Overview: Homeschool science experiments, even in high school, do not need to be as intimidating as you may think. Read this to ease your mind!
We tried doing dissections, we really did.
(Well, my husband did, anyway — I was NOT about to attempt it. YUCK!)
He and my eldest daughter worked faithfully over their worm, part of a larger kit of your standard dissection specimens (crawfish, frog, and a couple other things which I have thankfully forgotten) and were unable to find some of the things they were supposed to find, but whatever, they worked with a scalpel and it was smelly and a report of some sort with diagrams was written up.
Annnnnddd my hardy husband and my good-sport daughter never returned to dismantle the rest of the specimens. Guess they didn’t actually like the process that much either, LOL. The vacuum-sealed long-dead carcasses sat in a closet for years until I offloaded them on an unsuspecting co-op class.
But here’s the thing: My kids still got into college without having Biology labs on their transcripts. Surprised? The fact is that there are many incorrect, intimidating ideas in the homeschool high school world, and some of them revolve around homeschool science experiments (aka labs).
Let’s debunk these myths right now, shall we?
Easing your mind about high school homeschool science experiments
Myth #1: Every science course taken in high school must have a lab component.
Fact: Not usually true. Many colleges — if not most — only require one science to be a lab science.
How to know? Do your research about college requirements.
One exception to this might be if your teen wants to pursue a STEM major in college. But colleges will specify if there are additional requirements for specific majors, so be on the lookout for those — and if you don’t find any, relax! (Or call the college if you’re worried. We forget to use the phone in these days of all-the-info at our fingertips, but it’s still an option, LOL!)
“But I don’t know if my kid wants to be a STEM major when I am planning their science courses!” you say. I know, that’s why we do overall research about what it takes to get into college to give us confidence to start out, but the plan can always be adapted later. Labs are easy to squeeze in at any time; they don’t HAVE to be done concurrently with whatever course they are associated with.
Another exception might be upper tier colleges. We weren’t applying to those, and most of you reading this won’t be either. Just sayin’.
My kids all had Chemistry (only) as their (one) lab course, because a) see above about my aversion to blood and guts, hello, and b) chemistry equipment is easy to find and chemistry labs are usually not very difficult to do. I’m all about no stress, as many of you know by now.
And as I mentioned above, ALL of my teens got into colleges with no one questioning why they didn’t have more lab courses on their transcript.
Myth #2: Your teen must do every experiment provided in a course in order to count it as a lab course.
Fact: NOPE. There is no universal standard about how many experiments comprise a lab course.
You can usually use your best judgment about how many your own teen needs to do to satisfy your conscience about conferring lab credit.
This means you and pick and choose which labs to have your teen complete and omit those that are too expensive (or you can’t find the materials at all), too complicated, or that impinge on your plan to watch The Lord of the Rings for the umpteenth time (in the name of literature study, of course).
But as always, some state homeschool laws or some colleges may have specific stipulations. Do your research!
(You’ll notice that it is a common theme of mine to tell you to do your research. That’s because doing the research FOR YOURSELF is what gives you confidence. Going by what other people say, even the so-called “experts,” does NOT give you confidence, and it may not be what’s best for YOUR teen and YOUR family. If you need guidance to do the research, take a look at my book called Cure the Fear of Homeschooling High School: A Step-by-Step Handbook for Research and Planning. It walks you step-by-step through ALL the research and helps you make planning decisions based on what you find. You can see it here: Cure the Fear.)
Myth #3: Science labs are worth additional credit beyond the original course credit.
Fact: Not so, at least not in high school. In college you might see Chemistry for so many credits and then Chemistry Lab for so many credits, but in high school all the work for any science course is lumped together into the one credit that is usual for a year-long core course.
To list a science course as a lab course on the transcript, just say “Biology with Lab” (for example) and give it one credit. Labs don’t add that much time; curriculum companies probably take the labs into account when they specify how many credits the course is worth.
Does this mean you CAN’T give additional credit for labs? Of course not. Just be aware that I recommend 80 hours of work for a half-credit in a core course. Is your teen really going to do 80 hours of labs? Most likely that’s a nopety nope. (I don’t advise putting fractional parts of less than a half-credit on the transcript.)
Myth #4: All homeschool science experiments must be completed as hands-on activities in your kitchen.
Fact: Not. any. more. (This is a movie or TV quote but I can’t remember where it’s from. Help?)
Oh, y’all, this is one of those times when I am super envious of you. YES, back in the day, we DID have to do the experiments ourselves if we wanted to confer lab credit.
We bought our supplies from Home Science Tools — you can even get dissection specimens there, if that is your thing — and we followed the instructions in our Apologia textbook, and things happened (although often not what was supposed to happen, LOL).
And not gonna lie, the microscope we bought for Biology (and then used once, ouch) and the beakers, etc. for Chemistry all cost a pretty penny. While it was sorta fun doing experiments at home, I personally didn’t enjoy the expense nor the hassle. I’m such a horrible mom!
But nowadays there are so many more ways to experience labs. Your teen can watch virtual labs on YouTube, for instance. ChemExplained Homeschool Chemistry comes with video lab experiments for your teen to follow along. (They also have complete instructions so you CAN do them at home if you want — the best of both worlds!)
College Prep Science used to offer weekend lab intensives, when your student could complete umpteen labs in a short amount of time along with other teens — but I see now that since Covid these are not available any more. They do sound like fun, though, so hopefully that sort of thing will come back. CPS also has virtual labs, including a one-week online lab intensive in December 2021 — so that’s kinda the same thing!
Or you could join a homeschool co-op and have someone else lead a classroom of teens in doing labs. My last daughter had this opportunity, which made things muy bien for me!
While some of these options may cost money, at least you don’t have the mess! Not having to clean up always goes on the plus side for me, LOL.
Myth #5: Lab reports must be complicated and lengthy.
Fact: Um, no. YOU as the teacher have the right to design these however you like. In fact, you could theoretically omit lab reports altogether — again, there is no standard about whether lab reports are required for a lab class. I personally don’t recommend omitting them, because I think the exercise of writing the report is an essential part of a lab course — but nobody has stated categorically that they are a must-do, so let your conscience be your guide.
One option for greater ease is to require the lab report on only some of the experiments. We don’t have to be all or nothing, y’all!
Usually the science curriculum will give instructions about how to create lab reports. I’m a huge fan of the Apologia Student Notebooks, because they make lab reports SO easy (if you are using the Apologia curriculum, that is).
In our co-op, the lab reports were super simple. There was a grading rubric that went like this (and it self-explains the format):
Title – 1 point
Purpose – 1 point
Materials List – 1 point
Hypothesis – 2 points
Procedure – 1 point
Data – 1 point
Conclusion – 2 points
Neatness – 1 point
So each lab report was worth a total of 10 points. Nothing complicated and lengthy about that! But you can Google “high school lab report” to find many other options for format and grading.
Myth #7: This article is going to go on forever.
Fact: Nah, I’m actually done now! LOL. Hopefully you see now that high school homeschool science experiments don’t have to be a huge hairy deal. Do whatever level of accomplishment works for you or that your teen is interested in pursuing. This is yet another topic where the “shoulds” out there are way more burdensome than the actual requirements!
You’ve got this!