Interview with Mom’s Choice Award-Winner Frank Schaner

Mom’s Choice Awards is excited to announce another post in our interview series where we chat with the inventors, designers, publishers, and others behind some of our favorite family-friendly products.

Hello, Mom’s Choice readers! In today’s interview, we want to extend a warm welcome to Frank Schaner, the CEO and president of Home Science Tools and co-creator of their award-winning Science Unlocked—the groundbreaking curricula unlocking the wonders of science for children who are homeschooled. These Mom’s Choice Award-winning products include three levels, each offered for a different age group. Today, Home Science Tools has served over 1.7 million students across the globe, at home and school!

MCA: Frank, we’re so pleased that you could join us. Before you tell us a bit about yourself to get the interview started, let me say: congratulations on the 30th anniversary of your business!

I am a chemical engineer and worked almost 15 years in the oil refining industry before starting Home Science Tools. I love to learn new things, help others learn, and tinker with old machinery and tools. The time I spend with family, including adult children and grandkids, is precious to me and brings a lot of joy. Other interests include reading (especially detective and spy thrillers), hiking, downhill skiing, outdoor cooking, and home improvement projects.

MCA: Tell us about the creation of your company and your current role.

My wife Debbie and I founded Home Science Tools 30 years ago. We laugh about that first year, because our “warehouse” was a large closest in our home and I worked part-time in the evenings and weekends to operate the business. After six months I quit my engineering job to operate the business full-time and we relocated to Montana.

In the beginning I wore all the “hats” and did everything: marketing, catalog printing and mailing, customer service, order entry, purchasing, order filling, shipping, and accounting. Our kids were involved labeling catalogs and repackaging some products. Within two years the business outgrew our home and we hired our first non-family member employee. Today we operate out of a large warehouse and have 35 employees, who make the business successful. I currently wear just three “hats”: I am the CEO, focused on strategic planning and culture; I am the president, focused on business growth planning and execution; and I am the chief financial officer, focused on financial health and stability.

MCA: What needs were you trying to fill when you created Home Science Tools?

Debbie and I started the business because we saw many homeschool parents struggling with teaching their children science. We wanted to make it easy for parents to provide a better hands-on science learning experience for their kids. Initially we did that by making it easy for parents to get all the hard-to-find science items needed, in just the right quantities, so that they could easily incorporate hands-on science labs into their homeschool. Later, we began developing our own complete science lab kits to make teaching science even easier for parents and teachers.

MCA: Why did Home Science Tools see the need to create an all-in-one science curriculum?

We found that most science curriculums in the homeschool marketplace were either textbook heavy, challenging to teach, weak on real hands-on learning, or had significant subject-matter gaps. While our science kits helped address some of these gaps, they didn’t fully address the problems. We developed Science Unlocked to be a complete, hands-on K-12 science curriculum that is easy to use, easy to teach, and easy to love. Everything you need is in the box!

MCA: What makes Science Unlocked the best choice for someone looking for a homeschool science curriculum?

First, it is engaging and impactful. The hands-on, inquiry-based approach is a natural way for kids to learn. It draws them in, feeds their curiosity, and enables them to learn exceptionally well by doing real science. Second, anyone can teach it with great results! The unique teacher guide provides everything you need to help your kids through the learning process, regardless of your teaching experience or science background. Third, it is flexible. You can use it as a comprehensive year-long curriculum or select specific topics for month-long learning units, adapting to any homeschool approach.

MCA: Is Science Unlocked real science learning?

Absolutely! Science Unlocked was designed from the ground up to meet and exceed the Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS), the most comprehensive science learning framework ever developed for grades K-12. Our team of scientists and homeschool and classroom educators put all the science your children need to learn into Science Unlocked. All the science subjects are fully covered: chemistry, biology, physics, earth and space, plus engineering and technology.

MCA: How is Science Unlocked different from single-activity science subscription boxes?

Single-activity science subscription boxes are designed to keep kids engaged through one or two hands-on activities, often craft or art oriented, with little or no parent involvement. While learning always takes place in these kinds of activities, the science content and therefore the learning value are quite limited.

Science Unlocked delivers an exceptional hands-on science learning experience. Each kit includes a 24- to 60-page student workbook packed with rich science content plus five to seven real science hands-on learning activities for a full month of science education. While the workbook is designed so older students can work through it on their own, we also provide a teacher guide to involve parents in significantly elevating the learning process. All the materials needed are in the kit. Single kits can be used for selective topical learning, while our full-year bundles provide a year-long curriculum.

MCA: It sounds like you’ve thought of everything. Please tell us about the research that went behind the product’s unique features.

Our research was conducted over a period of three years. We did market research to fully understand the different homeschool approaches and how homeschool families approached science. We had conversations with individual parents and focus groups. We tested product concepts with a focus group and then tested the very first products with individuals and a focus group.

As a result, Science Unlocked is unique in fully integrating real hands-on science into the learning process, being comprehensive without a textbook approach, and the incredible flexibility it provides to fit almost any homeschool situation. While most other science curriculums provide for optional or complementary hands-on activities, Science Unlocked fully integrates engaging, hands-on science to immerse kids in the learning experience while building valuable life skills like problem-solving and critical thinking.

By eliminating textbooks while meeting and exceeding national science standards, Science Unlocked is a comprehensive science curriculum that is less intimidating, easier to use, and delivers better results. The flexibility of Science Unlocked allows it to be used as a traditional full-year science curriculum, as a progressive exploration of a science topic of interest, as a self-selected any-order topical approach to align with family interests or activities, or as a rich hands-on learning supplement to fill in gaps in any other science learning approach. Plus, we provide tips in every kit to use with kids of varying ages so you can teach all your children together.

MCA: What age groups were Home Science Tools designed for?

Science Unlocked is for kids in grades K-12. Rather than a single grade approach, we designed Science Unlocked around three learning stages or levels: Wonder is for grades K-2, Accelerate is for grades 3-7, and Launch is for grades 8-12.

We believe that engaging girls and boys in hands-on science at early ages (elementary grades), which our products are designed to do, results in more kids—women and men—growing up with a passion for a science-related career.

MCA: What kind of feedback have you received about the Science Unlocked products?

Feedback has been great! Science Unlocked is still relatively new, with the very first product released in July 2021 and the last product released in August 2023. We already have homeschooling families who have used it three years in a row and our average product review rating for the entire product line is 4.45 out of 5. What totally surprised us was the interest from public, private, and charter schools! While Science Unlocked was designed specifically for homeschools, we have school districts, private schools, and charter schools using it for their remote learning students or to fill specific learning gaps in their programs, sometimes for over 1,000 students at a time.

MCA: That’s quite an endorsement—that so many schools are interested in your curriculums. Have you been deveoping additional products to the Science Unlocked line?

We are working hard to develop additional Engineering and Technology products and exploring opportunities to fill specific science needs of K-12 schools. Put simply, we are committed to inspiring learning that fosters student growth so that they impact their world.

MCA: Frank, thanks so much for sharing your exciting story with us today. We wish you the very best!

You can learn more about Frank Schaner and his award-winning products, Home Science Tools, by visiting his MCA Shop page.

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