Monday, February 24, 2014

Kids' Experiments: Teach it Early, teach it often

I spent some time with my five-year old niece this weekend and, as always, I was blown away by how much she already knows about the world around her.  Of course, as her doting aunt, I think she is incredibly brilliant, but the educator in me firmly believes that most of her success in learning is because of the amazing job my brother and sister-in-law do at keeping her rapidly developing mind engaged.  While many kids have the benefit of such involved parents (and other relatives), Iz is incredibly advantaged because a.) she has a ton of science and technically savvy role models in her family (two engineers, two physicists, a med student, a linguist - and that is just my siblings and sibs-in-law!) and b.) those role models (mostly her parents) engage her in scientific thought in a way that makes it fun.

For her fifth birthday, the rooster and I (the two physicists) made a year of science experiments for Iz to do with her parents.  I want all children to have the advantage of being able to learn this stuff early (when it is much easier because you haven't convinced yourself that things work in ways that they really don't!) so I am going to make the experiments we put together for Iz available to anyone who wants them as the series "Kids' Experiments."   They will be much more extensive in detail than their original form.  Most of the document is a guide for parents/guardians/educators to learn the material well so that they can adapt the material and can guide the child in his/her scientific exploration.

In terms of time commitment, I anticipate it will be big!  My brother and sister-in-law can spend a week or more on one of these topics in terms of preliminary discussions, pointing stuff out in everyday life, and follow-up discussions (the actual experiments are generally under 30 minutes!).  It is not "all science, all the time," but Iz (and her younger brother, and other highly engaged children I know) have inquiry peppered into  life (not just at special educational times) and this is the approach I would recommend with these modules - don't just sit down and get it done all at once.

In practical terms of use, stuff in blue and instructors worksheets are for adults only and should never ever be directly told to a child.  I really love the approach of teaching science (and specifically physics) by never actually telling a student the answer but by asking guiding questions to help him/her arrive at the answer on their own (Is this the Socratic method? - teehee).  College students hate this!  Like, REALLY hate this.  But it's important for people to go through this process to really learn (and more importantly, to unlearn misconceptions!).  This is why it takes so long.  But it will be worth it when the child you love is able to make amazing extrapolations about what they have learned so far.  And the investment you make in your child learning science early will allow that child to learn more science much more easily later on (again, we are talking real science, not stamp collecting).  And just as with monetary investment, the earlier you start, the bigger the eventual pay-off will be.  Start investing today!

And as is the case with Iz, I am always happy to answer any questions that arise in the course of your experiments. I know kids ask confounding questions sometimes! Don't hesitate to ask!


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