Wednesday, May 27, 2015

TOPS Corn & Beans Review

Last month, James and Christopher completed the TOPS unit Corn & Beans, as scheduled in Sonlight Science D. They had a blast doing this unit and learned a ton, though at times it did feel like a lot of work and commitment. This unit takes five weeks to complete, with a daily time commitment ranging from 30 minutes to 1 hour (in our experience). Once you start this unit, it is difficult to skip a day without throwing things off, so I timed our starting week carefully to make sure we would be able to stay on track and not miss days due to holidays, vacations, and such.  Even so, we did have to double up here and there and make some adjustments for sick days.

 I love that Sonlight schedules the TOPS activities right in the instructor's guide. Each day's assignments are clearly listed, so you know exactly what you should do each day to stay on track.   I also really love that the Sonlight science DVD has tracks for most of the TOPS experiments. The directions in Corn & Beans are very clear, but it was still nice to have that visual before starting the day's work. Also, in some cases the directions from SL were slightly different (in a good, simplified way!) from the TOPS directions.

Some of the materials needed to do the experiments are in the Sonlight Science Kit. We received potting soil and all of the seeds we needed. There is nothing strange to track down though, so you would certainly not need to order the SL kit just to do this unit.

A few highlights from this unit....

Growing corn and bean sprouts in a makeshift orange juice carton. The boys really enjoyed checking their seeds each day and seeing the changes.

Corn & Beans is just a simple black and white softcover book, but it is heavily illustrated and very easy to follow. I love that each day's work is broken down into numbered steps. My boys can be a bit flighty about following directions, but I tried to encourage them to take charge of their experiments as much as possible. An older/more mature student could probably do much of this on their own, but my boys tend to need more supervision in order to get things done!

They were instructed to make their own journals for this unit using photocopies of some of the TOPS pages, plus their own notes and sketches. This unit involved a lot of drawing, which luckily, they both enjoy. Most days they were asked to sketch the growth of various seedlings or to draw and label parts of their plants.

Some seeds were sprouted on a damp paper towel to be used in various experiments. The kids were often asked to weigh, sketch, or do other activities with these sprouts.

Beans seeds are great for experiments like this; their growth is often quick and dramatic.

One of the very first projects in this unit was to make a pole planter to house one bean and one corn sprout. The boys measured and sketched these two sprouts each day to track their growth.

Growing bigger...

One day they were asked to predict how the sprouts would change if put in a sunny window. They grew quite dramatically towards the light.

And they just kept growing.

They did some other experiments once the greenhouse sprouts grew up, like removing the cotelydons on one bean plant to see what would happen, and coating a leaf with Vaseline to see what would happen. Each day, their journal had space to record their observations. Christopher wrote all of his own observations, but I helped James here and there if the writing got to be too much.

They made graphs, predictions, and charts along with their sketches.

By the end of the unit, the plants were huge!

I need to try to get these planted outside! All in all, we had a very positive experience using TOPS Corn & Beans. It is a lot of work though, and I will admit that I was relieved on the last day to get a bit of a breather! Earlier this year,  James completed TOPS Radishes, and that was also a good experience for us, though I didn't remember to take any pictures!


  1. I love the pictures! That looks like a lot of fun, and now I think Cassia might like TOPS.

  2. Thank you so much for posting this. I am no longer undecided about getting the bookshark 3 science. I was wondering if the texts are sectioned so that you could do th in a different order. I'm not sure that I want to start with the Biology textbook. Would we be missing something if we didn't? Thanks.

  3. I have SL science, and I am not sure if BookShark is any different....but mine starts out with 4 weeks of the biology text, then for the rest of the year the bio is mixed in with the other readings- some weeks it isn't covered at all, some weeks it is just a reading or two, and then other weeks, especially during the TOPS experiments, it is scheduled nearly every day again and the readings often go along with the experiments. I think it would probably be difficult to do the year out of order - except for the last 6 weeks. Those readings are only from the science encyclopedia and don't build off the other weeks, they could certainly be done first without missing anything. Hope that helps!


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