Lamenting the Loss of Living Books in Science
Apparently, it seems, that quality children's nonfiction is becoming more and more difficult to find. This problem seems most exacerbated when looking for science books in the middles school age range. I'm not sure why, but my ability to search for nonfiction books for specific topics is extremely limited in that only a few are new and can be purchased as such, with the remainder becoming out of print and only offered as used. These latter used books are then often few in number available and sometime even less in number for a reasonable price. This makes building a curriculum based on living books very difficult.
As the mother of a child with goals and ambitions tied to a solid foundation in science, it means a great deal to me that the education in this field, both for my own children and the children of those following this curriculum, is excellent. As such, it is necessary for quality living books in science to be varied in topic , well-written and representative of different ages and levels of children. Without access to this variety, the curriculum must be either suffer or be altered. I've obviously chosen to alter it. I'm now left to either reformat, edit and add to public domain books or change my standards to fit what is available. I'm currently following the latter path with plans to work on the former option.
Basing the science aspect of this curriculum only on public domain books is not going to produce that quality of education that is so important to me. Books written in 1910 need much alteration in order for them to be used today. The information is outdated and the experiments require items not readily available today. I do hope to one day use books in the public domain to create books that more accurately fit my curriculum and my standards of a quality living book, but this will take time.
My ultimate goals for a quality science curriculum involves reading thoughtfully written science trade books on topics and concepts, biographies of scientists, books about natural history and books written from a scientist's perspective in the field in which they are engaged. Added to these living books should be much time devoted to observation, in the field, in life, in demonstration and in experiment and time spent recording these observations and studies. As the student begins to get older, not only should the level and amount of material increase, but also the output expectations.
Textbooks will be transitioned into by Year 9 for a traditional study of Conceptual Physics (or traditional Physics if your student needs it), Chemistry in Year 10 and Biology in Year 11. Year 12 is left open with suggestions for Physics, Advanced Biology and other options. Following a traditional approach in the upper years ensures that the student will better transition into college. Also, since my degree is not in a science field, I don't think that I'm qualified to create and build from a selection of quality books a science curriculum of the caliber needed to support a student who wishes to go on to university in the field of science. Because so many families leave the Classical or Charlotte Mason approach at the upper levels, often for this reason alone, I felt it important to include textbooks in science in the upper years, assuring parents that their students will receive a quality science education.
Note: Charlotte Mason also used textbooks and many articles have been written about her inclusion of them. I've also written of this in my blog post titled "A Study of Charlotte Mason's Books".
For now, I plan to use what is available but with more detailed teaching notes and lesson plans. I will also add modern demonstrations and experiments to reinforce the concepts as they unfold. These additions will offset any minor disadvantages with new books included in the curriculum.
One new series that I've added is the Story of Science books by Joy Hakim. In chronological order: Aristotle Leads the Way, Newton at the Center and Einstein Adds a New Dimension, these three books cover the history of science for physics and chemistry but with some mentions of math and astronomy too. While initially, I might have rejected these books based on the busyness of the margins and diversions into subtopics on some pages as well as the author's tone of explanation, in the end I decided that, for now, I can probably make these books work. It would be important for the teacher to limit the number of pages covered in one reading, allowing the student the time needed to fully read and examine all the content on those pages. Detailed teaching notes and lesson plans along with corresponding experiments and demonstrations would add the needed support and focus to make these books really work. I'm hoping to add the latter to the teaching guides for them.
Being reasonably suitable for the upper middle school range, integrating both science and history, studying the major scientists and exploring science topics (physical science topics primarily) as they correspond are the positive aspects to using these books. By including them in the curriculum, I was able to replace a number of books that were out of print and to offer a platform where major science concepts were explained, something that was proving very difficult to offer for this age bracket and for these fields of study. Too many outdated and hard-to-find books will not offer a suitable base for teaching middle grades science topics which prepare for high school.
I did, briefly, consider the idea of following suit with several classical programs available which simply do not teach science, outside of science history and perhaps some natural history, until the high school years. This approach is hard for many to take on and feel secure. Also, for many children it would not satisfy their natural curiosity about the world. Additionally, this is not the approach taken by Charlotte Mason as she expected her upper level students to study science and even used a number of textbooks to accomplish this.
I do plan on offering an alternative book list built for each of the upper years that includes books which I have or that I've seen that are out-of-print and hard to find but that provide lovely alternatives to the above books and some other modern books. This way, you can replace the books if you don't mind spending the time finding them and the price tag associated with purchasing them. And, again, I do hope to one day use what is available in the public domain to create the science books that will support this curriculum and will support the science goals of this curriculum.
If anyone reading this post knows of several books targeted towards the upper middle school range that teaches concepts in physics and chemistry, please share them with me. I'd be happy to consider them.