Fascinating Education is an online science education site that teaches high school level science concepts using spoken narration accompanied by slides. These unique courses were designed by Dr. Sheldon Margulies, a scientist and neurologist who has great interest in how the brain works and how learning takes place. Margulies presents each piece of information in a clear manner, while the visual input helps to increase understanding and retention through the use of both auditory and visual inputs. The courses currently offered are Chemistry, Biology, and Physics. Emily tried out the Fascinating Biology course.
Each of the 19 lessons in the Fascinating Biology course is divided into about 8-30 “bite sized” segments that teach each concept. A full script is included for those students who learn better through reading or who want to review the topics after watching the initial presentation. A test is also included for each lesson in online or printable format. Although it appears that the lessons are intended to be used sequentially, a student is able to skip around among them. This makes Fascinating Biology useful as a supplement to another course that may not have the same lesson sequence.
When a student clicks on a topic, the lesson immediately begins to play and proceeds from slide to slide automatically. Most of the lessons could be completed in a sitting (about 30 minutes), but we found that it may be better to break up the session before information overload happens! The program remembers the student’s progress, making it easy to pick up at the same point, but the student is easily able to begin at any point, if she wants to review previous material, for example. Each lesson is accompanied by a PDF of the script and a short test. Emily found that the tests only covered the easiest points in the lesson and was happy to make good grades even on the difficult lessons!
The program does not keep a record of test scores, so it is important for the student or parent to keep their own record if that is a concern. This does make the program very useable for more than one student to use simultaneously, though.
The photos, drawings, and diagrams that illustrate the course are colorful and interest-capturing. You will see far more illustrations here than you will in any textbook. I felt that they were very helpful for teaching the concepts as well as keeping the student’s attention. The narration taught each concept very thoroughly, but I, as a visual learner, had a hard time following everything without seeing the text. The speaker wasn’t particularly dull, but it wasn’t a lively presentation either.
Other than the online tests, the program is not at all interactive. It is basically a slide show that allows the watcher to engage as much or as little as desired. In this high-tech world, it may not capture the attention of many students. Most would not consider it “fun,” but it does provide a great deal of learning content and the illustrations are good for illustrating each concept.
Although the first lesson explains that the course does not address the question of origins, and Margulies says that his role is to “describe the forces in the universe and how they play out in our everyday lives without addressing how those forces came into being or whether forces are being manipulated by God in some way,” the concept of evolution is definitely woven throughout every concept.
After using Fascinating Biology for a month, I would describe it as a thorough supplement. Although the content is quite comprehensive, labs are not included (for biology), and there isn’t enough interaction or testing for me to be sure that my student has mastered the material and I would use in alongside another program. We plan to continue using it throughout the year as a supplement to a more traditional biology course.
One-year access is $79 per course or $175 for access to all three courses. The content is high school level, but some middle school students may be ready to use the chemistry or biology courses.