For years, Dr. Jay Wile has been writing science courses for homeschoolers that are practical for use at home and that allow older students to work independently or in groups meeting once or twice a week. His latest course, Discovering Design with Biology, is co-authored with Dr. Paul Madtes Jr. It provides high school students with a course that is academically strong, is based on a Christian worldview, and includes lab work with options to make it affordable for homeschoolers with limited budgets.
The course consists of a 580-page, hardcover textbook and a slim Answer Key & Tests book. The textbook has 16 chapters, and the lab experiments are included within the chapters. Experiments need to be done at the point where they appear since they are discussed in the subsequent chapter material. The authors suggest that those meeting in a group class complete experiments in group sessions ahead of when they will read the textbook material on their own.
Comprehension Check questions appear sporadically throughout each chapter. Answers to the Comprehension Check questions are at the end of each chapter so that students can check their responses on their own. A set of chapter review questions at the end of each chapter helps students review material and prepare for each chapter test.
The course begins with a discussion of worldviews and approaches to science. It contrasts the materialistic worldview prevalent in most science textbooks—a worldview that limits the study of science to those things that can be measured—with the observation that there is more to physical life than materialism acknowledges. Written from a biblical worldview, the course thus presents a broader range of information than you typically find in a high-school biology course.
On page 15, the authors say,
[W]e usually think of science as including four realms: Experimental Science, Inferential Science, Philosophy of Science, and History of Science. While the vast majority of this textbook focuses on Experimental Science within biology, it is helpful to understand a little more about each of these realms…
An example of extending into Inferential Science and Philosophy of Science occurs in Chapter 7: Microbiology. The final section of the chapter discusses conundrums that an evolutionary point of view cannot resolve, such as the irreducible complexity in the most basic life forms that makes it impossible for them to have gradually evolved by any known mechanism. Then it raises an issue for those who believe that God created life—the existence of viruses, which are largely pathogenic. Issues such as these prompt students to think beyond observable and measurable information toward a deeper understanding of science. Another example of this broader perspective is the discussion of therapeutic cloning in Chapter 6 where the authors discuss various types of cloning, scientific developments and challenges, and the ethical issues involved.
While the text is unusual in its broader approach to science, it still covers Experimental Science topics in a traditional manner. It begins with an introduction that discusses overarching topics such as the characteristics of life, the organization of life, energy flow, and natural selection. The second chapter discusses chemistry as it applies to life science. Chapters 3 through 6 address life at the cellular level, covering topics such as the components of a cell, photosynthesis, respiration, cell division, genetics, mutations, DNA, genetic engineering, gene therapy, and bioethics. Chapters 7 and 8 cover archaea, bacteria, protists, and fungi. Chapter 9 teaches about invertebrates, and the next three chapters cover vertebrates, including an extensive study of the human body. Chapters 11 and 12 are about plant life. The final two chapters discuss environmental science and ecosystems.
This is a challenging course that expects students to memorize many terms and definitions, be able to explain biological processes, and occasionally address questions regarding the theory of evolution from a creationist viewpoint.
At the back of the book are a glossary, an index, a suggested schedule, a list of lab resources for each chapter, and a section titled “Tables, Figures, and Information for Reference.”
The publisher maintains a free website for the course with links to some fantastic supplemental videos and articles from a variety of sources plus sample write-ups for a few of the labs. I highly recommend using at least some of the supplementary videos.
As the authors explain in the textbook’s introduction, there are three types of experiments in this course: those using household items, those requiring a microscope kit, and those requiring a dissection kit. They say that students need to complete at least two of the types of experiments, but they will benefit most by doing all of them. There are 36 experiments in the course, so students will get plenty of lab experience even if they must skip some.
Berean Builders, the publisher of the course, sells microscope and dissection kits designed for use with Discovering Design with Biology. An appendix in the textbook indicates what supplies or kits are needed for each experiment. They sometimes provide suggestions for alternate resources you might use if you do not have one of the kits.
Students are to keep a separate lab notebook, and the textbook’s introduction explains how they are to do that. The sample write-ups on the publisher’s website might be helpful.
Answer Key & Tests
The Answer Key & Tests book provides additional explanations for administering the course, including how to evaluate student work. It has the answers for the chapter reviews, a test for each chapter, answer keys for chapter tests, a mid-term exam, a final exam, and answer keys for the exams. Answer keys are often printed on the reverse side of the tests, so you are given permission to copy the tests.
Discovering Design with Biology serves as an academically rigorous biology lab course that can be used by students studying independently as well as those meeting for group classes. In addition, Christian homeschoolers are likely to appreciate the deeper discussions of evolutionary theories, worldviews, and ethical issues that allow for a fuller exploration of science.