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.

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