Friday 16 June 2017

Sources of Home Education Inspiration: Science

This is my third post about home education resources. The first post was about general matters and the second about English. 

I wrote a long post about science resources at the beginning of 2016. 

This post is based on that post, and in fact much of it is copied from that but with links updated and new information added.

I am a Christian and believe in a Biblical six day Creation. This is reflected in some of my choices. 

Preschool/reception age (5 years and under)

  • We loved the Usborne Big book of Science things to make and do. This book has pages to easy to do science activities using household materials. Our copy is much used and most pages have several dates written in to show when the activities were done. There is a very short explanation for each page. Highly recommended.
  • There are various other books which we used but don't have the range of activities in the Big book of Science. These include Backyard Science by Chris Maynard, Mini-Scientist in the Garden by Lisa Burke and Fizz in the Kitchen by Susan Martineau. 
  • We used to have fun science afternoons using these  and other resources. I wrote a post about some of the materials and sites we used. Do also look at the preschool science activities on Angelicscalliwags' blog. I have collected some more ideas on my Pinterest board Home Science.

Infant age-KS1 (5-7)
This is the age where I have found it most difficult to find resources. Apologia Elementary is marketed as being suitable from Kindergarten to grade 6 so years 1 to 7. There will be more about Apologia in the next section but I have to say that I have not used it successfully with children under year 2. I have used it in a group which included my own children, and others, in year 2. Yes, the curriculum can be made to work six and seven year olds but it is a bit of a push.

Rather different, Supercharged Science has a rather different, hands-on approach for children from year 1 to older teenagers. My review is here. 

What has worked well for us with this age group is Exploring Nature with children.Obviously, this doesn't cover the whole of science but this gentle, weekly guide to exploring nature has worked well with my year 2 child. We haven't done everything in the book but there is plenty that is accessible.

Last year, for my year 2 child, we used a combination of Exploring Nature with Children and my own lessons based on year 3( because I have children in years 2 and 4) of the National Curriculum Science themes. More about this later!

Junior age-KS2 (7-11)
Middle Son was in year 4 when we started home educating. We initially used Apologia Elementary but this was so different that we soon changed to Singapore Science. This may have changed, over the last 7 years, but was workbook based and designed for schools but didn't feel so far different from the science that he had done in school. After a while, we wanted more depth so went back to Apologia Elementary using a different book.

Apologia Elementary is a science curriculum built on Christian principles. It is based on a six day creation. There are several different volumes each of which takes around a year to complete. In addition, to the main hardback book, notebooking journals are available at two different levels. The notebooking journals are not essential. We found that Apologia was
  • rigorous (some of the human body volume  is in more detail than IGCSE biology)
  • well presented
  • designed for home educators so finding items for experiments and activities was easy.
I have used the volume Human anatomy and physiology both at home and in a group setting

For us, two volumes have worked well
  • Human anatomy and physiology (disclaimer-I was trained as a doctor so found it easy to add to and explain concepts in the book.)
  • Astronomy
We have also used Zoology 1: Flying Creatures of the Fifth day. This has worked less well, primarily because it is written from the US where animal life is rather different to here. Some of the birds mentioned were not known to us; some had the same name but were different (the robin) and some behaviours sounded similar to UK species but it was difficult to know whether the whole behaviour was the same. I have written about this in more detail here. 

It is really because of this experience that we aren't using Apologia Elementary, this year. I am very tempted by the Physics and Chemistry volume for another year but my understanding is that this is the most difficult of the Elementary volumes so I am waiting until the children are a little older.

Apologia Elementary does have a reasonable resale value!

Last year, I used National Curriculum themes for year 3 and made up my own programme. This has sort of worked. 
  • Some topics have worked better than others. 
  • I have found it necessary to go beyond the bare bones of the curriculum description but even so this is unlikely to take us much beyond February half term.
  • This has taken a fair amount of time to prepare!
This year, we have used a physics curriculum from Wildflowers and Marbles called Simple Machines with Fantastic Physics. This uses David Macaulay's book The New Way things work along with educational sets of K'nex and Richard Hammond's Can you feel the force!. There are other resources suggested but we limited ourselves to these. My eight year old has enjoyed this. This works well with children who are interested in physics and love hands on activities.
  • The lesson plans are free.
  • The resources needed are not cheap! However, the educational K'nex sets have been used extensively.
  • K'nex was tremendously popular with my youngest.
  • The author recommends it for around age 10 and at this age, it would probably be better.
  • We could have got even more out of this if we had purchased even more of the resources and done more of the additional projects.
Additional resources
Part way through last year, we were able to trial three of the Creation Family Science junior lessons. These go through some geological concepts around the theme of volcanoes. There is a large amount of material in these lessons although they are presented in a rather "schooly" way with powerpoint presentations. The children seemed to get more used to this mode of presentation as opposed to one to two teaching as we went through the series.

Exploring Nature with children. We use this for weekly nature walks and it has been extremely successful. I'm wondering whether to use it again next year as we haven't done all the activities.

Investigate the Possibilities These have a practical activities related to physics concepts. I have used the volumes Energy and  Forces and Motion in a group setting.

The Dyson Foundation challenge cards are free  to download and have 52 STEM (Science, technology, engineering, maths) activities. Very popular with the children and use household substances.

Big Bible Science is a science book aimed at ages 7-11 and written from a Christian worldview. It has plenty of activities and would be ideal as a summer holiday book either for home educated or schooled children. 

Secondary age-KS3 and 4 (11+)
Initially, we used the Apologia General Science. This wasn't an enormous success as the first few chapters are quite dry. In retrospect, another year of Apologia Elementary, perhaps, the Physics and Chemistry volume would have been far more successful.

We also used some of the Answers in Genesis textbooks at this age. These involved practical activities designed for home educators. The books we used were less attractive than the Apologia books and were again, more appropriate for the older end of the stated range.  The volumes that we used have now been replaced so the link goes to the newer curriculum. I would be delighted to have any feedback about this.

After this, we used Edexcel textbooks in preparation for the IGCSE exams. 

Adding Sparkle
There are an enormous number of extra resources available. This is just a selection.

  • Museums-we are in London so the Science Museum and Natural History Museums are musts. The Centre for the Cell provides biology related sessions. The London Museum of Water and Steam at Kew is on our to do list. 
  • Royal Institution has a small museum, lectures which are open to home educators, courses (at a price!) and a website which had a Science based Advent calendar and a link to the Christmas lectures. 
  • Observatories/planetarium: we went to a useful session at the South Downs Planetarium.
  • Windmills are in various places around the country. If you are in London, there is one at Brixton.
  • Gardens-Kew, Wisley for the London based. Don't forget the local park. 
  • Nature reserves-see RSBP, the Wildlife Trusts, Wildlife and Wetlands Trust and the National Trust.
  •  The RSPB hold an annual Big Garden Birdwatch.
  •  Butterfly Conservation run a Butterfly Count in the summer. Both these events can take place in your home or garden.
  • Local bat walks take place in summer months.
  • Pond dipping sessions seem easily available at various different places. 
  • Science fairs-various locations
  • Grow your own potatoes from the Potato Council. The Potato Council send out a free potato growing kit and supporting educational activities. The potatoes are harvested in the Summer term and can be entered into a competition for the heaviest potatoes. 
  • The Royal Society runs a Young People's Book Prize and recruit groups to act as judging panels. Our home education group is acting as a judging panel for the second year. The group has the relevant books provided by the Royal Society and these have been much appreciated by the children.
  • The John Muir Trust has awards around conservation. We haven't done one of these yet although this is something that we might do.

It is difficult to know where to start. Just a few thoughts.
  • David Macaulay's book How Machines Work won the Royal Society Young People's book prize in 2016. Our home education book group loved this interactive book. Highly recommended.
  • A recent read is Archimedes and the Door of Science. This appealed to both my history and science loving children. Win: win!
  • Diary of an Edwardian Lady by Edith Holden is old but beautiful. Our copy lives on our nature table usually open at the current month.
  • RSPB Bird field guide. I find that the adult book is more useful than the children's version as it contains details about more species.
  • 13 Bridges Children should know. 
Over to you. What would you recommend?

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