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Entries in science (41)



Teaching cell biology to an octopus today


Lego photosynthesis

6CO2 + 6H20 = C6H12O6 + 6O2

Hands on learning doesn't always have to mean getting your hands truly dirty. There is no easy way to put your hands on Photosynthesis. Our current science unit is about plant cells and their functions, and without a high tech lab, anything beyond viewing onion skin in a child's microscope is out of our league, but that doesn't mean we have to give up our usual hands-on approach, it just means we have to be a a little more creative in our lessons, or a little more loose in our definition of hands on.

Earlier in the week we took cuttings from plants around the yard and looked at their apical leaves through hand-held magnifiers to get a good feel for how they really grow. To cement that understanding we drew comics illustrating the process, and continued to watch our basil plants grow in the hot weather all week long. But photosynthesis is a bit trickier.

We have been using Building Foundations of Scientific Understanding for about six years now. We started with Volume I in the early years and this past year we finished Volume II while beginning Volume III. Aside from the fluidity of the books, one of the things I have loved about them without reserve is the focus on physical learning. Nearly every lesson provides a clearly explained project that gives kids a chance to literally feel their way through the topic. And I'm not talking about baking soda and vinegar volcanoes. The experiments and demonstrations included by Nebel are entirely topic appropriate and devoid of nonsensical gimmicks.

So while we couldn't actually witness the enzymatic process involved in Photosynthesis, the recommendation was that we use blocks, styrofoam, or any other physical product to symbolize the molecules involved and work the process ourselves as though we were the enzymes. With the caveat that it is clearly simplified, and that more than one enzyme is required in a real plant, we still got a good feel for how the greenery in our lives is constantly at work breaking down CO2 and providing us with O2. It's a little physical, a little mathematical, a lot scientific, and entirely, educationally, fun.  


Baby owls

Another beautiful, sunny morning promising soft, enjoyable afternoon temps today. Last week we went on an afternoon hike, Jon enjoying a rare respite from work in the fresh air, to go see the baby owls in Eberwhite Woods. In a nature loving, family oriented town like Ann Arbor, it didn't take long for people to find, and then news to spread about, the family of Great Horned Owls nesting in the wood adjacent to a local elementary school. With tree leaves not out yet, the nest and its growing babies have been visible, easy to find even, and the woods has seen more frequent traffic than probably any other time in its history. On our own first pilgrimage a week ago we found the owls easily, and enjoyed watching the babies peer at us intently over the side of the nest before stretching their wings and toddling around in it. 

The wonderful thing about homeschooling is flexibility. When I planning the year out, slaving over a computer calendar poolside in Stratford last summer, I commuted our science book studies in favor of hiking time for most of the month of May. Then, when good weather arrived early, and the allure of owls was too great to ignore, I swapped some April weeks for May weeks in order to free up some time to breath in teh warming air, soak up the brightening sun, and strike out into the woods in serach of owls. So that first pilgrimage was followed by several others as we watched the owls stretch and toddle with more alacrity until the first one fell out and proceded to grow and develop on the ground. 

We learned a lot from our almost daily hikes in the past week. We looked up Great Horned Owls and learned about their development—their growth, their instincts, their learned behaviors—and we learned about the goodness, or protectiveness, of the people around us. the entire experience has been incredibly sweet.


Field studies

Science! Unlike art, science is a subject I feel almost completely at home with, especially when it comes to the life sciences thread. I think one of my favorite times of year, or favorite annual school studies, is the time for spring science, for getting outside again and witnessing nature come back to life. We always start our weekly hikes just before the earth really starts to warm up so that we can watch weekly changes happening in the spaces around us. Later we look for signs that the bird migration will come through and we go in search of as many migrating species as we can find, a "collect them all" that is pock-book and earth friendly. 

And we also use this time to look at life on a microscopic scale, an activity which makes us feel very, very large all of a sudden.


November Nature

Golden hues, the smell of crispy leaves, the rustling of digging squirrels. These are some of the things that define fall for me. That and football games, apple pie, pumpkin everything, and brisk nights, not to mention a new focus on school and studies. We combined some of the above today by taking our science study out into the field to merge it with the signs of fall.

There are certain things that we study with lesson specificity, others, though, we learn more through rhetoric and reality. To me, arithmetic is learned in sprints, while reading and writing is a marathon study—slow, steady, and more a way of living than a way of studying. Science can be either. We'll learn the periodic table in a sprint, but lessons like evolution and seasons are better trained for like an ultra-marathon. These are a fundamental way of thinking about, speaking about, and seeing the world around us.

So we learn them by doing exactly that. A book can tell us about different species, it can even define for us how their aspects evolved, but only field work and discussion can give a person a feel for what those things mean and the ability to problem solve with that understanding on their own. In the woods today we talked about the adaptations species in our area have for enduring the deprivation of the winter months. We visited about seeing these adaptations at work, especially in the trees. And we chatted about the migrating location of the sun in our sky and the aspects of our orbit that define that movement.

We are several years into studying these concepts, and our introduction to them came from the early chapters of BFSU and from reading and discussions at home, but we build on that introductory learning by living the concepts and seeing them in the living things around them. This isn't homeschooling, per se. It's life schooling, or learning through life itself. This is the way of thinking, the way of being, that we strive for every day.