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April 16, 2007
Volume 85, Number 16
Web Exclusive

Help For Homeschoolers

Opportunities abound for learning science outside the home

Linda Wang

Homeschooling mom Lisa Swieson and her husband, Dana, started the Greater Philadelphia Homeschool Science Fair in a church seven years ago after noticing that opportunities for homeschool students in their area to get involved in science fairs were limited.

Linda Wang/C&EN
Impressed Denver Schmolz,14, explains his biochemistry research project to a science fair judge. Schmolz received a first-place award.

Their first fair attracted 30 homeschool students. This past February, the fair drew more than 130 students in grades K-12 from as far away as Maryland and New Jersey. Having outgrown the church, the fair is now held annually at Villanova University.

The Swiesons also offer a variety of other science programs throughout the year, including a science academy for middle and high school students. Students can enroll in classes in chemistry, biology, physics, and even forensic science. All of the courses include hands-on labs. Some parents drive several hours for their kids to attend the classes, says Lisa, who has a bachelor's degree in biology.

Many parents, particularly those without a science background, feel unequipped to teach the sciences, she says. As a result, there is a real hunger among homeschooling parents for opportunities to supplement their teaching, adds Lisa. That's left many home educators, such as the Swiesons, scrambling to fill in the gaps.

As awareness of the problem grows, more opportunities for learning science have become available to homeschoolers around the U.S. For example, the Maryland Science Center, in Baltimore, for the past eight years has been offering several weeks of educational programming in September specifically for homeschoolers. Students visit the planetarium, watch IMAX films, participate in discussions of various exhibits, and do hands-on experiments in subjects ranging from biochemistry to archaeology.

In upstate New York, the Cornell Center for Materials Research, in partnership with the Ithaca Sciencenter Museum, offers hands-on materials science workshops for homeschoolers. The workshops are led by Cornell faculty, postdocs, and graduate and undergraduate students.

George Fox University, a Christian school in Newberg, Ore., has a science outreach program where science and education majors teach lab-based classes at the university to K-12 homeschool students. And the science department at Wayland Baptist University offers monthly chemistry labs for high school students across the south plains who are being homeschooled.

The American Chemical Society doesn't offer any formal programs for homeschoolers, but it offers educational opportunities through its student affiliate groups and other programs. For example, the ACS student affiliates at Waynesburg College, in Pennsylvania, offer a laboratory program in which they do chemistry experiments with homeschoolers. And ACS member C. Marvin Lang, as part of his speaker service tour last November, provided an afternoon of chemistry demonstrations to students and parents of the Marshfield Area Home Educators Association in Marshfield, Wis.

Opportunities like these are cropping up in virtually every part of the country. The Swiesons say that every bit helps to improve the quality of science education for homeschoolers.

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Chemical & Engineering News
ISSN 0009-2347
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