Alpha Omega Publications (AOP) first developed their LIFEPAC curriculum, a self-instructional learning system using a number of worktext booklets for each subject. Years later, AOP responded to the proliferation of computers and improvements in technology by using their LIFEPAC curriculum as the foundation for their online curriculum, Monarch.
Monarch is available for grades three through twelve in a self-contained, online program. It includes full-color graphics, videos, sound, a text-to-speech option, internet excursions, and many other features.
Many parents love Monarch because it allows students to work independently—a tremendous help for parents with little time to oversee schoolwork. Parents only need to sign in to their account, customize lesson plans if necessary, check student progress which can be viewed in teacher mode on the computer, and review writing assignments.
Students can sign up for access by the month or by the year. They can enroll in a bundle of five core courses for Bible, math, language arts, science, and history/geography, and they can add any of the elective courses for an extra charge. Or they can enroll in only individual courses.
The program follows the same general format for each subject. A topic is introduced then students are given pertinent vocabulary words to learn. Activities and games help students quickly master the vocabulary words. (Vocabulary words with definitions can also be printed for practice offline.) A number of games for reinforcing concepts and material are also built into the lessons for math, geography, and vocabulary drill. However, games are a proportionately small part of the program. Students may skip these games if they wish.
Students read through each section of instructional material on the screen, then click “Show problems” at the bottom of the screen to work through comprehension activities. Questions are presented mostly in multiple-choice, sorting, and matching formats. Incorrect answers are immediately identified, and students have an opportunity to correct them, but with a limited number of attempts available in each lesson.
In all subjects other than math, these section questions allow students to scan the text material to figure out what the correct answer should be most of the time. However, sometimes students must make inferences, read maps, or interpret data to arrive at correct answers. As you would expect, the math courses require students to solve problems. If students miss questions, those that were answered incorrectly are presented again.
Once students have answered all questions correctly for a set number of lessons, they take a quiz. It is possible to set the program such that students cannot scan material when taking a quiz, so this is when you will really know whether or not they’ve learned anything. (Be aware that the “open book” option allows students to exit and enter the quiz as many times as they wish, allowing them to check the lesson for information they don’t know.) Some written responses are required in the exercises and quizzes. Exercises, quizzes, and tests are scored by the program although parent or teacher override is permitted if you choose to accept an answer as correct that the computer rejects.
Monarch is professionally produced, and AOP continually works at improving the courses. Courses allow parents control over which lessons are to be assigned in which order, extended access to the internet, and how lenient or tough to be with the spelling of answers. “At-a-Glance Assignment Indicators” highlight past-due lessons making them easy to spot, and a message center makes it easy for parents and students to send notes to each other.
Parents also set up a school calendar that allows the computer to schedule each student’s rate of progress. The computer then alerts students if they get behind schedule.
The programs move at a fairly good pace for the most part, so there’s not a lot of wasted time as there is in software that tries to offer equal parts of education and entertainment. There are no cute animations wasting time between answers and subsequent questions within the courses.
The content is non-denominationally Protestant throughout all subjects. Biblical concepts appear throughout all subjects, although less so in math than others.
The Bible programs offer solid content, including some scripture memorization. You can choose either the King James Version or the New American Standard Bible for Bible content. Biblical map identification is added to the typical questions and answers.
Language courses cover reading skills, grammar, composition, spelling, and vocabulary. Periodic writing projects stretch skills beyond the short answers students write within the lessons themselves. Book reports are included for grades three through eight.
History and geography are combined, with map work intermixed throughout lessons. A historical timeline is available to students if they choose to click on “linked” data in their history studies. (The timeline also can be accessed from within other subjects besides history and geography.) Essays, reports, and special projects expand learning beyond the computer. Science programs also include a few experiments, essays, observations, and other off-the-computer activities.
More than 60 elective courses—some for elementary grades but most for high school level—can either be added to Monarch core curriculum or used on their own. Just a few examples of the electives are Spanish and French courses for elementary grades or high school, Consumer Math, State History, Physical Fitness, Personal Financial Literacy, Health, GED Preparatory Math, Introduction to Information Technology, and College Planner.
The “text-to-speech” feature lets students highlight text they want to hear, choose from various electronic voices, and listen to the passage read aloud.
In the teacher mode, Monarch has a context-sensitive Help file as well as links to specific tutorials. In addition, free technical support is available for current subscribers to Monarch.
With each new edition, Monarch continues to improve. The program includes attendance tracking and reporting as well as a template and report for creating transcripts. Note that you can add other courses than those in Monarch to the transcript and otherwise customize it so that you can create a complete transcript.
Monarch makes life easy for homeschooling parents, but it is not perfect. As I have encountered in many other computerized programs, required answers sometimes seem highly debatable. Teacher overrides are helpful in dealing with such situations, but that requires more immediate oversight. To reduce the number of computer-graded errors that might be debatable, Monarch has added additional variations of possible answers to numerous questions.
In the language program, students frequently work with reading selections, answering questions regarding the content. Unfortunately, some of the questions are too nit-picky. For example, one question asks students how many trees were in the backyard (13) in a story about family members being friendly to birds and animals. The number of trees was irrelevant unless you really want children to memorize that sort of detail when reading.
I encountered another potential issue in math courses with the presentation of addition and subtraction problems with regrouping. Given three-digit numbers, students will generally work from right to left to solve each problem, yet the cursor begins on the left, and it is a bother to get it to enter numbers in the logical order.
Monarch is web-based, accessible at any time from computers with a consistent, high-speed internet connection. Monarch will run on computers with either Windows or Mac systems. It also includes a virtual keyboard for foreign languages that makes it easy for students to type the proper symbols and characters that are not on the standard keyboard. And there’s usually no worry with Monarch about backing up data since it’s stored online and is maintained for seven years after your subscription ends. Free online placement tests are available before you sign up.
In spite of the computer-delivery platform, Monarch is not a creative approach to learning since course content must be very structured and controlled to be able to work within the computer format. Nevertheless, many parents will find that it makes homeschooling possible for them, and some students will appreciate being able to work independently.