This year I was challenged with the task of teaching biology to two children who won’t dig in the garden, don’t like to get dirty, are absolutely repulsed by the idea of dissection, and are easily grossed out. They love chemistry, physics, lego building, and astronomy. But biology just seemed too… wet, I suppose, to generate appeal among the 2-student masses.
Needless to say, I spent most of the summer researching. How do you teach biology? What all does one cover? How do I do this and appeal to my kids’ more orderly natures?
Solution number one came for Ian, who is by far the more fastidious of the two. Though we’ve never used online education before, Ian checked out some sample lecture videos of Thinkwell‘s AP Biology course. He was hooked, voluntarily watching 2 hours of video lectures, just because he was interested. As he had been dreading biology for the better part of a year, I was completely shocked at his new-found love, and purchased the course on the spot. He was so sweet – he kept saying how wonderful it was to have a real expert teaching the material, and would then immediately apologize for fear that he hurt my feelings. I had to explain to him that as a home educator, my job is as much facilitator as teacher – that it is my role to make sure my kids get a good education, no matter who the teacher is, or how the information is delivered. I also explained that as kids get older, even professional teachers specialize, becoming experts in their fields of math or science or literature.
But back to the story. Now I am working with Eva by herself, and we’re having a blast. I ended up purchasing a curriculum from Ellen McHenry’s Basement Workshop simply called “Cells.” Ellen approaches education similarly to myself. She does a wonderful job mixing humor and cartoons, complex information, youtube videos, and hands-on crafts and experiments. We used her “Elements of the Universe” curriculum when we studied chemistry and loved it. Of course I never ever follow a curriculum without mixing and adding, even ones as good as these, so I purchased a few extras to add to the mix. You can see what all I ordered here; just scroll down to the biology section.
The Cells curriculum begins with a unit on molecular biology; I found this to be the perfect approach for my little chemist, and we started the year off talking about molecular bonding and ions and electrons. The Cells curriculum does a great job explaining everything on the molecular level, breaking down cell parts to their atomic makeup, and always reminding the student that everything is comprised of the elements of the periodic table. The reinforcement of this structure helps us, like learning vocabulary in a foreign language. We’re really enjoying it.
This week we’ve moved into the Magic World of DNA. I got to bring out one of my special purchases, a DNA model produced by K’Nex. Pure fabulousness. Eva commented, “Mom, it’s like Lego, only I’m building ME!” She couldn’t wait to work on it, and I was pleasantly surprised by how easy it was for her to identify the phosphates, sugars, and base pairs. When Ian got home from band, she explained all the parts to him (he hasn’t gotten to this in his AP class yet!). It’s been a lot of fun. Tomorrow we’ll split the double helix and talk about mRNA and transcription.
So far, so good. Both kids are enjoying biology, and that was my number one goal. And with fun projects that engage them where they are (crafts, online activities, K’Nex, puzzles, etc.), I’m hoping that by the end they’ll think of the subject as exciting and intriguing, like they do the other sciences.