Monday, March 9, 2015

Digital Science Online (A Schoolhouse Crew Review)

Anyone who knows us knows that we are huge fans of Science in our house.  My children have grown up with having science around them in one form or another all their lives: from their father’s various telescopes, to mom baking bread (which we made into a science experiment once), to watching The Magic Schoolbus. Science is one of those things you either love or dislike and luckily for my children, science is coded into their genes. That is why when were given the opportunity to use and review Digital Science Online by Visual Learning Systems we were over the moon.

Digital Science online is a online science program that offers videos and curriculum for either Elementary Grades (K-5) or Secondary School (6-12th) levels.  The Elementary version more than 140 videos for study while the Secondary has roughly another 130 videos available.

The Elementary version is broken even further into a Primary (K-2) section with videos that are shorter and easier to understand for younger students to pick up concepts before moving on to the Elementary (3-5) level videos.  Videos are broken into categories such as Life Science, Physical Science, Heath, and Earth Science to help make it easier to sort through video topics. Each video is accompanied by resources such as teachers guides that help walk you through teaching the video, pre and post tests to evaluate how much your child knew before you started and how much they learned after the video presentation and handouts that reinforce what they just learned. Many of the teachers guides also include hands on experiments.
Example of the Teachers Guide 

The videos are the true backbone of the program. Visual Learning Systems produces all the videos completely : they wrote script, did the filming and did all the editing.  They also created all the animations used.  The Primary level videos are roughly 10 minutes and the Elementary Level videos are around 12 minutes long. The Secondary Level videos for Middle and High School Levels are about 20 minutes long. Each video is broken into chapters that are 2-3 minutes long. These chapters are self contained concepts. This means that while watching the video on “Simple Animals”, you have the option to either watch the video straight though or instead watch the 2-3 minute section involving only types of worms if you plan on studying only worms that day. There is a quiz at end of video that consists of 5 questions for elementary videos or 10 questions for the Secondary Level videos as well as “You Decide” questions throughout the videos to make students concentrate on what they are learning.  All videos are close captioned in English for the hearing impaired.
Each Video has Stand Alone Chapters that can be used independently 

How We Used It

At the beginning of this review period, we were between Science curriculums. We had just finished our previous book and were waiting to receive a new book. It was during this time that I allowed the kids to dictate what they wanted to learn about each day. Since we do science three days a week, we would typically watch the video on Monday, accompanied by one of the printouts provided by Visual Learning Systems, rewatch the video as a review on Wednesday along with a few more handouts and then on Friday we would do a more hands on activity.  The kids have a very wide field of interest so one week Garrett picked and we spent the week learning about measuring lengths and weight and another week learning about the three forms of matter. Ashleigh likes life sciences and so for her choices we learned about invertebrate animals, what is a fish and the cycle of life.

A VERY small sampling of the over 140 videos available for the Elementary Edition of Digital Science Online

When our new science textbook finally came in, we switched gears from the children picking our topics and instead used the Digital Science Online as a supplement in addition to what we were studying about in our textbook. With Digital Science Online's very easy to use search function, we quickly found videos that related to the topics we wanted to dig a bit deeper into. For example, while discussing taxonomy, we did a search and were directed to the video "Classifying Living Things" which gave us a much more thorough discussion then our text had given us, allowing the kids to get a better understanding.

The kids really enjoy the crisp, vivid images of the videos and seeing rather than just being read to and hearing about what we're talking about proved to be a wonderful addition to our textbook.

Captivated kids learning about fish
I found the high quality resolution of the videos to be an added plus. Typically, I hook my laptop up to my  television set via HDMI cord and often, videos I try to stream look grainy or fuzzy on  the our high definition tv.    All the videos streamed from the Digital Science Online collection looked very clear as if I were instead playing a DVD instead of streaming from computer.

The videos in the Primary section (where we sampled from) are about 10 minutes long and seem to be the perfect length for my kids who have a very short attention span. There are questions throughout the video to get students to think about what they are learning. When they came on, I would pause the video and the kids and I would discuss what was being reviewed. I was very surprised at how much the kids absorbed from just the first viewing of the videos and how much what they learned carried over to subsequent videos that we watched.

After watching every video, we took advantage of what was provided in the teachers guide.  Each teacher's guide contains a full copy of the video's script which makes for
great material to pull random questions from. The printable handouts were a huge hit with the kids who for the most part enjoy word finds which are often included. Between using a ruler to measure various objects (including themselves) to labeling various parts of a fish to learning about worms, exploring the stages of matter or learning about the life cycle of frogs or the root system of plants, there were plenty of activities to keep the kids engaged.

I think it's a safe assumption to say my kids enjoyed Digital Science Online

Final Thoughts and Impressions:

I found Digital Science Online to be a wonderful supplement to add to our existing curriculum. My only recommendation to the company would be to make it easier for teachers/parents to index the videos in such a way that we can go straight to what video we would like next. As it stands right now, every time the user logs in, it automatically begins playing the first listed video in Digital Science Online's index. I would like to see it set up where if I were currently teaching life science, the login screen would take me to a customizable list of videos I have selected to review with my children.  Beyond that, I have no complaints with this curriculum at all and found it to be a very in depth science curriculum covering many topics I wouldn't have even thought about covering.

I also want to point out that the initial pricing shown on their website can be a bit of a sticker shock when you see "minimum order $300" under the pricing on the home page. Please note the listed price is for actual brick and mortar classrooms. Visual Learning Systems offers pricing for homeschooling families which includes all the videos, teacher's guides as well as discounts on their physical products for a much reasonable cost.

Visual Learning Systems can be found on Facebook and on Twitter.

Visual Learning Systems Review

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