Sound Homeschool Science Curriculum Using Only Free Resources Online
Are you perhaps looking to perk up your current science curriculum? Consider Surfing the Net: Science by The Critical Thinking Co. This well known publisher has produced a substantial workbook that uses only free science videos, articles, animations, games, virtual labs, and lots more fun stuff from around the Internet. All are age-appropriate materials for children in grades 3 to 6. Rather than wandering aimlessly into a cyber black hole, (t-h-a-t … Ahem! That’s happened to me on
occasion occasions 😉 ), this workbook grants direction, focus, and plenty, plenty enjoyable learning.
What We Received
The Critical Thinking Co. sent us a free printed copy of the workbook Surfing the Net: Science for grades 3-6. I’m thus, posting my thorough and honest review, after using this book for the last 6 weeks. If you prefer, an ebook version is also available. You can buy either format for $24.99.
What to Expect
Surfing the Net: Science is a thick, 250-page book, full of inquiry-based worksheets for free Internet videos, articles, games, animations, and more. It is a reproducible book, permission is given to photocopy up to 35 copies of each page per year. You must of course break the spine to do so. Since the book’s so thick, you’ll get a copy with a horrible black blur across half the page if you don’t. After my 5th attempt or so, I finally gave up my own silliness and did break the book’s spine. The horror! Me breaking a book’s spine? –Yes. I’m one of that sort! I had a horrendous time doing that. I could just imagine the pages flying all over the place, if not right then, then eventually. I’m happy to say this hasn’t happened at all. And I hope it won’t. Still, regardless of such loopy pet peeves of mine, I’d rather just print the worksheet than photocopying it. For this reason, I might have preferred to have the ebook version. But then again, the printed book has advantages too. Oh dear! Decisions!
The book covers the following science topics subdivided into ample subtopics:
- Ecosystems and Habitats
This link shows you the table of contents and sample worksheets »
As shown in the samples, each subtopic begins with the instruction: search for images, search for key words, watch the video, read the article, play the game, etc. Then the corresponding question appears. These prompt the child to summarize the data, to organize it into coherent units, to make his own inferences, and to draw his own conclusions. Each new instruction or resource contains an icon that classifies it accordingly:
- watch a video
- use a website
- take a quiz
- play a game
- view an animation
- use an interactive website
- read an article
- search for keyword
- search for images
A companion web page lists the links for easy and quick access. This way the child doesn’t have to type in the URLs, which often are long and convoluted. Something like this:
Likewise, the companion page lists new or updated resources, and new or revised worksheets. Since links sometimes break or sites sometimes disappear, this page proves invaluable. A must-use for sure! Not only is it expedient, it, too, shows The Critical Thinking Co.’s commitment to deliver dependable products.
Author Jennifer Katherine Brooks says she has spent over 1,000 hours collecting and filtering websites and resources. Such impressive undertaking really shows, judging by the wide range of topics, the quality of the resources, and the thoroughness of the worksheets. She also says she decided to exclude YouTube videos, not because of their lack of quality, but because they usually appear as embeds, and are therefore, unreliable. It seems to me though, that if the video is good enough (I’ve found amazing videos on YouTube), one could use the direct link to YouTube and bypass the unreliable source. But I’m bringing up a minor point, I certainly have been completely satisfied with her selection.
How Are We Using Surfing the Net: Science?
I admit we do shy away from workbooks at our homeschool. Yet, I’ve enjoyed this one so much myself, that each time Super Hero uses it, I tag along. True, this is not a typical workbook. Can’t just open up to fill dullsville lines, obviously. Super Hero, too, is always pleased when it’s time for Surfing the Net: Science. And that’s what matters, really. We watch the video, read the article, play the game or perform the virtual lab. Then, we follow up with the questions. Often he dictates to me. I let him. I’d rather he learns than pick a “not-in-the-mood-for-writing” battle. When things go smoothly he retains oh-so-close to 100%, I dare say, almost always. Aside from taking turns writing and completing the worksheets, Super Hero also cuts and glues colorful images. Doing this once in a while adds a welcome variety to the drawing or writing –one he’s totally eager to take on.
The topics are completely independent and can be studied in any order. After glancing at the table of contents, Super Hero wanted to begin with Geology. So we did. He would like to cover Space next. I really like the flexibility this program affords.
What’s Our Opinion?
Surfing the Net: Science has been a fantastic fit for Super Hero. He loves the computer, and he loves watching and learning with videos. He’d spend his whole day on YouTube and the Internet if he were allowed. So having this terrific guide to take him by the hand through videos, animations, virtual labs, interactive pieces, and even games; all while allowing him to write (or dictate 😉 ), draw and organize his observations into articulate notions and concepts, is wonderful. I can’t think of a child’s learning style that wouldn’t benefit with the selection, variety, and flexibility of this program.
In a Nutshell
In Super Hero's Own Words
I liked it because you can use the Internet to find the stuff
It rocks! The selection of materials is certainly engaging, fun and age-appropriate. The worksheets are not only pertinent, they succeed in extracting the essential points in a way that’s visually coherent and stimulating. I can only feel gratitude and appreciation for all those individuals and institutions that produce such outstanding videos, animations, and even simple things like articles or quizzes, for the world to enjoy freely. And thank you, The Critical Thinking Co. and Jennifer Katherine Brooks, for revealing these resources and enabling purposeful learning, while keeping us from straying into that dreadful cyber black hole.
Can’t Wait to Learn More?
If so, make sure to read the reviews from my fellow Crew members. Stop by The Critical Company Co.’s social media accounts. Or check out their website:
Do you think it would be possible to use this with lower grades? I’m sure the worksheets would need to be altered in some way, but would younger children grasp much from the internet content used?
Hi Becky, I’d think it’d be harder for a 1st or 2nd grader to follow some of the videos. Not because they might be overly complex (although some may be), but because they are not “kiddie” enough. I mean, some of the videos while interesting, do not have any cartoons, or music, or language aimed at young children. For example: http://video.nationalgeographic.com/video/101-videos/volcanoes-101, I’d think a young child might get bored with this.
The worksheets usually require more writing than an early-elementary child might be capable of. And lastly, some articles are rather extensive, as far as reading, for such a child too. Of course, you could always read those aloud. Here’s a sample of one that was on the lighter side: http://www.oum.ox.ac.uk/thezone/minerals/define/cake.htm.
Having said that though, each child is different, and progresses at his or her own pace. Perhaps your child might be ready for this workbook. I’m including a few more links (from the Geology section) hoping they will assist you in your decision:
Thanks! I’ll hold off for now and revisit it in a few years!