There are few things more daunting than dissecting a frog on the kitchen table—except physics. Should Science be left to the professionals?
The answer, patently, should be no. The first scientists weren’t professionals; they were often hobbyists and magicians (hence “electrician”). High school laboratories are less well-stocked than you think. Nonetheless, multiple studies have indicated homeschoolers’ tendency to be less engaged in math and science.
How do we fix that?
This article is two parts: Everyday Science, covering components of science and creating a solid science base, and High School, covering duel-enrollment and AP’s.
There are at least three parts of Science: science as a Process, science as a Language, and Facts found via the scientific process. For example, the process of dropping different weights off of a building to measure momentum, measuring it via stopwatch or pressure gauge, recording it, and repeating everything is an example of the scientific process; you can use this to answer any question. The measure of momentum, the concepts of velocity and mass, their symbols, and how to measure them are all part of science as a language. p = mv is a fact that has been found through the scientific process and is communicated through the language of science, but is not science in-and-of-itself.
Each can be taught in different ways, has different benefits, and requires different tools.
Process (Or: What happens if…? …Try it again!)
What it is: The scientific process—Research Question, Hypothesis, Testing, Analysis, and Conclusion. Or, try something, watch it, figure out what it might mean, and do it again.
How to teach it: Encourage your student to create questions about the world and test them. In “Everyday Lessons” we posed a few, like: Why do people go shopping? Encourage the development of reliable and valid measures.
What does Ms. Frizzle say? “Take chances, make mistakes, get messy!”
Potential Project: Nature/Field Journals
From 19th Century naturalists like Audubon and Muir, students keep a journal of sketches, notes, and samples they find of their world. Wonderfully portable and scalable, these help students refine their skills of observation and recording. (More resources: How to Keep a Nature or Field Journal; WikiHow’s guide; Here’s an example from Celeste, blogger and homeschool mom of 9; Here are several other examples using sketches and photos.)
Things to remember when learning the Practice of Science: Let students try things. Let students fail. (If they do this right, there will likely be a mess.)
Language of Science (Or: X)
What it is: Science jargon. Element names (e.g. Carbon), parts of things (e.g. atoms, electrons, quarks), concept names (e.g. work), etc.
Don’t be afraid to teach science jargon to your children; it’s just another component of language. A lot of the basics you can teach early, then your student will expand their vocabulary their entire lives (and might contribute themselves!). Learn the basics; you and your student can google the rest. (I’ve linked the Periodic Table Song above)
Science Facts (Or: e=mc2)
What it is: What you figure out through the scientific process.
With the internet, these are probably the easiest to teach. You can find these almost anywhere (just check your sources!). Along with traditional magazines, YouTube is a great resource. Here’s a list of 50 of the best (overwhelmed? here’s a list of just six). Also check out 3Blue1Brown and PBS SpaceTime.
Rule of thumb: learn what’s interesting. Google “[FAVORITE TOPIC] science” to start.
Don’t be afraid to go to the source. While some scientific articles have a paywall, the National Center for Biotechnology Information (NCBI) has plenty of free articles, and scientists are working on making more public (how to find free articles). Certainly some articles, particularly harder sciences like Physics, will be more difficult than Social Psychology, but most of the difficulty is jargon that can be understood with a little patience and Google. Anything beyond Wikipedia should be covered in the article’s Introduction section. (Check our Resources page for more.)
And don’t just stay on the couch—museums are a great way to learn too!
Here’s a blog post that outlines homeschool lab science options:
Have a science-oriented homeschool parent? Convince them to teach your kid too! You can combine these with the APs.
Why do AP’s? If you pass the test, you get the credit. You also get a structured curriculum of Things You Need to Know for College—but avoiding 500-student “College Subject 101” courses is its own reward.
How-to AP: Here’s the link for College Board’s website on getting the AP test itself. The most popular solution for studying, outside of co-ops, is online classes. (Here’s an article about online AP pros and cons. Did you know your course could be AP certified?) Here’s a good blogpost that outlines what to look for in an AP course, good AP courses, and a few to avoid—for all subjects, not just science. Here’s a forum that compiles curriculum options for Physics 1 & 2. And here’s one for Chemistry, from basic to AP. Here are College Board’s recommended AP Biology labs. Here are blog posts from parents who taught their own AP Biology courses.
You do not have to take the course to take the test. I didn’t for either AP English test. I prepped by looking over the questions and essays beforehand and reading a couple of articles about what they were looking for. If your student is highly passionate and/or confident about any AP subject, I would recommend this route. Remember: If you pass the test, you get the credit.
Have fun! And remember:
“Take chances, make mistakes, get messy!”