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Hands on Science Learning 90

An anonymous reader writes "Now that school is starting up, the perpetual challenge of making learning interesting and fun is back. The YesICan! Science project at York University has tried to help by creating activities for students which involve real-time (or recent) science experiments. For example, the current activity involves measuring the size of the moon using measurements of the solar position from a Russian nuclear icebreaker on its trek to the North Pole. Another had a webcast from the International Space Station. Are there other such resources out there to help bring real science into the classroom?"
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Hands on Science Learning

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  • My parents bought me one of those Radio Shack project kits that already had all the components with little springs attached to them. You'd simply hook up wires between things and let the magic smoke out. I'm sure if I had the paitence back in the day, I'd probably have actually made the AM radio transmitter and blinkenlights things like the manual said.

    It's a good thing I didn't have the Internet back then, a potato cannon [] or a tesla coil [] would have been a lot more dangerous than just a little bit of Radio Shack brand magic smoke.
  • by jukal ( 523582 ) on Monday September 09, 2002 @05:10AM (#4219384) Journal
    One audience where we would like to target openchallenge [] is universities and schools in general.

    So, if there is any teachers reading this article, I invite you to visit the challenge list [] regularly to see if there is anything your students could do as their coursework. Instead a solution for a theoretical task, your students could also solve someone's real problem and have it published under open source.

  • by neksys ( 87486 ) <grphillips AT gmail DOT com> on Monday September 09, 2002 @05:10AM (#4219385)
    The real question: Are there any affordable ways to make science interesting and fun for students? Webcams on the ISS are one thing, but not every school can afford such endeavours. The sad fact is that many school districts in Canada, especially in the West, are doing without many necessities for their science programs - the money just isn't there. How can science be brought into the classroom in a fun way that doesn't cost an arm and a leg? These are public schools, after all - and untimately, we're the ones who pay them. Lets make the most out of what we can afford.
    • Experiments don't have to be huge, fancy-schmancy deals that take all day and have millions of data collection points. They can be more like snapshots. Try:

      • Go outside (or stay inside with a tarp and high ceiling). Fill an empty film cannister 1/2 to 2/3 full of water. Drop half an Alka-Seltzer tablet into the cannister, and cap it tightly. QUICKLY put it down on the ground and back up. As the tablet dissolves, it'll fizz-fizz. The quickly-expanding gas will pop the top off the cannister. The experiment shows how gases expand. Alternatively, you can take a wide-mouthed balloon and put it over the cannister mouth to catch all the generated gas.
      • Get slinkies and go to the staircase in the building. While in the hallway, you can have the kiddies make transverse waves and compression waves. Explain that big waves are loud noises (amplitude), and more nodes in a given length of slinky make for a higher pitched "sound." Then get a violin and/or guitar and play with pitches. Back to the hallway to make propagating waves (short, quick snaps at one end travel to the other and bounce back). This is how slinkies work on the stairs, transferring the energy. (Note: this experiement will stretch out the slinkies).
      • Get a simple cake recipe. Divide up the kiddies into groups. Have each group omit one ingredient. You can do the baking if the kids are too young. Find out what ingredients do in the kitchen. (You might want to try the book How to Read a French Fry [] (and other links in that article) to get some ideas.)
      • Take your fingerprint (finger on clean glass) and blow it up with the photocopier (alter some lines if you wish). Get some other fingerprints (about 20 is good). Make up a mystery (theft of magnifying glasses works). Have small groups match a found fingerprint to the suspects' fingerprints using transparancy sheets and markers (you mark only the ends of some lines). Have a discussion on whorls, loops, arches, and so on.
      • Do a unit on the weather. There's usually lots of it. Cloud types, weather symbols on TV, how tornados form, what a front is, etc. Have the kids make their own "TV" forecast.

      It's just thinking of things to do once you have a topic. Chances are, if you ever thought, "gee, I wonder how that works," the students in your class will too. Look it up!

      • I would have hated to have you as a teacher.
  • For example, the current activity involves measuring the size of the moon

    I know this one website that's got a FULL moon your can measure... Darnest thing is, the firewall at the school won't let it rise.
  • Regardless of the good intentions, little diversions from the mindless droning on of a teacher standing in front of a classroom while kids zone out are just that, LITTLE.

    The methods of education need to be changed from the bottom up. There need to be fundamental changes. Although these will not come about from the inside, because the methods in place are dogma. How do you change an establishments dogma, well if its the church you dont go ask priests and the pope what to replace the standards with. Until there are outside forces, like science was to a church, probably commercial educational enterprises to the current schools, fixing education will be like fixing a car with square wheels by putting in a better stereo.

    • Ok, enough of the analogies about how hard it would be to implement changes in education. You say the educational system needs fundamental changes. What would you propose be changed?
      • if you cant tell the direction i would change it from the content of my posting we're not going to get anywhere.
        • > if you cant tell the direction i would change it
          > from the content of my posting we're not going to
          > get anywhere.

          So your answer to his question is "No, I don't have a proposal to change the education system".

          If that's an error, outline your changes. Don't just say "It's obvious!" because it isn't.

          EVERYONE has a quick fix that would supposedly turn all our young people into geniuses. Very few (if any) of these have been proven to work at the scale of, say, educating all the children in the USA. I'd like to hear *your* proposal.
        • Forgive me for saying so, but I'm not sure you said much in your original post which is not equivalent to "the education system sucks and needs to be changed". Okay, fine, but this is not a very substantial observation, and it's quite easy to make such an observation.

          On the other hand, it's quite a bit more difficult to actually give a concrete suggestion to fix something. Do you have any? Or, forgetting a solution, can you even tell me about something specific you think is a problem?

    • > Until there are outside forces, like science
      > was to a church, probably commercial educational
      > enterprises to the current schools, fixing
      > education will be like fixing a car with
      > square wheels by putting in a better stereo.

      The "external forces" I can see are these:

      1) Parental involvement. Kids learn more when their parents are into it. It helps if the parents themselves are somewhat educated and do some "intellectual" things like (by golly) reading books. Parental involvement, by the way, means more than parents whining that their kid isn't doing good in school.

      2) A social environment that places value on education. Think about this - how are people that do well on school portrayed on the nation's babysitter (the television)? Not too well, eh? Who's paid more, a professional baseball/basketball/football player or a rocket scientist? If we don't show kids that there's a value in learning in SOCIETY (not just in the classroom), then why do we whine so when these kids don't bother learning?

      Change these and the educational system will evolve to accomodate these new students. Believe me, teachers *like* students that you don't have to spoon-feed everything to. Fix #1 and #2 above, and teachers will be glad to try something new!
  • Ok, we all like to have "fun" studying, or find people interested in what we teach as instructors. This is sound and reasonable, but no matter what we do, this mainly would not depend on how the topic is taught, but what is the topic is about.

    The new style of teaching started concentrating lately in styles of teaching rather than the content itself, schools started reducing the content while adding things that "try" to develop interest. That's ok, but still I believe we're missing the most important point, the content.

    If I don't like physics, no matter what we'd do in class, measuring the size of the moon or the radius of the sun, this might be fun depending on how it was done. However, when we get down to earth and return to the book, and I'd have to "read" and "solve" things related to this topic, my temproary built interest would die, and the size of the moon will end just as being memory.

    What I'd personally do would be giving people more choice on what they study, make shorter courses with more specific content for instance, or just give normally courses that are more tailored to your area of interest.

    As a computer science student, I had to study chemistry for instance. studying physics or math is quite sound for a computer related topic, although kienimatics for instance would mean nothing. Nevertheless, chemistry means totally nothing to a computer science student, still I had to study a full course that nothing in my university major depends on. Why would I be in any way interested?

    We enjoyed some of the lab work, it was nice and expermintal, but ...

    Well that was just an example, the point is, don't try to force the information into my head, let me choose what to study, and I'm sure, very sure, I will like it ..

    Thanks for reading ..
    • What you are proposing is further specialization in an already peg-holed teaching system. We are increasingly specialized as university graduates, knowing more and more about a smaller topic. You can see where this is leading - it seems like soon each one of us will know everything about nothing. Yes, an overly simplistic remark, but illustrious of my meaning.

      I don't see anything wrong with computer science graduates knowing a little chemistry, whether they enjoy the course, or not. One day, someone from your class might discover a new method of computing, make chips from a totally different material. All because he has a notion of chemistry.

      The day of the "renaissance man" is long gone. Our knowledge of the sciences has gone too deep for any one man to be competitive in all or even a few. Still, I support the multi-faceted education system that gives the student an idea of other subjects along with an in-depth educaiton on his chosen subject.

      • Being a "educated" person is no longer a student's goal in University learning...but it really should be. Educated people have taken calculus. Educated people are familiar with Shakespeare. Educated people understand Hegel's Dialectic. Educated people know what Piaget's developmental stages are.

        All of this is not to say that you have to master everything you do, but rather to learn for the sake of better understanding the world and ourselves independant of our efforts to contribute meaningfully to science, society or industry.

        Yes I am a programmer, and yes I took every math course under the sun, but the college courses I remember the most about and enjoyed the most were the ones not even closely related to my major.

        • I know plenty of people that went through a calculus class and remember nothing about it. _You_ may have been interested enough in calculus to have retained some. I think that the spirit of a lot of what you are saying is true, but I take exception to your defining what "educated" means in terms of a few random things that you happen to have liked. Basically, I agree with you wholeheartedly that learning a wide variety of subjects is healthy, life enriching, and desirable. The following rant is about the implied idea that there are particular subjects that a person must have in order to be considered educated (I realize that you might not have really meant that and that it probably wasn't your main point even if you did. But there are plenty of people who do think that and push it as an agenda, so we might as well engage the idea :).

          Should _everybody_ take Shakespeare classes in school? In Shakespeare's time, wasn't there another way people learned about his stuff? If people go to the plays and like them, a good fraction of them might like to stay after for a short study session about some of the academic aspects of what they have just seen.

          The _last_ thing we need is _another_ "list of things that ever student should know, dammit!". What we need is an easy way to get access to the content, people who are good at showing people what is interesting about the content, and an easy way for people to hook up with other people who can show them more stuff or resources that they can use to learn it on their own.

          I have seen some Shakespeare plays done as movies, don't have any idea what "Hegel's Dialectic" is, know enough about current cognitive development theory to realize that Piaget's development stages are a horribly flawed set of ideas based on experiments that were laughably inadequate to show what he thought they were showing, and I have a pretty good idea about basic chemistry, physics, and calculus.

          Shall we duel with abstract algebra at thirty paces? Is it important that I know what a group homomorphism is and you don't (if you don't, of course)? Part of my "education" (read "life" :) involved learning the history of the mountain dulcimer and how to play it. Are you not "educated" because you didn't learn that? What do you know about accounting rules?

          You took classes you were interested in. You didn't mention that you know the consistencies and techniques of different kinds of paints. What musical instruments do you play? Given the appropriate tools, do you know what you need to do to rebuild an engine?

          Should that stuff be required? Should we call that what it means to be "educated"? I applaud your effort at becoming educated, and I hope that you have continued to become educated. But I don't think that we should say "an educated person will know X, Y, and Z". For one thing, that leads to "required classes", which leads to professors being forced to teach those classes to people who are forced to be in them. And very little education takes place in that sort of environment.

          It concerns me that we take something that can be as utterly delightful as Shakespeare (or, in my opinion, mathematics), and decide "Everyone should know this" and therefore "if they don't wnat to learn it, we're going to shove it down their throats anyway, it's for their own good.".


      • There is more to learn now, granted. But there is more time to learn it than there was during the renaissance. The renaissance men were a famous few who didn't have to toil all day to eke out a living.

        Today, people spend _lots_ of time watching sticoms and sports. They could easily be spending that time learning. The technology is there for the material to be presented clearly and in your own home. We _could_ do it, but we don't, becaues we don't value it.

  • back in the day (Score:1, Interesting)

    by agnosonga ( 601770 )
    when I was in elementary school, I remember:

    drawing a blue whale actual size in the tennis courts with sidewalk chalk
    making crystal radios
    calculating the area of a puddle as an introduction to PI

    just my few thoughts

    • Re:back in the day (Score:2, Interesting)

      by Smidge204 ( 605297 )
      I had a physics teacher like that. Every week we had a 'packet' due as homework. The packet included the usual homework problems and lab reports, and a 'home-lab'

      The home lab was a real-life application of whatever topic we were on that week. Some of them were pretty dangerous, too :) For example:

      -Calculate the mass of an object by tying it to a string and swinging it around your head.

      -Estimate the friction between a car's tires and the road by having an older sibling/parent stop the car as quickly as possible (without skidding!)

      -Estimate the total power developed by your body by running up a flight of stairs as quickly as possible.

      -Explore the nature of levers by holding the snow shovel in different spots while shoveling (obviously, we had class over the winter session)

      Each homelab would have to be completed just like a regular lab report would, stating goals of the experiemnt, control conditions, variables being tested, and results. The only difference was that there was n step-by-step instructions on what to do... you were just asked to do it and left to figure it out based on what you supposedly learned in class.

      The interactivity really helps kids to remember that stuff. Now I do it for a living!
  • I'd be more than happy if some of my teachers started using methods that are not 30 years old, for starters :)
  • by taliver ( 174409 ) on Monday September 09, 2002 @05:49AM (#4219458)
    All right, I'm going to go out on a limb here. Why should everything be fun? Sure science can be fun, but there are plenty of times that the non-fun things must be done before you can enjoy the truly fun things in science.

    Now, I really mean this towards all subjects. There are certain things that children should know, and sometimes learning them just isn't fun. What if the question was, "How can I make all food taste like candy so children will eat it?" Perhaps kids should be taught the value of learning and discovery outside of the "Hey, that's pretty nifty" look of a pretty demonstration. Science is not simply a fireworks exhibit, and I'm not convinced that showing children pretty pictures makes them want to go out and learn and perform science any more than watching a trip up Everest makes me want to be a mountain climber.

    Occasionally things in life are boring. Education should not always be fun and entertaining, Especially since a lot of teachers slice out the meat of the learning since it just isn't "fun."
    • Well, I think it should ..

      Being something you do, you should at least have an interest in it in order to do it well, if something isn't interesting then all you'll be doing is gulping information from one side, and throwing it away from the other side. This is *not* useful, and it is just *not* what we want.

      Are we really studying to simply "suffer"? I guess not, we study and go to school to "learn", so it rather be useful. Not a waste of time with no real value.

      Thanks for reading ...

      • I don't think students should suffer. However, you've already made the dichotomy "No Fun = Pain". This is simply not the case. And as others are more eloquently pointing out, a deeper appreciation of learning does not come from MTV clip style education. Ever wonder why children have attention problems? It's because we've given up on expecting a modicum of effort on their part, and assume that we have to make everything fun for them.
        • hmm well, if you've read my first post in this thread, I'm into into this kind of fun (the MTV clip style education). But school should still be interesting and enjoyable by its 'content' being relevant to the person's interests.

          Thanks for reading ...

          • So, let's assume I've grown up with instant gratification. If I'm not having fun at every instant in my life, something must be wrong, right? I watch TV and play video games. If I'm at school, they are either playing nifty cartoon things or letting me dress up and crawl around like I was part of history, or I get to throw things around and pretend I'm learning science. What? I need to do some paper work that doesn't involve nifty artwork and pictures? I don't think so.

            And when they have to discover things on their own, are they going to know how to do any background research? That's often not any fun...

            Why don't children have any attention span? Because we don't expect them to have one, nor do we expect them to develop one.

            Now, I know I'm starting to look like a "It's supposed to hurt" kind of educator at this point. Thta's really not what I'm saying. I believe that learning can be "fun", but moreso, that it can be deeply satisfying. Many athletes who have great fun at their sports absolutely hate practicing, but they do it anyway, knowing the payoff is worth it.

            Here's one area where the sports coaches know what they are doing better than the educators. Walk out to a football practice sometime and tell me if you really think those students are enjoying what they are doing every minute.

            • > Here's one area where the sports coaches know
              > what they are doing better than the educators.
              > Walk out to a football practice sometime and tell
              > me if you really think those students are
              > enjoying what they are doing every minute.

              The football coach, it should be said, has help. Professional football players (and to an extent, college players) are idolized by television and the media. Kids see this and WANT to play football - even if it's painful. Parents also get in on it. If daddy says you're not gonna ever be a man unless you play football, by golly you're gonna play football!
    • Why should everything be fun? Simple.
      Making things fun encourages children to do those things. It gets them more involved. I got more out of my classes and learned more in school when the projects were fun.
    • by Bazzargh ( 39195 ) on Monday September 09, 2002 @07:14AM (#4219620)
      Quite right. The true purpose of science is as a tool for evil overlords, not as kids entertainment.

      Anyway, every kid knows that the guys in white coats have a reduced life expectancy due to explosions in undersea bases. What kind of career choice is that?
    • Yes, some things are boring and dull, but many things don't have to be that way. I agree that science shouldn't be "candy" (it's not always so sweet), but you can have fireworks (it's the metal salts in fireworks that produce the colors).

      I was involved in a chemistry show [] during college. Instead of the normal "look, this turns green and this turns red" kind of boring (and sorta pointless show), we took nifty demos that relate to real-life, incorporated them into skits, and performed for elementary- and middle-school kids. For example:

      • The Muppet's Swedish Chef burbled (through a translator, of course) how bread rises using a reaction similar to vinegar + baking soda (generates CO2 gas, which expands as it's heated in the oven)
      • Hanz und Franz (apologies to SNL) pump up the kiddies with ethanol as an alternative fuel to dirty gasoline (use piezo poppers to ignite a drop of ethanol)
      • A newscast interviews eye-witnesses at the Hindenburg explosion, then demonstrates the difference between lighting a hydrogen balloon and a helium balloon with a spark

      These experiements are pretty inexpensive, pretty simple, and can be impressive. It just gets the audience going. Chances are, the kiddies will remember something about hydrogen and helium exploding (or not) rather than what chemical turned the flask green.

      • Ok, so you showed them:
        1) Hydrogen burns.
        2) CO2 can be produced
        3) Ethanol burns.

        And all this, I'm guessing, in a program that only took about 30 minutes. And what do the kiddies remember from it today? Probably that things burn or go boom. No understanding. No more desire to do anything more scientific than read the Anarcist's (sp?) Cookbook.

        Once again, I am not saying that Science is not fun. However, at no time should content be reduced for the sake of entertainment. I truly believe science should be more "interesting" than "fun". Watch "The Mechanical Universe" [] for a way for physics to be interesting and educational, if not necessarily fun.

        (Yes, it is a bit above the level of a 5th grader, but blowing things up is closer to the level of a 5 year old)

        • Our hour-long show did not completely consist of forming gases and explosions. Those were the attention-getting experiments included in a couple of the skits.

          I agree with you on some level. In most chemistry/science shows, weird and impressive things are done (flasks magically turn orange to black, a gummy bear shoots across the room with the addition of liquid, balloons explode into balls of fire), but five minutes after the show, the whole mess is forgotten as the show had zero context. This is where you say: "when will I use this in my life?"

          The show with which I was involved provided a context: Ethanol is a powerful fuel additive, CO2 is produced so that bread rises, the Hindenburg burned because it contained hydrogen instead of helium. We received thank-you letters from the kids, some weeks later, and those crayon-covered papers were some of the best verifications that we had that they did remember the context (hence, the "real-life" application), and not just the explosions from our shows.

    • There are two sides to this that I see.

      1) Yes, you do take a risk by trying to make school "Fun," particularly if this is done at the expense of true education. There is no substitute for mathematical exercises, spelling list memorizations, reading etc. Thes things are irrepalcable, no matter how many multimedia presentations you try to substitute them with.

      2) However, I can see the value in trying to excite students about a subject that mignt not, according to the students' perception, be exciting. The aim of course, is to expose students to a subject in a way that may stimulate their enthusiasm, and therefore have them motivated from their own desire and curiosity, rather than the simple reason of "I have to take this course." To restate, an engaged and motivated student will perform better, and will, hopefully, WANT to learn more. This is the kind of thinking that can overcome the doldrums of all the rote, sometimes boring, mechanical processes that are required to learn higher math and science.

      The real victory for the student, and to a lesser degree the teacher, is when a student begins to enjoy the hard stuff. For myself, the turning point was in Algebra 2 in high school. Until that point, the exercises and problems were, naturally, a chore. Then, when we studied matricies with 3 and more variables, something changed. I actually stared to enjoy the "work" of math. The fun was in the process, in getting the right answer. I was able to carry this into college with me and it was by far the most important thing I learned in High School.

      Vincit que se vincit.
    • Let's phrase the question a different way:

      "Should learning be engaging?"

      Scientists do the hard, drudgerous parts of their work. Whay? Not because they spent a lot of time doing hard, drudgerous work in school, and they're practiced at it. They do it because they want to know the answer.

      Kids will do hard, tedious things, too, if they want to know the answer. Good "real science in real classrooms" projects almost always involve a lot of fairly tedious steps, but the kids are willing to do that because their minds are turned on, and they want to know.

      Watch a baby developing fine motor skills. It's painful--you have to sit on your hands or turn away after a while to suppress the urge to "do it for them". But they do it. They do "pen drills"--taking the lid off a pen and putting the lid on again, taking it off, putting it on. They work and work and work to get that lid on. Who is standing over them, threatening them with bad grades or detention for not getting their work done?

      No one. The human mind will do the hard stuff once it gets interested. It's a human trait. The idea that we actually need to force kids through various drills is unproven at best. There is a tremendous amount of evidence to the contrary.

      (See similar rants at

      Now, I agree that it doesn't really do what we want to just have whizbang "hey that's cool" demonstrations and stuff. There's an article on that site about combustion--the "hey, that's cool" stuff is like lighting the leaves and dry grass, then you want to have something a little bigger for the fire to feed on, and eventually you get to being able to throw big logs on there. If all you do is show kids Bill Nye, it's like lighting a pile of dry leaves. Yes, the interest flares right up, but if that's all you have it will burn out pretty quickly and not really accomplish much. What you need is a good activity to go on to once their interest has been sparked by something Bill Nye'ish (Bill Nye's shows generally suggest a "try this yourself" activity, that would probably be a good place to start).

      Of course, in my opinion the right way to do this is to show all the kids Bill Nye, then see who wants to try the "do it yourself" activity. Show kids the equivalent art or dance stuff and give them the opportunity to dig further into that. Let whoever wants to dig further into each thing so so, and whoever doesn't can do whatever it was that did spark their interest.

      Some kids will want to work hard to learn to dance. Some will want to work hard to learn science or math. "But everyone needs to be able to do math!", you reply. Not really, and that isn't the point. If people need to know a topic, they will be interested in learning it, and they can learn it then. If you force them through it before they are ready, they will develop anxiety or general dislike for it, and you will have a hard time ever getting them to learn it when they finally do have something they want to do that would require it.

      Attempting to teach a kid something they don't want to learn is, in many cases, _worse_ than a waste of time--it's a negative use of time. It convinces them that the topic is boring/hard/useless, and severely damages our chances of ever getting them to see what is interesting, fun, or useful about it.

      Or, at least, that's what I think.
  • Science education at the Chicago Public Schools is alive and well. Those interested in tapping into the expertise of our principals and teachers are invited to join our mailing lists []. We have lots of experience teaching science education on a budget.
  • Pongsat! (Score:2, Informative)

    Ooh baby! You'll love this! (or your money back, heh, heh!)
    The folks at JP Aerospace have created a program where students can send a ping pong ball sized package into space for. . .FREE! If it's edumacational, they'll make the room. Something like six hundred packages are expected to be approved.
    I've got to get to a client site and I'm too rushed to do the HREF mambo so, just go to my site (reed and wright above) and you'll find all the links. You might also want to check out the /. discussion of home schooling a while back (which you can also find by checking out my posts)
    Gotta motor!
    • Your site wasn't all that navigable so I wasn't able to get more info. So I will post without knowing the facts.

      With all the crap we already have in space let's not let kids screw it up even more for a science project. Or else when they grow up they will look up at where the stars used to be and know they can never go because 20,000 kids added to the already 1,000s of small and large pieces of junk orbiting our planet and hindering our progress.

    • Sorry that was I in such a rush this morning. Trust me, if you'ld had to wade through the zoo down by the WTC site (visiting police strutting about, tourists blocking the sidewalks, media types damn near hitting folks with eighty bazillion pound cameras) to, get this, coordinate a move, you'ld want to get in and out ASAP too.
      Anyway, the direct Pongsat link is here [], most of my other science teacher resources are here [] (check out SciPlus in particular; they're amazing). The homeschooling discussion is archived here [], and the obligatory LEGO link is here [].
      Good luck,
  • In two places, the experiment assumes that the sun is very far away from the earth. How did the ancient greeks know that the sun was much farther away than the moon, and that the sun was far away from the earth in comparison to the earth's diameter?
  • by meridoc ( 134765 ) on Monday September 09, 2002 @09:55AM (#4220284)

    Getting kids involved with something "real" (insert "tangible" or "active" if you like) is one of the best ways I've found to get them interested (as a student and an instructor). Here's some stuff I did while teaching at summer day camps at the Capital Children's Museum [] a couple of years ago:

    • Baking muffins to learn why breads have holes, and figuring out why one recipe used baking soda and one used baking powder (kitchen chemistry, as well as some acid-base stuff);
    • Figuring out whether normal, dried or soaked popcorn kernels pop best (including taste-testing), and freezing ice cream using baggies, rock salt and ice (solids/liquids/gases)
    • Making three kinds of "slime" (or gak or flubber) and explaining what non-Newtonian fluids are (my second-graders showed up some adults!)

    Try these sites to get some ideas:

    • The JASON project [] was started by Dr. Robert Ballard (the guy who discovered the Titanic and other sunken ships)
    • Local colleges and high schools often present chemistry shows (or physics/science shows). Here's a plug for my alma mater: Lawrence University []). I swear the show is more entertaining than the description on that page.
    • PBS is full of things, including a show called ZOOM! [], the ever-popular Newton's Apple [], and wacky Bill Nye the Science Guy [].
    • At the U of W Madison, Prof. Shakhashiri [] created THE definitive books of demonstrations (Caution: he's kind of dry, but the demos are great!)
    • Science museums also often have some sort of hands-on stuff. Go ahead and "borrow" from them! Here's the Oregon Museum of Science and Industry [] and the Science Museum of Minnesota []

    Good luck!

    • Museums are a great place to get ideas and resources. The one I work for offers science and history loan kits for educators that includes artifacts and other things that many schools don't have access to. There's also a science center to help parents and teachers in finding new ways to teach science and math to the children. If you're truly interested in getting kids excited about science, check with your local museum. They are usually willing to help out and have a wealth of materials and ideas to make science more engaging.
    • Don't forget to have them write a report. It's one thing to show them something cool, but it's much better to show them something cool, have everyone figure out what it is, then write exactly what happened and why it's cool in a coherent form. That kind of writing is not exactly the same thing they'll learn in English class.
  • Real experiments (Score:4, Interesting)

    by parvati ( 41221 ) on Monday September 09, 2002 @10:59AM (#4220732)
    One of the things I *hated* about my high school science classes (and some of my college classes) was that everything we did had been done before. Some of this was ok--looking at things through a microscope, for example--but when we had to do experiments in which we knew what the outcome would be, it seemed utterly pointless.

    And then I took an Advanced Biology course. Our teacher found out that the town needed someone to survey a particular stream that ran through the town--look at the organisms present, measure turbidity, etc. She offered up our class, and that's what we did during most of our lab days (along with a fair number of our after-school hours) that year. At the end we wrote up a report and presented it to the town, and they used it to determine what sorts of development could be allowed in areas near the stream. It was pretty damn cool. I'm not saying that that class was the only reason that I'm currently in a PhD program for biological sciences, but it was definitely the first of a select few career-defining experiences.

    My point here is that while repetition is the mainstay of real world science, it's not what should be used to pique interests. To the teachers out there: don't just order lab books full of tried, true and deathly boring experiments that have been done by a hundred previous classes. Come up with something that might actually make a difference--no matter how small its eventual impact on the world as a whole, its impact on budding scientists is massive.
    • One of the things I *hated* about my high school science classes (and some of my college classes) was that everything we did had been done before.

      Having been a physics TA, most students aren't really happy either when, after spending 2 or 3 hours in the lab, they have nothing to show for it because the experiment didn't work.

      The point of the labs is (supposed to be) to reinforce concepts you learned earlier in class and to make them a little less abstract. HS and freshman-level labs are rigged to succeed so that the lab itself won't get in the way of what you're supposed to be learning.


  • This is excerpted from MIT's website, where the new TEAL program uses high-tech classrooms and lots of in-class experiments to enhance the teaching of physics:

    Introductory Physics is a fundamental underpinning of a technical education, but the material is difficult for students to master. It is a subject in which mathematical complexity can quickly overwhelm physical intuition.

    We are developing a prototype for a reform of physics education at MIT which is designed to help students develop much better intuition about, and conceptual models of, physical phenomena. This reform is centered on an "active learning" approach -- that is, a highly collaborative, hands-on environment, with extensive use of desktop experiments and educational technology.

    The basic plan is to merge lecture, recitations, and hands-on laboratory experience into a technologically and collaboratively rich experience for incoming freshmen. Students will gather in groups of nine, with twelve or so such groups in a common area, for five hours per week. The students will be exposed to a mixture of instruction, laboratory work with desktop experiments, and collaborative work in smaller groups of three, in a computer rich environment (one networked laptop per three students, with data acquisition links between laptop and experiments).
    The desktop experiments and computer-aided analysis of experimental data will give the students direct experience with the basic phenomena. Formal and informal instruction, aided by media-rich interactive software for simulation and visualization, will then aid students in their conceptualization of this experience.

  • US public schools don't have the purpose of giving out learning. You made a common mistake. US public schools have a couple of purposes: (1) producing factory workers (2) keeping 13-18 year olds out of the labor market.

  • At the National Science Resources Center's Web site [], you can find a variety of hands-on science curriculum materials []. The center is operated by the National Academies [] and Smithsonian Institution [] to improve science teaching U.S. schools. Teaching units [] include topics such as measuring time, plant growth and development, food chemistry, electric circuits, and microworlds.
  • by PineHall ( 206441 ) on Monday September 09, 2002 @11:24AM (#4220915)
    Check out The Little Shop of Physics []. "The Little Shop of Physics is a collection of hands-on science experiments that are designed to be used by students at all grade levels, K-16"
  • (You'll have to do your own google searches to find them.)

    ChemVix (chemistry visualization) was a project where you could submit datasets to a supercomputer (at the time I think they ran on the Crays at NCSA) and have it give you back a visualization of a molecule or energy levels therein or something.

    Hands-On Universe was something that had kids taking real astronomical data and doing stuff like supernova searches (look at the data from now, put it on top of the data from then, see if there is anything new). (A couple of kids actually did find a supernova while doing this project.) There were other things that were done with real data as well.

    Various projects at the Shodor Education Foundation [] are aimed at helping kids understand how scientists really do science, often with computational modeling, etc.

    It's really not that hard to come up with ways for kids to participate in actual scientific research. What's hard is convincing people with an already-huge list of demands on them, a curriculum to "cover", and standardized tests to teach to that they should buck all that to do this stuff with their kids.

  • We've just launched a website last week that presents science as it relates to topics of interest to youth. Our topics were selected by talking to teens, who chose movies, music, people, lifestyle and sports as the main topics. Youth also wanted to be able to interact with each other via the site and have input to the content and topics so we've provided bulletin boards and feedback forms on the site. Take a look at

    This website does NOT provide resources for teachers, homework helpers, or science experiments, but acts as a launch point to make science down to earth and relevant to youth who might not find it otherwise interesting. It's developed on an extremely modest budget and is a work in progress relying on the input of the community that we hope will grow on the site.

    It is developed by the Atlantic Provinces Council on the Sciences which has a mandate to promote science and science education.

    Lois Whitehead

Who goeth a-borrowing goeth a-sorrowing. -- Thomas Tusser