Jeannie Fulbright's Exploring Creation with Botany
is a wonderful excursion into the life of plants and the world God made, and is the perfect introduction to science for elementary-aged children. So are her other books, Exploring Creation with Astronomy
and the soon-to-be-released Exploring Creation with Zoology
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 which 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 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, Teresa Burger, recently described her children's experience with the Botany lessons:
"[Our] oldest son was playing with hot wheel cars beside our tree when he noticed all the branches on the ground have moss/lichen on them."Wow, Mom ... now that we know all this new stuff we're realizing it's so IMPORTANT! Before, we just thought it was nothing but strange bark!"
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 in 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 botany book is divided into 13 chapters, with 176 pages in a hardcover binding that is easy to keep open. It includes lessons on botany topics such as seeds, flowers, pollination, fruits, leaves, roots, stems, trees, gymnosperms, seedless vascular plants, and nonvascular plants.
My son's favorite section is the one on carnivorous plants, in which Fulbright discusses the root word for carnivore ... "The root word carn is a Greek word meaning meat." She goes on to explain, "This may sound a little scary at first, but there are actually plants that are carnivorous as well. Don't worry; none of them could or would ever eat you." The text then goes on to explain a variety of carnivorous plants, including the venus flytrap, bladderwort, pitcher plant, and sundew. An easy way to check these plants out is to visit a local Home Depot or Lowe's, where they usually store these plants in little containers with the other exotic plants (next to the lawn and garden section).
The book contains a comprehensive introduction and a concluding chapter on nature journaling, to wrap the studies up into a nice neat package. 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.
Other perks include brightly colored illustrations and photographs to keep a child's attention, sporadic lessons on Latin root words, and a couple of long-term projects, including one on building a light hut to germinate seedlings indoors, and another on creating a field guide for local flora. 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. Each chapter is interspersed with a variety of experiments or demonstrations, detailed notebooking activities, and narration prompts. To guide the teacher along, Fulbright includes highlighted notes to the teacher at the beginning of 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.
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 very 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. "The very fact that bees look for one kind of flower instead of stopping at any flower they see is strong evidence against the idea of evolution," Fulbright explains in the text.
Fulbright informs readers that experiments may take two or three weeks to complete, and encourages 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 botany book include soap making, opening a seed and drawing its contents, dissecting a flower, building a clay model of a flower, creating a comic strip, making a butterfly garden, 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 competed 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 botany kit includes materials for each activity in the botany text (from borax to turnip seeds, from a cockle burr to a light socket with a plug), based on the above criteria.
Parents have to provide very few materials, but there are a few things (like old shoes, celery stalks, live leaf from a plant) 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.