What is Science? – The Process of Discovery

With the growth of social media, blogging, and the popularity of Pinterest, I frequently see science activities and lessons that parents, home educators, and teachers have pinned. While I love that social bookmarking sites have made science more accessible, I am frustrated with the cookbook approach and the growing misconceptions about what is science.

what is scienceOver the next few weeks, I will be sharing with you a series of posts that address the scientific method, science process skills, and science as inquiry.  Along the way, I will address several key misconceptions about science.  I look forward to engaging you in a dialogue – I hope you will join in on the discussion.

What is Science?

  • Focuses on the natural world
  • Aims to explain the natural world
  • Uses testable ideas
  • Relies on evidence
  • Involves the scientific community
  • Leads to ongoing research
  • Benefits from scientific behavior

Science is the human effort to understand, or to understand better, the history of the natural world and how the natural world works, with observable physical evidence as the basis of that understanding. It is done through observation of natural phenomena, and/or through experimentation that tries to simulate natural processes under controlled conditions.

For example, an ecologist observing the territorial behaviors of bluebirds and a geologist examining the distribution of fossils in an outcrop are scientists making observations in order to find patterns in natural phenomena. An astrophysicist photographing distant galaxies and a climatologist sifting data from weather balloons similarly are scientists making observations, but in private settings.

The above mentioned examples are observational science, but there is also experimental science. A chemist observing the rates of one chemical reaction at a variety of temperatures and a nuclear physicist recording the results of bombardment of a particular kind of matter with neutrons are scientists performing experiments to see what consistent patterns emerge. A biologist observing the reaction of a particular tissue to various stimulants is likewise experimenting to find patterns of behavior.

Common amongst each of these scenarios is that these scientists are making and recording observations of nature, or of simulations of nature, in order to learn more about how nature works.

How Science Works

flowchart_noninteractive

Science is an exciting and dynamic process of discovery.  The chart illustrated above was developed by the University of California and the UC Museum of Paleontology, with funding by the National Science Foundation. The flowchart represents the process of scientific inquiry, through which we build our knowledge and understanding of the natural world. Most ideas take a serpentine path through the process, winding through process as shaped by unique people and events.

Exploration and Discovery

There are many routes into the process – like making a surprising observation in nature.

Testing Ideas

Testing ideas – in the field or in a lab setting – is at the heart of science.

Community Analysis & Feedback

Science relies on a community – within research groups and across all science disciplines.

Benefits & Outcomes

Science is intertwined with society and it affects our lives every day. 

Next week, I will explore in more detail the concept of scientific inquiry; addressing the misconception that there is a single scientific method that all scientists must follow.

Additional posts in this series include:

Living Books for Science Education

One of my goals as a science educator and homeschool parent is to pass on to children a love for science and for learning.  I am often asked what books I would recommend for particular science disciplines.  What books do I most enjoy sharing with my own children?  Which books are the living books?  First coined by Charlotte Mason, living books are described as “… complete works, firsthand sources, classics, books that display imagination, originality, and the human touch.” 

Charlotte Mason did not give us a list of the hundred best books, nor did she compose a checklist of what to look for in a living book.  Along our homeschool journey, I have therefore looked for living books for science that were not only of high literary quality, but that also communicated important knowledge about a given subject, especially biography, science, nature, and geography.  I’ve compiled some of my favorite books for you here – books you’ll enjoy reading again and again.

Biographies

Giants of Science series by Kathleen Krull

This is a great series of books about some of the most recognized names in science including Albert Einstein, Marie Curie, Leonardo da Vinci, Isaac Newton, and Sigmund Freud.  Amusing comic illustrations accompany the text and Krull’s anecdotal stories bring each scientist to life.

Chemistry & Physics


The Periodic Table: Elements with Style!

There are numerous books in this series by Adrian Dingle. When I taught a chemistry unit with my kiddos a year ago, they devoured these. The Periodic Table introduces budding chemists to the world of the elements with wit and humor while also presenting factual information.

Nature


Books by Jean Craighead George

One of my all-time favorite authors, George has been the recipient of many literary awards.  My Side of the Mountain, the story of a boy and a falcon surviving on a mountain together, was a 1960 Newbery Honor Book.  Growing up in a family of naturalists, it is no wonder her books resonate with a love of nature.


Books by Jim Arnosky

I enjoy Arnosky’s books as much for the text as I do the illustrations. An artist and naturalist, his accurate illustrations, and his attention to detail makes it easy for children to see how carefully nature has designed plants and animals to function in their natural habitats. “I prefer to show rather than tell,” he explains, “to teach rather than preach, to guide rather than simply warn. In showing my readers what I look for in my ramblings, I hope that they will keep an eye out for such things and make discoveries of their own when they are outdoors.”


Joyful Noise: Poems for Two Voices

Written to be read aloud by two voices ~ sometimes alternating, sometimes simultaneous ~ this collection of charming poems celebrates the insect world, from the short life of the mayfly to the love song of the book louse. I found an audio version to which we listened first – and then we had a blast reading them together.

Who’s Been Here series by Lindsay Barrett George

My children have enjoyed this series of books since they were toddlers.  I would often read one aloud prior to a nature outing.  Then as we began to explore, I would point out signs of wildlife and ask the kids, “Who’s Been Here?”  Slowing down to look at small details, the kids began to ask question and make hypotheses of their own.

Birds Every Child Should Know by Neltje Blanchan

Originally published in 1907, Birds Every Child Should Know is a collection of storylike descriptions of more than one hundred birds commonly found in the United States.  Detailed descriptions of birds—their physical attributes, calls, nesting and mating habits, and other behaviors—read almost like fairy tales.  My daughter loved this book.

Geology & Geography

Books by Bryd Baylor

Bryd Baylor is one of my favorite children’s authors.  She lives and writes in Arizona, presenting images of the Southwest and an intense connection between the land and the people. Her prose illustrates vividly the value of simplicity, the natural world, and the balance of life within it.


The Coast Mappers by Taylor Morrison

I discovered this book quite by accident but upon reading it, wanted for my own collection.  In this beautifully illustrated book, Morrison chronicles the challenges and adventures the US Coastal Survey team faced and the methods they used to accomplish this monumental, and essential, task.

Astronomy & Space


Books by Gail Gibbons

Gibbons is another wonderful and prolific writer of children’s books. The titles I have in my own collection include, The Moon Book, The Planets, and The Reason for Seasons.  Her clear writing style and the accompanying illustrations help to explain concepts that are difficult to grasp. I’ve used these books to help dispel misconceptions with adults.


Seymour Simon books

The author of more than 250 highly acclaimed science books, Simon has been called the ‘Dean of Children’s Science Writers”. He uses his website, SeymourSimon.com, to provide free downloads of a wealth of materials for educators, homeschoolers and parents to use with his books.

Do you have a favorite science living book or children’s science author?  I would love to learn of new authors or books.  Leave a comment  below and let me know.

Girls in Engineering Workshop Captures Her Imagination

For my daughter, the best part of a Saturday spent crafting a paper bridge, creating a water-powered crane, and making her own electric quiz game was, “everything.”  Ten years old, she joined about 60 other girls for the fourth annual Wow! That’s Engineering! program coordinated by the local Society of Women Engineers earlier this year.

girls in engineering hydroliftThe outreach program encourages girls in engineering by engaging them in hands-on activities.  This year, the girls constructed devices representing various engineering fields.  The girls were separated into small groups, those who knew each other well were put into different groups to encourage bridges of friendship in addition to the paper bridge design contest in which they took part.

“I really enjoyed the electricity game we made,” Sweetie shared.  “We made these circuits and if you get the right answer, a light will come on.”

My daughter wants to be an engineer one day and with many adult friends who are engineers themselves, she has a lot of mentors.  A day spent with peers exploring her area of interest, however, was a special opportunity.  She most enjoyed creating the paper bridge.  She went into the activity with confidence because she had previously built a very strong toothpick bridge for a homeschool science fair years ago. At the Wow! That’s Engineering! workshop, however, the set up was different.  Each girl was given a few pieces of paper and a handful of paper clips to build a bridge that could hold 100 pennies.  Having experienced a similar scenario, Sweetie was convinced her design would win.

When it came down to the test, the girls were presented with a problem.  Thy had been told they would be spanning a gap of about 8 inches, but when they measured the test site found that the estimate was 2 inches too small.  “We threw in that twist to make it more real,” the volunteer said. “We’ll go out to a site, and it’s different than what we were told.”

Sweetie’s friend also attended the Wow! That’s Engineering! workshop. She was proudly holding her Hydrolift, a wooden crane the size of a tea kettle that used two syringes as pumps to raise and lower rocks, when my husband came to pick up the girls.

“I want to come back ’cause it’s fun,” the girls said. “I love it.”

The Society of Women Engineers offers outreach programs for girls interested in engineering all over the country.  Visit their website and find a workshop nearest you.

 

National Moth Week 2013

Many of you will be interested in knowing that between July 20 and July 28, in backyards, woods, and fields around the world, citizen scientists will be setting up white sheets and lights for the second annual National Moth Week.   This global science project began a year ago to encourage the public to observe and document one of nature’s most diverse creatures. Through partnerships with major online biological data depositories, National Moth Week participants can help map moth distribution and provide needed information on other life history aspects around the globe.  If you are participating in my Introductory Entomology online course, this is the perfect opportunity for you to engage in meaningful, hands-on science.

national-moth-week2013smallPartner with Real Scientists

National Moth Week has many partner organizations that are repositories for data and photos about moths. These include Project Noah and BugGuide, among many others. Last year, these partner organizations received more than 3,500 submissions as a result of National Moth Week moth spottings!  You can participate too–just take photos of the moths you see, and upload them to one of the partner organizations with location and other data.

Identification Skills Not Required

You don’t have to identify your moths–they have experts that will help–but it would certainly be a great learning opportunity to try.  I challenge you to try your hand at identification–at least to the family level.  The photo you upload with your observations lets a specialist confirm ID.  The information gathered through citizen science projects like this is used to compile species checklists and distribution maps. The data, over time, becomes an invaluable record of species distribution. Science at its best!

Host a Moth Night of Your Own

So invite a few friends and contribute to this awesome project by hosting a moth night of your own.  What happens at a moth night? Basically, you put up a sheet and a light with a bunch of your friends, and sit around and wait for moths.  How simple is that?  And it is so much fun!

 

Entomology Unit Study Wrap-up

The past six weeks have been a lot of fun!  I am throughly enjoyed teaching the online Introductory Entomology Unit Study course.  As it is a self-directed course, the participants are continuing to work through the material at their own pace.  Access to the online materials shared via Google Docs will remain until the end of September (some for longer), so do not feel pressure to get through the material quickly.

entomology unit study

Entomology Unit Study eBook Now Available

I am excited to share that I have compiled all the activities and lessons I shared through this online course into one comprehensive unit study.  The Introductory Entomology Unit Study eBook includes all the lessons, notebooking pages, reference pages, and printables that were used in this course along with several bonus notebooking pages, handouts, lab activities, and a list of resources.  This eBook is available for only $9.90.

praying mantisImplementing the Lessons

Along the way, I have shared numerous posts providing glimpses into how I have implemented the lessons with my own children.  I have also shared links to samples of student work and other resources available in hopes of inspiring you and your children as you undertake a study of insects.

Entomology Course Outline

Week #1 – Insects in Art

Week #2 – Insect Collecting

Week #3 – Insect Survey for Kids

Week #4 – Insect Projects for Kids

Week #5 – Integrated Pest Management

Week #6 – Insect Inquiry

Many families will be continuing their entomology unit study through the summer. As always, I encourage you to share your own insect discoveries and student projects with us.  We would love to see your work!  Simply upload to our Flickr group or post a link in the comments. 🙂

 

Introductory Entomology Lessons for Kids – Unit Study

Insects are so fascinating and are the most diverse group of animals on earth!   There are more species of insects than there are all other species combined. Their numbers are nothing short of remarkable, both in terms of the numbers of individuals as well as the number of species.

Introductory Entomology is a great way to keep the kids engaged in meaningful and fun science activities all summer long!  Everything is laid out in a simple and easy to follow manner – older kids will be able to do the lessons on their own!

entomology lessons for kids preview

Insect Lessons for Kids

In this 40-page unit study, students will be introduced to this remarkable subphylum (Hexapoda –  a group commonly referred to as hexapods and whose members have six legs) through hands-on activities, real life simulations, and multi-media presentations. The six-week unit incorporates more than 10 entomology lessons for kids and suggested extension activities.

I have to admit that this unit is one of my most favorites. Kids are naturally drawn to insects and have little inhibitions for the six-legged creatures.  In this unit study, I outline my favorite lessons and activities for exploring insects with your children or in your classroom.

Included in this unit study about bugs:

  • Full color overview
  • 11 notebooking pages
  • 11 printable handouts (student reference pages)
  • Detailed description of each step needed to teach every lesson
  • Links for exclusive videos and access to insect data compiled
  • Illustrated suggestions to build your own collecting tools
  • Links for collecting supplies and printed resources
  • Access to a closed Flickr group to share work and collaborate with others
  • Extension activities for all lessons
  • 2 long term projects

Available for only $9.90  

Introductory Entomology