I mentioned in my last article, that I diverge from Charlotte Mason’s science plan, a bit, starting in form 3. I want to explain why and how I do that.
We Have More Common Information to Deal With
While it was most important to Mason that students come to feel a sense of wonder and admiration for the world, she also felt strongly that it was important for students to acquire scientific literacy – the common information. However, there is more common information to learn today than there was at the turn of the twentieth century. These days we vote on topics such as Stem Cell Research and GMO labeling. With this in mind, we might find some of the books Mason assigned are a little too light to carry us through all of the material we need to cover. We cannot turn to textbooks to cram more information, she was clear about that, but we probably can’t spend a whole year on a book such as The World of Sound by Bragg either. We are going to need to be very deliberate with our choice of books if we want to adhere to Mason’s page count (and word counts) per term but also manage to cover the common information of our day.
We Can’t Fire-Hose our Students with Four Heavy Science Subjects
With that said, I am hearing more and more reports from parents whose kids are feeling burned out by covering three or four difficult science topics each week. Mason assigned a variety of books each week, some light and some harder, but none equal to Chem 101. When we assign a day of each of the big four, we run the risk of overburdening our students.
Consider this example. In the same year that a form 3 students read The World of Sound, they also read half of The Study of Plant Life, a little less than half of Winners In Life’s Race, and three-quarters of The Fairyland of Science. That was all for the whole year! Compare that to four days of today’s physics, chemistry, biology, and earth science. I won’t even touch on the books you might use for those subjects because I don’t think it’s necessary to make the point.
The Popular Science Topics Have Changed
The topics of botany, geology, and astronomy were popular in the 1800s, and after Darwin’s book On the Origin of Species, natural selection, and evolution became popular as well. Mason included a bit of everything that was popular during her time, and I think we can accept that as a principle when deciding what topics we should cover in our schools. At the same time, even though chemistry, physics, formal biology, technology, and engineering are more popular than the earth sciences or general biology today, we still need to present our students with the whole feast. That’s a lot of subjects! We need a plan to adequately cover the common information in all of these subjects.
Students Can Attempt Experiments in Far More Subjects
After form 2, and Holden’s book The Sciences, the only experiments we see assigned to P.U.S. students were in the field of botany. These were quality experiments that crossed disciplines to some extent, so I do not mean to downplay their value. However, Mason was impressed by Holden and the experiments in his book, and she said, “The only sound method of teaching science is to afford a due combination of field or laboratory work, with such literary comments and amplifications as the subject affords.” (A Philosophy of Education, 1925, p. 223) So why didn’t she assign experiments in other fields? My guess is that there were not many books besides Holden’s, written to students to guide them through the process. That is not so today. Our students can look up experiments in any scientific realm as easily as they can look up a recipe for no-bake cookies. But here is the catch, if we are studying several science topics each week, it can be hard to know which subject to draw our experiments from.
Biology is a Far More Robust Subject These Days
After Life and Her Children was completed in form 4 (grade 9,) the study of formal biology was dropped until form 6 (grade 12,) at which time a book about animals was added. Botany was continued until grade 11, and students were still expected to make special studies. That sounds nice, but frankly, there has been a lot of common information amassed in the realm of biology in the last 100 years, and much of it is the common information we are going to be required to know to vote. Therefore, I think we should continue one day a week with some study of biology. After a general survey of the subject, we can choose from any of the following topics: anatomy, biochemistry, health, neuroscience, cell biology, genetics, medical ethics, botany, ecology, evolution, paleontology, zoology and animal behavior, or marine biology. Our choice might be determined by what is important to the family or what is interesting to the student. Either way, after six years of studying various aspects of biology once a week, in addition to special studies, nature walks, and an occasional book of nature lore read during their free time, a student should have a good store of common information.
How I Schedule Science
Due to the above arguments, I limit our science studies to two subjects per term: biology and one other topic. Our experiments are pulled from the reading each week. Then, as each term ends, we switch to a new topic. My students are still studying four topics per year, so I feel good about the feast they are sampling from, but they don’t have all four subjects on their plates at the same time.
Below is a sample schedule for a week of science for students in forms 3-6 (grades 7-12).
|Day 1||Day 2||Day 3||Day 4||Day 5|
(12th grade only)
|Men, Microscopes, and Living Things||For the Love of Physics||For the Love of Physics cont.||physics experiment||Letters to a Young Scientist
(12th grade only)
If you would like to see how this looks across several years, take a look at the following pages: