Review: The Story of Science (Joy Hakim)

My younger explores pi via a Story of Science quest.

With four years of chronological history behind us, last school year left me wondering what to do next.  My younger son and history buff wasn’t keen on starting the sequence over, and neither was I.  We’d covered a fair amount of American History via his forays into war:  he’s self-studied the American Revolution, Civil War, both World Wars, Korea, and Vietnam.  While the peaceful part of history was reasonable fodder, I remained uninspired.  So I turned to my overloaded book shelves, groaning under the weight of books and curriculum yet unexplored.  Joy Hakim’s first volume of The Story of Science series, Aristotle Leads the Way, jumped into view.  Peaceful history with a side of science.  Two birds with one stone.  After a quick check with my younger for buy-in, I ordered the accompanying Teacher’s Quest Guide and Student Quest Guide.

Like her History of US books, The Story of Science triad is aimed at middle school level learners.  All three books bear similarity to the History of US volumes:  short chapters with a focused subject, numerous side bars and captioned images, definitions in the margins, and one to two page pieces extending the chapter.  The tone, like HUS, is conversational and the writing, story-like.  Plenty of history (other than the history of science) graces these chapters, along with a fair amount of mathematics and a smattering of philosophy.  Simply put, there’s a lot going on in these tomes.

The Teacher’s Quest Guides are divided into five units, each with seven lessons containing new material followed by one “Preparation for Assessments” and another  for the assessment itself.   Since the first book, Aristotle Leads the Way, is broken into 30 chapters, some chapters receive two lessons of treatment.  The Guides are written for the classroom teacher, and much of each lesson plan is detailed script for that user. Much of the hefty 425 page teacher’s guide is instructions on how to move children through each chapter, with prompts for student to paraphrase a section, terms to define for students before they read, and other details common to highly scripted curricula. While plenty of assignments call for a teammate  or two, these are generally easy to adapt to the single learner.

Each lesson begins with a quote from a thinker of the time, which become the theme to the chapter, and a short list of learning goals.  Then she presents lists of the people and terms in the chapter, with a short description or definition.  A short Groundwork section follows, with a brief list of preparation steps (obvious ones, like “read the chapter” and “gather the materials listed in the unit introduction”).  The Directed Reading section proposes questions for discussion before reading and emphasizes some pre-reading activities, such as looking at the maps or other images, then suggests pair reading and time to discuss in a group the main ideas.  (Families who usually ask for summaries of material read will find this familiar.)

Either before or after the reading (it varies with the chapter), the quotation (theme) is introduced and discussed.  Some of these take a fair amount of discussion to understand and explore, and the Teacher’s Quest Book offers ways to shape that conversation. The sections following are the more hands-on part of the lesson, although plenty of instruction is needed along the way.  Labeled either Cooperative  Team Learning or Classwide Activity, these are the projects and “worksheet” parts of the curriculum. These include the so-called quests, which vary from hands-on projects to thought experiments.  Materials required are simple and easy to obtain for the most part, although some special orders from scientific supply stores is necessary (ex. bromothymol blue) or a bit of forethought and hunting (ex. pennies minted prior to 1963).  Most items, however, can be found around the house or at a drug store or hobby shop.  Some units are more hand-on project rich than others.  Each lesson plan ends with concluding questions and homework (journal writing prompt) followed by possible extensions across the curriculum.

Three assessments follow.  The third is always a traditional exam, with a variety of question types (multiple choice, short answer, matching, paragraph-length response, and more).  The others are projects, either to be done in teams or individually.  The remainder of the book is answers to the quests and masters for making transparencies  or copies of quotes and other teaching aids.

The Student Quest Guide mirrors the Teacher’s Quest Guide:  a page including the thematic quote, definitions, names and dates leads each chapter, followed by Quest Sheets, filled in by students in the quest portion of the class.  Could a parent skip the Teacher’s Quest Guide and just purchase the Student’s Guide?  Probably, although that’s far more searching for answers than I care to do, and the level of study would likely be more shallow.

Overall, my son and I enjoyed the portion of Aristotle Leads the Way that we used.  Yup.  We didn’t finish.  I can’t recall exactly what derailed us,  although the reasons were more life-situation based than content and format issues.  As I’ve written this, I pulled him aside and asked, “Hey, remember this?”  “That was fun!” was his quick response.  It wasn’t lack of interest that led us away.

So what did we like?  Many of the quests were fun and interesting.  The mathematics portion of the book is strong, and the explanation of the more interesting aspects of mathematics are a highlight of the series.  A strong grounding in math through typical sixth grade level seems to be a requirement for a good number of the quests — without that base, the going might be too tough and much quality content would be missed.  While I find the Teacher’s Quest Guide to have a good deal more scripting than I care to have, I appreciate the ease that having the answers offers too much to go without it (and a few activities can’t be done without it, due to masters in the back of the book).   The first book meets the challenge of drawing the line where philosophy met science, and that’s no small task.  As I mentioned, my son enjoyed it, and that’s a big piece for me, as enjoyment generally leads to more engagement and greater learning.

And what we didn’t like?  The guide for teachers far exceeds what I, as a homeschooler, need or desire.  I’d prefer much less on that end, although I recognize others may see its scripted nature a plus.  I find it more to plow through.  The volume of names and dates is overwhelming, at least for a parent who prefers deeper concept focus to shallow, broad fact acquisition.  The books have both, but my son and I sometimes were lost in the name deluge while searching for the science.  Given the scope of these books, that’s not so much a flaw as a necessary condition.  Covering all of the history of physical science (and a fair amount of math) requires naming a good number of folks.  I don’t know how else it could be done.  It’s a bit heavy on written output for the gifted learner who is ready for the content but not all those blank lines waiting for long written answers.  We did a good amount aloud to bypass the frustration of writing on those little lines with no loss to learning.

Perhaps the biggest downfall for us is the busyness of the books themselves.  There are too many places to look, and I spend a fair amount of time coaching my son on how to handle these sensory-overload pages while still covering all the reading.  It’s easy to lose the flow of the story with so many distractions on the page also clamoring to be read or examined.  While he did learn some reading strategies given these distractions, I’d prefer a simpler layout with fewer distractions per page.  (Parents of children with ADHD, beware.)

Overall, this is a fine curriculum for a combined science/math year, and an ambitious family spending three days a week on the series for a full 35 weeks could finish all three in a school year.  (We are not an ambitious family.) A good amount of math, science, and history happen in those books, and an hour to and hour and a half per lesson (depending on amount of conversation and complexity of the quests, etc.) might be sufficient to make that progression happen.  I’d not call it a complete curriculum for math, although it provides a fine supplement, especially for the child between elementary math and Algebra.  The science isn’t presented thematically, given it is in the context of history, but the three books together would introduce a fair amount of physical science in a year.  And the history?  Having a background in history would likely increase the appreciation of the historical content of these books — it did for my son.  With no world history to lay the scientific discovery stories upon, a slower pace accompanied by other history would round it out.

Will we return to The Story of Science?  I’d like to think so, but not this year, as we’re already full of structured learning events.  Next year, when we’re due for physical science, we may return.

I have not received any compensation for reviewing this product and paid for my copies of the product reviewed.


5 thoughts on “Review: The Story of Science (Joy Hakim)

  1. Thank you for this review, Sarah.
    We are currently looking at the BBC documentary ‘The Story of Science: Power, Proof and Passion’, Michael Mosley.
    We enjoy this DVD that explores how the evolution of scientific understanding is interwoven with society’s history.

  2. Question: Could we get away with just using the TEACHER’S guide and skipping the student guide? If for instance, we wouldn’t plan on doing all of the ‘worksheets’ as is anyway, but replace with our own summaries… or if it can be done by orally asking a question and having the student write their answer in a notebook… etc. Is there anything unique about the student guide that couldn’t be worked around?

    • Hmm. While a few of the quest sheets are available to reproduce in the Teacher’s guide, many are not, or already have the answers on them. Some of it could be done orally, but some of the quests are visual or have several parts that need to be read before questions are answered. I’d go the other direction (student guide without teacher’s guide) if forced to choose.

      • Okay, good to know — thanks for the info, I appreciate it. 🙂 We’ve had other texts where we were able to use the teacher’s book just by ignoring the filled-in answers but I understand it’s not always possible depending on the sheet.

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