What Does Science Look Like at Home?

I was just watching a periscope (a live video thing, though I watched it after it was saved on Katch) by Julie over at Bravewriter. It’s about unstructured vs. structured learning… and her main point was “what does learning at home look like?” — http://blog.bravewriter.com/2016/04/11/the-split-between-structured-and-unstructured-learning/

As a liberal arts major, she could easily figure out how to play word games, pick out amazing books for Big Juicy Conversations… and so forth. (Watch the periscope! And all her other ones! They are so good!) But she didn’t necessarily know how to do the same thing in math, or maybe even in science.

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So how do you get kids excited about science? How do you get them curious and interested?

Let me give you a huge hint — it’s not by doing labs where they already know the answers. It’s not by writing up lab reports. It’s not by getting the “expected result”. That isn’t science! That’s really, really boring!

Babies can do science. Every time a toddler drops their toy car and watches it hit the floor, they’re testing gravity. It becomes a fun game watching mom or dad pick it back up again… and then dropping it again. That baby doesn’t have a lab write up. That baby doesn’t know the word gravity. But that baby just intuitively learned “things go down”. And “making mom and dad do things is fun”.

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Babies love making observations. They use all of their senses (especially taste!) to test everything around them non-stop.

The thing is… science is messy. And dangerous (especially if you want to use inappropriate sensory organs too much). And parents don’t like messes. They don’t like even minor risk, usually. So science becomes safe and boring. Parents worry that the experiment “won’t go right” so they want a tried and true experiment or demonstration (most “science” ends up being a demonstration, not an experiment anyway). But that’s boring! It isn’t fun!

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If the experiment doesn’t work, great! Now you get to troubleshoot it! That’s what real science looks like. Maybe it was a badly planned experiment — an important aspect of science is experimental design and identifying flaws in other people’s experiments. Not out of malice, but being an independent observer who can maybe see something that you missed. That’s what peer review is.

In our school we do use simulations sometimes — they let you play with things in ways you might not be able to otherwise… like nuclear reactors. But parents worry about screen time. Who cares? Do you know what science looks like? Messes and lots of computers.

I try to let the kids get exposure to real life experiences as much as life allows. Let’s make paper airplanes. Let’s learn how to solder and build a robot. Let’s go to the zoo and observe the penguins or fish or whatever.

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Once we stood around an aquarium for at least 30 minutes observing this weird little fish who decided to move rocks around with his mouth. These were huge rocks! He really struggled. Should we have stood there that long? Sure. We watched him, made observations, and guessed at what he might be doing. Eventually one of the people who volunteered there came over and told us what they thought the fish was doing. It was great!

We never wrote it up. I think I posted a picture on Flickr… maybe?

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