Our final post in this series focuses on what our homeschooling looks like for the topics of science & engineering; nature; history; geography; and religious studies.
Science & Engineering
At the start of the year, Bean10 asked if she could study genetics and Bean8 was keen to do more chemistry experiments. So, I decided to opt for a cell biology and genetics course. The cell biology would provide the grounding needed to study genetics and also ample opportunity for hands on experiments to suit Bean8’s requirements.
I’ve yet to find a really good science curriculum, so I tend to plan my own instead, pulling in a variety of resources. This time I designed it in collaboration with another home ed mum and her 13-year-old son. The three children started the cell biology back in May and are thoroughly enjoying it. Bean8 looks up to the 13-year-old, which means he’s keen to concentrate in our sessions to keep up with the older two (he’s doing a really good job, bless him)! Last term, they covered the structure of a prokaryotic and eukaryotic cell; specialised cells and their functions; the basic food groups and how to test for each type; enzymes and the factors affecting them; and osmosis/diffusion/active transport.
I think it’s important, especially for Bean8, to ensure the course is as hands on as possible. So, we’ve done many experiments together from testing the effect of different pHs on how quickly the amylase enzyme breaks down starch to maltose; to using Visking tubing to see osmosis in action. After each experiment, they write them up using the standard scientific protocol of hypothesis, method, results and conclusions. As proof of how much they loved the sessions, they all asked to continue through the summer holidays – but both of us mums needed a break!
This new term, we started with a review of the work they’ve covered so far (using the questions from this GCSE Question book) and have just started on the genetics element. To introduce this topic, we used this Discovering DNA book by Be Naturally Curious. I’d really recommend this series of books, particularly if you want to introduce a complex scientific concept in a simple, easy-to-understand way for a younger audience, combined with simple experiments to support their learning. We’ve used several of these in the past from the Plate Tectonics to Molecules are Everywhere selections, and they’ve all been a hit.
Our first genetics session saw them getting to grips with the structure of DNA and the complementary base pairing system by constructing a paper model (from the book), along with one made of liquorice and fruit pastilles. Then, they extracted some DNA from strawberries. I can’t tell you how excited they were to actually be able to touch real DNA! They’ve excitedly shown everyone who’s been through our door since!!
This week, we reviewed the DNA structure, discussed how the triplet code system works to code for each amino acid, many of which are then in turn connected to form an individual protein. I invested in this KNEX set to help them understand the concepts in a more concrete way. This certainly helps to embed their learning. Using this kit today, they built the double helix model for themselves.
We’ll then move onto DNA replication, cell division and protein synthesis. Next, it’s on to learning about Mendel’s discoveries and genetic inheritance, natural selection and evolution. We’re using the Pearson Edexcel International GCSE Biology and GCSE Edexcel Biology books as our spines, along with a variety of other resources, such as these fun simple books: Gene Machines and Have a Nice DNA, and the odd Khan Academy lesson. We’ll also weave in some day trips together to Darwin’s house: Down House and the Science Museum. I’ll share more of the detail of our plans in a separate post for those interested.
Our studies will probably take us up to Feb at which point I’ll open it out to the kids to see which topics they fancy learning about next. They’ve both expressed an interest in finding out more about light, sound and forces.
One of Bean8’s passions is engineering, and so, whilst Bean10 works on her online drama lessons, he has time (and support from me) to design and build hands on projects. Our focus will be learning through doing. He’ll be using these kits (which we already had from birthday and Christmas presents) to support his learning:
- Discovering STEM, Structures Buildings & Bridges – he loves this set, so much so that I’m tempted to invest in a couple of the others in the collection for Christmas!
- Snapcircuits Kit
- Lego Simple and Powered Machines – you can download associated lesson plans and problem-solving tasks with this set from the Lego Education site.
- Electric Motor Kit
- Spitfire Construction Kit
Along with some ideas he fancies making from these links:
- 35 Fun DIY Engineering Projects
- Top 10 Engineering Science Projects
- 10 Fun Engineering Projects for Curious Kids
An important part of our week, which we’ve included ever since we started home educating, is our weekly afternoon with the local home ed group. It’s nearly always based outside, either in the woods, the meadow or down on the beach and is normally completely unstructured. A chance for them to play and discover the natural world in whatever way they see fit.
In the last six months, they’ve used this time to complete a John Muir Award, with its four main challenges: discovering a wild space (or spaces in our case), exploring them, conserving and sharing their experiences. By the end of October, they will have spent 55 hours in these wild spaces, completing a variety of projects from bee counts to nature-themed poetry to using quadrats to estimate daisy populations. They’ve also participated in a project to plant annual and perennial plants to attract bee populations on the green in their local town, in association with the Bumblebee Conservation Trust. They’ll finish off with the sharing part of their project by presenting their work as a group to the Town Council at the end of next month.
Since the start of our home ed journey, we’ve used the Story of the World, by Susan Wise Bauer, as the spine for our history studies. This curriculum teaches world history in chronological order. Where it links into important British events, we then spend a couple of weeks expanding on the topic to fully cover the content of our local history. As both children enjoy this curriculum, we’ll continue working through Book Three. We’re up to Louis XIV – The Sun King – and will work our way through to the Victorian Empire by the end of the year.
To make it easier for me, I bought Book Three’s audiobook from Amazon.com. Each week, the Beans listen to the two or three relevant tracks for the week; I ask them some comprehension questions from the activity book; and they write a summary of the key events. There is then a corresponding piece of mapwork to complete, which helps them picture where in the world these events took place.
What really brings this curriculum to life though are the living history books for the topic/time period which we read during our morning basket. For each chapter, there are recommendations of supporting literature – I usually select one or two options from here or use the recommendations from Give Your Child the World by Jamie Martin, which has a historical index at the back for you to find literature by time period.
If there are a lot of books which I think they’d be interested in, we’ll read some together during morning basket, one as a read aloud in the evening, and then others they’ll read individually. For example, for the American Revolution, we’ll read: If You Lived at the Time of the American Revolution, the Midnight Ride of Paul Revere, and a chapter about George III from our Kings & Queens of England book together; and they’ll both read Johnny Tremain (a fictional book set during the time of the Boston Tea Party and the Battle of Lexington) on their own.
We also support their learning in this area by listening to relevant audiobooks (Naxos Junior Classics have some great selections such as Our Island Story Volume 3 from James I to Queen Victoria) in the car and watching documentaries over dinner. For example, they’ve just watched a couple of documentaries about Versailles to complement their study of Louis XIV. Where appropriate, we’ll also weave in day trips to museums or places of historical interest. For example, last year, they had a day’s immersive experience on the Golden Hinde to learn about sea exploration during Drake’s time.
Throughout our three-month travels in the East earlier in the year, they had many first-hand experiences of the religions of Buddhism, Hinduism and Islam. This school year, we’re going to focus in depth on our own religion: Christianity, and specifically Catholicism. Although it’s a few years down the line, if we decide to do GCSEs at home, they’d both like to sit Religious Studies. We’d opt for AQA Specification B, which allows them to study Catholic Christianity alongside Judaism.
To support this, we’ll study one aspect of this specification initially: St. Mark’s Gospel. They are already very familiar with it thanks to the weekly Sunday children’s liturgy sessions, but it’ll be good to snuggle up together to read, absorb and discuss the meanings of each section. Once we’ve read through the Gospel, we’ll use this book – GCSE AQA Religious Studies St. Mark’s Gospel – to work through it in more detail section by section, discussing the themes, summarising key points, completing the suggested activities and memorising important quotes/passages.
And finally, we always start our days with a prayer chosen or composed by each of us in turn, which I believe is the best way to start any morning 🙂
We won’t have time to do geography every week this year, so instead we’ll focus on two key areas: 1) UK Physical Landscapes and 2) Coastal Landscapes, and fit it in where we can. For the first topic, we’re using the UK Study Book alongside the associated activity book to find out more about the different regions of the UK (since we’ve studied a great deal about other countries but not that much about our own!). In addition to this, they each have a UK Geography file broken down by county and when they visit a new area, the plan is for them to stick in photos and write a brief excerpt of what they did there. In early summer next year, we’re planning to take our homeschool on the road for a mini UK roadtrip. I’m going to ask the Beans to plan our route and activities using this book, and also give them responsibility for budgeting the trip.
For Coastal Landscapes, I intend to use this GCSE Geography book as our spine with its workbook, along with experiments from this book and You Tube clips about the various coastal landforms. A visit to the Dorset coastline in summer will then allow them to see many of the landforms they’ve studied first-hand.
And that’s it folks! Lots of exciting topics to get our teeth into! Next week’s post will be focused on how we bring all these elements together into a weekly schedule. I hope sharing this information has been helpful, please feel free to comment below if you have any questions.