Visual Learning Systems: A Schoolhouse Crew Review

Science is one of the those subjects I just don’t feel very competent to teach sometimes. I don’t feel as if I learned very much in the way of science in school. And I really didn’t like science. But as I’ve homeschooled, I’ve had the opportunity to learn more, and I’ve begun to really like science.

With the younger girls, science is worked into our main curriculum, but it isn’t in much depth. So I love having the opportunity to have more in depth resources to flesh out some of the things we’re learning. I was excited at the opportunity to review Visual Learning Systems online science.

We received the Digital Science Online: Elementary Edition (Grades K-5) and the Digital Science Online: Secondary Edition (Grades 6-12)  for one year. I used this with my younger girls, so for now, the Elementary Edition was the one I focused on for the review.

The Digital Science Online is a series of science videos. The videos are broken down into three age categories on the site: primary (Grades K-2), elementary (Grades 3-5), and middle/high School (Grades 6-12). (The elementary membership includes the primary level and elementary level.) Details about the homeschool pricing for the various levels can be found here.

When we log into the Digital Science Online, we can use my teacher login or the student login. The main difference is that from the student login, we can only access the student pages and not the teacher’s guide that go along with the videos. From the teacher login, there is a very nice teacher’s guide and resources.

After logging in, we’re taken to a place where we can choose what videos and lessons we’re going to work on. I’ve been choosing the elementary level for my girls (grades 4 and 5). The elementary level has physical science, earth science, and life science categories. The physical science options include twenty videos with topics such as matter, machines, mixtures and compounds, and the Scientific Method. The earth science options include seventeen videos with topics such as Earth’s nearest neighbors, rocks, water, and weather. The life science options include twenty-five videos with topics such as ecology, the environment, plants, and classifying animals. We haven’t used the other two levels yet, but the primary level have physical, life, earth and health science categories, and the middle/high school level has physical, life, earth, health, and integrated science categories.

Within the categories, the topics are arranged just in alphabetical order. There isn’t really a scope and sequence for using the videos. I just picked topics that supplemented and expanded things we had already been doing in science. We began with doing some earth science, covering some astronomy topics- because we studied astronomy last year. And then we moved into life science because the girls really wanted to study animals and because there were topics that tied in to ecology which we’ve been studying this year.

When we chose the topic we were going to study, we saw a video of that topic. The video can be watched all at once in whole- about fifteen minutes- or there are “chapters” listed down the side, and you can pick a part of the video on which to focus. There are also animations and photos on the video page. So if you want to focus on a specific part of the lesson, you can use an animation or photos as part of your discussion.

For each topic there are also student activities and a complete teacher’s guide. You can choose to view an entire PDF of the teacher’s guide or you can view the individual student activity pages. The teacher’s guide is a pretty awesome resource. It includes information about how the lesson corresponds with national standards, a script of the entire video, student pages to print for comprehension practice and additional activities, and answer keys for all of the student pages.

The student pages include a pretest, a post test, a video review, a vocabulary exercise, a writing exercise which involves the student choosing words from a word bank to fill in a paragraph, a reading comprehension passage and questions, and several activities or experiments that go along with the lesson. For our purposes, we focused on one lesson a week. I had the girls begin the week by taking the pretest, and then we watched the video, covering the video review after we watched. Then throughout the week, we did the various worksheets and some of the lesson activities. At the end of the week, I had them take the post test.

One of our favorite lessons was the Ecology Fundamentals in the life science section. We’ve been talking about ecology, so some of the information was familiar. The girls were able to answer many of the pretest questions correctly. The video had animal pictures and information- always a favorite. And one of the activities was to create a food web. The girls had lots of fun thinking through who eats who as they put together their food webs.

So what did we think?

  • I like the straightforward style of lecture in the video. The speaker was easy to understand and went slowly enough that the information could be grasped. The girls sometimes thought she was a little slow, but I think that the presentation helped us to follow the video well.
  • There was lots of great information and resources to go along with each lesson. I felt like everything I needed was right there and available.
  • I like being able to choose the topics that we need to go along with other things we’ve been reading or doing. I love to do unit studies or read books that lead to discussion and exploration of other topics. The arrangement of the videos goes along well with that goal. We can look through the topics and use the applicable lessons.
  • These videos and lessons are not presented from a specifically Christian worldview. There is mention of evolution. My kids are pretty well-grounded in a creationist worldview, and we use many other resources from a creationist perspective. So I’m okay with this resource not being from that point of view. But it’s just something to think about when you evaluate whether or not it’s a good fit for your family.
I can recommend Visual Learning Systems Digital Science Online. It’s been a good resource to use with the girls. And, although I haven’t had the older kids use it yet, I can see that the videos would be good to enhance their regular curricula as well.
The Facts:
Product- Digital Science Online: Elementary Edition and Secondary Edition
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