In this second installment of my series, I continue my interview with extraordinary science teacher and award-winning author, Janice VanCleave. (If you missed the first part, find it HERE.)
Today, you’ll hear from Janice about talking to young children about science, using the scientific process, the importance of both math and science as students grow, and so much more!
Continue to stay tuned as I wrap up the series next week – remember to check back or subscribe to the feed so you don’t miss the very inspirational finale.
MCM: “There is estimated to be some 2.5 million practicing homeschoolers nationwide. Most of these families include science as part of the core curriculum. As homeschooling grows in popularity and numbers, what message would you like to send to homeschooling parents about teaching science at home?”
JVC: “I am thrilled that science is part of the core curriculum for homeschoolers. My suggestion to any educator teaching science is to guide kids so that they have panoramic vision instead of tunnel-vision. Maybe even a bit of imaginary telescopic- as well as microscopic-vision. In other words, encourage kids to ask why and not to just accept answers. Yes, there are many times that you will not know the answer because no one really knows. But the answer isn’t, “That’s just the way it is.” Instead, the answer could be, “This is all that is known about the topic at this time.” I promote the idea that while some things are accepted as absolute right now, it is just a matter of time before new technology enlarges the window through which we view the world.
For example, when your child helps you make a box cake—introduce, “I wonder?” questions. These lead to investigations, such as:
“I wonder…what would happen to the cake if we didn’t add the egg?”
“I wonder…does it matter if we use orange juice instead of water?”
When children ask questions like, “Why is the sky blue?” or, “Where do rain puddles go?”, your answer should be—“I wonder…why is the sky blue? Let’s find out.” Whether you know the answer or not—you and your children will have fun as you investigate and discover the answers together. You can also “ASK JANICE” on my website. Your questions will be emailed to me. Not that I know all the answers to science questions, but if I don’t know you can count on my being curious. So, I will join you and your children, and as a team we will find the answers.”
MCM: “Do you believe there is a “right way” or a “wrong way” to teach school science?”
JVC: “Right? or Wrong? The more I learn about homeschooling, the only wrong way is to try to teach every child the same way. What is right for one family may be totally wrong for another. This is also true for children in the family. Some children need unschooling freedom, some need the security and comfort of structure, and others like me need a mixture of both.”
MCM: “What do you think should be included in any good science curriculum to prepare students for graduation, real life and careers in the sciences?”
JVC: “I think kids should learn as much science and math as possible. While I always loved science, I very much disliked school and had no desire to go to college. I wanted to quit school and go to a trade school. My usually easy-going dad firmly put his foot down. So, I doubled up on my courses, went to summer school and graduated early. I turned 16 in January, graduated in May ready to go to work and get an apartment. I started to college because I was too young to do anything else, and LOVED IT!!!
My point is that kids don’t know what is in their future—but science and math are useful tools for any career. Everyone is not going to be an astronaut, an astronomer, a doctor, a chemist, ecologist, etc…, but everyone benefits from knowing science.
In my Mom’s hat, I have helped my sons figure out how to clean different filters from their cars—a bit of chemistry about solvents—also applies to removing different stains from clothes.
As to math—how would I sew, make curtains, figure square yards of carpet for my office, triple a recipe, etc….
The scientific method is nothing more than a problem solving process. Instead of memorizing steps and dogmatically following them in order, it should be a natural process for finding solutions. The Tarzan rope swinging example (link to previous article) demonstrates this. It was a natural process for me then, but as an adult I can label the different process steps.
Introduce chemistry and physics investigations and concepts at the elementary level. Kids can do it. I recently took my grandchildren to a science museum and they loved the bubble makers, hitting pipes to make different sounds, using lights to create shadows, etc…. Every one of these activities could be duplicated on a smaller scale at home with age appropriate explanations. Tell kids they are learning about physics or chemistry. Introduce simple equations.
The worst part of education is that everything is separated—you do math, then history, then science, etc…. middle and high school science is often difficult because kids are taught math skills but they cannot use them to solve “word” problems. Teach “real life” math—not just numbers written on a page.
At 10, one of my granddaughters was visiting and I casually asked if she would like to learn some chemistry. “Do I have to?”, she said. It was a vacation visit so I told her, “Not if you don’t want to.” She asked, “Umm…does my Mom know chemistry?” and I said that her mom didn’t know much about chemistry. The precocious child then said, “I want to learn.” We played around with things that float and sink, and I introduced the term ‘density’. Just for fun we tested things and made comparisons of their densities. She was so anxious for her mom to come so she could show off how much chemistry she knew.
As I talked about earlier, cooking is one of the best opportunities to integrate math and chemistry. Create a recipe with fractions. Watch a cake baking –discuss why the batter expands and why the kitchen and the rest of the house smells so yummy!
If I were to choose one course that kids should master in high school it would be chemistry. But then, physics is so applicable and useful. “
[Photo: Janice VanCleave, Science Project Ideas for Kids]