Dr. David Purvis has written a series of seven Teaching Manuals for topical science studies on The Digestive System, Electricity, Our Solar System, The Oceans, Phases of Matter, The Cell, and Chemistry. Dr. Purvis wrote the books to help teachers learn how to teach more creatively using hands-on demonstrations and experiments. While other books offer science experiments, these are structured so that sequential lessons build upon one another to teach well beyond a superficial level. Books were written for classroom use, but many lessons might be even easier to teach in a home setting than in a classroom.
The series was written with gifted children in mind, so the publisher says that most of the books might be used with children as young as eight years old up through age 13. The Cell and Chemistry shift a year later, both targeting ages nine through 14. For average students, I would suggest at least fifth or sixth grade level. Even though these weren’t written for high school level, they might be very useful supplements to high school level courses since they provide hands-on activities and demonstrations that are more interesting than those present in many courses.
Books are written for the teacher to use to present each lesson. Students do not have their own books or pages with teaching information. Each book comes with a CD-ROM with 57 PowerPoint slides that should be used as you teach each lesson. The slides include images that are in the book, but the images are much larger. Also, the slides present of the lesson content with words and graphics so that students can see what is being described. (Some of the slides could be printed for students to use for reference but slides do not cover all of the course content.)
There are also reproducible activity pages at the back of each book. Some pages help students record activity information or write up a “lab report.” Other pages reinforce lesson information, particularly the vocabulary words that have been introduced. Still other pages direct students to complete research reports or other projects. These pages are not on the CD-ROM, so they will have to be photocopied. Answer keys are included when appropriate.
If you are teaching younger students, you should not be as concerned about their mastery of all of the terminology and concepts as you would with older students. You might also skip some activities and eliminate research reports. For older students, you will likely be using one or more of these books as supplements to a complete course, in which case students should encounter the technical information elsewhere. You might consider allowing older student to read through the books themselves if that seems appropriate.
I received The Cell for review, so my comments for the rest of this review are based upon that book. The Cell teaches the basics about cells then it branches out to distinguish different types of cells. It concludes by teaching about viruses and their relationships with host cells. The Cell is presented under 12 topical headings:
- Cell Theory
- Lipid Bilayer and Proteins
- Prokaryotes and Eukaryotes
- Cell Organelles
- Plant Cells
- Cells of Fungi and Protists
- Nucleus, Ribosomes, mRNA and the Genetic Code
- Cold and Influenza Viruses
Each topical section begins with lists of objectives, key points and vocabulary words. After these topics, there are generally a number of teacher presentations and student activities. Lessons indicate when to use appropriate student activity pages, list materials needed for each activity, and sometimes suggest additional student assignments. Lessons in the book are heavily illustrated with diagrams or pictures of lesson concepts as well as images to show teachers what to expect from experiments.
Teacher presentation sections in the books might use visual aids from the CD-ROM or demonstrations with hands-on resources. Most demonstrations and student activities can be done with readily available materials like baggies, balloons, potatoes, and food coloring. But some will require more specialized items such as iodine, methylene blue, a microscope, slides and cover slips, plastic toys, and a small plastic brain. (Something else might be substituted for the plastic brain.)
For the Diffusion topic, three student activities are presented with the option to use one or more of them. Two of them requiring more specialized resources such as dialysis strips, glucose test strips, pipettes, and agar plates that might not be easily obtainable. The remaining activity in this case still serves as an excellent demonstration of the concept, so the lesson can be successful even if you complete only one activity.
The microscope is introduced under Prokaryotes and Eukaryotes, and it is used again with Plant Cells and Fungi. However, if you don’t have access to a good microscope, students can view most images on the CD-ROM. (There is no image of the human cheek cells on the CD-ROM, but there is a small picture in the book. You might look online for a better image if you need it.)
The majority of the activities are relatively simple and should be fun for both students and parents. They are designed to stimulate curiosity and to encourage students to predict what they think might happen in advance.
Students learn how to create a lab report from the very beginning, writing out an introduction, materials to be used, procedure, results, and conclusion. A rubric form for the Eggcellent Experiment is included.
The Cell might differ from other books in the series since one student activity, the Eggcellent Experiment, continues through the first five topics, demonstrating various concepts with additional steps in the experiment each time. Most student activities don’t carry across lessons like this, but I love the way it ties the lessons together.
The course teaches a significant amount of vocabulary, particularly when you get into Cell Organelles. While activity pages help reinforce vocabulary terms, you might skip these with younger students and focus on the main ideas rather than the details.
I appreciate the way the topics scaffold, building progressively upon one another. While this is very much a hands-on, discovery approach for learning science, it covers each topic in depth.