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Biology 101

Normally a post I write entitled Biology 101 would be about chasing frogs, or watching the garden grow, or planting trees or growing a sourdough culture. But this time it really is about a college-level introductory biology course. Actually it’s about the texbook designed for such a course.

Sophie first expressed an interest in biology about a year ago. She was no doubt influenced by Noah’s interest in chemistry. Sophie got quite excited by his foray into focused, though informal, study of a particular scientific area. After Noah got started on the RealScience4Kids Chemistry I program, she carved out her own area of interest in Biology. Perhaps she mostly liked the shinyness of the hardcover textbook, and the chance to do some semi-structured reading and lab activities with me. In any event, she talked me into buying the Biology I program, and enjoyed it a lot. We found the latter third of the program pretty lackluster, as it was mostly centred around natural science activities we’d done several times in the past (raising tadpoles, observing caterpillar metamorphosis, etc.), but she definitely enjoyed the more academic early part of the program with its emphasis on taxonomy and subcellular structure. And our reading of Bill Bryson’s “A Short History of Nearly Everything” and biographies and historical fiction centred around biology has led her to a deeper understanding and a thirst for resources at a more complex level.

When we had extra SelfDesign Learning Allowance money to use up, Sophie again voiced a desire for a more comprehensive and complex biology reference book. My approach with the SelfDesign money has been to either buy items with immediate practical use for a specific child (eg. bicycle, piano lessons, art materials) or to purchase more academically-focused items with a likelihood of broad future appeal to multiple children, like the Teaching Textbook math programs. With this latter approach in mind I went hunting for a good biology reference book. Eventually I settled on Neil Campbell’s “Biology: Concepts and Connections,” intended to accompany a high school AP or introductory university biology course.

This publication is far more than a textbook; it’s a course too. It comes with a CD-ROM and access code providing on-line MP3 lectures, videos, virtual labs, interactive investigations, self-evaluation quizzes, games, images and tutorials. The entire book can be accessed as an eBook, but the hard copy itself is well-written and beautifully laid out and worth the price in and of itself. If one’s aim is to learn the material, I cannot see why it would make sense to spend several hundred dollars on a college course and then also go out and buy a $150 textbook. With textbooks like this, who needs a prof!?

I highly doubt Sophie will choose to work systematically through what is in effect a college Biology 101 course. But so far she’s having great fun browsing through the book and taking the computer-based quizzes. She seems to have learned a heck of a lot from our casual reading and discussions over the past year. What kind of 8-year-old sees a question like this

Which of the following are required for natural selection to occur?

  1. heritable variability
  2. differential survival
  3. small population size
  4. heritable variability and differential survival
  5. heritable variability, differential survival and small population size

and clicks on 4 with scarcely a hesitation?

I think this publication will be useful in many ways over the years.



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6 responses to “Biology 101”

  1. Penelope Avatar

    Hi Miranda,

    I was just surfing around looking for some science materials that might satisfy Alex’s interests and decided to read your post again. I am very interested in the Biology, but I also am also curious to know whether or not the Real Science 4 Kids Chemistry I was a good fit for Noah? I have been trying to decide between Chemistry I and II. Any thoughts?? Oh, and did you order it from the site you posted or somewhere here in Canada?

  2. Miranda Avatar

    Hi Penelope. RS4K Chem I was good for Noah, as far as it went. Because it’s intended as a structured homeschooling resource, perhaps blocked in for 45 minutes once or twice a week, while Noah prefers to immerse himself in things, we found it didn’t provide a whole lot of long-term interest for him. He was eager to devour three or four chapters at a sitting, and that was a quarter of the program gone right there. Within a couple of weeks he’d finished all the theoretical learning. The lab work took longer for us to finish, just because it took a bit more planning to get to. We decided Chem.II probably wouldn’t be good value for money because of that trend, so I honestly can’t comment on it. Overall, the program is very nicely set up, visually appealing and doesn’t dumb things down a whole lot which is nice, but it seems better suited as an introduction to the subject for uninitiated kids than a long-term resource for kids with a passion for that subject.

  3. Miranda Avatar

    Oh, and we purchased from Rainbow Resources in the US. Ran into credit card glitches with the publisher, but RR worked fine. And it was fun getting their 800-page catalog in the mail too!

  4. Penelope Avatar

    Thanks so much Miranda, that helps a lot. I don’t think that RS4K would be something Alex would enjoy much if it’s structured. Alex very much unschools science and always has. We’ve used TOPS and that has always been something that Alex could pick up and do when he felt like it. He’s outgrown TOPS though, for the most part. I guess I’ll have to ask him what he would think of trying a program like RS4K and we’ll go from there.

    Your input was very helpful. I appreciate it!

  5. Miranda Avatar

    Hi Penelope, when I said it was intended to be used in a structured way, I didn’t mean that it was scripted or scheduled out for you or anything. There are no quizzes or review exercises or anything like that. I found it very friendly and adaptable to an interest-driven approach. It was just that because the program seems to assume that a typical child would only devote, say, half an hour a week to the textbook end of it, and half an hour or an hour to the lab exercises, over the course of a school term, there isn’t a whole ton of content. For a kid who prefers to learn about chemistry for an hour or two or three every day for a couple of weeks, it doesn’t last very long. RS4K is the only ‘curriculum’ we’ve really used besides Singapore and/or Miquon math, and we’ve found the same thing with those resources. Because Noah is a ‘delver’ rather than a ‘dabbler’, he moves through a book very fast when he’s interested. With the math stuff, there’s always a new level to move into (inexpensively!) if he’s hankering for more at the end, but with RS4K I just couldn’t see spending another $75 for a couple of weeks of chemistry amusement.

  6. Penelope Avatar

    Thanks Miranda, I understand what you mean now. I suspect that Alex will probably go through it fairly quickly as well. He sounds similar to Noah in his learning style. I left the decision in his hands and it is definitely something he wants to try, so if he’s for it I’m certainly willing to give it a go. Thank you for all your information, it was a huge help!