Tuesday, May 24, 2016

Science Shepherd Biology ~ High School Biology with Labs ~ A Crew Review

Arlene has been using the Biology curriculum from Science Shepherd for the past several weeks and we are both highly impressed. This High School level Biology set has several key components that work synergistically to provide an excellent education for the student, as well as ease of use for the parent/ teacher. We feel fortunate to have been selected for this review from the Schoolhouse Review Crew as it both fills a need, and fits Arlene’s learning style.

high school homeschool biology

We received five pieces for this review, so grab your iced tea because we’ll cover each one, then share our overall opinions. The five pieces we received from Science Shepherd included: Biology Textbook - 2nd Edition, Answer Key & Parent Companion, Test Booklet, Lab Manual, and Lab DVD.

Biology Student Textbook 

This is the 2nd edition of the textbook, and the main changes from the first edition are in the chapters on Origins: specifically the Creation/ Evolution sections. This book is unashamedly written from a Creationist standpoint, but it does not shove it at you on every page. I appreciated the introduction where the author, Scott Hardin, MD, talks about his revisions, and the conviction he felt from the Holy Spirit to re-write chapters 17-19 for the 2nd edition. The origins debate is presented from both sides, and in this presentation Dr Hardin presents how the actual evidence we find while studying Biology points to a Creator, and not to molecules-to-man evolution. The other chapters focus on the topics presented, and do not try to sway your student’s thinking about origins, but simply teach them good observational science skills. This is a balance lacking in some other curriculum we have looked into.

The textbook is divided into 34 chapters and has over 700 pages of text. Fear not! This textbook was written by a MD, who happens to be a homeschooling Dad, so it reads more like a living book than a textbook. Each chapter is focused on a topic or two, and each topic is divided into key points. It includes a lot of pictures, tables, and diagrams, which are labelled by figure numbers so the student can easily find which one the text is referring to for each reference. Arlene likes that each key point has its own smallish section, so it is easy to stay focused on one point at a time, yet still see how they relate to the Chapter’s topic. This also makes it easier to start and stop the reading in manageable chunks of time for whatever level reader your High Schooler currently is.

Each chapter begins with a preview section highlighting key points that will be covered. Each chapter ends with a review of key chapter points, definitions for that specific chapter, and study questions. I appreciate the definitions being in each chapter, instead of at the end of the book. 

This is definitely an in-depth Biology course! It covers all of what I learned in Biology 1, plus a lot of what we covered in my AP Biology 2 course. I know that was a long time ago, but I feel certain that Arlene is getting a solid, thorough biology education with this book! Chapters 1-16 are a general introduction to Biology, biochemistry, cells and cellular reproduction. Chapters 17-19 focus on the Creation and Evolution origins ideas and how we see them being confirmed or denied in Biology. Chapters 20-29 move the student through biological classifications beginning with viruses, and moving through bacteria, protist, fungi, plants, and up to the animal kingdoms. Chapters 30-33 are focused on human anatomy and physiology, while Chapter 34 is focused on Ecology.

high school homeschool biology

Answer Key & Parent Companion

This is MY favorite part of this curriculum. It has four key parts that make my job as the parent/ teacher so much easier. FYI- your student can work through this curriculum by themselves, and with this Companion you will still know exactly where they are and what they’re learning, without investing a huge amount of time! 

The first part of the book is the Schedule. It outlines how your student can complete the textbook, 20 labs, and 15 tests over 36/ 5 day weeks. Yes, it is an intense curriculum, but worth the effort! Most weeks include a catch-up/ study day scheduled right in. If you are concerned with your student being able to cover it all, consider using this 3 or 4 days a week for 3 semesters, and adjust their schedule accordingly. This course is designed for 10th-12th graders. If your student is not used to working independently, I would not recommend it for a 9th grader. Let them mature a year, and get used to a High School workload first.

The second part of the book includes the answers to the study questions for each chapter. This is golden for parents who may be working with other students, or be pressed for time. If your student is getting stuck on a particular study question, you can look it up and discuss it with them to gauge their understanding. Then you will know if they need to do more review of that chapter before moving on to the next chapter.

The third part of this book includes the biology test answers. Understand that for 34 chapters, there are only 15 tests. This section includes helpful guidelines about administering the tests. It also suggests how giving the test orally can help your student focus on communicating their knowledge, and not on the composition of writing out the answers. Since the questions are mostly short-essay style, this will be our method of choice for testing Arlene. We both appreciated the comment about how being able to answer more than half of the questions correctly shows a good base of knowledge for those sections. This in-depth course is focused on learning, not just on being a good test-taker!

The fourth part of the Answer Key & Parent Companion is the Companion part. It gives you a summary of each chapter’s main focus points, and the key concepts you’ll need to know to stay up with your student. For most chapters, this is 4-5 pages (without all the diagrams and photos,) as opposed to the student text which can run 10-39 pages a chapter. See why I love this book?!

Test Booklet

These 15 tests each cover 2-3 chapters, and are designed to be an in-depth analysis of whether or not your student has mastered the material. The tests are mostly short-essay style questions, with a few true/ false questions. There are no multiple guess questions here! 

The note to parents in the front of the book suggests only assigning every other or every third question if you are having them write out their answers. In here it also suggests the oral test option. “The method of test taking should not be a stumbling block in your student’s performance.” You can tell this was written by a homeschooling Dad, and not a textbook committee!

Lab Manual

The lab manual is spiral bound so it will lay flat while your student is using it. While it includes pages for recording each lab, it also has a general lab record sheet on page 6 that states “copy this page.” Your student may want to do more than is required for the microscope labs, and this is a wonderful way to record it all. 

The first lab focuses on the scientific method, good record keeping, and using your microscope. You will need a microscope, but it does not have to be a fancy $300 one for your student to benefit from these labs. Pages 2 & 3 in the Lab Manual list each lab and its needed materials. This is good because it lets you easily look ahead and make sure you have what your student will need. Because Arlene’s older sister Emily took Biology a few years ago, we already own the prepared slides needed, Microscope and supplies, plus the dissection kit & pan. We will just need to purchase a few preserved critters for the later labs: clam, earthworm, grasshopper, fish . . .  and maybe a fetal pig if I can stomach the thought!

high school homeschool biology


If you were thinking you would save a few dollars and skip purchasing the Lab DVD - don’t! You’re going to want this powerpoint style DVD to help you & your student better understand the labs to complete. When the schedule says to complete a lab, your student is going to read through the Lab Manual, then watch a short presentation on the DVD. This presentation will give them a second explanation of what they will be doing, and what they should be looking for while doing their labs. Yes, I know it is a $50 DVD, but from a  parent whose child has often been frustrated to tears while trying to perform some sort of science lab or other and not understanding what she is supposed to be observing, or getting stuck with the how-to steps ~ This DVD is priceless!

If you are purchasing the 3 books as a set, plus the Lab Manual, and DVD, you will pay $155. Then you’ll need the lab supplies and microscope. This is comparable to purchasing an online program from many other High School level biology courses, and much less than some of the most well-known book plus DVD ones.

If you’re doing High School Biology as a lab course, you’ve probably already priced out your microscope choices. Choose what fits in your family’s budget. Science Shepherd has a lab kit and dissection specimen kits available through Rainbow Resources for this course.

Overall thoughts

Both Arlene and I were pleasantly impressed with the ease of use, and the depth of knowledge covered by this course. Because Arlene is planning a career focused on Botany, I knew we would want her to have a Biology course that was in-depth, but also worked with her learning style. We have always followed a Charlotte Mason style approach for science. While your first impression of a 700+ page textbook may be daunting, please know that this reads like a living book, only deeper. 

For those families that have preferred a traditional textbook approach, this will also fit your bill because the scope and sequence is both broad and deep. Yes moms, you can check those little lesson boxes off as they complete them if you want to.

I like the balance of text reading, thinking, formulating their knowledge into responses for the test, and the number of labs. This course fits our needs, plus our desire to have a cohesive study of Biology from a Christian viewpoint.

Arlene liked this curriculum because even though it explained complicated science, it did it in an easy manner of small bites so she didn’t become confused or overwhelmed.

Overall, Science Shepherd Biology gets two thumbs up! It is a solid, thorough, understandable Biology course for High School.

The Crew also reviewed Science Shepherd’s Introductory Science for Elementary grades, and Life Science for Middle School. Click the banner below to read all the reviews!

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  1. Great review Carol! Thank you! WE are looking forward to starting this in September!

  2. We have this course as well and I'm impressed. It is very in depth. I actually emailed them about microscope choices and was able to get a decent one for under $100 that would work.