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Science Shepherd Biology Review by Debra Brinkman Kate Kessler

Scott Hardin, MD
Science Shepherd
1405 Capitol Drive
Suite C-202
Pewaukee, WI 53072

"How will you teach high school science?" was one of the most frequent questions I heard when I first told people I was planning to homeschool my four and two year-olds. Personally, it wasn't something I worried about, as I always assumed there would be great choices available when we got to high school. I was right.

That two year-old is now in high school, and this year we have been tackling science with a thorough course, Science Shepherd Biology. The Old Schoolhouse reviewed the first edition four years ago, referring to it as "thorough, systematic, understandable and absolutely usable in the homeschool." The same can be said for the second edition.

The biggest change is the three chapters that deal with the creation/evolution issue. These have been completely rewritten, with far more information, and are by far the longest chapters in the text. Most of the 34 chapters are in the range of 15-20 pages. These three are 150 pages total. I didn't see the original edition, but after looking the material over myself, I made my oldest son read this portion of the book even though he has completed biology. It is that good.

Science Shepherd Biology includes a gorgeous hardbound textbook of over 700 pages. I took biology and AP Biology in high school, and I believe Science Shepherd Biology covers more topics in more depth than both of my years of high school biology. An early chapter on biochemistry explains organic reactions so simply that I commented to my son, "If I had seen this in college, I would have stayed a biology major."

That is the beauty of this program. Dr. Hardin clearly knows his subject well, and he has the gift of explaining it in understandable words and with useful diagrams. The illustrations throughout the text don't just provide a visual break, but they actually convey information. As a homeschool dad, he also knows his customer base well. He doesn't presume that the parents have a science background.

That is evident in the Answer Key & Parent Companion, which is what it sounds like: answers for the study questions and tests, plus a wonderful overview that goes chapter by chapter through the course. Also included here is a very easy-to-follow 36-week schedule for completing the course. Now that pace was a bit fast for my son, as he needs more time to read and digest all the words, but for my older son, the pacing would have been perfect. One thing I love with the schedule is that there are catch-up and study days built in.

The tests are mostly short-answer essay and there are lots of questions, but the author suggests having a student only answer the evens, odds, every third question, or whatever works for that student. If the student can answer most of those questions, he probably understands the material. He also recommends allowing students to answer the questions orally if that will work better. "The method of test taking should not be a stumbling block in your student's performance." That is what we did, and I have to say that having my son "just talk" to me about the answers to these questions definitely conveyed when he knew the material, and when he was less certain.

I loved this program while doing the first few chapters of the text, but once we got to the real science labs in chapter five, I was completely hooked. The optional Biology Lab DVD makes this comprehensive, thorough course that much better. Each lab is filmed, including the microscope labs, the dissection labs, and other miscellaneous ones.

Lab work is important, but it can be pretty intimidating too. For the homeschool mom who is intimidated by science labs, this DVD is a fantastic resource. Dr. Hardin walks through the lab, step-by-step, so your student has someone who knows what he is talking about explaining the process. You aren't left to try to figure it out from written descriptions, as he shows you.

If you can't do the lab (or really don't want to), the presentation is detailed enough that you can watch and write up lab reports from the viewing. Another great aspect is the filming is done in his kitchen, not some sterile, fancy lab setting.

For those who fully intend to complete as many labs as possible, the DVD may not quite be worth its weight in gold, but it is close. It has been thirty years since I dissected anything. Being able to pop in the DVD and watch an earthworm dissection before we have to do it ourselves is priceless. We are not to the dissections yet, but I did watch a couple on the DVD before writing this review. Wonderful.

Our microscope is good, but not great. We appreciate that we can see the detail via the DVD, especially when our attempts didn't work so well.

The Lab Manual (and DVD too) serves as a fantastic "how to" for learning to write up a lab report, and it gives the student a place to record observations. Gentle instruction in lab reports was something I needed, and my sons did too. That was plural. I made my oldest come check out a lot of the lab report teaching too.

At $85 for the three book set (text, answer key, test booklet) plus another $70 for the Lab Manual and Lab DVD, this isn't the least expensive option out there, but the only consumable item is the $20 Lab Manual and the $5 Test Booklet. My bottom line is that this is a fabulous course for a variety of students:                               

  • For a student who just needs to get a biology course on the transcript, this is easy-to-understand, and you don't have to purchase expensive equipment.
  • For a high-achieving student, this would be a solid AP Prep level course that can be done very independently. Mom would only need to grade some work.  As the AP exam covers evolutionary ideas in more depth than Science Shepherd does, you would need to supplement those areas before taking the exam. This is what I would have done with my oldest son.
  • For a more typical high school student with an interest in science, this can be a way to really grasp biology and to be prepared for college level work, especially if you do some of the labs. Again, a parent wouldn't have to do much besides some grading.
  • For a student who struggles with traditional learning, this can be adapted for them, which will likely involve more "Mom time." My son appreciates that the explanations in the text are straightforward, and unlike some other science materials we've used, there aren't confusing definitions or obscure extra information.
  • For a parent who doesn't want creation or evolution taught at all, by skipping chapters 17-19, you would have an excellent course with very little of that sort of content.

This Biology course would be ideal for students in 10th through 12th grades. Science Shepherd also has a Life Science course for junior high students. I'm seriously considering it for my 7th grader.


Product review by Debra Brinkman, Assistant Director, The Schoolhouse Review Crew, The Old Schoolhouse® Magazine, January, 2014

Another Review:

Science Shepherd Biology begins with this verse: Psalm 33:9: "For he spoke, and it came to be; he commanded, and it stood firm." This is a very good beginning!

Science Shepherd Biology is a thorough full-year course for your 10th-12th grade high school student. The components of this curriculum are as follows: the main 632-page soft-cover student book; Test Booklet; and the soft-cover 222-page Answer Key & Parent Companion. The spiral-bound Lab Manual and the Biology Lab DVD are extra, and will be described below.

Dr. Hardin wanted to do two things; give parents the ability to continue homeschooling in the higher grades with confidence and provide a comprehensive and complete science curriculum. He has accomplished both. The fears of many homeschooling families are that upper level science is just too hard to do at home--especially if Mom or Dad don't have upper level science credentials to begin with. Dr. Hardin has laid that fear to rest with Science Shepherd Biology.

The Biology Scope and Sequence per chapter is below.

1. Introduction
2. The Composition and Chemistry of Life
3. Basic Biochemistry of the Molecules of Life
4. Introduction to the Cell and Cell Membrane
5. The Cell Interior and Function
6. Metabolism Overview and Enzymes
7. Photosynthesis
8. Cellular Respiration
9. DNA, RNA, and Proteins
10. Cell Reproductions: Mitosis
11. Organism Reproduction: Binary Fission, Budding, and Meiosis
12. Genes and Heredity
13. Inheritance Patterns
14. Genetic Variation
15. Human Genetics
16. DNA Technology
17. The Origin of Life and the Fossil Record
18. Evolution and Creation: Principles and Evidence
19. Speciation and Adaptation
20. Biological Classification and Viruses
21. Kingdom Eubacteria and Archaebacteria
22. Kingdom Protista
23. Kingdom Fungi
24. Plants: Introduction, Structure, and Function
25. Plants: Physiology, Reproduction, and Classification
26. Kingdom Animalia I
27. Kingdom Animalia II
28. Kingdom Animalia III
29. Kingdom Animalia IV
30. Human Anatomy and Physiology I: Nervous System and Special Senses
31. Human Anatomy and Physiology II: Immunologic, Endocrine, and Excretory Systems 32. Human Anatomy and Physiology III: Circulatory and Respiratory Systems
33. Human Anatomy and Physiology IV: Digestive, Musculoskeletal/Connective Tissue, and Integumentary Systems
34. Ecology

Within each of these chapters you will find sub-section headings that give an overview of that section as well as help the student locate important information for answering the study questions found at the end of every chapter. As an example, here is Chapter 6: Metabolism Overview and Enzymes:

6.0 Chapter Preview (identifies key points to be studied in the chapter)
6.1 Overview
6.2 Metabolism
6.3 Catabolic and Anabolic Metabolism
6.4 Potential and Kinetic Energy
6.5 Energy Conversion
6.6 Basic Thermodynamics
6.7 First Law of Thermodynamics
6.8 Second Law of Thermodynamics
6.9 Enzymes
6.10 Free Energy and Reaction Types
6.11 Exergonic Reactions
6.12 Endergonic Reactions
6.13 Activation Energy
6.14 Enzymes Solve the Activation Energy Problem
6.15 Models of Enzyme Function: Lock and Key; Induced Fit
6.16 Enzyme Types
6.17 Coenzymes and Cofactors
6.18 ATP (Adenosine Triphosphate)
6.19 Enzymes are Energy Couplers
6.20 Advanced
6.21 People of Science
6.22 Key Chapter Points (Identifies what to take away from the chapter.)
6.23 Definitions (All bolded words found in the chapter are defined here.)
6.24 Study Questions (In this chapter there were 17 questions.)

I was very impressed not only by the orderliness of the chapters, but the accessibility of the pertinent information for the student. In each chapter you will find many full-color photographs, diagrams, and drawings that correspond to the information given. They are conveniently labeled with the exact sub-section heading number so your student knows that the explanation for that drawing, graph, chart, or photo is explained in that sub-section. This is extremely helpful! We are just finishing up a science course that has been very frustrating to one of my children as the information was not clearly laid out for her in the text. It would be impossible for that to happen here.

There is very thorough coverage of the evolution/creation discussion that covers three chapters. His thoughtful answer to the often-asked question, "How are creation and evolution handled?" is answered here: I was really impressed by this answer and I encourage you to read it.

The Answer Key & Parent Companion is obvious in its first use, but as the Companion, it really is a marvelous tool for the parent. It offers "...brief summaries of every chapter's sub-sections in the textbook. The summarized information is designed to give you rapid access to the main concepts your student is studying. In addition, you will also find one or two questions with answers that you can ask your student...Many parents use the summarized material and questions in the Companion to help them stay connected to what their child is learning by asking them one or more questions every now and then." This is an optional activity, but for a program that is really student-lead, this is a great way for parents to engage in their child's subject.

The gem of this curriculum though, is the Labs DVD. Wow, what a smart idea! The DVD corresponds directly with the Lab Manual and they work hand in hand. Some students thrive and learn via the written word alone and others with audio/visual aids. Ideally, your student would be doing the labs right along with the instructor, but this is not always financially possible. This is simply a brilliant solution for a homeschool family on a budget.

The DVD will run in many computers as well as the regular DVD player. In our busy house of five children, we choose to use a computer for these kinds of things with a set of headphones. The DVD opens to a page that lists all 20 labs. The first is an introduction to lab work and gives instruction on keeping good records and creating good lab drawings. It is important though, and shouldn't be skipped. The following 19 remaining labs are all high quality, audio/visual instruction.

The lab titles include: Diffusion-Osmosis; General Cell Structure in Animals; Reproduction: Cellular; Protista: The Protozoans; Cell Structure: Plant; Leaf Structures; The Cell Interior and Function; Root Structure; Reproduction: Pollen Germination; Dissection: Clam, Earthworm, Grasshopper, Fish, Fetal Pig; Classification of Animals 1; Classification of Animals II; Nervous System: Reaction Time; Muscular System: Fatigue; and Population Succession Study.

As I said above, the Lab Manual works hand in hand with the DVD. The DVD fleshes out and "makes visual" the instruction found in the manual. In a calm, clear, and friendly voice, Dr. Hardin explains the lessons as well as demonstrates the actual lab as you would see it if you were doing it in front of you. That means you see the slides he sees, view the cell structures he sees (he also identifies specific cell structures, etc. with a moving mouse so you don't have to guess), and you visually participate in all the dissections right on screen. The video quality is clear and professionally done and the labs are easy to comprehend.

Sold alone or as a set for a better price, the three books (Science Shepherd Biology Textbook, Test Booklet, and Answer Key & Parent Companion) are $85.00. The Lab Manual is $20.00. The DVD is an optional product and is $75.00, but truly, I think it is worth its weight in gold.

Also included with the purchase of the three-book program or the purchase of the Answer Key and Parent's Companion alone, is a weekly schedule. The schedule lays out exactly what your student needs to read each day, when they should answer the chapter questions, which labs to do when, and the proper time to take the tests. This is a grab and go curriculum with literally no prep time for the parent/teacher. The schedule is currently a separate PDF file, but come the next printing, the Answer Key and Parent's Companion will contain it.

My one suggestion to the publishers would be to invest in a hardback book for the future. This would probably boost the cost of the curriculum, which might be a negative to some, but a hardback book is likely to hold-up longer in a busy homeschool. The soft-cover is sturdy, but I want this to last for five children so I will likely laminate mine.

Science Shepherd Biology is an excellent course. This curriculum is thorough, systematic, understandable and absolutely usable in the homeschool. I am excited to see what the future holds for this up and coming company. If they produce such beautiful, orderly, complete curriculum right out of the gate, I look forward to seeing what the do in the future. I highly recommend Science Shepherd Biology!


Product review by Kate Kessler, Product Reviews Manager, The Old Schoolhouse® Magazine, LLC, March, 2010


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