Living Learning Books

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I don't really remember that much about the science texts that I used in my early elementary schooling. But I do checking piles of books out of the library on raccoons, snakes, sharks, and carnivorous plants (just a few of my interests at the time). While science textbooks are important, trying to cover important topics under the constraints of short chapters and leveled vocabulary leaves a lot of interesting details out! It's easy to see why "living books" are a favored mode of study, especially in the elementary grades. The problem then becomes how to fit everything together in a meaningful framework. And that's where Sandi Strenkowski's easy-to-use science curriculum guides come to the rescue. All of the structure and planning are there for you; all you need to do is gather the books and materials and enjoy doing science together!

Basically, Living Learning Books is built around a core of "living books", including several key ones that you will read throughout the level, as well as selected library books. Level One recommended for grades K - 2, Level 2 for grades 2-6, and Level 3 designed for grades 3-6. The format changes a bit between Levels 1 and 3 with the emphasis on hands-on activities becoming stronger in Level 3. All levels consist of two components: a teacher's packet and a student packet, both loose-leaf and three-hole punched. Teacher and student each will then have a binder, where you can add and reorganize as you like. It is worth noting that student pages are only included in the student packet, and these are not reproducible.

Level 1 focuses on life science: animals, the human body, and plants. Boy, has she got the little ones' interests pegged! There are 36 weeks of lesson plans included; 20 weeks on animals, 10 weeks on the human body and 6 weeks on plants. Each unit is composed of a teacher planning checklist, lesson plans, library lists, Internet links, project directions, and a coloring page. The teacher planning checklist is found at the beginning of each unit, and features a list of materials needed for the activities, as well as tasks to do before beginning (reviewing links, gathering library books, etc.). Most of the required materials are household items or are easily found at the grocery store or local discount store. The lesson plans consist of four days of activities, including the suggested readings from the core books. Activities on the lesson plans may be checked off as completed, and several blank planning areas are also included for your own ideas. The library lists include suggested non-fictional books, fictional books and videos on the topic being studied. Although she doesn't expect you to be able to locate and read EVERY title, any of them you can locate and work into your study are helpful and will likely be enjoyed. Several books, predominantly Usborne titles, will be referred to often enough that you may wish to purchase these to have on hand as they are needed (please see these listed under "Suggested Reading" immediately following this description). Readings will also be recorded on the student's "Reading Log", which should be impressive by the end of the year! Related websites are listed with a short description of what you will find there, often pictures, videos, puzzles, games, and more. These provide a more interactive, multi-sensory experience into each topic, and the kids will probably enjoy their "computer time" as well. The projects for each unit consist of simple science investigations, art projects, and even some baking. Although several different projects are offered, it is not necessary that you complete all of them, especially if you're crunched for time. Lists of supplies and instructions are included for each project. Narration is also key in the program. Each reading is followed up by the child's narration of what they have learned, which may consist of the child composing a few sentences on their own, or dictating to you as you write it out for them. Narrations will also be inserted into the notebook. Coloring pages are also included at the end of each unit and are designed to complement the child's narration from the unit (these vary in quality; personally, I would invest in some inexpensive Dover coloring books as well!).

Level 2 focuses on astronomy and earth science, with 7 units on astronomy, and 15 on earth science. Topics include: rockets and spaceflight; the solar system; stars, galaxies and constellations; shuttles; space stations; astronauts; telescopes; earth's crust; day, night and the seasons; rocks and fossils; soil; disaster preparedness; volcanoes; earthquakes; water cycle; weather and storms; rivers and caves; seas and oceans. The format is similar to Level One. There are 34 weeks of lesson plans in all, assuming about two days of science per week, with an extra two weeks spent further exploring particularly interesting topics to make it a "full year". Lesson plans for each week include suggested reading, vocabulary review, review questions, narration, a coloring page, and enrichment activities. Because some of the books recommended are a bit lengthier than those used in the first unit, specific pages from the books are assigned, rather than the whole book. This also allows books on more general topics, like science "encyclopedias" to be used a chapter at a time. The review questions are also new at this level, and save you the trouble of coming up with your own. Narration also plays a role in the second level, and because this level is designed for older elementary children, there are more narration options available. The author recommends discussing the reading and/or the project completed that day, then using the review questions, and then recording the narration. Coloring pages are still included at this level, and include Disaster Preparedness coloring pages from the Red Cross publication. Several Usborne and Kingfisher titles are heavily recommended for this Level, with these books frequently referenced (please see Suggested Reading below for a list of these titles). The projects and internet links are consistently high-quality and enjoyable in this level as well, and should provide a lot of fun - and grist for narrations. A final nice feature of this level is a list of scripture readings which has been appended. This allows you to work Bible study into your science lesson, as the verses studied tie in with the topics studied.

Level 3 is the most unique in format. Each lesson contains two main components; readings (provided in the student pages) and hands-on experimentation. The format of each lesson is quite a bit different as well. The teacher reference information is included in a sidebar on each lesson page and includes corresponding student pages to be used with that lesson, reference pages to be read from both Usborne's Internet Linked Science Encyclopedia and the Kingfisher Science Encyclopedia, and a list of supplies needed, divided by project. Corresponding internet links are also offered for each lesson, and are found in the appendix. For each lesson, the student will read a passage on the topic from their student pages, and then do the associated experiments to see the concept in action. Student "Experiment Summary Sheets" are included for each experiment, and ask the student to record the details of the experiment, including: what materials were used, what they did, what happened as a result, and what they learned from the experiment. At the end of each unit, the student reviews the readings and defines the vocabulary, writing definitions in a notebook. Finally, they complete the unit review worksheet. The mix of topics here is excellent for a first "visit" in chemistry and includes: atoms, atomic number, the periodic table, molecules, matter, properties of liquids, states of matter, mixtures, compounds, chemical reactions, acids and bases, salts, food chemistry, chemistry careers, and biographies of famous chemists such as Mendeleyev, Lavoisier, and Dalton.

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