Sunday, March 01, 2009

STEM Education for Home-Schooled Students

A few weeks ago, when I was writing about science and math education for 4th and 8th graders, I got curious about home-schooled kids in the U.S. as well. Facebook provided an excellent opportunity to find out, as one of my friends from high school is home-schooling her kids. Essentially I asked her what form of science and math education her kids were getting, as this was of great interest to me from a NASA (day job) point of view and also as it related to STEM disciplines in general. My thanks to J, for providing this great response:

I was in Dallas, TX over the weekend and was talking with some friends who had recently spoken with James P. Dutton Jr. who they say is an astronaut with NASA. (I think he is assigned as a pilot on the crew of StS-131 targeted for launch in 2010.)They said that he and his wife homeschool their children and that he had recently spoke to a homeschool group of children in Dallas. Their son was quite excited about it. Anyway, it got me thinking about your e-mail. I don't know if I can specifically help you in any way.

My older two daughters really enjoy studying math and science. Although there are many excellent curricula available to homeschoolers for these subjects, we are currently using Singapore Math and we use the science curriculum that our local private school uses. We chose Singapore Math as we had the girls professionally tested and since they were performing well in those areas, the specialist recommended it for the girls. She mentioned that students using Singapore Math were consistently the ones who did well in Math and Science competitions. Prior to using Singapore Math, we used Math-U-See and just tried to make math fun doing hands-on math problems around the home. Lots of math games, fun computer games, etc. Both of my daughters love to cook, so kitchen math and sewing math were also favorites.

For science, we have gone completely through the science curriculum used in our private school. Although, I don't think it is a great program that piques my kids' interests, I've followed along with it mainly to ensure that we didn't have any holes in their science curriculum when it comes time in May for their state/national testing. I really feel that the girls love for learning science as well as their love for learning in general has been fostered by materials being presented in "living" ways. By this I mean things like the hands-on science experiments, the many guided nature walks/Jr. Ranger programs at local parks and reserves where they kept nature journals and made observations, science co-ops with other children where they learned biology and chemistry concepts (often led by moms who had degrees in one of the sciences). We had numerous trips to the local Museum of Life and Science along with museums in other areas. On one occasion, I took my older daughter to a weekend science conference. I also have tried to expose the girls to "living books." Instead of watered down books aimed at children. I've tried to find books on whatever topic we are studying that have been written by experts that have a passion for their area of study. When you find books written by experts in their field, that are suitable for children, they are pure gold. They provide so much more interest for the children than a school textbook anyway. (Side note to J: if you're looking for space books for kids by someone who's "been there"--or at least in Mission Control--I recommend the works of Marianne Dyson. -B)

Although I in no way think that everyone should homeschool their children or that homeschooling is necessarily better than public or private schooling your children, I have made some observations in my local community. In my state alone, there are thousands of homeschooling families. Most of these moms are teachers that are keenly aware of their children's learning styles, interested in developing children of good character, have a strong desire to give their children a love for learning and giving their children as many opportunities as possible for educational growth. And they have a strong belief and vision for their children. Homeschooling often allows the children to explore more deeply areas that really interest them. In my experience, homeschooled children are able to communicate with adults as well as children from their peer group.

As far as resources that I can give you, I might need some clarification as to specifically what you are looking for. I guess if I was trying to get information out to homeschoolers in my state, I would post on the state's homeschool Yahoo group. There events and information are posted and received by thousands of homeschoolers who read it on a daily basis. I think home-school families would be very excited to receive educational info/material or know of a talk for children by someone from NASA.

Another very effective way to reach homeschoolers would be to speak to some of the larger co-ops in different states. One of the large home school co-ops in my area is called S.E.E.K. It meets at a nearby church and has over 400 people involved in it. Every week they have educational classes that the kids are involved in, some of them being focused on science. A science lecture given to some of the larger co-ops would be effective. Also, sometimes the museums in our area have special field trip events/days/science camps for homeschooling families. Each state also has usually has at least one annual home school conference. Huge events with lots of guest speakers and a plethora of booths and curriculum. Ours is every May over Memorial Day weekend. That might also be another idea to get information out. Personally, I would love to see more math and science folks (and space geeks such as yourself:) take their area of expertise and tailor it in a fresh way to children. More "living books!!!" In the homeschool arena, if you create books that aren't abridged, watered down twaddle with lots of cartoons, and elementary vocabulary, you're likely to be a very successful author. Also, one side note, many homeschooling folks are also people of Christian faith. Books written by scientific experts who are also Christians or homeschooling parents would be especially well-received. Same applies to guest speakers. The James P. Dutton Jr. that I mentioned at the beginning of the e-mail would be an example.

To follow up on J's very helpful email, below are some additional science, math, or other education:

And I'm posting these again for some low- or no-cost alternatives to full-up college education adults can use to "get smart" on science, technology, history, and other disciplines:

If your school(s) aren't cutting it, don't just sit there and let your kid's future but shortchanged!

No comments: