C.S. Lewis once said, “the greater the potential for good in something (man for example), likewise, the greater the potential for evil.” There is a great deal of truth in this rough paraphrase and I think this accurately reflects the challenge and opportunity lying before us as homeschooling parents. More to the point, for us here at the Homeschool Institute of Science, we see this as especially true in science education.
Many of the great educational ideas (none of which are really “new”) of the 20th and 21st century can only ever be realized in home education or in some other type of less conventional educational setting. The constraints of class size, short class periods, mandates, philosophies, etc. make engaging, hands-on learning that emphasizes concepts and application next to impossible in a typical classroom.
I cannot think of any place more suited to science education than the home itself.
All of the necessary ingredients are here:
1. Young and eager minds
2. Parents whose compassion and vision for their children have brought them to take on even greater responsibility for their growth and maturity by deciding to teach their children at home
3. A broad view of what “education” is
Just so you don’t mistake me for a blind idealist let me go on to say again that the greater the potential for good, the greater the potential for evil. We are human and this really sums us up. We get tired; we get lazy; we get distracted; we juggle our family’s needs, children, work, and many, many other balls.
If we can agree that we desire for these initial ingredients to be pillars of our home education efforts than we are all on the same page. Each of these three items will require shoring up, refreshing, adjustments, and commitment to change.
The point of education
Education is one of the holy grails of our society. It carries with it many connotations and the weight of decades of political baggage. It means a thousand different things to a thousand different people. Wealthy and powerful individuals put into motion the liquidation of billions of dollars in the name of various educational partnerships, projects, and efforts annually. All of this and still the most diligent researchers confirm that there is absolutely no way to quantify these efforts. That is because there is no universal measure for how we define success.
Nowhere is this more painfully true than in the sciences. For some with agendas, science education efforts are deemed successful when a certain demographic of the population has been made aware of their incorrect worldview. For some, success means convincing textbook publishers to include or exclude a case study on their favorite “scientifically supported” cause. For yet others, success equals arrival at and implementation of a “common” set of universal standards for teaching science across the nation.
To achieve success and know you have gotten there you have to start by defining it. The Homeschool Institute of Science’s operating definition of success is summed up in our mission statement. “Equipping and empowering parents to bring their homeschool science program to life.”
To be even more bold, we want to bring a hands-on, project-based, S.T.E.M. (Science, technology, engineering, math) integrated education to your family to assist you in building the bridge between your children’s home education and the day they step foot into the work world, an apprenticeship, or a degree program.
We desire nothing more than to help you achieve success in this area of your home education efforts. We do this for the glory of God, the Creator of every single solitary “thing” that we love to investigate!
The project as the curricular unit
Home educators have their own set of labels. Some call themselves simply homeschoolers, some unschoolers, some classical educators, and some just home educators. I am convinced that no one method is best, but rather that the clarity of vision for the path a family has chosen is of primary importance. In this vein of reasoning HIS, Inc. stands strongly on a project-based approach to science education.
Let me lay out two hypothetical situations. Both describe a parent and their science education experiences at home.
You enjoy science and so do your children. You’ve ordered a pretty reliable curriculum. You help set up a few cookbook experiments, mostly involving baking soda and vinegar. Now that the smoke has cleared and the simple experiment is over, you find yourself and your children wondering, “Is that it?” There has got to be something else!
Science just tends to slip between the cracks. With all of the reading, writing, and arithmetic, you just can’t find the time or energy to put together something meaningful for science. There are a lot of resources out there, some you have heard of, plenty you’re skeptical of. All of them take a ton of planning and will the kids even like the activities or learn anything worthwhile?!
If either of these descriptions fit your experiences or your fears for science education at home, join the club! I am a science teacher and I feel this way!
There are way too many facts and agendas and way too few engaging hands-on projects that work well and are satisfying to completion.
To take a step back and be honest, there are a few good homeschooling science curricula out there. Good science texts are important and for the avid reader in your family you may feel that science education is going swimmingly because your eight year old can’t put the new science textbook down.
But what about that tactile learner little sister who wants to create, build, and destroy. Or what about this notion of “applying science concepts” as a way of improving understanding and learning real skills.
Book learning has its limitations. Facts are important but so are skills. When paired together they can produce greater understanding and capability.
“I cannot think of any place more suited to science education than the home itself.”
Yet we often don’t realize this potential.
What you need is a simple, straight-forward approach that is fun and engaging and that effectively connects the concepts of science with opportunities for exciting and fulfilling hands-on application. What you need is Project Based Science Learning (PBSL).
PBSL can be used with children of any learning style and with children of any age. Project based education has been shown to increase motivation, promote independent thinking and problem solving skills, and improve retention. It is easy to integrate with math and technology. Lastly and most importantly it models what happens in the work place by making the unit of study, the project.
Project #1: Paper airplanes
Our first project example is so simple you may be suspicious!
Paper airplanes. Yes paper airplanes! An industrious four-year old can make them with help. There are enough interesting and advanced models to sustain the attention of the teenager. They are cheap and don’t stain the carpet! They are a pretty near perfect example of a simple idea that can be stretched to meet the science needs of the multi-children family.
Before you download our paper airplane project plan, read a bit more about what can be accomplished by a simple well-organized hands-on science project.
We hope you enjoy this project. Please let us know how it worked.
Next week’s blog: S.T.E.M. (Science, technology, engineering, math) Learning