TOS Crew: Apologia Science

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Apologia is something of a byword in Christian homeschooling circles.

I remember when our eldest was approaching seventh grade (a decade ago!). I asked a friend what to use for science, and she loaned me a copy of General Science to look through.

I’d been homeschooling long enough to be able to tell the difference between a textbook… and something else. Yes, General Science looked rather like a textbook, but when you started reading… The text was engaging, the experiments interesting and designed so that you could do them at home, with easily obtainable materials. You didn’t need a fully equipped lab to learn science in the homeschool.

Though money was tight, I invested in General Science. It was well worth the investment.

Since that time, Apologia has come out with a full range of Creation-based science curriculum, from elementary through upper-level high school, maintaining or exceeding their earlier level of quality. The books are thoughtfully written, beautifully illustrated, and contain a practical approach. Nowadays you can also buy a number of “helps” for their courses, such as audio CDs, containing the entire text of the book read aloud, and multi-media CD-Roms with pronunciation audio files and video clips.

Exploring Creation with Zoology 1: Flying Creatures of the Fifth Day is the first in their series of zoology-based elementary science texts.

Right away, you know where the author’s coming from.

“Fifth Day” refers to the fifth day of Creation, as in the Genesis account from the Bible.

This being Zoology 1, you’ll also find a few science basics. The first chapter, “What is Zoology?” introduces such topics as nomenclature, classification, habitats, instict, extinction, and then some specific flight-related concepts that would apply to birds, bats, flying reptiles, and insects.

There are fourteen chapters total, and if you take about two weeks for each the course will last you an academic year. Five chapters treat with birds, one with bats, one with pterosaurs, and the rest studying insects in general (with a whole chapter devoted to butterflies).

Though it looks like a textbook, the text is written in a lively, conversational style directly to (but not down to) the student, and colorful illustrations grace the pages.

The author, Jeannie Fulbright, subscribes to Charlotte Mason’s methods of education, so you’ll find a great deal of observation and thinking about what was observed, along with narration prompts (time for the student to “tell back” what was read) and notebook assignments. There are also lots of practical, hands-on projects, activities, and explorations or experiments. You’ll make a couple of bird feeders, for example, fill each with a different kind of food, and watch to see what kinds of birds prefer what kind of seeds.  You might build a birdbath, create a “fossil egg” while studying flying dinosaurs, build an insect zoo to facilitate observations.

If you study just flying creatures for a year, in-depth, aren’t you missing something? Actually, there’s a whole lot of learning going on! This sort of immersion into a topic lends itself to retention and learning how to learn, as opposed to covering a whole gamut of subjects in a quick and shallow manner, regurgitating information for a test, and then forgetting soon after.

Apologia’s Young Explorer series is a kind-and-gentle introduction to science that will prepare your young student for more challenging learning in later years. Each volume in the series is available for $35. You can also find lapbooking ideas and notebooking pages related to these books, some free and some for sale. Just do a search on the name of the textbook and “lapbook” or “notebook pages” to find resources. There is also a password-protected webpage (password in each textbook) to find web-based related material.

Oh, something I forgot to mention: My children have read all the books in this series for fun (and learning)!  It probably would have been better to go through the books methodically, doing the notebook pages and activities as we went along, but we belong to a homeschool science class, and class assignments take up so much of our time… we haven’t have time for more. However, we are studying birds this spring in our homeschool science class, and our family is using Flying Creatures of the Fifth Day and its activities for a supplement to our class assignments, though it could easily stand on its own.

Exploring Creation with General Science is the first of the “grown up” science courses intended to follow the elementary-level courses. Recommended for seventh grade, this course requires no special math knowledge to complete. “General” is the title and general is the theme, an overview of science beginning with a brief history of science from ancient times to the present day, followed by an introduction of the scientific method and conducting experiments. Next you have a smorgasbord of science: physics (simple machines), earth science (archaeology, geology, and paleontology with further topics in the fossil record and evolutionary theory), and life science (DNA, classification, and systems in the human body).

There are sixteen chapters (called “modules”), each designed to go through in about two weeks, for a total of thirty-two weeks of school, give or take some. It’s taking us longer to go through the book with our 7th grader, actually, because we’ve been interrupted by illness a lot this winter.

Text: I like the conversational tone of the text. My 7th grader is something of a reluctant student who would rather read adventure books than anything else. She says the text is “okay” and probably better than other textbooks she’s seen. (This would not be many, but we do keep a shelf of science textbooks from a major Christian educational publisher, for reference, and she’s read in these when a topic has stirred her interest.)

I’m very impressed with the experiments. They are practical and use easily obtainable items (things you have around the house, for the most part, and maybe a visit to the hardware store or drugstore, for the most part). The instructions are clear and written with safety in mind. Some of them are even fun! (from the perspective of a student who would rather be reading adventure novels) …like the experiment in growing crystals, which has a variation that results in rock candy.

To my student’s annoyance (and my satisfaction), review is built into the course, and a lot of independent learning is built into the design. A motivated student will find “On Your Own” questions at intervals in the text, which stimulate thought about the topic at hand. Ideally the student will take time to answer the “On Your Own” questions and then look at the back of the chapter for the answers. This student will also take time to write down the bolded words and their definitions, creating their own glossary, stop reading when an experiment comes up in the text, perform the experiment, and then go on in the lesson.

Each module ends in a study guide that you can use as an open-book test, preparation for the “real” chapter test, which is in the Solutions Manual. More on that in a minute.

The way the Study Guide works in our house: I do an oral quiz. Anything my student can’t answer has to be researched and written out. Since my 7th grader hates to write (would much rather type) this is a great motivator to be thorough earlier on. There’s also an appendix with a Summary for each module. These summaries are just that: They summarize the information in the module, with strategically placed blanks just waiting to be filled in.

Other reference material: a glossary, an appendix which collects major figures from the modules in one place, a complete list of lab supplies, organized by module, and an index. Icons appear in the text where a related video or audio file is available on a Companion Multi-media CD-Rom (available from Apologia for $15), to supplement learning. The book begins with a list of contact information for students who need help (I’ve always been impressed with this feature of Apologia science), “Student Notes” about how to attack the course, and (as with the elementary courses) a password to get you into a protected website with web-based materials related to the course.

Exploring Creation with General Science, the student text, is $65. An audio CD ($15)  is available containing MP3 audio files of the text and on-your-own questions, for students who struggle in reading. You can get the full course on CD-Rom (I think this includes all the text from the textbook, the multi-media files, and the solutions and tests) for $65. See the Apologia website for details.

Back to the Solutions and Tests for Exploring Creation with General Science. This $20 book is well worth the investment. Not only does it contain all the answers to the Study Guides and Summaries in the student text, but also end-of-module tests for each module, along with cumulative exams (and answer keys) that can be used as quarter or semester tests, or a final exam for the course.

Exploring Creation with General Science is an excellent, solid, creation-based science course, even if you have a student who has been spoiled with too much reading for pleasure. It’s one of the first real textbook-type books we’ve used with our 7th grade student, and while it was something of a shock to our systems, it is so well-put-together that we’re making it work. That’s saying a lot!

To read more TOS Crew opinions of Apologia Science, please click here.

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