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This is a bit long. Sorry. I'm not sure you can answer my questions if I don't explain the whole thing, though. And I don't know how to structure this post so all my questions get answered instead of just one because they are all a muddle.

 

Last year (9th), we followed MODG's natural history syllabus (with supplimentation). This year, my son is again doing natural history, but without someone else's curriculum. One of my goals for this year is to get him designing, doing, and properly writing up experiments. We did this last year, but it fell into the suppliment catagory and we only worked on it a bit. This is a major reason we are doing a second year of natural history, that and because it allows us to concentrate on skills without having to worry too much about covering content. He will do chem and physics at CC for the rest of high school. Taking biology at CC won't work for our family for a variety of reasons. My question is: Is there a better way of learning to do experiments than just coming up with an idea for an experiment yourself and carrying it out? We have run into several problems with this approach:

 

1. It takes oodles of time.

2. He has trouble finding things to try that he doesn't know the outcome of already (or can't easily look up) AND that don't require time or equipment we don't have AND about which he is at least mildly curious.

3. When he does have an idea, it usually is something that could/would be done in elementary school.

 

Some things we managed to accomplish last year:

A large part of my husband's job is designing experiments (or critiquing other people's designs) so between us all we worked out a writeup and review format that is working.

My son has a good idea of what an experiment is (as opposed to an activity) from watching every episode of Myth Busters he could get his hands on.

We live in a place rich with nature so that isn't a problem.

He can draw and observes well.

He has a good idea of what naturalists do from his reading.

 

The whole thing would be easier if he (and we) weren't so averse to hurting anything living that we aren't going to eat.

 

Would the standard labs for high school (or college) teach this better? My husband thinks not, because he keeps having to teach engineers who have had the standard number of years of lab science how to design and write up even a simple experiment. He sees nothing wrong with the simplicity of my son's experiment ideas, as long as he is truly testing what he thinks he is testing. He just keeps saying, "I would love to hire engineers who start out being able to do this." I keep reading offhand statements on these boards about separating DNA and things like that, and being worried that all my son is doing is seeing if dried yeast sinks. Not that separating out DNA is something I have my heart set on his doing, but I would feel less worried if he were doing more sophisticated natural history experiments. They have to be real experiments, though, not just super-sophisticated activities designed to reinforce the lesson. Is there a curriculum out there that teaches how to design an experiment, a real experiment about something that you don't know, not just an activity? What do I do about the statistics piece. He hasn't had any statistics other than the simple mode/medium/mean stuff.

 

There are other pieces to his science this year, like reading.

 

Is this a stupid approach?

-Nan

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I think it's a great approach! But if we did that, unfortunately it would probably be something we'd do later in the day, or the week, or the quarter ... Well, you get the idea. :tongue_smilie:

 

I've found that for us, it works better to have a structured curriculum for something like this. It keeps us on task and makes sure that all concepts are covered, labs are done, etc.. I can't tell you how it is yet, as I'm just getting it today, but we've ordered the DIVE for physics. The labs are set up in such a way that the student doesn't know the expected outcome ahead of time, and has to make a hypothesis and all, and then do the experiment (or they can just watch it). The lab write-ups are available online, or you can order them in book form.

 

I think that you would cover a whole biology class by using the DIVE exclusively, if you didn't want to get a text to go along with it. That way he'd have another science on his transcript. Natural science and biology, and the chem and physics you have planned.

 

Your plan sounds like a good one too. I think there's so much to be learned by the whole process of developing your own experiments. That's more along the lines of how researchers and inventors think. What I don't know is what resources are out there to help him with this. Hopefully someone else will have input on that. I just wanted to give you another option if that doesn't work out. He might also find that after doing some of the DIVE experiments he wants to design some of his own. It will teach him the basic format and components needed for a good experiment.

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Nan dear,

 

I think I have an idea for you. Elizabeth Lawlor has a series of books, Discover Nature at the __________, which have activities based on observation and collection (but not harming specimens!) These books could be used to suggest more formal studies which include some statistical bits. For example, I once had a small of students estimate the number of "right handed" vs. "left handed" male fiddler crabs in four different areas of a salt marsh. The students had to observe, count in the field, then extrapolate data on populations. It led to a discussion on the advantage of the the left or right claw being dominant, why it appeared that there were more male crabs than female in some areas. No, it was not DNA analysis, but the lesson was very real to the students.

 

Lawlor has a number of quantitative activities in her books. You can look at some of her materials at Google books. For example, here is the link to her Discover Nature in Winter book. Perhaps this could present a more formal framework to your starting point.

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I think it's a terrific approach, and my husband (a chemistry professor) would agree with yours 100%.

 

I also think a true experiment, as opposed to the canned activities or demonstrations that are so common, is difficult to devise when, as you say, you are not immersed in a subject and know something about it to begin with.

 

So -- I am not a scientist, but I have two suggestions. If he's already done a lot of reading, as you say, turn him loose with the experiments of his own design. They may seem "young" to you at the moment, but if he devotes several months to this process, he'll work his way fairly quickly through the basic level of things -- with real understanding, since he's designed his own way through them instead. If his curiosity is limited to a few areas or questions, that's fine. Encourage him to explore those areas in detail.

 

When his interest begins to run out, have him go back to reading in more detail about the areas he's explored. The more he knows, whether from labs or reading, about a focused area of interest, the more he will be able to design the next level of experiment or the next level of sophistication in observation and recording.

 

Second, cell biology is an important part of bio, but not the only part. Don't worry if he isn't drawn to that particular area or you don't separate DNA or the like on the microscopic end of things. How many of these things other people mention are the "true" experiments you talk about, as opposed to activities someone else set up, or a question and hypothesis that has been guided/urged by someone else, be in an author or a teacher? I have yet to encounter in a high school chemistry book or any kit, however expensive, an extended opportunity for kids to pursue their own questions, stumble around, go over what's already been done before they figure out how to extend it, refine their ideas, and try new things. The kids who do things that win science fairs are working with professionals in the field who help them design -- or design for them -- the projects that get them up in the ranks. Again, it is a rare child who has the gift of the opportunity to explore on his own terms.

 

If you have access to a rich natural environment you have a resource not many kids have these days, and something that scientists in general know is lacking -- people growing up with extensive outdoor experience and intimate knowledge of their natural setting. Field work is crucially important to biology; it's a macrolab.

 

Between allowing your child to develop his own understanding and go through the process of learning to frame a real experiment, and giving him access to the natural world, you're providing him with a true scientific education. It's what I hope my dd can have the opportunity of doing with physics, once she puts the required chemistry and biology behind her. She loves physics, and I'd love to give her the gift of allowing her to explore it in her own time, without worrying about the sophistication level of what she explores or the outcomes. You're my inspiration for this!

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I don't know how much this will apply but I will throw it out there: My ds (a junior in college) did Apologia for science. I just had him write up his experiments (that the book provided) informally in his notebook. When he took chemistry in college, there were two areas where he wasn't quite prepared: 1) making up his own experiments, and 2) doing formal lab reports.

 

This chemistry class had lab days that were in no way related to the text they were studying. The professor said what the lab was about, then it was up to the 3-4 of each lab team to completely come up with the experiment.... Then they supposedly had to team up and write up one lab report, that was a "fail" some didn't do it, so my ds and one other person did their own, completely on their own. It was difficult for ds since he had never done one before. Big ooops for me, but I really didn't know.

 

HTH

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I don't know the answer to your question, but I want to encourage you that you are doing a wonderful thing for your son! Have confidence in your approach!

My kids spend one day (6 hours) each week at a Nature program designed for homeschoolers. It is very experience/field based. Their instructors set up experiences for them and guide them by asking lots of questions and letting the students talk, try and figure things out. They have built a large shelter over the past year that is rain resistant (they are there rain or shine) and has a fire pit all out of things available to them in nature. They observe the trees and animals and birds. Many of them can build fire with a bow drill. They have been in the same park for years and know it very well in all seasons. Their knowledge of the plants, birds, edibles, trees, etc is astounding to me! As we were finishing up our biology with plants a few weeks ago, they told me that all of this was really familiar to them and we just needed to review it.

 

That said, along the way I have not always been sure that they were learning all they needed to because the method was not very "academic" looking and not always very linear looking and the kids didn't always feel like they had been to a class (more like a romp in the wood). However, it has resulted in a deep and connected knowledge that I am happy for. I think it has just been a different route to getting there. It is hard for me to maintain confidence in a different route sometimes.

 

Sounds like you're on a different route, but to me it sounds like a fabulous direction to take! Hope you enjoy the experiments he comes up with!

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I don't know how much this will apply but I will throw it out there: My ds (a junior in college) did Apologia for science. I just had him write up his experiments (that the book provided) informally in his notebook. When he took chemistry in college, there were two areas where he wasn't quite prepared: 1) making up his own experiments, and 2) doing formal lab reports.

 

This chemistry class had lab days that were in no way related to the text they were studying. The professor said what the lab was about, then it was up to the 3-4 of each lab team to completely come up with the experiment.... Then they supposedly had to team up and write up one lab report, that was a "fail" some didn't do it, so my ds and one other person did their own, completely on their own. It was difficult for ds since he had never done one before. Big ooops for me, but I really didn't know.

 

HTH

 

 

That's part of the reason we'll be adding DIVE to the Apologia texts. The experiments are set up such that the outcome is unknown, and the student has to actually think about what the results might be and why, and each lab is written up in a formal manner. The Apologia labs are great, but I think this added element is needed too.

 

Thank you for sharing your experience. I've heard that lab prep is one of the things homeschoolers in general are lacking. It would be great to be able to take it to the next step and do what your son needed to do in college, and what Nan wants her son to be doing now. Your post is verification that she's on the right path. :)

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Check out TOPS science. I recently exchanged emails with one of the mothers who works for TOPS. She mentioned that the problem with curriculum experiments, for the most part, is that they recreate someone else's experiments. One of the goals of TOPS science is to help the student learn to create their own labs. TOPS uses household items, and they have units for all types of science and at the high school level.

 

Btw, could you share your writeup and review format? Thank you.

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Instead of calling your course Natural History II, what about Ecology & Field Biology? Here are some possible references:

 

Forestry Field Studies

Provides an overview of ecological principles as well as " a comprehensive set of field exercises, from preparation to written report."

 

Watershed Investigations: 12 Labs for High School Science

 

Investigations in Woodland Ecology

 

The Ferry Beach Field Guide: An Ecological Tour Of New England's Coastal Ecosystem

 

Perhaps he could do a few of the field labs/reports from these books, and then use those as models for designing his own investigations?

 

Jackie

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I think the ecology and field biology would be a great class, and I'm hoping to set this up for my own kids when I have at least three of them that can do it together.

 

My expertise is plant ecology. Many "experiments" in ecology are observational rather than manipulative. There are so many things one could study: come up with a question, design a sampling scheme, collect data, analyze, report.

 

Examples:

-Is there a difference in density of Tree Species A on north aspects compared to south aspects?

-Are there more bird nests in Tree Species A or Tree B?

-Is the frequency of trees occupied by bird nests lower adjacent to roads compared to within the forest?

The stats for analyzing data generated by such studies are pretty straightforward.

 

These are clearly observational studies, but are the foundation that leads to asking “why†questions and further manipulative experiments. You could also, perhaps, come up with a study where your son actually does some manipulation of vegetation (since he doesn't want to harm animals). For example, if you were interested in the factors that may increase the density of a particular prairie wildflower, you might be able to form an experiment that involved mowing and/or burning compared to a control. The design and analysis of this experiment are a little more complicated, but not much.

 

Here's a site that has examples of projects done in a one semester college class on Field Methods in Ecology.

http://userwww.sfsu.edu/~efc/classes/biol315/biol315.htm

 

Here's a syllabus from another field ecology class:

http://www.sbs.utexas.edu/bio373l/BIO373L/syllabus.htm

 

Robert Leo Smith's Ecology and Field Biology is a pretty readable text for a class like this.

 

And I humbly submit my own book "Monitoring Plant and Animal Populations" which is ridiculously priced by Blackwell, BUT, the first iteration of this book was put out as a technical reference and is free:

www.blm.gov/nstc/library/pdf/MeasAndMon.pdf (opens a very large PDF). I wrote this to help natural resource managers think through monitoring programs for rare plants and plant communities (the Blackwell book includes animals). It includes setting objectives (essentially setting up a research question in a management context), methodology, and some simple explanation of statistical analysis of typical monitoring data. I've wanted to revamp this for a high school audience... but who has time?!

 

Good luck! Whatever you do, it sounds like a fun class to me!

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Gosh, I re-read your original post and I don't know where I got the animals part.... Please chalk it up to the middle age "muddle" (which I have been assured will get better in a few years!).

 

Anyway, plants are easier to study, IMO, because they don't move.

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I wish I'd opened this thread sooner. But I saw "science" and "experiments" and I had a small brain seizure.

 

We, too, are doing a Natural History, with some Oak Meadow life science thrown in, for my son's 8th-9th grade year. We have some of those Discover books Jane mentioned; I'll have to dig those out. There are wonderful suggestions in this thread. Thank you.

 

I have one small suggestion to throw out, although I feel a little silly suggesting it. For years we have kept what we call our wonder book. It's a notebook where we jot down questions as they occur to us. The first one, years ago, was "I wonder why some birds hop and some birds walk?" Now that we have chickens, the latest entry is, "I wonder what the function of the comb is on these birds?" (Huh. Come to think of it, most of our questions are about birds. But not all.) As I was reading your post, Nan, I was thinking that our book would be a great source of inspiration for possible labs. I am no scientist, but I'm guessing that science is like art, in that you have to generate four or five or ten crappy messes before you create something beautiful. And I would like to think that there is such a thing as a beautiful experiment. But again, I'm no scientist. Anyhoo, I'm thinking wondering is the first step. Or hoping it is.

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I didn't realize that TOPS had high school level materials. I think we did one or two in elementary school and I liked the way they were set up.

If you give me your email, I'll send you our lab format. It is pretty standard. What was important was my husband's explanation of how it varied depending on what you were doing. For example, sometimes you have a purpose instead of a hypothesis. He reviews the experiment design before my son does the experiment. He also helped with directions on how detailed things like the procedure need to be. If you are giving your lab to a lab technician to carry out, then the procedure needs to be very detailed, but if you are doing it yourself, then you can get away with being less specific and you can leave out things like "wash glassware" because you know that you always do that anyway. He also pointed out the difference between keeping a lab notebook, writing up a lab for the other people you are working with, and writing up a lab for publication. And he answers stupid questions like what to do if you are in the middle of a lab and have an idea for another lab that you want to write in your lab notebook (skip ahead a few pages and then when the first writeup is done, make a large x and initial it on the unused pages). None of that is in the writeup, but in the process of writing down the writeup, we worked all that out. I'm just trying to explain why the writeup is important to us but might not look like much to you. You are welcome to it, though, if you would like it.

-Nan

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I used to make my children come up with wonderings. I wonder why we stopped? (The double wonder makes that sound flip or sarcastic but I don't mean it that way at all. It was just an accidental double.) This is a good idea. And I like your comparison to art. I'm sure that is true about the ratio of mess to beauty. Computer programmers talk about programs being graceful or elegant so I don't see why an experiment couldn't be beautiful as well. It would be beautiful in the same way. As a former programmer, I take that for granted. Obviously, though, I should point that out to my son, who probably has never thought about it. It is an important point. And we will go back to writing down wonderings.

-Nan

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What great resources! Thank you very much! Looking through your paper reminded me that my sister did her thesis paper on sand burrs. I wish you had had time to do a high school version. I know what you mean about time, though. I can see that I am going somehow to have to find the time to figure all this out. At least it is something that I am interested in myself. I refuse to do this for history GRIN. And I will most definately rename what we are doing.

-Nan

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..."maintain confidence in a different route"... Yup. Sigh. I can see the attraction of textbooks - the parent can see what the child is learning. With peacewalking, I'm not even there! When I ask my sons what they learned, they can't think what to tell me. And then we'll be driving someplace and they'll suddenly pipe up from the backseat and say, "I've been here. This is the such-and-such a center." And they proceed to tell me about the person in whose honour the center was built.

My son can produce smoke with a hand drill, courtesy of peacewalking, and he knows some of the edible in the Eastern Swiss woods because he nibbled them when he got hungry - not exactly academic, but perhaps you are right and it lays a foundation for future academic work that is very valuable. I know that creativity is important in science and to be creative, one needs to have something to be creative with. Maybe that is where the importance lies? I'm not sure. Anyway, in our case, it is more a tromp than a romp GRIN.

-Nan

 

-Nan

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Obviously, I should have put all my comments in one post at the end addressed with names. Sigh. As a programmer, I find this format pleasing, but I have a feeling it just looks like a mess to everyone else.

 

It worked very well! :) I'm thinking of all the inventors, scientists and the like that I've read about or visited a museum dedicated to them. Each of them seemed to begin with natural science. Franklin Roosevelt studied birds and sketched them as a child, Thomas Jefferson was constantly working with different experiments on his crops, Audobon, Edison, Franklin, etc.. I love the idea of keeping a journal of questions and finding the answers. We used to do that years ago. We'd bring it with us to the library and research the answers. Curiosity is at the root of all good experiments. :)

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I used to make my children come up with wonderings. I wonder why we stopped? And we will go back to writing down wonderings.

-Nan

 

We stopped too, sometime over the past years; and now I'm had just finished writing down one of my requirements for dd for chemistry was to keep a notebook of questions.

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...

My son can produce smoke with a hand drill, courtesy of peacewalking, and he knows some of the edible in the Eastern Swiss woods because he nibbled them when he got hungry - not exactly academic, but perhaps you are right and it lays a foundation for future academic work that is very valuable.

 

-Nan

 

This is what I'm always thinking about my dd's knowledge, but it is something I am consciously trying to move away from. Why is it we think we have to justify everything in terms of academic value -- and academic in a very narrow sense, as in institutional level research/work? Why is it that academia tends to put a huge variety of kinds of knowledge, observation, and research outside the magic circle? It's the same kind of hierarchy which makes us worry that DNA extraction is somehow more valuable (or, shall we use the R word -- rigorous? shiver) than identifying edible plants in the wild and the like.

 

The more you write about your dh's discussions and work with your son about lab notebooks and how science works, the less I think you have anything whatsoever to worry about. Not only is he getting a marvelous mentored introduction to real world lab work, but he's also pursuing aspects of the natural world that most interest him personally, in contexts where that knowledge is useful as well as interesting. I can imagine that if he decides to go to college, he's going to have a brilliantly individual and engaging essay and lots to talk about.

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You probably have all that you need and this might be a bit simple (it's for grades 7-9), but the Chem II lab book from RS4K is designed & set up to have students design their own experiments. Objectives, etc, are given. There are 10 labs. Sadly, dd never got to them and ended up doing a kit along with Conceptual Chem, but I'm keeping it on hand for my other dc. The Chem part of RS4K is quite good at the II level.

 

I thought that even if you don't need this, Nan, someone else reading this may be interested.

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Nan dear,

 

I think I have an idea for you. Elizabeth Lawlor has a series of books, Discover Nature at the __________, which have activities based on observation and collection (but not harming specimens!) These books could be used to suggest more formal studies which include some statistical bits. For example, I once had a small of students estimate the number of "right handed" vs. "left handed" male fiddler crabs in four different areas of a salt marsh. The students had to observe, count in the field, then extrapolate data on populations. It led to a discussion on the advantage of the the left or right claw being dominant, why it appeared that there were more male crabs than female in some areas. No, it was not DNA analysis, but the lesson was very real to the students.

 

Lawlor has a number of quantitative activities in her books. You can look at some of her materials at Google books. For example, here is the link to her Discover Nature in Winter book. Perhaps this could present a more formal framework to your starting point.

 

We went to the beach today with out notebooks and binoculars and for the first time ever, we saw a crab, a lone crab that seemed not to have a shell. Its backside was almost furry, and it was yellowish-brown. It walked to the right. ;) Our field guide to the Cascades has all kinds of things, rocks, birds, butterflies, plants, trees, but not wee shore animals. So I thought, "I'll just find that Discover book that Jane was talking about. Maybe there's something in there about crabs....

 

Those Discover books did not survive my book purge last summer!

 

:willy_nilly:

 

Gah! I hate it when you own a book for a long time, never really "get" it or use it, sell it, and then find you need it.

 

Sigh.

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