by Jeffrey Mays, Science Education Specialist
In part 1 of this boot camp, I discussed the pedagogy and standard elements of Novare Science curriculum. Now it’s time to put it all together and take a look at the best strategies to actually teach your class!
One Month Before School Starts
In addition to purchasing your curriculum for the year, I recommend that you either ask students to buy—or supply each student with—an inexpensive blank lab journal. Such notebooks are usually available at your local office supplies store. We recommend the Mead 09000 or the National 53-108.
If your course will include the experiments, give yourself plenty of time to start acquiring the necessary lab equipment. Home Science Tools sells equipment bundles for each Novare Science text, making it easy to purchase everything you need for your course’s experiments. Be sure to order early, though; sometimes chemicals are in short supply and have to be backordered.
To learn more about the full Novare vision for science education and additional ways to implement new models of thought and practices in your science classroom, I also recommend purchasing a copy of Teaching Science So That Students Learn Science and reading it prior to the start of the school year.
One Week Before School Starts
Download the Lesson List/Schedule and the Lesson Calendar template provided in the Digital Resources for your course. Use these files to create your own schedule for the year, blocking off holidays, in-service days, family vacations, etc. Remember to keep Quiz Day as the same day of every week, and don’t forget to also include experiment days in your schedule. Each student should have access to the finished Lesson Calendar, whether in digital form or as a print copy, as they work through the course.
The First Day of School
The following are some suggestions for the first day of the school year.
- Start class by showing your students the Lesson Calendar and explaining how it works. Take time to review the various pieces of the curriculum and make sure they understand how everything works and fits together.
- Next, read the textbook preface, either as an in-class silent reading assignment or out loud with your students.
- After reading the preface, students should now have a general idea of the scope of the course. Next, talk about the importance of mastery learning and how to cultivate good study habits to support this practice. (See the very last section of this post, “Study Strategies for Students,” for tips.) Impress upon your students that Novare Science probably will be unlike any course they have taken before. Explain that the regular assessments are cumulative, which means they will have to keep prior material fresh while learning the next chapter’s material. Reiterate this cumulative approach to students repeatedly throughout Week 1, and then about once every week or two throughout the school year.
- Finally, leave time to do something fun! It’s a good idea to try to start the year off with a fun, stimulating exercise to begin fostering wonder and a love of science in your students. For example, you might watch a science YouTube video or look up NASA’s Astronomy Picture of the Day. Find a unique-looking flower, beetle, or fish and have students draw a picture of it. Listen to Ferde Grofé’s Grand Canyon Suite and discuss how the music captures the grandeur of this natural wonder. Read Gerard Manley Hopkins’s poem “I am like a slip of comet” and talk about what students think it means. Try to be as creative as you can with this activity!
More on Fostering a Sense of Wonder
Throughout the school year, I encourage you to continue to find as many creative, enjoyable activities as possible to enhance lessons beyond what is included in the curriculum. These activities can include nature walks or field trips to museums, or they can involve art, music, literature, and poetry. For example, once a week take 10–15 minutes to look at a painting that portrays an aspect of science or technology and discuss what the artist was trying to say. You could also play a portion of a symphony with a science and nature theme and discuss how the music represents elements of science. The following are some specific examples and easy to find on the Internet.
- Art: Vermeer’s The Astronomer; Van Gogh’s The Starry Night; Joseph Wright’s An Experiment on a Bird in the Air Pump; J.M.W. Turner’s Rain, Steam and Speed
- Music: Eric Whitacre’s Lux Aurumque; Gustav Holst’s The Planets; Vivaldi’s The Four Seasons
- Poetry: Gerard Manley Hopkins’s “As Kingfishers Catch Fire,” “God’s Grandeur,” “Pied Beauty,” or “The Starlight Night”; William Blake’s “The Lamb” or “The Tyger”
- Literature: Annie Dillard’s Holy the Firm or Pilgrim at Tinker Creek; Sam Kean’s The Disappearing Spoon; Aldo Leopold’s Goodbye to a River; Edwin Teale’s The Strange Lives of Familiar Insects
There are any number of other activities you can use to augment your science class and make it about more than just learning the material in the book. Get a telescope and plan a star party. Capture tadpoles in a nearby creek. Have students occasionally just pause to enjoy and draw something from nature. We notice so much more about a thing when we try to draw it! You can also watch nature films, such as Our Planet on Netflix.
Notes for Homeschoolers and Co-op Teachers
Many homeschool parents are fearful about teaching science classes as their students progress into the higher grades, especially when parents don’t know science themselves and don’t have time to learn it with their students. If you are a homeschool parent or co-op teacher, keep in mind that you do not have to lecture on the material—that’s what the textbook is for! As a parent or co-op teacher, your primary responsibilities when teaching a Novare Science course will be the following.
- Administer the quizzes and tests. Either grade the assessments yourself and then review any mistakes with your students, or grade them along with your students to ensure a fair grade has been earned and is assigned. Remember, the Digital Resources supply answer keys and the Solutions Manuals provide step-by-step solutions for all computation questions.
- Help with the experiments. Sometimes the experiments involve dangerous chemicals, or students will lack the skill or strength to perform a task alone. Help students learn how to pay attention to details, record observations in their lab journals, accurately operate the apparatus, and take proper measurements. These are important adult skills that you probably already have and which students still need to learn.
- Emphasize the importance of mastery learning. Students must learn to maintain the discipline of pacing themselves and doing a little bit of study every day.
Advice for Once-a-Week Homeschool Co-ops
If you are planning to use Novare Science materials but concerned because your homeschool group only meets once a week, then these do’s and don’ts are for you!
- First and foremost, don’t use your valuable class time for lecturing. That’s what the book is for. Remind students that they should be reading their textbooks closely, not just using them to look up definitions.
- Don’t use class time for doing homework. Let the students bring their answers to class, even if their answers are only half-formed, and then discuss the homework as a group. Let them improve their homework answers based on the contributions from the whole class. They can then use that homework assignment as another tool for study.
- Don’t grade homework. Just check that they did it. Students should be encouraged to do the homework assignments to get the needed exercise in implementing new skills, not to perform. That’s what the assessments are for.
- Do use your class time for the following: 1) Conducting experiments and other group activities, 2) Shoring up gaps you discover in your students’ understanding of a topic, 3) Fostering wonder at our amazing natural world, 4) Review—lots of review! Tip: Try to make review fun by creating games for students to play in class. For example, compile questions from the chapters you’ve covered so far, or use old quiz and exercise questions. Then have students answer the questions either out loud or by writing the answers on a chalkboard or whiteboard.
- Do keep your eyes open for any student who is falling behind or lagging in any way. Class time is your chance to discover who is struggling and to address their needs. When you find a straggling or struggling student, work with them as much as necessary to create a plan to help them catch up. Have a parent-teacher conference, find out where the student is struggling, assign extra practice or extra credit tasks, or any other solutions that fit the student.
- Do keep in mind throughout the year that your students are not just covering a year’s worth of new science content, but also learning a new paradigm for study and mastery. They will need close coaching on this approach, and lots of patience and affirmation from you, their teacher. They will thank you for it later!
Study Strategies for Students
Since Novare Science courses prioritize mastery learning, it is important to discuss how students should go about their study days or homework time outside of class. This approach is not hard, but it is likely different from what they are used to and contrary to our natural habits of procrastination and time management.
- Most importantly, advise students to study a little science every day instead of saving all of their work to complete the night before an assignment is due. For example, if the Lesson Calendar allots 2 weeks for a chapter and there are 30 pages in the chapter, students should divide the reading by completing 3 pages per day for 10 school days. If there are 30 exercises, students should similarly complete 3 per day. Reading 3 pages and doing 3 exercises makes the daily science load much lighter, and we all simply learn much better when we encounter the material on a regular, daily basis.
- Students should allocate a third of their daily study time for reviewing material from prior chapters. This means if they allow 30 minutes for science homework, 10 minutes should be spent on reviewing past material and 20 minutes should be put toward reading 3 pages of new material and doing 3 exercises.
- Encourage students to learn to work without the temptation of distractions. If they have a computer or stereo in their bedroom, suggest that they instead sit at the kitchen table to do their schoolwork. Also help them learn to break free from distracting background media. If they need music to help them focus, they should turn on classical, jazz, mild folk, or some other genre of music without lyrics.
- Remind students to use flash cards effectively for reviewing old material. They should keep their flash cards easily accessible in a pocket or bag and take them out when standing in line, waiting on food in the microwave, or riding in the car between activities. Help students learn how to make use of these extra windows of time in their day for review.
- Have students use the objectives lists supplied at the beginning of each chapter to guide their study. These lists will tell them exactly what they are accountable for. For instance, if the list says, “Be able to state 4 properties of electrons,” then they will always be asked to supply 4 properties, never 5.
- As mentioned previously, also have students use their corrected old quizzes and tests to study for future assessments. Sometimes the same or similar questions will appear on future quizzes or tests.
I hope that this boot camp resource will enable you to get the most out of your Novare Science experience. Keep in mind that the actual execution of the class is really very simple: have students read the book, do the exercises and labs, and take the quizzes and tests. That’s it! The most difficult part of the course will be the discipline it takes to learn how to study for mastery, but the benefits will be reaped far beyond the science classroom.
Also remember that our team is always here to help you and happy to answer your questions! Feel free to reach out us at Science@ClassicalSubjects.com or call us at 866-730-0711, ext. 3.
Jeffrey Mays works with educators around the country to develop excellent science programs. He has degrees from Baylor, Covenant Theological Seminary, and Seattle Pacific. He lives in Austin, Texas.