Review: Real Science 4 Kids (Chemistry 1 and Biology 1)

We’ve been through plenty of science curriculum and learning supports.  From living books to documentaries, Bill Nye to NIH free resources, Singapore Science to mom-designed courses, we’ve tried a range of ways to bring science to life while teaching sound scientific thinking. For the evolution-teaching family, the options designed for homeschoolers (simpler labs, generally) are fairly slim.  Even with a disturbingly well-equipped home lab, it’s a stretch to use regular classroom texts at home.

So initially, I welcomed Real Science 4 Kids, by Dr. Rebecca Keller.  It didn’t teach evolution (see more on her and my musings about her approach in Curriculum Choices of Conscience), but it didn’t teach creationism or intelligent design either, and since our introduction to the series was Chemistry Level 1, I wasn’t initially concerned with that omission.

At this writing, Real Science 4 Kids consists of 3 levels, each with a varying number of topics.  I’ll limit my discussion to Level 1 Chemistry and Biology, since these are the only books I’ve used with enough rigor to evaluate them.  My older son did the first chapter of Chemistry Level II some years back, but that’s an insufficient experience by which to gauge that series and is under complete revision.

All the Level I subjects require a textbook, a lab workbook, and a teacher’s guide.  The teacher’s guide contains some notes on running the experiments, answers to all the questions, and some additional information on the subject matter.  The texts are attractive, multi-color hardbacks with large font, which is easy on young and old eyes.  Each text consists of ten chapters that align with ten labs and a few brief questions about the chapter, both of the latter found in the lab book.  At full retail, a year of science (Chemistry, Biology, and Physics) for Level I runs about $216 new (Astronomy is available without a teacher’s guide).  That’s a pretty pricey elementary science curriculum.  Used copies abound, but a new lab book for each student is necessary unless the child uses a separate notebook to do the written work.

Keller has numerous additional books, called Kogs, that extend science into vocabulary, philosophy, art, technology, critical thinking and history.  Samples online didn’t impress me, although I was taken with the idea of extending science across the curriculum, as some programs do with literature or history. My borrowed copy of the Language Kog to accompany Chemistry I didn’t hold my interest enough to introduce it to my son.  It introduced some roots, used them in words, and asked kids to give the definitions.  I expect more from a $27 book (and that’s just for one 10 chapter softcover consumable book)  For a full set of Kogs for Level I Chemistry, language Kogs for Physics and Biology, the tests (available soon), and study folders (available soon), and you’re in another $350.  Whoa.

The books are attractive for kids and parents and hold resale well (good, given their high price).  The experiments are highly homeschooler-friendly, requiring (mostly) basic household items, although a bit of specialty shopping online is needed for a few labs (a voltmeter for Physics and living protists and Red Congo stain in Biology, for example).  Two of the labs for Biology require planning and introduce animal life into your home: raising tadpoles into frogs and observing butterflies develop from caterpillars.  The first results in pets that are likely to live beyond when your children go to college (We did the tadpole thing on our own four years ago.  The frogs are still with us, and, according to a biologist friend, likely to spend up to 30 years with us.  No more experiments that require estate planning.)  The second requires timing your lab to meet shipping regulations of butterfly egg sellers.  These are exceptions, however, and one could omit growing living creatures that need prolonged care with a decent video or book on metamorphosis.

The labs book also contains a few questions about the text material.  Most of these are definitions or classification questions, and only on the most basic parts of the books material. Few if any require any critical thinking about the subject, making connections between topics, or analysis of information.  This is a serious downfall of the series.

I think Real Science 4 Kids continues to grow in the homeschooling community because it introduces high-level vocabulary to young children.    Sure, throughout Chemistry, you’ll see atoms and molecules introduced, however there’s no discussion of states of matter, a basic of any chemistry education.  Instead, this text includes titration, polymers, starches, cellulose, kinesin, along with dozens of other chemistry topics.  They’re interesting, but without a better grounding in chemistry basics, they’re like building a house on a sand — it’s just not going to stand.

On the whole, I found the chapters to be little more than 4 to 5 page introductions to a large subject with little focus on the hows and the whys.  Science is far more that what.  Science requires an understanding of how the world works and a grounding in scientific thinking.  I’d rather see far less terminology and far more grounding in the basics of the way the world works along with the tools to think like a scientist.  I’d like to see more inquiry based learning, where the learner asks a question and, with a good amount of guidance initially, figures out how to design an experiment to answer the question.  I’d like to see discussion of controls and variables as well.  Singapore Science does these well, teaching  scientific thinking grounded in the basics of matter and energy.  (That’s another review for another day.)

In short, Real Science 4 Kids is an attractive product with labs geared toward the homeschool lab.  It’s expensive and won’t span too many years of science education, and it tends to focus on vocabulary acquisition rather than deep understanding.  It’s free of any references to evolution or the origin of life, which sells books but also, in my opinion, leads to an incomplete education if used as the only biology or astronomy text.

I’d like to say I’ve found something equally easy to use at home with greater depth and an undercurrent of evolution, but I haven’t.  Singapore Science, with modifications to many labs, is a better bet, in my opinion, but that’s a fairly large task.  A recent find from the American Chemical Society, Middle School Science, is a far superior chemistry offer, and is online for free.  It’s inquiry-driven, the supplies for labs are easy to obtain, and it is the most sound chemistry program I’ve ever seen.  More on that when we’re farther along.

Disclosure:  I’ve received no compensation in money or materials for this review.

Advertisements

10 thoughts on “Review: Real Science 4 Kids (Chemistry 1 and Biology 1)

  1. Have you looked at Pandia Press’s REAL science odyssey? I had a chance to read the whole Chem level 1 curriculum, and while there was a bit much coloring (they make a mini book of the first . . idk, 20 elements?), I really felt it covered a lot. I dont remember exactly if there was much critical thinking tho . . . i seem to have a hard time relating to critical thinking in my curriculum (hang head in shame).

    Of course, there is still nothing past Level 1 yet. And Lab of Mr Q lured me in with a free first book!

    • Three years back, I purchased a used copy of one of the REAL Science Odyssey books, although I don’t remember which. I was underwhelmed in content and approach. My boys are NOT into coloring and drawing, so that was also a strike against them for me. We never actually used any of it, and I moved it onto its next owner. I wanted to like it, but, alas, closer inspection found it lacking.

  2. Thanks for the great review! We’ve been using REAL science by Pandia Press, and though the labs are fun, I’ve also found it to be lacking. Next year we’ve decided to move away from a full curriculum. My daughter wants to learn about the body and about electricity. I see lots of hands on fun ahead of us!

  3. Thanks for the review. We’re several years away from this stage (oldest is almost 3), but we’re considering homeschooling and one of my greatest concerns has been finding resources for science that are rigorous and scientifically accurate. I am thrilled to know that someone is out there evaluating curricula the way you are.

  4. Thank you for putting your finger on exactly what I didn’t like about this series. A number of friends have and use it loosely so I had several chances to look through it and it just never quite seemed great to me, so I didn’t buy it and we ended up making our own plan for elementary science. But you’re exactly right that it was more focused on explaining higher end concepts than on the basics and the inquiry. I don’t mind introducing my little kids to slightly more difficult concepts in science, but that’s not the emphasis of what I want to do with them at all.

  5. For those of you looking for elementary science that stresses critical thinking and is flexible enough for just about any situation, take a look at Bernard Nebel’s “Elementary Science Education: Building Foundations in Scientific Understanding.” He has 2 volumes out so far with a 3rd and final volume due out this spring or summer. The 3 volumes cover science for K-8! He provides a framework of study, a great sequence map of topics so you know what foundations you need before studying more advanced topics, and plenty of ideas for activities, books, and discussion/critical thinking on the topics. You can start at any point in elementary/middle school, pick-and-choose the path you want to take through the sequence map, float back-and-forth between the different volumes to cover topics at just the right level for your kids, and take the study of the topics as deep (or not) as you and the kids want! Check him out on the K5Science and/or BFSU2 Yahoo Groups. His books are available at Amazon.com with the Look Inside feature!

  6. It seems to me that the parents on this blog are looking for more depth than an elementary child is capable of. At the K~4th/5th grade levels, exposure is more appropriate than depth. Starting in ~5th/6th grade on through high school is when a child is developmentally capable of understanding the depth and complexity we find in all the science disciplines. This is true/fact regardless of your perspective/worldview.

    If you’re not satisfied with the length of a course or the depth, I suggest a trip to your local library. Both in Ohio (my real home) & in Virginia (my temporary home) the libraries have *in the kids’ non-fiction section* excellent books on chemistry (and all the other science subjects) to go into more depth, as deep as your child can or may want to go. I’m a young-earth, evangelical, born-again Christian (one of those “stupid people who actually believes that ‘Jesus’ stuff”) and I can’t recommend the DK reference books enough on Chemistry, Physics, Biology, and everything else they produce. Dorling-Kindersley reference books are definitely NOT creationist in worldview, but we love them and they offer tremendous depth of knowledge that’s easily digestible for young minds.

    • Naomi, one of the delights of homeschooling is the ability to meet children where they are. While it may be true that many children at the elementary level may generally do better with just exposure, all children who are 5 or 10 years old aren’t operating at those grade levels. As a parent of two profoundly gifted boys, I work hard to provide my sons with enough intellectual “meat” to meet their voracious appetites. Many of the parents who respond here also have children that don’t progress academically at typical rates. There are children who, at nine, are ready for algebra and high school level science (and I know a good number). There are other children at nine who struggle to understand addition and subtraction. Neither is wrong. Both should have their learning needs met.

      Yes, I’m dissatisfied with RS4K. I’d be dissatisfied with it for a younger learner, as I think real science is about asking questions and learning how to think scientifically. That’s a good part of my point of my review. If you like the program and find it works for you, great. It’s quite popular, just not our cup of tea. Your religious beliefs are your business, and you’ll never find a word out of my mouth or flying from my fingers calling a believer of any faith, “a stupid person who actually believe that stuff”. I believe deeply in, well, the right of each person to seek the truth as they find it.

      As for DK books, they can be a good source. My boys aren’t drawn to them at this point, and that’s fine with me. I have no problem supplementing with library materials and do it often. We know our library staff well. As for chemistry that jibes with my younger son’s learning needs and my preferred method of teaching, we’ve loved Middle School Chemistry from the American Chemical Society, which I’ve reviewed here.

      Sarah

  7. First off I want to say wonderful blog! I had a quick question which I’d like to ask if you don’t mind.
    I was curious to know how you center yourself
    and clear your mind prior to writing. I’ve had a hard time clearing my mind in getting my thoughts out. I truly do enjoy writing however it just seems like the first 10 to 15 minutes are usually wasted simply just trying to figure out how to begin. Any ideas or hints? Thank you!

    • Thanks! I’m glad to here you’ve enjoyed reading Quarks and Quirks.

      What happens when I sit to write varies greatly. While ideas often come when I have some relative silence such as in the shower, on a walk, doing chores (I’m avoided then, thus the peace), or working outside, it’s a mix of situations when I sit to write. Often I’m interrupted. I have no problem reminding the kids that I’m writing and, therefore, thinking. I can’t say that stops the offenders cold, but it helps.

      Despite having an idea, I often drift when sitting down to the blank screen, too. I check Facebook, check my email, get a snack, check on something that didn’t need my checking, whatever. This, for me, is a transition time into writing, and since it passes, I just don’t worry about it. It’s not wasted time. It’s a transition.

      So perhaps reframing that 10 to 15 minutes would help. Look at it as preparation. If you see it as a waste, you’re apt to either quit or feel too anxious to write comfortably, which, if you’re writing for your own pleasure, is a bummer.

      I hope that helps a bit!

      Sarah

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s