Friday, May 29, 2015

Planning for 8th Grade Science (First Semester)

It’s been a long time since I’ve done a homeschooling post on the blog. We’re wrapping up 7th grade year in the next week or two, so I’m busy pulling together the portfolio of the year (made more fun this year by not having a working printer in the house)! But that means I am also in one of my favorite parts of homeschooling: planning coursework for the fall.

We rely rather loosely on a classical framework, which among other things has meant that we’ve done history and science in four year cycles. The history cycle is ancient, medieval, early modern, and modern, and the science cycle is life science, earth science, chemistry, and physics. In the grammar years, it was basically an introduction to those topics, while the logic (mid-grade) years have given us a chance to press deeper into the topics and focus a bit more within each. For instance, last year (roughly 6th grade) we spent part of the year on general earth science, covered geology in a more in-depth unit, and then did close to a semester of astronomy. 7th didn’t lend itself to quite so many nifty detours, as we basically stuck to mid-grade chemistry the whole way, but chemistry lends itself to more lab-work, which the sweet girl enjoys.

For 8th grade, I’ve been going back and forth for a while about what to do. Our introduction to physics, back in the grammar years (4th grade) did not go too well. It was due to a lot of things: a harder year overall as we moved toward the logic stage, a curriculum I bought with great enthusiasm, thinking it would work for us, only to find that it really didn’t, and the fact that I have very little aptitude for teaching physics. The bottom line may simply be that it’s also the branch of science that holds almost no interest for S. I’m sure it would have helped if I could have lit a metaphorical fire under her and sparked that interest early, but alas, it didn’t happen.

Knowing that we’re approaching what should be a physics year in the cycle again, I think we’ve both been feeling a bit worried about what we’ll do. Since part of the beauty of homeschooling is that we get to play to our strengths, part of me thought of just dropping it entirely and moving straight back into the life sciences. Then again, another beauty of homeschooling, at least from my perspective, is that we can encourage a student to try something again or to stick with things that may feel harder without too much grading pressure. The learning is the adventure. If it turns out not to be your favorite subject – eh, that’s okay. But at least you can say you gave it a try and got a taste of it.

With that in mind, I’ve decided to compromise. For eighth grade, we’re going to do one semester of physics, and one of botany. The botany will give us a jump on biology in high school, and will also give the sweet girl something to look forward to in spring semester after working hard in the fall at something that isn’t as much her cup of tea.

This has turned out to be incredibly freeing for me as a teacher too. I find that planning in semester implements can feel much less daunting than planning a whole year. It helps me to think outside the box in turns of resources, including the use of resources that might make a great unit or cover several weeks, but wouldn’t work for a whole course. And I’m very happy with what I’ve managed to put together so far, though I can’t actually build the course schedule until I get some things ordered, which probably won’t be till part-way through June.

Here’s what I’m planning to use:

Physics for Middle School by Rebecca Keller, PhD
Despite the fact that they’re a bit pricey for our budget, we love these resources from Gravitas. We’ve used both their astronomy and chemistry books for the mid-grade year. Basically the text provides ten lessons and the accompanying lab book provides labs that go with each of the ten lessons. One of the things I appreciate about them is that they are well-organized, covering important topics in the field at age-appropriate levels. Because they’re good at covering important/key concepts, I can use them as jumping off places to help the sweet girl find other reading and resources that build on the information in the text. They’re also nicely designed, with colorful images and good-sized text in a slick looking paperback that feels approachable to hold and read. Finally, the teacher’s guide actually offers some further information and some possible stepping-off points for discussion.

Developing Critical Thinking Through Science, Book 2
(Critical Thinking Company)
Since S. is a hands-on kind of learner, I wanted to make sure we have at least one more good lab resource on hand, and I’m hoping this will prove to be useful. The description I’ve read indicates that most of the labs can be done with household items and a few other things you might need to buy ahead. I think it’s technically listed as “grades 4-8” which means there are probably some easier/some harder lab options throughout, which will give S. a chance to ease into things.

Exploring the World of Physics by John Hudson Tiner
(Master Books)
I can’t tell you how happy I was to discover Tiner’s Exploring the World of Chemistry this year. We found it late, alas, but we’re still trying to get it all in because we’ve enjoyed it that much. He does a fine job of looking into the history of a scientific discipline, stopping along the way to explain concepts that were discovered or developed. The writing is an interesting combination of straightforward and yet complex when it comes to the actual science being described or explained. S. enjoys exploring the history of science and has liked the Chemistry book, so I’m planning to weave the Physics book in and around the lessons and labs from our other resources. I’ve also discovered that Memoria Press provides supplemental questions and even quizzes/tests based on Tiner’s series, so I plan to pick that up as well.

I’ve already got Botany plans in the work for second semester, but I’m still exploring resources, so I’ll share more about that later.

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