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Q7: Should I teach one science discipline per year or multiple? {Season 5, Episode 80}

October 21, 2019 5 min read

Should you teach biology all year long? Or should you teach a bit of biology, earth science, and physical science? In this podcast, Paige from Elemental Science is going to help you figure out your answer to this common question!

Welcome to season 5 of the Tips for Homeschool Science Show where we are breaking down the lofty ideals of teaching science into building blocks you can use in your homeschool. 

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Q7 Transcripts

Biology, earth science, astronomy, chemistry, physics, and technology – should you focus on one general subject during the year or should you share a smattering of each?

Like most things in homeschooling, the answer depends – there are benefits and downsides of each of these options and today we are going to look at what those are.

Let’s dig into today’s question…

Teaching one discipline per year

In the classical education world, it’s commonly recommended to take a mastery approach to teaching science by sharing about one discipline per year. Then you cycle back and cover those subjects again at a deeper level in later years.

When you teach one discipline you focus on sharing topics that fall under the broad theme or area of science. So, for instance, if you are teaching biology for the year, you would explore topics that have to do with animals, the human body, and plants. For a year of earth science, you would cover weather, rocks, and space. For a year with chemistry, you would cover atoms and molecules, the periodic table, and chemical reactions. For a year with physics, you would cover forces, machines, and technology.

As you can imagine, there is plenty to dig into and fill a year’s worth of study!

The benefits of focusing on one discipline

When you focus on one area of science for a year, you can really get into the different aspects of the discipline. The students will gain a good bit of knowledge and be able to make connections between the different sections of a subject.

Another benefit of teaching one discipline per year is that you can move from the more concrete subjects of science to the more abstract. In other words, you can move from things easily observed, like the principles of biology, earth science, and astronomy, into the less obvious principles of science, like those found in chemistry, physics, and engineering. This allows students to gain a bit of maturity before wrapping their heads around concepts like atoms, bonding, forces, and electronics.

The downsides of focusing on one discipline

When you focus on one area of science for a year, it takes a while to cycle through the different subjects. If you spend one year on biology, one year on earth science, one year on chemistry, and one year on physics – you will have four years between studying a subject. This not necessarily a bad thing, but if you plan on putting your students back in school at some point, it can create a problem.

The other downside is that some students find focusing on just one subject all year long to be a bit dull. For an animal lover, it may be tedious to learn about chemistry for a full year. For a future engineer, learning about biology all year may become mundane.

Teaching multiple disciplines per year

Today, most schools take a spiral approach to teaching science, by sharing multiple disciplines of science per year. In other words, you would cover a bit of biology, earth science, and physical science all in one school year.

When you teach science this way, you share a bit about animals, the human body, or plants for the first third of the year. Then for the second trimester, you share about a bit about the weather, our planet, or things out in space. Finally, for the last twelve weeks of the year, you share a bit about chemistry, physics, and technology.

Again, there is plenty to dig into and fill a year’s worth of study!

The benefits of focusing on multiple disciplines

When you share about science by touching on multiple subjects per year, you teach pieces of science as a whole. This can make it easier for students to see the connections between the different disciplines. If they look at both earth science and biology in one year, they can see things like how weather can affect which types of animals you might find in each biome.

Another benefit of sharing multiple subjects is that you are switching gears several times throughout the year. This means that if your future engineer doesn’t love animals, this topic is only a small part of the year of science. And if your animal lover gets bogged down by simple machines, this topic passes quickly.

The downsides of focusing on multiple disciplines

When you share about science by touching on multiple subjects per year, the students don’t always grasp all the topics and can have to relearn concepts taught in order to build upon them the following year. In other words, with the spiral approach, you blaze through topics and there is a chance that students won’t have the time to internalize the knowledge.

Another downside of the current method of teaching multiple disciplines is that it is hard to dig into subjects like chemistry, physics, and technology as they are lumped together in physical science. Although these subjects are a large part of the current research and advancing knowledge, they are shared together as part of one trimester. This can make it difficult to cover what you need to for these disciplines.

Wrapping it up

There are benefits and downsides to both of these options for teaching science. In the end, what matters most is that you actually share science with your kiddos. Whether you do that by focusing on one subject or by sharing multi-subjects in a year, you will finish their educational journey having covered the topics they need to cover, but you will have shared them in a different way.

So, when you decide on whether you will teach one discipline for a full year or if you will teach multiple disciplines, you need to consider your goals for homeschooling, how long you plan on homeschooling, and what you and your students would prefer.

I trust that by now you understand a bit more about how to decide if its best for you to teach one discipline or multi-disciplines per year. Here are a few links to articles about how to teach the different disciplines at home:

Next week, we are going to chat about the heart of science education.  Until then, I hope you have a great week playing with science!

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