• About Farm School

    "There are obviously two educations. One should teach us how to make a living and the other how to live."
    James Adams, from his essay "To 'Be' or to 'Do': A Note on American Education", 1929

    We're a Canadian family of five, farming and home schooling. I'm nowhere near as regular a blogger as I used to be.

    The kids are 16/Grade 11, 14/Grade 9, and 13/Grade 8.

    Contact me at becky.farmschool@gmail.com

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    "If you want a golden rule that will fit everybody, this is it: Have nothing in your houses that you do not know to be useful, or believe to be beautiful."
    William Morris, from his lecture "The Beauty of Life"

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    Gilbert Highet, "The Immortal Profession: The Joys of Teaching and Learning"

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    Alice Roosevelt Longworth

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    Jean Hagen as "Lina Lamont" in "Singin' in the Rain" (1952)
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Tentative high school science plans

I’ve been working for the past few weeks on what I’m going to do for science with Laura from grades 9-12; she’ll be starting 7th grade this fall, but like many home schoolers I feel more comfortable starting to plan sooner rather than later.  Of all three children, Laura, the eldest, has struggled the most with math (though this year has begun to enjoy the subject, perhaps because she’s also now finding it easier), and is also a keen naturalist, animal lover, and excellent young farmer.  Science, as well as math, are the two high school subjects I feel least comfortable winging and feel best having set out as some sort of plan.

My tentative plan, always subject to change, has involved cobbling together my own choices of books, some of which are already on the shelves at home, along with Teaching Company DVDs, based more or less the Well-Trained Mind rotation of biology (9th grade), earth science/astronomy (10th), chemistry (11th), physics (12th).  There’s also the option, I decided the other day, which I’ll give Laura for 12th grade of another year of biology instead of physics, concentrating on something she’d find interesting; in that case, we’d probably work through one or both of the Teaching Company physics courses (see below) over a couple of summers. She can specialize in ornithology, animal behavior, evolution, botany or whatever she chooses. We’d probably sort that out at the end of 10th grade, after two years of high school science.

I’ve selected completely secular textbooks where necessary (rather than “living books”), but I have tried to make sure they are written by experts in their respective fields who, preferably, are also good writers who make the subject engaging, rather than by committee.

A note: there are so many excellent, worthwhile and worthy books and documentary series on the sciences that I had a hard time winnowing things down.  There is probably more winnowing ahead.  As always, my choices were informed by own preferences.  I’m keen on the works of Chet Raymo, Isaac Asimov, and have recently become a fan of Timothy Ferris.  You might have your own favorite scientists and writers, and I urge you not to be confined by my own preferences and prejudices.  This is science, not rocket science, and there’s more than one way to do this.

OVERALL: We’ve been unschooling science for the most part.  Starting this year and next with Laura for 7th and 8th grades, and of course the boys will be around (so they’ll have two sessions), I’d like to go systematically through one of the first Teaching Company courses I bought, “Joy of Science” with Professor Robert Hazen, along with the book Science Matters by Prof. Hazen and James Trefil; I think their textbook version would be overkill for us at this point.  Also, with Laura’s love of her iPod, perhaps too the audiobook version of Bill Bryson’s A Short History of Nearly Everything.

Aside from the four-year breakdown, over the course of high school I’d like to do a light survey of the history of science using the book and new-on-DVD series “The Day the Universe Changed” by James Burke, of “Connections” fame. I’d also like to see each of our children involved at least for one year in high school on the executive of our local naturalist club

BIOLOGY (9th grade): We’re actually going to do a fairly specific farm study, using the provincial Green Certificate program for young farmers, with the specialization of cow-calf beef production.  She’ll also be able to use the program as her 4H project for the year. I’d also like to see if the each of the kids could take a course at the agricultural college in town in connection with the Green Certificate program, in the animal sciences department (anatomy and physiology or genetics of livestock) and/or an internship at the vet clinic. Like most good cattle farmers, we have a copy of Beef Cattle Science by Ensminger on the shelf, for the kids to work through. Also to read: Cattle: An Informal Social History by Laurie Winn Carlson and Raising Steaks: The Life and Times of American Beef by Betty Fussell; possibly the new Beef: The Untold Story of How Milk, Meat, and Muscle Shaped the World by Rimas and Fraser.

The more general stuff we’ll use, especially if we can’t manage to arrange for courses at the local agricultural college: the Teaching Company class “Biology: The Science of Life” taught by Stephen Nowicki of Duke. To read: The Lives of a Cell: Notes of a Biology Watcher by Lewis Thomas; The Way Life Works: The Science Lover’s Illustrated Guide to How Life Grows, Develops, Reproduces, and Gets Along by Mahlon Hoagland and Bert Dodson; if we weren’t planning on the beef cattle approach, I think I’d use Hoagland’s textbook version of The Way Life Works. Also, In a Patch of Fireweed: A Biologist’s Life in the Field by Bernd Heinrich (not as good as his later Snoring Bird, but more manageable for ninth graders).

EARTH SCIENCE/ASTRONOMY (10th grade): the combination “Nature of Earth” courses from the Teaching Company (“An Introduction to Geology” and “Understanding the Universe: An Introduction to Astronomy”), along with 365 Starry Nights: An Introduction to Astronomy for Every Night of the Year by Chet Raymo; Seeing in the Dark: How Amateur Astronomers Are Discovering the Wonders of the Universe by Timothy Ferris; The Crust of Our Earth: An Armchair Traveler’s Guide to the New Geology by Chet Raymo; A Field Manual for the Amateur Geologist: Tools and Activities for Exploring Our Planet by Alan M. Cvancara or The Practical Geologist: The Introductory Guide to the Basics of Geology and to Collecting and Identifying Rocks by Dougal Dixon; Isaac Asimov’s Guide to Earth and Space (for general reference); and The Natural History of Canada by RD Lawrence, for Canadian content. Also perhaps one of New Yorker writer John McPhee’s series on North American geology, Basin and Range, In Suspect Terrain, Rising from the Plains, The Control of Nature, and Assembling California; if you don’t have the individual titles, as I do, you can by the one-volume collection, Annals of the Former World which includes all but Control. Additional DVDs: Timothy Ferris’s “Seeing in the Dark” and “The Creation of the Universe”, and Carl Sagan’s “Cosmos”; and Iain Stewart’s “Earth: The Biography”

CHEMISTRY (11th grade): working through Illustrated Guide to Home Chemistry Experiments: All Lab, No Lecture by Robert Bruce Thompson, with the help of his HomeChemLab website; and either Hands-On Chemistry Activities with Real-Life Applications: Easy-to-Use Labs and Demonstrations for Grades 8-12 by Herr and Cunningham or what WTM recommends (Chemistry: Concepts and Problems: A Self-Teaching Guide by Houk and Post). I don’t know that we’d need the TC course (High School Chemistry) for this, but perhaps. Also to read: Uncle Tungsten by Oliver Sacks; Nature’s Building Blocks: An A-Z Guide to the Elements by John Emsley; Creations of Fire: Chemistry’s Lively History from Alchemy to the Atomic Age by Cathy Cobb and Harold Goldwhite. Also, if necessary, by the co-author (with Basher) of The Periodic Table: Elements with Style!, high school chemistry teacher Adrian Dingle’s chemistry pages; and my own periodic table round-up.

PHYSICS (12th grade): I was leaning toward the WTM recommendations (this and this) until I ran across How Things Work: The Physics of Everyday Life by Louis A. Bloomfield; while/before Laura works through the textbook, I would work through Dr. Bloomfield’s How Everything Works: Making Physics out of the Ordinary. At his reassuring website, Dr. Bloomfield has a guide to physics homeschooling and an instructor resources page.  Plus either “Physics in Your Life”, “Einstein’s Relativity and the Quantum Revolution: Modern Physics for Non-Scientists”, or “Great Ideas of Classical Physics” course from the Teaching Company, and the puzzle/brainteaser books by Franklin Potter and Christopher Jargodzki.

I have to admit I’m also intrigued, more for the boys than for Laura, by Richard Muller’s “Physics for Future Presidents” course (with webcasts) and books (there’s a textbook edition and a general trade edition).  Also intrigued, more for Laura than her brothers, in the classic Physics for Poets by Robert March, which is also an option depending on how things go through high school; I like this additional bibliography. To read: Understanding Physics by Isaac Asimov; First You Build a Cloud: And Other Reflections on Physics as a Way of Life by KC Cole (recommended by JoVE); and, if manageable, Six Easy Pieces: Essentials of Physics By Its Most Brilliant Teacher by Richard Feynman.  On DVD, NOVA/“Einstein’s Big Idea” and NOVA/”Physics: The Elegant Universe”. Free online from MIT, Physics I: Classical Mechanics with Prof. Walter Lewin.  And some Leon Lederer links: FermiLab, and QuarkNet.

*  *  *

Other useful links:

MIT OpenCourseWare

Free online MIT course materials for high school (biology, physics)

Writer, home educating mother, and GeekMom Kathy Ceceri’s Home Biology blog and Home Chemistry blog; be sure to check all the links in the sidebars

The Periodic Table: Elements with Style! co-author Adrian Dingle’s Chemistry Pages

*  *  *

The Farm School Science page (at the top above, to the far right, over the carrot leaves)

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7 Responses

  1. Becky, we just watched Einstein’s Big Idea…it was such a hit in our home. Beautifully done and I loved the emphasis on the 2 women scientists/mathematicians: Mme du Châtelet and Lise Meitner . And despite your fabulous suggestions on my local Audubon and other resources (many thanks by the way!), I still want to be reincarnated in your farm (hopefully not as a cow, though). Great list and thanks for posting it on Living Science too.

  2. Looks like an excellent plan. I found some high school Physics lab workbooks online and bought one (PDF download). I know I blogged about it and it’ll be in my “useful homeschooling links” page if you feel like you want a lab portion to the Physics. That’s so far off you have time to wait.

    I have been very impressed with teh TEaching Company things and using them as a spine seems sensible. I have that Joy of Science set and maybe doing that with Tigger next year would be good, too.

  3. Becky, once again I benefit from your research. Thanks for sharing.

    We are big fans of the Teaching Company and have a growing collection. I’m always happy to learn of other hand-picked titles (as surely there is a limit to the number one can comfortably house in their home?).

  4. Becky we’ve been talking about high school science at our house lately. Thanks so much for your list. I have to laugh – many of your resources are ones on my list as well.

    Ryan and I are working through the Way Life Works right now. I bought it years ago and we are really enjoying it.

  5. Suji, see, you’re already on the way to hs’ing high school! No guarantees on reincarnation around here — it could be as one of the cattle, a chicken, one of the cats, or even a carrot!

    JoVE, thanks for the physics lab book reminder. Will have to take a look and add it to the list, at least for others to consider.

    Rebecca, mostly I wanted a convenient place to store the information until I was ready to use i, but glad it’s helpful. If you find out the TC limit, let me know!

    Karen, from your comments and those on the WTMS list, it seems quite a few others have been able to come up with ideas for a challenging but not overly textbooky approach to science in high school. I’m relieved to see that it *can* be done. And glad to hear that you and R and are enjoying “Way Life Works” : ).

  6. Hi Becky — I was wondering whether you’ve read (but I’m sure you have, you seem to have read *everything*) Natalie Angier’s “The Canon,” which is a rundown of the basic science every thinking person should know. It was in this book that I first heard about the Physics First concept, which I find very sensible. It’s basically the opposite of the WTM science sequence (which is the sequence they taught when I was in HS a century ago). I can’t speak from experience, as I’ve chosen to pursue a completely random sequence, but as you’ve got a couple of years to decide I thought I’d mention it in case you’re interested.

    I just have to say, although our shelves are filled with great, lively science reads, I still can’t make my teens open them (or sit still for the audiobook version). The best I’ve been able to do is sit them down for videos and leave science magazines around that they’ll read at the dinner table, in bed, etc.

    Oh, and speaking of videos, don’t forget http://www.learner.com, which has such series as The World of Chemistry.

  7. Kathy, well, no, not everything! In fact, less for myself than I’d like (though I tried to remedy that with a recent order from Persephone Press, a present to myself) because I think it’s important to keep up on my reading for the “business” of home educating; I need to keep ahead of those kids as much as possible, and keep up on the planning.

    Yes, I did read “The Canon” and unusually for me even managed to post about it (mainly so that I wouldn’t forget when I needed the information); several posts in fact, mostly in May and June of 2007. The main ones were these,

    Science summer school

    The beautiful basics of science

    You can pull up the others by typing “Angier” in the search box above at right.

    At the moment, I’m not sold on using on the book with/for the kids, but it’s good for me to keep up with them.

    Kathy, do you have a specific URL at learner.com? I see lots of dating and singles links which give me pause, one reason why at the kids’ ages now (11 and under) very very little of their education is online!

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