So, we are about 7 weeks into our school year, and I am starting to second-guess our science program already. So what I really need to do is evaluate how our science course is going so that I can make changes and adjust as we go to make sure we get the most out of it that we can. So maybe an evaluation of what is working and what is not working would be a good place to start.
What is NOT working:
- Paul Fleisher’s book Objects in Motion: The boys have struggled quite a bit with this book. I have the complete set of 5 books that used to make up his single volume Secrets of the Universe and I still think there is a lot of good information in them. But the boys find them confusing and hard to understand. They would probably do much better with these if I were home teaching them, reading the book aloud to them and discussing the concepts more. It appears they are not quite ready to learn independently from these books. I still want to try having them read parts of the book on liquids, so we’ll see how that goes.
- Isaac Newton by Kathleen Krull: The boys did not enjoy this book. They said that compared to the other biographies we have done for history, that this science biography wasn’t very good. They finished the book anyway, and will move on to the next biography (Archimedes and the Door of Science) hoping for a much better experience. I will have to be more selective of biographies that we read, especially for science.
- Thinking Physics is Gedanken Physics by Lewis Carroll Epstein: This book didn’t last long. It very quickly went too fast and too advanced for the boys. This would work much better in high school and even early college. I also think the student needs to be more mature to handle this style of learning – they have to want to learn it and be willing to read it almost like a puzzle book with lots of puzzles to think through! The boys are not really there yet! J
What is working:
- Adaptive Curriculum’s Activity Objects: The boys are doing really great with these and they like them! I feel good that they are getting good exposure to important science concepts in an interactive way that they wouldn’t be getting from a textbook. I often ask myself “what did they do for science this week?” wondering if they are actually learning anything, and I usually forget that they are doing 2 of these activities every week. As soon as I remember, I suddenly relax in the knowledge that they are really learning something.
- K’Nex Education Kits: We are using these every week, and even though the boys find the building of the models often a bit tedious (because it takes time and they aren’t used to exercising patience!), they are enjoying the use of the models to explore the relationships of distance, velocity, time, and mass. This week they built a model called “half-pipe” which we will be using next week for a lab. What I will be changing with these is to spread out the building of the week’s model over the course of the week, almost like homework, instead of assigning it all for one day of science.
- The Cartoon Guide to Physics by Larry Gonik: The boys said that this book has been much easier to read than either Paul Fleisher’s books or Thinking Physics by Lewis Carroll Epstein. While I don’t feel that it really explores the concepts as much as I think it should, it is much more straight-forward and easier for them to manage. So I have them read it once/week hoping that at least they are getting some idea of the laws of physics.
- The Great Motion Mission by Cora Lee: The boys are enjoying this book, one more so than the other. It presents various physics concepts in the premise of a story which makes it easier to read than most and shows how physics affects our lives. We will continue to use this books as each chapter applies to the aspect of physics that we are studying.
- How to Think Like a Scientist by Stephen P. Kramer: This was a wonderful little book that introduces the student to the idea that science is all about asking questions. It is written in story fashion as well, and is a great book to get kids thinking like scientists, understanding why the scientific method is used, and how to formulate questions for investigating. The boys liked this book a lot.
What we have already changed/added:
- The Story of Science: Aristotle Leads the Way by Joy Hakim: Since we have finished Objects in Motion and Isaac Newton, I have decided to have them start reading this book. I have wanted to use it for a while, but felt like I had to wait until both boys could read it fairly easily and be able to get something from it. It approaches science from a historical perspective, chronicling how science has evolved over the many centuries that man has been asking questions about the world around them. I have some reservations about its format because of the number of “sidebars” that are on most pages. However, it also has lots of pictures with captions to help with my very visual-learning boys. I plan to take it somewhat slowly (one chapter/week and it has short chapters of 8-12 pages.) It’s not a specifically “physics” book, but it is a good, general science book and I hope will serve as a good living book. It is designed such that you could create an entire year’s science course with just this book and the teacher’s supplement. Instead, we will just read it as a supplement to our course.
- The New Way Things Work by David Macaulay: I already had planned to use this, starting about now in the school year, and I am so glad that I did! I am hoping that this will breathe life back into their science readings during the week! They were already fighting over the book the other night when I pulled it out and they found that it shows how the internals to a lock work! LOL! We will be using this on a very regular basis from now on.
- The Way Science Works by Robin Kerrod: I am considering adding this to the year’s books because it looks like it will better cover some of the other physics units this year – heat, sound, light, electricity, and magnetism. It’s a great-looking book by DK that is full of color pictures and lots of hands-on activities! I think it will be a great pairing with the Macaulay book.
So even though I have all of this going for us and most of it working, I can’t help but second-guess my entire approach to science this year! I made the leap to introduce science as physics this year, chemistry next year, and biology in 9th grade (counting as one of their high school science credits) because that is how science should be taught to build on itself from one year to the next. However, I keep wondering if I should have done a more traditional approach of middle school physical science, even using a textbook as a spine. Then doing earth science next year. They haven’t really done much earth science, and while I told myself we would cover a lot of it matched up with our other studies, I wonder if that will be enough. We will be doing astronomy this year with our physics study, and geology next year with our chemistry, but I wonder where I should put in there the other earth science topics – continental plates, earthquakes, volcanoes, weather and atmosphere, and earth composition. (Yes, I am second-guessing myself.)
I am also stumbling across resources that would have been great approaches to middle school science. For one thing, the science being covered in our core curriculum, Paths of Settlement is earth science with some chemistry (apparently) and probably would have been just fine to use and not even try to do a separate course this year! Aagghh! I could just have supplemented that with some videos from Discovery Channel and maybe a couple living books/biographies! But last year, the science in Paths of Exploration just wasn’t enough in my opinion for our boys because it was too elementary, being beginning life science and geared for the 3rd and 4th grades. So I went through all of this planning this summer to make sure that we had a good, age-appropriate science program for them and now I am almost wishing we just did the included science! (I am also discovering that much of the work in Paths of Settlement has been bumped up quite a bit in expectations! Had I known that earlier, I probably would have just used it in its entirety! Ugh! I guess I will try to remember that next year when I start my planning!)
I also just stumbled across a book I had put on my Amazon.com wish list called Science Matters: Achieving Scientific Literacy by Robert H. Hazen, which I also had noted would be a good middle school science book coupled with The Joy of Science DVD “course” offered by The Teaching Company. It would also have been a general science approach to middle school, but perhaps one that the boys would have enjoyed. Though coming up with labs and projects for them using this “course” would have been harder.
Looking back over this post, I am seeing that we are really doing OK, especially after making some minor adjustments to our books. I think I need to add a more formal science journal for all of their labs, but I am not as interested at this point in having them do formal lab reports/write-ups. We should just start getting in the habit of recording all of the measurements and calculations in one place, and I should have them add drawings of various items as we go to increase understanding. Writing up the hypothesis and all the details of how they did the experiment is a little overkill just yet, when they aren’t even used to writing anything down while doing science! I also have decided that on the day that we are not doing labs, they need to do little “mini-reports” of their readings. Call these narrations, summaries, reports, paragraphs, or whatever, but they need to be writing once/week about their science readings. As they get more into The Story of Science, I think that would be a good book to use as source material for their writings. I also think some weeks we can make it a summary of what they read in the more visual books (the “Works” books listed above), supplemented with some reading from our Usborne Internet-Linked Science Encyclopedia, working more on a report style of writing that requires them to merge what they have read from 2 sources. We will have to take that gradually, as it is a new thing for them to be doing. (I have read that the Kingfisher Science Encyclopedia goes a little more in-depth and is more appropriate for middle school, but we already have the Usborne book and have not used it nearly enough so I am hesitant to spend more money on another book to replace it. Besides, I am finding myself drawn more to the DK books than the Kingfisher and Usborne books as they seem to bridge more from middle school all of the way to adult but are still full of images and diagrams for explanations, so that is where I would be more likely to spend my money.)