Parent's Guide to the Natural Science Course - Year One
Many common concerns are also addressed on the FAQ (Frequently Asked Questions) page for this course, so be sure to read it also!
Scholars Online courses are a cooperative effort between the teachers, the students, and their parents. Like the proverbial three-legged stool, if one leg is broken or missing, the stool will topple over. You are a necessary and important part of this course, and even a mature student will need your support and guidance to apply the study skills and self-discipline needed to survive the class.
There are three websites for this course; however, most pages in all three sites will be organized by links in the Moodle to course homework pages, and links from the homework assignment pages to all other website pages required for a given assignment.
This is a tough course for junior high school students and those who are freshman in high school, especially if they are
Each of these areas requires some special study skills.
Many students at this level are used to textbooks which identify exactly what they need to know in order to "pass" the course. The material in such a textbook is presented in such a way that the student doesn't question it, but memorizes the "right" answer to a set of questions. Students who are comfortable with this approach are often at a loss when they come into the Natural Science course, because there is too much material to simply memorize all of it, and they must learn to analyze the material and decide what is important for themselves. There is a tendency for students to simply give up in confusion.
The purpose of a survey course is twofold:
You can help your student by realizing that I do not expect, nor should you expect, him to know every detail of the material we cover by the end of the course, For course purposes, he should be able to identify the important or basic information that he will need to understand the details, and concentrate on that. The mastery exercises will help drill him on those points, and so will help him identify them. The parent notes for the unit will help you develop this ability in your student.
The purpose of a classical approach to education is to develop the tools required to learn the material. A student who only memorizes information has no tools to continue his education. A student who gains confidence in using the tools for a given discipline will be able to continue his education even if he fails to learn or forgets tthe details of the material covered in a particular course.
We start the course with the question What is science? Most students have their own opinions on this topic, and they don't always agree. Many of the questions about the nature of science and its relationship to human society that we examine in this course are similar open-ended, debatable questions. I will not tell your student the "right" answer for such questions. Instead, we will learn ways to think about the question, look at how past and present scientists, philosophers, and theologians have tried to answer them, and see whether we can come up with some answers that make sense to us. By the end of the course, I hope that your student will be able to examine such questions for himself, to take a position, and to support that position based on objective facts or well-reasoned conclusions.
Beyond these goals, however, you and your student need to set your own goals for the course. I hope that your student will discover an area of science that truly fascinates him, and concentrate on learning the details for that area, whether or not I examine or give him credit for it. Ultimately, if he becomes fascinated enough in an area of science to pursue it further, or on his own, and has acquired some methods of thinking about science to help him continue his education, then he has succeeded, whether or not he passes an objective exam on the factual material for the class.
The Procedures page has some specific guidelines for how students might schedule completing all the tasks for each unit. You should go over these suggestions and modify them to suit your student's learning style and outside commitments. Most Natural Science students are older junior high school students or high school freshmen who still need help setting their goals and disciplining themselves to get work done in a timely fashion. You will have to decide how much help your student needs, but at the very least, you should meet with him once a week to go over the checklist and make sure that he is completing preparation reading and homework on time.
The course page in the Moodle acts as our calendar, and contains links to the homework page, which has the readings, web lectures, and lab topics for each unit. They will help you understand the order in which the science and history topics will be covered.
A normal three year junior high school science curriculum covers
We cover all these topics in this course, but not by topic outline! Rather, we look at them in something close to the historical order and context in which they were developed. This can be rather confusing as we jump from astronomy to biology to chemistry and back, but it is important to remember that science actually progresses by fits and starts, not in a completely organized manner, and that physics, chemistry, biology, and astronomy are not separate discussions of unrelated material, but similar approaches focussed on different aspects of the same universe. Although most of our science textbooks present scientific concepts as though they were Athenas, springing fully grown from some scientist-Zeus's mind, most concepts have examined and modified extensively to reach their current form.
You may find it useful to start with the outline above and help your student fit the science material for each unit into it so that you both have a picture for how the different scientific disciplines are related. We will do something like this in the review sessions at the end of each semester.
In addition, we look at the origins of these concepts and theories, starting with the development of cities and writing as necessary to science in a society, and moving from the mathematics and astronomy of the Babylonians through the classical, medieval, renaissance, and modern periods to current theories of space and time. Your student will need to identify individuals with their theories or inventions, and to trace the development of particular ideas (such as the changing concepts of matter) in chronological order, showing how the concepts change with time or were accepted or rejected by a given culture.
Two good ways exists to help learn and organize this material: the drill card, for scientist and theory, and the timeline, for chronological order. I do not provide drill materials beyond the mastery exercises and quizzes, because I've found that a large part of the usefulness for drill cards and time lines lies in making them for yourself. There will be timelines in the units, and some timeline activities in the mastery exercises, but I encourage you to make your own!
If your student is having trouble matching scientists, their dates, and their inventions, then by all means, buy a pack of 3x5 plain cards and make drill cards for all the scientists identified in the homework or on the quizzes, and for any others that he finds interesting. Put the scientist's name on one side and the period or dates, along with the invention, theory, or discovery, on the other side. Drill both ways, so that he can answer the question "What did this person do?" as well as "Who came up with this theory? When?"
Email: Set your spam and junk mail filters to allow the student to receive email from the @scholarsonline.org domain, and from me (firstname.lastname@example.org). Avoid sending large attachments (Word Documents, PDFs); I tend to filter these as possible sources of viruses,and they are often much larger than simple text files with the same information. It is safer and more reliable to post any formatted documents to the Moodle.
Web readings: I check the websites we use to determine their suitability for Scholars Online students prior to posting my web pages, but I do not follow all the links from every outside site, nor can I guarantee that such a site will remain unchanged between the time I select it and the time that you view it. If you have questions about the suitability of these sites, I encourage you to check them before letting your student view them, and to let me know if you have concerns about specific sites.
Also, help your student plan ahead when he has required web readings. Many sites are graphics intensive and the net speed can vary, so it may take time to load the assigned pages. If he waits until the last minute, he may not have time to complete reading assignments.
Class sessions: Our class sessions are discussion sessions. I try to present all lecture material ahead of time on my web pages, so that we can use the chat periods for student input. As a result, chats can seem somewhat chaotic, and "start and stop" as students try to type in their questions, answers, and comments. To make chats as useful as possible, follow these guidelines:
In order for you to keep track of whether your student is completing the work, you might want to set up your own checklist. Each unit requires the student to
From your mentor block, you may track student work completion, scores, and teacher feedback. You should check at least once a week to make sure that your student is on track to complete work.
You should refer to this guide, to the FAQs page, and to the Procedures page frequently. These pages contain material that was developed in answer to questions other parents have asked me, so many of your questions may be answered already in one of these pages.
Each unit has a "Parents Notes" guide, linked to the homework assignment page. You should check this for hints on the focus of the material for the week, ideas for questions to ask to see if your student is "getting it", and explanations of homework assignments. This page also has a checklist of the work required for the unit. At the very least, you should use the checklist to make sure that your student is completing the required work.
You should also feel free to email me with specific questions at any time, and especially with corrections to the web materials (misspellings, missing links, possible quiz key or homework key errors).
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