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Conceptual Physics / Virtual Physics Lab / Algebra I (online programs) Review by Dr. Anne Margaret WrightKinetic Books
2003 Western Avenue, Suite 100
Seattle, WA 98121
Let me just say, "Wow!" My family was very impressed with the excellent products we reviewed from Kinetic Books. We looked at three programs that are available as one-year online licenses for one student: Algebra I ($49.95 or $69.95 with the printed textbook, which was not reviewed), Conceptual Physics ($24.99 or $39.95 with the printed textbook, which was not reviewed), and Virtual Physics Labs ($24.95). The Conceptual Physics and Virtual Physics Labs programs can also be purchased on disc; these could be used for more than one student and do not expire after a year. There are excellent interactive multimedia demos on their website (www.kineticbooks.com) where you can see these programs in action. The programs use a variety of instructional methods: didactic learning, whiteboard illustrations, games and activities, and plenty of practice problems. The computer keeps track of the student's scores and allows the student and the parent to have easy access to review completed exercises and tests. The algebra program provides a "digital textbook" that includes over "200 hours of audio, 200 activities and simulations, and more than 3,000 problems in which the textbook checks your work and offers help as you need it."
The Algebra I and Conceptual Physics courses are complete, stand-alone products for teaching these courses. The physics course is available in three different versions depending on the level of depth needed for the student. Conceptual Physics is appropriate for high school students or college students who are not science majors. The next level up is Principles of Physics, which would prepare high school or college students for the AP exam. Neither of these two levels requires the student to have a background in calculus. The Virtual Physics Lab program provides a computer-based version of a physics lab to complement the Conceptual Physics program. Students are able to vary parameters and watch how the changes impact their experiment, with the added bonus that the student never blows up his kitchen during an experiment! The goal is to apply what they have learned about the principles of physics to simulated experiments. Each experiment begins with detailed instructions and ends with questions that help students make hypotheses, record their data, and explain their results.
These excellent programs have so many great features it is hard to know where to begin! We found them to be interesting, engaging, multisensory, and easy to navigate. The information is clear and easy to understand. The exercises help clarify the material and keep learning fun and interesting. I really like the options that are available so that students can use the program in the way that accommodates their learning style, such as being able to either read through the white board information or have the computer play the audio and illustrate the problems. The use of visual, auditory, and kinesthetic input greatly enhances learning. Students can move through the program quickly if they understand, or they can find very specific, targeted help if they need it. They can highlight text in several ways, make notes to themselves on important sections, or change the size of the font as needed. Conceptual Physics includes an excellent tool called the Physics Factbook, which contains a wide variety of information (constants, formulas, etc.). Algebra I also contains several helpful appendices, such as an Initial Assessment to see what areas in math have been mastered and an overview of arithmetic to review any needed items. The programs are very well organized, with step-by-step learning that helps students master difficult concepts. Each problem is checked along the way, which helps students learn as they go and understand why they missed a problem before making the same mistake over and over. The games and activities found throughout the programs are fun, interactive and very effective for teaching various concepts. The scope and sequence appears to be very appropriate for the topics.
The list of things we did not like about the programs is pretty short! A glossary might be helpful, although there are great search functions, and targeted help is available throughout. I did not like the idea of buying an online license for only one student instead of having the program available to use for several students over time. However, both of the physics programs are available on CD and could be used for multiple students, and the prices seemed very reasonable for such powerful programs. But my biggest pet peeve is that Kinetic Books has not yet made programs for Algebra II and beyond or other science courses! This is such a powerful learning medium that I hope the company will expand the number of courses available, hopefully before my kids are through those levels! My family strongly recommends these excellent products from Kinetic Books. It is rare to find curriculum that is powerful, fun, easy to understand, multisensory, and effective!