In my 20+ years teaching in the homeschool community, I have seen many parents grow apprehensive as the high school years approach. Some parents are intimidated by the advanced subject matter (particularly math and science). Others worry that homeschooling will not provide an education rigorous enough for students who plan to go on to college.
When my own boys reached high school, I admit that I wasn’t satisfied with much of the science curriculum available to homeschoolers. While I still used the curriculum as a spine in my co op classes, I found I had to supplement a lot with other material.
As a science teacher at many homeschool co ops, I knew that many students started my class “hating” science, viewing science as little more than facts to memorize to pass a test. I knew I had to change that. Science is everywhere and is best learned by discovering and exploration. Whenever possible, I helped students understand the science that they use each day and helped make science relevant.
Self-paced, Online Course Format
Each of my online science courses is self-paced. This means that a student can progress through the course as quickly as they wish.
Rather than a full curriculum, the science courses are more of a deep dive into certain topics: DNA, Genetics and Heredity, and Microbiology. The courses can be used as stand-alone studies, or can be used to supplement science curriculum a student may already be learning.
The format is a mix of reading and videos. Vocabulary terms are incorporated throughout the text which the students can record using the provided worksheets.*
Each online course also includes opportunities for hands-on exploration. Directions for optional experiments are included (many using items on-hand, but some require items that can be purchased by vendors such as Amazon or Home Science Tools).
In order to make sure that students understand the material before moving forward, the courses contain periodic quizzes. Students must score at least 80% on a given quiz before they are able to move to the next section.
If a student gets particularly excited about a given topic and wants to learn more, links to additional resources are given.
The content of the self-paced courses goes above and beyond what is typically presented in textbooks. Students are amazed to discover the fascinating processes taking place in their bodies and in the world around them.
Here is a quick run-down of some of the featured topics in the courses.
DNA: The Alphabet of Life
Students learn that ALL living things contain DNA as well as the biological function of DNA.
They learn the unbelievable amount of DNA in a human cell and how much DNA the average human contains.
Students understand the basic structure of DNA, how it is held together, base-pairing rules, and how genetic information is organized into genes.
They learn how the information within DNA genes is expressed through the cellular processes of transcription and translation. To cement the way it works, students go through the process of transcribing a real gene (human hemoglobin) from DNA to RNA. They then use a codon chart or wheel to translate the RNA into protein. This helps them SEE how the information within DNA genes directs the production of proteins.
Once students learn how DNA is replicated within cells prior to cell division, they learn how DNA mutations can occur. Not only do they learn how mutations occur, they learn about the different types of mutations (point mutations, deletions, and insertions) and their downstream effects.
To drive it home, we take a look at three real diseases all caused by DNA mutations: sickle cell anemia, cystic fibrosis, and Tay-Sachs disease. Each of these diseases is caused by a different type of DNA mutation. Students complete an activity to discover where the mutations lie and what effects the mutations have on the proteins made from the mutant genes. The activity really helps students comprehend how seemingly insignificant changes in the DNA sequence of a gene can have devastating effects.
Finally, students learn about cell division and the cell cycle. They learn that certain proteins regulate the cell cycle to protect faulty cells from producing offspring. If DNA mutations occur in the genes coding for these cell cycle regulators, faulty cells continue to divide. This is one way cancer occurs.
As the course ends, the student is encouraged to take learning further by exploring non-coding (“junk”) DNA, epigenetics, and how genes are regulated so that they are only expressed within the cells that need them (for instance why liver genes aren’t expressed in the cells of the eye).
You can find the scope and sequence for this self-paced, online course here:
Genetics and Heredity
With an understanding of how DNA works under their belts, students are ready to delve into the world of genetics and heredity.
First, students learn that many genes come in different “flavors” called alleles. They learn about dominant and recessive alleles and the important distinction between genotype and phenotype. They then investigate their own phenotypes by doing a personal trait survey, using the results to predict what dominant and recessive alleles they carry.
No study of Genetics would be complete without learning about Gregor Mendel and his pivotal work with pea plants. Students learn about his experiments and the principles of Mendelian Inheritance.
Students learn about meiosis: the specialized form of cell division that takes place to create gametes (sperm and egg cells). They learn how the process of meiosis leads to genetic diversity.
Students learn how to use Punnett Squares to predict the outcome of genetic crosses. They learn how to perform and analyze Punnett Squares of single traits (monohybrid crosses) and two traits (dihybrid crosses). They also learn that just because an outcome is probable (based on a Punnett Square), that doesn’t mean it’s guaranteed. A fun coin toss activity is used to demonstrate this fact, using the gene allele for cystic fibrosis as a real-life example.
Not only do students learn about traits that following Mendelian patterns of inheritance, they also learn about non-Mendelian forms of inheritance.
Incomplete dominance is taught using the ability to taste PTC as an example.
Codominance is taught using the genetics of human blood types.
Students learn about sex-linked traits by examining how hemophilia was passed down through the royal houses of many European countries.
They learn how mitochondrial DNA is only passed down from mother to child.
Finally, they learn that many genetic traits are due to the expression of multiple genes. Examples of such polygenic traits are skin and eye color.
As the course concludes, students are encouraged to take learning further by exploring how nondisjunction can occur during meiosis, leading to Down’s Syndrome and Trisomy 18. Links are also included to learn more about genetic testing and gene therapy.
You can find the scope and sequence of the self-paced, online course here:
As a microbiologist by training, I find this topic fascinating. It blows my mind how much beauty and complexity exists in a microscopic world many of us will never see. I wrote this module to inspire students to explore the microscopic world and to understand that not all “germs” are alike. This is important, since the treatment needed to cure a bacterial infection (antibiotics) will not work to treat a viral infection.
We start off by exploring a brief history of microbiology. As a branch of science, microbiology is relatively young. This is due to the fact that for the majority of recorded time, humans were unaware that microorganisms existed.
Students learn about the different theories that were accepted over the course of history to explain how diseases were spread: the four humors, the miasma theory, and spontaneous generation.
They also learn about the scientists who challenged the theories of their day using the scientific method—folks like Dr. Ignaz Semmelweiss, Francesco Redi, John Snow, Louis Pasteur, Robert Koch, and Alexander Fleming.
Then, we move on to how pathogens cause disease. Even though there are many different types of germs, there are certain things that must happen for any germ to cause disease. Students will learn the different routes through which pathogens can enter the body and how infection can spread from one person to another. They learn how many infections have an asymptomatic incubation period as they learn about Typhoid Mary.
Then, each different type of germ (viruses, bacteria, fungi, protozoa, and algae) are presented. For each type of microorganism, students learn the defining characteristics that set each group apart and their life cycles. They learn the benefits that each type of microbe provides the planet (yes, even viruses!). Then, we focus in on how members of each group of microorganisms cause disease.
In the course, students do some math (as they calculate how many bacteria are produced from a single bacterium over the course of 8 hours), learn the difference between eukaryotic and prokaryotic cells, learn about the innate and adaptive arms of the immune system, and learn how antibiotics work and how antibiotic resistance occurs.
The course concludes with a section highlighting what careers are available in the field of microbiology.
You can find the scope and sequence of this self-paced online course here:
Subscribers to my Science Simplified Newsletter receive a subscriber-exclusive coupon that can be used for the self-paced, online courses.
As I said, my aim with these courses is to help bring science to life and help students recognize the science in action all around them. There are so many incredible careers available for this generation in science and technology, and a solid science background will go a long way to prepare students for college studies and beyond.
While I look forward to continuing to teach students in person and online, I plan to continue to create more self-paced online courses for students who prefer this format. Future courses in cell biology and chemistry are in the works.
Here are a couple of blog posts I’ve written that have borrowed some material from the Microbiology course:
To learn more about my philosophy for teaching science, you may be interested in these articles:
* The Leaf Science course contains a mix of text, videos, and hands-on experiments. It is more of a unit study into the biology of leaves than a full course.