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.

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. RSO Chemistry 1

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.

Choosing a Curriculum for Your Science Co-op

Choosing the right curriculum makes a big difference for the success of a science co-op class, both for the student and the teacher. There are certain elements like labs paired with the theory that are important to the success of the class. As the co-op teacher/facilitator you have a responsibility to bring the level of science up for your students over the course of the co-op. Well-chosen curriculum makes this job much less work and more attainable. I taught at community college before retiring to homeschool my son. The better the curriculum that went with the class the easier the class was to teach and the more my students learned.

I would not consider teaching a science co-op that did not have curriculum to go along with it. Teaching is a lot of work. You want something to use as a guideline and a reference. I will be honest I wouldn’t pay for my child to take a science course that didn’t have some type of written material. Students also need material to reference. If students get stuck on a concept, curriculum gives parents something to reference too.

REAL Science Odyssey Chemistry 1, Blair Lee M.S.
Science Co-op: RSO Chemistry 1 Click here to visit Pandia Press.

Recently, I had a couple of people ask me for  guidance with a science co-op they were going to teach. Their problem, they didn’t have curriculum that had labs and lectures that were well-paired and they were having trouble planning their classes.

You would expect that I think REAL Science Odyssey is a good choice to use when teaching a science co-op, and you would be right. I do! Granted, I am biased about it as a science curriculum, not just as one of the authors for the series but also as a science teacher. What I want to do for you here is go through the elements of what make it a good choice for a science co-op. These are elements that you should look for in any science curriculum that you are going to use to teach a science co-op.

Elements in a good curriculum for a science co-op

  1. The careful pairing of labs with theory

You need a text that presents the theory in a manner and at a reading level that is accessible to the grade level you are teaching. There should be labs or activities that accompany the theory. Do not teach a science class to people below the college level that does not have labs in it! This is what gives science a bad name! Science should be the most fun and dynamic class outside of P.E. that students engage in.

  1. Labs that are an appropriate length of time

This point is how I came to be writing this series of articles. A few of the labs/activities in my book were not a good length for the co-op class I was teaching. I have posted a schedule detailing how to change the labs around a bit to make them work for the time frame of a co-op.

  1. Make sure the text has enough material to run the length of the time allotted for the co-op. 
RSO Biology 2 Blair Lee M.S.
Science Co-op: RSO Biology 2 Click here to visit Pandia Press.

Science Co-op:

The text can cover more material than you are going to teach, but it is problematic and more work for you if it is too short. A text that covers or goes beyond the entire time frame is more likely to be cohesive and to follow a logical progression. The cohesiveness is very important to the actual learning of science. Too often science is taught in a scattered grab-bag approach. This does not encourage an understanding of the foundational fundamentals of science, and it makes it more difficult to make connections to other areas of science.

  1. Choose a text with a teacher’s guide and, if you are going to assign them, tests and problem sets. This is for you as much as it is for the students. TEACHING IS HARD WORK!
RSO Biology 2 Teacher's Guide
Science Co-op: RSO Biology 2 Teacher’s Guide Click here to visit Pandia Press.

5.   Choose curriculum that covers good solid, mainstream science, with material that has been well-researched, and contains science just science.

If you do not choose a text like that and your course is not taught that way, parents should be informed ahead of time before they sign up for the class.

6.   Choose a text written at a reading level that is at grade level and is conversational.

This is so you know students can read it themselves outside of class.

7.   Choose a text that can be used with a range of ages and abilities.

You will get a range of ages and abilities. You want a text that can be challenging for your older or more than students but still accessible for your younger or less advanced students. This is one of the more difficult aspects to get from a textbook. It helps to have a textbook with a teacher’s guide that gives you advice on supplementary material to help with this range.

8.   Did I already mention labs with the theory!!!

9.   It doesn’t hurt to use a text that has notes on how to use it to teach a co-op.

Coming soon to help you and your students even more: A series of YouTube-like videos where I explain concepts students and their parents found complicated in REAL Science Odyssey Biology 2. (Genetics will be the first unit I explain!!!) I initially thought of this for homeschool students not in a co-op, but these will help co-op teachers as well. It will leave you with more time for labs since it should help with the number of questions students have about these complicated topics.

Check out our post about how to teach a science co-op here.

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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

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