Wednesday, February 8, 2012

book vs. experiential knowledge

Today is Tu B Shevat. We spent the morning with homeschooling co-op. The boys are in yoga together and are happy. I teach a toddler class, so I get exhausted by the end.

When we got home and had lunch, my 2 yo mercifully took a nap. I taught boys shivat minim and we played "go fish" with cards from (I don't know how people functioned before this website). We played one round in English and one in Hebrew. They went along, and, at least the older one, can name them now. Then we read a bit about each of the minim. I was hoping to get more formal schoolwork done, but tired mommy + antsy boys did not result in a good combination. 7 yo did some Rosetta Stone while I took a phone call.

Then we checked on the science experiments we set up yesterday. I used Janice Van Cleaver's book about plants. We soaked pinto beans to slip off seed coats and look inside; to see how water volume changes with soaking; and put some leaves in colored water to see water movement. I felt the experiments were very basic and not very exciting. I liked following the book, since I could reinforce reading directions and gathering materials before starting out to do something.

What happened today took me back to my middle school teaching days in Houston. First week I was teaching life science, I discovered that 7th graders have NEVER germinated beans. Consequently, they had no idea what would happen. They could not tell me how plants grow, which part emerges first, what conditions are necessary. I took a detour and hung ziploc bags with germinating seeds to show these kids what it's like. I remember thinking how deprived they were.

Today reminded me that there is nothing like a first-hand experience. Before we checked on our experiments, 7 yo volunteered hypotheses (thank you, Dinosaur Train) about what we'll see. He told me that soaked beans will multiply in a cup: we put in 10 yesterday and today there will be more. He also told me that the water level will rise. For the last experiment, he predicted that color will move through the leaf. He was shocked that there was same amount of beans as we put in and that water was absorbed. At that point, 5 yo went into detailed comparison of dry vs. soaked beans. We took off seed coats which 7 yo surmised were for protection and looked at plant embryos. I showed them radicle and immature leaves. When I asked why the leaves were white, 7 yo told me they did not have chlorophyll and could not do photosynthesis. I explained that's the reason why baby plants need cotyledons. Overall, they dug through a large amount of seeds, slipping off coats and splitting them.

My oldest is very book-smart. What I did not realize was lacking was experiential knowledge. I will have to amp up those opportunities for him. As Ms. Frizzle says: "Get dirty! Make mistakes!"


  1. I love this! I was planning on planting seeds tomorrow but now I am thinking of doing beans. Does it matter which kind you use?

  2. It shouldn't. To see plants grow, cover beans with a folded paper towel, place it into ziploc and hang it on the window. This way it will be easy to look inside and see what they are doing.