It’s common for high school students to take a couple science classes, but labs seem to create some anxiety for homeschool parents. Some states, and a few colleges, will “require” at least one high school lab science course to meet graduation or admissions requirements. If you don’t know your state’s homeschool graduation requirements, you should look them up on the Homeschool Legal Defense Association page. If you want to be on the safe side with college admissions, usually 1 high school lab science course will check that box. If your teen is really excited about lab science, there’s no reason to stop at just one. One of my sons (the little guy in the photo) will have 6 high school lab sciences on his transcript before he graduates high school, but my current high school senior has none. (he has 6 college credits in science, but none contain a lab). Once you know what you do and don’t have to do, you can decide what you do and don’t want to do.
A BIG factor with lab science is cost, and I’d love to tell you it’s “always” cheaper to do X, and “always” more expensive to do Y, but lab science costs are all over the place. A good rule of thumb: the more control you have over choosing course content, the more control you’ll have over the costs.
If your local college has reduced or free dual enrollment tuition for homeschool students, you’ll still have to investigate costs. Even “free” dual enrollment programs can involve access codes, expensive textbooks, and lab fees. Many dual enrollment parents will tell you that their “free” classes were very expensive.
10 Ways to Take High School Lab Science:
#1 Use the community college for a lab science course on campus. 100% of the activities happen in the college classroom, and you won’t have to do anything. You’ll have to purchase the required textbook, and don’t be suprised if you must also purchase an access code to unlock supplemental online activities. You and the college both issue credit, but the grade is issued by the college. You award high school credit for science with lab, and the college awards college credit for science with lab.
#2 Use the community college for a NON-lab science course on campus, and conduct a science lab at home*. The college course grade is issued by the college, but the high school grade is issued by the parent. In this case, by adding the lab, you’ve rolled their college class into your homeschool class. You award high school credit for science with lab, and the college awards college credit without lab. The grades can differ since the courses, technically, are different.
#3 Use a community college for a lab science course as a distance learner. In this type of class, you’ll have to purchase a specific lab kit and conduct the experiments at home, but you can shop around across all 50 states. Be prepared to take and upload photos as part of the experiment process. You and the college issue credit, but the grade is issued by the college. You award high school credit for science with lab, and the college awards college credit for science with lab.
#4 Use the community college for a NON-lab science course as a distance learner, and conduct a science lab at home*. This is a modification of #2, but with the ability to shop around across all 50 states. The course grade is issued by the college, but the high school grade is issued by the parent. You award high school credit for science with lab, and the college awards college credit without lab.
#5 Use a local homeschool co-op program. These classes may be offered with or without a lab, but if a lab is not offered, the parent(s) could DIY a science lab at home*. If you go through the trouble of creating a lab space at home, perhaps others from the co-op would like to cost share with your family or work as a team. You award a grade for the course, and high school credit for science with lab. No college credit is awarded, but you could integrate a college credit by exam option like CLEP, AP, DSST.
#6 Use your favorite high school textbook brand to conduct a homeschool science course with lab. I share the same frustrations you do: you spend a lot of money on a curriculum that promises you’ll only need “common, household ingredients” only to find that you don’t have lab supplies on hand when you need them. A few years back I found the company Home Science Tools. They have an online catalog of pre-assembled lab kits that match all the assignments in major curriculum brands like Apologia, A Beka, Berean, REAL Science, Monarch, Science Odyssey, and others. They also have a curriculum selection guide if you don’t yet have a favorite brand. Brand Selection HELP. You award grades and high school credit for science with lab. No college credit is awarded, but you could integrate a college credit by exam option like CLEP, AP, DSST.
#7 Use your favorite video based brand for the course, and you’ll DIY the lab portion at home*. The Great Courses is one of my favorite full course brands (a bit expensive). The lectures are fantastic, but the parent will have to create homework or enrichment to go with the videos. The photo at the beginning of this article is of my son and I dissecting a pig while completing The Great Course program called Understanding the Human Body by Dr. Anthony Goodman. Make no mistake, the course was well over his head, but we still had a blast! For a free option, Khan Academy has full courses (AP, too!) in every major science. They teach by video, but also offer practice exercises and a dashboard to track learning. It is by far the more interactive of the two options. You award all grades and high school credit for science with lab. No college credit is awarded, but you could integrate a college credit by exam option like CLEP, AP, DSST.
#8 Use a YouTube course, and you’ll DIY the lab component at home*. If you didn’t already know, dozens of universities are uploading full lecture content from their real courses for you to watch on YouTube. I frequently share the link to Dr. Marian Diamond’s Anatomy class at Berkeley. She is a 90 year old firecracker who doesn’t use a textbook or Power Point. Instead, she writes her notes on the chalkboard (in cursive) for students to copy by hand into their notebook. I’ve been told that Berkeley is pulling their courses off of YouTube, but Harvard, MIT, University of Nottingham, and many others have robust offerings. You award all grades and high school credit for science with lab. No college credit is awarded, but you could integrate a college credit by exam option like CLEP, AP, DSST.
#9 Enroll in an Open Source course (MOOC). Open Source courses, usually called Massive Open Online Courses (MOOC) are free college-level courses that can include classroom support, or operate as an archived class that you study independently. MOOCs aren’t one thing, so you may have a really great experience with one class, and then another be a total dud. My current favorite “first stop” when I’m course searching is edX. edX was founded by MIT and Harvard, but everyone is getting on board. You can find universities from all over the globe on their partnership list. You can search by class title, or by university. Some of the courses are specifically tagged as “Advanced Placement” which should align with the AP exam. For MOOCs, you may or may not have: lectures, reading, video, homework, etc. and you usually will not be graded by a teacher, even if a teacher oversees the class. You’ll have to DIY a lab component at home* and award all grades. You will award high school credit for science with lab. No college credit is awarded, but you could integrate a college credit by exam option like CLEP, AP, DSST.
#10 Enroll in a college-credit-eligible course. College credit eligible courses are not technically college credit courses. Instead, they offer a college level course and arrange to verify your completion if you meet certain standards. A common approach is to pay per month for a membership, and then purchase courses a la carte. Upon completing the course requirements and passing a proctored final exam, you pass the course. College credit eligible courses are evaluated to award credit by ACE or NCCRS. ACE, the more widely accepted, is frequently discussed on this site, so you can use the tag ACE to find a lot of information about the benefits and limitations of programs like these. My favorite free option in this category is Saylor Academy. If you use Saylor, you’ll have to DIY the lab portion at home* and award all grades. You will award high school credit for science with lab. College credit is stored on your teen’s ACE or NCCRS transcript. My favorite pay option in this category is Straighterline. If you use Straighterline, you’ll have the option of buying a lab class. With Straighterline, the company grades all work, but the parent is responsible for awarding a grade and high school credit. The college credit is stored on their ACE transcript.
#11 and beyond… There are so many other options and variations of how you can integrate a lab science into your homeschool. If you have found a great solution, Let me know! In addition, you can completely and organically start from scratch! I’ve taught entire courses to my teens that I’ve built from discarded (free) textbooks and online videos. If you consider yourself handy like that, and love a challenge, this is the video I use to teach how to build curriculum from scratch. Building Curriculum 6-Layer Technique
*DIY Lab (Do It Yourself) labs can come in many forms.
- You can purchase a lab kit for the year, like those mentioned in #6. Kits can include microscopes, beakers, chemicals, and everything you need for at-home experiments.
- You can also use a subscription service like Mel Science. Each month, the labs are delivered to your home. It’s a pretty outstanding product. This is a sample of what an experiment and kit looks like Experiment.
- Finally, if you don’t want to physically do the lab, but still want to do the lab, you can use VIRTUAL LABS.
Virtual Lab Links & Sites
Histology Virtual Microscopic Slides (free)
General Chemistry Virtual Lab Simulations (free)
Quantum Chemistry Virtual Lab Simulations (free)
Anatomy Virtual Canine Dissection (free)
Earth Science Virtual Lab Simulations (free)
Biology Virtual Lab Simulations (free)
Biology Virtual Frog Dissection (free)
Physics Virtual Lab Simulations (free)
Disease Lab Simulator (free)
Virtual Dissection Subscription ($36/year)