Some resources for inspiring your kids about science

These mostly cover the first four weeks of my classes on ‘Changes to the Earth’s Surface’. We get through a lot of cool stuff, as you can see.

General Science, and Evolution

“Building Foundations of Scientific Understanding” (book) by Bernie Nebel. This is the first book in a series of four, aimed at primary-aged children. I like his books and his approach to teaching science. This book is designed in four strands, roughly Chemistry, Physics, Biology and Earth and Space Science. He doesn’t shy away from exposing young children to high-level concepts, but each lesson builds on the one before and he always says what prior knowledge he expects.

I started my pre-school science classes using this book. I have deviated from his structures as I find it hard to follow anyone else’s lessons too rigidly. I also find there is too much use of ‘discussion’ pre or post the hands-on activities. But I still use many of his ideas.

Building Foundations Of Scientific Understanding

Understanding Science

Understanding Science (1)

A website created by the University of Berkeley, in California.The xenosmilus activity we did in Week 1 was recommended on this site. It has loads of resources and links. I haven’t looked at them all. However, I particularly like their ‘How Science Works’ flowchart. It has been adapted for different ages, although those with pre-readers should note that all versions of the flowchart are text-heavy. It would be good to have a purely pictoral version – maybe that’s feedback we could leave on the site.

How science works  The flowchart

I also like their notes for teachers, that are divided into different stages, and suggest what is best to focus on for different aged children, taking into consideration what they will be interested in at each level.

Understanding Science (1)

Understanding Evolution

Created by the same people as the above Understanding Science site, with some of the same links and resources, but focussed specifically on Evolution.

Palaeontology

The Paleontology Portal.

Another wealth of information and links, although not set out as well as the above sites, and with a very North American focus.

‘Bones Rock!’, by Peter Larson and Kristin Donnan (book). Aimed at children, but packed full of information, not just about the discipline of palaeontology but also the scientific method. Printed by Invisible Cities Press, ISBN 1-931-229-35-X.

bones rock book

“Digging into Deep Time”, by Paul Willis and Abbie Thomas. Aimed at adults. Takes a small number of key Australian sites and uses them to explain the history of living creatures on Earth.

Solar System and Cosmology

George’s Secret Key to the Universe, written by Lucy and Stephen Hawking. Any child who is interested in astronomy or the solar system would do far worse than to read or to listen to this book. My boys had this as a bedtime story a few years ago and we all learned a lot about the solar system. I spotted a copy in Desire Books, Manly, our local secondhand bookshop. If you’re lucky it may still be there.

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One of our families brought along the ‘Big Picture’ book by John Long to our house. This would fit into either of the Cosmology or Earth Science categories. It is a great book about the history of our universe, providing a pictorial overview of what happened when.

The Big Picture

Earth Science and Geology

As mentioned previously, Cracking Up is a great book explaining weathering and erosion.

cracking up book

Short promotional video about sand grains (for younger group)

“Earthly Treasure” by Kate Petty and Jennie Maizels is a pop-up book full of information about Earth Science and minerals. (Look out for other pop-up books by this duo on many other subjects.)

Earthly Treasure book cover

Earthly Treasure inside

Beautiful TedEd video with pop-up book to explain Pangaea and movement of the Earth’s tectonic plates.

What is a volcano? Also briefly includes plate boundaries.

Underwater volcanic eruption

Extreme weather

The Hottest Place on Earth from MinuteEarth.

Note: Many of these videos were first found on The Kid Should See This, which is a great blog for children who learn well from videos. I have given up following the blog myself, because there are just too many videos posted for me to keep up, but I still use it to search for specific videos from time-to-time.

Four Dimensional Minds

“With their four-dimensional minds, and their interdisciplinary ultraverbal way, geologists can wiggle out of almost anything.” – John McPhee

I love this quote about geology. Okay, it’s a bit of a backhanded compliment as it implies that geologists aren’t really proper scientists, “wiggling out of almost anything”. Nevertheless, it reminds me about what a great discipline it is. Firstly, geology can incorporate so many other disciplines (e.g. palaeontology, chemistry, physics and engineering). Secondly, in looking at a rock, or a mountain range, or any geological feature, geologists are not just looking at that three dimensional object, but they are always imagining what might have happened in the past (for it to have formed like that) and what might happen in the future.

The timescales on which these changes happen are not normal human timescales but frequently on the scale of millions or even billions of years. This vast timescale is often referred to as geological time, or Deep Time. Isn’t that pretty amazing?

In the first couple of classes this term I have been trying to expand my students’ minds, to encourage them to become four-dimensional thinkers.

The younger kids were left almost to their own devices to play with sand and water and a few pebbles, and then I came over to talk to them about the different ways that rocks can be eroded and landscapes can be transformed, using their sand structures to illustrate some of the different types of erosion.

I read to them from “Cracking Up” by Jacqui Bailey and Matthew Lilly.

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This book tells the story of a cliff face and how some of the rocks from that cliff become broken off, ground down and transported to the nearby beach and end up as grains of sand. During the story we covered freeze-thaw erosion, erosion by sunwind, rain and waves. The book also briefly mentions how the roots of plants can help to break up rocks. We further discussed how rocks get tumbled and their edges wear off to make them more rounded.

There is an experiment mentioned in the book where you can simulate the freeze-thaw process by putting one wet ball of clay in the freezer and keeping one at room temperature overnight. We haven’t tried this at home yet, but I will post pictures when I have.

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There are also many wonderful rock formations all around Australia with shapes caused by erosion. I have a Steve Parrish book with some great illustrations of these.

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In one group we discussed the Kiama blowhole, which certainly left an impression on my children when we visited a couple of years ago. We tried to model a blowhole with the sand and water, but the sand arch kept collapsing.

There is a lovely storybook about the Kiama blowhole: “The Great Rock Whale“, by Christine Pace and Wendy O’Malley. Some of your children may be interested in reading it or hearing it read aloud to them.

Our older groups have been pretending to be palaeontologists by trying to piece together bones from a xenosmilus skeleton, and identify what kind of creature it was. This was a difficult task and I could tell it was quite frustrating for some children.

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I think I could have done some preparatory work looking at human skeletons, naming the bones and looking at the different types of joints, which would have helped when trying to identify and fit together the xenosmilus bones. For the second class, I prepared a picture of the complete skeleton so that the children could eventually match their bones to the picture and get it ‘right’.

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Of course, in real life the likelihood is that the scientists would not have a complete skeleton and there could be years and years of disagreement about how exactly all the bones might fit together. But I can understand the need to complete the activity rather than leaving it hanging.

It seemed that the children also found it difficult to collaborate. I had split them into two teams for the purposes of collecting the ‘bones’ and they automatically assumed these teams would be in competition rather than trying to work together. It’s interesting to observe these interactions. I suspect it might help to think of other collaborative activities. I believe that science is best done in collaboration with other teams, rather than keeping your work secret and trying to be the team that ‘wins!’ Getting this across to the children might be harder than I thought.