I promised several readers I would share a post about how we’ve made Apologia’s Exploring Creation with General Science by Dr. Jay Wile work as a mostly independent course for my 7th grader Makayla. This post will share our experience so far, having completed more than half the course.
What We Bought
We purchased the textbook and the solutions and test manual for the 2nd edition from ChristianBook.com. These are essential for the course in my opinion. I have used the solutions and test manual a lot. I was not taught science this way, with in depth reasoning and worldview studies woven in, and to be honest my middle school science was sadly lacking in depth.
We purchased the General Science Lab Kit by Nature’s Workshop Plus through ChristianBook.com. While you can gather materials on your own I knew that I needed every advantage I could get. Makayla was set to begin this course right after I gave birth to my eighth newborn. The kit comes with bags of materials for the experiments divided by module.
It also includes a master list of materials you will need to provide for each module – things like water, pans, red cabbage, or live worms. This master list went right in Makayla’s binder. Each time she finishes a module she checks this list and lets me know anything she’ll need for the next module. It is her responsibility. I add these to my grocery list, I won’t make a special trip to the store if she discovers one morning that she forgot to get her list to me.
Companion CDrom – We did purchase this but Makayla really hasn’t used it. It is an optional multimedia resource with videos and animations to go with each module of the textbook. I expect some of my more visual learners will use this when it is their turn to do General Science.
There are many more optional things you can pick up for the General Science course. Here are a few:
- Spiral Bound Notebooking Journal - with notetaking pages, lapbook elements, and a course schedule to break the work down into days.
- Audio CD of the textbook to listen to.
- Full interactive course for the computer.
The Independent Plan
Makayla planned to do this course independently. She asked for a schedule to help keep her moving through at a steady pace. There are options to purchase schedules but we found a free schedule that incorporated a notebook of sorts. You’ll find it on this page of DonnaYoung.org. It is in a little box with a blue arrow pointing to the title, “A Detailed Lesson Plan by Becca”.
This schedule gave Makayla enough structure to move through the course in the beginning when she was learning how to do a textbook based course. It gave her the flexibility to take 2 days to cover material when she really needed to. Now, months into the course, Makayla has found her rhythm and adjusted to the workload. This week she’s in Module 12: Energy and Life. There are 16 modules in the course.
Not Totally Independent
In the beginning our plan was to simply have Makayla narrate to me about what she was learning. She would complete all On Your Own questions, experiments, study guide sections, and the test could be completed in a written or oral format. We quickly discovered that sometimes Makayla really needs to talk through the material. She does well with most of the reading and experiments. Where she needs a sounding board is for some of the On Your Own questions. These are not multiple choice or fill in the blank questions where you look back through the text and copy word for word from a paragraph. These often are application questions that draw on what you’ve learned in past modules and the current one to understand a situation or puzzle presented. The answers to One Your Own questions are in the textbook at the end of each module if needed. One thing I really like is that they also explain why the answer is what it is.
The lab portion of General Science has a wide range of experiments and purchasing the lab kit has been worth the cost for us. When Makayla comes across an experiment in the text she simply pulls out the bag labeled for that Module, grabs the materials for the experiment she is on, and gets to work. At my house science experiments are usually done with an audience. Most of the experiments have been successful. There have been a few failures, one of which was due to not reading through the entire experiment beforehand, a learning experience for my daughter.
There have also been a few we couldn’t do because of the time of year. For example, fruit flies don’t hatch well in the middle of winter. And the erosion experiment that requires digging in the dirt and such came at a time when the ground was covered in 7 inches of snow and frozen solid. The textbook is helpful because after the experiment it explains what results you should have seen and what they mean, so in these instances Makayla was able to keep going without finding a way to complete the experiment.
Checking for Understanding
Exploring Creation with General Science has several opportunities for a student to check their understanding in a module.
- On Your Own questions – appear in yellow boxes throughout the module. The answers to these are found at the end of the module.
- Study Guide – Each module has a study guide with vocabulary to define and questions to answer related to the entire module. This page is at the end of each module. Answers to the study guide questions are found in the separate Solutions and Tests manual.
- Module Summary – Appendix B has fill in the blank pages called Module Summaries for each chapter. This is an optional way to review the module. Each paragraph contains multiple blanks and many are for more than one word. If the student is doing these they are encouraged to write out the entire paragraph instead of just writing the answers to fill in the blanks, which is, in effect, taking notes.
- Module Test – These are found in the separate Solutions and Tests manual to copy for your student. Answers are also found in the same book. Each test is set up similarly to the Study Guide and has vocabulary to define as well as questions to answer.
We have used a mix of all four of these throughout the course. Makayla always does the On Your Own questions and Study Guide. In a module where she feels she needs the extra review she also does the Module Summary. Then she does her test. I allow Makayla to complete every other module’s study guide orally, with the others being written. If she has no missed answers on the study guide she also has the option to skip the test, which is basically the same thing as the study guide.
A Few More Notes
I have found that people often fall into two scheduling camps when it comes to using Exploring Creation with General Science. The 1 year camp sets out to complete the course in 1 year, usually 7th or 8th grade. They expect the student to dive in and adjust to what may be the first heavy textbook course they’ve attempted. They may be less flexible on allowing the student to take their time to find a rhythm, pushing ahead for fear of getting ‘behind’.
The 2 year camp often sets out on their General Science adventure in the 1 year camp and after pushing and dragging their student through the first two modules on a time-driven schedule they decide the course is too difficult and choose to slow down and take 2 years to complete it.
Neither camp is wrong but I think there are things to watch for in either camp. In the 1 year camp there is a risk of burning out your child from pushing them along with the schedule as the taskmaster, stuffing the knowledge in short term but not giving them time to truly understand it. In the 2 year camp there is the risk of never challenging the student. Instead of encouraging them to step up to a new workload 2 year campers just make it easier and KEEP it easier the whole way through.
My solution for each camp is the same. Follow your student’s lead in the beginning. Slow down and let them wade into the water. It is okay to take longer on the first few modules while they get used to the course but don’t stay at that speed! Slowly increase the difficulty, expecting them to read and complete just a bit more each day, until they are working through the modules at a reasonable pace.
What is a reasonable pace? That’s up to you and your student. Our goal was to finish Exploring Creation with General Science in 1 calendar year. Not a 9 month school year, a full 52 week year. I knew Makayla would become more efficient as the year progressed if she was working toward a goal. I also knew that at this age making the course too easy by spreading it out over 2 years was not our family’s goal. She’s in 7th grade and now is the time to begin challenging her to step up in difficulty and workload. I believed she was ready. It has proven to be true over the last 7 months.
What’s Next for Makayla?
She will move into Exploring Creation with Physical Science this fall. I bought the Lab kit again. Makayla also chose to try the Student Notebook. Our family plans to use Apologia into high school with some flexibility for each child. Makayla, for example, currently plans to do Biology and Marine Biology in 9th and 10th grades. She is then hoping to spend a hands on year breeding animals. She’s also mentioned interest in doing a year of ornithology. Neither of those are courses Apologia offers. At this stage we are keeping her options open but she will be the one to choose her high school courses in the end. She may add in Chemistry but she assures me that she has no interest in Physics.
What About Apologia’s Elementary Series?
I have had several people ask how we use Apologia’s Elementary book series by Jeannie Fulbright. This post is getting entirely too long so I think I will share about that in a new post. You may be surprised how we use it – and what we’re using next year for my elementary and under crowd. (Hint: It’s not Apologia, and yet it is Apologia too.) Come back soon to find out!
Do you have any science questions for me?
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