|Publisher: Gravitas Publications
Author: Dr. Rebecca W. Keller
Review last updated: October 2009
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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?)
Real Science-4-Kids differs from typical school science programs for the elementary grades in that it covers far fewer topics but in much greater depth than most programs that teach many topics at a relatively superficial level. 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" books are for grades 9 through 12. Thus far, Chemistry, Biology, Physics, Astonomy, and Geology are available for the first two levels. While Chemistry for the high school level is available, it is being rewritten—wait for the new edition, likely in 2014. Note that the actual titles of the courses are Focus on Elementary Biology, Focus on Middle School Physics, etc.
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."
In the Chemistry book, young students learn about atoms, molecules and chemical bonds since this helps them understand other science concepts. Biology is a little more topical, reflecting the breadth of concepts under that heading. Students learn about classification and naming, and then cells. With a very basic understanding of cells, they go on to learn about plants including some of the functions of cells. Other topics in Biology are protozoa, butterflies, frogs, and ecological balance.
Instruction is presented in hard cover, full-color, heavily-illustrated books. The beautiful cover art work and illustrations throughout the textbooks give this series visual appeal beyond most science textbooks. While the explanations are simplified for younger children, the vocabulary still includes words like "evaporation, acid-base reactions, indicators, chromatography, chloroplasts, cilia," and "organelle." Elementary level books should be great for second through fourth graders, but they might be too challenging for kindergartners and first graders. Obviously, reading would be a problem for most younger students, so you would have to read books to them.
To make concepts easier to grasp, each lesson has an experiment or observation in the companion Laboratory Workbook. A Teacher's Manual for each text provides lesson plans and instructions for teachers. This includes an easy-to-use list of materials you will need for each experiment at the very beginning. For all courses, 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 would need to order from a science materials supplier.
Experiments and observations 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.
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. Extensive 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 courses, and each course covers material very similar to that in the younger books, albeit at expanded, more-challenging levels. The Elementary level books taught serious science, but Middle School level definitely takes it up a notch or two. Math is incorporated into science, something that frequently doesn't happen until high school level in other science courses.
Laboratory activities are likewise more advanced, but they are still accomplished for the most part with easy-to-obtain materials. Biology is the only course that might require you to purchase from a specialty source.
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. Student books include "Review" pages for students to define vocabulary used in the lesson. Answers for these review pages are in the TMs. 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.
The relatively brief length of the books becomes even more of an issue in grades 5 through 8. You can certainly do more than one course within one school year, and you might want to expand with Gravitas' Kogs-4 Kids™ books to use alongside the Chemistry course.
Gravitas Publications came up with the Kogs-4 Kids™ books to help promote a broader scientific literacy. Right now there is only one set of the Kogs, and they are written to accompany Middle School Chemistry. This series of six workbooks shows science connections to other subjects. Titles are: Critical Thinking Kog, History Kog, Language Kog, Philosophy Kog, Technology Kog, and Arts Kog. (Gravitas has a bundle with the core Chemistry books plus all six Kogs and a lesson plan booklet that shows how to incorporate the Kogs with Chemistry for a 22-week course.) 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.
Using the Kogs and Chemistry (Middle School) course could be sufficient for science for a year, and you would be covering lots of materials for other subject areas at the same time. However, Gravitas does suggest that it is possible to also complete Biology along with Chemistry and Kogs at an accelerated pace.
Bundles include the core course items you need, but bundles are also available that include supplemental resources you might want to use. Gravitas sells book bundles, study bundles, and course bundles. 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 ($147 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.
Gravitas has a supplemental series of books that help connect science to language arts. The "Connects to Language" series includes Chemistry Connects to Language, Biology Connects to Language, and Physics Connects to Language. These books use a "root word" approach to teach scientific vocabulary through a variety of exercises. While these might be too challenging for some fourth graders with words such as "phagocytosis, aerophagia," and "anthropophagite," they should be great for junior high students and high school students.
High School level has only Chemistry available thus far. The course can be considered introductory chemistry 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 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.
Real Science-4-Kids offers substantive science instruction, especially for kindergarten through eighth grade. It also meets the needs of those looking for a religiously neutral approach. It does require teacher preparation and presentation time, especially since the lab work is directly connected with each lesson in its corresponding textbook. 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.
Sample bundle prices from the publisher:
Pre-Level 1 Biology bundle - $66.45
Level 1 Chemistry bundle (includes Connections to Language) - $78.85
Level 1 Chemistry bundle that includes the above plus 6 Kogs - $199.95
Level 2 Chemistry bundle (includes Connections to Language) - $109.75
- 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: Neutral - no religious or anti-religious content
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