Frequently Asked Questions about this course
You should have completed a junior high school level course in life science that covers the description of a cell and its method of reproduction, concepts of classification of organisms, some evolution theory, and some human anatomy and physiology (i.e., human organ systems and their functions). We cover all of these topics in detail, and students have an easier time if they have been exposed to the basic concepts before starting my course. If you have taken the Scholars Online Natural Science course, the summer Biology Lite course, or a full year Life Science component of the standard junior high school science curriculum, you should be prepared to handle these biology concepts.
It is also useful to have some physical science experience, especially with the concepts of atoms, molecules, chemical reactions, and thermodynamics or heat energy. We do a very quick review of these in early part of the course, then depend heavily on the concepts when we discuss cell structure and functions.
This is hard to answer without knowing how fast you read. For each chat discussion meeting, you will need to
My experience is that this will take you 2-3 hours to finish properly (remember, this is for each chat session). In addition, for each chapter (usually 1 per week, but with some short chapters, we will do one per chat meeting), you will need to finish
Lab work will involve another 1-2 hours per week of your time, depending on what equipment you need to build or collect, in order to complete the eighteen labs required for the course. You will need to prepare a lab proposal, then carry out your lab, analyze your data, discuss any issues, repeat your lab work if needed, and write up your report. For more on lab expectations, see the Labs page.
So each week, you should plan to spend 3 hours in class, about 5 hours in preparation, 1 hour in review and testing, and 1 hour in lab execution or reporting, or about 10 hours a week. A normal high school course requires a minimum of 4 hours of class time and 4 hours of homework.
My examinations tend to be very thorough, since I am interested in assessing what you have actually learned and understand. I will "normalize" your grade so that it maps to high-school level course expectations for a science taken by someone at your current grade level. Normalized scores follow standard interpretations: above 90% = A, 80-89% = B, 70-79% = C, 60-69% D (passing). Scores in the past have ranged from just below 50% to above 95%. However, if you aim to take either the SAT II biology exam or the Advanced Placement exam, you should aim to get at least 85% regularly on the online mastery exercises and chapter quizzes and at least 80% on the semester exams. The best preparation for achieving this is disciplined completion of the mastery exercises and chat preparation essays, so that during an examination, you can complete most of the problems in the allotted time.
I send email evaluations at the end of each semester that describe your performance on quizzes, homework, class participation, the term examination, and your term report. A short summary of this report is included in your formal transcript "comments" section.
Your overall grade is generally a composite. The exact percentages vary from year to year depending but in general:
Lab work is graded separately and determines whether or not you get lab credit for the course. Note that most colleges expect you to take biology as a lab credit course; if you do not receive lab credit, they may discount the rest of your work in the course, even if it is of high quality.
The grading scheme provides the possibility that you could still do well in the course even with low examination scores if your weekly work shows that you are mastering the material at a steady pace. Failing to complete homework or take the quizzes seriously, however, will also knock your grade down a significant amount.
Because some government agencies, accrediting institutions, and scholarship committees require more standardized grades, I also issue a numerical score for your work, which is normalized so that it fits the grading scale used by most high schools in evaluating passing, above average, and exceptional work at the freshman, sophomore, junior, and senior levels. Your transcript will include instructions on translating a numerical grade to a letter grade. Many Scholars Online students have been accepted to nationally-recognized, competitive colleges and universities, and have received scholarships based on these evaluations.
However your scores are reported, the best way to establish your competence in biology or any other science subject for college admission or placement is to take the SAT II or ACT examination.
Most students in Scholars Online biology are at the beginning of their high school career and are either freshman or sophomores, so many of them do not take standardized tests. Since homeschooled students receive their scores directly from the testing agency, I do not know all the results for all of my students, and obviously, those with lower scores tend to be more reticent about reporting their results. In the last five years, however, I do know that two of my students from each year have taken the AP exams and received scores above 3; they or other students have also taken the SATs and received scores above 750. While we try to present material in sufficient detail and organization to prepare students for these examinations, we cannot guarantee results. High scores on standardized exams are the result of diligent preparation on the part of the individual student, who reads assignments ahead of time, making notes of anything that is unclear, attends chats and asks questions about those points, completes homework assignments for class review and study exercises for personal review, and takes and masters the materials in the quizzes with consistently applied discipline throughout the course.
Yes. Because of the material we need to cover, the class must meet twice a week. All students must attend all discussions or make alternate arrangements to submit homework assigned.
If you have a conflict with the scheduled sessions, you will need to review your priorities and decide whether or not you can commit to the class. If your outside conflict is short term, I will work with you through the period, but you must plan to attend most of the year's sessions.
Please see my evolution page where this question is answered in detail.
In order to meet the requirements for Advanced Placement consideration and provide an adequate preparation for standardized tests in biology, we use a secular college level text which discusses, among other things, genetic engineering and human reproduction. As with any secular text, ours sometimes presents material in a morally ambiguous manner.
While this is not a course in ethics, when students raise questions and objections to the text materials, I may briefly try to clarify the material in a way consistent with my understanding of Biblical teaching. I believe and teach that human life begins at conception, and that the zygote is fully human; that all human life is precious to God, and that we must respect the dignity of all human beings when considering the possible applications of medical technology. I am not a theologian, however, so for any more thorough discussion of the ethical issues involved, I refer students back to their parents, and encourage our Catholic students to read the Catechism of the Catholic Church, Part III, Section II, on the Sixth Commandment. If there is enough interest, we will try to make arrangements for a session where Father Jim can answer questions as well.
Parents will be notified several weeks before we are scheduled to cover the chapter on human reproduction, so they can review the material. Please feel free to email me with any questions or concerns about how we cover these topics.
Yes, I do write letters of recommendation for students on occasion. However, I cannot write such a letter on the basis of a few months' work. I require that you finish a complete year of instruction with me first, so that I have a basis for making an evaluation that reflects your true strengths and weaknesses. If this is your first Scholars Online class and your senior year, I will not be able to write your letter. Please see my policy on letters of recommendation for further information.
The College Board owns the "Advanced Placement" name and designation. Beginning in 2012, it required that anyone teaching a course designated for AP credit submit a syllabus for review by university faculty to ensure students were being prepared adequately for second year college work. Over the last eight years, the College Board has revised their syllabus requirements several times, remaining fairly flexible about how the course was offered and giving teachers latitude to emphasize areas or approaches as they saw fit. However, the most recent revision in 2019 is far more specific in dictating course content and performance expectations. Teachers have fewer options to organize materials according to their own priorities. In particular, the syllabus for biology eliminates requirements for any instruction on human anatomy and plant physiology in order to focus on microbiology, evolution, and ecology, apparently assuming that students will cover physiology and anatomy in other courses, and it restructures course schedules and testing options to emphasize preparation for the AP test over mastery of the topic.
It has been my belief that human anatomy and physiology should be taught in the context of cellular biology so that students understand how all levels of living systems work together. Many students, especially home-schooled students, attempt AP Biology without a previous course in high school biology. The new curriculum leaves them without instruction on how their own bodies work at a time when this information is vital to help them make responsible choices for their own health.
The College Board now requires that students register by early September for the AP test given the following May. This shifts the emphasis of the entire course from learning the subject to “teaching to the test”. As several of my Scholars Online blog articles make clear, our courses are intended to provide our students with an education, and I prefer my students to focus on exploring concepts at the risk of making mistakes. It is difficult to play with ideas and experiment with possibilities when you are concerned chiefly with getting a high score on an exam.
The new AP program also heavily encourages the use of the College Board's own website materials for unit testing throughout the year. It has been my practice to contain all student performance data on the Scholars Online server, rather than allow others to gather detailed information about my students’ ideas, and I refuse to change that practice when I do not know how personally-identifiable student data will be used in the future.
I am very uncomfortable with the expanded level of content control by a major testing organization, many of whose directors are textbook publishers, and I’m not the only one. A number of prestigious private schools have also dropped their AP courses to allow their teachers to teach creatively, rather than surrendering control of their courses to the College Board.
For these reasons, I will no longer be offering certified AP courses in biology, chemistry, or physics. However, I do review the AP test content requirements, and I believe that the courses I am offering will prepare students to perform well on the AP exam if they chose to take it, and provide an equivalent lab experience. Students taking the non-AP versions of these courses have routinely achieved scores of 3 and 4 on the chemistry and physics AP exams, and 4 or 5 on the biology exams, so I do not believe this decision will put my students at a disadvantage, but that a unique approach to content and experiments will help them stand out instead.
If you do plan to take the AP exam, let me know when you enroll in the course or during our first chat session, so that I can help you register and include some exercises to help you prepare for the exam.
© 2005 - 2021 This course is offered through Scholars Online, a non-profit organization supporting classical Christian education through online courses. Permission to copy course content (lessons and labs) for personal study is granted to students currently or formerly enrolled in the course through Scholars Online. Reproduction for any other purpose, without the express written consent of the author, is prohibited.