Saturday, November 23, 2013

Switching Tracks

Sometimes curriculum works and sometimes it doesn't.  I think it has to work for both the parents and the children. Here are the conclusions I've come to over the past thirteen years since I began teaching.  

For the parent, it has to "make sense".  It has to be easy to follow and give the parent the information they need in order to teach the material.  

For  the child, it has to "make sense".  They need to be able to understand the material, process, and remember it.  

Learning is much easier when both parent and child also want to study the curriculum and enjoy it.  If this is missing, learning can turn into a long, grueling period of pulling teeth.  Not always, but it can happen.  Sometimes you just have to plug and chug away knowing that there is a subject that neither of you enjoy and you just make the best of it.  

Yesterday in the car on the way home from art, my middle daughter said to me, "Mommy, I don't like our science."  I asked her why and she explained that it was hard for her to understand.  Her comments made me start thinking.  I switched science curriculums last year and this year.   Last year's curriculum, though one that the kids liked, was one that I struggled to get through.  The teacher's manual was very hard for me to read and glean what I needed to know from the text.  The kids did learn some great information, but in all honesty, my procrastination and dislike for the teacher's manual meant that we did not get through the whole text.  Prior to that, we had used Harcourt Science--which both the kids and I loved, but was shaped by evolutionary theory and natural selection.  I switched away last year but hit some bumps...

So, this year we switched to another Christian curriculum, Christian Kids Explore Biology, and I tried again to find a Christian science curriculum that we would like and that would be easy to use.  

Unfortunately, after two lessons, I quickly realized that there were lots of holes in the curriculum and it was difficult for my kids to follow auditorily.  There is no student book and the text would be way above their reading level if I were to copy it for them (which isn't legal since the text portion of the book isn't reproducible).  I worked through several lessons and assembled additional materials and supplements so that the curriculum would be what I thought it should be.  

Here's a quick example.  Instead of clearly saying, "There are two types of cells:  Eukaryotic and Prokaryotic.  Animal and Plant cells are both eukaryotic, but they have some differences."  The book says on page 8, "Eukaryotic cells have a particular organelle inside called the nucleus...  and on pg. 9, "Some cells do not have a nucleus.  They are called prokaryotic."  No examples are given of what a prokaryotic cell would be.  Then the assignment asks kids to label an animal cell and a plant cell, before first saying that both of these cells are eukaryotic because they have a nucleus.  That was Lesson 2 in Unit 1.  Honestly, I love the stuffing of this curriculum, but there just isn't enough of it and there are statements that are missing so that me (a non-science lover) can teach it easily.  I was constantly running to the internet so that I could thoroughly explain the lessons to my kids.  I had to clarify that there weren't more than two types of cells.  I also wanted my kids to know the word "mitosis" which wasn't mentioned in the lesson at all.  

So, where does that leave me?  The reason I had switched because of my concerns about evolution and natural selection and how that teaching permeates secular science curriculum.  I've looked for a curriculum that I like as well as Harcourt Science.  Now I've tried two and have looked at many others.  
But Harcourt Science works for my kids and it works for me.  As my oldest daughter said to me today.  Mommy, "I know creation is the truth, but I like this book and how it teaches."  

I was sick yesterday so we didn't do any school work.  Instead we worked on science all afternoon today. Sami completed two chapters and Autumn one chapter.  We have a little catching up to do.  It was different today, though, than when we used this curriculum before.  I've learned a lot in the past two years.  Using two curriculums that are more hands on and do not have a student text have made the science entirely auditorily oriented and required hands on craft activities and/or notes.  Autumn used to work her way through the curriculum and I would not do the experiments.  Today, we did the experiment on density.  Sami did the instant labs for each of her lessons.  I integrated phonics and noticing word structure into Sami's lesson which we read aloud.  With Autumn, I made sure to read over her answers and correct her errors.  She wrote down her observations from the experiment and her conclusion.  

I thought we would cover more if I was teaching them together.  I found the opposite to be true.  My kids are visual learners, not auditory.  Sami is more kinesthetic than visual, but all her senses work together.  The bigger problem I encountered is that Sami needs a book written at her level and that is what Harcourt does so well.  It covers the same topics every year but in writing that is grade level appropriate with appropriate details.  The curriculum naturally scaffolds students' background knowledge and understanding of science. There are lots of color pictures and the experiments use materials I have. Although... I just picked up a digital scale three weeks ago at a garage sale for a dollar that we needed today!  God was so gracious to provide something we needed before I even knew we needed it.  

I told my husband today that we've switched back.  He said, "Good."  Let's stick with it.  Harcourt goes through 6th grade and then we'll go from there...

It might be easy to wonder if we wasted our time.  I don't think we did.  The kids did study science last year and some this year.  I needed learn more about how to teach science.  Studying science in elementary school is basically about building children's background knowledge.  They've learned some good lessons along the way and so have I.  Most of all, I trust the Lord and I've learned that sometimes he takes me on rabbit trails so that I can see why I need to get back on the path I was on.  

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