Monday, March 9, 2015

Review: Visual Learning Science

Science is one of the required core subjects here in Missouri, but teaching it to my son has become something of an issue.  Whether I allow him to read it to himself or I read the text to him, he has trouble repeating back to me the information just covered.  I jumped at the opportunity to try Digital Science Online: Secondary Edition (Grades 6-12) hoping that hearing and seeing the information would help it stick in his head better.  The creators, Visual Learning Systems, also have a digital subscription for Elementary Students--Digital Science Online: Elementary Edition (Grades K-5).

According to Digital Science’s website, the subscription based learning program works best with up-to-date versions of Chrome, Firefox, and Safari but we were able to access everything just fine with Internet Explorer.  We received two username/password combos—one for me as the teach and one for my son the student.  Both of us had access to the 20 minute lesson videos, shorter videos animating key concepts, still images from the lesson, and teacher guides.  The title “teachers guides” is a little misleading because from the student side, he could only access the student activity pages (which he had to select one at a time for printing).  When I chose the teachers guide from the teacher’s side I could access a quick introduction to the video lesson, the student activity pages, the learning objectives, and a transcript of the video.  Usually I would download the full teachers guide (which seems to be the only way to access the answers to the student activities and quizzes) and just print out the pages that we needed.


When my son logged in he could choose which of six science subjects he wanted to study:

  • Physical: covering chemistry and physics concepts
  • Earth: covering geology, astronomy, weather and more
  • Life: Classifying plants and animals, ecosystems, genetics, botany
  • Integrated: Covering the metric system, taking measurements, microscopes, and observation
  • Health: Covering body systems, and nutrition
  • Biology: amphibians, reptiles, mammals, and more botany

Sometimes the choice of lessons within a subject seemed a little unorganized—why was the immune system under biology and not health?  If you’re interested in plants you need to look in both Life and Biology.

Generally, we would start the week with a preliminary assessment.  I’m usually not big on pre-tests; why make my son stress out over something he’s not supposed to know yet anyway.  In this case though, a lot of the lessons were covering material we had learned in a regular science curriculum so why not.  There are ten fill in the blank questions with the word choices listed at the bottom of the page and ten true/false questions.

Next came the video lessons which my son actually watched over at his grandparent’s house when I went to my part time job.  The videos are 20 minutes long so we wanted to take advantage of their high speed internet and unlimited downloads. If you choose not to watch the whole video at once, it is possible to select specific chapters within the lesson.  My parents were impressed on the whole with the material covered, but said in one lesson there was some rather distracting background music.  That may seem like a little thing, but one of my son’s quirks is when he listens to radio theater or audiobooks he really focuses in on the music rather than the words.  At the end of the lesson is a video review quiz.  You can do it through the video—someone speaks the question and there is a pause between questions for the student to answer, or you may print out the review from the student activity pages.

On the next day, back at home, my son and I would go through some of the activities found in the student activity pages.  There would always be a vocabulary activity:unscrambling words and matching them with their definitions.  Other “paperwork” activities included looking at drawings of vertebrates and writing what class they belonged to, other animals in that class, what environment it could be found in and what its physical feature were. Another time we diagrammed covalent bonds.  In other cases we would find instructions for an experiment—in the simple machines lesson we made a lever with a ruler, some dimes, and a pen for the fulcrum. In the compounds in chemistry lesson we tested the pH of a variety of common liquids.  We didn’t explore every lesson, but the ones we did only required common materials—no need to place an order with a scientific supply company.

The lesson ended with a post assessment quiz made up of the same fill-in-the-blank and true/false questions from the preliminary assessment, just listed in a different order.

On the whole, my son enjoyed being able to watch and listen to the lesson rather than read it out of a book.  He also enjoyed the variety of topics to choose from – I allowed him to follow his interests, but if you were using this as your regular curriculum you might want to follow some sort of order to the lessons.  The suggested grades for this online curriculum are sixth through twelfth.  I think this program may be fine for middle school students where science is usually a broad overview of many topics. However, for high school students I’m afraid this may not be “meaty” enough.  I’m concerned about the lack of serious lab work.  In the lesson about reptiles and amphibians your asked to make up your own animal and draw a picture—I would think most  serious students would have to dissect a frog.  Visual Learning systems may be enough for kids without a scientific bent, but those with an interest (and perhaps those intending to go to college) may need a more rigorous program.

If you check out the program, be sure and look at the homeschooling option to get the correct pricing.  The regular cost ($300 minimum) applies to school settings, but homeschoolers can use the same material with up to 8 students for $99 per year.


Visual Learning Systems Review

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