[Author's Note: This curriculum was updated 2011. As a result, some of the specific examples used in this review may no longer apply, but the overall comments still stand.]
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- Physical Science (Seventh grade, student edition and worksheets), Grand Rapids, MI: Christian Schools International, 2002.
- Physical Science Teacher's Edition
- Life Science (Eighth grade, student edition and worksheets), Grand Rapids, MI: Christian Schools International, 2002.
- Life Science Teacher's Edition
- Earth Science (Ninth grade, student edition and worksheets), Grand Rapids, MI: Christian Schools International, 2002.
- Earth Science Teacher's Edition
Middle school science textbooks generally make their philosophy more explicit. Curricula written from a young-earth perspective often introduce students to such topics as global flood geology and the unreliability of radiometric dating methods (see review for Apologia Ministries). Secular publishers also initiate more dogmatic discussions about biological evolution at this grade-level, asserting that life arose from a primordial soup and humans descended from an ancient ape-like ancestor. Parents who believe in old-earth creationism face difficulty because neither the secular nor the Christian approach reflects good science. One quality middle school alternative worth consideration is the 2002 release of Physical Science, Life Science, and Earth Science by Christian Schools International.
Here's a thumbnail sketch of topics covered in each text:
- Physical Science—Matter, Substances (metals and organics), Interactions of Matter (solutions, acids, bases), Basic Physics (motion, forces), Energy at Work (waves, sound, light), Electricity and Magnetism
- Life Science—Life (characteristics, cells), Viruses, Bacteria, Fungi, Plants, Animals, Human Body, Genetics, Ecology
- Earth Science—Geology (rocks, minerals, erosion, soil), The Moving Earth (volcanoes, earthquakes), Water and Oceans, Weather, Environment (natural resources, pollution), Astronomy
Much like the elementary editions, all three middle school volumes weave the Christian worldview throughout each text. Both of God's revelations, the record of nature and the words of the Bible, flow naturally from one into the other. The authors firmly ground the scientific method itself in the presuppositions of the Christian worldview. "Science—the observation and experimentation—is a useful tool because God's world behaves consistently. Colossians 1:16-17 . . . Because God upholds all things, we see consistency in the way things behave" (Life Science, 14). For a more detailed discussion of Christian Schools International's philosophy of science, a parent/teacher can refer to the essay "CSI Science Perspective Statement" printed in the front of each teacher's manual. A clarifying statement concerning CSI's perspective on creation is also available on their Web site.
Each text is replete with examples of how the Christian worldview integrates with the scientific facts. For example, the Physical Science text contains a lengthy introduction to many elements in the periodic table. When introducing hydrogen, the authors query: "Do you know the main ingredient that God used in creating the universe? It's hydrogen." Later, as part of a discussion about nuclear energy, the authors write:
When the sun runs out of hydrogen, it will stop producing heat. Scientists estimate that this will happen in approximately five billion years. Although we don't know if this is how God will choose to end life on Earth, we do know that at the end of time, 'The sun will no more be [our] light by day. . . . for the Lord will be [our] everlasting light' (Isaiah 60:19]. We don't have to worry about what will happen when and if the sun ever burns out, because God has a plan for that time. (Physical Science, 397)
Another example of where CSI's commitment to the Christian faith really shines is in its discussion of primates:
Humans are also considered primates because we have the physical characteristics that define this order. Of course, we are more than primates. God forms us, unlike animals, in his image, and we alone have souls. God sets us apart from the rest of creation and even commands us to care for the rest of creation . . . So even though physically you may be considered a primate, remember that you are a child of God." (Life Science, 293)
These concise examples are typical of the tone throughout each text. One of the weaknesses of these texts, however, is that the authors repeatedly miss out on prime opportunities to point the students to strong scientific support for the Christian faith. The most glaring example is the minimal discussion of the anthropic principle in the unit on astronomy. Only three paragraphs (Earth Science, 486-487) are devoted to this important topic. Ironically, the one design characteristic they do discuss, the atmosphere, is also one of the few used by young-earth creationists. No discussion is given to the multitude of design characteristics of the universe and Earth's solar system that make them uniquely suited for life.
One unique aspect to this curriculum is each text's emphasis on the stewardship of God's creation. In fact, both Life Science and Earth Science devote large sections to ecological systems and conservation. But rather than politicizing environmentalism, the authors help students view the world as belonging to God. Their approach, in which people have been made Earth's caretakers, is realistic but not scary. In general, it promotes balanced biblical attitudes about the environment.
When evaluating the quality of science education offered by the Christian Schools International curriculum, there is good news and bad news. First, the good: The parting comments of the 6th-grade text left the age-of-the-earth question open-ended. While both the old- and young-age perspectives were mentioned as being biblical options, the authors seemed careful not to commit to either perspective.
This ambiguity continues throughout the middle-school texts. Most explicitly, the Earth Science text contains a short section about various Christian perspectives regarding the age of the earth. Two specific evidences are cited as support for an ancient Earth: radiometric dating and varves. Both the old-earth and young-earth positions are presented as viable alternatives, and the authors include attempts to accommodate both perspectives:
The most important thing to know, of course, is that God is the One who decreed the world into existence. But part of loving God with all our minds includes using our gifts to learn more about creation. We will probably never know with certainty the exact timeframe of creation, but as we study the work of an orderly God, we will continue to unearth amazing surprises that will enhance our understanding of our Creator's power." (Earth Science, 140)
Such harmonious charity is admirable given that the authors reject all aspects of young-earth science. An ancient age for Earth is clearly assumed throughout each text.
One of the more explicit discussions about the ancient age of Earth involves the uses of radiometric isotopes. The reliability of carbon-14 dating is discussed in this context:
Scientists use their knowledge about the half-lives of radiometric isotopes to date artifacts and rocks. . . . By using the half-life of carbon-14 atoms (5,730 years) scientists can accurately date up to 70,000 years of age the samples of bone, shells, wood and other organic materials. (Physical Science, 402)
The text even includes an experiment designed to teach students how the half-life of isotopes can help scientists determine the age of a substance (Physical Science, 400; Earth Science, 137-139).
An ancient age of the earth is also explicitly mentioned in connection with a discussion about nonrenewable resources:
The three most common nonrenewable resources are oil, coal, and natural gas. These types of fuel are called fossil fuels. Millions of years ago, layers of dead plants and animals were buried beneath sediments. Over millions of years, heat, pressure, and bacteria changed the sediments into rock and changed organic material into fossil fuels. (Physical Science, 405)
There are many other less explicit statements that are only consistent with an old-earth perspective. For example, the authors state, "God sees His creation as good" (Life Science, 11). Note the present tense of the verb. Not only did God create the world good in the beginning, but it remains good even after the fall of Adam. This is a very important, albeit veiled, theological point. Contrary to what young-earth creationists teach, God's creation remains good even after the Fall, and this characteristic provides a reliable foundation for doing science. This presupposition is confirmed throughout the text: "All organisms have certain needs in common—food, water, energy, gases, and space—and God fulfills these needs in a wide variety of ways . . . God helps maintain a balance in creation by creating all organisms with different food needs" (Life Science, p. 37). The full impact of this oblique statement comes via a large picture of a lion eating a zebra. The implied answer to the question "Where did carnivorous eating come from?" is "From God." Realistically, however, the vast majority of educators won't realize and explain that this answer reflects an old-earth perspective.
A foundational discussion about the scientific method at the beginning of each middle-school text is a welcome augmentation to the elementary text. This methodology is continually emphasized in each chapter through experiments that guide students to a greater understanding of the main concept being studied.
The bad news on these texts is two-fold. First, while the scientific content is sound, the information lacks quantity and depth. Parents who want their students to achieve a high-level mastery of the topics will most likely be dissatisfied with this curriculum. For example, such critical topics as the fossil record and geology are given only three pages each. In order to compensate for this limitation, the parent-teacher will need to supplement the text with outside material.
Second, none of these texts explore biological evolution—neither pro nor con. Although many of the scientific advisors listed in the front of the Life Science text teach at Calvin College (which is a hub for theistic evolution), theistic evolution is not promoted in the texts. Such a major omission seems purposeful, and one can only speculate about why this might be the case. The authors of Life Science limit their discussion to such neutral issues as animal classifications and cell structure.
The Art of Teaching
Although the Christian Schools International curriculum is written for classroom use, it is also homeschool friendly. The teacher's edition is an essential part of the curriculum and should be purchased, if funds allow. It contains reproducible worksheets for the student. The worksheets are fairly simple, and probably need to be supplemented by additional materials. The teacher's edition also includes numerous suggestions for reinforcement of the day's lesson and additional resource suggestions. The family that RTB recruited to take CSI for a "test drive" really appreciated this aspect of the curriculum.
Like the elementary curriculum, the middle-school texts have a low-key but attractive layout. The presentation is easy to follow and not cluttered by annoying cartoons. The focus is on content rather than entertainment.
One issue of continuing confusion is that the student's text calls each chapter a "Unit" while the teacher's edition breaks each "Unit" into various "Lessons." But the actual word "Lesson" never appears in the student's text. Moreover, the titles in the student's text do not match the "Lesson" titles in the teacher's edition.
Another difficulty is the text's lack of a thorough index. Both the student's text and teacher's editions omit this essential reference guide. However, the student's text does include a brief glossary of terms at the back citing page numbers where each term is discussed.
This science curriculum seems most appropriate for students at or above grade-level. It will probably also appeal to parents who have limited scientific training but want assurance that their children will receive a sound science education. But parents seeking a rigorous science curriculum will probably want to choose another series.
This science series is but one in a total curriculum published by CSI. Other disciplines include language arts, spelling, math, health, Bible, and apologetics.
The teacher's guide is shipped as a large three-to-five-inch 3-ring binder, which can be a bit unwieldy at times. It provides lesson-assessment tools and unit exams. Each unit ends with an exam to assess the student's mastery of basic concepts. Tests consist predominantly of fill-in-the-blank, multiple-choice, and true/false questions. However, some analytical skills are integrated into the process as true/false sections ask students to explain their answers, as well as write short essays. Answer keys are included for each unit exam.
Although student activity sheets are included with the teacher's guide, they are not bound or three-hole punched. As a result, loose papers could easily be lost in the homeschool shuffle. Both activity sheets and tests are reproducible and can be saved for use at a later time.
The student's text suggests numerous experiments. More complete instructions and ideas for additional activities are included in the teacher's guide. Projects are designed to reinforce key concepts discussed in the lesson. Whether these experiments "work" or are largely impractical for homeschoolers to perform remains to be evaluated.
Overall, there is much to praise in the CSI curriculum. The authors have designed a curriculum that can be used by parents who are not science-savvy but want to give their children a solid Christian perspective on science. The major drawback of CSI's offering is that it remains a little soft on scientific content. Its strong integration, supplementary worksheets, and appealing presentation, however, make it a strong contender for use in the homeschool or Christian school environment. But parents should be prepared to make some trips to the public library or bookstore for supplementary materials.