23 Aug 2015

Our AO8 science

As many of you know, I am involved with AmblesideOnline's project implementing a Charlotte Mason science course right through to Year 12. It's really exciting, and I love what we've come up with so far. The only problem is that AO are running just six months behind where Jemimah is in school. Year 8 has just been released, for example, just when Jemimah is about to begin her final term of that year.

This is both good and bad. It's bad because I have to rely on my own decisions, and the beauty of AO is that it is a product of many minds, not just one. That means that my daughter is my guineapig, and I have made mistakes. It is also good, because I get to try the books that the AO science team are considering for later years, and I get to use those books that are OOP or too difficult to source for AO to use, but are the best books otherwise. I also get to use books that I just think look jolly good, and that I think will work for my beautiful girl, even if they mightn't be what we're looking for with AO.

At any rate, our AO8 science is a mix of current AO titles from years 7 and 8 that Jemimah hasn't read yet, books AO are considering or have rejected, Aussie books, and books that I just like the look of just because. You may find some treasures!

Open Air Studies in Australia by Frederick Chapman

I blogged about this book when I fist bought it, and Jemimah finished it last week, reading a chapter a week. This is a geology of Australia, so unless you live nearby, it probably won't be the book for you, but do keep a look out for a geology of your own region. Things make much more sense when you can see what you're reading about. One of the reasons why Charlotte Mason focused on her local region, I guess. This book was wonderful. Take the opportunity of covering the geological time scale during your geology studies. It is worth your child having a familiarity with the names and eras referred to in modern geology, even if your family believes something different. I used the timescale here.

Chemical History of a Candle by Michael Faraday

Oh my, this book has been great. We've been using it along with Kathy Wickward's Study Guide, available on her blog, here, which contains instructions on doing the experiments Faraday demonstrated at home, and we had such fun.


This online quiz is useful for practicing balancing chemical equations, which Kathy touches on briefly. Keep your child doing these until he is proficient. Jemimah actually used this quiz in AO7, but I forgot to tell you about it. Sorry. I really like balancing equations - they're like logic puzzles. Jemimah thinks they're neat too. Yeah, geeky fun.

The Crash Course Chemistry videos on stoichiometry are a good adjunct to this book, which is scheduled in AO8.

Fabre's Book of Insects by J H Fabre

This book is Jean-Henri Fabre's Souvenirs entomologiques, retold by Mrs. Rodolph Stawell and it is just lovely. My edition, the red book on the top of the pile up top, has no illustrations, but I really covet the version illustrated by Edward Detmold. Do try and purchase an illustrated copy if you can. Jemimah's narrations of this book were excellent, and she enjoyed it very much.

Uncorked by Gérard Liger-Belair

This book was clearly written just for me, wasn't it? It's a book all about champagne, and covers the history, physics and art of what is (subjectively) the only wine worth drinking. Ahem. Uncorked is fun and chatty, but covers some quite deep science. We learn, for example, that bubbles don't arise from defects on the inside of the glass, but rather from bubble enucleation cavities in the fibres of paper or cloth found in the glass no matter how clean it is. The busiest of these bubble nurseries produce 30 bubbles per second, and the book shows you the process via a series of exceptionally beautiful micrographs. A perfectly clean glass would produce no bubbles, and that would be a tragedy.

You don't need to drink champagne in order to find this book interesting, but...oh my!...if you do, the book actually is better with some observation of some actual glasses of wine. Never have I had such a perfect excuse to pop a weekly cork! Jemimah, of course, also compares the champagne bubbles to the ones in her Diet Coke.

The Wonder Book of Chemistry by J H Fabre

Another Fabre title, this one from 1922. Again, good news and bad news here. Good, because this is another science book written by the master, himself. The conversational style of science writing contained in this title makes it clear why Charlotte Mason thought so highly of Fabre's science. Bad, it was written in French in1881, back in the early days of chemistry's history, and even by the time it was translated into English in 1921, the information was out of date. Let's not forget that Mendeleev first published his Periodic Table in 1869, only 12 years before this book was written.

So why use it? Because the majority of the chemistry is still sound, and Fabre does an exceptional job of making it all seem simple. All it needs is a little updating. As we study this book, I'm compiling a Study Guide to update the science, as well as give some suggestions on how to do the experiments safely.

Uncle Paul let his two nephews have their say,convinced that ideas thus born of personal observation are worth far more than those adopted on the authority of another. To see is to know.
And it is no vague and imperfect knowledge from hearsay I would have them gain of these fundamental truths, on which depend agriculture and the industrial arts and our health itself; I would have them know these things thoroughly from their own observation and experience. Books here are insufficient, and can serve merely as aids to scientific experiment.

Fabre believed that children had to see the things he talked about in this book with their own eyes, and I must say I agree. Do try to do experiments whenever you can. Hopefully the guide will be out soon, but in the mean time, do try to get hold of some sulphur and iron filings to do the first experiment.

This is a good time to start filling in a Periodic Table of your own, if you haven't had your child do this already. I'll try to give you further information on this in the guide, but in case you're breathing down my neck, and eager to get started, that's what I'd do.

AO schedules this book in AO7.

Microbe Hunters by Paul de Kruif

Only the first chapter, covering the life of Leeuwenhoek is scheduled in AO8, so that's all Jemimah has read, but oh my! This is a wonderful book. Reading biography of great scientists really brings out their dedication for their work, and inspires accuracy and the need for constant repetition.

We look forward to reading more of this, fitting in chronologically with the history we're studying in AO9.


Is anyone still with me? I hadn't realised how many science books we'd used this year until right now. Phew! Anyway, onward...

First Studies of Plant Life by George Atkinson and Botany for Gardeners by Geoff Hodge.

First Studies of Plant Life might be our favourite science book of 2015. It's basically an old fashioned practical botany book, and it encourages observation and experimentation. We've only covered Part I, so far, which has involved growing lots of seedlings and looking at them. It is terrific fun, and we have learnt heaps! AO schedules this book beginning in AO7.

Basically, the book is valuable for its experiments. This is the real reason for the books, mamas, so if you haven't purchased your seeds, hold off until you can get some. You really want to see things growing here.


In conjunction with this book, we've been using a modern book, Botany for Gardeners by Geoff Hodge. It is a particularly pretty book, illustrated with delightful botanical drawings, but it also happens to be practical and informative as well. It's probably best described as a science book for gardeners. It goes a little more into terminology than Atkinson does, but it is written for non-botanists, so the terminology is practical ad useful. You learn terms like 'lateral buds' and 'seed stratification' when you need to use them, not as part of a vocabulary list. I like it because it is more up to date than Atkinson, and uses modern terms. The two books go very well together


Phineas Gage: A Gruesome but True Story About Brain Science by John Fleischman

I first discovered this book at Jen Gagnon's last year, but I'd known the story of Phineas Gage since university days. His is one of those stories that stick with you, and I felt sure that Jemimah would be fascinated by it as well. I was right. This book has been a true highlight of our year.

Phineas Gage was remarkable for surviving a terrible accident in 1848, when a long metal 'tamping iron' was driven through his cheek and out through the top of his head, destroying much of his brain's left frontal lobe. The accident significantly changed his personality and behaviour, and allowed significant advances in neuroscience. The book is fairly short, but teaches an awful lot about what your brain does, and what it is that makes you you. It also covers some pretty in-depth anatomy and physiology, not to mention opening up some deep ethical questions.

We did this book really slowly, focusing on the science parts. It is so great, that we scheduled it for AO8. Hopefully you'll love it as we do.



Great Astronomers by R S Ball

AO8 only has three chapters of this book scheduled, but we were supposed to start it in AO7 and we didn't, so Jemimah has read a few more. She's up to Newton, and is enjoying the delightful Victorian English very much. This is what living science books should look like. Like the Microbe Hunters book, this one is read in concert with the history cycle over a few years.

Adventures with a Microscope by Richard Headstrom

Adventures with a Microscope published 1941, is a delightful book, written in charmingly engaging and informative literary language. Headstrom encourages the child to think for himself, and connects the minutia of the microscope to the larger world of nature. This is one of the main reasons that this book has been chosen over newer books for AO science in years 7 and 8.

Adventures with a Microscope is a great name for a book on microscopy, because through the lens you will discover a whole new world, and you are about to embark of a true adventure of a lifetime. The book is divided into 59 ‘adventures’ into the microscopic world of body, pond, food and plants. It covers such diverse subjects as protozoa, algae, lichens, fungi, mosses, flowers, insects, spiders, blood, hair, fibres and fingerprints. Most of the adventures are terrific fun, and we've had a ball with the 8 adventures we've done so far this year.

I put together a study guide for this book. You'll find it in the right sidebar, see?

Knowing the Atomic Nucleus by R Hobart Ellis

This is a superb book covering the discovery of the atomic nucleus, its structure and behaviour, and explains such difficult things as radioactivity, fission and fusion, in clear understandable language. This is possibly the book that has taught the most this year. It's great if you can get your hands on a copy - it's out of print.

Uncle Tungsten by Oliver Sacks

Sacks reminds me of Henri Fabre, the way he brings the pursuit of science and truth alive. Uncle Tungsten is the memoir of Sacks' childhood, but he also manages to cover almost the whole history of chemistry, as well as infect you with his contagious enthusiasm for chemistry and experiments. I started reading this book aloud to the family when I first heard that Sacks had terminal cancer. It has been wonderful. Just as a heads up, there are a couple of paragraphs that are inappropriate for children. I edited them out on the fly. Phew! Sacks' other books are all wonderful, but you may be disappointed by some of his lifestyle choices if you choose to read his adult memoir published earlier this year.

Why Aren't We Dead Yet by Idan Ben-Barak

Why Aren't We Dead Yet by Aussie author, Idan Ben-Barak, is a witty introduction to our immune system and how we fight off infections. It is absolutely fascinating, and is highly recommended to everybody except the anti-vax brigade, who probably won't like it at all. This is what science books are supposed to be like. We read this one as a family read aloud too.

Napoleon's Buttons by Penny LeCouteur and Jay Burreson

This book is probably the most disappointing for us this year, not because it's not a good book - it is actually fascinating - but because it is more a history of the molecules that have influenced history, than about the molecules themselves, and the chapters a really long. The book does teach a little about organic chemistry, and how the similarity in two molecules often results in a similar chemical action. The other day, for example, we discovered the similarities between molecules contained in coffee, tea and chocolate with those in morphine and heroin. Ahem. I guess that still leaves me champagne...

To make this more useful as a science book, I've taken the opportunity to introduce organic chemistry and its nomenclature. We used this course, but it was sort of overkill. I'll try and find something easier for AO. Poor Jemimah.

Glaucus or The Wonders of the Shore by Charles Kingsley

Imagine Madam How and Lady Why, only instead of a man explaining geology to his son, imagine the same man giving reasons to a father about why he should study the natural history of the seaside on his summer holiday instead of reading on his recliner, and you've got Glaucus. I absolutely delight in this book, but I wasn't sure what Jemimah thought, so I asked her what she thought Kingsley was teaching. She said he thought he wanted to teach people to really see. I liked that answer.

Well, that's 15 books, and I've almost run out of battery, so I'm going to stop there. I'm using an Aussie book for natural history, News from Nature, which I'll blog on another time, and we also have Signs and Seasons for astronomy, but I haven't been very diligent with this book, so I'll just ignore it here. I do hope you find this little wander through our science books for this year. There are some really inspiring treasures amongst them. Let me know what you think.





  1. I love this post. Reading about all of these books makes ME want to read them, and excited to share them with my kids when they are old enough. And I'm not a science person! Thank you so much for the work that you and Kathy and the other science ladies are doing to put this together for those of us who would otherwise lack the confidence to try something new.

  2. These titles look very interesting! I have to fight fear of the unknown though, as science isn't my strong point. I guess we will just take highschool science like everything else, one page at a time! I will learn right along with them. I'm curious about how MANY books you did during the year! That seems like A LOT! I suppose highschoolers can handle a heavier load or maybe your daughter enjoys and needs a lot! I've been commenting faithfully! ;)

  3. This looks amazing! I love that you are a year ahead of me!

  4. Amy, I should have added a caveat: Don't try this at home. I think this many science books may just constitute child abuse. That said, she only really reads on per day. We allow three hours for science per week.

    Thank you for your faithful commenting. ❤️

  5. What I love about this post is that it shows me how much you and your daughter love science, how brave you are to be in the lead, and generous to try all these titles with your girl and share; I also love the titles themselves. I already have several, and I'm fascinated by them all. Like Jen, I want to read them now :) but we are simply delighted with our choices for my girls years. We are loving MHLW, so I'm the most excited about Glaucus. I loved Sack's book The man who mistook... thanks for the warning on Uncle Tungsten.

    Like Amy, I'll take science in the upper years (and even now ;), one day at a time! It's going to be a wonderful time.

    (My oldest loves MHLW and her Nature Reader, the AO recommended choice for y5. With my youngest, we just read about water surface tension, and it came up in a beautiful book Karen Glass recommended this past winter, Crow Lake -I'm almost finished, but I don't want to finish it, sigh, it has been beautiful, I've gobbled it up, couldn't help it.-

  6. Thanks for the lovely review. I believe we will use a few of these as read aloud a so my senior can benefit as well.

  7. What wonderful books and a widespread buffet of educational opportunities! Of course, the Uncorked book caught my eye first!

  8. Do you think any of the titles that are not scheduled in Year 8, such as Fabre's Insects, Glaucus Knowing the Atomic Nucleus will be scheduled in Year 9 or later, or is this something we should try to work in ourselves? They all sound wonderful!

  9. We haven't written years 9-12 yet, Julie, so it's hard to say. Rest assured that we will certainly choose the best books for AO. It's just my poor daughter that gets them all - good, bad and ugly!

  10. Why Aren't We Dead Yet sounds fascinating. That's going into my TBR list. My oldest is Y4, so it's nice that y'all should have science figured out for Y9 and up by the time we get there. =)

  11. WONDERFUL POST! My daughter will be doing AO8 next year. I'm not sure how pure we will go, but I am very interested in many of these books. I know my son will love them when he gets to this year.

  12. I enjoy reading your blog and whetting my appetite. For the study guide for chemical history of the candle, where do you buy science supplies in oz? Also, my son loves science but having just done Exploring creation with anatomy commented that it was enjoyable but all just facts compared to the other Ambleside things he's been reading. Thanks so much, Shona

  13. Have you come across 'First studies in plant life in Australasia' by gillies? Fabulous book using many Australian plants to illustrate principles. Very engaging storied style. Better than Atkinson in this respect but less technical vocab. So could be an adjunct and I plan to use it with younger kids too. Readily available on eBay as reprinted in India. Not sure on quality of reprint. Shona

  14. This was such a helpful post for me as we prepared for year 8 science. I do hope you will do a similar post with the year 9 science you have used. It would be wonderful! Thanks for your blog!


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