Thursday, April 9, 2009

Review: Apologia Educational Ministries

With all the wonderful resources available for homeschoolers, I have a hard time resisting sampling them all. This curricula gluttony tends to result in me changing things up in our homeschool each year. On occasion, however, I find a resource that I love so much that it curbs any desire to keep looking. Why search any further once you've found your ultimate comfort curriculum? Apologia falls within that category.
Apologia is no stranger to the homeschool market and is well-respected as a Christian publisher of science curriculum. I was sent two texts for review, Zoology 1: Flying Creatures of the Fifth Day and Exploring Creation with General Science. Because I have experience with the Exploring Creation with Biology text, I will include my thoughts on that course as well.
Zoology 1: Flying Creatures of the Fifth Day
Grade Recommendation: K-6
Price: $35

Zoology 1 is part of Apologia's Young Explorer Series for elementary students, authored by Jeannie Fulbright. This series approaches science with the classical and Charlotte Mason methodology. There are five texts in the Apologia elementary series, three of which cover zoology. The first of the zoology texts is a study of flying creatures: birds, bats, flying reptiles and insects. The content is broken down into 10 chapters, each being approximately 15-20 pages. There is enough material to last an entire year. To see the depth of the coverage of the text, view the Table of Contents.

Many might shy away from a textbook format for a elementary science curriculum, but I assure you the Young Explorer Series is not dull and boring. Multiple photographs and colorful graphics are on nearly every page. The activities and experiments, which use household items, are fun. There is no bogging down with tests and fill-in-the-blank questions. As with other Apologia texts, Jeannie Fulbright talks directly to the student in a casual manner, guiding the student through the material. This personable style makes science very approachable and increases interest. One of the very first projects is for the student to create a scientific notebook to record their thoughts and findings. Throughout the chapters, students are requested to record information they've learned into their notebooks. Narration exercises and experiments are also included. Scientific thought and observation is emphasized in the activities, encouraging critical thinking, logical ordering, and retention.
While I had been considering this elementary series for some time, my first exposure to it was for this review. I must tell you, it received a very excited welcome when it arrived. Upon seeing it, my 9-year-old son literally dropped his pencil, grabbed the book from my hands, and ran down the hall to curl up on my bed with our cats. He was completely enthralled.
“Mom, I going to take this book with me everywhere to read it.” Carter, age 9
With the lessons broken down into several page increments, daily work was very manageable. I sometimes read the lesson aloud, but often times had my son read on his own and reported to me what he's learned. It has been a good balance and a nudging towards independent learning. We have set up bird feeders and purchased a bird guide specific to our area. Identifying the different species coming into our yard has not only been a source of excitement, but also training for an observant eye.
I feel the text is better suited for the mid-upper elementary grades. However, if you have multiple students in the elementary ages, Apologia's Zoology 1 would be a very good choice to coordinate the science studies of both older and younger students. We'll definitely continue with Zoology 1: Flying Creatures of the Fifth Day and look forward to the other texts in the series.
To view a sample lesson from this text, click here.
Other texts in this series include:

Exploring Creation with General Science
Recommended Grade: 7th
Price: $85
Includes Student text and Teacher Test and Answer Key

Exploring Creation with General Science, authored by Jay Wile, is considered the first of Apologia's junior high and high school texts and a systematic introduction to the sciences. The content covered touches many areas of science and gives a broad overview to set the stage for further study. The text starts out with the history of science and the scientific method and then explores multiple science disciplines such as biology, geology, human anatomy and more. Click here for the Table of Contents.
As with the elementary texts, the pages are filled with photographs and graphics. The text is broken down into 16 modules, each designed to take about two weeks to complete. Within the modules are "On Your Own" questions and experiments. The simple experiments, 52 in all, use common household goods. The "On Your Own" questions are given in small quantities at a time, meant to be completed while reading the module. At the end of each module are Study Guide questions that cover the complete module. In an appendix, there is a Module Summary for further review of each module. Answers to the "Own Your Own" questions are in the text for the students to correct their own work. A softcover Solutions and Tests manual that contains tests and answers to both the tests and module summaries accompanies the text.
My daughter used this text last year. While she had been exposed to many science topics through books, short-term studies, classes and workshops, Exploring Creation with General Science was the first time I used a comprehensive program for the entire year. It was also my daughter's first exposure to tests, in-home labs and lab reports. In a way, General Science pulled all her previous science experiences together for a big picture view and preparation for more rigorous study. Academically, it is a solid program. We do annual standardized testing and the year we started Apologia my daughter's already respectable science scores took a leap. More importantly, using this text created a spark and newfound interest in science with application towards real-life issues. I'll never forget the day my mother and I were having a discussion regarding vaccines and my daughter jumped in, explaining exactly how vaccines work, including using all the appropriate scientific terminology. What followed was a very lively and intelligent discussion on vaccinations and a very wide-eyed grandma.
I would highly recommend Exploring Creation with General Science as a formal junior high level science program. It is a comprehensive course that leads the student to scientific thinking, all in a conversational and non-intimidating manner. You can see for yourself by viewing Module 1 in its entirety here. The full course is available as a text or on CD-Rom for those who prefer a computer format. Supplemental resources of a MP3 audio CD of the text and Multi-Media Companion CD-Rom are also available.

Exploring Creation with Biology
Grade Recommendation: 9th
Price: $85
Includes Student text and Teacher Test and Answer Key

Exploring Creation with Biology, also authored by Jay Wile, is the first in the sequence for Apologia's high school program. The set-up, layout, and available supplemental materials are identical to that of Exploring Creation with General Science as well as the other junior high and high school texts. There are 16 modules in all and 32 labs. There are three types of labs in this text: household labs, microscope labs and dissections labs. Apologia considers the microscope and dissection labs to be optional. However, if you plan to use this course to fulfill a high school lab science credit, 2 out of the 3 types of laboratory exercises must be completed. I highly recommend requiring your student complete the dissection labs in addition to the household labs, regardless of whether or not you are using the course for a lab science credit. Don't let in-home dissections intimidate you! A dissection kit will need to be purchased, which includes the four specimens for the labs. The kit can be purchased directly from Apologia or from Nature's Workshop Plus!, Apologia's equipment supplier. I would also highly suggest a microscope and slides be purchased if it is affordable, as their use does add quite a bit to the experience and the equipment can be used for future classes. Check homeschooling swap boards and auctions sites for used microscopes at considerable savings. Be sure to review the microscope requirements for the course before purchasing.
My daughter is using Exploring Creation with Biology this school year. As with General Science, it has been easy to use and makes science a subject to explore rather than fear. I was a little concerned at how my daughter, who can sometimes be squeamish, was going to handle the dissections. I needn't have worried. All of the dissections have gone smoothly. The text provides detailed instructions for the dissections that my daughter could completely follow on her own.

My younger son was sure to watch most of the dissections. He keeps asking when he can take biology. (above) The text instructions for the dissections are clear, complete with pictures. (below)

Again, Apologia's Exploring Creation with Biology is an excellent choice for a beginning high school science course. It is easy to use, even for those parents who fear teaching science, and is directed to the student for independent learning. Both my daughter and I have been very pleased with the content. You can view a Table of Contents here and Module 1 here.

Apologia is a very solid program, but you will need to supplement the curriculum if your student intends to take the AP Biology exam. While evolution is covered, it isn't covered thoroughly enough for the AP exam and there are other requirements needed to label a course AP. For further explanation, visit a message board exchange here. You'll also find other support information at the above linked message board.

Apologia has a full line of high school level texts available, from beginner to advanced. You can view their recommended time line of courses available here.
Creationist Perspective
The mission of Apologia is a commitment to help the homeschool community "learn, live, and defend the Christian faith". All of Apologia's materials are from a Creationist standpoint. In the elementary texts this is more obvious and opposing views are not discussed, presumably because of the intended age for this series. The junior high and high school texts, however, do not shy away from addressing evolution while still maintaining a Creationist stance. Furthermore, the information is presented in an intelligent, non-confrontational and non-offensive manner.
In 1 Peter 3:15, it states:
"But in your hearts set apart Christ as Lord. Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have. But do this with gentleness and respect."

I believe Apologia is successful in standing firm with "gentleness and respect". The approach Apologia takes on this subject is very highly appreciated by me. I want my children to be educated on what most of the scientific community believes to be fact. Knowing the arguments of both sides only strengthens personal beliefs and enables students to speak intelligently about the issues. By the junior high and high school age, students should be grounded enough to address the topic in-depth and I respect the approach Apologia takes with this topic. The student is not left blind to the arguments, but is also given scientific evidence for the truths of the Bible. I feel very strongly about sending my children out into the world grounded in their beliefs, knowing what they believe why they believe it.
Resources for Support
The support materials available for Apologia, both free and for purchase, is phenomenal. Each course has a special website (the password is provided in the text) that contains web-based materials related to the course. Schedules and study materials can be found at Various Yahoogroups offer wonderful advice from other Apologia users. In fact, Jeannie Fulbright, author of the elementary series, frequents the Elem_Apologia_Science Yahoogroup and is available to answer questions. There are many supplemental products, such as lapbooks, available from various suppliers.
If you are wanting full support and more structure for your junior high and high school student, ApologiaAcademy is opening this fall with registration now open. Weekly online live classes, exams, required formal lab reports and a guiding teacher will bring maximum learning and provide an outside assessment and grades to use for transcripts. For the last two years, my daughter has participated in classes with one of the Apologia instructors; it has been a rewarding experience and brought more discipline to her studies. Visit the ApologiaAcademy website for more information, including sample classes and a 2009-2010 Schedule of Courses.
Apologia has become a favorite addition to our homeschool and I have recommended it to many. Apologia corners the market with a Christian science curriculum that is not only solid, but very approachable. Whether you have a student who loves science or is perhaps a little intimidated by the subject, this is a program to investigate if you are looking for a formal science curriculum.
Visit the Apologia website for more information and read more reviews at the Official TOS Crew blog.


scmommy said...

I am so happy to see your review. I have Exploring Creation with Astronomy, I plan to use for the girls next year. I can't wait till next year! I have the new books itch!

StephF said...

We have used Apologia's Botany & Astronomy & have been pleased with both. We are planning to use General Science next year, so I was glad to see your positive review. Thanks!