If you're stranded in a desert only two things will make you feel better: a breath of cool wind, and a drink of water. Novare Science is the equivalent of both when it comes to Christian science education. John D. Mays has delivered what no one else we've found has been able to produce—science curriculum and teaching resources that are top-notch science and rooted in a Christian worldview.
Mays believes science and math education are in a deplorable state, and that the answer isn't to keep walking down the familiar road of childish, bloated curriculum. Rather, we need to replace the current glut of badly written and inaccurate textbooks with ones that focus only on content students can actually learn in a year, and to break the cycle of "cram-pass-forget" with one of "Mastery, Integration, and Kingdom Perspective."
Mastery means that instead of textbooks crammed with more topics than they can digest covered at surface level, students focus more narrowly on a few topics they can truly digest; integration means a revolt against the trend to section off on subject from every other, but to make learning holistic and applicable across fields; and kingdom perspective sees science as a way to explore God's wonderful creation while remaining faithful both to established scientific fact and biblical truth.
Kingdom perspective does not mean inserting Bible verses or devotional reflections into a text about physics or chemistry. It also does not entail promoting or defending a rigid young earth perspective that doesn't line up with the evidence. Mays makes it clear that we are to read both the Bible and the book of creation as we find them, not as our particular allegiances demand that we interpret them.
In an era when science and faith are believed by secularists and Christians alike to be at odds, this is a refreshingly sane approach. Mays affirms the truth of Christianity and the reliability of Scripture, but he also accepts the ability of human scientists to interpret and understand the visible universe. It is in this spirit that Novare Science was conceived.
How Do These Work?
Though Novare Science has Physical Science for 7th grade and Earth Science for 8th, it is primarily a high school science curriculum. Unlike virtually every other science program, it begins with physics. Mays explains that there are essential physics concepts (atoms, heat transfer, etc.) that are crucial for understanding chemistry and biology, so they are presented in context first.
There are two tracks: one for grade-level students, and one for advanced students, particularly those destined for a STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics) career or who plan to study science in college. So far there are physics and chemistry texts for both tracks. A biology course is forthcoming.
The first physics track (Introductory Physics) is designed for students who are at grade-level in math and assumes freshmen are taking Algebra I concurrently; the second track (Accelerated Studies in Physics and Chemistry) assumes freshmen took Algebra I in 8th grade, achieved proficiency, and are concurrently taking geometry. There is also an advanced physics text that assumes students have taken trigonometry and are in the process of learning calculus, and have also taken Introductory Physics. The standard track chemistry text assumes students are taking Algebra II, while the advanced text assumes they already have taken that course.
With the exception of the combined Accelerated Studies in Physics and Chemistry (ASPC) text, each course from Novare consists of a student textbook, a resource CD, and a solutions manual (ASPC and Earth Science: God's World, Our Home don't have accompanying solutions manuals). The textbooks include everything the student needs, and the resource CDs include course overviews, quizzes, exams, keys, review guides, and more.
To make all this clear, here is a recommended sequence:
7th grade: Physical Science
8th grade: Earth Science
9th grade: Introductory Physics (standard track ) OR Accelerated Studies in Physics and Chemistry (accelerated track)
10th grade: General Biology (standard track) OR Chemistry for Accelerated Students (accelerated track)
11th grade: General Chemistry (standard track) OR General Biology (accelerated track)
12th grade: Physics: Modeling Nature (optional elective, both tracks)
All Novare Science textbooks are compact and highly durable. Mays expresses concern over textbooks that are too big, filled with unhelpful pictures designed only to get students' attention (and usually garnering only their scorn), and easily damaged. These books are full-color, printed on matte paper, and feature sewn rather than glued binding.
They also feature high-quality prose. This is particularly attractive in an era where many science texts (especially those aimed at the home school market) are poorly written, or adopt a juvenile tone in an attempt to seem relevant. Mays and the other Novare authors (Kevin Nelstead and Christina H. Swan) are serious, succinct, styled, and above all scientific.
Students will need to pay close attention as they read. There is no extraneous text here, and while the style is engaging, it doesn't pander to contemporary notions of interest and attention span. Students who come to Novare Science are there to learn, and the authors are there to teach them. The many illustrations are therefore relevant to the text, and the text is information-heavy.
It also encompasses more than just what is typically thought of as "science." Mays and the other authors embrace scientific epistemology (how do we know what we know), history of science, and especially math, showing how the various disciplines interrelate and why it is important to have this understanding.
These science texts are intended to be taught, making these ideal choices for Classical schools and Christian schools (they are explicitly Christian), but harder for non-science educated home school parents. There are no teacher guides, just the solutions manuals (where appropriate) and the resource CDs, which contain plenty of helpful resources but are by no means comprehensive.
Lest homeschoolers despair, however, there are some resources available to instill confidence in your ability to teach science well. One overall resource is the John Mays book Teaching Science So That Students Learn Science, a slim volume explaining the nature of science and of science education, the goals of science, Mays's educational philosophy, how to conduct experiments that are really experiments and not just magic tricks, and (of course) the issue of how to address the topic of evolution (it's more nuanced than most people think).
A more specific book for teachers of younger students, Science for Every Teacher Volume 1: Physics, helps teachers and/or parents build confidence in their physics knowledge without having to take classes themselves or rely on the Internet. This won't make you a scientist, but it will help you understand the key concepts and how to teach them to grades K-8. Three more volumes are planned: Volume 2 will discuss chemistry, Volume 3 earth science & astronomy, and Volume 4 biology. This first volume is written from a faith-neutral perspective, so may be used in a variety of settings.
Manuals for conducting physics and chemistry experiments at home or in a school setting (there are different manuals for each) help parents and teachers assemble actual chemicals, materials, and tools for doing legitimate experiments without breaking the bank. Instructions are clear, and students will plainly see the relationship between what they're doing and what they're learning.
For college-bound students, The Student Lab Report Handbook is perhaps the most valuable resource. This spiral-bound book addresses everything from whether to use a pen or pencil, formatting requirements, writing style, report content and section content, analysis of results, preparing tables and graphs, and common deficiencies. Some of the content assumes knowledge of quantitative research and statistics, but if your student wants to enter the STEM professions they need to learn this content as soon and as well as possible.
Each of the textbooks should take one normal school year to complete. Mays stresses that you should not and can not skip the experiments in any of the courses because they form the backbone of scientific study. For that reason he has included only lab-grade experiments with clear educational value. This attention to quality is present throughout all Novare curriculum and resources, and one of the principle virtues of this producer of science education.
Our Honest Opinion
As you may have gathered, we're quite impressed with Novare Science. Nowhere else have legitimate science and real Christianity been brought together so thoroughly and effectively. The fact that you won't encounter references to the Bible on every page, or extended origins arguments, proves rather than disproves this. Mays is dedicated to teaching science, and he does so as a Christian.
He isn't an apologist for the Christian faith in the sense that that drives his agenda. He assumes it to be true, but his goal is science education, not convincing people to buy into his particular faith or brand of faith. This is so refreshing in a climate where both atheists and Christians use science as merely a hobby horse, or a club to beat other people with.
Novare Science is definitely not for everyone, though. It is very rigorous, and will require a level of dedication on the part of both student and teacher that few will want to give. It's primarily for students who want to study science in college, or enter a profession that relies heavily both on science and math. If that's you, and you're a Christian student, Novare Science is almost certainly the best choice for you.
Unfortunately for home school families, this is not ideal for a home school context. It does require someone who knows what they're talking about to teach through some of the content, and there are no DVD courses or online videos currently available. We'd recommend homeschoolers find someone to lead a co-op study if you want your kids to go through the Novare curriculum.
In an age when science education is worse and better than it's ever been, it's crucial that kids learn how to study it properly. Novare will not only give them the tools to do so, it will give them an extremely solid foundation of knowledge that will prepare them for, and in many cases surpass, the level of education they'll encounter in college and beyond. Highly, highly recommended.
Review by C. Hollis Crossman
C. Hollis Crossman used to be a child. Now he is a husband and father, teaches adult Sunday school in his Presbyterian congregation, and likes 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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