Wednesday, September 7, 2016

Apologia Astronomy, 2nd Edition {TOS Review}

We've been homeschooling for several years now, and I've heard excellent things about the elementary science curriculum from Apologia Educational Ministries, but I've yet to try them out.  When we were given the opportunity to review Exploring Creation with Astronomy, 2nd Edition I knew I couldn't let it pass.  Although I love the living book-unit study approach we've been using the last couple of years, I was eager to try something complete and open-and-go, but that still had a Charlotte Mason flair.

Exploring Creation with Astronomy, 2nd Edition Review


Not only have we never used any Apologia science, but as a Charlotte Mason inspired homeschooler, I've always used living books with the kids.  Using a textbook would be new territory for us, but the boys seemed really interested in this course, so it seemed like a good time to try something new.

Apologia Astronomy - What is it?
The Exploring Creation series includes seven courses that all take an immersion approach to science, studying one major topic at a time, from a Biblical perspective.  There are three Zoology courses (Flying Creatures, Swimming Creatures, Land Animals), Botany, Human Anatomy & Physiology, Chemistry and Physics, and of course, Astronomy.  Using the immersion approach really allows children to focus on one area of science, dig deep into a topic and really explore it from all angles.  This astronomy course takes children on an in-depth journey through the solar system!  The course was written by Jeannie K. Fulbright, with Damian R. Ludwiczak, M.S. (an engineer at NASA) as a technical editor and content contributor.

To facilitate this review, I received the following:
  • Student Text
  • Notebooking Journal 
  • Jr. Notebooking Journal
  • Audio CD
Exploring Creation with Astronomy, 2nd Edition Review

First of all, this is actually a beautiful, high-quality curriculum.  I've never been impressed with any traditional textbook I've looked at, with their bright text boxes and scattered blurbs of information.  This book, however, has a subdued color palette, a clean layout and beautiful photography.  The hardcover textbook and the spiral notebook journals are sturdy and durable.  The journals are colorful and engaging--I always find the boys flipping through them to look at upcoming lessons.

The astronomy text has 14 lessons, or what one might consider "chapters," with each lesson thoroughly covering only one major topic at a time.  So, there's an entire lesson on the sun, a lesson on each planet, a full lesson on space rocks, etc.  This is quite different than how I learned science in school.  Both student journals have a schedule that breaks down each lesson into daily assignments, combining the text and corresponding notebooking pages.

To make this a year long course, you could just do science two days a week on average.  For the review period, we've been doing up to 4 daily assignments each week depending on our schedule and how many assignments are actually listed for each lesson.  Lesson 2: The Sun took us two weeks with seven assignments, while Lesson 3: Mercury only had four assignments and we completed it in one week.  It typically takes us about 30 minutes a day on science.  At this rate, we're on pace to finish in one semester, though we'll see how we progress as we enter fall and our schedule fills up.

The Student Text
The student text really is written to the student.  It's written in a natural, conversational tone, so I see why it's popular with Charlotte Mason style homeschoolers.  However, it doesn't shy away from technical vocabulary and more advanced topics either.  For example, in the lesson on the sun we learned about thermodynamic fusion, or how the sun gives us colors.  The "Why is the sky blue?" question is answered too!

The website lists it as appropriate for K-6th grade.  I'm using it with Elliott (4th grade) and Emory (2nd grade) and I find it to be perfect for Elliott.  Both of my boys really enjoy science, and Emory also gets a lot out of it, but he's barely seven and his attention span is noticeably shorter during some of the readings.  Based on our experience so far, I'd probably recommend starting this curriculum when the oldest (or only) child is in third grade or above.

Periodically, there are very open-ended questions or discussion prompts to help the children review.  "Tell someone what you've learned about Venus so far."  I love that this encourages narration and allows the child to convey what was interesting and meaningful to them.  There are What Do You Remember? questions at the end of each lesson, and we use these as an opportunity to review together.  {These are more fact-based, and an answer key is in the back of the text.}

The lessons are usually very engaging for the kids, but they both love the hands-on activities scattered throughout the lessons too.

Exploring Creation with Astronomy, 2nd Edition Review
The kids' take on the model solar system activity--minus the measurements recommended in the book!

So far, these hands-on activities have only required common household items like string, flour, flashlight, pebbles, etc.  The entire supply list is available at a glance in the back of the book.  I've looked ahead, and for the whole course, I'm only going to have to buy about three things that I wouldn't normally have on hand, and those will be easily acquired.  This makes it extremely practical and cost-effective, because there's no hunting down obscure or expensive supplies.  The activities are also easy enough for the kids to do with minimal help from me.

Exploring Creation with Astronomy, 2nd Edition Review
Learning about solar eclipses.  

Other activities we've done include melting butter with the sun and a magnifying glass (even the 3 year old loved this one), making a solar eclipse viewing box, creating craters in flour with pebbles to demonstrate asteroids making craters on planets, calculating how old the grandparents were when certain spacecraft visited Mercury, and making a model of Mercury, and just today we made "lava" on a volcano when learning about Venus.

For every activity in the text, there is a corresponding section in the student journals, and each activity allows students to record What I Did and What I Learned.  It's not quite the scientific process, but it's a good introduction into the idea of record keeping.



The Journals
The two Notebooking journals are very similar.  Each notebook includes a suggested daily schedule that breaks down each lesson into shorter daily assignments.  The schedule is color-coded, and each color corresponds to either a textbook reading, an activity (hands-on from the textbook or a written activity in the journal) or additional activities that are found in an exclusive science kit.  We've found the daily assignments very doable for attention spans most days.

Both journals include various assignments such as scripture copywork in print and cursive, or mini-books to review concepts learned.  If you're familiar with lapbooks, you'll notice the activities are very similar, but you just paste everything right into your journal.

Exploring Creation with Astronomy, 2nd Edition Review


There are blank scrapbook style pages to record facts, draw pictures, list additional resources used--basically they can be used for anything the child wants to add to their notebook.  The kids love looking up additional videos online, and I usually add supplemental books, so we always write about that on the Take It Further pages.

Exploring Creation with Astronomy, 2nd Edition Review
Emory drawing while I read aloud.

Vocabulary is usually reviewed through a crossword puzzle, though a couple lessons use alternate activities.  Usually Elliott reads the definitions aloud and both boys answer.  The puzzle in the Junior Notebook is easier--the first letter for each answer is already completed.


Junior Notebook or Regular?  The Junior Notebook is recommended for Kindergarten to 2nd/3rd grade, depending on child's maturity and writing ability.  I have Emory (young 2nd grader) using the Junior Notebook.  Elliott (4th) is using the regular notebook, which is recommended for 3rd/4th grade through 6th grade.  The main differences is that the Junior Notebook has primary lines for writing, the crossword puzzles have the "helps" in them, and the final activities for each lesson are a little different.  The Jr. Notebook ends each lesson with coloring pages, while the regular notebook ends with the What Do You Remember? questions from the textbook for children to answer in writing.  The regular notebook could be used beyond 6th grade, but parents will probably want to add information about the scientific method by middle school.

Our Thoughts on the Journals  My kids have mixed feelings.  They don't particularly care for anything that requires a lot of writing, and they think the journals do.  Elliott does like writing about the hands-on activities, and I usually have Emory dictate some of the writing for me to help him out.  The boys are also not huge lapbook fans, and so they think the mini-books are neat looking when completed, but tedious to make.  They like the opportunity to color and draw though, so I like that there are so many open-ended pages that allow them to express what they're learning in their own way.

Other Resources
There are multiple other resources that can be used to enhance this curriculum.

Audio CD - For children working more independently, it allows them to still have the option of having the text read to them while they follow along in the book.  Since we do science as a family, I've read the book aloud, and we haven't really utilized this.  It is in MP3 format, and not compatible with all CD players.

Course Website - In the front of the textbook is the link to a password protected website.  This allows Apologia to provide updated links to ever-changing information, or additional resources that are sometimes referenced in the lessons.  We've found some great things here already!

Apologia Science Kit - This is kind of a two-part kit.  It contains all of the materials needed for the 42 activities in the book, but it also contains an activity book and supplies for 21 extra activities.  These "bonus" activities are scheduled into the Notebooking Journals, but the actual directions are exclusive to this Apologia Science Kit.  {We did not receive this, so I cannot speak to the quality.}

Apologia Field Trip Journal - This is an excellent resource for any family that enjoys field trips.  It's not specific to this course, or even to science, so you could actually use it for ALL of your field trips!  You can check out my Field Trip Journal Review for some of the other ways we've used it outside of traditional field trips.


Our Final Thoughts
I've been pleasantly surprised by how much I've enjoyed using a more traditional curriculum.  In fact, out of all the reviews we've done over the years, I am positive this is an overall favorite in our household.  We definitely lean Charlotte Mason and prefer living books, but this textbook wasn't as dry or boring as one might expect.  I love the use of narration and open-ended journaling pages.  If the rest of the Exploring Creation series is as interesting as this astronomy course, I can understand why it is so popular.

The curriculum is almost completely open-and-go, the text is easy to follow, and the immersion approach really does allow children to truly marinate on a topic and learn it at a deeper level.  My kids (and I) have retained so much already, and they're always interjecting random bits of information into everyday conversations.  At dinner, Daddy always asks about school, and they always eagerly share something from astronomy!  They're also inspired to research topics further, and are always looking up things online.  This to me, is proof that they are engaged, and that this course has already been well worth my time!

Exploring Creation with Astronomy, 2nd Edition Review
Learning more about solar flares and auroras




Exploring Creation with Astronomy, 2nd Edition Review

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