Tuesday, April 8, 2014

Supercharged Science - A 2014 TOS Homeschool Crew Review

Have you heard about Supercharged Science yet? Well I was delighted to learn that I would get to review the e-Science Premium Membership again this year. We received a six-month family subscription.
I have been having so much fun with Supercharged Science e-Science this time around! Now, just to warn you, there is a lot there, and it can be overwhelming at first! If you look at the e-Science topics page, you'll see 20 different Units, with additional buttons as well for "New to e-Science", "Introduction", Unit 0 (Zero), etc. Take a look this free special introductory offer.

I initially went back to Unit 0 again, this year, and focused on the 18 key scientific principles, many of which kids need to know before they head to college. I was thinking I was going to park there with "Miner", but as I got into the material I could tell it wasn't going to interest him to sit through it. He's almost to high school, but he really doesn't want to learn about what he needs to learn about. He just wants to get in there, get his hands dirty, make it pop, fizzle, and overflow, bang it with a hammer, dunk it in a bucket, etc. So, in my house right now, Unit 0 is for mom. 
So after I refamiliarized myself with the program, I studied my child Then I studied the Units, and I concluded that he would want to do the Earth Science unit right now (Unit 20). So I clicked on it and was informed by the program that I did not have access to that Unit. But I've been around e-Science long enough to know that if I want a Unit that has not yet been revealed to me, all I need to do is ask. The reason new subscribers receive certain units at the beginning, and are then granted additional units each month, is so that they won't become overwhelmed. But if you want something that is there, just ask. So I did, and there it was!

So I opened up the Earth Science unit and began to look at it. It starts with a section on weather. I showed it to Miner, but he started snoring. He and I both knew what he wanted to start with -- Gems and Minerals. Lesson 2 of Unit 20 focuses on Geology, which is what you need to focus on to work with gems and minerals. We watched the introduction to the Geology section, but then I hopped back to a section about creating a science notebook.

Miner will be in 9th grade next year, and after I had listened to Aurora's videos about the importance of the Science Journal, I decided now was the time for me to have Miner learn about using one and require that he use one. So we spent some time watching the video teaching him all about the Science Journal. He wasn't happy about it, but I consider it a necessary "evil" to get him started on this, which is something I will want him to be doing throughout his high school years.

So, now that he knew what to do with his Science Journal and why, I gave him a red spiral (his favorite color), and we got started. Now, I myself was starting this unit not knowing the difference between a rock and a mineral, and not knowing the exact significance of the items on a Periodic Table of Elements, nor the difference between an element and a mineral. So forgive me for mistakes I may make in what I say, as I'm still a new "geologist" myself.

We actually listened to the introduction again, and this time Miner took notes. I'm real pleased with how well he did. He doesn't have much experience with taking notes. I was also happy to be getting many of my own questions about elements and minerals answered as well. Aurora goes so fast! But there is a pause button, and also most of the video is reiterated in the reading material. 

So we watched videos, I read the reading assignments aloud for the both of us, and we started watching videos on experiments.

What quickly became clear to me was that my son was going to get bored and frustrated if I didn't take the time to prepare before pulling out the science. Each Unit has a shopping list, and each experiment needs certain items, but to look at the shopping list for an entire unit can be overwhelming. What Aurora recommends is that you peruse the experiments and start with ones for which you have the materials on hand. So that's what we did. For my son, also, it worked better for me to watch the experiment video in advance, and then just tell my son what the experiment was without having him watch the video. It depended upon the video. So sometimes I had him watch the videos, and sometimes I just had him do the experiment. We worked out a balance that worked well for us.

So I worked really hard (felt like I was chasing my tail) rounding up materials I knew we had in our house to run experiments on the topic of my son's delight. It was discouraging at times because I took so long that my son was starting to make comments about not wanting to do a bunch of "lame" experiments. He just wanted to go out hunting for more specimens.  Fortunately for me, though, most of this review period the weather was really fowl, so we were stuck inside anyway.

We started with a scratch experiment, after learning about Moh's hardness scale. We have a specimen of talc, and that's the only specimen we have that was affected by a fingernail. Miner really wasn't interested in doing the full experiment, so I quickly moved on. (The rest of the experiment involves testing hardness by scraping a plate of glass and scraping with a steel nail. As I was driving, later, I had to request Miner please take his specimen off the car window. We may have to go back and finish this experiment!)

We moved on to a color streak test, using the back-side of a tile from our patio table. One way of identifying minerals is that a certain mineral always leaves a streak of a certain color.

We were ready to do an experiment that called for seeing if the rocks float
(I can't find it right now, so I'm sorry, but I don't remember what we were testing for). Miner said, "That's lame. None of them are going to float." So I immediately picked up the mica sample and floated it. He said, "Well any of them can float on the water tension." So I tried it, and I could only float two out of the eight specimens on the water tension. But seriously, we don't have any specimens that float on their own, like lava rock. So I don't think floating the mica on the water tension was really what the experiment was asking for. It might have been an experiment to see if the rocks were porous.

We did an experiment to test the minerals' reactivity to acid. Miner started to get concerned when he saw the little container of acid, the gloves, and I told him to wear his sun glasses (since the only pair of goggles I could find was broken). So I eased his concerns and let him know that the diluted hydrochloric acid was just distilled white vinegar. We only got one specimen to fizz.

I was going to list the experiments in this unit for you, but there are just too many! We still have many that we haven't done yet.

During our time in the Geology unit we were also able to weave in a field trip to the Smithsonian Institute's Natural History Museum's Gem and Mineral exhibit.  It was really awe-inspiring to see samples right in front of us of minerals we had seen on the eScience website.

We were able to really see crystal structure, fracture, and cleavage. (This word makes Miner laugh every time I say it!)
We saw how some of the least-assuming minerals, when cut in certain ways, become beautiful gems for jewelry. We saw really amazing specimens of sedimentary rock.

We also went to a gem and mineral show, and I let Miner purchase some new specimens. And finally, I think his favorite field trip might have been when the weather finally warmed up and we went, bag and hammer in hand, hunting for new specimens in the "wild".

Now, did I find any negatives about this product? Well, yes.
  • It can be a negative that mom needs to chase down supplies. You are going to have to do this with any science program, though, or else spend lots of money and have a company send you everything you will need. Supercharged Science offers this option as well.
  • Unit 20 is probably the newest unit. While we were in it, there was one point where I was very confused because it seemed like every time I changed links for where we were (introduction, reading, experiments), it seemed like the video I started with was the same as the video we had just seen on the previous link. Miner kept saying, "We just watched this!" And I would reply, "No, it should be different. We're on a different page." But it wasn't. This was part of why I had to start pre-watching the videos and taking more and more time preparing. I'm sure they are always looking for glitches like this to repair, so I'm sure they will catch it.
  • It was frustrating when, in the video, Aurora said, "If you haven't already, print out this chart" which was showing in the video, but we couldn't find the chart on the site anywhere. Maybe the site could have a link for "forms".
  • Also in unit 20 I found one page that needed some serious editing - like an incomplete sentence, a noun/verb disagreement or tense disagreement, ...stuff that made Miner snort when I finally just read it as it was written so he would understand why I was reading so slowly (as I tried to figure out exactly what they were trying to say). Maybe they want to hire me to help edit their site...
In my opinion, the good way out-weighs the bad. I love Supercharged Science.

If you have never been to Supercharged Science, you will do well by looking at the User Guide.  After that you will want to go through those three first, in that order. There is a lot of information there to help you get started and not feel overwhelmed. Even if you are returning to the program, you might want to start there. To access the first three units, though, you will have to sign up for the $1 Trial month that is available to you.  You can get a free taste, first, though by doing some free experiments, and then go sign up!

The e-Science Premium Membership is geared toward all grades, K - 12.  The normal price for the Supercharged Science e-Science Premium Membership is $37 per month for K through 8th grade and $57 per month for the expanded 9-12th grade material (good for advanced 5-8 graders too), with a full money-back guarantee! If you try it for one month and don't like it, you can even have your $1 from the trial price back at your request. But I know you're going to love it!   

More images from the Smithsonian:


  1. Wow! What a great opportunity for a field trip! We definitely need to try the geology unit out! We've had a large and growing collection of rocks, but I've had no clue what to do with them.

  2. It does require a lot of energy and resources to gather supplies - I'm sorry your son wasn't as interested - I know it was a lot of work. Neat that you were able to go on a field trip to supplement your study!