The Holt Science & Technology series targets middle school students with courses for Earth Science, Life Science, and Physical Science. See my notes on Earth and Life Science courses at the end of this review. Physical Science is an excellent text for studying matter and energy that should present no content problems for most homeschooling families.
With a 2007 copyright, the text is current with actual events, scientific discoveries, and real life examples. A challenging text that incorporates math, it should be appropriate for most eighth grade students.
The homeschool package has three components: a hefty, 820-page, hardcover student textbook; a Chapter Resources CD-ROM; and a Homeschool Parent Guide CD-ROM.
The full-color textbook is loaded with information, activities, and plenty of illustrations. Activities can be used at numerous points in the lessons. Quick Labs are fairly simple demonstrations or experiments used to demonstrate concepts as you teach a lesson. Chapter Labs at the end of each chapter are more extensive labs with worksheets found on the Chapter Resources CD-ROM. At the end of the text is an extensive section with an additional one to three labs per chapter; these also have worksheets on the CD. A few of these involve construction of models. As you can see, there are likely more labs than you will be able to use. Labs require easily accessible items like string, two-liter bottles, rubber bands, scissors, and clay, but they sometimes also require scientific equipment such as a graduated cylinder, spring scale, magnet wire, a voltmeter, hydrochloric acid, and phenolphthalein solution. Joining with another family for labs might make acquiring some of the equipment practical.
Students might read through the text on their own, but lesson plans point out topics for discussion, explanations, and other teaching that might be interspersed throughout a lesson. Sidebars in the text also alert students to potential internet activities or information they might investigate. Frequent “Reading Checks” follow groups of paragraphs with a question that checks on comprehension of key information. Answers to the Reading Checks are in the text’s appendices so students can self-check.
Chapters are broken down into sections. Each section concludes with a summary of key points, vocabulary activities, comprehension questions, a math application question, and critical thinking questions. Each chapter concludes with a two-page “Chapter Review” that has a similar variety of questions: vocabulary, key ideas, math skills, and critical thinking, although many of these are now posed as multiple-choice questions. An additional section of questions is added for “Interpreting Graphics.” Following the Chapter Review are two-pages of ‘Standardized Test Preparation” questions and two-pages of cross-curricula activities.
On the Chapter Resources CD-ROM are PDF files with lab guidelines, rubrics for evaluating lab work and written work, forms to helps students work through writing a science research paper, skills worksheets for each chapter, section reviews, chapter reviews, reinforcement worksheets, critical thinking worksheets, instructions and data sheets for labs, and answer keys. You will not use all of the worksheets since some are intended to help struggling learners. A chart on this CD explains the purpose and use of each component.
The Homeschool Parent Guide CD-ROM has detailed lesson plans. You will need to use both CDs. While this sounds like a lot to sort through, the text is actually very easy to follow, and you might be able to work directly from the text rather than the lesson plans most of the time.
This is a secular text designed to meet national science standards. It has challenging science content, but the content is made accessible by the multitude of activities for students to learn by experience. While it was written for use in classrooms, it can easily be used by home educators, although some lab work might be difficult in a home environment. The teacher needs no background to teach the course. The parent/teacher will need some lesson preparation time, especially to prepare for demonstrations and/or activities.
Earth and Life Science courses are similar in layout to the Physical Science course, but they might be more problematic for some homeschoolers. Earth Science is a challenging text, but interestingly presented like Physical Science. It covers all earth science topics (e.g., the earth's surface, rocks and minerals, energy, the rock and fossil record, plate tectonics, the water cycle, volcanoes and earthquakes, oceanography, weather, and atmosphere) as well as space science. Problem areas might be that it teaches that the universe was formed billions of years ago throughout the text and it teaches evolution, suggesting that "chemicals may have combined to form the complex molecules that made life possible" (p. 627). All of this is essentially the standard outlook of the dominant scientific community. The text does suggest that global warming is a debatable topic and that students should reserch and write an article supporting their own viewpoint, so it does present some controversial ideas in a balanced fashion.
Life Science is more problematic. It, too, presents views of the dominant scientific community. However, I found instances where it presents questionable information, especially in regard to evolution. It frequently uses the term "scientists believe," implying that all scientists believe the same thing on debatable issues. For example, on page 201 it says, "Scientists think that life developed from simple chemicals in the oceans and in the atmosphere." On page 177, it has a chart showing Thomas Malthus's prediction about human population outstripping food supply such that there should have been worldwide mass starvation some time ago. There's an activity to go along with this that reinforces Malthus's theory, yet the text presents no explanation of why Malthus's prediction has not come true. However, there is a "science blooper" in the Homeschool Parent Guide CD-ROM, that discusses Malthus's error. (This points out the importance of using the Parent Guide!) In general, I think I am most concerned about the "evidence" for evolution that is presented without consideration for other possible explanations and information presented in a partial fashion in such a way as to support evolution. An example of the latter would be the study of the geologic eras that teaches slow, gradual changes in organisms yet fails to discuss the Cambrian Explosion. To its credit, this text does not repeat some of the falsified evidence for evolution such as the peppered moths. It also discusses the descent of man and other hominids as coming from a common ancestor rather than in a direct chain of descent. You could use this text if you believe evolutionary theory, but I would encourage you to have your children investigate many of the evolution topics to get a better understanding of the weaknesses of the theory.