Teaching High School Biology

We usually have our children study biology in the 11th grade, after we’ve spent a year doing Natural Science in 10th grade. After spending a year studying famous naturalists and doing our own questioning, observations, and coming to our own conclusions from our own nine week experiment we are now ready to study living things.  Currently, we have three options for doing the study of biology.  One could use a standard textbook, such as Mr. Wile’s, Exploring Creation with Biology.  This text covers the basics of living systems, but does not include any anatomy.  There is a MODG syllabus that includes a daily lesson plan for this text with tests and answers to the tests.  If you do not have the time to do a full year of Natural History in 10th grade, the second option offers the opportunity to do eight weeks of Natural History before using Mr. Wile’s text, Exploring Creation With Biology and the MODG syllabus for this option is titled Mother Of Divine Grace Biology and Natural History.  The third option, which happens to be our family’s personal favorite, is using the book All Creatures Great and Small as the framework text and rounding out the study of biology by using additional reference materials.  We utilize our family’s library of books for each topic, as well as searching the library and internet for source materials to add to the creation of a self-made Biology notebook.

On more than one occasion, we have come across a new textbook that we feel is an improvement over the current texts as well as a valued resource for our favorite Biology course option.  Biology, of the Self-Teaching Guide, is well organized, clearly structured book that covers all the major biological concepts and terms. The author’s experience teaching at several colleges, as well as working at several museums has obviously enabled him to write in an accessible style.  What we really appreciate most about this option is that it is closest to a more natural process of studying and understanding science.  The student is encouraged to ask questions and to research the answers.  We require our children to keep adding to their notebooks with illustrations that are detailed and include definitions to the new concepts they are learning.  Several of the chapters in the books All Creatures Great And Small and Biology, of the Self-Teaching Guide offer essay topics, which gives our students the opportunity to make clear in their mind the concepts they are learning. Both Larry and I worked for many years as scientists for the DuPont Co. where we had to keep our own research notebooks, research topics we were responsible for, as well as present papers and give lectures to fellow scientists.  It was often noticed, on more than one occasion, that scientists did not communicate their thoughts well.  Remember, one of the most important aspects of any science curriculum, especially for a child who is particularly fascinated with science, is to give them the time to explore their interests, raise questions, search for answers and have a true sense of wonder and awe for God’s world,  and to be able to communicate well.

As to communicating well, we have used Life Science Based Writing Lessons. You will find many of the topics you are studying in Biology as the very assignments used in this course to teach writing, such as cells, classification, botany, zoology, etc. It is an easy way to incorporate writing assignments into any Biology curriculum you are using and in our opinion it is a vital skill to teach your children especially those interested in pursuing science degrees in college.

Teaching Science: The Early Years

You will see an evident and deliberate lack of textbooks for the early years of science.  We encourage you to explore your very own backyard and neighborhood before you endeavor to study science in any formal way.  This way, we respect the dignity of the child by engaging him in age appropriate activities that draw them towards awe and wonder of the created world.  Each day can easily present new and wonderful opportunities, such as sketching in their own blank books a rainbow in the sky after a rainstorm.  On a brilliant, crisp, fall day, do leaf rubbings together after collecting as many different kinds of leaves split_compliment_leavesas you can find. The children can identify the caterpillar they gingerly carry home, that happened to crawl into their laps as they played in the garden.  Our home is filled with books on plants, birds, butterflies, insects, pond life, the seashore, the stars, and so much more of God’s glorious world. This is how we teach our own children.  Take time to explore, discuss and delight in these formative years and you will be laying the groundwork for higher level questioning and analyzing, by having had a rich and intimate experience with the natural world around them.

Here are a few of the must haves, rich in ideas we have used with our own children, just click on any title to see the full desriptions:

Handbook of Nature Study

North American Wildlife

Keeping a Nature Journal

Nature Portfolio (complete with notebooking pages, a parent’s guide, copy work and more!)

Giant Science Resource Book

The Nature Connection: An Outdoor Workbook for Kids, Families

Nature coloring books

Keep Things in Perspective

Throughout the school year, daily life becomes so congested with activity that at times, homeschooling can be overwhelming. To combat discouragement I find it necessary to remind myself WHY I homeschool and review my top priority.

On those days when a full school day is impossible, I mentally consider what I can do to work toward my final goal. For me, my final goal is to educate my children so they can live a well informed Catholic life that will lead them to heaven. During busy times, as long as some part of our day leads us towards this end result, I consider our school day a success.

Don’t Lose Your Place

At the beginning of the school year, I tape a ribbon in each of the children’s books, workbooks, and my teaching manuals to keep our places easily.  Use satin ribbon about 4 to 5 inches longer than the book.  Cut the ends of the ribbon diagonally to keep them from fraying.  Use clear box tape and tape on the inside cover close to the spine.  When I had several children using the Harp & Laurel Wreath, I put a different color for each child to mark the places of the poems they were working on.  The ribbons don’t fall out like bookmarks often do. For the workbooks, at the end of the year you can take the ribbons out and use in another book. I got the idea from a few of my books which had a ribbon marker.

Prepare the Night Before

My tip for homeschooling is to prepare what work is to be completed the evening prior.  I have four children to homeschool, ages 9 and under, and they need quite a bit of direction.  Each has a folder of their own.  Each night before bed, I pull out of each workbook what sheets that need to be completed and place them in their folder.  In their other books I put sticky bookmarks on the page the page they need to start reading and finish reading (or working).  Then in the morning, once they are ready for the day and have had breakfast, they can find their pile of work and start working independently.  Even my kindergarten age child can get a start on simple worksheets or lessons while I am still helping the rest of the family get situated for the morning.

Keep a Logbook

If you are just starting out and you feel like you are not doing “enough” when educating your child, keep a log for two weeks of the things you did with your child/children, whether you meant them to be educational or not.  After two weeks, look back and be proud of yourself.  Chances are that you are doing more than the school would be, partly because they are not waiting for the classroom management parts, getting in line, having assemblies, and the like.  Pat yourself on the back, your kids are doing fine!

Write Essays By Hand

Have your high-schooler write some essays by hand.   From the time she could type, our oldest wrote all of her essays in Word on the computer.  It never occurred to us that she would need to write an essay by hand.  Last February she participated in a scholarship competition.  The competition included a timed essay.  She was given paper and a subject.  Fortunately, we learned of the essay a month ahead of the competition, so she had practiced, but it was still difficult for her.

What exactly is a Lapbook, and how does it encourage REAL learning?

Dinah Zike

Before we begin discussing what lap books are, we need to begin by explaining what foldables are. 

In the early 1980s, Dinah Zike came out with a book called Big Book of Books.  This wonderful classic, which is still in print and selling for about the same price it did 20 years ago, describes in clear language, and with hundreds of examples and photographs, how to instill a sense of questioning, investigating , exploring and discovering and in your homeschool.  All this can be accomplished so very simply and cleverly with 8.5 x 11 plain sheets of paper that are either folded or cut into interesting shapes.  These folds and cuts are called foldables.

The absolute beauty of this concept and methodology is that it so naturally and easily makes concrete in a child’s mind, a newly learned concept.  This is accomplished by helping them to organize the thoughts and creates their very own teaching materials to retain this newly acquired skill.  Dinah Zike is the inventor of these foldables, giving them fun names and creating an illustrated guide that teaches you how to teach these folds to your children.

For example, she has a very simple fold called the large matchbook fold.  Here is a video showing you how to make one:

Begin with a sheet of paper folded in half but such that one side is 1 inch longer than the other then take that extra flap and fold it over so that it looks just like a regular set of matches.  You can cut this into smaller pieces or use as it is.  You can put on the outside of your matchbox a question, flip it open and the child can write in their answer.  You can use the outside and glue on a shape of a state.  Open up the inside and the child can place information of that state they have found.

Another example is the layered look book.  With this book, you’re going to stack a couple sheets of paper, placing them in such a way that they overlap.  All this is easily explained in her books for each subject with tons of photographs.  Next you or your child then pick a concept such as the solar system. Then you give each flap a title with the name of each of planets. You then fill out each flap with information that you researched or read using your existing curriculum materials.

What is so exciting about using this process is that you will very quickly find that your children begin to think in terms of keeping the information they’re learning into little mini books or foldables.  We have been using this methodology for the past 20 years.  It has revolutionized our homeschool.

Now we come to the concept of lap books.  Simply stated, a lap book is file folder, folded like a window shutter.  This shutter is the place to contain and organize your child’s collection of foldables. The inventor of lap books, Tami Duby, had been using Dinah Zike’s foldables in her homeschool and had accumulated  a bunch of them without finding a way of keeping them. She then came up with the idea of putting them together in one single file folder in a creative way. This new way not only fosters a love of learning in your children but also encourages clarity of thought.  It is also a visual reminder of all the things they have learned, not to mention a wonderful keepsake of their learning.  The important concept about making lapbooks is that genuine sustained learning is a process not  a fill in the blanks type of learning.  This methodology is a fabulous and successful process by which one learns and retains information.

By having your child create these foldables and then go through the thinking involved to sort them and categorize them into a lap book your child has a real sense of ownership.  We have seen this time and time again with our own children.  Concepts learned and made into foldables have stayed with them.

This methodology meshes so perfectly with the classical method of real learning.  It respects the natural stages of development which gives dignity to the child.  As your child grows the skills build up bit by bit just as outlined in the classical model of learning..  For example, in a classical education process, if your child is young and has not yet learned to write stories we began by having our child retell a Bible story we have just read to them.  The little retellings can be copied by you into a foldable and then illustrated by your child.  Once you have collected a number of these you can staple or glue them together so that you now have a wonderful keepsake of your little child’s Bible stories.

As your children mature and move through more advanced writing techniques you can still employ this methodology of making foldables. For example, our ninth-grade daughter needed to write a paper on some aspect of Westward expansion.  She came up with a thesis statement, and several questions she wanted answered.  Each question became a foldable.  It contained all the information she researched using several source texts.  Once she had collected all the information she took these foldables, organized them into a lap book and was able to use this as her outline and source material for her research paper.  She placed a copy of her finished product in a pocket outside her lap book, a job well done.

This process of learning can be used across the curriculum in every subject. We have made foldables and lap books for math, history, science, religion, and grammar.  This technique of learning is not meant as a craft project to do on top of regular schoolwork but is the process by which we accomplish real learning and retention of knowledge.

Now the next question you may have is, what do I need to get started?  The answer is use what you already have. Use the curriculum and texts you already are using.  Use plain sheets of paper, file folders,  and adhesive.   And oh yes, the only two books you really need to help you get started are Dinah Zike’s Big Book of Books and Tammy Duby’s The Ultimate Lap Book Handbook. Spend a week teaching your kids a bunch of the folds as examples and keep them in a zip-lock bag, one for each child.  Then just think of it akin to learning how to cook.  You take out your ingredients, in this case foldable examples and your curriculum books. Then try one of the “recipes” in the Ultimate Lap Book Handbook. As you and your children follow these recipes you will all get more confidence in your skills.  You will undoubtedly find your children creating their own wonderful recipes.

Here is a listing of just some of the skills learned using this process:

  • Writing.
  • Sketching.
  • Reading.
  • Researching.
  • Vocabulary and definitions.
  • Sequencing
  • Summarizing
  • Analyzing.
  • Recording information.
  • Cause and effect.
  • And much more….

Parent as Teacher: Religion

Catechism of the Catholic Church_dropWhen my days are not going as planned, we make certain that this is the one subject taking priority.  Now, it may be occurring in our history lesson, in that we are discussing the Catholic perspective of the Reformation or the Spanish Inquisition, or the heroic deeds of our country’s forefathers. But most often, it is in our daily religion lessons, such as in, our discussions on the lives of the Saints, our sacrament preparation, our daily review and discussions on catechism, or our Scripture study.  We often use Bible readings as a time to ask the children to read aloud, a skill worth developing. Even for your proficient readers, reading aloud develops and strengthens their language development by seeing more sophisticated language patterns. For our little guys, the early Bibles for ChildrenBibles are great first readers.  We can also use the stories as narrations lessons, developing their ability to remember events in sequence.  By retelling some of the most beautiful Bible stories they begin the process of exposing them to the Divine, His Word of love and mercy. For the middle grade kids, the language of the Bible can be challenging, so we take time to pause and define difficult words. We reflect on particularly beautiful passages, or reflect on very, familiar passages but perhaps see them in a new light by reading and discussing them together.

The following items are our must-haves for the “Parent as Teacher.” These items can help your religion discussions or sacrament preparation.  They are solid, reliable resources in which to seek out answers. By doing so for yourself, you are modeling for your child a way to gather, and choose appropriate “tools of learning”.

Saints-books email2Catechism of the Catholic Church

Ignatius Catholic Bible

Beginning Apologetics Series

Lives of the Saints (age appropriate anthologies and chapter books)

And don’t forget a good Spiritual Director or Parish Priest…