Monday, August 11, 2014

Reinforcing Science Concepts

It’s tempting to think that our children are sponges that absorb everything they discover and retain this information for eternity. Unfortunately, kids with photographic memory exist mostly in fantasy books, and most of us have to remember things an old-fashioned way – through practice and repetition.

I am not going to solve a “spiral vs. mastery” debate here, but my observations of my own highly intelligent daughter show that mastery fades without repetition. This is why in our learning activities at home I try to focus not necessarily on what she is learning right now, but on something that might be fading from her memory because of lack of practical application. Sneaky hands-on repetition allows to reinforce important science concepts, math concepts or language rules and bring them back to her active memory.

Reinforcing Liquid Measurements

This exercise was prompted by a math multiplication problem which asked how many cups of water it would take to fill a 40 gallon bath. It turned out that Smarty had no idea how many cups are in the gallon. Frankly, with my European education, I didn’t know it either, but I had a chance to look it up before asking her. Anyway, I took Smarty outside and handed her a measuring cup. We studied the cup together and observed that it contains 2 cups (or one pint) of water. I explained to her that quarts give her a clue in their name - 4 cups in a quart and 4 quarts in a gallon. Then she used a cup to fill a plastic box with a gallon of water. She was also blown away with how many cups are going into her bath. Now she understands better why she is only allowed to take a bath twice a week – we are helping California save water!

Deepening “Why?” Knowledge

Once we had a tub of water, I pulled out some colored ice for Smarty. I was hoping that she will build a pretty ice castle like this one from Almost Unschoolers, but she had zero interest in that. Instead, she wanted to drop ice in water and watch the colors bleed into water. Before she started doing it, I asked her if ice will float or sink. She had seen enough iced water to know “anecdotically” that it would float. From here we went into this dialog,
Me: Why does ice float?
Smarty: Because it is lighter than water.
Me: Why is it lighter than water? It is still water, after all.
Smarty (looking surprised): I don’t know! I think water gets heavier when it freezes? Is there air inside ice? (at least it was a good hypothesis!)
I told Smarty that there is no water inside ice, but that all matter has two important properties – mass and volume. I asked her to think what changes when ice freezes – volume or mass and how it changes. She still thought that frozen water would weigh more and volume that would not change. So now we have a plastic cup of water filled to the top, waiting in the freezer to be weighed after it freezes. I am hoping that this hands on demonstration will drive home the lesson on ice properties that “in theory” she learned at least twice before.

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How do you make sure that your children remember what they learned?

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min said...

I have a theory from my own observation of K. Basically, she remembers everything she's read or was interested in. But if it's a concept I've introduced to her, well...she forgets.

maryanne @ mama smiles said...

I love the experiments you do with Smarty!

Ticia said...

My kids definitely prefer mastery as their learning style, but I'd agree you need to go back and do a bit of review from time to time to keep the concepts fresh in your mind.

An Almost Unschooling Mom said...

That's part of why I like having the blog - that way when the children tell me they've never learned something...or never "done that experiment" - I can take them back to the post, with pictures of them doing it :) Repetition is very important!

Jill R. said...

Reviewing is always a good idea. For kids and moms too!

Thank you for stopping by the Thoughtful Spot Weekly Blog Hop this week. We hope to see you drop by our neck of the woods next week!

Katie Pinch said...

Thanks for sharing at the #lovetolearnlinky party. I hope you stop by an link up again this Thursday!

Crystal said...

I love the way you teach your daughter. I have had very similar experiences with my son where I know he has learned something at one point and I'm surprised that he has forgotten. It's all about repetition and real life application! Thanks for sharing at STEM Saturday!

Crystal said...

Also, I am featuring this in an ice science roundup tomorrow. Stop on by :)