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TOPScience Curriculum Review

Low Budget, Hands-On Science and Math Resources

TOPS Learning Systems is a non-profit organization that has an amazing line
of books that teach math and science through “structured activities using
simple things.”

For instance, is your child interested in electricity? Do you have batteries,
bulbs from flashlights, aluminum foil, masking tape, rubber bands, and
pennies? Get the TOPS book Electricity and learn how to make a circuit that
lights the bulb, how connecting in series and parallel changes the brightness
of the bulb, and what conductors and insulators are. Add a couple of
clothespins and make a two way switch.

Or maybe your children are fascinated by plants? In the book Corn and
, a milk carton, paper towels, and a jar make a growing space for
popcorn and pinto beans you buy at the grocery store. A tin can, clothespin,
straw, masking tape, foil, thread, and paper clips make a balance bean on
which to weigh your sprouts. No gram weights? No problem. A photocopy of
one page on 20 lb. paper makes a set of gram masses. Learn about the
differences between monocots and dicots, explore the process of
photosynthesis, examine the role of cotyledons in plant development, and
record the growth of plants over the course of four weeks.

How about the formation of the metric system? Animal survival techniques? 
How chemical analysis works? Light? Sound? Rocks and minerals? The
planets and stars? There are books for each of these topics as well as a
series especially for younger children that use a box of lentils to teach all
kinds of math and science concepts.

Even if you don’t know anything about electricity, chemical analysis, or plant
development, extensive teaching notes explain the science behind every
activity in easy to follow language. I’d never studied electricity before picking
up the TOPS book, but I found that I could answer almost every question
asked of me by carefully reading the teaching notes. One page on the TOPS
website is devoted to issues specific to homeschoolers

The books come in two basic formats—activity sheets for grades K through 8
or so and task cards for grades 5 through 12. Activity sheet books have much
more detailed pictures with little “peoplets” who demonstrate how to do each
activity. Task cards have more open ended activities and require a bit more
independent thinking. Most of the activities could be performed individually or
be used as reference for independent exploration, although some work best if
completed in a certain order. Each books comes with a diagram of a tree and
leaves that helps to show how the activities build on each other. The books
are fairly inexpensive, from $9.50 to $15 each and many are available for use
at the Resource Center.

When my four year old son was struggling to understand how the earth, sun,
and moon moved in relation to each other, I went to the TOPS book Earth,
Moon & Sun
 first. Even though the recommended grade level on this book is
7-12, it gave me a great, inexpensive, hands-on, visual idea for how to
demonstrate this relationship. What more can I ask for our explorations into
science and math?

Age Range:
Grades K - 12


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