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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How to Use Google Earth in Your Homeschool

How to Use Google Earth in Your Homeschool

One of my favorite tools on the internet is Google Earth. Whether your students are young or old, they can use it easily and masterfully for tasks. The best part is letting kids explore it on their own and discover places near and far around the earth. This is your guide on How to Use Google Earth in Your Homeschool.

What is Google Earth?

Google Earth is a program which allows you to see the world virtually in 3D and control where you go with the touch of a mouse. If you don’t already have it on your computer, click the link to download your own copy. Here are just a few of the features of Google Earth your family can explore.

  • View the earth from space and spin it in any direction or orientation.
  • Fly to various locations around the world from where you start- this is one of my personal favorite features. If you start by looking at the state of Vermont and choose to see South Africa, it will fly you up into space and down again into the new country. That’s just fun!
  • Zoom in to see whole geographical areas or zoom in so far you are on the street level- meaning you can see the images of the street itself and see what it’s really like there.
  • Choose overlays for the maps so you can see weather, landmarks, etc
  • Look at pictures people have uploaded of local landmarks, people, places, etc- when you zoom in you’ll see picture icons you can click on. What a great way to take a virtual field trip!

How to Use Google Earth in Your Homeschool

Google Earth Resources

There are a lot of ideas, tutorials, and helpful tips on using Google Earth. Here are some of the best that I found in my brief search.

  • Google Earth Lessons while perusing some of my homeschooling bookmarks.
  • Google Earth User Manual for Earth Science Teachers – Just look at the table of contents and you’ll see what I mean. Ok…maybe you won’t. The science teacher in me is definitely making plans for this. Curriculum is being written in my head. Instructional gems just effortlessly coming to the surface as I think of how we could use this in our school.
  • Google Earth for Educators– A Google site all about using Google Earth in the classroom. There are classroom resources, tutorials & tips, showcased work, and a spot to connect with other users.
  • Google Earth Lessons from Juicy Geography– This set shows how versatile your lessons can be with Google Earth
  • Lesson Plan Library– from Google Earth for Educators. I didn’t want you to miss this one. Some of these are fabulous and I think it’s a great place for learning what you can do with Google Earth with your own curriculum and lessons.
  • Teaching with Google Earth– A comprehensive look at how to use this tool
  • Google Earth You Tube Channel– The place for video help on Google Earth. I hope they’ll add more here.
  • Google Earth App– If you are an Android user, you can get Google Earth on your phone or tablet.

How to Use Google Earth in Your Homeschool

 

Google Earth Quick Start Activities

Getting started with Google Earth can feel a little intimidating, so I pulled some activities for getting to know this tool easily. You can choose activities for any age student.

  • Google Earth User Guide– Outlines everything you can do with Google Earth
  • 5 Easy Things to Do in Google Earth– Fun activities like looking up your house, touring the world, and viewing recent historical activity in an area
  • Ready to Use Lessons– from Pedagogy in Action. I think it might be worth doing more posts on specific topics using Google Earth. There’s a lot out there!
  • Find Your House– This one is always fascinating for new Google Earth users.
  • Navigate around Town– This is one my younger kids used to love to do. Have them locate your town and find the places you frequent. My youngest used to make a video game out of it by going to “street view” and finding his way to the grocery store and all the other places in town we go to. Fun activity!
  • Physics Lesson Using a Bus Route– For the older kids you can map bus routes with distances and rates and determine speeds using bus route information.
  • Find Ocean Basins & Other Physical Geography Features– Check out the continental shelves surrounding each continent before the ocean gets super deep. River deltas like those of the Amazon, Nile, and Mississippi are interesting from satellite images as well.

Google Earth is a great tool for your homeschool. There’s a wealth of free resources and information on how to use it to your student’s greatest advantage.  Download it today and let your kids enjoy some virtual geography!

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Exploring Oceanography in Your Homeschool

Exploring Oceanography in Your Homeschool

 This post contains affiliate links. Thanks for your support!

Studying the ocean is one of my favorite homeschool teaching topics. There’s such an expanse of material to enjoy. It’s got all sorts of science from physics (waves) to biology and chemistry. The habitat is complex, the animals diverse and amazing, and there are still unsolved mysteries for scientists to tackle. Oceanography was easily my favorite class in graduate school! After all, I was a scientist taking lots of graduate classes in education- of course my favorite class would be my science electives!

Just like there is no shortage of topics to study in oceanography, you’ll be excited to know that the resources available to help you teach it are no less expansive. Today’s post is all about Exploring Oceanography in Your Homeschool.

Basic Concepts in Oceanography

Oceanography is a wide area of study with many options, but here is a list of the basic concepts a study in oceans might entail. The older your students, the more in depth you can go with the topics. It’s fascinating to go beyond habitat and ocean life and study how oceans behave. Don’t miss out on learning about large scale ocean behaviors like The Coriolis Effect.

Exploring Oceanography in Your Homeschool

 

  • Name and Map the Oceans– Basic ocean geography and definition of an ocean
  • Composition of Ocean Water– What’s in sea water and what’s it made of?
  • Ocean Zones– Light determines a lot about how creatures live in the water. Learn about habitats and characteristics at various ocean depths.
  • Animals and Critters– Study animals and plants found in marine habitats.
  • Ocean behavior– currents, waves, and tides
  • Large Scale Phenomena– The Coriolis Effect, winds
  • Beaches– Erosion, barrier islands
  • Navigating the Ocean– How do people get around? What equipment do they use?
  • Ocean Floor– What’s down there? How do you study it? Can you map it?

 

Exploring Oceanography in Your Homeschool

Resources for Oceanography Studies

Below are some of our favorite resources on oceanography including curriculum, notebooking materials, and books.
Sea Life Notebook Pages | Harrington Harmonies

  • Sea Life Notebook Pages– These are fun set of pages which cover any sea animal you’d like to study. If you don’t find the one you need, then there are blank pages for you to use. The boys used their Kindles to do some research and jot down facts on their notebook pages. They are working on an animal report for writing.
  • NorthStar Geography– Middle and high school geography curriculum with a section on physical geography including the hydrosphere and oceans.
  • WinterPromise Sea & Sky– Our 4th and 7th graders are working through Sea & Sky this year. There’s a lot of ocean science involved which is fun for adventurous boys.
  • Amanda Bennett Oceans– A four week study of the world’s oceans.
  • Usborne Discovery Books– On various animals
  • Ocean by DK– Stunning pictures and information on oceans
  • Oceans for Every Kid– A Janice VanCleave book with ocean experiments
  • Awesome Ocean Science– An elementary book on ocean science
  • The Ocean Book– Marine activities from an aquatic center
  • Ocean-Opoly– A board game that plays like Monopoly with lots of ocean facts

 

Oceanography for Middle School

Media Options for Oceanography

It’s fun to watch videos about the ocean. Who doesn’t love seeing the creatures from the deep or sharks in their own habitat. The internet is a treasure trove of underwater exploration.

These are just a few examples of the wealth of information and fun videos you can find using YouTube. Do you know how to make a YouTube play list? It’s a great way to line up great videos for your kids for school.

Other Blog, She Wrote Posts Related to Oceanography

This isn’t the first time we’ve encountered the ocean in our studies. Here’s a look back at some recent and not so recent experiences from the past.

With a little time and some basic resources, your family can engage in a comprehensive study of Oceanography.

Geography bundle -- North Star Geography and WonderMaps

 

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