The April 16 issue of Chemical & Engineering News has an interesting article about homeschooling families looking for chemistry curricula. (You need an individual or institutional subscription to view the article; it might be worth checking with your local library.)
I’m far from an expert on homeschooling (as we’re availing ourselves of the public schools), but I’m fascinated by the ways some of the families featured in the article are piecing together what they need for their kids.
Why families choose to homeschool is an interesting question. From the article,
One common reason [to homeschool] is that parents are dissatisfied with the quality of institutional education. David and Annemarie [Stroud] remember sending their oldest daughter, Ripley, to public school for kindergarten, only to watch their once-inquisitive child become increasingly quiet and withdrawn. “I watched the curiosity get stifled out of her,” Annemarie says of Ripley. “I couldn’t allow that to happen.” After talking with a psychologist and considering options such as private school and hiring a tutor, the Strouds turned to homeschooling.
Saving your kids from a school environment that is sucking all the joy out of learning seems like a worthy goal to me. (Meanwhile, I’m hoping that there are some parents in the district who are fighting to make the schools into places that cultivate a love of learning, but we all have to pick our battles.)
Another big motivation for homeschooling is a desire to “instill religious values in [one's] children” — and it turns out that “most of the high school chemistry curricula currently available for homeschoolers are based on the Christian faith.” This is sometimes a source of concern for homeschooling families who aren’t Christian, or necessarily even religious. Indeed, I’m having a hard time figuring out exactly what would make a chemistry curriculum a Christian chemistry curriculum. Are there parts of chemistry that are controversial on religious grounds? Is there a shift in emphasis (and if so, what does that amount to)?
If someone has reliable information on this, I’d be grateful if you could share it, because my imagination is running wild here.
Anyway, the existing curricula vary as far as how much focus they place on problem-solving compared to hands-on laboratory-type activities. Some dispense with laboratory work as “unnecessary before college”, not to mention demanding of materials, equipment, and all sorts of safety measures that might be difficult to implement in a home. Others have lab kits that come with the needed chemicals and equipment. Not surprisingly, some of the homeschoolers are interested in harnessing some of the newly-developed “green chemistry” experiments so as to avoid turning the kitchen into a toxic waste dump:
During the national meeting of the American Chemical Society in Chicago last month, symposium organizer and homeschooling mom Frankie K. Wood-Black, who is director of compliance decree coordination at ConocoPhillips, in Houston, described a homeschool chemistry text that she is developing with her brother-in-law. The text takes an inquiry-based approach, where each section begins with a lab experiment followed by an explanation of the scientific concepts. “It’s a whole different approach to teaching the subject,” she says. She envisions the final product as looking more like a lab manual than a traditional chemistry textbook.
Wood-Black’s labs will be based on green chemistry, an approach that reduces or eliminates the use and generation of hazardous substances. With its nontoxic chemicals, green chemistry is becoming an increasingly popular approach to doing chemistry experiments safely in the home.
Sally Henrie, a chemistry professor at Union University, a Southern Baptist school in Jackson, Tenn., is another educator working to integrate green chemistry into homeschool chemistry curricula. Several years ago, she and two of her undergraduate students developed a green chemistry lab manual for high school students. Some faculty members at Union who homeschool their kids learned about Henrie’s manual and asked her to adapt it for homeschoolers. She agreed and is now looking for a business partner to help her bring the product to market.
Some homeschooled kids get together with other homeschoolers to tackle chemistry. Some take classes at community college. Some just don’t do chemistry.
An important question here is what homeschoolers want their kids to get out of a chemistry course (or course-like thingy). If it’s just a matter of covering an important subject on the road to college admissions, perhaps preparing for an Advanced Placement exam along the way, one’s preferred approach might be all problem-solving all the time. If the idea is to get kids to be independent learners, or to get them to see how something like chemistry plays a role in their everyday lives, it seems like the messing-around-with-chemical-systems approach might be essential. Here, though, I have a wee bit of concern about what might happen when science-phobic parents lean on cookbook approaches. Potentially, this could render chemistry scary or boring, which sort of defeats the point.
Maybe what’s needed is a chemistry curriculum for homeschoolers that could get the adults who are guiding the experience excited by and engaged with the chemistry, too, so adults and kids can joyfully explore the subject together.
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A potentially helpful link via C&E News: “Science Options for Homeschoolers”