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Exploring the Building Blocks of Science, Book 7 Bundle Review by Debra BrinkmanRebecca W. Keller, PhD
Gravitas Publications, Inc.
PO Box 40631
Albuquerque, NM 87196
Science always seems to be one of those difficult subjects for many homeschoolers to teach. Maybe it just seems more intimidating, for the science moms especially. Even those of us who loved science, even minoring in it in college, can find science challenging though. For me, that biology minor is a very long time ago, and things have changed.
When I first met Rebecca Keller, and viewed her Real Science 4 Kids program, I was impressed. I didn’t use it at the time, though, as she was just starting it and the level I needed wasn’t available yet. I’ve considered her materials off and on over the decade-plus since then, and working with Exploring the Building Blocks of Science, Book 7 Bundle makes me wish I had taken the plunge before now.
When you purchase the bundle, you receive three books and some downloads:
- The Student Textbook is a huge softcover text (over 400 pages) with beautiful color photos, graphs, and illustrations.
- The Laboratory Notebook (around 250 pages) is the consumable portion of this course. This is where the student records lab work.
- The Teacher’s Manual is just over 100 pages, and it describes the experiments.
- A Lesson Plan is available as a download, which helps you figure out how to pace the program.
- Midterms (two of them) and a final quiz are downloadable.
The Building Blocks series is different from Dr. Keller’s original series in that each year, instead of focusing on a single branch of science, you have four chapters (roughly a week of work) in five different disciplines: Chemistry, Biology, Physics, Geology and Astronomy. Each year, you get more in-depth with the material. There are also introductory and concluding chapters, for a total of 22 chapters of work
If you use the suggestions in the Lesson Plan, a typical week would look like this:
- Read the textbook.
- Do the experiment.
- Do one or more of the “connections” activities.
- Do the self-review worksheet.
- Administer the self-test or another exam.
I’m going to talk about these parts of the course one by one.
The textbook is gorgeous. The print is fairly large and is broken up into well-defined sections, with informative headers and appropriate illustrations. The text is fairly dense, though, with a lot of information given.
There is one experiment per chapter, though some of these “experiments” are really research assignments, particularly in the astronomy section. The directions are good and most of the materials needed are easy to find. Some items, like a microscope and related microscope supplies or tincture of iodine, are specialized and not likely to be at your local grocery store. There is a complete list of supplies in the front of the Teacher’s Manual. I think this is still a very good course, even if you need to skip an experiment or two. I didn’t search online for these experiments in particular, but it is often possible to find a video or lab animation to illustrate concepts for anything you just cannot do.
The connections activities help to tie science into other disciplines, and many of these are fun. Chapter 11 is on Electrostatics, and the Connections activities are very typical of the activities in the chapters:
- History has you researching Robert J. Van de Graaff and writing a summary of his contributions.
- Philosophy has you discussing whether or not electrons really exist and researching opposing viewpoints.
- Art, Music, Math has you exploring art using fractal patterns and electricity.
- Technology has you researching electrostatic voltmeters and discussing how they work.
- Language has you looking up the word induction and discussing the meaning.
We always do the language activity and usually at least one other, typically the history or philosophy.
The self-review and self-test are in the Lesson Plan. Having a pencil-phobic son, we are more likely to do these assignments through discussion, with him leading the conversation. We used the first mid-term after chapter 11 instead of the self-test. The second mid-term covers chapters 12-22, and the final covers the entire book. I haven’t decided yet which we will use, but I love having choices.
I love this program. This is real science from an actual scientist, written in a way that is accessible to students. She doesn’t talk down to the student, and the material is fairly advanced. To keep using Chapter 11 as an example, the student is introduced to the concept of static electricity (the common term) and electrostatic charge (the physics term). They learn about electric charges in general, and then about the Van de Graaff Generator. There is some math in section 11.4 as they learn about electric force and Coulomb’s Law. They move on to learn about electric fields, including more math concepts. Electric Potential Energy and then Electrostatic Induction round out the chapter.
The concepts are explained well, and we’ve found everything to be understandable, but it is a lot to take in. We opted to split the reading over at least two days, which helps with comprehension for my student. We usually combine the self-review and self-test into the final day instead of doing those over two days.
If your student has not used a reasonably rigorous science program in the past, you probably don’t want to start at grade level, or you may need to move through the program a bit more slowly.
One thing I love is that if you pace yourself to cover a chapter per week, this covers 22 weeks, leaving you time to explore some other science topics each year, or to add in some extras like field trips into one (or more) of the sections. Or you can use the other couple months of the school year to focus on another subject entirely.
A level of Exploring the Building Blocks of Science is available for Kindergarten through Grade 7 presently, and working through this series would give a student a very solid elementary and middle school science program. I am trying to choose a level for my 5th grade daughter, and may have her start with Book 4.
-Product review by Debra Brinkman, Crew Administrator, The Old Schoolhouse® Homeschool Review Crew, The Old Schoolhouse® Magazine, March, 2017