How to Teach Science through the Lives of Scientists

How to Teach Science through the Lives of Scientists

This post contains affiliate links. Thanks for your support!

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.

facebooktwittergoogle_pluspinterestmailby feather

Comparing the Accuracy of Liquid Measurement Tools

Blog, She Wrote: Comparing the Accuracy of Liquid Measurement Tools

Have you ever thought about how accurate your volumetric measuring tools are? How do you know your measuring cup is calibrated? Is it good science to use your kitchen tools for science? Today’s discussion is Comparing the Accuracy of Liquid Measuring Tools.

Are All Volumetric Measuring Tools the Same?

Blog, She Wrote: Comparing the Accuracy of Liquid Measurement Tools

The gold standard in measuring volume is the Volumetric Flask. It’s a laboratory flask which is calibrated precisely to a certain volume at a particular temperature. They come in various sizes from 1-10,000 mL of liquid. But, they are also expensive and they are typically not found in classroom labs or homes because neither work with extremely precise volumes of liquid.

So, what do we use instead? The rule of thumb is to use the graduated cylinder. With all the markings on the cylinder, it is considered more accurate than other volume measuring tools. But, is there a big difference? We decided to test them to see.

Tools for Measuring Volume

Blog, She Wrote: Comparing the Accuracy of Liquid Measurement Tools

What are some tools available for measuring volume?

  • Beakers– Are containers primarily used for mixing and heating. There are markings on them for measuring, but they are meant to be approximate.
  • Measuring Cups– The liquid measuring kitchen variety. We use Pyrex brand.
  • Erlenmeyer Flasks– These are wide bottomed but not circular with a neck that can use a stopper (with or without holes). It makes a good reaction vessel and allows a larger area for smaller volumes.
  • Florence Flask– This is a round bottomed flask used for boiling solutions.
  • Field Collecting Tubes– These are screw top collecting tubes which come in 15 mL or 50 mL and they are terrific for collecting aquatic specimens in the field. We use them during our entomology excursions.
  • Pipettes– Used for moving small volumes of water or removing liquid in small increments. I like the disposable kind because the cleaning is much easier!
  • Graduated Cylinder– Are used for measuring volumetric quantities. They range in size from 10- 1000 mL. If you are going to choose only one, the 100 mL size is a good one.

So, if you want to use something other than what’s found in your kitchen, where do you get them? We use Home Science Tools. We order some specialty items, like collecting tubes, from BioQuip. Just for fun, we also visited our local university’s chemistry supply room. Armed with gift money, our then 8 year old, took a trip with Dad to pick out his own glassware.

Testing the Accuracy of Volume Measuring Tools

Blog, She Wrote: Comparing the Accuracy of Liquid Measurement Tools

Since we used the graduated cylinder as our gold standard, we chose to determine the final volume in a graduated cylinder. Our procedure:

  • Choose a beaker, flask, or collecting tube and fill it with water to the highest marked volume in mL.
  • Record that volume in your data chart which will be labeled with the containers you are using.
  • Pour the contents of the first container into the appropriately (closest) sized graduated cylinder available.
  • Measure the volume of water in the graduated cylinder
  • Record the volume.
  • Repeat using various sized measurement tools.

How to Record Data When Doing a Science Exploration

Blog, She Wrote: Comparing the Accuracy of Liquid Measurement Tools

The data chart for recording volume was designed by each student separately based on what we needed to write down. Here are a few things to remember about data charts and recording data.

  • Have each student design her own based on ability- parents can step in when columns are missing.
  • Give hints or general categories students need to remember when constructing their own chart. It’s ok if the charts turn out differently from others as long as they record everything.
  • Creating their own data chart is a great way to learn the skill of organizing information. I think we underestimate the importance of our homeschooled students being able to organize information on their own- without the help of a printable!
  • Remember printables are fun, but they aren’t necessary and sometimes they slow you down– like when you are spending all your time looking for ones you’ve already printed or when you can’t find just the perfect one.
  • Scientists in the field must create their own data charts since they often design their own experiments. Step boldly!

Our Findings- How Accurate are the Volumetric Tools?

Blog, She Wrote: Comparing the Accuracy of Liquid Measurement Tools

What were the results?

  • All volumetric containers are not the same!
  • The graduated cylinder has more markings and measures more accurately – it was certainly easier to determine an accurate volume with more gradations.
  • The readings on the graduated cylinder were higher than the same volume measurement in the other tools.
  • The larger the container, the larger the discrepancy. The largest beaker was off my 20 mL or more!

What does it all mean? Well, it means if you want accurate volume without using a volumetric flask, use the graduated cylinder for the best results. Always use the container that will reasonably hold your liquids. If you use the extreme opposite, your readings will be less accurate.

Does My Homeschool Need Volumetric Measuring Tools?

Some of you might be asking whether or not it’s a good idea to invest in some volumetric containers for your homeschool. Is it a good idea? Here are a few things to think on:

  • Using containers meant for science frees up your kitchen tools– I prefer to use science tools for science and kitchen tools for the kitchen. That might be the science teacher talking, but it’s more than that!
  • Some chemicals don’t belong in vessels we eat from– Perhaps your wet labs aren’t dangerous, but some of them might be.
  • Using science tools reinforces safety measures– We don’t eat in the lab! Nor should we really eat from vessels used in the lab.
  • Ensures your students know how to measure volume accurately using appropriate tools
  • Your students will be versed in labware and how to use it
  • It helps our science to be more accurate– rather than guessing at volume when your liquid falls somewhere between 50 mL marks!

It’s easy to start out with a few beakers and graduated cylinders. We have a mixture of plastic and glass, but plastic lets me relax a little more. I would recommend a 100 mL graduated cylinder, 250 & 500 mL beakers at a minimum to start. If you work in small volumes, a 10 mL graduated cylinder is a good size.

Even the simplest of labs can introduce a great deal of concepts and provide plenty of practice at homeschool science. It’s important to use scientific volumetric tools as much as possible. Your measurements will be more accurate!

facebooktwittergoogle_pluspinterestmailby feather

Homeschooling Middle & High School Science

Blog, She Wrote: Homeschooling Middle & High School Science

Day 3 of iHN’s Winter Hopscotch is all about science. Today I’m sharing our strategies and resources for homeschooling middle & high school science. Science is my favorite. If you’ve been a reader for awhile, then you may know that my background is science. My BS is in biological sciences and I have a MS degree in Curriculum & Instruction Secondary Education. I am certified to teach biology to 7th-12th graders. I taught science for five years prior to starting a family. My husband is a chemical engineer with a graduate degree also in chemical engineering. This means several important things relevant to today’s post:

  • We are science people. We do science everyday.
  • We talk about science at every turn.
  • People with masters degrees focused on writing science curriculum & science instruction for secondary aged kids don’t buy science curriculum. It’s a rule. They might revoke my degree.
  • When our kids ask a science question, we drop what we’re doing and help them investigate an answer. It’s how we have fun.
  • We are great at doing science all the time. We aren’t great at following a science curriculum.

I think it’s important to be real with you all on this point because it affects how we approach science in our middle and high school homeschool. I’d like to encourage you to try something similar…be inquistive! Help your students to explore the scientific world.

Blog, She Wrote: Homeschooling Middle & High School Science

Strategies for Homeschooling Middle & High School Science

One of the best ways to do science is to go and investigate. Learn with your students the process for conducting scientific investigations and then go out and explore the world! Below are some of the ways we do this in our homeschool:

  • Unit Studies– Through middle school we do a lot of science through our unit studies. Either we are studying a book and doing the science that goes with it or the unit study is based around the science. For example, we enjoyed a unit on catapults after watching Punkin’ Chunkin’ one Thanksgiving.
  • Units can be built around a child’s interest– many of you know our daughter is very talented with a sewing machine. There’s a lot of physical science to be taught about sewing machines, so I wrote a unit study on just that.
  • Science as Investigation– I actually speak on this topic quite a bit. The thing to remember is not to get bogged down in the process. You don’t have to have fancy equipment to do science. So many people want to make sure all their ducks are in a row and it paralyzes them when it comes to doing experiments. Don’t be afraid to look things up with your kids and try things out. We once did a huge experiment on popcorn– which variety popped the biggest. We talked with the kids about how to do a fair test and we walked them through setting up the experiment. Then we popped a lot of corn and measured the volume by calculating the amount of space the popped volume took up in a cylinder!
  • Project Based Homeschooling– We are prime candidates for homeschooling science with student driven projects. It’s comes naturally to mentor our kids into finding their own way on something they are interested in. This year our 8th grader is studying biology through the life of snakes– she has one she caught and has been taking care of since June.

Blog, She Wrote: Homeschooling Middle & High School Science

Our Favorite Resources for Homeschooling Middle & High School Science

In lieu of recommending curriculum for science, I’m going to give you a list of our favorite resources. These are things we pull from or have the kids reference and enjoy during their studies.

  • Janice VanCleave Books– These books are an excellent source for science experiments and longer term science investigations. Easy to understand and follow and Ms. VanCleave does a great job of explaining the results.
  • Beyond Five in a Row– Excellent literature unit studies which have robust science studies in them including more than a few books about famous scientists.
  • Usborne Science Encyclopedia– Great science reference with links to follow on the internet.
  • Field Guides– A thorough guide for mammals, flowers, trees, reptiles, amphibians and other major animal and plants groups are a valuable tool for nature studies and biology.
  • The Handbook of Nature Study– A lovely text sharing a lot of science for the natural world. A popular book for homeschoolers, if you’ve never read it I encourage you to do so. Mrs. Comstock has a dry sense of humor that is not obvious from the appearance of the book.
  • Glassware– We buy ours from Home Science Tools (and locally at our backyard university’s supply rooms). I used to use our kitchenware, but I much prefer the designated scienceware.
  • cK-12 Open Source Textbook– It’s what we use for high school biology & chemistry. They have a text, workbooks, and some subjects have lab workbooks too.
  • Top 10 Tools for the Home Scientist– You might be interested in our favorite picks from this list I wrote for Uzinggo.
  • Life of Fred: Physics & Biology– R13 is going through Physics now followed by Biology both of which are pre-Algebra books.
  • Science Biographies– We study the lives of scientists which gives you a whole picture of a time, place, and event. This is a very Charlotte Mason approach and it yields big results. MoonShot and Skunkworks are among the books our 6th grader has read in his quest to learn more about flight and rocketry.

Giveaway for Polymer Science Unit from Elmer’s Glue

Since I’m all into doing investigations, I’m happy to offer you a bonus opportunity today. Elmer’s is giving away one box set pictured below. You’ll get a signed copy of Too Much Glue along with a unit on adhesives to go with the book and some glues for the activity. Leave a comment and tell me your favorite topic in science to enter!

Blog, She Wrote: Homeschooling Middle & High School Science

Join other bloggers from the iHN for their tips on teaching science. See you tomorrow for a look at history.

HopscotchiHNJanuary2013

facebooktwittergoogle_pluspinterestmailby feather