Friday, June 20, 2008

Living Science Series: Magic School Bus

Magic School Bus Series by Joanna Cole

Most homeschoolers are familiar with this highly popular series. My boys very much enjoy both the series and the videos, reading and seeing them so many times they know well much of the information from them. The format appeals to even preschool children, yet they cover upper elementary, lower middle school science topics.

We prefer the books written by Joanna Cole and illustrated by Bruce Degen; they are the cream of this crop. The books based on the TV show are good, too, but fall short in writing and illustrating as you would expect from a knock-off. The chapter books have the science content without the wonderful illustrations.

Because the series is so popular, the books are readily available from either the library, used book sales, or any book store. We have just about all of them on our book shelves.

Wednesday, June 18, 2008

Finding Living Science Books

O.K. I admit that finding true living science books is a bit of a challenge. Unlike math and history, both of which have more living books than a child could possibly read, science is heavily dominated by experiment and fact books. Most of the really good living science books relate to nature studies, a subject that lends itself well to the style. Even the biographies are more life facts than science facts. Still, gems can be found among the rubble.

Here are a few things to help you in your search:
  • I tag books "Living Science" and "Science Spines" on LibraryThing and I add informative notes whenever possible.
  • I will be blogging more about Living Science Authors and Living Science Series here.
  • You can see my book reviews pop-up when your mouse moves over a book on the Shelfari book shelf on the left; you can scroll through the books with a button at the bottom of the shelf. These are also tagged "Living Science" and "Science Spines"

These tags and reviews reflect our family's experience; you may have a completely different take on a book. Still, I hope you can at least get an idea of a book's general nature so you can decide if it is worth your time checking out. (I do have an Amazon Associate number that will help support this work should you buy a book through the link in the pop-up. I thank you if you should choose to do so.)

A great reference source for living books in all subjects is For the Love of Literature by Maureen Wittmann. Simply Charlotte Mason has a book finder that hopefully will have more user reviews as time goes on. There's always Amazon's comment section for each book, too, that can be a source of good information once you know a title you're interested in.

Hopefully this will help you find living books to more easily study science without a curriculum. Please comment on any other sources you use to find living science books!

Tuesday, June 3, 2008

Thinking outside the science textbook

This is the time of the year when we all think about what we will be doing next year. A cornerstone of Charlotte Mason educational philosophy is using "living books" because they inspire children to learn by definition. This applies to science and math as much as it applies to history and literature. Science curricula, however, are based on workbooks or textbooks. Home Science Tools carries the most popular programs, though the list is not comprehensive. One other worth mentioning not on that list is Universe in My Hands, which present science based on order of magnitude (molecule to universe.)

In the end these curricula, though excellent, are still textbooks. Some people, like me, have a tendency to focus on following and finishing the curriculum in one school year for fear of "missing something important" or "falling behind," usually at the expense of our children's enthusiasm. We lose the spark that is the love of learning. Like any subject, we will never cover it all, much less learn it all. There will be holes. Our child will seem behind in some areas yet far ahead in others compared to some other child.

Science comes down to reading books, asking questions, performing experiments, and making observations regardless of the type of science you are studying at the moment. So how do we replace the textbooks? I first like to create an overall structure of science learning. You can basically separate Science into three fields, realizing, of course, that there's overlap:

  • Life sciences (biology, human body)
  • Physical sciences (chemistry and physics)
  • Earth and space sciences

Technology and engineering, the products of science, can be included as well. I like to look at our state or national standards only for a list of topics, paying little attention to exact grade levels. Sometimes I download the scope and sequence or table of contents for popular science programs to get an idea of what to cover.

I make a point to teach them the knowledge, vocabulary, and basic understanding of how things are structured and interrelated in order to build a solid foundation for more rigorous studies. I try to put things in terms of:

  • Atoms, molecules, and the Periodic Table
  • Cells and cellular processes
  • Groupings, patterns, and properties
  • Systems and cycles
  • Forces and energy

Using all these as a guide, I look for living books, lesson plans, experiments, and activities—anything but workbooks—for my kids to use. With this approach children of different ages can work on the same subject at varying levels. I can study topics by the kit, week, month, or term, or pick projects based on the season. I can incorporate science with other subjects or interests. And when we go about our science studies, I put any products of these investigations—photos, narrations, experiment write-ups, drawings, definitions, or whatever—in a science notebook.

One final note in our approach to science is regarding science philosophy, two disciplines that in modern times have become seemingly irreparably separated. We always seek the truth through observation and experimentation using the scientific method. God designed all of what we discover and learn. And what we do with that knowledge, just like everything else in our lives, is completely subject to His Word.