How to Teach Homeschool High School Science and Labs
Before I became The HomeScholar and before I even began homeschooling, I was a nurse. I loved Biology and Chemistry and loved being a nurse. This is one homeschooling mom who loves science! Even so, when I had to teach high school Physics I panicked. I ended up begging my husband, the engineer, to help me. Believe me when I say that I understand not all homeschoolers feel comfortable teaching science, especially high school level.
Which Sciences to Teach?
Are you panicking at the thought of teaching Physics to your high schooler? What if they just can’t tackle the math required? Which sciences do you teach? Do you have to teach all the sciences? Let me put your mind at ease. College Board states:
“Science teaches students to think analytically and apply theories to reality. Laboratory classes let students test what they have learned through hands-on work. Six semesters are recommended. Two semesters in Biology. Two semesters in Chemistry and/or Physics. Two semesters in Earth/Space sciences, Advanced Biology, Advanced Chemistry, or Physics.”
Altogether, that means just three years of high school science: Biology, Chemistry and something else of your choice. Colleges are rarely specific about which sciences! It’s OK for homeschooling parents to provide some delight-directed science courses along with typical Biology-Chemistry-Physics choices. If your child is fascinated by the stars, he or she can study Astronomy. Not all children need to study Physics! I’m a nurse and was required to take Physics in college, but didn’t have to take high school courses to get into college. So relax, your child doesn’t have to take Physics!
If your kids want to get into the sciences or engineering fields, you do need to cover Biology, Chemistry, and hopefully Physics as well. Colleges expect three years of science, but there are a wide variety of sciences to choose from if science isn’t your child’s “thing.” If your child enjoyed Chemistry the first time around, then Advanced Chemistry is a good follow-up. If your child hated Chemistry, then Astronomy, Geology, or Botany might be sciences to consider.
Make sure to ask your child what interests him or her. Your student may want to take a science that is slightly “off the beaten track”. Perhaps your child would prefer ecology, robotics or equine science instead. Make sure your child can be successful in the science you choose. Skipping Physics might be a good idea if your child doesn’t have enough math to be successful. Physics is highly math-based and most textbooks require Pre-Calculus to be successful.
Check the policies of colleges you and your child favor. Some colleges have truly bizarre preferences! But generally, Physics is an unusual class to take in high school. It’s usually recommended only for children who want to major in the sciences at college. Majors such as Political Science, History, or English don’t require Physics.
What About Science Labs?
In particular, the questions I get about teaching science are about how to cover science labs. But what is a science lab? Does anyone know? Not really! There exists no national definition of what a lab science class really is! None. That means freedom for you and your homeschool!
The U.S. House of Representatives Committee on Science and Technology formed a Subcommittee on Research and Science Education and issued a report about lab science that is remarkably clear in its conclusion. The National Research Council’s America’s Lab Report: Investigations in High School Science states:
“The NRC report committee concluded that there exists no commonly agreed upon definition of laboratories in high schools amongst researchers and educators.”
Even though there is no firm definition of what makes a science lab, the term does imply hands-on learning and writing a description of the results. You can even do some experiments in the Earth sciences. You can make almost any science into a hands-on experience, so don’t let the term “science lab” limit you.
In general, when you look at college preparation sites, they don’t mention taking a lab science class every year. As you can see above, College Board mentions three years of science but isn’t specific about the lab requirement. Public universities may have a greater or lesser emphasis in terms of science labs, depending on their preference.
Most colleges do not require documented lab science classes, but some do. Make sure you do your research. Colleges that have specific science requirements will sometimes accept the science portion of the ACT test, a science-based SAT Subject Test, or a science-based AP exam to meet the requirement. However, some colleges don’t require extensive math or science. Their emphasis might be music, art, or a specific trade and general science courses will meet their admission requirements.
What About a Science Curriculum?
I’m a huge fan of Apologia Biology, Chemistry, and Physics. I used it myself, and I even recommend that curriculum for my non-Christian clients because it can be simple to avoid the chapter on creation and evolution with which they may not agree. It can be self-taught and it is easy for non-scientists to understand. Apologia’s Biology, Chemistry, and Physics courses can provide the highest quality college-prep education. However, not everyone loves Apologia and I always encourage parents to use what works for their own child. It’s more important that a curriculum works than if it is popular, inexpensive, or highly rated.
Another source to consider for high school science courses is Home Training Tools. They have a variety of textbooks and lab supplies and kits. They can assist you in finding a curriculum that is a good fit for your child. Consider teaming up with another homeschool family and completing science together to make it more fun. Your children don’t have to be exactly the same age, and that can be especially helpful for children who are social butterflies.
How to Teach a Science Lab
I’m a nurse and I loved every dissection and every microscopy lab we did in our homeschool. Sometimes, I had trouble giving up the microscope for my children to take a turn! I didn’t really teach them anything; they learned on their own. I was always present when they did their experiments – after all, Biology labs include expensive microscopes and wielding sharp dissection tools. They read the lab instructions on their own, followed the directions, and I watched (usually while folding the laundry). In high school, your job is to make sure they do the lab work without getting hurt or blowing anything up. You don’t have to teach or do it yourself. You are the project manager, not the student or teacher. You are simply supervising.
Once the experiment was done, I left my students to do their lab write-ups independently. They wrote a paragraph on the methods taken step-by-step and what they learned, along with a drawing, graph, or chart. Naturally, my children wanted to know the definition of a “paragraph” so I was very clear about writing more than three sentences! The science lab notebook was simply for recording what they did in the science lab. We used a cheap, spiral bound notebook (bought during a back-to-school sale) for our science lab notebook. But you don’t have to use a notebook at all, you can use lined paper or have your child type something up on the computer.
How to Assess Learning
When test time came around, I simply handed them the test and confiscated the solution manual. When they were finished, I graded the tests as they worked on the next subject. I wrote their grades on a piece of notebook paper I kept in their binder and then had them make corrections to the test.
If their lab report was complete and I understood the purpose of the experiment and what their results were from reading them, then I awarded them 100% for that assignment. My children were well prepared for college science labs after completing these lab write-ups in Biology, Chemistry, and Physics at home.
Science at home may seem challenging – even scary at times. If I did it with my children, you can do it with yours! And don’t forget that if science is the thing you dread in your homeschool, make sure to do it first thing in the morning! It’s easy to put things off, but if you are determined to do it first thing each day, you will be sure to get those science classes done each year.
Lee Binz, The HomeScholar, is a dynamic homeschool speaker and author. She is an expert on how to craft a winning homeschool transcript. Lee’s mission is to encourage and equip parents to homeschool through high school. You can find Lee online at www.TheHomeScholar.com and on Facebook at Facebook.com/TheHomeScholar.