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Great Science Adventures: Discovering Earth's Landforms & Surface Features Review by Dawn Oaks

Susan Simpson featuring Graphic Organizers by Dinah Zike
Common Sense Press
8786 Highway 21
Melrose, FL 32666

Our family is new to the Great Science Adventures series from Common Sense Press. We weren’t sure what to expect but were wonderfully surprised. This study combined a strong knowledge base with a visual presentation of the material and opportunities for further research.

Discovering Earth’s Landforms & Surface Features is a unit study broken into 24 lessons. The authors suggest that each lesson should take approximately one to three days to complete. At this pace, the entire unit could be completed in 5-10 weeks.

There are three key components in each lesson. The student’s first introduction to the lesson content is through the assembly and reading of the Lots of Science Library Books. These books are small books that have a cover, key terms, graphics, and content related to the lesson. When assembled they are about 2.5” x 4”. These little books were a real hit with our sons.

The second step in the lesson was the completion of the graphic organizers for the lesson. These incorporate a review of the material as the students complete some writing on them, as well as visually grasp the material. In the final step, the students are presented with a series of possible research topics to further explore the main lesson theme. The extent to which these projects are pursued and developed is the real determinant of how many days each lesson takes.

This series was designed to be a complete science curriculum for students in grades K-8. The ability to mold these lessons to your students’ academic level is found in varying degrees of complexity of assignments associated with the graphic organizers, as well as your own requirements and the depth you wish your student to explore the research topics at the end of each lesson.

The overall content covered in the Great Science Adventures: Discovering Earth's Landforms & Surface Features was thorough for the topic. It included presentation of material on:

  • The earth, its natural features, the lithosphere, and faults and folds in the lithosphere
  • Earthquakes, mountain formation, volcanoes, tsunamis, hot springs, geysers, and volcanic islands
  • Igneous, sedimentary, and metamorphic rocks
  • Minerals, fossils, soil, and the Earth’s mineral resources
  • Weathering, erosion, and the effects on the earth
  • Glaciers, water erosion through rivers, lakes, and special features formed by rivers
  • Coastline erosion and changes created by ocean movement as well as the features of the ocean floor
  • Features of deserts

There is an end of the unit assessment included. This can be accomplished through discussion with your student or other strategies offered by the authors. There is not a formal test, but many times unit studies that have a research component like this unit will yield greater knowledge growth and retention than more traditional learning materials.

As mentioned above, research topics for further study are included in each unit. These range in breadth and complexity. Let us consider the lesson on fossils. A hands-on experience for this lesson that would be appropriate for younger learners is to make an imprint of a shell in clay, which creates a mold fossil. By then making a mixture of dirt and water, this mud can be used to create a cast fossil. For a project more appropriate to middle elementary students, one can go on a nature walk in search of fossils. The types of fossils can be analyzed to determine what created them and why they would be in your area. Finally, the middle school student may be challenged to do a research paper on trace fossils. Some aspects to be included in this paper would be footprints and track ways, trails and burrows, eggs and meats, petrified feces or skin imprints. As you can see, by just reviewing these potential areas of further study, it becomes apparent that the length of time spent on each lesson is really determined by the time spent on this phase.

All of the pages for the graphic organizers, as well as the Lots of Science Library Books, are included in the back of this paperbound unit. These pages may be reproduced for use by children in your own family. Our greatest challenge in using this study, however, was in finding an effective manner to get copies of these pages for our sons. A consideration for future publications would be either spiral binding of the unit, perforated pages so they can be removed for copying, or for the pages that require copying be shipped in a separate shrink-wrapped package separate from the lesson plans.

Overall, we were favorably impressed with the knowledge base of this unit, its further presentation through graphic organizers, and the opportunity for the student to expand his knowledge through both hands-on activities as well as research. A great opportunity is presented for your child to also propose their own projects and research driven by their interests and curiosity.

-Product review by Dawn Oaks, The Old Schoolhouse® Magazine, LLC, March 2015