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How to Teach Chemistry and Physics

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Why Teaching Chemistry and Physics Is So Hard

  1. It’s been 20 years since you had high school math or science.
  2. You weren’t paying attention 20 years ago.
  3. You didn’t even understand it if you had paid attention.
  4. You didn’t think you’d ever need to know this stuff.
  5. The textbook you found for your student is over your head.
  6. You don’t have the money to buy a DVD, hire a tutor, or purchase a lab kit.
  7. You handed a textbook to your student and told him to read it without you.
  8. He read it without you.
  9. He asked you a question.
  10. See #1 above.

Be honest. You aren’t going to teach chemistry the same way a high school teacher will. First of all, the teacher only teaches a few subjects (usually all science-related), and he has often been teaching them for several years. You, however, are possibly the mother of several students, and you teach all subjects (in addition to your janitorial, taxi, and restaurant services). The teacher also has the textbook and all supplies available to him. You probably don’t — and high school science books are expensive!

The following are my low-cost, high-interest ideas for teaching the two hardest science classes at home to your homeschooled teenager. You could even adapt these ideas for younger students and teach them all together.

The Purpose of High School Science

The point of high school science is not to have a thorough understanding of chemistry or physics, but rather to be introduced to them.

For instance, the SAT science sections are broken down into the following test categories:

  • 45% application of knowledge
  • 35% synthesis of knowledge
  • 20% fundamental knowledge and concepts

Your first purpose for high school science is to help your student understand fundamental concepts. If he or she falls in love with science, he’ll go on to college where he’ll be given a more in-depth education. For that reason, you want to introduce vocabulary and teach the most basic math formulas.

If you take a basic textbook (purchased second-hand is great), you’ll see that the most important vocabulary is usually in bold print or listed at the end of each chapter. Your student needs to memorize these definitions. The most simple science course would consist of making vocabulary cards on Day 1, spending a couple more days reading about those basic principles (and this can be from “fun” sources — ask your local librarian for ideas or do a Google search), watching a lab demonstration online or doing a simple experiment (from elementary-book sources — again, ask your librarian), then being tested on the final day over all the vocabulary words.

A second purpose for high school science is organizing and interpreting information. In other words, can your student read something and then see how that principle is applied to real life? Your goal is to help your student see why anyone would want to make a career in science and how science is practical.

This is why we do science experiments. This is also why we use math in our science classes. This is why we take “field trips.”

I have found that a “living books” approach works well at the high school level, just as it does for elementary subjects. However, you’re going to want to especially make sure your student understands the “scientific method” and how it applies to the subjects he is reading about. In addition, you’ll periodically want your student to write essays and short reports that demonstrate his understanding of topics. Finally, a full-blown “science project” (with research paper) is advisable each spring.

Keep in mind that you can do all of these things on a shoe-string budget, without any fancy classes, textbooks, DVDs, or tutors. Just continue doing what you did at the younger level, but do keep careful notes each week for transcripts.

How to Teach Chemistry at Home

How to Teach Physics at Home


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  1. Jennifer D. says

    Thanks Anne. Great post and very practical. Since we are starting highschool this year with my oldest I appreciate this helpful info.

  2. Thanks so much for this post. It was very insightful and encouraging. I love the list! it sounds exactly like what I’ve thought and done.

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