A Review / Opinion of amBooks
offered by Mining Gems
"I like amBooks but parts of them can be boring."
AmBooks are digital books that have a combination of text, video, explorations, games, animations and experiments presented in an engaging, interactive format. There are a variety of topics to explore with chapters covering a multitude of science concepts. A small sampling of the chapter titles currently available are:
There are lots of other titles available with plans for more additions.
Each AmBook can be purchased for around $4.00, downloaded to your computer and installed as a small piece of software. Each chapter has to be activated before using it by entering in your email address and password. You can only have one computer activated at a time. I downloaded 10 different chapters matching some of our current science topics. As soon as Otter saw me open up one of the colorful "books", he was chomping at the bit to try one!
When you first open up a "book" there is an introductory page that tells you what you will be studying. All of the subsequent pages are tabbed on the right hand side and can be accessed with a click. The book featured below can be purchased from the Physical Science section of the website and covers the transmission of heat.
As you click through the pages, you learn about the topic by reading, listening, watching and doing.
Here is an interactive exercise where you drag the items to the proper bin. (Yeah, yeah, I know copper should be dragged into the other bin...lol.)
And here is a video that helps illustrate conduction:
Each amBook has a different amount of pages. The longest one I ordered had 26 and the shortest had 13. This particular book has a total of 17 pages. Within many of the pages are additional "sub" pages or activities.
Here on page 14, when you click on one of the large purple buttons....
you get a popup box that has additional information.
In this particular book there are couple of check point quizzes to make sure you understand what's being taught. If you get an answer wrong, a popup box explains why. On the last quiz it said if you get all 7 answers correct you'll get a secret code to move on to the last section. Well, we got all of the answers and the code, but it didn't really appear that the code did anything at all. To get to the last section we just clicked on the tab as usual.
There are also some boxes on a couple of pages where you can type in a prediction and explanation. Also, at the very end, there is a summary of all the main points covered in the book (which is great for record keeping purposes), a concept map and a test yourself section with essay (or interactive in some books) style questions such as: "Explain why only radiation can happen in a vacuum."
As you can see from the screenshots, amBooks are colorful. Each page just begs to be clicked on and explored. Otter really enjoyed the short videos that usually demonstrate an experiment. He also liked the activities. One of the problems I ran into though was getting him to stop clicking around like a maniac and actually read and study the text!
That's one potential problem I see with amBooks. A student can click around and "play" without really taking the time to truly absorb each concept. Even though there are quizzes, you don't have to pass them to move on to the next section. In one way that's convenient because you have instant access to each topic within a book. However, there is no way for you to know your student actually studied the material unless you assign the questions at the very end of the book. If you do assign the questions, there are no answers for you to check so you'll either have to be familiar with the concepts yourself or you'll have to read over the book to know if your student got them right! I think this could be solved in the future by letting teachers download an accompanying PDF answer key.
After trying out all of our amBooks, I would say they are appropriate mostly for middle schoolers, although younger and older students could also benefit from some of the material. The only thing about using it with older students is that some of them might be put off by some of the "kiddy" graphics, although some of the books have a more mature feel to them like the one about solutions and suspensions. As for using it with younger students, there might be some activities are concepts that are too advanced. For example, we ran into some math in one of the books that kind of made Otter's eyes glaze over. A student would need to have a good understanding of pre-algebra to be able to complete it unassisted.
After reading the above page, you are asked to calculate the pressure exerted by a brick if it's placed on its largest and smallest surfaces. Otter wasn't sure how to proceed and there is no hand-holding to help explain the math. There is a solution if you get it wrong, but it was all mumbo-jumbo-yeah-whatever to Otter.
The book just assumes you have this level of mathematical knowledge. If your student doesn't though, he can just move on to the next section anyway.
I also ran into an error in one of the books. On the page below there is a little "Remember This" box that says, "To read more about mixtures, click here." Otter clicked and got an alert window that said that feature is not available. Maybe this is a bug that has yet to be worked out.
I'm glad I had a chance to review amBooks as they have added a fun component to our science studies. Otter likes them, but he has to be told to sit and actually study each page instead of jumping around to see what novelty each click will bring. He thought the books were mostly fun, but a few books didn't engage him as much as the others (hence the 7 stars rating, instead of something higher). I did hear comments like "Ohh neat!" and "Hey mom, look!" frequently enough to know he was having a good time, for the most part.
Overall, I think amBooks does a good job at getting concepts across in a way that is engaging and memorable. The animations and videos help make things very clear. The interactive sections are generally fun and bring a lot of life to what could otherwise be just plain, old-fashioned reading. Visual learners will likely think amBooks is a treat, but some students may be totally distracted by all of the choices, colors and cartoons all over the page. There is still some room for improvement. Some pages could have used more detailed explanations (like the math in the Force and Pressure book, as mentioned above) and sometimes there was a wide mix of graphics and activities that don't seem to know just what the intended audience is (elementary, middle school or high school?). The price is right for most of the chapters. $4.00 will get you about an hour's worth of learning and entertainment mixed. This time period might be shorter for some of the smaller chapters.
If you are looking for something to jazz up your science lesson and your kids enjoy learning things on the computer, amBooks are an affordable solution that you can purchase and download in a matter of minutes. They can help get a concept across that ordinary textbooks might not be able to.
You can download a free chapter of amBooks from the Mining Gems website. Just click on the contact form and make your request.
*Note: We received amBooks for free in exchange for this review. However, our review was not in anyway influenced by this fact. All our reviews reflect only our personal opinion(s) of materials. We aren't experts! We're just a homeschooling family with 3 kids and ideas of our own about what works and what doesn't for US.