Thursday, October 13, 2011

Music In Your Home School?

Music training dramatically improves the verbal intelligence of young children. Does this surprise you?

"Children between the ages of 4-6 ... showed significant cognitive gains after only 20 days of training on interactive, music-based cognitive training cartoons. These results were confirmed by imaging data which indicated that brain changes had taken place following the exercises."

If you are not incorporating music education into your homeschool, you may want to give it a try.

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Can students who attend public school use HomeSchool Advantage?

We received the following question today:

"Can students that attend public school do this?
And how would they get started for say 9th grade?"

First, thanks for asking about HomeSchool Advantage!

Yes, our system should be valuable to almost any grade school or high school student, regardless of whether they homeschool or attend private schools or public schools. Moreover, in our experience, any given student could benefit from at least a couple of our subject areas.

To get an idea of the courses we have available, take a look at the course listing, which is available from our home page. For a really detailed look at the facts in all of those courses, we would encourage you to sign up for one of our free trial subscriptions. Once you have done so, you can see not only all of the courses, but all of the facts, images and sound clips which go into those courses.

Regarding what to assign for a ninth grade student, I can make a few recommendations. First, I would suggest assigning some courses from Geography. Many students are woefully ignorant of the names and places covered in those courses. Quiz your student a little and see if he or she knows the names of the U.S. States and Canadian provinces. If not, you should assign the courses for those topics. And I would be very surprised if your student knew the names of more than a handful of countries on any of the continents. Assign some more courses based on what you find.

In History, I would recommend at least the U.S Presidents course (if you are American) or the Canadian Prime Ministers course (if you are Canadian). These courses, together with the other history courses, provide a very useful foundation for learning more history.

In Social Studies, I would recommend the courses on the U.S. government (if you are American) or the Canadian government (if you are Canadian).

Unless your student is an unusually strong speller, you might consider whether some of the upper level Spelling courses might be helpful.

Finally, I would strongly recommend the Vocabulary Building and SAT/GRE Prep subjects to improve your student's vocabulary, which is an absolutely critical part of one's education, regardless of what one is going to do.

Depending on your other goals, some of the other courses may also be valuable.

We are continually adding more subjects to our catalog, so it's always a good idea to take a look at what is available every so often.

Monday, July 18, 2011

Do You Still Need To Learn Things?

Occasionally we read an article that says we no longer need to learn things because we can quickly and easily look them up on Google. Scientists are now studying the impact of tools like Google on human knowledge. They are now talking about how people learn to optimize their intellectual energy expenditures in the presence of Google, i.e., adapting their behavior to make better use of a situation.

If I no longer need to remember as many things because they are so easy to look up, it is important to note that my brain and time resources that are freed-up are not necessarily being put to better use.

It may be true that I technically don't need to be able to do long-division because I have a calculator now, and I don't need to remember dates because my iPhone calendar does, and I don't need to remember anything else because Google can find it for me. What this argument doesn't address is the time-cost. Using a calculator clearly saves time over long-division by hand, because machines will always be faster at arithmetic. However, actually remembering how to approach solving a complex equation, knowing the meaning of a word, or the relationship of two historical figures, or the difference between Canada's and the U.S.'s government structures, saves a lot of time compared to the effort of 1) getting to a computer, 2) formulating a query, 3) sifting the results for the answer, 4) repeating steps 2 and 3 until you get the answer.

While research will sort this all out sometime this century, we suggest you still focus your home school students on actually learning things.

Friday, April 15, 2011

New HomePage Design Coming This Weekend

We hope to launch a new homepage design this weekend. We have:
  • made it easier for parents to see the Price, Support, and FAQs pages.
  • placed our feature video on the front page
  • generated the course catalog automatically
  • provide detailed views of some courses in the course catalog
The Parent and Student Login buttons are now in the upper right corner of the page.

We hope this new design makes it easier for parents and students to learn about our system and to find answers to their questions. Let us know what you think.

Thursday, February 10, 2011

Make Mistakes Faster -- Bad Advice?

We received a message today from a very proficient drummer who got that way by practicing very hard. He has found that for drumming if he goes as slow as he needs to, in order to do it right, that eventually he will do it real well and, in time, the speed will come!

He totally disagreed with our "Make Mistakes Faster" advice for students learning using HomeSchoolAdvantage.

I fully appreciate where he is coming from, but we are talking about practicing two different skills. Going slow with a musical instrument (or in many sports) is about trying to find the correct answer that is a function of your own personal muscle control, nerve speed, and cognitive control. In playing the drums, you go slow to find the correct answer to begin with, the correct answer cannot be told to you, you must discover it. Then you work to increase speed. You don't want to practice the wrong thing. We have no problem with that approach.

HomeSchoolAdvantage is not about playing a musical instrument or a sport, it is about academics. We are not practicing muscle control as a function of our own nerve speed and cognitive programming. HomeSchoolAdvantage is entirely about what is going on inside your head, specifically when the student is accumulating new facts. We can tell you the right answer to a fact, is does not have to be personally discovered.

HomeSchoolAdvantage as a system is the equivalent of fact flash cards, we prompt the students' memory to recall the facts, and then move on. If we use the drumming approach to teach the fact "7 + 5 = 12" we would be doing the student a terrible disservice. We would never advise you to ask the student during drilling on basic math skills to go slowly and "figure it out."

If the student has fingers, they will be able to figure it out.

The very purpose of going fast is to try to prevent them from figuring the answer out, it is a core fact, we want them to know it instantly. Our friend may believe he is having success with his drumming approach to academics because the student will be able to produce the correct answer, 12.

"Ah ha, you say. I knew Tom was wrong. Look, by giving them more time and going slowly they got the correct answer."

The problem is, and you only discover this by interviewing the students, is that you are teaching them to practice doing extra steps inside their head to get that answer. And practice does not make perfect, it makes permanent. The same reason you only want to practice going slowly with drums is you want them to practice only the right things, not the wrong things. We want the same thing academically, the right thing is to instantly know (without additional thought) that 7 + 5 = 12.

If a student is encouraged to go really slow learning a fact like "7 + 5 = 12" it will probably work! Because they are able to answer it correctly by counting on their fingers or doing the equivalent of counting on their fingers mentally (counting points around the 5 or the 7). Their technique will work! You will be proven correct! At least you think you will. But in fact, they have simply developed bad cognitive habits that will follow them the rest of their lives. They will get the correct answer, but they will actually lose the ability to know that "7 + 5 = 12" instantly. Going slow answering "7 + 5 = 12" is like practicing incorrect drum technique. Perhaps we really agree with the drummer after all. We are interested in practicing "instant recall."

This is just one reason why I do not encourage students to follow the drummer's advice while learning new facts. There is another reason. A researcher who has studied these techniques for almost 30 years computationally has tracked tens of thousands of students learning millions and millions of facts. He publishes his results. He has found that a recall failure rate as high as 20% may be optimal for learning more material. Try to recall everything at or near 100% and your dramatically decrease the overall learning rate. My advice on how to learn more facts-- better and faster--is backed up by millions and millions of data points. The era of opinion in these matters is now over. Long live research. If the student's goal is to accumulate basic core knowledge then mistakes (forgetting) are to be encourage and not punished. Forgetting is the core of being human. Embrace it, do not resist it. Eventually the student will learn that "7 + 5 = 12." When they do, they will know it instantly and innately. Note, I am not talking about the concept of addition, I am talking about the fact "7 + 5 = 12."

The drummer's approach may be absolutely 100% correct for learning drums, and piano, and probably even baseball. We do not claim to be experts on these techniques, although we invite those experts to join the conversation. Those skills are fundamentally different from learning and remembering the multiplication tables, or any of tens of thousands of facts a student may wish to learn and instantly recall.

If you want to do everything slowly and perfectly the first time, our system is probably not for you. Although it probably could work. If you want to be able to recall instantly thousands and thousands of fact and be absolutely brilliant compared to most students graduating from High School today, then join us and learn. Oh, and make lots and lots of mistakes.

Wednesday, February 9, 2011

Periodic Table Comment

Homeschool advantage contains the following fact:

In the Periodic Table the elements are placed in increasing order of their Atomic Number.

One of our older students submitted the following comment:

"I wrote atomic weight on this answer. I believe I am
correct. If I am not please let me know but I will check it
out myself."

The statement "The atomic weight increases with the atomic number" is not universally true. In fact the history of chemistry shows a great deal of argument about the proper order of elements in the periodic table. The situation is greatly complicated by the existence of isotopes, which are versions of the same element (i.e. atoms having same number of protons but varying numbers of neutrons). The isotopes have the same atomic number, but different atomic weights. Also, the different isotopes have different abundances so that one isotope might be more abundant than another. The accepted atomic weight shown in the periodic table is basically a weighted average of the atomic weights of the various naturally-occurring isotopes times their respective abundances.

The result is that sometimes, order by atomic weights is not the same as the order by atomic number. For example, if you look on this periodic table of the elements, you will see that Argon (Ar) and Potassium are in order according to atomic number but backwards according to atomic weight:

Element Symbol Atomic # Atomic Wt.
Argon Ar 18 39.948
Potassium K 19 39.098

Atomic number can be exactly measured using several different techniques and always comes out the same. Atomic weight, on the other hand, is a function of the purity of the sample and sometimes even where it came from in the world.

Reality is always so much messier than we would like it to be.

Friday, February 4, 2011

Your Private Tutor

People frequently ask us if we are a complete curriculum. The answer is no. We are an automated private-tutor providing customized worksheets for your students. These worksheets are taken on-line, so we can record each student's results and predict his or her future performance. We are supplemental to your primary curriculum.

We are quick and to the point, so as not to waste the student's time. We have thousands of graphics and illustrations but they are not to entertain, but to inform. The goal is to get the core facts taught and reviewed as quickly as possible. We only provide our worksheets on-line in order to remember every correct and incorrect answer. We use this knowledge to predict what the student is most likely to forget next and to craft a highly personalized worksheet.

We do award trophies as students progress through the system in order to mark progress. These trophies are displayed in the student's trophy room and provide motivation and a little entertainment. We are not edutainment. We are more like an intelligent flash card.

Student forget 80% or more of what they learn in just 30 days, with us as their tutor they can retain and recall it all.

We tutor on tens of thousands of facts covering Geography, History, Math, Science, Social Studies, Spanish, Spelling, and Vocabulary. Worksheets are customized for each specific student on each specific day, customized based on what is assigned and on what the student is most likely to forget without immediate review.

A few very narrowly focused subjects such as spelling are covered so completely that no additional curriculum is required.

We provide detailed daily status reports to track progress, and even generate detailed transcripts listing everything the students have learned.

A white-paper called "Seven Secretes to Creating Brilliant Students" describes our research-supported approach to knowledge retention and recall, it is free:

A video on our service, what it is and what is does, may make things more clear. We offer a free trial:

Thursday, February 3, 2011

See When a Trophy Was Awarded

I received a call today from a Mother who wanted to award prizes when her students earned trophies. Her question was, "Is there a way to see when a trophy or ribbon was awarded?"

The answer is yes. Hover over a trophy with your mouse, and the course name and the date it was awarded will be displayed.

The most recently awarded award date will be displayed on the far right.


Parents have asked us if HomeSchool Advantage offers transcripts.
Over the holidays we added a feature that we hope will meet your transcript needs.

The students' Trophy Room can now display a detailed transcript of everything the student has seen.

On the upper right corner of the Trophy Room the students can select to see the "details" of the Trophy Room.

The details provide a detailed transcript of every subject the student has seen and every fact in that subject, plus the facts' Mastery Level captured in stars.

We include the number of facts learned and the number of questions answered for each subject.

This transcript may be printed and placed in a binder to capture all of the work the student has done in HomeSchool Advantage. Creating a detailed and very exact transcript of everything that was learned.

Tuesday, February 1, 2011

Multiple Assignments in the Same Subject

A user wrote the following question today:

Both of my students today, ran across a message that they didn't have any more questions and the parent needs to assign more lessons... if I go ahead and check several assignments, will that pull questions from all those assignments on any given day or does the computer generate questions only from the first assignment then when that's completed, moves on to the next assignment? If it's the latter, then I can go in and check all of the assignments so there won't be any down time/gaps.

Thanks, LB

Our answer:

It is the latter. You may assign several course at once from the same subject.
It will only give the students new facts from the lowest numbered course
you have assigned in a subject. So yes, you can go in and check all of the assignments
so there won't be any down time/gaps.