Originally published in the summer, 2016 issue of Home | School | Life Magazine with the title Four Ways to Make Next Fall’s Science Class Great
By Blair Lee
This is the time of year when most homeschoolers reflect about how the previous academic year went. How did science go? Was it a great year for learning science or not? You might be surprised to know I have had a couple of less than stellar years of homeschooling science. The first year I homeschooled, I didn’t do any pre-planning for science. I was so busy figuring out all the other academic subjects, I didn’t plan for science. Mainly because I figured I am a scientist, I taught science at community college, how hard could it be to figure first grade science out as we went along? Harder than I thought, actually. Then there was the year my son struggled with math, and we spent so much time working on that we ignored the subject area that is one of the main reasons for learning math. You know, science, the academic area where math is applied. Comparing those two years with the years that were great helped me understand what the four core elements are for making science class great.
- Take the time to plan science for the year. The plan can be something you and your child follow rigorously, or one used as a framework with the understanding rabbit holes will be followed, and if you don’t follow the entire plan as written out, that’s okay. There are pluses and minuses to both approaches. Some homeschoolers love pre-planning, and others think it ruins the spontaneity of true learning. I found over the years that the benefit of pre-planning means you have a guide to fall back on and use throughout the academic year and that the plan only interferes with spontaneity if you let it.
There are two main things to figure out when you start to plan.
- What area of science will be the focus? Traditionally the progression for science courses is biology, earth and space, chemistry, and physics. As long as your child is ready for the more abstract and advanced concepts, including math, in chemistry and physics, it doesn’t matter what progression you choose. Alternatively, you can plan a course of study focusing on key concepts from all four disciplines.
- What curriculum or course materials will be used? Once you’ve decided on the area of science, it’s time to get some guidance about how and what should be learned.
Take the time to look at different curriculums. No curriculum is right for every student. When looking at curriculums there are a couple things to pay attention to. First, look at who is writing and putting out the materials. Well written course materials are a good guide for what should be taught when. These materials should also have a strong, foundational focus on the basics. Learning is cumulative. To understand advanced concepts in a deep and nuanced way, it is essential to have a strong foundation to build upon. You want to make sure the person writing these materials is knowledgeable about what those foundational fundamentals are for each level.
- They are messy. They can take up a lot of space. They can be time consuming. But YES, you do need to include hands-on, not virtual, experiments in your child’s science classes! I don’t recommend all labs with no theory, but I also don’t recommend all theory with no labs. Science is best learned where there is a good pairing of labs and theory. The theory is the written text. This is where the foundational fundamentals are discussed. Labs are where the foundational fundamentals are applied. It is through the application of core concepts that real learning happens. When knowledge is applied, ownership of that knowledge takes place. Besides, labs are the fun part!
- Empower your child’s science skills by engaging them. This can easily be done through conversation, having children research topics interesting to them, and by going on field trips.
Because we homeschool, we know what our children are learning. This makes it easy to have discussions that directly relate to what they’re learning. At dinner pose big questions and discuss possible answers. While hanging out or on field trips, discuss science that is pertinent to what’s going on around you. You might not be able to find all the answers. That’s okay. That’s how science works; people think of a science question, and then decide they are going to explore to try to figure out what the answer to that question is.
I do not believe there is any science discipline that doesn’t have something profoundly interesting in it. What those areas of interest are will vary from person to person. Give your child time to research the topics interesting to him or her. You can help with this. When you come across something you think your child will be interested in, share it. Don’t look at these rabbit holes as distractions. They are an important part of learning how to learn.
Choose scientists as family heroes. Every family has people they admire and discuss. Why not choose people who are working to make a difference in the world by helping themselves and others understand how it works? By choosing scientists as family heroes, you are sending a message to your kids about how much value you place on science as an academic pursuit too.
- Just do it! The most important tip I can give you for making science great is to take the time to learn it.
Blair Lee M.S. is the homeschooling mother of a 15-year-old and a world traveler. Blair loves to read, cook, laugh, hang out with friends, and homeschool. In 2015, she co-founded Secular, Eclectic, Academic Homeschoolers SEA Homeschoolers on Facebook. Blair writes for the Real Science Odyssey Series, RSO, as well as blogs and magazines. Blair speaks about eclectic, academic homeschooling, science, and travel at homeschool conventions. You can follow her at blairleeblog, Twitter, and Facebook.