|Publisher: Gravitas Publications
Author: Dr. Rebecca W. Keller
Review last updated: March 2015
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Focus On Biology
Real Science-4-Kids was created by Dr. Rebecca Keller in response to a need she discovered while home educating her own children. Because of her strong background in science (Ph.D. in biophysical chemistry and former research assistant professor), Dr. Keller wanted science curriculum with solid content that children would enjoy. Unable to find such a program, she decided to create it herself. (Isn't this a familiar story for so many homeschool products?)
Dr. Keller identifies five core disciplines for science and teaches everything under these categories: chemistry, physics, biology, astronomy, and geology. She frequently demonstrates how these categories overlap. She uses the example that "photosynthesis is a combination of chemistry and biology." But for children to understand this, they need to know something about atoms, molecules and chemical bonds. So Chemistry, even for young students, introduces these concepts since they are foundational for other science concepts.
Instruction is presented in full-color, heavily-illustrated books. The beautiful cover art work and illustrations throughout the textbooks give this series visual appeal beyond most science textbooks. The illustrations are also very helpful for conveying science concepts.
The content is challenging. While the explanations are simplified for younger children, the books for the youngest levels include words and terms such as, "acid-base reaction, indicators, chromatography, chloroplast, protozoa," and "paramecium" (Focus On Biology and Focus on Chemistry Pre-Level I).You will need to use discernment in selecting courses for the primary grades. First graders who are still learning to read might be easily overwhelmed. You should probably read student textbooks aloud with students in the primary grades, and you will need to work closely with them on lab activities and questions. Even with older students, you might select a level below their actual grade level if it seems more appropriate.
To make lesson material easier to grasp, experiments or observations in the companion laboratory workbooks reinforce and demonstrate lesson concepts. The experiments and observations also teach children the scientific method. While there is space for students to write observations and thoughts about the lab activities, frequently there is also instruction to draw in response to a question rather than write. Obviously, younger students might need to dictate some responses for someone else to write.
Unit Studies or Grade-Level Courses
Dr. Keller first created the Focus On series, a unit study approach to science that addresses one topic at a time. More recently, she created the Building Blocks series with content from all five key areas of science at each grade level. The content of both series is essentially the same but the arrangement of topics is dramatically different.
Focus On Series
The Focus On series differs from typical school science programs for the elementary grades with its unit study approach. It addresses each of the five areas of science—chemisty, biology, geology, astronomy, and physics—each with their own course book for each level. Working through the two or three courses for each area of science, it builds from the basics to much greater depth than do most programs. Rather than targeting specific grade levels, each book is geared toward a range of grade levels. "Elementary" books are written for grades K through 4. "Middle School" books are for grades 5 through 8, and "High School" level is for grades 9 through 12. Chemistry, Biology, Physics, Astonomy, and Geology are available for the first two levels, while only Chemistry is offered for high school.
With the Focus On series, each book has only ten chapters and might take as few as ten weeks to complete. That means that you could complete from one to three courses in one school year in the Elementary series. Charts showing course sequencing options on the publisher's website will help you sort out which coures to use depending upon the student's prior knowledge and starting grade level.
Middle School level is in many ways similar to Elementary level. It has the same course titles, and each course covers material very similar to that in the younger books, albeit at expanded, more-challenging levels. The Elementary level books are suprisingly challenging, and the Middle School level definitely takes it up a notch or two more. Also, math is incorporated into science, something that frequently doesn't happen until high school level in other science courses. Similarly, laboratory activities are challenging in the Elementary Level and more so at the Middle School level.
For each course, there is one experiment for each of the textbook's ten chapters.Teacher's manuals for Elementary level provide instructions for the lab activities. Teacher's manuals for Middle School level include teaching information and summaries of text information in addition to instructions for the lab work. An easy-to-use list of materials you will need for each experiment is at the very beginning of each teacher's manual. For all experiments, resources are items that are mostly household items or those that are easy to find, although there are occasional exceptions such as the purchase of a Butterfly kit you will need to order from a science materials supplier.
Laboratory workbooks include "Review" pages for students to write definitions of key concepts taught in the corresponding lessons. Answers for these review pages are in the teacher's manuals. There are no quizzes or tests. Lesson material is discussed and applied to some extent in the lab work, and this should give you sufficient feedback on a student's grasp of concepts.
Chemistry for high school level can be considered introductory rather than a complete chemistry course. At 243 pages, the text does a thorough job of teaching those topics it addresses with a generous number of full-color illustrations and understandable text, but it does not attempt to cover all of the same content covered in standard high school chemistry courses. Missing, for example are heat reactions. The ten experiments in the lab book are also insufficient for a high school course. Each lesson in the book, including reading the text and completing the experiment should take from 3 to 5 hours. With ten lessons, that makes a total of only about 40 hours (using an average of 4 hours per lesson). The text includes study questions (answer key is in the teacher's manual), but there are no quizzes or tests. Dr. Keller plans to add additional chapters to the next edition to expand it into a complete high school level course.
The relatively brief length of the books means that you will probably want to complete more than one course in a year for students past the primary grades. However, for at least one year, you might want to expand with Gravitas' Kogs-4 Kids™ books to use alongside the Middle School Chemistry course. The six Kogs-4 Kids™ workbooks help promote a broader scientific literacy by teaching science connections to other subjects. Titles are: Critical Thinking Kog, History Kog, Language Kog, Philosophy Kog, Technology Kog, and Arts Kog. All six Kogs are printed in black-and-white, and they vary in length from 78 to 126 pages.
The Critical Thinking Kog is an introductory course in critical thinking for upper elementary students. It includes introduction of logic and basic fallacies, generally using examples from chemistry. The History Kog explores the history of chemistry through brief biographical sketches and stories of discoveries and inventions. Students occasionally write responses to questions and fill in timelines in the workbook. The Technology Kog is a fascinating look at a variety of topics interspersed with a few hands-on activities and some written responses. Some topics include nanotechnology, crystals, hard water, etching, antacids in the human body, ferro fluids, hydrogenated fats, and synthetic fabrics like Nomex and Kevlar. The Philosophy Kog revisits some of the conversations ancient philosophers (natural scientists) might have had regarding their ideas. Text is enhanced with cartoon illustrations, "philosophy plays" (dialogues), and discussion questions. The Arts Kog really has to stretch into physics in addition to chemistry to make applications to music, visual arts, literary arts, dramatic arts, and architecture. A variety of activities reflect applications in the different areas.
Bundles for each Focus On course include the core items you need, and different bundles are available that include supplemental resources you might want to use. Book bundles ($67 each) include the text, teacher's manual, lab workbook, and lesson plan. Study bundles ($97 each) add the Study Folder and quizzes (both digital products). Course bundles ($183 each) add to the study bundle ten recorded lectures and online quizzes and activities.
Study Folders are like lapbooks. These are digital products with printable pages used for activities such as filling in the blanks, drawing, and writing, to create a Study Folder corresponding with one of the courses. You need purchase only one for your entire family to use. Study Folders might make recording and studying information more appealing for some students.
Building Blocks Series
Since many families prefer to cover many areas of science each year rather than take a unit study approach, Dr. Keller repackaged and expanded her Focus On course material into grade level books to create the Building Blocks series. Each year, students study all five areas of science as they would eventually do if they worked through the Focus On courses. Both text and illustrations in the student books have been borrowed from the Focus On series with minor changes and additions.
Building Blocks courses are available for kindergarten through fifth grade, with courses for grades six through eight due in 2015-2016.
The kindergarten level differs from all of the other levels. It is a black-and-white workbook with activities and coloring pages that touch on all five areas of science. It is most useful for those using other levels of Building Blocks with older children since it gives kindergartners a way to follow along with what their older siblings are learning, although at a much simpler level.
Books 1 through 5 (approximately for grades one through five) each have the three components mentioned above: a student textbook, a teacher's manual, and a lab workbook.These three items are sold as a bundle ($127 per level). Quizzes are optional ($10 if purchased with the bundle).
Lessons in Building Blocks are grouped under the five science headings: chemistry, biology, physics, astronomy, and geology, with at least 18 lessons for each topic in each course. In addition, there are at least five introductory lessons and at least five concluding lesson that address science more broadly. The number of lessons increases from level to level, but there is plenty of material for a full school year in each course. The lab workbooks have four experiments for each of the five areas of science (one experiment for each unit within each area) and one each for the introductory and concluding lessons.
The teacher's manual for each course serves as a guide for the lab workbook rather than for the textbook. The textbooks are self explanatory, and each chapter has a concluding summary of key points. There are no questions in the student textbook. While lab workbooks require students to work through the scientific method with each experiment, they also pose "Think About It" questions where students must draw upon what they have learned in the textbook.
While suggested answers or expected results are often shown in the teacher's manualsm many questions are open ended. Parents should be reading the text and discussing it with their children as well as guiding children through the lab workbooks. As they do so, they should be able to readily evaluate student responses in the lab workbooks. Parents who want additional accountability for their children can purchase the optional quizzes with answer keys for each level.
Whether you choose Focus On or Building Blocks, Real Science-4-Kids offers substantive and challenging science instruction up through junior high. It also meets the needs of those looking for a religiously neutral approach. It does require teacher preparation and presentation time. Even, so it should be very easy for parents without much science background to teach. They might actually enjoy learning science for a change since Real Science-4-Kids makes it so easy to understand.
See review for prices or check the publisher's website.
- Suitable for: group or one-on-one situations; levels each stretch to cover a range of grade levels
Audience: grades K-9
Need for parent/teacher instruction: moderate to high
Prep time needed: moderate to high
Need for Teacher's Manual: essential
Religious perspective: secular
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