Observations about Second-Generation Homeschoolers

One of several second-generation homeschoolers I have met this year.

This is “convention season” for homeschoolers across the United States, so I have been traveling to several different homeschool conventions, giving talks and speaking individually with lots of homeschooling parents. In some ways, these conventions never change. Many of the talks that I give are on the same topics that I spoke about at homeschooling conventions more than 20 years ago: how to “teach” science at home, why it is best for most students to be homeschooled through high school, and the fact that homeschooling produces graduates who are, on average, significantly better university students. Obviously, the details of the talks change every few years, but the basic points do not.

In the same way, many of the questions I get from homeschoolers are the same year after year and convention after convention. My son is only in 7th grade but is about to start Algebra 1. Should he really take high school biology? (In general, the answer is “yes,” but it depends on the student’s ability to work independently and how he reacts to academic rigor.) If he does take biology in 7th grade, can it be included on the high school transcript? (Once again, the answer is “yes.” See this article for more details.) My daughter is very talented in ballet and wants to pursue it as a career, but it requires a lot of rehearsal time. What should I do? (If a professional says that she has real potential, then you should scale back her other academic courses so that she can pursue her talents. Don’t neglect her education; just pare it down to the basic essentials so that she can have more time to hone her craft).

At the same time, however, each year brings a few changes. Some of the conventions that used to be large and well-attended are either very small or nonexistent. Other conventions that didn’t exist many years ago are now large and well-attended. Lots of new curricula are available, giving homeschoolers a wealth of choices for how to meet their children’s educational needs. The people you see at homeschooling conventions are also becoming more and more diverse every year.

This year, I noticed a new difference. Most likely, the difference has been slowly growing over a period of many years, but after speaking at the California Homeschool Convention this past weekend, it struck me that this year, I have interacted with a lot of second-generation homeschoolers (homeschool graduates who are now homeschooling their own children).

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The Final Mother/Daughter Comparison Between My Chemistry and Apologia’s Chemistry

In case you missed out on the first installment of this review, a mother and daughter have been comparing my chemistry course, Discovering Design with Chemistry, to Apologia’s chemistry course, Exploring Creation with Chemistry, 3rd Edition. This review came about because they had originally started using Apologia’s course, and it just wasn’t working for them. They started using my course, and it worked much better, as you can see in the previous installment as well as what you can read below. The comparison starts with the daughter’s perspective and ends with the mother’s perspective:

From the daughter’s perspective:

Last January, I wrote a comparison review for 3 modules of Apologia’s Exploring Creation, 3rd Edition, to 4 chapters of Dr. Wile’s Discovering Design with Chemistry. My overall view was that Apologia was very thrown together and confusing, while Discovering Design was more organized and enjoyable. In May of this year, I completed studying Dr. Wile’s Discovering Design with Chemistry, as well as reading over Exploring Creation; my original opinions remain the same as before. Though, there are a few more things I’d like to add in.

As I went through both texts, I discovered that the order of information and tone of writing is very important to how the student copes with the material. For example, Discovering Design is in conversational tone as if Dr. Jay himself were the one talking. He will often add in quick, funny or humorous things throughout the text especially when the topic starts getting heavy, which I find helps to release “chemistry stress.” Exploring Creation is also in a conversational tone, but it gets to be a bit confusing when a paragraph is giving an example using the pronoun “I,” and the student in this case has no idea who ‘I’ is.

In Discovering Design, Dr. Jay explains things to the point, builds on top of the material as chapters go on, and balances the difficulties of that material so that it doesn’t seem like too much. I can’t say any of this for Exploring Creation. While a few explanations are easy to understand, too often the book contains wordy paragraphs and unnecessary rules, and it’s difficult to grasp how any of the chemistry concepts taught are connected. In Discovering Design, you can’t wait to read the next section. In Exploring Creation, you can’t wait until you’ve finished the module.

I did come across a few frustrating things while studying Discovering Design. One was not being able to successfully complete experiments, because I couldn’t get the materials in the country where I live, and sometimes getting generally confused because, well, chemistry can sometimes be confusing. However, having said that, the experiments I was able to complete were excellent and helpful (For example experiment 10.4), the extra helps website helped overcome some of the confusion, and overall the course was really what I was expecting when I wanted to learn about Chemistry. I didn’t study Exploring Creation all the way through (On Your Owns and tests), but after just reading it, I don’t imagine a student would have a very good idea of the beauty of what chemistry really is; as Discovering Design does so well.

The last thing I can say is that Exploring Creation is like learning a bunch of mixed up chemistry facts, while Discovering Design is taking a thorough chemistry course.

S. White, student

From the mother’s perspective:

As we worked through Discovering Design, I found my thoughts were about the same regarding the teacher’s material. The fact that concepts are well-explained in the Discovering Design teacher’s manual helped a lot, as it has been a very long time since I have studied chemistry. Comparing the tests of the two texts, I especially noticed a difference in the weighting of the points for the test questions. In the Discovering Design tests, I felt there was a healthy balance between grading the math and grading the understanding of concepts, whereas Exploring Creation seemed to put too much weight on the math questions so that even if a student got everything right but two of the math questions, he could fail the test, which doesn’t seem to be right when a student has clearly mastered the concepts.

I would like to note here that Dr. Wile’s text is designed to take a normal school year, and as you can see, my daughter completed the entire text in 5 months. This was not because the text was too easy, but rather that my daughter dedicated 5 or 6 hours a day (and in some cases more) to chemistry in order to finish it before her graduation. I would not recommend this schedule to the average student.

L. White, teacher

A Homeschooling Mother Looks Back on Her Journey

A Facebook friend of mine named Ginger Linthicum Narmour is finishing up her last year of homeschooling. She posted a wonderful summary of what her experience has meant to her, and with her permission, I want to share it with you. I pray that every homeschooling mother can look back at her experience with such joy and wonder!

This spring is poignant for me since it marks my very last year of homeschooling. The Lord called us so long ago as Michael and I were contemplating which educational road we should walk down with our daughter, Courtney. Living in the beautiful Pacific Northwest at the time, we walked along the beach one moonlit night and felt that call to travel a road that was unfamiliar, one often criticized and thought second-best. Armed with supplies and a few books penned by the brave veterans that paved our way, we embarked on the most beautiful journey this mama (and daddy) could have ever hoped to enjoy.

I remember hearing her first words read. I still see the new colored pencils in her hand sketching views from her upstairs window. Then the joy of adding a second student, Lindsey, and breathing the sweet, salty air on daily walks with cooing baby and budding biologist in tow, all around the Navy housing neighborhood down to the beach, the park, the library. I’m remembering the family “field trips” to apple orchards and nature estuaries and museums and whale watches and picnics at parks with trees as green and tall and lush as any this Texas girl could have ever dreamed of seeing in person. Such are the things of heaven on earth.

Moving back home to Texas brought blessing number 3, Caitlin, and we were now a homeschooling family of 5. What precious memories of personal phone calls with best-selling curriculum authors who shared their talents freely with me, African tents in the living room and museum visits and struggles with spelling and beautiful books read faithfully every night by a precious daddy to his beloved daughters. I can still remember their eyes watching him read. Molding soft hearts and minds; lighting those fires. What a perfect job to be blessed with!

Moving to Arkansas brought blessing number 4, Kelsey, and our little family still sat together for read-alouds and music concerts and physical science videos and math facts practice and cooking exotic meals for geography lessons. Waiting with such expectancy for the haggard mail carrier to bring us yet another box heavy with carefully-chosen books for the next year. We just couldn’t wait to start again. Ah, all the pictures taken, the memories made. A more lovely life for me would not have been possible.

Years passed, a new Virginia home, the God-inspired talents bubbling over, college successes, hard lessons learned, characters molded and mellowed, fruit ripening, blessings heaped upon blessings. The hard work, the struggles with life and the laundry and the never-ending dirty dishes and impossible curriculum fair purchase decisions, I wouldn’t trade a minute of any of it.

So this last month of our school year is coming up. I see the books slowly being finished one by one and being placed on shelves or in boxes to pass on to new families who are beginning or continuing their studies. The melancholy ache of sweet times drawing to a close. I never intended to finish this journey without my beloved but the Lord has strengthened me to finish the race with happiness and joy. I am content.

Just a few more weeks to go and I will hang up my old ‘denim jumper’ and call my homeschooling days a blessed success. All I have to do is look at their beautiful faces, their beautiful souls.

Physicist and Homeschooling Pioneer Will be Speaking at Two Homeschooling Conferences

Dr. Helen Jackson, who will be speaking at two of the Great Homeschool Conventions this year.
Suppose you are systems engineer at NASA. Successfully getting to this point, you meet and marry a wonderful man and eventually have two more children (after escaping a previous marriage plagued with domestic abuse). You continue in your career while you and your spouse raise your children. The older children have already started school. However, suppose one of your children isn’t getting what he should from his education. You switch from public school to a Christian school, but it makes no difference. What do you do then?

When Helen Jackson was faced with this problem, she prayed about it and was led to quit her job at NASA and homeschool her children full time. While she “put her career on hold” to educate her children, she didn’t end it altogether. As the children got older, she started doing some part-time programming work and other forms of work like consulting. From there she phased back into engineering work. Once all the children had completed high school, eventually, after a few twists and turns, she got her Ph.D. from the Air Force Institute of Technology.

Nowadays, she is a research physicist for Battelle, a science and technology research company. She is currently developing software that can interpret X-ray images to look for objects that might represent a security threat. This line of research is possible because of the work of her late husband, who co-invented the X-ray spectrometer, which is a cornerstone in so much of imaging technology.

I had the privilege of interviewing Dr. Jackson a few days ago, because she will be speaking at the Midwest Homeschool Convention and the California Homeschool Convention this year. I found her warm, engaging, exceedingly intelligent, and most importantly, profoundly wise. I learned a lot from the interview, and if you are able to attend, I strongly encourage you to go to one of the conventions and listen to her talks.

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A Mother and Daughter Compare Apologia’s Chemistry to My Chemistry

In the fall of 2014, Apologia released the third edition of its chemistry course. While I had written the two previous editions, they went with two different authors for their third edition. I reviewed it and couldn’t recommend it to anyone. Since Apologia allowed its second edition to go out of print, I thought that homeschoolers needed another option, so I wrote a new chemistry course, which Berean Builders published in the summer of 2015. Many people have asked me how I compare my new book to Apologia’s new book, but it is hard for me to do that, since I am the author of one and not the other.

In December of last year, I received an email from a mother (Leeanne White) who needed advice about chemistry. Her daughter (Sarah) was using Apologia’s new chemistry book and was really struggling. She had gotten through the first three modules and just wasn’t getting it. I suggested that she use my book instead. She decided that was a good idea. I also asked her to consider writing a completely honest comparison of the two courses. She agreed.

Well, Sarah and Leeanne have been through four chapters of my book now, and they both agree that it works much better for them. They wrote up a review (which contains both perspectives), and it appears below. They promised to write another review once they are completely done, but I thought people might want to see what they think so far.

Note: They finished their review. The final version is here.

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Homeschooling: It’s Worth the Tears

This is the expression my daughter had pretty much every morning in home school.
There is a new blog that might be of interest to my homeschooling readers. It’s called Homschooling.mom, and as time goes on, it will offer insights from various speakers and authors who are popular in the homeschooling movement.

I wrote two of the articles that open up this blog. The most important one is

Homeschooling: It’s Worth the Tears

It discusses my homeschooling journey with my teenage daughter and what it has meant for both of us now that she is an adult.

The other one discusses some of the research that has been done on homeschool graduates in university. I have discussed the contents of that article in separate blog posts on this site, but the article below compiles the information into one source:

Homeschool Graduates and University

I hope you enjoy the articles. I also hope you remember to go back to homeschooling.mom, because I suspect that it will be very useful to those who are still homeschooling.

Exploring Creation with Marine Biology, 2nd Edition

The cover of Exploring Creation with Marine Biology, Second Edition
About 12 years ago, Sherri Seligson published a course entitled, Exploring Creation with Marine Biology. It quickly garnered rave reviews among homeschooling families. Over those 12 years, I have spoken to many, many high school students who have called it their favorite course, and I can remember at least four of them who said that they planned to study marine biology at university specifically because the course had given them a love for the subject. Such reviews have never come as a surprise to me, because Seligson has the “perfect storm” of characteristics for writing an excellent marine biology course for homeschoolers.

First and foremost, she knows her subject. She has a degree in marine biology and was the aquarist of the Living Seas aquarium at Epcot Center for four years. Based on her work there, she was able to publish original research on shark behavior in captivity. Second, she has a real passion for the subject. Just ask her a question about marine science. Her eyes will light up, she will smile, and she will enthusiastically answer your question, along with a dozen other related questions that you hadn’t thought to ask. She is also an excellent communicator, being able to adjust the way she discusses a subject so as to meet the needs of the listener. Finally, she is a homeschooling mother, having educated four amazing children who are now adults. Is it any wonder that she could write a course on marine biology that would become so beloved in the homeschooling community?

However, 12 years is a long time for a biology course to be around. Our understanding of the natural world changes, and sometimes, those changes are substantial. As a result, science courses need to be updated from time to time. So far, the publisher of Exploring Creation with Marine Biology has been “hit and miss” with its updates. A few years ago, the publisher updated its Human Anatomy and Physiology course, making it significantly better than the previous version. The publisher then updated its chemistry course, with disastrous results.

I am happy to report that the publisher is now “two for three,” having produced an excellent update to this already fantastic course.

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Homeschooling and Socialization

Homeschooled children are better socialized than those in public and private school. (click for credit)

When I first started working with homeschoolers, lots of people were concerned about socialization. They wondered how children would “learn” to get along with other children and navigate difficult social settings without being in school. Even before I started researching the matter, I thought the concern was unfounded. After all, school is probably the most artificial social setting a child will ever experience. When are adults ever cloistered away in ghettos, surrounded by people who are the same age? Never. Thus, the idea that students can learn good socialization at school always seemed nonsensical to me.

Nevertheless, people did express concern, so I looked through the academic literature. Even back in the 1990s, there was a wealth of research available on the socialization of homeschoolers. Not surprisingly, the research showed that homeschoolers were better socialized than their publicly- and privately-schooled peers. Perhaps the most interesting study done back then was a Ph.D. thesis by Larry Shyers. In his study, he filmed children from public, private, and home schools in free and structured play. The behaviors of those students were then analyzed by clinical psychologists who didn’t know the schooling backgrounds of any of the children. When Shyers compared the analyses of the homeschooled children to those of the other children, he saw that in nearly all categories of social interaction, the homeschooled children were equivalent to the children from public and private schools. There was only one category in which the homeschooled students scored lower: problem behaviors. As Shyers wrote:

It can be concluded from the results of this study that appropriate social skills can develop apart from formal contact with children other than siblings.

Wow! What a shocker! Children can learn to get along with other people even if they aren’t cloistered away in ghettos, surrounded by people their own age!

Now as I said, even back in the 1990s it was well known that homeschooled students are, on average, better socialized than their peers. Why, then, am I writing about homeschoolers and socialization now? Because someone raised the issue in a Facebook group of which I am a part, and I decided to turn my response into a more detailed blog post.

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André Marie Ampère: A Fascinating Genius and Devout Christian

André Marie Ampère, the genius who helped us understand the connection between electricity and magnetism.
I recently finished the final book in my elementary science series. It is called Science in the Industrial Age, and it covers the major scientific advancements that occurred in the 1800s. While I was writing it, I had to research the lives of the men and women who were responsible for those advancements. Many of their stories are fascinating, and I hope to write about more of them (and the others I researched while writing the other books). For this blog post, however, I want to focus on the person from the 1800s whom I found most interesting: André-Marie (ahn’ dray muh ree’) Ampère (ahm pehr’).

Ampère was born into a wealthy French family, which meant that he could have received the best education money could buy. However, his father wanted him to learn on his own. His father never required him to learn anything, but he inspired his son to want to learn. You might say that Ampère was “unschooled.” According to a friend that knew him well, unschooling seemed to work for him. Ampère read all the volumes of the encyclopedia in his father’s library, starting with the first volume and reading in alphabetical order. He also read extensively on natural philosophy (science).

Unfortunately, his life was marred with three serious tragedies. His sister died when he was 17. The next year, his father was executed as a result of the French Revolution. This hit him particularly hard. He had no more interest in learning, and some of his friends thought that he had lost all reason. Then he discovered Jean-Jacques Rousseau’s Letters on the Elements of Botany, and he was pulled from his intellectual lethargy. He later fell in love with and married a woman named Julie, but she died only a few years later.

Despite these terrible tragedies, Ampère was a devout Christian his entire adult life. When his wife died, he wrote two verses from the Book of Psalms and the following prayer:1

O Lord, God of Mercy, unite me in Heaven with those whom you have permitted me to love on earth.

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Can Courses Taken in Junior High Be Included on a High School Transcript?

Me and Savannah, a scientist in the making!
Me and Savannah, a scientist in the making!

I just got back from Ontario, California, where I spoke at the California Homeschool Convention. I gave a total of five talks over the three-day conference, and I had the chance to speak with lots of homeschooled students and their parents. Several wonderful things happened at the conference, but the highlight for me is pictured above.

On Friday, a young lady named Savannah came up to my publisher’s booth and asked if I was Dr. Wile. I said yes, and she proceeded to tell me that she loved my biology textbook and planned to major in biology at university. I tried to express how much that meant to me, and then she hesitantly asked if I would sign her copy of my book. I said, “Of course!” She didn’t have it with her, but she promised to bring it the next day. Late into the convention on Saturday, she returned with her book, and when she handed it to me, she said, “This is my favorite book in the entire world!”

I had no idea what to say to that. While a lot of students tell me that they love my textbooks, and many of them have also said that my textbooks have inspired them to study science at university, I have never had anyone tell me that one of my books is their favorite book in the entire world! I have lots of favorite books, and none of them are science-related! Don’t get me wrong, there are a lot of science-related books that I really love, but I wouldn’t list any of them as my favorites. When I think of my favorite books*, I think of fictional works like The Chronicles of Thomas Covenant (my all-time favorite series), The Lord of the Rings, and Armageddon’s Children. Not a single science-related book comes to mind. Needless to say, I was overwhelmed by Savannah’s words.

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