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Focus on Mechanisms Review by Jennifer Harrison

Focus Educational Software Ltd.
PO Box 52
Truro
Cornwall
TR1 1ZJ
+44 (0)1872 241672
http://www.focuseducational.com/

Focus Education Software is a Software company that has created great science resources for middle school and high school students. My boys and I had a hard time deciding which resource to choose. After considering Metals, Design, Mechanical Toys, and Fairground Rides, we eventually settled on Mechanisms which we used as a semester-long course in Physics.

The design is deceptively simplistic; plain, even. It is not a flashy program and at first glance convinced me it would be a boring and uninteresting program. However, the simple design eliminates distraction and provides brief but effective lessons. Each lesson took no more than 10 minutes to complete, and my students walked away remembering what they learned. A test follows each lesson, and it is equally brief and simple.  

The lessons in mechanisms included:

  • Motion
  • Levers
  • Linkages
  • Gear Systems
  • Ratchet and Pawl
  • Pulley Systems
  • Sprockets and Chain
  • Lifting Systems
  • Cams and Followers
  • Crank and Slider
  • Screw Threads

A reference section at the end also covers the topics:  

  • What is a Mechanism?
  • Moments
  • Equilibrium
  • Mechanical Advantage
  • Torque
  • Velocity ratio
  • Efficiency
  • Shafts and couplings
  • Bearings and lubrication
  • Clutches and brakes
  • Inclined plane

These do not include tests for the reference topics.

Each class is broken down into subtopics and explains each topic through text, pictures, video clips, and very basic but quite efficient animation. For example, the first lesson is Motion and it includes the four topics of Rotary, Oscillating, Linear, and Reciprocating motion. Under the Rotary heading, students read a very brief text (two sentences) describing what rotary motion is, and then they watch two clips demonstrating rotary motion: a 4-second video of a wind farm and a 6-second video of a Ferris wheel. Next is a repeating animation of a merry-go-round. The basic format remains the same for every subject covered. It is basic to the extreme, but lessons are efficiently taught and learned.

Once all of the four topics are read and observed, students can take a test with 10 questions to show whether or not they understand the concepts taught. I prefer to have them test immediately after studying, to show that they learned the material, and then testing again the next day to show that the lessons stuck with them. The test questions get shuffled out of order every time the student tests, so they won't accidentally memorize an order of answers, but will show whether or not they really know the answers.

The only downside I noticed with this program is that there is still some minor need for editing. In two different subjects, the tests contained questions that were not at all covered in the material. However, I brought it to the attention of the company and they quickly got back to me with assurance that it would be fixed. I appreciated the quality of their customer service.

It is a bit pricey, considering that it is not a fully comprehensive physics course. It is listed as being £29.95, which comes out to $46.42. If I had a budget big enough for it, I would certainly include more of Focus Software classes in our school year. If only all of our classes could so quickly and simply get straight to the point and leave such a lasting impression!

Product Review by Jennifer Harrison, The Old Schoolhouse® Magazine, LLC, January 2012

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