Science in the Home School. ERIC Digest.
by Lorson, Mark
If your child is among the 700,000 to 1,150,000 currently being schooled
at home in the United States (Ray, 1996), you may have questions about
the science he or she should be learning. Though children schooled at home
perform quite well on achievement tests and are often placed at higher
grade levels than their peers in school, (Rudner, 1999), decisions have
to be made about the specific science skills and content to be learned.
Parents who are looking to the future and are emphasizing math, science,
and reading proficiency (Rieseberg, 1995) will want to align their home
school programs with professional, state, and national standards.
The "National Science Education Standards" (National Research Council,
1996) present an outline of what students need to know, understand, and
be able to do at different grade levels to be considered scientifically
literate. The "Standards" are having a strong influence on state curriculum
frameworks and proficiency tests, so aligning science learning in the home
school with the national standards will provide students with the preparation
they need to enter high school or college with science backgrounds comparable
to their peers who attended public schools. Another good guide, the "Benchmarks
for Science Literacy" (American Association for the Advancement of Science,
1993), provides specific goals for learning in science, mathematics, and
technology by the end of grades 2, 5, 8, and 12. Schools around the country
have used the Benchmarks to fashion their science curricula around topic
areas that where first presented in "Science for all Americans" (1989).
Other good sources of curriculum ideas are the individual state science
curriculum frameworks. These frameworks suggest what concepts and skills
should be developed by school science programs, and they define the topics,
skills, and concepts covered on state proficiency examinations. For an
example see "The Science Activities Manual: K-8," developed to support
adoption of the Tennessee Science Curriculum Framework: K-8 (See online
at http://www.utm.edu/departments/ed/cece/SAMK8.shtml). Also, many county
and local school districts have developed K-12 science curriculum guides
for parents schooling their children at home.
SOURCES OF LESSONS AND ACTIVITIES
Most homeschoolers use commercially developed science teaching materials.
These materials are often available directly from the publishers and provide
all of the necessary materials to study particular concepts on specific
topics. Since they are self-contained units, they are fairly easy to use.
The lessons usually include hands-on activities using materials that are
easily found around the home. These materials may not, however, be well
aligned with the national or state standards for science education.
Other publishers such as TOPS Learning Systems (See online at http://www.topscience.org.)
provide science curricula on specific topics, such as magnets or light,
that can be easily investigated by students. Each lesson includes hands-on
activities which put the student in direct contact with the phenomena being
A good source of information about simple activities and tips for doing
science with children is "Helping your child learn science," produced by
the U.S. Department of Education and available online at http://www.ed.gov/pubs/parents/Science/.
Other good sources of science activities and concepts include the many
books written by Vicki Cobb and Janice Van Cleave. Each book provides ideas,
activities, and experiments which can be performed at home and if desired,
developed into larger, more comprehensive lessons. Other good activity
sourcebooks include "Explorabook: A Kid's Science Museum in a Book; Exploratorium
Snackbook;" and the "NatureScope Activity Books" (by the National Wildlife
Federation). Finally, there are many lessons and activities online, many
of which have been identified in another ERIC Digest, "Using the Internet
to Enrich Science Teaching and Learning," available from ERIC/CSMEE [(800)
276-0462] or online at http://www.ericse.org/digests.html.
Teaching science at home requires the availability of several quality
reference materials. Williams (1995) suggested that reference materials
found in the home library include a set of encyclopedias either in book
form or on CD- ROM, a current atlas and globe, an almanac, a science timeline
such as "Timetables of Science," and several reference textbooks on the
science topics being studied.
General reference books can include materials such as "ZooBooks" (which
study different families of wild animals with each issue), regular education
science textbooks, "Ranger Rick," "Your Big Backyard," "Time-Life" books,
"I Wonder Why" books, "Read About" books, "Just Ask" books, "Golden" books,
"National A Society" books, "Peterson Guides, Learn to Read/Read to Learn
Science" Series, and "Golden Guides." Other suggestions about what to have
available in the home are provided in another ERIC Digest, "Helping Your
Child with Science," available from ERIC/CSMEE [(800) 276-0462] or online
Other useful reference sources include magazines such as "Discover,"
"Scientific American," "Science Weekly," and "Popular Science." Many television
programs also investigate scientific concepts and often suggest or provide
activities for viewers to do at home. Often, they also demonstrate many
phenomena that are not easily studied at home or school. Popular programs
include "NOVA;" "Bill Nye, the Science Guy;" "Scientific American Frontiers;"
"Beakman's World;" "Newton's Apple" and many National Geographic Specials.
For families with access to cable TV, the Learning Channel and the Discovery
Channel are also good supplements to science study.
Program guides are available for much of the daytime programming on
public television stations. These guides present an entire school year's
program calendar and often provide dates and times for block feeds of entire
science series. Several instructional programs have instructor information
available, including discussion items, questions, activities, supplemental
readings, and evaluation materials.
The local library, of course, is one of the best places for homeschoolers
to find reference materials. Public libraries provide a wealth of science
reference information, and many libraries supply free access to the Internet.
The library is a valuable source of activities and materials which can
complement the homeschooling curriculum. Libraries often provide story
hours; career and college information; magazines, journals, and activity
books; access to curriculum guides; speakers; displays; globes, charts,
and maps; volunteer programs; interlibrary loan materials; and computer
hardware and software.
Also available at many libraries is access to the ERIC database. Contained
within the database are thousands of citations and documents related to
lessons and activities on science topics ranging from preschool to post-college.
The ERIC database can also be accessed online through the World Wide Web
about science activities or curricula can obtain help in searching the
database by contacting the AskERIC website at: http://ericir.sunsite.syr.edu/.
ERIC also has a webpage with pointers to science lessons at: http://ericir.syr.edu/Virtual/Lessons/Science/index.html.
More information and links to science resources can be found at http://www.ericse.org.
Other sources of local science information and activities include aquariums,
arboretums, natural history museums, regional science centers, local parks,
nearby streams and lakes, state and federal parks and forests, and state
historical society centers. Sometimes local businesses and factories conduct
tours of their plants which can provide a wealth of first hand knowledge
about science and technology.
It would seem particularly important for those schooling their children
in the home to provide a personal computer equipped with a CD drive and
Internet access. There are many commercially available CD-ROM discs containing
science activities and computer simulations. Some computer simulations
allow students to perform experimental methods and practice their science
process skills. Access to the Internet allows students to research hundreds
of topics and find additional activities to perform and investigate. Selected
sites are listed below, and links to many more can be found online at http://www.ericse.org.
Sites are also available where students can pose questions to working scientists
who personally answer the questions. Although not the complete answer to
homeschooling in science, Internet access can greatly increase the amount
of science information available to students.
Another homeschooling strategy that is growing in popularity is distance
learning over the Internet. Each student becomes affiliated with a larger
group that includes a facilitator who guides the students through lessons.
With this arrangement, students are able to ask questions which are answered
immediately by the facilitator. This method is also popular because the
parent is no longer the only adult responsible for the children's learning
and course completion (Natale, 1995). As use of the Internet for distant
learning becomes more widespread, additional distance learning options
will surely develop.
Another resource available to children schooled at home in most states
is the local public school. Students can attend selected classes during
the day or use the school library for reference materials. If a homeschool
facilitator feels unable to adequately cover a particular curriculum subject,
he or she may elect to have the student attend the local public school
for the relevant course.
SELECTED INTERNET SITES FOR SCIENCE
ACCESS ERIC-Information on the ERIC system and brochures on homeschooling
in general. http://www.accesseric.org/resources/parent/parent.html
ERIC Clearinghouse for Science, Mathematics, and Environmental Education
The Eisenhower National Clearing-house for Mathematics and Science Education
Exploratorium Home Page http://isaac.exploratorium.edu
Science Friday Kids Connection http://www.npr.org/programs/sfkids/
Math and Science Gateway http://www.tc.cornell.edu/Edu/MathSciGateway/
Robert Krampf's Science Education Company-Activities and links. http://members.aol.com/krampf/links.html
The MAD Scientist Network http://www.madsci.org/
The Science Spiders http://www.sciencespiders.com/TheScienceSpiders/scinet.htm
American Association for the Advancement of Science. (1989). "Science
for all Americans." Washington, DC: Author. (See description online at
American Association for the Advancement of Science. (1993). "Benchmarks
for science literacy." New York: Oxford University Press. (Available online
Natale, Jo Anna (1995). Home, but not alone. "American School Board
Journal," 182(7) 34-36. [EJ 506 542]
National Research Council. (1996). "National science education standards."
Washington, DC: National Academy Press. (Available online at: http://www.nap.edu/readingroom/books/nses/html/overview.html)
Ray, B.D. (1996). Home education research fact sheet IIb (available
online from the National Home Education Research Institute at: http://www.nheri.org)
Rieseberg, R.L. (1995). Home learning, technology, and tomorrow's workplace.
"TECHNOS," 4(1), 12-17 [EJ 499 868]
Rudner, L. M. (1999). Scholastic Achievement and Demographic Characteristics
of Home School Students in 1998. "Education Policy Analysis Archives,"
7(8). Available online at http://olam.ed.asu.edu/epaa/v7n8/.
Williams, Jane A. (1995). How to stock a home library inexpensively
(3rd ed.). Placerville, CA: Bluestocking Press. [ED 397 858]