The second in a projected five-book series, Jay Wile's Science in the Ancient World continues to study science in its historical context. Like all the books in the series, this one is for grades 1-6, to be used after Science in the Beginning. "Ancient world" is something of a misnomer here since the book covers the first scientist/philosopher Thales all the way to the early Renaissance, but there probably isn't enough strictly ancient world science to fill an entire elementary level text.
Unlike the first book (Science in the Beginning, which used the six days of creation to study foundational scientific truths and theories), this one looks specifically at the theories, investigative work, and writings of actual scientists, rather than projecting current knowledge back on former times. Including biographical information on each of the scientists covered, Science in the Ancient World is extremely engaging, even for students whose favorite subject is not science.
How Does This Work?
The student book contains 90 lessons divided into six sections—Science Before Christ, Parts 1 and 2; Science Soon After Christ; Science in the Early Middle Ages; Science in the Late Middle Ages; and, Science in the Early Renaissance. Each section contains 15 lessons, each with about 3 pages of reading, and each centered around a hands-on activity or experiment. Twelve of these lessons are standard lessons, and three are challenge lessons for students who can't get enough. The challenge lessons include no content that is discussed in the standard lessons.
Wile suggests you do one lesson every other day, allowing you to complete the text in one normal 180-day school year. If your kids aren't super eager for science, you can also complete two lessons a week and leave out the challenge lessons, which will also get you done in one school year. Those who want the book to last longer than a year will have to shape their own schedule.
Every lesson includes a hands-on activity or experiment that illuminates the major point of the lesson. These all involve common household items, though things some families might not have around the house are listed first to give parents time to procure them. A master list for each 15-lesson unit includes all the items needed. Wile stresses that adult supervision is necessary for all of these activities, both to ensure proper execution, and for safety (some experiments require blades, flames, etc.).
Parents or your teenaged kids should read the lesson to your elementary students, and parents should oversee the completion of each activity. There are age or ability appropriate review assignments at the end of each lesson: youngest kids answer a couple questions orally; older kids write some basic information in a notebook; and oldest kids complete a more elaborate notebook assignment. There are also optional tests for oldest students included in the Helps and Hints for Science in the Ancient World.
Helps and Hints for Science in the Ancient World is a slim volume for parents/teachers that includes notes and tips for teaching and grading. There are also tests with answers, but Wile seems to think it preferable to leave these alone unless your elementary students are on the cusp of moving to junior high and need to learn how to take science tests. A brief appendix includes some reproducible pages for student work and review.
Wile begins with Thales, the first known scientific investigator, and proceeds through the leading lights of the next several hundred years, including Pythagoras, Democritus, Hippocrates, Aristotle, Euclid, Archimedes, Hipparchus, Ptolemy, Galen, John Philoponus, Roger Bacon, Nicholas of Cusa, Leonardo da Vinci, and many others in between.
Students will learn about everything from math and geometry, to music theory (thanks to Pythagoras), to human anatomy and physiology, to physics, to technology, to biology, and much more. Where subsequent scientific investigation has proved these early scientists's conclusions to be true, Wile points that out; he also points out where scientific study has disproved their claims.
Wile also goes out of his way to demonstrate the Christian origins of most science after the incarnation of Christ. The current scientific community would largely have us believe that science arises from autonomous human endeavor and observation, but Wile shows that much science was actually the result of Christian men desiring to better understand the creation of God.
Our Honest Opinion
Between the enjoyable and instructive hands-on investigations, the many full-color illustrations, photographs, and reproductions of famous artworks, and the highly readable and engaging text, this is a very accessible entry point into scientific study for young students. Jay Wile knows science, and he knows how to make it interesting, and he ably demonstrates that here.
Some of the concerns we had with Science in the Beginning are rendered moot in this text. Not only does he focus primarily on actual scientific fact and the men responsible for discovering it, he avoids much discussion of origins; the extensive discussions of origins have led many to find an alternative to his junior and high school texts from Apologia, and caused us to raise our eyebrow when reviewing Science in the Beginning.
Overall, this is an excellent starting place for scientific study. Parents can be sure that their students will be well prepared for further study, and because there's a strong historical element here many students not ordinarily interested in science will be drawn into the narrative of its origins and development. While we still hold some exceptions to Wile's theology and apologetics, we can recommend this book without reservation.
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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