A Novare Science Boot Camp, Part 1: Understanding the Novare Pedagogy and Standard Components

by Jeffrey Mays, Science Education Specialist

This post is the first half of a 2-part Novare Science “boot camp.” Part 1 describes the Novare Science pedagogy and details the standard components of each course. Part 2, coming March 18, will offer tips to help you prepare for and teach the class; practical suggestions for homeschoolers and co-ops; and ways to help students develop their study habits and become comfortable with the Novare approach to science education.

Congratulations and welcome! You’ve made the jump to using Novare Science texts for your students. You’ve probably heard different things about our curriculum: hopefully how excellent it is, but perhaps also how difficult it can be for those who are not passionate about or familiar with science. I’m here to tell you that you can teach successfully with Novare. You really can! It’s not as difficult as you might have heard—just different.

I encourage you to block off a little time in your day to get a cup of coffee or tea and settle in for this post. Novare Science is probably not like the curriculum you are used to, and you may need this “boot camp” to help you get started. Part 1 will walk you through the Novare Science pedagogy and the components that come with most of our courses. In Part 2, I will offer suggestions to prepare for and teach the course, some specific guidance for homeschoolers and co-ops, and study tips and strategies that you can share with your students in order to set them up for success.

Let’s get started!

The Novare Science Approach

First, some fundamentals about the pedagogy of our texts. Novare Science materials were born out of two frustrations. The first was a dissatisfaction with the options, both Christian and secular, that were already available for students. Whether it was unappealing page layout, ineffective pedagogy, or erroneous content, in our opinion none of the available texts would do.

The second frustration was with what we refer to as the Cram-Pass-Forget cycle, in which students cram for a test, pass it, and then within a few days forget all of the material they just crammed. Most students cram, pass, and forget by default until they are taught a different approach. Novare Science seeks to give students an array of new practices designed to replace the Cram-Pass-Forget cycle with a new pattern: what we call the Learn-Master-Retain cycle. After all, mastery is the long-term goal of education, and mastery means long-term retention. Novare texts and resources are designed to support a mastery learning paradigm. The primary way that mastery is manifested in students is through the use of cumulative assessments: that is, all key content is fair game for all quizzes and tests, all year long.

Students usually panic at the prospect of cumulative tests, but this approach really is not as bad as it sounds. In Part 2 of this post, I will describe in detail the best practices and strategies to help students build the habit of mastery learning, but I will briefly summarize the two main strategies here. First, students should study science on a daily basis, rather than saving all of their work for the night before an assignment is due. Students and adults alike simply learn much better through regular, daily encounters with the material rather than cramming it all into one day. And second, students should allocate a third of their daily study time to reviewing material from prior chapters, thus helping to ensure continued mastery.

Novare Science Components

Now, let’s look at the various tools that are part of the Novare Science curriculum and how they all work together.

  1. The student textbook is a tool that, like a Phillips-head screwdriver, only works if used correctly. Unique aspects of Novare texts include the following.
  • Preface: Almost everyone skips reading prefaces, but you shouldn’t with Novare texts. There is important information—such as study strategies, notes on lab work, and tips for student preparedness—included in each preface, so be sure to read this piece with your students.
  • Chapter Text: In our experience, many students tend to treat their textbooks like dictionaries, using them only for looking up vocabulary. However, it is important that students read every chapter—and that they read the text closely—and take notes. If time allows, they should read through each chapter twice. Encourage students to break up the reading so that they only have to read 3–5 pages per day. Careful reading is crucial to ensure assimilation of the material.
  • Objectives Lists: These little beauties can be found at the beginning of every chapter of every text, and they are so important. The objectives lists are specifically designed so that if a student can do every skill or understand every concept included on the list, he or she will be able to do everything on the quizzes and tests. These lists are a student’s best friend. Encourage your students to use the objectives lists to help focus their studies.
  • Chapter Exercises: With only a few exceptions, Novare only uses 2 types of exercises: calculations and complete sentence answer questions. Students should never do all of the exercises in a single sitting. Instead, they should break up the exercises and work through a few each day. In some texts, particularly our chemistry books, you will likely find that we have supplied more exercises than you actually need; you can use the extra exercises for additional, optional practice. However, be sure that students work through enough exercises to become confident in understanding how to do the steps. For short answer exercises, require students to write their answers in complete sentences with accurate grammar, spelling, and use of scientific terms. Tip: Remind students that homework exercises are not about “getting it done just so you can check it off.” The exercises are an opportunity to learn an important skill or fact. It is important for students to slow down and work through each problem until they understand and remember the concepts. If necessary, they can do the exercises again. Students often respond to this remark with shock: “What! But I already did those.” Reiterate that exercises are not about getting a grade: they are intended for exercise, for practice. Just as a football player should run 10 laps every day, not just on a single day of the week, so students should work through exercises carefully for mastery. This practice both takes maturity and develops maturity.
  1. The Digital Resources (formerly the Resource CDs) contain printable documents for teachers and parents, including quizzes, tests, and answer keys. You may photocopy these documents for each student in your class or home. All Digital Resources contain the following components.
  • The Course Overview (or Recommendations for Teaching This Course) is where you should start as you plan to teach a Novare Science course. This document contains advice on teaching for mastery, a grading rubric, an explanation of the quizzes and how they function, tips and strategies for students on how to manage homework, suggestions for coaching your students on study habits, and much more.
  • Use the Lesson List (or Lesson Schedule) along with the Lesson Calendar (see the next bullet) to plan out your school year. The Lesson List/Schedule breaks up the course into a suggested schedule, typically corresponding to 1 lesson per day (assuming a 4- or 5-day school week). This comes out to approximately 55–70 lessons per 15-week semester, with a few days of wiggle room for holidays, snow days, etc. If your school or co-op only meets twice per week, cover 2 lessons per class. If you only meet once per week, arrange to cover 4 lessons per class. (Part 2 of this boot camp will supply additional scheduling tips for homeschoolers and co-ops implementing Novare Science courses.)
  • The Lesson Calendar spreadsheet we provide is only intended to serve as an example, but it will give you an idea of how to plan each semester. You will need to make your own calendar to suit your class, co-op, or family. Just imitate the sample we provide, marking out the same rows and columns on your own version and blocking off vacation or in-service days, catch-up days, family trips, etc. Then pick what day your school year begins and map the lessons from the Lesson List/Schedule into the spreadsheet. Piece of cake!Tip: Don’t forget to allow 15–20 minutes on the same day each week for students to take the weekly quiz. If you are including the laboratory component, you will also want to designate time for the experiments. Homeschoolers will typically need to allot 1 day for completing the experiments. In a classroom setting, some experiments can be scheduled over the course of 2 days.
  • As previously mentioned, all quizzes and tests are cumulative, encompassing and building on material from prior lessons. Novare Science courses for 7th–9th graders are built around weekly quizzes as the main form of assessment. (There are no chapter exams at this level.) Courses for 10th grade and up include both quizzes and chapter exams. Recommended test days are included in the Lesson List/Schedule. The following are some additional tips for incorporating the assessments.

~ We recommend that you insist students show their work on all calculations no matter how simple, whether for exercises, quizzes, or tests. Also require students to write answers in complete, grammatically correct sentences with correct spelling. When grading, remember that there may be several different ways to correctly write a short answer; however, encourage students to include key concepts and vocabulary in their answers. Students should refrain from memorizing lines straight out of the text and instead write answers in their own words, doing the hard work of forming concepts into coherent, accurate sentences. Encourage them in advance to use flash cards to study their own versions of the definitions and/or concepts.

~ Pick the same day of the week to regularly be Quiz Day. Allow a maximum of 20-30 minutes for students to complete the quiz.

~ After each assessment, make sure students have access to the answer key. This is an important part of the mastery approach. If you do not review the quiz or test with your students as part of class time, they should always take time to review the answer keys on their own and implement any corrections. This way, students can use the corrected quizzes or tests to study for future assessments. I suggest buying a 3-ring binder in which to store the answer keys. Each week, add the current week’s quiz or test key to the binder for students to reference. Students can borrow the binder to correct their quizzes, but they cannot photocopy its pages.

  • Since high school courses require lab reports, the Sample Graded Lab Report gives you a suggested template and grading rubric. We have found that most parents do not know where to start with grading lab reports. What should you take points off for, and how much? What comments should you make in the margins? We advocate requiring high standards in student lab reports. Take points off for spelling errors, failure to follow the structure described in The Student Lab Report Handbook, and other such mistakes. Tip: Go easy on grading for the students’ very first lab reports. They’re just learning, so give them a break. Add your comments without necessarily taking off points for every little thing. As the semester progresses, start taking off more points for repeat mistakes. By their second year of science (10th or 11th grade), students should be proficient at writing quality lab reports.
  • Weekly Review Guides are supplied for our lower-level, 7th–9th grade texts: Physical Science, Earth Science, Introductory Physics, and Advanced Studies in Physics and Chemistry. These review guides are single-page lists that give sample problems and general suggestions to help students study efficiently. You should hand these out to students week by week, starting around Week 2 or Week 3. (Note: These weekly review guides are not keyed to the quizzes.) After 9th grade, we no longer provide these guides because by 10th grade students should be proficient enough to apply the review skills on their own.
  • The Answer Keys (or All Keys and Sample Answers) supply answers to all chapter exercises, quizzes, tests, and semester exams. As mentioned above, Novare exercises are usually either word problems that require some calculations, or sentence answer questions. For most of our texts, the answer keys supply the final answers (but no step-by-step solutions) for the calculation problems and sample short answers for grading purposes. This document is not intended for student use. Students should learn to formulate their own short answers—in their own words and using complete sentences—rather than memorize the sample answers.
  1. Solutions Manuals are optional and available for purchase separately for each of the 9th–12th grade texts. These useful supplements are intended for students, teachers, or graders, and contain all of the calculation problems from the chapter exercises worked out step-by-step, thus supplying detailed help as needed for solving the problems.

Note: For General Chemistry and Introductory Physics, we have also produced separate Complete Solutions and Answers books containing the answers and step-by-step solutions for all chapter exercises, quizzes, tests, and semester exams. These guides are intended for use by teachers and graders, and compile the answer key material from the Digital Resources with the step-by-step solutions to the calculation problems, thus supplying everything in one convenient location and making them more comprehensive than the Solutions Manuals.

  1. Experiment Manuals are available separately for 9th–12th grade texts and contain the experiment procedures, lists of materials needed, learning objectives, discussion questions, safety concerns, waste disposal instructions, and any other special notes or issues to be aware of. For our Earth Science and Physical Science texts, the experiments are included as part of the Digital Resources; you do not have to buy a separate experiment manual for the lower-level courses.

I hope this overview of the pedagogy and structure of Novare Science materials has been helpful to you. Part 2 of this boot camp, coming March 18, will address how to put all of these curriculum pieces together in order to successfully teach your Novare Science class!

Jeffrey Mays

Jeffrey Mays works with educators around the country to develop excellent science programs. He has degrees from Baylor University, Covenant Theological Seminary, and Seattle Pacific University. He lives in Austin, Texas.