The Freedom of High School

Or:  Thinking About Science Next Year

“What kind of labs are you going to do next next for chemistry?” a mom asked me.

“Uh? Hmmm….” I hadn’t thought through yet what science my kids were going to take next year for 10th grade.

“I assumed Chemistry came next after Biology,” she added.

I thought about that. No, actually, when I was in high school, Physical Science–a hybrid of beginning chemistry, physics, astronomy, and perhaps a few other sciences–came next. In fact, my chemistry teacher threw a fit when the guidance counselor tried to place students in his chemistry class who hadn’t yet finished Algebra 2. As a former classroom teacher, I’d heard other chemistry teachers echo his sentiments. Since my two teenagers are finishing up Geometry and will work on Algebra 2 next year, I don’t think high school chemistry would be a good fit yet. Then again, we’ve worked so much on physics and chemistry throughout elementary and middle school, that I can’t see a need for an introductory course before the actual chemistry course. In fact, I feel rather worn out with those subjects at this point, so I’m fairly sure they feel the same at this point. I don’t want them to hate science, so I’m not going to bore them with more of the same.

But that leaves the question: What will we do for science?

I thought about it. The typical path for those who take four years of science is, at least in the schools I’ve been in, to take Biology, Physical Science, Chemistry, and then Physics. But there are other options. At least, there are at the schools that have more varied curriculum with more advanced options. And I know, as a person who has volunteered on behalf of the Admissions Committee at my alma mater, that admissions committees see so many students who look practically identical on paper with the same sorts of courses, similar types of electives, and not much to make them seem like vibrant, interesting additions to the campus. The more I thought about it, the more I knew we wouldn’t be doing Physical Science nor Chemistry next year. We would strike out for something more interesting.

Decades ago, when I was in high school, I took every science my high school offered. In addition to the Biology, Physical Science, Chemistry, and Physics classes, I also took Biology 2 which was half a year of Marine Science and half a year of Anatomy and Physiology. I know there are other options out there. And isn’t part of the freedom of high school that students may choose from a variety of courses that the school offers, as long as they’ll meet graduation requirements?

Looking at the Florida Dept. of Education’s list of course titles available to kids in Florida public schools, I see courses such as Botany, Zoology, Limnology (study of bodies of fresh water), Ecology, Biotech, Genetics, Bioscience, Earth-Space, Astronomy, Environmental Science, Marine Science, Experimental Science, Food Studies, Sports Exercise Science, Integrated Science, Forensic Science, Solar Energy, Nuclear Radiation, Principles of Technology, and more. A lot of options to consider. There’s definitely a lot of freedom there.

Given their interests, as well as what I know about skills needed for careers of the sorts that they’d be interested in, it looks like they’ll be doing our own variation of Principles of Technology, a.k.a. Computer Science. I’m still figuring this out, but I’m looking at learning some of the history of modern technology, learning about hardware components, and of course learning to do some programming. They’ve learned some of this already, but we’ll go in depth and learn more than some simple HTML programming, maybe even get a friend who’s built computers of his own to show them some things. Who knows, maybe I’ll even find a local computer expert who’ll let them volunteer and do a bit of gofer work in exchange for some mentoring or something.

Next I’ll take a look at history and English. There are so many wonderful options that we can explore while covering those subjects, too.




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