Elementary Dissection Lab, by Lynne

Dissection Day


Whenever I have a question about homeschool science, I ask my friend Lisa. Lisa’s ten-year-old daughter has an insatiable appetite for science knowledge, so out of necessity, Lisa has had to do more than the average homeschool mom’s share of research into science curricula and science opportunities for her daughter. She is a veritable treasure trove of science information and has been able to parlay this research into fantastic science classes at our local homeschool co-op.

This session, Lisa is teaching a dissection class to a group of nine students, aged 9-14. They will be dissecting everything from clams to chickens. I was able to visit the class and take a peek at the students working on their crayfish dissections.

The kids read up about the specimen before coming to class. Each student has his own dissection kit and works on his own specimen, but they are seated in pairs and work together on each project. They discuss how to proceed and share their discoveries with each other. They record their information on a lab sheet.


I asked Lisa a few questions about the class, and she told me that the very first thing she did was to go over all the items in the dissection kit and explain the safety procedures to the class. Nine-year-olds wielding scalpels have the potential to be dangerous if they are not properly cautioned! The first specimen was an earthworm, and the kids enjoyed seeing its five hearts. Each week they will explore a new specimen and learn more anatomical terminology. Lisa’s goals for the class  “ . . . are for the students to have a basic overview of anatomy and learn the language that is science. I’m a big believer in exposing children to scientific terms so they build a language bank.”

There are many benefits to doing science classes in a co-op format, such as sharing the cost of expensive materials and the opportunity to swap information. A co-op dissection class, as Lisa says, “also helps busy moms keep sheep hearts out of their dining rooms.” I think many homeschool parents would appreciate having a separate location to work on some of the more messy science projects.

One of my favorite things about this class is that it is open to younger students.  Normally, dissection is reserved for high school biology and anatomy classes. This class is for late elementary and middle school aged kids. Lisa is of the opinion that many kids shy away from more advanced science classes out of fear of “scary words.” She hopes her ambition to build up a science language bank in younger students will encourage them to pursue science even further than they ever imagined possible. Judging by the excitement on the kids’ faces in that room, I have a feeling Lisa may be on to something.

Lynnlynnee–Lynne has enjoyed homeschooling her two sons for the past three years, after their brief stint in the local public school.  Her older son is a humorous fellow with high functioning autism who thrives in a home education environment.  Her younger son is a sensitive soul with a great deal of patience. The boys, Mom, and Dad, along with the two guinea pigs, live in Northeast Ohio.  Lynne holds a Master’s Degree in French Language and Literature.  She is also a Harry Potter fanatic, enjoys line dancing and Zumba, spends hours scrapbooking, and loves organic vegetables.  You can visit her soon-to-be revitalized blog at www.daysofwonderhomeschool.blogspot.com.


How I Taught 7th grade Chemistry


by Jane-Emily

Last year I had a twelve-year-old in seventh grade and a nine-year-old in fourth.  For science, I wanted to concentrate on chemistry — one of my very favorite sciences!  It’s the recipe book for the universe! — I wanted to make sure that my twelve-year-old would be very well-prepared to take AP Chemistry, or some equivalent thereof, later on.  I searched high and low for materials that would make it possible for me to teach a solid chemistry course without too much math.  I also invited another kid along for lab days; I find that it is more fun if we have an extra kid or two along for the ride.

For a text, I found Friendly Chemistry, a course designed for homeschoolers with plans for larger groups.  Friendly Chemistry is quite clear, and it teaches a lot of chemistry, from atomic structure to stoichiometry to ideal gas laws.  There is some math and it sometimes got difficult, but together we figured it out.  There is not much of a lab component; it’s limited to easily-obtainable home items.  It has quite a few games to aid in memorization of elements, ions, and so on, and several of them are well-designed.  There are a few typos, but otherwise my only problem was that the solutions in the back of the book did not provide help with working out the problems. Only answers were given, and sometimes we got stuck.

I wanted lots of lab work, so I ordered the biggest chemistry set Thames & Kosmos stocks: the C3000, containing instructions for over 300 experiments designed to take the student from basics to more complex organic chemistry.  T&K being a German company, I did find that a few extras it required were hard for me to find, such as hartshorn/baker’s ammonia and so on.  Of course the experiments followed a completely different logic than the Friendly Chemistry did–it is all practical chemistry–but we didn’t have too much trouble with that.   The variety was nice, and all of us appreciated the fun of setting things on fire.  I needed more glass test tubes than were provided, and I came perilously close to running out of a few chemicals.

Meanwhile, my nine-year-old came along for the ride for much of this.  She had the Real Science 4 Kids Chemistry text, which was OK but not wonderful.  I would have preferred something else, but I didn’t find anything I loved.  She and I worked through those chapters together, and otherwise she played the games, participated in the experiments, and did just fine.  I am confident that she absorbed plenty of chemistry for her age.

Our schedule was as follows:

  • Tuesday, read the chapter for the week.  Start exercises and finish by Thursday.
  • Thursday: lab from 12:00 until at least 2:00 (with extra child, who was also doing the same text at home).  Go over the week’s lesson and make sure exercises are understood.  Do any activities from the text.  Do a section of experiments from T&K set and talk about them.
  • Friday: give the chapter test.  And make sure to practice memory work through games throughout!

Some of my favorite activities included:

Element/Ion Bingo: this was at the very beginning of the year, when we needed the kids to learn the elements and their symbols.  I filled large bingo cards with all the most difficult symbols.  After a couple of weeks of that we changed to ion bingo so they could practice distinguishing sulfate and sulfide, etc.

The Doo-Wop board: this is a proprietary game from Friendly Chemistry that helps students understand the structure of the atom.  I found it quite helpful myself!  We would pick an element and fill the shells with electrons until we had it right.  (The electrons were white and chocolate chips, which made it a very popular game.)

Lego chemistry: I found legochemthis to be a great help with stoichiometry (which is figuring out how much of what goes into a substance).  Get a large tub of plain Lego bricks, and assign each color an element.  We had fun making them appropriate, but you can’t do that with all of them.  Carbon = green, sulfur = yellow, calcium = white, etc.  We made tiny white bricks be hydrogen.  You can then build each molecule.  Build ions first and then attach them.  You can make this work pretty well for molarity, even.  It is a great way to visualize everything and work out the formulae if you’re finding it confusing. The main trouble with this activity, of course, is getting more distractible kids to pay attention to the molecules instead of the really great spaceships they’re building!

We did some really great chemical experiments too, such as producing hydrogen by mixing aluminum with sodium hydroxide (lye), burning various substances to see the colored flames (a good time to talk about fireworks!), and so on.  I wished for a lump of sodium to blow up, but I never got one.  Someday!  I videotaped one of our experiments, and here it is for you.


I also love popular bookPeriodic-Tales-Williams-Hugh-9780061824722s about chemistry.  Here are some titles that you might enjoy; you can tell the stories as you teach, or you might have an older student who will like one.

Janejane-emilyEmily homeschools two daughters in California.  She is a librarian who loves to quilt and embroider, and she’s a Bollywood addict.  Her favorite author is Diana Wynne Jones. She blogs about reading at Howling Frog Books.