Use the labs and readings in Bio 2 and pair them with Khan Academy High School Biology.
Lab reports mandatory
Use Show What You Know problem sets as quizzes, and have students take tests that you grade
Document experiments – you can use photos for this and lab reports; I think it’s a good idea to make students accountable for this documentation. Good documentation is a part of good science. By being responsible for documenting their work, students, in a practical way, come to understand that.
Practice science: This has a specific meaning in science education. It refers to people being able to use what they know to design an experiment where they “practice” science that follows the scientific method. I have included links to articles I’ve written to use as projects where students can practice the science they are learning.Science Fair: you can do this even if it’s just you and your child. Choose 1 question and have him or her design an experiment based on that question.
Electron transport chain during photosynthesis – You should expect students either in writing, as an additional question to a test, or through discussion to explain this concept. It is important for high school students to understand that the electron transport chain, at its most basic, is the method cells use to generate energy. It is through something as simple as a cascading release of electrons going from molecule to molecule that organisms get the energy to do everything associated with life.
For each unit choose a focus in addition to the material kids are covering. Make it something meaningful for them and relevant from the standpoint of current science. This is something that kids will do on their own. You can choose what your child reads. (I recommend at least giving them one starting article). You need to read the article too, or at least be familiar with the topic, and then discuss it. I am giving suggestions below. If your child has a different interest, they should learn about that topic.
Unit 1: study viruses – AIDS virus, Zika virus, Ebola virus – all of these are great choices. If you have multiple students, consider letting each student choose a virus they read about, and then discuss. I like to tell Sean teach me about it. You learn so much more when you are trying to educate someone on a topic.
Unit 2: choose something related to cells and chemistry – I have included a possible extracurricular study for this looking at lead toxicity. https://www.facebook.com/notes/967260989961360/Lead%20and%20the%20harm%20it%20causes%20organisms/1112073012146823/
Unit 3: if you can afford it, have your child send his or her DNA to be analyzed. Use the analysis to study this topic. If you can’t, then a good choice would be to learn more about Neanderthals and the current understanding about the differences in their chromosomes compared to modern humans. Or you could study this very interesting topic, and have kids watch lesson 1: part 1 through part 5, https://www.youtube.com/playlist?list=PLfc2WtGuVPdmhYaQjd449k-YeY71fiaFp
Unit 4: during this, the longest unit of the book, kids will work on the practice of science by designing two of their own experiments. I would spend the time focusing on designing experiments and how to apply the specifics of the scientific method to their experiments. This is a good lead-in because in Unit 5 kids are first introduced to the formal definition of the scientific theory. Without a clear understanding of how science is practiced and the specific parts that go into the practice of science, the specific application of the word theory in science is often confused with its common use outside of science. A very interesting, to me, LOL but hard, activity that I wrote can be found at the link below. If you have a math loving child he or she might love this. It’s a great demonstration too. Contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org if you need someone to walk you through it. Why Are We All so Different: High School Genetics Activity
Unit 5: Your Inner Fish from HHMI – watch it and discuss it. If your child is into videography, a great project would be to have them make their own video about evolution.
Unit 6: have students choose an environmental topic or environmentalist and learn about that, him, or her. It can be one of the environmentalists from the famous science series in this Unit. They are all really cool people.
Unit 7: Because so many high schools don’t even teach this, it would be easy to argue that this already is at a high school level. The main difference between the high school level courses I have seen, those that do teach this, in the way this is taught is that the cladogram’s use biochemical and genetic markers instead of the more apparent physiological markers I chose. If you have a student who is very strong in science, I recommend looking up cladograms that use those, otherwise I would stick with the cladograms as written. The unfamiliar chemical terminology can make the cladograms seem harder than they are, and many kids find them challenging as written.
There is a research report that students work on in Unit 7. This paper is based on one I wrote in the first evolutionary biology class I took when I was in college. High school students should be expected to write this report with more emphasis on the evolutionary history of the organism.
Real Science Odyssey Lab Photo Journal
Real Science Odyssey Lab Photo Journal
My favorite emails to receive are photos of labs from my courses! I love them. It makes all the hard work of writing worth it! This is a scrapbook of photos I have received since the beginning of October. Let’s start with something really impressive!
I owe everyone who sent me photos and poems before October an apology. My email service changed to a new format and deleted all my old emails, which is where I was storing the photos people sent to me. Please resend your photo if you do not see it here. I learned my lesson; I will not wait to post photos ever again!
Ashley is 12 (7th grade) and homeschooled for the first time this year. Her sister, Valerie, is 10 (5th grade) and will join our homeschool adventure next year. The girls’ mom told me the main reason Valerie wants to homeschool with us besides spending more time with me, is all the fun experiments we have been doing. She wants to get her hands dirty and feel and smell science.
Elvi made this.
She mixes her love for science with a love of theater and performing. (I do too Elvi!)
This project was her favourite biology project of the year!
The next 4 photos are from the World’s best co-op class ever! (This was the intro the woman running the co-op class suggested. I love this. That means they are having a great time. Teaching is hard. If everyone is still loving it 6 months into it, They are lucky!) The video is also from a co-op class! Homeschool and science! The perfect combination!!
I get more DNA transcription models than anything else, except qwitekutesnutes (most of which were sadly deleted)
This is a great experiment from RSO Life 1.
The Braun kids look like they are having a great day of science, don’t they!
http://Click here to visit Pandia Press.
Homeschooling and Science
A Winning Combination
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.
- 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.
Focus on the fundamentals:
- 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:
- 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:
- 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
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
- Start Early
- Focus on the Fundamentals
- Single Subject
- Good Textbook &/or Reference Materials
- 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!
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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 Biology Co-op
I received an email asking about how the material list is affected when teaching a co-op with RSO Chemistry 1. I thought it was a question that deserved an answer for RSO Biology 2 as well. My goal with this series 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 are going to have to match the lab with the week. I changed the weeks where some of the labs are performed for a co-op class from the order they occur in the book.
Note 2: No change means there is no change to the quantities as listed in the Material List in the Student Guide and Teacher’s Guide for that week.
Note 3: I am assuming every student has their own text.
Note 4: Microscope supplies – you will need a quantity of microscope supplies for a class. I bought a box of slides and slide covers at the start of the year, cleaned those that could be cleaned over the course of the year, and disposed of those that couldn’t. At the end of the year I threw them all away. I will assume you have a large enough quantity of general microscope materials each week for your entire class. I will only list changes for materials specific to that experiment.
|Week||Changes to Material List|
|1||The plot study lab: You will want multiples of – tape measures, graph paper, clip boards, markers for plots|
|2||Microscope techniques: 1 – 3 corks, 1 X-Acto knife per 4 students, 1 syringe per 4 – 6 students, 1 tweezers per 4 – 6 students, 1 plastic spoon per person|
|3||Cell model: 1 glue per 5 – 6 students, 1 ruler per 5 – 6 students, extra toothpicks|
|4||Chapter 4: multiple colored pencils, 1 syringe per 4 – 6 students|
|5||Diffusion: Are you going to teach this as one large experiment for the entire class toobserve or an experiment each student takes home? That affects the material list.
Microscope: 1 corn kernel per person, the same as for above – when you gather multiples of things like syringes make sure they stay in class for the duration of the co-op.
|6||Photosynthesis/Cellular respiration: * 1 plant for the group (do not change this), 1 piece of fruit/vegetable per person|
|7||DNA lab: (LOL people hate or love marshmallow labs! They are cheap. I am sorry if you hate them. Any other ingredient makes this lab much more expensive. I am vegan, so trust me I get the entire anti-marshmallow thing. Just warning you, some parents are sure to complain. I get emails about this ingredient on my material list.) Multiply the number of marshmallows, beads, toothpicks, skewers, and pipe cleaners by the number of students.|
|8||Mitosis Poster: The supplies list depends on whether students do this at home or in class. If they do it in class, you will need multiples of poster board, marshmallows, pipe cleaners, yarn, and beads.
Microscope 7: 1 sports drink per student, 1 cup or glass per student
|10||Activity 10: 1 coin per student
Microscope 10: No change
|11||Frog dissection: 1 frog per student, 1 set of dissecting tools for every 1 – 2 students*** Not all students will do this dissection. Make sure they will BEFORE purchasing frogs.|
|12||Plant dissection: 1 plant per student (if students are not working in groups, use 1 plant per student.)|
|13||Flower dissection: 1 flower per group (if students are not working in groups, use 1 flower per student.)|
|14||Labs 14 – 1 & 2: Multiply the number of lemons, wire, nails, pennies, calculators by the number of students.|
|15||15 – 1: As many cardboard nail messages as you can for students (this is a very simple but fun lab), multiple blind folds
Microscope 15: No change
15 – 2: Multiply the number of bottles, coffee filters, gravel, sand, cotton balls by the number of students
|16||16 – 1: 1 flashlight per pair of students|
|17||Microscope 17: 1 needle per person
17 – 2: 2 balloons per student, multiple tape measures or measuring sticks
|18||Lab 18: Multiply the number of chicken wings, gloves, and dissection tools by the number of students|
|19||19 – 1: No change
17 – 1: Multiply the number of bottles, tubing, X-Acto knives by the number of students
|20||Microscope 20: Both of these labsrequire some thought about you want to run them for a class. By the time you get to these labs you will have a good idea how best to run them. For the microscope lab, will each student make their own slide and look at the slides of other people? In that case you need 1 insect per student. Or will you make the slides and have students look at them without preparing the slides? In this case the number of insects needed varies from two to as many as you want for comparison.
Lab 20: Where you do this lab determines whether there are changes to the material list. If done outside there are NO changes. If done inside you need 1 set of materials per student. Alternatively you could make the timeline as a mural, with all students working on it together.
|21||Microscope 21: No change
Lab 21: Multiply the number of pompoms by the number of people who will be performing the experiment at the same time.
|22||Lab 22: Multiply the amounts of supplies by the number of students
Microscope Lab 22: No change
|23||Lab 23: Multiply the number of sheets of construction paper by the number of students
Microscope Lab 23: No change
|24||Lab 24: Have parents help by bringing in supplies for their student’s project
Microscope Lab 24: No change
|25||Lab 25: No change|
|26||Microscope Lab 25: 1 piece of grass per student
Lab 26: Multiply the amount of materials by the number of students
Microscope Lab 26: No change
|27||Microscope Lab 27: No change
Lab 27: a minimum of 1 plant per student, 1 container with a lid for each student to take home the watering solution (I make my own jelly, so I used canning jars which I have a lot of.)
|28||Lab 28: Multiple students mean more students making dichotomous key mysteries – there is no change to your materials list|
|29||Lab 29: No change|
|30||Lab 30: No change|
|31||Microscope Lab 30: Enough leaves for students to each make their own slide
Lab 31 and Microscope Lab 31: It would be nice to have 1 set of specimens per student. It is not necessary though.
Start Lab 32: 1 banana for every two students, 1 tsp yeast per student, 2 baggies per student
|32||Microscope Lab 32: Multiply the number of mushrooms by the number of students, you also need multiple cutting boards and flashlights|
Pandia Press Biology 2
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Read about teaching a science co-op here.
Using REAL Science Odyssey Biology 2 for a Co-op Class
Each week students were expected to do work outside of class.
Outside of class:
- Read the text
- Complete the Famous Science Series
- Complete the Show What You Know
- Lab Reports: not all labs are good lab report labs. Check the Teacher’s Guide t labs I o see which labs I recommend having students write lab reports for. As a former college professor, I strongly recommend having students learn this important skill now. Lab reports are very formulaic to write and yet many college students cannot write them. If a student has trouble with the actual writing of them (separate from what to put in the content) have them get help from a parent. Fine motor skills issues are an example of what I mean.
At the end of each unit
- Unit Test
By the end of the school year
- Research Paper from chapter 28
As you know from the introduction I am relaxed about who is doing the work outside class. I do however give preference in class when asking questions to those students who have read the material and done the work. At the start of class I have students give me a show of hands as to who has gone over the material. Those are the students I want to hear from when I ask a question, because they are giving me an informed response based on the material that they were responsible for. I wasn’t upset with any student who didn’t do the week’s reading, but I was honest with the students as to why I preferentially called on the students who had done it.
I will only discuss the Theory when I have something to add separate from what is in the Teacher’s Guide. Teacher’s Guide
Terms in this document: Lab refers to general labs that are NOT microscope labs. When referring to microscope labs I specifically call them microscope labs.
Unit 1: Chapter 1
The Theory: Assign the reading before coming to class. It makes for a good introduction. The plot study can take some time to do. You are going to want to get right on it.
The Labs: There are two great labs in Chapter 1. Start with the plot study lab. I think that every general biology class should start with a lab outdoors looking at what’s out there. Take the microscope lab and combine it with the microscope labs from weeks two and three, so that for the second week of class you are working on microscope technique.
Unit 2: Chapter 2
You will be devoting this week to microscope work instead of doing the canning experiment which is difficult in a classroom setting. I suggest buying 2 containers of processed applesauce. Open one and leave the other sealed. Compare the two samples weekly until the opened one needs to be thrown away. Come back and fill out the lab sheet for this lab then.
The Labs: The microscope work for the first three weeks focuses on basic microscope techniques. Take your time with these. I learned that even kids who think they are experienced using microscopes often fall down in the area of making good slides. Just remember THIN SLICES!!! Discuss drawing microscopic specimens on their lab sheets. Demonstrate how to make these drawings by drawing one. Make the drawing while looking at the slide. Have students look at your drawing, and then look at the view of the slide. Have them all draw one of the specimens from one of their slides today.
This is the time to go over rules about microscope care and handling. I have included an explanation in the text. You want to make sure students read it over. You could send a sheet with the rules written on them separately to parents and students and have both the parent and the student sign the sheet saying that they have read them and will respect them. All of the students that I had in my co-op class were careful with the microscopes. Kids are kids though, and sometimes they just didn’t think. That’s why it’s good for them to know that there is a policy for microscope handling and care in place, and make sure that they know what those policies are.
Unit 2: Chapter 3
The Labs: I let students decide if they wanted to make the plant cell model or animal cell model. Plan ahead how you are going to make the organelles. If using Sculpey you need an oven. You might need to make the organelles outside of class. If that is the case you will need to know ahead of time which type of cell students want to make.
Unit 2: Chapter 4
Have students do the activity before coming to class.
Students need access to a computer for today’s lab.
The Labs: Start with the microscope lab. Pay attention to students’ slide making technique. Demonstrate how to make a slide for them before they make one of their own. When the microscope lab is completed have students begin the lab. This is one of the most important labs that your students will do all year. It deals specifically with their nutrition and health.
Unit 2: Chapter 5
The Labs: Start by having students set up the lab so they can monitor it over the course of the two-hour period. After that discuss what it was like following the menu they made last week, and what they learned from it. Next discuss the material for this week. Then do the microscope component. The lab should be monitored for 24 hours or more. I don’t know for sure, but an entire week might be too much time. Optimally, each student should take it home and continue to make observations over the course of 48 hours. If you feel that students will not do this, you should take it home yourself and e-mail your observations to students.
Unit 2: Chapter 6
The Labs: I love this lab. It was inspired by a middle school student who I was tutoring in biology. He’s the adopted son of a friend of mine. LOL, I only teach co-op classes that my son is in, and I only tutor the children of really good friends of mine. My husband would divorce me otherwise. He set these rules a few years back. 🙂 Go over the material as briefly as possible while making sure that kids understand the chemical process. That way you will have more time outside. You might choose to wait and do the microscope lab next week. Do the microscope lab after you do the regular lab to make sure you have enough time for the regular lab. There is enough time to get through everything this week unless somebody is having trouble with the chemistry for photosynthesis and cellular respiration. It took my son more than once through this material to understand it, so I know it can happen.
Unit 3: Chapter 7
The Theory: Be prepared. This unit gives students and their parents so much trouble. Genetics is where biology is at these days. This is not going to go away. To be literate in the field of biology you have to know genetics. Parents find it difficult because most of them did not have it when they studied biology. In part this is because this area of biology has been growing in leaps and bounds as the testing, equipment, and methods have become more and more sensitive and advanced. Don’t let students get discouraged. Prepare them that it’s going to be challenging. If you are going to offer office hours this is the four-week period to do it in. Do not lose sight of the forest for the trees, though. It is not expected that most students will have 100% mastery of this material. At the end of the four weeks your students should have an understanding of the basic vocabulary and knowledge in the area of genetics. Assign videos you like for the class. For some reason for these complicated topics, students and their parents tend to use videos put together by college professors to help their college students. These are not helpful to a middle school student who is struggling with middle school material. These college tutorials discuss vocabulary and concepts that are not discussed in a middle school text.
Chapter 7 has coloring and drawing sections within the chapter. I sometimes hear these called coloring pages by parents. Ironically, when I explain these pages to educators they get excited by this sort of interactive text because when kids interact with the text, like happens in this chapter, it leads to what educators call ownership of the material. I recommend working your way through the chapter with the kids. Ask them to read the text and work through it. Tell them that if they get stuck on anything they can e-mail you, or they can take a Post-it note and write their questions on the Post-it note at the location that stumped them. Give high praise to anyone who seems to have some level of mastery over the material. I would work through the Show What You Know in class. Have students bring it to class completed and go over it, or complete it in class.
The Labs: Do the lab this week and the microscope lab next week.
Unit 3: Chapter 8
The Theory: Use the same system that worked last week, assuming it did work. If it didn’t work and students seem to be struggling with the material try tweaking your system. Don’t forget to assign videos for this week’s material.
The Labs: The lab for this unit is to make a poster. I like having students make their poster over the week and bring them to class. It’s really fun to see the level and energy that some students put into making their poster. Between the theory and looking at posters this should leave about an hour for the chapter 7 microscope lab, which is about the right amount of time. The microscope lab for chapter 7 requires students to go slowly and be careful with their technique. The chapter 8 microscope lab will be done next week.
Unit 3: Chapter 9
The Theory: If you are doing a lot of explaining with this chapter, have students do lab 9 at home. If not it can be done in class. Don’t forget to assign videos for this week’s material. Warning: Students who found mitosis challenging really struggle with meiosis.
The Labs: Do Lab 9 or discuss the work for Lab 9 that students did at home. The two microscope labs that will be done this week use prepared slides. One has students find the phases for mitosis; the other has students find the phases of meiosis. This might seem like it will be a quick pair of labs. It takes time to find the phases. I would set up two microscope stations one for meiosis and one for mitosis. You could pull students aside so it does not get too backed up at the microscopes and go over their Show What You Know work to make sure they understand the two processes. Make sure that the prepared slides come from a good source. Do not use slides that are plastic and not high-quality. Home Science Tools has very nice prepared slides. That is where I got mine.
Unit 3: Chapter 10 – today’s class is jam-packed! It might go over 2 hours. Take your time with it. You could add an extra week to the course for this chapter if you want.
The Theory: On page 211 of the student text is a box with a representative of a chromosome in it. Do this in class together. Make sure students can do the Punnett Squares individually as students are doing the microscope lab. You could have a mini session after class re-doing the Show What You Know Punnett Square, then assign the Extra Practice Punnett Square to students who are having trouble with them. You could even give students extra credit toward the test for the Punnett Squares.
- Have student’s come to class with the family traits questionnaire on pages 219-220 already completed.
- Assign each student a strand of hair to bring to class. During week 9 ask about hair colors at home with students, such as who can get a white hair, who can get a red hair, etc.
- It is up to you whether students do the qwitekutesnute activity at home or in class. If they do it at home have them bring their qwitekutesnute and share it. If they are doing it in class, end the day with that activity. The qwitekutesnute activity is a favorite of students. You might be tempted to drop it. I do not recommend that. It does a good job of demonstrating Mendel’s Principles of Genetics.
You will do the lab sheet, page 221, together in class. Give kids time to discuss what they learned. It is fun to discuss the results. Have each student make a slide with the strand of hair they brought.
If you break chapter 10 into 2 weeks:
Week 1 of 2: Family Traits Lab and the microscope lab
Week 2 of 2: Punnett Squares, the qwitekutesnute activity, and a review of the material from all 4 chapters. This is the best plan if you are having students take the end of the unit tests. This is the Unit Test that is the hardest for most students.
Unit 4: Chapter 11 – A dissection!!!
The Labs: Of the nine students in the co-op class I taught, only one made it to the end of this dissection. Only six were willing to even try to do the dissection. The one who made it to the end loved every single minute of it. This student was also an avid fisherman. The five who started the dissection but didn’t finish became nauseous and felt like they would faint; to be honest I began to feel nauseous just watching them try to hold it together. Be prepared for this. Have people bring their laptops so they can do a virtual dissection on-line. There are many, choose one or several before class. Some of your students won’t even want to do that. Those students I had watch a video.
Unit 4: Chapter 12 – Another dissection!!!
The Labs: Do both labs. Poor plants, no one faints when it comes to chopping them to bits. I suggest buying the plants for students and having them work singly or in pairs. It depends on the ratio of students to microscopes. The reason for you buying the plants is so you can make sure you have the right number of plants, and that they will be good plants to dissect. Choose a plant with leaves that make a good slice. I used one plant for each group of three students.
Unit 4: Chapter 13 – And yet another dissection!!!
The Labs: The instructions for this week are the same as last week except for flowers and seeds. While doing the dissection discuss the process of fertilization for angiosperms with students. If you have them in your area, you could bring a pine cone and a leaf from a fern for students to examine.
Unit 4, Chapters 14 – 19: I strongly believe that at the end of middle school biology a student should have a basic working knowledge of human anatomy, physiology, and epidemiology. The epidemiology part has been infused through the text to this point and will continue to be where it is relevant. Now the text brings in the anatomy and physiology parts. That is why other than in chapters 11 – 13 humans are the organism of focus for anatomy and physiology. I had my students download and play with the App, http://www.cdc.gov/mobile/applications/sto/. This is an epidemiology game from the CDC. We all loved it including me. Throughout this unit, I assigned extra reading to students focusing on epidemiology topics. You should choose topics that interest you and your students. For example, my husband has rheumatoid arthritis. When we got to the chapter on the immune system, I had my son read about rheumatoid arthritis.
To deal with before you get to Chapter 16: Chapter 16 has the reproductive system in it. You should talk to parents and the group you are running the co-op thorough to decide if you are going to teach this section or have parents teach it at home. The co-op I taught through chose to have parents teach it at home. I explained this to the parents, with a strong recommendation that it be taught. I realize a lot of parents are uncomfortable with this material but people REALLY need to know it.
Most of these weeks have two organ systems in them. It is quite a bit of material to get through each week.
Unit 4: Chapter 14
The Labs: Chapter 14, Lab 1 is fun to do with a partner. Do both Labs. I had students do a bit of research for Lab 1 before class so they could make the best battery possible.
Unit 4: Chapter 15
The Labs: There are 3 labs this week, if you want to make sure you get through them all this week, warn parents you might run 15 minutes over.
For Chapter 15, Lab 1: You need to have the set-up ready for students before class, so that lab doesn’t take much time.
Next go to Chapter 15, Lab 2: I had students do a bit of research for this lab before class so they could make the best filter possible. I made a contest out of the lab. I sent them a sheet of materials that would be on hand for their use.
Finally do the microscope lab. If you run out of time, start next week with this. It can be hard to get a good sample for this lab. Have one you made on hand in case no one gets one. If you are not teaching the reproductive system then definitely do the microscope lab next week.
Unit 4: Chapter 16
The Labs: Do Chapter 16, Lab 1 as explained. Students should work in groups of two or three, with each student doing all parts of the lab. It helps to have one person doing the experiment, one person writing down the results, and one person timing. Even if you do go over the reproductive section in class, have students do Chapter 16, Lab 2 at home.
Unit 4: Chapter 17
The Labs: There are 3 really good labs this week. Do the microscope lab and Chapter 17, Lab 2 today. Have students work in pairs for Lab 2. Make sure they get results for both students. Some students will struggle with the math for this lab. Go over it after students have gathered results for both people. Remind students NOT to share balloons. As crazy as that sounds some will share if you do not remind them! Students will do Chapter 17, Lab 1 in two weeks.
Unit 4: Chapter 18 – it’s another dissection!
The Labs: Once again not every student will be able to complete this lab. Some students are just not able to handle dissections. That is too bad. This lab is awesome for showing how the skeletal and muscular systems work. You should get a good feel for which students are getting the hang with their microscope technique with this lab. You have to make sure no one hogs the microscope though. there is a lot of cool slides to be made in this lab. If you have time have students play the Game. Otherwise have them play it at home. I had students play it while waiting to use one of the microscopes.
Unit 4: Chapter 19
The Labs: Do Chapter 19, Lab 1 and Chapter 17, Lab 1. Take 15 minutes at start of class to go over the procedure portion of Chapter 19, Lab 2.
Unit 5: Chapter 20, Class today will probably run over in time especially if you do a timeline outdoors.
The Labs: Have each student bring an insect for today, or you can collect them all yourself. Start inside with the microscope lab. For the lab you need to choose a location ahead of time. Your choice of location will decide whether you do this outside or inside on paper.
Unit 5: Chapter 21
The Labs: Have each student bring a sample for the microscope lab, or you can collect them all yourself. You can do Lab 21 with students in teams of two. Each setting up the lab for the other while you have the rest of the students performing the microscope portion. The lab is pretty lively. You are going to want to make sure it stays on track with no peeking from the super competitive students. Done without peeking, this lab does a great job of showing how natural selection works. You might want to ask another parent to help. That way you have one person helping with the microscope lab and another helping with the lab.
Unit 5: Chapter 22
The Labs: Do both lab and microscope lab. You might want to set the microscope lab up with the instructions, “Look at the view, but don’t mess with the microscope.”
Unit 5: Chapter 23
The Theory: This is a shorter day for labs. I suggest taking your time going over the material. Kids find it confusing. If you are having students take the test it might take some time to review the material today.
The Labs: Do both labs. Leave about 1 hour and 15 minutes for the two labs. That should be plenty of time.
Unit 6: Chapter 24
Have students complete the activity before class. This is a really good activity for this chapter. Briefly at the start of class ask what students learned from the activity.
The Labs: Start with the microscope lab. Have students decide on the biome they want to make before they come to class. You are going to need to have the materials on hand for making the biomes. If students do not finish have them take their diorama home to finish. While they are working have anyone who wants to share their Mad Libs poem recite it.
Unit 6: Chapter 25
The Labs: This is an outside lab. Go somewhere where there is a lot is going on ecologically. I live in Southern California. We did this lab at the beach looking at tide pools. Do the microscope lab next week.
Unit 6: Chapter 26
The Labs: You will need to collect or purchase the plants for the lab ahead of time. Do the Chapter 25 and Chapter 26 microscope labs today. Then do the lab.
Unit 6: Chapter 27
The Theory: After going over the material have a discussion about ways students could help themselves and their families reduce their carbon footprint.
The Labs: You will need to have each student do the procedure for the microscope lab the day before class. Before leaving for class, have them observe the differences between the two leaves. Have your own specimens ready to look at with the microscope. Do the microscope lab first. Start the lab today. Have students make the different solutions in class. Part of the goal with this lab is teaching students how to make solutions of varying concentrations, so you should focus on that during class. The results will be collected over the next week or two. Have enough plants for each student to take one home to water at home with 1 type of solution throughout the week. Each student will get one or two plants (depending on the number of students) and 1 type of solution per plant. Make sure students understand that they are responsible for watering correctly to the specifications stated in the procedure, and that they are expected to make daily observations. If they are not able to commit to this, have another student take their plants.
Unit 7: Chapter 28
The Labs: Today you will do both microscope lab and lab. You should go over the medium cladogram with students in class, and have them do the easy and the hard cladograms at home. Make sure students understand the concept of shared derived traits. If you are having students write the research paper, explain what you want from them during today’s class.
Unit 7: Chapter 29
Go over the cladograms from last week and the one from this week from the Show What You Know section.
The Labs: Use the instructions in the Teacher’s Guide to do this experiment in one day instead of two.
Unit 7: Chapter 30
Go over the cladograms from this week’s Show What You Know section.
The Labs: For the lab, have your class meet at the best nursery close to you or at an area with a lot of different types of vegetation. Start next week with the microscope lab from this week.
Unit 7: Chapter 31
Go over the cladograms from this week’s Show What You Know section.
Start the lab for chapter 32 at the end of today’s class. Make sure and tell parents not to throw it out during the week. This happened to over ½ of the students in my class.
The Labs: Start with Microscope Lab 30. You are going to need specimens for the labs this week. Have students collect them, or you can start collecting them early in the year so you have enough. In a pinch use one pair for the entire class. Do Lab 31.
Unit 7: Chapter 32
Go over the cladograms from this week’s Show What You Know section.
The Labs: Start by looking at the bananas. Discuss chemotrophy when you do. This is an unfamiliar feeding strategy for most students so some discussion of it is helpful. Do Lab 32.
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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.
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
- 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.
- 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.
- Make sure the text has enough material to run the length of the time allotted for the 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.
- 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!
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.
- We met one time a week for two hours. I provided all supplies.
- We went through one chapter’s worth of material from RSO Biology 2 each week.
- I e-mailed students telling them the material they were responsible for that week.
- 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.
- 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:
- 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.
- 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?
- 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.
- 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.
- 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?
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- What is your policy if any kids miss a class?
- What is your policy if you, the teacher, cannot teach a class?
- 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.