Thursday, March 17, 2016

TOS Review: Rainforest Journey from EdTechLens

 Rainforest Journey EdTechLens Review

I've been reviewing Rainforest Journey 3rd Grade from EdTechLens with my daughter for a little over a month now and it has really sparked a huge interest in the rainforest. This curriculum gently introduced new topics to my daughter and provided a change to our homeschool science routine. We've been working through Earth Science concepts and switching to Life Science was perfect timing.

Rainforest Journey is an online customizable Life Science curriculum geared toward children in K-5th grade. We received a one-year subscription to the 3rd Grade curriculum. Each grade level digs deeper into the content at the appropriate level, but they all cover the same unit topics. There are 34 lessons covering a variety of Life Science components. The lessons are organized into 5 essential units: The Big Picture of the Rainforest, Adapt or Die, Animals, Plants and Fungi, and Ecosystems. Each unit is further broken down into chapters and lessons. There are 1-5 chapters in each unit and 1-5 lessons per chapter. It's a virtual e-learning adventure through the rainforest which is aligned to the Next Generation Science Standards in addition to the New York Standards.
Rainforest Journey EdTechLens Review

Three types of primary resources were included such as video clips featuring factoid snippets and eight expert interviews were provided and integrated into the content. Several daily journal entries covering Days 1-3 were documented in a trip journal.

The Teacher Resources section consists of Teaching Guidance, Course Materials, and Support. The Course Materials were used the most, because it contained the Lesson Reviews, Unit Assessments, and Hands-On Activities. The Support area provides you with a Quick Start Guide, User Guide, and Contact information. Finally, the Teaching Guidance section addresses Pedagogy and Lesson Planning.

How We Used Rainforest Journey
I used Rainforest Journey from EdTechLens with Alyssa (Age 8) as her core 3rd Grade elementary science curriculum approximately 3-5 times per week for about 15-45 minutes per day. Adobe Reader was necessary for printing the PDF files. The short lessons were completed on our MAC OS X 10.9.5 computer via the student dashboard. Be careful that your child isn't working from the parent dashboard. I did that the first few days and thankfully caught the error before she was further into the curriculum. Each child will have a separate username and password. I could differentiate between the student and parent dashboards, because the student objectives are listed at the bottom of the parent dashboard. Alyssa completed 1-3 lessons per day depending on the length of the lesson and the time spent on the computer. However, I had to pull my daughter off of the computer on many occasions, because her interest in the content was so high.

We covered the content sequentially which is the default guided order. Each section remained locked and couldn't be accessed until she completed a topic. You can change or customize this feature if desired. Her progress through the curriculum was tracked and her grades were recorded. Each completed lesson was marked with a checkmark within a circle. Circles with a dash meant that the material wasn't studied or completed yet. As you can see below, the units are collapsible. The green highlighted content is the portion of the program completed and the pink indicates what hasn't been completed yet.
Student Dashboard
Showing Progress

In the beginning, we printed the Lesson Reviews in PDF format after each lesson. However, we eventually decided to utilize this resource as a way to take notes during the lesson so it was printed before beginning a lesson. This definitely helped Alyssa pay closer attention to the content and details presented.

We started a rainforest-themed word study. Several of the tougher words were added to her personal spelling lists. Alyssa hovered her cursor over each word to immediately obtain the definition on the screen when words were given in green print. This saved us a lot of time looking up words in a dictionary and helped her understand the words and their meanings in the context of the passage.
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Decomposition Vocab Word Defined

Alyssa wrote each bolded vocabulary word from the passages on 3" x 5" index cards to review later. She also created word building flashcard games and made several vocabulary worksheets using another online program. Concentration was one game we enjoyed playing to enrich the vocabulary section of the curriculum. Here are a couple pictures of the flashcards she made and the game we played.

A glossary of words is provided at the end of each unit. A leaf icon indicates a new vocabulary word. The words mentioned are in bold print and listed with definitions at the end of each unit. Important illustrations were also provided at the end of a unit.

My daughter preferred listening to the audio narration. She could easily read the content independently, because she is a strong reader. However, she wanted to follow along as the text was narrated. This feature will greatly benefit non-readers, struggling readers, children with special needs, or auditory learners. The material was presented over several screens including a leveled Enrichment Passage which extends the learning. The material can also be printed in PDF format, but we chose not to print it. The Lexile reading level is a little higher than the norm for third grade which can challenge children in a good way by providing them access to higher level content.

The primary resources were utilized as supplements throughout the week as they were introduced within the text. She listened to or read about each expert interviewed. Her favorite scientist was Phil Torres. Alyssa also visited the daily journal diary entries in order to learn more information and background knowledge about the focused topics.
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Phil Torres Interview

The Hands-On Activities found under Course Materials added an offline twist to the e-learning curriculum. Alyssa truly enjoyed the Hiding In Plain Sight Scavenger Hunt. I hid several pipe cleaner "insects" for her to hunt down and eat pretending as if she were a frog. She tallied up the number of insects eaten and graphed them by color. This was her favorite activity by far! On the right-side of the picture below are the student pages for this activity. On the left-side are the detailed teacher lesson plans. Grab your pipe cleaners and get ready for some fun! My daughter also loves butterflies so her next favorite activity was a simple cut-n-paste life cycle chart.

The end-of the-unit assessment resources were used to see if Alyssa was retaining or recalling the material taught. I appreciate that EdTechLens offered three built-in assessment methods: Factual Assessment, Depth of Knowledge, and Open-Ended Assessment. The Factual Assessment was a multiple choice test which my daughter preferred taking, because it seemed easier having answer choices with the amount of material covered in a lesson. The questions were automatically graded. The Depth of Knowledge contained multiple choice, matching questions, and other higher order thinking skill questions. She typed out her responses to the Open-Ended Assessment questions which needed to be manually graded by me. You must set aside some time for this task. I have to admit sometimes I waited a few days before grading them. I didn't always sit with Alyssa to hear or read the content so it made grading a little more difficult and time consuming. The program offered possible answer choices to the Open-Ended questions which helped when grading her assignments. I encouraged complete sentence responses, but accepted incomplete sentences.

I did add in related reading and writing assignments as supplemental enrichments. I wanted her to make even more connections with what she was learning. The fascinating non-fiction text passages and beautiful images turned out to be great research and report writing topics.

Overall Thoughts and Results
My daughter retained some of the information learned using Rainforest Journey from EdTechLens. She mainly remembered the facts that she felt were most important based on her interests. The grade level Open-Ended assessments proved to be a bit challenging at times, but she was a good sport. She did look forward to me grading them and expected feedback in the message area. I have to tell you a funny story . . . Alyssa also played a trick on me and sent a "Warning" message telling me I had to grade my child's assignment. I seriously thought it was from the company until I heard her giggle behind me as I read it aloud.  
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She was immediately drawn to the content especially the information about the unique animals found in the rainforest. The clear and vivid photographs were breathtaking. Most of the photographs are taken up close with what seems to be a macro lens providing exceptionally detailed images. The photographs were my favorite part. The photographers definitely captured the beauty of the rainforest.

Rainforest Journey seems more like a supplement. It is comprehensive for its purposes, but unfortunately we couldn't use it as a full year science curriculum. The content can definitely be covered in less than a year's time. My daughter has completed more than half of the program in a little over a month. The only way for us to continue this program would be to add a new grade level to our account. I am sure she'll be disappointed when she completes the program. At the rate that Alyssa completes the lessons, I wouldn't be able to afford adding the number of grade levels in one year that she would need in order to make it a full year science curriculum on a single mom's budget. Not to mention, this is only a Life Science curriculum. We're looking for a curriculum that covers several science fields for next year, but overall Rainforest Journey makes an excellent online unit study or interactive supplement.

I really appreciated being able to track my daughter's progress through the program. It proved to be a helpful overview with regards to the content she's covered and what topics are left to complete.
Parent's Dashboard
Alyssa's Progress

Numerous topics were addressed in the course outline, including but not limited to, the water cycle, life cycles, ecosystems, layers of the rainforest, animals, plants, fungi, predators, prey, and animal adaptations. Any topic discussing animals was Alyssa's favorite subject. She was extremely impressed with the content.  The factual information was thoroughly covered. It drew in her attention and inspired her to further research the topics of interest.

I can't tell you how many times she called me in from the other room to show me something new she learned. She wanted to share every interesting fact and photograph with me. And when I say every  . . . I mean EVERYTHING. I had to be near the computer just in case.

She is extremely interested in learning about animals. Alyssa liked how the curriculum was organized into separate units. She says it helped her learn the material better, because it was in categories. She also likes the different topics being studied. We will definitely finish the 3rd Grade curriculum before the school year is over. The rainforest theme was a topic we hadn't discussed much so this journey benefited our homeschool greatly.

What We Liked
  • Interesting Multi-Media Videos
  • Fascinating Non-Fiction Reading Passages
  • Integration of Hands-On Activities
  • Scientist Biographies and Other Primary Resources
  • Audio Narration Available 
  • Easy to Navigate and Use
  • Accessible on ANY Internet Connected Device
  • Visual and Auditory Learning Styles Addressed
  • Beautiful, Real Photographs
Wet Sundew Plant
Dew attracts insects and it feeds on them. 
Alyssa said, "Awwww I want one.
Mom, come look!"
Possible Vendor Suggestions
  • Lesson Review Answer Keys would be helpful even if they don't give exact answers. Otherwise, the parent must grade the papers by reading the content or watching the videos with the child which isn't always an easy task for larger or busy families. Some information will obviously be known by the parent or educator too.  
I recommend the Rainforest Journey from EdTechLens as a homeschool science curriculum supplement to any homeschool family or classroom with children in grades K-5 especially if the rainforest is being studied. It will work great as a whole class activity for a single grade level if viewed on a whiteboard system, small group classroom computer station exploration, as a single grade level co-op class, or as an individual study which is what we did. All learning styles and preferences are addressed. This curriculum is a fantastic option for ALL students wanting to explore the rainforest!

$50 per year/per grade level/one student
$180/year for classrooms (up to 35 users - one grade level)
Register for a free account to view grade level sample lessons

Visit the FAQ to learn more about Rainforest Journey.
Rainforest Journey EdTechLens Review

Social Media
Twitter @edtechlens

The Schoolhouse Review Crew blog has a collection of reviews from my colleagues covering several different grade levels of Rainforest Journey created by EdTechLens. Check them out!
Rainforest Journey EdTechLens Review

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