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How to help your home educated child with iGCSE

How to help your home educated child with iGCSE/GCSE science if you’re not a scientist

Parents often choose home education (sometimes known as home schooling) because they want to support their child’s individual needs. You know them best after all, but how about when their needs change? Perhaps you’re not so familiar with some of the subjects they’re showing an interest in, or the ones they need to know about for an exam. As a parent, home education might mean supporting your child with science subjects like biology or chemistry, which you may not have covered since you were at school. As scary as this sounds, this can be a fantastic opportunity for you and your child. 

 Nurture curiosity

Whatever your approach to home education, you have likely found that as your child gets older, their curiosity increases. They want to know more and probably more than we know. Feelings of restlessness or boredom are also common in the teenage years leading up to exams like GCSEs (and iGCSES). Science can provide inspiration for thirsty minds, and perhaps stimulation for bored ones! If your child is asking questions about how the world works, how they work, questions you don’t feel you have the answers to, don’t panic, you can help even without a science background. 

 Encourage the ‘annoying’ questions – How? and Why?

Despite the image of boffins surrounded by dusty books and brightly coloured bubbling liquids, science is not about ‘having all the answers’, it’s about finding ways to ask questions. In fact, the best scientists are those that know the limits of their knowledge, so that they know what questions to ask next. This is why “How?” and “Why?” are so important. If your child is frustrated that they don’t know something, they are well on their way to becoming a scientist! Sometimes this frustration is directed at a parent, the trick is not to frame yourself as someone who has the answers, but someone standing by their side who can help them in their discovery. This is especially true when starting a more formal course like an iGCSE – try to be curious together.

Thinking like a scientist

GCSEs, and their counterparts the iGCSEs, provide at least some of the answers. Typically, iGCSEs in the main three sciences, physics, chemistry and biology, are best covered over two years, depending on your home education approach, perhaps you’re supported by a tutor, or an online school, maybe you’re working with a group of other parents? If you are new to science, or haven’t seen a test tube in decades, the best approach is the same advice I would give to a new iGCSE student, focus on the big picture first: how science works. 

Most discoveries about the world around us (and the world inside us), started with an observation: something odd or unusual. Curious. This raised a question (a hypothesis) which the scientist tried to answer with an experiment. The results lead to new observations, raising more questions… and on it goes. This cycle is how our knowledge advances and is perhaps the most important idea to grasp at all levels of science. 

The main difference between the GCSE and iGCSE courses are that you don’t have to *do* practical experiments for iGCSE, but you do need to be aware of them. This means the majority of the qualification is split between two areas, learning and understanding. To get a good grade at iGCSE, your child may have to know what DNA is, but also understand how it works. As a parent you can pay particular attention to this difference, if they struggle to get the right answer to a question, is it because they ‘don’t get’ (don’t understand) the topic or just haven’t retained the information? Difficulty with understanding might need a different perspective, or some specialist help (see below), but one way to help with retaining information is to give them a reason to remember.

Make it memorable, experiments and experiences

The internet is full of people professing to be experts (myself included). If your child is doing an online iGCSE, you may be spoilt for choice in terms of online resources. My advice is to try to be as specific as possible in your search, look for a blog, article or video to support exactly the part of the course your child needs. Read ahead, make sure you understand it first if you are the one helping them to learn. Look for reputable sources on GCSE/iGCSE science such as BBC teach or BBC bitesize. Study Smarter also offer free resources, styling themselves similar to the excellent Khan academy. But tread cautiously on Youtube or Tiktok, it’s quality we’re looking for, not quantity. 

In terms of bringing iGCSE science to life, The Nuffield Foundation have some wonderful videos of biology experiments, some of which are just about doable at home if you want to take a hands-on approach 😊 

With the aim of making science lessons memorable, you, as a home educator, have a massive advantage over schools in your flexibility, take some day trips to one of the UK’s many free science museums, (Manchester’s Museum of Science and Technology is awesome!) . Check their ‘what’s on’ pages for special events, especially during British Science week. Above all, give your child a reason to remember the science, lifting it from the page.

Ask for advice

Home education can feel quite isolating, so a good strategy is to find people like you. Join Facebook groups, local groups, and reach out to organisations like Education Otherwise.

With science specifically, if you want some advice on your situation, feel free to get in touch, I’m very happy to help. As well as tutoring hundreds of children online through GCSE and A-level sciences, I’ve written on how to support your child with exam stress and how to revise. If your child is struggling to understand a scientific concept, you might find a session with a tutor might put their (and your) mind at ease.

Overall, ask yourself a question: how involved in your child’s science education do you want to be? Maybe you want to learn a few concepts first, so that you feel more confident in helping? Or maybe you’d just like to support a tutor or school in working with your child.  Above all find ways to enjoy the discovery with them. Science is about being brave and curious. Qualities that helped you choose home education in the first place.

Dr John Ankers is a specialist online science tutor and academic coach. He has supported several home educated students through science GCSEs and sometimes works with parents too.