From the time I was pregnant with my son Sean until he was a toddler, if you had asked me what I wanted him to be when he grew up, I would have told you I wanted him to be a Renaissance man. To me, the term Renaissance man means a person (male or female) who has a deep and nuanced knowledge over a broad range of fields. It refers to a person who is literate and can express oneself through writing, speaking, or both; a person who is a creative thinker; someone who is not necessarily an athlete but who is comfortable with his own physicality. And I expected him to be social, it never even occurred to me my child would not be the extreme extrovert I am. It was the dreamy sort of fantasy a mom with her first (and it turned out only) child has.
The dream didn’t survive toddlerhood. It was during toddlerhood that I realized Sean had his own dreams and personality, and it was those that needed to guide his path. The first time I realized my child was not an extrovert, he was a slightly, shy introvert, I panicked. I am not kidding. I had absolutely no idea how to parent him when it came to social situations. I thought things like (but never said), “How could anyone prefer standing and observing over jumping in and doing?!?” “Why would you want to hang out with me alone, when you have others who want to play with you?!?” I dealt with it by letting him hold on when he needed to, and helping him have wings when he felt comfortable flying.
Early on, I chose to honor who he was, even when it took work to figure out how to do it, instead of pushing an agenda I had for him. I do not believe in pushing your child to be what you want him to be. I think it is more important to ensure he has the skills and tools he needs, and then to work with him so that he is a critical thinker who can figure out for himself what he wants to be. So that was what I focused on.
When I realized the small rural school he was in during kindergarten couldn’t give him the skills and tools he needed, with the advice of his teacher, I chose to homeschool him. Sean and I spent some time using different educational approaches until settling on secular, eclectic, academic homeschooling. He is too artistic, and I appreciate academics too much for any one methodology to completely suit both of us. So, instead of choosing one, I gifted him with a handcrafted education.
Handcrafted educations like those found in the secular homeschool community are not new. During Renaissance times, people would have considered secular, eclectic, academic homeschoolers like us to be humanists, educating their children from a humanist perspective. For us, humanist has nothing to do with or without issues of faith. It refers to the use of secular academic materials, those that present facts, theories, and models as recommended by a majority of practicing experts in a field of study. This type of education, tailored to the strengths, weaknesses, and passions of an individual and their family is the type of education that Leonardo da Vinci, Florence Nightingale, and Thomas Jefferson received.
It was only recently that I realized my dream for my son came true. came true. In fact there is a whole group of homeschooled kids growing up to be Renaissance men and women. The secular homeschooling component is important to the recipe. With a Renaissance style education you can introduce material to someone, but they must choose to explore it deeply. This deep exploration requires time without a timeline. Renaissance educations have at their center a core base of knowledge, of course. But that core does not come from a checklist of facts to be memorized and prescribed skills to be mastered, as happens with a traditional education. There is more individuality and ownership with a handcrafted, Renaissance education. When it comes to learning things in a deep and nuanced way, ownership is a critical component. You can bring someone to the table of knowledge, but you cannot make them consume it. There is a reason we are experiencing a renaissance of a handcrafted education. It is because this type of education leads to a person who knows how to learn and understands the value and joy of learning. More than any other element, this is the one that makes someone a Renaissance man or a Renaissance woman.
These days, Sean is 18 and beginning to assert himself and his own independence. It is an exciting time for all of us, but often there is nothing very romantic about it. I homeschooled my son, so my fingerprints are all over his education and learning. Lately though, as he has begun to assert himself, showing signs of the man he is growing into, and making his knowledge and learning his own, his fingerprints are beginning to obscure mine. It is during these moments when I realize, with no planning to make it happen, this secular, eclectic, academic path we chose together resulted in his growing to become a Renaissance man.
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 HomeschoolersSEA 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 atblairleeblog, Twitter, Facebook, andKatch.
There is a revolution going on right now in education. It’s called homeschooling. I am part of a fringe group in this revolution. You don’t hear a lot from us, but there is a group of homeschoolers who consider our style to be secular eclectic academic homeschooling. You don’t hear from us because on the one hand we are the unloved mongrels of the homeschooling community so we keep a low profile, and on the other hand we are too busy figuring out how to best facilitate our children’s education. We spend too much time on academics and have too much structure to be considered unschoolers or child-led learners, and too little time on traditional academics or have too little structure to be considered classical homeschoolers.
Many secular eclectic academic homeschoolers pull their children out of traditional school or never have them attend it because, although like traditional schools we believe in the importance of academics, we do not believe in the way the academic subjects are being taught, the testing culture, and/or we disagree with the subjects that are being taught. For example, I believe there are certain subjects that should be taught less so that there is time to teach subjects such as computer science. (And I am not talking about less time for science or history when I say this!) I think that subjects such as math and some writing could be incorporated into history and science so that there would be more time for these two very important subjects and so that writing and math could be taught in a way that makes them more relevant.
America is a funny country when it comes to academics. We want to be at the top academically when it comes to things like beating Singapore’s test scores in math or scoring as well on standardized tests as Finland does, but we don’t have a lot of appreciation for academics in most of our communities.
There is a focus on winning and having the top scores on tests, but there is a lack of focus on the sheer beauty of learning. I think the disconnect between school and the inherent beauty of learning comes about because of the misguided focus on “winning” (AKA having the highest test scores) versus getting a good education so you can be intellectually engaged. As I have said before, I am sympathetic to the constraints placed on schools. Schools have to have performance mandates because they are using tax payer dollars, and tax payers want to know that their dollars are being well spent. So… testing happens. That is how schools show they are performing well. Most eclectic, academic homeschoolers think there should be less focus on testing and more focus on having intellectual discussions about issues both big and small. Not because they will solve any problems (or maybe they will), but just because they are interesting to engage in. Interesting people have interests; it is that simple.
The academic benefits of homeschooling when there has been a focus on academics are impressive. I am blown away by the wealth and richness of my son’s education, and how it has led to an intellectual engagement with his academics and his passionate love of learning. He still thinks I am smarter than him, and he is right about some subjects like chemistry, but in other areas he has surpassed me. He has been given the time and resources to delve into his passions. He doesn’t appreciate it yet, but I think he is already standing on my shoulders. By the way, if you think that my son is a gifted student, he’s not. He is a pretty average, typical 15-year-old who happens to be growing up in a family that places a lot of value on the love of learning.
The homeschool community is not necessarily warm and accepting of secular eclectic academics. I have been accused of being a “Teachey teach to the textbook type” and a “school at homer”, both of which are derogatory phrases in the homeschool community. Neither is accurate, but even if they were, big deal. My child is happy and well-adjusted. We all like the way education works in our house. I don’t know why anyone else would care. On the other side of it, I have been asked by classical educators if I wasn’t worried about Sean being able to get into college. The answer to that question is, “No.” My purpose with my son’s education has never been so that he could get into a good college. That will be a natural outcome, but it is not the purpose and that gives me much more flexibility with his education. I started as a student at a community college, and it is a perfectly good path to getting a college degree. College is not the focus or the end-goal for my child. We focus on academics because I want my child to be well educated. That to me is the purpose of an education. And then there is the issue with being secular. Does that mean we are anti-faith? The answer to that is no. It means the materials used for learning present the facts, theories, principles, and models as recommended by a majority of experts in the field being studied. Unless the subject is philosophy, secular academic materials do not take an individual’s philosophy into account. It is not anti-faith. It is pro-learning with minimal bias from the author’s worldview.
The lack of acceptance does not bother me, as you probably guess, since I blog about being an eclectic and academic homeschooler, and I am a scientist who writes secular academic science books. Actually that’s why I decided to write about homeschooling high school. I wanted to help my fellow homeschoolers who are trying like I am to negotiate the path for providing a unique academic education for their kids, while making sure that they have plenty of time for socialization, video games, and all the rest of the things teens are into these days.
I write for the fringe group of us in the middle, who believes there is real value in academics, but who are looking for something more innovative and individual than what is being done in traditional schools. Those of us in the middle think one of the main purposes of an education is that at the end of it a person is well-educated, with the caveat that we define what well-educated means in our house. We also think an education should lead to a person who loves learning and who understands how to learn. We are trying to figure all of this out organically using innovative and eclectic approaches.
(4/2015) Until a couple of days ago, I thought there were only a few of us. I was feeling lonely. I wanted a community of people to brainstorm with, so I put a message out on two Facebook Groups. I was hoping to find the 10 other (or maybe there were even fewer, I worried) secular, eclectic, academic homeschoolers out there. The response to my post has been overwhelming. There are quite a few more than 10 of us, and we need each other.
There are two main reasons we need each other. The first is so we can have a community of like-minded people. Homeschooling is done at home with just your family, so it can be isolating, especially if you don’t have a group that you identify with like unschoolers and classical homeschoolers do. The other reason we need to form a group is ironic. We are academic homeschoolers, but we want to be innovative and eclectic with our academic homeschooling. Because of this there is no book or set of guidelines we can refer to. We are just winging it most of the time. We need to form a group for the same reason that teachers in traditional schools need to get together and talk about what’s going on in their classrooms. We need others to strategize with. We need a forum where we can discuss what’s working and get help on what’s not. We need a place where we can find others to form online co-ops with. Basically we need a group where it feels safe and comfortable to discuss academic issues as they relate to our situation. We need other people who feel the way we do about academic homeschooling to use as a sounding board when we’re figuring things out. We also need a place to be able to come to so we can tell others when we figured it out and it really worked. This helps others, but it’s also nice just to be able to say, “Guess what wonderful thing my child achieved academically,” and know that these other people are going to be proud of the academic achievements of your child, because like you, they care passionately about academics.
This group is going to be about educating and about innovative academics. The emphasis with it is not going to be about how to get your child into college. Getting into college will be a result of this process, but for the purpose of this group it’s not the purpose of the process. I know a bit (but just a bit) about this, because a very well-regarded university reached out to my son in January asking him to apply to their summer program. We did not solicit the application. They solicited our participation. When it comes to college, I am beginning to feel like Kevin Costner standing in a field, “Build it. They will come.” (It being my eclectically educated son.)There will be colleges that don’t agree with me on this. That’s okay. Not every college is right for every person. Eclectic, academic kids should probably seek out eclectic, academic colleges. (Now if we can just get those same colleges to waive standardized test results as part of our child’s college application, Hmmnn…… The way I see it, schools looking to attract homeschool students should rely mainly on portfolios of work from a homeschooled student when deciding if they want to admit the student.) Maybe when Sean goes to college I should work on that instead of joining the Peace Corps. Yes that is one of the things my husband and I are thinking of doing, the Peace Corps I mean, when Sean goes to college.
If this post resonates with you, look for the Facebook Group “Secular, Eclectic, Academic, Homeschoolers,” Secular Eclectic Academic Homeschoolers closed group. It is open to any homeschooler or educator who considers themselves a secular eclectic academic, who appreciates the value of an academically-rich education that is innovative, and who wants to promote that within our homeschool community. There will be no selling on this group. That is not its purpose. This will be a positive force, and only those people who want to have a constructive discussion should sign up for it. The group is open to people of any faith, or lack thereof, but we will not allow any proselytizing. The academics we will be discussing in this group will be secular academics. That does not mean people cannot discuss religion within education, but it has to be from the perspective of academics, and all science discussions will be strictly secular. I look forward to meeting my fellow secular, eclectic, academic homeschoolers!
“I haven’t been everywhere, but it’s on my list.” Susan Sontag
Travel is a big part of our homeschooling journey. When we can, we worldschool. Worldschoolers incorporate travel throughout their children;s journey through learning. My husband and I want our son to be a global citizen. We want him to understand that many different cultures have looked at situations and come up with equally viable answers, one not necessarily better than the other. We want him to experience and appreciate different cultures and this big beautiful planet he lives on. We started traveling with Sean when he was two years old. Over the past 14 years he has been to 15 countries and traveled to many locations in the United States. Here are some travel tips I learned along the way.
1. You might never come this way again. We do not worldschool 24/7. If it’s raining outside, cold, or you’re tired, even if the kids complain, do not let it stop you from going out and seeing the sights. I like to tell Sean, he will thank me when he’s 30.
2. Worldschoolers, travel enough to know to unexpected and be patient with whatever happens. “The best laid plans of mice and men go awry every now and then.” It doesn’t matter how well you plan, something is going to come up. Life is short, you can’t have one second of it back, so why spend your time while traveling angry or annoyed. Some of the best times we had while on the road happened when something went wrong.
Three days later, it was all smiles. The next day we flew home.
And then there was the time we got stuck in a rain storm while driving through Chartes, France at night. We liked the town so well we stayed there 3 nights.
3. Tipping differs depending on the country. Tipping is common in some countries and not in others. French servers are insulted when Americans tip. Irish servers hear the American accent and put you at the best table while giving you the best service. Before leaving on your trip find out what the tipping policy is in that country. If you’re traveling, though, and it feels too weird not to tip, go ahead and tip. What’s the worst someone can say about you for doing it, “That you’re too generous?” I wonder if there are some worldschoolers who do not tip? I don’t think I could be on the road long enough to break that habit, but maybe.
4. No, it’s not going to be just like it was back home. This is a good thing, but it can cause some homesickness, especially for kids. Be prepared for it. If your kids are worried about their pets or want to check in with family or friends, Skype is a great tool to use to stay connected. This is one of the most important lessons kids who worldschool learn. It is an essential understanding of a global citizen.
5. Be as impulsive and free-spirited as your personality will allow. Worried you might make a fool of yourself? You might be right, but wouldn’t it be worse not to get the full experience. And hey, they’re not laughing at you, they’re laughing with you. That’s what I tell my son. There were a couple of years when he was too worried about how he looked to just get up and let himself go. I didn’t let that stop me though. Now at 16, he joins in the fun.
6. Where should we go next? When we travel, we only have a loose plan. We like to go to places we have never been before. Because of that, we aren’t sure until we get there, what we are going to want to see and experience. I like to ask locals, “If you could tell someone one place in your country not to miss, what would it be? And why?” I’m not looking for the touristy answer with this either. We prefer non-touristy locations. Sometimes it is just happenstance where we will head next. I might be looking for craft beer and see the name Mammooth Beer. Why would there be Mammooth beer in a store in Granada, Spain? I had to know. It turns out they have been digging up mammoth fossils nearby. Then I learned about Orce Man. On the way out of Granada, we took a detour to see the 1.8 million year old hominid fossil. They had to open the museum for us. No one else was there. Later I learned that Orce Man is very controversial. Archaeologists swear it is a real hominid fossil. Creationists are sure it is a hoax. I am so glad I saw that beer!
7. Where should we stay? When we travel, we do not want to stay in the hotels with all the other foreign travelers. Before leaving home, we do some research to learn where people from that country stay when they take their vacations. Doing this we meet more local people, and it costs less.
8. Worldschoolers should get an International Driver’s license. Unless you are positive you will not be driving, you probably want to get an International Driver’s license. While you’re at it check to see if your auto insurance covers you when driving a rental car in another country. In the United States, International Driver’s licenses can be gotten at AAA offices.
9. Leave the lesson books at home. The first time we went on a major trip with Sean, we spent a month in France and Ireland. I brought along books for him so he could continue his studies. That was in 2005. I have to laugh at myself now. It is not a mistake I’ve ever made again. I spent an entire month lugging heavy books around that we were too busy to use.
10. Make it educational. That’s not to say we don’t make it educational. You don’t have to run around to see all the sites to make it educational either. Simply by traveling, observing, and interacting with other people and cultures is an educational experience.
11. Check out bookstores. It is really fun to see what people in other cultures are reading. If you’re reading this I’m going to assume you can read English. Lucky you. I have never been into a bookstore in another country where I couldn’t find something that had been translated into English.
12. Learn a few phrases in that language. There are some phrases you really need to know. Do not assume everyone is going to speak English. Even in countries where many people speak English, we have never found that everyone we wanted to ask a question of spoke English.
“Does anyone here speak English,” is probably the most important phrase to know. I have used that phrase mainly while entering the country. Just remember, you are going to be tired and stressed from hours of travel. Unless you are fluent in that language, you will probably struggle to say exactly what you want if there is any issue.
If you have any dietary restrictions, make sure you know how to tell someone about them. I am a vegan, and I never leave home without being able to tell someone that in their own language.
13. Try to get on the sleep cycle. Jet lag is a problem, especially when worldschooling with friends. The younger your children are, the more important this is. If at all possible, try to sleep while you’re traveling too. Because it is inevitable that when you first arrive, you will be tired and burned out, we always have a place booked to stay for the first three days of our trip.
14. Pack light and make the clothes you do pack comfortable.
You are traveling with your children, for most of us that means we do not need a suitcase full of fancy clothes. The longer you were going to be on the road, the more important it is that you have clothes you’re comfortable in. Ask yourself, do you really need that bulky camera, the heavy laptop, or three pairs of high heels? Or would you be better off taking your pictures on your phone, using an iPad, and only bringing along sandals and walking/hiking shoes?
Only take shoes that have been broken in. Most of us do a lot of walking when we are traveling. It is a big mistake to have new shoes with you.
Make sure you pay attention to what the people in that area wear. I didn’t have to dress conservatively when I was in India or Dubai, but I felt more comfortable doing so. Often when you are traveling, it’s nice to just blend in. To do that you want to be dressed in a similar fashion to the people of that country.
Casual and comfortable is a great combination when traveling for weeks. Just remember, unless you stay in the same place the entire time, you will be carrying your clothes with you every time you move from one location to another.
15. There are a few things every worldschooler should pack.
Earplugs: Even if you have never used earplugs before, you should pack some for your trip. Most people are used to the night noises at home. The night noises when you travel are going to be different, and this can keep you or your kids up. There is nothing worse than being tired the entire time you travel.
Hand sanitizer: The germs are different where you are going. That makes it really easy to catch infectious germs your immune system has never seen before. When that happens you can get sick. Make sure you bring small bottles of hand sanitizer, and use it often. The most common places to pick those germs up are handrails, elevator buttons, and money. Most people do not wash their hands after touching those three things. Use hand sanitizer whenever you or your children touch them. I very rarely get sick when I travel.
A first aid kit: You are traveling with children. It’s a good idea to be prepared with Band-Aids, Neosporin, and necessary first-aid supplies.
Plugs for that country: You don’t want to get to a foreign country and find out you can’t charge any of your electronics. Do not assume you will easily find these plugs when you are out of the country. That has not been our experience.
16. Make sure everyone has a bit of cash. One of the most annoying things parents deal with is their children constantly asking them to buy things. We solved this by giving Sean a set amount of money he can spend. How much depends on where we’re going and how long we’re going to be there. Doing this also cuts down on the tension from you telling your child you can’t believe that’s what they want to buy. It’s their money so they can buy whatever they want with it, even if it’s not something you would buy.
17. Is your passport up-to-date for the rules of the country you are traveling to? Do you need a visa? In May, 2015 we traveled to Spain. We were also planning on traveling to Morocco. The trip was planned months before we left. We all checked our passports to make sure we didn’t need to renew them. Two days before leaving for Spain, I happen to read the information sent to us from our airlines months before. It informed us that when traveling to Spain our passports would need to be valid for at least three months beyond our intended departure date. My passport expired one week early to meet that date. We actually ended up changing the date I was to fly back by one week. Then when we got to Spain changed my departure date to its original date and time. In addition to that, we couldn’t go to Morocco, because I wasn’t sure I would be able to get back into Spain. How much stress did this add to the beginning of our vacation? I had a serious cold sore by the time I got to Spain.
18. Journal daily. The first trip we took out of the country with Sean was to Costa Rica. We had been home just a few months when I realized we were starting to forget many of the details from that trip. We had taken lots of photos, but I couldn’t recall many of the details with those alone. Since then I always journal every day when we travel, and blog about it . We love going back through the journals. I have encouraged Sean to journal daily as well. Some of his entries from when he was young are pretty funny.
19. Take pictures of flowers. It is lovely to have a photo record of flowers from around the world.
20. Try local specialties. One of the best things about worldschooling is the food. I am one of those people who are very curious about food. I have had some interesting conversations with people about what they are eating. Many times people gave me a bite of food from their plate. The irony of this is, I am a bit of a germaphobe, but I just go for it.
Worldschoolers see the coolest things! Guinea pigs running around the house eating leaves from a coffee plant…
21. Meet and talk to local people. I have been told by one of my stepsons that I like to have random conversations with random people all over the world. This is a trait that has brought pleasure to all of us, as we have found ourselves in interesting and unique situations.
22. Bring both digital and physical copies of your passport, visa, driver’s license, birth certificate, health insurance card, and important phone numbers. An important worldschoolers tip: The best thing to do is to take pictures of all of these and save them on your phone. It’s a good idea for everyone who is traveling together to have copies of these on their phone as well.
23. Volunteer. Volunteering as a part of your worldschooling adventure is a great way to learn about an area and to meet local people. It can take work to find opportunities if your children are younger, but they are available. The academic enrichment your children will gain through volunteering can’t be duplicated in any other way.
24. You are with your children, so you want to make sure everyone can stay in contact. Before you leave, make sure your phones are set up so that it is easy and as inexpensive as possible for all of you to stay connected.
25. Plan activities for everyone. When traveling with a group where there is a range of ages, the best thing to do is to take turns planning activities.
26. Whether you are wordlschooling or just on a vacation, you are better off seeing fewer places and getting to know the place instead of cramming as many places as possible into your trip. This is especially true if you are traveling with children. There is a movement called slow travel. When you slow travel, you spend a week or more in a place, and take the time to get to know that place and truly enjoy it. Slow travel leads to a much greater appreciation of where you are, and keeps all of you from feeling rushed and stressed out.
27. Read nonfiction and fictional books about and/or from that country before you go. You can do this in the car while you’re traveling too. If you happen to travel through La Mancha, Spain, and you realize you are the only person who knows the story of Don Quixote, you have some reading to do aloud for your fellow passengers while traveling toward Seville.
28. Make sure you have downloaded good music, videos, and books on tape. Sometimes when parents travel with kids they are concerned their kids will want to be plugged in the whole time. It has happened to us, so before we go I always lay out the ground rules for how much time can be spent on the electronics. On the other hand, part of travel is getting there. It is nice for you if your kids have some way to check out when they’re sitting at airports or in the car. This helps prevent you from going insane during these times.
29. If you are on the road for any length of time, yes, you are going to have to wash clothes. I have found you’re better off not getting too behind on this.
30. Just do it! I have people tell me all the time that they would love to travel like we do. They want to know how we manage it. We start by treating travel as if it is a priority, then we save, plan, and make it happen.
If you can think of any tips I missed, add them to the comment section. Who knows, maybe I will use your tip on our next adventure!
Blair Lee 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, as well as blogs and magazines. Blair speaks about eclectic, academic homeschooling, science, and travel at homeschool conventions. You can follow her at Twitter, and Facebook.
Over the last week SEA Homeschoolers has had an influx of new members in our Facebook groups, many of whom are unexpectedly homeschooling due to school closures across the United States and around the world. For some this will be a temporary situation, while others will use it as a way to dip their toes into the homeschooling community or dive in head-first for a long-term homeschooling journey. Whether you have been considering homeschooling previously or find yourself suddenly in unfamiliar territory, the SEA Homeschoolers community welcomes you and hopes that we can be a source of support, advice, and resources.
We know that many public schools are providing guidance, online classes, and materials in order to keep students’ learning as consistent as possible, but we also know that there are some public, private, and alternative schools that do not have the funds or infrastructure in place to make a sudden change to distance learning as well as parents voluntarily pulling children from those settings due to personal risk factors and family needs that are not currently receiving the same level of support as those in areas with mandatory school closures. The SEA Homeschoolers community also has many members whose families are facing financial hardships due to COVID-19 and would benefit from free and low-cost resources for their students.
Community has always been at the heart of SEA and we want to do what we can to help during this pandemic. We have moved many resources normally available exclusively to our website members out from behind the paywall, put a few of our best-selling materials on sale at SEA Books & More, and created a coupon code for the bookstore for those who wish to purchase additional materials. Below you will find links and information for those resources and more.
Regardless of what led you here, how long you have been a part of our community, or how long you plan to stay, we wish you and your families health and happiness during these trying times. Please do not hesitate to reach out in our Facebook groups or to firstname.lastname@example.org for additional recommendations and support, and know that you are not alone on this journey through learning.
Are there any science types reading this title wondering who I am? Or do you know who I am and think I’ve finally lost it? I am not talking about science as it is practiced and taught at most universities throughout the United States. I’m talking about the special brand of “neutral science” found in the homeschool community and increasingly in public schools in the United States.
The neutral science I’m referring to is science that suffers from omission. These are middle and high school level science courses that leave out the bits they think will offend people because of their faith and philosophy of life, or omit things to obfuscate the importance and acceptance of science principles and theories. Any middle and high school level science course that does not include the main principles and theories that are the foundation of that science is not neutral at all. In fact, they would be the opposite of neutral. “Neutral” science allows for a pernicious form of proselytizing that for the most part goes unnoticed. It allows for groups such as the intelligent design camp to sneak their views and beliefs into texts that look like they only teach science. Texts that are infused with someone’s religious beliefs are actually well-disguised religious treatise and dogma. They are not neutral, and do not represent mainstream science.
If you had told me a decade ago I would be arguing against religious extremism in science I would have thought you were nuts. I am a scientist, not a religious scholar, or a religious philosopher. As such, I write about science not religion and not philosophy. Unfortunately, there are authors of science texts who allow their faith to affect their writings about science. For someone who is a passionate advocate for the teaching of science this is actually offensive to me. It is also disappointing when I see people unwittingly recommend courses that have this sort of religious dogma hidden within them.
Personal beliefs don’t have a place in science courses. It isn’t the job of science to support an individual’s philosophical beliefs. It is the job of science to explain how the natural and physical world works, even when scientific explanations are at odds with the person’s philosophical beliefs. Science by its very nature is neutral. What is neutral for science is to report the facts, accepted principles, and current theories. As a textbook author, I do decide what to include and what not to include in my books. My decisions for this are based on what is taught at well-regarded universities. I choose the best of those courses, look at what they include and how they are structured, and then write courses structured similarly, for the appropriate grade level. This is what you should expect from a course you are using to educate your child.
Candy chromosome: Basic genetics is often left out of or under taught in neutral science courses, because a good understanding of genetics leads to an understanding of how evolution occurs.
How can you as a non-scientist figure out what to use? There are some key things to look for in a middle school or high school level science course that is truly neutral:
• The inclusion of evolution: Here is a neutral statement from the science of biology, “Evolution happens.” When we talk about the theory of evolution, the theory part refers to the processes of how evolution works. For example, there are theories about how multi-cellularity and eukaryotic cells evolved; no one knows exactly how either of these evolutionary steps occurred. That evolution occurs is a fact. No neutral middle school or high school biology course would omit it. No neutral biology course would omit how all the organisms on earth came to be here.
• Is the word design used in place of the word evolution? Fashion designers design clothes. Scientific researchers design experiments. Organisms evolve; they are not designed.
• Is the word created or creation used when discussing how organisms, the universe, or matter came into existence? Organisms evolved; they were not created. The universe and matter formed from events starting with the Big Bang; they were not created. There is simply no evidence any of these were created. The only topics and statements that belong in science courses are topics and statements that have evidence supporting them. Topics and statements based on a person’s beliefs with no supporting evidence belong in a philosophy course, not a neutral science course. When scientists do not know the answers to questions, for instance: “how the first organism evolved, and what its exact chemical makeup was” or “what was it like right before the Big Bang,” it is inappropriate to answer with personal beliefs.
• The inclusion of the Big Bang Theory: Here’s a neutral statement from the science of astronomy, “The universe is over 13 and a half billion years old. The best explanation for how it came into existence is the Big Bang Theory. The evidence for the Big Bang Theory grows all the time. The Big Bang Theory explains how all matter and antimatter in the universe came to be, even the matter that makes humans.” This is a scientifically neutral statement. An astronomy course that does not include an explanation similar to that about the Big Bang Theory is not neutral.
• Another neutral statement, “Humans have been burning fossil fuels in increased amounts since the Industrial Revolution. This has led to an increase in carbon dioxide and other molecules in the atmosphere that absorb sunlight in the form of heat. The more heat trapping molecules that are in the atmosphere, the more heat that is trapped, and the warmer the planet becomes. It is simple thermodynamics. The increase in absorbed sunlight is causing climate change on a global scale.” Any geology or environmental science course that does not include this topic is not neutral.
• Does the middle or high school level biology course only teach the old Linnaean system for classifying organisms? This is the system that uses kingdom, phylum, class, order, family, genus, and species. This might seem like a minor point, but scientists and universities only use the Linnaean system for naming organisms. The Linnaean system is popular with courses that are not neutral because it supports the philosophy of the “Great Chain of Being.” The modern method for classifying organisms used by scientists and taught at universities is phylogeny and cladistics.
You might think chemistry and physics are immune and you don’t have to worry about these two subjects. The problem is what is being left out. What key parts of these courses are omitted? As Bob Seger says, “Deadlines and commitments; What to leave in, what to leave out.” If scientists are writing these courses, and I’m not always sure they are, what are they committed to? No scientist committed to adequately educating people in these areas of science would omit these facts and theories. They must be omitting key parts of these science disciplines to further an agenda other than quality science education.
Here’s the problem with a chemistry or physics textbook that omits key parts:
• Chemistry is the science that definitively proves evolution occurs.
• Physics is the science that gives the clearest evidence the Big Bang is how the universe came into existence.
• Physical chemistry is the area of science used to study and explain climate change.
Many of the so-called “neutral” science courses omit the parts that provide the evidence supporting these facts and theories. If you use these “neutral” science courses for your middle or high school chemistry and physics courses, your child will be left without the necessary science background to understand evolution, the Big Bang Theory, climate change, and other key science principles. If you use these “neutral“ science courses for middle school and high school biology, astronomy, geology, or environmental science, your child will not even be getting the necessary background in these areas of science to understand that science discipline. I think you’ll agree with me, that isn’t neutral at all.
Blair Lee M.S. is the the founder of Secular, Eclectic, Academic Homeschoolers. When she’s not busy doing these things, she’s busy writing or working on service projects. She is the author of the critically acclaimed Real Science Odyssey Biology 2 and Chemistry 1, http://www.pandiapress.com/publications/real-science-odyssey/. She is currently working on Astronomy and Earth Science 2 for the series.
Why choose to home educate? Well, there are plenty of reasons why you might choose to home educate your children. In the 2013 NCHENZ survey the top 5 reasons, in order of the number of responses were:
learning at their own pace
more flexible lifestyle
closer family unit
not happy with the school system
family values more central
Interestingly this year’s survey found an almost identical choice of answers. And as you can clearly see, the majority of people actively choose this option from a positive perspective. Of the top five reasons, four are all about the positive benefits of home education and only one is about avoiding the school system.
I think that this fairly reflects my view on things too. As neither of our kids have been to school, there were no issues around bullying or being left to drift, or possibly struggling in some areas. We haven’t been forced into choosing this path for the Oh Waily kids, and our view has always been about the positives rather than the negatives.
Individualized Learning and Flexible Lifestyle
While both the Oh Waily parents did very well in school, there were things we thought home educating would do that schools simply can’t. Individualised learning being one of the main ones. Our kids can go as fast or as slow as they want in learning, without fears of being teased or ‘aware’ that they are either ‘geeky-bright’ or ‘falling behind’.
The little blighters have one-on-one tutelage available to them on call, 24/7.
We have a fabulously flexible lifestyle that allows for lots and lots of experiences that school kids often have to ‘save up’ for the school holidays or weekends. During quiet times, we get to go places and enjoy a more relaxed meander through and around places that otherwise might be teeming with people. Case in point – last week we went to Auckland with Mr Oh Waily, who had to be up that neck of the woods for work. While he worked, the kids and I went to Kelly Tarlton’s, the Auckland War Memorial Museum, Auckland Zoo and Butterfly Creek. We finished off with a game of mini-golf at Adventure Golf. And along with that, they got to catch up with their grandparents as part of the trip.
Closer Family Unit (the good and the bad)
Are we a closer family unit? I’d like to think so. For the most part my pair of monkeys get on really well and look after each other when they need to. They scrap like other siblings do, but are also brilliant at co-operating when the mood takes them. And I hope that this continues and grows as the kids age.
Is it all a bed of roses? No. We are together 24/7 and that has its moments. But I love being with them and can’t imagine farming them out on a permanent basis to anyone else to teach and be with. Even when they’re driving me nuts. Well maybe not right at the moment they’re driving me nuts, but afterwards… for sure.
Unhappiness With The School System
As for being unhappy with the school system, yeah I guess as we’ve gone along I have come to thinking that way about things. This isn’t to say that it’s all a mess, but there are things about it that no longer make sense to me when I watch my kids learning. First off, I don’t want them to disappear in amongst 20 or 30 other kids. I don’t want them to have to take tests to show skills – at least while they are young. This was reinforced in my own mind when I had to sit tests and exams last year for a university paper I took, and had it confirm for me that all it was doing was showing how many snippets of knowledge I could remember and get out on paper in three hours.
I don’t want them to waste their lives on ‘busy work’ while they wait for the remainder of the class to catch up (or be left behind and have their self-esteem and confidence take a blow, while others waited on them). My 7 year old daughter does not have to do work on topics that she has clearly shown she understands and is capable of doing, over and over and over again. Revision of information, sure. Repetitive work, no.
This can sideline creativity. I want my kids to be as rounded as possible – as whole as possible. Homeschooling gives I want them to indulge their sporting sides, their art and crafting sides, and if it ever shows up…their musical sides. (In the meantime, I’ll settle for their love of dance and appreciation of the wide variety of music I play to them. This being a current favorite.) And I don’t want them to be convinced that their interests are ‘geeky’ or ‘odd’ or ‘weird’ or whatever the term du jour is for kids who dance to their own beat.
That covers the family values side of things too. With home educating. the kids get to be themselves, learn at their own pace and be valued for who they are and what they’re interested in learning about. I want them to have a childhood where they can spend at least 50% or more of their time in creative, playful explorations of their own. I want to provide as many opportunities for life experiences as we can and is sensible to do at this stage of their lives.
Home educating. I think, we can give them the best environment to do that in.
I know that’s not possible in school as they would already be spending seven hours most days following other people’s rules about how they spend their time. They only have to follow mine for a tiny fraction of that time during our days.
In our household that leaves roughly two hours in the morning (6:30am rising in this house, people!) and four hours in the evening for “their time” – and that doesn’t include time out for dinner and to do any homework. (I included an arbitrary 30 minutes before & after school in my estimates for travel & general faffing around, but knowing the shamble that my pair are like getting ready to go anywhere…it’d be much longer and more nagging on my part than I care to think about, just to get ready.)
Why Choose to Home Educate?
Is this choice for everyone? Nope. Not at all.
Does it have its downsides? Yep. You don’t get nearly as much ‘time off’ or ‘personal time’ or ‘personal space’. You need to have a robust support network or ridiculously strong internal fortitude – either / or both. You will often have to live your family life on one income and still fund all of the learning opportunities you want your kids to have. Thankfully a lot of learning opportunities do not cost an arm and a leg. Still, a little bit more than $700 a year from the government would be nice, since we’re saving them several thousands of dollars per child per year in funding. A little bit more for us would be nice. How single parents do home ed, I have no idea, but they have my fullest admiration as I can’t even begin to imagine how much harder that would make it.
Does the downside outweigh the positives? For us, nope. For others they may be a deal breaker. Like all things to do with home education… it is entirely personal. Your kids, you and your family. Your situation, your life, your expectations.
It truly is the beauty of home education in a nutshell. Nothing need come out of a box. You can create it from scratch and make it fit to you. If it doesn’t fit, then you don’t need to try and make it. It is simply another educational path to take, nothing more and nothing less.
If you enjoyed this post, check out these posts about secular homeschooling on the Secular Eclectic Academic Homeschoolers site:
On any given day you will find multiple conversations focused on books in our online community. Rich discussions of authors and subject matter, innovative ideas for related lessons, and always a plethora of recommendations for more books. Reading back through hundreds of threads in various SEA Homeschoolers Facebook groups these 25 books have been recommended time and time again. Having read nearly every book on this list I can certainly understand why. This book list is secular homeschool approved.
Secular Homeschool Reading & Book List
Red: A Crayon’s Story by Michael Hall – A funny, insightful, and colorful story about being true to your inner self and following your own path despite obstacles that may come your way.
Rosie Revere, Engineer by Andrea Beaty – Rosie may seem quiet during the day, but at night she’s a brilliant inventor of gizmos and gadgets who dreams of becoming a great engineer in this book that celebrates creativity and perseverance.
Grandmother Fish: A Child’s First Book of Evolution by Johnathan Tweet – Told in an engaging call and response text this book takes children and adults through the history of life on our planet and explains how we are all connected.
The Miraculous Journey of Edward Tulane by Kate DiCamillo – Somewhere between fairy tale and fable is the tale of a China rabbit named Edward, transformed by the lives he touches as he learns about love, loss and consequences.
Matilda by Roald Dahl – A brilliant, but lonely girl with special powers and neglectful parents finds courage and friendship while facing off against surprising characters from her daily life.
Our Family Tree: An Evolution Story by Lisa Westberg Peters – The roots of our family tree reach back millions of years to the beginning of life on earth. In this family album you’ll meet some of our oldest relatives–from both the land and the sea–and discover what we inherited from each of them along the many steps of our wondrous past.
The One and Only Ivan by Katherine Applegate – Inspired by the true story of a captive gorilla known as Ivan, this unforgettable illustrated novel told from the point-of-view of Ivan himself is a story of friendship, art, and hope.
Hoot by Carl Hiaasen – An ecological mystery made up of endangered miniature owls, Mother Paula’s All-American Pancake House scheduled to be built over their burrows, and the owls’ unlikely allies–three middle school kids determined to beat the system.
Holes by Louis Sachar – Stanley Yelnats, a kid who is under a curse. Now he has been unjustly sent to a boys’ detention center. It doesn’t take long for Stanley to realize there’s more than character improvement going on at Camp Green Lake: the warden is looking for something. Stanley tries to dig up the truth in this inventive and humorous tale of crime, punishment, and redemption.
His Dark Materials by Philip Pullman – This epic trilogy tells the story of Lyra and Will, two ordinary children on a perilous journey through shimmering haunted otherworlds. They will meet witches and armored bears, fallen angels and soul-eating specters. And in the end, the fate of both the living and the dead will rely on them. Philip Pullman unlocks the door to a world parallel to our own, but with a mysterious slant all its own. Dæmons and winged creatures live side by side with humans, and a mysterious entity called Dust just might have the power to unite the universes–if it isn’t destroyed first.
Wonder by R.J. Palacio – August was born with a facial difference that had prevented him from going to school. Starting 5th grade he wants nothing more than to be treated as an ordinary kid, but his new classmates can’t get past Auggie’s extraordinary face. What follows is a powerful story of a community’s struggle with empathy, compassion, and acceptance.
Percy Jackson and the Olympians by Rick Riordan – This exciting series follows the demigod son of Poseidon and his friends on a quest that will have them meeting gods, battling monsters, and taking on the Titans from Greek mythology.
Brown Girl Dreaming by Jacqueline Woodson – Jacqueline Woodson, the acclaimed author of Another Brooklyn, tells the moving story of her childhood in mesmerizing verse. In vivid poems she shares what it was like to grow up as an African American in the 1960s and 1970s, living with the remnants of Jim Crow and her growing awareness of the Civil Rights movement. Touching and powerful, each poem is both accessible and emotionally charged, each line a glimpse into a child’s soul as she searches for her place in the world.
The Giver by Lois Lowry – This story centers on twelve-year-old Jonas, who lives in a seemingly ideal, if colorless, world of conformity and contentment. Not until he is given his life assignment as the Receiver of Memory does he begin to understand the dark, complex secrets behind his fragile community.
The Inheritance Cycle by Christopher Paolini – This 4 book series follows 15 year old Eragon who believes that he is merely a poor farm boy, until his destiny as a Dragon Rider is revealed. Gifted with only an ancient sword, a loyal dragon, and sage advice from an old storyteller, Eragon is soon swept into a dangerous tapestry of magic, glory, and power. Now his choices could save or destroy the Empire.
Lord of the Flies by William Golding – At the dawn of the next world war, a plane crashes on an uncharted island, stranding a group of schoolboys. At first, with no adult supervision, their freedom is something to celebrate. This far from civilization they can do anything they want. Anything. But as order collapses, as strange howls echo in the night, as terror begins its reign, the hope of adventure seems as far removed from reality as the hope of being rescued.
To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee – The unforgettable novel of a childhood in a sleepy Southern town and the crisis of conscience that rocked it takes readers to the roots of human behavior, to innocence and experience, kindness and cruelty, love and hatred, humor and pathos.
Harry Potter by J.K. Rowling – Imagine a school in a castle filled with moving staircases, a sport played on flying broomsticks, an evil wizard intent on domination, remarkable friends, limitless secrets and surprises, and an ordinary boy who’s the hero of a whole world he doesn’t even yet know. This is the story that comes to life in this marvelous series as each of the seven books chronicles one year in Harry’s adventures at Hogwarts.
The Book Thief by Markus Zusak – In Nazi Germany, 1939, the country is holding its breath. Liesel Meminger is a foster girl living outside of Munich, who scratches out a meager existence for herself by stealing when she encounters something she can’t resist–books. With the help of her accordion-playing foster father, she learns to read and shares her stolen books with her neighbors during bombing raids as well as with the Jewish man hidden in her basement.
The Wee Free Men by Terry Pratchett – Armed with only a frying pan and her common sense, young witch-to-be Tiffany Aching must defend her home against the monsters of Fairyland. Luckily she has some very unusual help: the local Nac Mac Feegle–aka the Wee Free Men–a clan of fierce, sheep-stealing, sword-wielding, six-inch-high blue men.
Inside Out and Back Again by Thanhha Lai – Inspired by the author’s childhood experience as a refugee, fleeing Vietnam after the Fall of Saigon and immigrating to Alabama. This coming-of-age novel told in verse has been celebrated for its touching child’s-eye view of family and immigration.
1984 by George Orwell – The year 1984 has come and gone, but Orwell’s prophetic, nightmarish vision in 1949 of the world we were becoming is timelier than ever. A startlingly original and haunting modern classic of “negative utopia” that creates an imaginary world that is completely convincing, from the first sentence to the last four words. No one can deny the novel’s hold on the imaginations of whole generations, or the power of its admonitions -a power that seems to grow, not lessen, with the passage of time.
The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian by Sherman Alexie – The story of Junior, a budding cartoonist growing up on the Spokane Indian Reservation. Determined to take his future into his own hands, he leaves his troubled school on the rez to attend an all-white farm town high school where the only other Indian is the school mascot. Heartbreaking, funny, and beautifully written, coupled with poignant drawings that reflect the character’s art. This powerful tale based on the author’s own experiences chronicles the contemporary adolescence of one Native American boy as he attempts to break away from the life he was destined to live.
Fahrenheit 451 by Ray Bradbury – A masterwork of twentieth century literature set in a bleak, dystopian future. In a world where television rules and literature is on the brink of extinction, firemen start fires rather than put them out. Their job is to destroy the most illegal of commodities, the printed book, along with the houses in which they are hidden. When a fireman meets an eccentric young neighbor who introduces him to a past where people didn’t live in fear and to a present where one sees the world through the ideas in books instead of the mindless chatter of television, then she suddenly disappears…he begins to question everything he has ever known.
Animal Farm by George Orwell – As ferociously fresh as it was more than a half century ago, this remarkable allegory of a downtrodden society of overworked, mistreated animals, and their quest to create a paradise of progress, justice, and equality is one of the most scathing satires ever published. As we witness the rise and bloody fall of the revolutionary animals, a razor-edged fairy tale that records the evolution from revolution against tyranny to a totalitarianism just as terrible.
We have all been there, even me. It is the situation where your child and you set up and perform a science experiment only to have it fail. For most people this is frustrating. When this happens parents often wonder if their children are learning from it. As a scientist, I find it interesting that our response is frustration and doubt instead of delight. R. Buckminster Fuller said it best when he said, There is no such thing as a failed experiment, only experiments with unexpected outcomes. Unexpected outcomes should be treated with a sense of wonder. You have just been handed a logic puzzle that requires the scientific method to try to solve it.
Unexpected outcomes from an experiment are when you get to practice real science like scientists do. Most if not all the experiments in the courses you are using have been performed successfully or they would not be assigned. That means that the experiments in science book have expected outcome predicated on the consistent results from the huge number of times the experiment has been performed. If you get an unexpected outcome, you and your child get to brainstorm to figure out what set of conditions changed.
For most of us the first thing we do is question whether it was us. We pore over the experiment’s set up, procedure, and materials to ensure that we didn’t miss anything or make a mistake. If we didn’t make any mistakes, we conclude that the problem must be with the experiment itself. This series of steps is exactly what you should do if the experiment yields unexpected results. While looking over the written instructions and troubleshooting your procedure discuss the learning goals for the experiment. Ask your child if the learning goals were met since the experiment didn’t give the expected results. If the answer is that they were not met, why not? What do you need to do to meet those learning goals?
One of the main learning goals for all scientific experiment is that kids begin, through use, to come to an intuitive understanding of the scientific method. It helps to focus on the scientific method when troubleshooting an experiment. A hypothesis is an educated guess. When a scientist makes a hypothesis, they are basing it on the observations and results their fellow scientists and they themselves have conducted. When scientists get results that are not consistent with previous experiments before rethinking a hypothesis they look over the procedure used to see if anything was changed. That should be you next step as well.
While poring over how the experiment was conducted there are several questions to ask with regard to the procedure. Is it possible that there is a typo in the procedure? Maybe you missed a step? Perhaps there are multiple ways to interpret one of the steps? Sometimes there is a step that is very finicky and needs to be followed exactly. When that happens it can make the experiment more complicated to duplicate than the author realized. Do not be shy about contacting the publisher or author of the lab. They should welcome the feedback and will often try to help you duplicate his or her results. I have been contacted several times about experiments that weren’t working in my science courses.
I start troubleshooting with the materials. Problems with materials are the most common cause of unexpected results in an experiment. This is the observation phase of the scientific method as applied to the situation. It’s important to focus on each ingredient. In my science courses there have been three instances where experiments failed because of materials. I have learned that cornstarch can absorb a lot of moisture in very humid environments, and that this can cause problems for some experiments. It turns out that in the last five years manufacturers have begun putting an ingredient called hi-float into balloons before they fill them with helium so that the balloons will lose helium more slowly. Did you know that in some states it takes a much higher concentration of bleach to turn food color in water colorless than in other states. We went ingredient by ingredient observing how each was behaving in the experiment to determine what was causing the unexpected results. It was a lot of fun and great science practice both at the same time. 🙂
At the end of this you might or you might not know what gave the unexpected results. Either way it is good to discuss the results and observations and come up with some conclusions from the experiment. Good statements to include in the conclusion of all lab reports is how this experiment could be improved on to meet the learning goals of the experiment. This is especially important in an experiment where you got unexpected results.
I’m hoping that most of your experiments go the way they are intended. The next time an experiment gives unexpected results, instead of getting frustrated, I hope you realize how much fun and learning can happen by applying the scientific method to logically deduce what led to the results. I promise you, you do not have to be a scientist to enjoy the process.
More Secular Homeschool Science Posts by Blair Lee & SEA
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 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@example.com 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.
Kate Laird will be participating in SEA Homeschoolers’ School of Choice Week, 2017, airing from January 22 to 28, 2017. Kate’s podcast will air on January 25.
Our school is an intersection of classical education and unschooling. I think of my philosophy as unschool when you can; teach when you must. Children love learning, they love making discoveries and they love being left alone to learn. I trust them to do this. Almost. If I left my children to completely unschool, they would read thousands of books and paint thousands of pictures, but they wouldn’t do math. My best friend’s child would have worked through every math program he could find, learned to program, but never read a history book.
When I began homeschooling, it was for geographic reasons, and I didn’t want my children to grow up thinking that I’d sacrificed their futures for the sake of our lifestyle. It was (and is) very important to me that they have all the educational opportunities that they would have had if we lived more sessile lives.
The disparate philosophies of homeschooling demonstrate that there are lots of ways to go about it – most of them successful, but they have to work within the family, for both the students and the teacher. I read with awe about the parents who develop elaborate, multi-subject projects, designing a learning structure that meets specific goals, while the children have a wonderful, fun time. That sounds like a lot of work! I like to think of an essay assignment (or better yet, have the kids generate their own), and let them write about it for a week, while I pre-read next month’s history assignment. Is that organizational sloth or classical homeschooling?
Through our years of homeschooling, I found I kept coming back to a few core ideas. The first was that school should be always difficult, never impossible. It took me a while to find this balance – and I often find I have pushed too far into the impossible, but I’m getting better at keeping an eye on it. I really don’t want them to have easy work: what’s the point? In practice, this means we don’t do worksheets, and we rely on writing summaries for both retention and proof of work. Summaries (sometimes called narration) are a whiff of classical and Charlotte Mason homeschooling. They’re also a great way to really learn material.
I also emphasized the development of reading and writing stamina. Students who’ve read a thousand books will have an easy time with reading high school literature, history, and science. Students who have read a couple of books a year will struggle. Reading improves reading – students who have read Lord of the Rings five times will have an easier time with 1984 and The Selfish Gene than those who have spent the same amount of time reading 36 week-long units with book excerpts, answering multiple choice questions about theme and meaning. Writing well comes from reading well and from writing practice, far more than from diagramming sentences and trying to learn vocabulary in workbooks.
Although I have stolen many ideas from Classical Homeschooling – my favorite is repeating the study of world history three times through in grades one to twelve – I don’t agree that students progress linearly through three stages of intellectual development. Instead, I see students using two types of knowledge acquisition: automatic and thoughtful. Students of all ages need both types of learning. Handwriting, letter recognition, musical instruments, math facts, and second language vocabulary are examples of automatic learning. Comprehending literature, composing music, essay writing, algebra, and class discussion are examples of thoughtful learning, which is learned, not by drilling, but by doing and doing again. The traditional classical learning would put all elementary school in the automatic category and all high school in the thoughtful, but all students use both, sometimes at the same time. Think about the automaticity you need to drive a stick shift car – your feet play the gas and the clutch and the brake without your conscious thought. At the same time, your thoughtful learning process and your experience comes into play, which is why a 40-year-old is usually a better driver than a 25-year-old with lightning-fast reflexes.
Pushing academics during school hours, unschooling whatever we can, and trimming some of the busy work has let us pursue a rigorous curriculum with a lot of free time for childhood. Children need time to be alone, as unsupervised as possible, working out their world. They need time to be bored and to figure out how to fill that time, without relying on adults, video games, or television to fill it for them. Imaginative games (even television-inspired ones) are important for children’s developments, for empathy, and I suspect they are helpful in developing readers and writers, for what are readers and writers, but creators of another world in the medium of sedentary words, instead of the running, pole-sliding, three-dimensional world of kindergarten play?
Do modern children have enough play time to create this world of the mind? I don’t have researched-based answers to this, but I do have a feeling that too many parent-directed (or coach-directed) activities, too many “quiet the children down with a screen” parenting decisions (whether it be television, a movie, or a game of Minecraft) get in the way of this part of intellectual development. Boredom is a precious childhood resource, not a scourge. It is from boredom that writers develop, readers emerge, artists draw, musicians play, creativity blooms.
Oh No! The dreaded “H” word (and I don’t mean handcrafted)! If there is one thing that causes homeschooling parents to panic it is the thought of homeschooling through high school. What if we get it wrong? What if somehow we fail our children, and they cannot … cannot … cannot … wait, cannot what exactly? How is it that we as homeschoolers fall into this trap so common to traditional school parents?!? Why I sometimes wonder, even though I do it myself, did we all drink the Kool-Aid and continue to perpetuate the myth that there is one known path that will guarantee our children’s ability to be successful as adults. We only have to look around us to know that’s not true. We all know people who are very happy and well-adjusted who never spent one day in college. We all know people who are desperately unhappy who have advanced college degrees.
Don’t get me wrong. I value education a lot actually. My husband would tell you I value it more than most people. Learning and working with knowledge are two things that I really enjoy, and I want to pass that passion along to my child. My point is that there is no one path, because every child is an individual; every path is going to be individual. As you will learn, if you follow this blog, my son is on a college-bound path. But my heart would not be broken if he didn’t go to college at all, or waited a few years and went. It’s his life, not mine. I’ll start living his life when I get mine all figured out.
With this in mind, it might seem pointless for me to blog about our journey. Here I am though, blogging about it 🙂
This is the first of a four year series of posts about our handcrafted high school education. It is not meant as a template, and I’m not advocating a path or series of programs, but I thought people might like to see what our journey looks like. I intend to blog over four years, but I can’t make any promises about the frequency of the blog posts. Handcrafting a high school education is time-consuming, and I have other writing obligations. In fact, right now, Astronomy and Earth Science 2 (as I now call the second book in the middle school series) is not being written because I am writing this blog post instead.
Before I Begin
Most people reading this blog only know me through my writing. I want to make sure that you know I understand each path really is uniquely different. As an example, I am going to give you the 30 second rundown of my own journey. I was a good student and my parents expected me to go to college. In my junior year of high school my mother passed away, and I didn’t cope with it well. I started under-performing in school and skipping school. My father was not a lot of help dealing with this emotional time. Now as an adult I understand he was going through his own stuff, obviously. But it wasn’t so obvious then. I did not graduate from high school. I am not a high school graduate. I never went back to pick up that degree. I supported myself as a waitress and bartender in the intervening years, until I was 27, when I started at community college. In California, you don’t need a high school degree to get into community college. You need to take a series of placement tests. I spent two years at community college and then transferred to UCSD. I graduated Magna Cum Laude from UCSD with a bachelor’s degree in biology and a bachelor’s in chemistry after three years and a quarter there. I was accepted to graduate school at UCSD with the intention of getting a PhD in environmental chemistry through the physical chemistry department. I did not like the nuts and bolts of daily lab work, but I did love teaching chemistry. (Graduate students in the chemistry department at UCSD are required to do some teaching.) I let go of my dreams of a PhD, graduated with a Masters, and got a job teaching at community college. I loved teaching chemistry and biology at community college! If you ever want to know the story in more detail, stop by when you’re in town. I will make a pot of tea or pour a glass of wine and we can talk about it. I am the social type, and trust me when I tell you that I want to hear your story too!
How We Came to Be Homeschooling High School
We actually debated about whether to homeschool through high school or not. We visited two very nice schools in the fall of 2014. If you’re wondering why we visited schools, one of the schools was a Creative and Performing Arts School in San Diego that, although public, has kids go through an application process. They do not accept all the kids who apply. Sean was thinking of applying to their creative writing program.
I believe there are pluses and minuses to every choice. So, after visiting those schools, we sat down and made a list of the pluses and minuses for each of those schools and continuing homeschooling for high school. My husband, who is the one member of our family not intimately involved in homeschooling, came out early in favor of continuing homeschooling. He felt strongly that Sean’s education through homeschooling was superior. I don’t mean superlative. By this, I don’t mean he is getting an education in every subject that would rival any school. My husband’s reasoning was that the unique handcrafted education Sean is getting is special in a way no school could match for just one student.
I gave us until November 1, 2014 to decide. All three of us decided to continue homeschooling through high school. It turned out to be a very easy decision with all of us agreeing completely with no doubt about it. We are four months into it, and we don’t regret the decision at all. I feel done right a homeschooled high school education can be superior because I believe in handcrafting an education. It is a lot of work though… Really a LOT of work!
A Few Things Up Front
I am into a breadth of knowledge over a wide range of topics and issues. As my child’s primary teacher, a broad knowledge base is where we start our academic planning. My ultimate purpose and goal for my child’s education is that, at the end of it, he is well-educated. The caveat is my son and I are defining what well-educated means for him. The recipe for Sean’s handcrafted education is being designed for his strengths, weaknesses, and passions, as well as the passions and interests of his family.
I look at an education as the gateway to options. The more options the better. Even when Sean is passionately focused on an area, I make sure there is time for other areas. Maybe not that particular day or week, but we do get to a range of subjects in a meaningful way over the course of a school year. I want him to have as many options as possible later in life. After all, we do spend most of our lives as adults. With homeschooling I am trying to find a balance between making sure his childhood gives him plenty of time and space to know the joys of childhood, while at the same time, making sure he has lots of options when he enters adulthood and beyond.
I am not trying to recreate a public school education, but I do use the bits from public school that work for us. In fact, I incorporate every teaching methodology in some form into how we approach our academics. Each methodology has strengths and weaknesses. What they are depends on the student and the subject matter.
Some of the issues I write about will relate specifically to homeschooling in California, my home state. We use a private school affidavit. We do not use a charter school or receive any support from our state. In California, if you homeschool through a state run charter school they will help pay for your child’s educational expenses. I do not use a charter school because:
We did not start homeschooling in California, we started in Nevada, and I got used to doing my own thing as is done in Nevada.
When we started homeschooling all the materials available were religious oriented or public school materials. I only want religion taught to my son as a part of philosophy class, history class, or in church. I am not a fan of most public school texts. I won’t go into it in detail other than to say I do not find most of them accessible for students or their teachers unless the teacher is an expert in that subject. Because I wasn’t interested in getting materials from them, there didn’t seem a compelling reason to participate in them. I will go into the materials we use for each course as I write about them.
As California did begin to have more and more homeschool charter schools, they did not at first hire people with homeschooling experience to work for them. This bothered me because it felt disingenuous that they were really trying to help homeschoolers negotiate the ins and outs of homeschooling. I felt that without hiring people who understood the specific issues homeschoolers face, these charters could not give new homeschoolers the support they needed. Even though we were not new to homeschooling this bugged me too much to want to participate in the system. I have been told this reason makes me sound a bit kooky, but this is my blog and my particular kook will shine through every once in a while. 😉
In California, the charters want students to take standardized tests. I am not a big fan of these tests. I watched a couple of homeschooling friends whose kids were in charters put everything aside the month before the test to teach to the test! It was not until last year that Sean started working on test taking skills as a lead up to his taking the SAT/ACT.
But the main reason: I love doing my own thing. One of the mottos I live my life by is that, “Time is the money of life.” If I am going to put all this time, the money of my life, into educating my child, I want to get as much joy as possible out of it. I am a very creative person, and I get joy out of creating unique things.
What you will read about next are the specifics of how I am handcrafting an education for my son. It is a recipe that is working very well for us. If you have any thoughts or questions just ask. Share the love and trust me, I WANT TO hear from you! I loved teaching college in part because I love discussing academic issues with other adults!
Check out our post on a fun game in honor of banned book week here.
How did you learn the scientific method? If I were to ask you what the scientific method was, would you rattle off a series of terms? Would you say to me hypothesis, procedure, observations, data and calculations, results, and conclusion? What does this series of terms mean? Why is the scientific method so significant it is a component of all well done scientific studies? More importantly for you as a homeschooling parent, how can you make sure your children are learning the scientific method in a meaningful way?
The Scientific Method: Defined
The scientific method is an investigative method based on experimentation, observation, and deductive reasoning. The purpose of this investigation is to explain a phenomena occurring in the natural and physical world.
The hypothesis is an educated guess. The word “educated” is a key word in this sentence. When a scientist makes a hypothesis they are not just guessing in the way you might guess the outcome of a coin toss. They are basing their guess on what they know about the area of science the experiment focuses on. This is one reason it is critical to understand the foundational fundamentals of a scientific discipline. It is also why it is necessary that science courses begin at the beginning and very clearly build from there with a thoughtful increase in the level of skill required to conduct the experiments.
The procedure is a list of the steps needed to conduct the experiment. The procedure should not include techniques that are too advanced or complicated for students to understand. The procedure in a science experiment is very important.
“A scientific theory is a widely accepted explanation of something observed in science. Theories are based on experimentation, observation, and reasoning—the scientific method. Before something can be called a scientific theory, it must be tested many times by different researchers, who get results that are consistent with that theory.” R.E.A.L. Science Odyssey Biology 2
If the procedure is not well written or not conducted in the same way every time, an experimenter can get “results that are not consistent with that theory”. Because scientific theories depend on many different researchers getting results that are consistent with that theory, it is essential the procedure be written and understood clearly.
Once the experiment is set up, it is time to conduct the experiment. While they are conducting the experiment, students will make observations. Observations are the collected data from the experiment. Observations made during an experiment lead to a better understanding of how the natural and physical world works.
It is necessary that scientists and science students be able to report their observations in a meaningful and cohesive manner. The data and results component of the scientific method is where the data, calculations, and observations are written, calculated, and explained.
When deductive reasoning is applied to the data and results, a conclusion is determined that supports the observations. If many different scientists conduct an experiment and get the same conclusion based on their analysis of the data and results, the observations made during the experiment can change or support scientific theories and scientific models.
“A scientific model is a simplified representation of a real system. Scientific models are based on the scientific method. Scientific models make it possible to study large, complex scientific principles and systems.” R.E.A.L. Science Odyssey Astronomy and Earth Science 2
The Scientific Method: Applied
When students determine their hypothesis they are applying their understanding of basic science principles with respect to the experiment.
When a student conducts an experiment the procedure is applied in two different ways. As a student reads through the procedure they are reading a set of instructions explaining techniques used in science. Since all scientific theories and models are based on experimentation, a basic understanding of the techniques used in science is a far-reaching component of the foundational fundamentals of science. The second way the procedure is applied is by conducting the experiment. Understandings in science come about through experimentation. It takes countless hours of laboratory work to develop a scientific theory or model. Learning science without conducting experiments is like learning to sew without actually sewing. Science is an active endeavor, not a static one.
The observations and data are applied by using them to determine the results of the experiment. Making observations, collecting data, and using these to determine results are a meaningful application of applied math as it relates to science. The ability to use math applications is an essential skill in science in the same way punctuation and spelling are essential skills for the craft of writing.
The final step when applying the scientific method to an experiment is to use deductive reasoning to determine a conclusion for the experiment. This synthesis of information and application of the foundational fundamentals that should be in the conclusion are more than just an application of the scientific method. It is also a natural and intuitive lesson in logical thinking.
The Scientific Method: Understood
Most of the time students and educators do not pay enough attention to the hypothesis other than to write it or make sure it is written. A student’s hypothesis should be evaluated critically, but not with criticism, to look for how well the student understands the science the experiment is based on. A good strategy to use when your student writes a hypothesis is to ask them what scientific principles or knowledge they are basing their hypothesis on. When this is done students will come to understand how scientists arrive at their hypotheses based on educated guesses.
When students read and then work through the steps of an experiment they come to understand some of the basic procedures real scientists use when conducting experiments. They also come to understand at an intuitive level that scientific theories and models are determined and developed through the application and manipulation of science practices.
Observations made while experiments are conducted are the basis for the data and results that are used to develop scientific theories and models. Students spend a lot of their school time learning math. Using data and observations to determine results helps students understand how math is used to help explain how the natural and physical world works. When experiments are well paired with theory, observations made while conducting experiments greatly increase and add to a student’s understanding of the theory taught. Making observations, collecting data, and then using these to determine results also leads to a better understanding of the work scientists do and the type of deductive reasoning and analysis used for their conclusions that lead to the development of scientific theories and models.
Scientific theories and models are a synthesis of conclusions from many different scientific experiments. It is through conducting experiments in academic situations that students come to understand how conclusions determined using the scientific method can explain how the natural and physical world works.
The Scientific Method: Learned
When science is learned in a manner where theory is carefully paired with experiments chosen so they relate closely to that theory, the scientific method is learned through reasoning and observation. It is also learned intuitively. Instead of relying on a rote memorization of terms and their definitions to explain the scientific method, students understand in a meaningful way how the scientific method works, how scientific theories, models, and principles are developed. Most importantly they learn how these theories, models, and principles are used to explain how the natural and physical world works
This article first appeared on the Pandia Press blog: http://www.pandiapress.com/blog-post-list/
Handcrafting High School: Year 2, Custer State Park
I think the year you study geology and environmental science, you should spend time outside looking at the subject of your studies, so we did. I did not keep a daily journal, because I had writer’s block. Something I had never experienced before. It gave me insight into what happens for kids who have good ideas but can’t get them onto a page. My writer’s block made me feel like my brain was constipated. I had so many ideas running around in my head I had trouble getting anything out at all. It made me scattered and feel a little crazy. By the time I would get to my computer to write something down, I would forget it in the jumbled, spaghetti noodle, chaotic manner that sometimes has plagued Sean’s writing. This led to a light bulb as I realized what part of Sean’s problem was. The other problem with writing all this down was that National and State Parks, for the most part, had terrible cell service and internet.
86 miles from Pine Ridge nestled in the heart of the Black Hills sits the absolutely beautiful state park, Custer State Park. Both the name of the park and the beauty of it are hard to stomach, especially when you realize the Supreme Court has agreed the Black Hills, including the land this park is on, was illegally taken from the Sioux, but they cannot have it back. Talk about historical trauma! The two photos are symbolic of this. The sign is in protest of the uranium mine built just outside the reservation that is polluting their water. In the park is the residence where Calvin Coolidge spent 3 months during one of the summers he was President, Summer White House in South Dakota. The water at it is not being polluted with radioactive waste.
8/21-22: Custer, SD
We went into the town of Custer, South Dakota to wash clothes, do a little shopping, and stock up on groceries. The people were lovely. We wondered though, how it would be if Sean and Sophia looked like a Native Americans. We had read about and heard so many stories about racist actions toward the Sioux in South Dakota, and they made us recognize and acknowledge the white privilege conferred on us. The kids began to think of stereotyping as a dangerous thing to do, even though Sean told us everybody does it, and you have to think about it not to do it.
This Park is has great wildlife viewing in it.
The next day we drove around the wildlife loop and to an area just outside the park where someone told me about a large prairie dog town.
Just outside Custer State Park is Wind Cave National Park. Wind Cave is huge. In fact it is so huge that wind occurs at its natural opening. Whether the wind blows into or out of this opening depends on the atmospheric pressure outside of the cave. When the pressure is high, wind blows into the cave, and when it is low, it blows out of the cave. Wind Cave has over 100 miles of passageways. As you can see from the yellow tape our guide is holding, the pressure on this day was higher outside the cave than inside it, which is why the yellow tape is being sucked into the opening.
Native Americans consider(ed) Wind Cave a sacred place.Caves are fascinating examples of the geologic forces that shape Earth. The original cave began forming about 320 million years ago in a fresh/salt water zone. About 470,000 years ago the cave started draining, Wind Cave geology and more Wind Cave geology.
These boxwork formations are rare in caves, boxwork . Boxwork remains after the rest of the cave has dissolved away because of differences in solubility of the mineral calcite, which is what boxwork form from, and the minerals that surrounded them.
After two days at Custer we headed toward Jackson Hole, home to an old family friend of mine. There had been some discussion about seeing Mount Rushmore, and I said, “No Way!” I just couldn’t. The man who originally carved Mount Rushmore was in the KKK, Mount Rushmore, the KKK, and sanitized American history. After learning this, it was unanimous. We stopped outside of the Crazy Horse Monument, but we didn’t pay to visit there either. It didn’t look to me like that monument benefited the Native Peoples in South Dakota, and we were all done with supporting businesses in South Dakota that did not give back to the Native Community.
Check out our previous homeschooling high school post here.
The first month of tenth grade might have been the best month we ever spent homeschooling. You might be thinking, “Well, Yeah! You were traveling and hanging out. How could that not be great?” 🙂 That is true, of course, but it was more than that. The planning and intent for this trip focused on enriched learning. The choices for where we stayed and what we did were planned with the intent that what we studied on the road would enrich our understanding of a situation in science, culture, and/or history. We were not disappointed.
I am behind in my writing so I can tell you from perspective, that this year is the best example of what I mean by the statement that for our homeschool the method we use is the one that works. The factors that go into deciding the method or mix of them are
what my son is studying: different subjects require different methodologies.
the best materials and/or programs I can find for the course. Even for subjects I know well, I like to find materials to reference.
how he accesses information while studying the materials for that course of study. This is a mixed bag for him. Sean is a very creative person, and subject areas he considers creative he treats differently than those subjects, like math, that he does not consider creative endeavors.
how I am best able to present that material, in other words, “the best way for me to teach it.” You have probably noticed I usually talk about learning, but I am Sean’s primary teacher, chooser of materials, and chooser of core courses. So, the materials and courses have to work for me too.
and what comes along to be added in while we are engaged in the subject. This is the reason this blog post is late. Really cool opportunities keep coming up.
Each course of study gets its own special treatment. If my son and I think something is important enough to include in his academic journey, then I will work to figure out the best course of study for him for this subject. Sometimes this “best method” is universal for most students, sometimes it is specific to my son or people who access information similar to him, and sometimes what looks like the “best” on the outside does not end up being the best after we get started with it. If what we do sounds good to you I think there are two things to recognize. 1. It is a lot of work to give someone a handcrafted education, and 2. the results are so worth it! Over the years it has been hard to judge this from time to time, but now in tenth grade I am able to see I mostly got it just right.
There is also a big difference between mostly right and all right, when it comes to my relationship with my son’s journey through learning. I think a lot of problems can occur when homeschooling parents assume they have figured out a course that is all right. It is too easy to become attached to paths when that happens. Because I assume with a lot of work, the best I will ever attain is mostly right, I keep working hard to figure out what best is and what it looks like. This results in us adding and discarding parts without getting too attached to them as I continually work to get the journey mostly right. This work is where and when the magic happens.
Because we have already incorporated so many methods into this year’s homeschool journey, I will try to discuss them as I go along. My goal with my 10th grade blog articles will be to focus more on the process we use. I get a lot of people asking me for more information about that aspect of our handcrafted education.
A year or two ago I decided to start tenth grade with a service project, followed by a driving tour studying local history, conservation, and geology, especially geology. Plate tectonics is a core concept of geology, but tectonic plates are so big, it is hard to see how slow moving rocks can lead to the formation of something massive like the Himalayas. I wanted to follow the Pacific Ring of Fire down the West Coast of the U.S. so that Sean could get an idea how large tectonic plates are. Besides, I think the year you study geology and environmental science, you should spend a lot of time outside looking at the subject of your studies. This illustrates the most common learning strategy I use. I will ask Sean to study the basics of a core concept, like plate tectonics, just the basics at this point, nothing intense. Next we learn about those basics in a practical manner, as we did with our driving tour. At that point he is fairly literate about this core concept. Then we will return to our course of study, in this case geology, with an understanding of this core concept. This gives you a place to bring everything together and take learning to a new level. It turned out to be everything I hoped for and more. You might be thinking, but how can I do that. There is no way I can spend 5 weeks on the road. Just remember field trips will work too. 🙂
I am going to write this using photos and short blurbs about where we were and why. I did write a few blog pieces focused on location. I will include those links.
Getting to the Service Project
8/11/2015: We packed up and got ready.
Five of us left together on our grand adventure. In addition to me, there was my son Sean, his best friend Sophia, my husband Jim, and our good friend Michelle. I love to pack for our adventures. We planned on spending 5 weeks on the road, most of that sleeping in our pop-up trailer. We would sleep in the dorms and eat in the communal dining hall at Re-member, but the rest of the time we would sleep and eat primarily from food we cooked in the pop-up. This would save us a lot of money, but it also made it easier because of the 5 of us, 2 are vegan, 2 are vegetarian, and Michelle, the only meat eater of the bunch, was leaving us after Re-member. Getting vegan food on the road in the U.S. is not easy. It is so much easier to do in other countries!
8/12 near Great Basin National Park, Nevada
We started in Bridgeport, California at 5 in the morning. We packed up the night before so we could start early. We wanted to get on the road early, so we could find ourselves in the middle of nowhere a couple of hours before dark. We planned on waking up at 2 in the morning on 8/13 to watch the Perseid meteor shower, http://science.nasa.gov/science-news/science-at-nasa/2015/11aug_perseids/. It was a long hot drive and everyone was a bit crispy by the time we got to a spot we liked, but it was well worth it. The Perseids did not disappoint.
A good place to watch a meteor shower, away from any light pollution.
Sean complains, but I still make him go to guided talks with us. Jim complains too sometimes, but they humor me! I tell Sean he may not thank me as a teenager, but he will thank me when he is 30!
Look at the uplift! This area might be quiet now, but it hasn’t always been that way.
There is evidence that these organisms once swam where we are standing now. Inland seas, dinosaurs, volcanic activity, uplift, and now us standing on the ever-changing Earth!
We saw petroglyphs too! Jim, my husband, and I love to hike and hunt out evidence of ancient civilizations. I was glad to see these on our way to Re-member. Too often the history of the North American continent is taught as if it started when Columbus “discovered” America. I wanted there to be a focus throughout this month on how history is interpreted and often distorted.
We went to check out an old homestead before heading back to our campsite. My family is all from Colorado. Many of the summers of my childhood were spent in the town of Eagle, Colorado. This homestead made me nostalgic for those days.
Working on kendama tricks was a major theme of the trip!
Cleaning the dust off in the Green River.
You might be curious about the planning for all this. If it looks like I have everything planned down to the nth, you might be surprised. Most of this is done haphazardly. My son will tell you I am the free-spirited type and often when we travel, figuring things out on the fly, on the road is best. Plans like the when and where for our service project, are figured out well ahead of time, but the rest is not. For example, the plan to go to Dinosaur National Monument Park was figured out two days before we left. I happened to read about it somewhere, none of us had heard of it before, and away we went.
Check out our post on an eclectic and effective approach to foreign language studies here.
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?
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.
Join secular Facebook groups and forums. 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.
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 😉