Lyrical Life Science
My children are always humming, singing snatches of a hymn or song, or saying, "This song keeps running through my head!" So...why not have Life Science concepts running through their heads?
These "singing science texts" come in three volumes. Volume 1 is a general life science overview covering an assortment of topics including the scientific method, characteristics of living things, vascular plants, algae, fungi and non vascular plants, invertebrates, cold-blooded vertebrates, birds, genetics, and microscopic organisms. [In 2010, the publishers updated Vol. 1 with two new songs, one about cell organelles, and one about protists. Visit their website at http://www.lyricallearning.com/vol1download.html for the free update that includes the songs, updated text and workbook pages!] Volume 2 covers mammals, ecology, and biomes. Volume 3 is The Human Body. Lyrics are sung to old, familiar tunes, traditional, patriotic songs or songs you used to sing around the campfire (no rock or rap here).
The complete program includes the text, CD, and reproducible workbook. Each chapter in the text begins with a song. Memorization of scientific terms and concepts should be fairly painless as students sing such memorable lyrics as (to the tune of "Clementine," "Man-y crea-tures have different fea-tures, Yet all have a common trait:, With no back-bone, They are all known, To be called in-ver-te-brate." Texts are of fair size (about 90 pgs each) and follow up the lyrical learning with a some informative textual content.
The reproducible workbook has exercises to reinforce the lyrics and textual information and ensure comprehension of the material. The first exercise in each chapter set has students fill in missing keywords from the lyrics. The second quizzes on information from the chapter. This exercise varies somewhat in format. The third exercise is in short answer/essay format and concludes with some "Digging Deeper" questions which require some critical thinking. A complete answer key is provided at the back of the workbook.
While the content is roughly equivalent to a year's curriculum (especially at the lower grades), the publisher recommends supplementing this program with hands-on activities and "field trips". Learning basic biology just got a little easier...
Like chemistry, learning the ins and outs of cells can be a little bit intimidating to middle-schoolers. Let's face it - it doesn't seem like a "grabber" topic and yes, there's a lot of vocabulary you have to learn along the way. So if you're looking for a less structured (or intimidating?) way to learn about cell anatomy and physiology than the ol' textbook approach, consider the talented Ellen McHenry's Cells program. The complete course is made up of two parts: an 80-page student text and a 55-page teacher's section. The student text is also available separately for multiple students, or if you'd prefer that the student have their own book. The text is broken into nine meaty chapters: early cell discoveries and the development of the microscope; the cell membrane and cytoskeleton; ATP and mitochondria; proteins, DNA and RNA; lysosomes, ER and Golgi bodies; nucleus and ribosomes; cell metabolism and peroxisomes; mitosis and meiosis; and types of cells. The chapters range from 4-8 pages in length, and although the pages appear to be packed with text, the concepts are well-explained, easy-to-read and yes, sometimes even entertaining! Black-and-white illustrations, photos and cartoons with the author's signature "thumbprint guys" help break up the text as well. (As a side note, I can appreciate the author's background in art and design here, as I've seen several otherwise good programs that rely too heavily on a mishmash of bad clip art or bad illustrations!)
Each chapter ends with a series of activities for the student, many of which include selected YouTube videos, recommended photos and images found online and even some online games. The author has helpfully organized a YouTube channel around all of her books, and even listed the selected videos in order for you. These really give the course a more interactive feel, as you read the first chapter on early cell discoveries, then watch videos about early cell scientists, how electron microscopes work, and Brownian motion! The videos really complement the text content; I can tell that the author has done her homework as far as finding great video content! Following the page of activities, you'll find a page of questions based on the reading, including multiple-choice, true/false, and short-answer questions.
You'll find even more to enhance the program in the Teacher's Section (found in the main course book, not in the student text). There are additional supplemental activities for each chapter here, and this is where you'll find the hands-on activities like making a fluid mosaic model, baking Golgi body cookies, running a motor protein relay race, demonstrating transcription and translation using edible snacks, extracting DNA, creating a cell "mini-mural" and much more! Some of the activities will lend themselves more naturally to a co-op environment, or for use with multiple students, but you can easily omit those or adapt some of them for use with one student. Activities include a brief description of the activity, a materials list, instructions, and often a black-and-white photo of the completed project, or the activity in progress. Worksheets and activity pages are reproducible for your own use, or you can print extra copies of the pages you need from the CD. The CD (found in the complete course book only) contains a PDF version of the entire book and the "DNA Song" in several audio formats.
The design of the course is like a science unit study with very open-ended schedule options. You could probably easily spend a week on each chapter, especially if you explored all of the video content and completed the activities, some of which are fairly involved. The content and activities lend themselves well to co-op use or use with several of your children at once. Even high-schoolers will enjoy many of the activities - and find much of the content relevant as the concepts covered are at high school level, according to the author. If you've used activity-rich science programs with success at the lower grade levels, this course will not disappoint your students. A science nut myself, this just looks like fun! - Jess