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Homeschool high school – What is a lab science?

November 18, 2009

Why would anyone skip Biology Lab?  What could possibly be more fun that dissection critters and peeping through a microscope?  Sure Biology lab is a lot of fun, but it’s also pretty expensive, which is why I talk about it in my Special Report, “7 Secrets to Homeschooling Though a Financial Storm.”  Holly read the report and had a follow up question.


Dear Lee,
I just read your special report and think it was very well done.  Lots of great tips for saving money and giving parents confidence to strike out on their own a bit more. I was surprised to see that you suggested skipping Biology or doing it with media applications (online or video) instead of hands-on.  In Arizona, the state universities are very particular about the high school sciences being first-hand LAB courses.  This is something that I have stressed with my contacts and in my workshops–not just Biology, but any high school science needs to be documented actual lab work.  Tell me what you have encountered that puts a lighter emphasis on the labs. Is this more a state-by-state emphasis or is there more of a trend toward “softer” science coursework?  Keep up the good work.  You are doing many of the things that I dream of doing and can’t make happen all by myself.
~Holly in Arizona

Dear Holly,

I was surprised to see my suggestion about dropping Biology lab too, because I’m a nurse!  I loved biology – and especially the biology labs! I think it’s important to remember how financially desperate people can be in this economy.  It’s better to drop a biology lab than not do biology at all – or stop homeschooling entirely because of concerns about science.

First, public universities sometimes have very different requirements than colleges as a whole.  I have to gear my message to “general” college preparation.  Some colleges requires that lab sciences be taught in a classroom with a certified teacher, for example, and I don’t mention that in my article.  It’s a general college prep article.

There is a difference between a public school requirement for something, and what your state law requires from homeschoolers.  I see that a lot as I work with homeschoolers nationwide.  They think that because a class is required for high school graduation that they also need to meet the requirement, and that often is not true.  I don’t think you were concerned about that in your question, but it’s worth throwing it out there.

There is no national definition about what a lab science really is.  No definition.  Here is a snippet from an upcoming article I’ve written about lab sciences:
The US House of Representatives Committee on Science and Technology formed the Subcommittee on Research and Science Education issued a report about lab science, and it is remarkably clear in their conclusion.

National Research Council’s America’s Lab Report: Investigations in High School Science states, “The NRC report committee concluded that there exists no commonly agreed upon definition of laboratories in high schools amongst researchers and educators.”

Most colleges do not require documented lab sciences.  Some colleges do.  The most important thing for parents is to research the schools where they plan to apply.  Usually a college that has specific science requirements will also provide a method for them to achieve success.  Perhaps they will allow the ACT science portion to meet the requirement, or they will accept an SAT Subject Test or AP exam in a science area.

There are many colleges that don’t require excessive math or science.  Perhaps their emphasis is music or art or a specific trade, and general sciences meet their admission requirements.  There is a very wide variety of colleges that homeschool parents choose.

In general, when I look over the college preparation sites, they don’t mention taking a lab science every year.  Even the college board doesn’t specifically mention a lab science. It mentions three years of science, but isn’t specific about the lab requirement.


Science teaches students to think analytically and apply theories to reality. Laboratory classes let students test what they have learned through hands-on work. Six semesters are recommended.

  • Two semesters in biology
  • Two semesters in chemistry and/or physics
  • Two semesters in earth/space sciences, advanced biology, advanced chemistry, or physics

It’s a good idea to make parents aware that the public university in your area has a greater emphasis in lab science.  But I think it’s good to remember that colleges are rarely specific about WHICH sciences, and it’s OK for parents to have some delight-directed science courses along with the more ordinary biology-chemistry-physics choices.


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  1. J W says:

    Fresh roadkill is great for dissection, and it’s free. Unfortunately, I haven’t been able to convince my husband of that :-( He hasn’t yet let me bring anything dead home except a salmon a fisherman gave me ;-)

    November 19th, 2009 at 8:58 pm

  2. Leticia Barnes says:

    I just had a thought about science and testing. I have always taught science through a Christian perspective. Is that going to mess them up with sat testing?

    February 17th, 2010 at 7:26 pm

  3. Lee says:

    Dear Leticia,
    Great question! I just answered that question today with another mom, too! The answer is no, it won’t mess them up on the PSAT, SAT, or ACT. There are hardly ever questions that are very specific, only some passing references to “Billions of years ago…” Not enough to really affect a score, and most homeschoolers are savvy enough to answer correctly anyway. I’ll blog post on that topic later, though. It’s interesting!

    February 17th, 2010 at 7:29 pm

  4. Sharon says:

    Would a Nature Study count as a lab science? My girls are neither one interested in science – one is going into music, the other film production. We’re doing biology now, and I suspect we’ll either do chemistry or physics, but the thought of doing both is a little…exhausting to thing of to my two non-science-centered girls.

    And another question…would earth science count as a lab science? We covered astronomy, weather, etc., oceanography, etc. and built lots of weather forecasting items and built a telescope to study the stars.


    March 8th, 2010 at 7:06 pm

  5. Lee Binz says:

    I’ll answer your question in a future blog post, but the answer is yes!

    March 14th, 2010 at 12:06 pm

  6. Sandy says:

    We dissected a snake the cat left dead in the front yard. We broke apart a cheap razor and used sewing pins in a cardboard mat. Not the best methods but for a 9 year old he was thrilled. Luckily I had dissected dogs, cats, etc in college so I was past being squeamish.

    April 16th, 2010 at 6:09 am

  7. Selina says:

    Your idea sounds like a good one but, fresh road kill is NOT a great idea. You could actually get rabies from them. You have probably already thought about that since posting this. You can read more at this site.

    May 25th, 2010 at 10:27 am

  8. Angie says:

    Food Chemistry is a great way to get some chemistry into our students. I love the Magic School Bus series that deal with more aspects of science. We need to think more out of the box when describing life experiences that have taught our students more than what can be taught in less than 170 hours in a classroom setting…

    Describing a child’s passion in terms of what they have learned is a much better approach to science. Observations, experiments and the all important recapping of their experiences in a written form are excellent ways of accomplishing lab work.

    August 17th, 2010 at 7:06 am

  9. edutext says:

    I’m quite surprised that science isn’t required by more universities, because it’s probably the most wide covering subject studied. Only basic maths is ever needed in a regular job (and not even that anymore) and obviously English is important but science covers a lot more of what we actually understand in life.

    September 10th, 2010 at 6:20 am

  10. Lee says:

    Science IS required for admission by almost all colleges. Some colleges allow some flexibility, and others are more specific about the types of science or the lab experiences they require.

    Most colleges also require 3-4 years of math – as possible for the student. Some colleges allow some flexibility on WHAT math you teach, and others are more specific, and want to see Algebra 2 or Pre-calculus.

    Here is an article that may help you think about math:


    September 10th, 2010 at 6:56 am

  11. Donna says:

    Hi, We work with horses,my high school girls go to the barn almost every day. last year we were riding as a p.e. class.
    we actually have two equine classes one happens to be equine science and equine horsemanship.

    While the girls have a lot of hands on things with the horses this year was rough, our personal horse coliced and then foundered and then had to be put down. Lots of people asked what i did for school for the last two weeks while we took care of him 24/7 and i replied it is science. hands on/lab science. tempature, injections, caring for a sick horse…now i am havng second thoughts can i use that as a lab?

    thank you for imput

    October 17th, 2012 at 11:33 am

  12. Lee says:

    There is no real definition of what a high school lab science entails. If you would like support, become a member of the Gold Care Club and we can discuss it: The issues can be complicated, and it really depends on your situation.

    October 18th, 2012 at 12:47 pm

  13. Colleen says:

    Do the video labs count? We buy those as the kits were way too expensive. I thought that as long as the child had the lab workbook and filled it out as they watched the video that it would count for lab. Now I’ve been told that isn’t true, that the student has to get their hands dirty.

    November 22nd, 2012 at 5:12 am

  14. Lee says:

    You can read my full article about lab sciences here: Some public schools can’t afford lab kits, and they use videos. Independent homeschoolers get to choose what is best for their children.

    November 23rd, 2012 at 7:39 am

  15. Mary says:

    I guess this is a follow-up to what Colleen asked or just a clarification. Generally speaking, video dissections can be counted as labs? if your child is not going into a science based career?


    January 1st, 2013 at 3:25 pm

  16. Lee says:

    You will get more information in this article: There is no definition on what a lab science is, so YOU get to decide for your own students. However, many high schools across the country to have video dissections for some labs. I think it sounds like a perfectly reasonable lab.

    January 2nd, 2013 at 7:01 am

  17. Ariana says:

    Knowing which college to look at for specific science requirements made me wonder if there is a flow chart of sorts that helps you decide which type of college(or not) is best suited for your student? Maybe yes, no answers to indicate, public, private, community college, certification courses, in state, out of state, etc.

    And maybe even a flow chart for types of high school credits to earn- CLEP, AP, dual enrollment, online, virtual school, co-op classes, home based, tutor etc.

    Maybe even which standardized tests are best suited to your student- SAT, ACT, PSAT etc.

    Is there anything like that out there? Maybe on pinterest? I haven’t seen one yet.


    March 26th, 2014 at 3:22 pm

  18. Assistant to The HomeScholar says:

    That would be very nice, Ariana! I can’t imagine what that would look like, since (as Lee says) Each College is Unique. Maybe some day…

    Assistant to The HomeScholar

    March 27th, 2014 at 2:34 pm

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