We've collected some questions that parents often ask about our science program here. Individual courses also have FAQ pages that address concerns about content, level of effort, approaches to controversial topics, preparation for SAT II or AP examinations, letters of recommendation, and other topics. If you don't see an answer to your question, please use the link below to write us!
2 Physics students from the 2005/2006 academic year reported scores of 4 and 5 on the Physics AP examination.
Students from the 2004/2005 Academic year taking examinations report the following scores:
2 Biology students taking the AP examination achieved 5 (the highest possible score)
2 Biology students taking the SAT II achieved scores of 710 and 780 (out of 800)
2 Chemistry students taking the SAT II achieved scores of 700 and 750
2 Physics students from the 2003/2004 Academic year taking the AP examination achieved a 4 and a 5 respectively; one of these also achieved an 800 on the SAT II Physics examination.
As a result of these reports, we feel that the course work we offer really does prepare students to compete at a high level with students from private and public instutions, and to gain recognition for their work by standard tests recognized by all colleges.
Scholars Online teachers offer college preparatory courses. We assume that students need to be able to master the material at a level that will allow them to compete for college admissions and scholarships on a par with students from both public and private institutions. Our textbooks and other materials are chosen with this purpose in mind. All of the texts we use are rated as "introductory college level", but it is also true that all of them are used in high schools recognized for their academic rigor.
We report your student's performance in two ways, both of them numerical. The primary report includes a raw value and an adjusted value. The raw value reflects the percentage of material the student has mastered in the course against a college level scale. Because we cover a lot of material, 50% mastery is considered equivalent to a high school "C", often set at 65% or 70% of high school material. However, for students who are preparing for SAT or AP examinations, the raw scale allows them to better estimate their performance on those exams against similarly prepared students.
We recognize that our raw score is not appropriate for comparison with other high school students attempting high school level work for grades or college admission. If you chose to report your scores to an accrediting agency, we will help you adjust the Scholars Online scores to reflect a level of competency equivalent to normal high school scores. These equivalence scores are set each year after examinations are graded and are available to help parents determine a letter grade for reporting purposes.
We still believe, however, that the best way to validate and report your student's performance in biology, chemistry, or physics is to have them take the SAT Subject examination at the end of their course. Our experience has been that students who perform adequately in our courses (70% in raw score) perform outstandingly on the SAT examinations, routinely earning scores of 700 or above.
All Scholars Online courses curriculum offer quiz feedback either weekly or on a per-chapter or per-unit basis. All courses require students to complete unit homework for which they receive immediate automated feedback and individual teacher evaluations, or to post homework solutions to the course bulletin board. You can easily check at your own convenience whether your student is completing assigned work, and how he is doing on it.
Individual students who have intermittent problems with material may always request help via email or drop in during free-form "office hour" chat sessions. A limited amount of personal tutorial (arranged at the mutual convenience of student and instructor) is available as part of the course. If extensive help is necessary, parents can request personal tutorials at a per-hour fee.
I spent a lot of time looking at textbooks in biology, both pro-Creation and pro-evolution. In designing this course, I rejected almost all textbooks -- of either ilk -- that I surveyed because so many of them assumed an antagonistic approach toward the other side. As a Christian called to love those for whom Christ died, I could not feel that it was appropriate to teach students to use ridicule or sarcasm as a debate method, or to look down on the honest efforts of others to understand their world, however mistaken I (or my students) might think the resulting theories.
In considering the very small set of books that remained, I looked at pedagogical tools: which books were at the right level of detail, with enough support materials, to teach the biological concepts in a language that would prepare my students for college entrance examinations and college course participation. In the end, I chose a particular secular textbook that assumes evolutionary theory as a foundational point of modern biology, but was the least antagonist to Creationism. I did this for three reasons.
One was the availability of pedagogical helps. The text we use covers the material at the right level. It does not assume that a student has actually had biology before, so it defines terms and presents detailed information in multimedia format. It has a companion study guide with a wealth of exercises of different types that can appeal to students with different learning styles, and comes with a CD-ROM that has video and animations to demonstrate processes and concepts we cannot cover properly in a "static" text or in word-limited chat. Every question in the text and study guide is answered in the back of the book, making it easy for parents to check student work.
The second reason is that this text allows me to prepare our students for standard examinations in a way that helps them compete with students coming from other schools. It uses the technical language and methods they will need to know in order to perform well on the AP and SAT II subject examinations, and to continue their studies in college.
Finally, I believe that it is essential to create a context in which students can look at controversial theories as their proponents state them, and openly bring to the forum their own assumptions for examination. I don't think that oversimplifying the claims of evolution, then building elaborate cases against those claims, adequately prepares students to hold their own in classes or late-night dorm discussions. In examining the diversity of thought about the nature and origins of the universe and life itself, students develop a more profound understanding of their own positions.
Our biology course runs on a kind of double or even triple track: where it is appropriate, we look at the explanations given by a strict interpretaion of "blind" evolution to explain the diversity and common characteristics of life forms, but we also look at the how Creation-by-design and a more literal interpretation of Genesis might explain the same things. We encourage students to identify their assumptions and recognize when they draw authority from the experience of science and when they rely on interpretation of Biblical scripture, or the authority of their Christian community. The form this discussion actually takes varies from year to year, depending on the students' needs. The goal is to help them to understand and prepare to defend their own positions in a spirit of Christian charity.
Let's take the college credit question first. Students who take the AP option prepare for the Advanced Placement examination. Even some students who haven't taken the extra AP work have taken the examination. Those who achieve a 3 or better are often able to receive college credit for their Scholars Online course. In the past, we have had a number of students do this, so we know that students can get college credit for this work by examination.
Now for the question of laboratory work. We do not dispute that students in a community college science class will almost certainly have access to better scientific equipment than students could individually buy for these courses. How much they learn will depend on how their course is set up, however.
When I set out to design the lab portions of my physics course, I asked a friend who is the physics professor at Pomona College in Claremont, CA, whether she found AP and community college students prepared to do lab work. I asked my home-schooled daughter whether she felt inadequately prepared to tackle physics when she took it as a freshman at Swarthmore College. From their answers, I concluded that my daughter was actually better prepared to do real physics research than many students in "properly-equipped" labs. As a result of her homeschool preparation and her freshman work in college, she was invited to participate in an internship at Los Alamos National Laboratory for two summers, where she did primary research on zeolite technology.
The pedagogical issue isn't access to equipment. Accuracy is important in science for research. At a high school or community college level, a student isn't doing research; a student is learning techniques. What is important is that the student understands what the equipment is actually measuring, so that he knows why he is making the measurement, what the limitations for accuracy are, what the data means, and how to evaluate and manipulate data to make an analysis that he understands. Because of the pressures of crowded classes and efficient teaching, most lab books at the high school and community college level do "cook book science". Students follow instructions that may or may not make sense; they read numbers off instruments that are essentially black boxes, and they perform calculations by filling in blanks on a worksheet, or feeding the data directly into a computer program. They do not necessarily know what they are measuring, or why, or what the calculations mean, and they are unable to recognize when bad data produces a ridiculous result.
When my daughter measured the gravitational acceleration near the surface of the earth, we got a value off by 9%, but she knew why we built the equipment the way we did, what we measured, and where the sources of error were. When she got into a college lab, she understood what the equipment there did, and when it wasn't working.
As a result, the labs we use for biology, chemistry, and physics require the student to start by building simple equipment that can be used in later experiments. When students later make measurements, they know what they are actually measuring, why calculations must be used to reformat data for evaluation, and what the limitations are on their observations. This is not an experience students even in community colleges are likely to encounter.
For further information, email Dr. Christe McMenomy at firstname.lastname@example.org