Friday, December 19, 2008

A Review of Core Learning Software Products

I've shared before that I much prefer hard copy products to digital, but software is a different story. I love software products. I think my software collection is second only to my piles of books. Much of what I own could be placed into the category of edutainment, where my kids can learn while playing. There is something about those silver compact discs that contain so much information and take up so little space. When a package arrived from Core Learning containing four of those shiny discs, I was anxious to see what treasure of information and activities they contained.

Core Learning is an educational publisher of software, books, multi-curicular projects and online learning applications. They offer a variety of products, designed to meet state curriculum standards, for K-12 learners. Titles in the areas of mathematics, creativity/art, health, language, and critital thinking focus on skill development in both higher order thinking skills and important life skills. I received a variety of full version and demo titles from Core Learning. The style of the products varied greatly and I'll admit to having my favorites.

Health for Kids Series
Explore Your Body
Explore Your Health
Ages 7-10
$29.95 per volume

Volume 1, titled Explore Your Body, provides an introduction to the human body, its parts, and functions with 9 short animated clips. Information is presented in a storyline through the adventures Doc, Sari, Emma, Hu and the Chicken. I would describe this series as a blend of Magic School Bus and CyberChase episodes. Each clip is approximately 5 minutes long and interactive with short quizzes and prompts. Volume 2, Explore Your Health, is a continuation of Volume 1 with the same presentation format. My 9-year-old son was really engaged by Explore Your Body and completed the entire disc in one sitting.

Family Health Series
The Body
Illness and Injuries
Staying Healthy
Becoming An Adult
Emotional Health
Grades 2 -10
$39.95 per volume

This series follows the same set of charaters as the Health for Kids series. However, the presentation of information is set up such that the user can explore different areas instead of following a series of clips. After selecting a topic, the user reads the information provided and reinforces the information through animated activities and games.

Math Course Series
Math Course 1: Fractions
Grades 5-6

I was able to explore Unit 1 for this program. The full version has 7 units. Unit 1 had 5 lessons with an accompanying worksheet and quiz for each lesson, ending in a unit test. The presentation was straightforward and more textbook-like than the health series. One nice feature is the tracking for multiple users. Each lesson tracks the time taken, last status, last date launched, last score, times attempted and detailed summary for each lesson.

Language Arts Companion
English Grammar II
Grades 4-6

This program is similar in layout as the Math Course Series. There are 7 units total, each having 4-6 lessons each. I had access to Unit 6, which covered parts of speech. The tracking features are identical to the math program.

Art & Creativity
Creativity Express
Grades K-8

Sixteen art lessons are provided through animated movies, activities and projects. Art principles and history are taught through three categories: sayART, seeART, doART. My children went through this program several years ago as an online subscription under a different title. It is nice to see it being offered as a reusable cd-rom and at a cheaper price. It is fun, educational and sound art instruction. This is one you can view for yourself by checking out a free demo lesson.

Now for my favorites...

Crayola Art Studio
Ages 4 and up

All ages

I've included these together because they are both digital art programs with a similar feel but serving different needs and users.

Crayola Art Studio allows children to artistically create using a variety of tools without the mess. Not having anything to clean up was my favorite feature of this software! While there is much to be said of sitting children down with a variety of media to touch, explore and create, reality is that mess, time and expense prevent me from doing this as often as I'd like.

The Crayola Art Studio has a selection of 12 realistic art brushes, e.g. colored pencils, oil pastels, paints, markers, and crayon. The program can be opened in one of two levels, Begin to Draw Level and Art Studio Level. I was impressed with the computer representation of the medium. For example, the water colors would become less vidid as you continued to use your brush without "reapplying" more color to your brush and the oil pastels and chalk had the appropriate visual texture. Children can create strictly from the imagination, alter digital images of their own or start with special Crayola images.

Below you will find a creation of my daughter's using the symmetry tool, a favorite feature.

Crayola Art Studio is a simplified version of corefx. Your artist will have many more features at their disposal using the powerful corefx program. Not only can the user draw and paint, but photo-editing and animation features are also included. Artist tools can be used individually or mixed and blended, with realistic and unique results. Basic, Junior and Advanced Levels are all included in the package, making this a program for differing abilities. If you have an older child interested in graphic design or if you'd like a digital art program for a wider range of abilities, you may want to invest in corefx rather than starting with the Crayola Art Studio program.

Programs such as Crayola Art Studio and corefx appeal to me because their use is endless. Instead of taking the user through a series of activities, these sort of programs are a platform for creativity and development of thinking skills. The potential and limits are largely with the user, rather than the software.

Rather than just take my word for it, check out the 3-day demos available on both of these products. You will not be able to save or print your masterpieces created using the demo, since these features have been disabled, but you will be able to explore all the other features that are available on the full version.

3-Day Demos

Visit the TOS Homeschool Crew's Official Blog to read other Crew members' thoughts on these products.

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