Monday, September 21, 2015

Fascinating Chemistry - A Schoolhouse Crew Review

Review Crew
This summer I learned that Fascinating Education was going to let me review Fascinating Chemistry for them. I was delighted! My son used Fascinating Biology last year and liked it. (For my son to like a product I review is huge!)

I received access to Fascinating Chemistry in early August. I had permission to be the student for purposes of this review. My son is taking Chemistry now, but he and I had agreed that he did not have to start until September. When September arrived, he started with the other Chemistry curriculum that I had acquired (borrowed from a friend) for this year. (I borrowed it before I knew that I would receive Fascinating Chemistry.) So far he has not decided to switch programs, but when I was working on my Chemistry one day he heard Dr. Margulies' voice and said, "I remember him! I like that Science!"

Fascinating Education was created by Dr. Sheldon Margulies in an effort to bring up student Science test scores in public school classrooms in Baltimore. After creating the Fascinating Education courses and using them with real students, the test scores came up! Besides the fact that I live in Maryland, I was interested in a program that gives better results than a textbook method. I've always seen that my children retain a lot of information when they watch videos on topics they are interested in.

Contrary to the order high school sciences are usually presented in, Dr. Margulies encourages students to study Chemistry first, then Biology, followed by Physics. If a parent nevertheless prefers to have their student study Biology first, Dr. Margulies suggests a condensed Chemistry course (available from Fascinating Education) be taken first, then Fascinating Biology.

Fascinating Chemistry is broken down into 18 Lessons.  (Click to see the course outline.) Some students can work their way through these lessons in about two months! Others will not be able to retain so much information quite so quickly. A normal school year contains 36 weeks of instruction, so some parents might want to have their students focus on one lesson over each two week period to complete the 18 lessons in 36 weeks.

I started out my study of Fascinating Chemistry with grandiose expectations (of myself). I have (had) never studied high school Chemistry, but I have been teaching my own children for about 24 years now. Certainly, applying myself, I could breeze through this course. I mean, my son finished the Biology course in eight weeks last year. I can do this! Ummmm... This course has made me feel like my son might be smarter than I am...

The video illustrations make the lecture content of each lesson easier to understand. I quickly learned, though, that for me this would not be a "One lesson per day" course -- not even a one lesson per week! As the weeks sped by, it became clear that I fall into the one lesson every two weeks group. I would understand the concept as it was presented, but my poor old brain often got muddled again as soon as the screen changed. "Which side of the molecule becomes positive and which side becomes negative?" "What is a 'dipole'?" etc.

To work through the course you listen to/watch the video (taking notes is the best way), and at the end of the lesson take a test. To continue to the next lesson you must pass the test with a score of at least 80%. I would watch a lesson, take the test, and not score high enough, then review the test, try to remember the answers, take the test again, not do well enough, etc. Finally I would pass and move to the next lesson.
For me this repeated retaking of the tests has been a bit discouraging, but it is all part of the learning process. It doesn't matter how many times the student answers incorrectly initially if eventually the student learns the correct answers. However, I have really come to hate questions that begin with, "Which of the following is not true..."

I have really begun to understand how and why molecules combine (or don't). I honestly never understood that it is related to an atom's need to fill its outer ring. Frankly I even knew nothing about the first ring having two electrons and rings after that having a potential eight electrons. (If this changes with more rings, please remember that I have not finished the course yet.) I was intrigued that molecules that combine can do so by sharing electrons, and the difference between that type of bond and a bond caused when a molecule gives an electron. I finally understand how (and why) two Hydrogen molecules join one Oxygen molecule to make water, although it still boggles my mind how different water is (or even water vapor) from Hydrogen and Oxygen. I am still struggling to understand the explanation for why water is a liquid at room temperature when Hydrogen and Oxygen are not. 

Through the years I have come to accept that in Science sometimes I have to start by memorizing the presented information, even if I don't understand them. Later I sometimes come to understand them, but sometimes I never do. This is even a tool I have taught my students for college as well, even if/when the presented information is contrary to what we believe. If you want to pass the course, sometimes you have to tell the professor what he wants to hear even if you don't agree with it. (It is a whole other conversation as to whether to get into the argument with the professor, like in a recent movie about a Philosophy class. One of my students was not that type of strong personality to take it on; the other changed from the beliefs our family taught.)

I found the illustrated charts so helpful for learning which molecules are more likely to combine based on the number of electrons in their outer ring. I'm still struggling to remember the meaning of the number shown in the center of each molecule, and when two molecules combine what the difference between their numbers signifies.

I've been listening to some lessons over and over again, but I'm just slow on each new topic. I always wanted to study chemistry, and now that I am studying it I am so thankful to have a venue where, when I'm not grasping the concept I can just repeat, repeat, repeat until I've got it. What a great feature!

One thing my son did when he took Biology (cheating) was that when he took the test and didn't pass, he would write down the answers (1=a, 2=d, 3=b, etc.), not even including the information (Q:"Changing the number of protons in the nucleus changes the_________" A: "Element") so that he was bypassing the learning process. If the program had/has a way to rearrange the answers each time the test is presented, the student would not be able to do this cheat. I know the program has been revamped, but I don't know if the questions get randomized.

Another thing my son did (that I tried to do as well) that still reinforces learning is, if not able to pass the test first time, open a 2nd window, play the video in that window while having the test open in the other window. Snag the answer as they go by. This is not a freebie way to pass. Many of the questions require you to figure out the answer with elements 'C' and 'D' based on the information you were given about elements 'A' and 'B'.

When my son breezed through the Fascinating Biology course last year I couldn't help but be skeptical about Fascinating Education's claim that the course counts as a full year biology course. (It does not, however, include labs, and my state requires labs with two of the three high school science courses students are supposed to complete.) Now, taking the Chemistry course myself, I am convinced that this Chemistry course indeed is sufficient to count for one full-year Chemistry credit for high school. Chemistry even includes labs, although I haven't done any of them yet. I knew in my brain that the labs were there, but I just wasn't seeing the Lab button at the end of the lesson. 

Then when I clicked on the lab I learned that I need a special password from the administrator to get into the labs. I just requested it. I might not do the labs by myself, since I don't need the high school lab credit. (I might try to find an on-line video of each lab.) But if my son switches to this course I will do the labs with him.

I spoke to the representative from Fascinating Education a couple of times during the course of this review, and she also emailed a couple of times to check on how I was enjoying the course. One frustration for me with Fascinating Education's website was that if I forgot my password, if I guessed at my password too many times I got locked out of my account and would have to be manually unlocked by that representative. I tried to learn that if I got the password wrong once, maybe I made a typo; if I got it wrong twice it was time to reset the password rather than risk getting locked out of the account.

I plan to continue the course and learn my Chemistry. If my son decides he wants to switch to this Chemistry course, I will gladly permit him to knowing that it is a great course to give him a solid Chemistry education in a format that will be a great fit for him.  Click here to get a free introduction to Fascinating Education.

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