Wednesday, August 22, 2007

Science Curricula

When it comes to homeschooling high school students, science is the hardest subject to find a textbook for. The Christian homeschoolers have filled the void for their needs with a variety of Bible-based texts on biology, chemistry, and physics, but there is just about nothing out there for secular homeschoolers. I used entry-level college textbooks when my oldest was a junior and senior in high school, but the level of detail included doesn't work for freshman and sophmores, or for all students. Textbooks for schools don't seem to work out well, either because they have too much busy work, they try too hard to be relevant, or because they assume a teacher who knows the subject well. Science books for a general audience can be great, but they don't always have the formal organization that is part of what I am trying to teach at this age. Some popular surveys, such as the Smithsonian's Science 101 series which covers 101 facts and topics in 202 pages, cover a wide range of topics too briefly to be useful as the primary text. Videos from the Teaching Company have been good for astronomy; they are expensive, but the teachers present all the material well, and follow the same kind of structure that I want. I think the only option I haven't tried is online courses, because they don't suit our routine very well. For now, I organize their science around a popular science book and supplement with reference materials, websites, and lab activities; it works, but it takes a lot of time, and I know it could be, should be better.

What do I want? A book that oganizes the material in the usual formal way (for instance, by kingdoms in biology rather than by ecosystems), that provides hard science but not so many details that the student drowns in it. It needs to be interesting but not cutesy, without a lot of sidebars filled with distracting information or attempts to be relevant to modern teenagers; it should address the reader as an intelligent partner. It should have ideas for related lab experiments or field trips. Ideally, it would include some history, so that my kids get a sense of how science developed and is developing. I want them to see that science is interesting for its own sake, that it changes and evolves over time, that understanding it can help us make sense of the world in ways far outside the classroom. All of which may explain why I can't find it...

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