Books to Homeschool With: The Story of Science

by Jeanne Faulconer, South Hill


Many of us know author Joy Hakim for her chronologically-arranged series of books The History of US, used widely by many homeschoolers to study United States history. Another set of Hakim books I have enjoyed using in our family is The Story of Science. There are currently three books in the series, which are described at Joy Hakim’s Web site.

In Aristotle Leads the Way, readers travel back in time to ancient Babylonia, Egypt, and Greece. They meet the world’s first astronomers, mathematicians, and physicists as they explore the lives and ideas of such famous people as Pythagoras, Archimedes, Brahmagupta, Al Khwarizmi, Fibonacci, Ptolemy, St. Augustine, and St. Thomas Aquinas. Hakim introduces them to Aristotle—one of the greatest philosophers of all time, whose scientific ideas dominated much of the world for eighteen centuries (although much of what he believed was wrong).

In the second book, Newton at the Center, readers watch as Copernicus’s systematic observations place the sun at the center of our universe—to the dismay of establishment thinkers. After readers follow the achievements and frustrations of Galileo, Kepler, and Descartes, they get to appreciate the amazing Isaac Newton, whose discoveries about gravity, motion, colors, calculus, and Earth’s place in the universe set the stage for modern physics, astronomy, mathematics, and chemistry.

The third book in the series is Einstein adds a New Dimension. In this book, readers look over Albert Einstein’s shoulder as he and his colleagues develop a new kind of physics. It leads in two directions: to knowledge of the vast universe and its future (insights build on Einstein’s theories of relativity), and to an understanding of the astonishingly small subatomic world (the realm of quantum physics). Readers learn why relativity and quantum theory revolutionized our world and led directly to the explosion of technology we all enjoy. Those two disciplines provide what are perhaps the most important ideas in modern science, maybe of all time.

My boys have always enjoyed a “history of science” approach to learning science, so the books were a good fit. The chronological arrangement and focus on people truly make the discoveries and innovations of science into a narrative—a story—which was another attraction for our family because we’re biased toward a literary slant. For parents and kids who have struggled with science arranged only on a topical basis, this might be a refreshing approach.

We used the books as extended (I mean, months long) read-alouds for multiple ages of children. They are probably best suited for middle school and high school level study, though sometimes my youngest did listen and learn at the same time. In our family, we geared the material up or down by “rabbit holing”—going down rabbit holes to follow up on the text and photos in the rich sidebars. We explored related reading, videos, and Internet articles. Dialoguing about the material we were reading was both a learning tool for the kids and an evaluation tool for me.

Hakim’s writing style is engaging. She combines factual information with a sense of wonder that inspires scientific thinking. She provides cultural context for the science, often including references to art, mythology, religion, and philosophy without watering down the science. She covers many of the relationships of mathematics to science. When as a young high schooler my middle son took his first dual enrollment community college class, he found he was the only student in his vocational computer class with a true understanding of and ability to work with binary numbers. This was a result of his reading Hakim’s compelling introduction to the concept in a sidebar, which sent him down a rabbit hole of exploration.

The three books that so far make up The Story of Science trace the history of scientific thought, including its wrong turns, focusing on what we might think of as physical science and physics. I admire Hakim’s approach so much, I’ve personally appealed to her to follow up on her stated thought of adding a book on biology. I can only imagine the mammoth project each of these beautiful and well-researched books was for Hakim, but I’d buy that biology book immediately.

So much better than textbooks, her work is truly The Story of Science.

About the Reviewer

Jeanne Faulconer and her husband Rick have homeschooled three sons. The two oldest are in college, and the youngest is 11. Jeanne enjoys writing and speaking about homeschooling and family life.

This review first appeared in the May-June 2010 VaHomeschoolers Voice.

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