Monday, November 22, 2010

Review: Christian Kids Explore Biology

As part of the TOS Homeschool Crew, I am thrilled to have had the opportunity again this year to review Bright Ideas Press.  Last year, I reviewed their newest major project, Illuminations.  While we haven't continued to use it, exactly, I really do love the 3rd-8th grade level of Illuminations in particular.  

Bright Ideas Press has so many products that are simply amazing.  One that I have never used is their Christian Kids Explore Science series.  Can I confess something here?  (Can you stop me?)  I've never tried this series because it just looked so light, and filled with silly hands-on projects -- not real science.  I didn't want to make a jello model of a cell.  (My kids loved that though.  But I have to admit, I don't feel like they actually learned anything from that particular project.)

The series includes biology, chemistry, earth & space, and physics.  Most are intended for roughly 3rd-8th grades, but in my family, I think that range would need to be a little lower, like 1st-6th.  I'm not entirely sure that I am comfortable for these books in junior high.  Not for my kids.

My understanding is that Christian Kids Explore Biology is the easiest one in the series, and that is what my 4th grader chose to do.  CKEB is divided up into 35 weekly lessons in eight units.  The units include Biology Basics, Plants, Birds, Mammals, Humans, Reptiles, Insects, and Water Creatures.  Each unit contains 3-6 lessons.  We dug right in and started off with virtually no teacher prep.  Open and go. 

The lessons are intended to be completed in a week, in two 60-90 minute sessions.  At first, I had a really tough time figuring out what could possibly take even two hours -- but, of course, discovered I was missing a chunk.  So, let's take a lesson further into the book as an illustration of what a week is supposed to look like.  I'm skipping way to the back, because "bugs" tends to be something I get easily.  And because we missed SO much in the lessons we have completed.

Day one:
  • Review flashcards and vocabulary.  I am very impressed with the vocabulary.  For the insect unit (three lessons), it includes 19 words, some as basic as head, abdomen and thorax.  But it also includes words like chrysalis, incomplete metamorphosis, and pupa.  And it includes a person, Karl von Frisch.  But this does not need to be limited to just vocabulary.  There is an appendix (that I totally missed) with a ton of great little lists... either for information or memorization.  For insects, that includes general insect characteristics, characteristics of some specific insects, stages of complete metamorphosis, stages of incomplete metamorphosis, and a list of insect plural (like caterpillars are in an army, lice are in a flock, gnats are in either a swarm, cloud or horde, etc.)
  • Discuss the last lesson.
  • Read through the new lesson.  This is a couple pages of text, and takes very little time to read.  This was my hang-up.  I kept thinking this was the bulk of the lesson.
  • Talk about what you/they just read.
  • Fill out a daily reading sheet.  This is a reproducible form that includes some great little questions, like -- "I enjoyed learning about ____", "I never knew that ____", and "I would like to know more about _____"  I have to work with my son on scribing, as all my boys are pretty pencil-phobic, but I love that they are being trained to think about what information is new, and more importantly what they want to learn more about. That helps me figure out what direction to take when it comes to the outside reading, below.
  • Vocabulary -- create a vocabulary page or make flashcards.  Obviously, these are what is going to be reviewed in future lessons.  I'm typing words up, and having him type out the definition. 
  • Outside Reading Time -- an aspect I totally missed.  They suggest 30 minutes or more for this, and there is an appendix with suggestions.  For insects, there are suggestions by lesson that include general books like Eyewitness: Insect (DK) and The Practical Entomologist (I already put this on hold at the library -- I probably need to purchase it).  There are also books about specific bugs, including A Ladybug's Life, Sorting Out Worms and other Invertebrates, and The Life and  Adventures of Monica Monarch.  Plus, there are literature suggestions, which includes insect poetry (something else I need to look for!).  
Day Two:
  • Memory Work, again.  There is also an appendix that includes Scripture Memory work.  For the insect unit, these include Proverbs 6:6 and Matthew 6:20.
  • Hands-on Time.  This could be the activity listed in the lesson.  For the insect introduction, this involves going outside and looking for insects, with specific suggestions as to what to do and where to look.  This is one hands-on activity we will do for sure.  But the hands-on can also involve working on an ABC book (details in Appendix D), or working with some of the correlated resources from the "further reading" appendix.  For insects, they suggest things like the Bug Game from Timberdoodle, various critter kits (butterfly garden, ant farm, worm composting), and something that would have greatly appealed to ME as a kid -- a Beeswax Candle kit.
Each unit ends with a review (which can be used as a test).  There are also extensive resources available in the appendices.  I've hinted at them above, but I'm going to list stuff out again.  Because THIS is what I was missing.
  • Appendix A: Reproducible Forms and Maps.  This includes your basic blank forms -- experiment form, daily reading sheet, field trip, plant observation -- and a couple of maps.
  • Appendix B: Memorization or Reference Lists.  I mentioned this above.  All kinds of little lists for extra memory work, or just to go over for informational purposes.
  • Appendix C: Scripture Memory.  These can be copied and cut into individual memory cards.
  • Appendix D: ABC Book.  This has the instructions and clip-art style artwork to create an ABC book.  I can see my youngest son enjoying this.  I can also see my daughter loving this.
  • Appendix E: Coloring Pages.  There is at least one coloring page per unit.  And these are detailed pages.  A lot of units have multiple pages.
  • Appendix F: Recipes and Supplemental Activities.  There are ten activities in here, including three word search puzzles, some research suggestions, and recipes for play-dough, papier mache, and turtle bread.
  • Appendix G:  Answer Key.  Just what it sounds like.
  • Appendix H: Suggested Further Reading.  I referred to this above, but WOW.  About 20 pages, arranged by unit, of book suggestions.  Then another dozen or so pages of multi-unit books, nature journal resources, videos, field trip ideas, and magazines.  Wow.
Bright Ideas Press has also made a Student Activity Book available as a download.  I would highly recommend purchasing this, if possible.  This includes about 150 pdf pages -- of all the worksheet types of activities in the text, all the unit reviews, all the coloring pages, Appendices A-F, and all the diagrams (both labeled and unlabeled).  This makes it SO easy to actually USE.  I cannot imagine doing Christian Kids Explore Science without the Activity Book.  Yes, virtually all of this is available in the book for me to just photocopy.  But it is so much more convenient to print from a file.  And I love having the unlabeled diagrams (those are NOT in the book that I have found).

All in all, we are really enjoying Christian Kids Explore Biology.  By adding appendix suggestions, we can really dig into each and every lesson -- or just dig into some of them.  There is a lot more meat involved in this book than initially meets the eye.  In fact, since we got through four lessons before I realized just how much stuff we were skipping, we decided to take a break, do some of the "extra" stuff from those first four lessons, maybe do Lesson 5 (the final lesson in Unit 1), and then put it away until January, when we'll pick it up with the unit on plants.

My recommendation, though, would be to actually do some teacher prep.  At least read the "How to Use This Book" section.  Don't just skim it, like I did.  It's only three pages.  

Christian Kids Explore Biology is available from the Bright Ideas Press Store for $34.95.  The Activity Book is available for $12.95.

You can check out what my fellow crew-mates have to say about various Bright Ideas Press products at:

Any questions? I'd love to know what you would want to know in deciding whether or not this is something you want to purchase.

Disclaimer:  As part of the TOS Homeschool Review Crew, I did receive products from Bright Ideas Press.  The fact that I received complimentary products does not guarantee a favorable review.  It does guarantee a review. A fair review. But I am not going to praise something unless I think it deserves the praise.  If I don't like it, you'll hear that.  And hopefully with enough detail as to why so you can decide for yourself if what I hate about it makes it perfect for your family.  For more about my take on reviews, visit my blog post here.


Anonymous said...

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Anonymous said...

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Anonymous said...

Very good stuff.