Category Archives: Living Science

Experiments – An Idea

As homeschoolers, the idea of doing science experiments can be something to look forward to for one person, and something to dread for another. If you are one who dreads experiment day, then I have some encouragement and an idea for you.

The only sound method of teaching science is to afford a due combination of field or laboratory work, with such literary comments and amplifications as the subject affords.” Charlotte Mason, vol 6 pg 223

However, you do not need to do as many experiments when you homeschool using living books as the public school must do, because your students are experiencing the discoveries/experiments as they read living books about scientists. Many of these experiments, we cannot do (because we might die or at least be maimed in some way,) but because of the excellent narratives we read, we experience them on the edge of our seats, none-the-less.

One of my favorite historical science books is Robert Boyle: Founder of Modern Chemistry by Harry Sootin. In this book you are pulling for Boyle as he nearly kills a mouse and then saves it at the last minute, while trying to figure out what air is made of. You let out your breath with a strange mixture of let down and anticipation of a truth being discovered when the mouse does indeed die. There are sketches included within the book showing how Boyle set up his equipment and with the combination of that, and good writing, you have no difficulty “seeing” the whole experiment as it takes place on the page, and in your mind.

I say ‘experience’ advisedly, for the word denotes the process by which children get to know. They experience all the things they hear and read of; these enter into them and are their life; and thus it is that ideas feed the mind in the most literal sense of the word ‘feed.’ Charlotte Mason, vol 6 pg 40

Another reason we should not compare our syllabus to that of the public school is that they rely on textbooks and lectures, two things CM clearly says are sure to “destroy the desire for knowledge”. Hands-on experiments are the only hope for children being schooled this way. But there is also the matter of time. We allot approximately 2.5 hours a week to science, while they allot nearly twice that amount of time. To some degree, they need to do experiments to fill time. It can be a version of busy work.

So, we know that we must do experiments, but we do not need to do as many as the public school requires, which brings me to my idea. (With a little background as to how I came up with this idea.)

I recently attempted an experiment in the book Chemically Active! by Vicki Cobb. I like this book a lot for MS chemistry, and wish they would reprint it…with a few updates.  Here’s an example of why. I came to a section that says, “Set up your apparatus as shown in the drawing.” I must include the drawing here to see if you notice the same thing I did.

Do you see the problem? The test tubes are floating. Since I do not own levitating test tubes, I had to figure out what to do instead. There was also another problem. The book says to “use a carbon rod from inside a flashlight battery”. I didn’t think dismantling a battery was a very safe plan, so I had to look into another option for that as well.

I did a little searching on the internet, and found this excellent video that accomplishes the same thing, but uses a pencil, broken in half and sharpened on all four ends. They then use rubber bands around a plastic tub to prepare a scaffolding for the test tubs. Perfect!

My point in telling you all of this is that there was time involved in preparing for our experiment. We didn’t just break out the experiment “cookbook” and go to work. In fact, rarely can we just go to work, without some kind of prep involved. Even if it is simply making a shopping list a running errands.

It has taken me a long time to get to my idea, but here it is finally: I suggest that you assign your student the job of researching the experiment during your scheduled experiment time the week before you intend to do it. This way when it’s time to actually do the thing, your student is ready. They have the supplies needed, they know what work arounds might be needed, and they are mentally prepared because they have studied it for a period of time. They can accomplish an experiment every two weeks using this plan, which I think is plenty, and the responsibility of the whole thing is on your student, rather than being placed on you. Lastly, I hope this will alleviate the “just forget it!” syndrome which I tend to revert to when I am unprepared for a project.

Happy experimenting!

Related:
To Use the Scientific Method is Natural

To Experiment is Natural

Science – The Last Hold Out

In recent years there has been increasing conversation throughout the CM community regarding doing science Charlotte Mason’s way.  Science seems to be a last hold out – that one subject we don’t want to hand over to Miss. Mason. We reason that she lived in a different time and place than we do now, and that she couldn’t have understood then how important a science education is now for our students in this technology driven world.

We could really make that argument for most subjects. We don’t however, because we see how it has worked for our kids, or for our friend’s kids who are just ahead of ours, and we feel thrilled that it does indeed work! We took that leap of faith with our young students, and tried out this strange recipe that included copywork, dictation and narration. All the while, we reassured ourselves that, if necessary in the end, we could always sign them up for an intensive writing class in high school. We were pleasantly surprised in the end however, because the recipe worked, and they didn’t need the writing class after all. Furthermore, we feel grateful to Mason, because, not only did her recommendations work, but the whole thing was rather painless!

Science is different though, because if you follow Mason’s schedule and principles for science, there isn’t enough time in the end to remediate the damage if it doesn’t work.  Furthermore, there haven’t been that many who have gone before us to prove its viability. We know of students whose parents have used this method to homeschool them, who are now getting into the best of colleges. But what have they chosen for a major? Literature, economics? What if your student wants to become a chemist? Who has gone before you? Who can show that this works?

I would venture to say, that we must look behind us, and then, with faith, go forward.

I have been very blessed that God has allowed me to homeschool several special needs learners, because it has forced me to embrace CM’s style of education completely. I’ve often commented that if my older kids could have successfully completed a textbook science curriculum, I would never have been forced to look at the alternative. Let’s face it, for the teacher, handing over the text book and proctoring a test once in a while is a far easer alternative. However, because I was literally forced to embrace a living books science curriculum, I have had the blessing of seeing that it works.

I’m not going to tell you that each of my kids have been admitted to the best of colleges as science majors. You read that part about them being special needs kids right? In fact, two of the three have no interest in college whatsoever. They have chosen a different path.  In their case, I’m particularly glad I was able to make science something they could enjoy. For them, the end goal was that they learned about the universe which God made. They learned about the important principles, people, and discoveries and the uses of science in the world they currently live in. They can follow a discussion about current scientific discoveries and debates, and they…wait for it…they care. Not enough to pursue it as a field of employment, but enough to appreciate the universe God made for them to live in. They haven’t been so turned off by a science curriculum that they say things like, “I hate science.” Rather, it’s just another aspect of their education, their life.

The third of my older kids does want to go to college and for that she prepared to take the SAT. I’m happy to say that she passed all subjects, including the science portion, with at least a “college ready” score. She has really enjoyed her science education so far, and is even showing some interest in pursuing nursing.

This might not be as encouraging to you as it is to me. Maybe you have brilliant students, and they could indeed handle a textbook. They could get A’s on all the tests, and follow that up with various AP classes. Maybe they want to be a physicist or maybe they don’t, but you want to keep their options open. How then do you decide what philosophy you use for their science education?

I would propose that you remember that Charlotte Mason felt that educating a child this way was an all or nothing proposition.

“The reader will say with truth,––”I knew all this before and have always acted more or less on these principles”; and I can only point to the unusual results we obtain through adhering not ‘more or less,’ but strictly to the principles and practices I have indicated.”  Vol 6 pg 19

The fact is, that the end goal which I mentioned for my two non-college striving children, is the same end goal for all students. Knowledge of God, knowledge of man and knowledge of the universe. Furthermore, that knowledge in each and every area, is obtained in the same way, whether your child is bound to be a physician or a welder.

You must separate in your mind the liberal education we desire for every single one of our children, and the future pursuit of a career. I have a friend whose daughter is a professional ballerina. I can only imagine how many hours she has trained and prepared over the years to get where she is now. Would it have been right for her mother to say, “I don’t think we have time for every aspect of this liberal education, because clearly your end goal is to be a ballerina.”? That’s laughable. One of my kids, whom I mentioned above, is currently training to become a certified welder. Should he have missed any aspect of his liberal education because he was destined to become a blue collar worker? Charlotte Mason gave a clear answer to that question – no.  I could go on and on with examples of students who want to become, or have become, anything from a pilot to an economist, and you would agree that they still need that liberal education, but if we venture into the realm of science, all of a sudden people want to scrap the material that Mason says clearly enables the student to learn, and jump right into the technical training. That’s not fair.

Be assured that there is time for the technical training. If you look at the PNEU schedule for levels 5 and 6, which covers the 10-12th grade in the US, you will still see a 4 hour day, 6 days per week schedule. That allows plenty of time for additional pursuits. The hopeful ballerina can train for hours daily, if that is her goal. Your budding chemist can scour that cool chemistry textbook or take an AP class.

The point is that you cannot start shaving off parts of the educational philosophy we have chosen to adhere to, because you have a particular hope regarding what your child will become, or even because they are showing a particular bent in one direction or another. You cannot mess with the few hours per week that is growing this person into the well rounded, whole person they are meant by God to be. Surely 4 hours per day will not tax them so much that they cannot pursue these interests outside of that general education.

I’ll leave you with a quote from Sir Richard Gregory, which Mason hoped would encourage us to surrender the subject of science to this philosophy of education.

The essential mission of school science was to prepare pupils for civilized citizenship by revealing to them something of the beauty and the power of the world in which they lived, as well as introducing them to the methods by which the boundaries of natural knowledge had been extended. School science, therefore, was not intended to prepare for vocations, but to equip pupils for life. It should be part of a general education, unspecialised, but in no direct connexion with possible university courses to follow. Vol 6 pg 222

Preserving Autumn Leaves

Last week we considered the Chemistry of Autumn, and tried to preserve some of the best colored leaves for our nature study wall/shelf.

First, we collected the most colorful leaves we could find – on our property.  We saw some prettier ones while driving down the road, but I decided that it was more important that this be part of our collection of leaves from our own property.

Then we prepared the recipe in a baking pan:
1 part glycerine (found at a local pharmacy)
2 parts water
We laid in a few of our favorite leaves from different trees, loosely covered it with plastic wrap, and then set a smaller baking pan on top to force the leaves down into the liquid.

 

We started checking them after a couple of days, wanting a supple feel, and then we blotted them dry when they were done.

If you compare the before and after pictures above, you can judge how well it worked.  The Tulip Poplar leaf turned out real nice.  The green colored Red Maple leaf kept a nice green color, but the red colored Red Maple leaf, didn’t keep its color.

It seems that leaves displaying a splendor of yellow and orange, might be the best for this technique, but the leaves with red don’t do as well.