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Lesson 2: It's okay to have a failed experiment {Season 3, Episode 51}

Lesson 2: It's okay to have a failed experiment {Season 3, Episode 51}

In today's episode, we will chat about the most important lesson I want you to get about teaching science - it's okay to have a failed experiment. If you only listen to one lesson for this season, let this one be it.

Welcome to Season 3 of The Tips for Homeschool Science Show. This season, I am sharing 10 lessons I have learned in my ten plus years of homeschooling.  I hope that all of them will help you on your homeschooling journey!

{Disclaimer - I don't claim to know everything there is to know about homeschooling, but these ten lessons are ones that I have found important and useful in my homeschooling journey. And I trust that you will too.}

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Lesson 2 Transcripts

If you only listen to one lesson for this season, let this one be it. Today I am sharing a lesson that I hope everyone knows about teaching science at home.  I want you to know that it's okay to have a failed experiment. I want you to be assured that a failed experiment does not mean that you have failed at teaching science.

The one thing that seems to keep people from teaching science is an anxiety that your experiments won’t go as planned. I have heard variations of this fear, but in general, experiments tend to be a source of stress for homeschoolers.

And while it is important that we do hands-on science activities with our students. Things like experiments, demonstrations, and nature studies help our students to see the face of science. I want you to be assured that a hands-on activity that doesn’t go the way it should have does not mean that you have failed at sharing the face of science.

In science, we learn from our failures. In fact, failed experiments are a normal part of the scientific process.

In the homeschool setting our goal is to have our experiments and demonstrations work most of the time since we are using them as learning tools to show the face of science to our students. But when one doesn’t go as planned it does not equal a failed learning experience.

Before homeschooling, I had plenty of lab experience, but doing experiments at home is a bit different. Here are three tips for doing experiments at home that I have discovered over the years.

Tip #1 – Be prepared.

The easiest way to prevent experiment duds is to have the supplies you need on hand. Some things you can control, like making sure you have toothpicks and marshmallows for that backbone demonstration. Some things you can’t control, like the sun for that temperature in the sun versus the shade experiment.

The idea is to gather the things you can for the experiments you will do. If you’re a Type A homeschooler who plans it all out ahead of time, you can gather the materials you need for the activities on your plan a week, a month, or a year in advance.

If you’re a Type B homeschooler who tracks what you do each day after it’s done, you can keep a science supply cabinet or box with supplies that are typically needed for experiments. That way, when the mood strikes, you can dig into the science supply cabinet and start the science fun.

Tips #2 – Always discuss.

Being prepared sets you up for your hands-on science time. During that time, you want to keep talking with your students because they are learning not only from what they are seeing, but also from what you are sharing – that’s why good experiment books will include introduction and explanation blurbs.

Here are a few things you can discuss along the way:

  • Share the purpose
  • Ask the students what they are seeing
  • Talk about how what you are seeing relates to what you are learning
  • Discuss whether what they thought would happen is what happened
  • Share the explanation and make sure they understand it by asking more questions

If your experiment doesn’t go as planned, chat about the reasons why you think this might have happened. And then test the ideas if possible.

Either way, discussing an experiment with your students helps to ensure that they are learning about science no matter what the outcome of the activity is.

Tip #3 – Don’t get discouraged.

So, if you have worked hard on preparing and you have discussed the experiments along the way, but you just can’t get out of the failure rut, I want to encourage you not to get discouraged. Don’t give up on teaching science!

Experiments in your house are not the only way to share the hands-on aspect of science. You can get outside for nature study. You can take your kids to the science museum. You can go to a co-op and let someone else handle those science experiments. You can take advantage of STEM camps in your area.

You can let your kids play and design their own experiments – just don’t give them materials that could potentially combine and blow up your house!  Hands-on science should be fun, so don’t get discouraged when it doesn’t go according to plan.

Instead find a way to make it work for your family.

In a Nutshell

So relax, not every experiment will go as planned and that is okay! You can talk about it and repeat it if there is time on that particular day.

But if you are prepared, if you always discuss, and if you don’t get discouraged – your students will learn about science despite a failed experiment every now and then.

Additional Resources

If you want a few more tips for success with experiments, check out episode 20 from season 1 where I shared five tips for actually doing experiments.

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