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Holt Virtual Investigations

By Sally Finley - Posted Sep 1, 2007
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Overall Rating:5 Stars
Ease of Use:A
Product Support:A

Company: Holt, Rinehart and Winston, 6277 Sea Harbor Drive, Orlando, FL 32887. Phone: (800) 225-5425; Fax: (800) 269-5232; Internet:

Price: $49.99

Audience: Middle school and high school versions are available.

Format:  CD-ROM: text, graphics, animation, audio.

Minimum System Requirements: Macintosh systems: 68040 CPU running Macintosh System 7.1, 8 MB RAM, 15 MB available hard drive, double-speed CD-ROM drive, color monitor with 8-bit (256 color) 640x480 display capacity, QuickTime 3.0, and Sound Manager.

Windows systems: 486/33 MHz processor, 8 MB RAM, 15 MB of available hard drive, Windows 95/Windows 98, double-speed CD-ROM drive, 256 color VGA video board, MPC II compliant, VGA display, color monitor with 8-bit (256 color), 640x480 display capacity, Sound Blaster-compatible audio card, QuickTime 3.0.

Description: Virtual Investigations presents a series of explorations set in a virtual science lab. The product examined for this review contained experiments related to Life, Earth, and Physical Science for middle school students.

Reviewer Comments:

Installation: I used the software on a Power Mac G4 IBook laptop computer running system 10.3. Clicking on a launch button runs the program. The disc is required for program use. Installation Rating: A

Content/Features: The program presents 24 explorations, each using the same format, which provides consistent easy-to-follow activities. Onscreen buttons offer a menu of choices, the print option, and exit from the program.

Stage 1 presents a problem to be solved that requires the completion of a task. Stage 2 offers simulated experiments using lab equipment with a control and variables. Throughout each investigation, feedback is offered as questions are answered and procedures are conducted. The lab experiments are completed in a virtual science lab that contains all necessary apparatus and equipment. 

Students can record information and results in a notebook that can be printed. The Help button provides tips and the tutorial.

A WOW button leads to a Cool Fact that provides additional information about the topic. A calculator is available for computation. The animated diagrams with accompanying narration provide superior instruction. 

When a student cannot complete a task, the program has built-in supports through a tutorial. This support can be accessed at any time and used until the student arrives at the desired conclusion.

The labs are fun yet filled with important information. Success is guaranteed at every step of the way through the constant feedback presented in both written and audio form. After several unsuccessful tries, the program presents the solution so the student can proceed to the next step.

Topics include Life, Earth, and Physical Science. Some of the lessons at the Red Level examined for this review cover topics such as cells, states of matter, earthquakes, minerals, plate tectonics, chemical reactions, and plant processes.

The content is mapped to key objectives and state standards. One lab is provided for each chapter in the textbook Holt Science & Technology: Life, Earth and Physical Sciences. The product also can be used as a standalone resource.

A printed Teacher’s Guide provides teaching strategies, background information, a bibliography, and an overview of each exploration. Assessments and blackline masters provide additional support materials.

The format is very easy to use, with a minimum of teacher assistance required. The consistency of the activities is my favorite feature. This makes it easier for students to navigate throughout each lab without constant teacher assistance.

Although designed for use in the middle school, the lessons could easily be carried out in a class of gifted or high achievers in the intermediate grades. A high school version is available in Physical Science and Biology.

The print feature is easy to use and provides accountability to the teacher. If students are completing the labs independently, they can record notes in the notebook and then print a copy for the teacher to use as a record of completion or for assessment purposes.

Classroom Applications: Virtual Investigations offers the opportunity to introduce, review, or assess knowledge of content. The teacher could use the lab with a whole class to introduce key concepts and guide the students step by step through each procedure. Individual students could complete the lab on their own using the tools within the program. Notebooks could be printed and shared with classmates or the teacher. Content/Features Rating: A

Ease of Use: The program is attractively designed and easy to navigate. A menu bar provides easy access to program features. At the top of each page, a button provides access to the menu, printer, or exit. A tool bar offers access to procedural directions, a notebook, calculator, and a cool fact related to the topic. A speech feature providing narration for text can be turned on or off.

The lessons are well-formatted. A scenario introduces the problem to be solved. The resources and research information needed to complete the task are easily accessible. Constant feedback directs the user step by step through the procedures until a recommendation is presented and approved. Ease of Use Rating: A

Product Support: Product support is provided through a Help button that provides tips and a Tutorial that provides detailed information regarding the investigation. Technical support is offered online or via a toll-free telephone number. Product Support Rating: A

Recommendation: Virtual Investigations presents a safe, time- efficient, and inexpensive alternative to live labs in the classroom. The virtual lab setting offers all the features of a classroom lab without the issues of expense, safety, and storage. I especially liked the feature that requires students to select a lab coat, gloves, and safety glasses before entering the lab.

This is one of the most creative, exciting, and engaging lab programs that I have seen. Students will enjoy the graphic design of the program and ease of use. This is a must have for every middle school science teacher. Outstanding!

Reviewer: Sally Finley, Gifted/Technology, Country Hills Elementary School, Coral Springs.

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