How to Teach Science through the Lives of Scientists

How to Teach Science through the Lives of Scientists

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When we think of science instruction, we often think of textbooks and curriculum with labs and lots of formal quizzes and activities. Given my professional background (biology teacher with a masters degree in curriculum and instruction), I am quite familiar with the conventional paradigm of science education. I’ve learned that all my structured training for classroom science, doesn’t translate well to our homeschool. We love to study science as investigation. Over the years I’ve shared activities from our brand of science instruction, but I often hesitate to blog about our science because I don’t want to intimidate people. Science is a lot of fun and I’ve recently renewed my goal to share with you how we approach science (hopefully) in a way that will make it very accessible to other families regardless of your science background. How to Teach Science through the Lives of Scientists is how our fourth grader (and youngest student) loves to learn science best.

Benefits of Teaching Science with Biographies

How to Teach Science through the Lives of Scientists

We are a long time unit study family and have always followed interests and learned about interesting people along the way. However, our fourth grader, Joshua, has always been extra interested in the people behind the science. I was hoping to revisit unit studies I’d done with his older siblings, but he tagged along and he remembers details! He’s a kid who once he plays something out, isn’t willing to revisit it again. Last year it occurred to me that we could learn science by learning about scientists. This has worked well for him and every time I stray to use something more formal, we end up back using biographies and learning science. Here are a few reasons it’s a good fit:

  • Observe the common character traits and behavior of scientists– which allows you to see their habits, professional practices, etc.
  • Explore a wide variety of science concepts– lets you break out of doing things in order or chronologically and gives you the chance to move from discipline to discipline within science. You don’t have to study just one area of science each year.
  • Follow an interest– if you read about a scientist who was inspired by Newton, you can find out who Newton is and what he was about.
  • Customize the curriculum– your student is unique and offering him a way to study that capitalizes on his strengths while building weaknesses is a smart way to educate. Joshua is an engineer and loves to explore science in his own way. He wants to figure things out and invent and he adores learning about others who have done the same. This is a brilliant way for him to keep his edge!
  • Meet lots of scientists– it’s exciting to meet new people and learn about their contribution to the world and to the current world of scientists. You get to read a lot of biographical information and that’s just plain fun!

Let him on the contrary, linger pleasantly over the history of a single man, a short period, until he thinks the thoughts of that man, is at home in the ways of that period. Though he is reading and thinking of the lifetime of a single man, he is really getting intimately acquainted with the history of a whole nation for a whole age. – Charlotte Mason

Biographies of Scientists

How to Teach Science through the Lives of Scientists

The foundation of this approach is the biographies of famous men and women in the field of science. It’s important to find the right biographies to get the most out of the potential of this method. Look for:

  • Age appropriate selections– Pay attention to who the audience is for a book. If you find an adult biography, chances are there will be content you don’t want your child to read.
  • Reader friendly– Keep in mind the age and skill of your reader when choosing a book. Is it visually pleasing? Is there enough margin? All of these go into whether a book is appealing or not- especially for emerging readers.
  • Do a little of your own research– Even a glance at a Wikipedia page will tell you about any big skeletons in the scientist’s closet. Some men and women have notorious reputations. Those are the ones to make sure you get a youth biography for and skip the adult section of the library for those.

Exploring the Science of Famous Scientists

How to Teach Science through the Lives of Scientists

While your student reads about a scientist, he can begin exploring. Some books are really fantastic at giving activities along with the biographical information. Our kids love to try things out and our fourth grader, loves all things science and wants to investigate and try on his own. Here are some of the ways we do do this:

  • Try out experiments as they are mentioned in the book
  • Explore the equipment a scientist might use- things like microscopes, sextant, etc
  • Build models of things things shown in a book or of their inventions
  • Keep a lab note book– Joshua who is 9 at the time of this post, has had one for years.

Resources for Teaching Science through the Lives of Scientists

How to Teach Science through the Lives of Scientists

There are many materials out there for studying about the lives of scientists. You can find biographies along with curriculum which focuses on the people behind the science. Below, I’ve listed what we have used although most times I come back to just the biographies and the science.

  • Childhood of Famous Americans Book Series– This is a lovely series of books about the growing up years of many famous Americans, including scientists.
  • Heroes of History– Another series for kids, but these tell about the person’s entire life. Heroes of History is the sister series to Christian Heroes Then and Now and make a lovely young person’s biography.
  • Other Biographies– There is no shortage of books about scientists. Anyone who has made a significant contribution to the field will have something written about him. It may be more difficult to find a biography which is age appropriate, but there are many children’s and young adult titles.
  • Beyond Five in a Row– Is a literature unit study program for ages 8-12 using chapter books and many of the books are about scientists such as George Washington Carver, Marie Curie, Thomas Edison, and Neil Armstrong. We have used BYFIAR for years and you might enjoy visiting our Beyond page.
  • History of Science from Beautiful Feet– This is more a survey of history through the lens of science, but the guide introduces you to many scientists along the way.
  • WinterPromise– Their themed programs provide many resources and lessons on people which include many scientists.

Other Blog, She Wrote Posts about Science & Scientists

We’ve had discussions on many scientists over the years. Some are formalized studies and some are conversations at the dinner table. Here are a few were written about:

  • Renee Descartes Mathematician & Philosopher– Although he was a math guy, I’m throwing this one in to show another way to use biographies.
  • Elias Howe– A unit study on the inventor of the sewing machine complete with the mechanical conversation about the physics of sewing machines.
  • Henry David Thoreau– Was a naturalist and we reflected on nature study through is lens.
  • Beyond FIAR– This is a landing page devoted to our studies which include some scientists.
  • Homeschooling Middle & High School Science– This is a revealing post about how we teach science at our house. With two scientists teaching at home, our methods are not conventional. We talk about science all the time, but we don’t always follow a curriculum in a typical way.
  • How to Homeschool with a Kindle– Notice the Kindle Fire at the top of the post? All of our kids have them and it makes it a lot easier for them to grab a book and go. I also check books out on their Kindle through the library system. The main thing here is if you haven’t had time to get all the books you need, you can always grab a Kindle version for step 2.

When I am tempted to do a more traditional approach with our fourth grader, we keep coming back to this method. Any science becomes more interesting through the eyes of the people who made tireless efforts to achieve their goals.

You can adapt this to any grade level and require different skill sets of work for the same biography.

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Creating Opportunities for Your Homeschooled Teen


Creating Opportunities for Your Homeschooled Teen

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Homeschooling the younger years is a special time when homeschool parents are working on basic skills like reading and math. We all know the exhilaration we experience when our students learn to read and conquer long division! By the time we reach the high school years, the goals change and so does our game plan. Creating Opportunities for Your Homeschooled Teens is all about how to help your teens navigate the high school years while having authentic experiences which prepare them for what lies ahead- whatever that may be.

Collaborate with Others

Many families work out small co-ops and work with each other to provide certain areas of instruction, but collaborating can also mean gathering to work on things outside of the regular subject areas.

  • Trade Expertise with Another Homeschooling Mom– Families here will often trade off course work based on what they are good at. Are you the science teacher? Trade foreign language instruction for some science classes. The possibilities are endless if you know how to connect with others.
  • Work in Groups with Other High Schoolers– Even if you aren’t trading instruction, you can meet together for classes which are more difficult to do alone. It’s popular to co-op science with another family or two to keep each other accountable to the task of teaching a subject you may not enjoy.
  • Form a Writer’s Workshop– I love to host a workshop for teens. A writer’s workshop can be a way to encourage kids who love writing or not so much. Working together with peers is a favorite for most teens.
  • Meet for Book Club– Book clubs are a great way to get teens talking about good books together. Often they challenge members to read books they normally would overlook.

Strive for Independence

High school is a good time to add on to the independence you’ve probably been working on since middle school. By the time your students graduate high school, you want to be sure they can study and work on their own.

  • Discuss Goals Together– Teens need to be in the driver’s seat of their education. Bring them to the table to discuss goals. These can be long or short term. Shorter is good when you are just starting out. Having students be a part of the discussion on their goals is especially important for kids who aren’t as motivated as others. They need to buy in and a good way to move in that direction is to make them part of the process.
  • Provide Opportunities for Ownership– We all know our kids and some students are ready before others, but it is critical that teens own their work. Part of that is being a decision maker when it comes to academic work, but it also means taking responsibility for what needs to be done. And getting it done.
  • Get a Volunteer Job– Libraries, science centers, ministries are examples of places teens can find volunteer work. If you can, look for a volunteer position in an area of interest. It’s perfect for exploring fields your teens want to learn more about.
  • Look for a Part Time Job– Our son worked in a grocery store and learned a lot. Employment in an area of professional interest is great, but even a retail or fast food job and teach a lot of independence. Even better if they live close enough to work to get themselves there and back.
  • Start a Business– Our 9th grader considered a camp counselor job at a local sewing shop for their sewing camps and decided she’d rather teach her own classes than just helping out all summer. She has been working with one group of girls all year and just added a new class to her week. I’ll be blogging more about this in the future, but it’s been a good experience for her. Rebecca’s niche really is teaching others to sew. Entrepreneurship offers excellent experiences for increasing independence.

Seek Mentors for Your Teens

As our students get older, we transition from being teachers to being mentors for our high schoolers. While parents make one set of wise mentors, it can be beneficial to have others come alongside your teens.

  • Character Builder– A person who can come alongside you as parents to speak wisdom into their life. This person can be a grandparent, aunt or uncle, or a family friend.
  • Expert in the Field– A person who is knowledgeable in the area your student is studying.
  • Niched Experts– A person who holds a specific field of study and works with your teen. For example, Ethan was mentored by a master falconer while he was learning and preparing to get his falconer’s license. This was a required mentor for Ethan’s goal and he learned a lot.

When it comes to mentors, even with older kids, make sure you know the person well and plan appropriate environments for them to meet.

Online Experiences for Homeschooled Teens

There are a variety of online classes available in various platforms for homeschooled high schoolers. Some provide credit and others may give a certificate of completion if you do all the work and turn it in to the professors. Whatever path you choose, using online courses is a great way to expand your teen’s horizons at home.

  • The Potter’s School– Online courses for high school in all the major subject areas plus electives. Our son took Worlds of Imagination both Fantasy and Science Fiction Literature as a junior this year.
  • PA Cyber School– Some of our friends locally have benefited from taking classes through public online cyber schools.
  • Community College– Locally we have CollegeNow which offers credits to high school students. It can also be used as a path to a high school diploma.
  • Coursera– Online education platform which provides courses from universities from around the world.
  • University Classes– Offered for free and for grade or pass/fail from major colleges and universities all over the world. For example, MIT has a wide range of courses available for free online.

Resources for Homeschooling High School

I’m always on the lookout for books and websites to use as a reference and to provide perspective as we navigate our homeschooled teens through to graduation and beyond. Here are a few I’ve found helpful:

  • The Ultimate Guide to Homeschooling Teens– This is a nice reference for general items. Not everything in this book works for us, but there is a lot of good advice all in one place here.
  • The Home Scholar– Lee Binz has many resources for parents on homeschooling high school and preparing for college. She often has her little coffee break for free. They speak about a variety of topics related to getting your teens to the next step after high school.
  • College without High School– I adore this book which speaks to the heart of our homeschool. The author has excellent advice on how to approach high school in a way that seeks to capitalize on the experiences homeschooling allows our teens.
  • The Well Planned Day High School Planner– While I prefer a plain spiral for recording our homeschooling, this planner has some thorough text available which provides a good timeline for what and when to do certain things during high school. It’s an invaluable reference tool.

Blog, She Wrote Should My Homeschooled Teen Get a Part Time Job?

More Blog, She Wrote Resources on Opportunities for Homeschooled Teens

We have two high schoolers and a middle schooler this year and in another two weeks, we’ll officially have three homeschooled teens in our home!

The main thing when it comes to homeschooling teenagers is to keep pouring into their niche and to help them to reach out for experiences and resources. The high school years at home have such potential to shape their future in a positive way.

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Why Your Husband May Not Be Helping You with the Homeschooling

Why Your Husband May Not Be Helping You with the Homeschooling

Now that the post title has gotten your attention, let’s talk about ways in which our husbands participate in our homeschools. Some of us may have very active dads and others may feel like dads could do more. Why Your Husband May Not Be Helping You with the Homeschooling is meant to inspire families today to see how dads already are contributing and perhaps you’ll find a few more ideas to include.

General Thoughts on Including Dads

Wherever your husband falls on the helping out scale, it’s important to remember a few things:

  • Is Your Husband in Agreement with Homeschooling?– This is probably one of the biggest factors in how involved Dad is going to be. Even if he is not in the day to day, you need the support of a cheerleader who can encourage you when you enter difficult periods. And, you will.
  • Outline Expectations– How much time does your husband have? Does he travel? What is he good at? All of these go into choosing how he will contribute to your homeschooling. Be realistic. No one likes to be set up to fail.
  • Do Your Best Not to Compare– Your husband is uniquely qualified to work with his own family. Capitalize on his strengths and don’t compare him to other dads. I’ll be sharing how Dan works with us and it’s not meant to brag or bring anyone down. On the contrary, I’m hoping that something we do will inspire you in ways your husband can contribute.
  • Take Advantage of His Strengths– This probably goes without saying, but maybe not. Choose to include dad in things he’s partial to or good at. Even if you want someone else to grade papers, try not to save all things you hate just for him!
  • Focus on the Big Picture– Dads are usually good “big picture” people. Dan likes to have input over large homeschooling direction, but he prefers me to handle the details.
  • Go Beyond Academics– Remember that things don’t have to be strictly academic for it to count toward homeschooling hours. A talk about bicycle safety at dinner is part of health. Helping with the building of a model rocket is science. Helping dad service the lawn mower is mechanics. My guess is your husband could and probably does include your kids in many endeavors which can be recorded as homeschooling.
  • Let Them Go– Dads spend time with their kids differently than moms. Let them enjoy the time and try not to micromanage how your husband helps out. If he knows what his task is and he’s ready to go, then let them help. No hovering or complaining allowed!

Why Your Husband May Not Be Helping You with the Homeschooling

Ways to Involve Dad in Your Homeschooling

Time to brainstorm a list of the ways dads can contribute to homeschooling.

  • Read Aloud Time– This is a great way for dad to help out. Bedtime reading comes to mind or it can be any other time.
  • Take on One Subject– Hand over one subject that dad handles. Math is a popular one, but maybe it will be history or geography.
  • Weekend Projects– Set aside time for special projects when dad is around. This is a great idea for traveling husbands too. Work on something that’s in dad’s niche during these times.
  • Book Discussions– Reading dads influence readers and being able to discuss books and learn dad’s perspective is a worthwhile opportunity.
  • General Discussions– Spending time talking with your homeschoolers is a positive investment for any dad. Shaping values and a student’s character is so important.
  • Share Expertise– This is one of the best ways a dad can help with homeschooling. Whether it’s a skill or a wealth of knowledge, dads have a lot to share with the kids.
  • Teach at Co-op– Dads sometimes teach at our homeschool co-op. We have a two hours for ten Mondays a semester type co-op and classes are extra curricular in nature. We’ve seen dads teach dulcimer building, LEGO robotics, supervise recess, courage and character for teens among other things.
  • Assign Special Challenges– I know lots of dads challenge kids with a special project, research, reading, etc. Kids thrive when dad focuses on what a particular child needs and assigns special, more challenging work with a goal.

Why Your Husband May Not Be Helping You with the Homeschooling

How Single Moms or Moms with Dads on the Road Can Include Dad

This topic wouldn’t be complete without a discussion on homes where dad is not present or is not home often. It requires extra effort and provides more of a challenge. I’m not an expert, but I’ll offer a few ideas:

  • Use Skype & Other Technology– Computers can bring kids and dads together across the miles. You can save spelling practice and reading aloud for Skype time. There are a lot of options for your kids to enjoy time with dad and have him be an active part of their homeschooling.
  • Find a Mentor– Every kid needs a male presence. How about a grandfather or a trusted family friend? This could even be an instructor from an extra activity.

Why Your Husband May Not Be Helping You with the Homeschooling

How My Husband Participates in Our Homeschool

Ok, this section is a shameless shout out to my husband, Dan who works tirelessly to care for us and to be our hero. I hope it will help you to think of all the ways your husbands are supporting you in your homeschooling!

  • Master Explainer– If one of the kids needs help or has a question, they love to ask Dan. He uses a our slate chalkboard or a white board to illustrate. Our daughter will often ask for a chalkboard explanation.
  • Reading Aloud– Dan will often read to the kids. This was especially true when they were younger. He even took them walking once when I was out of town and brought a book to read when they rested.
  • Coaches LEGO Robotics– Dan spends a lot of his free time working with our kids and others on the teams for FIRST LEGO League. This is a perfect combo of teamwork and engineering. He mentors teams and has even recruited a few other dads for the job.
  • Takes Kids on Field Trips– He is particularly good at keeping an eye out for interesting events on campus. He works at a university so there are a lot of outreach events we can take advantage of.
  • Loves a Good Discussion– Not only does he explain, but he also discusses things with our kids and will often challenge them with various perspectives on a topic.
  • Spends Time with Our Kids– Just in general. He seeks out time with them together an individually. He might play a game, do an activity, or just talk but he is available. If he’s not, then he lets them know when he will be.
  • Encourages Our Kids in their Niche– He will take the time to talk to them about a project and offer suggestions. He makes materials available and will build and provide project areas for them.
  • Researches Purchases & Supplies– If a kid needs something special or ordinary, he will do the research with them to find the best item.
  • Helps with Projects– No matter how big or small. From building electromagnets to programming to costume making, he can help point them in the right direction.
  • Assigns Special Challenges– Because he knows them and what they are working on well, he can make suggestions for special challenges. They love going to him for a new challenge and they are excited to share the results with him.
  • Involved in Our Homeschool Group– By helping out with filming events or photography, webmaster for our website, and at the time of this post we lead our homeschool group together.
  • IT Mastermind behind Blog, She Wrote– This list would not be complete without noting that Dan helps behind the scenes with my blog. I’ve been blogging since 2007 and learned a ton, but when he knew I was in for the long haul he joined me in the effort and it’s been a lot of fun. Plus, I’ve learned a whole lot more!

Thank you, Dan for all your hard work and commitment to us and to our children’s education!

More Posts Including Dad from Blog, She Wrote

Adventures of a Homeschooling Dad

Dan has been an active participant in our homeschool from the start. Below are some posts which highlight some of the homeschooling moments with the kids. Most of these are narratives of the activities he did with the kids. What does your husband do best with your kids?

Adventures of a Homeschooling Dad– This is a guest post by Dan from 2008 when I had major surgery and was hospitalized for almost a week. A fun read, Dan was out to prove homeschooling and housekeeping with four kids ages 10 to 3 years old was no big thing! This one is a reader favorite!

How to Keep up with an Accelerated Reader– Dan is our pre-reader since he has less regular homeschooling responsibilities and he reads fast!

Co-op: How Does It Work? A post about how our homeschool co-op works

Cool Dad Homeschooling Moments– An example of how Dan grabs an opportunity for the kids and runs with it. This one is about a temperature recording device.

Temperature Recorders Part 2 (or When You Have a Super Cool Homeschool Dad)– How Dan had the kids collect the data from the temperature recorders shared in the above post.

How to Engage Your Teen with Books– Great ideas for book discussions, dad included!

Why Your Husband May Not Be Helping You with the Homeschooling

If you feel like your husband could do more to support homeschooling, think on all the ways he contributes already– whether they are large or small. Consider realistic ways he might do more and approach him with some new ideas. Don’t forget to capitalize on his strengths and enjoy!

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