You know what some of the most high-interest subjects with young kids are? Science topics. Young children want to know how and why things work. One of our favorite unit studies ever was on the human body. Little kids love learning about their bodies – space and bugs and volcanoes and…
That’s why books and shows such as The Magic School Bus and The Magic Treehouse are so popular. The “magic” is science. (And sometimes history with The Magic Schoolbus.)
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How Science Becomes Boring
Then, kids get to middle school and high school level, and science becomes boring. It’s not that the magic changes. It’s that we have a tendency to suck all the fun out of it – especially at the high school level.
I’m one of those kids who actually enjoyed high school biology – and I bet I’m not alone – but many teens do not enjoy middle school and high school level science.
There are three ways that we manage to take an amazing topic like science and make it boring.
- Switching from captivating books to dry textbooks
- Not offering enough hands-on learning
- Trying to squeeze teens into a college-bound box, rather than allowing interest-led exploration
There are ways to teach middle school and high school science without draining all the life out of otherwise fascinating topics.
Alternatives to Science Textbooks
Unless you are a particularly science-minded parent, it’s probably difficult to teach the subject without a textbook at all. However, that doesn’t mean you have to depend on it exclusively. Instead, use the book as your spine and:
Supplement with videos. We’ve used and enjoyed Biology 101 and Chemistry 101. We also really enjoy most of the Crash Course videos. (Parents may want to preview these.) And, of course, you can check your local library, Netflix, or Amazon Prime options.
Supplement with books. Let’s just say I wish I’d known about Gregor Mendel: The Friar Who Grew Peas the first time we studied genetics. Yes, it’s a book for younger kids, but don’t discount those. Juvenile books can make a great quick reference book for older kids (and adults) because they tend to strip down the information to the bare essentials making it easy to understand.
You can also add in other types of living books and field guides.
Try online classes. Online courses offer video-based, interactive lessons. If the online classes are live, students also have the opportunity to work with other homeschooled kids. Some resources for live online classes include My Fun Science, CurrClick Live, Apologia Live, and The Academy at Bright Ideas Press (both live and self-paced classes).
Last year, Megan study astronomy with the Experience Astronomy online course. It’s not a live course, but once it starts, a new video lesson comes out each week. There is a field guide with hands-on activities to do with most lessons and a weekly quiz – and I didn’t have to teach anything!
Consider dual enrollment. Yes, dual enrollment will probably bring you back around to dry textbooks, but the class options may offer more variety and be more appealing than what you’re able to provide in your homeschool.
Options for Hands-on Middle School and High School Science
Hands-on science activities can get more expensive – and dangerous – as kids reach middle school and high school age. Still, science labs and experiments are a huge part of keeping the magic of science alive. Try the following ideas for continuing hands-on learning in middle school and high school.
Purchase the right supplies. By the time your teens are in high school, gone are the days when you could complete science lab with household supplies. It’s a good idea to determine what you really need and invest in quality supplies when you can.
Home Science Tools sells a wide variety of science supplies for homeschoolers. We’ve purchased beakers and test tubes from them. They also sell lab kits for many popular science programs, such as Apologia, REAL Science Odyssey, Switched-on-School, and BJU.
Try a Co-op. Co-ops are a great option for science lab classes because they usually have all the pricey equipment (like microscopes and Bunsen burners) and can often get group discounts on other supplies.
You don’t have to do a large co-op, though. You can get together once a week with another family or two for science labs, with the students doing the other work on their own at home. That’s an excellent way to stay accountable and share the cost of supplies.
Look for options online. If you absolutely can’t do a lab yourself, there is likely a YouTube video you can watch. There are lots of virtual dissection options online, and this interactive period table is pretty cool.
Seek out local options. Check for intern, volunteer, or student programs at zoos, aquariums, farms, marine centers, veterinary offices, etc.
Alternatives to Traditional High School Science
One mistake many homeschooling parents (including me) make is trying to force teens into a traditional mold once it’s time to start considering high school credits. Not every teen – even those who are college-bound – needs to take biology, chemistry, and physics.
Consider your teen’s interests when planning their high school science courses. Then, check with potential colleges and universities to see what other science courses are acceptable for incoming freshmen.
Some alternate science courses to consider are:
- Marine Biology
- Forensic Science
- Animal Sciences
Most colleges expect to see at least three lab sciences, but there is often room for interest-led learning within those parameters. In addition to providing a more engaging and personalized high school experience, following your teen’s interests with science credit may just help him stand out in the crowd of college applicants.
What are some of the ways you’ve kept middle school and high school science interesting?
Kris Bales is a newly-retired homeschool mom and the quirky, Christ-following, painfully honest founder (and former owner) of Weird, Unsocialized Homeschoolers. She has a pretty serious addiction to sweet tea and Words with Friends. Kris and her husband of over 30 years are parents to three amazing homeschool grads. They share their home with three dogs, two cats, a ball python, a bearded dragon, and seven birds.