If you’ve read my review of Building Foundations of Scientific Understanding (BFSU) science curriculum, you’ll know it’s no secret that I love it!
The content is awesome, it’s organized logically, and it encourages students to observe, question, and think their way through the lessons (rather than just memorizing science jargon that’s thrown at them).
But, even though I love BFSU, there was a steep learning curve for me as I tried to actually implement it. The thing is, I was creating work and frustration for myself that could’ve been avoided! The steep learning curve was my own fault!
My troubles stemmed mostly from the following two myths I still believed when I first started homeschooling:
Myth #1: My homeschool has to look like public school.
Myth #2: I have to fully, 100%, completely understand everything in a lesson before I can present it to my kids.
When we started using BFSU Vol. I, my oldest son was in kindergarten and it was our first official year homeschooling. I was still under the (false) impression that I had to recreate public school in my home (i.e. “Myth #1″).
Combine this with my spreadsheet-loving, type-A personality and it was a perfect recipe for frustration and a lot of wasted administrative time. I spent a ridiculous number of hours making outlines of lessons, writing up tests and quizzes, and writing out lesson plans. For me, this was all a ginormous waste of time (I’ll explain why in a minute).
Myth #2 just made matters worse – and in two different ways. First, I thought I couldn’t bring up a topic until I had “100% grasp” of it myself. I thought I had to be an expert on everything I said. Good luck having true “100%” knowledge of any topic, but especially an infinitely complex subject like science!
But secondly, look at the way Myth #2 is worded: “… before I can present it to my kids.” I still had the traditional school mindset of “teacher standing in front of the class, telling bits of knowledge to the kids.” Did I really need to prepare formal presentations for each lesson?
It took me a while to realize that neither of these myths is true. Each year I believed those myths less. And, each year, our homeschool got better!
If you’re new to homeschooling or you’re struggling to put myths like these to rest, check out my book, Think About Homeschooling. In it, I dispel misconceptions about homeschooling that you might not even be aware are holding you back from reaching your homeschool’s full potential!
How I Plan BFSU
Like I said before, I’m a spreadsheet-loving, planning-ahead, need-a-schedule-or-I-can’t-function kinda gal. I need to have some kind of plan to get started, even if the plan needs to change later.
But I also don’t have the time or inclination to re-invent the wheel and write out detailed lesson plans.
Over the years, I’ve tried a lot of different ways of planning and preparing for our BFSU lessons and I’ve finally settled on a method that’s a good balance. It includes enough pre-prep to feel like I have a plan and I know what I’m doing, but it doesn’t take too long.
Here’s my four step approach to lesson planning for the BFSU science curriculum:
Step 1: Outline the Order of Lessons
Some people might be able to open up the book, pick a topic, and run with it. I’m not one of those people. I like having the big picture in mind so I know what’s coming up when.
In the past, I took the time to… you guessed it… make a spreadsheet. I listed each lesson and their prerequisites, and I also listed notes about weather/seasons (for example, for the “Fungi & Bacteria” lessons in Vol. II, I noted “fall” and “outside” since we’d actually be able to get out and see mushrooms in our yard at that time).
While this was helpful, it wasn’t really necessary. Now I just take fifteen minutes to look at the lesson flowchart at the beginning of the volume and decide which lessons we’ll cover.
So, for example, in Volume I there are 41 lessons. If I was planning on doing Volume I over three years (K, 1st, and 2nd grades), that means I’d need to cover 13 lessons one year and 14 lessons in each of the other two years. So then I’d just look at roughly the top third of the flowchart and decide what 13 lessons we want to do this year and which to leave for the following years.
Then, keeping in mind the seasons and other factors, I’d think through the order to cover those 13 lessons. For example, I might realize I want to cover the Life Science (Thread “B”, Vol. I) lessons like “Distinguishing Plants & Animals” or “Life Cycles” in spring when we can observe and experiment outside. Or maybe I want to cover the “Read and Draw Maps” or “North, East, South and West” lessons (Thread “D”, Vol. I) in the fall before we go on a vacation.
I use highlighting and/or numbering on the flowchart to mark the lessons and their order.
Step 2: Read the Lessons & Make Notes
I’d love to be able to skim the lesson and jump right into it with my kids. But my personality just needs more preparation than that to feel comfortable and prepared.
Like I said, the first few years I created lesson outlines – basically re-typing Dr. Nebel’s key ideas and experiment procedures in my own format. After burning out with this approach, I asked myself, “Self…why am I doing all this?”
After all, the information is already in the book. It’s organized in clear sections. Why was I making it so complicated for myself?
My issue was the problem I mentioned in Part 1 of my BFSU Review. I called it “the biggest hurdle” to using this curriculum. Because the lesson text all flows together in a narrative format, it can be hard to determine what parts to actually say or do with your kids.
Here’s an excerpt from BFSU Vol. II (Lesson B-15: Cells III, pg 142) to show you what I mean:
“Pose questions such as: Where does the blood entering the capillary network come from? Where does blood exiting the capillary network go? … Many students will already know the basic answer to each of these questions: The heart! But aid students in visualizing the system. Have them imagine they are all reduced to the size of a particle within the blood… and they are going to ride along as if they were on a raft floating down river.”Bernard J. Nebel, Ph.D. (BFSU Vol II)
Do you see how the questions to ask, an answer to the questions, a note to the teacher, and activity instructions are all wrapped up in this one paragraph?
This threw me off at first. I wasn’t sure how I’d keep track of what parts to say or when activity instructions were starting and ending. For example, I thought I needed to pull out all the questions on a separate “List of Questions to Ask” and maybe even create some kind of quiz to make sure we got them all answered.
But, like I said before, my eureka moment came as I learned to let go of Myths 1 & 2. I realized that me breaking apart and compartmentalizing the pieces of these lessons – forcing them into some public school lesson plan format I’ve seen in the past – was making things unnecessarily difficult. Not only that – but I was undoing the very natural flow that makes this curriculum so usable by non-science-experts.
Once I let go of my need for overly formal, traditional lesson plans, things went so much better! I realized I can just use tried and true methods like highlighting, writing notes in the margins, and sticky notes to help myself remember my ideas for approaching the lesson with my kids.
I came up with my own shorthand system, for example:
- I highlight key points, definitions, and paragraphs to read directly to the kids from the book.
- I write a “Q” in the margin where there’s a specific question to pose to the kids.
- I write an “A” in the margin where Dr. Nebel provides answers to those questions.
- I make a note in the margin and circle it when there’s an activity, experiment, or demonstration to do (or a book, video, or handout to reference).
- I use horizontal lines in the margin with labels “Day 1”, “Day 2”, etc. to break up the lesson into manageable chunks we can complete in one sitting.
You might like to do this preparation the day or week before doing the lesson with your kids so it’s all fresh in your mind. I like that idea, but I’ve found it’s best for me to read all the year’s lessons ahead of time during the summer. Then, once the school year starts, I can just “open and go” for each lesson, knowing I already noted which parts to read and emphasize and which activities to do.
So once I sit down with my kids, I can just open the book, and follow the notes from my past self. Thanks past self!
Step 3 (Optional): Make Kid’s Notebook Lists
If you’ve gotten this far, that’s really all there is to it. Once you plan out which lessons or topics you want to tackle (Step 1) and after you read the content and make notes about how to approach it (Step 2), many people would be able to get started.
This next step is optional but I’ve found it’s really helped my family’s specific personalities.
In BFSU, Dr. Nebel recommends each child should keep a science notebook for notes, sketches, photos, and experiment data. I love this idea and we’ve loved notebooking in general in our homeschool (mainly for science and history).
Note: If you haven’t heard of the term “notebooking,” it’s an alternative to traditional worksheets. It’s basically keeping a journal where the student writes, draws, and documents information about things they’ve learned. It’s a very personal and effective method for students to truly retain information.
I’ve found our notebooks are most effective when I give my kids at least some direction rather than just a blank page. But I don’t want to give so much direction that it just becomes a fill-in-the-blank worksheet.
For science, I’ve found a good balance is to create a notebook list for each lesson for my kids. Here’s an example of what I mean:
After I read and make notes for a lesson, I just type out some prompts for them to guide their work. Because we do each lesson over three or four days (typically two days per week for two weeks), we usually end up with one to three prompts each day we work on science.
This week, some of the prompts were:
- “Summarize what you know about electromagnets.”
- “Include a sketch or picture of the inside of a speaker and explain how it makes sound.”
- “Describe/Draw how electric motors work.”
Usually these are just taken from Dr. Nebel’s “Outcomes” or “Questions/Activities…” sections provided in each lesson. I also have my kids include pictures, sketches, or data tables for activities and experiments we do.
I create these lists over the summer, print them all on matching colored paper, and they’re ready to go. It would be easier just to have my kids pick a few ideas directly out of BFSU or just think of things on their own. But, in our case, it seems to help my kids to have these little prompts to guide their work toward certain goals. It also seems to give them a visual cue for when we start a new topic. When they look back on previous lessons, the little blue notebook list is like a mini table of contents for each lesson section.
Step 4: Print and Organize Lesson Resources
At some point, you’ll need to gather any supplies needed for experiments and find whatever additional resources you might want to use (books from the library, videos or visual aids, etc.).
Again, you could easily do this each week as you get things ready for the school week ahead. But I’ve found I’m more likely to actually do experiments and use fun supplemental resources if I get everything ready the summer before the school year starts.
I create two things to help me organize everything: a folder on my computer and a binder on my school shelf.
In the Computer Folder
- The file for the kids’ notebooking list I mentioned above
- Links to videos I’ve pre-screened
- Minibooks or printables we can include in their notebooks
- Links to relevant library books (from Dr. Nebel’s book list)
- Color pictures and diagrams of the more complicated topics (that they might need to reference or include in their notebook if it’s too complex to draw themselves)
In the Binder
- The kids’ notebooking lists, pre-printed on colored paper
- Any extra notes I make for myself as reminders of how to implement the lesson (though most of the notes are just in the margins of the book itself)
- Pre-printed handouts of mini book templates, color pictures, or diagrams
It does take some extra time during the summer to pull everything together. But once the school year starts, and the chauffeuring and activities are all in full swing, it’s hard to dedicate my evening time to lesson prep. Plus, I’ve found there’s efficiency in planning all the lessons at the same time, so I’m really saving myself time in the long run.
Like I keep saying, some families can do a lot less preparation than I’ve explained here and have complete success with this curriculum. I know homeschool parents who would skip doing most of what I’ve said here and just open the book and read through it with their kids. They’d do the preparation together – maybe having their younger kids find a book in the library and their older kids pull together all the experiment supplies. Honestly, I’m working towards being more like those homeschool parents! It’s such a great learning experience for the kids to be part of the whole process.
But everyone’s personality is different. Every student is different. Every parent is different. If you’re someone who (like me) thrives with detailed advanced planning, I hope this post has helped give you some ideas of how you can approach BFSU. It’s really very doable – even for those of us who like to overcomplicate things. 🙂
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