Wednesday, February 26, 2014

Science 4 Us Online Subscription (A Schoolhouse Crew Review)

Science 4 A Schoolhouse Crew Review is an online, interactive science curriculum for kindergarten through second grade. The program has four scientific sections: Physical Science, Inquiry,  Life Science, and Earth/Space Science, with each area comprised of several subdivisions for detailed study, giving students at total of 350 available lessons.  What makes Science 4 Us special is that it provides integrated instruction with language and visual arts.  Vocabulary, word organization, and creative writing are built into the language program, while creative drawing is a part of the curriculum as well.  Tuition for this program is $7.95/month per student; our family received a six-month Online Subscription and we have loved every minute of it!

animal groups  party of blue jays school of fish

When we first discovered we were going to be reviewing the program, we started viewing their demo lessons.  Jude's favorite was of the Animal Groups.  The lesson began with a catchy, Beach-boys-flavored tune about the names of animal groups.  We learned a group of eagles are called a kettle and jellyfish that hang out together are called a smack.  It then segued into a teaching section with visual to help the student learn -- blue jays don't fly around wearing cone-shaped hats (and we confirmed it by watching a few fly around our own yard), but the group of them hanging out in the tree out front is called a party.  The lesson ended with Jude drawing what he thought a school of fish looked like -- check out the professor at the front.   Truthfully, I was concerned that after seeing the demo lessons (we also checked out the demos in the other sections) that were so much fun, the rest would be a little bit of a letdown.  Wow, was I wrong.

As a parent, I loved the quirkiness of the program. For this review, we tried a unit in each of the sections offered by Science 4 Us, so I feel like we've been able to get a good sampling of the entire program, not just one or two disciplines.  I've seen enough programs that are either so watered down that they are practically useless, or so incredibly dry that you just can't bear one more minute.  This is a fun program, for both parent and student.  Fist of all, how can you NOT love a program that does this with the text of the "Exploring the Universe" unit?

Star Wars theme solar system lecture

Each unit begins with a fun yet informative session on the topic, and then is reinforced with a number of game-type activities.   In Physical Science, we learned about location and perspective.  The screenshot below is of an identify the picture game - take a look at the game show "host."  He even has the quintessential Wink Martindale-Chuck Woolery-Gene Rayburn game show pompadour!

game show host penguin

This program is definitely loaded up with science, but the program isn't just science-minded.  It contains a very, very strong language component as well.  This makes perfect sense, considering the creators of Science 4 Us are ALSO the masterminds of VocabularySpellingCity.   The creators have worked hard so that the interdisciplinary activities feel natural and not forced or gratuitous.

Vocabulary words played a very strong part in the program.  They were the key words taught in the "science lesson," and then reinforced later on as well, especially through the SillyBulls and Alphabetize sections.

syllables with the silly bulls

We generally did two or three lessons each day, spending about 20-25 minutes on Science daily.  Thursdays are heavy therapy days around here, so  after being on the road and at the hospital all morning and then driving home and having lunch, Jude really didn't want to do a whole lot of school work.  Unfortunately, he still needed to do all of his subjects.  He likes to make a daily list, so he can cross subjects off as he completes his work; I would put Science towards the bottom of the list as something for him to look forward to as a reward for soldiering through some of the less-preferred handwriting practice.

syllables and articulation practiceSince I only wrote "science" on his list, he would ask "What sections are we doing?" While most days the thought of science was a bright light of hope,  on Thursdays, when I said "SillyBulls is today," he'd jump into his chair and plow through his other lessons at warp speed to get to science.  It amazed me because identifying and isolating sounds is one of the hardest things for him.   He just absolutely loved the pun and the dancing and juggling bulls so much that he didn't notice he was doing "speech homework."

I also loved about those silly bulls was that they came out and danced at the end of the segment.  Jude wanted to dance with them, so he really worked hard to sound out the words, rolling them around in his mouth until he had decoded all of the sounds.  I think it has done a LOT for his speech progress.  Breaking words into syllables helped him literally see middle and ending sounds, and that are important, too. His own speech is becoming much more articulate because he repeats those isolations and now is beginning to self-monitor and correct deletions when talking. 

In the Alphabetize section, the student moved the words from a scrambled-up list to put them in correct ABC order.  Jude got lots of practice reciting his ABCs and then pausing after each letter to carefully look for a word that started with that letter.

The program also teaches other literary concepts.  It's natural to compare body parts -- fish have scales, people have skin, cats have fur.  But Science 4 Us takes it a step further, setting these comparisons up as analogies.

science analogies

 This is a great way to teach vocabulary and science concepts, because it's a natural grouping of comparisons.

We also really enjoyed the limericks.  The company's cartoonists are terrific.

worm home limerick

Kids LOVE rhymes. They love silly.  How can you go wrong with learning about earthworms' housing preferences in this way.  Plus -- did you see how they snuck in an extra synonym?  That's right - worms don't just like any old dirt, they like loam. The lesson showed several limericks (the one about pigs and mud was a big hit, too!), followed by a lesson on the limerick's rhythm and rhyme scheme.  Jude then had the opportunity to write his own limerick, using the programs suggestions.  I like how it gave options so that Jude could hear potential words and didn't have to come up with words that rhymed.  Showing all of the examples made rhyming - something he hasn't had a clue about until now - a little less fuzzy.  (He's not going to rival Dr. Seuss just yet, but he's starting to catch on.)

writing a limerick

As Jude's mom, I really liked this program.  I loved watching him make connections, even if it was this truth about hungry critters:

the circle of life

   As Jude's teacher, I really appreciated the separate Teacher Section.

The highlights/most enjoyed were:

-separate log in for teacher & student(s)
-the ability to follow student(s) progress in a given area or overall
-the ability to assign tasks to a student (this would be beneficial if there were multiple children, or if Jude was working more independently during activities like this).

Science4Us Review

While we really just used the program as-is, working on a few sections each day, this could easily be drawn out into two or three weeks per unit.  In addition to just providing a way to sort the online activities, the teachers' resource section also includes a number of offline ideas to help reinforce learning. Most of them were language-based, so in the interest of trying to keep this fun and not a stressor, we skipped those.  I felt he certainly got a lot of language learning opportunities with the program directly from the online work.  I appreciate that it gives lesson ideas for each grade, allowing the teacher to tailor the lesson to the grade level of the students, rather than a one-size-fits all approach to a wide developmental range.

Currently, the program is only available to be used via internet browser.  (We've used it in both Mozilla Firefox and Safari with no problems.)  However, an iPad app is under development; Science 4 Us expects to release it sometime in 2014.  We're hoping it's sooner than later -- being able to do it on the iPad is about the only thing that could have made this experience any better.  Jude struggled with drawing and dragging answers using my computer, as I have a trackpad instead of a mouse and it was difficult at times for him to manipulate it. We worked around this fairly easily; he verbalized and/or showed the answers to me and I did the maneuvering.  For example, during SillyBulls he would verbalize the syllable to be moved into place and show me with his pointer finger while I did the actual click-and-drag, or I drew what he directed (fish here, teacher there) and he would use the color-it-in features.  I think if he had a touch-screen option to use the program, he would be able to do the program with in-room supervision rather than complete parental involvement.

 Look! They've even solved the chicken-egg conundrum!

A Online Subscription is a fantastic investment for your young student.  It teaches science in an enticing manner that made Jude want to continue - there were times where I planned on one or two activities for a day and he completed four!  Its "serious education using a silly presentation" is appealing to this young elementary age bracket, and integrating language and art helps give all three subjects "real world" interaction. Though it is geared toward the K-2 set, I can definitely see Celia (4th grade) wanting to to give it a try, and I don't think she would look at it and deem it too "babyish" or "so easy it's not worth my time."  Our family looking forward to studying other science units - especially with those Silly Bulls.

Want to learn about how other families used Science 4 Us?  Click the banner below!

2/26/14 - Note:  Due to server issues, the banner link isn't working.  To read the other Crew Members' Reviews, please use the following link:  Science 4 Us Crew Reviews

Click to read Crew Reviews

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