Sophie first expressed an interest in biology about a year ago. She was no doubt influenced by Noah's interest in chemistry. Sophie got quite excited by his foray into focused, though informal, study of a particular scientific area. After Noah got started on the RealScience4Kids Chemistry I program, she carved out her own area of interest in Biology. Perhaps she mostly liked the shinyness of the hardcover textbook, and the chance to do some semi-structured reading and lab activities with me. In any event, she talked me into buying the Biology I program, and enjoyed it a lot. We found the latter third of the program pretty lackluster, as it was mostly centred around natural science activities we'd done several times in the past (raising tadpoles, observing caterpillar metamorphosis, etc.), but she definitely enjoyed the more academic early part of the program with its emphasis on taxonomy and subcellular structure. And our reading of Bill Bryson's "A Short History of Nearly Everything" and biographies and historical fiction centred around biology has led her to a deeper understanding and a thirst for resources at a more complex level.
When we had extra SelfDesign Learning Allowance money to use up, Sophie again voiced a desire for a more comprehensive and complex biology reference book. My approach with the SelfDesign money has been to either buy items with immediate practical use for a specific child (eg. bicycle, piano lessons, art materials) or to purchase more academically-focused items with a likelihood of broad future appeal to multiple children, like the Teaching Textbook math programs. With this latter approach in mind I went hunting for a good biology reference book. Eventually I settled on Neil Campbell's "Biology: Concepts and Connections," intended to accompany a high school AP or introductory university biology course.
This publication is far more than a textbook; it's a course too. It comes with a CD-ROM and access code providing on-line MP3 lectures, videos, virtual labs, interactive investigations, self-evaluation quizzes, games, images and tutorials. The entire book can be accessed as an eBook, but the hard copy itself is well-written and beautifully laid out and worth the price in and of itself. If one's aim is to learn the material, I cannot see why it would make sense to spend several hundred dollars on a college course and then also go out and buy a $150 textbook. With textbooks like this, who needs a prof!?
I highly doubt Sophie will choose to work systematically through what is in effect a college Biology 101 course. But so far she's having great fun browsing through the book and taking the computer-based quizzes. She seems to have learned a heck of a lot from our casual reading and discussions over the past year. What kind of 8-year-old sees a question like this
Which of the following are required for natural selection to occur?
- heritable variability
- differential survival
- small population size
- heritable variability and differential survival
- heritable variability, differential survival and small population size
and clicks on 4 with scarcely a hesitation?
I think this publication will be useful in many ways over the years.