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.


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.


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.

Catching up

Do most 8 year olds know the difference between sedimentary and igneous rocks? I think it was a bit crazy of me to assume this prior knowledge. And covering plate tectonics in one session was similarly overoptimistic. I have re-jigged both Nurture Learning sessions to address these issues.

The Friday group mostly concentrated on plate tectonics as they have already learned about rock types with me, in a previous term. We looked at different types of plate boundary and what might happen at each of them. We used household sponges to indicate the plates, and the mantle underneath. I was very pleased with the children’s insights (for example, working out that a diverging plate boundary would mean creation of new rock, or lithosphere). Next week I will reinforce this thinking by showing them a map of the age of the ocean floor in different parts of the world, and how it fits in with where we think the plate boundaries are.

In the Wednesday group we spent more time covering different rock types and how they form. We made use of this section of the BBC KS3 Bitesize website which has some good, simple designs of sedimentary rocks forming. I did one of my usual blurbs about how igneous rocks form (backed up by another picture). We watched the crazy ‘geodudes’ with their take on the Rock Cycle as seen by using sugar and other confectionery. Despite only being 2 mins long, this clip still manages to get in weathering and transportation of rock particles. Then the children looked at some of my rock samples to decide if they were sedimentary or igneous. (Metamorphic rocks are on my diagram of the rock cycle and I did mention them, but glossed over them somewhat.) This is always a popular activity and helps to bring the whole rock cycle out of the theoretical realm into the actual one.

We then made sedimentary rock models out of sand, water and plaster of Paris. We made them into layers and will test them out next week to see how they erode. Considering the potential for mess, the children were all brilliant and I am looking forward to the mess being contained next week too. (;-)) I hope they all enjoyed this.

The above took up a great deal of the time!! I wanted to show the Wednesday group an animation of the plates shifting over millions of years, but settled for a You Tube video of India colliding with Asia and the formation of the Himalayas. In the Friday group we also watched a simulation of the Himalayas being formed: 70 million years over 2 minutes.

Just to clarify, all the above fits in with our topic of “Changes to the Earth’s Surface” because the Earth’s crust and its geographical features are all made up of rock, and the rocks (although they may seem immutable) are always changing. Features get eroded, plates move around, mountains build up or break down, some plates are subsumed under other plates, new rock is created etc. The conversion of one type of rock into another is called the rock cycle, which I briefly showed to the children in the classes.

Next session we will have to test out our sedimentary rocks we made, and think about different forms of erosion and how humans can speed it up or slow it down. I might even get to finish talking about plate tectonics!

In the younger group, they have been thinking about measuring time and how we can date rocks and fossils. They had sand-timers and stopwatches and tried to work out how long each timer took. The Friday group seemed to have great fun timing each other running around. This is great – I don’t really mind deviations from what I have planned. It’s all learning, and if it is initiated by the children, so much the better. My Wednesday group did some wonderful drawings while the older children were busy with rocks and sand.

I talked to both sets of younger children about how scientists use radiometric dating to date rocks and fossils. The dating works if scientists know the half-life of a radioactive isotope, and what it decays into. They can then look at the relative proportions of the radioactive isotope and the final product. This is something we haven’t even covered with the older group! Please note, I didn’t actually mention the word isotope, just ‘element’, and we didn’t talk about ‘relative proportions’, so don’t worry too much that I’m overwhelming them. They didn’t seem overwhelmed.

We also looked at various events in the history of our solar system, from the formation of the sun to early rock art. The children tried to put the events in order on a timeline, and did a great job.

I am really enjoying these classes. All the children are all wonderful in their own individual ways, and I think the groups work together very well.

I invariably prepare too much material, but I would rather it be that way round than everyone twiddling their thumbs.

The Wednesday older group have in particular been very good at focussing for nearly the whole hour and a half. We generally only find the noise level creeping up towards the last 10 mins. I think this is great for a diverse group at this age and stage.