We've collected some questions that parents often ask about our science program here. Individual courses also have FAQ pages that address concerns about content, level of effort, approaches to controversial topics, preparation for SAT II or AP examinations, letters of recommendation, and other topics. If you don't see an answer to your question, please use the link below to write us!
This is actually a rather hard question to answer. We only hear directly from the AP program on exam results if students designate their AP "school" as Scholars Online; many chose to designate their school using the homeschoolers' identifier, especially if they take exams in several subjects which they have studied with different organizations. SAT scores are not reported to Scholars Online. Normally, we know scores only if our students choose to inform their teachers directly, and there is bias to report only "successful" scores of 3 or better.
It's also true that students who take our courses may choose for various reasons not to take the SAT or AP exams in science subjects, even if they do well in our courses.
Given the lack of complete information, it is not possible to publish specific statistics. In general, however, I have noted that students who achieve a B+ (87%) or better in my courses usually achieve 680 or better on their SAT examinations in that subject, at 3 or better on the AP.
Scholars Online teachers offer college preparatory courses. We assume that students need to be able to master the material at a level that will allow them to compete for college admissions and scholarships on a par with students from both public and private institutions. Students should not take Biology, Chemistry, or Physics without adequate preparation in life sciences or physical sciences, such as that offered by the Natural Science courses. The upper-division courses, although we no longer seek AP certification, still use college-level texts and follow many aspects of the AP curriculum in order to prepare students for the AP exams, if they wish to take these.
We report science course progress in two ways. Homework, quiz, and examination scores are "raw" scores, usually a number of points or a percentage. These scores are retained in the Moodle and often reported to students and parents in email as well. At the end of the semester, these scores are combined with other factors such as class participation, then "normed" so that students receive grades that will compare to work done by the general high school population at the same grade level.
We still believe, however, that the best way to validate and report your student's performance in biology, chemistry, or physics is to have them take the SAT Subject examination at the end of their course. Our experience has been that students who perform adequately in our courses (85% in adjusted score) perform outstandingly on the SAT examinations, routinely earning scores of 700 or above.
All Scholars Online courses in the science curriculum use the MOODLE course delivery software to administer quizzes either weekly or on a per-chapter or per-unit basis. These are graded automatically and students receive instant feedback. Students also must complete and submit to the MOODLE one or more weekly homework assignments,as well as lab reports, for which they receive individual teacher evaluations. Using the Mentor Block in your own Moodle account, you can easily check at your own convenience whether your student is completing assigned work, and how well he or she is doing on submitted course materials.
Individual students who have intermittent problems with material may always request help via email. A limited amount of personal tutorial (arranged at the mutual convenience of student and instructor) is available as part of the course. If extensive help is necessary, parents can request personal tutorials at a per-hour fee.
When I first started teaching online, I spent a lot of time looking at textbooks in biology, both pro-Creation and pro-evolution. In designing this course, I rejected almost all textbooks -- of either ilk -- that I surveyed because so many of them assumed an antagonistic approach toward the other side. As a Christian called to love those for whom Christ died, I could not feel that it was appropriate to teach students to use ridicule or sarcasm as a debate method, or to look down on the honest efforts of others to understand their world, however mistaken I (or my students) might think the resulting theories.
In considering the very small set of books that remained, I looked at pedagogical tools: which books were at the right level of detail, with enough support materials, to teach the biological concepts in a language that would prepare my students for college entrance examinations and college course participation. In the end, I chose a particular secular textbook that assumes evolutionary theory as a foundational point of modern biology, but was the least antagonist to Creationism. I did this for three reasons.
One was the availability of pedagogical helps. The text we use covers the material at the right level. It does not assume that a student has actually had biology before, so it defines terms and presents detailed information in multimedia format. Initially, the text came with a study guide, but as with many academic materials over the last decade, these helps have moved online and now are available only at considerable extra cost. Every question in the text we do use is answered in the back of the book, making it easy for parents to check student work.
The second reason is that this text allows me to prepare our students for standard examinations in a way that helps them compete with students coming from other schools. The Campbell text in particular uses the technical language and methods students will need to know in order to perform well on the AP and SAT II subject examinations, and to continue their studies in college.
Finally, I believe that it is essential to create a context in which students can look at controversial theories as their proponents state them, and openly bring to the forum their own assumptions for examination. I don't think that oversimplifying the claims of evolution, then building elaborate cases against those claims, adequately prepares students to hold their own in classes or late-night dorm discussions. In examining the diversity of thought about the nature and origins of the universe and life itself, students develop a more profound understanding of their own positions.
Our biology course runs on a kind of double or even triple track: where it is appropriate, we look at the explanations given by a strict interpretation of "blind" evolution to explain the diversity and common characteristics of life forms, but we also look at the how Creation-by-design and a more literal interpretation of Genesis might explain the same things. We encourage students to identify their assumptions and recognize when they draw authority from the experience of science and when they rely on interpretation of Biblical scripture, or the authority of their Christian community. The form this discussion actually takes varies from year to year, depending on the students' needs. The goal is to help them to understand and prepare to defend their own positions in a spirit of Christian charity.
Let's take the college credit question first. Students who take the Advanced Placement examination and who achieve a 3 or better are often able to receive college credit for their Scholars Online course (taking an AP certified course is not required in order to take the exam). In the past, we have had a number of students do this, so we know that students can get college credit for this work by examination.
Now for the question of laboratory work. We do not dispute that students in a community college science class will almost certainly have access to better scientific equipment than students could individually buy for these courses. How much they learn will depend on how their course is set up, however.
When I set out to design the lab portions of my physics course, I asked a friend who is the physics professor at Pomona College in Claremont, CA, whether she found AP and community college students prepared to do lab work. I asked my home-schooled daughter whether she felt inadequately prepared to tackle physics when she took it as a freshman at Swarthmore College. From their answers, I concluded that my daughter was actually better prepared to do real physics research than many students in "properly-equipped" labs. As a result of her homeschool preparation and her freshman work in college, she was invited to participate in an internship at Los Alamos National Laboratory for two summers, where she did primary research on zeolite technology.
The pedagogical issue isn't access to equipment. Accuracy is important in science for research. At a high school or community college level, a student isn't doing research; a student is learning techniques. What is important is that the student understands what the equipment is actually measuring, so that he knows why he is making the measurement, what the limitations for accuracy are, what the data means, and how to evaluate and manipulate data to make an analysis that he understands. It's also important for the student to have hands-on access to the equipment.
Because of the pressures of crowded classes and efficient teaching, most lab books at the high school and community college level do "cook book science". Students work in groups with shared equipment. They follow procedurs that may or may not make sense; often only one student in each group actually does any equipment manipulation required. Another may read numbers off instruments that are essentially black boxes, and record data. Students usually perform calculations together (or rather, one student does the calculations and the rest copy those answers) and fill in blanks on a worksheet, or feed the data directly into a computer program. It's questionable whether most of the students in the lab group really understant what is going on. (These generalizations are born out by research done for Teaching Lab Science Courses Online, by Peter and Linda Jeschofnig.)
The lab work Scholars Online students do for Physics, Chemistry, and Biology courses has been designed to give students a challenging lab experience that is not merely equivalent to a high school lab course or the AP lab requirements for the subject, but which takes advantage of the homeschool environment to proved a better lab experience. Most labs require students to design their own experiments, consider the cost and availability of equipment and materials, and pay attention to safety requirements — much as a professional scientist would do working on a grant. This is a level of experimental work that most high school and community college students never have a chance to perform.
For further information, email Dr. Christe McMenomy at firstname.lastname@example.org
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