Dr. Maria Wheeler-Dubas and her mom

How to Engage Your Inquiry-Based Homeschool Student

Guest post by: Dr. Maria Wheeler-Dubas

It is always a pleasure to encounter others in the homeschool community in the Pittsburgh area. Recently, when reviewing some of the valuable workshops provided by Phipps Conservatory, I discovered that the educator of some of the classes was a former homeschool student herself! When Dr. Wheeler-Dubas agreed to share her experiences and wisdom with my readers, I was so thrilled! I find it incredibly beneficial to hear from professionals in the workforce who have received a homeschool education and I know you will, too. Enjoy!

The Mom and the Nerd

DISCLOSURE: Affiliate links are used on this site and may be used in this post.

Dr. Maria Wheeler-Dubas and her mom

I didn’t quite understand her objection—my plan to demonstrate electricity was clearly perfect in my ten year old mind. At the first sign of a thunderstorm, the metal rod would go in the backyard. Then, I would wrap one end of the copper wire from the garage around the rod while the other end of the wiring would be “safely” in the house and wrapped around the end of a light bulb. As soon as lightning struck the rod, my light bulb would light glow! It was a fool-proof plan! Was there no appreciation for scientific exploration anymore?!

Now, over two decades later, I can look back at my “fool-proof” plan and be grateful that my mom noticed the plot holes that I didn’t. Thankfully, I did not burn down the house, electrocute myself, explode shards of glass, or scare the crikey out of our neighbors. To reference a cliché, crisis quite literally averted.

That may have been a more extreme example of my fascination with the natural world, but my mom made the most out of homeschooling a budding nerd. Through different phases of my scientific obsessions, she dealt with my rock tumbler whirring and grinding away in the basement, my volcano occasionally overflowing its lava moat onto the kitchen floor, my bag full of snake skins in the basement (well…she did scream when she found that one), or my constant stack of library books on every animal or meteorological event possible. Mom built my foundation with a strong science curriculum and then fed my curiosities with regular trips to nature centers, science centers, and museums. Eventually, she succumbed to the role of chauffeur when I began volunteering at my local zoo before I was old enough to drive.

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She may have put in her time with my years of K-12 at home, but still, my mom’s work didn’t end when I went on to college and graduate school. Granted, she was out of her element with my coursework from molecular biology or tropical ecology, but she was still the one I called to share my dramatic retelling of every upcoming exam, final project, or conference (“Dramatic retelling” sounds better than “OmgMomIHaveSoMuchWorkToDoAndINeedCookies,” right?).

As the journey of life continued, though, the winding road of learning continued…and still continues to this day. I eventually finished my bachelors and doctorate, and I now quite literally have my dream job as the Science Education Outreach Coordinator at Phipps Conservatory. Somehow or other, I found a way to make a living doing what I have always done and what I can now encourage others other do: explore the exquisite details of our natural world. From writing a weekly blog on nature to overseeing science communication training for young professionals in the sciences, my work is a joy! And indeed, one of the things I particularly enjoy is helping to build on Phipps’ existing array of homeschooling programs—I can help to support a community that was vital in my own path.

UPCOMING EVENT: An Evening with Dr. Maria Wheeler-Dubas 

Would my world today have turned out the same without the benefit of homeschooling?

It’s hard to say.  I was brought up in a home that placed a high value on education, which is probably why I am passionate about positive learning experiences for every field trip and family that enters Phipps—homeschooled or not. I do know that by being homeschooled, I was able to embrace my quirkiness and claim the word “nerd” as a highest honor. I was also able to take part in unique learning experiences that enhanced my early road to professional development. Perhaps I don’t know what would be different or what would have stayed the same, though I probably still would have wanted to illuminate a light bulb with lightning. What I can say for sure is that my experience was something I cherish. And I am incredibly grateful for it.

Thanks, Mom.

Educational Resources for your Science-Lover

(Affiliate links are used in this post)




Maria_Wheeler-DubasDr. Maria Wheeler-Dubas is the science education outreach coordinator at Phipps. Her undergraduate degree and her doctorate are both in biology, and she has taught at both the college level and within the classrooms of zoos and museums. At Phipps, Maria coordinates science communication workshops, oversees the Botany in Action fellowship program, writes for Phipps’ #bioPGH blog, and assists with multiple programs and special science education events.

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