Reasons to Believe

Curriculum Review: Middle School Astronomy: Real Science-4-Kids (Grades 5–8)

Texts Reviewed:

  • Middle School Astronomy – Student Text, Teacher's Manual, Laboratory Workbook, Rebecca W. Keller, Albuquerque, NM: Gravitas Publications, 2011.

In the spirit of The Well-Trained Mind approach of focusing on a single science topic for an entire year, Dr. Rebecca W. Keller has written a series of textbooks that provide an intriguing alternative to both young-earth creation science and mainstream texts. Dr. Keller is a homeschool mom and PhD scientist. Read my review of her other texts (Biology, Physics, and Chemistry) here. Read my review of her middle school geology text here.



Integration

The Real Science-4-Kids curriculum contains no religious content. Dr. Rebecca Keller has written a series of religiously neutral science texts. The publisher’s website claims they are the “only worldview-friendly curriculum that supports both Christian and secular values.” The benefit of this approach is that Real Science-4-Kids provides a viable alternative for those parents who want to steer clear of both young-earth creation science and overt naturalism during the elementary school years. Parents don’t need to worry about outside worldview presuppositions being mingled with the text’s presentation of the data. The disadvantage of this approach is that the parent/teacher will have to provide the Christian worldview perspective through discussion and supplemental resources, which isn’t always easy.



Science

Here is an overview of the topics covered in each text of the Astronomy Level I student text:

  • What is astronomy?
  • Astronomers’ tools for exploration and discovery
  • Earth, Sun, and Moon
  • Chemistry and physics of stars
  • Extrasolar planets and Pluto
  • Planetary orbits, asteroids, meteorites, and comets
  • Habitable Earth
  • Constellations
  • Stars and planets
  • Habitable zone
  • Galaxies
  • Red dwarfs, white dwarfs, novae, supernovae, black holes, and nebulae

Consistent with the previous volumes from Real Science-4-Kids, the quality of the science education is sound. The text covers a wide array of critical topics that a well-rounded student will need to progress to more in-depth study in later years. The author is to be especially commended for including accurate and up-to-date information reflecting the latest discoveries and research.

Most elementary texts on astronomy focus on the solar system and often skim or omit discussion on topics such as extrasolar planets, stellar life cycles, and habitable zones. Keller’s inclusion of these topics fills a much-needed gap in elementary astronomy textbooks.

The author avoids questions about the age of the universe and its contents (stars, planets, galaxies) by simply omitting any references to dates about their formation. This prevents the text from falling into many traps that Jeannie Fulbright’s creation science texts fall into. It’s clear, however, that much of the text’s content rests squarely on old-earth presuppositions. But she adroitly avoids the subject. For example, when Keller discusses astronomical distances she omits any usage of the term “light-year” (which implies age). She uses the term the more neutral term “astronomical units,” which is still correct but also defuses the issue. It seems evident Keller accepts the conventional evidence for an ancient universe.



The Art of Teaching

The key benefit of the Real Science-4-Kids curriculum is that it focuses on a single topic for an entire year, spread out over 10 lessons, as opposed to the usual six-week-survey format that is used by most other science textbooks. Concepts can be reinforced over a longer period of time. This method of instruction will, hopefully, increase retention and facilitate deeper exploration of key topics. The text contains only 10 lessons, so the pace of the text would allow time for in-depth study if a student expresses a keen interest in a particular topic.

The informal font aside, the simple and clean layout visually breaks down complex concepts into bite-sized pieces, making the presentations easy to follow. A variety of NASA photos balances key points in the student text. Still, the textbook’s focus is on content, rather than entertainment.

Though intended for homeschool use, the Real Science-4-Kids curriculum could be adapted to a co-op or classroom environment. The publisher suggests that this text be used in grades 5–8. However, this reviewer thinks it’s more appropriate for grades 3–5. (I can’t imagine using this with my seventh grader; it’s way too easy and the graphics are a little too immature for a middle school student.)

It appears that the author’s intent is to introduce students to key terms and concepts they will encounter as they continue their science education rather than provide in-depth information about each topic. With that objective in mind, Real Science-4-Kids meets expectations.

One shortcoming is the lack of a thorough index in the teacher’s manual. However, the student text does include a brief glossary at the back, citing a page number on which the term is discussed.



Supplemental Materials

The teacher’s manual and lab worksheets are an essential part of the curriculum and should definitely be purchased.

Key principles of each lesson are reinforced through lab assignments. Based on my past experience with Dr. Keller’s Chemistry text, some labs may need to be adapted in order to accommodate the user’s situation or preference. These lab sheets are consumable, however, and will need to be repurchased for other students. They also provide the only formal “proof” that the student actually completed the lessons, so it is essential for those homeschoolers who are required to provide written documentation.

The teacher’s manual includes an answer key and some expanded instructions for the lab experiments. No assessments are included with the shipped curriculum; however, the Gravitas website indicates that assessments are “coming soon.”

Because the text is fairly light on content, parents will need to make extra effort to reinforce key concepts and measure how well the student comprehends certain ideas. The incorporation of workbooks would be a helpful supplement to provide supplementary discussion and examples. Something like Evan Moor’s ScienceWorks series offers a possible option.



Concluding Thoughts

Overall, there is much to praise in Dr. Keller's efforts. The Real Science-4-Kids series is essentially a secular science text that avoids both biological evolution and questions about the age of the earth. The astronomy text will appeal most to those parents who want a single-subject-immersion approach, one that goes beyond the usual six-week unit studies. This user-friendly curriculum includes the latest research, but will also benefit from a teacher who can supplement the brief explanations with more detail. Teachers should be prepared to fill in some of the gaps with additional information, including trips to the library, additional worksheets, and experiments.

Subjects: Educators/Homeschoolers

Astronomy Level I – Student Text, Teacher's Manual, Laboratory Workbook, Rebecca W. Keller, Albuquerque, NM: Gravitas Publications, 2011.