Friday, September 18, 2015

Fascinating Chemistry (Schoolhouse Review)

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Fascinating Education offers three science courses: Fascinating Chemistry, Fascinating Biology, and Fascinating Physics. Each of these courses is composed of online lessons narrated by Dr. Sheldon Margulies, the creator of the program. The “Fascinating” courses are different from  traditional text based science courses. Instead of reading textbooks that are accompanied by illustrations, these courses consist of narration accompanied by photographs, drawings, and animated slides that illustrate the concepts and engage the right side of the brain as well as the left.image
Emily has been using the Fascinating Chemistry course for the past few weeks as a supplement to her regular chemistry course. Fascinating Chemistry has 19 lessons that cover the same topics as other chemistry courses: the structure of the atom, chemical bonds, gases, the mole, solutions, chemical reactions, and so on. Each lesson takes about 45 minutes to an hour to complete, and concludes with a test. A written script is also available for each lesson. While this script can be helpful for a student who wants to review or clarify a bit of information, I found it helpful as well, since it enabled me to skim the content of the lesson and keep up with what Emily was learning without taking the time to watch the entire lesson.
Each of the lessons features a menu at the side that allows the student to track his progress through the lesson or to skip back to a topic that he wants to re-watch. Periodically through the lessons are “Catching Your Breath” slides and “What You Know So Far” slides that review the material covered so far. If a student prefers to break the content into parts to view on different days, these slides provide a breaking point.

There is an index of each slide at the left of the screen, enabling the student to monitor progress or to skip to a particular topic. Illustrations are bright and engaging.
Many lessons include labs and/or problems to solve.

Each lesson includes a test that can be taken online or printed out. There is no online record of tests, however. Emily had to remember to show me her test score before she exited the page and it disappeared. Taking a screenshot would work as well. While we would find it helpful for the program to keep track of progress and test scores, how it is currently set up does make it easy for 2 students to use the program.
Fascinating Chemistry is not a lab-heavy program, but labs are included for about half of the lessons and include activities such as growing salt crystals while studying ionic crystals, determining the density of copper by weighing pennies and calculating their volume by dropping them in a graduated cylinder of water, and evaluating the effects of heat on viscosity using vegetable oil and dried peas. The labs are primarily designed to illustrate concepts and don’t require the precision or equipment required by a traditional lab, making them easy to complete at home. We haven’t used the labs because Emily is also doing another full chemistry course with weekly labs, but if Fascinating Chemistry were used alone or as a supplement to a course without a lab, they would be helpful and seemed easy to do.
Emily liked that Fascinating Chemistry provided a lot of information and she thought the pictures were very helpful. She did think that the narrator’s voice was monotonous, though. I agree with her about the voice—it did sound rather monotone and dull if I were listening from another room, although not so much when I was actually watching the slides. This is a program that might work especially well with a student who is looking for alternatives to traditional texts.
Fascinating Chemistry can be used as a full course, and it does seem to cover the same content as other courses I looked at. There is a lot of information packed into each lesson! If you are counting hours for credit, though, the course would come up short of those needed for a full credit unless the lessons were viewed multiple times. Even including the labs, I think a motivated student could complete the course in less than two months. For this reason, I prefer to consider it a supplementary resource.
Emily has enjoyed Fascinating Chemistry. She is doing well on her tests and says she’s learning a lot. Even though she’s already doing another course, she plans to continue with Fascinating Chemistry as a supplement.
Fascinating Education Review
I received this product free in exchange for my honest review.

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