Tuesday, February 25, 2014

My Science to Balancing Home and School – A Science4Us.com Review

So, what does a homeschooling mom do when she needs to take care of this?
Mr. Laundry awaits my attention...

If you're me and you're blessed enough to have three children reviewing a Science4Us.com Online Subscription, you let your children log into Science4Us.com on your laptop, set a timer and go forth to attack Mt. Laundry, confident that your children will remain safe, engaged and enjoying themselves in a productive manner as you check another task off your daily list.

An electricity activity at Science4Us.com captures my children's attention.

Indeed, I am not sure if I am ashamed or pleased to admit that, since mid-January, Science4Us.com has been a go-to "babysitter" when I need to attack short household chores or make a quick phone call.  I can, however, declare with confidence that I am pleased as punch that we have been blessed with a 6-month Science4Us.com Online Subscription in return for an honest review.  For not only has this comprehensive online science curriculum proved an effective child minder in our home, it has also become an excellent addition to our ecclectic approach to home learning.

Science4Us Review

What is Science4Us.com?

Science4Us.com is a complete inquiry-based, digitally-delivered science curriculum, targeted for K-2 students to use at home, in homeschool co-ops, in virtual schools or at brick-and-mortar schools.  

Designed by a team that includes science specialists, the curriculum takes into consideration the learning needs of students and the potential needs of their teachers.  In fact, Science4Us.com subscriptions come with built-in, embedded, on-demand content training for teachers as well as online lesson planning and tracking helps.  So, in effect, Science4Us.com engages children in developmentally appropriate online learning, while also ensuring that their teachers –  regardless of prior training, budget restrictions or other obstacles –  become more competent to teach science offline.

Science4Us Review
This screenshot shows an easy-access "teacher's page".  On it, you can see module information and links on the left and lesson-specific information and links on the right.  This relatively intuitive set up makes conversing about and extending online lessons easy, especially with the handy printables that are linked on the page.

What Does a Typical Unit Look Like

You can see from the screenshot above what a typical unit looks like from a teacher's perspective when you open to a specific lesson.  What you cannot see is the embedded videos and pdf's that further explain concepts, offer teacher tips, provide off-screen activities for children and make administering child-friendly paper evaluations, or standardized-test-like evaluations for those that wish to use them, easy.

Science4Us Review
"Katie's" screenshot here is just what my children's lesson landing pages look like.  However, it is a larger screenshot than I could capture with my novice computer skills, so I am using it here to demonstrate how child-friendly the interface is with icons and organization my kids quickly got used to.  In fact, they even realized before me that when they completed activities little stars (not shown) on the activity icons.

Student lesson landing pages look like the screenshot above.  As you can see from it, lessons are grouped into four main modules:

  • Physical is broken into matter (states, changes and observation, as well as matters and mixtures), energy (sources, light, heat, sound, electric and transformations) and force and motion (magnets, simple machines and more).
  • Inquiry teaches students how to think like scientists and to make observations.  Children learn about measurement, weight and balance, as well as about quantitative and qualitative observations.
  •  Life deals with living things (as vs. non-living things and in  categories of plants and animals) and balance in nature (food webs, habitats and eco-awareness).  Children learn to classify plants and animals and what different living things need to survive. 
  • Earth/Space focuses, of course, on earth (history, features, materials and weather) and space (the earth in space and exploring the universe)

These modules can be used in any order, as can be the mini-modules within them, which makes them simple to tie into student interests and community happenings.

We chose our first unit of Science4Us.com study based  on a one-shot magnet program that was offered in our community.  That program and Science4Us.com inspired and solidified hours of magnet fun and learning in our home.

Each module is presented through videos and activities that follow the 5E Inquiry-Based Instructional Model, which guides children to: 

  • engage
  • explore
  • explain
  • elaborate 
  • and evaluate

In doing so, modules evoke interest, capitalize on curiosity and encourage mastery.

How We Approach Science4Us.com

Since Science4Us.com is written by specialists as a complete early education science program it could act as a stand-alone or core science curriculum.  Since we are ecclectic homeschoolers that love weaving personal interests together with community happenings and a wide array of resources, we did not use it that way.  Instead, we used it as a welcome addition to science as we already explore it.

Basically, I assigned units to my children based on their requests and also what matched up with local, hands-on community offerings.  This means that, so far, my children have explored the following topics online with Science4Us.com:

  • Magnets
  • Electrical Energy
  • Simple Machines
  • Inquiry
  • Energy Sources

As I mentioned at the beginning of this review, the children often dove into their lessons together while I checked off tasks.  However, sometimes, we sat down together to do lessons, too, which I was happy to see included cross-curricular connections.

My daughter absolutely beamed when she began succeeding with syllables.  She struggles with reading at grade-level and was, at first, quite put off with the Silly Bulls activities included in each module.  However, once we sat down together and she realized that the computer would help her read while her own skills would help her master syllables, she was thrilled.
A Balanced View of Science4Us.com

My children like Science4Us.com so much that they watch each other do activities, even if they have already completed the same activities themselves.  While doing so, they also help and teach each other, which is a wonderful unexpected bonus of our family using the curriculum – the children exercising another opportunity to demonstrate the virtues of kindness and helpfulness.

 Without doubt, Science4Us.com has been a worthwhile addition to our weekly rhythm of play, work and (for mom) task-checking.  Some things I love about it are:

  • Science teachers compiled all the lessons, so I know they are sound and feel comfortable leaving my children for brief periods of time to independently explore Science4Us.com lessons while I attack my to-do list.
  • Everything the children access is explained in developmentally appropriate ways so the kids can easily understand and master concepts.
  • Likewise, "teacher materials" are presented clearly and supplementary materials are broken into grade levels so I can easily extend lessons at just-right levels of challenge for my children of multiple ages.
  • Modules are broken into smaller chunks which are, in turn, broken into mini-sessions.  This helps the children remain engaged while also providing easy "cut off" points for when I think screen-time should end.
  • Materials are presented in a way that are engaging and effective enough that when my children ask for extra Science4Us.com time (which they do often), I can happily say "sure", knowing that their "online play" is actually learning.  (I do bracket such play, however, with strong physical activity since I am not one to believe in huge amounts of screentime at all, much less screentime not balanced by on-your-feet time!)
  • My oldest says, "I really like Investigate".  I, in turn, like the balance of the aforementioned 5E instructional approach.
  • It is easy to track which lessons children attempt and complete and to see how many minutes, in total, students have spent logged into Science4Us.com. 
  • There are grade-level written evaluations provided for printing.  As ecclectic homeschoolers that sometimes lean towards unschooling and often learn through hands-on experiences, our family does not do much traditional "book work" and my children have little experience with worksheets and standardized testing.  However, my oldest son willingly (even happily) completed one of the Science4Us.com standardized tests, which I gave him one day just out of curiosity to see how he'd do.  This gave me a bit more confidence in how all my children might approach traditional learning and testing should we ever need to go that route during some season of life.

Both a boon and a drawback of Science4Us.com is how engaging it is for my children.  I find it difficult to maintain our usual screentime limits when they love the program so much and are learning from it, too.

We have, however, found a few things about Science4Us.com we'd like to see improved:

  • The kids do not like the alphabetize activities because they always seem to freeze up. 
  • My oldest does not like the Silly Bulls activities because "they keep speaking instead of just letting you do the word".  I, too, wish that sometimes activities such as Silly Bulls would let children proceed a bit more quickly.  (Conversely, my second child likes the fact that there is speaking since it helps her with her reading.)  
  • I love all the supplementary materials and pdf's and think it is convenient that they are embedded into lessons for easy reference.  However, for ease in lesson preparations and more effective mama-time-use, I wish that all the materials for a single module were also available as a single document.  For the time it takes to click through each lesson page online in order to access, download and print supplementary materials for modules, I feel, is unnecessarily cumbersome.  Being able to download everything as a single document would be so much more time-efficient. 
  • At the current price of $7.95 per month per child, Science4Us.com seems reasonably priced.  However, for families with multiple children, paying $7.95 times as many children as one has may be cost-prohibitive.  So, I'd like to see large-family pricing options.  (Of course, when you look at it as curriculum and sometimes child minder all-in-one, it becomes more do-able!)

My Bottom Line

Science4Us.com has been a blessing to our family in more ways than one over the past month and a half and will continue to be throughout the six-month subscription we received in exchange for this honest review  – and, perhaps, beyond that.

My children are learning new things and solidifying things they already have been explored to one degree or another before while also enjoying themselves.  I am feeling great about rounding out their Science studies a little more and, obviously, thrilled to get some uninterrupted housework done on a more regular basis.

An afterschool simple machines workshop and a homeschool tapetricity gathering both tied in well with our Science4Us.com studies.

Without hesitation, I would recommend Science4Us.com to parents, schools and community programs that seek a full computer-based Science curriculum that offers cross-curricula connections and offline activities, too, not to mention teacher-training and student-tracking features.  As a stand-alone curriculum, or a supplement to other Science explorations, Science4Us.com provides quality learning for young children and unexpectedly generous pedagogical and content training for teachers who wish to access it.

Honestly, you can use Science4Us.com strictly online as we have done for the most part to date, but to take full advantage of all of the helpful activity and information pdf's that are embedded into the site, it is helpful to have a printer, paper, scissors, glue and other such office supplies on the ready, too.  Especially if using Science4Us.com as a main curriculum, families, community programs and schools will need such supplies to expand upon the online portion of the program with the worksheets and hands-on offline materials that are offered.

Learn More About Science4Us.com

If you'd like to learn more about Science4Us.com, please check out their website, which includes an introductory video, or find Science4Us.com on:

To see what others think about the program, click on over to check out many reviews at:

Click to read Crew Reviews

If you've used Science4Us.com, feel free to share in a comment how you feel about the program.  if you haven't and have specific questions I did not answer, just ask!

Crew Disclaimer


Related Posts with Thumbnails