Wednesday, May 22, 2013

My Home School Grades Review

You may remember, if you've read my past posts here on the blog, that I am  a planner.  I plan many aspects of my family's life, to keep us organized.   So the fact that I plan our homeschooling journey fits right in with my M.O..  I've been planning our daily lessons, planning as in sitting down and actually scheduling it, for about 6 years.  Prior to that, I was more of a "by the seat of our pants" kinda homeschooling Mommy.  Once I added more children to the mix, and more activities, and more, more, more, I realized my planning habits needed to kick in here to keep us on some sort of track.  Honestly, with the chaos that is our home, I would often forget what I had wanted to accomplish each day and only remember during the evening once I sat down to recoup.   Every summer, I take time to  lay out lesson plans for our upcoming school year.  Now if you look at my curriculum list to the left side of my blog, you may see that much of our curriculum is the kind that is already planned for me.  But I need daily plans for EVERYTHING we are going to do each day.  I also like to tweak plans, add things in, take things out, so even with the plans that come with the curriculum, I like to make it "my own".   The benefit to this advance planning is that our school year is able to run pretty smoothly, even if I don't have alot of time week to week to sit down and plan.  No real need, because it's already planned!  I've been using another software for this purpose, but it's a very complicated beast.  I've heard all kinds of complaints and questions from other homeschoolers about this "beast".   It took me a good month to get started and figure out.  With all that in mind, I was excited to get a chance to review and use My Home School Grades as part of the Mosaic Review team.  This is an online software that allows you to plan, organize, track and grade your homeschooling journey with your students.

The first thing I noticed is how very simple and user-friendly this program is.  I've tried several other  homeschool planning programs, and they've all been rather the point, I've  given up on most of them.   I don't have time in my life to spend alot of time just figuring it out, I need to use what time I have to get planning.  This software is awesome for that purpose!    Within just a few minutes, I had both of my boys loaded, including their picture for their profile, and was getting into the task of setting up their classes and lesson plans.  Did I mention this is Internet-based so you can access it from any computer, iPad or mobile device?  Two thumbs up on that for us on-the-go-homeschooling parents!!!

The creator of this program, a homeschooling Dad himself, has made it so easy, he's even pre-loaded some curriculum that are popular in the homeschooling world so the planning is done for you.  Just select it from the list and the lesson plans are automatically created for the student you choose.  You can even edit those auto-generated plans if you are a tweaker like me.   Don't see the curriculum you use in the list?  No worries, you can add your own lesson plans, or contact the company and see if they can load that curriculum into the system.  They are open to suggestions and more than willing to help.

When it comes to grading, you can select for the program to give percentage grades or letter grades.  It will calculate the grade for you based on the score you enter.    It will even do a Pass/Fail option which is good for those younger elementary years. 

There is an Activities option where you can list Activities, Field Trips and other things, which is nice for record-keeping and transcript purposes.

Transcripts, did I mention those yet?  This program will take the class lists you've entered, along with  the grades, and create a beautiful, professional transcript for your high school student with a click of a button!  This might be one of the best features of My Home School Grades.

Printed transcript

Overall, I enjoyed using this program.  There are a few things that keep me from being able to completely switch to  this program and ditch the "beast" program that I currently use, though they may not be factors for you:

1.  I did not see the option of being able to print lesson plans out.   I like to be able to print each week's lessons plans, in a daily grid style, so I can put that in my Teacher Manual (a three-ring binder that I put everything I need for one week in), and just look at that  during the our school day.  I don't want to have to run to the computer for each subject (or iPad for that matter), to see what we need to do next.  I like to see it all in one glance, what exactly we need to do for each subject TODAY.   I normally print out on Sunday night, the upcoming week's plans.  If something changes for the week or something changes affecting next week, no problem, I can edit it in the program and make changes on my paper.  This program did not give me that option.

2.  As a matter of fact, I wasn't able to even schedule lessons for a certain day.  The lesson plans are simply a long list of all the lessons planned out for each particular class.  There's not a way to actually assign a lesson to a particular date.  That simply does not work for me.   That makes this system a online duplicate of what my Teacher Manual for a curriculum already lists out...except for the feature of grading and turning it into a transcript.

3.  The view.  You have to click on one Student, and then one class, to see what the lesson is for that class.   There's no way to see a big picture of what any one Student needs to do, and that kinda goes back to my Point 1. and Point 2.   There's no way to print or assign lessons to a specific day, so no way to narrow down the view you see of classes/lessons.  If you have multiple students I could see how it would become quite cumbersome to have to click back and forth between students and lessons/classes to see what needs to be done next.   With the lack of these features, I'd only be able to use this program as a grade keeping/transcript making tool.  I wouldn't be able to use it as a full lesson planning tool.   I know many homeschoolers strive to have their high school students somewhat independent.  That can be a double-edge sword, though, so it's important that they are not so independent you don't know what they are working on.   A good planner, for me, would be one where I can assign assignments for my high school student, and print those out, for the student to see, check off, and then we can go over the completed assignments together, and then I enter the grades.   I don't see this program offering this option, again due to Point 1 and 2.   Now these are features I'd like to see, so without them, the program has some hurdles for ME, but perhaps you don't need the same features, so My Home School Grades may be the right tool for you. 

Now all that being said, the owner/creator of the program has been very open to suggestions and it is quite possible that these features will be added in at some point (and I'll be honest, I've not taken the time to send my suggestions to the owner/creator just yet).   If you find that there's a feature missing that you think would be useful, you can always contact the creator via the website.  Already they are working on creating an attendance feature, which is a key element for some homeschoolers, including me.  My state law requires that we keep attendance and do school for at least 180 days.  

I recommend checking out My Home School Grades for yourself.   They are offering a 14 day free trial, which is a great way to check it out and you'd be on your way within minutes, it's just that easy!  If you love it, the lifetime, yes LIFETIME, cost is only $49.95 currently.  That is an awesome price! 


Alana said...

Which "beast" program are you currently using?

Kam said...

I currently use Homeschool Tracker+, it is the paid version. It's good overall, but does have a steep learning curve. I had to watch their instructional videos several times, ask questions on a forum,and even call in for help. I've heard of several others experiencing a similiar learning curve. With My Homeschool Grades, it was so intuitive, I didn't even need to watch their instructional videos.