Revisiting Some Archived Articles that Have Not Been Lost, but May Have Been Forgotten and Are Worth a Fresh Read
Original Post Date: February 24, 2012
Science intimidates many people, but it really should not. Actually, science is a much simpler endeavor than many people imagine. Science is empirical, which means that it is based on our sensory experience. There is nothing more basic or concrete than seeing, touching, hearing, smelling, and sometimes even tasting. Certainly, there are parts of science which are esoteric and abstract, but even these usually boil down to a few simple concepts rigorously applied.
In this series, I am going to cover some very simple steps that can help you and your family get on the road to experiencing science together. In our family, we have “Science Saturday” during the warmer months when we try to get out into nature and explore science. The goal of this series is to help you teach your kids simple ways to look at the world through scientific eyes.
To begin, let’s look at one of the most fundamental parts of science—counting. Most people do not realize the extent to which science involves simple counting. Some of the most profound experiments in science are based on counting. Mendel’s pea experiments started with counting how many peas have different traits. All statistics begin, first of all, with a count.
The hardest part of counting is deciding what to count. Well, you can count anything! For life sciences, you can count how many petals are on a flower. You can count how many days it takes for a seed to sprout. You can count:
• the number of blades of grass that are in a square foot of your yard (then, for more fun, extrapolate that number to estimate how many blades of grass are in the whole yard!);
• the seeds that sprout from among a given set of seeds;
• the leaves on a plant;
• the seeds that are in a dandelion;
• how many marbles can fit into a jar; and
• the variety of plants that are in a square foot of space in the forest.
There are no rules on what you can count. You may wind up counting something meaningless, but how will you know unless you count it? Be creative and see what sorts of interesting counting exercises you can come up with.
Another part of science related to counting is measuring or, as I like to call it, advanced counting. Measuring is simply counting using a device. What can you measure? Just about anything! Using a ruler you can measure the length of a beetle. Using a thermometer you can measure the temperature. Using a stopwatch you can measure the time it takes for a ball to roll down a hill. Other things you can measure include:
• the length of a leaf, stem, root, or whole plant;
• the length of your feet;
• the length of your shoelaces;
• the amount of time it takes for water to evaporate on a hot day;
• the amount of time it takes for juice to freeze into a popsicle in the freezer; and
• the temperature of the soil throughout the day.
You can turn almost any activity into a measuring activity. If you have apple slices turn brown after leaving them out too long, you can ask the question, “I wonder how long it takes for an apple slice to turn brown?” Then you can pull out a timer, slice another apple, and measure it. The key is to get your children used to asking questions that have answers which can be measured, and then have your children perform the task of measurement to answer the question.
The final step of counting is to record what you have counted. Science relies on repeated observations and measurements, so be sure to record every single count you perform. If you are freezing juice pops, be sure to record how long each one takes to freeze. If there are different juices, be sure to record which type of juice took what amount of time to freeze.
Once you begin focusing your child’s mind on measurable questions, having them perform counts and measurements, and having them record the results, you are well on your way to doing science!