the story of science

At Home with the Editors: Inside Amy’s 8th Grade

Resources and routines for a relaxed classic homeschool 8th grade

Every year, Shelli and Amy open the door and invite you to step inside their homeschool lives. (Please ignore the mess!) We talk about the resources we're using in our own homeschools and how we structure our days. There are lots of ways to homeschool, and we don't think our way is the best—just the one that happens to be working best for our particular families at this particular time.  If nothing else, you will get a behind-the-scenes look in the homes of the editors of home / school / life, but if something here helps you, all the better! Today, Amy's talking about how she homeschooled 8th grade this year.

Because there’s a pretty significant age gap between my kids (six years), I decided to do two separate posts to make things easy for myself. Today, I’m sharing some of the resources I use with my 8th grader. (You can see what 7th grade looked like for us here.)

If I had to sum up 8th grade in one word, it would be “transitional.” We did a lot of learning and had a lot of fun, but we also spent a lot of time figuring out how to make the transition from middle school to high school. My daughter is opting to homeschool through high school, which thrills and panics me, but I wanted to make sure that whatever she wanted to do, she was prepared. So we spent this year working on skills that don’t always come up in homeschool environments but that are important for higher-level learning. I’ve mentioned note-taking, which is essential for lecture-based classes that she’s bound to run into at some point. We’ve also slowly shifted responsibility for deadlines to her shoulders. Homeschooling tends to be open-ended for us, which means projects get done when they feel done—which can be a couple of hours or a couple of years or never. This year, though, I made a point of giving my daughter due dates for some things and letting her keep up with them. We’ve talked a lot about due dates for things like research papers, where you’re really excited and just want to keep going and going but have to figure out a logical stopping point in order to get it done on time. My daughter also found that having a deadline made her second-guess herself—she’d wrap up a perfectly good project well in advance of the deadline and start to worry that she hadn’t put enough time or effort into doing it—shouldn’t it take her until the deadline to complete the project?

We’ve also started experimenting with grade feedback. I am not a fan of grading—honestly, a lot of things we do in our homeschool defy traditional grading, and I really like that fact. But at some point, we’re going to have to pull together a transcript, and while I think the pass/fail solution would be ideal, it doesn’t always work well for GPAs if you want to go to a more competitive school. So we’re playing with grades. I don’t give her grades in subjects like math, where it’s easy to see from how many problems you got right how you’re doing with a particular concept. I try to give input in the more nebulous areas, like history essay questions, where I can say, “This answer is good, but I would probably give it a B—it would be an A if you’d gone on to explain why the Treaty of Indian Springs was so controversial instead of just telling me that it was a controversial treaty.” Interestingly, I was all stressed out about the idea of grades, but my daughter doesn’t seem to care one way or the other.

As far as what we studied, here’s what we used:

 

History

Eighth grade was our year to study state history. We used the free online textbook Georgia: Its Heritage and Promise, which did an impressive job of making a pretty fascinating subject almost completely boring, but it was a good spine. We read a lot of supplementary books together and—once I was mobile again—took a lot of field trips. A few years ago, we did a study of women in Georgia history, so it was fun to revisit some of those figures again from a slightly different perspective.

My daughter kept a notebook, which she filled with facts, thoughts, sketches, taped-in photos, and other notes from our studies. Every few weeks, we’d come up with a big-picture question for each other: How was Georgia different from the other twelve original colonies? What was Reconstruction like for people living in Georgia? We’d answer each other’s questions and chat about what else we might have included or any particularly good points someone made. (I like writing essays, which not everyone does, obviously, but we had a lot of fun working on these together.)

 

Latin

Our last year of Latin (sigh) was a continuation of what we’ve always done: We used Ecce Romani (though we jumped to books 3 and 4 this year) and did vocabulary cards, translation, and exercises for each chapter. Latin is the place where my daughter learns most of her English grammar, and that was true this year, too. If my daughter wanted to continue, she’d definitely be well-prepared for more advanced Latin next year.

 

Math

We tackled Life of Fred Prealgebra with Biology this year, but it was slow-going. I feel like I’m not very good at teaching math—I know my one way to solve the problem, but I’m not good at explaining how to do it or helping someone find another way that works better for her. We made it through, but it was definitely harder than it needed to be for both of us—I’m really glad Jason is here to take over math for high school.

 

Literature

We read a lot of books that tied into our Georgia history study (Some of our favorites included Juliet Gordon Low: The Remarkable Founder of the Girl Scouts, Cold Sassy Tree, and A Good Man Is Hard to Find.). We also thought this would be a good year to explore an author’s complete body of work, so—like many people—we focused on Jane Austen, working our way up from Love and Friendship through Persuasion. (We didn’t read the unfinished Sandition.) For me, this was really fun—I love Austen and all those lovely Austen film adaptations—and my daughter really enjoyed it, too. She worked on a big paper over the course of the year about mean girls in Jane Austen, which turned out to be very interesting. I loved seeing it develop over the course of the year—as she read more and thought more, her ideas got deeper and more nuanced. It was very cool to watch.

 

Science

We used The Story of Science this year, and we loved it. I found The Story of Science through Rebecca’s review (thanks, Rebecca!), and it was the perfect combination of readaloud and hands-on for us. I wish we’d discovered it sooner because I would have loved to use this series throughout middle school. I didn’t get the student workbook—my daughter usually just keeps a notebook for classes—but I did get the teacher’s guide so that I could have the lab instructions. 

 

Creative writing

My daughter was the copy chief for her creative writing class’s magazine—though all the stories came in so close to deadline that she didn’t get to do as much actual copyediting as she was hoping. She took the class at our local homeschool group.

 

My daughter also got really adventurous with her cooking this year, inspired, perhaps, by our obsessive viewing of The Great British Bake-Off. She continued her knitting and sewing, having a brief fling with cross-stitching followed by a return to plushie making. She practiced her piano and guitar (almost) every day, did nature walks and kept a nature journal (not daily) with me and her brother. She wrote and illustrated comic books, got really interested in Maria Mitchell (the astronomer), and made all her own beauty products. (Her bathroom smells really good.) Sometimes these interests superseded “regular academics,” and that’s always perfectly fine in our house. Sometimes, she just wanted to read all day or had a shiny new video game that had to be played immediately and obsessively, and so that’s what she did. She really loves reading aloud and doing all the different voices, so I’ll often find her in her little brother’s room, reading to him. To me, all of this is part of homeschooling—as much as math or history or science.

Our schedule was hard to find a rhythm for this year, but eventually we fell into a routine that worked. Some of that difficulty might be because of my injury through the fall, which made everything kind of janky, but I think a lot of it was because we were trying lots of new things and it took a while to find the ones that worked and to get the hang of some of our new patterns. In some ways, our routine was the same as always: My daughter gets up when she gets up (later and later every year!), we do our structured work together after she has breakfast, then she does her independent work and whatever else she wants during the day and evening. (It’s weird to go in her room to say good night and see her sprawled on the bed at 11 p.m. writing essays or doing math problems, but that seems to be her prime creative thinking time.) But it was hard for us to find a balance that felt like the right mix of hey-we’re-learning-stuff and hey-this-is-fun, and I’m really glad we decided to tackle that challenge this year instead of waiting until 9th grade. I feel like this year has helped us know better what we’re doing as we move into high school.

As far as testing goes, we went ahead and did the PSAT this year—I signed her up to take it at our neighborhood high school, and while dropping her off at that cafeteria all by herself was both heart-wrenching and terrifying, she did just fine—on the test and in the strange environment. (I’ve done testing at home every year since Suzanne suggested it, and while I tend to think testing is annoying and not at all representative of what someone knows, I think Suzanne was right that just doing it every year takes the anxiety right out of it for prone-to-test-panic kids like my daughter and gives them practice sitting for so long without being able to take a break.)

Writing all this up is kind of reassuring because this year felt particularly hard, like trying to find my way through an unfamiliar terrain in the dark without a map. But looking back, I think we did a good job—we shifted some of the big pieces in our homeschool, but we were able to do in ways that let us keep the things we love about homeschooling. I guess transitions always feel messy and uncertain while they are happening. And, of course, when I asked my daughter how she thought this year had gone, she grinned her adorable grin and said “Great!” So that’s all right.


At Home with the Editors: January Rewind

At Home with the Editors: January Rewind

Living books to inspire a reluctant reader, learning how to take notes, and other stuff that's happening in our high school right now.

Amy’s Homeschool Budget : July

A dollars-and-cents breakdown of one family's homeschool budget. #homeschool

So you know how any time you start to think, hey, I’ve kind of got this together, something comes along to knock you back to the starting line? I had my budget for the coming year all neatly planned out when I got the email that our homeschool group is increasing registration fees by a pretty hefty amount this year — such a hefty amount that signing our kids up for their usual classes there isn’t an option for us if we also, you know, want to feed them this fall. So it’s back to the drawing board to sort out some outside-the-house classes for the kids. I’ll let you know what we figure out. In the meantime, back-to-school shopping has begun. We don’t take a summer break, but we don’t officially start our new school year until after Labor Day, so I still have some time to make my mind up about a few things I’m dithering about. I haven't really drilled down to my final list yet. There were a few things, though, that I knew we’d want, so I went ahead and made a few purchases. Here’s what I’ve bought:

The Story of Science: Aristotle Leads the Way for my almost-8th-grader. (Rebecca’s review totally sold me.) $15

I also picked up the Life of Fred Pre-Algebra set for her. I’ve mentioned before that my daughter has struggled with more traditional math programs, so it’s great to see her making progress with Life of Fred — but even more, it’s great to see her feeling confident about her ability to do math. (I borrowed a copy of Fractions and of Decimals last year but decided to buy the whole set so that we could work back through anything we wanted to.) $125

The next level book for Miquon Math for my almost-2nd-grader. If you have a math-y elementary kid, you should take a look at Miquon — it’s been such a good fit for us. $9

Handwriting is something we want to work on this year, so I bough a pair of lined whiteboards to practice on. (If you use dry erase boards and don’t know about this site that sells discounted seconds, you definitely should check it out.) 2 x $5 = $10

Total spent in July: $159 Total spent this year to date: $159
Total budget for the 15-16 school year remaining: $3,641
Total budget for the 15-16 school year: $3,800
(You can read more about our budget breakdown here.)

 

In case you’re interested, here are a few things we’re using that we didn’t have to pay for, either because they are free or because we already owned them:

Eighth grade is state history here, so we’re taking advantage of the free textbook available online from Clairmont Press. I don’t love textbooks, but I figure we can add enough fun field trips and conversation to make this one work — and free is my favorite price.

The Brief Bedford Reader (I picked up a copy of this last year for an essay-writing class I taught, and I liked it so much I'm planning to use it for our 8th grade writing spine)

ECCE Romani I and II (I talked a little bit about how we study Latin, including why I’m not buying a new book for Latin this fall, in this blog post from last spring)

Story of the World, volume 2, which we didn’t quite finish this year

My Pals Are Here Science 2A (I bought this when we first started thinking about homeschooling but never actually used it — I figure this is its chance!)

Oak Meadow 2nd grade (it’s an older version hand-me-down from a friend)


Great Secular Science Curriculum: The Story of Science

Yes! Secular, literature-based science curriculum! The Story of the Science takes a historical approach and is definitely worth checking out if you need help with homeschool science.

OK folks, I am really excited about this one! Joy Hakim’s work, The Story of Science, is truly a treasure. Whether you’re seeking out curriculum for a science-loving learner who can’t get enough of the subject or navigating a path with a humanities kid who’d rather be reading and writing, Joy Hakim’s series has much to offer.

Hakim’s approach to the study of science is to discontinue the practice of isolating this subject from other disciplines such as world history, critical thinking, and language arts. Hakim advocates a multidisciplinary approach, which she masterfully brings to life for readers in her compelling three-volume series. The Story of Science meets the requirements of the National Science Education Standards and Common Core. However, these books are also rich with compelling language and ideas that ignite desire to delve deeper into the stories of scientists and their discoveries. Each volume ($24.95) can be supported with a student work book ($12.95) and a teacher’s guide ($39.95).

Suggested reading level is 5th grade through high school.

Volume I Aristotle Leads the Way:
This first book introduces students to ancient Babylon, Egypt, Greece, India, and the Arab world. The lives and work of Pythagoras, Archimedes, Brahmagupta, Al Khwarizmi, Fibonacci, Ptolemy, St. Augustine, and St. Thomas Aquinas are presented in a lively style of narrative that is often absent in more traditional textbooks. Hakim’s selected topics for this volume explore the very questions that led the great thinkers to concepts of modern science as we understand them today.

Volume II, Newton at the Center:
The second, longer volume in this series features the work of important thinkers such as Copernicus, Galileo, Kepler, and Descartes. This text demonstrates how the genius work of Isaac Newton made possible what is recognized today as modern physics, astronomy, mathematics, and chemistry.

Volume III, Einstein Adds a New Dimension:
Readers have a front seat ride with Albert Einstein as he and other great minds make groundbreaking discoveries in the field of physics. The history of physics is explored in amazing breadth in an engaging and literary manner. Hakim presents a wide range of concepts from electromagnetism to quantum mechanics, black holes, quarks, and more.

For those who view traditional textbooks with a healthy degree of skepticism, these exceptional volumes will be a pleasant surprise. Throughout each book, substantive text is peppered with colorful photographs, informative sidebars, useful charts and maps, and original excerpts from the scientists’ writings, as well as suggested further readings. The scientists themselves are brought to life like characters in a novel, presented as compelling individuals who are oftentimes as interesting as the discoveries for which they are famous.

The workbooks accompanying this series are well organized, and their layout is simple and straightforward. Each unit opens with a thoughtful quote from a featured scientist in order to establish the theme of the particular chapter. These quotes are a lovely springboard for some fascinating conversations with kids. Before students begin reading the text independently, they can refer to the who, what, where portion of the workbook, which succinctly presents important key details and vocabulary to guide their reading. “The Quest Sheet” appears at the end of each unit and is generally a series of questions and suggested hands-on activities. These exercises, though science-based, also offer opportunities to work on mathematical concepts, language arts, and historical interpretation. “Scientists Speak” is a fun page found in each unit on which an illustration of a scientist appears next to a speech balloon. Here the student is invited to write down a phrase or concept associated with that particular great thinker.

The Story of Science is not intended as a self-teaching course to be done independently by students; the teacher’s guides are essential. These well-organized guides contain original plans that utilize engaging methods. Many of its pages may seem formal or a bit stiff to homeschooling families as its format is geared toward classroom teachers. However, there is much to be gleaned from this resource. Each section provides a supplies list for getting started. Ideas for using the text and student guides are presented as are answer keys and activity ideas. Hakim’s commitment to a multidisciplinary approach is most apparent through enrichment activities, referred to in the guide as curriculum links. Through these, the author provides a means to engage students with projects that link science with math, art, geography, history, music, and language arts.

The Story of Science is not the right resource for every family. This is a secular science curriculum. Religion is presented in a historical and literary context. Those seeking a program that students can work at independently should look elsewhere. Although lesson preparation is minimal, parent involvement is required. The numerous maps, charts, and sidebars located throughout the text are well done and relevant, but could easily prove distracting to some learners. Students looking for a general overview of the sciences may find this work too analytical and expansive. This is a series for academically inclined students with a strong interest in science and history, who are able to make abstract connections.

The volumes reviewed here are part of a larger six-part series still in the works. Hakim is reported to be at work currently on a biology text focusing “especially on the story of how our knowledge of life has emerged.” For those who find this curriculum a good fit, this is very good news indeed. 

 

Rebecca Pickens is home/school/life’s Curriculum Junkie in the magazine and online. (Subscribe to read her smart, thoughtful, secular curriculum reviews in every issue.) She writes for several publications and also blogs at steampoweredclassroom.com. This column originally appeared in the spring 2015 issue of home/school/life. We're reprinting it here as part of our web relaunch celebration.