Tuesday, February 24, 2015

Apologia Exploring Creation through Physical Science Course Review

For the school year 2014/15 I chose to teach Apologia Exploring Creation through Physical Science at our co-op. This is the 3rd Apologia course I have taught at co-op and by far my favorite. I’m sure it has something to do with the fact that physics is introduced and that happens to be my favorite area of scientific study, but also the materials are well written and I was able to incorporate the student notebooks and instructional DVD which helped provide a richer experience.

This is the general description of Exploring Creation through Physical Science provided by Apologia:

This course is designed to be the last science course the student takes before high school biology. Thus, we generally recommend it as an 8th grade course. However, your student can also use it for their 9th grade course work. The text discusses such topics as the atmosphere, the hydrosphere, weather, the structure of the earth, environmentalism, the physics of motion, Newton’s Laws, gravity, and astrophysics. The author especially concentrates on the myths generated by the hysterical environmentalist movement. There are many hands-on experiments to do, and they all use household chemicals and supplies. It is an excellent course for preparing the student to take a college-prep high school science curriculum.

The text was written by Dr. Jay Wile. It approaches physical science through a creationist perspective.   

Although this course doesn’t have any prerequisites listed, I feel that it is very important that a student already have experience with Algebra before taking this course, or at least be taking Algebra in the same year.  In the second half of the course when they encounter physics, they will certainly need this skill.
Apologia does offer links and help for those who haven’t taken Algebra or who need a refresher, but I have found among my students that this has added a stress.  We are dealing with a generation of children who are scared of math and who have been told they won’t need higher math skills for the “real world”.  I think this contributes to this fear and avoidance behavior, but none the less, having never done Algebra and then being asked to calculate acceleration is just simply overwhelming.  The conversations seem to be the trickiest problems for them.

I consider Physical Science to be the continuation of General Science. With both courses students will cover a basic understanding of the study of science (scientific method, designing experiments) physics (simple machines, the physics of motion, Newton’s Laws, gravity, and astrophysics), earth science (archaeology, geology, paleontology, atmosphere, the hydrosphere, weather, the structure of the earth, environmentalism) and life science (biology, and human anatomy and physiology).  Having exposure to and a foundational knowledge of all of these areas of study will prove to be very helpful as students progress on to high school sciences such as biology, chemistry, and physics.  I’ve already seen through my own students how having taken general science prepared them for taking biology. Physical science will be a helpful preparation for physics.  I think it is wise to take both of these courses over two years before progressing on to other sciences, even if that means the student gets a late start by taking Physical Science as a 9th grader. 

Having said that, I taught them out of order. I taught General Science, Biology, and then Physical Science.  The reasons for this were really specific to our groups needs at the time and I felt like with the students I had, that they could handle the course work of Biology. Biology also tied in nicely with the end of General Science which covers biology, anatomy and physiology. It requires no extra math courses either. So it made sense at the time because my own daughter hadn't taken Algebra yet. I wouldn’t suggest that for every group or student.  You could teach Physical Science and then General Science, but you would need to give the students an over view of the scientific method and laboratory procedures first, and students would need to have experience with Algebra in the 7th grade which isn’t likely.

Our Class Plan
Physical Science covers two main areas of study, earth science and physics. There are 16 Modules (chapters) in this course.  This broke down nicely to cover the first 8 in our first semester and we are covering the last 8 in our current semester.  We only have 30 weeks in our co-op year so I started the class a week early both semesters.  We’ve had a lot of illnesses and bad weather too, so we have been slowed down a little, but I still believe we will finish on time.  You should need no more than 32 weeks if you cover 1 module every 2 weeks. 

Course Materials
I chose to use the textbook, solutions manual, student notebook, and instructional DVDs. Having taught general science and biology without the student notebook and instructional DVDs, I can honestly say these were welcomed additions. 

The textbook is dry. It is heavy on text and not very visual.  This may bother some people.  I think you can supplement with the Internet for those visual learners, but if you are looking for a textbook that is both rich in text and visually pleasing, this isn’t the one for you.

Unless your student is particularly gifted in science and a self-motivator, I will go as far to say that the notebook is essential.  It not only acts as a workbook, but it guides the student through their reading, prompting them to take notes on important concepts.  It includes all the On Your Own Questions, Study Guide Questions, Laboratory Reports, and Module Summaries. This made it so easy for me as a teacher to check the students’ work because everything was in one place and organized well.  I didn’t check for every right answer, mainly only to make sure they did the work.  I left it to their parents to check for correctness.  I would like to see the Module Summary included in the Module in the student notebook. Right now it is at the end of the book as if a second thought. We’ve found the summaries very helpful.

The Instructional DVD was very helpful to me personally, and I think the students have benefited as well. Instead of preparing lectures, I was able to just pop the DVD in, or before lab class I could watch the videos to get my bearings instead of reading pages and pages of text.  While the students watched the video they would fill in the summary in their student notebook.  We started by reading the questions first, then as we watched the DVD they would know what key points to be listening for. As we’ve progressed through the course, they don’t need to do this any longer as a group. They scan the questions before we start and we get going right away. After a section of video we review the summary questions and I answer any questions they may have.  As 8th and 9th graders, most of these students don’t yet have the note taking skills necessary to listen effectively to a lecture and pull out all of the important information, so this helps to bridge that gap.  Instead of the current summary, I think it would be great to have something like it that the students could fill in as they go, but specifically designed to follow the DVDs. 

Overall, I feel like the quality of the DVD could be a little better. First, the videos are nearly as boring as reading the book. Why not utilize more graphics? Why does science (the study of creation) have to be so visually boring when creation is very obviously not? 
Second, the editing leaves something to be desired. We have really come to love Rusty Hughes.  He reminds me of one of my high school science teachers. He seems to have a genuine love of science. The DVD contains lab experiments and often his experiments don’t turn out like he expected them to; they are clumsy for a lack of a better word.  Although this does bring a realistic quality to the DVDs and make for some good laughs, I would prefer to just see how the experiment is really supposed to work and not waste time while he fumbles to get things set up correctly.   If an experiment doesn’t go as planned, why not perform it again and put the successful version on the video?  Or do a little video editing? 

But again, I am very pleased with the fact that this video instruction is offered for the course and it has been a benefit to us.  

The experiments in this course are usually straight forward.  There have been a couple of experiments whose instructions were a little confusing, but after a couple of attempts and adjustments we were able to figure it out.  Some experiments are very simplistic and hardly worth our time. It was easier to just watch the video and then move on to a more valuable experiment. There are so many to choose from, it’s never a problem to fill our lab day with fun experiments.

Each year I get a bit annoyed when I have to make a list of supplies and amounts.  Apologia provides a list of supplies for each module, but it doesn’t include the amounts nor is it broke down by experiment.   You have to go to each experiment in the book to get the specific list for that experiment and the quantities.  I don’t do every experiment in the book so that means I have to create my own list. This would save me so much time if they would provide a list for each module and include .  It may seem like nitpicking, but you don’t get what you don’t ask for.  

In conclusion, I do really enjoy the Apologia science courses and as I have said, this one is my favorite so far.  There is room for improvement, but I plan on sticking with their courses for all my children. Up until I started using them in our homeschool, I had never had science taught to me through a creation perspective. Although I found that I understood physics and excelled at it, all other areas of science were very dull to me. Learning through a creation perspective has helped me to appreciate science as I never had before and I pray that my own children and students will never feel as if God’s creation is a dry, dull desert, but instead a master creation made by a Master Creator who wants them to understand their place in His master design.

Co-op Corner: What is a Co-op?

Homeschooling is growing exponentially in America.  More and more families are seeing homeschooling their children as a viable alternative to public or private schools. The recent study sites some fascinating statistics that point to homeschooled children being more likely to stay connected with church. Not to mention, it has been shown in other studies that homeschooled children perform better on standardized tests than their public schooled peers. Those of us who have been homeschool a while know the joys, but thankfully this method of educating is opening up to many more. 

As homeschooling increases in popularity, parents are finding out that homeschooling has let to do with educating at home and more to do with parents directly overseeing their child’s education.  They humbly admit that they may not be the best teacher for their child for ever subject.  They often start looking outside of the home for opportunities for education and socialization very soon after deciding to homeschool.

One kind of opportunity is a homeschool cooperative. A homeschool cooperative can come in many forms, but the underlying foundation of all co-ops is homeschooling families sharing access to services in an equitable way.  This can be as simple as a field trip club or as complex as multi-day academic school.  It can be as simply as operating in someone’s basement or as complex as having a building of classrooms.  A co-op can be completely free or charge for services.   They types and sizes vary. But in short, a co-op is just a group of like minded people sharing resources and/or information. 

So what's so good about co-ops? 

The benefits are numerous and sometimes specific to the group.  My top 10 are:

  1. Building relationships with other homeschooling families.
  2. Getting to teach students other than my own.
  3. Exposing my children to other teaching styles.
  4. Doing group activities that aren’t possible in our home.
  5. It provides an outside source for accountability, while not being invasive like the state can be.
  6. Having someone to go with us on field trips.
  7. Having access to curriculum and equipment that I might not be able to afford otherwise.
  8. Sharing information on local activities and information about homeschooling methods and curriculum.
  9. Pooling resources so that classes are significantly cheaper.
  10. Having the support of like-minded people going through the same things I’m going through.
Currently we belong to a co-op of about 40-50 families and 120-150 children.  We meet one day a week, offer at least 2 or 3 options for 4 different grade levels (pre/k,  lower and upper elementary, and middle school and high school), plus nursery services, for 4 periods.  Examples of classes we’ve offered are Apologia Young Explorers Series, Christian Heroes, Magic Tree House Reading and Lapbooking, Recorder, US and World Geography, Apologia General Science, Physical Science, and Biology, Music Theory, Spanish, and many, many more.
 Many of our families use these classes as their main course of study, continuing the teaching at home, but some use them for supplements and electives. 

This isn’t the only way to do co-op.  Some people find what we do a bit overwhelming.  Some want more structure. That’ s fine.  Different strokes for different folks. 

How do you do co-op? What are the benefits?  Comment below and tell me about your co-op. 


Tuesday, October 7, 2014

The Heart Controls the Mouth

As a homeschooling parent, one of my greatest hopes is that my children flourish.  By this I mean that I want them to grow in Christ and find fulfillment in learning about His creation. I learned early on that the only way that could happen is if their teacher wasn’t a big, lazy, sour puss. If I’m not growing in Christ, if I don’t find fulfillment in learning and teaching about His creation, that will infect our homeschool and make our efforts fruitless. My heart has to be right or there will be a slurry of bilge that comes from my mouth.

This must be a common problem among homeschoolers because I recently read a blog post over at Heart of the Matter.  The author believes you should never say three things as a homeschooler: “I’m behind”; “I can’t do this”; and “I’m not doing enough”. 

This got me to thinking about the source of this language.  She seems to believe that these phrases are lies that we believe and if we remove this language from our vocabulary, that it will change our state of mind and thereby improve our homeschool experience. That starts with a premise that the mouth controls the heart. But is that really true?  Do I only have to remove a few phrases to accomplish my goal of children who flourish in my homeschool? Does my mouth control my actions?

Jesus says in Matthew 15:18, “But the things that come out of a person’s mouth come from the heart, and these defile them.”  He clearly identifies the heart as the source of what comes from our mouth, not our mouth as the source of the condition of our heart.  If I stopped saying, “I’m behind,” would that somehow take my guilt away about being behind? Not according to Jesus.

It’s our heart that tells us we should feel guilty, that we can’t, that we should do better. So if we start with that premise, that our heart controls the mouth, it is clear that our heart needs to be examined, not our mouth.  

As a homeschooling parent, I can specifically relate to falling behind. It seems that every time I turn around I’m adjusting our schedule for one reason or another. I don’t see anything inherently wrong about saying “I’m behind” if that is the truth. Public school teachers fall behind in their plans all the time.  Daddies fall behind at work.  Everyone falls behind sometimes. We are really good at making plans and then not following them or thinking that we are in control of them in the first place.  So what is the big deal about me saying, “I’m behind”? It’s a common human condition.  I believe that what is important is that we allow God to expose why we fell behind and determine if that is a legitimate reason or if it is rooted in sin.

Before we examine our heart we need to first acknowledge another truth.  Grace is a gift of God, not something that you can earn or provide to yourself.  Even in this situation, you are seeking mercy, forgiveness, and freedom from guilt. Ephesians 2:8-10 says, “For by grace are ye saved through faith; and that not of yourselves: [it is] the gift of God: Not of works, lest any man should boast. For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus unto good works, which God hath before ordained that we should walk in them.”

Unfortunately, the author is pointing to herself as the source of authority and grace. She judges that the statement “I’m behind”, or the others, are lies which affect her state of mind. She can stop believing those lies if she stops repeating them. In other words, if she changes her words, she will change herself, and have nothing to feel guilty about. That is not logical at all! First, it isn’t a lie to say you are behind. If are following a schedule and you don’t keep up with it, then you are behind. It doesn’t mean it was wrong for you to fall behind; it simply means you fell behind. What we won’t know without examination is if those reasons for falling behind were legitimate or sinful. If all we do is stop saying a phrase it’s just avoiding the examination. By following this process, she is actually not only avoiding the examination, but also avoiding the opportunity to receive grace.  She thinks she is giving herself grace by just not speaking lies, but that isn’t real grace. That isn’t real freedom from guilt. Even if for a time she feels better, guilt will surly raise its ugly head again.

It is GOD who is the source of all grace, all mercy, and all that is good.  It is He who will change you! That gives me great comfort.  I’m terrible at changing myself. I can’t stay on a diet for more than a month, why would I think I could stop speaking 3 phrases? But thankfully, God is faithful to keep His promises for eternity.

So now that we understand that it is the heart that controls the mouth and that it is God who can free us from guilt our next step is to ask God to create that clean heart. Psalm 51:10 says, “Create in me a clean heart, O God, And renew a steadfast spirit within me.” We can pray that exact verse and apply it to any situation in our life.  Ask Him to examine and change your heart. Then trust Him to do so through His Word, His Body, and His Spirit.

Let God reveal whether your excuses are legitimate. There will be times when you will fall behind and then need to adjust your plans. There will be times when you can’t do something yourself and need to seek help.  There are times when you won’t have done enough and maybe need to adjust plans to do more. Agreeing to never say “I’m behind” or “I can’t” or “I’m not doing enough” can lead to unaddressed sin because it avoids the truth.

You might be thinking that this seems pretty spiritually heavy for just trying to improve our outlook on our homeschooling efforts.  Let me assure you that Satan enjoys nothing more than separating you from God, even on the small stuff.  He will find the chink in your armor and exploit it.  What seemed like a small thing can turn into a huge problem if not addressed. In this case, the chink is that you are trading His grace for your law in an attempt to be freed from guilt.  Thankfully, in Christ, yes, we can even be freed of guilt from falling behind in homeschooling!

I’m sure the author of this article intends well.  She seems like a person who has a passion for supporting homeschoolers.  I really appreciate that about her.  There are many times in my life when I have had similar thoughts.  If I take control, I can fix it. Through the Gospel I've been made aware that no matter how hard I work, grace isn't mine to give, change isn't mine to make.  God is in control of these things and he wants me to acknowledge his control of these things so that I can be drawn closer to Him. Being aware of what is coming out of our mouths is very helpful though, but you must dig deeper.  You must ask God to reveal sin in your heart and change your heart if you want your homeschool to flourish in the future.  That's what you can do. Just changing the way you speak won’t get the job done.