Jeannie Fulbright's Exploring Creation with Astronomy
is a wonderful excursion into space and the universe God made, and is the perfect introduction to science for elementary-aged children. You may also wish to look into her other books, Exploring Creation with Botany
and the new Exploring Creation with Zoology
, to be released soon.
Fulbright writes in an endearing fashion that grabs a child's attention. Part of the reason is because Fulbright is not just science-minded, but was drawn towards writing as a career. "I was a science major in college with a focus on chemistry as I was studying to be a pharmacy/kinesiology major," she explained. "Though, in the end, I found I gravitated towards and excelled in the liberal arts/writing courses, and, at the last hour, changed my major to graduate with a Bachelor of Arts degree.
"I, of course, thought I would never use any of the science I had spent years learning," she said. "After college, my first (and only) job was working for a publishing company. And I spent every year after writing for magazines/newsletters and trying to write a book.
"Soon, I began writing Bible Studies that were used by Sunday School teachers in my church. I thought for certain I would only write Bible Studies after that.
"But the Lord called me to write the astronomy book. My chemistry background didn't help me much, except that I understand the workings of science a little more readily than a non-science person. And though I am gifted with research and writing in the field of science, it is really Dr. Wile's careful editing for scientific accuracy that secures the scientific scholarship of these books," she said. "It is wonderful to know that everything I research and write will be thoroughly examined for accuracy."
Fulbright's books are a welcome addition to the Apologia line. Fulbright was publishing her own books when Apologia author, Dr. Jay Wile, discovered them. Wile noted, "Nature's Workshop Plus, the company that puts together our lab kits, saw her astronomy book (the version that she was self-publishing), and they gave it to me to look over to see if they should carry it.
"When I read it, I really thought that I was reading something I had written. It only seemed natural, then, that we should publish it," he explained. "I contacted Jeannie, and she was more than happy to get rid of the publishing end so that she could write more books."
Apologia plans to publish one book from her per year. "Lord willing!" Wile said. "This year's book will be the first in a series of zoology books. It will cover the flying creatures God made on the fifth day."
Using the Charlotte Mason method as its foundation, Fulbright's book encourages studying only one subject for the whole year so that the student is completely absorbed in the subject (this is also known as the immersion method). Fulbright also offers free notebooking pages to go along with each text, and has a Yahoo group for discussions. Fulbright's web site at www.jeanniefulbright.com has a link to the notebooking pages as well as information on how to join the Yahoo group.
The notebooking pages, provided in PDF format in one downloadable file, correspond to various activities in the text. Parents can easily follow along in the text and print the pages as needed.
As a member of the Yahoo group, I can confirm that she quickly answers questions and accommodates each request. Just recently, a mother was lamenting that the notebook pages did not have primary-sized ruled lines on them, so Fulbright quickly created them, adding them to the Files area of the discussion group. Additionally, other homeschooling parents can discuss how to use the books, and share other experiments that they tried, which may not be in the book. For example, one mom, Janine Newby, recently described a delectable experiment for an astronomy lesson:
"Our daughter oftentimes needs a very visual/tactile approach to remembering things so when we studied the Earth we made an edible model of the layers of the earth.
Here is what we did...
Take a red jelly bean (the Earth's inner core)
Wrap a large marshmallow around it (the Earth's outer core)
Dip the whole thing in a nice layer of melted chocolate (the mantle)
Then roll in sprinkles or nuts (the Earth's crust)
Let set in the refrigerator
You can use other items to make the depth of the layers more accurate but that is all we had on hand. It was fun, not TOO messy and the kids had a blast eating their 'Earth' after lunch."
In addition to the notebooking pages, Fulbright also encourages narration, a la Ms. Mason. Narration, to those who don't know much about the Charlotte Mason method, is simply asking a child to repeat back what they have read or seen, either verbally or on paper, throughout a book or text. Fulbright believes that narration is the key to unlocking a child's memory. "Please don't skip the narrations," she encourages in her book. "Though they may seem to take up valuable time, they are vital to your students' intellectual development."
Most of the narration prompts are found under the section "What You Remember." There are other narration prompts throughout the book that are italicized and centered in the text. I found it useful to highlight those prompts to catch my eye while teaching my son. Fulbright also provides the answers to every narration question in the back of the book, in a section entitled "Answers to the Narrative Questions." She notes in the text that this section also provides the expected results of a few experiments.
Fulbright believes that using narration and notebooking will pique a child's curiosity, and encourage "critical thinking, logical ordering, retention, and record keeping." Additionally, her first two books, astronomy and botany, go along quite well with the Charlotte Mason idea of teaching children knowledge of God and the universe. As she writes zoology and beyond, the other criteria, the knowledge of man, will soon follow.
Wile encourages parents to learn along with a student, and to accommodate this activity the books are written in such a manner that young students can read on their own silently, or aloud with a sibling (younger or older). In fact, I usually ask my older, 16-year-old son to work on the experiments with my 10-year-old son, so that both of them learn teamwork, as well as science. Michael, who has already mastered the subject, learns to teach, while Hunter learns to listen and to respect his big brother.
Fulbright notes that the immersion method, in her opinion, is far superior to the spiral method used in public schools, which gives little tidbits of science topics each year. "The scope and sequence that schools make up for each grade level is based on the spiral method," she noted. "And the statistics are evidence that the way they sequence science isn't working.
"I think a far better scope and sequence would be to have a list of all the science fields as well as science concepts (measuring/data collection/scientific method) and simply designate a topic or two to teach the child each year."
Her books do build upon each other, however. "The botany and zoology books teach the scientific method/measuring/data collection, with the zoology book getting a little more serious about teaching the child how to design experiments. Planets and Space cannot be tested or measured, unless you use extremely complicated geometric math equations. So, we do mostly projects and some experiments in the astronomy book. That is one reason why I think astronomy is the best book with which to begin.
"I get a lot more rigorous with teaching the scientific method and how to design an experiment in the zoology book because my mother, a public school principal/administrator, sent me the Texas Standardized tests for fifth grade," she explained, "and I looked through what they expected a fifth grader to know in science.
"Texas is very rigorous academically - much more so than the National Standardized Tests require. A few questions on the tests required the child to decide how to test a hypothesis. They told the child the hypothesis, and had pictures of different experiments; the child was to choose which one was the best way to test that particular hypothesis.
"It occurred to me that if they expect fifth graders to know that, then we need to teach all our children how to identify a well designed scientific experiment. So, that is why it is such a focus in the zoology book," she said.
"I lead the students to the place where they will design their own experiments very gradually and cumulatively. Little by little, in each experiment, they are given latitude to make decisions about how to measure or what materials they will use to test. Nearing the end of the book, they are given the hypothesis, and will hash out different ways to test it."
Fulbright does give answers in a section before the index, "but I think it's going to be very educational as well as exciting for the kids!" The index is also a great reference for parents to find topics that they want to discuss further.
The astronomy book is divided into 14 chapters, with 176 pages in a hardcover binding that is easy to keep open. It includes lessons on:
Each Terrestrial (land) and Jovian (gas giant) planet
Space Rocks, including the asteroid belt, comets, meteorites, and asteroids
Pluto (the strange planet) and the Kuiper belt
Stars and Galaxies
The book contains a comprehensive introduction and a concluding chapter on space travel, to wrap the studies up into a nice neat package. It also uses brightly colored illustrations and photographs to keep a child's attention. The table of contents and a sample lesson are available on the Apologia web site (www.highschoolscience.com) in downloadable PDF format, under Elementary Science.
Fulbright also includes sporadic lessons on Latin root words. In addition, the book mentions a login/password to get even more "book extras;" this takes students to a web site full of links for each lesson. This perk is worth weeks of research for a homeschooling parent.
Each chapter has an introduction on what is being studied, and a few paragraphs on specific examples. In the case of the planets, Fulbright describes each planet's atmosphere, gravity, rotation, orbit, and any space missions to the planet. Each chapter is interspersed with a variety of experiments or demonstrations, detailed notebooking activities, and narration prompts.
One of the areas that is very different from other texts, even other Christian texts, is Fulbright's perspective and knowledge of creation science, which she explains in a personal way. In some places, she has added sections entitled Creation Confirmation, which explain how God created the world, and how creation ties in with the lesson at hand. For example, Fulbright includes a section entitled "Gospel in the Stars?" that states: "Although some people used to tell stories about their false gods using the constellations the one true God is the one who created the constellations.
"Some Christians believe that God originally intended the constellations to symbolically tell the story of Jesus, our Savior!" she continues, telling readers that the Plieades, Orion, and Ursa Major are all mentioned in the Bible.
I studied astronomy and worked in the space industry firsthand for many years at NASA-Johnson Space Center. That being said, I can confirm, as a certified Space Cadet, that I found Fulbright's insight on the universe to be refreshing, and a far cry from the more impersonal creation science texts I have read.
My favorite comparison in the book is Fulbright's suggestion to take an umbrella and a piece of chalk (or glow-in-the-dark paint and a paintbrush) in order to dot the inside of your umbrella with "stars." This object lesson illustrates how all the stars in the sky above us seem to rotate round Polaris, the North Star. She even goes so far as to explain that the different "sections" in the umbrella are similar to the way astronomers divide the night sky when they are looking at it. "Every month represents a different segment," she explains in the text.
If I had any criticism of the book at all, it would be that the space travel section is too short ... but I think I'm biased because of my background at NASA. Still, if I had my 'druthers, I would add more information on space history and astronaut training, including information on the now-grounded KC-135 Stratotanker, also known as the Vomit Comet, which children - especially boys - would love. Not to worry ... the KC-135 is going to be replaced by a McDonnell Douglas C-9 this year.
To guide the teacher along, Fulbright includes highlighted notes to the teacher before each lesson, so parents can gather materials ahead of time for any activities. A comprehensive list of materials needed for each lesson is also included at the beginning of the book. Experiments may take two or three weeks to complete, and encourage observation by the student. Fulbright recommends staying on each chapter at least two weeks, if not longer in some cases, so each text should take up a year's worth of studying.
Some of the activities included in the astronomy book are taking a walk around the sun, making a pinhole viewing box, making lava (for Venus), making a compass, creating a comic strip, and playing games.
In some cases, parents will have to gather materials and/or create materials on their own. To accommodate parents who may not have time to do these tasks, Creation Sensation at www.creationsensation.com has created a kit for parents that includes most of the materials used in each activity.
Carla Hardwick, who creates the kits, noted that they have "almost everything you need for the activities.
"I say almost because we do not ship things like water, or dirt, or microwaves," she joked. Hardwick's criteria for deciding what to include in the kit was based on two questions:
1. If I wake up on a really nasty day and feel terrible and absolutely do not want to go to town, will I for certain have this item in my house? "That is why we even include little things like paper towels and matches," Hardwick noted. "We might not have these at our house on any given day."
2. Are my children likely to fail at this activity if I do not have extra items available? "For example, Hardwick stated, "you only NEED 9 balloons to complete the first activity in the astronomy book. But we include 13 balloons in the kit because I KNOW that one of my children IS going to pop one of the balloons the very first thing and it WILL mess up our whole morning."
Hardwick added, "I have actually completed the books with my own children and have done the activities myself in my own kitchen, so I know that the items I put in the kit will work."
The kits come in one cardboard box, assembled and packaged very carefully by Hardwick's homeschooled son, Noah. The astronomy kit includes materials for each activity in the astronomy text (from balloons to aluminum foil, from quilt batting to an inflatable globe), based on the above criteria.
Parents have to provide very few materials, but there are a few things (like red food coloring, dishwasher liquid, or newspaper) that should be easy to obtain in or near your home, without having to drive far, if at all. Speaking of driving, I found the kit to be an extremely valuable asset, particularly considering the fact I would have to drive to several locations to find everything I would need (and considering the price of gasoline right now, convenience is a big consideration!). For a complete list of materials provided in the kit, check out the Creation Sensation web site.
To ensure that parents know what is included and what they need, Hardwick provides a table, divided by each lesson, noting what she provides and what parents will have to provide. I found that my son enjoyed looking for the items we needed in a type of "scavenger hunt" activity that went along well with the lesson.
What I enjoyed most about this book was its focus on creation science for young students, and its "living" approach to science, focusing on one topic per year, similar to an extended unit study. While parents can obtain materials from places such as Answers in Genesis or the Institute of Creation Research, there are very few lesson plans available, at this level, for the younger years. I found this book to be an excellent guide for the year.
There are several ancillary products, endorsed by Dr. Wile, which go along with the Apologia products. Some of the better known ones include:
Lynn Ericson's Lesson Plans
Ericson, a homeschooling mother, developed these lesson plans for her own children. The plans divide the Apologia text on a daily schedule through 36 weeks. They are available by emailing her at firstname.lastname@example.org, Rainbow Resource, Tobin's Lab, or Homeschool Bookworm.
Nature's Workshop Plus
Nature's Workshop creates the biology and chemistry kits that Wile sells on his web site and also provides art, drawing, craft, and hobby items on its web site.
Home Training Tools
Home Training Tools also offers Apologia science kits as well as other scientific equipment.
Carla Hardwick's site has a variety of science experiment kits that include materials for general science, physical science, biology, chemistry, elementary astronomy, and elementary botany. Her site also offers a free three-year lesson plan (soon to be changed to a four-year plan) on Creation Science, using the first eleven chapters of Genesis as a foundation.
Nancy Paula Hasseler wrote a book that goes along with Exploring Creation with Biology (either edition). It provides the Latin and Greek roots for a variety of scientific words.
The Apologia elementary science author now has her own web site, which offers a newsletter, entitled Jeannie's Journal, along with downloads, links, and free drawings. The site also includes free notebooking pages for the elementary Apologia texts.
Visitors can find free Apologia lesson plans, lab reports, downloads, and other helpful information on Donna Young's web site, which came highly recommended by Wile.