Monday, November 3, 2014

Fascinating Chemistry - A Crew Review

It has been almost 25 years since I took Chemistry in High School ... and teaching Chemistry to Emily this year was high on my list of priorities, but low on my list of 'looking forward to its.' Along came the opportunity to review Fascinating Chemistry from Dr. Margulies at Fascinating Education. I thought, "Why not?," if it didn't work out, I could always get her a traditional chemistry textbook and we could slog along together. Don't get me wrong, I like science, I even enjoyed Chemistry way back in High School, I just wasn't confident in my ability to read ahead and absorb enough to teach it effectively. I must say I am quite impressed at the level of depth and simple presentation that Dr. Margulies uses in his online Fascinating Chemistry course! (Hurrah for no boring chemistry textbook!) I know I have forgotten a lot of Chemistry over the past 25 years, but on certain topics, this course goes even more in-depth than a traditional course.

Dr. Margulies is a neurologist, which is part of why we are enjoying taking this class together. Fascinating Chemistry is set up as a no pre-requisite science curriculum, meaning you don't have to have completed a series of other courses to learn effectively from this course. This is right hemisphere learning, where Dr. Margulies focuses on colorful, simple illustrations to present simple to complex concepts in thin slices. The online videos are designed to give you the visual representation, with the audio teaching, supplemented with text. This is opposite how I learned Chemistry where you had to read a lot of text, with only a few illustrations, followed by the teacher's lecture. 

I am enjoying re-learning what I had forgotten alongside Emily (age 16) as each topic is taught one step at a time, and presented simply but thoroughly. The terminology is presented, but it doesn't intrude upon learning the basic concept. Dr. Margulies constantly reminds the students of real-life examples of each concept so they can make real life connections to ensure they remember what is being taught. Each of the 18 lessons in Fascinating Chemistry have about 45 minutes of video presentation. Each concept in the lesson is a separate video, allowing you to stop and resume at whatever point you and your student need to. The program remembers where you were  and asks if you want to resume where you left off during your last session. You always have the option to click through the lesson menu to get to each section. Often we stopped the videos in the middle, just so Emily could ask a question to clarify with me what Dr. Margulies had said. This is Emily's first foray into Chemistry, and since she wants to enter the medical field after graduation, we want to take as much time as is necessary for her to understand each concept thoroughly. 

At the end of each lesson, Dr. Margulies reviews "What you know so far" about that part of Chemistry. Then there is a short, 10 question test. The online program grades the test, and the student can review the results, and retake the test if they don't make a passing grade. This program is made for reteaching and reinforcement however much your student needs. The online program does NOT track the test results, but gives you the option to obtain a secondary password to print the PDF's of the tests and answer keys if you need to keep a record for your student's portfolio. If you want an even easier method, show your student how to take a screen capture of the test score page, and save yourself some printing. Your student needs a 80% result to pass. When Emily has missed questions, I've had her go back and watch that section over again to make sure she understands the concept. 

Fascinating Chemistry is designed to cover everything you would learn in a High School chemistry class. It would be possible to use it with your Middle Schoolers, but I would suggest you wait until they are High School. There are some really fascinating labs that Dr. Margulies has created to go along with several of the Chemistry lessons. These are secondary password protected (over age 18,) and really require you to be present for safety reasons when your student is performing them. If you choose to do this with your younger students, I would suggest skipping some of the labs as they use caustic materials. The maturity level needed for safely completing some the labs is above the learning level needed for understanding the concepts.

The Fascinating Chemistry course costs $79 and allows access for one full year. If you are interested in Fascinating Biology or Fascinating Physics, there is an option to purchase access to two courses for one year for a discounted rate of $125. If you're interested in all three courses, you can gain access for two years to all three for $175. I really appreciated the ability to see the course outlines in full before deciding which course to choose for Emily to request to review. If you look at the Chemistry outline, I believe you will see that it truly IS a complete course. Some parents may wonder how a course without 120 hours of specified work can be a complete course. Simple, it covers everything well the first time, so there is no need to cover a concept over and over again. Remember that there are labs to perform, and your student can access the printed text of the lesson at any time to read and/ or print for later. How much of your "hour" of class did you actually learn something new when you were in school? I would guess we spent maybe 20 minutes on something new, and the rest of the time on review, quizzes, paperwork, attendance, and bathroom breaks when I was in High School. If you desire to add more to this class to ensure your student meets a time requirement minimum in your state, may I suggest adding in biographical research on the various chemists whose discoveries are covered during the course? How much do you know about Linus Pauling or Johannes van der Waals? Maybe it is time for a trip to the library to enhance your chemistry course!

A student who is used to independent learning could easily take the main part of Fascinating Chemistry all by themselves, with just a computer or mobile device. However, in order to do the labs, they are going to need your help. If your student doesn't need this as a lab course, feel free to let them take it independently. Because I like to know what to expect, and what to be observing during the labs, I have been watching all of the lessons alongside Emily. If you're going to have your students do the labs, at least watch the corresponding lesson with them before beginning each lab. Because the online program does not record each student's scores, it allows you to have more than one student using it concurrently. You can have all of the High Schoolers in your family taking chemistry at the same time for only $79, I find that fascinating!

We are really enjoying this course. Because the concepts are sliced so thinly, they are more easily grasped. That gives me confidence that later in the course we will still be able to learn about Moles, Electrochemistry, and Polymers as well as we have grasped polar covalent and metallic bonds. If you are still not convinced this course can work for your student, I encourage you to watch the sample lesson - you'll be glad you did. 

Chemistry is no longer boring - now it's fascinating!

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