Common Sense Review
Updated July 2015


Online science, mastered: exceptional content within meaningful tasks
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Common Sense Rating 4
Teacher Rating (1 Teacher Review) 5
  • The NOVA Labs homepage connects to its 6 Labs, as well as related resources.
  • An online lab report records quiz answers and includes a section for notes.
  • In the Evolution Lab, students create phylogenetic trees using real world info.
  • Many Labs culminate in open investigations; kids explore real weather data sets.
  • In the RNA Lab, students design RNA molecules, starting with the basics.
This is NOVA: superb, well-narrated science videos, now used to support meaningful, (fun!), interactive tasks.
Teachers will want more tips and pre-made tools for integrating the labs and the classroom, as well as options to accelerate or support students.
Bottom Line
Serious, sophisticated science engagement -- but be prepared to take some prep time to connect these labs with your classroom.
Christie Thomas
Common Sense Reviewer
Classroom teacher
Common Sense Rating 4
Engagement Is the product stimulating, entertaining, and engrossing? Will kids want to return? 5

Stellar NOVA video clips combine with interesting activities to make this a site that’s truly hard to leave. Game-like features within some modules enhance the fun, and a shiny site design provides extra polish.

Pedagogy Is learning content seamlessly baked-in, and do kids build conceptual understanding? Is the product adaptable and empowering? Will skills transfer? 4

Lab activities progress up from the basics and masterfully blend learning the content with completing the task. Significant expectations are eased through clear organization and chunking. Still, some kids will need help with the key points.

Support Does the product take into account learners of varying abilities, skill levels, and learning styles? Does it address both struggling and advanced students? 4

Intuitive design and clear directions support users. Most labs provide in-activity help, and videos even have transcripts. Prompts tell kids if their answer or task is right/wrong, though more detailed feedback would boost learning potential.

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How Can Teachers Use It?

For high school teachers, using a NOVA Lab is almost as easy as plopping it into your existing unit. For 1-to-1 classrooms, have kids focus independently; you can use printed lab reports to check progress and responses. Student accounts save Lab progress. If you use a flipped approach, assign a chunk of the Lab for completion before class, designating class time for discussion.

Middle school teachers will want to preview the Labs to insert relevant classroom tasks -- possibly textbook passages, hands-on activities, or direct instruction. You’ll want to keep addressing misconceptions and help highlight key ideas. Have kids work in pairs, possibly with (teacher-created) digital or paper worksheets to organize learning. Consider requiring a teacher check-in before advancing to subsequent sections. Be aware that the site has quick links to Facebook, Twitter, etc.; provide relevant guidance to your kids.

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What's It Like?

NOVA Labs combines video with interactive tasks and real data sets in creating the Sun, Energy, Cloud, RNA, Cybersecurity, and Evolution Labs. Designed for middle and high school students, the labs place content learning within a simulated “research challenge”: predicting solar storms or designing RNA. Videos are used throughout the Labs to share content and tasks; they are also helpfully available from both the site and the lab homepages.

Most labs begin with structured, sometimes game-like activities (building phylogenetic trees), and progress to more open-ended opportunities (querying recent weather data). A digital lab report records quiz answers and notes, and is saved if the student is logged in (guest access is also available). The site also provides access to relevant professionals (Meet the Experts), related resources and events (Opportunities), and Educators pages.

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Is It Good For Learning?

NOVA Labs furthers the program’s reputation for outstanding science content . The Labs almost seamlessly merge online tasks (bonding base pairs, sequencing hurricane events) with learning content. When additional information must be imparted, it is largely through captivating video coordinated to careful narration. Further, the online lab report allows kids to jot their notes and review quiz responses. Seriously, kids can’t help but learn.

Still, teachers may want more classroom-oriented support, like coordinating worksheets, ideas for hands-on activities, sample class discussion threads, and possible answers to open-ended inquiry questions (what is Typhoon Guchal’s shape?). Also, we expect some kids will lack prerequisite knowledge or (somehow) miss the key concepts, while some will grasp it all in the first few clicks. NOVA could do more to suggest specific remediation and extension opportunities.

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