22 May 2013

Science without textbooks?

Before I start writing about science, I want to get one thing clear. I use Charlotte Mason's methods with my daughter because they work for her. I consider it Providential that it was the first homeschooling method I looked at, because not only did it resonate with me as a philosophy, but when I did give it a go, it turned out to be the method that worked best for my student. There are certain other methods of homeschooling that also appeal to me in an academic way. Bits of  classical homeschooling, for example, or the method that is used by many gifted homeschoolers (whatever that is called). When I look further into these methods, though, I realise that they just would not work with Jemimah. And given that there is only one child in my homeschool, that would be a bit foolish, wouldn't it?

The reason that I have read so deeply into Mason's writings is not to discover more about her philosophy of education; I am not a philosopher. I read because I learned quite quickly that the Charlotte Mason method worked best when it was followed completely, following not only her 20 Principles, but all of the practices that follow on from these - activities that seem quite simple by themselves but actually link together into a very complex and clever system. A 'philosophy', I guess.  The closer I followed the method, the better my daughter learned. For me, it was as simple as that.
The reader will say with truth,––"I knew all this before and have always acted more or less on these principles"; and I can only point to the unusual results we obtain through adhering not 'more or less,' but strictly to the principles and practices I have indicated. I suppose the difficulties are of the sort that Lister had to contend with; every surgeon knew that his instruments and appurtenances should be kept clean, but the saving of millions of lives has resulted from the adoption of the great surgeon's antiseptic treatment; that is from the substitution of exact principles scrupulously applied for the rather casual 'more or less' methods of earlier days.

Charlotte Mason Toward a Philosophy of Education p19.

Next year with AO Jemimah will begin the HEO years - House of Education Online.  In Australia we call it High School.  She'll be in Year 7.  It's hard to believe.  My little girl.  You've watched her grow up into a delightful young lady here on A Peaceful Day

When I first started homeschooling, that was the question people asked: "Will you continue through high school?"  It is a big one, isn't it?  I've been thinking a lot about this recently, and it's raised a lot of questions of its own.

Q. What does Jemimah want to be when she leaves school?
A. At the moment she wants to be a vet.  That may change. She's 11.

Q. Does she have the academic ability to attend my alma mater, The University of Melbourne or one of the other top universities that offer this course?
A. Yes, but she may not have the personal application and determination.

Q. Do I plan on homeschooling right through to Year 12?
A. One day at a time.  Some days yes; others, not so much.

Q. Can I continue to teach her using the methods that work best for her?
A. That's the million dollar question.

These questions naturally lead me to thinking about a secondary curriculum that remained true to Charlotte Mason methods and my daughter's learning requirements, her areas of strength and weakness, but one that will also will cover the key learning areas that she will be required to cover if the does move into Tertiary education in Australia. Now for the humanities I am perfectly happy with Ambleside Online. The Advisory ladies have done a sublime job at designing a curriculum that is as close as possible to Charlotte Mason. It works for Jemimah; it works for me. With maths I am happy with the English style maths of MEP for the time being. Looking through my niece's Year 9 Pearson school maths book, I am satisfied that Jemimah remains a grade or two above her year level (Jemimah is officially in Victorian Grade 5.)

Science, though, had me worried. Maybe that should be in the present tense. In the primary levels, AO emulates CM with an emphasis on nature study and a close, focused observation of creation as a means to know God. (Observation is one of those skills in a CM education that is simple alone, but which done regularly has so many complex outcomes.) I am really happy with the science knowledge that my daughter has obtained thus far using nature study along with AO's wonderful living science book selection. From Year 7 onward, though, AO commences using the Apologia science curriculum. Now Apologia is Christian. That's a plus, but it is so, so, American. That's a huge minus. I wanted an integrated science, I didn't want science as a whole to be separated into one subject - chemistry or physics or biology - per year;  science doesn't work like that. Not in real life. It also doesn't work that way in Aussie schools, where kids just do 'science' until Year 11. The thing that worried me most about Apologia, though, is that it is a boring textbook. I looked through the sample pages online, and my heart sank, because I knew instantly that my daughter would absolutely hate science taught like that.

And so, at the beginning of this year I commenced putting together a Living Science curriculum.  I started rereading what Miss Mason had to say about science.  And in Volume 6 that's quite a lot.

I found this:
The only sound method of teaching science is to afford a due combination of field or laboratory work, with such literary comments and amplifications as the subject affords. p223
And this:
(T)he teaching of science in our schools has lost much of its educative value through a fatal and quite unnecessary divorce between science and the 'humanities.' p223
And this:
Books dealing with science as with history, say, should be of a literary character, and we should probably be more scientific as a people if we scrapped all the text-books which swell publishers' lists and nearly all the chalk expended so freely on our blackboards. The French mind has appreciated the fact that the approach to science as to other subjects should be more or less literary, that the principles which underlie science are at the same time so simple, so profound and so far-reaching that the due setting forth of these provokes what is almost an emotional response; these principles are therefore meet subjects for literary treatment, while the details of their application are so technical and so minute as, except by way of illustration,––to be unnecessary for school work or for general knowledge. p218-219
And this:
It is a wide programme founded on the educational rights of man; wide, but we may not say it is impossible nor may we pick and choose and educate him in this direction but not in that. We may not even make choice between science and the 'humanities.' Our part it seems to me is to give a child a vital hold upon as many as possible of those wide relationships proper to him. Shelley offers us the key to education when he speaks of "understanding that grows bright gazing on many truths." p157
And this:
Where science does not teach a child to wonder and admire it has perhaps no educative value. p224
And this:
We have considered in a previous chapter what we do for children as inhabitants of a world ordered by natural law. Here we have a contention with some teachers of science who maintain that a child can only learn what he discovers for himself de novo. The theory is plausible, but the practice is disappointingly narrow and inexpansive. The teacher has got his knowledge through books; why then are they taboo for the children? Probably the reason is that text-books of science are desiccated to the last degree, so the teacher hopes to make up for their dryness by familiar talk about the Hydra, for example, as a creature capable of close friendships, about the sea-anemone as a 'Granny' of enormous longevity; that is, the interest of the subject is made to depend upon side issues. p275
All of this inspired me to try to put together a science sequence that would engender a wonder and admiration of science.  One that was clothed in literary language. One that provided many wide relationships.  One that was taught the same way the humanities are taught.  One that came from my Christian worldview. One that would work for my student...and her mother.

First things first.  I was not about to throw the baby out with the bath water.  AO has served me well, thus far, and I trust it to continue doing to.  That said, I happily included AO's science recommendations in my year's work.  Secondly, being a tad nervous, I added our science reading into our family read alouds instead of burdening my daughter with extra school work. As a consequence I had to make it fun.  Thirdly, I planned to demonstrate everything I possible could to demonstrate and aid in understanding.

I've been trying our new science plan now for six months, and so far I've been absolutely delighted with how it's going.  I'm going to tell you exactly what we've done, but I'm going to tell you in another post, because blogger has already made me rewrite this post after it disappeared into cyberspace along with the Jubjub, and so I've decided to divide it into two.  Also, this is long enough that you've probably dozed off already.

The biggest challenge for me is finding living books to cover the areas included in Australia's National Curriculum.  Like it or not, it will be in place when Jemimah is applying for University placement, and so I do need to take it into consideration.  When I look at year 7 she has already covered everything but earth science. That gives me hope. There are some great living books out there.  Perhaps I can just teach her the rest myself without a text.  Daunting, but possible. 

I also worry about including enough Christian content.  There are few good Christian science authors out there.  The emphasis there is on the good.  There are some, though.  I realise that I will need to include secular science authors, but I don't want to turn my daughter into an atheist, you know?

There are still many, many i's to be dotted and t's to be crossed.  There are lots of bridges to cross.  I'm really glad my daughter is only in Grade 5.  The thing that makes me determined to succeed, though, takes me back to the beginning of this [post.  Charlotte Mason's methods have served me well so far.  I'm confident they will continue to do so into the high school years as well.

AO6 Living Science Curriculum a la A Peaceful Day coming soon.

Thank you for reading and putting up with my waffle.  Have any of you ever attempted living science through secondary school?  What barriers did you come up against?


  1. I was educated in British state schools all the way through, and therefore received a secular science education. I don't know what you would define as a Christian science education (there are so many different approaches) but I wanted to reassure you that learning about evolution, physics, chemistry etc and all the other aspects of science that seem to leave no room for God hasn't shaken my faith at all. At some point Jemimah will encounter beliefs that don't match up well with what she has been taught and believes, and it might be better if she does that while you're around to help her work through it and figure out what it means for her faith. In the end I see science as simply being one of many ways to discover the awesomeness of God's creation. Good luck! May

  2. First, a couple of disclaimers:

    1) I have no idea about Charlotte Mason. I did a bit of skim-reading research when I started to think about homeschooling, but most of the "philosophies" where one person (Mason, Steiner, etc) has determined how and what to to make me nervous.

    2) Although raised as a Catholic, I am no longer a Christian. It wasn't just my interest in science that brings me to this point in my spiritual life, but it certainly was a factor.

    3) I used to teach science in high schools. As a paid teacher.

    So, bearing the above caveats in mind, I think it's great you are trying to develop your own "curriculum". It's what I do for all my kids learning. I rarely purchase ready-made textbooks or workbooks or "curriculum". I roughly map out the outcomes from the (NSW) syllabus (and next year, the Australian curriculm) that I think are relevant to us - some above age level, some at age level. Then I find ways to explore those, in ways that I think will interest my kids. Then I try to search out resources.

    Some will be books (from the bookshop, from Amazon etc, some e-books, some second-hand). Some will be online courses (loving Coursera - we have just started Introductory Physics!). Some are free printables (I like lapbooks for science - minimal writing for my writing-phobic kids, but still some record of learning). Some are actually textbooks from when I was teaching, but we rarely do the questions, just read the text.

    You might cover this in your next post, but I also think in science that it's important not just to cover Knowledge (you know, facts), but also develop skills - first hand investigations, research, writing (oh no), presentation, graphing, tables etc. That we it also connects with other KLAs (maths, english, often HSIE). And it is really important to understand HOW science is done - first hand investigations, scientific method, the difference between theories, laws, hypotheses etc - so we become scientifically literate and can engage in sensible discussions about science and technology in our world.

    OK, off soap box now!!!

  3. Cant wait to see what you've come up with, Jeanne! This is an inspiring post.

    You say you're going to continue with British style maths after MEP but I'd love to know more specifics as to what you'll use as I'm starting to think about looking at post MEP math ...

  4. I know I mentioned this before, but I hope you will take a look at Barb's Harmony Art Mom--she took her kids thru American high school with Charlotte Mason and lists her choices and WHY she chose them.

    I know you are on the right track! 11 is a bit young to be worrying about the end result--kids change their minds about careers and interests and you've done a fabulous job of supporting her in both regards.

    For all parents; One thing I've seen working in a university (a Christian one) is that many homeschoolers are impatient when having to use traditional classroom lessons and materials--they've ENJOYED learning and don't like it to be boring! Ha! Now, I'm not saying bore any kid to death for practice, but I do think having a textbook or two around to refer to can help with this. So too, can taking a coop or other class or two here and there where they meet different expectations. This can help that transition to University. I've also seen students educated in American extreme young Earth Christian homeschooling science programs gobsmacked that others believe differently and they are left outraged or speechless. Just two cents from the university perspective!! And yes, a Christian University that unashamedly teaches a Christian world view!

    Can't wait to see your curriculum, Jeanne--i know there will be additions to my own "to read" list!!!!

    Lisa @ http://hopewellmomschoolreborn.blogspot.com/

  5. Oh, goodie, Jeanne, I was wondering when you were going to get around to doing this for me ; ) Ditto what you said regarding Apologia. You will enjoy talking with Jennifer Larnder Gagnon, at the LER as she presented on textbook-free CM science through Grade 12 last year. She blogs at http://belikefabre.blogspot.com . You'll also see some CM-style Science notebooks by highschoolers on display at LER.

    This has been on my mind a lot lately as Max is heading into 6th and I want to get through grade 12 tentatively planned out. I am planning on looking through the "Exploring the World of....Mathematics/Chemistry/Biology/Medicine etc.

    Can't wait to hear more!

  6. Oops, I just saw your pretty face at belikeFabre. You are always one step ahead : )

  7. Looks wonderful--can't wait to see what you choose. Jen at Wildflower and Marbles (http://wildflowersandmarbles.blogspot.com/) has been doing a textbook-free, rigorous, CM-style science curriculum with her highschooler--there are probably some good resources there as well! She has all her booklists up on "The Paper Stuff" part of her website. :)

  8. I will be keen to see what you come up with. We love science here. We have been using the Apologia science books along with lapbooking/journalling, watching you tube and doing experiments. Funnily enough my girls LOVE Apologia Astronomy yet hate Apologia Flying Creatures. I confess (cause I sort of agree with them) I am skipping parts of it and trying to build it up with more interesting books and activities. I have been thinking of using Apologia Anatomy when we finish Astronomy but want a good look at the book first to make sure I wont be listening to non-stop groaning.

    The US learning is a bit annoying in them too as some terms and places just go over our heads.

    We have also used Real Science for Kids, which everyone really loves but it's just very expensive. And we follow Steve Spangler experiments, etc and simply work from a LOT of experiment books.

  9. Thanks for all the suggestions, ladies. Keep them coming please!

  10. Hi Jeanne - I've been following your blog for a couple months now and I love it! As a science-lover who learned little useful science in school until late high school I find this idea quite intriguing. I believe most of my early science knowledge came from my science-loving dad. My four kiddos are still quite young (I'll start AO1 with the oldest in the fall) but it never hurts to think ahead, right?

    A book you might find helpful on thinking through the science from a Christian perspective is "Redeeming Science" by Vern Poythress. It is one of the most carefully written books on science I've seen from a Christian, balancing the complexities seen in science with the glory of God's creation and a firm belief in God's inspired word.

  11. Jeanne
    As you may have gleaned we use lots of living books for science, we have also found text books have a place though our children enjoy more 'living books' text (ie such as John Hudson Tiner), we also use online youtubes and academies and science programs on TV and DVDs. So a mix, and experiments and inventions etc are all part of the mix. Oh and lots of science talk, to be truthful this is more led by Dad but certainly all part of developing an interest and engaging them. Our third child is working towards entering a science course at University so it works:)

    Thinking you would enjoy my friend Jen's plans who uses a total living book approach

    and lots of the discussions we have over at 4real, very much CM influenced there, some brilliant links and suggestions in this post

  12. And from that discussion I realised there are two ladies in that discussion who talk about a living approach to science alot on their blogs

    Theresa also has a fantastic science blog, linked to at the beginning of the above 4real discussion.
    and Angela

    and be sure to follow the links in the 4real talk to macbeth's opinion, I give my children any of those titles our library has, and check out the authors other books.

    looking at my blog I realise I haven't written about science alot, blush, but stay tuned I'm committed to a post on this very topic next week.

  13. You can do this! Wonderful job on all you've done so far. Keep on keeping on!

  14. Thank you for writing a living science curriculum for AO Jeanne! Now I only wish you lived in NSW so I can be even more lazy and ask how you link it to the outcomes ;-)


I'd love you to leave me a message. Tell me what you like - and what you don't. Just remember that this is what we do in our family - it doesn't have to be what you do in yours...