Saturday, October 13, 2012

Review: Dayspring Christian Academy

Let's play a word association game!  What pops into your head when I say "Thanksgiving?"  Since my audience is made up mostly of homeschoolers, I'm going to assume it wasn't football.  I'll bet there were a lot of "family" and "pilgrim" responses.  Everyone thinks of the first Thanksgiving meal at Plymouth and traveling home to share another meal with loved ones.  In our household, the two ideas are really merged because the pilgrim story is our family story.   My son and I are the 10th and 11th generations descended from Gov. William Bradford.  Every year we take time from our normal history to read about "great-grandpa" and the courage and perseverance of the pilgrim fathers.  This year we're using an online computer class by Dayspring Christian Academy

If you believe the story of the pilgrims begins with the Mayflower voyage and ends when they sit down to eat turkey then you've done yourself a great disservice.  We know they wanted to come to the new world to be free to worship their own way--what was that way and why did they choose it in the first place?  Did you know the Mayflower voyage wasn't the first time they left England?  Why did the first time fail?  What happened after  the Thanksgiving dishes were washed and put away? 

The Pilgrim Story  consists of 17 lessons organized into 5 units.  Believe it or not, the Mayflower voyage isn't even covered until lesson ten--there's that much background material.  We begin with Henry VIII and the separation from the Catholic church and formation of the Church of England.  Queen Mary and her bloody reign forced many Protestants to flee to Geneva, Switzerland where they produced the Bible translation of the same name--the Bible of the pilgrims.  The lessons go on to cover the attempts to leave England and the pilgrims' life in Leiden, Holland.  We sat together at the computer two to three times a week to view and discuss the lessons.

The lessons are presented like an online PowerPoint presentation.  You advance from slide to slide viewing text and pictures and listening to the accompanying audio.  Occasionally the student will be force to answer questions or click on pictures in a timeline before they're allowed to click the next button.  With each lesson are a number of downloadable PDF files that will form a student handbook:  note sheets with blanks to be filled in, vocabulary lists, maps, quotations, etc. To Fritz, just words and pictures wasn't that entertaining, but at least he could hear rather than read the material. Having to fill in the blanks forced him to pay attention.  You can expect a complete lesson to take 45-60 minutes to view.  Then there are activities to be done away from the computer: while younger students may just click yes or no to the question "Is a king the ultimate authority in the land," older students may write a persuasive essay on the subject (I didn't ask my son to do any of the writing assignments).
Schnickelfritz has been enjoying some of the other enrichment activities though.  When we studied the Geneva Bible there was an opportunity to translate a Bible verse from Greek.  Fritz began to understand why a literal word for word translation is so hard--each language has its own sentence structure so the English words appeared jumbled.  While we don't doubt the reliability of the original Bible, each translation is tainted slightly by the words choice of the translator.  (King James also took exception to the side notes--that's why he ordered the creation of the version that bears his name).

I'll be honest that Fritz already knew a lot of the material presented about the pilgrims themselves (we've studied it so often), but there were new opportunities to develop empathy with their hardships. Here's Schnickelfritz rolling out the dough to make hardtack biscuits.  The recipe was included in the lesson resources.  I wasn't sure if the stone ground meal called for was whole wheat or a combination of grains so we ground a mix of oat groats, rye and wheat berries.  We baked the biscuits but then I used our dehydrator to finish the drying process rather than leave them out for a few days.  Our humid climate tends to mold foods quickly (and while that may have been authentic, I wasn't willing to go that far).  Our conclusion:  they tasted pretty good, but we wouldn't want to eat them day after day after day.....

I do want to add a word or two for those of you who don't have the latest and greatest computer systems...  We still live in dial-up country and every time we watched a lesson at some point the screen would lock up.  We couldn't click next, we couldn't click back page.  Our only option was to disconnect, close all the open web pages and then reconnect and go back to the lesson.  Lessons always restart at the beginning but you can click the content tab and go to the screen you were working on.  I contacted Dayspring about our problem and they are aware that the Flash doesn't work well with dial-up.  The program is do-able though sometimes inconvenient.  There are no plans to make the lessons available on a CD.

Since we were having issues with our home connection we went to my mother's to use her DSL line and discovered another inconvenience (still overcome-able though).  Her not-so-new computer has a square monitor rather than the newer wide screen versions.  At 100% zoom (normal viewing) we were not able to see, let alone click the next button or the content/resources tabs.  If we wanted to see the whole image we had to zoom to 50%, but then the image was only the size of a 4X6 photo.  We compromised at 75% and were able to get just enough of the next button to click it.

We decided to make our setbacks part of the lesson--after all, great-grandpa Bradford and the others didn't give up at the first sign of trouble.  We would learn patience and perseverance in our own must-less-mortal way.  I do believe the lessons and information are worth the effort to complete.

The Pilgrim Story is targeted to 3 - 6 graders (although I believe that older students wouldn't find the presentations too beneath them and they could do the essay work).  A six-month subscription for lesson access is $99.  Normally, that would put this course out of our price range, but consider that the 400th anniversary of Plymouth Colony is only 8 years away.  Do you want your kids to learn about Plymouth by the revisionist historians that will be trying to downplay the Christian aspect of the colony?   Or being taught the liberal agendas of those that currently gather on Thanksgiving in Plymouth to mark a National Day of Mourning?

The course is self-paced and you can access any of the lessons at any time. Other courses currently available are A.P. Statistics and Teaching Literature using the Princicple Approach.

I received a free copy of this product through the Schoolhouse Review Crew in exchange for my honest review. I was not required to write a positive review nor was I compensated in any other way. All opinions I have expressed are my own or those of my family. I am disclosing this in accordance with the FTC Regulations.

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