Sunday, December 16, 2012

science "curriculum"

During most recent orthodox homeschoolers online chat, someone asked about resources for teaching science and a lively discussion ensued. I sat back, listening and feeling bad: I am not doing any curriculum with the kids. I do not have a textbook, or agenda, or even a loose schedule or units.  I do not schedule science in, like I do math and Hebrew and Story of the World. I have some ideas floating around in my head, but none of them came to fruition. Is science missing from my children's education?

The past couple weeks have proved otherwise. First of all, we have a large collection of Magic School Bus books, which boys read and reread at will. Then there are other science books hanging around the house, from an old textbook, to my occasional science reading. Then there is library, and boys pick out whatever interests them. 8 yo is still working his way through the dinosaur section. Then there are documentaries, both on Netflix and through the library. The latest one that the kids are enjoying is called SciQ. It is made by Smithsonian, and they cannot stop talking about it.

Then there are dinnertime discussions. One night this week 8 yo started the conversation by informing us about lizards which reproduce by cloning, without a male. We discussed advantages and disadvantages of this: no need for males, ability to colonize an island with just one lizard. Then we discussed disadvantages: passing on genetic defects without variety and reducing the odds of survival. My husband asked if a genetic disease could be an advantage, and brought in an example of sickle cell anemia and malaria. In order to have this kind of discussion, my kids knew what are red blood cells, what are their functions and what they normally look like. 8 yo also knew that malaria is spread by mosquito bites. 6 yo wanted to know how many  red blood cells are there in an average person. I found myself marveling  when I taught middle schoolers, I could not take the knowledge of basic facts for granted, and here are my kids, without formal curriculum, who are able to hold and comprehend this level of conversation.

When we go on a hike, 2 yo spends some time talking about the roots we step over, the big and small trees we see, the leaves underfoot, why is it winter, and the birds around us. Just this Friday, as we were waiting for the boys to loop around the lake, we opened up a seed pod which was just lying by our feet and looked at the small seeds inside. I have no idea which tree it came from, but it did not matter much. I stressed that each seed can grow into a big tree, and that prompted my daughter to open more pods and to count how many seeds were inside.

But what about scientific method? Experiments?

the set-up
Last night was the last night of Chanukah. As we were setting up candles and oil after Shabbos, 8 yo wondered about olive oil burning the longest and the best. I said that he could test it out and that's what he did this morning. We used three clean yortzait candle holders. He squirted 30 ml of water into each one, and then topped each with 20 ml of the different oils we had in the house: canola, corn and olive. Then he floated a wick in each, lit them up, and made a chart to see what happens. In the process of setting up this impromptu experiment, I told him how we want to have only other thing different ( a variable), while everything else has to be exactly the same (control). He figured out on his own that he needs to label the glasses, to know which oil is in which. He also proposed a hypothesis (thank you, Dinosaur Train) that canola will burn the shortest.

The results: olive oil burned out the fastest, after 6 hours, followed by corn an hour later, and canola, in another half an hour. 8 yo's conclusion: we should light with canola. An argument about the original menorah and the traditional use of olive oil fell on deaf ears. Afterwards, I speculated to my husband that they did not have good oil blends then, and maybe canola is today's olive...

the results
Science comes easily to me. I can probably come up with experiments all the time. The reason I don't is because those experiments would be answering the questions which were not asked yet. If a concept does not bother my kids, how much interest would an experiment hold? Moreover, why should I invest my time and energy and be pressuring my kids to do something which is not interesting right now?

There is a time and a place for everything. Since the time for science is "all the time", the questions and conversations about it happen all the time. There are no tests, no grades, no standards. But there is also no pressure.

I just wish I could say the same about Judaics...

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