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Dr. Christe Ann McMenomy

Parent's Guide to the Natural History Course - Year One


PARENTS: PLEASE READ THROUGH THIS GUIDE!

Scholars Online courses are a cooperative effort between the teachers, the students, and their parents. Like the proverbial three-legged stool, if one leg is broken or missing, the stool will topple over. You are a necessary and important part of this course, and your student will need your guidance to develop the study skills and self-discipline needed to survive the class.

Course Website

This course has so many parts that students and parents, especially those who are new to the Web and to online chat sessions, sometimes feel confused. This guide should help you understand the organization of the site so that you can find what you need.

Layout: The Site Map for the course describes the web-based content of the course. Be sure to familiarize yourself with all the parts of the course, especially if you have a student who is new to this kind of instruction. Links to most parts of the course appear in the Header table (there is one at the top of this page).

To get to the assignment for a given day, go to the Scholars Online Moodle and check the Natural Science session for that date. If I've posted the materials for that day, there will be links to the assignments page. Chat links are available from the Scholars Online Chat Login. After our meeting, logs will be available from the Chat Log button on the Chat Login page. Not all materials will be posted prior to the start of the course in September, since I am revising notes, assignments, quizzes, and labs based on the last year's experience. Links for the next week should be active at least one week in advance.

Expectations of Student Performance

This is a tough course for junior high school students and those who are freshman in high school, especially if they are

  • new to a survey course approach or to a classical approach to material
  • new to the material, and have not had a general science or general history course before
  • new to the web environment, and not used to email, chat, or web navigation

Each of these areas requires some special study skills.

APPROACHES: The Survey Approach

Many students at this level are used to textbooks which identify exactly what they need to know in order to "pass" the course. The material in such a textbook is presented in such a way that the student doesn't question it, but memorizes the "right" answer to a set of questions. Students who are comfortable with this approach are often at a loss when they come into the Natural Science course, because there is too much material to simply memorize all of it, and they must learn to analyze the material and decide what is important for themselves. There is a tendency for students to simply give up in confusion.

The purpose of a survey course is twofold:

  • to provide exposure to a wide variety of information, concepts, and ideas, and
  • to help the student develop context into which to fit the details of this information as the student continues his education in the field.

You can help your student by realizing that I do not expect, nor should you expect, him to know every detail of the material we cover by the end of the course, For course purposes, he should be able to identify the important or basic information that he will need to understand the details, and concentrate on that. The worksheet questions will help drill him on those points, and so will help him identify them. The parent notes for the unit will help you develop this ability in your student.

APPROACHES: The Classical Approach

The purpose of a classical approach to education is to develop the tools required to learn the material. A student who only memorizes information has no tools to continue his education. A student who gains confidence in using the tools for a given discipline will be able to continue his education even if he fails to learn or forgets tthe details of the material covered in a particular course.

We start the course with the question What is science? Most students have their own opinions on this topic, and they don't always agree. Many of the questions about the nature of science and its relationship to human society that we examine in this course are similar open-ended, debatable questions. I will not tell your student the "right" answer for such questions. Instead, we will learn ways to think about the question, look at how past and present scientists, philosophers, and theologians have tried to answer them, and see whether we can come up with some answers that make sense to us. By the end of the course, I hope that your student will be able to examine such questions for himself, to take a position, and to support that position based on objective facts or well-reasoned conclusions.

Beyond these goals, however, you and your student need to set your own goals for the course. I hope that your student will discover an area of science that truly fascinates him, and concentrate on learning the details for that area, whether or not I examine or give him credit for it. Ultimately, if he becomes fascinated enough in an area of science to pursue it further, or on his own, and has acquired some methods of thinking about science to help him continue his education, then he has succeeded, whether or not he passes an objective exam on the factual material for the class.

Helping your Student Study

The Procedures page has some specific guidelines for how students might schedule completing all the tasks for each unit. You should go over these suggestions and modify them to suit your student's learning style and outside commitments. Most Natural Science students are older junior high school students or high school freshmen who still need help setting their goals and disciplining themselves to get work done in a timely fashion. You will have to decide how much help your student needs, but at the very least, you should meet with him once a week to go over the checklist and make sure that he is completing preparation reading and homework on time.

The course page in the Moodle acts as our calendar, and contains links to the homework page, which has the readings, web lectures, and lab topics for each unit. They will help you understand the order in which the science and history topics will be covered.

Studying Science Materials

A normal three year junior high school science curriculum covers

  • Life Sciences
    • Processes common to all life
      • Organic chemistry
      • Cell structure and reproduction
      • Genetics
    • Diversity of life
      • Evolution theory
      • Classification of organisms
        • Plant structures and metabolic functions
        • Animal structures and metabolic functions
    • Life in its environments
      • Ecology
      • Behavior and interactions between organisms
  • Physical Sciences
    • Matter
      • Basic properties and physical change
        • States of matter
        • Density and mass
      • Atomic structure
        • Periodic table
      • Chemical change
        • Chemical bonds
        • Chemical reactions
      • Nuclear structure
    • Energy
      • Kinetic energy
      • Potential energy
        • Forms (chemical, gravitational, electrical, etc.)
      • Thermodynamics
      • Waves
        • Sound
        • Electromagnetic
          • Light
          • Optics
    • Forces
      • Linear and circular forces
        • Motion, velocity, acceleration
      • Gravity
      • Electricity
        • Static
        • Current: circuits and electronics
      • Magnetism
      • Nuclear forces
  • Earth Sciences
    • Geology
    • Atmospheric studies, including weather
    • Oceanic studies
    • Astronomy
      • Solar system
        • Sun
        • Planets
        • Comets, asteroids, meteors
      • Stellar systems

We cover all these topics in this course, but not by topic outline! Rather, we look at them in something close to the historical order and context in which they were developed. This can be rather confusing as we jump from astronomy to biology to chemistry and back, but it is important to remember that science actually progresses by fits and starts, not in a completely organized manner. Although most of our science textbooks present scientific concepts as though they were Athenas, springing fully grown from some scientist-Zeus's mind, most concepts have been proposed and examined and modified a lot.

You may find it useful to start with the outline above and help your student fit the science material for each unit into it so that you both have a picture for how the different scientific disciplines are related. We will do something like this in the review sessions at the end of each semester.

Studying the Historical Materials

In addition, we look at the origins of these concepts and theories, starting with the development of cities and writing as necessary to science in a society, and moving from the mathematics and astronomy of the Babylonians through the classical, medieval, renaissance, and modern periods to current theories of space and time. Your student will need to identify individuals with their theories or inventions, and to trace the development of particular ideas (such as the changing concepts of matter) in chronological order, showing how the concepts change with time or were accepted or rejected by a given culture.

Two good ways exists to help learn and organize this material: the drill card, for scientist and theory, and the timeline, for chronological order. I do not provide drill materials beyond the worksheets and quizzes, because I've found that a large part of the usefulness for drill cards and time lines lies in making them for yourself.

If your student is having trouble matching scientists, their dates, and their inventions, then by all means, buy a pack of 3x5 plain cards and make drill cards for all the scientists identified in the homework or on the quizzes, and for any others that he finds interesting. Put the scientist's name on one side and the period or dates, along with the invention, theory, or discovery, on the other side. Drill both ways, so that he can answer the question "What did this person do?" as well as "Who came up with this theory? When?"

email, WEB, and Chat Sessions

email: Set your spam and junk mail filters to allow the student to receive email from the @scholarsonline.org domain, and from me (mcmenom2@dorthonion.com).

  • Use plain text. Do not use formatted text, especially anything formatted with Word or other proprietary word processary. If you use another word processor to complete letters or homework assignments, save the file as text first, or at the very least, use "plain" quotation marks, rather than the print-quality "curly" quotation marks.
  • Do not send attachments. I tend to filter these as possible sources of viruses, and they are often much larger than simple text files with the same information. If we need to share information, we'll post documents to the Moodle site.

Web readings: I check the websites we use to determine their suitability for Scholars Online students prior to posting my web pages, but I do not follow all the links from every outside site, nor can I guarantee that such a site will remain unchanged between the time I select it and the time that you view it. If you have questions about the suitability of these sites, I encourage you to check them before letting your student view them, and to let me know if you have concerns about specific sites.

Also, help your student plan ahead when he has required web readings. Many sites are graphics intensive and the net speed can vary, so it may take time to load the assigned pages. If he waits until the last minute, he may not have time to complete reading assignments.

Class sessions: Our class sessions are discussion sessions. I try to present all lecture material ahead of time on my web pages, so that we can use the chat periods for student input. As a result, chats can seem somewhat chaotic, and "start and stop" as students try to type in their questions, answers, and comments. To make chats as useful as possible, follow these guidelines:

  • Go over the rules of behavior in chat sessions with your student and be sure that he understands them. We will reemphasize particular rules as necessary from time to time.
  • Unacceptable behavior (inappropriate language, rudeness, and constant digression from the material) will not be tolerated; I can and will kick a student out of class for such behavior and require parents to call and discuss the situation before readmitting the student to class.
  • I often "poll students" for answers to a question, so that each student who raises his hand can contribute. Teach your student to "raise his hand" by typing an exclamation mark "!" into the chat window, then to start typing an answer into a simple text editor window if he is not the first one called. When called on, he can cut and paste his answer into the chat window.
  • Review the logs of our chat sessions with your student. Make notes of areas where you or he have questions, and either post the questions to the class forum or raise them in the next chat session.

Weekly Work Checklist

In order for you to keep track of whether your student is completing the work, you might want to set up your own checklist. Each unit requires the student to

  1. read my history web lecture, which normally has links to outside web pages
  2. read my science web lecture, which normally has links to outside web pages
  3. complete a worksheet and turn it in, due the day after we discuss the material in chat
  4. complete a quiz on the unit material, due the day of the next class

Answers for worksheets will be posted to the Moodle after the worksheet deadline, so worksheets will not be accepted after the homework deadline

At the very least, you should keep track of the quiz scores, which are calculated as soon as the student submits the quiz.

OnLine Parent Help

You should refer to this guide, to the FAQs page, and to the Procedures page frequently. These pages contain material that was developed in answer to questions other parents have asked me, so many of your questions may be answered already in one of these pages.

Each unit has a "Parents Notes" guide, linked to the homework assignment page. You should check this for hints on the focus of the material for the week, ideas for questions to ask to see if your student is "getting it", and explanations of homework assignments. This page also has a checklist of the work required for the unit. At the very least, you should use the checklist to make sure that your student is completing the required work.

You should also feel free to email me with specific questions at any time, and especially with corrections to the web materials (misspellings, missing links, possible quiz key or homework key errors).

Our course will have a Web-based course delivery system called a Moodle, which allows us to use forum, wikis, glossaries, and file uploads to post different assignments. There is a general forum where I post announcements.

I will also schedule at least one evening session per month when I will be "in my office", that is, online in an open chat, and available to parents for questions and help. Please watch your email for announcements of these times.