Posts Tagged ‘high school science’

Living Books for High School Physics

Dear Reader,

My oldest did physics this year. We were lucky to find a co-op near us that was offering just the labs for physics without is having to do anything else. (In the past we have used Landry Labs for high school science labs. Sadly, they are now out of business.)

I didn’t realize when I signed up for the lab class that it required a textbook as well. They gave a choice between Apologia and Conceptual Physics. Since I’ve never been attracted to Apologia, I chose Conceptual Physics. This is a classic textbook. I tried to have my son do the problems but I didn’t have an answer key so that proved tough. And there were a lot of them for every section.

Midway through the year, I decided to see if I could find any other way to get him physics problems to do, which does seem necessary as physics is so math-based. The best source of such problems seemed to be AP material so in January I decided that the poor bot might as well do the AP Physics 1 test. I had him watch Khan Academy videos and use an AP practice book to prepare. Scores are still pending. I do think he has a shot at a 3 (out of 5) which will get him some college credit at most schools he is looking at. I know 3 is not top-tier but given that I sprung this on him mid-year, I will be happy if that’s what he gets.

So much for the other stuff — let’s get to the Living Books on High School Physics:

Six Easy Pieces by Richard Feynman — A series of lectures on physics of noted professor Feynman

Russell Stannard’s Uncle Albert Books: The Time and Space of Uncle Albert, Black Holes and Uncle Albert, and Uncle Albert and the Quantum Quest — These books could be done earlier, even in middle school. My son really enjoyed them and found them easy reading.

Physics for Future Presidents: The Science Behind the Headlines by Richard Muller — This is the last one my son will be getting to for the year. It covers topics like terrorism and global warming. He has an interest in politics as well so I think it will be very good for him. I love how it applies physics to our world.

How Things Work: The Physics of Everyday Life by Louis Bloomfield —  I purchased this book but did not end up using it for my son when I found out he was expected to sue the textbook instead. This book is very much like a textbook but seems a bit more accessible. It seems to cover all the basic concepts. I plan to have subsequent children use it.

For the Love of Physics by Walter Lewin — I only ran across this book recently. I purchased it but have not looked at it much. It looks very good and I suspect I will use it in the future.


Lastly, I want to mention Paul Fleisher’s books. He has wonderful short but well-written introductions to various science concepts. They are really middle school level but if you have a child who is not quote so science-y I think you could sue them in high school too.

Happy reading!



Living Books for High School Chemistry

Dear Reader,

When I tried to cobble together a biology course for my then 9th grader, I discovered that the part that worked best for us was the living books. So this year, his 10th grade one, I declared that I would not be swayed by outside pressures but would keep living books as the center of our curriculum. I plan to use the same selections (with just a few tweaks which I’ll explain below) for my second child next year.

Living Books for High School Chemistry

Life of Fred Chemistry We love the Life of Fred series. It started as a math curriculum but has expanded into early readers, high school chemistry and more. This year my 10th grader was using no less than 4 of the LOF books. When I saw they had a chemistry one, I couldn’t resist. As with the whole LOF series, this book tells the story of Fred, a 5-year-old genius math professor. All the books incorporate the subject matter in Fred’s life. There are 36 chapters and each has a problem set with answers at the end. I let my son work through this one on his own because he can check his own answers (and he’s pretty trustworthy about such things). Because it is only 36 lessons, I had him do it once a week. Mondays were for LOF, the other days for his other books . . .


The Joy of Chemistry: The Amazing Science of Familiar Things by Cathy Cobb and Monty L. Fetterolf We used this book as kind of second spine book in addition to LOF. I chose it mainly because it has experiments which are relatively easy to do with relatively accessible supplies.  For Biology, my son did a 2-day lab intensive course with Landry Academy. It looked like we would not have their chemistry lab in our area this year so I wanted something else that involved labs for him. As it turns out we will be able to do the chemistry labs in October. We were really happy with the biology lab last year and I would recommend their lab intensives if you have one in your area. Since my daughter will be able to do the chem lab in October, I will probably have her skip this book. I did like it though. It is well-written and easy to read. It is really directed at an adult who wants an introduction to chemistry. The supplies for the labs were not too difficult to find. I made a list of all we would need, bought whatever I could from Amazon and the rest at my local supermarket or hardware store. I also had my son lead the labs himself. His ten-year-old sister was his audience/class so he had to read a chapter, figure out the lab and then lead her through it and explain it to her. He also used this book once a week through the whole year.

Exploring the World of Chemistry by John Hudson Tiner I didn’t have my son read this one but it is one I am considering for my daughter next year to replace Joy of Chemistry (see above). We have used Tiner’s books in the past and I have found them easy to read. Though they are thin and are perhaps more of a middle school level, I find that they contain a fair amount of info and that my kids retain them well. A thin book retained well beats a thick one that the child can’t remember in my estimation. My daughter is also less of a science-y type so I don’t mind going a little lighter with her.


The Periodic Kingdom: A Journey into the Land of the Chemical Elements by P.W. Atkins Now we get into the living books which my son read. The Periodic Kingdom treats the periodic table as a land with different countries within it. This paradigm allows the author to explain the landscape of the periodic table and the relation of the elements to one another. I’m not big on memorizing things like the elements and their characteristics but this book allows one to get the lay of the land, if you will, and to see how it all fits together very nicely. My son did a great job narrating this book and seemed to enjoy it. An alternative to this book which I looked at was The Mystery of the Periodic Table by Benjamin Wiker and Jeanne Bendick. It seemed a simpler book along basically the same principles. It could also work for younger children.

Crucibles: The Story of Chemistry from Ancient Alchemy to Nuclear Fission by Bernard Jaffe As it name suggests, this book takes a historical approach to chemistry, showing its developments through time.

Napoleon’s Buttons: How 17 Molecules Changed History by Penny LeCouteur I love how chemistry can be approached through different lenses. Napoleon’s Buttons looks at a number of molecules and tells their stories. An alternative which I looked at but didn’t like quite as much is The Disappearing Spoon by Sam Kean. If you are looking for an explicitly Christian book, you might want to check out Elements of Faith by Richard Duncan.

Two I didn’t have time for but considered look at the chemistry in specific processes: The Chemical History of a Candle which I believe is a series of lectures by famed scientist Michael Faraday and That’s the Way the Cookie Crumbles by Joe and Joseph Schwarcz.

Lastly, another one I wish we’d had time for:  Molecules of Murder by John Emsley looks at the chemistry in crime, specifically at poisons.







Living Books for High School Biology

Dear Reader,

My oldest is finishing up his 9th grade year, that first year of the dreaded high school which seems to throw us homeschooling parents into such a dither. While I expect him to take outside classes at some point, for this year we were still doing everything at home (well, almost; see the bit about labs below). Never one to take any curriculum as I find it, I ended up piecing together different bits for his first year of high school science for which the topic was biology. To see the initial plan, refer to this post from the beginning of the year.

There were three parts to his biology course this year: a video based curriculum from DIVE Science, a lab component through Landry Academy, and a number of living books. Though he has done not the lab yet (that’s in about a month), I will say the living books have been the treasure of this year. I am really glad I decided to use them rather than just taking the readings assigned by the DIVE curriculum, which on a brief perusal I had found deadly dull and quite one-sided, and I am recommitted to including living books in future years.

I would like to give you reviews of both DIVE and Landry, but I will save that for a future post (or two). For now, let me share with you the books I had him read and how each of them worked out for us.

Living Books for High School Biology:


Here is the schedule he used. It’s not very fancy, I know, and I am not sure in this picture how much you can read. If you can see at the top I wrote in “Narrate daily – written 1x/week.” I realize in high school he should perhaps be doing written narrations for everything, but I thought this might still be a bit burdensome for him. He’s a great narrator but has always struggled some with the physicality of writing too much. In other words, it slows him down a lot and he holds his pencil in such a way that his hand aches. Maybe next year we’ll up the quota on that. I’d also like to point out that in true Charlotte Mason style, this is a pretty simple, straightforward approach. Yes, I felt the need to add in the video component to make sure we weren’t missing key points and to give more of a method of evaluation (I made him do the tests from DIVE) and to add labs as well because I know colleges like to see those, but to me the core of it all is the living books. There is not a lot of busy work here, no worksheets and reading comprehension questions — just read and narrate, read and narrate. And it is effective. I really feel like he learned a lot this year and took a real interest in his studies as well.

But I know you are waiting for the main course so here it is:

Evolution by Paul Fleisher – To start off with the most controversial, I had my son read this book on evolution. The DIVE curriculum is unabashedly literal 6-day creationist and I wanted him to get a sense of all sides of the issue. You can read my own thoughts on the topic, which are quite rambling and ambivalent, here. Fleishman has a number of books on science topics. Not all are so controversial (not much is, after all). They are all slim volumes and we have found them well-written. He is good at taking what could be complicated topics and explaining them simply. In general I’d say his books are a middle school level.

Not part of his schedule, but I also had my son read part of one of my favorite internet articles on evolution and creationism, ….

To balance things out, I then had him read The Great Dinosaur Mystery: Solved! by Ken Ham. As the title suggests, this book seeks to explain (or explain away, depending on your point of view) the scientific evidence regarding dinosaurs in the light of that literal 6-day creationist understanding. Though intended for adults, it is written at a fairly simple level and is quite accessible to a younger reader as well. The edition I have is perhaps a bit dated but my impression is that the basic arguments remain the same. I do not find this book  convincing myself. As a biblical scholar of sorts (I almost got a PhD in Biblical Hebrew but for a little thing called a dissertation), this book irked me. The whole topic led to a number of good in-the-car-type discussions and also led me to write this post on the evidence (or lack thereof) of dinosaurs in the Bible.

For a little bit of a lighter take, the next book I had my son read was The Island of Dr. Moreau by H.G. Wells. This classic is about a scientist on an isolated island who is operating on live animals to alter them. The results are grotesque and disturbing. It’s a good book.


The World of Biology by John Hudson Tiner — This volume does not on the surface look like a living book. It is laid out more like a textbook and its content would make a good, if slim, middle school biology course. But it is relatively interesting in how it is written. My son after reading a chapter told me not just how food is digested in the various parts of the body but the story of how they found out that chemical reactions happen in the stomach. It was pretty interesting and I learned something as well from his narration. And he seemed genuinely interested and eager to tell me. If that doesn’t make  a living book. I don’t know what does. The content here might be a bit simple for a high school level class which is why I am calling it “Middle School” but combined with others, I think Tiner’s book made a wonderful addition to our curriculum. And he has many others as well that I look forward to using. In fact my 8th grade daughter has been reading his History of Medicine and though she does not tend to be as enthused about her studies, she too seems pleased with her book.


The next book was a treasure: Mr. Tompkins Inside Himself by George Gamow. Gamow is an older writer who has written a number of volumes which teach science in a narrative format. Most of his books are on physics but this one is biology. The premise of the book is that Mr. Tompkins goes about his day, starting with a visit to his doctor’s office, and falls asleep a lot and dreams of, for instance, traveling inside himself with his own blood cells. This is a fairly dense book and I would say it is high school level. My son really took to it and it didn’t seem to go over his head at all. FYI, the book Mr. Tompkins Learns the Facts of Life seems to be a subset of this book and could be worth using if you have less time to spend on it. But if you have time, do the whole thing.


Next up is Dr. Jenner and the Speckled Monster: The Search for the Smallpox Vaccine by Albert Marrin. Marrin is a favorite author and we get his books whenever they are relevant. He has more on history and I suppose this one is history too in a way but it is medical history. When I asked my son which was his favorite book this year, this is the first one he mentioned. Marrin does a wonderful job of making a story of things, even things one might not expect to be interesting like oil. This is not too long a book and is an upper middle-early high school level.


Lastly, there is Spare Parts :  From Peg Legs to Gene Splices by Wendy B. Murphy. My son has actually not gotten to this one yet but I read it myself and am excited for it. It is the history of what we do to our bodies from ancient prosthetic noses (kind of gross and with pictures!) to modern genetic engineering. The modern stuff is a bit more scanty but the whole thing is pretty interesting. My sister-in-law has a fake leg and I found the part of prosthetics, of which there is quite a bit, fascinating. It really made me realize how much she goes through or has been through that she never complains about.

And that’s the list. Next year will be chemistry and I am excited to use the Life of Fred Chemistry book (we love all things LOF) ut am also looking for living book suggestions.



Sabbath Mood Homeschool

Desiring That a Sabbath Mood Rest on Your Homeschool


my musings, wise or otherwise

Festival Fete

locally grown art, food, and merriment


A Literary Homestead


Blogging about education, theology, and more

Harmony Fine Arts

Blogging about education, theology, and more

The Common Room

....Blogging about cabbages and kings since 2005.

Sage Parnassus

Blogging about education, theology, and more

A peaceful day

Blogging about education, theology, and more

Living Charlotte Mason in California

Blogging about education, theology, and more


Weekly Walrus Whatevers

Creations by Maris

Craft Projects For all Ages

Fisher Academy International ~ Teaching Home

Blogging about education, theology, and more


Blogging about education, theology, and more

Leah's Bookshelf

Book Reviews You Can Trust

Duxbury Art Boosters

Supporting the visual arts in Duxbury Public Schools

Just Right Porridge

... you'll lick your bowl clean...