Turn your science student into a student scientist (lab)

Picture of experiment lab tools

Like most subjects (including reading, spelling, and math) science is a subject that is best learned by actually practicing it. For Science this is through labs where children can experiment. Being able to memorize and recite encyclopedic knowledge isn’t enough because it doesn’t build true understanding. For that, you need to turn your student into a scientist who knows how to use the scientific process as a road map that leads to making discoveries on his own.

You might be wondering how to guide your children through re-creating a nuclear reaction at home. Of course, that’s not the best approach for a number of reasons—the least of which is that it would get you in trouble with the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA). Your child doesn’t have to reenact every major scientific experiment ever conducted to learn how to use and apply science. The secret is mastering science process skills. Exercises and experiments should be geared toward not only understanding certain concepts but also learning the scientific process.

What does a student scientist lesson look like?

Chapter 4 of the BJU Press Science 5 Student Text is hot! It’s all about heat and energy. The chapter starts out by introducing some concepts such as conduction, convection, and radiation. It then goes on to explain how insulation works. Next, it presents the following fun, easy-to-do experiment that is designed to build science process skills:

Lab: Keeping Warm

What you’ll need

  • 5 plastic cups
  • cotton batting
  • rubber bands
  • craft foam
  • bubble wrap
  • aluminum foil
  • hot water
  • thermometer
  • plastic wrap

Problem

Which kind of insulation will keep hot water warm the best?

04-01-a-cup

Experiment Procedure

  1. Wrap cotton batting around one of the cups. Be sure to cover the bottom and the sides of the cup. Use a rubber band to keep the batting in place.
  2. Prepare three more cups: one wrapped with craft foam, one with bubble wrap, and one with a double thickness of aluminum foil. Use rubber bands to secure each material. Do not wrap anything around the fifth cup.
  3. Predict which cup will best keep the hot water warm. Write down your hypothesis.
  4. Fill the cups with hot water and put a thermometer in each.
  5. Cover the top of each cup with plastic wrap, leaving the top of the thermometer sticking out.
  6. Measure and record the starting temperature for each cup.
  7. Leave the cups undisturbed for five minutes. Then measure and record the water temperature in each cup. Measure and record the temperatures again after another five minutes.
  8. Calculate the difference between the starting and ending temperatures for each cup.

Conclusions

  • Did your results support your hypothesis?
  • Which cup had the greatest change in temperature? Why?
  • Which type of insulated cup would you choose to hold hot chocolate? Why?

Follow-up

  • Use ice cubes instead of hot water to determine which insulation is best for keeping ice cubes from melting.

Labs like this one help build the skills that can turn your science student into a student scientist. Check out this lab and many other great skill-building ones in BJU Press Science 5.

The Bridge of Understanding

bridge-understanding

Recently, I’ve been thinking about a similarity between my parenting and my homeschooling. In parenting, I’m less concerned about behavior modification than I am about my child’s heart attitude. If a little girl grabs a toy from her sister, I want to change her heart toward her siblings. But behavior merely reflects the heart. When a little one loves her sister, she won’t take toys from her.

The problem is that I can’t see what’s inside my child’s heart. However, I can see her behavior and then try to deal with her heart by questioning her about her behavior.

I think this is similar to education. The goal is understanding, but you can’t see understanding. It’s actually difficult to test for understanding. So how do we know when our children truly understand a concept? If we focus on facts, we’ll get surface level memorization from them. So what can we do?

The Bridge of Understanding

Understanding a topic is the critical step toward mastering more challenging cognitive activities. You cannot evaluate a piece of literature until you understand it. You also can’t apply math until you understand it. On the other side, if you understand who Napoleon was, it’s easy to analyze him. If you understand paragraph writing, you’re ready to create one.

So if your children can handle projects and test questions that require higher-order thinking skills, you know that they have moved beyond recall and now understand the topic. Here are four types of higher-order thinking that you can check for to see if your child understands a topic.

Apply

When we take a subject and use it in another context, we’re applying. Math, science, and grammar are easy to apply in everyday activities. Have your child use math concepts to plan snacks for a group. You might explain that each batch of cookies makes twenty-four and we’re expecting thirty guests.  How many batches should we make?

Analyze

Analysis sounds scary, but at the most basic level you’re just breaking a subject down into its parts and explaining their connections. In history or reading, small children can do analysis by making word webs. Meredith has an excellent post on word webs that can be applied to any subject.

Evaluate

Evaluation involves comparing something to a standard. Christians evaluate all academic subjects according to God’s Word. We also evaluate a writing sample against grammar rules and science hypotheses against observations. When children can use a standard to make a judgement, they understand their topic.

Create

Creating is a type of thinking that rewards children by allowing them to use the subject in a creative way. I was so proud of my second grader when she wrote a poem on kites after learning about poetry. It was better than any poetry I’d ever written. When students use principles from science, technology, engineering, and mathematics to solve a problem, they’re creating in a satisfying way that conforms to the way God made us to function.

It’s hard to measure a child’s understanding of a topic. But understanding is a bridge that connects other activities such as applying, analyzing, evaluating, and creating. If we focus their learning on these higher-order thinking skills, we can be confident that our children have gained understanding. BJU Press homeschool curriculum builds bridges of understanding for children by having them apply, analyze, evaluate, and create.

Why choose BJU Press homeschool curriculum? Find out here.

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