Thursday, November 5, 2009

Review: Christian Kids Explore Physics

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As a member of the TOS Homeschool Crew, I received a free copy of Christian Kids Explore Physics by Robert W. Ridlon, Jr. and Elizabeth J. Ridlon from Bright Ideas Press in exchange for writing a honest review. I received no other compensation. This review is my own opinion on this product and reflects the experience of me and my family.

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My 9-year-old son is a physics nut. He knows all about simple machines, building catapults, has played with designing bridges…so when I had the opportunity to review a Christian Physics curriculum designed for grades 4-8 he was absolutely thrilled. Christian Kids Explore Physics is a year-long, complete science curriculum that includes lesson reviews, hands-on activities, unit reviews, coloring pages, answer keys and an extensive book and resource list. Through 30 weeks of marveling at God’s creations you’ll explore the foundations of physics, the properties of matter, force, gravity, work, energy, matter in motion, energy in motion, electricity and magnetism, and more. You’ll find a complete table of contents here.

Each lesson consists of:

  • Teaching Time (the reading selection)
  • Review-It
  • Hands-On Time (experiment or other activity)

The book is easy to use:

  • The text is written in a conversational tone that could be easily be read by the student.
  • Important vocabulary words appear in the sidebars of the pages with their definitions repeated from the text.
  • Review-It pages appear on separate page form the lesson, making them easy to photocopy.
  • The review questions are fill in the blank with the words taken directly from the text.
  • The lessons are grouped into units of varying length, each unit having its own review pages.
  • End-of-unit reviews are multiple choice.

Hands-on activities vary widely. You’ll find the volume of an irregular object, plot trajectories, build a model of a water molecule and more. All pages are black and white and the illustrations are simple line drawings, great for reproducing those coloring pages and review sheets. You can view sample pages here.

Careful emphasis is placed throughout on the fact that science is a study of God’s creation and that scientists don’t create anything, but discover the things that God has created. Each lesson has a scriptural reference in the sidebar.

I’ve been using this book with David (age 9) and Mary (age 5). Mary enjoys coloring while I read the lesson. The lessons are very short, so we tend to do the hands-on activity the same day. You could read the lesson one day and do the activity another day, or add some of the suggested resources to fill it out more. Some of the activities are fun, but my kiddos found the readings a bit dry even though they were short.

What surprised me most about this curriculum was the time spent on topics I’ve always considered a part of chemistry. Unit 2 consists of 6 lessons on matter where you’ll study elements, atoms, molecules, states of matter and so on. I realize that chemistry and physics are related (atomic physics has to do with atoms, doesn’t it?), but as there is a chemistry book in the series (written by the same authors), I did not expect this much overlap.

I found the text to be uneven, at times very vague and written in such a way that often further explanations needed to be given in order to have a clear understanding. Some of the readings have a tendency to just “touch on” a topic without covering it in depth, gliding over the surface and leaving many questions unanswered. There’s just an overall lack of details. Here are couple examples:

  • In the activity for building a water molecule model, the instructions for the actual construction are very vague about placement of the hydrogen atoms. They basically just say to attached them so they are snug against the oxygen atom. Even I can remember from high school chemistry that the angle has to be 104.5 degrees between the hydrogen atoms.
  • The lesson on gravity does not even mention the rate of acceleration caused by gravity or even that gravity causes acceleration (the activity for this one is to drop marshmallows into a bowl on the floor to see gravity in action…yeah, ok).

It’s almost as though the authors were writing outside of their comfort zone. Maybe they are. A quick look at the Ridlons credentials shows that they both have degrees in biology. She teaches biology and he teaches information systems theory. Now, as science majors they would have taken physics in college, no doubt, but I could find no indication of expertise in this field.

The lack of pictures and the very few line drawings or diagrams makes this text a little unattractive for the elementary crowd and may make it difficult for visual learners to comprehend the passages. We overcame this by using concrete examples. There are no pictures and few diagrams in the explanations for the hands-one activities, either, but most do not require exactitude.

If we continue to use this curriculum, I’ll pick and choose the lessons we’ll cover to fill-in the gaps in my son’s already sizable physics knowledge and probably add some additional resources.

Christian Kids Explore Physics is available from Bright Ideas Press for $34.95. You can also purchase a digital download of all the reproducible pages so you can print directly from your computer for $12.95.

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2 comments:

  1. The boys (3 and 4 years old) love to do "experiments", mix things up in the kitchen, and generally explore. I remember I had a great book as a kid that had all kinds of experiments you could do in the kitchen, each with a little bit of a wow effect and some lesson in physics/chemistry.

    Can you recommend some fun experiments that can be done with household items?

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  2. I would recommend checking your local library for any of Janice VanCleave's books: lots of hands on science activities using household stuff.

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