Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Our Plan for the Year: Science (Books *and* Things *and* Drawings)

Before launching into science, I want to point out some little gems over at ChildLightUSA. A few years back, Carroll Smith gave a keynote presentation on nature study, available in PDF and audio. His talk kept me riveted and illuminated why nature study is indispensable. Mother and daughter team Deborah and Holly Anne Dobbins present nature study for beginners every year and have written articles in 2008 and 2007 too. Finally, Nicole Hutchinson, aspiring principal of the future Gillingham Charter School, discussed Revealing the Beauty and Power of the World through Science Instruction a few years back. All of these resources show how to apply Charlotte Masons with students in schools and homes of our day.

In a recent post, Carroll amplified an article written in 1915. What? That's a century ago! I know! Current research on education and how children learn and remember (which is not the same as memorize and regurgitate) concur with highlights from this post:
  • Before beginning the new material, bring up something previously learned that has a connection.
  • Use simple inexpensive materials that are easily available and even re-purposed stuff you might have thrown away.
  • Focus on comparing and contrasting (or a same, but different point of view) in studying new ideas.
  • Read a living book to expand upon what is being studied or to make a new connection to something that cannot be studied directly.
  • Keep lessons, readings, and narrations short--anything beyond a child's attention span is demoralizing.
  • Examine drawings and diagrams and try some copywork.
  • Get out of the classroom and into the real world, especially outdoors where many scientific ideas are waiting to be explored.
  • Encourage self-directed learning.
  • Focus on forming relationships with the things and people being studied.
  • Consider what stages of scientific learning (thank you, Jennifer Gagnon) your child has accomplished and avoid pushing beyond what they are ready to do.
  • Learn with your students and start living in a larger world as described by Beth Pinckney!

We will read some living books on a variety of topics: biographies of Alexander Graham Bell and Louis Braille, stories about animals and other creatures, weather books, and books on inventions. With the help of reference books for me, we are also exploring gardening, doing some weather experiments, and testing out electricity and magnetism (TOPS Learning System's Electricity 32 and Magnetism 33).

We have been at this for over a week now and, if you made it this far, you are probably asking, "How's this working for you?" You can tell me based on what we did last week. In addition to nature study, we explored quite a few things. We kicked off the week beginning with our weekly weather observations and Pamela said, "Just like Ken Brockman!" (a reporter on The Simpsons). While our weather station, a gift from our niece, looks fancy and all, the rain gauge is a jar and ruler. Since we are doing weekly reports, we close the jar after every rain. Pamela's smile the first time we looked at the rain jar was priceless!

Pamela recorded her weather observations and a simple weather demonstration, which you can click for a larger view.

A truly exciting moment happened while trying build a circuit and light a flashlight bulb. The instructions say to let the child explore various ways of building a circuit until they find the right one. When we stumbled upon the way to generate heat (and drain the *ahem* dry cell--don't let your eyes deceive you, those are dry cells), Pamela's face beamed in amazement. Eventually, she figured out how to turn on the light and determined the contact points for dry cell and bulb. Steve, our resident electrical engineer, was thoroughly impressed when we walked in on us building circuits. (This is the man who had to build a calculator that could add from scratch for one of his classes.)

But wait! There's more. To kick off learning about the ear, Pamela drew three pictures of the ear with lovely detail. Then, we built a simulated ear drum, or soundscope. Not only did Pamela feel the balloon vibrate when I talked into it, she could see how the movement varied according to pitch and volume. How? In a dark closet, I shined a flashlight on the shiny spot, which was reflected to the wall. Pamela described the types of movement as I made high or low sounds, soft or loud sounds. It took a little coordination for us to get in a groove, but once we did, her eyes brightened as she figured out the pattern.

The work we did in Excel to plan for our garden and drawing a paddle wheel from to illustrate the title of the first chapter of one book was not the most exciting thing. The baby vulture living in a family's kitchen creeped me out in another, and the owl that liked watching old Westerns on television fascinated Pamela. I enjoyed reading from our weather book:
The sky is a constant reminder of both the power and the beauty of nature. The atmosphere that surrounds Earth is a complex weather machine--fascinating to watch and, occasionally, a brutal experience to suffer . . . The sky is alive, changing constantly, often before our eyes. All we need do is look up to enjoy the glory of one of nature's most fascinating and accessible phenomena.

Were we outdoors much? On our walks for exercise and swamp fox hunting, we noticed all sorts of mushrooms popping up around the neighborhood because of the rain. Pamela found a dead cloudless sulphur butterfly that we will do a nature study on later this week. We got caught in a light rain shower, which was the highlight for that day! We studied the skies for weather reports and collected two inches of rain and spent a few minutes observing and drawing our pear tree.

Did Pamela experience any moments of awe and wonder? Oh, yes! It blossomed on her face several times. Did I? I did a Snoopy dance when we finally figured out how to light the bulb and mustered enough coordination to demonstrate the sound scope.

And, just how did we manage to pack all that into one week and have time for other subjects?


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