The Secret of the Tides

I grew up in Bandon, Oregon and though we now live in the valley of northern California, we travel home as often as possible.  While we go primarily to see family, the ocean pulls us to her just as compellingly.  We have enjoyed exploring the tide pools, investigating the unique estuarine habitats, and tasted freshly caught Dungeness crab many times in the past.  Recently, however, we spent some time taking a closer look and discovering the secret of the tides.

tidal chart

As pictured in the the photo collage above, we visited a beach access area at both low tide (6:59 a.m. @ -1.9′) and high tide (6:56 p.m. @ 1.5′).  I specifically selected this area because on low tide, we had access to tide pools.  Shortly after I took the photo, we walked down the stairway and spent time investigating the marine invertebrates.  While we marveled at the sea stars and innumerable sea anemones, I began to pose questions about the animals we observed and about the wave evidence on the shoreline.  We noted specifically where we found each species and shared our hypothesis for how these organisms could survive in such a dramatically changing environment. I’ll share our discoveries soon – the kids are still working on their nature journals.

Create a Tide Graph

One of the most useful activities we undertook this past week was to create a tide graph and then use the newspaper to also plot the corresponding moon phases.  To create a tide graph yourself, use a tide chart and select a specific month; you can access tidal data from NOAA.  Use a piece of graph paper to  graph the highest high tide and the lowest low tide for each day (recall there are typically two high tides and two low tides each day).  Use a different colored pencil for each tide type.  The day of the month should be on the x-axis and the height of the tide on the y-axis.  Tides can be negative, so be sure to include negative numbers on your y-axis.

Lastly, find a moon phase calendar for the selected month (or look up the moon phase in your local newspaper).  Sketch the four major moon phases (new moon, 1st quarter moon, full moon, and 3rd quarter moon) under the corresponding calendar date and label them accordingly.  After completing the graph, answer the questions listed below.

  • Is there a relationship between the phase of the moon and the tides?  Explain what you observed based upon your graph.
  • What are spring tides? Based upon your data, around what phase(s) of the moon do spring tides occur?  How do you know this?
  • What are neap tides? Based upon your data, around what phase(s) of the moon do neap tides occur?  How do you know this?

Take it Further

If you have enjoyed this activity and would like to explore related lessons and inquiry activities, check out Estuary Ecology, a fourteen lesson hands-on life science curriculum unit study that focuses upon estuaries and salt water marshes.

** Please note that graphs will vary depending upon the selected location and time of year.  A great extension activity is to create tide graphs for distinctly different locations (Newport, Oregon and Cape Code, Massachusetts, for example) and/or different seasons.

Submitted to the Outdoor Hour Challenge Blog Carnival at Handbook of Nature Study.

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What is Science? – The Importance of Inquiry

Earlier this month I shared with you my view that science is an exciting and dynamic process of discovery.  Today, I expand upon that definition to explore the importance of inquiry, specifically scientific inquiry.  The National Science Education Standards (NSES p. 23) defines scientific inquiry as “the diverse ways in which scientists study the natural world and propose explanations based on the evidence derived from their work. Scientific inquiry also refers to the  activities through which students develop knowledge and understanding of scientific ideas, as well as an understanding of how scientists study the natural world.”

what is science

Unfortunately, our traditional educational system has worked in a way that discourages the natural process of inquiry. Students become less prone to ask questions as they move through the grade levels. In traditional schools, students learn not to ask too many questions, instead to listen and repeat the expected answers.

In many classrooms and homeschool families, students enjoy fun science lessons that feature hands-on projects and activities that help bring the exciting world of science to life.  Unfortunately, many of these science experiences are canned lessons that do not require them to apply their skills and understanding of the scientific concepts.  Frequently, the experiments are laid out for them including the title, question, materials, and procedures.  While these technically “hands-on” activities are essential, they are not enough.  Students must also have “minds-on” experiences as well. Science is an active process, learning science is something that students should do, not something that is done to them.

Success in science is more than “science as process,” in which students learn such skills as observing, inferring, and experimenting.  Inquiry is central to science learning. When engaging in inquiry, students describe objects and events, ask questions, construct explanations, test those explanations against current scientific knowledge, and communicate their ideas to others. They identify their assumptions, use critical and logical thinking, and consider alternative explanations. In this way, students actively develop their understanding of science by combining scientific knowledge with reasoning and thinking skills.

importance of inquiry

The importance of inquiry does not imply that teachers should pursue a single approach to teaching science, nor a single curricula. Just as inquiry has many different facets, so teachers and home educators need to use many different strategies to develop their students’ understandings and abilities. The content can be organized and presented with many different emphases and perspectives in many different curricula.

Join me again in two weeks when I share with you examples of how to easily modify canned science activities to create inquiry based experiences.  I will provide examples of how teachers can move their classical instruction to an inquiry-based instructional approach.

My other posts in this series include:

Apps for Nature Study

Have you ever been on a walk with your kids and they spot a cool insect that you have never seen before?  Have you ever looked at a tree and wondered to yourself, “I wonder what type of tree this is?”  Next time you’re out walking in nature, enhance your experience with great iPhone apps for nature study.

There are apps available to help you find nature, navigate through it, and learn more about it during your outings.  Whatever your interest, apps for nature study abound.  Here are a few of our favorite apps for nature study.

  • nature apps

    EveryTrail – Find great trips and hikes in your area; an interactive map uses GPS capability to show the path you are taking. You can post pictures and videos along the way and share via social networks.

  • NatureFind – NatureFind will help you find nature centers, gardens, zoos, museums and so much more. It also keeps you informed on upcoming events at these venues.

  • My Nature Animal Tracks – Helps you identify the animal, interactive maps show you where the animal can be found in North America, sound files of each creature’s vocalizations, a nature journal and more.

  • Leafsnap – Uses visual recognition software to identify tree species from photos of the leaves. Location data is sent to database so scientists can track how the numbers and ranges of trees are changing over time.

  • Arbor Day Tree Identification Guide – This is a mobile version of the Arbor Day Foundation’s award winning field guide.

  • Project Noah – Helps you identify an unknown plant or animal, see what kinds of plants and animals have been spotted near you, and contribute to ongoing research projects.

  • Audubon Insects and Spiders – A field guide with 500+ descriptions and photos, a journal to track your findings, & a reference section with tips on finding insects and how to start your own collection.

  • iBird – A must have for any avid bird watcher; audio songs and calls, maps, and information on habitats and behaviors. Share your own photos via social networks.

  • Rockhound– Let Rockhound know where you are, and it will tell you what rocks, gems, and minerals you may discover there. There are pictures of each rock to help you identify what you find.

  • Meteor Counter – As you tap the keys, the app records critical data for each meteor you observe: time, magnitude, latitude, and longitude, along with optional verbal annotations.

  • SkyView Free – Take a photo of the sky and then tap to find out more. Change the date to see what the sky looked like long ago, or what it will look like in the future.

Do you have a favorite iPhone app for nature study that I have neglected to include here?  Leave a comment and let my readers and I know.  🙂

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

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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.