Science Shepherd Biology (Gr. 10-12)
This is an extremely well-designed biology course and the lab components are sure to win a lot of accolades as more homeschooling parents experience this course. The text is hefty - over 700 pages, divided into 34 chapters. While I won't list the entire table of contents here (please see our website for that), topics include: basic biochemistry, the cell, cell membranes, cell organelles, metabolism, photosynthesis, cellular respiration, DNA/RNA/proteins, mitosis, meiosis, genes and heredity, genetic variation, human genetics, the origins of life, speciation and adaptation, biological classification, the biological kingdoms, human anatomy and physiology, and ecology. Chemistry (particularly biochemistry) is well-emphasized. While this may sound intimidating, the abundance of chemical structure diagrams really visually help the student conceptualize the concepts, especially since they probably have not have taken a chemistry course at this point. While it may seem like a bit of a leap to introduce the chemical structure of monosaccharides and glycosidic bonds at this point, these are topics that students will be exposed to again in college if they are pursuing a life science-related major. As a biochemistry lover myself, I appreciate the inclusion of these topics and the straightforward manner in which they are explained.
One of my favorite characteristics of this course is the lab component. The twenty labs include hands-on experiments, making and viewing slides under a microscope, and a series of dissections from clam to fetal pig - but no frog (the author points out that dissecting a fetal pig is very beneficial because the anatomy of the pig is more like animal and human anatomy and is large enough to easily dissect). Lab instructional materials include a lab manual and a lab DVD. If you are going to do the lab component, which I definitely recommend, you will want the lab manual. If you can spare the expense, the DVD would be helpful as well. These complement each other, designed to be used in tandem. In the case of the lab manual, the author did better than reinventing the wheel - he worked with Kathleen Julicher to adapt material from her Experiences in Biology manual, using her labs, and reorganizing the layout. While many of the labs are similar, the layout in this manual incorporates visuals (diagrams and illustrations) and they have separated the lab procedure directions from the critical thinking questions and lab worksheets, which are included after the directions for the lab. There are also well-designed forms for writing a lab report and making drawings of what was observed in the lab. The DVD includes video instruction for the labs, which will be a HUGE help for anyone who could use a little more instruction and guidance. Author Scott Hardin talks viewers through the labs, explaining what they will be doing, and providing demonstration where helpful. While not flashy or professional-quality, labs are introduced with a "Powerpoint-with-audio" feel, and then he demonstrates the labs using the same materials that the student would be using. If you're doubtful, check out the grasshopper dissection. That poor grasshopper is missing nearly half its appendages, and reminds me of a similar squishy, brown specimen I poked at in high school! While at times you might wish the specimen was better lighted, watching the author dissect the specimens and point out structures on the DVD will be extremely helpful if you've never attempted a dissection before. I also appreciate the microscope labs, where the author points out structures on a microscope, orienting you to what you should be seeing. I wholeheartedly applaud the author's efforts on creating a biology lab DVD - it is one of those products we definitely have seen a need for over the years! While it is pricey, I believe it is absolutely worth it if you feel you and your student could use the guidance and demonstrations. As far as lab materials go, you will need a microscope for this course, as well as the dissection specimens. We have put together a kit of lab supplies including dissection specimens you will need for the course.
At this point, you may be curious how this course compares to Apologia's Exploring Creation with Biology (ECB). Here are a few differences. First of all, the writing in this course is more straightforward and to the point, with a less "chatty" feel. The page layout in Shepherd is more appealing to the eye, although the quality of the graphics is comparable. The structure of the chapters is also similar, with end-of chapter study questions found in both. The scope and sequence of the courses are similar, although the Science Shepherd course incorporates human anatomy and physiology, while this is a separate course in Apologia. As mentioned previously, the biochemistry component in this course is rigorous and it appears to me that chemistry is emphasized in more depth here than in ECB. One other difference is the authors' treatment of origins and ecology. While many users applaud Apologia’s vigorous defense of the faith, I think some people will appreciate the way Dr. Hardin "shows" rather than "tells" that Creation is better substantiated by the evidence available. Ecological issues are treated the same way in Shepherd, with the issue of global warming treated as a debate, with evidence presented for both sides. As far as labs go, there are more of them in ECB, although the frog is the most complex organism dissected, vs. the fetal pig in Shepherd. Labs are treated as a separate component in this course, which means an additional expense, especially if you purchase the DVD. However, the completion of the lab manual and lab reports is excellent college prep and offers the advantage of a separate lab book (labs are written into the ECB textbook) that can get messy without destroying the textbook. Worth mentioning, the Science Shepherd Biology textbook is hardcover, while ECB recently transitioned to softcover texts. In summary, both are excellent courses, designed to be self-instructional for the student, with homeschool families in mind. This course is a strong competitor for ECB. It seems apparent to me though that Dr. Hardin has done plenty of his own "homework" and made some excellent decisions as to the format, content, and labs. - Jess