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Interest-led science - how?

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#1 tdbates78


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Posted 19 May 2017 - 08:51 AM

Since I pulled my twins out of PS first grade in January our science has been Mystery Science once a week or so. I already purchased R.E.A.L. Science Odyssey, Earth and Space, for next school year. However, I'm starting to see the appeal in interest-led schooling for science. My girls are really interested in the Mystery Science natural disaster mysteries and that led us to watching Dante's Peak (volcanoes) and videos of landslides. In the past we've read about tornadoes and now they have a sudden interest in the Northern Lights so today we are skipping Mystery Science and instead watching a 60 Minutes documentary on the Northern Lights that I found on YouTube. 


I'm really debating shelving the RSO for now and following their interests and see where it takes us. I just don't know how to do it. I'm definitely more of a "by the book" homeschooling mom. I like having a curriculum and boxes to check. But I admit science was never an interest of mine and I love that they are interested in these topics. It's just out of my comfort zone. 


It is important for me to keep them at, or close to, grade level as homeschooling was accidental and we do plan on the girls eventually going back to school (probably middle school). With that being said, no set subjects are required in my state (NC) and I don't believe science is on the (required) achievement test so if there is one subject with flexibility it's science. 


How exactly do I go about doing this? Do I ask the what topics they want to learn about and then just find as much information as I can about said topic? I'm assuming, then, that there wouldn't really be a set schedule as we just dive in as little or as much as we want? Do you find that they do learn a lot this way? Meaning you are comfortable and confident that they are learning science? Do you worry that the interests aren't broad enough at this age? For example, not focusing on, say, the human body or the life of a plant? I hope that makes sense!


Any been-there-done-that advice would be much appreciated!





#2 OneStepAtATime


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Posted 19 May 2017 - 09:02 AM

At that age yes absolutely go interest led.  They will learn.  Science is nebulous and fractal.  There is no way to learn all of science.  These are the years when it doesn't matter so much what they are learning but that they are gaining  a love of learning in general and the knowledge that learning doesn't have to be box checking.  That can be a valuable thing throughout their lives.  


If you find that they are petering out on topics they have chosen to pursue, then pull out what you already have and use that, but don't be afraid to head off on rabbit trails as often as wanted/needed.


You might even plan on every 6 weeks making a trip to the library to find a new topic.  Let them browse the shelves until they find something that excites them.  Check out some books, find some documentaries, maybe do a couple of hands on things, and just have fun with it.

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#3 regentrude


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Posted 19 May 2017 - 09:04 AM

I would get library books and documentaries on their chosen topic and let them read/watch until they feel they have exhausted the topic for now and want to move on to something else. I would not worry at all about comprehensive or broad coverage; at this age, my goal would be to nurture curiosity and a sense of wonder, and the feeling that science is interesting and fun - something which most curricula manage to kill by making science appear mainly a vocabulary exercise.


Throw in field trips to nature centers, science museums, planetarium, state parks, lots and lots of outdoor nature observation, hikes, rock collections, flower and leaf collections. It is  important to cultivate the skills of observation, because observing comes first.

Edited by regentrude, 19 May 2017 - 09:04 AM.

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#4 8FillTheHeart


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Posted 19 May 2017 - 09:17 AM

Yes, let them explore whatever they want. No need to fear they will be uneducated in science with this approach. :) It works and fosters a love of science.
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#5 Jackie


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Posted 19 May 2017 - 09:32 AM

Interest led science has been working well for my kid. Sometimes she chooses a topic she wants more depth on, and we go search through the library books, look for online learning options, find projects. Other times, it is as simple as grabbing a few library books when we're already there, having access to BrainPop, and maybe buying the occasional Thames and Kosmos kit off Amazon.

I'm sure there's topics we'll miss, but I'm not worried about them. There's plenty of time to fill that in when she's older. For the topics she's interested in, she likes to go in depth enough that she learns far more than any curriculum I've seen. I figure it all evens out somehow.

#6 Farrar


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Posted 19 May 2017 - 09:39 AM

I agree with all of the above and I'll just add that I think the biggest challenge is just staying on the ball with it. Some people find it pretty easy to do - either it just comes naturally to them to want to incorporate that stuff, answer questions, follow rabbit trails, seek out opportunities, remember to try new books/movies/etc. they hear about online, etc. Or they schedule a specific time for "doing science stuff" and really stick to it. For other people, if it's not on the schedule, it gets harder and harder to get it done and it either goes in fits and spurts (which, btw, I think can be fine, actually, you realize, oh no, we didn't do science for a few weeks and suddenly you end up spending a week doing a ton of science... and then it slowly fizzles out until you realize that again) or... and this is the bad thing... it just fizzles and never quite rekindles. But the good thing is that if that happens, it's not a big deal either. You can just end the year and say, gee, I love the concept of this, but we tried it and I realized we're a family who needs a program to get it done. And I can try to follow rabbit trails and interests, but have a program as my backup.

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#7 winterbaby


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Posted 19 May 2017 - 09:51 AM

My only concern about interest-led science is will the kid's interest only lead them to very striking phenomena like dinosaurs and tornadoes, and not to the basics of how the world works, physically. A lot of people say there's no content requirement before high school but the other day I saw a thread where a mom was concerned/confused that a high school text assumed the knowledge that water expands when it freezes. Luckily there are lots of lovely kid's books these days about the basics of physics and chemistry, simple machines, etc. I think science can still be very informal and joy-filled with the parent occasionally providing nudges in the direction of foundational concepts.

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#8 MerryAtHope


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Posted 19 May 2017 - 10:23 AM

I preferred to do a mix. I allotted a certain amount of time to science (in early elementary, we did science every other day approximately), and I did get books and programs, but I spread them out over 2 years to give us wiggle-room to go on rabbit trails when a topic interested us, or to take off completely to read library books on other topics or take a class at the children's museum in the next city over, etc... This way I was able to introduce my children to topics they might not have thought about, but we also had the flexibility to pursue interests. Have fun!

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#9 RootAnn


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Posted 19 May 2017 - 11:02 AM

It sounds like you are already doing really well at this. I, too, was nervous about interest-led science. (I still am, since I am not the natural you seem to be.)

We run into problems when one kid wants to do one thing and the other either doesn't want that or wants something different. I also sometimes struggle with the between-ideas times because our library is horrid (small, books are usually current fiction) and we don't subscribe to Netflix or the like. I think I have a handle on this now because I have lots of science books at home, so I just pull something out and we work on that until the next rabbit trail.

I also sometimes put off science because interest-led, wing-it science is completely out of my comfort zone and I dislike that feeling. But, the boys do get to it a couple times a week, usually. It is their favorite thing!

#10 fralala


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Posted 19 May 2017 - 01:08 PM

Well, there's almost nothing I can add to what you've already picked up intuitively and the responses you've received, but the one thing I have personally done is to work on becoming more science-literate and science-confident myself and being responsible for providing the kind of experiences and materials that can spark curiosity about scientific topics. It sounds like Mystery Science has done a great job of providing that material so far, and you've found great resources to pursue their interests, but you can also "plant" books strategically throughout the year, and take them out in the forest (or the park, or fields, or farm, or patch of asphalt, or whatever you have), and museums and such as mentioned above.


I do think a lot of science for young people these days has become overly focused on feeding them facts vs. allowing them to experience the world, ask questions, and think about how these questions might be answered. Yes, we should give kids facts, but giving them the facts before they've even thought to wonder about them is cheating them out of the experience of wonder. This is, at least, a convenient philosophy to have when you are as frequently factually-challenged as I am regarding my children's scientific queries! (And interestingly, despite our lack of science curriculum-- although I loosely do refer to BFSU -- my kids have done fine on elementary-level standardized tests, somehow figuring out things like what non-living and living things are despite direct instruction. Recently I heard my third grader tell an adult her favorite subject is science, and I kept my mouth shut because inside I was thinking, "Wait, do we do science? What is she talking about?")

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#11 tdbates78


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Posted 19 May 2017 - 01:58 PM

Thank you everyone!! You've given me the confidence I needed to do this. I spent some time this afternoon on pinterest researching and pinning ideas. There is an abundance of materials out there. Great experiments, crafts, printables for lapbooks and worksheets, etc. We are fortunate to live in an area with a great library system, including three within a short drive of our house. Between the library, pinterest, youtube, PBS and amazon I think I would have more than enough information. And we already have an annual membership to our science center, with reciprocating entrance into various museums around the country (a few within a short drive), so we will be putting it to use. 


I tentitively have science scheduled for two days per week. As long as it's on my lesson plan it will get done. I'm actually pretty excited. As I was researching pinterest I kept remembering subjects they have asked about recently. Sharks, jellyfish, Saturn, submarines, bees and wasps, the Titanic.... I wish I would have thought to do this sooner!  My girls have never particularly liked school, even back in preschool. Hopefully this will add some fun and excitement to the mundane math and language arts ;)

Edited by tdbates78, 19 May 2017 - 02:00 PM.

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#12 bluejay


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Posted 19 May 2017 - 04:16 PM

We do both.  We go by subject year by year (Biology for first year, Earth Science and Astronomy for second year...) but I'm always on the lookout for topics that the kids find especially interesting.  You may find yourself constantly asking "What do you find interesting?" or "What subject would you like to learn more about?" but they don't give any real answers.  That's fine.  It will continue for awhile.  Then, BANG!  They hit on a topic that totally fascinates them.  It may last for days, weeks or longer.  Some kids are permanently interested in cats or farm animals (it seems).  Others may develop a fascination for the critters and flying things they see in their backyard.  Others may gravitate toward science experiments. 


The important thing for you, as a parent, is to balance textbook study with hands-on, real-life exploration.  That is how you will arouse their interest in the world around them.  Let them explore the backyard. Put up a bird feeder.  Let them help you water the plants.  Visit the zoo.  Also, try watching kid-friendly science videos with them. 


It's the science that is most relevant in their lives that they will probably want to know more about.



P.S.  Do NOT worry if you go through a year of Biology and nothing happens. Then as you do Geography the next year, your kids suddenly want to learn about caterpillars or sharks.  It's fine.

#13 MasaMama


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Posted 19 May 2017 - 05:42 PM

This is more confirmation and encouragement than suggestion... DS (9) has been interested in chemistry ever since he was still 6 years old. So, I've been providing him with tons of books, documentaries, online information, games, and hands on opportunities like building molecular models. I've never officially taught him any chemistry. I am more of a resource finder (and I truely enjoy this part of the homeschool). It turned out that he learned quite a lot this way. I do this to the less extent with everything, like Greek methology or Shakespare at the moment. If I see him interested in something, I check out tons of books on the topic and let him choose which ones to read. And he is more likely to chose a documentary on the topic to watch during lunch. We are into gameschooling now so I get games related to his interests. 


Having said that, I am not anti-text book. We use curriculum for math and grammar. I think Mystery Science is excellent to cover the basics and to interest kids in topics they might not be otherwise. Crash Course for Kids on YouTube might be good for this purpose, as well.



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#14 goldenecho


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Posted 19 May 2017 - 09:55 PM

I have two methods for doing interest-led science....


1.  Buy a unit study on the subject, and just follow what it says to do.




2.  Make my own:   I'm not a big science person either, but what I do is find a good book on the subject for my child's age that is segmented into topical sections.   For each section I look up  experiments or videos or other activities related to the topic of the section, and choose one or two to supplement the reading. It's not been that hard to do--just takes a library trip and some time on pinterest and youtube.


I don't worry about knowing everything there is to know.  If he has a question the book doesn't answer, we google it together.

Edited by goldenecho, 19 May 2017 - 09:56 PM.

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#15 coastalfam


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Posted 20 May 2017 - 06:15 PM

What I am doing is planning one semester long science program (we use Quark chronicles) for the entire year to allow plenty of side trails into interests that pop up. Then, as the kids ask to study something, I throw together a unit study using books from our library, worksheets and activities from the Teachers Pay Teachers website, freebies from the Ellen McHenry website, and whatever else seems fun (like a field trip or project we make up). So far we haven't had an interest led subject last more than 2 weeks, so we jump back into our regular science curriculum at that point. 

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#16 Ausmumof3


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Posted 21 May 2017 - 06:02 PM

Ruth in Nz did an amazing thread on building and interest led science curriculum a while ago. I'm not great with searching but maybe someone else is and could link it.

I think science is one of the easiest areas to do interest led because there are a lot of resources out there unless they have some very specialised or obscure interests.

#17 Ausmumof3


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Posted 21 May 2017 - 06:07 PM


Here it is