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 curriculum in these disciplines. The My Pals Are Here! series for grades 1-6 is a good introduction to science for elementary students. The books don't just teach facts,they get kids interested in science and encourage them to study further.
Because these come from another country (or city-state, or whatever), the authors didn't feel a need to make the material politically correct—the subject of origins is ignored altogether, but not in a self-conscious or awkward way. The curriculum is intended to be a gentle introduction to the facts and principles of science, breaking the ground for more extensive study.
The textbooks are colorful and fun, and while there's plenty of information, it isn't weighted with technical jargon. Material is related to everyday life so students understand how they can apply their new knowledge (or how others do apply it). Some people complain that there isn't enough "meat" in this elementary curriculum, but again, the people of Singapore seem to know what they're doing judging from their kids' test scores.
How Do These Work?
The My Pals Are Here - International Edition series has undergone several transformations over the years, but the current incarnation is without doubt the best one. Both student books and teacher's guides are intuitive and easy to use, and there are only three texts total for each semester: a student textbook, student activity book, and a teacher's guide. All three books are full-color, with open formats, plain text, and engaging pictures. This is an easy program to use with multiple kids, since only the student activity books are consumable, and all the books are durable.
Like most Singapore curriculum options, My Pals Are Here divides each school year into two semesters (A and B). There are six levels, for a total of twelve semesters, covering all the elementary years. Each teacher's guide includes all student pages from both student texts in reduced format, along with suggestions for teaching and answers to all written exercises. The textbook presents fun, informative lessons (usually 3-6 grouped around a main topic), while the consumable activity book provides related exercises ranging from identification and vocabulary review to short answer questions and observation.
Unlike the last edition, this new version doesn't assign specific subjects to particular grade levels, instead placing similar concepts together in the same text. A new instructional model is also introduced, built around the "5 E's": Engagement, Exploration, Explanation, Elaboration, and Evaluation. This is basically the scientific method applied to learning, taking kids from an initial introduction by the teacher, to hands-on activities, to checking their conclusions against established knowledge, to application of ideas, and finally to a summation on the part of the instructor.
This isn't really the kind of program you can let your kids do on their own with minimal supervision/involvement. Teachers are called to 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, even for those conversant in the various topics, 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.
Other science curricula are more hands-on than this one, but at this stage kids are just learning what science is and how it should be approached, and throwing too many projects at them is often no more than confusing and frustrating. My Pals Are Here - International Edition isn't about showing antsy students a good time; it's about imparting to them the tools they'll need to study science more seriously in the future. As a result, lessons primarily involve reading, written work, and student-teacher interaction, all designed to introduce important topics rather than to explore them comprehensively.
Our Honest Opinion:
For a straightforward, unbiased elementary science text this is a good choice. Young students don't need science overload;My Pals Are Here won't give them exhaustive, comprehensive knowledge, but no one really expects 6th graders to be fluent in the scientific language. For students already in love with science and anxious to learn more, you may want a program that goes more in-depth (like the Apologia Young Explorer Series or the God's Design series). For most families, however, this is a good course for making kids aware that a subject called "science" exists, and that they should know some things about it.
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 being 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 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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