IGCSE Edexcel Biology Revision Guide

One of the books that my daughter actually asked for was this one – her Biology Revision Guide from CGP. The reason why she wanted it was simple – she likes having a condensed, summarized book for Biology, something that she can read after she has gone through her main Biology text book.

Now I must confess I have often struggled with these CGP Revision Guides. I find some of the pages can be a bit overwhelming in that it sometimes feels like they have crammed a lot onto a page. However I must also admit that if you just concentrate on a block at a time they do manage to really condense the work and they are excellent summaries. For anyone with kiddos who struggle with how much is on a page they can always do my trick and block out the sections that they are not reading by just covering them up with a page.

Okay so it covers everything that you are going to need for your International GCSE Biology course (really everything is here).

It is summarized so the book is a lot thinner that the traditional text books. I personally think it needs to be used together with a textbook (student book) which has all the detail, but I have heard some people say that their kids used this as their main book. Now everyone works differently, but this really is a summary book, it does not have the detail that the other student books do have. And I do think you would miss out on understanding the concepts if you only used this book in isolation. But like I said that is our personal preference. We like being able to read about a concept in more detail, look at the summary in this book and then answer some questions. So for us that does mean we are using at a minimum 3 Biology books all together (1 student book, 1 summary book and at least 1 workbook).

I have said we like the way that they summarize the information into small blocks. It really does help to focus your attention onto the key parts.

But I also want to mention that we are massive fans of their labelled diagrams (really vital for Biology).

I am glad my daughter asked for this book because it is not one I would have normally thought of buying her. It really is a useful summary of all the key points and well worth the money I spent.

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GCSE/IGCSE Websites that we are using

With all of our IGCSE (International GCSE) subjects that we are working on we always use a text book that is recommended by the exam board. The text book is vital but it is not enough, at this level you are just going to have to accept that you will be using more that one source for every subject. You just are. So I am going to mention a few of the other sources that we are using, the ones that we use on a regular basis and the ones that I have found contain good explanations and questions.

To start with I want to mention two general sites. BBC Bitesize, honestly I have been surprised by how much I have started using this site with our KS4 subjects, but it actually has everything on it. Best thing is to set up an account, then it keeps a record of what your kiddo has been working on. But really just find your subject, find the topic and then start reading. Great explanations and questions for the kids to answer once they have read everything. This tends to be one of the places that I direct my daughter to after we have finished reading the pages in her text book, it is always useful for them to hear a second version of what they have just read and so far these pages have always been spot on.

Also the TES website (you want to click on the top of the screen where it says Teaching Resources). Now this site has a LOT of content but I am finding LOTS of free the download worksheets for all of our IGCSE subjects here. It does take a bit of time to search and sometimes the worksheets do not contain answers. But it really is worth creating a free membership to this site so you have search for extra content here. (Tip – sometimes you just been to change the words that you type into the search bar)

Okay now for some subjects specific sites.

Maths – My two favourites at this stage or Cognito and Corbett Maths. Both are free (there is an option to upgrade Cognito to a paid membership but we have not done that yet, although I think I might). I like both of the sites explanations and I like the questions that that give. My daughter is also a fan of both of them, she tends to navigate around Cognito by herself (she works completely online for this one) but with Corbett Maths I will often go on and find the questions and answers for her and print them out. But really both of their explanation videos are great. Highly recommend both of these sites.

With the Cognito site – you need to select you subject – eg maths, then select the topic, eg Numbers and then it will take you to menu which shows the subsections for Number, if you click on each of these you will get a lesson and questions. The colours show which lessons my daughter has done, so it is very easy to see how we are progressing.

Physics – we are doing Physics slightly differently in that we are following the Threatre of Science IGCSE Physics lessons. We tend to watch the lessons on Youtube (there is also a live version but my daughter prefers watching the recorded versions, so she can pause whenever she wants). Laura explains the concepts in the lessons and gets them to do a few questions in the lesson. Then after the lesson she also supplies “homework”, which is extra reading and questions (have a look for her on facebook she has all the worksheets on facebook). We are finding it works really well for us. After her lessons we do tend to read the relevant pages on BBC Bitesize and we do also do the relevant lessons and questions on Cognito. (I think for most the homework that Laura gives would be enough but I have found with my daughter adding in the Cognito lesson and question just cements everything and makes her feel more confident.)

Biology – My favourite extra resource here is Cognito, we always do the lessons and questions on Cognito. But with Biology we also tend to watch other YouTube videos – my daughter absolutely loves the Amoeba sisters (and I really do mean love), she is always glued to their videos. We have also found Mr Exham has a lot of good explanation videos on YouTube and sometimes Biology with Hazel.

History – With History I believe it is vital to read or watch multiple sources. So I often end up getting two different History “textbooks” for each module that we choose, sometimes I even manage to get something for the library. We have also bought a membership to the School History website. Here you can download modules of work. They tend to be in powerpoint format and there are lessons which you need to read and then activities which the kids can try and complete (there are NO sample answers). It is a helpful resource but I am not sure if it was worth the money I paid, but then I was struggling to find the History content, there is not as much History content as there is for Maths or Science subjects. With History I have used BBC Bitesize and the TES website a LOT and we do also watch a lot of documentaries.

So those are a few of the “extra” sites that we are using. I am sure we will discover more as we progress on our IGCSE journey, but I just wanted to share what we have discovered for any of you looking for ideas.

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The DNA Book by DK

One of the Biology topics that my daughter found a bit challenging in her KS3 years was DNA. She loves Biology and for most of it she tore through the work but the idea of DNA, what it is, its structure just seemed to be one of those topics that she was not 100% okay with. So when I spotted this book by DK – The DNA Book, I was immediately interested, because I think it is one of those concepts that a few kids do find a bit challenging and I think books like this one make it easier to understand.

First off this book is aimed at kids aged 7-9 (or that is what it says on the DK website) but I have to say I find that a bit misleading. I think this book is suitable for older kids as well, in fact I am going to be using it with my twelve-year old in a few weeks time as a way to start our Biology topic on DNA, mutations and natural selection, because it covers all of that and more. So please don’t be put off by the age recommendation. This can be a tricky topic so I think lots of older kids will benefit from this book.

Okay this is a DK book, so it is a stunning visual book. We find that DK Books are great for visual kiddos because they always have incredible photographs and diagrams and their writing is always concise and in easy to read blocks. I really like the DK format. The kids find the pages engaging and they are never overwhelmed with a massive amount of information.

Okay so what exactly does this book cover?

I think that is a lot. It really does explain what DNA is, how it is structured, what it can do and then all the things that DNA is a part of (like mutations) and I have to admit I really liked the last little bit called the history of DNA.

Oh and I love the fact that they include some simple experiments that you can do with the kids at home.

My recommendation is – get this book before your kids cover DNA and its related topics, let them read it and digest it in their own time (they will probably want to read it more than once). I wish we had discovered this book a few years ago, I know it would have helped my daughter.

We got our copy of this book directly from DK – The DNA Book but you can also get it from Amazon – DK’s DNA BOOK

Admin – I spotted this DNA book, thought it looked like a brilliant educational book and I approach DK and asked if they would be interested is us writing a review.

I do include Affiliate links. If you follow an affiliate link and go on to purchase that product, I will be paid a very small commission, however your cost will remain the same. I only include affiliate links for products that we use and recommend.

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Why is home educating in January and February harder?

I have to admit that January and February are the two home educating months that I dread every year. And I think it is mainly linked to the weather (is is winter here). When winter is in full force our home education just seems to sputter along, it seems to struggle to gain the momentum that it does when the sun is out and the sky is blue.

Every year I try and make our winter months of home education as interesting and as engaging as the warmer months but I never seem to succeed. We still get out the house (even if it is rainy and windy), we still go and explore and go swimming (indoor heated pool) but the level of energy is just not the same. Both the kids and I just seem to lack that “blue sky, sun is out” energy that we have in the warmer months.

The kids seem to take on the gray feeling of the sky, they tend to stay in bed longer and when they do emerge everything feels like it is on a “go slow” mode, even their brains seem to take a bit longer to kick in. I have not conducted a proper experiment (we were talking about how to conduct Science experiments this past week – so I will not claim that I have kept all the variables constant and made accurate measurements), but I am convinced that their brains work more effectively in the warmer months and tend to freeze a bit when it turns colder. (I am convinced about this, it has to be fact)

Honestly when the sun is out and we have less time to get our work done because we are going somewhere they tend to whizz through and get everything done (plus they seem to understand it). And then when the sun is hiding and we have all the time in the world they seem to struggle to get less of the work done. I have tried using winter treats to get them motivated – hot chocolate with mini marshmallows, movies under cozy blankets, even trips to the coffee shop. But those just don’t seem to compare to a summer’s swim in the river or going pond dipping looking for creatures.

Maybe it is just me, but I really do find these two months the hardest two months of our home education year. But at least I know March will eventually arrive, the sky will turn blue again and in a less that two months time we will start feeling more energized and our home education rhythm will pick up again (and until then I will survive on the hot chocolate and marshmallows that I bought for the kids).

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Blackbeard’s Treaure

I have to start this post by stating that I am not normally a fan of pirate stories, but I am a massive fan of the Bloomsbury’s flashback series – we have read a number of the stories in this series and they always manage to combine a fun fictional story with interesting historical facts, so I decided this would be one pirate story that I would read and review – Blackbeard’s Treasure by Iszi Lawrence.

The story starts with a young girl (Abigail) who lives a life of luxury on a plantation. But even though her life is easy she is jealous of a slave boy named Boubacar, because Abigails father gives Boubacar all of his attention. From the start of the book you realize that Abigail is quite a tom-boy and is very head-strong (she is actually a lovely character for younger girls to discover because she does not accept that girls must act a certain way and is prepared to fight for what she wants). Through a series of events (I don’t want to give too much away), both Abigail and Boubacar end up on pirate ship, Abigail wants to fight Blackbeard and kill him (she blames him for her father’s death until she realizes that her father was not a good man) and Boubacar wants to earn some money so he can buy his families freedom.

There are a few twists and turns, but through it all Abigail and Boubacar realize that they are brother and sister (back then it was not uncommon for plantation owners to have kids with their slaves – this is an interesting concept for kids to deal with as Boubacar and Abigail were always treated differently because of who their mother’s were and the colour of their skin) But through the different trials and events the brother and sister form a team, they protect each other and show that attitudes of adults do not always influence the younger generation.

My son, happened to spot the book at home and read it himself, he enjoyed the story, he said it was fun and enjoyed the humor that was included in certain parts as well as the whole pirating angle. He already knew about the slave trade and how they were treated so this was not a new topic for him and he just enjoyed the story as an adventure story. If he had read this a few years ago (before we learnt about the slave trade) I do think he would have had quite a few questions about the conditions of the slaves and how they were treated.

I think dealing with the slave trade and what happened to these people can be a difficult topic for some kids, (some sensitive kids are going to struggle with this). But I do also think it is an important topic. We don’t shy away from what happened during the World Wars or from what happened in other parts of our history so I think we also need to deal with this. Our kids need to understand how cruel it was and introducing them to stories like this, where the slave trade is dealt with but there is still an adventure angle with the brother and sister is a great way to get them thinking about what really happened to the slaves without making it too overwhleming.

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