Sunday, July 14, 2013

High School Biology In Your Home by Bridget Ardoin - A Review

Sometimes, when your children get older, you start to wonder whether the methods and styles you have used to help them learn can be carried on through High School. I had been wondering about Emily’s High School Science courses, and how difficult it would be to continue using our Charlotte Mason methods, yet still give her solid courses that would prepare her for College and her career choice. (Part of her still wants to be an astronaut, but realizing that may never happen, she has decided on pursuing a career in nursing, with plans to one day be a Forensic Nurse.) Then along came the answer to my questioning in the form of a product to review from Science For High School: High School Biology In Your Home, by Bridget Ardoin.

homeschool biology, Charlotte Mason High School Biology

We are both enjoying this curriculum...probably because it’s so much like what we’ve been doing at our home for years. The box we received included 3 things: 1- The Student Manual, 2- The Parent's Guide, and 3- The Quizzes and Final Exams. These 3 resources work together to provide both the student, and the parent-teacher  the necessary information for a student-led, in-depth, lab-based High School level Biology course. This set retails for $79.99, and is SO worth every penny!

First, I’ll describe the Student Manual. This is actually NOT a book, but a shrink-wrapped package of possibilities.  (If you have 2 student working on this at the same time, you can order an additional student manual for $24.99.) The student’s sheets come three-hole punched and ready to put in a binder which will become both their science notes, and their Dissecting Manual. (Can I just insert here how ecstatic Emily was when her box of  things to dissect arrived?) Some students may balk at doing dissections, but not ours. Because of Emily’s desire to go into the medical field, we knew it was necessary to choose a Biology course full of hands on dissecting and microscope work. This one has both. We live in Indiana, where for Biology to be considered a ‘Lab Course’ carries  specific requirements: A laboratory course, identified by (L) in these course descriptions, is one in which a “minimum of twenty-five percent (25%) of the total instructional time is devoted to laboratory activities. Laboratory activities are those activities in which the pupil personally uses appropriate procedures and equipment in accomplishing that learning task.” This course provides that, and the opportunity for a whole lot more!

This is a researched-based, lab intensive course. Each week the students are presented with a list of questions, which they need to research answers to. The students will spend 3-4 days’ worth of ‘class time’ researching the answers and taking notes. Then, they organize what they have learned to present to their parent-teacher. It is up to the parent to specify how they want the information presented; orally, written, and/or with illustrations. This could be a key benefit to students who have processing issues or a learning challenge like dyslexia. The student is free to research in the way that best fits their learning style and available resources. Mrs. Ardoin suggests that they use a variety of resources. Emily has used both books we already owned, and ones she checked out from our local library. When Emily started the unit on the Integumentary System (skin, hair, & teeth), she watched the DVD of Dr. David Menton from his "Body of Evidence" set. The fifth day of each week is set aside for lab work. It is up to the parent to decide where to fit in each week's quiz, there are good suggestions in the Parent's Guide.

I made Em's spelling list from her notes :)

I love, love, love this aspect of this course. While Mrs. Ardoin includes basic answers in the Parent's Guide (more on this later), she allows the student to get as in-depth as they want (or their parents require.) Let's ponder some scenarios here...1. Your student has problems reading for comprehension, and does not plan to go into the science field. With your help, they find videos, either online, at the Library, or from a service like Netflix, and learn about each week's topic. Then they report back to you either orally or written. 2. Your student is good at reading for comprehension, but not strong in writing. They read about the topics for the week, then they make a presentation for you. Perhaps they make a powerpoint, or re-create the answer in a drawing, modeling clay, or food-stuff based creation. 3. Your student is science-oriented. They research, report, and draw their findings, they end up with a notebook worthy of a college-level class. Make sure they keep it to review & help them test out of their Freshman level college science courses. Because you can customize HOW your student studies, and how they report it from day one, I can see this fitting with a whole lot of learning styles and teaching methods. Since this also includes microscope and dissection work, any student should be able to use this curriculum (with appropriate help when needed) and get a year's worth of  Biology w/Lab credit for High School. I find Mrs. Ardoin's comments in the Parent's Guide encouraging. "The student will be drawing all of his observations in this(student) manual. He is to be thorough to the best of his ability." (pg 188)

Now, to the Parent's Guide. This includes everything you HAVE to know for your student to complete their course, and your life to continue on at the same time. I don't know about you...but it's been 20 years since I last cracked open my High School Biology book. I just *might* have forgotten something-LOL! After the introduction on how to use the curriculum, this book has a syllabus for the course, and a detailed supply list. If you need to order supplies, you can choose from the various kits available on the Science For High School website, or follow the recommendations printed in your Parent's Guide. Since we already owned several of the necessary  supplies, like a microscope, and several of the required slides, we just ordered the remaining items (including the critters to dissect) from our favorite online science source. The total of supplies Emily required for the year ended up being just over $80. This made me thankful for all those science-based Christmas gifts!!!

The answers provided in the Parent's Guide help you know what your student should be learning every week, without you needing to be there with them every minute. If they have learned everything listed in the Parent's Guide, they are ready for the Unit quiz, if not, you may need to point them back to what they missed. The first two large sections of the guide are the answers for the weekly questions for first and second semester. The third section gives answers to the quizzes and exams, and the fourth large section show what your student should be putting in their Dissecting Manual, from their weekly microscope or dissecting time. This course is quite adaptable for both the student and the parent. Follow the level of parent involvement you feel comfortable with.

The quizzes and exams come 3-hole punched and shrink-wrapped. I suggest you keep these with your Parent's Guide, but make sure you look them over before giving each one to your student.  I have found the answers provided in the Parent's Guide to be a great timesaver...especially as both girls have been working on their 4-H sewing projects during the time of this review. I DID remember that RNA paired up with DNA in the cell-replication process, but I didn't remember any of the names... The different quizzes vary and include the types of question and answer styles your student might find at college: short answer, matching, diagram labeling, and even an occasional bonus question.

The reality is, this is an in-depth course, and it may take a few weeks for your student to get used to doing this much research on their own. If you have other students, I would suggest you start the Biology student a week or two before you jump into your normal school schedule with your younger students. This will give you time to devote to helping them understand both how to research, and what is expected of them each week.

We have been reviewing this for the past 8 weeks. Emily is almost to the end of the 3rd unit. Several things have come into play with this. First, it's summer, and Emily has other responsibilities, so she's only been working on it 4 days a week instead of the usual 5. Secondly, even though Emily has done research before, using the many resources, and gleaning what she needed to from them, taking notes, and formulating her answers took some getting used to. I'm also requiring her to keep a weekly list of the resources she has used, so she can go back and find the sources again if and when she wants. Thirdly, when Emily got to the Integumentary system, she went all in. For the past 5 years, Emily has struggled with psoriasis, so instead of just researching the 8 questions on her list for that unit, she also read 3 different books on the skin that dealt specifically with her issue. Even though I had researched her condition, she took ownership of her challenge and studied it for herself. She now understands her condition, without having to take my word for it, and is prepared to deal with her flareups better than she was before. Nothing like finding your child reading an EXTRA science book to cheer a Mom's heart.

A few final thoughts... I would wait until your student is at least a Freshman, but preferably a Sophomore before starting this Biology curriculum. It IS a lot of work, but SO worth it! Science for High School has a Physical Science In Your Home course that might be a better fit for your Freshman. One of the freedoms of home educating is getting to choose what works best for your student.

I also want you to be aware, your child is going to be dissecting that frog for quite a few weeks. Even though it's preserved, you might want to check those weeks up against your family's calendar for possible a visit from the Grandparents...or a sewing project for the 4-H fair. Emily's frog is patiently waiting in the box, because he could NOT come out while there were sewing projects on every available surface last week. :)

I feel like Emily is getting more out of this than a typical Biology textbook might provide. Since she is doing the digging, she is getting further into each topic. Since we started in the summer, she should still be able to continue this level of research and finish by next May, in time for me to add it to her transcript. If it takes up part of next summer too, it will still be worth it! Here is a picture of the resources Emily used for the first two units.

Other Crew families reviewed all 3 of the available topics from Science For High School, Physical Science, Biology, and Chemistry. Click the link below to read all the reviews!


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