Update: Singapore has released a new edition of this series (reviewed below). We are discounting and clearing out the remaining inventory of the first editions.
Singapore students score consistently high in math and science. This is partly because every child in Singapore is a genius, but it's also due to the quality of their STEM curriculum. My Pals Are Here! 2nd Edition for grades 1-6 is a good introduction to science for elementary students. The books don't just teach facts, they aim to interest kids in science.
Perhaps because these are not originally US-based, the content isn't "politically correct"—the topic of origins is ignored completely, but not in an awkward way. The series offers a gentle introduction to the facts and principles of science, breaking ground for deeper study.
The textbooks are colorful and fun—full of information, low on technical jargon. Material relates to everyday life so students can apply their knowledge (or learn how scientists apply it). Some have noted a lack of "meat" in this elementary curriculum, but judging from Singapore students' test scores it's as effective and thorough as it needs to be.
How Do These Work?
My Pals Are Here - International Edition has morphed many times over the years—we think the current edition is the best one. Both student books and teacher guides are easy to use, with just three books for each grade level: a textbook, consumable activity book, and teacher's guide. Each textbook features full-color photographs and illustrations; activity books and teacher guides are black-and-white. This is an easy program to use with multiple kids since only the activity books are consumable and all the books are durable.
Unlike most Singapore curricula, the latest iteration of My Pals Are Here does not divide school years into semesters. Six levels cover the elementary years (grades 1-6). Each teacher's guide includes lesson plans, suggestions for teaching, and answers to all textbook and activity book exercises. The textbook presents fun, informative lessons divided into units based on a theme (usually 3-6 lessons per topic), while the consumable activity book provides related exercises ranging from identification and vocabulary review to short answer questions and observation.
The new edition doesn't assign specific subjects to particular grade levels, instead covering elements of biology, chemistry, physics, and earth science in each level. The instructional model of the previous edition is retained, and is built around "5 E's": Engagement, Exploration, Explanation, Elaboration, and Evaluation. Essentially this is the scientific method applied to learning, with an introduction by the teacher, hands-on activities, checking conclusions against established knowledge, application of ideas, and finally a summary (again from the teacher).
The activity books are straightforward consumable texts printed in black and white and designed to reinforce concepts taught in the textbook and addressed in the teacher's guide. Each textbook is divided into a number of themed units, which are further divided into lessons. At the end of each unit is a review, a test, a glossary, and a "Science Today" section that shows the current state of science in relation to the unit theme. A variety of call outs throughout each unit add context and depth ("Explore," "Quick Check," etc.).
This is not the kind of program you can let your kids do on their own with minimal involvement. Teachers must interact regularly with children, not only to grade their work and oversee experiments, but also to explain concepts, answer questions, and lend depth to the content of the textbook. Science instruction can be daunting, but fortunately the teacher's guides are designed to walk you through each step of the 5 E's as they apply to every lesson.
The 5 E's are not explicitly called out in the student books, but they are detailed in the teacher's guides. For each lesson in the textbook, the teacher's guide includes learning objectives, process skills (e.g., analyzing, classifying, generating possibilities, etc.), and vocabulary. The teacher notes for each lesson are thorough—even a non-scientist can teach this course with relative ease as long as time is taken to review each lesson before embarking on it with the student.
There is also a kind of scope and sequence for each lesson, with each of the 5 E's outlined along with additional activities, enrichment for advanced learners, and reinforcement for struggling learners. For each of the 5 E's, the corresponding pages in the textbook and activity book are referenced, as well as any other resources or materials (such as websites, items for experiments, and more). Suggested times for each step of each lesson are also included.
Other science curricula are more hands-on than this one, but at this stage kids are learning what science is and how to approach it, and throwing too many projects at them can make them frustrated. My Pals Are Here - International Edition is intended to give kids the tools they need to study science more seriously in the future. Lessons mainly involve reading, written work, and student-teacher interaction, all designed to introduce (rather than exhaust) important topics.
Our Honest Opinion:
For a straightforward, unbiased elementary science program this is a good choice. Young students are prone to science overload: My Pals Are Here does not provide comprehensive knowledge, but it excels at laying a strong foundation of skills and understanding. For students who love science and are anxious to learn more, you may want a more in-depth program (like Apologia's Young Explorer Series or God's Design). However, for most students My Pals Are Here is a good course for beginning to learn about science fact and methodology.
Many parents appreciate the ideology-free nature of the series: the authors concentrate on facts rather than biases (and don't waste text giving every view fair representation). On the other hand, parents wanting their kids well-versed in creationist thought will miss any such discussion. The series takes a fairly standard approach to instruction; no learning type is privileged over others. Overall, this is a very good introduction to an often difficult-to-teach subject.
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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