Over a year ago, I contacted Compass Classroom and asked them if I could take The Riot and the Dance by Gordon Wilson for a test drive. I told them I’d only write a review if it was a positive one. I’m writing this, so I’m sure you can see where this is going.
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The Text and How We Used It
E-Age-Sixteen and I have spent the last year rioting and dancing. It has been wonderful. I felt like we had the best of both textbooks and living books worlds — textbooks, because there was a definite scope and sequence that was followed in an organized manner and that we were able to finish in a single year — living books because, though organized like a textbook, the book is written by a single author with a sense of humor and an obvious love for his subject.
The Riot and the Dance is everything you need a biology text to be. It’s college prep. It’s interesting. It covers biology from the cellular level all the way up to the macro level (but does not cover humans) and ends with a well written chapter on ecology. It traffics in awe and wonder. While it’s unapologetically creationist in perspective, it is not focused on the evolution/creation debate, which I was so thankful for. I find that debate to be tiresome, and I also think it tends to distract Christians from learning actual science. If you want to dabble in that debate, it’s mentioned a few times, but for the most part you’ll have to see the appendix.
Because I’m a Charlotte Mason homeschooler, I have little tolerance for comprehension questions. There are a collection of these sorts of questions at the end of each chapter, but few of them are helpful. Instead of using those questions, I expected a full oral narration after each reading (chapters vary in length, so sometimes narrations were by section and other times they were by chapter), plus a weekly entry in the science notebook.
Deets on Labs: Pros, Cons (with a Solution), How to Make it Affordable, and MORE!
The labs were good labs. What I mean is, they never seemed to be busy work. The directions were clear and easy to follow. E-Age-Sixteen is generally independent; I never felt like I had to hold his hand in the labs. He was able to be in charge, with me as support staff.
Also, I bummed all dissections off on my husband. If you can do this, too, you will find it to be a definite pro.
Cons (and a Solution!)
The biggest problem is that the lab schedule in the book isn’t right. What I mean is, the schedule says you can do a certain lab in a certain week, but the lab says you need to read more before doing it. To solve this problem, I created a 32-week schedule for the labs to replace that found in the teacher’s guide, complete with corresponding reading schedule and an empty box to check off doing a science notebook entry. Use this form to get a copy via email:
We do 36 weeks of school, so a couple of times when we were behind, too busy, or a chapter was extra long, I allowed two weeks to complete the assignments.
Affordable Biology Labs
The Riot and the Dance can be easily used by homeschoolers, but it was written for classrooms, and that really shows when it comes to labs. If you order all the supplies exactly as written, you will pay one arm, one leg, and possibly have to promise one future grandchild. I don’t know about you, but I can’t afford $50-100 per lab for multiple labs.
The good news is that you have at least two options. The first is to team up with other homeschoolers and do labs together, thereby splitting costs. This is always wonderful to do for labs, but our plans to do shared labs fell through and I had to get creative.
The second option, then, is to buy a few kits, improvise the rest, and don’t worry about doing every lab precisely.
Here are a few examples of where you can improvise:
- Labs 2 and 4 both ask for elodea sprigs. I wasn’t able to find those locally, but I found an example we could look at online. It’s not the same as seeing it in person, but it was easier than trying to find the supply.
- In Lab 9, the experiment calls for 2 colors of pop beads. Read the description of the lab, because most of us have something similar lying around the house that will work.
- Lab 13 requires pressed and mounted leaves, but a Charlotte Mason homeschooler will usually be able to discover most of these leaves on nature walks, and an excellent activity would be to press, mount, and classify them in the style of the lab.
Where should you buy kits? I really like Home Science Tools. If you buy their biology microscope slide set, the basic protozoa set, and one of their dissection kits (I used the Advanced kit), you’ll have most of what you need for the labs, and you’ll spend far less when compared to sourcing every individual thing recommended as supplies. Whatever you don’t have in the two kits you can either find something similar in the kit, skip it, or find an example online.
My big advice on labs is don’t try to follow them exactly, at least not if you want them to be affordable. Do your best, and that’s good enough. I found that dissecting a frog was enough — I don’t think we needed to also do a lizard.
Here are a few more tips on lab supplies:
- Read through the lab descriptions as you prep. I know it takes more time, but you can only know if and how to improvise if you carefully read the description.
- Go through the supplies for all of the labs and order everything except live cultures at once. Yes, you won’t need those specimens for dissection until later in the year, but they will store just fine because they are vacuum sealed and you’ll save on shipping cost, plus you’ll be prepared.
- You probably already have a small scale — a kitchen scale usually works. If you don’t, I like this little inexpensive scale from AmazonBasics — it works great.
- Order live cultures right before you need them — they don’t live long after they arrive.
- Home Science Tools does not carry some of the preserved specimens on the supply list — things like preserved millipedes and jellyfish. You can probably find those things at your local natural history museum (or see them live at a zoo or aquarium). If you want to buy some of these supplies to enhance your lab experience, I recommend Carolina Biological.
- Yes, you need a microscope. (Welcome to homeschooling.) If you don’t have one, this one is good.
Did We Do Anything Else?
Only a little, but yes. I kept the AmblesideOnline Year 10 readings from Microbe Hunters and Six Easy Pieces in our regular school schedule. In addition to this, my student read Tiner’s Exploring the World of Chemistry as a free read. I found the latter two especially important because this meant he read in areas of science other than biology this school year.
Do I Recommend this?
Yes! Wholeheartedly yes! If you are looking for a biology curriculum for high school, The Riot and the Dance is worth your consideration. It’s a solid, informative text, it’s engaging, and the labs are good.
What’s not to like?
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