Classic Science offers highly visual science courses with hands-on activities that were written for homeschoolers from a secular perspective. Classic Science features both an “Elementary” series for students in grades one through eight and an “Advanced” series for high school. All courses are available as PDF files. Elementary courses gradually advance in difficulty, so according to the author you should generally try to use them in the following order unless you are starting at sixth grade or above:
The Advanced series can be used without having used the Elementary series. Course titles are:
Advanced Biology: Anatomy and Physiology
Advanced Earth Science
These are high school level courses for lab science that satisfy high school credit requirements although they are not as rigorous as college prep or honors courses. Another course, Advanced Physics, is still in the works.
You can download the first chapter of any course for free so that you can decide before buying whether or not you think it will be at the right level for your child.
Student books have a sort of comic book appearance with boldly-colored illustrations and speech bubbles on some pages plus font and artwork styles that you find in comics. In addition, children should enjoy the light hearted tone in instances such as: “Please don’t go looking for a nose on the tree in your front yard! It doesn’t have one, does it? A tree takes in air differently than we do” (Elementary Life Science, page.8).
While the content has more kid-appeal than that in most science texts, it’s also teaching serious science. Don’t let the “Elementary” label fool you into thinking the lower level series are just for the primary grades. In fact, you probably need to be more cautious about choosing a course that’s too challenging for younger students. I would probably start this series in third or fourth grade myself.
The parent copy (your teacher manual) does not include the text for each lesson with its illustrations and activities. Instead it has general instructions for teaching the course plus lesson plans and answer keys. Lesson plans explain what you will be doing each day and how to do it. The parent copy includes charts with vocabulary words and definitions; these are not in chart form in student books but are sprinkled throughout the lessons. However, all courses have a glossary at the back of the student book.
Author Scott McQuerry gives parents sample questions (with answers) to ask after the child reads (or parent and child read together) the text for the lesson. Answers for worksheets are listed, but answers are only in the parent copies and question are only in student books.
Elementary courses are designed in four-week units while units in the Advanced courses cover either two or three weeks each. All levels have lessons for three days per week, although students will gradually need to spend more time studying, memorizing vocabulary, and writing essay answers as they move up through the series, perhaps adding another day or two to your three-day lesson plans.
Lessons start with students reading the text information from their student books on the first day. Elementary courses add worksheets for students with crossword puzzles, multiple-choice questions, matching, chart completion, word search puzzles, drawing activities, work with graphs, and brief composition work. These are supposed to be completed on the first day of the lesson along with the reading. Elementary students then follow up with activity-based learning the next two days.
Advanced students have question worksheets and vocabulary study on the second day along with preparatory reading for the lab activity that will take place on the third day. Questions sometimes require brief essay answers. Each Advanced Biology lesson includes an Application Question requiring a lengthier essay response. In addition, students should be creating note cards for studying the extensive amount of vocabulary.
For hands-on activity days in both Elementary and Advanced courses, all of the instructions, explanations, and record-keeping pages are in the parent copies. (Lessons do not assume that the parent knows the subject in advance.) You will need to print out some of the activity sheets from the parent copy as well as the pages with questions from the student book since they need to write on those. Unless you can print the student book in color, I recommend reading it on a computer or tablet since the color really makes the student books look terrific. (McQuerry grants permission to copy the necessary pages for your family, but co-ops or other classroom groups need to acquire licenses for printing for other groups.)
A unique and vital component of these courses is what McQuerry calls ESP activities. ESP (Exploring Science Procedures) activities are science investigations that teach the scientific method by having students work with independent/dependent variables, hypothesis building, constructing data tables, and graphing (Elementary Life Science Teacher’s Edition, p. I). While this sounds a bit high level for students in the primary grades, McQuerry makes the concepts understandable by using very simple applications that children should easily grasp. To that end, students need to memorize two definitions: one for independent variables (what you change in an experiment) and one for dependent variables (the result from the change you made). Students learn to use a consistently formatted data table for recording information from their experiments, showing the independent and dependent variables. Students then learn to graph these results to obtain visual results that should be more readily understandable. All of this is explained very clearly in a section near the beginning of each parent copy.
Activities for these courses are a mixture of observations and experiments. There is likely to be only one ESP activity each week, so students aren’t overwhelmed with data recording and graphing. Generally, I think that for both Elementary and Advanced series, students are likely to perceive the lab activities as more fun than laborious. However, preparation and presentation might seem a lot of work to some parents.
You will need quite a few resources for all of the activities. Because of this, I think these courses make the most sense for teaching two or more students at a time. Resource lists for the entire course are at the beginning of each parent copy, and weekly lists appear in each lesson as well. You will definitely need to plan ahead to gather or purchase resources. Hands-on activities for the Elementary courses use inexpensive, easy-to find items for the most part, but there are occasionally some harder-to-get items. Advanced courses require a few more harder-to-get items than do the Elementary courses, but they still don’t require science lab equipment or chemicals.
For example, Chapter 9 of Elementary Physical Science lists the following items: 1-2 broom handles at least 2-3 feet long, strong rope (25 feet), three people, 3 or 4 large potatoes, cutting knife, 2 feet of half-inch PVC pipe, and a wooden dowel (2 feet long that will fit inside the PVC pipe). You might happen to have all of these items on hand, but probably not. This one probably only requires a trip to the hardware store. However, another activity lists three items with Radio Shack stock numbers—electrical items that might or might not be easily accessible elsewhere.
The level of reading and writing, even in Elementary Life Science, seems beyond the ability of most first graders. (I would probably start this series in third or fourth grade myself.) Nevertheless, you might do more activities orally with students in the primary grades, and you might take more than one session to complete the reading and worksheet activities.
Advanced courses are more academic in tone than Elementary courses, but McQuerry uses real-life applications whenever possible. Even at Advanced levels, all lab work is designed to be done in the average kitchen or garage. Advanced courses have less text material than most high school science texts. The student texts have 388 pages in Advanced Chemistry, and both Advanced Earth Science and Advanced Biology have over 500 pages each, but the large font sizes and dedication of full pages to questions probably double the size of the books from what they would be in a more standard format. However, the parent copies run about 500 pages each, and these provide the extensive lab activities for each course, serving both as student lab manuals and teacher manuals. Overall, the reading load has to be somewhat lighter than it is in most high school level texts.
Elementary courses have tests after each unit. Advanced courses have from four to six tests, and only Advanced Biology includes a final exam. Tests and answers keys are found in the parent copies.
The style of presentation for these courses makes them appealing at first sight. I have to say that I particularly like the Elementary series with its combination of engagingly written text and lots of hands-on activity. However, the work load and level of difficulty for Elementary courses might be higher than other texts for grades one through eight depending upon which course you use at any given grade level.
Advanced courses should be more manageable than some other high school level texts although they are still vocabulary intensive. The Advanced series’ more traditional tone and heavy emphasis on vocabulary is offset by cartoon illustrations and occasional levity, but not to the same extent as in the Elementary series.
Following are more details for each course.
Elementary Life Science
Topics for the nine units of Elementary Life Science are basic needs, resources, biomes, life cycles, classification, food webs, senses, body organs, cells, and health and nutrition. Some activities are as easy as drawing and discussion. Others are done with simple materials such as using plastic rulers, and brads to make a model of the arm (which is then manipulated with string and a paper clip connected to the “forearm” at different spots for data collection). One of the most complex activities is creating a model of the heart with small soda bottles, modeling clay, tubing, funnels, duct tape, and blue and red food color. I think students will especially enjoy the lessons on the human body.
Elementary Earth Science
Among topics covered in Elementary Earth Science are space, stars, planets, the moon, weather, climate, erosion, earthquakes, rocks, minerals, soil, and earth’s systems and their interactions. The last unit shifts to a lighter direction as it addresses science myths. It concludes with a lesson on ecological responsibility. I particularly love the activities for this course. The water cycle and rock cycle “games” should be especially fun.
In this course, students actually learn chemistry rather than just have fun with experiments. They cover concepts such as matter, atoms, molecules, compounds, physical properties, chemical properties., the Periodic Table, molecular movement, states of matter, chemical energy, radioactivity, fission and fusion, electrons, ionic and covalent bonds, solutions, acids and bases, chemical reactions, organic chemistry (introductory level), and DNA. Activities start to get more complex in this book, although they call for household material rather than specialized scientific equipment or chemicals. You do need effervescent tablets, Milk of Magnesia, and calcium chloride (which McQuerry says is sold as Morton Ice Melter in the auto section of stores). It introduces equations but doesn’t expect students to solve them. I’d most likely use this course with junior high students.
Elementary Physical Science
Topics covered in this course are the metric system, force and motion, speed and velocity, Newton’s Laws of Motion, simple machines, energy, heat, light, sound, electricity, and magnetism. While this course is supposed to be more challenging than Elementary Chemistry, I’d use it with students in grades five through eight.
The list of experiments for Advanced Chemistry looks more like a list from a cookbook with titles such as Chocolate cake, Marinara sauce, Caramelizing onions, Fruit salad, and Homemade “pickles” in a day. As McQuerry explains in the introduction in the parent copy, “The cost of running a traditional chemistry lab is astronomically high as compared to the cost of feeding your family. And, the truth of the matter is this: The preparation of nearly any meal is rooted in the laws of chemistry! We need to end our traditional belief that a chemistry lab must contain firey explosions and bubbling fluids in weird-shaped glassware!”
So, for example, to teach about moles in regard to compounds, students make Moley Cookies. The recipe is given in moles of flour, baking soda, vanilla, etc. Students are given a chart showing the molecular formula of each compound as well as a chart of metric conversions for standard kitchen measurements for a teaspoon of baking soda and a teaspoon of salt (different gram weights!), a cup of flour, a tablespoon of lemon juice, etc. They learn about moles and the conversion of moles to grams in a very motivating application. To learn how to work with chemical equations, students treat ingredients for S’mores as individual chemical elements: S for graham cracker, Mm for marshmallow, and Or for each small section of a Hershey’s bar. The name of the compound becomes S2MmOr3. A little later, students learn how to calculate the molarity of a solution by making six different solutions of sweet tea. Students learn to apply this knowledge and other mathematical skills as they work with the equations for chemical reactions. There’s a lot of math! Students using Advanced Chemistry need at least pre-algebra. They will also use a scientific calculator that has exponent and log keys.
This is a challenging chemistry course even if students don’t work with traditional chemistry equipment. Among topics covered are scientific notation, the metric system and conversions, atoms, orbitals and energy, mixtures, phase changes, the periodic table and its “families,” ionic bonds, covalent bonds, metallic bonds, naming compounds, the Mole, balancing chemical equations, chemical reactions, stoichiometry, solutes, solvents, colligative properties, gas laws, the Laws of Thermodynamics, and acids and bases.
Advanced Biology: Anatomy and Physiology
Advanced Biology concentrates on human anatomy and physiology rather than trying to cover all forms of life. While it is narrower in scope than many high school biology courses, it is very detailed and vocabulary intensive.
Lab activities use food products and kitchen equipment along with items such as iodine, a stopwatch, a magnifying glass, eyedroppers, string, tape, a large syringe (like ones from automotive stores or those for injecting marinades), plastic tubing (2 feet, 61 cm wide), a bucket, push pins, and pipe cleaners. No microscope or slides required! Activities are relatively simple and often not much different than some you might have already done with younger students. For example, students will dissect a chicken wing to understand the anatomy of the human arm. However, sometimes simple activities are taken further than in lower grade levels. For example, in one experiment students first create a red cabbage pH indicator, but they go on to use it to simulate some of the chemical changes that happen in our blood under certain circumstances. While the lab work might be easier than in other courses, the text itself is challenging if perhaps a little briefer than others.
Advanced Earth Science
The course begins with basic concepts of ecology in the first two units. After that two units each address the geosphere, the hydrosphere, the atmosphere, the biosphere, and the anthroposhere. This course assumes an old age for the earth and a uniformitarian view of the development of the earth.
As with the other Advanced courses, lab work is designed to be easily completed without expensive equipment. There are a few unusual items, so you need to plan ahead to obtain things such as a large plastic syringe, aquarium gravel, aquarium nutrient test strips, earthworms or pill bugs, plant seeds, clay, tea lights, 30 gauge magnet wire, neodymnium disk magnets, hot glue, white sand or perlite, lamp with floodlight bulb, mason jars, pH paper, vinyl or rubber tubing, soil test kit, PVC pipe, and pond water. (Sources are listed for most of the unusual items.)