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Science Shepherd Life Science Review by Debra Brinkman

Scott Hardin, MD
Science Shepherd
(262) 522-6901
1405 Capitol Drive, Suite C-202
Pewaukee, WI 53072

Figuring out what science you should cover for junior high/middle school isn’t always fun or easy. My thoughts have been that I want science to be a step up into something a bit more serious than what we’ve done for the elementary years, and I want it to prepare them for high school level work. Ideally, I’d include a year of physical science (preparing them for physics and chemistry), a year of life science (preparing them for biology) and a year of something that strikes their interests. Today, I’m going to tell you about my top choice for the life science part of junior high.

Science Shepherd Life Science, written by Dr. Scott Hardin, includes a gorgeous hardbound textbook of nearly 300 pages, a helpful Answer Key & Parent Companion, and a Test Booklet. This $5 booklet is the only portion of the program that is consumable, so before I even dig in, I’m thrilled at how affordable this program is for all the younger siblings.

Dr. Hardin has the gift of explaining science in understandable language, and providing helpful diagrams, so that students can actually grasp what is being presented. He knows his customers well, as he does not presume that parents have a solid science background. The Answer Key & Parent Companion gives a wonderful overview of each chapter so the parent does not need to read the text, yet can still have meaningful interactions with their student. There is a 36-week schedule included in this Companion that has review/study days built in before each test.

The tests are fairly long, and mostly combine short answer essay and true/false questions. Test #4, which covers Chapters 8-9, includes a total of 39 questions. Twenty-two are true/false and the rest are short answer essay questions. In the Parent Companion, he talks about different ways to use these tests, and he tells you straight out to feel free to only have them answer evens, odds, or every third question. He also suggests allowing oral answers if that works better for your student. That is what I did with my eighth grader.

What does this program cover?

The course covers a fairly rigorous outline of life science:

  • Introduction
  • What is life, the characteristics and chemistry (chapters 2-3)
  • Cells (chapters 4-5)
  • DNA, reproduction and heredity (chapter 6-8)
  • Evolution and Creation (chapter 9)
  • Scientific Classification (chapters 10-16)
  • Humans (chapters 17-18)
  • Earth Studies, which is ecosystems and biomes (chapter 19)

Well, the first thing I like to know when looking at any Life Science/Biology program is, how does it handle evolution? As you can see above, there is one chapter devoted to Evolution and Creation. They are both described as philosophies that try to explain origins and biodiversity. The bottom line in this chapter is that evolution doesn’t hold up well against actual scientific investigation, and that creation is a better explanation. This is probably our favorite chapter.

In this household, we tend to do science whether we are using an actual science curriculum in elementary years or not. We tend to choose science materials that use proper terminology and dig into topics with some depth. We found the transition to Science Shepherd Life Science to be easy. The material covered is so thorough and fascinating. We loved the heredity chapter especially, and had fun making Punnett Squares ourselves.

Families that take a more laid-back approach to elementary science might struggle a bit more though, as this is in-depth and “textbooky” in nature. It might make more sense to ease into upper levels of science and use this program as an older middle school student.

My bottom line is that this is a fabulous course for a variety of students:    

  • For young high school students who need science, but maybe not something as rigorous as a full biology course, this is straight-forward and I feel it is rigorous enough for high school credit for a student who does not plan to go into science.
  • For older junior high students, this is a solid preparation for AP level biology.
  • For advanced younger middle school students, this course will not talk down to them, yet it shouldn’t be over their heads either.
  • 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 lots obscure extra information.
  • For a parent who doesn't want creation or evolution taught at all, by skipping chapter 9, you would have an excellent course with very little of that sort of content.

This Life Science course is ideal for students in 7th through 9th grades. Science Shepherd also has a Biology course for 10th through 12th grade students that is absolutely fabulous. They also have a new online product for elementary ages.

-Product review by Debra Brinkman, The Old Schoolhouse® Magazine, October, 2015