Wednesday, October 24, 2012

Schoolhouse Review: Samson's Classroom

Gess is a really good reader but she does struggle a little with spelling and comprehension so I am continually looking for ways to improve those areas to strengthen her overall reading ability.  Recently we got to meet Samson, a cute little dog that Gess got to play some really fun reading games with.  Samson's Classroom is an online reading program for grades K-5 that focuses on three areas of reading; sight words, spelling and comprehension.

Each section of Samson's Classroom works independently of each other and each has their own motivation and reward system.  The sight words category is really fun because you work along with Samson to earn your "black belt" in reading.

There are 28 sight word lists and every time you master a list you get a star.  For every 4 stars you get a new belt.  Once you have completed all 28 lists you have earned your black belt!  Here are the belts by progression.

The great part is that Samson's Classroom makes working towards those belts playful and fun.  In fact the sight words section was Gess' favorite and I would literally have to stop her from playing it so we could move on to explore other parts of the program.  That was partly due to the fact that she started from the beginning with lists she already knew.  I tried moving her ahead and starting her on level 3 but she would have no part of that.  I think she liked being successful most of the time and she also liked going in order.  You can't blame her there.

Sight words first introduces you to the words and then has you play games where you search for and find the correct sight word.  Here are screenshots of a couple of the games.  Gess really enjoyed all of them.

There are also some neat worksheets you can print off to go along with the sight word section of the program.

Spelling with Samson focuses on traditional spelling words. They have several lists for you to choose from or you can create your own.  I chose to create my own list as I have found it fun to make lists relevant to what Gess is doing or experiencing at the time.  For instance her birthday is this week so last week we did a "birthday" list.

The Spelling section starts by introducing you to the word.

Then you play some fun games where you karate chop the words, run from a spider collecting letters that you then have to use to form the word, and finally there is "Crunch Time" where you have to keep Wally the Walrus from knocking you off the ice by spelling the word.  I really loved teaching spelling this way because it seemed to work with Gess' strengths.  Because Gess has Down syndrome she often finds spelling the word difficult.  Pulling out those letters without clues can be quite taxing but she is really good at noticing the correct way to spell a word when she sees it.  By playing games that allow her to do that first she has a better chance at spelling independently later.  Here is Gess playing the "Missing Letters" karate board game with Samson.  A couple of letters were missing and you had to choose the correct ones.  If you did, Samson would chop the board in half.  If you were wrong poor Samson just hurt a various part of his body like his head or elbow while trying to crack the board.

I really like how it turned learning the words into games.  That sure beats flash cards and writing the word over and over again.  Even when you spell the word for the test you are playing a game.  There is a timer in the game but even with her special needs Gesss had plenty of time to complete the word and jump across the ice block.  Another incentive they have is that they allow you to compete with other children in your classroom.  Well since we homeschool and only have one student Gess became the "Champion" after every lesson.  She actually loved that so I never told her that it was because she was the only one competing.  Here is her championship belt.

The last section was reading comprehension and it was the most difficult for Gess, which is pretty consistent for her.  Still, if I would sit with her and remind her to take time to think about or even search for the answer she could generally do pretty well.  In fact she often just knew the answers so she definitely did pay attention to what she read.  Another nice feature of this program was that when you do get the answer wrong it then highlights the part of the story where the answer can found and it lets you try again.  That was really helpful.

Once you mastered a lesson you earned some points to spend playing "Hammer Time" at the carnival.  This is something you can also compete with against other players.  You can even see what some of the high scores are.

The parent Dashboard lets you see how your students were doing. You could see the date, time, number missed and percentage.  I did like that the children could redo lessons and improve their scores.  That really helped Gess because she hated seeing any red marks on her screen.

There were a few things about the program I had some issues with.  First of all one of the games, (Spelling Scramble) was a little quirky.

Here you run around trying to collect letters while trying to avoid being attacked by the spider.  Once you get all the letters you use them to spell your words.  This game uses only the left and right arrow keys based upon which way you are facing.  It was very difficult to get a feel for and often led to Samson crashing into the walls.  Even after Gess got used to it and navigated the game better it seemed she was never able to avoid being attacked by the spider.  Gess actually does very good at computer games and plays quite a few of them and never really had this much difficulty navigating around or winning.  It did seem that after the spider got you and spun you up you were free to collect the letters after that so she was at least able to finish the goal of the game. Good news!  They just updated the game and changed the controls that now use all 4 arrow keys.  That makes the game much easier to control (updated October 31, 2012).

I also had a couple of spelling words that I wanted to add that were not in the list.  You could click to add them to the list but that meant you had to wait for it to be added and I generally wanted my list immediately available.  (Yeah, I was not good at planning ahead.)  Two words I attempted were voting and testing which shouldn't be that uncommon.  There are also issues with different words that use similar spelling.  For our birthday list I wanted to use word pres-ent (a gift) but the program used the word pre-sent (to show).  I think there should be an option for us to choose which word we were wanting in cases like that.  Maybe as the program progresses they will be able to expand their list and options.

Samson's Classroom is available for $30 for an entire year for one student or $50 per year for a family (up to 4 students).  That's actually a very reasonable price when you consider that many programs want a substantial monthly fee.  The game quality and content is very well done and truly does make learning fun. In fact Gess enjoyed it so much when we went to the library to check out books I asked her what she wanted to read about.  She replied, "Samson!."  I told her that I was sorry but they did not have any books about Samson...yet.  I believe this would be a great companion for just about any reading curriculum.  To learn more about Samson's Classroom visit their website or see what other members of the Schoolhouse Review Crew thought about it by clicking on the banner below.


Disclaimer: As a member of the Schoolhouse Review Crew I received a family subscription to Samson's Classroom for giving my honest opinion and assessment of it in my review.
Note: All pricing is current at the time of posting and is subject to change.

1 comment:

Lori said...

I added the comment in my review but wanted to mention it here too. They just updated the game and changed the controls so that now all 4 arrow keys work in the Spelling Scramble game. That makes the game much easier to control!


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