Homeschooling works. It just doesn’t always look the same from one child to the next. Sometimes even the best intended plans fail and adjustments need to be made. Our latest major adjustments were made in the subject of science and I’ve shared our success story here in hopes that you will be encouraged not to give up when your high school science isn’t working. Or any subject for that matter!
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What works for one kid…
With my oldest (who is now in college) we followed the plan so many homeschoolers follow for high school science…Apologia textbooks. They are absolutely wonderful science courses that I’ve found to be almost AP like in their depth. It was easy to study from the text four days a week and find nature-based connections for exploring and experimenting in our outdoor nature study lab the fifth day. This plan worked well for my highly academic daughter who enjoys reading, challenging material, and giving 110% even when the going is tough.
…doesn’t necessarily work for the other.
My middle child, who is entering 11th grade learns differently than his sister. He always has. He learns best when taking in information through visual, auditory, and hands-on methods. While we trudged through Apologia’s Exploring Creation with Physical Science during his 9th grade year, he didn’t find enjoyment in it at all. He also wasn’t soaking in the information – likely from a little boredom, as well as all the information coming at him through words in the text. Remember, while he’s super-smart, his learning style isn’t linguistic. Even so, we made it through and he looked forward to our weekly nature study time that solidified some of the concepts he had been learning.
Last year, because I didn’t really know what else to do that was worthwhile, we moved right into Apologia’s Exploring Creation with Biology. I even purchased the Student Notebook thinking it would keep him better organized and the consistent note taking, writing of definitions, and written study guide would help the information to stick better. While it IS a very cool addition to the text, it’s still very linguistic. He was bored, often confused, and beginning to HATE science.
It is possible to make imperfect curriculum work.
Yes, yes. I could have purchased the teaching DVD’s to help with the visual and auditory needs. We could have created flashcards and played games with them to help with memorization of the terms. I could have located YouTube videos for some additional explanations. Etc. But, with science already taking him FOREVER to complete, those nice additions would have only prolonged his torture.
A few chapters in, I took over reading the text to him and it helped A LOT. Then, one day I talked with a sweet momma who was making plans for homeschooling high school. She happened to have been a biology major in college…and earned a graduate-level science degree as well. When she told me that she was really struggling to use Apologia textbooks with her children because they seemed more like college-level books than high school level, it stopped me in my tracks. I needed to make a change for my son.
Then I found Botany in 8 Lessons and fell in love.
It just so happened that my friend, Susan Williams, had just written a review of Botany in 8 Lessons by Ellen McHenry. I had used some of Ellen’s freebies over the years and KNEW that I liked her stuff AND it was very scientifically in-depth. I didn’t think twice, I ordered a copy that day.
Here’s the thing. The curriculum is labeled appropriate for ages 8-14. But I was using it with a 15-year-old. Would it work?
It did! In fact, it went into far more depth than I would ever consider teaching an elementary student. Some of the more intricate information might even be a bit much for the middle school crowd unless they already have a strong background in botany through nature study or another curriculum. When someone asked Ellen in her FAQ’s if you could use Botany in 8 Lessons with older students, she answered. “The content is basically ‘high school biology,’ so yes, you can.” That answer sealed it for me and we jumped right in.
P.S. All the photos were taken during nature walks looking for examples from our Botany in 8 Lessons studies.
We had already covered the first six chapters in Apologia’s Exploring Creation with Biology. Meaning Caleb had already been through a basic overview of the study of life; and learned about the Kingdoms Monera, Protista and Fungi; and had an in-depth look at the structure of cells. The final topics to be covered were mostly about the plant and animal kingdoms. Botany in 8 Lessons was going to cover just about everything from Apologia’s (2) Kingdom Plantae chapters – plus some.
I decided that after Botany in 8 Lessons we would use a hefty dissection kit with lots of research to fill in what would have been included in Apologia’s various animal kingdom chapters. Considering how much time we had already spent over the years understanding animals and their classifications (thanks to nature study!!) this turned out to be the perfect method for us.
Botany in 8 Lessons is not enough for a full high school biology credit. It wasn’t even quite enough to fill half a credit, but it did a bang up job teaching the botany portion!
The good news for you is that Ellen McHenry has other biology topics available if you prefer to use her curriculum to round out your biology credit. (I would still add a good dissection kit with animal research to these books. See how to do high school dissection here.)
I love the set-up of Botany in 8 Lessons.
Eight lessons doesn’t seem like much, but each lesson can easily take up to a week (or more if you complete some suggested projects or add nature walks to find examples of what you’ve learned about.) It took us nine or ten weeks to get through the book.
Each lesson contains a Level One and Level Two section of text. Definitely read BOTH sections if using the book in high school. Both levels are followed by three or four rather easy review activities that are mostly workbook-based. I used those activities as “review pages” and created my own tests at the end of each chapter. (There are no formal tests provided.)
The coolest part of each lesson for the sake of Caleb’s learning style is Ellen’s integration of YouTube videos which help further explain (or cement) the concepts. These were HUGE benefits to my son. I should add that Ellen has also included very clear diagrams on each and every page of text that help students “see” the concepts!
For kids who really need hands-on activities in learning, each and every lesson includes some really great supplemental games, experiments, and other activities to drive home the lessons. For example, after reading Chapter 2, you can put together and play a fabulous game that walks you through the very scientific explanation of photosynthesis – where you generate ATP’s and load NADPH trucks and go through the Calvin Cycle. (See, I told you this was high school worthy!)
There’s even a lapbook component for each chapter! We didn’t complete any lapbook items due to time and because this kid of mine has never been crazy about putting them together.
Caleb responded really well to this curriculum! He understood and has retained so much more information than when we focused on textbook-only lessons. Remember, there is a text component! It’s just that Ellen’s text is engaging with its humor and written in simpler explanations that most textbooks. (Not dumbed down, just clear wording.)
However, this course was NOT independent learning for my son. While I think you might be able to turn much of it over to your student, I really needed to know that all the information was being understood fully AND I wanted to be sure we were really doing something that deserved high school credit.
I’m building a chemistry course using Ellen McHenry’s curriculum, too!
This year, I am again using some of Ellen’s curriculum to help me round out a high school chemistry credit! We’re beginning the year with Chemistry 101, then moving on to Ellen’s The Elements: Ingredients of the Universe followed by Carbon Chemistry. Both of her books are again aimed at students a bit younger than my son, but I trust I’ll be happily surprised that they, too, are enough. If not, we’ll add in a few research and/or experiment projects to bump up the content.
I did receive some of Ellen’s books for free. After telling her how much we loved Botany in 8 Lessons, she blessed me with the other books in exchange for this review. All opinions, as always, are strictly my own.
Remember this when your plan for high school science isn’t working.
1. It’s okay to use high school curriculum that’s different from “everyone else” in the homeschool community IF that curriculum is thorough and worthy of a high school credit.
2. While high school students should certainly use some textbook-based curriculum, it isn’t imperative (or necessarily helpful) to turn all learning over to the textbook.
3. While high school students should be working toward complete independence in their studies, we are still their teachers. Students in the public high school are still very teacher-directed and we should expect that certain tough subjects might require us to be more involved than we had hoped. (***This one is a biggie.***)
4. It’s still VERY okay to use hands-on curriculum during the high school years – or curriculum that meets other various learning styles – if it helps your student “get it.”
5.Changing curriculum mid-year isn’t always easy, but trust your gut. (Whining about the workload is totally different than struggling with it.)
What have you used when the typical curriculum for high school science fell flat on its face in your homeschool?