2016 Aquarium Science Classes

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This is our fourth year attending science classes at Ripley’s Aquarium in Gatlinburg. It’s a bit shocking for me to write that, but it’s true. Four years already? At first, it was only my son and I going there. My mom was living with us at the time and she kept my daughter, age three at the time.

Boy and girl at Ripley's Aquarium

Before the class, they look at the fish.

The following year, they each attended their own class, but soon the Preschool class was canceled and my daughter joined my son in the K-2 class. Last year, they were perfectly matched to the K-2 class, as my son was in second grade and my daughter in Kindergarten. Continue reading »

This year, we had to make a decision: do we put them in K-2 or 3-5? The curriculum is different from last year. They change teachers and curriculum every year at Ripley’s, so that was not the issue. The issue was, should we challenge the little one or bore the older one?

Boy and girl touch jelly fish at Ripley's Aquarium

Touching the jelly fish

We decided to challenge our daughter, who is in first grade this year, and allow our son to study on his grade level. So they are both in the class for Grades 3-5.

They have already had one class (September). The new teacher did a great job and the kids had no problem following the presentation, answering questions, participating in class, and performing the experiment.

Children performing an experiement

Experiment after the lecture

They learned about different science disciplines and the scientific method. It’s a great beginning and we look forward to the rest of the year. My son has been scoring very high in science in his nationally standardized test every year so we must be doing something right in our homeschool. If it’s not broken, don’t fix it.

Science4us.com Review

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Here we are again, talking about science. Science4us.com is a wonderful online curriculum for K-2 which can also be used in grades 3rd-5th for review of key concepts. It was developed in 2010 and has since received several awards. The Department of Education gave them a grant for game-based learning innovation and they used it well.

Science4us.com activity

Science4us.com activity

This is an online curriculum so once you pay ($7.95 per month) they will send you login information and you are good to go. Once logged in, you can choose from four books: Life, Physical, Inquiry, and Earth/Space. Inside each book, you will find different modules which can be picked up in random order. Once inside a module though, you should start from the top left and work your way down through the activities in order.  Continue reading »

Science in the early grades can be a liberating subject, because you really don’t have to do it. As such, there is no guilt on the days when you did not do it. And when you do do it, it’s fun for the kids and you feel like a superhero. When you do math in K-6 grades, you are actually doing science, because math is the basis for scientific equations.

Boy and girl working on computers

Working on different levels of science4us.com

I have reviewed this curriculum once before, two years ago. My children were 5 and 3 at the time. They are now 7 and 5. I thought it might be interesting to watch how they interact with an online course and the content of a science course at their new level.

It turns out, they could no longer stay on the same level, on one computer. Two years ago, the three-year-old was happy to watch and learn. Now, she wanted to do her own clicking, circling, matching and so on. So we had them work on two separate computers.

Science4us.com activity

Another science4us.com screen up close

This curriculum comes in handy especially if you have to give one-on-one attention to your students. I found it very helpful when my young one “did school” with science4us.com while I worked with my oldest.

The activities are interactive but short lectures do get presented from time to time, teaching young kids to sit through a small theoretical explanation. I have only found one game which is nothing but a game. The rest of the material serves an educational purpose and does not feel like a game per se. It is however very colorful and easy to navigate.

Robots walk the kids through the different modules. They even have exercises in alphabetizing, taking notes, and spelling. There is a final test at the end of each module, but throughout the module there are small quizzes to check for understanding. If the answer is not correct, there is a button to push for the concept to be repeated.

I have my own interface, as a teacher, and can see which modules they covered, their test results and how much time they spent online. This curriculum can be used in a large classroom, obviously, or in a small homeschool. If you don’t like teaching science or doing experiments in the kitchen, investing in science4us.com would be a great idea.

The opinions expressed here are my own. I received a free subscription to science4us.com in exchange for my honest review of this product on my blog. I was not required to write a positive review. I was not compensated in any other way. I am disclosing this in accordance with the FTC regulations.

Ripley’s Aquarium Science Classes

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We have been attending science classes for homeschoolers at Ripley’s Aquarium of the Smokies for three years now. The first year, I left my daughter home with my husband and took my son to the class. He was in kindergarten. He got bored in the beginning. He told me he would like to leave once or twice. I sent him back to his seat and told him nicely that he will need to wait until craft time. Eventually, I brought her along and she sat next to me, taking in the atmosphere, the vocabulary, the experience.

The class has two parts: a Power Point presentation and a craft project. They have changed teachers once and both teachers have been top notch.


For the first time, I am posting every day for a month.

Because parents stay in the classroom, sometimes there are younger siblings who make noises. Once, it got really loud. There were a few too many toddlers around. That was the only time that I saw stress on the teacher. It was also the largest class I have ever seen – about 40 people were in the room.  Continue reading »

The second year, my son was in first grade and my daughter in pre-Kindergarten. They offered a preschool class so we attended it for my daughter and then we stayed on for my son’s class. The preschool class fizzled out after a couple of sessions. They just did not have enough students to participate. I was glad they canceled it, because it made for a long day at the Aquarium. Too long. Also, because they used to give them a sugary snack, which made the class even more expensive ($5.5)than the K-2 class my son attended ($2.20). Those are the prices for people with annual passes, by the way.

After they cancelled the preschool class, I simply paid for my daughter to attend the K-2 class alongside my son. Why not? She is a rather mature child. Even though she got bored a couple of times, she made it through and understood the routine. She wanted me to sit next to her and I did. She learned to wait patiently for craft time.

The third year, which is this one, I finally have both of them situated properly. She is in Kindergarten and he is in second grade – perfect for the K-2 class. The lectures range from the history of marine biology to stream ecology to aquatic invertebrates and many others. The crafts are easy to make by young children and involve painting or gluing or stamping – the whole range.

I will have to figure out what to do for next year: advance my daughter to the class for Grades 3-5? Or keep my son in her class one more year, even though he will be in Grade 3? I will have to talk to the teacher about it. It’s just too long for us to be in the Aquarium for two classes and I understand it is pretty much the same presentation but maybe with a different craft or more details.

Science4Us.com Review

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I have written here before how science is not my cup of tea and how I delegate it as much as I can. One of the ways to delegate science is to buy a Science4Us.com Online Subscription. Science4Us.com has made it easy for me to integrate science in our homeschool routine. I am excited about this product because we have been using it in our homeschool for the past couple of months and it has helped me so much.

Not only has it given me hope that yes, I can actually homeschool even though I don’t like teaching science, but it has also given me time. You see, the children tutor themselves through a series of interactive activities on the computer screen and I have time to myself. Don’t get too excited. It’s not uninterrupted time. In fact, I am in the same room, doing things that allow me to pay attention to what they are learning. Why? Because there are discussion questions and, as my son reads them off the screen, they expect me to lead the discussion.

The kids are watching one of the short video presentations on science4us.com

The kids are watching one of the short video presentations on Science4Us.com

But at least I get some housekeeping items out of the way while they homeschool. When was the last time you swept the floor or checked your emails while your children were learning? One must remember my children are three and six. As such, they need a lot of hand-holding throughout their learning activities. But not with Science4Us.com.

I think it also prepares them for the future, when they will walk themselves through new material and only come to me with questions. At least, that’s the future I envision and hope for.

The online subscription, which is only $7.95 per child per month, allows you access to the full curriculum which consists of four books of science – Inquiry, Physical Science, Life Science, and Earth/Space. Each book breaks down into units, which break down into modules. There are 28 modules total in Science4Us.com. For my children, it takes about one hour to finish a module. They are not bored and it goes by fast.

If you were to follow their lesson plans and if you had a larger group of students, each module would take two weeks to teach in 30-minute increments. This curriculum was designed for either a classroom setting or a homeschool setting. So you make it your own.

This is what we do: my son is six and he handles the laptop. My daughter is three and she just sits there, watching it all unfold and learning by osmosis. Pun intended. We log in and I let them choose whichever module they want to do. He walks them through the screens, which are interactive and intuitive. Now and then they ask for help and I am right there, so I help.

Science4Us Review
I have not used their lesson plans because I feel the material they cover through the online lessons and our offline discussions and activities is plenty for my children’s age. By the way, Science4Us.com is geared toward grades K-2, but children in grades 3-5 can also use it as a thorough review of prior knowledge.

If you were to use all the teacher materials provided, you would do a thorough job of teaching science. They give you a description of each lesson, core concepts covered, essential vocabulary and even professional development in the form of videos or a PDF. So even if you are shaky on some of the subject matter, the professional development area for each lesson plan will equip you to teach with confidence.

Each module is structured according to the 5-E instructional model. Thus, you will have Engage, Explore, Explain, Elaborate and Evaluate. Engage is the part where the students activate prior knowledge, so that the new concepts will be connected to something they might already know. Through a short video and a quick exercise where they are asked to circle items that give natural light, for instance, they are then ready for a teacher-lead discussion.

Science4Us Review

Explore follows the same pattern: online activities which the students can do on their own, followed by offline discussions and offline activities. Explain represents the core of your lesson and teaching.

Under Elaborate, several activities have been designed to offer not only science instruction, but literacy and math concepts. Silly Bulls is a cute section where children get to break words into syllables (and yes, there are some silly bulls dancing around before and after the section, but it’s brief and almost painless). Take A Note, on the other hand, is where they learn about why and how scientists record their findings. Investigate and Alphabetizing round up this section of the lesson plan.

Finally, Evaluate tests the students. I like how they try to relax the students before taking the quiz, with a cute army of ants who sing while marching. They also say things like, “You already know this. Just show what you know.” This is good preparation for taking more formal tests, in my opinion.

Science4Us Review
I am very proud that my son gets 100% on these tests, often completely on his own. He always wants me there for the quiz though and I have to help him think through the answers sometimes. I don’t mind, because I think that, at his age, he needs to be taught the process of accessing his database of knowledge and working through answering a question.

At this point, my three-year-old daughter sits and takes it all in. She suggests a module now and then and my son obliges, clicking on the right icon. She likes repetition and some of the characters teaching them, so she will ask to repeat an activity.

Again, I think it is perfectly fine for them at this age to have fun with it and enjoy a less structured approach while getting all the benefits of learning. The other day she saw her own reflection in my computer screen and said, “Look, mama, my reflection!” I really like how they add vocabulary painlessly through these Science4Us.com lessons.

You should know that you can log in either as teacher or as student. As a teacher, you have access to your class roster, where you can add or delete students, preview curriculum, assign curriculum to certain students, monitor their progress and see how many minutes they logged in, their notebook entries and their test results. It gets so detailed, you can actually see how many attempts they had at a quiz, what they got wrong, and when they completed the test for the first time.

On their site, you will find some free examples of some of their lessons, which I invite you to take a look at. You don’t really know what a product feels like until you try it out yourself.

Science4Us Review

Here are some other ways you can connect with the team at Science4Us.com:

Twitter: https://twitter.com/Science4UsSays
Pinterest: http://www.pinterest.com/science4us/
Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/Science4Us
G+: https://plus.google.com/u/0/b/112259351657747584252/

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Science, Not Exactly My Cup of Tea

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Words do come easy to me. Science, well, that’s another thing altogether. Science is the subject I struggle with the most in our homeschool. So I delegate it to:

Let me put it this way: I made good grades in science when I was in school because I studied hard for every subject, but I did not enjoy science.

Science experiment - dad and children

Daddy working with the kids on a science project. I gladly stood nearby, watched and took pictures.

The only science I enjoyed was Chemistry, especially Organic Chemistry, which we studied in the 11th grade in Romania. But I did not like Biology or Physics.

I just could not wrap my mind around mechanics. Oh, I could memorize facts and formulas and apply them to problems so that I could solve them and get a good grade on a test.

But it took me a long time to understand that if two trains are running in a similar direction, they approach each other at Speed 1 minus Speed 2, for instance. The weird thing is, I had no problem getting the concept that if these trains were to run toward each other, they would approach each other at Speed 1 plus Speed 2. Go figure.

For me, it is a lot easier to read a good piece of literature or to memorize the conjugation of French verbs. I love memorizing vocabulary and grammar rules. I thrive on it. But science? Eh, I could skip over it any day.

Thankfully, a homeschooling mom does not have to teach everything. So, I delegate science.

When my kids are studying with science4us.com, I just sit on the sidelines and answer questions, if need be. When daddy teaches them, I just watch and record it in my homeschool planner and record book. When my son is taking a homeschool science class at Ripley’s Aquarium, I sit back and enjoy. That is my strategy and I’m sticking to it.

To see what other moms struggle with in their homeschool, click the picture below.

Subject Struggle

Aquarium Homeschooling Science Classes

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Once a month, I take my children to Ripley’s Aquarium in Gatlinburg for science classes designed especially for homeschoolers. Preschoolers started last week, but I could not take my daughter because she suffered from acute bronchitis.

My son being in kindergarten, he attends the K-2 class – an interesting mix of maturity levels. So far, we have attended two classes. About fifteen children showed up each time. Their parents, some handling a preschooler and/or a baby, attend the class as well. The young ones behave well. So far, no incidents.

The students sit on the carpet in the middle of the room. Parents and younger siblings sit on chairs set up against three of the walls in the room.

The September class, Beautiful Biomes, presented the seven types of environments on this planet. My son found it a bit boring. The PowerPoint slides did not save us from the monotony of a lecture-style presentation, although the teacher’s voice brimmed with excitement.

Thirty minutes into it, my son came over to my seat and told me he was bored. I encouraged him to pay attention as best he could. He did not have to wait long after that.

The teacher asked the students to line up so they can receive materials for the hands-on activity. They created their own biome by planting flower seeds into mason jars filled with dirt. My son was proud to bring his home.

Ripley's Aquarium science class on beautiful biomes

Homeschoolers line up to receive their materials

The October class, Shooting Stars, held our attention better. Pictures of the Universe inspire me with awe. Space fascinates my son.

Ripley's Aquarium Lecture on Shooting Stars - Homeschooling Science Class

Lecture on the Universe

For the craft, they built shooting stars, following step-by-step directions from the teacher.

Ripley's Aquarium Shooting Stars Homeschooling Class

Building a shooting star

We received a handout with about thirty websites to check out about space. I can’t wait to look at more pictures with the Universe. “The heavens declare the glory of God and the firmament shows His handiwork.” Psalm 19:1

Showing off his shooting star Ripley's Aquarium

Showing off his shooting star

I like science, but it does not come naturally to me. I am thankful to Ripley’s for putting on classes for homeschoolers.