Handcrafting High School: Year 1, Month 6

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Oh my goodness! What a busy month February was for both Sean and me. There were times this month when I felt like I barely had time to breathe. I actually realized TWICE! that I had showered and forgotten to shave. I remember being super busy close to the end with biology too. There is a point when writing a book where I can see the finish line, and I am ready to be there, so I work as hard as I can even at night. I did not finish it this month, in case you are wondering. (The book has yet to be illustrated or edited by anyone but my husband Jim, Sean, and me. So do not start looking for it soon.)

The photos are a series of memes I found on my computer this month. Put there I am sure because of a back and forth Sean and I have going on, “Is it meant to represent a prism separating light into its individual wavelengths, or Pink Floyd’s the Dark Side of the Moon?” This all started when I bought a pair of pajama bottoms for Sean, because I thought it was cool Target was selling scientifically themed clothes. When Jim and Sean saw them, they immediately said, “Dark Side of the Moon, cool!” I disagreed! Unfortunately they were correct about Target’s intent, but I didn’t give up right away. So… memes and a bit of teasing.

cool2

Sometimes this year the academics have come together and Sean has seemed to just “get” it. That was what it was like with computer programming and math in February. Everything just jelled. This was good because Sean needed lots of sleep this month. There have been many days when he was tired all day, ravenously hungry, and extremely grumpy. TEENS! He must be growing again.

On every level,  I was happy with our handcrafted homeschooled education this month. I think of the process I use with Sean as similar to how I would create a recipe. I love to create recipes by the way. I almost went into chef school instead of becoming a chemist. There are a lot of parallels between cooking and chemistry. I cannot tell you how many times my family has told me that they love something I made, and I have said, “Hmmn, I’m not sure if I can re-create this recipe. I changed so much, and I didn’t write down the specific amounts for what I used.”

Computer programming is a good example of this. Sean was going to take 3 quarters of programming this school year. Last month I told you he was going to take a break, and not take a class in Spring Quarter. Then he changed his mind, and decided to take the class. Because he has been so grumpy this month, I sat him down and asked what was going on. (Besides the obvious, which is puberty.) It turns out, it was because he really didn’t want to take the class. He has a friend taking the class with him, which makes him want to take it. He thought I wanted him to take it, which made him want to take it. I told him I only wanted him to take the class if he wanted to, but I did want him to do something computer related.  The upshot is, he will not be taking the class. He will be designing a website. It was time to tweak that ingredient, exchanging it for something else.

Sean has continued to enjoy the law class and the history class. For one of the classes, Thom, who teaches both, asked Sean to choose a historical event that interested him and learn more about it. From there they talked about the different ways that historical event is portrayed and perceived. It was a great lesson, made even more meaningful because Sean chose the event they focused on. He devoted a couple of days learning about the Watts riots. It is wonderful when Sean becomes captivated with an area of study, coming to me to tell me about what he has learned.

Sean suffered from migraines several days this month. It has been a couple of years since he has had so many in one month. We are lucky we homeschool. It must be difficult for kids who suffer from migraines, who have to attend regular school. One day Sean could not get out of bed. He wanted to lay there curled in the fetal position, sleep, and listen to a book on tape. So he did. On other days when he suffered from migraines that were not as bad we went geocaching or he read. He went to rowing all but one of the days. Rowing helps with the migraines. At first they were a trigger, but after a while they helped alleviate the symptoms and cut down on the incidence of the migraines. His doctor told us this would be the case, so we toughed it out for the period early on when they triggered the migraines.

cool-cat

We heard back from Stanford. Sean was accepted into their pre-collegiate summer session. He will spend three weeks studying Computer Simulations and Interactive Media. I’ll be honest and tell you, I’m excited for him. I’m not excited because I think this means he’s going to end up getting to go to college at Stanford. (Sean has no idea where he wants to apply to college, other than he wants to go somewhere with a crew team.) I am excited because of something I was told once about Stanford.

The daughter of a friend attended Stanford’s Online High School. They were not homeschoolers. Her daughter had always done very well in school. She was on the ski team, and wanted to have more time for skiing. She also wanted to challenge herself academically. Stanford’s online school gave her the flexibility to ski more, coupled with rigorous academics. I asked her what the teaching was like for the on-line classes. She told me that the teachers she was working with were the best teachers she had ever had. She said they made her think of things and look at topics in new ways. She told me that these teachers had opened her eyes to new perspectives. This is why I am excited for Sean. I hope he has a similar experience. I think it likely, given that Stanford cannot tell you exactly what your child will be working on, because they put together a planned project based on who attends. They look over the strengths and passions of the kids who will be in a session and plan what the project will be based on those students. It sounds like the homeschool version of learning, doesn’t it?

As I mentioned last month there were several essays as a part of the application. We went about this part of the application informally at first. Sean and I started conversationally without any paper or computer in front of us. I would ask Sean one of the questions he needed an essay for, and he would answer orally before writing them down. I used this approach because I wanted the real essence of him to come through. When Sean answered the questions on the application I did not want the focus to be on what he needed to write to get into the summer program. When Stanford sent us the invitation to apply, the only thing they knew about Sean was that he was a high school aged kid who had done well in a couple of computer science classes. They did not know one other thing about him. It’s possible that their summer program wouldn’t be a good fit for him. And if it wasn’t a good fit for him, it wouldn’t be worth taking three weeks out of the summer to go to it. I was completely surprised by some of his answers. I got to know him better through this process. There was no right or wrong answer, and I did my best not to steer him in any direction. If he was stumped on an answer I would say, “This is what I think they’re asking.” Then I would rephrase the question, but not in a way that introduced my bias. Again it was important to me to make sure Stanford was a good fit for him. If they didn’t want him because of something he answered in his essay, that would be okay. Whether a program or a college is a good fit works both ways, and not every place or every program is going to be a good fit for Sean or anyone else for that matter. I don’t care what the name is on the logo, if it isn’t a good fit it’s not worth spending the time, the money of life, participating in it.

Here are some excerpts from his essays. These are not all from the same essay, or for the same questions.

I thought this was a clever perspective

“When I was little, I loved building with Legos. Using algorithms and data structures is like building with Legos where you take one piece, add another in just the right place, and you keep adding pieces until you have built something from them. With programming it is even better than with Legos, because you take 2-dimensional characters on a screen, adding them to each other and putting them in just the right place, to build something important people can use.”

I was totally surprised by this one.

“In many ways I am your typical straight A student…” How would he know what a typical straight A student is like?

This is my favorite passage, and it blew me away. I flat out had no idea why Sean was always dragging us into art galleries. In case you are wondering, neither my husband nor I on our own visit art galleries or museums. Sean has always enjoyed visiting them, so we do. For a long time he mispronounced museum, musaam. He was constantly asking to visit “musaams”. One of the things my husband Jim values most about homeschooling is how homeschooled kids seem so much more comfortable exploring their passions and differences. Jim thinks this is because they do not have a peer group telling them something is uncool. How many 15 year old boys would admit to wanting to travel the world visiting art galleries and museums. I can think of some besides Sean, and they are all homeschooled!

“These are only a few of the things I have learned and seen while traveling. Every time I see or learn about something new, the world gets both bigger and smaller at the same time.

It is the same thing when I go to art galleries. In every country and town we go to, I visit art galleries, large and small. When I visit art galleries, I do not look at each piece for its beauty. I look at them to try to understand what the artist’s intent was. This is what traveling does for me. It is almost spiritual as it opens me up to the intent of other peoples, cultures, and times. To me the world is a rich tapestry that I am fortunate enough to be traveling through.”

cool

I wanted to celebrate Sean’s acceptance. So we took a day to visit The Art Museums in Balboa Park, near where we live. On the way there we walked by an artists village. Sean wanted to stop there first to check out the living artists. We never made it to one museum. We spent the day wandering through the village, talking to artists, and watching demonstrations. Glass blowing looks fun!

I was too busy to read much this month that wasn’t research for earth science.

Both Sean and I read:

Golden Son

golden son

This is the second book in the Red Rising trilogy. It is even better than Red Rising. I can’t wait for the next book to come out!

kenken

Will Shortz Presents Challenging KenKen

I love KenKen when I am really busy. I like to read or work these sorts of puzzles to unwind. KenKen is better than reading if I have things to do in the morning, because I do not get sucked into them, staying up until 2 or 3 a.m. to finish them.

Check out our 5 month update here.





Handcrafting High School: Year 1, The First Four Months: Crew

Crew

Crew: Once There Were Vikings, and that Is the Last Time Any of Sean’s Relatives Rowed!

The Boys in the Boat
Crew: The Boys in the Boat

Rowing, or crew as I am just beginning to call it, has been the surprise favorite this year. My husband’s grandparents emigrated from Norway, but they were farmers there and in North Dakota where they ended up. The last relatives in our family that we know of who rowed were Vikings. In fact, everything I know about this sport I have learned from watching my son compete and reading the book The Boys in the Boat, by Daniel James Brown, which is a good read. Honestly I don’t even know the prow from the stern (I think I got those terms right). 😉

Sean's curly hair earned him the nickname Broccoli
Crew: Sean’s curly hair earned him the nickname Broccoli

Crew is a physically intense, demanding sport, something we have learned Sean likes very much. The harder the coaches push him, and the tougher they are with the workouts, the happier Sean is. Sean likes everything about rowing. He likes the camaraderie with the other kids. He likes how it is a team sport but that it asks a lot from each individual in the boat. He likes his coaches. He likes the venue in Mission Bay. And he likes the club, The San Diego Rowing Club, SDRC, http://www.sdrcjrs.com/. He has even come to like the nickname his teammates gave him, Broccoli, because of his curly hair.

Rowing was not a planned class. Another homeschooling parent posted that there were free rowing tryouts for 1 week to see if kids liked the sport. I had been trying to get Sean interested in something athletic for the better part of a year, ever since he got healthy again after breaking his ankle. Sean is a person whose mental psyche benefits greatly from regular exercise. I know everybody benefits, but with him it is immediately noticeable, and he’s an awful grump when he is not regularly exercising. He told me he would try rowing, but then changed his mind. Luckily, I forced the issue.

Since the beginning of September, rowing has become a part of our life. Most of the kids who do what is called crew, not rowing, are not homeschooled. Crew practice is from 4 to 6:30ish every weeknight, with an optional practice from 8:30 to 11 most Saturdays. Several of the Sundays have races on them. Sean is on the Novice Men’s Team. It is a team of boys who are high school freshman or who are in later grades in high school but have never rowed before. Next year Sean will automatically graduate to the Varsity Team.

Race days start early, before the wind starts up making the water choppy
Crew: Race days start early, before the wind starts making the water choppy

My husband and I took him to the first tryout. We sat in the car and watched this crazy, intense, challenging workout. About halfway through, the two of us looked at each other and said, “Oh, he must be hating this. We should make him stick with it for the first week just to see if he likes it though, okay.” When Sean got in the car the first thing out of his mouth was, “Best sport ever!”

Rowers spend a lot of time on the erg machine
Crew: Rowers spend a lot of time on the erg machine

It might surprise you to find out that athletics is a reason we are lucky that we are homeschoolers, but not for the reason most people mean when they say that. For many years, Sean was on a competitive ski team. He was on the race team, then after much begging on his part he moved over to the Freeride team, what a lot of people call the trick team. Sean was very injury prone. Sean has broken his nose, his ankle, both his heels, and the pinky fingers on both hands. More significantly, Sean has also had two complex concussions. You might think from reading this that we are negligent parents who just kept throwing him back out there, but some of these injuries are from things like hopping across a creek while playing tag with friends.

The first complex concussion he suffered was in an event where he was jumping and he over rotated on the jump. He landed on his nose, breaking it, and suffering a complex concussion. It was the worst thing I have ever witnessed in my entire life. The second complex concussion was a freak accident where he turned out of the way to avoid a snowboarder and into a tree. Once you have one complex concussion you are much more susceptible to others and you get them from a much lower force of impact. I won’t go into the details of what it was like having a child with a complex concussion. (It was a dark time for us, though. I could relive it in talking if it helped someone, but not in writing.)

When Sean went to the concussion specialist, the doctor asked me how good Sean was at school. I replied that he was a good student. The doctor told me that was good because Sean needed to take the rest of the school year off. Sean injured himself in the first week of February. Your child can’t do any academics if you want his or her brain to heal completely. Sean wasn’t allowed to read. He couldn’t exercise. He was unable to do simple math tasks. He couldn’t even play video games. According to the doctor, all Sean could do if we wanted his brain to heal completely was watch TV, and only if he was watching shows that didn’t require any mental focus. If Sean went to traditional school he would have missed so much school, he would be a grade below the rest of his same age classmates. Between the two complex concussions, Sean took almost a year off school. The only left over effect from Sean’s concussions is trauma induced migraines. That and he cannot participate in any sport where there is a risk of getting another concussion.

Here Sean is racing in a 4
Crew: Here Sean is racing in a 4

It’s hard to imagine how you could get a concussion participating in crew. (Now I am imagining how a boat could fall on his head while carrying it to the water!) I have been skiing since I was two years old. Sean also started skiing when he was two. Sean, my husband, and I really, really love to ski. I was lucky enough with my skiing that I never seriously injured myself. My son wasn’t so lucky. Sean’s mental health is linked to his participation in intense physical activities. When he is not participating in them, he gets very down. When he is participating in them, he is sunny, joyful, and very humorous. If you have a kid who needs this sort of physical activity then you know what I mean. It is like turning a light switch on and off. Crew is the first sport he has tried since skiing that he loved enough to want to participate in on a regular basis. We are lucky to have found it.

Read about handcrafting high school language art here, and about learning science here.





Handcrafting High School: Year 1, The First Four Months: Language Arts

Language Arts, SEA Online Class, SEA Teen Book Club, SEA Tween Book Club

Language Arts: How We Came to Be Homeschoolers

My son Sean was an early reader; I was an early reader; my father was an early reader; my paternal grandfather was an early reader. We all started reading at about the same age, between three and four years old. I’ve been told by someone who seemed to know what they were talking about that early reading, just like early walking and early talking, is a trait that runs in families. In addition to coming from a long line of early readers, I love to read. When people remember me as a child, the thing they’re the most likely to remember is what a bookworm I was. I still am. When Sean looks back on his childhood, one of the things he will probably remember is all the time I spent reading to him. I would still read to him even now, but he would rather read to himself these days. 😉 You might think that being an early reader would make kindergarten at a traditional school easy. If you think that, you would be right and wrong. Any class is easy if the other students are learning what you already know how to do, but you miss out on the essential skill of learning how to learn, which to me is the most important thing to learn during your school years. If you don’t learn how to learn, when you do get to subjects that are hard, you will not know how to learn the material in them. I volunteered in Sean’s classroom and was bothered when the teacher would call the rest of the class up to the front to do work and would leave Sean sitting working on a coloring page. I didn’t blame her. When Sean started school No Child Left Behind was the law of the land, and she was doing what she had to do. No other child in his class knew how to read. Obviously that was where her attention needed to go. From my standpoint though, Sean didn’t need any more work on coloring. At the first parent-teacher conference his teacher told me, “Well, you have nothing to worry about.” Whether that was true or not was a matter of perspective. His teacher was pretty awesome actually, don’t get me wrong. She followed that comment up with a discussion of what she would do to develop some academic tasks that were meaningful for Sean. At the second parent-teacher conference his teacher said to me, “Aren’t you a stay-at-home mom? Why aren’t you homeschooling? If I didn’t need to work, I would’ve homeschooled my kids.” Before going on I should digress a bit and tell you that I had thought about homeschooling Sean, but I got cold feet worrying that I would fail him somehow, so I put him in traditional school instead. I owe Sean’s kindergarten teacher a debt of gratitude. She is the person that gave me the courage I needed to homeschool Sean.

That Was Then. What about Now?

        I break language arts into two main categories, the mechanics and the craft. The mechanics includes spelling, grammar, and writing. The craft includes writing and reading.

The Mechanics: The least favorite, the most favorite, and something new

Sequential Spelling
Language Arts: Sequential Spelling

Spelling, the least favorite subject for both of us: Over the past 9 years I have come to HATE‼ spelling. I hate this academic subject with so much passion, heavy sigh just thinking about it. 🙁 Being a strong reader does not guarantee you will be strong at spelling. My guess is that most high school students do not have spelling as a separate class. Sean still does. We have been working through Sequential Spelling for the past four years, and I highly recommend it if spelling is a problem area for your child. It has greatly helped to improve Sean’s spelling. Even with this effective spelling program his spelling is just okay though. Do not use the IPad App btw. It is terrible, and is coupled with even worse customer service. The DVDs are much superior.

Strunk and White's The Elements of Style
Language Arts: Strunk and White’s The Elements of Style

Grammar, the most favorite of one of us: Grammar is Sean’s favorite subject of all time. The laugh is on me, because this was my least favorite subject (until I started homeschooling my son in spelling that is)! Sean has always loved diagramming sentences. Grammar this year started with Sean reading through The Elements of Style by Strunk and White. Sean reviewed the rules for punctuation. “Where is the diagramming, Mom?” “Sorry Sean, there isn’t any this year.” Going forward he will only work on grammar as it relates to punctuation. He does miss the diagramming, but I noticed at the end of last year that he was weak on some of the punctuation rules. I know he misses diagramming sentences, but that particular skill wasn’t improving his punctuation!

The Mechanics of Writing, something new: Sean is incredibly creative with his writing. In the past he has fought any type of writing program that did not focus almost entirely on the creative side of writing. I have been fine with this. The craft of writing, in my opinion, is much harder to learn than the mechanics of writing, but you do need the mechanics. In the past Sean used Michael Clay Thompson’s language arts series and Bravewriter, both of which he (and I) loved and learned a lot from. This is not to say these programs do not focus on the mechanics of writing, but I do not think that is their primary focus. At the beginning of December, Sean and I discussed what to do to make sure he has a good understanding of the mechanics of writing. He needs to make sure he has the skills necessary for the writing portion of the SAT and for his college classes. I was really worried and was going to do something really structured. Sean talked me into compromising and letting what was supposed to a three paragraph essay be a three page story. It turned out my worrying was for naught! The paper was great. LOL! I could have worse problems; I am sure some of you are not sympathetic at all! The Craft: Two beloved academic pursuits The Craft of Writing benefits greatly from a focus on reading: Writing and reading are intertwined at our house. I tease them apart to think of the scope and specifics, such as what books Sean will read, then weave them back together. Writing to me is an artistic endeavor. It is individual, meaningful, and fulfilling. It is also hard. Writing something that others want to read is harder than chemistry! I think it is the hardest subject we work on in school. It is hard to assess as an educator too. Like science, I think the homeschool setting is the best academic environment to work on the craft of writing. To improve your craft with writing, you need time to write without artificial deadlines. I think working on becoming skilled at timed writing (which we are going to work on over the next school year) is a ridiculous waste of time. It is an essential skill because of the SAT, but an irrelevant skill when it comes to crafting writing pieces worth reading! My absolute favorite book about the craft of writing is Wondrous Words by Katie Wood Ray if you are into that sort of reading. So what did we use these past 4 months, you are probably wondering…

  • Comics and Graphic Novels (CGN): This is a Coursera Course, https://www.coursera.org/course/comics. Someone recommended it on the Secular Homeschool Teens Facebook group. This course turned out to be much more than I expected. When I signed Sean up for the class, I thought it would be a filler class to get him started. The class turned out to be much more in-depth and meaningful than that. It was an excellent course. Sean and I both really liked the teacher, William Kuskin. Sean spent the first four months of the school year reading the comics and graphic novels recommended in the course.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=yLytwSqUReI

The specifics of why I was so impressed with this course. It focused on

  • Structure: All good writing has structure. I do not mean, though, that it is formulaic. I mean, all good writing has a structured reasoning for what goes where. Writing is art, so the structure might not be obvious. I have always loved the poems of e. e. Cummings because of the artistry with his structuring of the words he writes. With Sean my favorite author to use when we discuss structure is Gary Paulsen. He is an absolute master at structuring words and sentences to enhance the story. Kuskin spent part of the course discussing topics like the weaving of the illustrations with the words, the panels, the gutters, and shading and the use of color. Then CGN had Sean analyze specific pages of text from comic books and write about what he noticed about their structure. Sean hit his groove with this, noticing things that I did not pick up on until Sean pointed them out. Sean is much more in tune with visual art than I am. I come from a family of visual artists. I am the only writer in the family. Growing up, my family considered me the least creative member of it. My number one fan, my husband Jim, begs to differ with them, LOL!
  • The evolution of the genre: Genres of writing evolve and change. This is not easy to show with most genres. CGN is a modern enough genre that the change and growth, the history, can be studied effectively over a four month period. I think it is good for young writers to learn organically that there is growth and development in all writing including their own.
  • Literature analysis: There was also a discussion of different genres within the larger, more encompassing, genre of comics and graphic novels. This coupled with the focus on structure led to a decent amount of literature analysis in this course, at least the way we studied it. Sean and I read and discussed several comics and graphic novels over the four months. Some, such as Maus, Planetary, and Hush, he loved. Others, such as Saga and Funhouse, he felt more neutral about. I thought they were all great. He just likes certain genres of CGN better than others.
  • Editing the work of his classmates: Many of the students in the class wrote their own short comics as a final project. I printed them out and have had Sean, he is still working on this, critically evaluate each as he reads them.

Don’t just take it from me. This link will take you to other reviews of this course: http://www.coursetalk.com/coursera/comic-books-and-graphic-novels

  • My writing: There is nothing quite as satisfying to Sean as to go through and critically edit my writing. I make sure and save an early draft. I have read many times that the best writing teachers write. I use my science texts unless he gets stuck. When that happens I write along with him in the genre he is writing until he gets unstuck.
LA 4 Room
Language Arts: Room
  • Reading the books I love this year: This summer Sean picked up a book from my night stand that I had not yet read. I was working through my stack and had not gotten to it. It was Room, by Emma Donahue. Sean loved the book. He insisted I read it right away, it was so good! When I did I realized I would NEVER have given it to my 14 year old to read.

But it did get me thinking about reading choices this year. I decided to depart from a scripted list of books for him and have him read the books I read and love over the year. That is how Sean came to read The Martian. He is about to start reading Me before You, by Jojo Moyes. He reads them, and then we discuss them. I have him send me one email about a technique he notices and likes each day that he reads. It is quite fun and enlightening for both of us! It is very possible none of these books will “stand the test of time as modern classics”, but they will all be really good reads.

LA 5 Blair's Book Pile
Language Arts

This is my book pile for this year. Sean will not read all these, but I will. Sean will only read the best of the best. That part is very subjective. I will be the one to decide which are the best of the best, someone else might disagree with me. How this pile is selected is that all year, when I hear of a book that sounds particularly interesting to me, I put it on my Amazon wish list. At Christmas time I go through this list and choose books from it. My big present from my husband is the stack of books from the wish list that I decide I want to read over the course of the year. This year I was surprised to find so many books on the list. It was because we spent last December in India, and I didn’t get any books from last year’s wish list. I ordered some from that list too. Some of these books are even from three years ago. We moved about a year and a half ago and some of these books were packed instead of read. I found the box at Christmas time and added them to the pile to be read this year. I love to read. Did I say that already? I will put the names of the books at the end of this for those of you who are curious about the titles. The reason for getting these books in print, not as e-books, is that when books are great I like to share them with my friends, and I hope many of these are great.

Decoded by Jay Z
Language Arts: Decoded by Jay Z

Sean and I particularly like writers (and singers) who are what we call wordsmiths. One of my favorite books for this discussion is Jay Z’s book Decoded, where he decodes the meanings, stylistic nuances, and history of hip-hop music as well as telling some of his own history. Decoded contains some adult themes. I did let Sean read it, but if you would not let your child listen to rap music, this book might not be a good fit. You could always download a sample of the e-book and see what you think. This link will take you to a two page spread of a song that he decodes.

http://online.wsj.com/media/JayZDecoded2.pdf

Blair’s Book Pile from left to right:

Habibi by Craig Thompson

Big Little Lies by Liane Moriarity

Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet by Jamie Ford

The Kitchen House by Kathleen Grissom

The Snow Child by Eowyn Ivey

Reamde by Neal Stephenson

An Absent Mind by Eric Rill

The Storied Life of A. J. Fikry by Gabrielle Zevin

To Live by Yu Hua

Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee by Dee Brown

Orphan Train by Christina Baker Kline

What She Left Behind by Ellen Marie Wiseman

When I Found You by Catherine Ryan Hyde

The Memory Chalet by Tony Judt

Running the Rift by Naomi Benaron

All the Light We Cannot See by Anthony Doerr

A Paradise Built in Hell by Rebecca Solnit

Suite Francaise by Irene Nemirovsky

Red Rising by Pierce Brown

Ill Fares the Land by Tony Judt

Abundance a Novel of Marie Antoinette by Sena Jeter Naslund

Mahjong from A to Zhu by Scott D. Miller (Sean gave me a Mahjong Set for Christmas.)

Cleopatra by Stacy Schiff

The Lost Books of the Odyssey by Zachary Mason

The Cuckoo’s Calling by Robert Galbraith

The Sweetness at the Bottom of the Pie by Alan Bradley

The Lowland by Jhumpa Lahiri

Russians, the People behind the Power by Gregory Fiefer

Words Will Break Cement the Passion of Pussy Riot by Masha Gessen

Spark, the Revolutionary New Science of Exercise and the Brain by John J. Ratney M.D.

The Book of Night Women by Marlon James

The Invisible Front by Yochi Dreazen

Walking the Amazon by Ed Stafford

House of Stone by Anthony Shadid

Check out our post on teaching history here and check out Sean’s Physical Education here.





Handcrafting High School: Year 1, The First Four Months: History

History

History: A Repeat of a Favorite Class and Volunteering

The Course: A Brief History of Humankind: This is a Coursera course, https://class.coursera.org/humankind-002, that repeats regularly. It is the best history course I have ever taken. The instructor, Dr. Yuval Noah Harari, from the Hebrew University in Jerusalem comes across as brilliant, even as he makes history accessible to a lay person! There is a book as well, but Sean did not use it. I did though, http://www.ynharari.com/sapiens-the-book/short-overview/. I read it, referred to it, and made a series of questions from it to accompany each lecture. Sean got a lot more out of the class that way. I did not have him write the answers, instead we would discuss them. Some of these questions took us far afield. It was a thought provoking quarter for history. The class is about the big picture not the memorization of dates and facts. Most people I know do not remember much history, probably because they just learned it for the test. History taught the way Dr. Harari teaches it is memorable.

This was the second time Sean has taken this class. I was surprised when Sean asked to take it again at the start of this year. He took it a year ago! He wanted to work on the skill of note taking, and he felt he could get more out of this class a second time. His main reason though was that he liked this class that much! After giving it some thought, I decided that it would be like rereading a book you loved. You do get much more out of the book the second time reading. Both Sean and I have gotten much more out of this class the second time through.

The course is free so even with the book this is very affordable. There are quizzes for the class on the Coursera site. (Sean is working on the skill of test taking this year. Sean is not an experienced test taker, and suffers from pretty severe test anxiety, so he needs to work on that skill.) http://www.ynharari.com/

The text that I used to help me prepare questions. It was a great read!
History: The text that I used to help me prepare questions. It was a great read!

I thought about having Sean write 4 research papers for history over the 4 months that he took to complete A Brief History of Humankind. I opted for him to volunteer instead. There are only so many hours in the day, and he didn’t have time for both. The way we scheduled the class, without a writing component, was not time intensive. Sean and I watched the video lectures in the car on the way to crew practice. We discussed the salient points covered in the lectures using the guided questions I had put together. We (yes we) took the quizzes. By the way, I read over the quizzes when I was making the guided questions, after I had taken the quiz myself, to make sure we covered everything, and that Sean was very familiar with the terms Dr. Harari tested. I felt it important that I take this class with Sean so that he had someone to talk with about what he was learning. I think history lends itself to intellectual discussion, and this provided a way for us to have intellectual discussions about topics I did not know much more about than Sean did.

Volunteering: We feel strongly about volunteering at our house. We have volunteered for an animal rescue organization (http://www.projectwildlife.org/), helping kids learn to speak English in Delhi, India (http://www.crossculturalsolutions.org/), and now on a re-election campaign.

We worked on Scott Peters re-election campaign.
History: We worked on Scott Peters’ re-election campaign.

Every election cycle we include the election in our history. I have been corrected by some people that politics are civics not history, but I do not agree with that distinction. Aren’t our political choices a big part of what drives history?

We feel strongly about voting at our house. I think it is important to raise Sean in an environment where he is aware of what is going on in politics. I am raising a voter. I am also trying to raise him to be a critical thinker. I am not looking for him to agree with me on everything, or even vote as I do. I want him to come to his own understandings and beliefs about what is the best course. Democracies work best when all citizens vote. The issues and candidates you support might not win every time, but you will live in a more equitable and peaceful nation, because the majority of the people living in it voted, which means the majority of the people spoke about what and who they wanted for their nation.

I could not wait to vote as I approached the age of 18. I grew up in a family whose members voted, often for different parties and differently on issues. We discussed our reasons, we talked about the issues, and we did not let it become divisive when we disagreed about them. I have voted every voting cycle since I was 18 years old, except for one when I could not make it to the polls in time. I want Sean to take voting as seriously as Jim (my husband) and I do.

Sean is listening to the candidate speak.
History: Sean is listening to the candidate speak.

I think the best way to make sure Sean cares about voting and the issues facing our country is by participating in the process. This year Sean, Jim, and I volunteered on the campaign for a candidate running to keep his house seat. We watched the debates, learned about the issues, and paid attention to the results of the election. It made a difference to volunteer for a campaign because we were much more vested in the results.

Sean is working the phone banks. This was a tough job. Most people do not want to speak on the phone to strangers about their political choices.
History: Sean is working the phone banks. This was a tough job. Most people do not want to speak on the phone to strangers about their political choices.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Check out our post on handcrafting science here.





Handcrafting High School: Year 1, The First Four Months: Science

Science: A Parent’s Passion

        I LOVE science‼ My son likes science. This is the main area of handcrafting Sean’s education that has focused on the passions of someone in his family besides him. (My husband’s and my other passions are shared by Sean.) I am a scientist, and I know a lot of science. Even though he doesn’t have my strong passion for science, my son is good at science. He has had the benefit of a good science education. I am a passionate proponent of people learning how the natural and physical world works. I do not think of science as an ancillary subject, and I believe strongly that the treatment by our academic institutions of science as ancillary has led to a lot of the problems our world is facing right now.

Stars are being born here. This is from the Hubble Telescope. It is easy to understand how captivating it is to study astronomy.
Science: Stars are being born here. This is from the Hubble Telescope. It is easy to understand how captivating it is to study astronomy. Photo from, http://hubblesite.org/gallery/album/

I want to come clean with you; I did something I caution other parents against doing. I am using my middle school science textbook for high school. I made sure Astronomy and Earth Science was far enough along so that I could use it with Sean this year. Let me start by telling you, it is a middle school text. I am beefing it up by adding more math to it, having him write regular lab reports, and having him read relevant periodicals, books, and on-line articles to go along with the weekly theory, but I am not significantly changing my text. I am calling this course Applied Chemistry and Physics, which it is, on Sean’s high school transcript to make it easier for the colleges where he applies to recognize the coursework this class entails.

It might make me sound a bit like a control freak (I am not btw), but here are my reasons for using my text even if it is a middle school text. My choices of texts and courses are severely limited when it comes to those that are sold to the homeschool community because:

  • I will not use a course that excludes or misrepresents scientific facts, principles, models, or theories that are considered core ideas in the field. I am a scientist. I am not going to play silly games about what constitutes good science. I care too much about it. It pains me to admit it, but most of the science materials developed specifically for the homeschool community play this game of omission and/or misrepresentation with many of the core established understandings of science. When I see this it is a signal to me that the person responsible for the material does not have the same passion I do for teaching people how the natural and physical world works, and I just cannot use their stuff.
  • I find many public school texts available for homeschoolers to be dry, arcane, and full of advanced topics without enough grounding in the foundational fundamentals.
  • Many texts have an inadequate or thoughtless pairing of labs with the theory.
  • Often with public school texts, there is just too much material to get through in a year, with too much emphasis on facts that could easily be looked up using your phone (which is what we all do!).
  • Most public school texts assume the material is going to be taught by a teacher, so the fit isn’t easy if you are not prepared to teach from it. And even I would rather not put together a yearlong series of lectures for just one student from someone else’s text. That is one reason my texts are written to the student as a really complete series of lecture notes. (That is how I think of my texts.) I consider each chapter in my text to be one (occasionally two) lecture’s worth of material written in a conversational manner. It is also why the Teacher’s Guide has a Text Review. Those would be my lecture notes if I were teaching from my book. It is much easier for me, the author, to write the lecture notes, than for parents who are using my texts.

This does make me sound like a control freak about science doesn’t it?!? LOL!

I have my reasons for using my text, but even so, a year ago it would have made me nervous to use this course for high school. Then two unrelated events happened that made me take a harder look at the science many consider high school level.

  1. I signed Sean up for a science co-op class to take along with this one. The class met the University of California a to g requirement for a high school science class. The class only met once a month! The labs did not seem to be carefully paired with the theory. They felt more like a hodgepodge of laboratory techniques crammed together. I concluded that if this class met the UC System requirements, then we were doing above and beyond that with my middle school courses.
  2. Early in the 2014/2015 school year, I was contacted by a parent who is using RSO Biology 2. They had recently moved to New York State. Here is her statement from a review she wrote about RSO Biology 2 on Amazon, “I’m now using this book to teach a science co-op in NY. According to the White Plains school district, the labs in this book can be used to qualify for the biology/living environment Regents Exam.” In a separate email, I learned that to graduate from high school in New York State you must take certain classes and then pass the Regent’s Exam for those classes. After reviewing the material in RSO Biology 2, the White Plains School District told the homeschooling parent that as long as they saved the records from the biology labs this course would satisfy the high school requirement for a year of biology/living environment. The irony was the parent was not trying to get them to approve this as a high school level course. Her daughter was in middle school. When she moved to the White Plains school district they wanted to look at the materials she was using before giving their approval that she could homeschool her daughter! She shared the topics and labs from RSO Biology 2 to get them to approve this book for use in middle school. Instead the school district approved the book for high school (and middle school). Her daughter and the other students at the co-op are getting credit for both, I guess. there was also a comment in a similar vein from a different reviewer on Amazon. This is a quote from their comment, “P.S. I suppose I should mention that before this program, he scored in the 69th percentile on science (7.3 GE) according to a national, standardized test for fifth-graders. This year he scored in the 90th percentile in science (13+ GE) on the same national, standardized test given to sixth-graders. What does that mean? It means he’s got mastery of the content more than anything.”
RSO Biology 2
Science: RSO Biology 2 http://www.pandiapress.com/?page_id=82

When RSO Biology 2 first came out, people contacted me about using it for high school. My standard response was that it was not written to be a high school level text and there were things that were left out that I would have included in a high school level course. For example, I left out the electron transport chain during the discussion of photosynthesis. I left out a probability exercise showing the number of different combinations of chromosomes that can be made during meiosis and then recombined at fertilization for two diploid organisms with 3 chromosomes in their karyotype. (I did write this though. My publisher wisely had me remove it. It really was advanced even for most high school students. 😉 ) There would be more chemistry woven into the biology. Next school year Sean will study chemistry. I will have to make sure he gets the important biochemistry then.

I spent some time thinking (mildly obsessing my husband and publisher would say, LOL!) about the situation with the Regent’s Exam, and I think I know why the school district felt RSO Biology 2 qualifies as a high school level course. Good science programs are moving away from a focus on memorizing facts and to a focus on science practices. In most cases, the basic concepts and foundational fundamentals are the same for a high school and middle school text. Maybe middle school courses do not check every single box for the more complicated concepts, but there is no way for middle school and high school students to practice most of the more advanced concepts anyway. Very few texts have a strong focus on the application and practice of the science concepts being taught. RSO Biology 2 (and Astronomy and Earth Science 2) have that as a primary focus. There is a focus in these courses on learning the foundational fundamentals and then applying them. A focus on the application and practice of science concepts and foundational fundamentals translates to a focus on using the scientific method in a meaningful way, the way scientists actually use it.  It is one of the reasons I have students make their own slides in RSO Biology 2. If you buy prepared slides, you will get a better view of the specimen than if you prepare your own slides. I guarantee it! But if you do that you will never become good at making slides, and studying science should not just be about looking at what others have done. Studying science should include you interacting with the natural and physical world to come to a better, more complete understanding of how it works.

Science
Science: Lunar eclipse, 10/7/2014

I would have used Astronomy and Earth Science 2 even without these two things happening, but I would have obsessed more, making sure I covered the specific facts I am leaving out of the middle school text that I would not leave out in a high school text. I have a confession to make about last year too. I used my biology text as a high school level biology course in 8th grade. Sean wanted to do biology again in 8th grade. The sequence for Sean’s science during middle school was 5th grade: middle school biology, 6th grade: physics, 7th grade: chemistry, 8th grade: high school biology. He hasn’t had astronomy or earth science since 2nd grade.

So far this has been a great year of science. The sequence of topics in the text is astronomy, geology, hydrology, the atmosphere and meteorology, and environmental science. Sean has only gotten through the astronomy portion. Sean is loving science this year. Astronomy has really captured his interest and imagination. I have to be careful when Sean looks at the supplementary videos and articles, because he can lose a day that way. Not that I mind, it is just that I have to make sure there is nothing pressing when he starts science!

The Parallel Universe Theory has captivated Sean's imagination.
Science: The Parallel Universe Theory has captivated Sean’s imagination. Illustration from, http://www.tip-day.com/parallel-universe-myth-reality-new-hypothesis/

In addition to using my course, Sean has read the following:

A Wrinkle in Time
Science: A Wrinkle in Time
  • A Wrinkle in Time by Madeleine L’Engle – The reading level was a little young for him, but I coupled the reading with a discussion of Einstein’s Theories and how there could be “wrinkles” in time. (A topic that isn’t too young for him or anyone else!) Sean loved this. In addition to his studies, he has taken the time to learn MUCH‼ more than I know about parallel universe theories!
A Brief History of Nearly Everything
Science: A Short History of Nearly Everything
  • A Short History of Nearly Everything by Bill Bryson – This book along with my course, I feel, took Astronomy and Earth Science 2 up to the high school level! Sean has loved parts of this book and been lukewarm about others. I should probably state here, my son will enter college with a level of science that will enable him to do well in his science courses. Sean knows more science than most adults, but most adults do not have much science knowledge. Unless Sean changes his mind, Sean’s focus in high school science will not be at the AP science level. If your student’s focus is at the AP science level, this is not a rigorous enough course for you. But because of the focus on the foundational fundamentals, Sean is able to make connections across the science disciplines that are deep and nuanced

.

The Martian
Science: The Martian
  • The Martian by Andy Weir – I read this book in two days. It took Sean a week. This book is science, science fiction, action, and a nail biter. Each day that Sean read this, I had him email me a writing technique he noticed and liked that the author had used, I also had him email me 1 science fact from the book.

I know many of you want to get your hands on this text NOW!! I am peddling as fast as I can, I promise!

 

 

Check out our post on teaching computer science in home schooling high school here.





Handcrafting High School: Year 1, The First Four Months: Computer Science

Homeschooling Coding: A Student’s Passion

        I have been very thoughtful handcrafting this academic area. I will go through the process of how I did it, so you can see what I mean when I say I am handcrafting Sean’s education. I do not know much about coding, so when it comes to homeschooling coding, I have had to rely on others for how it is best learned and advice on the best course of study. Because of this, I think it will make it more meaningful for you to see how I went about handcrafting this area versus a subject area like science.

Why this has a central place in Sean’s core education: I think computer science, coding, should be mandatory and not treated as an elective. I pay a lot of attention to current events, academics, and how both should be merged for Sean’s education because of where the world is headed. Based on my observations, learning to code should not be treated as optional! At this time, no other academic discipline leads to as many different options for meaningful career opportunities. Traditional schools as a whole are behind the ball on doing a good job of teaching this too. You almost have to homeschool if you want your child to have a good education in computer science.

Three years ago, I bought a canned curriculum designed to teach kids to code. Sean hated it. I made him stick with it for 6 weeks. He never stopped hating it, so I let him quit. But I never stopped believing that learning to code was so important he would have to study it again at some point.

Homeschooling Coding: This is the high score from a game Sean designed. He decided playing games was more fun the designing them.
Homeschooling Coding: This is the high score from a game Sean designed. He decided playing games was more fun the designing them.

Two years ago Sean told me he wanted to learn to design computer games. Yeah! His interest was piqued‼ This was where it all started. I found a camp he could go to for two weeks during the upcoming summer focused on designing computer games. I also got lucky at about the same time. I was on the lookout, you see. I read an article in my alumni newsletter about a group at UCSD that was starting a Sunday program where kids could go and learn coding. The name of the group is ThoughtSTEM. Sean began attending the Sunday ThoughtSTEM sessions. He also went to the summer camp and learned, as he told me, “It is more fun to play video games than to make them.”

ThoughtSTEM  http://www.thoughtstem.com/home

      All along I immersed him in everything ThoughtSTEM had to offer. I made a point of talking to the people running it, emailing them when I had thoughts or questions, and getting the most I could out of their program for Sean. They became Sean’s and my mentors for how to learn coding. The take home message here is that I thought it was important for him to learn coding, so I worked hard at making it happen.

Homeschooling Coding: Sean at ThoughtSTEM with his pug Jez.
Homeschooling Coding: Sean at ThoughtSTEM with his pug Jez.

Sean took a high school level class through ThoughtSTEM last year in App Development. He also went through an internship program with them, where they trained him to teach young kids to code. He interned 1 week at a camp in the spring and 1 week at a camp in the summer for them. He participated in a coding faire they put on at UCSD. This year his training turned into a job. Sean works about 9 hours a month teaching coding to kids.

Throughout the 2013/2014 school year, Sean worked on designing websites with ThoughtSTEM. He also learned Photoshop and 3-D design with Maya and 3-D Studio Max. These last were not with ThoughtSTEM; they were through other programs. I learned that Sean likes to code and work with computers to create art.

The focus of this year: This summer I asked our mentors at ThoughtSTEM what they thought Sean should study for the 2014/2015 school year. They suggested Sean learn the foundational fundamentals of coding. Things like algorithms. (This is very ironic if you follow my science posts.)

I talked to Sean about how he wanted to proceed with this and he wanted to learn how to code C/C++. I did some research and decided the best way to make this happen was to put him in a series of coding classes at UCSD Extension. I decided on an extension, not a community college, because the extension classes are 3 hour classes once a week over 9 weeks. That fits much better with our schedule than 2 or 3 times a week over 16 weeks as is the schedule for most community college classes. I signed him into the first of a 5-course series to learn to code C/C++. The first course was called, An Introduction to Computer Programming with Java.

A hoop to jump through first: When I contacted UCSD Extension they told me he could only enroll if a counselor or other administrator from our school district okayed it. They would not take my word that he was ready, even though the only prerequisite was access to a computer with an internet connection. I explained that I was the sole director, administrator, and educator at our home school, and the only person from his “school” who could substantiate that he was ready for this class was me, his mother. They actually told me I was incorrect, and that by law I must be working with someone from the school district where we live. I knew they were incorrect, but I wasn’t sure how to respond. I gave it some thought, because homeschooling coding was going to happen this year! Luckily, I contacted a state homeschool group I am a member of, The Homeschool Association of California (HSC) http://www.hsc.org/home-page.html for advice. They forwarded the issue to their legal department, and within 12 hours an attorney sent a letter to me to forward to UCSD Extension. In addition to them being incorrect about how homeschooling works in California, they were discriminating against Sean because he was homeschooled.

My message to you is, have a state homeschool group you can go to. If you had told me that I was ever going to need legal help at any point while homeschooling Sean, I would have thought you were nuts! But guess what, I did. Thank goodness I had someone I could go to. There are two great homeschooling groups in California, HSC and California Homeschool Network (CHN) http://www.californiahomeschool.net/. I am a member of both. It was also good that I did not give up. I did not get mad at UCSD, but I did stick with it. I wanted to put Sean in that class and I worked at it until he was in. http://extension.ucsd.edu/

Some surprises were in store: Sean was in! Now for the real work. This was a college class. It didn’t occur to me, but Sean did not know that you should take notes, ask questions in class, or use the book and highlight the text or make notes in the book. I had to work with Sean so he learned these skills while he was taking the class. Also, he was intimidated by the fact that he was the only person under the age of 22. Sean thought all the people were between the ages of 22 and mid 40’s. I do not know. I never went into his class with him. He would only ask the instructor questions via e-mail, which bugged me, but did not seem to bother his instructor.

Homeschooling Coding: An image for the game Sean has been writing the code for.
Homeschooling Coding: An image for the game Sean has been writing the code for.

As I told you earlier, one of Sean’s passions is coding to make art. He loves to design web sites. He does not love to code to make programs that are not visual. For him, Google Doodles are captivating; writing a program to calculate the tip and change for a restaurant bill is not. This class was work for him because it focused on the areas that he is not passionate about. At one point, he told me he was done with coding after this class. My response, “Darn, just when it stopped being optional.” That to me is the heart of child-led learning. My child’s passion and my own belief that homeschooling coding was important led us here, but when he stopped being passionate about it, I did not let him walk away. Like I told him, “If I thought when you were 30 you were going to say it was a mistake to stick with coding at the age of 14, I would let you quit. But you won’t say that. I am sure of it.”

Sean is a little more keen on this class now. He graduated the class with 104% in it. He worked hard and got an A+. The teacher sent him an email congratulating him, telling him, “He had succeeded where others had failed!” Do not get the wrong impression that Sean is particularly gifted at this. I just made sure he had the time to work on the programs and get them debugged and turned in before the due date. No procrastination was allowed. When he got stuck he emailed the teacher and got the help he needed.

In case you are wondering, I am not using this class so that Sean can attend college early. Sean will attend college in 3 ½ years. I just couldn’t find any good classes to teach the foundational fundamentals of coding outside of a college setting. I had to find a class for this because I did not want to learn computer programming. 🙂

The plan going forward: Sean has 4 more classes to take focused on programming with C/C++. At the end of that, he will earn a certificate in Programming with C/C++. http://extension.ucsd.edu/programs/index.cfm?vAction=certDetail&vCertificateID=23&vStudyAreaID=14 He will be finished by this time in 2015. In 2016, he plans on starting a series of classes to earn a certificate in Graphics and Digital Design. (He will get back to his passion after picking up some foundational fundamentals!) He will complete the C/C++ Series. I am treating those classes as a mandatory part of his core classes. It is through this series that he will learn the foundational fundamentals for computer programming. It is just one language, but that seems to be how it works with computer science. The Graphic and Design classes are planned but can be changed if Sean finds another area of computer related courses he would rather take. This sounds good to Sean now, but we will have to see where he is at a year from now.

When I read over this post, it seems messy, wandering, and a bit chaotic. I was going to shorten it and clean it up for readability, but decided to leave it so you would get a feel for the messy, wandering, chaotic process I use for handcrafting Sean’s education. This process is the journey, and it is a very personal one. We tried some things that worked better for him than others. Some of the things we tried took fortitude and hard work before he liked them. Some things he loved so much he had trouble tearing himself away from them. Some things he never liked. There is simply no way of knowing before embarking on the journey what it will look like while you are taking it. So far the journey has led to a place where Sean has completed a college level computer coding class in which he learned a lot of the foundational fundamentals of coding, and he has a part time job working in a field he loves. Who knows where it will lead from here, he is still on the journey. This is the academic area he is the most passionate about, but only specific parts of it. He is 15. Who knows where it will lead. And that’s okay, as long he enjoys the journey!

Read our handcrafting high school article for math here.





Learning Science

Learning Science, Secular Science Homeschooling

 Homeschooling and Science

A Winning Combination

Sean Lee learning about the science of aviation.
Sean Lee learning about the science of aviation.

I am reposting this article in response to an article in the New York Times. There is a link to that article at the bottom of this post.  The article validates what I am detailing below about how science is best learned!

Learning science is something I have spent 24 years working at in one aspect or another. Today I want to talk about what I have learned over these years educating in various venues and to a broad range of age groups. This is the text from a talk I gave at the California Homeschool Network Convention, CHN Family Expo, in June, 2014.

I was a college professor, teaching chemistry and biology at community colleges before retiring to homeschool my son. I also write secular science textbooks for the Real Science Odyssey series. This is a series of textbooks that have been written primarily for use in a homeschool or small co-op setting. As you can imagine, at our house, we definitely take time to learn science. In the school year 2013/2014, these two areas, facilitating my son’s science education and my textbooks, combined when I taught a homeschool science co-op using the REAL Science Odyssey Biology 2 Course I wrote. I learned some things teaching this co-op. I will touch on some of those things today, but if you want more, you should go to my articles in my blog where there is information detailing what I learned about teaching a science co-op for homeschoolers.

First I would like to ask a question. Have you ever had a great science course? If you have, what made it great? I doubt that even one person thought of a science class that only had reading text and listening to lectures! People approach me all the time worried about the job they are doing teaching science. So many people have had a bad experience in school when it came to science. Those same people want their children to learn science but they do not know what a good science course looks like.

When I think about what a great science course looks like, I recognize that the elements for it are best met with the type of environment we have in the homeschool community, whether in our own home or in a small co-op. I’ve come to understand that the homeschooling environment is absolutely the best environment for learning science.

So how can I say this? There are many people, notable scientists among them (Bill Nye comes to mind at the top of the list), who believe the exact opposite.

Of all academic subjects, science is the one that is the best fit for the homeschooling environment. Why? Because science is best taught where there is the time and space to ponder, research, explore, and get up and experiment. With the right tools and support you don’t need a science degree either. All you need is a willingness and desire to have your child learn how the natural and physical world works.

Start early:

  • Serious subjects are taught beginning in grade school.
  • Why isn’t the subject that teaches how the natural and physical world works serious enough to start teaching early?
  • Starting early allows for more depth and complexity.
  • I hear from people that they can wait to teach science, that kids are not ready to be taught science in grade school. I don’t understand the logic behind this. Science explains how the natural and physical world works. Why isn’t grade school the perfect time to begin teaching science? It’s sad, because kids want to know about plants and butterflies, stars and planets, how cooking works, atoms and energy. Young children are fascinated by these things. I actually think a big part of the problem with science education is that parents are not fascinated by it anymore, and it’s really a shame. Adults are not fascinated by it because their science education was so poor. We as homeschoolers can change that.
  • Recently I volunteered at the Intel International Science and Education Fair, the Intel ISEF. It is a huge international science fair. They consider it a science talent search with thousands of high school students from across the globe competing for a total of $4 million in prize money. I always enjoy myself immensely at these gatherings because it’s the only time I get to sit around with a whole bunch of scientists and talk science. At lunch time I happened to sit down with 6 female scientists. Three of them were, or had been, high school science teachers and one was a community college teacher who taught people how to teach science. We all got to talking about what we did or had done and of course it came to homeschooling science when they wanted to know what I did. It was very interesting. You might think this group would not be proponents of homeschooling. I did. You and I would be wrong. These women had been to many science fairs as volunteers and what they saw, again and again, was that increasingly often the best science fair projects were from homeschooled students. I was told that more often than not the homeschooled kids are the ones that win the science fairs. I was curious to find out why they thought homeschooled kids were doing a superior job of learning and experimenting with science. They said to me that the problem stems from when traditional schools begin teaching science. According to them, science is being taught later and later in schools. This is due to the current state of public education and the testing which affects a school’s funding. Schools pour time and money into language arts and math, because if test scores are low in those areas a school’s funding is cut.
  • Teachers focus all their energy and resources on math and language arts to the detriment of science. If kids are lucky enough to get science before high school it is as a component of language arts. It isn’t science for the sake of science. Now this touches on several things I want to talk about in a minute. But when science is a component of language arts, it’s about reading science. It’s not about doing science and there’s a big difference. It’s why a lot of adults think science is boring. So what happens when you don’t start science until high school is that you have students who come into high school weak in science. Therefore the science teachers have to start teaching at a much more basic level then they were teaching in years past.
  • If you’re curious to see the difference in levels, go to the Pandia Press website and look at the difference in REAL Science Odyssey Life 1, Chemistry 1, and Biology 2. RSO Life 1 is written for early grade school, Chemistry 1 is written for late grade school, and Biology 2 is written for middle school. You can look at them in the ‘Try It before You Buy It’ section. I really encourage you to look at them side by side. I encourage you to compare the two biology texts and to look at the progression within these books. There’s a big change. There’s a certain amount of knowledge that you begin to anticipate and expect that students are going to have. Students who start a new school year with some knowledge have an advantage. This is similar to what is done in math or language arts. You do not want to be teaching high school students phonics or basic spelling chunks. You want to be discussing literature with them.
REAL Science Odyssey Chemistry 1, Blair Lee M.S.
REAL Science Odyssey Chemistry 1, Blair Lee M.S. http://www.pandiapress.com/?page_id=86

Focus on the fundamentals:

  • Scientific Method
  • Good Foundation means a good grasp of how the various pieces relate
  • Good Foundation allows for a better understanding of new concepts
  • Good Foundation leads to a better ability to analyze data, models, and theories about how the natural and physical world works
  • When I talk about fundamentals, I am talking about the underlying principles that are the root knowledge required for a more advanced understanding of a subject. These are things that high school students in traditional schools are no longer coming into the science classroom knowing.
  • Scientific Method: An important aspect of learning science is learning how to use the scientific method. Using the scientific method depends on knowing the basic facts of science. The absolute best way to learn the scientific method is through applying it. The scientific method is based on experimentation, observation, and deductive reasoning. One reason that the homeschool environment is superior is because homeschoolers are given the time and space for experimentation, making observations, and deductive reasoning. It really is the best environment for learning science. Teasing out the answer to a problem is not something you can set a time limit for accomplishing. Schools, by their very nature, are forced into giving students time limits to learn and apply science concepts.   This doesn’t lend itself to a practical understanding of how the scientific process really works.
  • A solid foundation in the basic fundamentals of science will result in students who have a good grasp of how the various pieces in science relate, which leads to a better understanding of new concepts. A strong focus on the foundational fundamentals also leads to a better ability to analyze more complex data, models, and theories for how the natural and physical world works
  • There are certain fundamental principles that are the basic building blocks for understanding science concepts. For example atoms; all matter is made of atoms. Every single science principle where we explain how the natural and physical world works at its core is talking about atoms. Even a graduate student studying complicated scientific principles and theories must understand the basics of atoms. An understanding of atoms is one of the foundational fundamental principles in all of science and is necessary to understand how other pieces of scientific information relate.
  • I think it is a problem that often there is not a focus on the basic fundamentals for two reasons. The first is that the students’ knowledge base is not complete. The second thing I see happening in middle school and high school texts and classes is that concepts that are too complicated are brought in before there is an understanding of the underlying principles. This leads to spotty knowledge which results in people thinking they’re not good in science when it is actually the quality of their education that’s not good. In these situations, some students will learn the new material, but most students will just breeze right over it. I like to use foreign language as an example here. If you’re sitting in a restaurant and you overhear someone speaking a language you don’t know you tune the speaker out. But if you know a little of that language you will listen, try to understand what they’re saying, maybe even start a conversation with them. It’s the same thing with science. If I start talking about polarity and water molecules and you don’t even understand the basics of what a molecule is, you don’t know what I’m talking about and your brain glazes over or moves on to something else. If you do have some knowledge of molecules and polarity, you will pay attention and engage in the conversation, adding to your knowledge base.

Learn each discipline as a single subject:

  • Does not create artificial boundaries
  • Allows for an in-depth understanding of the foundational fundamentals, instead of a “Jack of all Trades, Master of None” approach
  • Mastery of each science discipline is superior for that discipline and for making connections across disciplines
  • On the face of it, it might sound like spending an entire year every four years on a single subject creates artificial boundaries between science disciplines. While it is important that the material you use to teach points out and makes connections between the different disciplines, the best approach is to learn the fundamentals of each discipline and make connections once the basics are understood. This creates a cohesive body of knowledge which enhances a student’s ability to make connections between the disciplines.
  • Often science is learned with a grab bag approach, which I call the smattering approach. When I told the gals at the Intel ISEF fair that I was not a fan of the smattering approach they said that in the past they would have agreed with me. But that now, the state of the science being taught is in such a shabby state that they would even like it if people went back to the smattering approach. It turns out that the smattering approach for learning science is better than not learning it at all. So I guess if it’s between the smattering approach and nothing at all, the smattering approach is okay to use. Otherwise, any good science teacher will tell you you’re better off teaching science as a single subject, just as we do every other academic subject we care about our children learning.
  • This really goes back to teaching the foundational fundamentals. You start to build on concepts, creating a firm foundation, adding more and more complicated material on top of it. Anyone who has worked with their child in math knows exactly what I’m talking about. There is no other subject that we take seriously that we do not teach as a single subject. There is a reason for that.

Rely on one or more good textbooks:

Real Science Odyssey Biology 2
RSO Biology 2 http://www.pandiapress.com/?page_id=82#level2
  • Comprehensive
  • It helps to have a guide, someone who is an expert in that field, to help you figure out the scope and sequence of the material to cover.
  • Different students access information differently.
  • Focus on the fundamentals.
  • Make sure the text is secular teaching the theories and models that are central to each science discipline.
  • Don’t teach a co-op class without a text.
  • I write science textbooks that are long and complete. I do not write fluffy science. So it should not surprise people that I am a fan of having some sort of guide and guidance to follow for each subject that I’m having my child study over the course of the year. I learned my lesson with first grade biology that even someone who is very knowledgeable in the field could use some direction. When I homeschooled my son in first grade I had a guide and reference material for every subject he was learning, except biology. I thought, “How hard will it be? I taught biology at community college. I have a biology degree from UCSD. Biology is going to be a piece of cake.” It turns out, with all the other subjects he was working on I was overwhelmed when it came to planning and figuring out a course of study as I went along. In fact, when my son was in second grade I had him work through RSO Life 1 and Earth and Space 1!
  • I will be honest; my reference material is not always a textbook. In history we use video courses and material where someone else has put together a complete package. Science is a little different than history though, because you are still going to need lab sheets, material lists, and I really think it’s good for students to be able to read the information if they need it.
  • Choose texts that are comprehensive and do not skip over the basics, introducing advanced topics and language with a focus on the fundamentals. I do not think it matters which science discipline you start with, but I would suggest waiting until 3rd grade for chemistry and physics. When your child is ready for their multiplication tables they are ready for chemistry. It has to do with the abstract nature of chemistry.
  • Every area of science has a lot of information to it. It helps to have a guide, someone who is an expert in that field, help you figure out the scope and sequence of the material to cover. I believe there is no way to teach the foundational fundamentals or to teach science as a year-long single subject without a textbook. In every science class I have ever taught, I have been handed a stack of textbooks. I was given the teacher’s textbook, the lab manual, the answer key, and test making software, because a committee of people at the community college where I was teaching decided that was what the course was going to look like that year. Perhaps this sounds limiting, but I did not find it so. You can use the textbooks as a touch point if you want, but it is essential to have a guide so that the material is covered in a complete fashion.
  • The other important thing about having a good textbook is that students access information in various ways. I learned how important it is to have reference material when I taught a co-op class this year. Based on my experience, I wouldn’t have my son take a science co-op class if there wasn’t a textbook because if the subject gets complicated your child needs something to reference, not the Internet either. I think it is important to have something they can hold in their hands, something they can underline, highlight, and make notes from. A source that you can both go to.
  • Along the lines of accessing information I’ve actually been thinking about making some videos for my text and putting them on my blog for kids who are struggling with some of the more complicated concepts. The genetics unit in my biology textbook, for instance, is an area kids find very difficult. I think if students had me lecture out of the book to them, those kids who were feeling challenged by the concepts would be able to understand the information better. I’m very into making sure there are multiple ways to access information.

 Carefully pair theory with labs and activities

  • All theory and no labs, what a bore
  • All labs and no theory, teach cooking instead 

Let’s be clear about what I’m talking about when I call something a good science course. I am not talking about sitting in your seats. I am talking about getting up and moving around, getting your hands dirty. I’m talking about taking those foundational fundamentals and applying them to real-world labs and activities that relate well to the theory. This is where science becomes fun.

  • When scientific theories are paired well with labs and activities it enhances an understanding of the scientific method and science learning. It demonstrates through use and practice how hypotheses are formed and conclusions determined based on science facts that are presented in the text.
  • Sometimes I see science being taught where it is all theory with no labs or activities. The science theory is the science information in the written text. Other times I see science being taught with all labs and activities but no theory. Neither is adequate.
  • Honestly all theory with no labs and activities, why bother. That’s where science gets a bad name. For parents I know that the labs and activities are work. I know you do not always feel like setting them up. I know this because I teach my child science, and I don’t always feel like setting them up, but I do it because it’s important to me that my son gets a good science education. A good science education has labs and activities that are carefully paired with the text and theory.
  • All lab and activities with no theory might be fun, but you are not learning science cohesively. You’re not learning the foundational fundamentals. For example, how many of you understand the complicated process that occurs when you bake a cake? By this I mean the physics and chemistry involved in the baking process. To bake a cake you don’t need to know the underlying science because that is not your reason for baking it. It is about making a yummy treat for your family. In order for it to be called science you would need to understand the physics and chemistry of the process. And to know and understand the science you need to have studied the theory and then done the experiments. That way it all ties together.
  • When this is done; the pairing of the theory with the labs and activities, no place outside a college lab that is thoughtfully paired with a lecture course can match the homeschool community. It might be another reason why we are winning all of those science fairs.

5 Steps to a Great Science Education

  1. Start Early
  2. Focus on the Fundamentals
  3. Single Subject
  4. Good Textbook &/or Reference Materials
  5. Carefully Paired Theory and Labs & Activities

I hope that this helps any of you who are worried about your children’s learning of science, and that this doesn’t sound complicated to you. All you need to facilitate your child learning science is a desire and the resources to make it happen. I want to close with, “Science is so much fun to do, to share and interact. I really hope you take the time to explore science with your child. Who knows, maybe the next time someone asks you if you have had a great science course you will raise your hand, because the years of science you did while homeschooling your child were just that good!”

Update: In December of 2014 the New York Times published an article about college reinventing how science is taught and better learned using the principles and methods I am advocating here!

This post contains affiliate links.

Check out this list for materials to use for your own homeschool science co-op here and read some of my Lunar Ramblings here.





Materials List for a REAL Science Odyssey Chemistry 1 Co-op Class

Real Science Odyssey
RSO Chemistry 1, Blair Lee M.S.
RSO Chemistry 1, Blair Lee M.S. Pandia Press

My goal with this series of posts is to make it easier for anyone who wants to teach a science co-op. Teaching is a LOT of work. I respect the time and energy you as an educator are taking to teach science and this is my way of making it a little easier for you.

Note 1: You’re going to have to match the lab with the text. I changed the scheduled weeks where some of the labs are done in co-op class from the order they occur in the book.

Note 2: No change means that there is no change to the quantities as listed in the Material List in the Student Guide.

Note 3: I am assuming every student has their own textbook.

Note 4: Some of the labs have been assigned to do at home. I am assuming that the parents are responsible for the supplies for those labs which are all common household items.

Week Material List REAL Science Odyssey Chemistry 1 Co-op
1 The physical tests: Each student should go through and do the tests individually but you only need one set up for the entire group.The chemical tests: Have students work singly or in pairs conducting the chemical tests. You will need to multiply the amount of materials needed for the chemical tests by the number of students to determine the amount of materials you will need.
2 The Atom LabsLab #1: no change

Lab #2: no change

3 The Types! Lab: You need to decide how many sets of elements your class will make. The instructions are for making one set with some marshmallows leftover. Increase the amount of supplies if you are going to make more than one set of elements.
4 The Parts! Lab: 2 balloons per studentThe Alphabet Lab #1: You will need to multiply the amount of materials by the number of students to determine the amounts you will need. At this time. Make sure you have all of these supplies you need for each student to make their periodic table.
5 Atomic Numbers Lab #1: You will need to multiply the amount of materials by the number of students todetermine the amounts you will need if done individually. I recommend doing this individually by the way.Atomic Numbers Lab #2: You will need to multiply the amount of materials by the number of students to determine the amounts you will need.
6 Massive Matters Lab #2: You will need to multiply the amount of materials by the number of students to determine the amounts you will need. If you can borrow some kitchen scales from parents for today’s lab. This lab will run more smoothly.
7 Periodic Play Dough Lab: You will need to multiply the amount of materials by the number of students to determine the amounts you will need.
8 We Are Family Lab: Have students work singly or in small groups. You will need to multiply the amount of materials by the number of groups to determine the amounts you will need.
9 If lab is done in class do it as a group. There will be no change for the amount of materials. If the lab is done at home you will not need any materials for the lab today.
10 Make sure students have all the supplies they need to make their Element Book at the start of week 10.I like to have students do labs not watch them. This lab does have the potential to be a bit of a mess though – just warning you. You will need to multiply the amount of materials by the number of students to determine the amounts you will need.
11 You will need to multiply the amount of materials by the number of students to determine the amounts you will need.
12 You will need to multiply the amount of materials by the number of students to determine the amounts you will need.
13 No change, perform this lab as a group.
14 Double or triple the amount of ingredients for the Group 15 Lab to make sure you have enough for entire class.
15 The Group 16 Lab # 1 requires a stove. If labis done in class do it as a group. There will be no change for the amount of materials. If the labis done at home you will not need any materials for the lab today.The Group 16 Lab #2, double or triple the amount of supplies to ensure you have enough. Cut the potato into fourths, or eighths  that way you will use fewer potatoes for more students
16 Lab #1: No changeLab #2: You will need to multiply the amount of materials by the number of students to determine the amounts you will need. Add to the supply list 2 freezer baggies per student.
17 1 balloon per student
18 1 set of puzzle pieces per studentLab, pages 239 – 241: A minimum of 14 toothpicks per student and 23 gumdrops (in assorted colors) per student
19 Lab, pages 243 – 245: There is no change to the water and oil amounts, all other materialswill be increased so that there is enough for each studentLab, pages 251: 1 celery stalk and glass for each student, you probably want 2 contains of blue food coloring to ensure you have enough
20 Lab, pages 261 – 264: Increase the number of supplies per student
21 10 to 15 Lego pieces per student
22 Read over the procedure on page 277, for Part 2 decide if you want 1 set of three baggies a few set of three baggies or 1 group of three baggies per student
23 Lab #1, page 283: I think there is muchto be gained from having students take these measurements themselves, but one of the measurements is for the boiling point of water. The amounts of the materials depend on whether you do this lab in a demonstration fashion or have each student do it themselves.Lab #2, page 287: have pre-made Jell-O and a box of Jell-O with cold water so students can see that you made it from a solid and liquid. Had a jar of peanut butter, a jar of mayonnaise, multiply the containers, bowls, plates, and spoons by the number of students
24 Lab #2, page 297: You will need to multiply the amount of materials by the number of students to determine the amounts you will need.
25 Lab, page 303: You will need to multiply the amount of materials by the number of students to determine the amounts you will need.
26 Lab, page 309: You will need to multiply the amount of materials by the number of students to determine the amounts you will need.
27 Lab #1, page 319: no changeLab #2, page 293: You will need to multiply the amount of materials by the number of students to determine the amounts you will need.
28 Lab #1, page 329: 1 can of soda for every 1 to 3 students, multiply the number of glasses by the number of studentsLab #2, page 333: no change

Activity page 337: 1 kite per student

29 Lab #1, page 341: You will need to multiply the amount of materials by the number of students todetermine the amounts you will need.Lab #2: You will need to multiply the amount of materials by the number of students to determine the amounts you will need. If space is limited students could work in pairs or groups of three.
30 Lab, page 259: You will need to multiply the amount of materials by the number of students to determine the amounts you will need.
31 Labs #1 and #2: You will need to multiply the amount of materials by the number of students to determine the amounts you will need.
32 Make enough cabbage indicator for the entire class, 2 ¼ cups per student, you will use it this week and next week. Make a minimum of three coffee filters for each student.Lab #2, page 377: You will need to multiply the amount of materials by the number of students to determine the amounts you will need.
33 Labs #1 and #2: You will need to multiply the amount of materials by the number of students to determine the amounts you will need.
34 Labs #1 and #2: You will need to multiply the amount of materials by the number of students to determine the amounts you will need. For Lab #2 you need one piece of fruit and V-8 juice for every 2 to 4 students.
35 Lab, page 401: You will need to multiply the amount of materials by the number of students to determine the amounts you will need. Add one freezer baggie per student to the material list.
36 Lab #1, page 407: Each student should have a stopwatch or watch (the timer on an iPhone works great).Lab #2, page 411: Do this as a demonstration. It is a great lab to end the year on. No change to the amounts in the material list.

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Check out our materials list for RSO Biology here.





Using REAL Science Odyssey Chemistry 1 for a Co-op

REAL Science Odyssey Chemistry 1 is a great choice for a science co-op, however because it was designed to be done 2 days a week it presents some scheduling challenges when conducting the labs in 1 day. You might want to teach this class 2 days per week, if you do, follow the format in the book as laid out on pages 14 – 16 of RSO Chemistry 1. If you don’t, some weeks will require parents to do work at home. This schedule is for doing the class 1 day per week.

REAL Science Odyssey Chemistry 1, Blair Lee M.S.
Chemistry Co-Op: RSO Chemistry 1, Blair Lee M.S. http://www.pandiapress.com/?page_id=86

Note: The page numbers below are for the written text. If you have an e-book these page numbers will be a little off. Refer to the schedule in the book if there is any confusion about page numbers.

For more general information about teaching a science co-op read my blog article, Using REAL Science Odyssey for a Homeschool Co-op: General Notes.

Unless noted I recommend the following format for your class each week:

In class

  1. Read the theory
  2. Conduct the lab

At Home

  1. Crossword Puzzle, when there is one
  2. Some assignments and projects, as indicated below

For more general information about teaching a science co-op read my blog article, Using REAL Science Odyssey for a Homeschool Co-op: General Notes.

Unless noted I recommend the following format for your class each week:

In class

  1. Read the theory
  2. Conduct the lab

At Home

  1. Crossword Puzzle, when there is one
  2. Some assignments and projects, as indicated below

 

Week 1

The first week of class can be a bit hectic. I suggest you divide the week up this way

In class: Lab #2 pages 27 – 30

*** It is very important you go over the process you are using when conducting this lab. Discuss the scientific method, what it means, and how it is being applied.

At home: Lab #1 and the crossword puzzle pages 23 – 25, 31

 

Week 2

Each week discuss the parts to the scientific method. These are on the lab sheets for most labs. By the end of the year you want students to be fluent in the vocabulary used when applying the scientific method.

Lab #1 pages 37 – 39

Lab #2 pages 43 – 44

 

Week 3

At home: Read over pages 46 – 47 and Make Parts poster page 47

In class:

  1. Do the Parts! Lab: 49 – 51 next week
  2. Types! Lab: pages 54 – 61, There will be plenty of time for students to do this individually, but you could have students work on this together, so that the entire class makes this on a large table building one element at a time. If you do, make sure everyone participates (maybe put the labels in a hat and have students choose one, and make that element when it is his or her turn; if you have more than 10 students have students work in pairs for the larger elements like neon).

 

Week 4

There is a lot of sitting around today so I would suggest breaking it up by

  1. Read pages 66 – 67
  2. Do Parts! Lab: 49 – 51: Have an extra balloon for each student to take home, so they can share this demonstration with their family. Ask students to teach their family what is happening in this experiment.
  3. Do The Alphabet Lab #1 pages 69 – 73: Work through this methodically with your students. Students will be using this periodic table for several more chapters DO NOT let them take it home!!!

Have student do pages 75 – 79 at home, unless you have time at the end of class in which case have them do page 75 in class

Week 5

There are three parts to the Atomic Numbers section

  1. Atomic Numbers Lab #1 can be done as a demonstration or individually it is up to you
  2. While you wait the 20 minutes for the final observation for Lab #1: Read over page 81 and have students fill in the atomic numbers section on their periodic table.
  3. Atomic Numbers Lab #2 start in class, if students don’t finish it have them finish it at home

 

Week 6

In class:

  1. Read over pages 95 – 96 and have students fill in the assigned section on their periodic table
  2. Do Massive Matters Lab #2

At home: Massive Matters Lab #1

 

Week 7

  1. Read over page 105 and have students fill in the assigned section on their periodic table
  2. Do the Lab, page 111
  3. Save the worksheet page 109 for last in case you need to have students do it at home

 

Week 8

In class:

  1. Read over page 113 – 115 and have students fill in the atomic numbers section on their periodic table
  2. Do Lab 119 – 122; take your time with this lab. It is a really good one

At home: page 117

 

Week 9

The lab on page 129 – 131 requires an oven. If this is a problem for you:

  1. Fill in worksheet pages 125 – 127
  2. Have students (with parental supervision) do the lab at home and bring the muffins in for a tasting party. If you do this have student mix in berries or chocolate chips (assign this individually) so you have some variation in the muffins.
  3. You should have completed periodic tables to put on walls or desks for students to show off to their parents. This is the end of Unit 3, so it is a good place to take the time to do this.

 

Week 10

Over the next 9 weeks students will be creating a book for the first three rows of the periodic table going across by group. There is some drawing to be done each week. Class time for this can be problematic because some students will take 5 minutes to do the same task another student take 55 minutes on.

Each week for the next 8 weeks: Read over the For My Notebook page and make notes about the elements in the spaces on the pages for the Element Book.

I will give you my advice each week, but you might need to tweak it.

  • Recruit 1 or a group of parents to do the work on pages 139 – 140 for each student

This week In class:

  1. Read page 136: have students follow along on their periodic table
  2. Fill out page 137 and glue it to their book. Do not let students take this home.
  3. Read page 141: have students fill in the Facts section on page 149. This and every other week, have students work on the rest of the page at home.
  4. Do Lab page 143 – 145
  5. Read page 142: have students fill in the Facts section on page 151. This and every other week, have students work on the rest of the page at home.

 

Week 11

The Lab for this week< Crystal Creation, is short and will not be completed until next week. Students should be able to do all the work for their Element Book including decorating it in class.

 

Week 12

  1. Make observations for the Crystal Creation Lab page 157.
  2. Expect a fun mess with the lab today! Save some of this for week 26. It will stay good if you refrigerate it.
  3. Students should be able to do all the work for their Element Book in class. If they cannot have students complete the pages at home.

 

Week 13

  1. Students should be able to do all the work for their Element Book in class. If they cannot have students complete the pages at home.
  2. The lab requires an oven. Try to round up a toaster oven if you need to. This lab is fun and yummy.

 

Week 14

  1. Students should be able to do all the work for their Element Book in class. If they cannot have students complete the pages at home.
  2. The lab requires an oven and a mixer. A toaster oven will work.

 

Week 15

  1. Students should be able to do all the work for their Element Book in class. If they cannot have students complete the pages at home.
  2. There are 2 labs for this week.
  • The lab on page 193 requires a heat source. Have students do it at home if that is a problem. A toaster oven will not work.
  • Do the lab on pages 195 – 197

 

Week 16

  1. Students should be able to do all the work for their Element Book in class. If they cannot have students complete the pages at home.
  2. There are 2 labs for this week.
  • Lab #1 needs to be done as a demonstration. Bleach is too toxic and caustic to risk having a group of students use it.
  • You will start Lab #2 today and finish it next week. There are a few changes to the procedure so that this lab can be done by all the students. Change the procedure instructions for Procedure 8 in the book to Let the egg sit for 7  full days. Do not refrigerate the egg. Have students make the vinegar solution in a double baggie. If the egg breaks and leaks out of the baggies it will be badly stinky!!! Have students take the baggied egg home and complete the experiment at home the next day. Have them share their observations at the start of next week’s class.

 

Week 17

Students should be able to do all the work for their Element Book in class. If they cannot have students complete the pages at home. You might even be able to put the books together. If you do not have a refrigerator in class, use an ice chest with ice in it. Perform the experiment while working on the Element Books. Have a balloon for each student to celebrate the end of the unit or just use 1. If you have a balloon for each student, have everyone put their balloon in the cold source at the same time so all the cold air does not get out from being opened repeatedly.

 

Week 18

There are 3 labs/activities this week. The Lab on page 243 – 245 will be done at the start of next week.

  1. The puzzle pages 233 – 235: You might want to have 1 set of pieces per student pre-cut. If you do consider asking parents or students to bring these pre-cut pieces with them to class.
  2. Lab #1 pages 239 – 241

 

Week 19

  1. Begin class with the lab page 251, set a timer for 1 hour and make the second observation. I am not sure if this experiment will last over a week. You are going to need to check on it after 24 hours, and take a photo. Then you can wait a week and see. That way your students can use your photo as the final observation if they have to.
  2. Lab page 243 – 245
  3. Worksheet page 249

 

Week 20

  1. Lab 261 – 264
  2. Have students finish today with the worksheet page 255 – 259. They can complete this at home if you run out of time.

 

Week 21

  1. Have student complete the poem at home.
  2. Start class with Activity #1 on pages 269 and 271
  3. Have student share poems if they are so inclined.
  4. Have students do Activity #2 on pages 269 – 270 and 273

 

Week 22

Do pages 275 – 279

 

Week 23

  1. Do pages 281 – 289:  Use a microwave if you have to in order to boil water. An electric tea kettle will also work.
  2. Have the ingredients for Jell-o present, but make a batch of Jell-o ahead of time so students can make observations about the Jell-O in class.

 

Week 24

Do pages 291 – 300: You have a group of students so why not use them for a density demonstrations. Mark off a space on the ground that will just fit all the students standing as a group. Have the students fill the space 1 by 1. Have the students move around in the marked off area. This will show them how much less space there is to move when more particles (people) occupy the same amount of space.

 

Week 25

Take a look at the lab on pages 303 to 305. The amount of set up time is perfect. But the lab takes 1 week to complete and you make a hot sugary solution. It is a good lab though.

You have a group: do the group activity on page 304

 

Week 26

Do pages 307 – 315: Use the slime you saved

 

Week 27

Do page 317 – 325: To do the lab on page 319 in 1 lab period. Use 3 bottles. Take one bottle and freeze it with the cap off the day before class. Bring the bottle to class, but take a photo in case it starts to melt before class starts. Suggest students put a bottle with the cap off with a dish under it in the freezer overnight to observe the expansion of water for themselves.

 

Week 28

Pages 327 to 337: There are three activities/labs this week. You should be able to get through them all. You will need a microwave and 1 or more kites. If it isn’t windy, the kite is optional.

 

Week 29

Pages 339 – 347

 

Week 30

Pages 353 – 361: You will need pre-frozen Kool-Aid

 

Week 31

Pages 363 – 371

 

Week 32

Pages 373 – 379: The indicator should be made at home.  Do Step 1 at home and bring the indicator to class. Have kids make the coffee filter pH paper from Step 1 in class. They will use it next week.

 

Week 33

Pages 381 – 387

 

Week 34

Pages 389 – 397

 

Week 35

Pages 399 – 403: Have students make the solution for Day 1. You are going to need to make the same solution the day before so you can do the entire experiment in 1 day. Have students take the solution home in a baggie so they can see the results for their own solution. Alternatively, you could leave it a week and have students make their observations next week.

Week 36

Pages 405 – 411

Read about using RSO Biology 2 here.





Teaching a homeschool science co-op: General Notes

In September, 2013 my family moved from the Mammoth Lakes area in California to the San Diego area. One of the reasons for moving was that my then 13-year-old homeschooled son wanted a community of kids who he felt he had more in common with, AKA kids who were also homeschooled. He had friends in the small mountain community where we lived, but all of them attended traditional school. He was beginning to feel like an outsider and different in a way that worried me. We moved to San Diego and soon met homeschooled kids who he liked and identified with. The move has been really good for our whole family. My husband was already down here a lot helping one of his older sons get a business started. We have three older sons who all live in San Diego County with their wives and girlfriends. We even have a granddaughter who is almost 3 years old who lives in San Diego. It’s great being closer to her. I also love the group of homeschooling moms I have met.

My son wanted to take some classes with other kids, something he hadn’t done since kindergarten, his one and only year of attending traditional school. Someone recommended a group in Orange County that had some classes that looked perfect for him. One of the classes that they planned on having was a middle school/high school biology co-op. I signed my son up for this class. He was about to begin his last year of middle school, eighth grade, and had already worked his way through my biology course. He didn’t really need a biology course at that point, but I figured that taking a class with other kids would be a bit distracting for him, so maybe it would be a good fit for him to retake biology while he figured out what it was like to take a class with other kids.

I won’t go into all the details, but suffice to say the teacher that was supposed to teach the class canceled. The woman who runs the group contacted me about potentially teaching the class. I said no way. I need to write Earth and Space 2. She found another biology teacher who also fell through. At the end of it I finally agreed to teach the science co-op class, all for my son. HE SO OWES ME for all I do for him!!! Not that I regret teaching the class even for second. I LOVED!! It! Still he owes me big time, just saying 🙂

I learned quite a bit about using my book for a science co-op too. Things I hadn’t thought of when I wrote it. Things I really want to share with you. I decided to write a series of posts detailing my thoughts about science co-ops in general, and using my book for a biology co-op specifically. This should be thought of as a series of teacher’s notes. It is written for my book, but honestly much of what I learned is general for any science co-op.

Science Co-op
Science co-op: RSO Chemistry 1 Click here to visit Pandia Press.

The Structure

  1. We met one time a week for two hours. I provided all supplies.
  2. We went through one chapter’s worth of material from RSO Biology 2 each week.
  3. I e-mailed students telling them the material they were responsible for that week.
  4. When we met for class, there was a 15 to 30 min. session at the start of class with me explaining the material for that week. The rest of the time was used for the lab. The review notes in RSO Biology 2 Teacher’s Guide help make this so much easier.
  5. I was available for help, I still call them office hours, before each week’s class. I just had to know ahead of time.

The Big Surprise

The big surprise was the diversity and eclectic interests of the students in the co-op. I am a big fan of homeschooling. I think the real strength of homeschooling is this diversity and the time, space, and energy to pursue these eclectic interests. But I hadn’t thought what that would mean from a teaching standpoint. I am going to go point by point with the differences and how I handled them.

  • What do you do when you have students who are being educated using different styles?

I had students who were being de-schooled, unschooled, classically educated, and parents who were flexible to however I wanted to teach. I had to decide how I was going to handle this, and so will you if you are going to teach a science co-op class. There are a couple of different ways that I see to handle this:

  1. I decided to be flexible. That is my personality though. I am a very casual person. I sent the assignments to each student every week. If they did the assignments I graded and reported back to the student. If they didn’t, I was okay with that. A couple of times during the semester I did make sure that the parents knew when the students weren’t doing the assignments. I really left it up to the parents. I assumed that even for those students who were being de-schooled or unschooled that anybody taking my biology class wanted their student to learn biology. I decided to let the parents and the students figure out what that looked like within the framework of the material that I was assigning. The students that did not turn in projects did not get written feedback from me. Of course, I did give them feedback on the work that they did in class. I think the thing to remember in these sorts of flexible situations is that there is a desire to learn that subject. I didn’t have any problem with students being there without participating while they were in class; everyone did the work then. I had teens and tweens so there were a couple of times when I had to bring the attention back to what we were working on, but that would’ve happened either way.
  2. Decide on a structure. Make students responsible for the assignments. If you are going to assign grades you have to have material. If I were going to have all students accountable for turning in all the work, I would sit down with parents before they sign their kids up for the class and make sure that they understand what you are going to require. If you go with this structured approach, you want answer keys to the work. Grading is a LOT of work.
  • What do you do when you have a range of ages?
  1. I grouped my students by age. I kept the co-op small, nine students. I had three groups of three a younger middle school group, an older middle school group, and a high school group that included my son even though technically he was still in middle school. These three groups worked really well together. A couple of my students who were not doing much of the work did more work any time the group was working together.
  2. I highly recommend having groups of two or three students if you are going to run a lab class.
    • The members of the groups themselves will help each other if the lab is complicated.
    • It helps with limited resources like microscopes.
    • It made it easier for me when labs were complicated having fewer numbers to work with. Instead of working with each student individually, I was able to work with each group.
    • One of the groups only wanted to work together on some of the projects. I was very flexible with this. That group usually preferred working singly and I let them.
  3. I assigned the older students more work, and I had higher expectations for them. Most of this work was in the form of reading articles and watching videos. I had the high school group focus on epidemiology as it related to the weekly topic throughout the year.
  • What do you do when you have a range of abilities?
  1. Just because you have a range of ages does not mean you have a range of abilities. One of the first tasks at hand should be determining the overall level of science in your class. For example, my biology textbook has a heavy-duty microscope component. My son was the only person who was experienced in overall technique when it came to the microscope. Even some of the students who had used a microscope before really needed work with their microscope technique. What I learned is that there is an emphasis with looking at things through the microscope, but not an emphasis on learning how to do a good job preparing slides. Those students, even though they understood what they should be seeing, were at a beginner level as far as slide preparation and overall manipulation of the slide on the stage.
  2. If you do have a range of abilities and you’re going to pair people into lab partners you should decide ahead of time whether you’re going to pair students who are at similar levels or disparate levels.

Things You Need for a Science Co-op

  • The list below is what I think you need to run a science co-op, this is my personal opinion. If you have different thoughts about any of this feel free to comment. In fact, if you have thoughts about anything you read in here I would love to hear from you.
  1. A textbook or some sort of complete reference material
    • Different students access materials differently. This is one of the most important things to remember when you are teaching any class anywhere. A lot of us are homeschooling because the traditional method in school didn’t work well for our students. As someone running a co-op class you need to be sensitive to the fact that some of your students are going to access material visually, some (in particular in a science class) kinesthetically, some orally, and others will learn using all of these. You need to make sure that students have access to this written component so that they have it to refer to and their parents have it to refer to.
    • A textbook will help you, the teacher, pace your class and figure out how and what material to present.
    • If you’re using REAL Science Odyssey Biology 2 the textbook will tell you what labs to use with the theory. I will be posting unit by unit any additions to labs, so that they work for the amount of time allotted. Some of the labs that are in the chapters did not take an hour and a half. I’ll make notes within the posts on this blog explaining what I had students do in the co-op class on those weeks.

      Science co-op
      Science co-op: RSO Biology 2 Click here to visit Pandia Press.
  2. You will need permission to take and use photos if students are in the photos. It’s a minor point, but it is one that you might as well deal with at the start of class. Some parents do not care and other parents do not want their children in photos.
  3. A plan: The plan will be aligned with the textbook for the most part, but you should really go through before you teach the class and figure out some of the logistics. Your plan should address things like:
    • Are you going to take any field trips? If you are, do you need permission slips and will there be an additional fee for those field trips?
    • How many weeks will the class run? RSO Biology 2 is a 32 week course. Are you going to teach a 32 week course? Or are you going to teach a shorter course? Maybe you are just going to teach evolution, genetics, and anatomy from it. You should figure this out ahead of time. (I am a fan of teaching the complete package, but sometimes there are time constraints.)
    • Some labs run over in time. You should prepare parents ahead of time when this will happen.
    • Teaching takes a lot of energy. Make sure you have breaks built into the schedule when you need them.
  4. What is your policy if any kids miss a class?
  5. What is your policy if you, the teacher, cannot teach a class?
  6. Could you use any help? If so, you could have parents rotate once a week helping or you could offer one of the parents some sort of benefit for being the parent helping to teach the class.

This is all I can think of at this time, but knowing me I will continue to edit this. This was dictated using Dragon software. Sometimes weird typos creep in using this. If you notice any do me a favor and let me know. Thanks, Blair

This post contains affiliate links.

Read about what curriculum to use in a science co-op here.





Delhi Day 5, post 1 of 2

kids

Here we are dressed and ready for our placements. Delhi is a place full of color similar to our outfits. Now, Sean was not feeling well, but decided to go and sit with the kids. He loves this.

Check out the suit on Sean’s left. That little boy is so cute. The volunteers call him suit guy.

This is Richie with some of the kids. Richie is with a group called Children’s Hope. He seems great. He worked on Corey Booker’s campaign registering first time voters in Newark. He just graduated from college and is figuring it out. He hopes to get a job with CAP, The Center for American Progress. He made a point of telling me the slums of Trenton are not that different from Delhi when it comes to opportunity for the children in them.

Rats it is dark. Here I am with the kids I am working with. Richie and I are working with this group. Sean has moved over to the little kids exclusively.

I taught the girls how to take selfies. They were very curious about my phone/camera today.

Anil is the teacher I am helping.

Here are Jim and Alecia with their group.

Next are a series of photos as Sean and I walked through the slum. We went over to check out the computer lab. Unfortunately the students work in this lab later in the day, too late for us to help there. They really wanted our help there, but it was not to be. CCS want their volunteers to take the time to learn about the culture in the afternoon.

The central square

A communal water pump

The walkways are narrow.

I love this color.

Here is the computer lab. About 20 to 30 people use this lab in the afternoon, taking turns to learn basic office skills on these.

Off the main alleyway there are even more narrow corridors.

Back again, isn’t suit guy adorable.

Alecia is so good with the little ones.

Drying wheat to make roti. After this we went back, had lunch, then I took a nap. Later we went on a temple tour, which I will put in another post later today.

Check out yesterdays blog here and check out tomorrows here.





A Handcrafted Education

Blair Lee - A Handcrafted Education : SEA Homeschoolers

I love coffee. My favorite coffee drink right now is a salted caramel soy white chocolate latte extra salt with just a little whipped cream to hold the salt. My favorite coffee drink has changed over time; this is just the current favorite. The Starbucks baristas are always happy to make it just like I like it. That is because Starbucks makes handcrafted beverages, it is their shtick. As I was lying in bed this morning thinking with excitement about my upcoming trip, I realized that was what I am creating for my child, a handcrafted education. Homeschooling at its finest is about handcrafting an education. Most people who do not homeschool their children don’t understand this, but all you homeschoolers do. I get all sorts of questions about my son’s education. FYI, I use what I call a classical unschooling methodology – child-led learning with a classical bent. My unschooling friends take issue with my use of the term unschooling, though. LOL. What about I use what works, and it is very eclectic.

A Handcrafted Education: Fun in the warm mud! It looks just like coffee.
A Handcrafted Education: Fun in the warm mud! It looks just like coffee.

Someone asked me yesterday how Sean (my son) could take a month off school to go to India. UMMN, going to India counts as school.

Is he getting an education that will get him into every college? The answer is no. It isn’t my fault if college admissions haven’t caught up with the homeschool movement, or that many universities have a bias against homeschooling that pervades their admission policies. Is he getting an education that will get him into some colleges? Yes. Just as some people like handcrafted coffee drinks and some do not, some colleges like applicants who have a handcrafted education, and some colleges want those who have had a mainstream education. Besides what is the worst that can happen, he starts at community college. I was a community college professor. I started my college journey at a community college. There is some great teaching going on at community colleges! All this talk about colleges makes it seem like the focus is on getting into college. It isn’t. We spend our time focusing on the ingredients, the recipe, and the process instead of spending all our time thinking about the end result.

A Handcrafted Education: Aguas Calientes, Peru (at the base of Machu Picchu)
A Handcrafted Education: Aguas Calientes, Peru (at the base of Machu Picchu)

My son’s education has changed over the years just as my favorite coffee drink has. This is not the first time we have taken an extended trip as a part of it, we have traveled to Peru, Ukraine, Hungary, Ireland, France, Austria, Canada, Costa Rica, Mexico and made a couple of extended trips to the East Coast in the U.S. We live in California. This is the first time we have volunteered though. I hope it adds an extra dimension to the trip, sort of like adding extra salt to my favorite drink.

I could go on with this for paragraphs, but I have to leave with enough time to stop at Starbucks!

The next blog will be during the flight or from Dubai.

A Handcrafted Education: For us that includes travel
A Handcrafted Education: For us that includes travel. The Barjeel Guest House, Dubai, UAE

Love to all, Blair

Check out this article to learn more about Eclectic Homeschooling.