Visualize World Geography makes it easier for some students to learn geography through mnemonics—visual images that help students make connections to the names of the countries. Countries are grouped to form images that interrelate neighboring countries. For example, Chile, Argentina, and Bolivia are grouped together to make an image of a chile pepper. The program presents the mnemonic, explaining that the country of Chile is an orange strip running down one side of the chile pepper. It continues, “Argentina is the red, fleshy part of our Chili Pepper. Ardent Tina lives in Argentina. The word ‘ardent’ means passionate; Tina is sure passionate about peppers! That is why Tina is known as ‘ardent’ Tina—because of her passion for chili peppers!” Bolivia, sitting at the top of both countries, is depicted as the leaves of the chili pepper: “When Tina plucks the leaves off the peppers so she can cook them, she places all the leaves in a bowl. It is the bowl of leaves we call Bowl-leaf-ia (Bolivia).” Students will also learn about the use of puns in this curriculum! Sure some of this is silly, but for many students mnemonics really do help them remember and visualize much better.
There are now two levels of the program: one for students in preK through fifth grades and the other for sixth graders through adults. Both levels use the same components except for the mnemonic videos. While the same mnemonics are used at both levels, each level has its own corny videos that present the mnemonic. The younger level videos move a little more quickly using still shots, some video footage, and narration. The upper level videos teach within some context such as newscasting or a "Star Trek" theme, getting to the mnemonics in a more roundabout fashion. The videos are a bit amateurish, but the tongue-in-cheek styles used on both levels might well appeal to your children. These videos are the core component of the course for each level.
Mnemonics as well as the study of geography is divided into four areas: South America, Africa, Asia, and the Americas. Oceania is presented on the DVD with the Americas. For each level, there are eight DVDs that come in a case. Four of the DVDs present the Mnemonics videos—one for each geographical region. The other four DVDs, titled "Physical Geography," present other photos, maps, film footage, and interesting information about each country. Each presentation for either mnemonics or physical geography is relatively brief, and you can select only the one you want to watch each time. You can also begin on whichever content you want. However, students should master one continent before moving on to another.
The Visualize World Geography student workbook repeats the information on the DVDs, presenting it more briefly in the case of the upper level DVDs. The author suggests that student first read the mnemonics for a lesson in the student workbook before watching the DVD lesson. She recommends that students watch no more than one or two sections in one sitting. The parent or teacher should then review with students the key facts taught by the mnemonic(s) for the day's lesson.
The workbook shows an outline map of a continent, then focuses in on groups of countries to be studied on that continent. There are then a number of groups with their own mnemonics for each continent. The mnemonic “stories” are printed below these maps so students can see the visual illustration as they read. Quizzes that ask students to identify the countries within each mnemonic group are provided at the end of each continent section. Once students have learned an entire continent, they can go back and use the Physical Geography DVDs. Preface the DVDs by having students read through the physical geography questions in the second half of their book. Students will have to watch and listen carefully for information about the geography, climate, rivers, capital, important features, or other facts about the country. Students should be able to answer the questions after watching the DVD although they might have to watch again if they missed pieces of information.
The teacher book includes all the student pages with answers on the appropriate pages. It also has brief instructional information at the beginning. Note that the student workbook is reproducible for use within your immediate family. Group class students must each purchase a workbook.
An additional CD-ROM comes with both levels. It has map grid drawing pages and all of the licensed photos that are used in the DVD lessons. The map drawing pages include continent outline maps, map forms with latitude and longitude markings, and “anchor point sheets.” Anchor point sheets include some segments of the outline lines for continents and countries to assist students in creating their own maps. The continent maps and anchor point sheets should be used before students attempt to work on the latitude and longitude sheets. Instructions for using these sheets are included on the disc. As for the photos, a student might access these to create a report, but otherwise they are not necessary to the program.
At the back of the student workbook just before the index are ten Atlas Exercises. Students will likely need to refer to an atlas to be able to answer many of these questions. The exercises also reinforce what students have learned through the other lessons in the program.
The set for each level also has a set of seven laminated grid maps that might prove very helpful. Each map has a continent on one side with all of the mnemonic illustrations filled in. On the reverse, is an outline map with latitude and longitude markings. The outline map is color coded on the outside edges as a hint showing where each mnemonic begins and ends. Students could practice working on these outline maps with washable markers as they learn. However, they should begin with smaller sections before tackling entire continents.
Those who have both younger and older students can purchase a combo set that has both sets of mnemonic DVDs along with all of the other course components for an additional $50. However, if you have to choose one level or the other, I recommend the younger level. The upper level DVDs might be too hard for younger students to follow, but both younger and older students can understand the younger level DVDs—and they aren't "dumbed down" in a way that would be off putting for older students. Regarding the younger level, while it is supposed to be for preK through fifth grade, young students will not be able to read and complete the workbook exercises. Personally, I would probably not begin the course with students below third grade, although younger students could certainly watch DVDs with older siblings if they are interested.
Since this is really a bit different than traditional programs, be sure to check out the sample video lessons you can watch at the publisher’s website.