Thursday, September 20, 2012

Hands-on explorations: Science with Mr. Q.

Well, you all know we homeschool, but what some folks (including US!) may have forgotten is that we homeSCHOOL.  With an emphasis on school:  subjects, learning… I know, what with summertime and all these holidays this month, it’s a pretty radical concept.

Today we did a science activity.  New this year, I’m no longer calling our science activities “experiments,” but rather “explorations.”  Why?  Well, first of all, this isn’t exactly ground-breaking science, and second (most importantly), I’ve concluded that everything I call an experiment is doomed to failure. 

In what was perhaps one of the flakiest but best-advised things I’ve done as a homeschooling parent, we’ve skipped out on the rest of Apologia Flying Creatures

Our new science program is called – improbably enough – Mr. Q Earth Science and, believe it or not, it is a reading-based, classically-oriented program that MAY (it remains to be seen) offer that elusive balance between easy, fun hands-on activities, workbooky student activities and readable “together-time” chapters.  We have read Chapters 1 and 2 so far together and greatly enjoyed them.

The cons of this program were many, which is why I didn’t dive in sooner:  it’s expensive, it’s about a bazillion pages, and it’s only available as a pair of PDFs.  Once you have the PDFs, you get to decide what to print and what to read on-screen (ick).  Printing the whole package would probably cost $100 and would be a tremendous waste.

If you think you might be interested in the program, by the way,  you can actually download and use the entire one-year Life Science curriculum totally, totally free.  If we hadn’t just done Life Science for 3 years running, that’s what I would have done for sure, but we were more than ready for something new, besides the fact that Earth Science is where we’re “at” in the Well-Trained Mind curriculum outline for science.

I did a couple of things before jumping in:  I waited until the program went on sale, back in January, and bought it then for 50% off.  As far as I know, he runs the sale every year, so if it’s working out for us, I may buy the next program then… or I may not, since I don’t know what the next couple of years will hold.  Once I had the enormous PDFs, I went through the student pages, page by page, flagging the activity pages only for printing.  I used PDFill, my PDF-tweaking program, to extract the printable pages and sent them to Staples.  The remaining pages of the student book, I extracted as a PDF and stuck on my Kobo.   As for the parent guide, I’m keeping it on the hard drive for now and printing out pages as necessary, as I did for today’s “exploration.”

Mr. Q goes into great detail in the Parents’ Guide about his approach to experiments, which are called ESP Activities (it stands for “Exploring Scientific Procedures”).  This is very helpful for us non-scientist types, explaining Dependent and Independent variables, questions, hypotheses, and what to do with your data.  You can find this useful introduction in the free Life Science edition of the Parents’ Guide as well, though the fonts are a bit more obnoxious. 

For now, I didn’t share most of the complexities with the kids – I just printed the page and jumped right in.  Pan, flour, cocoa – now this is my kind of experiment – I mean, Exploration.  This being Earth Science and the topic being stuff floating around in space and/or falling to earth, we were exploring meteors and the craters they make… simulated with a marble dropping from various heights.  Easy – an experiment even I can’t mess up!  We got our rules, dropped our marbles, and measured the various craters.

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The idea is that the cocoa layer creates a nice contrast with the flour, so you can easily see and measure the crater’s diameter.  It worked well for the first one, but after that, it kind of got messed up and the craters were harder to measure.  But we did notice that the height and diameter were correlated, so at the end, after testing values ranging from 5 to 30cm (another con of Mr. Q is that it mostly uses imperial measurements), I told the kids I’d drop the marble from the ceiling to see what happened.

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To me, a bit underwhelming, but the kids were impressed that it cleared away all the flour.  And Naomi was impressed because instead of throwing away the flour when we were done, I let her add in a few ingredients to turn it into a cake.  (not a suggestion of the book, and not recommended because she added too much water and not enough baking powder, and it turned into a kind-of-lousy, rubbery cake).

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Along the way from experiment to cake, we did a nice T-chart with our values and I showed her how we could create a graph with the values, if we were so inclined.  But because we took turns dropping the marble, and other variables beyond our control, it didn’t make such a beautiful line and I couldn’t tell if it was supposed to be a line or a curve at all.  Still – I think we captured the basics, though we didn’t get into potential sources of error, another area for further exploration.

At the end, I asked Naomi to sum up her conclusions and she came up with one of her usual wishy-washy sentences:  “the higher it went, the bigger it got.”  Which is true, but rather meaningless.  I asked her to avoid the words “it” and use more specific, active verbs (went? got?).  She tried again and came up with, “the higher up the marble was dropped from, the bigger the crater it made.”

So that’s science.  Our other exploration this week was in math, and I’m going to stick it in another post so I can submit it to the super-cool, super-geeky Math Teachers at Play blog carnival!

I don’t think science itself is the challenge, actually… it’s finding the TIME for science when we have all these “3-R weeks” in a row where time is so short that we have to concentrate on the basics.  And then we get mired in writing and grammar and phonics and chumash and start thinking that’s all there is, when the really meaty stuff, the history and geography and science and music and art are all simmering away on back burners just waiting, in some cases, whistling shrilly like my kettle does, begging to get taken down and learned.

So I know I’m not the only homeschool parent who is (still!) finding science a challenge… have experiments / explorations helped you make it fun and “real” for your kids???

3 comments:

  1. We do the creatures that fly curriculum - I think the one you tossed! ;) So far, my kiddos find it interesting, but we don't do a lot with the notebook. We also do lots of regular experiments...or should I say explorations?

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  2. @Amital - don't get me wrong; I didn't "toss" the Flying Creatures curriculum. I like the book very much and intend to keep it for the kids to read on their own, and for reference (with parental supervision to talk about anything that differs from our views, of which there's plenty). According to my records, we started it in late September of 2011, and got through surprisingly few chapters in that time. Nevertheless, having stuck with it a year, and done two years in a row of Life Science, I was somewhat desperate for a change. Mr. Q is snappy and fun... this may be just what we need. :-)

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  3. We're doing Earth Science this year too, but since she's in 6th grade we're using mostly the recommended books. We just started Chemistry for the 3rd grader and did the first experiment in Adventures with Atoms & Molecules. I'm not much into doing the experiments but these seem doable. We're also using Real Science 4 Kids too which I like.

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