Monday, April 2, 2018

Creation Illustrated Unit Study (Homeschool Review Crew)

The Crew offered us the opportunity to review two nature-based unit study programs from Creation Illustrated.  The first was called Snow and the second was Pine Trees.  They are two of eight unit studies that the company currently offers.  Snow goes with the Winter 2018 edition of Creation Illustrated magazine, while Pine Trees can be found in the Fall 2018 volume.  (Note: Links are to digital versions of the magazine.)

The Unit Studies

I have a love-hate relationship with unit studies. I love the concept.  I also have kids who tend to latch onto ideas and run ultramarathons with them.  (Sometimes I wonder how Luke could not have one the science fair in 8th grade.  They asked an Aspie child to explain the mechanics of paper airplanes. I wouldn't have been surprised if they offered him the medal just to stop talking!) I'm always excited to start a unit study and really dig into a topic. The part I struggle with is that by the end I'm usually burnt out and over the concepts, and tired from having to gather up the information and supplies we need.  I often feel very discombobulated by the end -- like we've done a lot of work, but haven't much to show for it.  I think I actually feel differently about the ending of these, for several reasons.

I opened our PDF download of Intricacies of Snow and found there were a lot of embedded links to video and text resources. YAY!!  With these links, the study is almost entirely self-contained.  The exceptions are a few physical items, like a Bible resource, the materials to make snow crystals from Borax, etc.

The studies are in a "notebooking" format.  Another point in their favor.  I've seen so many lapbooking-style studies, and I think sometimes that adds to my sense of "Aren't we done this yet?" because there's so much cutting and pasting to them.  Printing these particular studies as a whole didn't make sense because of so many hyperlinked resources, so we wound up using them from the computer and a composition notebook for the writing.  (Even if you print the PDF out and place it in a binder, you'll need some looseleaf for some of the assignments.)

The only thing to watch out for, however, is if you give your child access to the PDF, he also has access to the answer key.  Jude generally is pretty good at leaving those alone, but some of my other kiddos have not been.  It's definitely tempting having the answers right there! I do like that those pages are pink, not white. It makes them easy to find when I'm looking for the answer, and also easy for me to spot from across the room if someone is taking an unauthorized peek.

When we started this, we were coming to the end of a fairly low-snow winter. The line between "north and west" and "south and east" is generally right at the edge of our township.  When Philadelphia gets snow, we got freezing rain.  When the shore points get pounded with snow, we got more ice.  It also was nearing the equinox, when the sun angle is about the same as late September.   Snow that falls this late in the season doesn't usually stick to the ground.  But lucky for us - and to prove God has a sense of humor - as we worked we got pounded with a slightly east-of-normal nor'easter that left us almost eight inches of the white stuff! It gave us the perfect opportunity to get out there and study it first hand!

Note: A few of the activities are better if you do have some snow to study. However, if you are studying this in a warmer season or climate, you won't miss out on much, just studying some snowflakes in person. You can easily YouTube videos of snow to re-create everything except direct observation.

The purchase page says the target age is grades 3 through 8, but the Snow and Pine Trees studies each specifically said it was primarily for students in grades 5 through 8.  I think there are some things that younger students might be able to tag along with, like watching the included videos, taking turns reading the Bible verses, etc. An older elementary student might even be able to keep up with the science sections.  However, the math is definitely a bigger-kid section, as is vocabulary.   Because it's so brief, and not really something that, as a curriculum, can be revisited again and again, I'd reserve it for the older kids.

This unit study uses KJV references for the Bible section.  As Catholics, we use the NABRE translation, so when the boys need to look something up, we generally just use our Bible rather than looking up an online King James Bible.  The actual differences in word translation aren't so much of a problem... i.e., "snowy day vs. time of snow," and you get the same idea with clothing vs. raiment being "white as snow."  However, you may find that the particular chapter/verse passages may not align. Here in Psalm 57, you can find references to snow regardless of translation, just not in the exact same spot.  The study asks the student to read Psalm 51:7, which in the KJV translation is:
Purge me with hyssop, and I shall be clean: wash me, and I shall be whiter than snow.
However, Psalm 51:7 in the NABRE is:
Behold, I was born in guilt, in sin my mother conceived me.
and Jude needed to read down to verse 9 for the "snow" reference:
Cleanse me with hyssop, that I may be pure; wash me, and I will be whiter than snow. 
Theologically, it's the same concept, but it's not the same Bible location. I often need to adapt curriculum when there are Bible translations involved, so it's not something new that would keep me from using the program. However, it is something to keep in mind that I need to address, either before I hand over the packet or to remind kiddo, "If you don't find it right there, read a couple verses on either side and come get me if you can't find it nearby."

Another reason to look ahead if you're using a different translation: you also may not find the answer at all!  In Job 9:30 from the NABRE, it says:
If I should wash myself with soap and cleanse my hands with lye.
with no mention of snow at all.  We googled the KJV Version:
If I wash myself with snow water, and cleanse my hands with soap. 

The writing activity assumes your child knows how to write an essay.  Jude is working his way up to multi-paragraphs, so we focused on a single paragraph about his favorite snow activity: making snow angels.

While we've been working on the Snow unit study, I peeked ahead at the Pine Tree unit study we also received.  It is nearly the exact same roster of activities, including Bible study, vocabulary, geography, math, and writing exercises.  (Again, check the Bible verses if you're not using KJV because there's at least one that I've found (so far) that the NABRE translation differs enough that kiddo can't answer the question.)  Snow's math focuses on multiplication and fractions, but Pine Tree's math section explores the concepts of writing equations and the Fibonacci sequence.  I love that it explores so many different types of pine trees.  In our travels, we've seen everything from the white pines we planted on our property line as a windscreen to the lodgepole pines that top the mountains at Yellowstone. I think pine trees are a great way to study God -- pines are as similar yet as unique as all of His Children.  I'm looking forward to doing this one.

Creation Illustrated Magazine

Each edition of the magazine focuses on finding how creation is illustrated "In Nature,"  "In Scripture," and "In Living."  The publisher's goal is to provide a balance of mental, spiritual, and physical renewal in each month's offering.  While Creation Illustrated is appropriate for all audiences, it is very homeschooler friendly, with discussion questions at the end of the magazine for several of the articles.

Each volume also features coloring, photo, and poetry contests. The article we read for our Unit Study, "The Intricacy of Snow" by Brandy Dixon, was from the Winter 2018 edition.

I was impressed because this article used science to explain God, rather than God to explain science.   As Catholics with a belief in theistic evolution, sometimes I find that creation-based studies are almost (or sometimes wholly) bludgeoning Creationist.  Dixon's article beautifully balanced God's presence and work in all things with the scientific explanation for them.  For example, we know that at the center of a snowflake is a dirt particle that forms something for the ice crystals to seed against.  However, rather than going on about how God was so smart in how He got the snowflakes started, she compares that dust speck that to the unfortunate sinful nature of humans.  She goes on to examine this "dirty particle" that through layers and layers of something else (ice for the snowflake, God's grace for us humans), we wind up with a one-of-a-kind work of art.

One thing I noticed by reading through the magazine is that while the one article is mentioned in the Unit Study, there was an explanation of snow on page 66 that was not part of the unit study.  It described three reasons God sends snowstorms: to correct, for the land, and for mercy.  I noticed that the Bible verses Jude read and studied were among those chosen to support these reasons. I wish this article had been included as a resource.

Others have called it, "The Christian answer to National Geographic," and I think that's a fair assessment.  Articles are researched, written, and illustrated well.  The major articles center around four major topics:

  • Creation Up Close - Seeing God's work, plan, and love in a specific part of His creation
  • Re-Creation and Restoration Outdoors explores how God uses nature to bring us back to Him
  • Creatures Near and Dear to Us - God's way of designing animals mimics how He cares for us (plus, the "aww, so cute!" factor!)
  • The Creation Week - a sequential study of the earth in the context of the story of Creation.  
These Creation Week articles are more clearly Creationist and mention/discredit gaps in evolutionary theory.  However, I think it deftly handled the conversion of Antony Flew. It also prompted me to google Flew, so points for motivating curiosity!  He was a British philosopher who ascribed to an "atheist until somebody can prove God exists" mindset.  His studies converted him to deism when he realized that there may be scientific proof of evolution, but there are some principles that simply cannot be explained other than" the hand of God was involved."  I think this describes our family's philosophy well, so I'm comfortable sharing these with the kids without having to do too much "Well, this is how some think, but we believe something different..." I can just say, "This is a well-written article, read it."

After reading both issues of Creation Illustrated that we had access to, I am seriously considering a subscription for our family.  My only complaint about the digital version of Creation Illustrated is the print is tiny.  I tried to zoom in and make it easier for us to read, but then it seemed to slide all over the screen, or the page turned too easily.  Taking screenshots and enlarging was impractical as well - you can see how blurry the text got by looking back at the screenshot of the discussion questions above.  I think if you were only using the magazine to complete the unit study, it would work fine, as long as you are patient.  If you're interested in reading and using the magazine on a regular basis (it publishes quarterly),  I would really recommend springing for a subscription to the print edition. 

I'm really impressed with these two unit studies. They're not in-depth enough to teach a language arts math, science, or "how to research a topic" concept on a middle school level, but they're a well-thought, well-organized way for a child to practice any of these skills he has learned.  The Spring Edition of the magazine will be available soon and will be accompanied by a new, ninth unit study on BUTTERFLIES!  These are some fantastic creatures, and after working with these two unit studies, I'm excited about this new release.

Other crew members have been working with these unit studies.  Click the banner below to read their reviews!

Creation Illustrated Unit Studies {Creation Illustrated Reviews}

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