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Matt Layman

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    I'm a dad of homeschooled children.
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    : Maryland
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    Software Engineer

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    Technology, Software, Space

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  1. I'm back with another review of an online homeschool planner to continue on the theme of the Online Homeschool Planners in 2020 thread. Over the last few weeks, I've been exploring Homeschool Minder, a homeschool planner that's been around since 2012. Homeschool Minder was mentioned in passing in a 2019 thread, but hasn't come up since 2013 prior to that, so I wanted to find out if it was still worth considering in 2021. Homeschool Minder pitches itself as a tool to "be a better teacher." Let's see how that claim holds up. The service offers a 30 day free trial and is $4.99 per month or $39.99 for the year. My biggest takeaway about Homeschool Minder is that the service is aimed at the kind person that is extremely detail oriented. I discovered a huge set of features and things that you could track about your students. Frankly, I found it overwhelming. On the bright side, there was a lot of documentation to help explain all these features, even if it's a lot to fit in your head. With Homeschool Minder, you get a calendar that can track activities down to the hourly level if you want. To run a school year, users: Set a school year Create school terms for the year Add courses and set them to terms Add lesson plans to courses Within a lesson plan, create instructional plans and assignments to determine what students should do. These instructional plans can be set various timing schedules and recurrence intervals with the calendar's advanced tooling. Register students with courses to fill the individual's calendar with activities This was what I saw as the main flow. There are some side capabilities and alternative paths as well. Activities can be created to support "skills." A set of skills are part of a "standard" and can include some informal assessments. The service also includes the ability to create activities directly on the calendar without going through lesson plans. The direct calendar access seems to be the way to set appointments, chores, fields trips, and other types of events. As you can see, there's a ton of data that you can add to Homeschool Minder. Because of all the data that the service is able to collect, there are a large number of reports that the service is able to produce. When I chatted with my wife about all of this, she made some interesting observations that were fitting. She noted that a lot of the data that Homeschool Minder tracks seems like things that you might want in a more traditional classroom setting. The language around tracking "standards" definitely fit that mindset to me. Anyway, if any of you have experience with Homeschool Minder, I'd love to hear about it. Did I represent the service fairly? I wrote a comparison to School Desk, the service that I built for my family if you'd like to check it out (spoiler: School Desk picks the tradeoff of simplicity and collects less data for an easier to understand model of homeschool planning). I'll be taking a look at Homeschool Planet next to see what that service offers to homeschooling families.
  2. I'm continuing on my goal to review online homeschool planners and report back to the forum on the experience, as I mentioned I would in the Online Homeschool Planners in 2020 thread. I've spent the last few weeks digging into Homeschool Manager. This one surprised me because I found zero mentions of the service on this forum, but I discovered that the site is very well done and useful. As the name implies, Homeschool Manager definitely targets homeschool families (compared to my last review of the more generic Google Classroom). Homeschool Manager is a subscription service that dates back to at least 2015 from what I can find. After a 30 day free trial, the service is $49 per year or $5.99 per month. For that subscription, users get: Unlimited students Unlimited school years A scheduling tool A book tracking tool Volunteer hour tracking A variety of reports that homeschoolers probably need like report cards, transcripts, and attendance tracking Overall, I liked the experience of using the application. I found help documentation and videos that covered the main features and thought the user interface to be pretty intuitive. The service works like this: You add your students. You build your school year and declare the subjects you want in your homeschool. Homeschool Manager provides a weekly scheduling view where you set your tasks for each of the subjects. Once you're running your school year, you can see the course that are running for the day or check out the weekly view if you want more detail of what's happening in your school week. From the user interface, you can drag and drop tasks around on the weekly view and mark work as complete from that page as well. For the extra features, I felt that the volunteer hour tracking was a neat feature. My kids are currently elementary aged, but I can see how that kind of volunteer tracking might be useful for high-schoolers seeking scholarships and needing to show proof of effort. I think Homeschool Manager is very interesting, but differs from the service I'm building, School Desk, in a pretty substantial way. With Homeschool Manager, you set tasks on a specific date. If that date passes and your student didn't complete the work, the tasks become "overdue," and you have a pressure to deal with them on a dashboard page. With School Desk, my wife wanted to set a list of tasks and have the service build the entire week schedule automatically from that list. If you miss a day in School Desk, the unfinished tasks are automatically rolled forward to the next day. It's a different strategy, but I'm guessing it depends on your personality for what you'd like to do in that scenario. I wrote up more details about Homeschool Manager with a comparison to School Desk, if you're interested in learning more. I'm curious... if your students get behind in their tasks, how do you manage that? What techniques do you use? I'd imagine that it could be a source of guilt or stress when falling behind so I'm wondering how folks cope with that. What else would you like to know about Homeschool Manager? I took pretty detailed notes about the experience and would be happy to share what I can.
  3. That would be totally frustrating indeed. One of the aspects that my wife made very clear to me for the service that I'm building is that the tasks on the calendar need to automatically roll forward if you miss a day. She didn't want to create a bunch of busy work when my family gets behind in the week so I made School Desk (the service I'm building) move those tasks to the next day. In her experience, moving these tasks has worked well for the school year. I can certainly respect picking a solution like a Word/Excel workflow that works for you. I'd guess it's a bit more management from a reporting perspective, but perhaps that's a worthy tradeoff.
  4. Chris, good to hear from you! Homeschool Manager is next on my list of services to review. So far I've read all your docs and watched the help videos, but I haven't had a chance to sign up yet (because I've been too busy preparing to teach a course on Python to my local tech community). I've been really impressed with what Homeschool Manager offers from what I've seen. Once I have the time in the next few weeks, I'm going to get into the tool and write up a review. I think that will help shine some light on what appears to be an excellent product. As far as what people are saying regarding online planner feedback, I agree with you. I read every article that I could find on this forum about online planners, and the same themes are generally present from year to year and this data dates back to 2008. It makes sense to me as new families (like my own) start homeschooling and encounter the same challenges that the "veterans" faced.
  5. Interesting! I've always imagined Zoom more as an alternative to Google Meet than Google Classroom. I've used Zoom for work, but I don't know what it offers for education. Are you using Zoom for Education (https://zoom.us/education)? Do you have some particular privacy concern about Google Classroom? In my testing of the service, only the teacher account could see student submitted information for assignments. What privacy aspect(s) are you referring to outside of that? From your description, I gather that Zoom is great for class delivery, but I'm not seeing how it would help with all the other bits of the class. I get the impression that you manage all the other parts manually. Is that accurate?
  6. Cool. I figured this is what you meant, but I didn't want to presume. Importing tasks from a spreadsheet does seem like it would be a pretty cool feature for a online planner. Maybe I'll put that on the backburner for the project I'm building because you're not the first person on the forum that I've seen mention something similar.
  7. Thanks for sharing! I thought Google Classroom might work well in a homeschool group context so it's good to hear confirmation of that. I also hadn't really thought about hour tracking for assignments. My kids are still in grade school and I'm not sure that our state requires very detailed time tracking. Time tracking isn't on my mind much because of my family situation. Can you help clear something up for me? You wrote: "I have never been thrilled about having to type all my assignments" and also "My planning always starts on spreadsheets...." That left me confused because I would expect you have to type into spreadsheets too. Were you referring to online forms or something? I'm not really understanding how typing in assignments vs. typing into spreadsheets is different from a typing perspective. I'm guessing there's more to what you meant than what I'm reading into it.
  8. Continuing the Online Homeschool Planners in 2020 thread, I'm back to share my experience researching Google Classroom. The first thing I'll note is that the experience with Google Classroom is pretty well polished, especially if you already have Google accounts (as we do at my house). Google being Google means they have a ton of resources to throw at the education space so they can win people over to the value that they propose. The overall experience is pretty slick for a classroom setting. I had no trouble creating assignments, setting material to study on the schedule, and connecting to Google Drive items. Teachers have the ability set items on their Google calendars and share those things with students. While using my student account, I received email notifications when new material and assignments became available. The process for submitting to assignments was very straight forward. Back on the teacher account, I could grade assignments and set up some fairly complex rubrics to define how my students would be scored. Google Classroom certainly has some downsides from a homeschooling perspective. Because it's designed for a classroom setting for teachers that likely don't have the same students each year, the tracking of students outside of grades for a particular class seemed very minimal to me. I could see how this setup would be challenging if you tried to use Google Classroom for all the classes that your student was in for a school year. I didn't see any evidence of transcript reporting, progress reporting, or other features that you might want to manage your student's academic history. In Google Classroom, everything seems to focus around the individual classroom. I have no doubt this fits for a lot of academic institutions, but I'm very certain it wouldn't fit well for my own family where my spouse is tracking over 30 subjects/courses between my two kids this year alone. I added some other notes when I compared Google Classroom to School Desk, the product that I'm building to help my wife (and others) with homeschool planning. Do some of you use Google Classroom? If so, how do you include it into your homeschool?
  9. I don't quite fit the Latin + Anki niche that you're asking about, but I do use Anki daily and I'm learning Chinese so hopefully the Language + Anki niche translates well enough. For my learning, I find it most valuable to build my own deck so that the material is right at my level of learning. By doing that, I avoid almost all tagging (aside to separate basic subjects like Chinese vs guitar vs programming stuff). Also, I use a single desk for all of my material. In my experience, it greatly simplifies my learning flow with Anki. I've been using Anki solidly for two years now and that's been my experience with it. I hope that helps provide another Anki user's perspective.
  10. I mentioned back in December of 2020 in the Online Homeschool Planners in 2020 thread that was going to review different homeschool planners after I got a chance to try out their trials. I've been busy building out my own service to help my wife and kids as their new school year started on the calendar year, but I'm finally getting back to the task of reviewing other planners. Here's my assessment of CM Organizer from Simply Charlotte Mason. If you have thoughts or experiences with CM Organizer, I'd love to hear about it! Unsurprisingly, CM Organizer is targeted at families that use the Charlotte Mason method of teaching. As a layman (har har), I didn't fully appreciate what that meant until I tried out the service. CM Organizer will build schedules automatically for your students by feeding it a steady diet of books to digest. Since the CM method is so focused "living books," this design style fits well. I found that the system has a lot of pre-existing books that families can use. After a educator selects a book for a student from Simply Charlotte Mason's catalog, the tool will carve the book into pieces based on some kind of natural division (e.g., chapters) and spread them out on the days that the material should be worked on (as selected by the educator). I thought that the system was pretty neat in that way. Who wouldn't want to plan out some school work quickly with a couple of mouse clicks? As I dug deeper, I discovered some aspects that would drive me crazy if I was the primary educator in our home. The first was: what if a book isn't already in the CM Organizer ecosystem? In that scenario, the educator has to build the resource (which is the generic name they give to any educational material that feeds the scheduler) on their own. Building something myself is not so bad, but I found this concept of a "resource" to be restrictive. What if I just want my student to do something? I felt like I was wrapping work up in some extra concept to satisfy the scheduler. The second frustrating aspect that I saw quickly was that the mold for scheduled school work is book-like things. Maybe this is a side effect of the Charlotte Mason method. I kept wondering: how would I add activities that don't fit a traditional classroom/learning setting like art and physical education? I suppose I could put my son's soccer into a "Soccer Season" resource, but that seems a bit silly to me. In short, I thought that the automated scheduler lacked flexibility. Perhaps I lack an understanding of the CM method, but I wasn't sure how to get around some of these unusual aspects if I was a regular CM Organizer user. I would love to chat with a committed CM Organizer user to see what they might do to work around what I perceive as limitations. Anyway, that's my assessment of CM Organizer. I wrote up some documentation that compares CM Organizer to School Desk, the service that I built for my spouse. You all can check that out if you're interested. I did read through all of CM Organizer's documentation and watched their video materials. If I've left something out that folks don't get from this assessment, I'm happy to fill in any holes that I left out to the best of my ability.
  11. Yeah, I know a lot of people in the software world that use Trello for home planning too. That degree of being highly customizable is very appealing, especially if you try to record a lot of your life digitally.
  12. Ok, great! That's about what I would have guessed. Thank you for confirming. I like the idea that you can review both monthly and weekly at the same time for full context when planning. I'll have to chew on that as I'm building my app.
  13. Can you explain what makes this important to you? I have some guesses, but I don't want to project my thoughts and opinions on what your real reasons might be.
  14. That's a clever use for Evernote! I definitely understand wanting to type thing in. As a software developer, I use a text editor that is literally nothing but a white screen and every action is done through keyboard commands and shortcuts. Any website can feel boxed in when I'm used to dealing with absolute freedom at the keyboard. 🙂 Thanks for sharing. I hadn't put a lot of thought into the tool I'm building regarding student access, but maybe that's because my kids are young and need a lot of direction from my spouse at this stage of their education.
  15. One of my wife's early requirements for an online planner was having a weekly plan view so I definitely understand this point as I had to build it in early. She likes to be able to see what is coming up over the entire week from a pacing perspective, I think. As a former Skedtrack user, she told me how complicated it all was, and there were tons of fields that she tried to ignore or didn't use. What she valued out of Skedtrack (and the feature that I've replicated in a simplified fashion) was that it generated all the dates. She could create a course that ran on, for instance, Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays, and Skedtrack would fill in all the right content. I've carried that kind of functionality over to the tool I'm building without all the extra data fields. Thanks for explaining your workflow!
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