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Alpha Omega Publications
In this article I will be reviewing an entire curriculum, not just a single book or book series. I know that many of you are familiar with Alpha Omega Publications and probably even use their curriculum. But I wanted to provide an overview of their products as an introduction for those who may not have tried Alpha Omega, and to confirm that those who do use it have made a good choice.
When we first started homeschooling, I looked at many different types of curriculums. Then I narrowed the field down to several good companies and compared their products. Even before joining Desert Hills Christian School and learning about their affiliation with Alpha Omega Publications, I had come to the conclusion that the Alpha Omega curriculum has the best content at the most reasonable price.
In comparing the different brands of curriculum, I looked for answers to the following questions: What is their educational scope and sequence? Is a Biblical worldview integrated into the curriculum? Are the design and layout visually interesting (not just plain black and white text)? What is the type of format (workbooks, textbooks, etc.)? Is the curriculum appealing to students as well as parents? Is it understandable and easy to use? Is the cost reasonable?
In choosing Alpha Omega, I knew the colorful Lifepac worktexts would be appealing to children. Plus, they are easy to follow and do not require a lot of preparation time. In addition, the scope and sequence are comprehensive and the subjects are Biblically-based. Most everything needed is contained in the worktexts, with few supplemental materials required. After doing a total cost comparison, I was pleasantly surprised to find that the Alpha Omega curriculum was also the least costly for what it contained. Even more ideal is the fact that the company is located in Chandler, AZ. Thus, Arizona residents can save on shipping costs by personally picking up their order.
Alpha Omega Publications began their Christian education ministry in 1977 to serve Christian schools and home educators worldwide. They are constantly updating their products, and recently they added some new items and completely revised their earlier products to make them even better. They now offer several different options for using Alpha Omega curriculum.
Lifepac Gold is Alpha Omega's award winning curriculum that serves as the foundation for all of their programs. It includes 12 years of five core subjects: Bible, Language Arts, Math, History/Geography, and Science. Optional electives for junior and senior high school students include: Spanish, Astronomy, Geology, Civics, Health, Home Economics, Art, New Testament Greek, Consumer Math, Composition and Literature. The Lifepac Gold curriculum is composed of consumable workbooks that conveniently combine text, activities, questions, reviews, and tests. The Lifepacs are available as complete grade level units containing teacher's guides and all five core subjects. Each subject is also available as an individual set. Single Lifepacs may even be purchased one at a time to fill in learning gaps.
Horizons Mathematics is an award-winning alternative to Alpha Omega's original Lifepac Gold math program for grades K-6. It is a specially designed curriculum that makes elementary math easy and enjoyable for both students and parents. The Horizons teacher handbooks are a lot more comprehensive than the Lifepac Math teacher's guides. They contain handy teaching tips and detailed step-by-step instructions for parents who may be unsure about how to teach math, as well as reproducible pages for supplemental exercises.
Alpha Omega Academy is an accredited full-service correspondence program that uses the Lifepac curriculum. It provides a structured program schedule and credibility with grading and written feedback from certified teachers, recordkeeping, report cards and transcripts. The Alpha Omega Online Academy is available for those who use the Switched-On Schoolhouse computerized curriculum. This program offers personalized grading by certified teachers, academic assistance if needed, and professional educational advice via e-mail.
Classes2You.com, launched in 2001, is a more flexible online curriculum. This internet-based service offers the flexibility of taking individual classes or an entire curriculum, while allowing the student to be part of a virtual community. It appears that Alpha Omega Publications will always be on the leading edge of educational technology!
Switched-On Schoolhouse [see also the Addendum below] is Alpha Omega's CD-ROM program for grades 3-12 based on the Lifepac Gold curriculum. It provides a traditional, biblical education for the computer age. All the core subjects are available either individually or as a complete grade level set. Electives such as State History and Health are also available in S.O.S. This computerized curriculum has the added attraction of multimedia presentation with video clips, sound, animation, and links to web sites. It also provides customizable lesson plans, instant grading and automatic recordkeeping, all with complete teacher control. An optional Vocabulocity game is included for practicing vocabulary words. S.O.S. won first place in the 1998 Practical Homeschooling Reader's Choice Award for Best Software Curriculum.
We started out with the 3rd grade Lifepac Gold curriculum, but since my son is an active learner he quickly became bored using the workbooks every day. Workbooks are desirable for K-3rd grade students because at their age they need to develop their handwriting skills. However, I was glad that Alpha Omega came out with the 4th grade version of Switched-On Schoolhouse just in time for Peter to begin 4th grade. Since he loves computers, this computerized curriculum works well for him. The multimedia holds his attention and the variety of interactive activities keeps him interested. Peter's favorite character is Stanley the Scientist!
Probably no curriculum is perfect, but Alpha Omega's Switched-On Schoolhouse has proven to be an excellent choice for our home school. Some of the web links are useful and informative while others are not as worthwhile, but all of them are optional. The main problem I have noticed with S.O.S. is that it contains a few errors that sometimes cause answers to be marked as incorrect, when it is really the answer key that is incorrect. But the teacher has the option of changing grades in the password-protected grading mode, so such inaccuracies are easily rectified. Also, S.O.S. is supposed to have an intelligent text entry system whereby it recognizes a right answer that may be different from the answer key. However, my son has typed in answers that are obviously correct, perhaps just a different choice of words, but they are still marked wrong. Again, this can be corrected in the teacher's mode. Everything else about S.O.S. works great, and the automatic recordkeeping system is a big time saver. I'm not sure who likes Switched-On Schoolhouse the most - Peter or me!
S.O.S. requires an IBM-compatible computer with a 4x CD-ROM drive, 16 bit sound card, 256 color video card, Pentium 133 or better, Windows 95 or 98. Most Lifepacs cost $41.95 per subject per year. S.O.S costs $59.95 per subject per year. The complete 5 subject set of CD-ROMS costs $249.95, only $40 more than a complete set of Lifepacs. Alpha Omega orders placed during the month of April receive a 20% discount; orders placed in May receive a 15% discount. This is an excellent deal if you plan ahead for the next school year and place your orders early.
Alpha Omega curriculum does not have to be used exclusively. Our family uses Saxon Math along with Alpha Omega Language Arts, Science, History and Geography. We choose elective courses from various sources, and even our Alpha Omega subjects are supplemented with other materials.
In addition to their main curriculum, the Alpha Omega home school catalog contains a wide variety of resources such as home school books, classic novels with study guides, maps, flash cards, games, science kits, math manipulatives, music books, videos, Color Phonics and Bible Builder software. Plus, they offer a Scripture-based spelling and penmanship program along with a literature and grammar program provided by The Weaver Curriculum. Student placement tests are available, as well as a parent starter kit and a complete scope and sequence guide.
For more information about the above products, visit Alpha Omega's website.
For additional information about S.O.S., please read the following e-mail that I received from a reader, along with my answers to her questions:
Dear Teri Olsen,
I just read your review of Switched-On Schoolhouse. I am thinking about using the curriculum. Your review has spurred some thought and I would like to ask you some questions if you don't mind and you have time.
1. I presently use Saxon Math and like it. Why do you like and use Saxon over Switched-On?
2. I found a review of Switched-On on the Internet at http://www.usedhomeschoolbooks.com/reviewswitchedoneschoolhouse.htm. What do you think of the negative comments in these reviews?
3. I am not "good" with computers (my son is helping me send this email to you), do you think that fact may cause me to be frustrated with the software?
4. I have been using Abeka History as reading books, however retention of facts has been poor. What is Switched-On history like in the 5th through 9th grade levels?
5. I have been using Abeka Science for 5th and 6th grade. How does Switched-On compare to it?
6. I have been using Bob Jones Science in 7th and 8th grade as readers. Again, understanding and retention is poor. Would the Switched-On curriculum be more easily understood in these subjects?
7. How much time do your students spend on the Switched-On software? In some of the reviews I read, students are spending 4-5 hours or 2-3 hours.
I realize we have thrown a lot of questions at you, but if you have time, we would love to hear your answers and any additional thoughts you might have.
Sincerely, Bonnie Ingvalson
Thanks for being patient. I will try to answer your questions now.
1. We have been using Saxon Math since 3rd grade and are convinced that it is the best homeschool math program. (Read my review at http://users.safeaccess.com/olsen/articles/saxon.html.) So even though we started using S.O.S. for the other subjects, we saw no reason to stop using Saxon Math. I can't specifically compare S.O.S. math to Saxon math, because we have never used S.O.S. math. But when you think about it, math consists mainly of working out problems on paper, so a computerized math program isn't really necessary, especially when Saxon works so well.
2. Thank you for telling me about that site, it was interesting to see what other people had to say about S.O.S. As for the negative comments, most of them weren't very serious. Here are my responses:
Although S.O.S. could be a problem in large families with all of the children having to do their schoolwork on the computer, there are a couple of solutions. Each child may need his or her own computer anyway, if they're doing a lot of homework or other work on it. Or, you could get by with only one computer if a single S.O.S. subject were assigned each day. For example, the way we do it is: S.O.S. Language Arts on Tuesday, S.O.S. History on Wednesday, S.O.S. Science on Thursday, and an S.O.S. elective (State History, Health, etc.) on Friday. Mondays are set aside for holidays/Bible study. Saxon Math is done every day. Here's how it works: In that day's S.O.S. subject, we do all of the sections up to the quiz at one sitting. This takes about an hour, and when it's done this way, each subject takes about 30-40 days to finish. In a large family, this would allow each child to have an hour's turn at the computer. Meanwhile, the other students would be working on their Saxon Math, doing further research on the day's subject, reading, writing a report, etc.
As for the comment about it being hard on the eyes, I've never had any trouble reading S.O.S. text on the computer screen, but I'm sure having a large monitor (at least 17") probably helps with that. While you can't follow along with your finger, you can move the mouse arrow to guide your reading.
I didn't like doing the crossword puzzles either, until I discovered a secret: use the arrow key to move all the way to the end of a row first, before typing in the letters. Then you can type in all the letters without having to keep clicking the mouse on each square.
There is a Program Guide and Teacher Manual that came in our S.O.S. package, but I've hardly ever looked at it. I've found everything to be mostly self-explanatory.
Sometimes questions will come up on quizzes or tests that aren't mentioned in the previous text, which are probably glitches that will be corrected in future versions. The solution is simple: just go to the Teacher Mode and skip that particular question.
In response to one of the negative reviewers, I would like to say there is no perfect curriculum program that will miraculously do everything for you--the parent still needs to be involved in what the child is studying, whether it's on the computer or not. I always sit with my child and read the lessons along with him, mostly because I'm curious about what he's learning and I don't want to miss anything! While the automatic grading is a tremendous time-saver, the parent should at least review the answers anyway to see what the student got wrong and why. It's no big deal to correct the grades if you think an answer was marked wrong incorrectly.
3. Everything in S.O.S. is fairly self-explanatory and user-friendly. Even if you're not familiar with computers in general, I think you will get used to the way S.O.S. works once you start using it. S.O.S. basically involves following on-screen directions, typing on the keyboard, scrolling up and down, and using the mouse to click on-screen buttons. As long as your son is good with computers, that is the main thing since he will be using it the most. You will need your own password to log onto the teacher's menu, but even in teacher mode it doesn't require any elaborate computer skills. The main skill I would recommend for anyone who uses the computer a lot--whether it be for e-mail, S.O.S., word processing, or even just surfing the web--is knowing how to touch type. In S.O.S., this will allow you to type in the answers much faster and concentrate on the information that is being learned without having to waste time "hunting and pecking" on the keyboard. (I recommend learning how to type with "Mavis Beacon Teaches Typing", version 5 or greater.)
4. I would say that the retention of facts in S.O.S. History is good. The student has several chances to review the material in order to answer the questions, and there are regular quizzes, tests, a final review and final test. Plus, the information is presented in a way that makes it interesting, with colorful maps, pictures, videos, and interactive lessons, which makes it much more likely to be remembered. 5th grade S.O.S. History (which includes Geography) covers the New England colonies, the Revolutionary War, Civil War, Westward Expansion, Immigration/Industrialization/Transportation/ Communication, the States, Mexico and Canada. S.O.S. 6th grade covers maps, ancient history, the Middle Ages, South America, Africa, the Renaissance, and Europe. S.O.S. 7th grade covers anthropology, sociology, economics, political science, and government. S.O.S. 8th grade covers European backgrounds, the colonization of America, the Revolutionary War, the Westward Movement, the Civil War, the Industrial Revolution, and the Twentieth Century. S.O.S. 9th grade covers the heritage of the United States, our national government, state government, citizenship, careers, the environment, and man in a changing world.
5. I'm not familiar with Abeka, so I can't specifically compare their science curriculum to S.O.S. But my son's favorite subject is science, and he really likes the S.O.S. science program. He enjoys watching the videos of "Stanley the Scientist" conducting demonstrations and experiments. I would say that the subject of science is probably the most well-suited to computerized instruction.
6. I've never used Bob Jones curriculum but I've looked at it. My opinion was that the Bob Jones books seemed kind of dry, but S.O.S. really makes it fun and interesting. So I definitely think there would be better retention in S.O.S.
7. We spend about an hour at a time on each S.O.S. subject, which I think is about right. It takes an hour to do Saxon, too, and that's how long classes traditionally are in schools. If you do all five subjects in S.O.S. each day, that would be five hours per day. But the way we do it is to concentrate on one subject per day (see my answer to question #2). Then you don't have to spend so many hours on the computer every day. Or you could spend 30 minutes per subject and get all five subjects done in 2 1/2 hours. It's up to each individual user to figure out what works best for them. Basically, you can spend as little or as much time doing S.O.S. as you want to, because you can stop a lesson at any time and continue it where you left off.
Well, Bonnie, I hope this answers all of your questions! You asked some really good, thoughtful questions, so I hope that my answers are helpful.
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