How to Teach Science through the Lives of Scientists

How to Teach Science through the Lives of Scientists

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When we think of science instruction, we often think of textbooks and curriculum with labs and lots of formal quizzes and activities. Given my professional background (biology teacher with a masters degree in curriculum and instruction), I am quite familiar with the conventional paradigm of science education. I’ve learned that all my structured training for classroom science, doesn’t translate well to our homeschool. We love to study science as investigation. Over the years I’ve shared activities from our brand of science instruction, but I often hesitate to blog about our science because I don’t want to intimidate people. Science is a lot of fun and I’ve recently renewed my goal to share with you how we approach science (hopefully) in a way that will make it very accessible to other families regardless of your science background. How to Teach Science through the Lives of Scientists is how our fourth grader (and youngest student) loves to learn science best.

Benefits of Teaching Science with Biographies

How to Teach Science through the Lives of Scientists

We are a long time unit study family and have always followed interests and learned about interesting people along the way. However, our fourth grader, Joshua, has always been extra interested in the people behind the science. I was hoping to revisit unit studies I’d done with his older siblings, but he tagged along and he remembers details! He’s a kid who once he plays something out, isn’t willing to revisit it again. Last year it occurred to me that we could learn science by learning about scientists. This has worked well for him and every time I stray to use something more formal, we end up back using biographies and learning science. Here are a few reasons it’s a good fit:

  • Observe the common character traits and behavior of scientists– which allows you to see their habits, professional practices, etc.
  • Explore a wide variety of science concepts– lets you break out of doing things in order or chronologically and gives you the chance to move from discipline to discipline within science. You don’t have to study just one area of science each year.
  • Follow an interest– if you read about a scientist who was inspired by Newton, you can find out who Newton is and what he was about.
  • Customize the curriculum– your student is unique and offering him a way to study that capitalizes on his strengths while building weaknesses is a smart way to educate. Joshua is an engineer and loves to explore science in his own way. He wants to figure things out and invent and he adores learning about others who have done the same. This is a brilliant way for him to keep his edge!
  • Meet lots of scientists– it’s exciting to meet new people and learn about their contribution to the world and to the current world of scientists. You get to read a lot of biographical information and that’s just plain fun!

Let him on the contrary, linger pleasantly over the history of a single man, a short period, until he thinks the thoughts of that man, is at home in the ways of that period. Though he is reading and thinking of the lifetime of a single man, he is really getting intimately acquainted with the history of a whole nation for a whole age. – Charlotte Mason

Biographies of Scientists

How to Teach Science through the Lives of Scientists

The foundation of this approach is the biographies of famous men and women in the field of science. It’s important to find the right biographies to get the most out of the potential of this method. Look for:

  • Age appropriate selections– Pay attention to who the audience is for a book. If you find an adult biography, chances are there will be content you don’t want your child to read.
  • Reader friendly– Keep in mind the age and skill of your reader when choosing a book. Is it visually pleasing? Is there enough margin? All of these go into whether a book is appealing or not- especially for emerging readers.
  • Do a little of your own research– Even a glance at a Wikipedia page will tell you about any big skeletons in the scientist’s closet. Some men and women have notorious reputations. Those are the ones to make sure you get a youth biography for and skip the adult section of the library for those.

Exploring the Science of Famous Scientists

How to Teach Science through the Lives of Scientists

While your student reads about a scientist, he can begin exploring. Some books are really fantastic at giving activities along with the biographical information. Our kids love to try things out and our fourth grader, loves all things science and wants to investigate and try on his own. Here are some of the ways we do do this:

  • Try out experiments as they are mentioned in the book
  • Explore the equipment a scientist might use- things like microscopes, sextant, etc
  • Build models of things things shown in a book or of their inventions
  • Keep a lab note book– Joshua who is 9 at the time of this post, has had one for years.

Resources for Teaching Science through the Lives of Scientists

How to Teach Science through the Lives of Scientists

There are many materials out there for studying about the lives of scientists. You can find biographies along with curriculum which focuses on the people behind the science. Below, I’ve listed what we have used although most times I come back to just the biographies and the science.

  • Childhood of Famous Americans Book Series– This is a lovely series of books about the growing up years of many famous Americans, including scientists.
  • Heroes of History– Another series for kids, but these tell about the person’s entire life. Heroes of History is the sister series to Christian Heroes Then and Now and make a lovely young person’s biography.
  • Other Biographies– There is no shortage of books about scientists. Anyone who has made a significant contribution to the field will have something written about him. It may be more difficult to find a biography which is age appropriate, but there are many children’s and young adult titles.
  • Beyond Five in a Row– Is a literature unit study program for ages 8-12 using chapter books and many of the books are about scientists such as George Washington Carver, Marie Curie, Thomas Edison, and Neil Armstrong. We have used BYFIAR for years and you might enjoy visiting our Beyond page.
  • History of Science from Beautiful Feet– This is more a survey of history through the lens of science, but the guide introduces you to many scientists along the way.
  • WinterPromise– Their themed programs provide many resources and lessons on people which include many scientists.

Other Blog, She Wrote Posts about Science & Scientists

We’ve had discussions on many scientists over the years. Some are formalized studies and some are conversations at the dinner table. Here are a few were written about:

  • Renee Descartes Mathematician & Philosopher– Although he was a math guy, I’m throwing this one in to show another way to use biographies.
  • Elias Howe– A unit study on the inventor of the sewing machine complete with the mechanical conversation about the physics of sewing machines.
  • Henry David Thoreau– Was a naturalist and we reflected on nature study through is lens.
  • Beyond FIAR– This is a landing page devoted to our studies which include some scientists.
  • Homeschooling Middle & High School Science– This is a revealing post about how we teach science at our house. With two scientists teaching at home, our methods are not conventional. We talk about science all the time, but we don’t always follow a curriculum in a typical way.
  • How to Homeschool with a Kindle– Notice the Kindle Fire at the top of the post? All of our kids have them and it makes it a lot easier for them to grab a book and go. I also check books out on their Kindle through the library system. The main thing here is if you haven’t had time to get all the books you need, you can always grab a Kindle version for step 2.

When I am tempted to do a more traditional approach with our fourth grader, we keep coming back to this method. Any science becomes more interesting through the eyes of the people who made tireless efforts to achieve their goals.

You can adapt this to any grade level and require different skill sets of work for the same biography.

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Benefits of Using LEGO Mindstorms in Your Homeschool

Blog, She Wrote: Benefits of Using LEGO Mindstorms in Your Homeschool

Welcome to blog sponsor Explorental!

Have you ever considered a LEGO Mindstorms kit for your kids? Maybe you’ve seen them, but are unsure whether the investment is a good one for your family. For less than the cost of a popular game console system, you can have a tool for teaching endless concepts and a source of engineering challenge for your kids.

Reasons to Use LEGO Mindstorms in Your Homeschool

Working with the Mindstorms kit requires a lot of different skills from students even when you are just starting out. Take a look at some of the subject areas accessed by work with the Mindstorms.

  • Math– Although not always a student favorite, math is applied to the robot building when it comes to programming it. Geometry, particularly circle geometry is necessary to accurately get the robot to rotate the wheels the requested distance.
  • Robotics– Who doesn’t want to build a robot and take over the world? Or at least the LEGO world!
  • Mechanics– Part of the robot building has to do with putting the robot together with the technic pieces. How those fit together and work efficiently is a big part of the task.
  • Physics– Along with efficiency, you need a stable structure. We spend a lot of time learning about which designs are the most stable.
  • Fun– There is no shortage of fun when it comes to exploring with a LEGO Mindstorms kit.

Blog, She Wrote: Benefits of Using LEGO Mindstorms in Your Homeschool

Using Technology in Your Homeschool

Our kids use a lot of technology in our home- whether it’s a Kindle eReader, tablet or computers for programming and playing. One thing we really try to keep in check is how much our children are producers vs consumers when using technology. In other words, are they watching a lot and engaging in passive participation or are they being makers and creators?

LEGO Mindstorms uses software that is drag and drop so you only need to know some basics about how to get the robot to follow your commands. It takes time to master, but it’s worth the end result. I don’t mind my kids toiling for a few hours at a computer if they are actively problem solving. 

Enjoy a look at Ethan (and our basement!), our 15yo 10th grader, explaining one task he and his fellow FIRST LEGO League team members completed for their FLL regional competition in December. Our teams spend 7 hours a week pouring into this particular piece of technology and it earned them Grand Champion at their qualifying tournament.

Teaching with Technology G+ Hangout

Last week the iHN hosted an informative G+ Hangout on Teaching with Technology. I was excited to be one of the participants. Click and view at your leisure to hear how others are using technology in their homes.

Using Explorental to Experience LEGO Mindstorms

LEGO Mindstorms is a wonderful resource for homeschools, but it may not be the right time financially to invest in your own. How do you get a chance to work with the kit without making that big financial investment?

Take advantage of Explorental’s wonderful inventory of technology gadgets and other kits. They offer a LEGO Mindstorms rental for $43.99 for two weeks.

Blog, She Wrote: Explorental

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FIRST LEGO League: Science, Technology, & Teamwork

Blog, She Wrote: FIRST LEGO League- Science, Technology, & Teamwork

I don’t blog enough about our FIRST LEGO League teams, but I’ll be catching you all up to date this season. This is the fifth season for our sponsored teams. Our homeschool group started with one team which grew into two teams coached by Dan and another homeschool dad engineer. We have lots of parent help and the teams practice together and so far have done well in competition together as sister teams. This is both teams’ third chance at going to the next round of competition. This year LEGO Da Vinci won First Place Grand Champion while the Disaster Masters won the Project Award.

FIRST LEGO League (FLL) begins with the FIRST Mission

FIRST was started in 1989 by Dean Kamen, inventor of the Segway, to inspire kids to become scientists and engineers. FLL is all about the science and research with the LEGOs being the hook in a high energy atmosphere.

Our mission is to inspire young people to be science and technology leaders, by engaging them in exciting mentor-based programs that build science, engineering and technology skills, that inspire innovation, and that foster well-rounded life capabilities including self-confidence, communication, and leadership.

Mr. Kamen had a vision:

“To transform our culture by creating a world where science and technology are celebrated and where young people dream of becoming science and technology leaders.”  Dean Kamen, Founder

FLL Has Three Components

  • Research project– based on a theme. They must research the theme, choose a topic to become experts on and come up with an innovative solution to a problem they discovered a long the way. They get judged on their solution, how they contacted and worked with experts in the field, and in their presentation of their findings.
  • Robot– including programming, design, and performance. Teams must design and program a robot to perform missions in the robot game. It also includes their presentation to the judges about their robot.
  • Core Values– this is all about teamwork and gracious professionalism. Are teammates working together and treating others they encounter well? At the competition they have a team challenge to complete which tests them in their ability to work together well.

FLL Requires Commitment

The teams practice seven hours a week– one hour at co-op during the semester when Dan teaches the class and two other three hour practices during the week. The guys on LEGO Da Vinci are coming to our house, where we have the table set up, to work on missions this week for some bonus time.

Enjoy a look at just one of the missions. They have just 2.5 minutes to complete as many as they can. Next time I’ll share about their research project. The theme this year is Nature’s Fury and their research has been on blizzards.

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