Thursday, November 5, 2009

Review: My Access! Writing Help for all Ages!

My Access! online writing program recently sent me a free subscription for review (are the perks great with this job, or what?). As a writer, I am always interested in programs that may help me write better. So, besides signing up my girls, I signed myself up as a student as well.

Because My Access! is internet based, you can use it anytime you have a computer with a connection to the World Wide Web. There’s several demo videos you can watch before you get started that walk you through different aspects of the program. One nice feature is that you can use the many writing prompts given by the software or you (the parent) can assign your students specific prompts for them to work on. This can compliment other curriculum, if there are essays needed in different subjects. I guess you could say that is a weakness of the program too, it is strictly dealing with writing good essays. However, the need to proficiently write essays could not be overstated. It is also one that takes a lot of practice to perfect.

The software graphics are nice and up-to-date and I like the choice to do assignments on your own or as part of the "Daily Access Newspaper". I chose the latter and was walked through the ins and outs of the paper by a very chic editor that gave me a sample essay to read and activities involving that essay to complete. By looking at the strengths and weaknesses of other’s writing it does help to improve your own. You do not just look at the final product of a good essay but you see it progress from one that is not so great, looking at all that was added, and why, to help it become stellar. From there you get to begin working on your own with an option of “publishing” it in the "Daily Access Newspaper" for friends and family to read.

I found the navigation a bit frustrating at times. For instance, during one activity I had a question on something from the previous screen and wanted to go back to look at it. There is a “back” button and a “submit” button, but when you push the back button a warning pops up that you are still submitting your work, before you go back, and you will be scored accordingly. Having just opened this screen and then wanting to double check something I realized I missed, it was troubling that I could not go back and clarify without being graded (with a big fat “0”). Also, the artificial intelligence that My Access! uses is a bit persnickety about spelling. Any unusual name is deducted as a spelling error.

There’s really a lot to look at and learn from in the My Access! program. It is easy to click on terms that are being taught and see in-depth explanations and examples. There are many writing models and a writing Rubric that will assist the student in accessing his or her own work as well. Each essay is given instant feedback at various stages of progress, enabling the best possible final draft.

There are a plethora of icons to choose from, on most pages, and at times this was confusing for me. Not everything, from what I recall, was explained in the demo…and even if it was, it is too much to remember. There were times I would click on something and end up in an activity which wasn’t necessarily what I was looking for. When I tried to go back, I had the same box pop up telling me I was turning in incomplete work (or something to that effect). Kids are so intuitive about much of the computer programs, it wouldn’t take long for them to have it all figured out, no doubt!

The parental feature allows you to set rewards for points earned and also to track what your students have worked on. What you see, however, is the final product and not a peek of how it looked along the way. The process of correcting and revising is completely handled between your student and My Access! so, if you want to keep tabs you can do that from over your student’s shoulder. This is most certainly a blessing for some, who just don’t know how or do not like to teach writing.

My girls are in a pretty involved writing program already (too bad I didn’t get this at the beginning of the year!), but I will be putting My Access! to use during the holiday break!

Read what other’s have to say about My Access! by checking out the TOS Crew blog on this link:

You can explore all that My Access! has to offer by visiting their website by clicking here where you can also subscribe for one year, for up to three students for $99.95, or, from four to six students the price is just $129.95.

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At the Intersection of Creation and Evolution: A Dream

The alliterating story below is based on a dream I had several years ago. Please contact me for permission to reproduce.

Darkness devours me.

I am enveloped in emptiness.

Are my eyes open or are they closed? I strain against this shroud of night and still see nothing.

What is this place?

An image illuminates in front of me. A large, leafy tree streaks past and vanishes.

It deserts me to the darkness again.

In a moment, more images appear. A rapid succession of snapshots and thoughts clamor before my eyes and mingle in my mind.

I see seedlings. Several supple shoots have emerged before me and then swiftly stream away.

“The first trees on earth were not seedlings”, my mind observes. “They were not created as small insignificant saplings.”

That thought is rapidly replaced with a vision of a man.

He’s maybe 30; he is muscular and needs to shave.

He fades away.

In his place I see an infant.

A tiny bundle of pink skin upon a soft blanket flickers briefly in my brain.

“Man was created with age,” is the next statement I hear. “Adam did not begin his life as a baby, he began as a grown man.”

The voice seems like my own.

The thoughts do not.

Reeling before me now is a blur of rivers, forests, mountains and even layers of the earth. It is like a movie rushing rapidly before my retina.

The soundtrack of this epic is proclaiming a peculiarly plain concept:

“The earth was created with age. Creation and evolution are not in total opposition. There is a reason that science finds the earth to be quite old: it was made that way.”

Thoughts continue to tumble through my mind; pictures parade before me. I listen in amazement to what seems to be puzzlingly profound and yet rather apparent all at once.

“Adam was created as an adult. Trees and plants were made fully grown.”

I suddenly feel quite certain that, if I were to chop down some of the trees that had been spoken into existence, I would find a range of rings running through their trunks.

“The earth was brought to life with age built into it… just like Adam. He did not begin life as an infant. The earth came into being with what it would need to sustain the life that was created. It was old when it was young. The world was
made with maturity; it was also produced with purpose.”

These thoughts are thrilling. Why had I not seen this before? It seems so simple. Obtusely obvious. Had others not observed this correlation? If they had, why wasn’t it being candidly conveyed?

In the span of thirty seconds I have been ravaged by a radical revelation. I feel the weight of its worth resting on me; it is tantamount to tangible.

I am neither a theologian nor am I a scientist. I don’t claim that the ethics of evolution are completely compatible with the Bible’s account of creation. But certainly Science can come concurrent to creation and affirm our faith with facts.

Of course, the Omnipotent Originator of the Universe is exceedingly elusive to what our mind could ever envision. Above what science could ever extensively elucidate.

Accordingly, creation is confounding too. Each diverse discovery deems it more marvelous to grasp. Many scientists have reluctantly relented to the theory of Intelligent Design.

That’s why, alongside those facts, we also need faith.

Lying inexplicably at the intersection of those two essential elements is an exceptional endowment: the intermittent insight of our dreams.