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Homeschool Science: Things I Would Do Differently

Einstein Sketch
Mr. B’s sketch based on an illustration in Astronomy Magazine

“Mr. Fisher says, ‘There are real books, and there are textbooks.’ The day is soon coming when everyone will realize that textbooks have no educational value. We hardly ever use textbooks in our Parents Union Schools. Whenever possible, we use books that spark the imagination and have a touch of originality. These are the differences between a real book and a text book.
Charlotte Mason, volume 6 page 272

Teaching high school science can put fear in your heart. Science texts tend to be a little overwhelming and can increase your anxiety that you cannot offer high school science in your home. Setting that fear aside and keeping in mind your goals, it is possible to have a great science experience at home.  Here are a few thoughts from my brain this week on how I would handle the teaching of science in our home if I could go back and do it again.

1. Throw out the preplanned sequences, especially in the lower grades. I can see the wisdom now in allowing the younger years to be left open for exploring and observing in nature. See volume 1 page 43-44 for more information on how to accomplish this with your little ones.


2. Include larger numbers of living books. Living books about nature and the world of science are much more interesting than any textbook. I have learned even in high school that a good interest-drawing book is worth its weight in gold. It takes some more thought and preparation but they are available for just about any topic. (I am working on a Squidoo lens to gather the living books we used for high school science.) Don’t rely solely on textbooks.

3. Do the best you can with labwork and leave the rest for a later date. Labs in high school science are highly overrated. I stressed too much over not having the right equipment and supplies to make labs “exciting”. Most labwork is not all that exciting since our homeschool labs and budgets do not allow room for the WOW! factor. I can offer simple labs that teach what I want my boys to learn: lab procedure, how to record a lab, and to think beyond the text. I am limiting the number of labs to those that are going to teach what they need to know and then leave the rest for online demos, YouTube videos, and then co-op classes, cc, and beyond. I hate it when you put in a lot of time, money, and effort and then the lab falls flat. All that fussing and you could have done just as well to have them watch an online demo and then research any questions or topics that come up.

4. Tell the story of science chronologically. I would teach more of the history of science with stories of scientists who were successful and also struggled and failed. I found a great series for using with our high school science that my boys loved and would narrate with enthusiasm. It tied history, science, and real people together. Check out the Story of Science series by Joy Hakim. Timeline work would be a part of science study.


5. Start the study of Greek and Latin roots early. This will make things easier once you get to high school biology, chemistry, and human anatomy. I used the Science Roots system from Paula of Paula’s Archives when the boys were studying biology and those vocabulary cards are coming back out now as we study human anatomy. She suggests you start the roots before you hit high school biology and I want to chime in to second that idea. Don’t wait…..

I am actually looking forward to Mr. B’s Human Anatomy and Physiology course this year. I chose a basic course that we are adding some CM style learning to with sketching, biographies, and narrative books. I was struggling with a text until I realized that I didn’t want a text… I came up with this:  Simple Schooling: Human Anatomy and Physiology Part 1 and there is a Part 2.

Don’t let high school science intimidate you when the time comes. Stay the course with Charlotte Mason’s principles and make it work in your family.

Barb-Harmony Art Mom

Weekly Wrap-Up: Grateful, Authentic, Insight, Trust, and Relevant…Don’t Forget Humble

2 13 11 Vinca Minor
Vinca Minor February 13, 2111

My daughter is a girl who loves words and digging into a good dictionary, often times she pulls out my big thick reference dictionary and “gives” us a word of the day. As I was preparing to write this post I thought of some words that might describe our week’s studies and I will give them to you to think about today.

History: Grateful
It is a strange thing when your child’s history lessons start to overlap your lifetime. Mr. A is reading and studying events during the 1960’s at this point and I have found myself recounting memories that are relevant to his work. Although I don’t remember this particular event (since I would have still been a toddler), I do remember President Johnson and Martin Luther King Jr.

Mr. A, who was joined by Mr. B, watched this video as part of his research on the Civil Rights Act of 1964. I realized that they do not understand the thinking that was so much a part of the world at that moment in time. The idea of segregation in society and schools is foreign to them. It makes me feel deeply grateful that this change in thinking could happen so drastically from my parents’ generation to my children’s generation.They live in a colorless world. Mr. B’s friend is bi-racial and I truly believe he has never noticed it.

Chemistry: Authentic
The study of chemistry has become more than okay over the past few weeks. My struggles seem to have subsided at least for now. The change in focus from the academic side of chemistry to the delight-driven exploration of the elements gave the spark for the boys to turn around their attitude. Just that shift in focus has allowed me to slip in the Apologia modules that I think will complement their study and it has been accepted with very little grumbling. They have completed three modules and at last week’s Friday meeting we had a rousing discussion about chemistry that I didn’t think was going to ever happen this year. There was enthusiasm, debate, and *laughter* as we watched one of their periodic table videos together. Imagine that! It has become the authentic learning that I was chasing after.

Literature: Insight
I haven’t talked much about literature lately. We are busy working on reading and discussing quite a number of books right now. I was reviewing an old post of mine that showed how we work with literary terms and realized that I have a few left in my box that need to be covered before the end of the year….guess I better pull them out to review with Mr. A. My favorite book that we are reading together is The Chosen. What a story about a world very different from our own. We are gaining insight into a different time period, culture, and point of view, partly through discussion but also due to digging deeper into themes, the conflicts between characters, and the underlying setting at the end of WW2 and the formation of Israel.

Planning: Trust
I have had a few inquiries about how I am going to shape some of our high school courses to be included on transcripts, how to count credits and define courses with titles. I will be honest and say that it is still a work in progress. Because neither one of my boys has huge aspirations to go to competitive universities, I have some freedom to let them explore perhaps more than a family that is pointing towards a more traditional college experience. Both boys have interests and desires that would take them down roads where their homeschool high school experience will be more accepted with transcripts that may be more creative or narrative. I sometimes wake up in the middle of the night in a panic because their studies don’t fit into neat little boxes and I wonder how it will all work out. I trust that it will.

New Tools: Relevant
Something that was introduced to me this week that has started to shape our homeschool in an ever evolving fashion, Khan Academy.  Using technology and YouTube in general has enriched the opportunities for my boys to dig deeper into their own interests and to find ways to connect to material. Khan Academy is just another piece of the puzzle.

These short videos are going to enhance our study and allow my sons (and myself) to have up-to-date information, in a format that is both convenient and relevant. Sal Kahn is really good at making things understandable and I whole-heartedly thank him for his vision and his initiative. Schools without walls via the internet makes sense and I am on board, allowing my boys to take an interest, run with it, and use these videos to help spark more learning and exploring.

I am constantly reminded of how much there is out there to inspire and bring wonder to our high school studies. We don’t need to sit our children down at desks with stacks of texts in order to educate them. They have a boggling amount of opportunities to learn about things that our brains can’t even imagine when we sit planning with pencil and paper. The fact that there are passionate people out there like Sal Khan to partner with in our journey is an incredible privilege.

Who isn’t inspired to learn more about stars, galaxies, the Hubble telescope, and astro-photography after watching a four minute video like this one?

If you are planning high school for your children, you owe it to yourself to check Khan Academy out.

This will end sort of a different variety of Weekly Wrap-Up. I hope it has got you to thinking this February Friday. I sometimes feel as if I am blazing a trail for those behind me but then I am humbled by those that are going ahead of me. So my last word of the day is humble.  May we all end our day’s journey feeling humbled by the gifts our loving Father has given us on this particular day.

Barb-Harmony Art Mom

Weekly Wrap-Up: Finding Balance Week

Sometimes I find it hard to spin all the plates at once…..my balance comes close to being off-center but then I realize that I need to walk away and do something to clear the thoughts and keep myself from getting overwhelmed. Over the years I have learned the warning signs and this week I was close to the tipping point.

Basketball Break
Mr. B balances his school day with a little basketball break.

I wanted to write a quick wrap-up post to share, especially since I didn’t write one last week. Here are some highlights and some photos.

Literature and writing: We finished the Iliad! This is the last time I have to cover the Iliad in my homeschooling career and I am breathing a sigh of relief. Three times through is enough for anyone in my opinion…this time was probably the most thorough coverage with Mr. B, partly because I have read it so many times but also because Mr. B loves this epic and did a great job with his notes and narration. We have two essays going right now and they are both going to be very interesting reads. Mr. A is writing about the development of the hydrogen bomb (chemistry *and* history) and Mr. B is writing about ancient Assyria and their battle tactics (idea from TOG history/writing).

Chemistry: We have hit our stride! It only took us until week 21 of the school year to find our rhythm for chemistry. Viewing this subject from the perspective of a living, breathing thing….we found ways to capture interest, develop some good questions, and then be able to write about what was learned. (Maybe we will end the year with a feeling of success after all.)

Zuchinni Bread
Baking: Mr. B made zucchini bread and dinner rolls for us.

Both boys have been working at odd jobs this week, saving up money for car insurance. Mr. A’s welding class took a field trip to an engineering business this week and he is all jazzed to learn some computer-related design for metal fabrication. Lucky for him his older brother has some expertise in this area and I will be encouraging some further investigation into what it will take to get him some skills in this area. It is great to see some sparks of enthusiasm as he explores the real world out there.

Books for Grade 2
Look at all that great stuff!

Here is where I have had my nose all week…deep into planning and writing new plans for Harmony Fine Arts Grade 2. Although it is hard work, it is also very exciting to find wonderful new resources to be used in interesting ways as part of the new plans. I am really looking forward to launching this new ebook/print version of Grade 2 which covers Gothic, Medieval, and Renaissance art.

I am off for a little hike with the family. I saw a field of mustard blooming when we were out and about this week and I want to go take some photos to share. Hope you all have a great weekend!

Barb-Harmony Art Mom

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