Substantive Education

January 11, 2010

Elementary Science Update

In my elementary science class we are studying the weather.  To learn some of the vocabulary we have been playing a Weather Jingo (Bingo) game.  I am posting the words that we are usingso that students can study them before class.  I’ll be posting them in groups so that it is not overwhelming.  The first group is up now.  We will continue to learn more words and play the game for the last 20 minutes of class until we are finished with this unit.


April 22, 2009

Using the Scientific Method to do Science Fair Projects


Scientific Method

I talked about the Scientific Method in my post on Gardening Part 2…and realized that it is a topic that seems to generate a lot of confusion. I thought I would break it down for you here using a simple elementary school experiment. For those of you with children who have to do science fair projects I’ve chosen to use one of my sons to illustrate a couple of points. First, don’t be to quick to correct your children’s hypothesis’s when you see them heading in the wrong direction. Scientist learn as much from failed experiments as they do from ones that work. Second, do help your children identify variables that might change (explanation later) that is an area that most kids can’t see right away and need practice to understand.

One of my sons did a Science Fair project on how fast different liquids would freeze. (I could not find any pictures of this experiment … but I have included some other photos of past projects to give you an idea of how their finished boards looked. Gluing and designing the display is half the fun.) He was in early elementary school. Now that he had picked a topic…often the hardest part, he needed to start doing some research. Depending on your child’s age, and how much time you are investing, it is a good idea to have your child find several different kinds of sources. For instance, they can look up information in a book, search the internet, and maybe interview an ‘expert.’ (like a physical science teacher). While we did our research one of the things that he discovered was that salt (sodium) makes things freeze slowly.


Caleb and a science fair project on filtering water.

The next step is to come up with an Hypothesis…this is an educated guess. You guess, from the research you have done, what will happen. Well, my son was quite young, and although his research had said that sodium would make things freeze more slowly he still hypothesized that the milk would freeze quicker because it started out thicker, or more solid. When he wrote out his hypothesis for me that is exactly what he said. ‘While milk has sodium which slows down freezing I believe that the milk will freeze faster because it is already partially solid.’

Now we needed to design an experiment. This is a tricky step with many things (variables) to consider. My son chose several different liquids; tea, water, apple juice, and milk. We decided we would put some of each into ice cube trays and then check on them every 15 minutes and record what we found out.

While that gave him a general idea of his experiment, there were still a few things he needed to account for. He needed to be sure that he had controlled as many variables as possible. For instance, he decided that all of the liquids needed to start out at the same temperature, so we let the trays sit out on the counter until all of the liquids were at room temperature. He used a thermometer to determine they were all the same. He also carefully measured the amount of liquid put in each part of the trays…different amounts of liquid would yield different results. As with all good experiments he filled up several trays so that he had performed the experiment repeatedly thereby showing that his results would be consistent. Hopefully that clears up what I mean by accounting

Joseph and a project on the variety of animals in tidepools.

Joseph and a project on the variety of animals in tidepools.

for variables.

Your child needs to carefully write out the directions for their experiment (including all of the directions to account for variables.) Help them understand that the directions should be so clear that someone else doing the experiment would know exactly what to do.

Now it is time to collect data. Your data should be in a written record and if possible recorded in a concrete measurement. In our case, he wrote down a description – frozen crystals are beginning to form- and estimated what percentage of the liquid had become frozen. We did this every 15 minutes until all of the liquids were frozen. Help your child to understand that at this stage they are just recording the data, not interpreting it.

Levi with a project on dental gum removing plaque.

Levi with a project on dental gum removing plaque.

Next, we want to analyze the data. If your child is old enough to do math this is a great time to work at getting averages of your results. For instance, if we performed our experiment 4 times and the apple juice took 35 minutes to freeze in one try, 34 in another, 37 in another etc. we would add up all of those results and divide to get the average of our experiment. This gives a practical application to all that math they are learning. Most science fairs require the data that you analyze to be displayed on graphs. Luckily there are many online programs that can help you with graphs, although I found that especially for younger children, the exercise of making the graph is very instructional.

Once we have analyzed the data we are ready to interpret. Basically, was your hypothesis correct. As you might have guessed our hypothesis was wrong. The milk was by far the slowest liquid to freeze, so in his interpretation he said, ‘Although I thought that the milk being thicker would make a difference it didn’t, the sodium in the milk kept it from freezing.” As it turns out he won with this project at the fair we were at…the object is to follow the scientific method and learn from

Caleb and his wetlands experiment.

Caleb and his wetlands experiment.

it…not to get a ‘right answer’.

We aren’t quite done yet, the next step is to examine your experiment and decide if you could pursue it further what would you do – maybe find several liquids with sodium in them and test whether the amount of sodium made a difference.

Just about anything your kids are curious about can make a good science project. We’ve done experiments with friction using race cars going down slopes of various materials, where banana’s brown quicker, what surfaces snails like to crawl on, what foods rats prefer, whether the SPF in suntan lotion makes a difference, and whether fertilizer affects our wetlands. I’ve seen projects on belly button lint (no kidding) and the accuracy of shotguns. This is a great way to let your children’s natural curiosity lead their studies.

Where we compete the kids have to show their workbook (not a finished cleaned up copy – that is there too- but a messy first draft) to show that they did the work, not mom and dad. In their books they acknowledge what help they received, like typing, math they didn’t understand etc. The idea is to have your child do all of the work possible, but where they need help to offer assistance. Be careful not to ‘overhelp’. Let the project be theirs.

By the way, a fun start to a project is using red cabbage as an indicator of ph balance.  If you want more information about how to do that check it out here. There is also information about how to break water molecules down into hydrogen and oxygen here.  This information can be taken even farther if you catch the bubbles escaping in test tubes…you will see there is twice as much hydrogen as oxygen…

March 17, 2009

Learning in the Garden Part 1

sunflowersSo many fun things you can learn in the garden. I’m in the digging stage of putting in a vegetable garden and it made me remember some of our past gardening experiences, when the boys were young. No matter what the age of your kids, or the subject you’re teaching, keeping a garden can be a great tool for your school. Here are a few of the things we have done in our garden, along with a few I’m trying this year. Most of the following can be used whether you just have a patio with pots, or an acre of land. I’m starting with some activities for the preschool, early kindergarten stage…but that is not to say that your older kids wouldn’t have fun with these.

If your children are in preschool and early elementary school everything in the garden is a fascinating lesson. Watching the miracle of seeds developing into plants, flowers, and vegetables never gets old. A favorite activity for thebean young is to take a few bean seeds, soak them for an hour or two to get them started, then take a clear glass and fill it with damp paper towels. Place a few seeds around the edges of the glass so that they can be viewed from the outside but are still in contact with the damp paper towels. Don’t allow the paper towels to dry out. I had my boys draw pictures each day (or twice a day if there is a lot happening) of the changes in the seed. They may want to carefully measure the seed to see if it swells before the root breaks forth. As they watch they will see the root emerge, the original stem, and the first leaves unfurl. . Although the glass allows us to view what would normally be going on under the soil, there is a lot going on inside of the seed as well. I’d suggest getting a few books on seeds from the library before you start.

Another fun activity for the younger set is to get a fast growing seed like radishes, have the kids write their names in the dirt with their fingers, then sprinkle in the seeds. In a few weeks time they will have their name in the garden. Take a picture and enjoy a salad.

One year (so sad I can’t find the pictures) we planted a square of tall sunflowers with one opening, then, once the plants were about 4 inches tall, we planted morning glories around their base. As the sunflowers grew the morning glories climbed the stalks. With some careful twining and few well placed strings we were able to train the morning glories to make a roof and we had a gorgeous flower clubhouse. When the clubhouse ‘bloomed’ it was truly extraordinary. Adding to the fun were the butterflies and birds that came to hang out in our clubhouse.

It seems young children can’t get enough of little hiding places, so if the sunflower house seems a bit extravagantbean_teepee_5 another option is a bean tepee. All you need to do is make a tepee out of some long sticks or PVC pipe you might have around the house. (Pieces long enough to make a tepee a child could climb into.) Then run and tie string around most of the pieces leaving an opening. Plant 2-3 bean seeds (makes sure they are a climbing variety and not a bush.) at the base of each stick. As the plants begin to climb and send out tendrils help your children to observe closely. The tendrils will always wind the same direction and many of the tendrils in between plants will make themselves into curlicues. This is to protect the plant during growth and in the wind because the tendrils now have some give and won’t become taut and snap. As the beans mature they will hang down into the tepee and children can harvest them while they play. My boys liked to take a book into their tepee and ‘read’.garden-journal

Science and botany aren’t all that can be going on in your garden. How about keeping a gardening journal with careful observations, poems, and illustrations. This can be a spring writing project, the possibilities of what to include are endless. With a little intentional thought on the part of mom this could be your Language Arts time and what child would object to a lesson outside sitting in the garden drawing and writing about the plants they’ve grown. They can keep track of the insects and wildlife that visit their garden. They can group those animals into beneficial and harmful categories. A journal can be both practical observations and a time to be creative with stories, poems, songs, and illustrations that the garden inspires.

Reading time is easy to incorporate into the garden. You may choose to check out books on plants and gardening, orthe-secret-garden-harperclassics-006440188x-l maybe instead read some great literature. How about a cozy chair in the garden where you can read about Pooh’s adventures in the Hundred Acre Woods. Most little girls would love to sit in their sunflower house and read or be read to ‘The Secret Garden’. For the reluctant reader just moving your reading instruction outdoors can be inspiring.

Even math is more exciting when we are in a new place. I’m sure you can come up with garden ideas for addition and subtraction. Older children may want to figure the percentage of seeds that sprouted. Most seeds need to be thinned to a certain number of inches apart (don’t worry directions are on the seed packet) so it’s a great time to get familiar with using a ruler.

In ‘Learning in the Garden Part 2″ we’ll look at ideas for older students and how to incorporate history into your garden.

So get outside, get your hands dirty and play in the mud. Oh mud, maybe you could make some relief maps….. I’ll stop now.

October 25, 2008

Animal Grossology Field Trip

Last Tuesday we went to the Reuben H. Fleet Museum to visit the Animal Grossology exhibit, along with the rest of the exhibits. The exhibit focuses on all things gross. There are displays on a cows many stomachs, the way a fly vomits onto it’s food before it eats, and the many colors of blood. We played games about animals that use slime and games about beetles that lay eggs in dung. There were poop exhibits next to exhibits on hair balls and tape worms. It was an elementary school boys dream. Absolutely disgusting. Here are some photos…you’ve been warned:)

April 7, 2008

Elementary Science

Filed under: Science — kbagdanov @ 5:42 pm
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On Friday’s I teach some classes for students in our school. One of my favorites is elementary science. This year we are working through a great book published by Apologia called Exploring Creation with Zoolology 2: Swimming Creatures of the Fifth Day. (I highly recommend this entire series…fabulous.) This Friday we were doing a series of experiments to use for our Open House at the end of the month.

Here the girls are getting our sand ready….

Our experiment involved testing where the best fossils would be formed. We used sand, dirt (mud…the boys were a little over-enthusiastic with the water) and clay. Then we took a shell with a lot of ridges and made depressions in each of our materials. Plaster of Paris was quickly (we weren’t quick enough and had to make a second batch) pored into the depressions…and in a mere 30 minutes we could pull out our ‘fossils’ and see if our hypothesis was correct .

Here Garret (really cute guy that you can’t see) is pushing our shell into the mud.

Here Linda is working quickly to get the Plaster of Paris in place.

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