Lecture Series on Teaching Evolution

Lectures on Teaching Evolution

Lecture Series on Teaching Evolution

SEA Homeschoolers is partnering with the Teacher Institute for Evolutionary Science (TIES), a division of the Richard Dawkins Foundation, to offer a series of lectures for our homeschool community.  Filled with great information on teaching evolution to middle schoolers, these lectures are suitable for all ages.  Attend and ask questions from your own computer absolutely free!

Visit the TIES website for tons of links to free resources on teaching evolution.

This is the first time that TIES has collaborated to bring these resources to homeschoolers, and we are thrilled to be a part of it.  Spread the word and be sure to register for these great lectures!

Register now for the following lectures:

Wednesday, September 12, 2018
8:00 pm – 9:30 pm EDT
“Meeting Naledi – The Discovery of Our Nearest Human Relative”
Join SEA Homeschoolers as TIES teacher John Mead shares with us a presentation about the greatest human fossil discovery since Lucy! This presentation for all ages will cover how these fossils were recovered and studied.  For more details and to register for free, visit the registration page.

In September of 2013, dedicated amateur cavers in South Africa exploring beyond the edges of the well-known Rising Star Cave came across a collection of human looking bones. Over the following months, a remarkable team building effort led to the discovery of the richest early human fossil site on the African continent and the naming of a new species – Homo naledi. TIES teacher John Mead will share his experience getting to know and work with the team and detailing the once-in-a-lifetime experience of how these new fossils were recovered and studied. If you do not know about the greatest human fossil discovery since Lucy, then please join us for John’s presentation.

 

Wednesday, September 26, 2018
8:00 pm – 9:00 pm EDT
“The Evolution of Human Skin Color”
Join SEA Homeschoolers as Dr. Leslie Jones deconstructs the misconception that “race” has any biological basis in this presentation, and take away lessons you can use with your learners.  For more details and to register for free, visit the registration page.

Genomic technologies have recently led to a dramatic increase in our understanding of relationships among early members of our species. With access to genetic markers that distinguish different populations, we have been able to reconstruct a much more accurate picture of migration out of Africa and the various paths our ancestors took on the way to the colonization of most of the world. As a biologist who is committed to using science education to deconstruct the widely held notion that “race” has any biological basis, Dr. Jones has developed lessons on human evolution that explain visible diversity within our species. The centerpiece of this approach is why skin color, the ultimate marker for racist distinctions, varies within indigenous populations. These lessons are always coupled with explicit instruction on the history of how racial categories were fallaciously invented to justify European imperialism and the social construction of race.

These sessions can fill up, so be sure to reserve your spot right away.

Watch for details on future TIES lectures:

Date to be announced: Classifying Life (Phylogeny and Cladistics)
Date to be announced: The Theory of Evolution Explained

Check out our review of Pandia Press Astronomy 1 here.





Choosing an Educational Game

Game

Choosing an Educational Game

If you decide that educational games might be useful for your child, it might seem like there are way too many things to consider. How popular they are, what themes and subjects to focus on, how recommended they are and so on. And while there are a lot of educational games out there, I hope I can help you narrow down your options — not based on what the games seem like on the surface, but on what type of learning your child will experience when they’re playing.

What is your Child Actually Doing while Playing?

One of the most important things to keep in mind is what your child will actually be doing when they play a game. A lot of educational products have rewarding elements like character customization, pets, apartments, etc., but obviously this shouldn’t be where your child is spending all their time in a game. So it’s good to ask: Are they spending their time problem-solving? Are they engaging deeply on educational subjects? Not just memorizing content, but actually participating in it?

The following story illustrates this quite clearly:

“A teacher once told me that for a fourth-grade unit on the Underground Railroad he had his students bake biscuits, because this was a staple food for runaway slaves. He asked what I thought about the assignment. I pointed out that his students probably thought for forty seconds about the relationship of biscuits to the Underground Railroad, and for forty minutes about measuring flour, mixing shortening, and so on. Whatever students think about is what they will remember.” (Willingham)

Of course, if the teacher’s goal is to practice measuring and cooking, that’s great.  But if their goal was learning about the Underground Railroad, they fell short.  This is because of the key concept: “Memory is the residue of thought.”  This is one of the biggest takeaways from Willingham’s book, “Why Don’t Students Like School: A Cognitive Scientist Answers Questions About How the Mind Works and What It Means for the Classroom,” which I highly recommend!

So with any material, consider what your child is actually going to be thinking about. What are they going to spend time doing? Because that’s what they’re going to get out of it.

Lower-Order Practice vs. Higher-Order Conceptual

I generally categorize educational games into two groups: Lower-Order Practice and Higher-Order Conceptual Learning. Both have their functions in a child’s learning, so let’s take a closer look:

Lower-Order Practice

Lower-Order Practice is the kind of learning where children answer questions and practice remembering content, but don’t actually learn the concepts or do anything particularly unique with them. For example, a child has to be taught how to do the math problem before they do a math-themed version of this type of game. A Lower-Order Practice game isn’t great for learning the content for the first time or helping them understand the concepts behind it.

And we’ve all seen this type of activity before: glorified worksheets with better-than-average behavioral and motivational science behind them.

I use the term Lower-Order in reference to Bloom’s Taxonomy of educational goals. In Lower-Order Practice games, the activities take place in the lower half of thinking skills:

  • Remember what they’ve learned by recognizing and recalling information;
  • Understand by classifying, comparing, or other activities;
  • Apply by using what they’ve learned on other problems, sometimes in new contexts or slightly harder examples.

I should emphasize that there’s nothing inherently wrong with Lower-Order Practice, because we do need to practice these skills and be able to memorize information. All the hype about how we don’t need to memorize information anymore because we can look everything up on Google is just that — hype.

Math is an easy way to explain why this is important: in general, people can only hold 5-9 items in working memory at a time. Therefore, if you don’t memorize your times tables by the time you get to algebra, it’s hard to have to constantly pause in the middle of solving a problem to do multiplication, as you end up dropping items out of your working memory. In the exact same sense, we can’t perform higher-order thinking skills like creating, connecting points, and being creative unless we already know the basics. So there’s definitely a need for practice and repetition to make sure the basics are mastered.

This form of educational gaming works well across several types of devices: mobile, tablets, and computers, though most Lower-Order Practice games are apps or web-based for quick, in-and-out sessions lasting for a relatively short period of time. For example, the games available at Coolmath.com, Funbrain.com, and ABCya.com are largely simple practice games. I’ve had teachers tell me that these types of games generally retain their students’ interest for about 10 minutes.

Higher-Order Conceptual Learning

Games with Higher-Order Conceptual Learning use systems, problem-solving, and more in-depth types of gameplay to help the player develop a strong conceptual understanding, and they often use a constructivist approach to learning.

These type of games really take advantage of the power of what games can do, with potentially open-ended systems that let players experiment and get a much better, deeper understanding.

So in Bloom’s Taxonomy, Higher-Order Conceptual Learning has children:

  • Analyze by differentiating, organizing, and attributing as players problem-solve;
  • Evaluate by checking and judging to make decisions;
  • Create to generate hypotheses, plan, design, and produce solutions.

For example, in our game, Tyto Online, players engage in an ecosystem-building Sandbox. They use the basics they’ve learned to analyze their ecosystem, evaluate the evidence to decide what’s causing issues (like, “Why are my jackrabbits dying so quickly?!”), generate a hypothesis (“They have too many predators, or not enough food”), and then produce a solution. Players go through an engaging, iterative cycle of problem-solving and the scientific method constantly during gameplay.

Some of my favorite examples of Higher-Order math games include Motion Math’s games where children do conceptual activities like exploring a number line at various scales; and Dragonbox Learning, where players start by developing the concepts of algebra with balancing puzzles, and then work their way into replacing the symbols with letters and numbers until they’re solving full algebraic equations in the game.

There are even educational games that can enable types of learning that are difficult or impossible to do in real life as a child: build a spaceship with Kerbal Space Program, play with the universe’s physical variables with Universe Sandbox, or create an ecosystem from scratch with Tyto Online.

Session times in Higher-Order educational games are often a lot longer, depending on the game and what your child is exploring. Therefore it makes more sense to use computer installed games or tablets, or at least a setup where your child will feel comfortable playing for 30-60 minutes instead of 10.

Conclusion

For the practical side of timing and devices, consider:

Are you going for “instant” or “active” gaming? One of the most helpful workshops I attended divided mobile & tablet gaming into “instant gaming,” and computer & console gaming into “active gaming.”

  • Instant Gaming: on mobile devices, educational games are grab-and-go, and session times often average only 5 minutes. This can be great for quick reinforcement or other activities.
  • Active Gaming: on consoles or computers, the act of getting set up to play the game can take as long as the entire Instant Gaming experience! Therefore, these sessions are usually much longer and made for replayability, sometimes hours, and can be great for deeper and conceptual learning as players experiment, iterate, and create during their gameplay.

And finally, to assess if a game is right for your child, the main thing I would suggest is:

Consider the outcome you want and compare it to what your child will actually spend their time doing in the game. Are you using the game for practice and review? Do you want to help develop conceptual understanding? Do you want to improve their “21st Century skills,” like problem-solving and collaboration? Does the game help them reach that outcome?

There’s no “one size fits all” approach when it comes to knowing if an educational game is right for your child with so many options out there that fill many different potential needs. While we mainly focus on developing Higher-Order thinking with Tyto Online, we’ve also built in repetition and opportunities for children to understand the basic knowledge they need in order to get the full experience of the game.

To read more about the learning mechanics we use in Tyto Online, head over to our blog post outlining our approach.

 [button link=”https://seahomeschoolers.com/tyto-online-group-buy/” type=”big” newwindow=”yes”] Tyto Online Group Buy[/button]

Find out more:

Immersed Games (the studio): www.immersedgames.com

Tyto Online (the game): www.tytoonline.com

Lindsey Tropf’s personal twitter: @ltropf

About the Author

Game

Lindsey Tropf, Founder & CEO of Immersed Games, was a doctoral candidate at the University of Florida in School Psychology, with a specialization in Program Evaluation and a Minor in Research & Evaluation Methodology, with expertise in data-based decision making. Her background has led to an expertise in teaching & learning, children’s development, social-emotional health, behavioral management, and executive functions. She now works on strategy and vision, product development, business development, marketing, and anywhere else she is needed at Immersed Games.





Using R.E.A.L. Science Odyssey Biology 2 for High School

R.E.A.L. Science Odyssey Biology 2
Using R.E.A.L. Science Odyssey Biology 2 for High School
Before I get into the specifics of how to do this, I would tell you to relax about this. About six months before Sean started ninth grade, I looked over the California A – G requirements. These are the specific course requirements students need in order to be considered for application to one of the University of California, UC, schools. This university system is considered by many to be one of the top university systems in the United States. Within each of these requirements you can look at the content UC expects you to cover. I was flabbergasted. Many of the science requirements and labs were blindingly easy and in many cases not central to an understanding of the subject. The reason I was so flabbergasted was that if a student did nothing more than meet those, it would be very unlikely he or she would be successful in science classes taken at UC schools. I taught at UCSD while I was in graduate school there. Even the introductory level science courses at UCSD are challenging if you haven’t had good science in high school. These standards, to me, are an extension of the button-checking, testing culture that pervades schools from grades 1 through 12. They are too often a collection of hoops that if a student jumps through will give them a ticket so he or she can apply to certain universities. This is done without a focused effort on kids having the necessary skills and tools to understand how learning happens in general, and specifically as it applies to science, how the natural and physical world works. These hoops also often do not focus on the skills necessary to succeed in their college classes. (Blair gets off soapbox now and gets on with the task at hand.)
Let’s start with what the necessary skills are for a high school student studying biology:
1. Understanding how to apply the scientific method – this includes having the ability to practice science by applying the scientific method to a given science issue. 2 articles I wrote about the scientific method:
2. Being able to write a lab report – Lab reports are a very formulaic type of writing. Understanding how to write a lab report is a great way to introduce the formulaic nature of some types of writing. In college, when students take lab classes they are expected to know how to write a lab report. I never took or taught a college lab class where this skill was taught, but in most cases all or the majority of your grade in lab classes comes from these reports.
3. The ability to read, understand, and discuss current science topics at a high school level
4. Having a basic understanding of the foundational fundamentals that underpin biology – that is not to say there are not some important side issues that are critical to learn – it just makes more sense to include those into a discussion focused on a conceptual understanding of the basics of biology
5. Being able to apply math to the science of biology
The Specifics of what you should do with the course
  • 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 [email protected] 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.
Here is a link to an article for those of you using RSO Bio 2 in a co-op.




Science and the Secular Homeschooler

I live in Southern California. I taught science at community college, and now I write about it. Those two sentences convey a lot of information about how easy it is for me to negotiate my way through the homeschool community.

Where I live in California, there are many large secular or inclusive homeschool groups. In my experience in California, unless a group states that it is faith-based, it is understood that it isn’t. With one exception, the religious homeschoolers I have met in California have never seemed put-off by my stance about science or my being secular. I once overheard a homeschooler I knew to be a Young Earther tell another homeschooler, who had just explained to me that dinosaurs didn’t really go extinct, because dinosaurs were lizards and lizards still exists, “She taught science at a college. You know how scientists are.” This was the first time, but not the last being a scientist earned me a free pass to participate in activities with religious homeschoolers without my secularity being an issue. I admit though, when I socialize, I don’t talk science with people who don’t want to talk about it.

In 2013, after homeschooling for seven years, my eyes were opened to what it might be like for secular homeschoolers, who are not scientists living in areas with large secular communities. That is the year my biology course came out. It is one thing to be a homeschooling scientist who lives in California. It is quite another to be a homeschooling scientist, who lives in California, and publishes materials that say, “It is a fact that evolution occurs. The theory part is how it happens.” On May 22, 2013 the first review of my Biology book was posted on Amazon. It was 3-stars; the complaint was that it “Teaches Evolution and global warming”. I have always felt fortunate it wasn’t 1-star. Then in June of 2013, I was at a homeschool convention in California and was approached by someone who wanted to argue that any science text that did not include a discussion of the book of Genesis, when explaining evolution, was flawed and biased. One of the conference organizers overheard and put a stop to the conversation, telling the person they were at a secular conference. See what I mean about secular homeschooling in California.

Despite these two occurrences, I continued living in my “California bubble,” thinking it was similar for other secular homeschoolers. Then in September, 2014, I traveled to Georgia for the National Alliance of Secular Homeschoolers, NASH, Conference. It was there I realized how different it was for secular homeschoolers in other parts of the country. It was then that I came to understand how important it is for those of us in areas where we can comfortably tell others we are secular homeschoolers to provide support for homeschoolers in areas less tolerant of their secular homeschooling neighbors. I met homeschoolers who lived in communities where there was not another secular homeschooler. I met homeschoolers who had to make the choice between finding groups where their children could socialize versus being honest about the fact that those children learned from secular materials. I also met homeschoolers who were willing to brave the storm and isolation, and admit that they were secular homeschoolers. That is hard to do. It really is.

Before attending the NASH conference, I understood the importance of writing science materials for the homeschool community that include topics like evolution and the human causes for climate change. That did not mean I understood the importance for those of us living in areas where the consequences for doing it are negligible, of standing up, raising a hand, and saying, “I am a secular homeschooler”. Homeschooling by its very nature can be isolating. When you live in a community where being secular isolates you further, it can get lonely. What can our global community of science-loving secular homeschoolers do?

  1. If you live in one of those areas, start a science co-op. You do not need to be an expert or a scientist to start one. All you need are good reference materials, one or more people to run it, and a location.

Science is not the only academic discipline with fault lines drawn between secular and non-secular homeschoolers, but it is where most of the problems arise. That is because some of the well-established facts and theories of science are at odds with a literal interpretation of religious doctrine from several different faiths. There is continued agitation by some to change science to fit religious doctrine. The problem is science doesn’t work that way. When you change or omit science facts and theories to fit your philosophy, and then teach using those changes or omissions, you are no longer teaching science. I suppose you are teaching religious philosophy with some science woven through it. Scientists take issue with this for two main reasons. First, it is a denial of some of the foundational and fundamental principles all science is based on. For a scientist, this is incredibly frustrating and seriously misrepresentative of how the natural and physical world works. Scientists obviously care a lot about science, or they wouldn’t spend all those years in college studying it. 🙂 Second, the people and users of these non-secular materials continue to call it science while these materials clearly, at least to a scientist, are not really science.

No homeschooler would be surprised by the statistic Gallup released in 2014 stating that 42% of Americans believe God created humans in their present form 10,000 years ago. That is certainly a dismal figure, but it has a good side too. 58% do not believe that. And while it is true that many of the people who do believe that are homeschoolers, there is no way ALL the people who do not believe God created humans in their present form 10,000 years ago live in California 😉 Starting a science co-op is a great way to find the other members of your local homeschooling community who understand the difference between philosophy and science. In addition, running a secular science co-op provides an important service by promoting science literacy.

  1. Join secular Facebook groups, Yahoo groups, and forums like those on SHS.com. When you live in areas where there is not a good-sized secular community, it can be hard to find discussion about good secular materials, especially science. Online secular groups and forums can be a great place to get information about and recommendations for secular academic materials.
  2. Those of us who are in areas where we can do it, or who feel comfortable doing it no matter where we live, need to make sure we stand up and be counted as secular homeschoolers. It might not seem important in a state like California, but it is important to recognize your advocacy and support might resonate in places you have never been and with people you have never met. It seems part of the human condition to want a group to belong to and a community where we feel understood. I think we evolved that way 😉




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

Science: A Parent’s Passion

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Science
Science: Lunar eclipse, 10/7/2014

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

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

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

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

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

.

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

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

 

 

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





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!

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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.