Part of the explosion of the development of computer programs for education is the understanding that prior to education being codified and standardized, people studied with experts who provided opportunities for individualized instruction through mentorships and apprenticeships. There was an expectation that those gaining skills would learn through the process of doing
If you, like me, have been searching for an online K-2 science option, then you know how difficult it is to find good inquiry-based programs for this age group. In my mind, the difference between a textbook and an inquiry based material is that textbooks tell students what they need to learn, and inquiry based materials let them discover what they need to learn by tinkering with things and getting things wrong. So, with TB materials, getting the "wrong" answer is a sign that the child is not learning vs IB learning where it is part of the process. This program is a bit of both. There is a healthy amount of tinkering allowed, and there are standards for right and wrong answers.
Here are my findings:
Background: My dd is 4 yrs old and very interested in science. She enjoys learning through all kinds of curricula including online and computer programs.
Program: The program is broken up into 3 general areas of science -- physical science, life science and earth/space science. Each of these 3 categories is further divided into smaller subcategories. For example, my dd and I started with life science. She choose to investigate the Living Things category and has thus far completed the unit on plants and living/nonliving things and still has the unit on animals to go. Each activity is brief, and well-suited to the attention span of a young child.
Each unit begins with an opportunity for the student to Engage, Explore and Explain, which means that the student 1) considers what she already knows and formulates hypotheses, 2) learns more about the subject and tests her hypotheses and 3) reviews the material to solidify knowledge. Within these activities are interactive worksheets which encourage drawing and writing and games. Each unit also contains additional activities like the following: Alphabetizing the vocabulary from the unit, learning the definition and pronunciation of key terms in the unit, watching entertaining clips, matching words and completing memory games, investigating more facts, taking notes and completing a final quiz. For a better description, watch the video here: http://www.science4us.com/. We have not completed any units which have provided offline activities, but I am aware that the program contains some.
Opinion: I have looked at a lot of online programs, and I have to admit that I am quite surprised and pleased at how clever this one is. I do not believe that any online program can take the place of hands-on learning, but this program manages to instruct very young students in the scientific method while finding ways to engage their curiosity. Each unit contains around 12 or 13 activities, and my dd can complete 3 or 4 before she feels overwhelmed. This allows us to proceed through the program slowly and to supplement the online activities with in-home projects and crafts. I particularly like that this program includes and goes beyond the traditional topics for K-2 science (senses, colors, textures, sound, etc) and lays a foundation for the skills needed for upper level science (asking questions, making hypotheses, taking notes) while covering large branches of science.
We only use the program once a week; nevertheless, my dd shows good retention between weeks and can answer questions about previously learned material. This program is quite flexible and, although we tackled the activities sequentially, I think that they could be learned *almost* in any order. I wouldn't recommend, for example, working on the final quiz before learning the lesson. In fact, it would be my recommendation to select the first 3 options in order, which contain the core of the lesson, and then branch out.
Although you probably could allow your child to proceed through the program on her own, she will get the most out of it if you discuss the ideas together. The program, in fact, often provides questions to use for discussion.