Tuesday, July 16, 2013

High School Biology in Your Home {Schoolhouse Crew Review}

High school science can be pretty intimidating for a lot of homeschoolers, myself included. We didn't have the easiest time getting through Biology with my oldest two, and I was hoping to find something we would like better now that Landon is entering high school. Seemed like truly perfect timing when we had the opportunity to review High School Biology In Your Home from Bridget Ardoin's Science for High School series.
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It's tempting to believe that science textbooks for homeschool use are all pretty much the same thing, but Bridget Ardoin's approach really is different. Most importantly, this is not a traditional "read the chapter, regurgitate the information for the test" curriculum! In these high school science courses, the emphasis is on research and lab work. The series author, Bridget Ardoin, has a degree in microbiology, and has experience in teaching and tutoring high school sciences. The Science for High School series is the result. In High School Biology In Your Homethe student is expected to research the assigned topics and answer the specific questions for each. They can use traditional textbooks, library resources, and the internet to discover the answers to questions and prompts such as:

  • Research how a plant cell produces energy, and how an animal cell produces energy. (Week 2: Cell Processes)
  • Research causes and treatments of acne. (Week 3: Body Systems and Integumentary Systems)
  • What are monocytes and lymphocytes, and what are their functions? (Week 7: Circulatory System)
  • What is the difference between the exocrine glands and the endocrine glands? (Week 11: Endocrine System)
Those are from the first semester, which covers cells and human anatomy and physiology. The second semester explores living animals and plants.  (See the Biology Syllabus and Sample Pages)

The student has a week to work on the research, and then can present their answers to the parent/teacher. The teacher's guide includes the answers to all the research questions so that it's not difficult to assess the student's work. There is lab or microscope work for each unit, and it's recommended that this be completed after the student and parent have discussed the research. The student pages have instructions for the projects and space for sketches and notes, and the parent pages have example diagrams of what the dissections and sketches should look like. There is also a quiz for each unit, and end of semester exams.

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How did we use it? For the most part, we followed the curriculum as it is laid out, although we wound up doing the the lab work well after Landon had done the research. This is because we didn't have access to a microscope right away. Landon worked on the research, taking about five or six school days to get through each unit. Some of the research questions challenged his skills and creativity just in where to look for an answer. He consulted the internet and a couple of science resources we have at home, including a science encyclopedia, and I hunted down some library books I thought would be helpful. I think finding resources in the style and difficulty level appropriate for the student is key to success with this. Landon didn't like the encylopedia style text nearly as much as the more conversational and specific anatomy text we had.

This was really different from what he's been accustomed to in that he had to do all the research himself. It was a stretch, and we battled attitude at first. Landon doesn't like to write, so he generally kept his research summary as brief as he could. That said, there were a couple of questions where he surprised me by providing a lot more detail in his response than what the teacher's pages indicated! Overall, it was a bit overwhelming to be faced with needing to do the research and where to start, so this was - and still is - a learning curve for Landon, and I expect it would be for any student for whom this is a different approach to studying. Landon expressed frustration when he had to go to a bunch of websites and flip through several books, and still not be sure that he was finding the answer he needed. This was especially apparent in the first couple of weeks, and of course he was still adjusting to the approach too. It did get better for him once he was researching body systems. For example, almost all the information he needed for the research on the Skeletal System in Week 5 could be found in the human anatomy textbook I had available for him, and it was all in one chapter of that book too.

Being able to sit down together and have him present his findings to me was a good experience. In fact, during our regular school year, I will look forward to having him do that with Kennady (Grade 7) able to sit in with us. That way Landon will be helping to teach Kennady, and I think it puts into practice the idea that you prove what you've learned by teaching it to others. Using a microscope for the first time was a bit nerve-wracking at first, but I think it's safe to say the microscope labs have whetted his interest. It seems odd to me that Landon isn't more interested in dissection though. I would have thought he'd be all about that, but he's really not, so I haven't pushed that much so far.

Landon was skeptical of having to do the research to find out about something like the layers and components of skin in the first place, and then having to answer a question about the layers and components of skin again in the chapter quiz. And I sort of see his point, not that I'll do away with the quizzes. They are there to see how much he remembered and understood from the research he did.

I'm finding it more difficult in this review to summarize the things we liked, because there are a number of things that I liked, but that are challenging for my student!

What we liked best:

  • I like that the student has to take responsibility for studying the topic. Landon felt somewhat differently, of course, because that made his job a bit harder! 
  • I also like that the student is required to do more than just fill in blanks or do multiple choice answers. I think it's good discipline and practice for Landon to write a paragraph (or two, or five) to explain muscle endurance and how to build it, rather than just give a yes or no answer. That is a challenge for him because he doesn't like writing, but to his credit, he has not complained even once about having to write so much for science. 
  • Each student can use the types of resources that they like best, and in whatever combination works best.
  • Emphasis on research and hands-on activities.
  • schedule is easy to follow because it's laid out week by week, and the teacher's manual has very helpful supply lists by week, so it's easy to plan ahead (any failure we experienced in this area was mine entirely!) 
  • We found that one week - between four and six hours of research time - was about right for each chapter, so this should work out well for us in scheduling the school year.

What I need to mention:

  • students who don't know how to do their own research, or who heartily dislike it, will probably not enjoy this approach. While it's flexible enough to allow the student to delve deep into any topic that interests them and perhaps spend a little less time on the topics that don't, it does rely on the student's ability to do effective research and manage his own time.
  • Because of the emphasis on hands-on (which I like!), it is important to have the materials available. We didn't have the use of a microscope until several weeks into the review period, and it would have been so much better had we been able to view that onion root tip right after researching and discussing mitosis rather than doing it weeks afterwards. For Biology, you will need a microscope, prepared slides, and a dissection kit; so I recommend planning ahead accordingly. (For the record, when the official school year begins, we will review everything Landon's done so far, in order, and do all the labwork again in the right order too.)
  • I'm still considering how I will assign grades for this. The chapter tests and semester exams are straight-forward in grading, but I'm not quite sure how to fairly assess the research and labs. 

Our bottom line: Biology isn't a favorite subject, but Landon knows that it's required during high school. He isn't enthusiastic about studying it, but we've decided that using High School Biology In Your Home is going to be an effective way of getting it done, and we can adapt it to suit our schedule and his interest level. I think that for a student that is self-motivated and has an interest in biology, this is an excellent choice for high school science! For a student like mine, that is a bit reluctant at best, I believe this can still work very well, but will require more time and effort from the parent to encourage and guide the student through it. I would have no hesitation in recommending this for those motivated and research-loving students, but for the reluctant and struggling student, it may be a challenge and I'd advise the parent of that student to take that into consideration.

Would Science for High School be a good fit in your homeschool? Here's what you need to know:
Visit the website at: http://ScienceforHighSchool.com
You can also view the Syllabus and Sample pages for Biology.

Pricing: The set of manuals for High School Biology in Your Home is available for $79.99. This includes the bound parent manual with a list of all necessary materials, a full answer key to all questions and quizzes, and diagrams of the dissections. Visit the Science for High School shop to purchase this set and to see the related products available.

Recommended Ages: The Science for High School courses are designed for Grades 8-12. Bridget Ardoin discusses Order of Sciences on the website, which provides additional guidance.

You can follow Science for High School on Facebook, or follow Bridget Ardoin on LinkedIn.

Visit the Schoolhouse Review Crew blog for more information and to read other Crew member reviews. Crew members also reviewed High School Chemistry in Your Home, and High School Physical Science in Your Home, so be sure to check out their thoughts on those titles as well!

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Unknown said...

Thanks for all the information about the curriculum. Does it require Algebra? I am thinking about using it for my 8th grade son, who just started learning Algebra. Regards

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