Category Archives: High School Homeschool Science

Podcasts on Living Science

Over at A Delectable Education we are in the middle of a series of podcasts on nature study and science. You know it’s my favorite subject, so I’m thrilled that we are exploring it on the podcast. So far we have talked about Nature Study, Nature Lore books and this coming Friday we will air an interview I did with Cheri Struble, an inspiring nature study enthusiast. Next week we will move onto elementary science, and then middle school and high school science rounds out the series. I hope it is really helpful to each of you. You can always ask question on the episode blog post, or on our ADE facebook page, or here.

On another note, what do you think of my new look? I hope it is working well for you. The only problem that I’ve run into so far, is that a few of the pages from my old site will not forward to my new site. If you had any of them bookmarked, you may want to update those. The following are likely the ones you’ll want:


Experiments – An Idea

As homeschoolers, the idea of doing science experiments can be something to look forward to for one person, and something to dread for another. If you are one who dreads experiment day, then I have some encouragement and an idea for you.

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.” Charlotte Mason, vol 6 pg 223

However, you do not need to do as many experiments when you homeschool using living books as the public school must do, because your students are experiencing the discoveries/experiments as they read living books about scientists. Many of these experiments, we cannot do (because we might die or at least be maimed in some way,) but because of the excellent narratives we read, we experience them on the edge of our seats, none-the-less.

One of my favorite historical science books is Robert Boyle: Founder of Modern Chemistry by Harry Sootin. In this book you are pulling for Boyle as he nearly kills a mouse and then saves it at the last minute, while trying to figure out what air is made of. You let out your breath with a strange mixture of let down and anticipation of a truth being discovered when the mouse does indeed die. There are sketches included within the book showing how Boyle set up his equipment and with the combination of that, and good writing, you have no difficulty “seeing” the whole experiment as it takes place on the page, and in your mind.

I say ‘experience’ advisedly, for the word denotes the process by which children get to know. They experience all the things they hear and read of; these enter into them and are their life; and thus it is that ideas feed the mind in the most literal sense of the word ‘feed.’ Charlotte Mason, vol 6 pg 40

Another reason we should not compare our syllabus to that of the public school is that they rely on textbooks and lectures, two things CM clearly says are sure to “destroy the desire for knowledge”. Hands-on experiments are the only hope for children being schooled this way. But there is also the matter of time. We allot approximately 2.5 hours a week to science, while they allot nearly twice that amount of time. To some degree, they need to do experiments to fill time. It can be a version of busy work.

So, we know that we must do experiments, but we do not need to do as many as the public school requires, which brings me to my idea. (With a little background as to how I came up with this idea.)

I recently attempted an experiment in the book Chemically Active! by Vicki Cobb. I like this book a lot for MS chemistry, and wish they would reprint it…with a few updates.  Here’s an example of why. I came to a section that says, “Set up your apparatus as shown in the drawing.” I must include the drawing here to see if you notice the same thing I did.

Do you see the problem? The test tubes are floating. Since I do not own levitating test tubes, I had to figure out what to do instead. There was also another problem. The book says to “use a carbon rod from inside a flashlight battery”. I didn’t think dismantling a battery was a very safe plan, so I had to look into another option for that as well.

I did a little searching on the internet, and found this excellent video that accomplishes the same thing, but uses a pencil, broken in half and sharpened on all four ends. They then use rubber bands around a plastic tub to prepare a scaffolding for the test tubs. Perfect!

My point in telling you all of this is that there was time involved in preparing for our experiment. We didn’t just break out the experiment “cookbook” and go to work. In fact, rarely can we just go to work, without some kind of prep involved. Even if it is simply making a shopping list a running errands.

It has taken me a long time to get to my idea, but here it is finally: I suggest that you assign your student the job of researching the experiment during your scheduled experiment time the week before you intend to do it. This way when it’s time to actually do the thing, your student is ready. They have the supplies needed, they know what work arounds might be needed, and they are mentally prepared because they have studied it for a period of time. They can accomplish an experiment every two weeks using this plan, which I think is plenty, and the responsibility of the whole thing is on your student, rather than being placed on you. Lastly, I hope this will alleviate the “just forget it!” syndrome which I tend to revert to when I am unprepared for a project.

Happy experimenting!

To Use the Scientific Method is Natural

To Experiment is Natural

Do You Fear I Am Dumbing it Down?

A thought came to me recently that maybe we have a communication gap.  Don’t you love it when you have been struggling to explain yourself, and finally you realize that a small clarification might do the trick?  It might be wishful thinking, but it’s worth clarifying:

Not all living books are easy. 

Really you already know this, because after all, you probably read Plutarch to your children each week.  If you are at all like me, there are even times when you are thrilled that your children can narrate so beautifully, because otherwise you would have no idea what you just read!

It is possible, however, that not everyone realizes that there are advanced living books available for science too.  Thankfully, we are not stuck with choices between easy stories or text books, fiction or dry facts. We also are not limited to the history of a science or a list of biographies. (Although, please don’t miss those!) More technical books can still be living, while utilizing the hard language needed for the field. For example:

The Elegant Universe
Superstrings, Hidden Dimensions, and the Quest for the Ultimate Theory
by Brian Greene
In a rare blend of scientific insight and writing as elegant as the theories it explains, Brian Greene, one of the world’s leading string theorists, peels away the layers of mystery surrounding string theory to reveal a universe that consists of 11 dimensions where the fabric of space tears and repairs itself, and all matter-from the smallest quarks to the most gargantuan supernovas-is generated by the vibrations of microscopically tiny loops of energy.

I’m giggling, and I hope you are too.  Clearly this isn’t the place to start, but can you just image how passionate this author must be about his field? Passionate writers are bound to be inspiring. They are going to engage you, make you think, make you wonder. A text book is not going to do any of those things.

As exciting as that it, we still must start from the beginning, because of course you didn’t start your little one out on Sir Walter Scott or Winston Churchill.  Instead, you probably read books like The Red Fairy Book and An Island Story. But be encouraged that the beginning is only that, the beginning. Not only for literature and history, but for science as well.

What Chemistry Principles Are We Covering

I put together a list of the chemistry principles we are covering while completing our Living Chemistry course this year, and uploaded it as a PDF for you to check out.  You could consider this a scope and sequence, but the reality is that we are doing it backwards. In other words, instead of covering the list sequentially, we are letting our spine text lead us to each principle.

I came up with this list by looking at several scope and sequences for high school chemistry, as well as the table of contents of several chemistry textbooks, to compare what we were learning to what we would be learning if we did a traditional textbook. I was happy, but not surprised, to see that we are really covering everything they are – just in a different way.  I would like to think that our way is much better!

Science for Those Intimidated by Mathematics

I recently read a great interview with a professor of general and organic chemistry at The Master’s College. (The link has been removed now, so you can’t read it yourself unfortunately.) Of the thirteen questions asked, one was regarding those who want to know more about science but are intimidated by mathematics.

One of the biggest concerns I had about teaching chemistry to my little band of homeschoolers was the intense math required.  I knew that was going to be a huge obstacle for them, and had the potential to make a year of chemistry a hateful endeavor, instead of something they were excited about.

In the interview Dr. Taylor Jones said, “If one is interested in science as a layman, most of science can be explained satisfactorily in qualitative terms, i.e., without math. For the prospective student of science, recognize that acquiring proficiency in problem solving takes longer than any other type of learning. Be patient. In the beginning, how to do problems is more important than why the method works. Learn to accept that proficiency may lag behind understanding. You learned to ride a bicycle long before you learned that it’s gyroscopic behavior that allows you to ride.”

The first half of his answer was very encouraging to me, because I have two students who definitely fit in the description of “layman”. Chemistry is a requirement for them, so our primary goal is to complete the class for graduation. However, I don’t want that to be our only goal by far! I also hope that they will be inspired, and acquire another reason to respect the world God created.

The second part of the answer was also encouraging to me, because I have one student who is very interested in a nursing field. This sweet girl is not a gifted math student, but at some point she will need to master some of these difficult concepts to attain her goals. His answer gave me confidence that she will be able to do it in time. For now we will continue putting one block on top of another as she builds on her math abilities. She is loving our living chemistry course, and is inspired to reach for her goals, rather than being put off by what may have seemed like an insurmountable task for her.