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Wednesday, February 11, 2015

Standard Deviants ACCELERATE (a review)

Do you want to add a video/interactive component, automatic quizzes, and hands-on assessment activities to one your child’s courses without spending a small fortune?  Maybe you want to take a look at the new ACCELERATE program from Standard Deviants?

The same folks that have developed fast paced supplemental dvds for math and science have put together a series of supplemental courses for middle school through high school.

sd accelerate review at Homeschooling Hearts & MindsSubjects Currently Offered:


  • Earth Science (grades 6+)
  • Nutrition (grades 6+)
  • Biology (grades 7+)
  • Chemistry (grades 9+)


  • Arithmetic (grades 3+)
  • Fundamental Math (grades 4+)
  • Algebra (grades 7+)

Misc High School

  • English Composition
  • US History

AP Exam Prep (grades 11+)

  • AP Biology
  • AP Chemistry
  • AP English Composition
  • AP US Government and Politics
  • AP US History

The cost per course seems to vary a little (there are monthly and annual subscription options, too), but currently Standard Deviants is offering a free 2 month trial that will give you access to all 14 courses for all your kids.

So, what are the ACCELERATE courses like?

Each course is divided up into chapters and sections (note:  the AP courses are a little different.  I’ll get to that difference in a minute).

Each section has:

  • a video component, which includes
    • a typed transcript that can be read online while watching or printed to read later
    • an online note-taking box which you can save to your “locker” or print
  • vocabulary list with an audio component (point and click to hear the words and their definitions)
  • interactive diagram exercise
  • 5 question multiple choice quiz
  • written assignment

Each chapter also has a review at the end, with a test (10 multiple choice questions taken from the quizzes), written assignment that’s typed directly in to the program’s platform, and suggested culminating activities.

Quizzes and tests are graded automatically by the program and those grades are recorded in the teacher’s dashboard.  Written assignments are graded online by you, the teacher, from the teacher dashboard (you can access them by student in each class there).  There is a provided rubric, but you can edit it to better fit your teaching goals. 

The teacher’s dashboard will also generate progress reports for students.  With one click, you can see at a glance how any one student is doing.  And if your student bombs a quiz, the dashboard will give you a red flag.

The courses seem to have a logical progression to them, but they don’t claim to be tied to particular textbooks or written courses, so if you are trying to use them with a particular text, you may need to do some chapter matching up.  You cannot rearrange the chapters, so you would need to tell your student which order to do them in if you wished to change the order.

The AP Courses are a little different from the others. 

They are set up more like mini-study guides for exam prep.  They each have a section on taking the test, one on written responses, and then two “30 in 30” videos (30 minute videos that cover 30 keys points that will be on the exam).   In other words, if your child isn’t doing extensive self-study already for the AP or taking an AP course, this study guide isn’t going to be enough for them to get through it.

What did I think?

For the purposes of this review, I going to be talking mostly about the Nutrition course.  I’ve also looked at the Algebra course (and will add a few observations about that) and have skimmed through a few of the others randomly, but not sufficiently to give you a real view on them. 

The Nutrition course’s general topics are:

  1. Intro to Nutrition:  Cells and Macronutrients
  2. What Your Body Does with Food
  3. Food Spectrum
  4. Micronutrients:  Vitamins, Minerals, and Water
  5. Preventing Nutritional Disorders
  6. Eating in Context
  7. Where Does Your Food Come From?
  8. The Savvy Eater
  9. Subject Review

Each topic has several subtopics and for each there is a video presentation, vocab, diagram to complete, quiz, and a written reflection.  At the end of each main section there is a test, written response and culminating activity suggestions.

Videos are short.  In the first section, they ranged between 4-10 minutes long. 

The style of the videos is very short-attention-span-theater.  If you’ve see other Standard Deviants videos, they are similar.  Multiple hosts say different short bits (it’s the same young adults in all the videos that I watched, regardless of the course).  Occasionally they are in costume.  Some cute graphics.  A comic book type character here and there.

Sometimes there’s a helpful diagram, although I would say that they really underutilized the visual potential in the Nutrition course (the Algebra course was better about using visuals to teach the topic at hand). 

This is what the interface looks like for accessing the courses:

sdaccelerate student dashboard screenshot


For each video there is a typed transcript that can be read simultaneously or afterwards or even printed and read later.  There is also a spot for typing notes which can be saved to the student’s locker and/or printed.

sdaccelerate lesson screenshot

We found that the video box was a little small for comfortable viewing at its default.  The only other option, though, seems to be full-screen, which means that you can’t use the note-taking feature or access the  transcript while viewing unless you print it out.  You could take notes on paper (which is probably cognitively better anyway).

The vocabulary pages is a nice touch since you can have the words read to you, but we found it unnecessary.

The diagram exercises were decidedly busy-work-ish (some a little better than others): 

sdaccelerate busywork

sdaccelerate and more busyworkThe quizzes are consistently 5 multiple choice questions.  Due to their multiple choice nature, it may be hard to gauge whether your student understands the information from them alone. 

We also found that some of the questions were slightly contradictory to some of the information given in the lesson---but then some of the information in the lesson was contradictory to some of the other information in the lesson (more on that in a bit).

Each subtopic has a vaguely worded question the student is supposed to write on at the end.  I’m guessing that this fulfills a particular standard, but it also felt like busywork (and an easy A). 

sdaccelerate vague and pointless written answer assignments

The critical thinking question given at the end of each full section (after the test) is better.

sdaccelerate critical thinking at end of unit

The tests for each section are 10 multiple choice questions taken directly from the quizzes. 

I was able to complete the entire 1st section---all 5 videos, quizzes, diagrams, the written response (I did skip the project), and the final test---within a couple of hours AND play around with the admin end of things.  I can see completing the entire course within a week or two.

My opinion:

The content in the nutrition course is very basic.  There’s a fair amount of information covered in a very short amount of time.  But it is a smattering.  It does not go very deep.

And the information that is presented is given without any support from authorities.  For instance, they say that we should limit our fat intake to no more than 30% of our calories, but there is no support given for that particular amount.

There  is also conflicting information given and statements of questionable logic.  For instance, in the section on fats, the course states:

Now let's get to the bad guys. Saturated fats are not so good. In general, you can tell a saturated fat by its hardness, like butter or steak fat. You can see why they tend to clog the arteries and can lead to heart disease. Unsaturated fats on the other hand are usually liquid, like vegetable oils.

Wow!  All kinds of misinformation here. You can’t get much more unscientific than stating that clearly fats that are solid clog the arteries by virtue of the fact that they are solid…um, what?  That’s not even logical.  It’s not like we’re  injecting them into our bloodstreams. What is the chemical/biological basis for this assertion?  The video didn’t even make mention of “healthy” saturated fats like coconut oil and avocados.

The same video goes on to say that the only fat for which there is direct proof that it can cause coronary heart disease is trans fat.  That’s right.  There’s no proof that saturated fats do.  But we’ll assume that they do because they are solid. 

Part of the problem here is, again, the information given is very broad and not at all deep.  They tend to overgeneralize.  For instance, they state that most saturated fats come from animal fat and dairy (the examples given are lard and butter) and that unsaturated fats come from plant sources.  Then they say that one of the best sources for polyunsaturated Omega-3 fatty acids is…fish oil.  Which is true, but it’s an animal source, right?

There’s also no mention of other plant source saturated fats, like coconut oil and avocado.

The quiz for this section stumped my son because it took some figuring out on what answer they were looking for.  A couple of the answers conflicted with some of the information.  They were sort of almost right, but not completely right, if you know what I mean.

This is just one example.  There were others.

With some careful editing by SD, these issues could be resolved.  A little more care needs to be made about making all or nothing statements.  If they had said most saturated fats came from animal sources and most unsaturated fats came from plant sources, that would have been true enough (although it still would have only been part of the story). 

I have not completed this course, and neither has my son, but the inconsistencies I’ve found so far in the content make me a bit wary.

Ok, enough on the content.  Let’s talk about ease of use.

The platform is fairly easy to use.  For students it is basically “do the next thing” in their dashboard.

The ability to type in notes while watching the videos is nice, but it could be improved.  I already mentioned how you can’t use it unless the video is tiny.  Also, notes, once saved, lose any extra formatting (like hard breaks), making it harder to read them later. 

sdaccelerate class notes as typed screenshot

Above is how the notes looked as I typed them on the screen and below is how they saved.

sdaccelerate saved class notes screenshotMakes it a little hard to give yourself an easy to glance at outline or bullet points.  Handwritten notes may better serve your student.

You can also print the notes, but, again, they lose their formatting, and they also print as mice type (I see no option for changing the size), so they are hard to read.

Other work can also be printed to add to the portfolio, which is nice.

On the teacher side---things are little less intuitive.  There’s a learning curve to getting around the dashboard, accessing your student’s work, grading their submitted written work, etc.  I like that there’s a built in rubric for the written assignments and projects that you can change.

But some things seem a bit unfinished and I wonder if they are still under development.

For instance, you can pull up a progress report for your student that shows what their overall score is in the class thus far.  When you do that, there’s a field for typing in a comment and a print button to print the report.  You can also edit some of the top fields.  So I played with that a bit---it would be neat to be able to type in a comment and then print to add a progress report to a portfolio, so I tried it.

sdaccelerate student progress report

The only trouble is, the printed report does not resemble the report on the screen.  It’s too small, the format is wonky, and the comment didn’t print at all.  There’s also no save button for saving any changes you’ve made, so if you open the progress report again, it won’t be there. 

There were other minor issues that I ran into like this.  It gives me the feeling that perhaps this product was rushed to market a bit.

Overall recommendations:

If you want a little something to add an interactive component to what your middle schooler or high schooler is already doing in your homeschool, Standard Deviants Accelerate might fill the bill. 

The courses are not very heavy in content, so easy to work through quickly. 

It’s easy for the student to do the next thing with needing to be directed by you.

Quizzes are graded automatically and your student’s progress will be automatically recorded. 

However, there are many other programs that are more robust and perhaps more economical and in places it seems like the program is still being developed. Why not try the free 2-month trial?

Disclosure:  I received free online access to the Standard Deviants ACCELERATE program through in order to facilitate my review.  I received no other compensation and all the opinions expressed in this post are my own.

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