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science activities: setting goals and evaluating usefulness of activities


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I've been having a lovely conversation on a thread on the k-8 board about science activities. I will have to admit that with the exception of Leeyeewah and Rose, it was pretty much a one-way conversation! I think I scared almost everyone off the thread :001_huh:. So I thought I would move it here where the students are older, and the moms (or dads) a bit more jaded about the time they spending setting up and running science activities ;).

 

Why do you choose to do a science activity?

Do you have goals you are trying to meet?

Do these activities/labs/observations/experiments/demos meet your goals?

How do you know if your goals were met?

 

Think first about these questions and then read my x-posts. (I don't want to completely sway you.) I am really curious if I am the only one who doesn't follow science curricula as written. If you change the suggested activities, why do you change them?

 

Ruth in NZ

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x-post #1

This post responded to the question: "how do you teach science when all of your activities and experiments always seem to go wrong?" The OP noted, "I've heard people say you can learn from experiments that go wrong."

 

 

It really depends on your goals for these scientific activities, and your goals depend on your kids' ages and on the type of activity/demonstration/experiment that you are doing. In general for every situation, I talk to the kids about our personal problems and then relate our difficulties to what real scientists face.

 

1) If your goal is to teach kids how to use scientific equipment (like Bunsen burner or a microscope), then you have them keep practicing until they have the dexterity and precision to make the equipment work to expectations. Similarly, if your goal is teach them how to do a methodological process like running a transcript or doing a dissection, you need to brainstorm what went wrong and then have your student repeat the process until he can master it. It might be that your student never fully masters it, and then you explain that it can take years for a graduate student to master certain techniques, and that is part of what he/she is trying to learn. Science is about asking questions and finding answers, and often very technical procedures need to be used to find the answer. Give an example of a science that you know a lot about. For example, think about a cell biology lab, a grad student needs to learn how to use the flow hood so as to keep all the cultures clean, and needs to learn how to identify and count organisms etc. These are procedures that can take months to learn to do well. It is also a good time to talk about experimenter error and how scientists are not perfect. Scientists replicate to help reduced the importance of their own error compared to the real effect they are trying to measure.

 

2) If your goal is to demonstrate a known process, like making crystals or chromatography of ink, you need to be clear that you are not actually trying to do an experiment. Rather you are trying to replicate a known scientific process. You have a couple of options. 1) if you don't have time or the resources to redo the work, then you show them on youtube what should have happened and then brainstorm how your set up could have varied. Is temperature important to growing crystals? Could impurities like greasy fingers inhibit crystal growth? Do your chemicals degrade over time and is your kit old? etc. 2) if you do have time, then you can research on the internet what could have gone wrong and you then redo your demonstration. We made a home made kite once using instructions from a book, we could. not. get. it. to. fly. We tried for a month. Yes, really a month. We did lots of research as to what was wrong and tried to adjust everything we could think of. We knew that kites fly, and we were working off of instructions from a book, so it should work. In the end we did research into air currents and found that we had a wind shadow from the trees near the field that was causing turbulent air. We switched fields, and it flew.

 

3) If you are running a real experiment where you don't actually know the answer, then the data you get is not wrong. Science is not about getting the "right" answer. If you have replicated and controlled appropriately, then unexpected answers allow you to brainstorm what happened, and why your initial hypothesis was incorrect. This is an exciting time because you have found something new and unexpected. Celebrate and come up with a follow on experiment. However, if in hindsight you realize that you have not controlled or replicated appropriately, then you need to redo your experiment with proper controls and replications. This is also the perfect time to discuss probability and chance. Scientists replicate because they need to average out chance. My little boy once compared different fertilizers to see which cause plants to grow taller. We did not know the answer -- this was real science. We only had 3 replications in each group, so not really enough. One plant by chance germinated 5 days earlier than all others, and then grew taller than all others. This was the perfect time to talk about outliers and chance. Scientists have to deal with this kind of thing all the time. So we also talked about how if we had had 100 plants in each group, then when we took an average, 1 early sprouter would not have mattered that much.

 

4) If your goal is to teach persistence (and this is an important goal in science), then you try, try, try again. This is what we definitely learned with the kite. And I describe the frustrations that Thomas Edison must have faced when trying to find a filament that would work in the light bulb. I mean, really, Tungsten?

 

5) But in the end if your goal is to have fun and spend time with your kids, then you have a good laugh and a hug, and you put a smile on your face and don't get frustrated. Then you go find a different activity. I seriously don't mean this as a joke, science can just be fun with little kids and that is ok. Just be clear on your goals.

 

One last thought, science IS very frustrating. NOTHING ever goes right. Ask me how I know! So really stress to your kids that discovery is difficult and is not a linear path. Scientists have to try many different approaches and spend long hours to SOMETIMES answer their questions. If all your kids ever see is easy, tidy demonstrations, they are likely to come away with the idea that science is easy. This misperception permeates the news and government. Reporters and politicians always think science will be cheap, fast, and effective at answering incredibly complex and difficult questions. So if your kids get frustrated that something did not work, you have a very easy out -- "I am just trying to show you how difficult scientific discovery really is."

 

I have written 2 very long posts on the importance of keeping clear the difference between getting a "wrong" answer when doing a demonstration and rejecting your hypothesis when running a real experiment where you don't know the answer. See posts 90 and 96, http://forums.welltrainedmind.com/showthread.php?t=263107 . They might help to answer some of your questions and get you think about science education in a new light.

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x-post #2

 

OP noted that she felt science activities " SHOULD work. :001_huh:..HOW do you know when your experiment didn't work?"

 

 

What are you really trying to teach with your science activities in general? And what is your specific purpose for each and every one you do? Seriously, why are you doing them? If you are just going through the motions because some activity is in some curriculum, your kids are not likely learning *anything* because the activities don't work and you have no idea how to make them work. I would be frustrated to.

 

I think you need to change your goals. First, never do a science activity unless you think it is worthwhile. It could be worthwhile because:

 

1) your kids really don't understand the concept and need to see it performed before them to internalize the idea. For example, dropping a heavy ball and a light ball and seeing them land at the same time. Kind of counter intuitive. But watching a plant grow? Um, I think your kid knows that plants grow.

 

2) you might want to show your kids something that they have never seen before so have no intuitive idea as to what to expect. For example, watching the baby root emerge out of a seed, you just don't see this because it is underground.

 

3) you might want to teach your kids to use a tool, like a microscope.

 

4) you might want them to test an idea of their own. To make a hypothesis, to really think about HOW they can answer their question objectively, to collect data carefully, to design effective tables and graphs, to interpret their results, to identify their hidden assumptions, and to suggest future work. (this is really the end goal, I have shown how this process works here: http://forums.welltrainedmind.com/showthread.php?t=361740 )

 

5) you might want them to make observations of their world. To notice what has always been there but that they never spent the time to study. For example, the position of the moon in the sky throughout the day and how it correlates to its phase.

 

But if you are doing what I call "wizz bang" activities. Then, just don't bother. They are like a magic show, and like a magician you need lots of practice to pull it off. I never do these activities. Things like mentos in coke. What in the world is this teaching? I don't even know what chemical reaction is occurring. How does it apply to their life? How would they use that methodology in any other science experiment? They just couldn't. It is a magic show. When my kids find wizz-bang activities in a book and want to do them, I tell them that I will get the materials but that they will have to figure out how to do it, because I am just. not. interested.

 

If the science activity is worth doing, then it is worth making the effort to get it right if it fails the first time. I brainstorm problems and look stuff up on the internet. You can even post here, and people can tell you what to try. But then you need to expect that most science activities that you try to do are going to take you 3 or more attempts to make them happen. And it might be over a series of weeks. And let me be clear, you do not want science activities to be all about waiting for mom to figure out what went wrong and then watching her run a beautiful demonstration. What does that teach? It teaches all the wrong lessons.

 

As far as I am concerned, science activities are supposed to be like writing a really difficult essay. You try one way, you try another, you brainstorm, you try more than one technique, you get others' opinions, you go back and edit some more, and you finally you finish the essay. Sometimes you get a good essay and sometimes you really don't like what you produce. But the process of writing, rewriting, and editing teach you about how to write and how to structure your thoughts. In contrast, science activities are NOT like long division, where the goal is to learn the technique and then you do it over and over again until you are fast. There is always a right answer and your goal is to get it. No No No. This is not what science is about. (Ok, I am not a language person so my similes may not be very good. :tongue_smilie: but I am trying to get you to think about science education differently.)

 

So my suggestion to you is THINK about each activity you are considering, and decide if it will help *your* student be a better scientist. And don't forget a scientist is a person who asks questions and finds a way to answer them. If your kids want a magic show, then take them to the circus, but use the time you have set aside for scientific inquiry to teach them to problem solve and to develop persistence. You need to change your attitude as the teacher. You *want* things to go wrong, so that you have the opportunity to teach what you are really supposed to be teaching in science.

Edited by lewelma
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x-post #3

 

I thought it might help to see an example of how I pick and choose. We are doing chemistry this year. I own some basic wizz-bang books that have a few good ideas in them including: Fizz, bubble, and flash and 150 captivating chemistry experiments using household substances. And I own 3 curriculum: The Elements, RS4K chemistry, and IGCSE Chemistry. (For general knowledge, I rely heavily on the library.)

 

So let me start with IGCSE Chemistry. My oldest son needs to memorize a bunch of reactions like 2Mg + O2 =>2MgO . These are processes he has never seen before. My goal is for him to have a movie in his mind of the burning of Magnesium, just like he would be able to visualize the moon's different phases if we were studying astronomy. It is just so much easier to understand explanations if you have seen the process, otherwise it is very abstract. So we go on Youtube and watch many different reactions. I have him watch them numerous times over the period of weeks and I quiz him, "can you see that reaction?" If he can't remember it, we watch it again. My goal here is VERY clear. I am not trying to teach lab technique or experimental design or accuracy; instead I am showing him something he has never seen before because it is basically hidden from the everyday person.

 

My older ds also needs to learn how to use real chemistry equipment. The goal is to develop technical skills. What is the function/purpose of all the different glassware? When do you use what? What safety equipment and procedures do you need to follow? Can you measure and pour accurately? Can you keep track of your results by organizing test tubes or color coding things? I have no interest in setting up a lab in my house at this stage, so I am paying for my older son to go to a homeschool chemistry lab class taught at the university over a few days. I do NOT expect him to learn experiment design there -- there would just not be time. And he is probably not going to be very frustrated by the activities because those lab classes need to run efficiently because they are renting the lab space. Thus, there is not time to really muck around. So my goals for this setting are the ones listed above. What this means is that I must make up the shortfalls here at home, specifically I need to teach 1) frustration/problem solving/ persistence and 2) experimental design.

 

Teaching frustration/problem solving/persistence: Last week in The Elements we hit a hands-on activity of the electrolysis of water. So, I ask myself, what will they learn IF I choose to do this lab. We can easily watch this on youtube, but is this a lab that I can easily set up in my house? The answer is yes, all I need is 2 pencils, copper wire, and batteries. So, the goals of this activity is to 1) teach them how to follow directions, 2) teach them how to problem solve when it doesn't work at first, 3) teach them persistence because these things typically don't work easily, 4) teach them observation skills, 5) teach them that water does separate into H and O, 6) lastly, teach them to do an "armchair experiment" to determine which electrode has H vs O bubbling off of it. So did I meet my goals? YES. It took *them* more than an hour to make it work; they got incredibly frustrated and had to do a LOT of problem solving. a) the battery was dead, so older son had realize that it was the battery and not the setup, and then find a little light bulb to test it, b) the wires kept popping off of the pencils, so they had to develop a way to twist them to stay on, c) ds the older was so excited and frustrated that his hands were shaking, and he could not connect anything together. He had to learn to take a break, get a glass of water, and start again. I stepped in a few times to make sure that the whole assembly was not thrown out the window, and reminded them that science is difficult etc. Overall, a very effective lab.

 

Teaching experimental design: My goals for this kind of activity are clear: my kids need to learn how to ask a good question, how to design an experiment (with replication and controls), how to design a table and graphs that summarize the information (this is often harder than you expect), how to interpret the data, how to find the hidden assumptions and errors, and how to write all this down in an organized fashion. I often use simple demos and create experiments out of them. Demo: vinegar dissolves Calcium out of chicken bones. Experiment: Which vinegar (red, white, cidar) dissolves calcium out of chicken bones faster? Demo: diapers absorb fluid. Experiment: Which diaper brand absorbs more fluid? Demo: making silly putty with glue, borax, and cornstarch. Experiment: What combination of these 3 ingredients makes the most pliable or bounceable silly putty? Notice that is really not too hard to make certain types of demos into experiments. I don't know the answer to the experimental questions and neither do they. But be warned, real experiments take time. I typically expect hours spread over at least 2 weeks. Also, I require a write up of the hypothesis, methods, results, discussion, and conclusions. I have found that the write up takes as long as the entire experiment. So a 1 hour experiment takes 1 hour to write up, and a 1 week experiment takes 1 week to write up. For my ds's science fair project last year, 5 weeks of experimentation took 5 weeks to write up!!!

 

I probably should describe how I decide an activity is not going to teach my kids anything, but I really have to go start school. :001_smile:

 

Hope this gives you a feel for the evaluation process I go through,

 

Ruth in NZ

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Ruth,

 

I always love your posts,

 

And I totally agree with all your points. When the boys were younger we did lots of mentos and baking soda type activities. They were fun, but really there wasn't a whole lot of science involved. We don't do those anymore. My goal used to be fun exposure while playing around with a variety of materials.

 

Today, in middle school, my goal has changed quite a bit. I am now doing activities to either practice using specific types of equipment or to understand a concept. We are currently doing physics, and I have found that we need to measure and weigh and measure and calculate a lot in order to understand what we are reading. Right now we working on understanding what 'work' really is and how to measure it. We are going through activities in the Delta Education Kit, Work: Plane and Simple. I thought this would be too easy for us (and some of it is), however, we have needed to spend way more time on this than I thought. That is because we are truly trying to understand the concepts. Obviously, none of us are physicists. :D

 

All that to say, I agree with you 100%. Everyone needs a goal for this activities. If you can't come up with a worthwhile goal skip them and move on.

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I enjoy reading these types of threads. Some excellent points have been made.

 

I don't do any program exactly as written. My daughter doesn't enjoy or learn from the demonstrations in many science programs. They are often a waste of precious time. She would rather read extra books or do a different lab of some sort. For example, in CPO Life we skipped some of the Investigations and added in several dissections.

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I like the idea of labs - the kind that you do with CPO Science, GEMS or TOPS. But finding materials is a huge hurdle for me. What I would consider a simple household material in my home country (USA) can turn into a wild goose chase for me in Denmark. And if there are chemicals involved - yikes! The idea that I might make a translation error and buy the wrong chemical is enough to give me major pause :) Eventually, I will probably order a chemistry set to avoid the issue.

 

I have already (after just one month of HSing) realized that in order to save my sanity we will do labs whenever I can figure out how to pull the materials together. If that means doing a density lab when we are focusing on the periodic table...oh, well. I shall call it the spiral approach to science:)

 

Meanwhile, we have a good microscope and are putting it to good use, but not in any systematic way. Nature study is happening. DS is recording seasonal changes in trees and shadow lengths.

 

Since you included activities in your thread title and mentioned Ellen McHenry's Elements, I will mention that DS is going through that program right now. For now, I had to skip the copper wire demonstration. I think I know where to buy some, but unless I want to turn the purchase into a several hour field trip for me (and I don't), it will have to wait. But my son LOVES the activities: the games, the songs, etc. He is still young enough that he still really likes to play. We will try to do all of the activities. I think that they are worth the time.

 

I have an engineering background, and I am looking for and thinking about opportunities to teach engineering design principles. Perhaps because modeling is such a normal part of the design phase, I also see the value in building candy DNA models and the like.

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Why do you choose to do a science activity? to learn concepts, learn the scientific process, fun, sense of wonder, creative exploration

 

Do you have goals you are trying to meet? Not written out, but general ones in my head

 

Do these activities/labs/observations/experiments/demos meet your goals?

Sometimes

 

How do you know if your goals were met? Depends on the goals. Could be that the child demonstrates understanding (orally or in writing), a child expresses delight and interest in the topic, a child shows creativity, etc.

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I just love it when you talk science, Ruth!

 

It makes a lot of sense to me. Maybe I can't follow every suggestion you've put out, but I do see the broad environment that I need to create. Some curriculum here and there, but with an overarching goal for real world inquiry. We have some parts of it and I'm busy hammering out the rest of it in a slow, reactionary kind of way. Will take months and years, but you given me a direction.

 

Loveitloveitloveit!

 

Thank you!

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Why do you choose to do a science activity?

Do you have goals you are trying to meet?

Do these activities/labs/observations/experiments/demos meet your goals?

How do you know if your goals were met?

 

Think first about these questions and then read my x-posts. (I don't want to completely sway you.)

Ruth in NZ

 

My kids are 9 and 11. I used to work as a bench scientist (research assistant) and my husband is an applied mathematician.

 

1) Why?

 

*To increase interest in science *To illustrate the concepts they are learning (I have a learner who "gets" things instantly, but needs to see a concept several different ways before it will stick) *To learn some introductory lab technique and vocabulary, familiarity with basic equipment *To introduce the basics of scientific technique and inquiry-- collecting background information, making a hypothesis, designing an experiment with proper controls, documenting what is done, documenting data and results, discussing results, "publishing" your findings, expected or not, for the benefit of others, having others review your work or even try to replicate your experiment.

 

*Understanding that replicating known experiments is excellent science; real scientists do this all the time as part of the scientific process of peer review, and to challenge old ideas as we develop new ideas and new technologies, and real scientists generally do consider these processes to be experiments.

 

*Some experiments are used as "discovery method" learning to lead up to a concept I feel is particularly important. Long term retention of information can sometimes be augmented when the student has an emotional buy-in to the information. I try not to overdo this approach, however. I think it can also be very inefficient if relied upon too heavily.

 

Do you have goals?

 

*My answers to this question kind of overlap the previous question. It varies with the experiment. I think it is an excellent idea to ask oneself, "WHY am I doing this experiment??" One should ask that whether creating a curriculum or using a boxed curriculum. "Because it's fun!" is an okay answer. Problematic is the answer, "I have no idea." That experiment should probably be skipped, or the experiment studied more closely before being assigned. Generally, I am aiming for learning a lab technique, developing a new concept, extending and/or cementing a concept learned earlier in the week as my primary goals for most experiments (one of the above, not generally all for each experiment) with secondary goals of generating enthusiasm for science, learning the scientific method, and/or improving the ability to ask questions.

 

One goal that isn't mentioned often, and most canned labs avoid it like the plague, is that I try to make my labs quantitative whenever possible. I cannot for the life of my figure out why so many labs avoid numbers and mathematics, but it is not a trend I feel is a good one. Generally speaking, data needs to be carefully analyzed, not petted and admired. Teaching kids that science is not quantitative is the most bizarre thing I can think of.

 

*Do the labs meet your goals? Yes, pretty much. It doesn't phase me a bit if labs don't bear out the expected results on the first try-- that happens sometimes in a real lab, too. That's life. The learning experience is in what you do about that. The labs we choose have done a nice job of extending our learning experience, creating curiosity, and encouraging the kids to form and test hypothesis, think about how to set up controls and collect consistent data, and record everything so that what they do can be replicated by someone else. They are learning how real scientists work, and doing so in a way that enhances what they are currently learning.

 

*How do you know? It's not that hard to know. Our science program builds sequentially through the week: lecture/discussion section on Monday, reading and notes/outlining as assigned on Tuesday, lab on Wednesday, Additional background reading on Thursday; plus start reading about a topic you discovered during the week that you found fascinating. Finish your personal topic on Friday, and present it to the rest of us orally, with or without visual aids. Through the write-ups, particularly in the discussion and conclusions, I can tell what they got from the lab that is different from our Monday discussion and Tuesday's reading. I can see how they did in devising controls, which generally requires some understanding of what is going on-- and is a step often missing from most canned experiments, so it is something they have to add in. I can tell whether it generated enthusiasm, because they are 9 and 11. They will talk Dad's ear off about it when he gets home if it excited them :)

 

***I do think there is plenty of room in the grammar stage and logic stage for simple exploration and demonstration science (and even "gee whiz!"). Reading about cells is so much more cool when you look at your own cheek cells under the microscope, even if you aren't a tissue culture person and don't know what to do with them besides maybe stain them and draw a picture and label the parts. Looking at a sheep's brain or a cow's eyeball will not break any new ground, but it will certainly bring things to life (so to speak) far more than just reading about a lens or the frontal cortex in a book in the abstract. We go to great lengths these days to make mathematics concrete; there is no need to make biology entirely abstract, or to worry too much over whether we are calling it a demonstration or a lab. I have my name on published papers in three different fields of study in peer reviewed journals, and I'm perfectly unoffended by calling a dissection a lab :).

 

And if blowing up a bar of Ivory Soap in the microwave and asking them to figure out why it turned into a soap souffle makes them ask when we get to study science again, I'm happy. They know we don't do that stuff every day. But you just never know what Mom is going to toss into that microwave next . . . (I am blessed with children who don't go copying my behavior ;D )

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Oh, wonderful. Something to chew on tonight. Thanks so much. Much to consider [thinking.....] Have just a few thoughts on the first few paragraphs:

 

*Understanding that replicating known experiments is excellent science; real scientists do this all the time as part of the scientific process of peer review, and to challenge old ideas as we develop new ideas and new technologies, and real scientists generally do consider these processes to be experiments.
So you and I know this because we have been in labs, and understand that replicating others' work is one step in the process of a large project whose end goal is learning something new. However, I have definitely found that many science educators (including homeschoolers) think that students will gain an understanding of the scientific method by replicating very simple experiments or demonstrations. My main problem with doing *only* this kind of work is that it creates a misperception that science is as easy as following the directions. In the end, most students will not be scientists, so why should they learn how the scientific method works? Because they are a part of the voting public, and need to understand the scientific method to understand the time and money (often public money) that is required to answer difficult questions. If all the ever do is follow the instructions in a lab book and have labs that work perfectly the first time, how in the world will they ever intelligently interpret the science that they read about in the news?

 

So my follow on questions are 1) What kind/variety of labs are required for students to internalize the scientific method? 2) is quantity or quality more important? -- lots of small labs where they have to determine their own methods? or fewer large labs? 3) What is the progression that we can expect kids elementary to high school to go through?

 

*Some experiments are used as "discovery method" learning to lead up to a concept I feel is particularly important. Long term retention of information can sometimes be augmented when the student has an emotional buy-in to the information. I try not to overdo this approach, however. I think it can also be very inefficient if relied upon too heavily.
I completely agree. We always use the discovery method before starting our science fair project because you can't ask a question when you have no prior knowledge. I am curious if anyone else went through chemistry like I did with a discovery methodology (1985). We had to do the labs first before we learned the concept so that we could uncover the ideas for ourselves and then reinforce them with the formal learning of the textbook. This approach was a dismal failure for me personally.

 

So 1) when is the discovery method good for scientific education? 2) Does the appropriateness of this method depend on the student? or should all students go through this process because it will teach them more about scientific inquiry? 3) If it will, then what does it teach? 4) How is the discovery method in science similar and different than that used in AoPS?

 

Oh, so many questions and so little time. I will give the rest some thought.

 

Ruth in NZ

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I'm perfectly unoffended by calling a dissection a lab :).

 

 

I think the use of the word experiment is what is at issue, not lab.

 

I wouldn't call dissection an experiment, but I would absolutely call it a lab.

 

Calling some of the simple demonstrations and science kits experiments is disconcerting to me.

If a family enjoys them and/or learns from them, that's great. The key is being clear on what they are and what they aren't.

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As usual, I'm a day (OK, a week) late and a dollar short.. just saw this and I'm bumping it because I'd love to hear if you/others have had further thoughts.

 

So my follow on questions are 1) What kind/variety of labs are required for students to internalize the scientific method? 2) is quantity or quality more important? -- lots of small labs where they have to determine their own methods? or fewer large labs? 3) What is the progression that we can expect kids elementary to high school to go through?

 

1) No answer for this one, only an example. I like Snap Circuits for exploration-style labs because the components function close to theory and produce a reliable output, and they are cheap/easily replaced so students feel free to tweak their design and repeat testing. I don't see how this can be done for Chemistry and Biology - simulations help, but at some point we are relying on a program when there are so many variables.

 

As an aside, I think we could also learn about the scientific method by discussing "bad science" historically, e.g. when people used to believe it was the bad air around the swamps which caused swamp fever, what aspects of the method were they skipping and how could they have investigated it. I think we could even find recent examples, e.g. we have been told conflicting reports of what we should eat, were some of the studies faulty?

 

2) is a tough dichotomy - the choices serve different purposes. That is, weekly labs build proficiency with handling equipment. A larger lab with resources to explore a question builds deductive skills. Your annual science project accomplishes the latter nicely.

 

So 1) when is the discovery method good for scientific education? 2) Does the appropriateness of this method depend on the student? or should all students go through this process because it will teach them more about scientific inquiry? 3) If it will, then what does it teach? 4) How is the discovery method in science similar and different than that used in AoPS?

 

It sounds like the discovery method is always good, but pragmatically it is easier to cultivate in the earlier years when we don't need $$ equipment to see the results. For middle/high school years, I would love to see my dc go to a science museum regularly and find mentors.

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Thanks for the bump. I like to be challenged, because it requires me to solidify my thinking. I have quite a few things I want to write, but have been a bit busy this week.

 

1)What kind/variety of labs are required for students to internalize the scientific method?
1) No answer for this one, only an example. I like Snap Circuits for exploration-style labs because the components function close to theory and produce a reliable output, and they are cheap/easily replaced so students feel free to tweak their design and repeat testing.

 

I think there is a clear difference between exploration-style labs and the scientific method. The first is informal and the second formal. Exploration style labs require students to ask questions and try to find answers by educated guessing and trial-and-error. It is intensely educational because the student is curious and has no restrictions on his/her method of discovery. The excitement and enthusiasm are contagious and swift conclusions can be drawn. However (and this is a big however), conclusions can be reached too quickly, leading to incorrect answers. In addition, I do not think that exploration teaches the student about the scientific method. The problem is that the simple questions studied in school labs often *can* be answered with just explorations, but this is not true of real science. I wonder if this does not confuse students as to the need for the scientific method.

 

The scientific method is rigid, formal, and often annoyingly strict. BUT it typically prevents inaccurate conclusions. It requires experimental design - replication, controls, and structured thinking. Exploration requires none of these, and although exploration can lead to new ideas, they then need to be tested formally to be valid.

 

Actually, it may surprise people to know that I see very little scientific method in most science labs in all the curriculum I have previewed. Either the scientific method is warped because the answer is already known, or the lab is not replicated or controlled, or it is more about tinkering/exploring. I am not saying that all these labs are bad, just that I don't see the scientific method in them. They meet other goals like familiarity with equipment. I would suggest to meet my requirements a lab would require a student to independently come up with a structured, thought-out process (methods) to answer a question, and require a student to independently determine what tables and graphs are the most effective to highlight the data. Even if the question is given, I would like to see students figure out the methods, and not just follow directions. Perhaps it is too much to expect for middle school and high school labs. But for students going into the humanities, it might be their *only* opportunity to see the scientific method in action, so *I* think the study of the scientific method should be required in high school. I would love to hear others thoughts on this. Or examples of scientific method being clearly used in middle school and high school curricula.

 

I would also love to hear from some engineers, because my understanding is that they do a lot of exploration and tinkering and very few studies with scientific method. Is this because the answers either work or don't, rather than have a statistical answer?

 

Will have some more thoughts later. I'm off to a end-of-term party!

 

Ruth in NZ (where we have 2 weeks of holiday starting tomorrow!!!!)

Edited by lewelma
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Hi Ruth,

some very quick thoughts:

 

At uni we used the term "prac" - short for practical, obviously (we Aussie's love making long words shorter and short words longer). I still use this term. Most of the pracs were about technique and most of them were designed to work. Of course, often they didn't because our technique was poor or the equipment was lousy (eg PCR with an ice-bucket and water bath instead of a thermocycler - showing my age now!). So plenty of discussion ensued.

 

My son has an engineering bent. He learns this mostly through trial and error or from watching and borrowing from other peoples models. Thus, much of his learning is intuitive, rather than analytical. I learn this way, too. This is fine for this field, but problematic when it spills over into fields that need greater analysis, eg some sciences, maths, and it does lead to frustration or incorrect conclusions. I see the balance between intuitive learning and analysis as being as much about maturity and self-knowledge as about teaching technique. Physics will be interesting for us, not least because I loathe physics and my own knowledge is poor, but also because I think there is a time when the intuitive tinkering must stop, and the analysis and maths must kick in.

 

I agree that demonstrations can be an excellent way of solidifying lots of info. And I do love a good dissection (although I've never really recovered from dissecting a cockroach in first year).

 

I spent several years writing systematic reviews of medical treatments for a very large international not-for-profit. I've analysed a lot of scientific papers. Many scientists and medicos have a fairly poor understanding of the scientific method (the lack of adequate controls in some medical trials is scary) and even less understanding of data analysis. Its no wonder the general public has no idea. I suspect for schools the problem is two-fold: lack of understanding and lack of resources. It would almost impossible for a whole class to undertake the sort of studies your boys do. There simply wouldn't be the time, let along the knowledge and the ability to lead the students down the path. Even the discussions are almost out of the question in a class of 30+. I'm sure you know this, but I guess I'm probably saying that you are being idealistic. Nothing wrong with that, especially for those of us with the time and resources to do something different, but hard on those who can't, too.

 

For what its worth, I too learned lots of science through the discovery method (1980s). Great for biology, hopeless for chemistry and physics - for me anyway.

Danielle

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It would almost impossible for a whole class to undertake the sort of studies your boys do. There simply wouldn't be the time, let along the knowledge and the ability to lead the students down the path. Even the discussions are almost out of the question in a class of 30+. I'm sure you know this, but I guess I'm probably saying that you are being idealistic.

 

Here in NZ, about half of the intermediate schools have their students do a science fair project every year or every other year. So there are quite a few teachers who are able to lead 30 different investigations concurrently. :tongue_smilie: My hair dresser's son was working on his science investigation at the same time we were doing one. He was asking if exercise or relaxation before an exam improved test scores. In addition, my nephews in a public school in Virginia also worked on a scientific investigations in 6th, 7th, and 8th grade. So perhaps I'm a bit idealistic but clearly not completely off my rocker.

 

Many scientists and medicos have a fairly poor understanding of the scientific method (the lack of adequate controls in some medical trials is scary) and even less understanding of data analysis.
I have definitely seen this in medical research. Doctors are not trained in research so rely heavily on statisticians to design experiments or sometimes don't use statisticians at all. I had a friend once collect lots of data without any experimental design and then just hand all the data to the statistician in hopes that he/she could come up with something good. This is just not the way it should be done.

 

My son has an engineering bent. He learns this mostly through trial and error or from watching and borrowing from other peoples models. Thus, much of his learning is intuitive, rather than analytical.
I am curious about what you and others think are the goals of the hands-on aspect of science while kids are in school. Obviously there are lots of goals like the use of equipment and learning the scientific method. But you have highlighted one here that is not clear in my head. Words like 'intuitive' and 'borrowing' bring to mind a trait that is difficult to define. It is part problem solving and part curiosity and part creativity. It is not structured or analytical. This attribute is somewhat intangible to me. Can you expand?

 

although I've never really recovered from dissecting a cockroach in first year
I never really recovered from dissecting a LIVE rat.:ack2: :eek::scared:

 

Ruth in NZ

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So I thought I would move it here where the students are older, and the moms (or dads) a bit more jaded about the time they spending setting up and running science activities ;).

 

:lol: Hey, some of us K-4 folks are jaded already, thanks to you and others. :D I'm enjoying the conversation. :lurk5:

 

I've had to drop science curriculum and just go informal with it. Every curriculum I tried made science boring, and my son LOVES science! He does love those little demonstrations, but I usually let him do them himself. I'll give him supplies, but he gets to do the actual work. He has some Science Wiz kits, Snap Circuits, etc. to play around with, plus we live on a farm, so there are always animals and insects to observe, tree branches to play with, etc.

 

I can definitely see us going the one big science project route like you do. I just have to convince my kids to think about things like that. My oldest is just starting to break out of his shell a bit, so maybe by logic stage, he'll be ready for that type of project. My middle son would probably especially be good at a big science project - he's my child that analyzes things and asks a LOT of questions (usually hard ones!). He's only 5 right now, and any science question he'd come up with would probably be something we can't test... and it would probably involve sharks. :D

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So my follow on questions are 1) What kind/variety of labs are required for students to internalize the scientific method?

2) is quantity or quality more important? -- lots of small labs where they have to determine their own methods? or fewer large labs?

 

 

My answer may surprise you, considering that I am a scientist:

One carefully performed experiment with cleanly separated variables, enough repetitions for solid statistics, and a rigorous analysis,including error discussion, is sufficient to understand the scientific method.

For her school science fair experiment in 4th grade, DD analyzed the period of a simple pendulum and its dependence on amplitude(none), mass (none) and length (square root). Everything there is to learn about the "scientific method" itself could be learned right there.

 

It was one of two experiments/hands-on activities we did before high school. For scientific literacy, doing experiments in middle school is highly overrated, IMO. They are great for students who want to do them, and they are good to spark an interest in students who are not interested in science - but they are not the only way to become a scientifically literate citizen.

 

3) What is the progression that we can expect kids elementary to high school to go through?

 

I see the purpose of science labs in high school mainly in three things: getting familiar with scientific equipment, learning data analysis, and learning to write a lab report - NOT in understanding the scientific method. Understanding the scientific method and evaluating the quality of an experimental study does not require a lot of hands-on experience, much insight can be gained form discussion and reading.

 

In my home country, where science education works completely different and where all students study all three sciences concurrently for several years, I have never encountered the emphasis on the "scientific method". Prior to my kids starting school, I had never even heard the term, despite having a PhD in physics. There are experiments in school, but the main focus is on content.

 

One more thought: I find that most children, and also most science teachers, develop the idea that this is what all scientists do: make hypothesis, do experiments, check with hypothesis, confirm or reject. They are completely unaware that many scientists never do experiments, but work theoretically.

DH and I are theoretical physicists.

 

Judging from how much my kids hate and detest any kind of hands-on activity, they , too are theorists at heart ;-)

Edited by regentrude
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My answer may surprise you, considering that I am a scientist:

One carefully performed experiment with cleanly separated variables, enough repetitions for solid statistics, and a rigorous analysis,including error discussion, is sufficient to understand the scientific method.

For her school science fair experiment in 4th grade, DD analyzed the period of a simple pendulum and its dependence on amplitude(none), mass (none) and length (square root). Everything there is to learn about the "scientific method" itself could be learned right there.

 

It was one of two experiments/hands-on activities we did before high school. For scientific literacy, doing experiments in middle school is highly overrated, IMO. They are great for students who want to do them, and they are good to spark an interest in students who are not interested in science - but they are not the only way to become a scientifically literate citizen.

 

I see the purpose of science labs in high school mainly in three things: getting familiar with scientific equipment, learning data analysis, and learning to write a lab report - NOT in understanding the scientific method.

 

Understanding the scientific method and evaluating the quality of an experimental study does not require a lot of hands-on experience, much insight can be gained form discussion and reading.

 

One more thought: I find that most children, and also most science teachers, develop the idea that this is what all scientists do: make hypothesis, do experiments, check with hypothesis, confirm or reject.

They are completely unaware that many scientists never do experiments, but work theoretically.

DH and I are theoretical physicists.

 

Judging from how much my kids hate and detest any kind of hands-on activity, they , too are theorists at heart ;-)

 

Thank you for this post.

 

I am most definitely NOT a scientist, but just through educating my own children who absolutely love science and are very successful in higher level sciences, I have reached these conclusions (through my completely un-scientific observations. ;):lol:)

 

I think what Ruth proposes is quite interesting, but it is definitely *not* something I would do with my children (or even worry about.) I don't have the energy or the time to devote to approaching science that way.

 

I think for families that want the hands-on science experience that the method Ruth proposes is vastly superior to the typical "school" approach, and if I were so inclined, I would opt for this direction.

 

BTW.....I have no idea where ds's passion for theoretical physics came from. :tongue_smilie: Are you considering having your dd take the Fnet=ma exam for the Physics Olympiad? http://www.aapt.org/physicsteam/exams.cfm Ds is not challenged at all in his physics class. He is taking a dark matter course independent study and he is going to start prepping for the olympiad for his own challenge.

Edited by 8FillTheHeart
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Here in NZ, about half of the intermediate schools have their students do a science fair project every year or every other year. So there are quite a few teachers who are able to lead 30 different investigations concurrently. :tongue_smilie: My hair dresser's son was working on his science investigation at the same time we were doing one. He was asking if exercise or relaxation before an exam improved test scores. In addition, my nephews in a public school in Virginia also worked on a scientific investigations in 6th, 7th, and 8th grade. So perhaps I'm a bit idealistic but clearly not completely off my rocker.

 

 

When I was in school (in public school in Virginia), a science project was required every year beginning in 4th or 5th grade. We were given a packet of information and perhaps a session or two in class on choosing a topic. Starting in 6th grade, I believe, the project had to be an experiment, not merely a demonstration (no baking soda volcanoes!).

 

For the rest, we were completely on our own. It was, to be honest, very overwhelming as a student and stressful for my parents. They didn't have much time to help me and no scientific background for providing support. I suspect that's why so many of us ended up with stupid projects like, "What brand of paper towel absorbs the most water".

 

Not surprisingly, the kids with highly involved parents had by far the best projects. And I don't mean the parents did the work, though that did happen in some cases. But they did mentor closely, as you did with your boys. I think that's the only way the type of investigation you describe can happen.

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Are you considering having your dd take the Fnet=ma exam for the Physics Olympiad? http://www.aapt.org/physicsteam/exams.cfm

 

Thanks for the link, I never heard of it.

My DD is not into competitions, so no. She also is very stressed with her two university classes, French and calc based physics -not because the material is difficult for her, she finds it easy and enjoys it, but because of the amount of work involved and the scary drill-seargent-type professor. Add a few scheduled standardized tests, and we absolutely do not need anything else this year.

 

Good luck for your son!

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My answer may surprise you, considering that I am a scientist:

One carefully performed experiment with cleanly separated variables, enough repetitions for solid statistics, and a rigorous analysis,including error discussion, is sufficient to understand the scientific method.

For her school science fair experiment in 4th grade, DD analyzed the period of a simple pendulum and its dependence on amplitude(none), mass (none) and length (square root). Everything there is to learn about the "scientific method" itself could be learned right there.

 

It was one of two experiments/hands-on activities we did before high school. For scientific literacy, doing experiments in middle school is highly overrated, IMO. They are great for students who want to do them, and they are good to spark an interest in students who are not interested in science - but they are not the only way to become a scientifically literate citizen.

 

I see the purpose of science labs in high school mainly in three things: getting familiar with scientific equipment, learning data analysis, and learning to write a lab report - NOT in understanding the scientific method. Understanding the scientific method and evaluating the quality of an experimental study does not require a lot of hands-on experience, much insight can be gained form discussion and reading.

 

In my home country, where science education works completely different and where all students study all three sciences concurrently for several years, I have never encountered the emphasis on the "scientific method". Prior to my kids starting school, I had never even heard the term, despite having a PhD in physics. There are experiments in school, but the main focus is on content.

 

One more thought: I find that most children, and also most science teachers, develop the idea that this is what all scientists do: make hypothesis, do experiments, check with hypothesis, confirm or reject. They are completely unaware that many scientists never do experiments, but work theoretically.

DH and I are theoretical physicists.

 

Judging from how much my kids hate and detest any kind of hands-on activity, they , too are theorists at heart ;-)

I find your reply very interesting because, while she loves science, DD11 isn't much for hands on. Thanks to your reply, I feel like I've been doing her a disservice by making her do them - I had assumed them absolutely necessary during the middle school years because, ya know, the public schools do it. Lol.

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I had a friend once collect lots of data without any experimental design and then just hand all the data to the statistician in hopes that he/she could come up with something good

Ah the post hoc fishing expedition - the preferred method of second rate posters at conferences where you need to present to score a nice business class airfare.

 

I'm not sure if your schools are better resourced in NZ, but I don't know of any schools in Aust where 30 concurrent, valid investigations of the scale you report with your kids are likely. And I think you are, very modestly, underestimating to amount of knowledge and effort you put in (seriously, how many teachers would have sat on that beach in the middle of June?).

 

Words like 'intuitive' and 'borrowing' bring to mind a trait that is difficult to define. It is part problem solving and part curiosity and part creativity. It is not structured or analytical. This attribute is somewhat intangible to me. Can you expand?

I think you actually hit the nail on the head: his learning is about problem solving AND curiosity AND creativity. Often quite intangible, time consuming, sometimes very messy and sometimes appears very unproductive. I think that's OK. I've seen the same processes in some of the best scientists I've worked with. But it needs to be balanced, eg is the reason that xyz doesn't work because you don't know enough about it and have made an incorrect assumption? Do you need to do more background reading? Hard with a child who leaps to conclusions, is low on patience and quite headstrong. So sometimes trying and failing is a good lesson. Sometimes failure is just the experimental outcome required. I think it is analytical. I see lots of analysis of small parts, but the big picture is constantly in mind (so very much whole-to-parts). Its not the readily measurable, controlled analysis I was trained in, and that's what is most interesting to me. But I do keep it in check - I don't allow this learning style to control our day - we simply wouldn't get enough done.

 

I think Regentrude's comments about one pass through the scientific method being enough are really interesting. I'm not sure I entirely agree, or at least I don't agree that this suits everyone, largely because I think most of population has been exposed to the scientific method at least one in their schooling and I see absolutely no evidence that they have any understanding of it at all. One look at the over-priced potions in the cosmetics aisle will attest to this!

 

Having drifted far from the original purpose of the thread, I'll drift off now.....

D

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In my home country, where science education works completely different and where all students study all three sciences concurrently for several years, I have never encountered the emphasis on the "scientific method". Prior to my kids starting school, I had never even heard the term, despite having a PhD in physics. There are experiments in school, but the main focus is on content.

 

This was the same in Australia in the 1980's when I was in high school. We also have integrated sciences. I think the scientific method is more explicitly stated now, but I was blissfully unaware of it until I got to Uni and I don't think I understood it fully until I was a postgrad student.

D

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Ruth, are you able to view content from Google Books over there? In a recent search for science resources, I stumbled upon the STEM Student Research Handbook (put out by the NSTA). I am initially impressed but I am curious about your opinion of the book. If you can see it, that is. :tongue_smilie: On this page, you can click to see a sample chapter on research design.

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My answer may surprise you, considering that I am a scientist:

One carefully performed experiment with cleanly separated variables, enough repetitions for solid statistics, and a rigorous analysis,including error discussion, is sufficient to understand the scientific method. For her school science fair experiment in 4th grade, DD analyzed the period of a simple pendulum and its dependence on amplitude(none), mass (none) and length (square root). Everything there is to learn about the "scientific method" itself could be learned right there.

 

Well, I do think your dd is a bit special.;)

 

I'm sure it depends on the scale of the project, and the one you describe above is pretty detailed. How long did it take? But I do agree with you to a certain extent. Except I would say more like four carefully performed experiments and I would do them in high school over 2 different years. Experiment 1 would require more teacher help and experiment 2 the student would be more independent. Then, I would do that again in a different year to increase the difficulty, but once again, experiment 1 more modelled and experiment 2 more independent. I think a bit of reinforcement is in order for most students.

 

For scientific literacy, doing experiments in middle school is highly overrated, IMO.
I have talked to a lot of teachers, and the reason they do scientific investigations in middle school instead of high school is that the kids get too busy in high school with exams and all their personal interests. The science teachers simply don't have the time if they have any hope of preparing the kids for the exams. At our science fair there were about 500 entries for 6th-8th grade and only 80 entries for 9th - 12th.

 

So given this problem, I can see why they focus on experimental design in middle school.

 

 

[Doing experiments] is not the only way to become a scientifically literate citizen.
Regentrude, I think that you can't help but train your children in scientific thinking. You are knowledgeable and logical, and clearly analyze the scientific claims in the news. You discuss these issues with your kids. They internalize this way of thinking from a young age. Then, one or two good experiments cement it. My dh and I do the same. I don't need science activities and I don't really need investigations every year to create scientifically literate citizens. Like you, my kids have internalized logical, ordered, scientific thinking from living and talking to us on a daily basis.

 

But what then do you suggest to all those people who want to do well by their kids? If we just tell them what to do, they will happily do it. They simply don't think like us, and neither do their kids. How do they create scientifically literate citizens? Knowing only the concepts doesn't cut it. I wrote this before, and still believe it:

 

"I truly believe that scientific inquiry is misunderstood by most of the public. Pseudoscience is elevated to the level of science. Politicians ignore scientific data. The public expects a quick answer to a difficult question or assumes that scientists don't know anything because the facts are always changing. The list could go on and on. These are problems with understanding scientific inquiry, not understanding scientific knowledge. Scientific learning is incredibly important for decision makers and voters alike, which is why I am spending time posting."

 

So here is what I am trying to figure out: How can I boil down my interactions with my kids into a tidy list of suggested activities and discussions that others could replicate? Maybe it is not possible, but it is certainty interesting to try to *explicitly* describe what I do.

 

Ruth in NZ

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One more thought: I find that most children, and also most science teachers, develop the idea that this is what all scientists do: make hypothesis, do experiments, check with hypothesis, confirm or reject. They are completely unaware that many scientists never do experiments, but work theoretically.

DH and I are theoretical physicists.

 

Very good point. I never did any experiments either. No data collection, no confirmation or rejection of a hypothesis. No controls. I am a statistical modeller in population dynamics. My goal was to develop a model from existing data that could then be used to prediction population size in the future. I had to get an NSF grant to buy time on a super computer to run these models.

 

I have found it very useful to be widely read on how scientists in other other fields answer questions. And my kids have enjoyed rotating through the different scientific fields when choosing topics for their investigations. Studying aerodynamics was very different than microbiology.

 

Ruth in NZ

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I have found it very useful to be widely read on how scientists in other other fields answer questions. And my kids have enjoyed rotating through the different scientific fields when choosing topics for their investigations. Studying aerodynamics was very different than microbiology.

 

Have you seen the Scientists in the Field series? Quite good. My kids love these. We're reading through them, coming up with our own inquiry studies. Of course, they could stand to add a few Scientists in the Lab or Scientists at the Whiteboard volumes. :tongue_smilie:

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I'm not sure if your schools are better resourced in NZ, but I don't know of any schools in Aust where 30 concurrent, valid investigations of the scale you report with your kids are likely. And I think you are, very modestly, underestimating to amount of knowledge and effort you put in (seriously, how many teachers would have sat on that beach in the middle of June?).

:D Ok, this whole paragraph made me smile. Yes, my ds's beach experiment was nuts. Too big, too cold, way too much work. The massive scope was not in my plans, but he was really really keen. I have already warned him that the next project will be smaller, or at least not require so much work from ME.

 

As for 30 concurrent, valid investigations. I only saw the ones that won for each school. So the top 3 to 5 for each grade. They were valid but only a few were of the scale of our beach project. Some of them were very simple but VERY clever. The second place winner for the seniors measured the effect of jet lag on dexterity. She was travelling to France with a bunch of her school mates and had them catch a ruler each day after their flight. She simply recorded the measurement of where they caught the ruler. She did some nice statistics and called it done. She found that it took 5 days to recover from jet lag. Very easy, very nice.

 

Ruth in NZ

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Well, I do think your dd is a bit special.;)

 

I'm sure it depends on the scale of the project, and the one you describe above is pretty detailed. How long did it take? But I do agree with you to a certain extent. Except I would say more like four carefully performed experiments and I would do them in high school over 2 different years. Experiment 1 would require more teacher help and experiment 2 the student would be more independent. Then, I would do that again in a different year to increase the difficulty, but once again, experiment 1 more modelled and experiment 2 more independent. I think a bit of reinforcement is in order for most students.

 

I have talked to a lot of teachers, and the reason they do scientific investigations in middle school instead of high school is that the kids get too busy in high school with exams and all their personal interests. The science teachers simply don't have the time if they have any hope of preparing the kids for the exams. At our science fair there were about 500 entries for 6th-8th grade and only 80 entries for 9th - 12th.

 

So given this problem, I can see why they focus on experimental design in middle school.

 

Regentrude, I think that you can't help but train your children in scientific thinking. You are knowledgeable and logical, and clearly analyze the scientific claims in the news. You discuss these issues with your kids. They internalize this way of thinking from a young age. Then, one or two good experiments cement it. My dh and I do the same. I don't need science activities and I don't really need investigations every year to create scientifically literate citizens. Like you, my kids have internalized logical, ordered, scientific thinking from living and talking to us on a daily basis.

 

But what then do you suggest to all those people who want to do well by their kids? If we just tell them what to do, they will happily do it. They simply don't think like us, and neither do their kids. How do they create scientifically literate citizens? Knowing only the concepts doesn't cut it. I wrote this before, and still believe it:

 

"I truly believe that scientific inquiry is misunderstood by most of the public. Pseudoscience is elevated to the level of science. Politicians ignore scientific data. The public expects a quick answer to a difficult question or assumes that scientists don't know anything because the facts are always changing. The list could go on and on. These are problems with understanding scientific inquiry, not understanding scientific knowledge. Scientific learning is incredibly important for decision makers and voters alike, which is why I am spending time posting."

 

So here is what I am trying to figure out: How can I boil down my interactions with my kids into a tidy list of suggested activities and discussions that others could replicate? Maybe it is not possible, but it is certainty interesting to try to *explicitly* describe what I do.

 

Ruth in NZ

 

I don't know Ruth. I am not a scientist and we certainly don't have "scientific talks" in our household. And, my kids have no problem understanding scientific inquiry. :confused: (We do, however, have a lot of talks centered on illogical thinking, propaganda, political/financial motivations, etc. :tongue_smilie:)

 

I think what you are proposing is fascinating for those that appeals to. Your threads are thought-provoking and interesting. However, as in most educational scenarios, there are many ways to the same objective and not all methods are equally appealing to all families. Unfortunately, I know that if I had to approach science the way you do that I would detest doing science w/my kids. I possess neither the time nor the energy to devote so much attention on a single non-highschool subject with a single child when I personally don't see the benefits of the approach outweighing the loss of both (time and energy). If I wasn't looking back at this 20-20 with the affirmation that my kids excel in science w/o it, I might not be so sure. ;) But, I do and it is just not something I see stressing over.

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I don't know Ruth. I am not a scientist and we certainly don't have "scientific talks" in our household. And, my kids have no problem understanding scientific inquiry. :confused: (We do, however, have a lot of talks centered on illogical thinking, propaganda, political/financial motivations, etc. :tongue_smilie:)

I have no doubt, 8, that you have taught your children well. But there are so many on this board who are uncertain, confused, discouraged, and exhausted with science. They want to get it right but they don't know how. You have succeeded with your students and I would love to hear how. What kind of labs, how many, and at what age? What more subtle things do you do to help your students achieve success? For example, you have discussed having one of your boys design his own class in astronomy, and teaching is the best way to learn. So this process of researching texts, topics, curriculum, activities, etc would be a powerful way to instill scientific thinking. This is just one example that you have done that I am aware of, but I am sure there are others. With 20 years of experience and many different types of students, I'm sure there are couple of tricks-to-the-trade that you can share.

 

I think what you are proposing is fascinating for those that appeals to. Your threads are thought-provoking and interesting. However, as in most educational scenarios, there are many ways to the same objective and not all methods are equally appealing to all families. Unfortunately, I know that if I had to approach science the way you do that I would detest doing science w/my kids. I possess neither the time nor the energy to devote so much attention on a single non-highschool subject with a single child when I personally don't see the benefits of the approach outweighing the loss of both (time and energy). If I wasn't looking back at this 20-20 with the affirmation that my kids excel in science w/o it, I might not be so sure. ;) But, I do and it is just not something I see stressing over.
If I have ever stated that doing a very large scientific investigation is the *only* way to achieve scientific literacy, I retract it completely. (Although, I don't think I have.)

 

We do it because:

1) It is fun and a very special time to be together.

2) It is a very good way to develop scientific skills.

3) It gets me off the hook for having to do weekly activities.

4) It is a very difficult organizational problem. So it gives me the opportunity to teach time management and paper management and goal setting.

5) It brings all the subjects together for synergistic learning. Research skills, science, writing, reading, graphing, note taking, poster layout, public speaking, etc.

6) It teaches persistence and problem solving.

 

However, there are obviously more ways to teach scientific thinking than by doing a large investigation.

 

So lets take the investigation completely off the table. Here are my questions: What other ways work and why? I personally think that you cannot figure out if your way will work prospectively unless you know what goals you are trying to achieve and design a course to achieve these goals. So I am back to the question I posed at the beginning of this thread. And this question is for everyone: What are your goals and objectives?

 

Ruth in NZ

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I'm sure it depends on the scale of the project, and the one you describe above is pretty detailed. How long did it take?

 

 

The students had a span of four weeks to complete their projects at home. they had to submit parts of it (hypothesis, materials list) every week to keep them on schedule. The actual experiments at home took several hours on two separate weekends; the analysis and creation of the poster another few. Probably no more than 8 hours total, if I estimate correctly (but it was six years ago...)

 

Regentrude, I think that you can't help but train your children in scientific thinking. You are knowledgeable and logical, and clearly analyze the scientific claims in the news. You discuss these issues with your kids. They internalize this way of thinking from a young age. Then, one or two good experiments cement it. My dh and I do the same. I don't need science activities and I don't really need investigations every year to create scientifically literate citizens. Like you, my kids have internalized logical, ordered, scientific thinking from living and talking to us on a daily basis.

 

But what then do you suggest to all those people who want to do well by their kids? If we just tell them what to do, they will happily do it. They simply don't think like us, and neither do their kids. How do they create scientifically literate citizens?

 

 

I would tell them to learn to ask questions. To not take anything unproven, but inquire what facts substantiate a claim. To not accept any mysterious workings of the surrounding world, but to dig deep until you understand why things work the way they do.

I grew up in a household without scientist parents: my mother is an opera singer and my father an architect - but they are critical thinkers, question things, and raised us to be curious and skeptical.

 

 

Knowing only the concepts doesn't cut it.

 

Correct; but without knowing content, any knowledge about the "scientific method" remains an empty shell.

 

I wrote this before, and still believe it:

 

"I truly believe that scientific inquiry is misunderstood by most of the public. Pseudoscience is elevated to the level of science. Politicians ignore scientific data. The public expects a quick answer to a difficult question or assumes that scientists don't know anything because the facts are always changing. The list could go on and on. These are problems with understanding scientific inquiry, not understanding scientific knowledge. Scientific learning is incredibly important for decision makers and voters alike, which is why I am spending time posting."

 

 

I completely agree.

And part of this is not just missing science education, but a lack of historical knowledge as well. Every semester, when I teach my college students about gravity, I am appalled that they are not familiar with Kepler's laws of planetary motion (upon my question, only a third of my STEM majors (!) say they can name these) - nor are they familiar with the historical developments from a geocentric to a heliocentric model. They do not know about Galilei's problems with the inquisition and have never heard the name Giordano Bruno. And the solar system is a perfect example for the development of science: new tools lead to new evidence which leads to new theories.

 

 

 

So here is what I am trying to figure out: How can I boil down my interactions with my kids into a tidy list of suggested activities and discussions that others could replicate? Maybe it is not possible, but it is certainty interesting to try to *explicitly* describe what I do.

 

 

This is a tall order. And you are doing an exceptional job with all you shared about your science education - makes me blush and want to crawl in a hole.

 

If I had to characterize our science education at home, I would say the most important thing is an attitude of wanting to understand the world. If we come across something we can not explain, we stop mid-dinner and go look it up. It is an attitude that is not restricted to scientific facts - we get the globe and look up locations that come up in conversation; we look up authors, chemical substances, political figures.

Our kids are used to all things having an explanation. They know why the microwave works, how a car works. We do not inundate them with information - but the atmosphere is there: if we don't know something, we can find it out.

I find this the most important thing for scientific literacy.

People who are uneducated about science usually do not care how their bodies, their medications, their devices and the universe work. They accept that these are things they don't know and do not bother to ask the question. IMO, changing THIS attitude is what is necessary.

If hands-on experiments can awaken this kind of curiosity in children, they serve a wonderful purpose .

 

If I could put curiosity and critical thinking into a vial, I'd lobby for mandatory inoculations.

Great discussion.

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Correct; but without knowing content, any knowledge about the "scientific method" remains an empty shell.

Yes yes yes. We spend 8 months on content learning only, and only 8 weeks on our investigation. They have to know the material.

 

If I had to characterize our science education at home, I would say the most important thing is an attitude of wanting to understand the world. If we come across something we can not explain, we stop mid-dinner and go look it up. It is an attitude that is not restricted to scientific facts - we get the globe and look up locations that come up in conversation; we look up authors, chemical substances, political figures.

Our kids are used to all things having an explanation. They know why the microwave works, how a car works. We do not inundate them with information - but the atmosphere is there: if we don't know something, we can find it out.

I find this the most important thing for scientific literacy.

People who are uneducated about science usually do not care how their bodies, their medications, their devices and the universe work. They accept that these are things they don't know and do not bother to ask the question. IMO, changing THIS attitude is what is necessary.

If hands-on experiments can awaken this kind of curiosity in children, they serve a wonderful purpose.

Excellent point. My older boy is currently learning chemistry and his textbook almost gives him more questions than answers. He is writing down all the questions that he comes up with throughout the week, and then we spend 2 hours on Saturdays finding answers to them. But he MUST have the answers. He cannot really learn and understand the material without digging a bit deeper, satisfying his curiosity. Questions like: Why is Sulphur a solid? It should form a diatomic molecule like oxygen which it is directly under on the table, and then be a gas at room temperature. This is a really good question and unfortunately not all that easy to answer. But it is the questioning that is key. Not being willing to settle for the unknown.

 

This is a trait that would be reasonably easy to cultivate with a bit of conscious effort by the parent.

 

Ruth in NZ

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To not take anything unproven, but inquire what facts substantiate a claim. [snip] to be curious and skeptical.

I wonder if this is not the same trait 8filltheheart is cultivating with her political discussions.

We do, however, have a lot of talks centered on illogical thinking, propaganda, political/financial motivations, etc.

 

So an important trait for scientific literacy but one that can be cultivated using other fields if desired. Interesting. I need to think about what you would miss out on if you only worked on this trait with more of a humanities approach.

 

Ruth in NZ

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Ruth, are you able to view content from Google Books over there? In a recent search for science resources, I stumbled upon the STEM Student Research Handbook (put out by the NSTA). I am initially impressed but I am curious about your opinion of the book. If you can see it, that is. :tongue_smilie: On this page, you can click to see a sample chapter on research design.

 

Yes! I can view it. Table of contents looks very interesting. Will spend some time to read through it today. We are on school holidays for 2 weeks so it is my time to read read read. Will get back to you.

 

Ruth

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Yes! I can view it. Table of contents looks very interesting. Will spend some time to read through it today. We are on school holidays for 2 weeks so it is my time to read read read. Will get back to you.

 

Ruth

 

Oh, thanks! I look forward to hearing your opinion. I haven't been able to find anything truly spectacular for the lower grades (shocking, right? :tongue_smilie:). Anyway, I figure it would be easier to take something that is well done for high school and adjust expectations down a smidge than to take something mediocre and incomplete for the lower grades and adjust up.

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I wonder if this is not the same trait 8filltheheart is cultivating with her political discussions.

 

 

I think she is accomplishing exactly the same. Critical thinking and a questioning mind can be cultivated in a variety of ways.

 

Thinking back, political discussions played a huge role when I was a child. Growing up in a totalitarian regime in a family who did not agree with that regime practically forced a person to grow up questioning, demanding proof, not believing anything at face value... hm, maybe that was an advantage.

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Have you seen the Scientists in the Field series? Quite good. My kids love these. We're reading through them, coming up with our own inquiry studies. Of course, they could stand to add a few Scientists in the Lab or Scientists at the Whiteboard volumes. :tongue_smilie:

 

Ooh.. I had never heard of these - thank you! Snake Scientist is right up my ds' alley. Just requested it from the library.

 

Great discussion, BTW :)

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I have no doubt, 8, that you have taught your children well. But there are so many on this board who are uncertain, confused, discouraged, and exhausted with science. They want to get it right but they don't know how. You have succeeded with your students and I would love to hear how. What kind of labs, how many, and at what age? What more subtle things do you do to help your students achieve success? For example, you have discussed having one of your boys design his own class in astronomy, and teaching is the best way to learn. So this process of researching texts, topics, curriculum, activities, etc would be a powerful way to instill scientific thinking. This is just one example that you have done that I am aware of, but I am sure there are others. With 20 years of experience and many different types of students, I'm sure there are couple of tricks-to-the-trade that you can share.

 

(snip)

 

 

So lets take the investigation completely off the table. Here are my questions: What other ways work and why? I personally think that you cannot figure out if your way will work prospectively unless you know what goals you are trying to achieve and design a course to achieve these goals. So I am back to the question I posed at the beginning of this thread. And this question is for everyone: What are your goals and objectives?

 

Ruth in NZ

 

We approach science from a completely different direction, so your questions don't really match my objectives. We don't do labs, any at all, until high school level science. Then we do what we need to do. (For example, I think Spectrum Chemistry has something like a lab/wk for around 32 weeks (it has been a few yrs so I don't remember exactly) Like I said, I am definitely *not* a scientist. ;)

 

For grades 3-7 or 8, my kids literally read books, research topics from science every 2-3 weeks and write a paper on them, and beyond that it is more along the lines of them doing their own thing. My oldest ds, the engineer, loved to build, design, create. He was a tinkerer. My youngest ds is a theorist. He loves to think and keeps a journal filled w/all these theories and ideas. He reads, researches, and reads some more and then writes out notes and sketches images. Our 8th grade dd loves birds. She observes birds for hrs, knows their calls, habits, flight patterns, etc. Our 10 yod has been in her older sister's shadow tagging along on birding, but she is starting to sprout her own interests.

 

As far as goals......I can't define any specific goals for science for my younger kids other than simply fostering a love for the subject and letting them explore whatever topics they find interesting. I do not control what they study. I don't have a system for cycling through different science topics. It really is as simple as just going w/whatever they want to study. Over the course of the yrs, they have all ended up pretty well-rounded all on their own and not a single one has ever had any difficulty making the leap from the interest approach to high school science w/standard high school output (tests, labs, vocab, etc).

 

Our ds that has designed his own dark matter study this yr is in high school. His designing the course is based on intense interest in the topic, after 2 yrs of courses based on college level astronomy texts, and after watching just about every TC lecture on physics and astronomy plus having attended astronomy camp. The course is really a capstone type project based on who he is. It is not something really replicable.

 

I think this is where I am coming at it from a different perspective. I don't feel any pressure to formalize science education prior to high school. Science definitely takes a significant part of their school day (typically 45-60 mins of reading from the books they have selected plus their research/writing assignments on the weeks that science is the focus), but it isn't "formal." No vocabulary lists. No tests. No labs. Just lots of reading and lots of talking and some research thrown in.

 

Once they hit high school level science, then it becomes typical/standard. FWIW, no labs prior to high school hasn't been an issue for their success in labs (or in classes.) For example, 11th grade ds made an A+ in AP chem last yr w/ChemAdvantage and has made a 100 on every physics lab in cal-physics this yr. Our 18 yod is taking college chem and has made a 98-100 on all of her chem labs. (and our oldest graduated w/something like a 3.6 gpa w/his ChE degree.)

 

Very dissimilar method but one that has still led to science literate kids.

 

(One thing I will say, though, is that we as a family value "thinking." We love strategy games and play them for hrs every week. I also focus on developing critical thinking skills and cognitive development. Workbook education is a no-go here.)

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For grades 3-7 or 8, my kids literally read books, research topics from science every 2-3 weeks and write a paper on them, and beyond that it is more along the lines of them doing their own thing. My oldest ds, the engineer, loved to build, design, create. He was a tinkerer. My youngest ds is a theorist. He loves to think and keeps a journal filled w/all these theories and ideas. He reads, researches, and reads some more and then writes out notes and sketches images. Our 8th grade dd loves birds. She observes birds for hrs, knows their calls, habits, flight patterns, etc. Our 10 yod has been in her older sister's shadow tagging along on birding, but she is starting to sprout her own interests.

 

As far as goals......I can't define any specific goals for science for my younger kids other than simply fostering a love for the subject and letting them explore whatever topics they find interesting. I do not control what they study. I don't have a system for cycling through different science topics. It really is as simple as just going w/whatever they want to study. Over the course of the yrs, they have all ended up pretty well-rounded all on their own and not a single one has ever had any difficulty making the leap from the interest approach to high school science w/standard high school output (tests, labs, vocab, etc).

 

Our ds that has designed his own dark matter study this yr is in high school. His designing the course is based on intense interest in the topic, after 2 yrs of courses based on college level astronomy texts, and after watching just about every TC lecture on physics and astronomy plus having attended astronomy camp. The course is really a capstone type project based on who he is. It is not something really replicable.

 

I think this is where I am coming at it from a different perspective. I don't feel any pressure to formalize science education prior to high school. Science definitely takes a significant part of their school day (typically 45-60 mins of reading from the books they have selected plus their research/writing assignments on the weeks that science is the focus), but it isn't "formal." No vocabulary lists. No tests. No labs. Just lots of reading and lots of talking and some research thrown in.

 

Very dissimilar method but one that has still lead to science literate kids.

 

(One thing I will say, though, is that we as a family value "thinking." We love strategy games and play them for hrs every week. I also focus on developing critical thinking skills and cognitive development. Workbook education is a no-go here.)

 

How fun this was to read. I love it. It makes me feel peaceful. This perfectly describes how I would have wanted to study science. I think this would work well for my DD too, because her personality is so similar to mine. Give her a Camelbak filled with a watercolor set and a flower press and she would swear that all science is nature, happy as a clam. I'm not quite sure about DS6 yet.

 

But then there is DS9 and, oh my word, he just wants to always do science. To him, science isn't reading. Reading is reading...and reading is for history because you can't do history. :lol: We read science books. Boy, do we ever read science books. And then he wants to do science. We do nature study and keep nature journals. We watch documentaries. We talk. And then he wants to do science. "Let's do science!" is a near constant refrain at my house. He just wants to do, do, do and he wants someone to do it with him. I've set up a science/tinkering lab and he loves that but what he really wants is a science buddy. I am drawn to inquiry science as ideal instruction but, me being me, I'm personally more drawn to researchable questions (meaning you can find the answer in a book, not meaning I am going to design and conduct a research study :tongue_smilie:) than I am to testable questions. DS9? Testable questions. Designing research. "What happens if I..." "What if I change this and do that instead?" "Where are my safety goggles!?" :lol:

 

I love this about him! It exhausts me but I just love it about him. If only there existed a perfect manual for his age and level. Anyway, if he's going to be doing inquiry science with testable questions, if that is the heart and soul of who he is (and it just so is!), I feel it is my responsibility to make sure he's forming good habits as a designer of experiments and research. I don't want him to be lazy and take shortcuts. What's more, he wants to learn the true way of scientists, not to do "copycat science." (Once upon a time, I'm sure he learned these words from me, silently absorbing my rants about teachers doing demonstration science and my praise of inquiry science. Oh, what did I do!? :lol:)

 

Anyway, I just wanted to say that I see the beauty and the need for both sides.

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We approach science from a completely different direction

I don't think our approaches are actually very different. For elementary and logic stage science:

 

Similarities: no tests, no vocab, relaxed time frame with no strict requirements, interest-driven topics, and rabbit trails

 

Differences:

1) I pick one big topic per year as guidance, you don't.

2) My kids ask one question and investigate it formally over 2 months, yours ask questions throughout the year and investigate them informally

 

For high school science we both use a more standard approach.

 

My oldest ds, the engineer, loved to build, design, create. He was a tinkerer. My youngest ds is a theorist. He loves to think and keeps a journal filled w/all these theories and ideas. He reads, researches, and reads some more and then writes out notes and sketches images. Our 8th grade dd loves birds. She observes birds for hrs, knows their calls, habits, flight patterns, etc.
I have talked to a lot of people about science both in person and on this board, and I will tell you that this self-driven, passionate, *independent* research and investigation is NOT common in kids. Mine don't have it. *You* are creating an environment that fosters it. And I smile to myself that you think you are doing nothing.

 

This kind of implicit knowledge and skill that you have is what I am trying to make explicit. My goal is to make a list of 10 easy things that you can do to foster scientific literacy. Kind of like what the author of Bravewriter did for me with her top 10 list. Things like: celebrate words. If a child finds a great word in a book, then we love the sound of it, play with it, use it. This very easy idea has transformed my children when it comes to language. The LOVE words. And all I had to do was transform their frustration over not knowing a word, into a celebration that they found a wonderfully cool word. Now they LOOK for them in their books rather than skipping over any word they don't know.

 

So you are clearly doing something similarly EASY, so easy in fact that you don't know you are doing it. So please spend some time for me and think about it. How do you create an environment that fosters this personal passion, questioning, and independent answer seeking?

 

Ruth in NZ

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I have talked to a lot of people about science both in person and on this board, and I will tell you that this self-driven, passionate research and investigation is NOT common in kids. Mine don't have it. *You* are creating an environment that fosters it. And I smile to myself that you think you are doing nothing.

 

This kind of implicit knowledge and skill that you have is what I am trying to make explicit.

 

So you are clearly doing something similarly EASY, so easy in fact that you don't know you are doing it.

 

I have to wonder if it is more likely to do with what is not going on at 8's house. I think these days most kids are so consumed with electronics, pop culture, peer infatuation, etc. that there is little time left to become immersed in learning as a lifestyle. Do most kids even have hobbies anymore? Many of my friends' kids do not and they wonder how my kids can entertain themselves. I'm completely baffled by that question, frankly. My DS9 is the tinkerer scientist, so he's the one I talk about in all the science threads, but DD immerses herself in writing and crafts, crafts, crafts. She spends hours making crafts to decorate our house for holidays, minor ones included. She's worked on a paper pumpkin garland for the school room for the greater part of the day. It's lovely. :)

 

I don't know 8 personally, but I do wonder. My kids aren't in front of the TV all day. They aren't carrying around phones, texting all day (of course...they're young, but they won't be doing this as teens either). They aren't playing video games or lolling around bored and whining that there's nothing to do. Well, I take that back. They do get bored. Then they get sick of being bored and get back to their current hobby/project or on to a new one. But they're not curing their boredom with vices and I wonder if that is the secret, not purposefully fostering drive but purposefully keeping vices out of the way.

 

Anyway, I wonder if it really is just so simple as letting kids' lives be calm, easy, and unfettered, allowing enough of a vacuum for drive to develop without interference. Just thinking out loud...

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I think these days most kids are so consumed with electronics, pop culture, peer infatuation, etc. that there is little time left to become immersed in learning as a lifestyle.

 

Yes, I think this is part of it, but I do think it is more complex. There are many kids with lots of free time that just read novels and don't develop scientific interests like your son has. IMHO, there are many subtle things going on in all scientifically minded families (or in all families with scientifically successful children as in 8's home).

 

I think that there are a lot of newbie homeschoolers who want to do right by their children when it comes to scientific education, but are baffled as to what to do. You've read the posts. They don't like the curriculum, the experiments all go wrong, the kids are not learning anything, the kids hate the textbook, the sonlight videos are all that really get done, etc. They need a more detailed list of things they can do. Giving their children space is a start, but more ideas are needed.

 

There was a parenting book that I read once that said "all behaviours are encouraged," including both good and bad behaviours. So how do you encourage and discourage scientific behaviours? For example in my home, I say things like "that is an interesting question. How would you figure it out?" or I bring up science that is in the news, "did you hear what happened at CERN today?" I have general excitement not just for the science that is happening at our house, but also for the science that is going on in the world. I also talk a lot about probability and how it makes answering questions so much more challenging. And I make "challenging" sound like a wonderful thing, like the best game ever. I think that one thing that limits science in my house is the fact that it is so small (700sq ft and no basement, attic, shed, or garage). I do not have room for lots of equipment or for half done projects to sit around. I can see a different home with crystals growing, bread moulding, the microscope set up in the corner, salt water being evaporated, a fish tank bubbling away, a deconstructed motor lying around, rocks tumbling etc. This just can't happen in my house, and my kids know that I am precious about my new carpet. :D But seriously, it inhibits any messy scientific endeavours. What I do instead is encourage them to do their scientific investigations outside.

 

So now it is your turn to try to explicitly describe how you create the environment that encourages your son's natural inclination. Your first suggestion is to make space; let your "kids' lives be calm, easy, and unfettered, allowing enough of a vacuum for drive to develop without interference." Can you come up with 3 more?

 

Ruth in NZ

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