Biology

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


Dr. Christe Ann McMenomy

Frequently Asked Questions about this course

The following FAQs address questions about the Core Biology Course planned for 2018-2019.

Please scroll down for questions about the 2018-2019 AP Option.

1. What should a student know before taking the Core Biology 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 for the Core Course?

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 at least one online study exercises
  • write a short essay to present in class

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

  • a 10-20 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. For the Core Course, you must complete ten labs. You will need to prepare a lab proposal, then carry out your lab, analyze your data, discuss any issues, repeat your labwork if needed, and write up your report over a two to three week period. For more on lab expectatations, 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.

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 to help you prepare for the SAT II Biology examination. 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, you should aim to get at least 85% regularly on the online quizzes for the Core Course.

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.

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 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 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, 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 or ACT examination.

6. How have other students done on the SAT and ACT 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 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.

7. Do I have to attend both Core Course chat sessions each week?

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.

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.

AP Option Expectations

AP1. How much additional work is required for the AP option?

Students taking the AP Option will have an additional chat session (90 minutes), additional homework and quizzes to cover material not emphasized in the Core Course, and additional lab work, for a total of 4-6 hours a week.

AP2. How do labs differ from the Core Course labs?

The ten Core Course labs are designed to be done with minimal equipment. The thirteen required AP labs are designed to meet AP standards for college-level labs and require much more thought, as well as more investment in equipment and time.

AP3. How does AP credit differ from regular high school credit?

AP credit can be granted only when a course meets AP review board standards which require the material be taught at a first-year college level. The Scholars Online Biology Course (Core + AP Option) taken together has been formally reviewed by the College Board and meets all the syllabus requirements, so Scholars Online is authorized to grant AP credit for students who successfully complete the combined course. This is especially important in science courses, where simply scoring well on the AP examination is often not considered sufficient evidence of college-level laboratory skills. Students are more likely to receive college credit and be allowed to take advanced science courses as freshman if they have both scored well on the AP exam and successfuly completed an AP course with its college level lab component.

AP4. What happens if I attempt the AP option but don't complete all the required lab work and activities for AP credit?

If you complete more than half the work required for the AP option at a satisfactory level, but do not complete the minimum work required for AP credit, you will receive honors credit for the combined course in recognition of your addtional work.