We have been homeschooling for over six years now, but I certainly have not been able to try out all the amazing resources available for homeschoolers. So, I was pleased when I recently got a chance to review one item from Alpha Omega Publications Homeschool Division. I looked around at what they had to offer and honestly, it was overwhelming. So, I decided to try to find something that I felt was lacking in my homeschool for Em for this year. I had planned to do most of her coursework with books this year, and I felt that she was not as “into” her current bible work as she had been in the past. So I decided to shake things up and try to make bible time more fun for her and chose the Monarch online product Monarch 4th Grade Bible.
So what is Monarch? Well, Monarch itself is a Christian online homeschool curriculum for grades 3-12. You’ll really need a high speed internet connection and Mac or PC. You can use this 24/7, and you can choose from doing all core subjects plus electives or just pick and choose some courses. So, I chose to try this 4th grade bible course, which retails for $99.95 and is a license for 18 months. One of the pluses about Monarch is that it includes automated lesson plans and grading.
To begin, I want to share how Monarch actually works, rather than the content of our particular course (I’ll do that next). Here is a bit of a journal of how our experience is going:
We actually began the course on August 6, 2014. I logged into the system using google chrome on PC, set up the “teacher” (me) and signed up for a training the following week. I skimmed the teacher guide, which is available as a PDF. They also offer a student guide in PDF format. So far, I did not really mess with any settings, except to begin. I did find a teacher section where you can email our student so I started off with a simple email.
I then created a student and added a password. On August 7th, Em began her first lesson. She loved having her own dashboard online and password. I told her to just click around and explore. She promptly skimmed around her dashboard and found the “Spelling Bee” section. She was excited and then went from Spelling Bee to Vocabulocity. She asked “Why didn’t you get me more classes?”
She then did two days lessons. She seems to be doing okay, and all the settings are pretty much the default setting for grading as she works. As I watch her, I see she is going too quickly, in my opinion and I mention to her to slow down and take it seriously.
She finishes. I go in and run a report of work completed. She gets an 80 and a 60. She is really upset. We talk about how this online work is work and not just a game. She begins going more slowly and paying attention. I think we both pay a bit more attention! I then go in a change settings a bit to allow for more chances to get a question right and go to easier grading scale. I’ll watch her a while and then toughen up again, I’m thinking. I do find it hard to get used to the teacher dashboard, but I need more practice. They give enough help, I think, but you need to sit down and learn the system to really make use of it.
The first two lessons themselves seemed very good. She is used to the NIV version on the Bible and this is set for King James, but I’m okay with that.
I write down a question to see why I can get so many backgrounds in the teacher account, but the student one doesn’t have as many. I want the “girls room” one for Bem’s account… and then I wait for my online training.
When I did the training, I worked with Martie Hawkins, and she was wonderful. We went through a Getting Started powerpoint, and I really recommend doing this, I learned more about the dashboard and curriculum features. I learned more about the dashboard widgets and found out that we could have lessons read to us and that we could choose our own Bible version, and that we could print from the readings. Some other “teacher” stuff I learned from the training included how to block a unit test until ready and how to send problems back to rework.
I learned more about how to set field trips, so work is reassigned and also how to reschedule after the fact, as in a sick day. One of my favorite features of Monarch is how you can log in wherever you are. As far as records, Monarch gives you access to print your students work for 7 years, for say, a portfolio or transcript. They do have a monthly plan/subscription service as well.
I really feel like the webinar training is worth doing. Also, you can see videos online on the AOP site about how Monarch actually works.
Here is my teacher dashboard main screen:
Okay, I guess I should share about the actual coursework now. Bible 400 is a study on both the Old and New Testaments. The course discusses Peter and Paul (Saul) specifically. Through the discussions and readings, students learn about the existence of God, Bible study methods, Psalm 23, Old Testament geography, and Christian witnessing.
The actual lessons themselves seem very biblically sound so far, and the use of all kinds of media keeps Em engaged and interested. Whenever she is a bit tired of whatever she’s doing, she can click over a play a game or do some vocabulary that reinforces her lesson, but changes things up a bit. The content includes movie clips, games, audio clips and web links.
In the first lesson Em did, Bible 400, she began with an adorable little vocabulary section with cute singing bees. Seriously. She then did a “read this” section which had a story with scripture and then a verse to memorize. I noticed the lesson format varies, say a reading, a video here and there, then a game or two, then a quick quiz, often 10 to 20 questions as the daily work. Quizzes can be true/false, multiple choice or even putting Biblical events in chronological order. I love the approach of mixing it up and keeping it fresh. There is also a dashboard section where kids can do several games and/or flashcards at any time (unless you have it set otherwise). Every unit includes projects which you can pick and choose from, with assignments like writing a letter and all kinds of project ideas.
As far as look and sound in a typical lesson, the only improvements I would make would be to get the voices a little bit more engaging-the reader voices for passages are adults and not silly, which may be preferred by some because it is serious reading, yet my daughter loved the little bee voices and I’m wondering if they couldn’t use more fun voices for the more serious things as well…Yes, I told her I’d tell the creators. When I asked her for her input for the company she did request “they add more characters like the Spelling Bees, and add more games and maybe make it so you can win coins.” Okay, so maybe my daughter has too much internet time!
Overall, I have been impressed. And I say that with all honesty. I have tried to be very honest in my reviewing, as I know people will spend hard earned money on these items and I wanted to point out any negatives as well as the positives. For our homeschool, I like to use an eclectic approach with what types of curriculum I use, usually a mix of books and internet options, sprinkled with delight directed option and field trips. That works best for us so far. But, if you like a consistent online approach where you grade and lead, Monarch is available for all core subjects.
The content in Bible 400 seems good for a 4th grader. The interactive lessons are a good length without being overwhelming. You can set up how long you want the course to take, which gives you the ability to match your students’ needs. You can control everything about the course (besides the content) from the teacher dashboard. You can choose grading scales, and which lessons your student needs to complete. You can skip a test or add a project. Everything loads quickly, there are various media methods used to engage a student. The student dashboard is very intuitive and responsive.
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Disclaimer: I did receive Monarch Bible 400 Online to try out and review. I have given my opinion.