Thursday, April 28, 2011

Homeschool Review: Noeo Chemistry I

A friend found Noeo Science last summer and I was intrigued. A more formal science study than nature study is certainly not required at the first grade level, but I like science. I did study biology in college, after all. I've also read that early elementary students often perform better on standardized tests (for what that's worth) when early studies focus on science and history rather than strictly math and reading. I'm also love good science books, so I really wanted to give Noeo a try. Because Kansas Dad was teaching one day a week this year, he and First Son selected the chemistry course, Noeo Chemistry I. (Kansas Dad likes science, too.)

Noeo courses are designed to be a "balance between the classical method and the Charlotte Mason approach." The catalog includes three options each (chemistry, biology, and physics) for the early grammar stage (grades 1-3) and the late grammar or early logic stage (grades 4-6). They have one additional course (Chemistry III) for older students. Though (apparently) the family that created the Noeo courses is Christian, the selected books for the course are secular. This review covers only Chemistry I as we haven't tried any of the others.

Here's a picture of the syllabus. I love the syllabus!

They provide lesson plans for 36 weeks, four days per week, in the spiral-bound syllabus. For each day, they've outlined exactly which pages of which book to read and which experiments to do (or a list of them so we could choose an experiment). My children adore our science experiments. They beg for them; they are nearly always the highlight of the day. Without such an explicit plan for science, I would have skimped on the experiments. Though I know touching materials and watching experiments is integral to learning for the young ones (and everyone in science), experiments are more work to prepare, conduct and clean up than reading aloud from a book. This past year, I would have skipped the vast majority of them if they weren't right there in the syllabus.

Chemistry goo back in November
One of the very best things we did this year was design our own experiment. I was flabbergasted at the idea at first, but Kansas Dad had some good ideas and First Son ran with them. Here's the post explaining how we tested what baking soda does for a light and fluffy cake.

Noeo provides printable pages for written narration (including some with drawing space for the primary grades) and we've loved using the experiment page for our science notebooks. I was pleasantly surprised at how eager First Son was to draw what we did and what happened for each experiment. Even First Daughter will draw something that is recognizable. Sometimes, he'll even write the reason at the bottom. We found, though, that all the written parts of the narrations went better if we let First Son narrate verbally and then wrote the statements for him.

I thought the books were great, for the most part. You can see the list of them for Chemistry I here. First Son struggled with some of them at first when we were trying to do chemistry only two days a week. He'd tire quickly because the books do not cover easy material. They jump right in to atoms, molecules, elements, and so on. After a while, we changed to the four day a week schedule which allowed us to shorten the lessons significantly. We also modified our narration techniques to include a few more direct questions or asking for narration after just a sentence or two of the reading (choosing the most important sentences). Chemistry was then much more fun for everyone. Many of these books would probably have been just fine in the longer lessons if First Son had been in third grade rather than first grade.

I think my favorite book was Super Science Concoctions: 50 Mysterious Mixtures for Fabulous Fun by Jill Frankel Hauser. The design is a little overwhelming (especially the little illustrations that repeat on the bottom of every page), but most of the experiments involve only items we have around the house and most of them worked. (Any course would be better if parents had the time to practice the experiments before sitting down with the kids, but that's simply not always possible.) I also thought How to Think Like a Scientist: Answering Questions by the Scientific Method by Stephen P. Kramer was quite good, though we read it during our struggling phase so First Son didn't appreciate it very much.

The Young Scientists Club experiments were a little disappointing. We haven't done them all yet, but so far they haven't seemed to include much in the bags for the price. Also, some of the reagents didn't seem to work very well. I sometimes added extra from our home stock to boost the experiment. It is nice that Noeo is able to provide only the experiment kits that fit with the course, though. I could only find them in the sets which are grouped by threes, presumably in the order they were created rather than by theme. I think someone with a little more time might be able to find relevant experiments in other science books to replace them.

Overall, we were pleased with Chemistry I from Noeo. The books were high quality. The syllabus was well-planned and organized for ease of use for the teacher. We're going to give them another try, I think, with Biology I next year.

This review is my honest opinion. I did not receive anything from Noeo Science, and will not if you follow any of these links or make a purchase from them. (I do receive a small referral fee from Amazon if you follow any of those links and make a purchase.) Again, this review applies only to Chemistry I.