Friday, December 2, 2011

BFSU science curriculum

I've heard mentions of the Building Foundations of Scientific Understanding (BFSU) books by Dr. Bernard Nebel for quite some time, but hadn't looked into it too much until the past few weeks. Many people rave about it, saying how it is more thorough, more complete, more useful for building a truly integrated understanding of science than any other elementary or middle school age science curriculum they've seen. I hadn't looked at it too much because it is not really a planned-out curriculum. The books are for the parent or teacher, not the child. There are no day-by-day lesson plans, or scripts, or lists of "read these 3 pages in this book, do this experiment, and color this picture, etc." There are no pictures or worksheet pages in the books, no cute images to intrigue your young children. Basically, I thought it would be more work than I wanted to implement it, so I ignored it.

However, I recently found that you can buy an e-copy of one of the books in pdf format for only $5, downloading it straight to your computer (or Kindle). That's a full 3 years worth of science curriculum for $5, since each book covers 3 grade levels: book 1 is for K-2nd, book 2 is for 3rd-5th, and book 3 is for 6th-8th grades.

I bought book 1. I read the introductory material over our Thanksgiving vacation. And I really like it.

Those other reviewers were right - I think it really will build a comprehensive understanding of science, of all sorts, that is far deeper, more integrated, and more complete than anything else I've seen. The trick is that the author has organized the major facets of 4 primary scientific threads (chemistry, biology, physics, and earth/space sciences) and determined how they are interrelated, how they interact, and what you need to know in one field to understand the other fields. He's composed concise lessons for all these scientific fields and put them all in the "correct" order to develop an incredible scientific understanding if one studies the lessons in the correct order. And the lessons are designed for the appropriate ages, to not be too complex for 5-year-olds at the start, but increasing in complexity and depth as they weave their way through the scientific threads all the way through all 3 books. (I have to admit that I've only looked at the 1st book, for K-2nd grades, and so cannot promise that all the lessons are exactly "on-grade," but looking at the scope and sequence, they seem to be.)

The sequence of the lessons is not totally rigid, I should add. There are "pre-requisites" for some of the lessons, and you should do the lessons in each of the 4 threads in order, but you can choose which thread to do next. You can do a few lessons in one thread, then switch to a few lessons in another thread, go back to the first thread, etc., as long as you make sure you do the "pre-requisites" before certain lessons.

The lessons do involve a lot of hands-on work, and a lot of "experiential" learning which you can accomplish as you go about your daily life (grocery shopping, for example). Suggestions for a variety of things to do are described for each lesson. And any experiments require minimal supplies, most of which you really will have around your house.

I think since science is the one subject I really want to focus on myself (as opposed to finding independent or pre-planned or video-led curriculum for the others), I can have the time to implement BFSU. Science is one of my main passions, so I really want our science curriculum to be well-thought-out, complete, and academically advanced. I do love planning, too, and perhaps it is good to focus my "need to plan" on science, happily spending my time and effort on developing the best plan for us.

I know I had planned on using NOEO for a large portion of our science from K-8th grades, but I think the books and materials from NOEO can be used within the BFSU framework, just allowing BFSU to re-order when we do different topics. (I actually think now that BFSU will add a whole new level of comprehension and integration to NOEO's material - NOEO is good, but perhaps not integrated as well over the course of multiple years, and not as conducive toward building a real scientific, thinking, critical mind.) Even Sonlight's science book lists will be a useful resource. I forgot to mention that the BFSU books also include book lists for each lesson. Correlating all these lists should lead me to find a good selection! Also, there are many video sources that can be integrated into our master plan. Magic School Bus videos have been mentioned as a good fit, and perhaps the Sid the Science Kid videos for the younger ages. Also, Discovery Education videos (which you can get through the Homeschool Buyer's Co-op) should be an excellent supplement to BFSU.

The more I think about it, the more excited I get to implement BFSU. I can see lessons where an engineering topic would fit in very nicely, such as discussions about robotics, electronics, sensors, etc. Going with BFSU instead of a pre-planned curriculum would let me integrate all the other cool science stuff that I find and want to add on without (necessarily) overwhelming my kids (like Timberdoodle engineering kits, Intellego unit studies, robotics).

The BFSU lessons do have specific grade-level suggestions, but everything I've read indicates that you can easily use the lessons with ages outside those levels. I worried at first that I wouldn't be able to teach all 3 kids at the same time with BFSU, but I think I can. They are only 3.5 years apart, after all. I think if I wait until my oldest is in 2nd grade, and the youngest is 4, we can start with book 1. We'll just explain things simply for my youngest, and add in more material for my oldest. The sequence of lessons is the key, and I worried that my youngest might not understand the beginning lessons well enough to build on later, but if I wait long enough to start, I think he will. Previous lessons are revisited in later lessons, in a form of spiral learning, as more and more layers of scientific understanding are added. I believe the books are quite good at explaining how the required previous lessons fit in with a new lesson.

I'll be looking into how late I can start my oldest on the books and still have her finish by the end of 8th grade, to be ready for high school science. Then I'd have a few more years with the younger two before high school to add on or re-do any topics that needed more work. There are 108 "lessons" overall for K-8th grade, so I should have a bit of wiggle room, depending on how long I spend per lesson. The 4th thread, covering earth and space sciences, has the least number of lessons, so I'm thinking I'll end up adding quite a bit more there.

One last note - the thing that really sold me on BFSU was the lesson in book 1 on gravity and weightlessness in space (lesson D-7). It seems like every other elementary-age (and even older) science book I've read about astronauts explains the weightlessness of space as due to the "absence" of gravity. That has always irked me to no end. Earth's gravitational field does NOT just disappear in space, even as far away as the moon! BFSU explains that the weightlessness is due to the combination of the astronauts freefalling toward Earth (due to gravity) while moving at a high enough speed to maintain orbit (due to inertia and their initial speed at launch). The two force vectors combined result in the astronaut "falling around the Earth." Finally someone got it right! 

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