Tuesday, May 24, 2016

Introductory Science from Science Shepherd

I was first introduced to Science Shepherd when I had the chance to review their high school Biology program.  We absolutely loved this excellent biology course, and I later had the chance to check out their middle school Life Science program.  That was great also.

Then they came out with Introductory Science and I kept thinking that I needed to try that, based on how good their upper level homeschool science was.  Introductory Science is intended for ages 6-11.  There are two levels of workbooks, Level A for ages 6-8 and Level B for ages 9-11.  This program is very creation-based.

Since my daughter is 10, we went with Level B.  Her big brother, age 12, is watching the videos and doing the activities with her, but since he is older than they recommend, I don't really consider him to be "doing" the course.

What you get is a one-year subscription to online videos.  There are 35 weeks of lessons, with 5 video lessons (almost) every week.  There are also videos to demonstrate some of the activities.  The videos are pretty short, most of them in the two to three minute range.  There is a BIG workbook available.  All ages watch the same video, but the expectations are different in the workbooks.  Level A (younger kids) usually has fewer questions.  Level B gets a bit more detailed, and there is a review activity each week that hits some of the vocabulary.

Either way, however, there is just a bit of workbook activity per lesson.  On days where there isn't an additional assignment of some sort, Trina can be done in ten minutes.  I love that.

I can just hear it.  "Ten minutes of science?  That's not enough!"

I'd argue that it is.  We're talking elementary ages here, roughly 1st-5th grade.  I like spending a few minutes on good science, where the materials include science presented by an actual scientist.   And ten minutes?  It's a rare day that I can't fit in a ten-minute science lesson.  One problem I have had with other science programs is simply having a big enough chunk of time to work on it every day.

The ten-minute thing also means that (especially for older students) it is pretty easy to go combining lessons and having a big science lesson one day a week. 

If you've read my blog for long, you probably realize I have some pretty strong opinions about science education.  I think science is very important, but most of the materials and methods out there for teaching it (homeschool or public school) aren't worth the effort.

What I look for in an ideal elementary science program for homeschool is:

  1. Is it scientifically accurate?  Do they know what an experiment is?  Do they define terms correctly?  Do they even use scientific terminology?
  2. Is there hands-on stuff that I can actually do with my kids without shopping a bunch of specialty stores and without breaking the bank?
  3. Is it easy to implement from a mom point-of-view?  Do I have to do a lot of prep work?  Do I have to spend time figuring out how to schedule it? Do I have to know a lot of science myself to be effective?
There isn't much out there that meets the above criteria.

Science Shepherd, however, does a pretty good job.  It is incredibly easy to use - watch the video, do a worksheet, sometimes do an activity.  In my family, we tend to then reinforce the scientific vocabulary throughout the day.

In watching the first lesson from week 8 (Geology) yesterday, one thing that struck me was how much vocabulary is built into the video lessons.  The topic for the week is how the earth is shaped, via volcanoes, glaciers, earthquakes and erosion.  In the first day, on volcanoes, you review science terms like crust and magma, and then start using terms like dormant, vent, erupts, lava, and lava fountains.  This is one of the best aspects of this program, in my opinion.  He uses the vocabulary, and doesn't dumb it down.  (Coincidentally, this is the sample video that is available on the website, so you can see how it works for yourself.)

Then you go to the workbook.  One thing I like about the workbook is that if you were paying attention, you will be able to get the questions right.  This is elementary science, and it shouldn't have trick questions, nor should it make you memorize every word of the teaching section.

That being said, I think that the workbook could capitalize a bit more on the vocabulary that is introduced, at least for the Level B kids.  This particular lesson does include the concepts of dormant and active, and of magma and lava.  And in the review at the end of the week, you cover the terms lava and volcano (plus words from the rest of the lessons in week 8).  But I wish this part was a bit stronger.

On the other hand, if I make a point of watching the videos with my kids, it is very easy for me to reinforce the scientific vocabulary as it is so clearly presented in the video.

Because my daughter has had a lot of science in the past, and she is on the older end of the age range, a lot of the material in this course is review for her.  Regardless, she is getting a systematic overview of a lot of science areas.

Topics covered:
  • Introduction (Creation)
  • Science Skills and Tools
  • Earth Science: Meteorology, Geology, Oceanography, Astronomy
  • Life Science: Plants, Underwater Creatures, Flying Creatures, Land Creatures, Human Beings, Be Healthy, Ecology and Natural Resources
  • Physical Science: Matter, Energy, Motion, Magnets
There is a materials list available on the website, and the most challenging item there for my household was a leaf.  Almost everything else was something we already had in the house, or something (like an avocado) that we could easily pick up.  Here is a time-lapse video of one activity we did a couple weeks ago, in the meteorology section.  The idea was to show how storms form, with a cold mass (blue ice cubes) meeting a warm mass (red lukewarm water).

My bottom line:

I would probably recommend a bit younger than the age ranges they give for this, suggesting it for ages 5-10, probably.  If you add a bit more work with the vocabulary, I think it is great for 5th-6th graders as well.  One thing I love about the videos is that he doesn't talk down to the kids at all.  No animated characters or puppets or anything "little kid-ish" in nature.  Even my teens are willing to watch him.  That also means he isn't quite as engaging for the younger ages, but the videos are short and there is a lot of information.

Short, informative lessons that use scientific terms correctly, and the program introduces the basic concepts throughout most of science?  This program definitely fits my criteria for a good science program.

You can go see what others on the Crew thought too.

Science Shepherd Review

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