Curriculum Review: Real Science-4-Kids (Grades 5 to 8)
- Chemistry Level I – Student Text, Teacher’s Manual, Laboratory Workbook, Rebecca W. Keller, Albuquerque, NM: Gravitas Publications, 2004, 2005.
- Chemistry Level II – Student Text, Teacher’s Manual, Laboratory Workbook, Rebecca W. Keller, Albuquerque, NM: Gravitas Publications, 2004, 2005.
- Physics Level I – Student Text, Teacher’s Manual, Laboratory Workbook, Rebecca W. Keller, Albuquerque, NM: Gravitas Publications, 2004, 2005.
- Biology Level I – Student Text, Teacher’s Manual, Laboratory Workbook, Rebecca W. Keller, Albuquerque, NM: Gravitas Publications, 2004, 2005.
In the spirit of the Well-Trained Mind approach of focusing on a single science topic for an entire year, Dr. R. W. Keller has written a series of textbooks that provide an intriguing alternative to traditional texts.
Although the Real Science-4-Kids curriculum is promoted on a prominent intelligent design Web site, Access Research Network (www.arn.org), there is no religious content within the texts themselves. According to the author’s bio available on the Gravitas Web site, Dr. Keller is a homeschool mom and active research scientist with a Ph.D. from the University of New Mexico. The Web site makes no personal religious claims about the author.
That being said, two observations can be made. First, the author does not promote biological evolution. One of her stated goals is to give students an appreciation for those questions science cannot answer. One can only speculate that this includes questions of life’s origin. In this sense, Real Science-4-Kids provides a viable alternative for those parents who want to steer clear of the tricky issue of evolution during the elementary school years.
Second, the author also leaves out any issues related to the age-of-the-earth question. Earth science and astronomy texts are forthcoming so it will be interesting to see how the author handles those disciplines given that they contain the greatest evidences for an ancient earth.
There is good news and bad news in evaluating the quality of science education offered by the Real Science-4-Kids curriculum. First, the good: The science is sound. The texts cover a wide array of foundational topics that students will need on their second go-around with these topics. Material from the periodic table of elements to Newton’s laws of motion and everything in between gets treatment.
Here is an overview of the topics covered in each text of the Level I series:
- Chemistry—Matter; Molecules; Chemical Reactions; Acids, Bases, and pH; Acid-Base Neutralization; Mixtures; Separating Mixtures; Energy Molecules; Polymers; Biological Polymers; DNA; Proteins
- Physics—What is Physics?; Force, Energy, and Work; Potential and Kinetic Energy; Motion; Energy of Atoms and Molecules; Electrical Energy and Charge; Moving Electric Charges and Heat; Magnets and Electromagnets; Light and Sound; Conservation of Energy
- Biology—Living Creatures; Cells-The Building Blocks of Life; Photosynthesis; Parts of a Plant; How a Plant Grows; Protists; Frog Life Cycle; Butterfly Life Cycle; Our Balanced World
Gravitas Publishing also offers Chemistry texts for Pre-Level I and Level II. Pre-Level I is advertised as being appropriate for grades 1-2, Level I for grades 3-5, and Level II for grades 6-8. Dr. Keller has written a Pre-Level I chemistry text for grades 1 and 2. Although the Level 1 texts (chemistry, physics, and biology) are graded for 3-6, gifted first and second graders will probably be able to use the Level I texts with assistance. Dr. Keller has also written a Pre-Level I chemistry text for grades 1 and 2, and has released Chemistry II, which will soon be followed with Physics II and Biology II. Sample chapters can be downloaded from the Gravitas Web site for review.
Another good point is that because the author avoids questions about the age of the earth, she is able to avoid an array of land-mine topics. This prevents the texts from falling into many traps that creation science texts fall into.
The Art of Teaching
The key benefit of the Real Science-4-Kids curriculum is that it focuses on a single topic for an entire year, as opposed to the usual six-week-survey format that is used by most other science textbooks. Concepts can be reinforced over a longer period of time. This method of instruction will, hopefully, increase retention and facilitate deeper exploration of key topics. Each text contains only 10 lessons, so if a student expresses a keen interest in a particular topic, the pace of the text isn’t so rigorous that it prevents short excursions into more in-depth study.
The texts have a low-key but attractive layout that visually breaks down complex concepts into bite-sized pieces. Although an informal font is used, the presentation is easy to follow and not cluttered by inappropriate cartoons. The focus is on content, rather than entertainment.
The reviewer’s family used Chemistry I with our daughter in first grade and Physics I in second grade. Robert (the reviewer’s husband) did all of the science instruction for both years. He found the content in the texts to be accurate and a good foundation for future study. The treatments of each topic aren’t overly detailed, but that doesn’t appear to be the author’s goal. Rather, it seems Dr. Keller wants to introduce students to key terms and concepts they will encounter as they continue their science education. And with that objective in mind, Real Science-4-Kids meets expectations.
That being said, I (Krista) am not sure there is enough information in the texts themselves that I could teach this curriculum. Robert took physics and chemistry in high school. I did not. As such, I would not have been able to supplement the frequently brief explanations in the texts with supplementary discussion or examples. And I definitely could not have done the experiments! Even with the teacher’s manual, a teacher without a solid science background might find this curriculum daunting.
The Real Science-4-Kids curriculum is written for homeschool use but could be adapted to a classroom environment by an ambitious instructor. The teacher’s edition and lab worksheets are an essential part of the curriculum and should definitely be purchased.
One difficulty is the lack of a thorough index in the teacher’s manuals. However, the student texts do include a brief list of terms at the back citing a page number on which the term is discussed.
Key principles of each lesson are reinforced through lab assignments. In our experience, most of the experiments worked, although some of them weren’t very practical for the home environment. Some labs may need to be adapted in order to accommodate the user’s situation or preference. For example, one experiment instructs the teacher to make their own pH strips to use in the lab. Why not just go buy some for a few dollars at the pool-supply store? Another experiment required the use of differently weighted marbles. These proved very difficult to find, even at the local Army surplus store. In the end, we improvised by using differently weighted toys.
No assessments are included with the shipped curriculum, but some are available on the Gravitas Web site. Students are encouraged to keep a notebook to collect their laboratory observations. The Laboratory Worksheets are not bound, but are three-hole punched and can easily fit in a 2″ binder. These worksheets are consumable, however, and will need to be repurchased for other students. This notebook provides the only formal “proof” that the student actually completed the lessons, so it is essential for those homeschoolers who are required to provide written documentation.
This brings us to one of the more unfortunate aspects of the Real Science-4-Kids curriculum, namely that it does not include any worksheets. This is regrettable, since worksheets would provide an added way to reinforce key concepts and measure how well the student comprehends certain ideas. The incorporation of workbooks would be a helpful supplement to fill this gap.
Overall, there is much to praise in Dr. Keller’s efforts. The Real Science-4-Kids series is essentially a secular science text that avoids both biological evolution and questions about the age of the earth. This curriculum will probably appeal most to those parents who are confident in their scientific knowledge and prefer the single-subject-immersion approach and want to go beyond the usual six-week unit studies for their child’s science education. But teachers should be prepared to fill in some of the gaps with additional information, including trips to the library, additional worksheets, and experiments. Instructors who aren’t as confident in their own level of science education might want to consider another choice.
This article was originally published in the resource, Teaching Science from a Christian Worldview.