Learning science with Janice VanCleave (Part 3)

Science Explorations by Janice VanCleave

If you have been following the series, you have already read how young children experience science and some of the ways to capture a student’s attention and foster curiosity as they grow (if you missed previous parts of the interview, start HERE.)

In this final installment of my interview with best-selling author and science teacher, Janice VanCleave, you’ll find teaching and book recommendations especially designed for homeschool families, and for children of all ages.  You’ll also hear Janice talking candidly about public education and sharing her views on some of the hot-button topics that sometimes surround curriculum selection in the homeschooling marketplace.

Be sure to visit Science Project Ideas for Kids at http://scienceprojectideasforkids.com/ to continue learning from Janice VanCleave through her web site and free online lesson plans.  Readers may also contact her using the contact information given below.

MCM: “How have homeschooling families used your books with their children and which, if any, would you most recommend for families that are just starting to homeschool?”

JVC: “My books were designed to enrich science curriculum. “Teaching the Fun of Science to Young Learners” introduces the scientific method, also referred to as the inquiry approach for problem solving. While it was designed for young learners, the information is needed at any level. This book has teaching tips for each topic along with activities and investigations. The objective is to provide ideas that guide kids to discover answers via investigations and experimentation.

“Teaching the Fun of Science” and “Teaching the Fun of Math” are useful for elementary as well as middle school. They are not curriculum books. Instead they are tiny bites to whet the appetite. I call the experiments exploratory investigations, which means they provide information and a starting point for further discovery.

Kids in public school too often do not feel comfortable expressing their ideas because of peer criticism. While some children are organized and provide reasonable ideas, others may give what seem to be wild-outrageous answers. Within reason—positively accept all answers, and then guide the kids to designing investigations to test their ideas. This helps to reign in what I call “out in space” ideas.

My point is that no matter what books you use to teach science, don’t let the book limit science discovery. Encourage kids to express their ideas. When working with a group of kids, I set the rule that there can be no repeat answers. So everyone that volunteers has to provide a different idea. Yes, it forces kids to think up stuff that may not be correct, but it makes them think. Then I ask, “Can all of your answers be correct?” If they yes, I frown. They quickly say no and I frown again. Someone gives the right answer–”Maybe.”  If I do nothing else, I hope to teach kids that science is in a constant state of change. That nothing in science should be considered absolutely correct. Instead, it is as correct or accurate as the tools used to determine it.”

MCM: “Which of your materials and projects tend to be more appealing or appropriate for middle and high school students?”

JVC: “There is a series of A+ Project books designed for older kids. The experiments are not difficult. The difference is that the explanations are more enriched. I used my experiments when I taught physics and chemistry—as I stated earlier, they enrich curriculum but are not meant to be used as a comprehensive curriculum.”

MCM: “Through your web site, you offer science activities, hands-on experiments, science fair ideas, and more. How can homeschool families incorporate these lessons and activities into the school day?”

JVC: “I recently added a homeschool project tab on the navigation bar of my website. The first introductory activity was field tested by a homeschool mom. She and I exchanged ideas and I tweaked the activity to make it more homeschool-friendly. Since then, I have exchanged ideas with many different homeschooler — just about when I think I have the ‘perfect’ format for science activities, more information comes in and more improvements are made. So, don’t be surprised if the format for each activity is a bit different. My new idea is to advertise my latest ‘brain storm’ in the side bar. This is an example of how even writing about science changes as more data is collected.”

MCM: “More importantly, will families be able to easily gather materials and perform these projects on their own?”

JVC: “While I have the materials around my house, this is not to say it’s the norm. I had three sacks of worms on my coffee table last week—they were for an elementary school. But my husband of 52 years never noticed. They were an interesting conversation piece when a neighbor visited for the first time. I digress—yes! I use things that can be purchased at a local store—Wal-Mart—etc.. But while visiting NY I didn’t see a Wal-Mart in Manhattan—so, if anyone cannot find the materials—contact me and I’ll help you make substitutes with materials that you do have.

MCM: “What are you working on now that we can look forward to in the future?”

JVC: “I will continue to add homeschool projects to my website.   There is a list of draft projects on the introductory page. I need homeschoolers to try these experiments and to send me information, such as how they adapted it for their group, questions that kids asked, ideas for making it more effective with a multi-age group, etc…  The idea for the homeschool projects is for homeschoolers to have a place they can find answers that really work. Well, in order to do this, I need homeschoolers to help me tweak investigations to make them homeschool-friendly.

Also, I want homeschoolers to feel comfortable about asking questions about science. Instead of leaving comments on the website, I prefer to be contacted via email. This allows me to correspond directly and ask permission to post the information discussed. 

The material on my website is free and I have no intentions at this time of publishing and selling the work. But know that I reserve the rights to do that if I ever needed to.”

MCM: “How can you be reached?”

The contact information on my website is for this email address:  ASKJVC@aol.com.  I read and respond to my own email. I do plan to have a newsletter for homeschoolers—soon. If any of you have ideas for the newsletter, please send them.

I really want to offer more ideas for linking science to other topics. A friend asked me to design activities for different story books. She was  visiting a new library in Ethiopia and wanted to have fun with the kids. Homemade perfume was perfect for the book–”Ferdinand the Bull.” You can find this on my website.”

MCM: “Is there anything else you’d like to add?”

JVC: “You didn’t ask about evolution, but I would like to express my views.  I personally believe that God, Jesus Christ created everything.   When teaching science in public school, I never discussed evolution or creation unless a student asked. Then, I stated that I supported creation and generally advised young kids to discuss it with their parents.

My believing in creation wasn’t a surprise to my students because I taught many of them in Vacation Bible School and/or J.A.M. (Jesus and Me) as well as being a counselor at church camp. Science for me is an extension of Bible study. In fact, I use science investigations to teach Bible lessons. My one Bible publication is, “Hands-on Bible Explorations.” If you are interested, you can find Bible lessons that I write on this website, www.Jesusdiditall.com

It’s not the evolution information that I object to. Instead, teaching kids that the accuracy of the evolution theory should not be questioned is an archaic way of thinking. It patterns the attitude of those who for two thousand years stifled any scientific advancement contrary to Aristotle’s scientific philosophies.  Only when we question the accuracy of currently accepted science theories will new information be discovered. Galileo was punished because he dared to suggest that the Earth revolves around the Sun. He was forced to swear that he was wrong and that the Earth was the center of the universe and everything, even the Sun revolved around the Earth. Are scientists today being forced to fit everything into an “evolution mold” in order to obtain grants or other funding? 

Jumping on the Global Warming Band Wagon is considered to be PC, politically correct. I assume this means that politicians, if elected, will correct the problem. Personally, I have doubts about a global climate change. Maybe, but maybe not.

I seem to be striking out on two big PC issues — evolution and global warming. But then there is being green and all the green-terms, such as organic foods, all natural, and no chemicals. These are some of my favorite things to talk about. I think I will add a “Green” tab on my website. In fact, I am going to do that now. You can discover if I am on the Green Band Wagon.”

Continue following Science Project Ideas for Kids and the work of Janice VanCleave HERE.

To read previous portions of this interview, click HERE and HERE.

Post your COMMENT or question about this article, below.  Conact Janice VanCleave directly HERE.



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