Working it out

Things are going well with Nurture Learning. I stopped doing science with Drama King and his friend on Mondays, but I feel lost without a current project (and many in the pipeline) so I started a group on Friday afternoons instead.

The Friday group started when I realised I wanted to ‘do’ science with Reptile Boy, so why not invite his friends round too? It has turned into more of a homeschooling science group, with a lovely family from Manly coming along with three children aged from 4 to 8 years old, although a couple of Reptile Boy’s friends from pre-school still attend as well.

Last term for ‘life science’, we did activities including:

  • sorting found items into living or biological, non-living, and human-made;
  • differences between, and features of, plants and animals;
  • a nature walk with creatures or plants to look out for

I think in future years I would not do this unit in the winter term! We missed quite a few sessions due to illness (various families) or just tiredness (on my part) and, besides, spring seems like a better season to study life and growth.

Over the holidays I ordered a few Creature Kits from Butterfly Skye. This term, one family will be watching their stick insect grow and hopefully lay eggs, and another family are watching beetle larvae which will pupate and then metamorphosise into beetles. Our family ordered antlions, which were not so successful, and so we are waiting for replacements… Next week the group is doing a bush walk in Kur-rin-gai Wildflower Garden, and I am sure we will all learn a lot from the rangers.

This term we are also learning about Earth and Space science. We started off with a walk around the solar system (copyright Guy Ottewell), using everyday objects to represent the Sun and the planets, and positioning them along Manly Beach to show how far the planets are from the Sun and each other. The exercise was probably not appropriate for the younger children, but certainly taught me about the vast scales involved in astronomy and space science. We have been learning about gravity, day and night, and the seasons, and the older children will be preparing presentations about one planet each before we move on to learning about rocks and minerals (one of my favourite subjects to cover, with children or adults, because it is so hands-on).

I was using a framework from Bernie Nebel’s Building Foundations of Scientific Understanding (BFSU), and I still like the way he approaches teaching science, but I have ended up modifying my approach significantly since last term. He plans a lot of discussion, and yet several of the younger children learn far better when they can make something with their hands as well as talking and listening.

I think the new structure of my classes will be to start with a hands-on activity, and a challenge (e.g. for Gravity, I challenged them to build a structure that stood up, and one that fell down, and to explain to me why this happened). Following the challenge I will read them a story that illustrates some key scientific concepts, and then we can move on to paper-based activities (drawing, writing, or cutting and pasting) for those who want to do them. Those who don’t, can play. The discussion can happen during all of these activities, including the play, and hopefully afterwards with parents, carers and friends.

I feel very pleased with today’s session, which followed this kind of approach. The younger children loved being the Earth or the Sun, and moving around or shining a torch on the globe. I read a great story about telling time without a clock. Then Reptile Boy rushed outside to look at his shadow again (because we did this last week) so we drew around shadows with chalk, to compare them with his shadow later on in the day.

Then the younger children played while I challenged the older children to identify the true reason for the seasons, and the myth. (Many people think the seasons occur because of distance from the Sun, whereas it is really due to axial tilt.)

I have been struggling a little with working out what my role is in the group, and how I can be the ‘expert’ while still encouraging the children to move towards self-directed learning, which is my goal. I think I have worked out an approach that I feel comfortable with. I had great feedback from today’s session and I hope I carry on delivering sessions that engage and inspire all the children.

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