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Journey Through Apologia's General Science Text

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Last year I taught General Science to a class of about 10 kids using the General Science text from Apologia in our homeschool co-op. The students were from 6th grade to 8th grade and one of them was my daughter, Rosie.

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It's a little difficult because our co-op only meets 24 times during the year, but the General Science textbook is written for 30 or so weeks of instruction. That meant the kids were going to have to do some reading before school started, during the breaks and about one week after the end of co-op. That was the only way to do it and keep the lessons manageable!  I have a syllabus for the class. You can get a free copy of it by signing up for my newsletter here. 




The General Science course is a smorgasbord of scientific topics. The text opens with the history of science and then quickly goes over scientific theory and what makes a good science experiment. Quickly after that, it covers archeology, geology, paleontology, and simple machines. None of this is covered in any great depth, but just enough to hit the highlights of each topic and perhaps whet the student's appetite for more. 

This is where I think my role as a teacher comes in. I don't want to just regurgitate the book back to the students. I try to find something interesting that we can dive into a little more with each chapter, and I try to find interesting rabbit trails for us to explore a little bit. It's challenging because it's a 32-week course and we are trying to cover it all in 24 weeks during our co-op time.

One of my students had already taken Physical Science, the second of the jr. high classes from Apologia. She did well in my General Science class, but I think it was too easy for her and I think she could have gone on to Biology or another high school level course. It is my personal opinion now that it is important to keep the correct sequence - General Science first and then Physical Science.

I also think that General Science is a good bridge between elementary science and the more serious scientific topics. It was a good way to get them started on writing labs down and doing more difficult experiments.













My first couple of weeks went very well but there were a couple of kinks.  Our very first experiment that turned out well!



In Module 2 I purchased these flashlights for one of the experiments. I wanted the kids to bring flashlights from home, but they have to be disabled before the start of class. It was faster for me to just buy them and then disable them before class. The kids were supposed to figure out why they didn't work.

In Module 3 we did an experiment that was designed to show how one variable in the experiment would affect the outcome. We were supposed to put an egg in a container of water and keep adding salt to it one teaspoon at a time to get it to float. It was a little tedious because we had to take the egg out each time and add only one teaspoon of salt. But after seven teaspoons (and with time running out because the class is only 60 minutes or so long) that darn egg was still not floating. So just for the heck of it, I just unloaded my salt container into the water and to the delight of my students, it floated!

Reading their lab reviews was hysterical because some of my older students (particularly my student who had already taken Physical Science) criticized my lack of precision, but my daughter told me that the reviews of my class are very positive. My goal for the class is simple- get them prepared for the rigors of a high school level course and peak their interest in science by making it fun and interesting! What I lack in precision, perhaps I make up in enthusiasm!

The other experiments in chapter 3 were relatively easy to perform but 3.4 requires a steady hand. One of my students demonstrated for the class and blew the whole experiment. Lesson learned - the teacher needs to do that one.

Chapter 4 was about simple machines and beginning physics. I had my husband come in to teach that one and he had a blast. He even showed the kids how they could simply lift one of the picnic tables out in the pavilion with pullies and rope. I'm sorry I don't have any photos of that.

After enduring two weeks of physics and simple tools, we got to dive into archeology! I told them about the Dead Sea Scrolls and   I shared the story of finding Richard III remains and about the famous the little princes in the tower!  They seemed to enjoy this.

The following week we were studying Geology and about erosion and weathering, so I took my General Science Class to a nearby cemetery to observe the wear and tear of the elements on the old sandstone grave markers. As luck would have it, there is also a big tree pushing one of the headstones over!  Since we were studying geology, this will be a very useful exercise!! This trip was a good bridge between the archeology unit and geology.

This particular cemetery has veterans from the Revolutionary War, as well as some stones from what they are calling the "Black Death" cemetery.
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They got to see the artifacts of man, and how many of those artifacts have been destroyed over the years by time, rain, wind, tree roots and the occasional vandal. We spent the entire hour out there and I think the kids were really excited about it.


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This is one of the better- kept graves. It seems that the VFW has some interest in its upkeep because the deceased is a veteran, Colonial Talcott Bates. The lovely inscription reads:
Green be the turf above thee
Friend of my better days
None knew/know thee but to love thee
None nam'd thee but to praise
Tears fell when thou were dying
From eyes uns'd to weep
And often where thou art lying
Will tears thy green bed steep



I did some digging online and found the rest of the poem here. We also found the graves of veterans from the War of 1812 and the Revolutionary War.


Next week we started geology - meh... I'm was about as excited about that as I was about simple machines. Nonetheless, I do see the importance of including that in a general science course and I  found a way to make it exciting!!




The next week we had to learn about the different types of rock - ingenious, sedimentary, and metamorphic. Since I did not have samples of each kind of rock, nor did I have time or money to take another field trip I thought of finding samples in books. In my search for materials during my lesson planning, I came across this book - Geology is a Piece of Cake!

I already plan certain feasts and treats around the liturgical year to help my family remember certain symbols, events, and elements of the faith. Maybe food would help students relate to geology as well.


The photo below represents "igneous rock." The idea is that even though different elements become part of the rock, they remain unique - much as the carrots and raisins became part of the cake and yet still remained carrots and raisins!
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We made several cakes that day to represent different types of rock. It took most of the morning to prepare.
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Nothing represents rock strata in the kitchen better than layered cake!

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And would any geology class becomplete without hot lava - like this hot chocolate lava cake?
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Here is the sample plate. Starting from left to right - Igneous rock, nonfoliated metamorphic rock, sedimentary rock and floated metamorphic rock.
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 Ready for class!!
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I knew coming back after the Christmas holidays was going to be somewhat challenging, so I wanted to do something a little special for the class. It had to tie in with the lesson, but it also had to be interesting and fun. 

The textbook wanted us to make DNA models using pipe cleaners and beads. Here's a sample of one I found on Pinterest. It certainly would have been easy enough to do. But then I had an idea. What if we made DNA models that were practical and useful, but that also would be a little moment of this class. 

"Momento?" you may ask. 

Yeah. You see, I have some little mementos and reminders of courses I took in school. Nothing fancy but just little things that remind me of classes, projects, teachers, and friends. When I was going through my mom's stuff I found a pretty little picture that she kept for decades that she received from her teacher for having perfect attendance. 

Adding to my feeling of sentimentality was the fact that one of my students is leaving for Europe for three months. Today was her last class and I wanted her to have something from class as a keepsake.

So with these soft feelings, I decided that we would make DNA models out of wire and beads and turn them into key chains! I found a video explaining how to do this here.  After buying three different kinds of wire and lots of beads, I managed to follow the directions and make some prototypes. 

DNA Key chains

I think they turned out okay. I could make one in about half an hour. Yesterday I taught Rosie how to do it and she helped me today in my co-op class.

The reaction of my students was mixed. It was challenging. Some kids were great at making them and caught on right away. Some needed extra help. I think everyone understood that once you picked your two-color pairs, you had to stick with them. If I had to do it again, I would allow for more than 30 minutes, even though I precut the wire and had the beads divided by color.

Some of the kids seemed to like them and I know one girl even hung hers on her book back. However, I also found this. 

trash

So I guess it wasn't a hit with everyone.


Chapter 10 was just chock full of experiments that are next to impossible to do in a weekly co-op setting because they require many days of setting up and observation.


General science chapter 10

I started the class by asking my students if any of them had a desire to go into the health, medical or scientific fields and much to my surprise, no one raised their hand!  I didn't even have a potential nursing student!

Nonetheless, we plunged into basic classification systems. For example:

Here is the taxonomy information for human beings:
Domain: Eukaryota
Kingdom: Animalia
Phylum: Chordata
Class: Mammalia
Order: Primates
Family: Hominidae
Genus: Homo
Species: sapiens


Then we concentrated on the five different kingdoms (Animalia, Plantae, Fungi, Monera and Protista).

While none of my kids are planning careers in health, they all learned something about each of those kingdoms, particularly Monera and bacteria.

In some ways then, I was glad that I chose the rabbit trail of food safety and Typhoid Mary. Everyone should know something about food safety in the kitchen!  These short films from Central District Health. They were short, to the point and chock full of useful information. I learned a thing or two myself, particularly about cooling temperatures.









I do have some history buffs in my class - three of them actually. So I do try to delve into some historical aspects if possible. Typhoid Mary is a fascinating case - a harbinger of bacteria who herself was symptom free, and yet spread death from household to household by contaminating food from her job as a cook!



Younger kids might enjoy this book on the topic!




But Rosie, who enjoys historical fiction, is adding this to her reading list!




Next up - Apologia General Science lumps the skeletal sytem, muscles and skin into one chapter! That's was challenging. 


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Apologia's General Science packs a lot into Chapter 11. It covers the skeletal, muscular and integumentary systems. I explained to my students that paramedics, nurses, technicians and doctors could read entire textbooks on each one of these systems alone! But at this time in their scientific careers, they are getting a general introduction and a small glimpse of human anatomy and physiology.

I used some books with great pictures to help:



As part of our study of the skeletal system, I spent the best part of  one Tuesday morning deboning chicken thighs. I didn't quite have enough for each student, so I had to debone some chicken legs as well - let me just say, that even with my expensive Cutco knives, this was a difficult task. However, deboning thighs was a lot easier than deboning legs!

Each of my students got one bone to study. Interestingly, we could still see periosteum and articular cartilage well on these bones. Some of my students loved touching them and examining them. Others wouldn't pick them up on a bet! But all of them took them home in a glass jar full of vinegar. They are suppsoed to observe them every day to note how flexible they become as the calcium is leached from them into the vinegar.
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The last half of the class we viewed the following videos.

I used a number of informative videos from Youtube in this class. If you would like to see that list, simply sign up for my e-mail list here. 




  I had a couple of science experiments to do in my class this week - but then we had a snow day so they weren't done. Instead, Rosie and I did them at home. This was one of them. Doesn't this look like a flower?  It's really a coffee filter full of tea illustrating the filtration of the kidneys for General Science.
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Since I survived this course last year, here are my suggestions. It really does pay to have the latest edition of the book. It's just plainer and easier to keep up with. I also recommend getting the lab book. I know it's expensive but it really helps keep the student motivated and it keeps them organized. I also found that there was information in the lab book that was NOT in the textbook. So I'm a big fan of that notebook.




I have had two of my own kids who were struggling readers. I used the CD recordings for them back in the day, but now there are MP3 downloads of the audiobooks including General Science! I highly recommend that for struggling readers. It will help them keep up and comprehend. Just because a kid can't read at grade level doesn't mean his other work has to suffer.
Science MP3 AudioBooks


Apologia is having a sale if you order from them directly.
Apologia Stars and Stripes Sale

Enjoy this class with your jr. high science student. I certainly made a lot of memories and learned a lot too! (who knew that red cabbage is a natural litmus paper??!!)



Here are a few more tools I used in my course.



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