Monday, March 20, 2017

The Hunt for High School Homeschool Physics Curriculum

This will likely be my longest curriculum post EVER. Unless you're on the quest for high school physics for your own homeschooler, you're not likely to find this helpful or interesting. You've been warned.

Written at the end of 8th Grade: 

It took all year, but we finally found a physics curriculum that we enjoy...just in time for high school! We've had a great introduction to physics this year through Khan Academy, but it also had it's very frustrating moments. Khan Academy has good videos but does not include resources for reinforcing lesson materials or for DOING something with concepts (labs, etc...). This means that the material goes by too fast and retention is low.

We're looking forward to digging in more using The Physics Classroom, a free online resource for physics teachers and homeschoolers. We did invest $25 to order to CD with answers to the free worksheets. The CD is fabulous and includes the answer worksheets in both Word and PDF formats, as well as all the regular worksheets without answers. The answer sheets include detailed explanations, not just the short answer!

The Physics Classroom has a broad range of resources and appears to be growing constantly! The site includes online text, with sample problems embedded in the materials. Students read the text, solve the sample problem, and then click a button to reveal the answer. There are interactive demonstrations and games, suggested labs, ACT prep tests, and "Minds on Physics" modules for students to complete to demonstrate mastery of the material (using a mobile app). The mobile app comes in six student parts, each costing $1. If you wish to have a teacher account to award credit to your student, the teacher account is $50. If the student is logged in "for credit" they get a status bar and "health points." Unfortunately, when we tried the app there were clearly a lot of bugs still to be worked out, and we didn't use it.

November: 9th grade...

At the beginning of the year, I had a bit of a crisis about whether The Physics Classroom was going to cover everything we wanted with the rigor we wanted. So, I caved in and purchased the Holt McDougal Physics Homeschool Package. This was the worst homeschool curriculum mistake I have ever made. I am NOT kidding.

The homeschool package comes with a "premium" online teacher edition, which is completely impossible to navigate. Both the regular teacher's edition and the premium version are part of the package, and the parent/teacher has to sort out which materials are in which version because the premium version is simply a supplement, requiring clicking back and forth between the general teacher text and the premium content.

Only some of the problems in the student text actually have step by step solutions in the solution manual, though this is marketed to homeschoolers as a ready-to-go curriculum. Headings do not match between the teacher or student text, which means that I spent inordinate amounts of time trying to match the questions up to see if I was looking at the right problem set.

Teacher materials were organized by category (labs, quizzes, presentation materials, worksheets), rather than sequentially. Perhaps, if I had paper copies of all of these things, I could lay them out on a desk together to make plans for what to use and when, but having them online means flipping back and forth between tabs or windows constantly. Requiring the use of drop-down menus to select only discreet portions of chapter and text, rather than having all the materials for an entire chapter in one place also made it extremely difficult to reference back and forth in a chapter efficiently. I felt that I had access to a whole lot of really wonderful AND totally useless material.

In addition, there was no indication on the website that the online access to teacher materials expires in a year. I did not find this out until I received my access code. It was my impression from the website that I was purchasing a curriculum PACKAGE, not just a student text with one year of online access to teacher text, solutions, supplements, labs, and assessment tools. If I had known this I would have never, never, never purchased the "package," especially at this price. A package, in my opinion, includes more than one item.

Finally, when I called the company and begged for a refund (past the 30 day return, my bad), I was offered a paper copy of the teacher text, which, theoretically, might solve some of the problems. They said they'd send me a link in my email. They did. They send a link for me to PURCHASE the $150 Teacher Edition.  No thank you. I didn't have the will to call them back, though I should have. Again, my bad.

And, so, we went back to The Physics Classroom. I realized upon our return to The Physics Classroom that part of the reason we'd been struggling so much with the Holt text was that the explanations were both wordy and poor. The Physics Classroom teaches much of the same material more succinctly, and they do it much better. I found that the Holt book was actually skipping steps in the explanations, though the text uses way more words. Ugh. After completing another unit of The Physics Classroom, I had Mane take the Holt test for the corresponding chapter. She passed the test just fine.

But then...
In February, I realized that, although The Physics Classroom is tremendously well organized, understandable, and affordable...we were dragging our feet to get to physics every day. Now, I'll take responsibility for the fact that this is partly my fault. I had a personal crisis or realizing that my child is being cheated out of having a teacher who can actually make a the physics connects, relate fascinating examples, and pull out labs and activities to demonstrate concepts. The thing is, I'm not a physics teacher. I took physics in high school and enjoyed it. I can understand the physics textbooks. But I don't have enough experience with the material to really grab a student's attention with stories and examples. This is the plight of homeschooling. I had to make some peace with that. But that's for another post.

Perhaps the biggest downfall of The Physics Classroom is that the labs are not embedded. They have links to great labs, but they aren't part of the curriculum. They're scattered throughout the internet on other websites. The Physics Classroom people have done an extraordinary amount of work gathering resources and providing links. But, unless I put a lot of time into planning, I can't make this work for us. I need embedded labs. And I also know that labs and stories are the only things that are going to save Mane from hating physics forever. Yes, she's getting the materials (concepts, equations, and application) from The Physics Classroom, and she's getting them really well. But she's bored and views physics as just another math class.

So, I started researching. There are so many interesting podcasts, books, and movies related to physics, but I'm not in any position to cobble them together into a curriculum, and I don't want to abandon the math and equations altogether.

Then I found Guest Hollow's Conceptual Physics for High School. It is marketed as math-free, but there are optional math components (which we'll surely be using). We're on week 3. Yes, we switched. Yes, it's March. Yes, I feel a little insane. But we are SO HAPPY. Guest Hollow's curriculum is a schedule of books, movies, activities, TED Ed videos, and labs that brings all those wonderful resources together in a coherent way.

This kind of switch is not for everyone. And I confess to some trepidation. I talked with Mango all weekend long before we decided to switch. He's a high school teacher and familiar with the necessary material for doing well on the ACT. He's also put a lot of thought into what it really means to prepare students for what they want to do in life. Yes, Mane is capable of completing a very math-oriented physics program. But how will it serve her? She's a storyteller. She loves to write. If we want to give her any hope of becoming a "real" writer, she needs a foundation of stories. She also needs a foundation of the fundamental concepts and principles that make the world work. J. K. Rowling could not have written the Harry Potter series to be the rich, nuanced, and complex story that it is without the foundation of a solid education. It doesn't have to be a traditional education, but it has to be broad and deep. That's how we view the Guest Hollow curriculum. It's full of the books that make the connections between physics and real life. The books are full of history and philosophy. The movies tell the stories of real people involved in real physics in a way that kind of makes you want to try it yourself. The videos and labs are quick, fun, and memorable.

If all goes well, we'll be using this curriculum throughout the summer. It's engaging enough to consider it a fun summer family activity!

P.S. In case you're worried, the math that Mane needs to be successful on college entrance exams is included both in her actual math text (Saxon) and in the optional portion of Guest Hollow. We may also supplement to be sure the use of equations is reinforced. Likely, there will be a follow up post when we're finished. I'll let you know how it goes.

Saturday, May 28, 2016

The Story of Science

“I’m convinced, and I hope to convince you, that science is not just for scientists. In the twentieth century, we compartmentalized knowledge; in the information age, that doesn’t make sense. Today, you can be a hermit on a mountain peak and still have access to the world’s learning. For scholarship to be so available, so democratic, is unprecedented in world history. To use that opportunity well, we all need to be generalists first. And no field of knowledge is as basic or as creative as science. . . . that human quest to understand the universe underlies almost all other creativity."
-A Writer’s Reasons, from The Story of Science, Aristotle Leads the Way
The above quote is from Joy Hakim's website. She is the author of a 3-part series called "The Story of Science." We've been slowly making our way through the first book, Aristotle Leads the Way, this year, alongside our studies of physics and history and philosophy. This is the book that ties so much of the subject matter together. Early scientists were writers and philosophers. They were historians and mathematicians. The science could not be separated out into it's own compartment, the way it so often is now.  We find ourselves frequently moving from this book to the Ponderables books on Philosophy, Math, and Physics.

We've been using the companion student workbook, which is helpful for reinforcing material, but I'm not sure we'll use the workbook for the next book, as we're using Hakim's books as a supplement, rather than a core. One could certainly use it as a core curriculum in middle school (5th-8th grades?). The material is very readable and could be a great science spine in earlier years. (And this is exactly the kind of material that makes me want to homeschool another child through the younger years now that I've learned the ropes!!) As an older student, Mane is studying more detailed and technical science material. This book has been a great "story" to tie it all together and to make sense of how science impacts the world. And, although it's very readable for younger students, it is fantastically well-written and appealing to older students and adults...sort of in the way a great, classic picture book can have layers of meaning.

Friday, May 27, 2016

The Thinking Toolbox

A fabulous follow-up to The Fallacy Detective, The Thinking Toolbox has been a delightful addition to our logic studies this year. Again, I appreciate the formatting of these books - a quick lesson with examples and cartoons followed by a quiz. The quiz is typically 10-15 scenarios that relate to topics from the current and previous chapters. So, students circle back around to previous material on a regular basis. This book has a generous and light-hearted way of covering subjects like the difference between friendly, respectful arguing and angry, disrespectful arguing. The word "argument" generally gets a bad rap, but it isn't necessarily negative. It's how we argue that determines whether it's a positive or negative conversation. The book also covers scenarios when it is not appropriate to argue and when pointing out the logic in a situation is counter-productive. This is a lesson we could all probably stand to learn! The examples range from silly to serious and frequently targeting political, theological, and cultural issues: the existence of God, evolution, and taxes.

A side note: These books do have a political and religious bias. It isn't overwhelming. I just see it popping up in the use of particular examples. Examples regarding the existence of God are obviously biased toward faith and belief, rather than atheism (which is fine with us, since we believe in God). This book presents a sample conversation near the beginning that seemed to favor young-earth creationism. One could easily extend the example, though, to discuss responses to the arguments presented. The authors do not take a position, though they do discuss how the creationist was able to make his argument better by planning for the responses of the evolutionist. It's a valuable lesson about looking at your own argument from the opposite perspective. Overall, it's not enough to stop me from recommending this book to others.

Tuesday, May 24, 2016

Philosophy for Kids

We received Philosophy for Kids by David A. White as a Christmas gift in December from Grandma Philosopher...and we've been answering questions like "What is Friendship?" "How do we define intelligence?" and "Is charity a human obligation?" ever since...
The book is laid out in a fairly simple format. Each chapter/question is about 3 pages long and presents a question along with the perspectives of 1 or 2 well-known philosophers. The author leads the student through a series of questions to sort out their own thoughts and finishes the chapter with MORE questions for further discussion or writing. We've been using those final questions as writing assignments. By the time we're finished with this book, Mane will have her own philosophy book! We've enjoyed working through the questions and making connections to The Story of Science (more on that in another post) and the Ponderables Philosophy book:

Environmental Science

Hey...I wrote this back in September 2015 and forgot to hit "publish"... 

This school year we've making a lot of connections...connections between history and politics...between fields of science like biology and physics...and between science and our lives...  We've done a lot of exploring the connection between the food we eat, the environment we live in, the air we breathe, the products we produce, and the money & politics connected to those products. Here's a list of some of the things we've read, movies we've watched, and websites we've used so far:

1) It started with the audiobook version of Animal, Vegetable, Miracle by Barbara Kingsolver with Steven L. Hopp (Kingsolver's husband) and Camille Kingsolver (Barbara Kingsolver's daughter) . I was reading it for book club, and I was reading huge chunks of it our loud to the family. Finally, I just started playing the audiobook for everyone. I became part of the daily conversation to talk about where the food in our fridge originated. We started making a point of checking labels before we bought...not for nutritional information but for location. We took this statement to heart from Kingsolver's book:
“If every U.S. citizen ate just one meal a week (any meal) composed of locally and organically raised meats and produce, we would reduce our country’s oil consumption by over 1.1 million barrels of oil every week (Steven L. Hopp, p. 5)
I wouldn't reach for this book a whole lot sooner than 7th or 8th grade, and I wouldn't expect even an 8th grader to care about every single word of the book...but as background audio while knitting, drawing, or painting, it was perfect. The chapters by Camille Kingsolver were especially helpful in making the book "user friendly" for a younger audience. The audiobook is read by all 3 authors. So, the listener literally hears the change in voice and perspective.

2) We started visiting farmer's markets and discovered the rules for our local markets. Just because a food is at the market does not mean it's local. I've had to jump out of my introverted comfort zone to converse with food vendors about their food. Mane had the experience of learning how a local Hmong family grows peanuts in Minnesota. (Yes, peanuts in Minnesota!!) 

3) We used the Minnesota Grown website to learn about what is in season when in Minnesota. 

4) We started listening to the Climate Change podcast on public radio.

5) Back in 2009, Mane and I attended a pre-release showing of No Impact Man at the Walker Art Center and heard Colin Beaven speak in person. This year we shared the movie with some friends and watched it again. (A word of caution: The language is not all rated G and pregnancy loss is mentioned in the film.) The movie such a contrast to Barbara Kingsolver's book. Kingsolver and her family carefully planned (for several years, actually) how they would spend a year eating locally. Colin Beaven and his wife, Michelle, jumped into their "no impact" project with very little preparation. It's interesting to see people coming at the challenge of living differently from some extreme ends of the spectrum, and it was a great opportunity to reflect with Mane on how change is a process. 

6) Then we watched Food, Inc., a difficult but valuable film. We learned to look away when the scenes got a little too graphic. This movie brought our focus in from local eating to ethical eating. A friend of mine talks about her daughter, who won't eat a chicken unless it's been hugged. This film brought us to that place...where we want to know how our food has been grown, not just where

7) We started to move out from the food discussion and into a discussion of plastic consumption with the movie Addicted to Plastic. You can see a brief presentation with a few of the relevant facts here: Addicted to Plastic by Jamie Lamourt.

8) Today we watched Plastic Paradise. As I type, Mane is creating a blog post for her own blog of things she learned from the film. (Another word of caution: The film shows scientists cutting open dead birds to see all the plastic inside their bodies. Not for the weak-of-stomach.)

9) AND we freaked out a little bit about plastic in our clothes...

There's been a fair amount of talk in educational circles about how and when to present environmental issues to children. There's some argument about how much is too much and whether too much information too early has the backward effect of depressing children, rather than inspiring them.

UPDATE in May 2016:
It has certainly been a year of tackling the environmental issues! Mane wrote a blog post for her Go Green Club on the problem of plastics in the world, we followed our local political movement toward getting plastic bags out of Minneapolis stores, and we've converted to bar soap and re-fill-able shampoo bottles! We're currently working on solving the problem of plastic use while camping. (It's really easy to put everything in the cooler in a ziploc!) And we're wondering about hosting the Bible study kids for outdoor summer play without plastic toys. I would say that, far from depressing Mane, she's been so inspired by the current movements toward reducing plastic use and production. And she's still working toward making a difference in our corner of the world.

Thursday, June 11, 2015

Thousand Word Thursday - Friend Groups

Who says homeschoolers are unsocialized?! Mane is part of both of these groups on a weekly basis. Such fabulous kids!

Homeschool Group

Swim Team

Wednesday, June 10, 2015

Make your own Bubble Tea!

After a trek to two different Asian grocery stores, we came home to make our very own bubble tea! Mane was pining after some good bubble tea after standing out in the hot sun this morning. She's a particular fan of mango smoothies with lychees jellies and tapioca pearls. I'm not a fan of spending $4 for a beverage at the bubble tea place. So, we set out to have a cultural cooking experience and make our own!

Our first stop was Shuang Hur Oriental Market on Nicollet Avenue. (This is where we bought banana leaves to wrap the lembas for Mane's Lord of the Rings birthday party.) We found lychee jellies at Shuang Hur. Here's Mane dropping them in mango orange juice (not quite a mango smoothie, but still very yummy):
Clearly, we have enough lychee jellies to last us for quite some time! We could not find tapioca pearls at Shuang Hur, though. So, we headed over to United Noodles, right off Franklin and Cedar. There we found, not only tapioca pearls, but also a giant assortment of tea, Chinese herbs, sauce, rice noodles, incense, curry, etc, etc, etc... We came home with rice wine for marinading chicken, bok choy, ginger, and snap peas. Mango is planning to do some cooking tomorrow!
Multi-Colored Tapioca Pearls!
We are looking forward to visiting United Noodles again very soon! Shuang Hur was smaller and had a meat market that didn't smell so great. They are still totally the place to go if you need banana leaves or if you want to see a live lobster. But for a bigger, cleaner store, we recommend United Noodles, which smelled a lot like black licorice...

Tuesday, June 9, 2015

Niagara Cave and the Alohomora podcasts...

Over Memorial weekend we found ourselves in serious need of a daytrip. So, we took Mango to see Niagara Cave in Harmony, MN. Mane and I went on the cave tour last summer and thought it was great. We knew Mango would love it, and the drive was a good excuse to spend some time together without so many distractions.

We listened to Alohomora podcasts for part of the drive. We've gotten hooked on them over the past several months...while cleaning the house and doing puzzles and driving in the car. If you're a Harry Potter fan, you're sure to enjoy these podcasts. The hosts are conducting a "global re-read" of the series with weekly analysis of each individual chapter! They're currently reading Half-Blood Prince, but all the podcasts are available for download.

In any case, the rain stopped long enough for us to get a photo outside the cave:

It's awfully difficult to get photos inside:

It's like an underground canyon. Sometimes you can see the walls go up 150 feet overhead! The underground waterfall is amazing! The cave stays a steady 48 degrees Fahrenheit and damp all year. We especially enjoyed seeing the chapel, the echo chamber, and the mineral deposits that glow in the dark after you shine a black light on them. The tour is a mile long walk, covering 250 stairs. So, it's not for the faint of heart...or the claustrophobic. For those of us who had been sitting in the car for several hours, it was welcome exercise!

Monday, June 8, 2015

Game Schooling - Munchkin Quest

Looking for a fun, humorous, strategy game to play on a long, rainy evening? Munchkin Quest is your answer!  Be warned that it takes a while to learn how to play. And the game cards can be slightly inappropriate - in a medieval and/or renaissance fair kind of way. I wouldn't attempt to play with kids under 12. Having said that, it's one of our games of choice for a family game night. Players build the board as they go. Every time a player adds a new room to the board, a monster appears, and they have to fight the monster by combining dice rolls with the cards they have in play. As players defeat monsters, they move up levels until they return to the center of the board and fight the "Boss Monster" to win the game. Turns are long and can include adding new rooms, fighting monsters, running from monsters, dropping treasure, searching for treasure, scoring cards, and giving charity! (This gives other players plenty of time to eat all the snacks, get something to drink, and change the music!) It's a great game for practicing strategy and logic...and laughing a lot!

Friday, June 5, 2015

Tour De Nature Centers - Westwood Hills

Westwood Hills is a little nature center tucked in next to a residential area in St. Louis Park, MN. We were tired of the indoors and decided to go have a picnic with friends the other day.  We spread out our picnic blanket under the trees near the fort-building area and not far from the playground:
We walked the Children's Nest Egg path to discover the nest lined with shiny metallic "feathers" reflecting the trees and the sky:
Finally, we went for a walk in the woods, where a daddy goose was standing guard on the path. We stayed out of his way after he started hissing and walking straight toward the 3yr old!

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