Tuesday, November 4, 2014

Review of Fascinating Education

Fascinating Education Review

Nicholas (11) has been all about chemistry for the past six months or so, so when we got the chance to review Fascinating Education's Fascinating Chemistry course, I was elated. I was familiar with Fascinating Education from the time, a couple of years ago, when I looked at the Biology course for Therese, and I remember being really impressed. It was with high expectations that I started Nicky off on the course. 

Fascinating Education Review

Fascinating Chemistry covers the material that would be found in a high school chemistry course, but is presented in a way that is comprehensible to middle school students. Although Nicky hasn't gotten to the later lessons (where I definitely remember high school chemistry getting hairy), I can say that so far, he has understood everything that has been presented. The material is definitely not dumbed down in any way, but it is presented very clearly with great graphics that render the material accessible to jr. high students. Given that he really wanted to take chemistry, this course was the perfect one for him - hard core chemistry material, but presented in a way that he can follow.

Although it's not relevant to our world, Dr. Sheldon Margulies, the brains behind Fascinating Education (and a neurologist, which makes him of special interest to my poor migraine-ridden self) maintains that the course is meaty enough to qualify for a high school chemistry credit! That is a course that is filled with material - in other words, it is something that I knew would be good for Nicky (N.B., it's not relevant to our world because Nicky is in 6th grade; he takes several high school level classes, but I am not filling out a transcript for him yet). Also, although Fascinating Chemistry is in the process of incorporating lab work, that is not something that we did with Nicky. I wanted a course he could work through independently, and lab work did not fit in with that vision!

The lessons are about 45 minutes each (on average), and there are online tests every lesson. There are 18 total lessons and scripted lessons included (although the lessons themselves are video/slide-based - I, for one, love also having the scripted version available). A year's access costs $79.

Fascinating Education Review

Nicholas and Fascinating Chemistry

I will readily admit that Nicky has been moving through this course at a glacial pace -- but I'm okay with that. His, well, personality quirks (OCD, ADHD, etc) mean that some school days are awesome and others...well, not so much. The great thing is that since we have access to this course for a year, I know that he will be able to finish the whole thing! A lesson looks like this: 

You see the slides down the side, so you always know what you've seen and what is upcoming. You see the progress bar across the bottom, so you know how much you have left (so important to a kid like Nicky). There is nothing distracting on the screen - just the slide and Dr. Margulies' soothing voice (again, perfect for a kid like Nicky). When you combine these features with the solid chemistry that this course packs, it has been a big hit in our house.

Nicky works on this course primarily independently, although I am in the same room so that I can monitor him and answer his questions. Essentially, he watches the lesson over the course of a few days and we talk about the material. I print out the script of the entire lesson so that he can follow along with what is being said if he wants to. Also, he can have the printed lesson in his binder as a reference. The scripted lesson looks like this (obviously, just a small portion is shown!):

It is a great feature to be able to have the material referenced by slide. That way, you can always get back to a particularly troublesome slide, which is very handy when you get to subjects like all the different kinds of atomic bonds. 

The tests are ten question long multiple choice exams. They are not hard if you have watched the lesson and have even a basic understanding of it. I don't think they are an essential part of the course (for us), but if you are using this course for a high school credit, you will definitely want to make use of this built-in gradable feature.

A Word on the Labs

As I said, I didn't use the labs supplied with this course because I wanted it to be something that Nicky could do pretty much on his own (just one of those seasons in life where I need my kids to be pretty independent in school). However, since labs are included, I wanted to mention something about them! Labs are supplied in a separate area of the website that requires a secondary password (this is done for safety's sake). The chemistry labs include making salt crystals, making brass, volume of ice, and atmospheric pressure to name a few. The materials required are generally those you can find around the house.

I have to say that I think Fascinating Chemistry is a great course with a ton of information. Nicky is taking it slow, which will help with his retention. He will definitely be taking high school chemistry in a few years, but that is due more to his age than to any criticism I have of this course. I definitely plan to check out Fascinating Biology and Fascinating Physics when he is ready for them. I love that they are accessible to him at his age - what a great fit for a gifted kid! 

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