About the book...
The book contains 41 carefully planned lessons, made to build on each other conceptually. They is not a linear order of lessons, rather a flow chart which allows some flexibility while at the same time ensures you have covered the needed foundational material on which the lesson can build. The lessons are divided into strands (Nature of Matter, Life Sciences, Physical Sciences, and Earth and Space Sciences) which are meant to be studied concurrently rather than in isolation (biology, then chemistry, etc.).
Nebel outlines four principles of teaching according to how children learn. He makes of point several times of explaining the ineffectiveness of memorizing facts in isolation of "real" contextual meaning (I agree with his arguement, read the book for more details).
- Prinicple 1. There are two parts to developing real understanding. There is learning of factual infromation, but understanding comes only as facts are integrated together into a broader, conceptual context.
- Principle 2. New understanding is constructed on a foundation of exisiting understanding.
- Principle 3. Effective learning depends on students self-monitoring what they know, and don't know, and striving to fill in gaps.
- Principle 4. Learning needs to connect to real-life experience.
The last small portion of the educational philosophy section of the book is about "Baloney Detection" - which is a primer on logicical reasoning.
Each lesson has an overview, Time Required, Objectives, Required Background (previous lessons from the flow chart),Teachable Moments, Methods and Procedures, and Questions/Discussion/Activities to Review, Expand, and Assess Learning.
Keep in mind we haven't done any lessons from the book yet - this is just my opinion as a home schooler and as a science teacher, looking for what to do for science this coming year (1st and pre-K).
Some things I was looking for and found in this book
- it teaches both scientific information and scientific thinking
- it promotes questioning!!!
- concrete, "real life" experiences/phenomena that children can directly relate to
- it is scientifically accurate (believe it or not, some books misunderstand what is going on and present explanations that are not correct)
- it is rigorous in that it requires students to carefully observe, think, and question (and use exact terminology) while at the same time it is laying general foundational information and principles
- it does not require many materials that aren't already around the house (a few exceptions: magnets, fruit flies, some pictures you can find on Google images)
- it includes books for correlated reading
This book won't be for everyone. It is not scripted, does not give step-by-step directions, is not "pick up and go", and very open-ended in nature. I would make an analogy of this to Spalding's The Writing Road to Reading. There is this wonderful idea of teaching, but it isn't structured in such a way that you can just pick up the book and start teaching. But, if you are wanting a sound foundation in scientific literacy and scientific thinking and are willing to "learn how to use the book" I think it is a wonderful choice.
I wanted to add, the book strongly encourages you to say "I don't know" when you don't know the answer, and doesn't expect you to be a scientist in order to teach. Saying "I don't know" gives you a chance to demonstrate how to find the answer, among other things.