Monday, October 22, 2012

REVIEW: Samson’s Classroom Family Subscription by Samson’s Classroom


Haylee (age 8) and Holden (age 4.75) have been playing with a family subscription to Samson’s Classroom.  Holden is a little younger than the recommended age, so I’m going to focus on Haylee’s use of the site for review purposes.


FROM THE WEBSITE:
 
Perfect for grades K-5, Samson's Classroom is an online series that helps students become better readers. Students can play engaging games that focus on 3 core building blocks; sight words, spelling, and reading comprehension.
Sight Words, Spelling, Reading

About Samson's Classroom

Samson’s Classroom is a revolutionary new approach to educational software. It is an "umbrella" product that is really many products rolled into one. The purchase of any product under that umbrella automatically gives you access to every other product. Even better, new product releases and upgrades are added to your package at no additional cost. Instead of purchasing a software package that is out of date as soon as you install it, Samson’s Classroom provides you with access to an expanding suite of products and a dynamic learning community that is growing by leaps and bounds every day.  Sight Words with Samson

Sight Words with Samson
Sight Words with Samson is an absolute must for all beginning readers. This software product is the complete package for teachers and administrators looking to give their students the necessary foundation they need to become successful readers. This engaging product is proven to help early readers master the 224 most commonly used words in the English language.

Spelling with SamsonSpelling with Samson
With more than 5,000 words and counting, Spelling with Samson is the most comprehensive spelling product on the market. This amazing software package captivates students and provides educators with all the tools they need to improve the spelling ability of their students. Join the thousands of teachers from across the country that have already made Spelling with Samson a part of their classroom.

Reading with SamsonReading with Samson
Reading with Samson combines everything you have come to expect from the Samson product line with a new patented user feedback system. The end result is a cutting edge software product that helps students analyze reading material and learn how to draw conclusions and answer questions based on that material.

Watch a video here.  The quickest way to learn about Samson's Classroom is to watch the demo video. It's about 3 minutes long and shows the software in action.

Try out a free demo here.

Give Samson's Classroom a try. We won't force you to set up an account to try it, that's so annoying.

You can order here.

You can sign up for a subscription using your credit card or pay using a school purchase order.

PRICING:

PLAN
# OF USERS
COST PER YEAR
Home
1
$30
Family
4
$50
Classroom
30
$70
Grade-Level
150
$250
Small School
400
$500
Large School
1,000
$1,000


 
OUR EXPERIENCE:

As the parent/teacher, you can log in to your account and set up the user(s) with their own individual login id’s and passwords.  You can use the dashboard for a quick view of the number of games played and the top performers in your class.  You can use the scoreboard to view progress reports in each area of the site and each content area within those sections.  You can see what exercises have been attempted and how they performed.  You can also set up custom spelling lists or just use the default lists provided.  I found that oftentimes when adding custom lists, many of the words were not in the site’s database.  It has the option to request that those words be added, but I have no idea how long it takes them to actually add the words you’ve requested.  In the meantime, those words are not included in the spelling games.  As a teacher, I really wish I had the authority to override this and manually add the words.  I hope they add this feature down the road.  With Haylee’s spelling word lists changing every week, she’s not getting to practice all of her words before I have to go and change the list for the next week.
 
In the Reading with Samson section, children read a passage and then answer questions about what they have read.  This is excellent reading comprehension practice!  Normally, Haylee really dislikes reading comprehension exercises, and this tends to be one of my kids’ weakest areas in the elementary years.  However, this was actually her favorite part of Samson!  I asked her what the attraction was…what it was that made it so enjoyable for her.  She said if she got it wrong, it took her to the pertinent section and highlighted it in red to help her find the correct answer, as displayed in the picture at right.  But the real motivation was earning the “hammer points.” 
 
Earning hammer points allowed her to go and play “Hammer Time,” shown at left.  In Hammer Time, she watches a strength meter and attempts to press the space bar to swing the sledge hammer when the strength is at its highest point.  The higher the meter when she swings, the more points she earns.  I really wish the point collection earned her some sort of further reward, like playing special games.  But instead, it just compares her points to a high score board.  Despite this, the Hammer Time game alone is still enough motivation to make her want to keep playing in the Reading with Samson section.
 
In the Sight Words with Samson section, children are taken through various lists and levels of sight word practice.  Each list contains five steps, and each step provides a different sort of game to practice sight words. 

In the first list, the games include:
  • Study Words – Each sight word is spelled out slowly and then used in the context of a sentence.  Children simply listen and watch and click to move on to the next word in the list until the list is completed.

  • Missing Letters – A set of letter tiles is displayed at the top of the screen.  A sight word is read aloud and then spelled orally.  Then the child is asked to click the correct letters in the correct order to spell the word themselves.

  • Letter Scramble – A set of word tiles is displayed on the screen.  A sight word is read aloud and used in a sentence.  The child is asked to click on the correct word tile.  Then the tile is creatively swept from the screen in various ways, making it fun to watch.  The child continues until all of the letter tiles have been removed.  Haylee told me that this is her favorite of all of the Sight Word games.  She likes watching the different ways that Samson removes the correct answer from the screen.

  • Spell Words – A sight word is read aloud and used in the context of a sentence.  Blank tiles are displayed indicating the number of letters in the word, alphabet tiles are displayed underneath, and the child must click on the letter tiles to spell the word correctly.

  • Missing Words – An ocean scene is displayed, as seen at left.  The child sees a sentence with a missing sight word, hears the sentence read aloud with the sight word included, and then must click on the missing sight word they heard, thereby opening the lid of the treasure chest and revealing the jewel which Samson pops up to remove from the chest.  If an incorrect answer is given, bubbles come out of the chest instead, and play continues with the next word.
As the child continues these 5 games with all of the lists, a chart is displayed indicating whether or not the child mastered each step of each list or whether the child needs improvement.  Needs improvement indicates that a perfect score in that step was not achieved for the given word list.  At any time, the child can choose to play any step of any list again if they would like additional practice.  When the child has achieved a perfect score in all 5 steps of a given word list, they earn a star.  The total number of stars earned is displayed on the achievement chart, along with which karate belt color has been earned.  The goal of these games is to continue earning higher levels of karate belts.

In the Spelling with Samson section, the child can choose to practice their spelling words in one of four games:
  • Study Zone – Here, the student is shown their entire spelling list and given the option to print the list on paper, as well.  The student can click on each word on the list to see it spelled and used in a sentence.  They can also click to hear it spelled, read, and used in a sentence orally.

  • Missing Letters – The spelling word is displayed at the top of the screen with a portion of the letters missing from the word.  The narrator says the word and uses it in the context of a sentence, and the child must choose from 3 combinations of possible answers for the missing letters at the bottom of the screen.  Each answer has a karate chopping board pictured above it.  If the child selects the correct answer, Samson, dressed in his karate robe and belt, successfully chops the board in half.  Points are awarded for correct answers, and if the child achieves the high score in their class for the given spelling list, they are awarded a championship belt and warned that classmates can try to steal the belt by scoring higher on that spelling list.

  • Spelling Scramble – The child must direct Samson around the screen using only the left and right arrows in order to collect all of the letters, all the while trying to avoid being caught by the spider that is chasing them.  The letters are collected into scrambled spelling words at the bottom right of the screen.  After all of the letters are collected, the child is shown one scrambled spelling word at a time and is asked to click the letters in the correct order to spell the word correctly.  This game could be so much fun, but Haylee found it very frustrating and was highly disappointed as a result.  The reason is because Samson’s direction is based on his perspective, which means that the left arrow, for instance, could be to the left or right of the screen, depending upon the direction Samson is facing at the time.  Personally, I found it easy to get used to, but my daughter did not.  She was very upset because she always got caught by the spider, and it took her forever to collect the letters because she couldn’t seem to overcome the perspective issue.  Getting caught by the spider only delays you briefly, thereby affecting your score, but it still upset her.  I think perhaps for a young child’s game, it would make more sense developmentally to let left be left and right be right instead of using the perspective aspect for controls.  I think unscrambling their spelling words is great practice to learn the words, so it’s too bad that getting to that portion of the game requires being frustrated first in what should be the portion that is the most fun.

  • Crunch Time – Samson is shown standing on an iceberg in the ocean.  The narrator says a spelling word and uses it in a sentence.  The child must type out the correct spelling of the word in a timely manner.  The longer it takes, the more bites that Wally the Walrus takes out of the iceberg on which Samson is standing.  If Wally eats away the whole iceberg or if the child spells the word incorrectly, Samson falls into the water and emerges  frozen into an ice cube!  This is pretty funny to see.  Then the child tried again until the word is spelled correctly.  As each word is correctly spelled in time, Samson jumps along to the next iceberg, and the process repeats until the word list is completed.  Then he jumps ashore and safely crawls into an igloo.  Again, the child has the opportunity to achieve a championship belt for having the high score in the class for this game.  This game is a lot of fun and has the added challenge of a time limit to spell each word.  Haylee liked this game best of all of the spelling games, and she thought it was so funny every time Samson fell into the water and turned into an ice cube!
  •  
Overall, I think the site is a lot of fun and has a lot of potential.  However, I think it could be better with a few changes.  Aside from the minor changes I’ve suggested above, I think the biggest thing for me as a teacher was the fact that all of my students had to work on the same content at the same time.  What this site lacks is the ability to assign the level or list to each individual child.  Every user begins in the same place and works their way through every level and list.  I suppose that’s fine, but when using custom spelling lists, each child has access to all of the custom spelling lists at once.  My kids are almost 5, 8, and 13.  They are obviously at varying levels of ability and would at no time be working at the same level.  So I think a major improvement would be to allow the teacher to assign levels or word lists to students individually.  Then each child would be able to log in and only access their own grade-appropriate content.  I overcame this with the custom spelling lists by naming the lists with the child’s name rather than the actual name for the list so they would know which list to select for practice.  But this would become cumbersome if I entered multiple lists for each child.  For now, I’m just editing the list each week so there is only one list available with each child’s name.  But that takes away my ability to leave on previous lists for additional practice.

In any case, I would encourage you to give this site a try.  It definitely has a lot of learning value in terms of spelling, sight word, and reading comprehension practice through fun and engaging activities.  The bottom line is that we will definitely continue to use it.  And don’t forget that you can try it for free without even signing up for an account, so you have nothing to lose by giving it a try and seeing for yourself if it’s a good fit for your children.

Check out what other Crew members had to say about this site by clicking the banner below.
 
Photobucket
 
I received a free family membership to Samson’s Classroom for review purposes, but all opinions are mine and reflect my family’s honest use of the product.