In the Building Foundations of Scientific Understanding (BFSU) series, three volumes comprise a complete science program for kindergarten through eighth grade that builds a solid science foundation step-by-step.
Volume I is written for students in kindergarten through second grade. Volume II targets grades three through five, while Volume III is for grades six through eight. Those beginning in the program with students in third grade or above need to review topics taught at earlier levels to ensure that students have learned foundational information before moving ahead. The author suggests using Amazon.com’s “See Inside” feature to review the beginning material in the books that describes the content covered. From this, you might be able to devise your own means of presenting topics your children might not have learned, but I suspect it might be easier to simply purchase the lower-level book(s) and work through the necessary lessons.
Each level has four “threads” that are taught in tandem: The Nature of Matter, Life Science, Physical Science, and Earth and Space. At the beginning of each book are descriptions of the content of each thread. This is followed by flow charts that are essential for determining which lessons to teach in which order. Flow charts show the sequence of lessons within threads as well as connections between the threads. For example, in Volume I, the first lesson in the third thread should be followed by the third lesson in the second thread because the concepts build upon one another. As Dr. Nebel explains, “Major ideas and concepts are digested into easy-to-follow, incremental steps (individual lessons) that build logically and systematically. By following this logical, steppingstone-like sequence, each new lesson provides a natural review and reinforcement of what has gone before and leads to a solid, integrated knowledge and understanding of the whole” (Volume I, p.1). Many times you can select which thread to pursue for a few lessons before you need to switch to another thread. This allows you to adapt to seasons, availability of field trips, or other elements that might dictate better times for particular lessons.
Each volume covers a three-year span, so you will not normally complete any of the threads in a single year. There is no set stopping point for each year unless you reach the end of a volume; you can stop wherever you deem appropriate. Each of the four threads picks up where it left off in the next volume. For example, the first thread is numbered lessons A-1 through A-10 in Volume I, and that same thread picks up with lesson A-11 in Volume II.
BFSU incorporates both content and activity into lessons, but more than most programs for elementary grades, it uses discussion and critical thinking to help children learn to think scientifically, building strong foundational knowledge in the different areas of science. BFSU also uses the inquiry method of learning so that children are stimulated to ask questions, make connections, and discover concepts through activity, observation, and reasoning. To this end, teachers are urged to look for real-life connections and applications. Discussions are open-ended with the goal of helping children develop critical thinking skills rather than simply memorize and respond with correct answers. (How to do this is covered extensively at the beginning of the first volume and briefly at the beginning of the other volumes.)
Plenty of information for the teacher is included within each lesson, both on the topic and as teaching strategies, so even an inexperienced teacher/parent should have enough information to properly understand the topic before teaching it. This background information, often presented in separate teacher guides in other programs, makes each textbook “bulkier” than if it were divided into teacher and student books. The three volumes have 381, 469, and 496 pages, respectively.
As children progress, they learn to record and analyze data, hypothesize, test their hypotheses, and write their conclusions. BFSU challenges students to learn at a higher level than do most other resources for the lower elementary grades. For example, in Volume I, children learn about vertebrates, invertebrates, arthropods, and exoskeletons, learning both vocabulary and concepts.
Each lesson begins with a brief overview and estimate of the time that will be required. Some lessons—such as tracking seasonal changes—will continue over a number of months alongside other lessons.
Next are lesson objectives. This is followed by an unusual item, “Required Background.” Required background lists the lessons/content students should know before moving on to the new lesson. This provides a built-in review system.
A list of materials needed for each lesson generally includes items that are easy to find along with household items. However, you will occasionally need to find items such as specimens for observation or dissection, batteries and copper wire, and scientific equipment such as a microscope and a triple-beam balance. (The last two items are required for Volume II.) Most of the time, you are free to choose whether to demonstrate a concept yourself or have students perform the experiment or activity themselves.
Another unique feature of each lesson is a section on “Teachable Moments.” Here you find suggestions for games, activities, and other ideas for “hooking” a child’s interest in the topic you are preparing to teach.
“Methods and Procedures” walks you through the lesson with both the activities and questions for discussion to be used along the way rather than only at the end.
“Questions/Discussion/Activities to Review, Reinforce, Expand, and Assess Learning” suggests a variety of activities to ensure that students have grasped the lesson concepts. Discussion, research, hands-on activities, reports, and other suggestions combine with written activities in this section of the lesson. In Volume I, students frequently create small booklets where they record information. In Volumes II and III, students create their own notebooks in hardcover composition books. At the end of each lesson are lists of things to be recorded in student notebooks. Volume III notes the difficulty of getting some students to write in notebooks and allows for the possibility of students working on the computer. However the notebook pages are created, they are to be organized into a binder or notebook, and a table of contents needs to be created so that students might easily find and review material. Remember that students have no other text, so their notebooks become important reference tools.
A section titled “To Parents and Others Providing Support” is intended to keep parents or caregivers informed about what children are learning and also to help them engage their children in discussions. Home educators might incorporate some of these suggestions into their lessons.
Lessons require teacher preparation and presentation. The teacher must become familiar with the lesson content in order to lead discussions. Resources have to be gathered and organized. Since these textbooks are not illustrated, the teacher will need to use the internet or other books to find illustrations. A list of “Books for Correlated Reading” at the end of each lesson provides more options for sources for illustrations as well as ideas for supplemental reading. You really should try to use some of these additional books.
This program is not for independent study. Most lessons will work better with more than one child for the discussion and activities, but lessons can be used with a single student.
For those concerned about the science standards, this program covers the science standards for the state of California and goes beyond them. Each lesson includes a list of the pertinent science standards that are met.
These books are amazingly affordable. Print (on demand) copies range from about $25 to $35 each, Kindle editions are $9.99 each, and e-book downloads are only $5 each! But keep in mind that the format is unusual. There are no student texts.
While this program uses an excellent methodology and is very affordable for home educators, it will require more time to implement than most other programs. (You might consider as an alternative, Scientific Connections through Inquiry, an easier-to-use program with similar content.) In addition, many home educators will have trouble with lessons at the end of Volume III where Dr. Nebel deals with the age of the earth and evolution. For example, Lesson D-19 in Volume III, “Eons of Earth History,” makes a case for the earth being millions of years old and “Uniformitarianism” (changes in the earth's surface that occurred in the past can be attributed to the same causes we can observe today) without presenting any conflicting evidence such as evidence for “Catastrophism” (many changes that uniformitarians claim to have required millions of years might have been caused by cataclysmic flooding and/or earthquakes and volcanic activity). Contradictory evidence from the fossil record is also not mentioned. Likewise in Lesson D-20 “Darwin’s Observations and Reasoning,” Dr. Nebel presents an apologetic for Darwinian thought without presenting credible arguments to the contrary of which there are many. While he explains that he is presenting the information and allowing students to make up their own minds, the information is heavily weighted in one direction. Creationists and young-earth proponents might use these lessons to teach their children what others are learning, but they should also supplement with other resources that present other views. Note that these problematic lessons appear only at the end of Volume III.
Dr. Nebel moderates a Yahoo group, K5science (groups.yahoo.com/group/K5science), where users can get free support.