Wednesday, March 11, 2015

Digital Science Online - A TOS Homeschool Crew Review

In January I learned that I would be reviewing Digital Science Online by Visual Learning Systems. Visual Learning Systems was most generous and gave all crew members one year access to both Digital Science Online: Elementary Edition (Grades K-5) and  Digital Science Online: Secondary Edition (Grades 6-12). Since my only student is in 9th Grade, my review is of the latter program.

My son is working on Biology this year. I was, nevertheless, curious about all the other material that had been made available to me, so
I perused most of the DSO: Secondary Edition subject material. I did not look at the DSO: Elementary Edition material -- I mean, seriously, even the DSO: Secondary Edition is a massive quantity of information!

I am trying to decide the best way to convey this information in a way that you, the reader, can follow.  The Elementary Edition is divided into "Primary" and "Elementary" education. (I think of it as "Lower Grammar" and "Upper Grammar", but I imagine it is loosely "K-3" and "3-6", with 3rd graders going either way as the teacher wishes)

The Secondary Edition of DSO offers course materials in the following subjects:
  • Physical (Science);
  • Earth (Science);
  • Life (Science);
  • Integrated (Science);
  • Health; and
  • Biology.
Each subject area is broken down into subtopics. Each subtopic has videos, animations, images and teacher's guide, which information is broken down into further subject sections.
When you subscribe to DSO, you are given two log ins to use, a student log in and a teacher log in.

It is wise to peruse the material in advance so that you know what you are going to cover with your student. Since my son is working through Biology, I began my use of DSO by lining up his lessons with materials available on the DSO curriculum. When our subscription to DSO began, my son's Biology lessons were focusing on mushrooms and spores. So, after logging into the subscription page, I clicked on the selection for "middle school/high school" under "Grade Level", and then clicked on "Biology" under "Subjects". Once that was done, a list of specific biology topics was displayed. I selected "Fungi", and we watched the videos.

DSO is designed to be flexible. The teacher has complete control of how he/she chooses to use the program. The teacher can assign sections for the student to watch independently. The teacher can watch with the student, pausing during the videos to engage the student in conversation about the content, or to give the student time to write down answers to "quiz" questions that occur periodically through the course of the section. Or the teacher can use just one small sub-section of any larger section to highlight, in just a few minutes, any area of the day's Science lesson.

The teacher and student also have access to the section called "Animations", which gives an additional way to cover similar, additional, and different information on the topic. The "Images" gives snapshots of content material. The teacher can display one of the images, and can work from the "Teacher Guide" to discuss the topic instead of playing the video.

The student also has freedom to log in with his/her own log in information and watch videos that have been assigned, rewatch material for review, or delve into any part of the program independently to pursue topics of personal interest. The student also has access to the animations and the images, but not the teacher guide. The teacher guide has answer keys, so the student can't just go there. The teacher can print out the entire guide to work from while covering the section. He/she might give certain pages to give the student, but many of the pages are information just for the teacher -- section outline, script, images, questions, answers. The teacher can also chose to work from digital format. The PDF can be transferred to a tablet device for ease of use. For that matter, all the content of the program is available on the tablet - all the videos, animations, images, and the teacher guides.

As my son worked through Biology videos, I took time to see what else DSO offers that we might find beneficial. I have found, in some programs, that material I would want to use is sometimes labeled or filed differently than how I or my curriculum might expect. An example of this would be that the Biology course my son is working through had one section that focused on sponges (the living ones), and I was able to use a video from the "Physical Science" course section on sponges to supplement my son's Biology studies. As a result of seeing all the wonderful materials available in DSO, I also had my son start working his way through the Health videos.

As with any curriculum, I did find items in the curriculum that I disagreed with. I disagreed with some of the information that was presented. I don't remember the particular information I disagreed with -- but I think the curriculum presented exactly what the government is currently saying about the food pyramid, and what I disagree with is probably a place where I disagree with the government's current position rather than a disagreement with DSO itself. The DSO videos are completely correlated to meet or exceed all state Science standards and the Next Generation Science Standards.

This is a perfect time, though, for me to mention that Science within DSO is presented from an evolutionary perspective, which some religious home schoolers would possibly find issue with. I am on my 3rd student--my older two have long since graduated, attended college, and moved on with college. I have, through experience, come to the conclusion that I do not want to avoid discussions about evolution only to have my student unprepared to defend a Creationary position when he is attending college. So I do not avoid materials that speak of evolution. I prefer to present them and then discuss them from a Biblical perspective.

So as I was looking at the secondary courses, I was wishing that it was easier to determine which courses are designed for middle school students and which sections are designed for high school students (or which sections are for both/either). The only way I found to determine this was to open each teacher guide. The middle school teacher guides say, "Middle School" on them, and the high school teacher guides don't (but they don't say "High School"). I don't think I got through all the teacher guides -- I am still not sure if, for instance, part of a subject might be middle school and part high school. To the best that I have ascertained, Biology is the only material not marked "Middle School". For the high school level, it is my opinion that the content of Biology does not constitute adequate material to give the student high school credit for Biology. However the material is excellent quality and content to work to support the prime Biology curriculum chosen.

I really like the Digital Science Online materials. They are well made, very professionally made, and are made by Visual Learning Systems themselves. The teacher guides are also very well made. The program is comprehensive and very flexible. I am sad that the program does not (yet?) include Chemistry, Physics, Marine Biology, Anatomy, or any other additional high school level sciences (beyond Biology). That means that I have a year's subscription (thank you, VLS!), but will be done using it in June. I guess I can find ways to use it while I do Marine Biology next year, but I'm not always organized enough to go into a program for small sections of a curriculum -- it would be more likely I would use it next year if they had a complete Marine Biology section. Anyway...

You can see a little more about DSO here:

I was initially interested in this program particularly because I saw from the website that the public schools where I live use DSO. I am always curious as to whether I am doing enough, and how my program compares with the program the public school is using. I was really impressed to learn that DSO has special pricing for home school famililes for use with up to eight children, and at half the price for school systems (see bottom left of image below):

You can follow Visual Learning Systems on Facebook and Twitter:
Facebook -
Twitter -

Leave a comment and let me know how you liked my review.

You can read more reviews of DSO by clicking on the below image.

No comments :

Post a Comment