Saturday, January 08, 2011

Homeschooling Science

If you ask my son what subject he wants to study the answer will almost always be science. Due to such sustained interest, we have transformed studying science into a more holistic study. There is a bit of history in it, a lot of English and civics, some art, and even some math. It has become the focal point of our lives as we try to live our education rather than just study it.

Jules and I come to the outdoors from very different places. He has loved to spend time in it, lived along the Appalachian Trail, was a buyer for Mountain Crossings at Neils Gap, taught ultra-light backpacking seminars, was a total crag rat, and (before the Barracuda and I) ice climbed Rainer. His natural knowledge comes from throwing himself into the woods and learning to thrive.

I was an environmental studies major and the daughter of a pretty hardcore forestry dad. We couldn't have live Christmas trees in our family because it hurt him too much to cut one down. I learned about the outdoors by studying biogeochemistry (doesn't that sound fancy! It is actually really, really cool), hydrology, identifying everything from mammals to fungus, and generally studying ecosystems inside and out. I can just sit outside perfectly still and marvel at the overwhelming intricacies and interconnected processes going on.

Jules never knew the names of the plants he passed, or exactly how the rock formations were formed, or the sequence of events in geological time which had to occur to witness the landscape around him, but he loves English and would read extensive volumes of environmental literature. I had read about all the plants, animals, tracks, and processes, but never seen half the things Jules has spent time tromping through. Even more, I hated English, found it boring as all get out, and only slogged through the forced classes missing so many amazing environmental authors.

When it came to homeschool science our skills fit together pretty darn well. Though it frustrates Jules that I could stop every thirty seconds to spew some tidbit about a plant or fungus or hydrological phenomenon, he generally likes it. I still have no idea how he can memorize and recite text the way that he does or have such and incredible compass in his head. Together, we have tag teamed science.

Our science is split into three different themes: Global Sciences (geography, global warming, astronomy, lunar cycles, and the like), Physical Sciences (physics, chemistry, machines), and Natural Science (earth cycles, botany and photosynthesis, animals and ecosystems, geology, and such).

Global Science
The bulk of our Global Science comes National Public Radio. Since we don't have a TV, our news is heard via NPR. This is where The Barracuda first heard about Global warming, about world hunger, about the global water crisis, about wars over resources, about fighting in Afghanistan over oil, about disenfranchised native people being exploited by big business. It is one of the big reasons we have the lifestyle that we do. How could we honestly teach our child about the world, tell him it matters, and then do nothing?

So we listen to NPR, we talk about what he hears, we implement his ideas in our lives and do community service so he can combat the world's ills with us. We actively discuss famous activists who were also naturalists, botanists, veterinarians, and the like so he can have people to not only look up to, but be inspired by.

Depaving asphalt to create community gardens and watershed cleanup efforts are just a couple of the activities we take on. At most all these events people not only have fun with our son, but they make a point to talk to him about the importance of his actions and how they effect the natural world.

A large world map in his room has been laminated and written on with Vis-a-Vis markers labeling places people have vistited, lived, or special locations. The Barracuda is also largely involved in maps when we hike or travel.

Natural Science
When it comes to conceptual and natural sciences, he keeps a Nature Journal. Distinguishing features are listed and the different flora, fauna, and geology are compared to one another. Every time we hiked his job was to find at least two things to add. He quickly began wanting five or more things photographed so I turned him loose. He now keeps a nature journal of his own volition and fills it with any rock, fungus, bird, or plant he finds interesting. There are city animals right alongside tracks of elk and deer. He collects interesting rocks to identify. He spends ample time in front of our windows watching different species of birds. As we hike the ecosystems are evaluated, processes and cycles are discussed, and we actively talk about the interesting things we are seeing. He remembers the names of the things he sees, talks adamantly about always wanting to learn more. He's really, really into it.

During the day he can often be found reading about snakes, or birds, or rocks, or mammals, or ecosystems or whatever from one of his various identification books. He will also wander around out in the rain taking pictures of things with the camera.

He draws these creatures, plants, and rocks with a level of borderline neurotic perfectionism that I can highly relate to. He will spend an hour meticulously sketching and then methodically layering the colors of his crayons (many of which he knows by name). He will study the stroke patterns needed to create the correct textural effect. He will then want to draw it from another angle so you can see the way the creature flies versus how it sits or the side view versus the top view of a mushroom. He wants to draw the young deer fern next to the established one so you can see the transformation. After sticking his tongue out and much face scrunching what he comes up with is amazing. Because he takes so much time to draw and dissect each image, he intimately knows these plants and creatures. I am very glad he has found a niche of study that keeps him so engaged. We're going to have to take out stock in Moleskin Journals.

Both my father and brother are professional artists (architect and media design). I am most definitely not, but I try to help here and there. My people are stick figures and even then it is sometimes hard to figure out what I am trying to communicate.

Physical Sciences
Currently, we are focusing on the simple machines and basic theories. Newton's Laws, the Law of the Lever, Bernoulli's Principle, Charles' and Boyle's Laws, Universal Gravity, those sorts of things. We play around with catapults, water rockets, atlatls, rain barrels, BB and adult guns, water filters, rock climbing, fixing the car or our bikes, chopping firewood, and the playground. Most all of our life is built around these concepts so he can find them everywhere and actively apply them regularly. Legos and Erector sets have come into play here quite heavily. He will build something, play with it, and then want to know what each part is called (axel, chassi, hubs, etc) and how it makes the entire creation work. Currently, he has become fascinated with flight, so many paper airplanes are being flown all over the house and birds are being examined.

Bubbles are great for discussing pressure as well as molecular bonding and polar molecules. Plus, they are really fun!

Jules has also provided and extensive amount of English foundation to the science. He has so much environmental literature that The Barracuda and I can pick and choose from famous authors and read their contributions. This has helped give our son an idea of how others see the natural world. From Native writings and Emily Dickinson to Lewis and Clark, Walt Whitman and Robert Frost, Thoreau and Emerson to Abbey, even other famous naturalists like David Douglas, John Kirk Townsend, and John Muir. By reading about how others see the same things our son is walking through, he is forced to have another perspective and greater understanding. We can discuss the ways that realists see nature versus transcendentalists. We can talk about the emotional struggles of the native peoples cultural view point versus the Puritans and how this can lead to physical struggles as well. We can discuss how modernists have taken the differing fractured viewpoints on the best ways to describe living with the natural world now that it isn't as natural. Currently The Barracuda is fascinated with reading and viewing the journals of other famous people. Leonardo da Vinci, John Muir, Lewis and Clark, and others have all been quite intriguing and helped him in finding his own personal viewpoint to write from.

The Barracuda mainly just wants to understand anything and everything having to do with why things work or look the way they do. As his parents, we go along for the ride and have quite a bit of fun. Who knew learning stuff could be so adventurous?!?

1 thoughts:

renee @ FIMBY said...

what a great science education!

Hope you're having an awesome backpacking trip.

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