Chat times for 2017-2018
9am-10:30 ET/6am-7:30am PT

Dr. Christe Ann McMenomy

Frequently Asked Questions about this course

1. What should a student know before taking 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.

2. What level of mathematics is required?

  • You should have completed a first year algebra course and be able to solve a simple expression for one of its components. For example, you should be able to rearrange the equation y + 2x = 3y to solve for y in terms of x.
  • You should understand how to read a graph and a table of numerical data. Many of the exercises involve interpreting experimental data presented in table form.
  • Toward the end of the course, we will also discuss the logistics equation, an equation in exponential form, such as
    • y = x2.

3. How much preparation time is necessary?

This is hard to answer without knowing how fast you read. For each chat discussion meeting, you will need to

  • read 7-10 pages of text (which may include a lot of graphics that require close examination)
  • complete 2-3 study exercises
  • write a short essay to present in class

My experience is that this will take you 2-3 hours to finish properly. 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

  • a 10-30 question online quiz at the Scholars Online Moodle site (15-20 minutes), which will be graded.

Lab work will involve another 1-2 hours per week of your time, depending on what equipment you need to build or collect, and how many labs you plan to complete. You will need to prepare a lab proposal and present it in our Friday chat, then carry out your lab, analyze your data, discuss any issues, repeat your labwork if needed, and write up your report.

Our Friday chats may additionally involve preparation of an AP-type question for discussion.

So each week, you should plan to spend 4 hours in class, 4-6 hours in preparation, 1 hour in review and testing, and 2 hours in lab execution or reporting, or about 12 hours a week. A normal high school course requires a minimum of 4 hours of class time and 4 hours of homework. This course is intended to be a college-level introduction to biology, so it requires more effort on your part.


What is a passing score?

My examinations tend to be very thorough, since I am interested in assessing what you have actually learned and understand. The tests are written as though you were a college student (because that is the level of the material we cover), and so are more challenging that a high school biology test would be. Because of this, 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 below 30% 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 quizzes.

What kind of grade will I get?

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.

I send email evaluations at the end of each semester that describe your performance on quizzes, homework, class participation, and the term examination. 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:

  • Exams are averaged and weighted to contribute 50% to your grade.
  • Semester reports are is 20% of your grade.
  • Homework is weighted as 10% of your grade.
  • Quiz averages are 10% of your grade.
  • Class participation is 10% of your grade.

Lab work is graded separately and determines whether you get Honors or AP credit for the course.

In other words, 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, competative 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 examination or AP exam.

6. How have other students done on the SATs or AP exams?

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 three 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.

7. Do I have to attend all three sessions each week?

Yes. Because of the material we need to cover, the class must meet three times a week. All students must attend all discussions or make alternate arrangements to submit homework assigned. Friday meetings will be devoted to lab work in order to help students meet the high expectations of the most recent syllabus changes to the AP Biology program. AP exam preparation will be incorporated into the course, using homework assignments and quiz questions similar to those students will experience on the exam. Even if you do not plan to take the AP examination, this preparation will help you for college-level work.

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.

8. Will you be able to write me a letter of recommendation for my college (or secondary school) application?

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.

9. What is your position on evolution theory?

Please see my evolution page where this question is answered in detail.

10. How are ethical issues involving genetics and reproduction addressed?

In order to meet the requirements for Advanced Placement consideration and provide an adequate preparation for standarized 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.