Tuesday, February 25, 2014

Schoolhouse Review: Science4Us.com

My daughter Gess was thrilled when I announced that our first Schoolhouse Crew Review this year was from Science4Us.com.  Science happens to be her favorite subject and this review actually allowed her to study it more independently.  Since Gesserine has special needs she often needs a lot of teacher interaction and instruction during text book reading and of course experiments generally need to be supervised as well.  However, the Science4Us.com Online Subscription was a mixture of classroom instruction, hands on experiments and interactive video lessons which allowed Gess to work more independently.

Science4Us.com offers interactive, standards based, online science instruction for K-2nd grade and also works as great review for grades 3-5. They have over 350 online lessons through which you can explore earth and space, physical science, inquiry, and life science.  They base their material on the 5 E Instruction model: engage, explore, explain, elaborate, and evaluate.

Teachers are given many helps and instructions to get started.  They can manage their students assignments, reports and view their online notebooks through their dashboard.  They offer teaching strategies and a lesson guide for every unit.  Each unit is divided into about daily segments and there is offline materials to go with each section.  They offer clear instructions for the teacher to follow. 

While the teacher dashboard was beneficial I found it difficult to navigate the student reports at first.  You just have to remember to first choose the unit you are looking for and then the report will show up.  It was helpful to see what Gess did after she worked independently but since very few were scored I was not always certain how well she actually did.  The stars mean she completed the unit and the books let you look at what they wrote or drew in their notebook.  If you click on the score you can see each question on the test, which were correct or incorrect, the final score as well as have an option to print the page.

Gess had just been studying about states of matter so we began there.  I assigned her the first video to watch as an introduction and by the time I came back to check on her she was on the sixth one!   I think that says a lot about how enjoyable she found them.  I didn't let her move along quite that fast, so the next day she began repeating them at the pace the lesson planned called for. I was just pleased that she liked it so much.  Here is her student dashboard below. 

I love how it has My Assignments with large appealing icons.  Gess knows to just click on the first one and go.  If you haven't assigned anything it will show recent activity in that box.  They can also click on any of the books and explore where they want to on their own.  I am not sure I like having that feature available when there are assignments that need to be completed but it is nice when they have free time.  There is also a music player where they can listen to songs from the lessons but again, while its a nice touch you have to get to the assignment at some point so those things can be a distraction.

Once they are in the assignment they have fun interactive instructions to introduce the lesson.  Here they had to determine whether these items were a solid, liquid or gas.

They also had us do some hands on exploration to show how liquids can take the shape of their container but a solid cannot.

Then they added in some language and literacy skills as I believe is in keeping with current common core standards.  With Gess' speech issues we found the Silly Bulls who helped to teach about Syllables a great exercise.   Here she had to break her science vocabulary words up by syllables.

Most activities worked fine but we had a few that would never let us complete them.  This one you had to fill the container with the right amount of liquid.  We had all the containers filled but this one.  No matter how hard we tried it wouldn't let us put this one away.

We had one other activity that just never ended.  However, we have since completed another unit and had no issues with the videos there.

My favorite video was the "experiment" to see which solids moved quicker.  I loved it because you had the fun of the experiment, without the mess!  It was completely interactive.  It would have been messy to spill several liquids three times each.  I know kids love mess, but sometimes as the teacher I just don't have the time or ability to do them.  Gess completed this one several times, choosing different liquids to experiment with.  I was glad she had the freedom to do as many as she wanted.  It also meant that there was no extra cost or waste.

The offline worksheets and activities were really helpful as well.  Gess knew all of her vocabulary words and was able to map out each type of matter successfully.

At the end of this unit she received an 83% on her evaluation.  In Location and Perspective she received a 100%.   I think the activities in both units were very beneficial.  Perspective is a hard concept to grasp and the demonstrations there were really quite impressive.

I do want to emphasize that this a secular program and they do teach from an evolutionist point of view.  The section on earth and space starts with the children being read a book that teaches them they evolved over billions of years.  As a Christian who believes in a creationist view of earth's history we just avoided these sections of the unit.  I have not seen any evidence of this teaching in the other units so far.  The most I noticed was the statement that a fossil was very old.  That we can agree with since old can be a relative term.

Overall I found that the program was really well done.  Other than the few quirks I mentioned above it ran smoothly and guided both the teacher and the student with ease.  I think it is a really great way to get young children interested in science and ready to explore by the time they reach upper elementary school. It is also great for students like my Gess who have special needs.  The educational, yet fun, interactive lessons really make it interesting and easy to engage the student.  Remember, Gess often did more units than she was required to do.   I will definitely continue to use the sections of Science4Us.com that do not cover the earth's history and age.  For observational science it is a great tool to have.

The Science4Us.com Online Subscription for homeschool is $7.95 per month for each student which is really reasonable for all you have access to.  It certainly is worth it considering all the work is pretty much done for you.  If you would like to learn more about Science4Us.com visit their website or you can see what other members of the Schoolhouse Review Crew thought about it by clicking on the banner below.

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