The Old Schoolhouse® Product & Curriculum Reviews

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Exploration Education Review by Diane Wheeler

31 El Camino Terrace
Walnut Creek, CA 94596

Exploration Education's Project-Based Science Curriculum is a physical science program designed with fourth through eighth grade students and their parents in mind. It is well organized, uses clear instructions and offers the valuable combination of thorough and interesting materials.

The program includes four units of study (Forces, Machines, Motion and Energy; Electricity and Magnetism; Sound and Light; and Changes in Matter). Each unit is designed to take one-fourth of the year, with a total of 118 lessons. The author offers suggested schedules for one or two lessons a day, but this schedule is not set in stone; it can be changed to meet your family's needs. You can even spread it out to a two-year program if that works for you.

There are several advantages to using Exploration Education™ (EE). Of the most practical value to me is that the kit is truly complete. Anytime I hear the words "science experiment" I get concerned. I have, many times, found myself with an experiment kit that requires things I don't have, and that is an easy way for science to get put too low on the list of school priorities.

Exploration Education™ is a picture of contrast. As soon as you open the box, it becomes obvious that a lot of care has gone into organizing this program. The creator, John Grunder, is not only a public school teacher, but also a homeschooling father, so he is well-acquainted with the needs of students and parents.

EE's kit supplies are packed together and well-marked, with all but a handful of required items included. The most "rare" items on the list that you need to provide are a low-melt glue gun, a nine-volt battery, and a hand mirror; there is nothing mysterious or technical that you will need to search out. In addition, on page two of the Teacher's Manual, you will find the entire list of supplies that the user needs to provide for the year. You can be prepared from day one, with no unpleasant surprises down the road.

Another reason that I am impressed with this program is the clarity and completeness of the instructional materials. The Teacher's Manual and the Instructional CD are both easy to follow, written in a way that makes sense to those of us with very little physical science background. The students follow a clear path on the CD, and they are given a chance to test their knowledge along the way; they cannot move forward until they show that they have learned the content of the lesson. The experiments have step-by-step instructions on the CD, using photos and written instruction. There are also some movie clips that show how to do certain steps in particular experiments. If the final result is less than satisfactory, the student is taken step-by-step through the possible problems, giving an even greater opportunity to learn the intricacies of the project. When they finish each section, there is a rather loud and enthusiastic animal sound that cheers their accomplishments. Most steps can be done independently if your student is motivated. There are cautions about the heat of a glue gun, or the need to ask for assistance when hammering into a dowel, for example, but depending on the age and skill level of your child, these are the only times that would require your involvement.

I find the projects to be quite fun and intriguing, though, and I don't mind working alongside my students as they complete them. The projects (experiments) really are the heart of the program. As John Grunder himself has said, the "projects help to cement the concept the student is learning and allows them to apply that concept in a 'real life' situation." The projects include an electric racer, a pulsating light generator, a guitar, a solar fan, and a rocket.

There is a lot of fun to be had here, and we all know that learning is much easier when interest and enthusiasm are present and accounted for. The other advantage of EE is their commitment to customer service. They are a family-owned business, and they are known for their character and integrity. I give them a high mark for ease of use, thoroughness of materials, excellent content of instruction, and for creating projects that are of inherent interest to students. Add integrity to the mix, and you can't lose.

Any disadvantages? Well, if you aren't interested in a project-based program, and want more of a reading and writing science program, EE is not for you. If your computer doesn't meet the requirements, or if you object to programs that use computer for teaching, then you would need something else. If you want to pursue Exploration Education™ further, you can go to their website. There you will find helpful information on the program including an overview, a demo page (if you have high-speed internet) and pricing and ordering details. On the overview page, you can find the specific requirements needed for your computer; be sure and check these thoroughly before going through with your purchase. I am so glad that the homeschool science market has expanded to include Exploration Education™. Fun, thorough, and effective - what more could you ask for?

-- Product Review by: Diane Wheeler, Senior Contributing Writer, The Old Schoolhouse® Magazine