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Njoy Science: Hands-On Learning for Homeschoolers
Category: Science
Tags: homeschool science apologia science science curriculum homeschool science for homeschool

It’s 11:15 on a Thursday morning at Lakeside Presbyterian Church, in Mooresville, NC, where a Physical Science class has just finished up, and preparations are being made for the next class in Biology. On a long table at the back of the room, bottles of rubbing alcohol, hand sanitizer, and water have been neatly placed alongside large, clear plastic tubs, and paper towels. It’s the clean-up area for today’s lab which will involve dissections of frogs and perch.

As the kids arrive, one girl is clearly excited about the task she will undertake, that of snipping, peeling away, and poking through frog innards. It’s just the sort of anticipation the instructors of nJoy Science hope to build through their hands-on science labs. Led by homeschooling parents, Richard and Gail Hawkins, nJoy science programs teach the scientific method while acknowledging and honoring God and His Creation. (Read more about the Hawkins’ background and the history of nJoy here).

The Hawkins, (who both hold science degrees), have developed their own general science curricula for ages 6 to 11. For middle- and high-school aged students, they offer Apologia science courses. The courses are year-long, and meet every two weeks.

Today, Gail starts out her class with a quote from former outstanding  Biology Teacher Award recipient, Susan Offner. “The learning that occurs in a dissection is qualitatively different from the learning that occurs in a lecture or paper-and-pencil setting.” Gail agrees with this sentiment, as she finishes the quote, “No model, no video, no diagram and no movie clip can duplicate the fascination, the sense of discovery, wonder and even awe that students feel when they find real structures in their own specimens.”

The statement is about to be tested as metal trays containing frog specimens are placed before groups of two and three students at each table. The projector is started up, the gloves are snapped on, and Gail begins with some basic frog anatomy, and continues with step-by-step diagrams and instructions for performing the dissections.

The kids learn that a frog has two sets of eyelids, (good for the amphibious existence it experienced when alive), and after some careful snips with scissors to the sides of its mouth, they discover that the frog’s tongue is attached at the front (not the back, like ours), which is why its tongue could be whipped out so quickly to catch bugs. Using scalpels, the kids continue to cut down through skin and muscle (there are some, “ewws,” and “yucks,” mostly from the girls), to reveal the creatures’ organs. One of the reasons frogs are good to dissect, Gail explains, is that their insides are similar to ours and easy to identify. She directs them to find the heart, liver, intestines, lungs, gall bladder, kidney, and reproductive organs. They also dissect the stomach to determine the contents of each frog’s last supper (usually consisting of beetle and grasshopper parts).

After the thorough examinations, the students sketch and label what they see. When they’re finished, they scrape out the remains, and wash the trays to prepare for the next dissection of a perch.

When the lab class is finally over, Gail announces that these were the last dissections for the year, and a general “Awwww,” comes back from the group. They sound genuinely disappointed. Does this mean today’s activities have succeeded in stimulating that sense of awe Gail spoke of at the start of the class? The kids will have a chance to answer that question. They’ve been asked to mull over and write down for next time whether or not they agree with the Susan Offner quote, and if they have more or less respect for God’s creation as a result of the dissections.

One student mentions a sense of accomplishment she feels from “single-handedly” dissecting the frog. “It’ll definitely help me remember the anatomy better,” she says, further quipping, “I guess the trauma has burned it into my brain.”

She may not be so appreciative of what she’s learned today when those vivid images come back into her mind  -- right about suppertime.


Do you have a local homeschooling class or co-op that you feel provides a great learning experience for your children? We’d love to hear about it. Please leave a comment or post.

You might also like:

Worm Dissection: A Study in Psychology? (a Biology dissection lab class from a homeschool student’s perspective)

Free science resources


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