to check work, there is a button for you to click to view your student’s report. Again, you’re given a message telling you the key components that you should be looking for when assigning a grade.

There are also projects, such as research papers, and there are science experiments. So, Switched-on-Schoolhouse is more than just workbook-type answers.

Subject Spot-Light: English II

English IIBrianna is enjoying English II, which is a relief. We had so enjoyed the grammar program we had used up until this point that I was a little worried about switching. English II starts off with the basics, teaching basic language structure, such as noun and adverbial clauses – both what they are and how to write them.

That’s one thing that I like. Once a concept is taught, students have to put it into practice in their own writing.

After language structure, students move into reading skills and writing – first practicing writing effective sentences, then putting that skill to work writing essays, an area in which Brianna and I have really butted heads over the years, so I’m glad to hand it off to her computer.

Other concepts related to writing are also addressed, such as plagiarism, a trap that can be easy for students to fall into thanks to the overabundance of information on the Internet. Students are taught what it is, how to recognize it, and how to avoid plagiarizing in their own writing.

I really appreciate the broad scope and sequence of Switched-on-Schoolhouse’s English program. There are so many topics that I want to cover in a school year, but you know how hard it can be to make sure that you cover everything.  With English II, I’m confident that Brianna is covering the basics that I would expect a high school student to experience.

Other topics that will be coming up as we progress through the year are:

  • Developing a paragraph
  • Expository essays
  • Giving speeches (which, I hope, will reinforce what she learned in her Toastmaster’s class last spring)
  • Taking notes (much needed, though I did notice her taking notes in church last Sunday…yay!)
  • Short stories (reading them, writing them and critiquing them)
  • Novels
  • Drama
  • Poetry

Overall, I’m very excited about what is coming up for Brianna in English this year. It sounds like it’s going to be well-rounded and comprehensive and we’re looking forward to it. And, I’m excited about Switched-on-Schoolhouse. It’s such a relief to finally feel that I’ve found a good fit for high school for Brianna.

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  1. HEY!!!  Glad to hear you are loving SOS.  I have used it in the past with our older kids.  This year I tried Monarch with Courtney, our 9th grader.  Monarch is the same as SOS, except it's  online (if I read the info correctly on AOP's site).  It rocks not having to grade!!!!! 

  2. That's my understanding about Monarch, too. There are pros and cons to being online or off. After not having Internet for 8 days after the tornadoes last April, though, I was glad for Brianna to be able to work offline…but when I have to get on her computer to check her work, I think how nice it would be to be online.

  3. Interesting. I'd never really thought much of SOS, but now with your review I may flag it as a possibility for high school (but not before). In regards to the math, remember that (though our "standard" need never be the public school – ick!), the rule of thumb in those schools is that a book is "completed" if 75-80% is done. Since Horizons is rather textbookish, I wonder if it's the same approach – i.e., that there is built-in review at the beginning of the next book to account for the 20% of the previous book that was not covered.  :^)

  4. It is (the built-in review during the first third or so). That's why I never worried about it. I totally about about 75-80%…or, we may just finish it up outside the traditional school year. We homeschool; we can do that. 🙂

  5. Kris, thanks so much for your thorough and honest review!  We're so glad that this seems to be working well for you so far.

  6. We have used SOS and other Alpha Omega products for years.  They are a part of school day in one form or another.  🙂

  7. Kris, I'm curious now that you are so far into SOS English how it is still working for your daughter. We are considering SOS English I for my soon to be 9th grader and I am just wondering how well it worked once the initial enchantment of a new curriculum wore out.  

  8. I don't think there was ever any huge initial enchantment with SOS. 😉 I think there was a big sense of relief since what we were doing previously clearly was no longer working well for my daughter. We don't *love* it, but we certainly don't hate it either. It is the best fit we've found for Brianna for this season in her life. She actually really likes English. I think it covers a pretty wide scope and sequence — more than I would have thought to cover on my own. Although SOS is not without its irritating quirks, it is, as I said, the best fit for Brianna at this point, so we'll be using it again next year. Hope that helps.

  9. I'm glad to hear that it has a pretty wide scope and sequence. My main concern is that there be enough writing & at least some literature study. I'm drawn to it because it seems that it can be done fairly independently and that is a big deal right now with what will be a high schooler, a 6th grader, and a 3rd grader.  Thanks for your reply!

  10. In my opinion, there is plenty of writing. It seems to be a bit lacking in literature, but, to me, that is easily remedied by assigning books to be read independently…which I need to be more consistent about.

  11. Kris,
    Thank you for your review and web site. I’m wondering if you are still using SOS, and how it’s working out long term. I’m thinking of switching my daughter from an online public school. Thank you.

    1. Hi, Debi. We are not still using SOS. It’s good, solid curriculum, but it proved not to be a good fit for my daughter for reasons such as, not enough of the great literature that we enjoy reading and too many distractions for being on the computer for all of her schoolwork.

  12. I have a 5th and 3/4 grade?? Is this really a very good product? Do they use Horizon’s or is Switched on Schoolhouse different?
    Is the ciric going to keep my kids ahead of the game.

    1. Hi, Cheryll. I really can’t say how the product will work for your family. Every child is going to have different learning needs, so sometimes it takes some trial and error to find the best fit for your family. Alpha Omega is a well-respected company in the homeschooling community, so I feel that all their products are of good quality. Horizons and Switched on Schoolhouse are both published by Alpha Omega, but they are not the same product. Monarch is the online version of SOS, so they are, from what I understand, basically the same. Best wishes in your search for the right curriculum for your family.

  13. I find grading writing and knowing how much and what to expect to be very hard. Was there a rubric and/or guidance to help with grading the writing with the SOS English curriculum?

    Thank you!

    1. It’s been so long since we used it that I really don’t remember. It seems that they give you key points that the paper should include, but I can’t really remember for sure. Sorry!

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