The name Janice VanCleave has been synonymous with teaching science successfully for many years. Now, this scientist, teacher, and award-winning book author has become a tech-savvy online curriculum developer, reaching a whole new generation of young scientists and their families via the Internet.
Janice VanCleave’s web site, “Science Project Ideas for Kids” (http://scienceprojectideasforkids.com/) offers comprehensive science instruction and experiments that anyone can perform right from home. From Astronomy to Physics, lessons combine the most successful strategies used in VanCleave’s best-selling science books with practical advice and down-to-earth teaching strategies that bring science directly into kitchens, dining rooms and computer rooms all around the globe.
Not long ago, I had the pleasure of interviewing Janice VanCleave and hearing much more about her contributions to science in the traditional classroom and through her latest endeavor — working with homeschoolers and other families from home. I asked her what makes science so fascinating to her, and how to nurture and reward that same kind of fascination in a child.
During this interview, a 3-part series, you’ll hear Janice talk about everything from how children discover scientific explorations, to encouraging them to express their own ideas, to what subjects are needed to prepare children for college and careers. Janice also shared her views on evolution, global warming, and other issues that seem to find themselves at the center of scientific debates.
Here is the first installment of our 3-part interview. Stay tuned to read the rest of our fascinating conversation over the coming weeks. Subscribe to our feed — you won’t want to miss a thing!
MCM: “Ms. VanCleave, you have been a scientist your entire life. How were you first introduced to science as a child and what is it about science that still fascinates you today?”
JVC: “I had no formal introduction to science. In fact, I liked science before I knew it was science. I observed, expressed problems, made hypotheses, experimented, analyzed results, and drew conclusions long before I ever heard of the scientific method.
For example, at age 10 I had this experience:
Observed: Tarzan in movies ran and grabbed a hanging grape vine and swung up into a tree.
Problem: Could I swing like Tarzan?
Hypothesis: If I can find a strong grapevine that will hold me, I can run -grab the vine and swing up into the next tree.
Experiment: I could hardly wait to get home from the movies to test my plan. I was so positive that I would be able to swing just like Tarzan. After testing the strength of a large grapevine, ran as fast as I could, grabbed the vine and — nothing! I was so disappointed.
Analyzed the Results: I did not swing at all, much less up into the next tree. Tested the vine several times to make sure I’d done it right.
Conclusion: I missed something. Tarzan must have done something else. I could hardly wait to go back to the movies the next weekend. Tarzan was to be on again and I needed to watch his every move. No doubt I was the most observant kid at the movies. Yep – he ran on the ground, grabbed a vine hanging vertical, and swung up into a tree. Maybe I didn’t run fast enough.
After another failed effort to swing like Tarzan, I sadly decided that Tarzan was a fake.
As a child I was not content until I figured out how things worked. I was so excited when my windup music box fell and broke because I was able to investigate how the sounds were produced. This curiosity and desire to discover what makes things tick has increased with age.”
MCM: “You are a science teacher who has written over 50 science books and worked with countless families over the years. What have you discovered that young learners love most about science?”
JVC: “This is easy — they want to do something themselves and they want to do it right now! One tip for teaching science is to plan ahead and have all the materials needed for an investigation. For example, one summer I let my Grandson pick out the science experiments he wanted to do during his visit. The needed materials were purchased along with the foods he wanted to eat.
Some kids want one-on-one attention. Others are happy to receive approval for their work. My grandson did not want to go exploring by himself, but as a kid I loved being by myself and had tea parties and explored imaginary uncharted wilderness with imaginary friends.
That summer, my grandson and I explored the area around my house where Native Americans had lived in the past. No arrow heads were found but we imagined that the red iron spots on rocks were blood stains. We discussed where the blood came from. Maybe from a battle, or a deer had been killed for food, or —-the possibilities were endless. Is this science? Absolutely — and it is very needed. Kids need to form more mental pictures. They need to do more imagining.
As a child, “Play-like” was said so often that it got shortened to “Plike.”
Plike you are my cat—and the imaginary scene unfolds.
I love my computer and hope never to live again without central air and heat. But these two modern advancements makes it harder to get kids to do outdoor investigating. Oops, I am digressing!”
MCM: “Do students appreciate science differently as they grow up?”
JVC: “Some do. My daughter had little to no interest in science when she was a kid. In fact, she would ask me not to do science stuff when she brought friends home. You would think I stood by the door with a net waiting to capture some unsuspecting kid—dragging them off to my laboratory! Not much changed until she started homeschooling her own children. She called one day so excited—‘Mom! Have you seen a butterfly breakout of it shell?’ I later introduced the term chrysalis, and allowed her to tell me all about the ‘hatching’ of butterflies. The mom who now thinks science is cool was the teen who announced to friends that her canary must be pregnant because the bird was so fat!”
(Photo courtesy of Janice VanCleave, Science Project Ideas for Kids)