Discussion of experiences related to homeschooling and science education

Hi, Kendra, I am a fellow Sonlight user. (I’m CJinOAX over on the Sonlight forums, in case you ever pop in over there.)

Bookshark, which is basically Sonlight with the Christian content removed (so it can be used by people who can get vouchers or tax credits for non-sectarian materials) has a seventh grade science program, if you are interested. I think they just started offering science this year. If you like the SL approach and want to carry on with it through jr. high, it might be worth looking at: http://www.bookshark.com/level-7/science/science-7-package/

Also the Bookshark 6th grade package is different, it has replacements for the Icons of Evolution and Evolution the Grand Experiment apologetics type books that the Sonlight G package has. Instead it has a chemistry and a genetics book. Something to check out maybe. :relaxed:

Thanks Christy. I can’t believe I’ve never heard of Bookshark! Did you use this with your kids? It looks very similar to Sonlight in approach. Thanks for the info. I am finding as my kids get older I am having to create my own curriculum by picking and choosing from different venders. And in regards to the science side of it, it is hard for us nonscience folks to know what is the quality material and what is a waste of time.


I can get a missionary discount from Sonlight, so I have never used Bookshark, though I look at their website from time to time. Sometimes I order the Bookshark books that aren’t included in the Sonlight cores, because they are usually good ones. But as I understand it, it really is almost the same thing. Some of my Sonlight friends have been ordering from Bookshark because you could get the LA separate and digital IGs, which until today (April 1 being when the 2016 line goes up and they have made changes to the for IGs this coming year), was not the case with Sonlight. And I think the reading load was lighter and the schedule was 4 day, so some people really liked that. I think the IGs even have the same authors as the SL IGs, but John Holzmann has edited them and adapted them so they are “secular.” Some people who ran charter schools and some people in states where homeschoolers can apply for funding under voucher systems or by organizing as charter schools had bugged them for years to do something like that so that public funds could be used to pay for the materials. (Plus a lot of secular homeschoolers used Sonlight in spite of its Christian content since it was pretty easy to adapt, and John and Sarita realized they were having more and more trouble keeping the two ends of the continuum of their customer base satisfied.) So John started Bookshark about three years ago I think.

Personally, I wanted to move away from the “just read a pile of books” approach for middle school and do something more structured. My kids are almost exactly the same age as yours. (5/05, 2/07, 9/08). We did Sonlight Science A, B, C (which I rewrote for my youngers because I hate that totally outdated Usborne Book of Knowledge as a spine. I used DK First Nature Encyclopedia and DK First Body Encyclopedia instead) and D. We did one year with Exploration Education Physical Science. This year for 5th I have used CPO Earth Science and an earth science lab book and kit from Home Science Tools and I’ve made up my own plans. Next year I’m going to do something similar with CPO Life Science, and then for 7th I’m going to use Hewitt Conceptual Physical Science Explorations. I wanted more math incorporated into science in middle school and I didn’t really see that happening with the Sonlight cores, though maybe there is some in the TOPS projects.

I transitioned easily - kids are pretty flexible…

I have good memories of the school. Good friends, kind teachers - and I was too young to notice the program was as bad as it was.

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Thanks again to everyone who has contributed here. I’m really encouraged by the number of people who care about this topic.

There is a bunch I’d love to respond to, but I’m short on time now, so let me mention one issue that has huge ramifications for how I handle science education with my son. The issue is that my wife and I are not in accord on how we think about this. I want to be very circumspect in how and how much I discuss her views on this forum, so let me leave it for now that we don’t see eye to eye on this and that complicates the way forward with our homeschooling.

She has indicated a willingness to try to understand my viewpoints better, but these are not easy conversations to have, especially in the midst of what has been a very challenging few years for us in other ways.

I am very much hoping to hear Dr. Haarsma speak in DC on 9 April, and I have invited my wife to come as well. Her initial response was favorable, but there are some logistical challenges in either or both of us being able to make it. For those who are so inclined, I’d appreciate you praying that we both will be there and that the presentation would lead to some productive conversations.


Very interesting info in regards to the connection between Sonlight and Bookshark. I understand the need for some structure with Sonlight, though I have improvised along the way and I don’t follow the curriculum to the letter. I feel more confident changing things up and adding to the LA and history as this is what I taught at the high school level. However, my confidence wanes in teaching/picking my science curriculum.

The more I discover about different science curricula the more I realize that Sonlight’s won’t do for middle/high school. I am not a science major, yet I desire to provide my kids with the best science education I can give them. And I realize that math and science are key in our world right now, so I want them to be well prepared. So, my question to you and to anyone else is, how do you determine what curriculum is worthy of investing in and teaching to your kids? Especially as there are quite a few out there. How did you determine that CPO science was a good one? What drew you to it? Did science standards in your state influence your decision?

I find that people choose curriculum based upon what works for their lifestyle, personal preference and what skills and abilities they want to nurture in their kids. A few of the homeschoolers that I know base their decisions on whether it comes from a Christian perspective and less about intellectual rigor. For me, I want both. I use Sonlight because I love the emphasis on reading, history, and narration and discussion verses test taking. However, the longer I use it the more I see areas that I have to fill in or replace with better material or as in the case with science, totally different curriculum. That is the beauty of being a homeschooler; you can teach to your kids individual needs and you don’t have to stick to one set, school mandated curriculum.

I have a question for you as a professor of biology. What areas of weakness are you seeing in your students, particularly as freshmen in regards to their knowledge of science? What aren’t the schools teaching kids that you think is important? How do you think your colleagues would answer that question? Reflecting on my own experience with high school science, the approach was teach the information(with minimal hands on), test the student, move on the the next subject. Needless to say, I quickly forgot most of it and found the process completely uninspiring! Homeschooling allows you to introduce concepts at an early age, do as many hands on experiments as time permits and build upon them throughout their school years, which allows for better retention. However, I want to know from people like you what you think parents should do more to improve upon this.

And just to add a kudos to you…your Evolution Basics series was amazing! You are gifted in communicating complex information in a way that is easily digested by the general public. Have you ever thought of writing something for a younger audience? No pressure:)

I know how you feel about not feeling quite competent to the task of picking science curriculum. Added to the dilemma is the fact that I don’t really trust the average home school mom’s judgment on this topic. I really wished someone who knew what they were doing would just tell me what to use.

I did a lot of searches and read a lot of threads on the Well Trained Mind Forum. (And after each one, I’d have to go say ten affirming things to myself in the mirror, because nothing makes a dormant inferiority complex flare up like fifteen minutes on WTM boards. :flushed: ) CPO came up as recommended by a lot by people who had science backgrounds. Another program people liked used a science companion curriculum that Johns-Hopkins University developed to go along with Joy Hakim’s The Story of Science history of science textbooks. I have the Hakim books, but I decided to just incorporate readings from them into 6th and 7th grade world history instead.

CPO is not amazing and using it involves a certain amount of work. I read everything to my daughter because I don’t have a teacher’s edition or answer keys and I have to work out all the answers myself. I’ve had to make up my own tests and schedule and figure out how to fit in labs from a different program (The labs designed to go with the CPO program require expensive equipment and school-based laboratories) In many ways, textbooks are more “boring” than the more visually stimulating and detailed ways my kids are used to having information presented.

But like you said, at least you know that secualr texts are tied into national science and math standards. I spent some time talking to Douglas Hayhoe when he was in Mexico visiting his daughter (The daughter who is not a famous climatologist is a friend of mine and a linguist in the same organization as me.). He is pretty much an expert on science curriculum and science teacher training and has consulted for a number of textbook publishers. His advice was to avoid the homeschool publishers and use any of the major secular textbook publishers. All of them have at least been reviewed by PhDs and are correlated to standards. (Not that you still won’t find a bunch of embarrassing typos in them…)

There are digital versions of the CPO textbook posted online by various school districts if you want to check them out: Earth Science, Physical Science, Life Science Hard copies aren’t hard to find used from various online textbook sellers.

You can get Supplemental activities here over on the right hand side where it says Skills and Practice Sheets. (Select which book first on the left menu)

Kolbe Academy (a Catholic classical homeschooling company) sells curriculum guides to use with Harcourt science textbooks for fifth and sixth, Holt Earth Science for seventh and Prentice Hall Physical Science for eighth. One of my friends has used their science component along with Sonlight history and literature for middle school and really liked it.

Hi Kendra,

Thanks for your kind words - I’m glad you enjoyed Basics - it was fun to write (though a lot of work). I have a book coming out next January (co-authored with New Testament scholar Scot McKnight) on evolution, genomics and Paul’s Adam theology. You might find that useful as well.

On weaknesses I see in students: hmm. I haven’t taught freshmen students for many years (I tend to teach upper-level / advanced courses). That said, what I look for in a student is one who can think like a scientist, rather than just memorize content. My ideal freshman student would have a good grasp of the scientific method and even a bit of philosophy and history of science. A student who has already worked through the evolution issue would also benefit from not having their world turned upside down when they arrive at university.

One of the reason that YEC homeschool materials are so sad, really, is that they undermine science as a method in order to neuter it - lest it convince the student that science is a (God given) mechanism for understanding the world. You can’t teach what science really is if you’re trying to convince your students to reject most of its conclusions.

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Regarding published curricula, I certainly agree that a search for one that “teaches exactly what you believe across the board” is unrealistic. In the realm of science, I don’t know the subject well enough to define what that standard would be, and I think I’m enough of an open-minded learner that it would be a perpetually moving target.

That said, what I want to avoid with science materials are any that are developed with some purpose other than to provide the most accurate, age-appropriate scientific content. So, for example, when a Human Anatomy and Physiology textbook from Apologia states on the back cover that “sections entitled ‘Creation Confirmation’ provide evidence for young-earth creationism in the context of the topic that the students are studying,” it reveals an agenda that is at least supplemental to—and I believe in opposition to—teaching good science. The same text, in a section entitled “Apes and Apemen,” includes the following quotes:

“As you may know, some science books teach students the absurd notion that people are just advanced animals simply because people have some things in common with apes.”
“They believe that over many, many, many generations, those advancements ‘piled up,’ turning apes into humans.”
“However, even though mutations are never positive, evolutionists believe that apes turned into men because of millions of positive mutations piling up over the years!”
“Scientific studies have shown over and over again that mutations are never positive for any species.”
“There is no evidence for [evolution].”

I’m open to correction from practicing scientists if I’m wrong here, but my understanding is that no one with professional knowledge of evolutionary science would find any of these statements to be accurate. My conclusion is that they can only be the product of someone who is thoroughly ignorant of evolutionary science (and therefore ought not to be authoring an Anatomy and Physiology textbook) or who is trying to promulgate an insidious caricature of the Theory of Evolution.

So, in my view the key issue is ideology. I believe Chris’ thoughts are spot-on here:

I’ve lightly glanced through the rest of the A&P textbook I quoted above, and it may well have some quality content in it. But the admitted, underlying YEC ideology has poisoned the well for me; I don’t want to spend time sifting through what content in the book is tainted and what is not. I prefer to just find a better book.

I intend to respond more to Christy’s inquiry (from her initial response) about what resources and textbooks CC uses at the Challenge level, but I do know that Apologia science books are part of it, which is one reason I provided the details I did above.

The publisher that I am most enthusiastic and hopeful about is Novare Science and Math. I first learned of them through the BioLogos resources page, and Christy mentioned them briefly in her excellent overview of homeschool science materials. The founder, John Mays, spoke at the BioLogos conference last Summer. I have exchanged emails with the author of their recently completed Earth Science textbook, Kevin Nelstead, who has some great resources at his GeoChristian site, and I’d like to have my son start working through this book once the CC year finishes in a few weeks. I love just about everything in Novare’s textbook philosophy page, and I’m hopeful that they may provide a suitable supplement or replacement to the CC science materials for as long as we stay with their program. I believe Novare intends to publish a biology textbook at some point in the future, and I’m sure there will be a lot people eager to see how that turns out.

If anyone has any “hands-on” experience with Novare texts—particularly in a homeschool setting, I would love to hear your thoughts about them. I’ve gathered that they are primarily used in private schools, but Jeffrey Mays (John’s brother) has assured me that “there are many homeschoolers using our texts just fine.”

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The last Novare newsletter had an article on how homeschool parents could evaluate student work in upper level courses.

It’s obvious they are trying to address some concerns of the homeschooling community who uses their textbooks, but the fact remains that if you go with them (similar to any secular textbook) you will be taking on the full load of planning and teaching the subject to your child. This is out of the league of many parents once the student enters higher level subjects. It makes me think that maybe homeschool parents should reevaluate their expectations of how far they can realistically take their kids in science. Apologia is so attractive to many because as a parent you don’t really have to teach it yourself. (Or at least many parents opt for it under that illusion.) But that’s probably not the best situation. I think parents may have to be more open to getting their kids in dual enrollment or satellite classes for upper level science so they can have a teacher who knows their stuff well and can give them the feedback they need to really develop their potential.

Our kids are early elementary, so we are new to homeschooling. I can’t bring a lot of experience to the table, but I thought I’d share a few curriculum options I found when I was looking. Like you, I struggled to find a science curriculum that wasn’t steeped in YEC. I currently use Elemental Science and really like it. ES is based on the Well-Trained Mind approach to science and it offers lesson plans, student workbooks, lapbook templates, coloring pages, etc. through 8th grade (I believe). I use the same level with all my kids, and then adjust my expectations and assignments based on their ability. The spines they select are secular, so they don’t include YEC. When the kids are older, I’d like to do an evolution unit using Lawson’s Darwin and Evolution for Kids; I’ve used several others books from this series and have found them helpful. Finally, I’ve heard good things about Building Foundations of Scientific Understanding (BFSU) by Nebel. It’s not open-and-go, but it does emphasize basic scientific principles (and it’s quite inexpensive). I believe that there’s an active support website for BFSU, and that the author contributes frequently. Hope that gives you some things to check out!

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@Christy tagged me in this post though we don’t actually homeschool because I have chimed in on other education-related threads before. Let me just echo Mervin’s comments here. This is true in traditional schooling as in homeschooling. My kids go to a small Christian school – well, actually because we’ve jumped around quite a bit they’ve gone to multiple small Christian schools – all of which come from pretty much a YEC approach. I actually find myself more motivated to jump in and get involved in teaching my kids about the “Big Story” (to use BioLogos’s video title) frankly because of the school’s YEC bent, and in an odd sort of way I’m grateful for that.

Then again, my kids are still young. There will come a day when I will want them to dig into the finer points of evolutionary theory in all its beautiful elegance, and I will need that to be done by a competent science teacher with a solid curriculum, not by Dad-in-the-commute-on-the-way-to-school. I could even do it myself, and may have to, but I’ll need a good curriculum to do it. So I’ll be curious to watch for recommendations here…

I was thinking of this quote tonight, when on my homeschool forum, a woman posted asking for advice about what to include in the “essential oils as an alternative to medicine” class she is planning to teach at her local high school co-op. She wants to know what it would need to include to be worthy of high school level Health or Science credit. “It will include science experiments as well as study of how the oils work from a scientific perspective, practical case studies, some hands on projects creating blends for personal use and such.”

Argghhh! How do you nicely tell someone that it will never be worthy of high school health or science credit because it won’t meet any standards that anyone has ever proposed for high school health or science? It will be teaching kooky homeschool-world propaganda, NOT SCIENCE! And the only reason that people will line up to take the class is because they too have been fed a consistent diet of science denialism and skepticism, and think “science” includes anything anyone who claims to have a PhD has ever posted on the internet.

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Aside from a discussion of the placebo effect, not much. :slight_smile:

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I tend to refer folks a lot to the science based medicine site, which generally has good references. Here is a link to one of the articles there on essential oils. Not that your forum friend will like it:

I am a primary care doc, and find this stuff frustrating to deal with. It is a lot like arguing religion in that it is faith based, so is sort of appropriate for this site :wink:
Often times I just focus on trying to prevent harmful actions and try to direct to appropriate therapy, but allow patients to believe what they will. Sort of how I deal with YEC folks at church, right or wrong.

Thanks, I’ll bookmark it for the benefit of the people who haven’t been sucked in yet.

My sister-in-law is a GP in Portland and she has a similar approach and some sad stories.

One lady showed me a book that she was convinced outlined the incontrovertible science behind the “essential oil movement.” I flipped through it and told her it was disconcerting to me that a book presenting “science” had neither a bibliography, nor a single footnote, and did even not list an author or editor whose credentials and education you could look up. I’m pretty sure it was written by Young Living, a company that sells the oils at inflated prices. But then the response is the same as when you point out the ridiculousness of YEC claims. The pharmaceutical companies and the healthcare industry are run by terrible people who just want to take your money and poison your family and move us away from all the traditional wisdom that has made our country great. They won’t publish the truth because it would call them out as the liars they are and they would get sued. What shocks me is how many generally intelligent people are so all in and evidently incapable of vetting their sources.

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I do not have anything to add at this point, but am very interested in this discussion. We are transitioning our daughter back to homeschooling as I type this. She did the A Beka program for third and fourth grade. We tried putting her back in public school to give her another chance, but it just doesn’t work for her. We attempted to do Sonlight for fifth grade, which I was pretty pleased to see their science curriculum compared to others, but Sonlight didn’t work for our family either, so we are going to have to stick with A Beka for her, as that is where she had the most progress. I am just going to have to do my part when it comes to the science education.

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2 posts were split to a new topic: Science and the placebo effect

This is the curriculum I am going to try with my 9th grader at home next year. It does not have a textbook. Every week, the student is given many questions to answer via research using primarily the Internet and other resources he or she may find. I had a science teacher friend look through the topics and she thought it looked very thorough. Inquiry based learning is a big thing right now, so I thought I’d give it a go. Also, there are many dissections included which is very rare these days. So many labs are done virtually. http://www.scienceforhighschool.com/product-category/biology/