Sunday, December 29, 2013

Review: Elemental Science Biology for the Logic Stage

After much research during Amber's fifth grade year, we decided to use Elemental Science's Classic series for our science curriculum.  We started with Biology for the Logic Stage toward the end of fifth grade when Amber had already completed her textbook based science curriculum.  Now that we've finally finished Biology, I'm going to add my own thoughts about this curriculum.

It is a full year curriculum, designed to run 36 weeks.  We used it for the last month of 5th grade, the summer session, and the fall semester of 6th grade.  In all, it did take us about 36 weeks, it was just not all in one school year.

Elemental Science puts the ideal age range for this curriculum at 5th or 6th grade, and I have to agree.  The lesson reading is entirely appropriate for that age and posed no problems at all for Amber.  There are occasional supplemental reading assignments that seem slightly above the average ability for 5th / 6th grade, but they are not required and Amber did not have any difficulty with the few she read. The two required spine books are the DK Publishing Encyclopedia of Nature and The Kingfisher Science Encyclopedia.

Unexpected Homeschool: Review of Elemental Science Biology for the Logic Stage.

The curriculum is structured in a classical model using weekly experiments, definitions, timeline work, weekly sketches, and reading from spine books.  The student is encouraged to take notes, make an outline, or write a narrative summary each week on the main reading assignment.  The teacher is given the flexibility to determine what is best for the student each week.  We fluctuated weekly based on what Amber's writing assignments were in her other subjects.  Some weeks Amber simply took notes on her reading, while other weeks I requested she both take notes and then write a narrative from her notes on a different day.

All of the titles in Elemental Science's Classic series have both a student guide and a teacher's guide.  The student guide provides all of the assignments and experiment information needed.  The teacher's guide has a lot of duplicate information, but also gives expected results for the experiments as well as providing unit tests (with and without answers).  The teacher's guide also gives lesson planning options that allow for science either 2 days or 5 days a week.   We chose to have science 3 days a week, but utilizing shorter time periods than recommended. So we basically followed the 2 days a week plan, just spreading it over three days.

Each lesson has a "want more" section that provides ideas for additional research or projects.  I have to say that we only used this option twice and that was because we didn't like the experiment in the lesson plans and so substituted a "want more" option instead.   It was easy to do though since the curriculum provided me with the details for an alternative experiment.

Unexpected Homeschool: Review of Elemental Science Biology for the Logic Stage.

Now for the nitty gritty.  What did we like (dare I say love) about this curriculum and what did we find annoying?  First, let me say that neither Amber or I like biology.  In truth, it is entirely appropriate to say we despise it.  So the fact that we completed this curriculum should be our first positive statement.

The Pros
  • Loved the ebook formats.  You can buy both the student guide and the teacher's guide in a bound format.  It is significantly cheaper to buy the two ebook set.  We did print the majority of the student book for Amber and put in a three ring binder.  This allowed her to keep any notes and other miscellaneous papers with the appropriate sections.   I used an ebook the entire time.  Some days I referenced the book on my computer, but most of the time I used my iPad for discussion questions or experiments.  
  • This curriculum is so easy to adapt to your own schedule.  Like I mentioned above, we chose to have science lessons 3 days a week, but it wasn't an issue with the curriculum. 
  • The scope of the curriculum is easily adaptable too.  We were not interested in an indepth study of biology.  We wanted an age appropriate biological study that would be a good foundation for high school biology in a few years.  This curriculum provided that ability. Rarely did we do more than the bare minimum work suggested, yet Amber still received a much better understanding of biology than I ever expected possible.
  • The format puts more responsibility on the student to complete the assignments and less on the instructor.  I really only had to conduct the experiments with Amber, go over the discussion questions, and help with any topics that were a bit confusing.  Everything else was student directed.  It was wonderful to see Amber taking more responsibility for her learning.  She also learned to take detailed notes during biology; a skill she had not yet mastered.  
  • The spine books and additional reference books are great choices that we do not mind having in our library at home.  Many of the books are also used in other Logic Stage curricula published by Elemental Science.  They do try, where possible, to use the same spine and reference books. 
  • Paige at Elemental Science answers questions quickly if you email her directly.  She has a Yahoo group with update / correction files for each curricula and additional resources.  This is something you will want to utilize.
  • Tests are provided, but entirely optional.  It's up to the teacher to decide how the curriculum should be used.  For full disclosure, we used the tests but after the first test decided to make them all open note / outline / narration.  It's a LONG story, but test anxiety was not something we could deal with at the time. I also do not allow for test cramming.  That meant if Amber didn't remember the details, she needed to have been diligent in her written work.
Unexpected Homeschool: Review of Elemental Science Biology for the Logic Stage.

The Cons (sorry.. but there are a few)
  • My biggest pet peeve with this curriculum is the sketches.  The graphics are simply poor. I don't mean they are just poorly drawn (which they are), sometimes they do not match the information in the assigned reading for the lesson.  There were sketches that we could not find a corresponding picture or written information in the spine book that supported the answers in the teacher's guide.  This was a huge source of frustration at the beginning of the curriculum for us.  After a month or so Amber learned to just do the best she could and left me notes about the items she questioned.  I also learned that if she had something wrong, to check her source material first - she probably had labeled the sketches according to her reading assignment.
  • On the topic of sketches still, we also found that some of the information needed for completing them was not in the primary assigned reading for the week.  There were times that you could not even attempt to complete the sketch without using the additional (and supposedly optional) reading sources.  Thankfully, we had purchased all the additional reference books (except the Human Body) and not just the two required spine books.  
  • The tests.  There were a few occasions where the questions seemed overly obscure.  I did actually go over the discussion questions with Amber and review her weekly work, so when even I thought a question seemed a bit too detailed we threw it out.  Still, it was my choice to use the tests in the first place.
  • We had issues with experiments.  Some were our fault... I think.  Our worms died in one experiment, but I'm not sure how they would have lived with the setup described. Our bread never grew mold.  Never, not in over 5 weeks. But anyhow, we chalked those up to our ineptitude.  Another experiment described how to grow crystals using bluing and other ingredients.  I'm not even sure where to get bluing. We opted for the crystal growing kit from Michael's (using a 40% off coupon).  It was so much easier and had the same results.

    Unexpected Homeschool: Review of Elemental Science Biology for the Logic Stage.
    Worm experiment - this was never going to be a favorite.
    One experiment that we skipped required pond or aquarium water.  Umm, there was a drought, so no ponding of any sort near us.  Yet another experiment wanted us to leave jars of apple outside undisturbed to see if insects play a part in decomposition.  Great idea.  Unfortunately, there are rabbits, raccoons and squirrels that all flitter through our yard.  Nothing was going to be undisturbed and there was no way that I was attracting bugs into my garage.  A few other experiments were just disgusting (being biology and all), so we skipped them too.

    You get the idea.  But it wasn't all gloom and doom with the experiments.  There were many we enjoyed and a few we adapted to our own use.  Remember there are 36 weeks worth of experiments in this curriculum.  I will say, we would have enjoyed more microscope usage.  Somehow I remember using a microscope a lot more in my junior high biology class than we did here.  Perhaps if we had been willing to go farther into each topic the microscope would have been featured more often.  Still, I believe that this curriculum is easily used with online images and you can skip the microscope if it's an expense that is not in your budget.

In all, the curriculum was pretty much as we expected after the months of research and it is a good deal more suited to our style than any other curricula we previewed.  Although there were a few hiccups they have not prevented us from moving on to the next topic in Elemental Science's Classic series: Earth Science and Astronomy for the Logic Stage.  


  1. Very helpful. Thanks. We are in a new charter school this year where we get to pick our own curriculum and the school pays for it so for the first time in our homeschooling I am having to choose curriculum (it's fun yet challenging). I've been homeschooling since 1998 and for most of that time I just used free resources on the internet or made my own.

  2. I just wanted to thank you for this post! I am considering ES for next year for my 7th and 5th grade homeschool students and searched Google for blog reviews by people who have actually used it. Thank you - this is very helpful and thorough!

  3. Great review! Thank you for being so thorough!

  4. Thank you for your review. I have been searching for a thorough review of this curriculum and I appreciate your help.