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Fascinating Chemistry Review by Debra Brinkman

Dr. Sheldon Margulies
Fascinating Education

"But what about high school chemistry?" was always one of the things people said to me when they discovered I planned to homeschool. I never quite understood why everyone was so concerned about a subject that was a decade away, when I was busy worrying if my child would ever learn to read. However, that was one of the most frequent objections I heard. My response was usually some variation of, "I am quite sure that by the time I get to junior and senior high science, there will be amazing options available to me."

I was right. I have three boys in middle school and high school now, and for the past couple of months they have had the opportunity to work with Fascinating Chemistry. Fascinating Education is a program developed by Sheldon Margulies, M.D., who has been educating medical students in neurology for 35 years. Being a neurologist means he knows a bit about how the brain works and how people learn. Being a father of five, he clearly knows a bit about kids too.

Fascinating Science has programs available for Chemistry and Biology. Physics is available in a beta version, and Fascinating Anatomy and Physiology should be available in 2013. As my high school sophomore is currently studying Chemistry, we chose to work with Fascinating Chemistry.
The chemistry program includes 42 Units, starting with "The Solar System," then working through topics that sound more like chemistry, including atoms, molecules, the periodic table, various bonds, moles, nuclear energy, chemical reactions, before finally ending with orbitals.

Each unit contains a series of slides and audio files containing narration by Dr. Margulies. Some units have only a few slides, while some have closer to 40 of them. The entire course includes a thousand slides.

The student accesses the lessons online. After hitting the button to play the lesson, the slides will appear, the audio will play, and unless the student hits "pause," the lesson will proceed from one slide to the next, with slight pauses between the slides. Don't have enough time to complete the lesson in one sitting? When you return to the lesson, you will have the option to start at the beginning or to pick up where you left off.

The slides are colorful without being distracting, and often show real-life examples that make the concepts real instead of just academic. For instance, in the chemical reactions unit, the slide shows the underside of a car. The audio for that slide talks about carbon monoxide (CO), and how when CO gas is passed over a platinum/rhodium alloy (which acts as a catalyst), the carbon monoxide will combine with oxygen atoms to form carbon dioxide. The catalytic converter contains the catalyst that helps this chemical reaction to occur.

Now, I have no idea if catalytic converters even existed when I was taking high school chemistry, but Dr. Margulies' explanation would certainly have helped me to grasp both the scientific concept and a bit about how a car works, and I would never have forgotten what a catalyst is.

There are similar real-life examples used throughout the program, such as that first unit on the solar system. My eldest son balked at that lesson. "Why is there an astronomy lesson in a chemistry course?" was his response. However, that first unit helps to set up some ideas about orbits in a way that really made sense to my middle school aged sons.

Starting in Unit 3, there are frequently cumulative tests available. The tests are computer-scored, multiple-choice exams, and the results are not stored at all. My children print off the results screen for our records, and I started telling them that if their name isn't written on the page, they have to re-take it. These tests are not long, but they do cover the important points of the lessons.

Because the results are not stored, you can easily have multiple students working through the material. Each student remembers where he left off, and moves at his own pace. My middle schoolers are working through this sequentially, and this is serving as an introduction to chemistry. We have added a few hands-on demonstrations and experiments, but at this level I don't feel that is completely necessary. My high school student, using Fascinating Chemistry as a supplement, watches the units that coordinate with his chemistry course.

A one-year subscription to either Fascinating Biology or Fascinating Chemistry costs $79, or you can get a package including access to all courses for $125 per year. The best part of Fascinating Education for many moms, I am sure, is that Dr. Margulies is doing the teaching, so chemistry does not need to overwhelm Mom.


Product review by Debra Brinkman, Assistant to the Product Reviews Director, The Old Schoolhouse® Magazine, 2013


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