Exploration Education™ offers a project- and experiment-based approach for learning physical science that can be used for children across a span of grade levels. At present there are three kits available, each comprising a year-long course.
The author, John Grunder, is a homeschool dad and taught science, math and technology for fifteen years in private and public schools. Drawing from this background he has developed hands-on science curricula with the aim of being thorough, easy to implement and highly engaging for the student.
The kit Elementary Physical Science can be used with students in kindergarten through grade three. The Standard Physical Science kit can be used for grades four through six, and the Advanced Physical Science kit is for grades seven through ten. However, you can actually use the Advanced kit across grades levels 4 through 10 since it includes all of the lessons in the standard kit then builds on those with 72 additional lessons and three more projects that are more challenging than those in the Standard kit. This allows you to have a younger student in grades four through six work on the first three lessons each week with an older student, then have the older student continue with the two extra lessons or projects that week that take them deeper on each topic. Also, the elementary course follows along with the same topics as the other courses, although K-3 students will need to use the elementary course material and activities that are age appropriate.
The Elementary course is narrated, and the Standard and Advanced courses have audio—text-to-speech capabilities making it very effective for students with reading difficulties.
Each kit contains a student logbook, teacher’s manual, and most of the materials for all of the activities. There are a few additional supplies for you to supply. For the Elementary kit these include pencils, crayons, felt pen, scissors, glue stick, money, clear tape, vinegar, baking soda, ice cubes, spoon, foil, paperclip, gift card or credit card (used for measuring), 9 volt battery, and a flashlight. The Standard kit advanced version requires pen, pencil, glue gun (low melt), ruler, watch, scissors, AA battery, flour, felt pen, tape, salt, flour, milk, vinegar, 9 volt battery, laundry detergent, lemon or orange juice, hammer, flashlight, hand mirror, and hair dryer.
I received Advanced Physical Science for review, so the remainder of my review will focus on that kit. Physical science topics are divided into eight sections: forces and motion, machines and energy, electricity, magnetism, chemistry: matter, mixtures and compounds, sound, and light. As you might expect given the design of the course to suit a wide span of ages, the information and questions are not very difficult. The publisher says that the course is equivalent to an introductory physical science course for grades 8 or 9. While there is some math, it should pose no problems for junior high students.
The kit includes a CD-ROM with the lessons or you can skip the CD installation and instead access lessons directly from the web using an access code that comes with your kit. (I really appreciate this option since I dislike installing programs on my computer.) Students read relatively brief text material with illustrations on the computer. Each section is followed by one or more questions. Students answer these online and in their logbook OR only in their logbook. Questions on the computer allow students to review the text material if they answer incorrectly, essentially allowing the student to have multiple attempts until they get the answer correct. Students may conclude the lesson without answering the questions on the computer. The computer does NOT track and record student responses. Marking the correct answer in the book serves as reinforcement as well as a way for a student to quickly review the correct information for tests. If you have a student answer only in the book, it acts as a quiz since the text material is on the computer, and answers are found in the teacher’s manual.
After students read each day’s material and answer questions, they begin work on an experiment or project. These are demonstrated with video and illustrations on the computer. Students should watch the entire presentation first to get an overview of what they are to accomplish that day, then go back and work through each step. Instructions are very thorough and easy to follow. While students might occasionally need assistance, they should be able to do most work independently. Some activities will be spread out over a number of days rather than completed in a single day. Some resources used in experiments and some created in projects are reused later in the course.
The course has eight units consisting of 36 chapters. Each chapter has five subunits as described above with text material, questions, and experiment or project work. There are two quizzes at the end of each of the eight units. One quizzes students on vocabulary while the other quizzes them on lesson concepts. There are four exams, each covering two of the units. The teacher’s manual suggests that lessons and experiments account for 75% of the student’s grade with quizzes and exams accounting for 25%.
The student logbook is a 180-page book in which students will record observations and information from their experiments, lab write-ups, and answers to lesson questions. The first three lessons within each chapter are those that might also be done by younger students. Lesson questions for these lessons are multiple-choice. The two additional lessons for older students are definitely more challenging. They require students to write out answers in their logbooks, often requiring a complete sentence or a paragraph.
The logbook concludes with an “Index with definitions (glossary),” an unusual but very helpful way to provide an alphabetical list of key terms with their locations as well as their meanings.
Experiment and project materials are packaged into separate, labeled baggies. These include such items as balsa wood pre-cut into appropriate size pieces, a miniature solar panel, a specially designed battery mount, motors, wheels, pulleys, wires, propeller, Alka Seltzer tablets, dowels, sandpaper, and screws. Paper templates are included for some projects, and there are two pages of peel-and-stick decals to be used on some of the projects. Students construct items such as a solar fan, electric race car, steamboat, and an electric circuit while also completing many experiments following standard lab procedures. Two students could share a single set of supplies, but you probably want an additional set of supplies for more than two students. (Extra sets of supplies as well as extra student logbooks are available.)
The proportion of hands-on activity to text reading material is much higher in this course than in most traditional, textbook-based courses, but that doesn’t make it less effective. Some of the information might not get as technical, but students might understand and remember the concepts more effectively because they quickly see those concepts in action through the experiments and projects. Also, the additional experiments and lab write-ups for advanced students are quite challenging, requiring a great deal of critical thinking. All of this makes the Advanced Physical Science kit an excellent choice for those looking for a hands-on physical science course, and an even better choice for those who can teach two students using the same kit.