Sunday, January 5, 2014

Webelos Engineer

As part of the requirement for his Webelos engineer pin, Nate needed to draw a floor plan--including the doors, windows, and stairs--of our house. I originally envisioned handing him a piece of paper and a pencil, and then asking that he independently sketch a mostly-accurate representation of the space.

My husband had other ideas.

And as hard as it is for me to admit this, my husband had better ideas.

My husband might have a background in engineering.
Can you tell?

Would my approach have been good enough to fulfill the requirement? Oh, undoubtedly.

But with his father's guiding hand, Nate got three very important results that are far more lasting and valuable than simply fulfilling a requirement:

1) Althouh Nate has excellent mathematical thinking skills, he still struggles with a some very basic practices, including math-fact automaticity, rounding and estimating, and measurement. With my husband's influence over this project, the boy got practice in all of these areas. More importantly, this task was not purely conceptual or theoretical. The goal (to draw a floor plan of our home) and the motivation behind it (to earn a Webelos pin) were both very real and concrete. This wasn't something Nate was doing in order "to learn." This was just something he was doing with his dad for Scouts. 

2) Speaking of "something he was doing with his dad," it's worth noting that this project took nearly and hour--much longer, unless you count the time he'd have spent complaining, than it would've taken for Nate to simply make an approximate sketch. Also worth noting is that this hour was spent, not alone and seated at the kitchen table, but in active cooperation with his father. That's right...this was, without a doubt, quality time. And seriously, any approach that results in an hour's worth of positive parent-child interaction is automatically better than any other method (even if another method would allow you to prepare dinner at the same time).

3) When it was all said and done, Nate ended up with a drawing that was immediately ready to be created in Minecraft. And would you care to guess what he did as soon as he got home from his Webelos den meeting? Yeah...Minecraft.

(By the way, this might be the closest I've ever come to admitting that I was wrong and my husband was right. I'm begging you...please keep this admission a secret. It'll just stay between us, right? You, me...and the internets.) 

Thursday, January 2, 2014

He Chose Science

"Art or science?" I asked.

Without even a breath of hesitation, he answered, "Science."

I've been preparing for this afternoon for a few weeks now. Super frustrated with the abundance of websites dedicated to pre-K and early elementary art and science activities--and the corresponding lack of similar materials for upper-elementary families--I've spent a bit of time searching out projects that might suit our needs. 

I've gathered quite the arsenal, and I hope to share them with you as we explore them. 

Some of the activities I've found are from books (you remember books, right?).  That's what we're beginning with today. Searching through my homeschool leftovers, I came across several Janice Van Cleve volumes. I love these books for several reasons. First of all, each title focuses on only one area of science, which makes them ideal for public-school families who want to supplement their child's education. Also, nearly all of the experiments are quick, another great feature for all those after-schooling families out there. Finally, most of the experiments require only common household materials, which is good for any family without a resident physicist (or chemist, or biologist, or geologist, or get the picture).

I also love them because they don't try to do too much. They are designed to introduce a topic, and they provide an excellent jumping-off point if your child wants to investigate further.

And so I give you "Glow" ::

(This experiment is the first in Physics for Every Kid, but is also widely available online, the best version I've found being Steve Spangler's human conductor experiment.)

Am I not brave, including a photo of my kitchen in the midst of what seems an endless renovation?

Aaaaannnnddd...that's the only photo I can share with you, as the remainder of the experiment was done in a dark, dark room and I only have a basic, basic camera. Essentially, he used the balloon to create static electricity which, in turn, caused the fluorescent light bulbs to produce light. It was interesting to discover which style of bulb created the most dramatic result. (I would tell you, but then I would have to kill you I fear it would spoil your fun.)

It was also interesting to see where he took the experiment once all of the written steps were completed. He not only tried creating static with other materials--cotton roving, a wool sweater, a walk down the hallway dragging his feet--but he also tried the same experiment with different types of light bulbs. Of course, traditional incandescent bulbs did not work, and he had zero interest in finding out why, but the connections he made today are made, and they might come into play at another time. Today, he built a foundation, and I cannot even begin to guess what this foundation might support someday.

Of course, before locking ourselves away in a dark, dark room and attempting to create balloon-powered light, we needed to know just the tiniest bit about mercury (the element, not the planet...or the messenger god of Roman mythology).

Thank goodness we still have a set of encyclopedias lying around. This was an opportunity to go cross-curricular (shhhh...don't tell the boy that I snuck in some extra learning). In an age of search engines, it is a good idea to stretch your alphabetical muscles every once in awhile. Also, you might find out some pretty neat things about meerkats while you've got the 'M' volume open. An encyclopedia article provides other instant curricular leaps as well. For instance, after reading the 'mercury' article and finishing the electricity experiment, you could naturally shift to Roman mythology. Or the periodic table. Or geography. (Did you know that the major mercury producing nations include China, Finland, Mexico, and Tajikistan?)

You could also segue into a discussion or exploration of the solar system, or tie what you've read into your Latin curriculum (unless you're an aggressive after-schooling family, I guess that last one would be primarily for the classical homeschoolers among us).

The point is, this ten minute activity could lead so many places. It's really up to you and your child. Or it could just be a fun ten minutes of together-time on a Sunday afternoon or before bed.

My one word of caution: if you embark on this activity for fun, then please let it be fun. Go as far with it as your children want to go, and please, please, PLEASE don't kill their sense of curiosity and exploration by insisting on more.

Remember the Buddhist proverb: "enough is a feast."