Friday, October 8, 2010

TOS Review: Digital Frog Field Trip Series

Over the past nine years of homeschooling, I've attempted several dozen different "field trips" with the kids, and they all have one recurring theme:  "COME ON, HURRY UP, WE HAVE TO MOVE ON!!!"  Family trips tend to go the same way.  There just is not enough time to linger where we want, to learn and explore as much as we'd like to.  Sometimes we have to move on because the tour group is moving on.  Sometimes we have to move on because there's something else that has to get done, or because the place we're at is closing.  I can't tell you how many times we've been the last people out of the Children's Museum at the end of the day, and still the children are saying "but I didn't get to..."

Digital Frog's Digital Field Trip Series is a truly unique take on learning, a way to visit new and exciting places, and spend as much or as little time as you want looking, learning and exploring before you move on.
The Digital Field Trip Series incorporates three separate field trips onto one disc.  
The Digital Field Trip to The Wetlands
Explore wetland ecology with a virtual field trip to a wetland in southern Ontario. Includes wetland types, bog formation, plus detailed sections on photosynthesis, food chains and webs and nutrient cycles.  
The Digital Field Trip to The Rainforest
Experience the tropical rainforest of Belize with 28 virtual reality posts from deep in the forest and even up in the canopy. Other topics covered include rainforest types and mechanisms, an interactive dependency web game and a botany primer.  
The Digital Field Trip to The Desert
Five deserts of the southwestern U.S.—from the saguaro cacti of the Sonoran to the sand dunes of Death Valley—are brought to life in our biggest field trip ever. Try your hand at building your own desert, learn about landscape formation and in-depth sections on adaptations and homeostasis. 
System Requirements:
- Windows 2000, XP, Windows 7 or Vista (32 bit - some features may not work in the 64 bit version of Vista) [For the record, we used this on my computer, running the 64 bit version of Vista and did not encounter any problems in 10+ hours of use]
- 32 MB of RAM (64 or more recommended)
- 75 MB of hard drive space for QuickTime
- Mac OSX 10.3.9 or later
- 30 MB of available RAM

The Digital Field Trip Series (3 Field Trips on one DVD or a set of CDs) can be purchased for $125 for home use, perfect for homeschoolers.  Digital Frog also offers the Series with a Single Educational License for $199, perfect for use in a homeschool co-op.  Digital Frog also offers a free demo version, so you can "Try before you buy."

Each field trip is LOADED with things to do, places to explore, new animals to learn about and so much more.  Really, in the six weeks or so that we've had the disc, we've barely had time to scratch the surface of what this program really has to offer.  We've so far spent most of our time using it on the Digital Field Trip to The Rainforest, so most of this review is specific to that particular one.  However, I did spend about an hour looking through the other two Field Trips and I found that they offered as much, if not more, quality and quantity of content, so you can assume that what I have to say about The Rainforest is also applicable to the other two field trips.
I actually expected to put the DVD in and watch a movie similar to a program you'd see on the National Geographic or Discovery Channel.  The Field Trips are more like interactive, high-quality tours.  The Field Trip itself is a tour through "posts", or stops throughout the terrain being explored.  Each post guides the student through the area, including information on the natural features, the wildlife, and the plant and animal life relationships that are mutually beneficial.  The student can view a 360-degree panorama of each area, click on words they don't understand to get definitions, watch short videos that explain the different features of the "post", and follow any of the numerous "rabbit trail" links that lead to in-depth learning on a plethora of subjects.  There are even games to help solidify the concepts that are being learned.
The Field Trip is just the beginning of the experience.  There are several other options for each subject.  For instance, The Rainforest offers, in addition to the Field Trip, a Rainforest Study and lessons on Rainforest Types, Mechanisms of a Rainforest and Our Endangered Rainforests.  Each Field Trip also includes a map, which shows all the different activities available on the disc.  This can be VERY helpful, because there is so much to do and see, so many links to follow and different concepts to explore, it's easy to feel like you've gotten a little lost, or that you might have missed something.  
When you first load the disc, you have the option to Autoplay the Field Trip, or See All Files.  If you choose to see the files, you'll find a whole new set of resources, including a student workbook/study guide (appropriate for junior high or senior high school students), a teacher workbook/teaching guide - both the student workbook and teacher workbook are available in a variety of formats, including Word document, Rich Text Files, PDF and Text Files.  There is also a complete CD text (also a good guide to make sure you haven't missed anything) and a file full of graphics.

The Digital Field Trip Series is a fantastic resource.  While our younger kids got bored pretty quickly, the older kids (ages 10 and 13) really enjoyed exploring the Field Trip and asked many times if they could "do more" exploring.  They began talking about what they learned to their siblings, and I even overheard one of them telling a friend about one of the animals they learned about.  One of the best gauges of a successful learning product, in my opinion, is how much a child retains and shares with others, and this product definitely fostered quite a bit of that.

I only found a couple of drawbacks with the product.  The largest, or most concerning, was that this product is most definitely not produced from a Creationist point of view.  Thankfully, my oldest son discovered this early on, and instead of this being a reason to stop using the product, we used it as a learning experience in itself, with a little detour each time the evolution viewpoint came up, to reinforce our beliefs.  

The other issue, really a very minor detail was just with the screen size/resolution options.  The Field Trip initially popped up as approximately a 6"x6" screen.  The screen options menu offers that size, called Window (with whatever else is open or your desktop showing behind it), a Letterbox option, which puts a black border around the same-size screen, or Full Screen, which does take up the entire screen, but the resolution of the Field Trip is not any better (in fact, being larger, it actually looks worse).  I wasn't completely happy with any of these options - we wanted to see the videos and the 360-degree panoramas with a high-definition picture, but there was no way to do so.  It was either small, and okay resolution, or large and somewhat worse resolution.  Several times while doing the Field Trip with all the kids, I thought how much fun it would be to go through some of the Field Trip on a larger screen (on a digital whiteboard, for instance), but I'm not sure that would work very well with the provided resolution.

Overall, I was very pleased with the Digital Field Trip Series.  Each Field Trip could easily fill a quarter, or even a semester if you used the suggested additional resources.  The material is covered very thoroughly, and Digital Frog provides information on how their materials correlate with curriculum standards.  The program can be used with many different age levels (the teacher's guide even has suggestions on how to use the program with younger students), and could be used to do research for a report, as a supplement to a current science and/or geography program, or even as a stand-alone module for science and geography.  

Digital Field Trips offer so much to explore, so much to discover, and the best thing is, you have all the time in the world to do it.  There is not closing time, and if you have something else to do, you can simply come back later to pick up where you left off, or go off in an entirely new direction, if you want to.  It's the best kind of field trip!

Want to read more reviews of Digital Frog's Digital Field Trips?  Check out what other people thought.

Disclaimer: As a member of the 2010-2011 TOS Homeschool Review Crew, I received a complimentary copy of Digital Frog's Digital Field Trip Series (3 Field Trips on one disc) in exchange for my fair, honest and unbiased review. No other compensation was received.

1 comment:

  1. Great review, mama!! Very mentioned a lot of things I had thought of but forgot to include!