Classical Science For The Rhetoric Stage

Welcome to day 3 of our Science and Classical Education series featuring science author and classical educator, Paige Hudson. Catch up with the posts from Day 1 – Science and Classical Education , Day 2 – Classical Science For The Grammar Stage and Day 3 – Classical Science For The Logic Stage.


 In yesterday’s post, I shared about logic stage classical science.  Today I want to share with you the nuts and bolts of rhetoric stage classical science.  Rhetoric stage classical science, like all rhetoric stage classical subjects, is intellectually demanding, but what I am going to share with you today is more of a theory.  It is based on my research and my experience co-teaching remedial chemistry courses in college, but I haven’t actually taught or written a rhetoric level course.  So bear in mind that there is no program out there (yet) that pulls together all the things I’m going to suggest you do in this post.

What is a rhetoric stage student?

A rhetoric stage student can mean different things to different people.  So let me clear up the confusion by saying that I mean the years when your student has already mastered the basic facts as well as the reasons behind them.  These are the years when your student is learning the more complicated details as well as how and when to express themselves properly.  During the rhetoric stage years your student is forming their own opinions about the material they have studied as well as learning how to articulate themselves intelligently.  The rhetoric stage typically begins with what traditional school defines as high school and ends when the student is ready to begin college.

I compare the rhetoric stage student to a brand-new legal secretary.  They have access to a great deal of organized, filed away information, but they are still learning when to use that material and how to apply it.  So, when teaching science, you will be playing to their intellectual strengths while teaching them how to filter what they know and apply it to the current situation.  You can also use science to work on the basic skills of rhetoric, research and note-taking at this stage.

What are your goals for rhetoric stage classical science?

Your goals for this stage are twofold.  First, you want to make sure that your student knows and understands the principles and laws at work in science.  They have a mastery of the foundational facts and principles at work from the previous two stages.  However, now is the time to teach them how to apply that information along with the more complicate laws and the mathematics of science.   Second, you want your student to graduate knowing how to relate what they have learned to the things they see around them.  In other words, you want your student to know how science affects them every day.

How do you teach classical science to rhetoric stage students?

A good rhetoric stage classical science program will be rigorous, but I’m going to suggest that the level of rigor will be dependent upon what your student wants to do in the future.  Let me be clear in saying that I believe that all rhetoric stage students would benefit from taking four years of science in high school.  Science is beneficial because it trains the brain to think logically, plus science gives every student a healthy awareness of the world around them.  However, by the time a student reaches the rhetoric stage, they are starting to get a clearer picture of where they would like to go.  If your student is not scientifically inclined, it’s ok to scale back the expectations for each year that are suggested below to just the textbook, experiments and a research report.  With that said, a good rhetoric stage classical science program should include the following*…

  1. Textbook & Experiments: Your student should be studying from a standard high school textbook, but that will not be the only source from which they will be gaining knowledge.  You can use Wiley’s Self-teaching Guides, Campbell’s, Prentice Hall or Apologia textbooks.  Plan to complete one text per year by having your student read through a section each week and take notes as they go.  If you choose, you can have them write a brief report about what they have learned once they are finished the full chapter.  You will also need to add in experiments that coordinate with what they are studying.  Some of the texts mentioned above will already have experiments in them, but for others, you will need add in an experiment book or create your own experiments.  I also recommend that you give exams at this level to test what your student has learned from the textbook.
  2. Research Report:  A rhetoric stage classical student should be doing two in-depth research reports per year and science is a good subject to use to complete this requirement.  The reports can take anywhere from 6 weeks to several months to complete and should be loosely associated with what you are learning for the year.  Your student can choose to research a scientist or an important discovery within the field they are studying.  Their completed paper should be 6 to 8 pages in length.  It should touch on why they chose the topic and how it affects them as well as thoroughly explain what they have found out about the subject.
  3. Historical Readings:  This area is a bit more flexible.  Depending on where your student is going, you may decide to leave this out altogether or alter the level of rigor for your student.  For a more rigorous curriculum, have your student read the original writings of great scientists, such as Hippocrates or Aristotle.  For a more relaxed approach, have your student read books that have been written about the great scientists or the major events that have occurred in a given field.  You can choose to have them read about scientists and events that coordinate with the historical period you are studying or you can have them take a look at the major events and scientists within the field of science you are examining.  Either way, Barb from Harmony Art Mom has created a Squidoo lens on living books for high school science that is a good list to draw from.
  4. In-depth Project:  This is something that I recommend doing only if your student plans on studying a field of science or engineering in college.  The in-depth project will have all the components of the scientific method, but will be more complex than a science fair project.  Your student will still come up with a question, do some research, make a hypothesis, design an experiment or experiments, analyze their results and draw a conclusion, but on a deeper level.  In the logic stage years, your student might have spent 4-6 weeks on their science fair project, but in the rhetoric stage years, their in-depth project will take about a semester to complete.   They will be looking at more than 2-3 variables and it will probably take several experiments to fully test their hypothesis.  The in-depth project will look a lot like Gregor Mendel’s study of peas, where he sought find out if there was a relationship between generations, ultimately discovering the field of genetics.  I’m not saying that the in-depth project needs to lead to a Nobel Peace Prize winning discovery, just that it should take time and several tries to reach the answer to your student’s question.  The bonus is that if they spend enough hours on it, you can award ½ of an elective credit for the project.

When you plan out your year of rhetoric stage science, try to have all 4 areas of study tie together, although this will be a bit harder to do than in other years.  Let’s say you’re reading a chapter on plant and animal cells, your experiment could be looking at cells in a microscope, your historical readings could be about Robert Hooke and the cell theory while your research report and in-depth project for the year would be related to the field of biology.  When you tie all of the areas of study together, they reinforce one another and create a stronger awareness of how the field of science affects the student’s everyday life.

Before planning out your year of rhetoric stage science, I also highly recommend reading The Well-trained Mind: A Guide to Classical Education at Home by Jessie Wise and Susan Wise Bauer.  The book will give you a fuller picture of classical education as well as the learning stages that your student will go through.

*Note: The information in this article was very loosely based on ideas presented in a lecture entitled “Science in the Classical Curriculum” by Susan Wise Bauer as well as pp. 540-561 of The Well-trained Mind: A Guide to Classical Education at Home.

Paige Hudson is an author and homeschooling mom.  She writes science curriculum for homeschoolers which you can view at the Elemental Science website.  She also has a passion for sharing the wonders of science, which is why she writes the bi-weekly Science Corner at Elemental Blogging. She holds a BS in Biochemistry from Virginia Tech and currently resides in the Appalachian Mountains of Virginia with her husband and 2 children. 






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