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Select ScienceTM

by Dr. Ronald E. Jones

This is our first column for The Link. Mary Leppert, Editor/Publisher and I got together last June and this idea just popped up. She said, "Would you write a Science column?" I said, "Sure." So, here it is.

Who is This Person?

First, just a little bit about me. I do this so that you will have some idea of who and where this advice is coming from. My business bio reads this way:

Dr. Ronald E. Jones-Wearer of Two Hats

One Hat...Retired January 1998 as Professor in Engineering Technology at the University of North Texas. With twenty-plus years in higher education, my background and experience includes the technical side of the publishing industry including prepress, page layout, design, offset printing, electronic publishing, and digital document management. In addition, I have eight years of part-time commercial travel photography experience and eight years with R.R. Donnelley and Sons Company where I was directly involved with the offset printing of publications including Time-Life books, Encyclopedia Britannica, and bibles.

The Other Hat... Founder, President, and one of the "idea" persons for RonJon Publishing, Inc., the first publisher to offer total digital document management for publishing academic documents. Our Academic Publishing division produces approximately 400+ titles for faculty at two- and four-year colleges and universities. Our Business Documents division publishes those "unglamorous" documents-training materials, maintenance manuals, software manuals, to name a few-for industry, businesses, government, and education. We produce approximately 1,000,000 (yes, 6 zeros) pages per month for our most famous customer, Microsoft.

Why is He Writing a Science Column for Homeschoolers?

I'm not sure—I'm not a scientist and I've never been a homeschooler!

I am a publisher of science materials—approximately 300 of those 400 titles mentioned above are in the sciences. For the homeschooler, we publish a middle school program called Select ScienceTM. So my involvement with hundreds of great authors provides me with lots of ideas, that is, things to share with you. No, this won't be a sneaky "advertisement" for our materials—but of course, if you want to casually dismiss the best materials on the face of the earth...

Seriously! The approach in this column is to present solid, clear, helpful information laced with some light humor. Please accept the approach with the proverbial "grain of salt." My approach is not...

Meant to be cute
Exactly politically correct
Written for stand-up comedy.

I want to get your attention about an important topic—kids learning science. The information is very true with sometimes just a bit of tongue-in-cheek sarcasm tossed in. If you like what you read, tell everyone! If you don't like it, toss this in the trash and be very, very quiet about it!

Why Should I Keep Reading?

Several reasons. We will be offering hints, suggestions, occasionally something funny (OK, we think it's funny), possibly a bit interesting, maybe useful, or whatever—but hopefully, it won't be boring! We will include activities, equipment recommendations, and other goodies that will help you deal with science in a homeschooling environment and possibly save some money, too. That's a good thing.

We will offer a steady recommendation of web sites too. For those of you that aren't on the web yet, it's time to do it. We have researched and found hundreds of web sites that directly relate to science. These will help students to better comprehend what they are learning and allow for some fun, too. The really good news is that we have also found some great sites for you, the homeschooling parent.

Here are three interesting sites—two are serious, one is fun..

This is an Acronym Finder. This web site claims to have 146,000 common acronyms and abbreviations. They also claim to have the world's longest acronym...


Which is an acronym for the: Laboratory for Shuttering, Reinforcement, Concrete and Ferroconcrete Operations for Composite-monolithic and Monolithic Constructions of the Department of Technology of Building Assembly Operations of the Scientific Research Institute of the Organization for Building Mechanization and Technical Aid of the Academy of Building and Architecture of the USSR.

(OK, OK, I didn't say it was all that exciting—I said interesting.)

Here's another VERY useful site (seriously), especially for the sciences...

This is Martindale's "Calculators On-Line Center" that contains over 9,755 Calculators. It seems there is a calculator for anyone to do anything here. There's a large section specifically for science. You do have to wade through this site to find what you need but hang in there—itís usually worth it.

Now for fun...

Just put up with the ads while you try the "magic." It fooled me!

What can you Tell Me about Equipment?

Homeschoolers have one disadvantage in that they often must purchase their science equipment. This stuff can be expensive! We stumbled onto some reconditioned equipment about a year ago at one of the homeschool conferences. It looked like a good bargain and Lisa (DuVall)—one of our authors and regular user of science equipment—was pretty impressed. So here's a recommendation... Midwest Bioservice Company (800-235-9862 or e-mail at offers reconditioned microscopes at a reduced cost plus they keep a few balance-beam scales. I believe these are trade-ins from school systems. The ones we saw were reasonably priced.

One technical note about microscopes... for many programs such as Select ScienceTM, you will need 40X (called 40-power) magnification. Many microscopes come standard with two lenses (a 10X and 40X) or three lenses (4X, 10X, and 40X). Either will work just fine. Midwest Bio also told me they have related glassware including slides, cover slips, etc. (Okay, if you have no clue what this stuff is, call them and ask—you will need it.)

Here's the caveat... I have no connection to this company and have never done business with them. Lisa and I ran across them at a homeschooling conference, just like you would. I'm sure there are other equally fine companies out there, I just do not know them right now. Will keep you posted!

We have been told that some homeschooling co-ops have equipment for loan. We have also heard (maybe it's just a rumor) that some public libraries now have "equipment kits" for loan to homeschoolers. If you can confirm that, let me know. This could mean big savings!

In future columns, we will always try to include some information about equipment and materials for learning science. You canít really learn science without it!

How in the World Can I Teach Science?

Strangely enough, you probably can't. That's not a bad thing. After all, you may not be trained to teach science, you likely did not major in science in college, and maybe just "got by" in science during high school. What do they expect, anyway?

You can, however, guide or direct your student/child through a science program without the standing-up-front-and-teaching approach. The key to this is in the materials. There are content-based materials and inquiry-based materials.

The traditional science textbook is content-based. That is, the pages are full of content (think lots of reading here) and typically, a student must read, define vocabulary words, answer review questions, and take a quiz/test over what they read. Then, if they are lucky, they may get to do a science activity—the hands-on, fun stuff. In educational theory, this activity is supposed to verify and reinforce the content learned through reading and studying. Educational theory notwithstanding, middle school students are pretty squirrelly (No, I'm not talking about your student!), need to keep moving, can't sit very long, dislike dry, boring reading, and are generally turned off by defining vocabulary words. But the good news is they love the activities. This leads me to...

Inquiry-based materials are hands-on, contain lots of activities, and are used to sneak up on students so they will learn some science in a more natural, curious approach. Actually, inquiry-based materials provide for a student-directed approach. That is, students will dive into the activities but sometimes not all of the "obvious" information they need is available. They may have to read just a bit to get this "missing" info—but will tolerate that. Then, after the activity, they usually have to discuss it because this will help them with the next activity—and will tolerate that, too. After all, the next activity will be fun! There may even be "Discussion" questions that have no perfect, correct answer. The educational theory here is that students have a natural curiosity about their world (think science here) so they will do the boring stuff (read and discuss) to be able to do the fun stuff (activities). Think about those public school teachers who really do a great job—they teach science with an inquiry-based approach that utilizes tons of activities.

So, if you really want to "teach" science, use the traditional textbook route. It's been around for years. It works for lots of students and it's been proliferated throughout public education. No, it's not all bad! Most of the top scientists of the world learned science via this method, so it does work! Publishers of traditional textbooks usually have support materials available to help you teach this.

Using the inquiry-based method, your student should initiate the process. That is, they should identify some aspect of science in which they have an interest and dive right in! Just let them do it! Let them lead you through the process. Sure, they may need help, some direction, occasional coaching, a little push, encouragement, and sometimes you need to be the lab partner. But I'm sure you'll agree, this is better, easier, and more fun than trying to teach science. It just is.

The Funny Farm

Sometimes, asking a few "technical" questions can get the ball rolling, provide some incentive for discussion, and show that science can be fun. You're welcome to use them—they make great icebreakers for science. Try a "Technical Question" of the day or week—it can't hurt. Enjoy!

What's the speed of dark?

If it's zero degrees outside today and it's supposed to be twice as cold tomorrow, how cold is it going to be?

After they make Styrofoam, what do they ship it in?

If Teflon is such a non-stick surface, how come I can't get the label off the new pan?

What makes Teflon stick to the pan?

If one synchronized swimmer drowns, do the rest of them drown, too?

How come they call them interstate highways in Hawaii?

Before they invented drawing boards, what did they go back to?

How did they measure the size of hail before they invented golf?

How do they get that white stuff in Twinkies?

Thanks for hanging in there on our first venture into The Link. Next time, we will get into some Internet stuff and include at least one activity. Plus, let me know what you would like to hear—I need all the help I can get!

Contact the author via e-mail at:

Copyright © 2006 Modern Media