NOTE: As of August 2021, 2nd Editions are now nearly all "old" editions. We no longer purchase 1st Editions. Jay Wile now authors textbooks for Berean Builders and is gradually replacing the now out-of-print 2nd edition Apologia texts with new books of his own.
Designed for junior high and high school students, Apologia's Exploring Creation series can be used as a standard science program or a prep course for college-bound students. The course was written specifically for Christian homeschool use, and each book is intended for student self-directed study (though teacher elaboration of the more advanced texts, if possible, can be beneficial). The writing style is more relaxed and clear than what is found in most textbooks. Experiments make key concepts observable using common household items. Some math is a prerequisite for a couple of the texts (first-year algebra, geometry, basic trigonometry).
Originally authored almost entirely by Dr. Jay Wile, Apologia has been actively replacing the older editions of its Exploring Creation series with similar but new editions by entirely new authors. Only three texts are still authored by Wile (Physics, Advanced Physics, and Advanced Chemistry), and we assume these will likewise be replaced in the future. Wile was the original owner of Apologia, and while details of his departure are slim there seems to have been philosophical disagreements between himself and Davis Carman, the new owner of Apologia. Much of the content from Wile's versions has been retained, but the new editions do offer some distinct differences.
How Do These Work?
A variety of topics are covered in several basic kits: general science, physical science, biology and advanced biology, chemistry and advanced chemistry, physics and advanced physics, marine biology, and (most recently) astronomy. Every course is intended for one year of study, with the exception of astronomy which is only a half unit (one semester, or one half of a school year). Exploring Creation with High School Astronomy is a single full-color consumable worktext with no extras; students simply read the text and complete the exercises.
For every other course there is a basic kit which includes a softcover student text, a solutions and test book, and a full-color consumable "Student Notebook" with exercises, space to record observations, and more. MP3 audio books read by Margo Trueblood are available for each unabridged student text. Studio-produced video instruction for some of the levels is available for purchase on a separate thumb drive, which includes instructional videos, animations, over 20 hours of teaching, and video presentations of every experiment in the student books.
Books are divided into 14-16 modules each. Each text should take one school year to finish, about two weeks per module. Each module consists of reading assignments, written questions, experiments, and a final test. The textbooks are beautifully illustrated. There aren't a lot of insets to distract students, but there are "Explore More" and "On Your Own" boxes that help students go beyond the text. Students move at their own pace—there are no clear delineations as to how much to read per day, though the "Student Notebooks" do provide additional guidance.
Essential experiments can typically be done without extra trips to Walmart, though some texts have supplemental experiments requiring supplies which can be purchased from Nature's Workshop Plus. Students are able to complete experiments on their own, though some of them are quite involved and younger users may need some assistance. Typically they won't be using any dangerous substances. Teacher involvement would be more supportive than anything else.
Students are encouraged to study on their own and at their own pace. This makes it easier for parents with little or no background in science. At the same time, there aren't any teacher materials (other than the text answer key), so students having a hard time with certain concepts could get easily frustrated. It appears that Apologia no longer offers free assistance to users, but they do offer video-on-demand courses taught by professionals which can be rented or subscribed to (different than the thumb drive option mentioned above). These are not studio productions; instead, they feature instruction from credentialed individuals for each of the Exploring Science texts.
The authors are careful to relate science fact to a broadly Christian worldview. Six-day creationism is the basic template, but there is not as much discussion of origins as in the original texts by Dr. Wile. In many ways, the new editions are simply updates and revisions of the older Wile-authored books, but there are some significant changes. One of the biggest is to increase the text-to-illustrations ratio, with many more pictures (and of higher quality) and less text than the older versions. The other big change is to the style of writing—the new authors are much more conversational, whereas Dr. Wile's text tended to be more comprehensive.
Scope and sequence is still largely the same. General Science is a seventh grade text, and should be read before attempting any other volume in the series. After that, there is no real established order, though of course advanced texts are to be completed after the more introductory texts (for instance, Advanced Chemistry comes after Exploring Creation with Chemistry). Older students don't need to start with General Science, but for 8th and 9th grade students it's probably a good idea, especially if they're coming from less challenging science instruction or no science instruction whatsoever.
Our Honest Opinion
Visually, these are a definite improvement to the older editions. The illustrations and page layouts are more engaging, and students are never confronted with the wall of text format that Wile seemed to favor. Ease-of-reading is also improved, not because the style is better per se, but rather because it is simply less demanding. While the new authors are less wordy in a sense, this also translates to a loss of nuance and perspective. Wile was careful to present all sides of an issue and to provide plenty of support and documentation for his claims, while the rewritten texts seem aimed more at simply imparting information. Critical thinking is downplayed, not consciously (one assumes) but de facto as a result of the approach.
Dr. Jay Wile's texts were perennial best-sellers at Exodus Books, and with good reason. The illustrations were a bit dated and there were fewer of them than most students would prefer, but those who completed the courses would come away with a solid grounding in the topic of study. We're not saying that won't happen with these, but there is less depth in the current Apologia Exploring Creation series than in its past iterations. Whether this is by design or just a corollary of streamlining is hard to say. It does seem that they're moving in a more user-friendly direction (as opposed to content-rich), indicated in part by the move to keep the course more affordable by releasing softcover instead of hardcover student textbooks.
The well-produced video supplements are a mark in favor of the new versions. However, there is so much video content available online at this point (from every perspective and for every topic) that this isn't a reason to choose the new Apologia over something else. For those who want a more rigorous Christian and creationist science program, we'd probably recommend BJU Science at this point, the downside to those being that they are intended for classroom use rather than one-on-one or student-directed.
For those who yearn for the old days of Apologia, we strongly recommend Dr. Jay Wile's new series, Berean Builders. The elementary volumes have been completed, and he has now finished three more volumes for middle and high school students: Science in the Atomic Age, Discovering Design with Earth Science, and Discovering Design with Chemistry; a biology text is in the works.
Review by C. Hollis Crossman
C. Hollis Crossman used to be a child. Now he's a husband and father who loves church, good food, and weird stuff. He might be a mythical creature, but he's definitely not a centaur. Read more of his reviews here.
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