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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Exploring Oceanography in Your Homeschool

Exploring Oceanography in Your Homeschool

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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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Geography Quest: Great Backyard Bird Count Edition

 

Geography Quest Great Backyard Bird Count Edition

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It’s that time of year again! When families everywhere will be counting the birds that come to their yards in the Great Backyard Bird Count (GBBC) sponsored by The Cornell Lab of Ornithology, Audubon Society, and Bird Studies Canada. This year’s count takes place on February 13- 16, 2015.

Observe & Submit Your Bird Checklist

Have you participated in the GBBC before? If not, you can read all about how to get started. It’s a pretty easy gig:

  • Register or log in for the count.
  • Count birds for at least 15 minutes a day on one or more days of the GBBC.
  • You can count for longer than 15 minutes and you can count birds on as many days and in as many places as you’d like during the GBBC.
  • Read the directionsfor submitting the checklists using the checklist page or the new app.
  • Do you regularly use eBird? eBird is another website where you can submit bird sightings year round. If you are already an eBird user, please use your eBird account and your observations during these dates will count toward the GBBC. That is great information because I did not know that.

Use GBBC Data to Map The Results

Did you know you can access historical data on the GBBC? This would be a fun map making adventure.

  • There a few map options available to explore on the website.
  • Toggle between top ten lists for species and the map room to find what to map.
  • Pick a favorite bird species and map its populations in North America- or name any location.
  • Observe the data and see if you can find winter patterns or to see if any migration patterns emerge.
  • Look to see if there are patterns in the activity of a species using the places page.
  • What other types of maps could you make using the data from the GBBC? Tell us about them!

Resources for the GBBC

Need some help to keep things easy? Here are a few resources made available by the folks with the GBBC.

  • Create your own tally sheet.
  • A downloadable pdf data form
  • Birding apps recommended by the GBBC- this makes it easy to keep track of the birds you see and you can use it to log your results when the count is complete.
  • iBird Pro mobile bird guide- It’s got a thorough library of bird species information, calls, pictures, etc. This is one of the few apps I’ve paid for for my phone!
  • Merlin– this is a new app by the Cornell Lab of Ornithology. This looks pretty good although it’s not available for Android until the spring. Bummer! It’s a bird ID guide- I saw the prototype at the lab a couple years ago and it’s fun to use.

Join us this weekend to count some backyard birds and submit your results to the GBBC. Our feeder needs filling before we get more snow tomorrow. We see a bunch of birds daily out there enjoying our black oil sunflower seeds. I’m looking forward to officially tallying them this weekend.
Bird Notebook Pages | Harrington Harmonies Need a great way to record your birds during the count? Check out these bird notebooking pages from Harrington Harmonies.

 

 

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