It may be no secret to you at this point in parenting that we are woefully unprepared, as a country, to nurture our children when it comes to science.
The main problem we are having with science in our society is that we have become a positive results, results only, focused population. Testing in schools is THE only way we decide if a student has become successful. We look for a result, a positive result. When we expect results, we teach for results.
But science is different.
The other subjects have content; dates, times, numbers, places, rules and information. In addition to these things, science also has a large array of tools. In math, rules are nurtured. In science we must strike a balance between both. Our next problem with science is that science is not based on getting a positive result. Science is about seeking, exploring and seeing what result we get. That answer will tell us what direction to head toward.
Society does a disservice to science in two ways. First, we hold certain aspects of science, chemistry for instance, away from the child until the child is middle school aged. Second, we teach the content, the “what” and leave out the “how”. We are so content focused, we leave out all the necessary skills our children need to be able to think like a scientist and to “do” science.
Please read The Big Chemistry Secret here: How to Teach Science.
Our society is failing our kids in the sciences.
Science is different yet is taught like other subjects.
Science has labs and tools and skills which we are not teaching.
Some parts of science are held away from the children until they are older.
There are some hard to face realities for us as parents and teachers as to what we must do from here. If you are looking for answers in the system you will not find them. Complaining will get you nowhere as you may already know (which is how I became a homeschooler) and if you are a homeschooler you have found what I found, the lack of good tools and support systems and sites for teaching science. You are going to have to make a solution for your individual situation. To help them…
We can do this by making sure our children master science skills.
Observation and Inference
To observe is to take note of only what can be seen. Scientists must have the ability to look at something and stick to only what is there, what is seen with the eyes, perhaps how it smells, what sound it makes, the senses.
But to infer is to then make assumptions about what observations were gathered and perhaps to include other information you happen to know to be true about that subject. This is sometimes used for brainstorming ideas, coming up with a hypothesis, or figuring out the possible why's. Scientists must be able to make assumptions while working through possible scenarios for conclusions and problem solving. But these two skills are very different and important to be used separately and at different times. When concluding a lab report, the writer must be able to bring together various aspects of the results and draw conclusions. Learning to think logically and critically will lead to accurate inferences.
I encourage you to read some work by Rachel Carson. She was an active environmentalist in the 1960’s. Her book, The Sense of Wonder, was a bestseller and a trendsetter. Every day, in your daily activity, you have many opportunities to practice these skills. You can do observation exercises while out running errands with your kids. You can ask them to observe conversations they cannot hear and tell you what the people are doing. The purpose of this activity is to prepare to teach children how to think and write in a critical and scientific way. When asked on a lab sheet or report to write what happened or what they observed, the scientist MUST stay away from inferences. These questions will also appear on all standardized tests from the CAT to the college entrance exams. The conclusion of a lab report will be the place for inferences but in the report, in the description of what happened in the experiment, we stick to observation only.
Latin and Greek
Because there is an agreed upon way to name things, using Latin and Greek, it makes science so much easier. There are some basic roots of words you can learn and then there is a much longer list. But the basics are enough to make you feel very comfortable about what you are reading it’s much easier to remember these when we know what they mean. The same will be true for just about all of the terms your child will learn in science. So the goal is to give them these Latin and Greek roots, early, often and make it fit. This is actually not too difficult.
Another cool thing about science, is that there are general terms that have a meaning and will always refer to that thing when used in a word. For example, the suffix – mycetes is used when referring to fungi.
You can teach your children the names given to groups of terms. Some examples are:
-cyte= cells. All blood cells will have this ending.
-ine= chemical that increases heart rate and dilates blood vessels. Ex. Antihistimine, epinephrine, norepinephrine, cocaine.
-ase= This will be an enzyme. Any term in biology with it, will be an enzyme.
Take the list of Latin and Greek provided in the printables file and make up words then give their definitions. The other thing you can do is give them terms, and have them translate. So some things you can do if you would like your kids to learn these is make index flash cards. You can move through them, quiz them, post them around the house where appropriate, leave them in the back seat of the car where they’ll be seen, choose one at a time to discuss each day, choose two or three to post on the fridge each week, choose two or three to leave out on the coffee table each week, pick one and see how many times you can use it in conversation in a week and any other way you can find to present these words. The goal is familiarity and memorization. Eventually familiarity and memorization will turn into translation without thinking about it. And remember, those of you who have pre-teens and teens, these exercises started out as classroom work for high school kids and have been adapted down to also fit the young. You would be surprised at how much fun the teens have with this.
When we write up a lab or write an article for a journal we describe events that unfolded as we worked our experiment. Here is where we must only write what we observed, no inferences allowed. The writing is in the passive voice.
How To Write It
I cannot say that I heated the test tube. I must say the test tube was heated to x degrees Celsius. More examples are; subjects were instructed to use the cream for five days, 2 hours were allowed for the substance to cool. The remaining sample was used for the titration test.
There are skills necessary for this type of writing. Our children will need to be able to follow steps, in order. They will need to be descriptive. They need to write in the correct language and tense and they need to be able to be observers.
Anton Van Leeuwenhoek is credited with making the microscope. He is considered the father of microbiology. Not only was he a good lens maker, but he had a gift of being a very good descriptive writer.
Logic and Lateral Thinking
There is a thin line a good scientist walks between being logical and being creative. Logic is necessary because it helps us draw conclusions. What if Einstein never strayed from the logic and what he was taught? He is an anomaly because he was very dogmatic and logical yet had no problems in straying from physical laws and seeing them in a three dimensional way. When science was saying look at the top and bottom of this thing, it is A,B,C. He would think,’ Yes, that’s true, but I’ll bet there’s a side to it too.’ Then he would work until he figured out how that side changed the top and bottom theories. We are now starting to prove some of his theories. If you’d like to learn more about his theories in a way that is understandable try this book: Mr.Tompkins In Paperback by George Gamow.
We can help our children develop logic skills and we also need to help them learn to think laterally. We can use verbal games, card tricks, mind bogglers, checkers and other strategy games . These are so important for helping develop logical thinking skills. I found a company that actually stocks and sells all kinds of logic and thinking games for kids. I was really happy to find them. They are Timberdoodle.com. Check them out!
Lateral Thinking Puzzles
Some of you may have heard of these. Usually they are in this format; A story is told with pieces missing or the why or how is missing. The guesser tries to ask yes and no questions to figure out the missing answer
There are many lateral thinking puzzle books out there and on the net. We all know about the quick and not so quick little brain teasers, like how far can you walk in the woods? Halfway, after that you're walking out. These kinds of puzzles work on our perceptions. To think laterally, one must be able to put aside preconceived ideas and assumptions and take nothing for granted. Mensa puts out books annually with these types of logic puzzles and brain teasers. You can find them at many local stores as well. I encourage you to use these with your child. They are fun to play while in the car and help pass the time on long drives.
Another activity that helps develop logical thinking skills is patterns and analogies. Number patterns with numbers missing gives children time to sit and work through possible answers. This doesn't have to be on paper. You can use manipulatives to create a pattern of shapes, buttons, colors, beans, etc and have your child copy you. You can leave some out and have them recreate it with the missing pieces in place. Older children can and should start working with number patterns. These should challenge them on their mathematical level. If they are subtracting, then use patterns where a- b=c then c-d=e, etc. leaving out e. You can make these progressively more difficult or you can get them from the internet. You can use calculators, number boards, felt boards or index cards.
Leonardo Pisano Fibonacci
Leonardo Pisano Fibonacci is an Italian mathematician (1100's) who discovered a famous pattern of numbers. His work in Italy is famous and his Fibonacci number is a good and easy pattern for your children to learn, to find in nature and to draw. You will find it in pinecones, pineapples, flowers and spider webs to name a few. Read about him here http://www-history.mcs.st-and.ac.uk/Biographies/Fibonacci.html
Steps, Processes, Cycles and Diagrams
Science skills include the ability to follow steps and processes. Biological processes involve a series of steps that usually feedback in a loop. The energy from the sun is given to plants and then works it's way down the food chain in a series of steps. Doing an experiment involves a series of steps and then writing it up involves a series of steps. These exercises are very important because it includes analytical training. In tests to get in college or in trouble shooting why the air conditioner coil quit or in passing college science classes or passing the ASVAB for military, analyzing cycles and diagrams are a must.
Most college science exams will have one essay question where you are expected to describe a biological or chemical process and then draw it in diagram form. Spending time on this skill is very important for your child to be able to read and comprehend science, to be able to pass college entrance exams and to pass college science courses. The method to passing these standardized tests involves approaching them in steps. Many other jobs that do not require college do require the ability to analyze and follow steps. ALL science labs are steps. Many of you are aware of the scientific method and are currently using it with your children. But if you are not, I encourage you to begin to develop small experiments you can do with them and make a point of following the scientific method as you do.
Diagrams are steps that are usually repeating or cyclical in science. Sometimes they are just steps. In Biology they tend to be cyclical, in chemistry they tend to be steps and flow charts of reactions. We need them to help have a visual idea of how these steps work or how they affect other parts of a cycle.
The reason science needs all these diagrams is that our earth is not a static and unmoving place. Living things move and process food and energy. The earth itself, is constantly moving and changing, even chemicals are constantly in flux and change. We use the diagrams in Biology to express the processes that occur in our cells to make life happen. These processes are usually feedback types.
Writing about it is wordy where as a picture is worth a thousand words and the same is true for diagrams. Seeing it makes it much easier to understand. To see where this is heading, take a look at a more difficult process and feedback cycle that your child may see if they attend college or enter the military.
I’m sure you already know that graphing skills are a must for your children and you may be already doing that in math. Scientists use graphs to demonstrate results in experiments and studies and to show performance of substances, items, chemicals and occurrences over time, etc.
Good scientists can read and interpret a graph quickly to find out how to add to experiments, or to find out what to include and when.
Don’t assume your child knows how to make or read or understand graphs. And simple graphs are fine up to high school but after that graphs begin to have double and triple measurements on them, 3 graphs overlayed on each other drawn on the same graph to help compare and contrast different things together. These are the types of graphs your children will see on the SAT, ACT and other higher level exams.
The basics of a graph are:
When you test something, you should write a lab report. A lab report follows the scientific method.
So there are either demonstrations, or experiments which test. If you are performing a demonstration there is no need for lab reports, it’s just fun. If you are setting up an experiment to test then your students write up a lab report.
Why a lab report is important Writing lab reports is a skill that must be mastered. On standardized tests, even in the 6th grade level and especially on SAT and ACT exams these questions are presented in many different ways. They are expected to put steps in order for a lab report, or expected to choose where on the report the information belongs or to interpret the information and examine whether or not it reflects the results of the test. In some instances they will be required to write a conclusion or determine what statements are inappropriate or do not belong in a conclusion.
Our children gain many things by reading about the achievements of scientists. Some of the things they will learn by reading these biographies are:
Create A Science Environment
A good thing to have around the house are science magazines. Not just children's magazines, but all levels of science magazines. They will be able to see science writing in all its forms, and will see how the professional community expresses itself. Some good children's science magazines are Discovery Kids, Ranger Rick, National Geographic Kids, ZooBooks, Highlights, Your Big Backyard and Discovery Box A word about Consumer Reports magazine This magazine is completely based on science. They test products and report their findings. What's great is that they describe up front how they tested the items.
Keep "stuff" lying around. Have the microscope available with slides in a bin. Have rocks and minerals out, have the periodic table where they can see it, have items in a small container that they can look at in their bug boxes and magnifying boxes. Have graph paper lying around to draw on instead of plain paper.
Use baskets to hold themed baskets of items from nature, parts of electronics, items from the periodic table, etc.
Leave the internet open to the weather channel and other science sites. Leave books about science in the back seat of the car. Put the periodic table on the wall, a notebook sized one on the kitchen table, use posters.
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