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The Elementary Years Roadmap for Science – Part 3: The Methods {Season 4, Episode 66}

April 08, 2019 10 min read

Ep 66 The Elementary Years Roadmap for Science – Part 3: The Methods

At this point in our journey down the roadmap for science, we know our goals for elementary science and the tools we can use, but what does it actually look like? In today's episode, we are going to look at a few different scenarios. 

Welcome to the Tips for Homeschool Science Show where we are breaking down the lofty ideals of teaching science into building blocks you can use in your homeschool. 

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The Elementary Years - Part 3: The Methods Transcripts

elementary years -method

In today’s episode, I want to share with you several different ways we have used the five tools we talked about in the last episode to use to accomplish the goals of elementary science. The possibilities are endless, but I hope that these four glimpses at how elementary science has worked in our home will help you to get a picture of how you could do science during the elementary years.

In the end, the method you choose to teach science will depend upon the interests of the student and your strengths as a teacher. No one way is better than the other; it is really dependent on which method fits your homeschool the best. That’s why I say that curriculum is meant to be a tool and not your master. Because we should shape the programs we use to fit our unique situations.

I am going to describe four different scenarios, one using living books, one featuring nature study, one piecing together units, and one doing science within the classical model. Again, all of these options are valid ways to teach science, so choose the one that will work best for your homeschool or create your own eclectic mix of the five tools we discussed in the last episode.

With that said, let’s dig in…

Scenario #1 - Using Living Books

The idea for teaching science this way is that an interesting, living book takes center stage for science.  What the student learns from the living book is then fleshed out through the use of the other four tools – scientific demonstrations, notebooking, projects, and memory work.

You can use a classic living book, such as The Burgess Bird Book for Children, or a more modern option like The Sassafras Science Adventures. Check out the following post for a list of options:

Here is what a week using living books for elementary science looked like for us:

When we used the modern living book, The Sassafras Science Adventures Volume 2: Anatomy, our son was 7 years old and I was training for my first 5k, so I made use of the audiobook to read for me while I ran – one of the perks of using living books for teaching science!

We did science twice a week and on the first day our son listened to the first part of chapter 2 while I ran on the treadmill. After I was done running, we opened his lapbook and chatted about the skeletal system, which was the focus of the chapter. He wanted to add on the purpose page that the job of the skeletal system was "to keep us from being floppy." I wrote that down for him, he stapled the booklet together, and we glued it into his lapbook. Then, we discussed the part where Larry "Snowflake" Maru had held the skull and shared a bit more about it. We laughed about how strange it would be to have a tooth with a picture etched on it. And I asked him, what he remembered about the skull. After he had shared several facts, I asked him what he wanted in his lapbook. He said, "It protects the brain; it is hard," which I wrote down for him. And then we glued the skull mini-book into his lapbook - he didn't want to color it this time. Finally, we read the definitions of the cranium, vertebral column, and skeleton before placing the cards in the vocabulary pocket we had already glued into his lapbook.

On the second day, I read the second part of chapter 2 out loud while our son built with MagnaTiles. After I was done reading, we opened his lapbook and chatted about the skeletal system. He wanted to add on the facts page that the skeletal system had 206 bones, which I wrote for him, and we labeled the skull and backbone on the parts page. Then, we laughed about how scared Snowflake and Raz were and he assured me that he was way braver than they were! I asked him if he could show me where his backbone was and if he could tell me a few facts about that part of his body. After he had shared several facts, I asked him what he wanted in his lapbook. He said, "The backbone holds us up; it is made up of vertebrae," which I wrote down for him. And then we glued the backbone mini-book into his lapbook - again, he didn't want to color the picture on the front. Finally, we did the week's demonstration - entitled "Support System" – where we used hot dog buns and toothpicks to demonstrate the benefits of having a backbone.

Basically, when using a living book for science, you read a section, chat about what happened and use this discussion to pull out the key scientific facts. Then, you write down something to remember, go over vocabulary or memory work if the student is interested. And finally, you wrap up the week with a demonstration and add in an extra project if there is time. This scenario took us about thirty minutes twice a week to complete.

Scenario #2 - Featuring Nature Study

When you teach science this way during the elementary years, your lessons are led by the science you find in nature. The time outside is then enriched by reading science-oriented books, keeping a journal, doing a few extra projects, and possibly working on a bit memory work. Check out the following post to learn more about nature study:

Here is what a week featuring nature study for elementary science looked like for us:

For this particular week, my plan was to learn more about the sedimentary rocks in our area. So, we started by taking a few hours to hike a trail near our home. When we saw an interesting rock, we would stop, observe it, and take pictures. We pulled out our local rock field guide and tried to identify the rocks we found. On the way back, we looked for the sedimentary rock, sandstone, that we had spotted earlier and stopped to create a nature journal page. We sat off the trail and drew the rock in our journals and re-read the page in our field guide about sandstone. Our then 4th grader wrote on her journal page the date, where we found the rock, and the following sentences, “Sandstone is hard but gritty. It is a sedimentary rock composed mainly of quartz rock particles.”

Later on, in the week, we checked out a few books from the library about sedimentary rock and about rock collecting. We read a few of them together and chatted about the rocks we remembered from our hike. Then, we worked together to add pictures of the rocks we identified to a poster that we were creating about the rocks in our area. We reviewed the definition of sedimentary rock and worked a bit on a poem about the different types of rocks that we were memorizing.

When you feature nature study as your main plans for science, you learn about the flora and fauna around you, you create a nature journal, and then you can add in more books, projects, and memory work later in the week to give the students another touchpoint with the material. This scenario took us several hours one day and about twenty on another day to complete.

Scenario #3 - Piecing Together Units

When you piece together units for teaching science during the elementary years, you are exploring topics that either the student is interested in or you want to cover. You do this by creating (or purchasing) a plan that will share about the topic using the tools – scientific demonstrations, books, notebooking, projects, and memory work. Check out the following posts to learn more about lapbooks:

Here is what a week piecing together a unit for elementary science looked like for us:

At the time, our son was super interested in volcanoes and we had a big trip planned to go to Iceland. So, I figured it was the perfect time to take a break and do a unit of volcanoes. I pulled together a quick lapbook on the subject using the book National Geographic Readers: Volcanoes as our guide.

On Monday through Thursday, we read a few pages from the volcano book and added a short narration to one of the mini-books. Then, we glued the mini-book into the lapbook and finished our time by going over the new vocabulary that was introduced, making cards for the words, and adding the cards to the vocabulary pocket.

The last day of the week, we spent quite a bit of time making and painting a volcano to explode in our backyard! In between drying times, we reviewed the vocabulary and looked over the lapbook we had made. We also read a book on Volcanoes from the Let's Read and Find Out Science series that we got from the library. Once the volcano was ready, we exploded it several times in the backyard!

When you piece together a unit, you spend time reading about the subject and write down what you have learned in a lapbook, notebook, or journal. Then, you add in a hands-on science activity and a few extra projects and vocabulary if there is time. These units can be a week-long, a month-long, or longer than that, but this scenario took us about ten to fifteen minutes a day at the beginning of the week and a little over an hour on Friday to complete.

Scenario #4 - Doing Science Within the Classical Model

It’s no secret that I am a fan of the classical education model that is described in The Well-Trained Mind by Jessie Wise and Susan Wise Bauer. And though, as you can see, we have explored the other options, we always seem to land back at doing science within the classical model because it’s what fits my teaching style the best.

When you teach science within the classical model, your week is centered on demonstrations that are enhanced with reading from visually-appealing encyclopedias and notebooking. You will also add in the classical education hallmark of memory work and a few extra projects. Check out the following post to learn more about science within the classical education model:

Here is what a week of doing science within the classical model for elementary science looked like for us:

This year, we are working through Chemistry for the Grammar Stage and the week I am sharing about is from the periodic table unit. Our week, began with a demonstration where we cleaned pennies using an acid of one of the nitrogen elements, phosphoric acid, which you can find in cola.

The next day we read about the nitrogen elements from the assigned book. We chatted about what the elements in this group were like and decided to add the following to his notebooking page, “The nitrogen elements are a mish-mash. Some of the elements are gas, some are solid.” Then, we added the nitrogen elements to his periodic table poster and worked on memorizing the periodic table poem.

The next day we read about nitrogen and added what he learned to his notebooking page. At this point, he dictates his narration to me and then copies it into his notebook. After that, we went over the week's vocabulary and then watch the suggested video on the nitrogen cycle. The day after that, we did the same for phosphorus and continued to review the periodic table poem.

When you do science within the classical model, you study one discipline each year, using demonstrations, readings, notebooking, memory work, and the occasional project to flesh out what you want the students to know. You can also use this style of teaching science for a more traditional approach to studying multiple subjects rather than one discipline per year. But either way, this scenario took us about ten to twenty minutes a day to complete.

In a nutshell

Although there are many different methods for teaching elementary science, your goals remain the same. You want to spark the student’s interest in science as well as fill their knowledge bucket with scientific information.

It’s okay to try out the options to see which one fits you the best as long as you make sure that you hit all three keys – doing hands-on science, gathering scientific information, and writing down what you learned – each week. And if you have time, sprinkle in the remaining tools of extra projects and memory work.

When you teach science in this way during the elementary years, your student will develop an interest to learn more. And just like during the early years, this interest will pave the way for a much easier science-learning experience in future years.

In the next episode of season 4, we are going to move onto the next stage on our roadmap to teaching science – the middle school years.

Until then…thanks for listening – I hope that you leave our time together encouraged in your homeschooling journey.

Let me know what you think by leaving a rating or review in iTunes or in the podcasting app you use to listen to the Tips for Homeschool Science Show. I would appreciate you taking the time to do so as it inspires those of us who work so hard to put this podcast together for you to enjoy and helps others to find this podcast.

I would love to also connect with you beyond the earbuds! You can find me on Instagram or drop me an email through the link below.

I can’t wait to share another piece of the roadmap in our next episode, but until then – I hope you have a great week playing with science!

See how we can help you teach science to your elementary student!


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