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.


Barb-Harmony Art Mom said...

This is a great post. I would like to link to it from my soon to be published Squidoo lens on Apologia Science Biology and Charlotte Mason's ideas on living books.

Also, thank you for the kind words on my blog today. It means a lot when I hear such positive experiences.

Barb-Harmony Art Mom

Kris! said...

Barb, thank you--I can't wait to see your lenses! The CM Blog Carnival has not only been a treasure trove of information, it has led me to so many wonderful, brilliant, and fascinating moms like you. And thanks again for resuscitating our nature studies!

Merry said...

I enjoyed reading your blog. This has been helpful in giving me some ideas.


MomToCherubs said...

Thanks for contributing to the CM Blog Carnival.


jamie in rose cottage said...

Great post. I especially love that last paragraph! Thanks for sharing your thoughts on this!

Anonymous said...

Universe in my hands looks quite interesting.

Prince Andrew and the Queen Mum said...

I am very interested in the specific books you will be using and resources online. I am really struggling w/ what to do w/ 8 yo. Apologia just isn't 'quite right' and all the experiment programs drive me buggy. I want a combo of living books w/ a smattering of experiments built in. I am going to sidebar your blog if you don't mind so I can visit it often and see what you are doing.

Kris! said...

Yes, thanks! (I have a widget if you're interested. You can see it at http://www.homeschoolblogger.com/MusingMom )

I will be posting on this soon. As a preview, I really like the Kids Can! series, though these are experiment-based. I have several wonderful science books from the 1960's that make perfect spines; I want to pass on library availability so I am researching that right now. I guess they just don't write science textbooks like they uses to...