Monday, 18 May 2015

Of Structure and Science

I've said many times before, I don't agree with teaching for the purpose of passing tests or exams - I don't believe it's an efficient or effective way of learning for life.  HOWEVER it does look like Eldest at least will be heading the way of GCSEs, so I am having to consider set curricula more seriously than thus far in our HE journey.  At present I think I will be taking the rest of the school year and probably the summer holiday too, to research and plan the next academic year's curriculum a bit more seriously (as always, making sure there is lots of in-built flexibility, at least for the younger two).  Happily for me I have a lovely friend who has gone ahead on the exam route with her HE boys, and who I am hoping to meet up with soon, to get an idea of what we need to do.  It seems very complicated and daunting to me as I am just starting to investigate what's involved... I'm so grateful for the wider community, always happy to share their experience and hard-earned wisdom!

Meanwhile, I think the rest of this year's HE will be continuing in our default pattern: parent-led Maths and Literacy curricula, mixed with projects based on the boys' interests (parent AND child-led, as agreed between us), and plenty of free time for the boys to be entirely self-led.

For example, this morning we had MathsWhizz and Literacy Planet (as the boys have the day off tomorrow), followed by their choice of BrainPop video (Eldest chose Mountains, Middle chose Eclipses, and Youngest, on BrainPop Jr, chose Classifying Animals)  Youngest was thrilled to get five out of five in his quiz, and even more so that he got to print off a cetificate to show Daddy later.  It's just a shame that Brainpop Jr doesn't appear to have a UK version, and the US version is prohibitively expensive.

Following that we had a hands-on science experiment that I have had my eye on for a while.  Niece was with us this morning, so I wanted an activity that was quick, easy and interesting, and I had pinned this one on Pinterest, exploring density.

I set up the experiment and then called the children in to the kitchen one at a time to talk it through. It really helped doing it individually (except Middle and Niece who came in together) as each time I could discuss it at their different levels, plus then they were less likely to copy each other (the boys usually copy Eldest as they assume he knows more, whether rightly or not, and I wanted them to think for themselves).  I wrote out the names of the liquids to test (writing is an issue for three of the four children involved, so I wanted to avoid any negatives), and they cut them out and stuck them in order that they expected/ guessed the liquids might settle.  I emphasised that it wasn't about being right or wrong, but just having their best guess and then carrying out the experiment to see what we could find out...

The set-up (and Youngest's word sheet)

Niece's and Middle's word sheets

Eldest's word sheet

We added the various ingredients all together to see what would happen - and as usual it didn't go entirely to plan, but at least that show the boys the importance of testing theories.  The honey and golden syrup behaved as expected, sinking to the bottom, as did the oil, floating on top - but the milk (we only had semi-skimmed) and washing up liquid seemed to mix, rather than quickly settling - and then the milk that was nearest the top mixed with the water too, so the middle three layers were a bit confusing.  Middle, Youngest and I decided to carry on experimenting by isolating those individual components, so I dug out our chunky test-tubes and just put two ingredients in each tube.  We tried putting the washing-up liquid and milk in, in different orders to see if it made any difference - the one with the milk in first did settle nicely into disctinct layers, but the one with the washing-up liquid (Fairy) first had the layers merge.  Eventually the milk settled at the bottom of the detergent, which was a different result to the one experienced by the Science Sparks guys.  The test-tube with just milk and water showed them mixing completely, which is probably why we got such a muddled result in the original experiment, as although the milk turned out to be more dense than the detergent, we had put the water in and allowed it to mix with the milk before it had settled to the bottom of the detergent.

oil at top, followed by red water/ milk/ detergent mix, then golden syrup then honey

L - milk added first; R - detergent added first, taken a while later after it settled

milk and red-coloured water, completely mixed, next to detergent on top of golden syrup, just because Youngest couldn't leave the last test-tube empty!

Conclusion from our experimenting: the order from least to most dense was sunflower oil, water, washing up liquid, milk, golden syrup, honey.  The middle two were not what we expected, but we guessed that either semi-skimmed milk is surprisingly more dense than whole milk, or Fairy liquid has magical floating powers that the Science Sparks' detergent is lacking! (OK so that bit's not very scientific).  It was a good "fun-and-educational" activity though, and I particularly loved that it spawned further investigation.  Even Niece, who had been reluctant to join in at first, agreed afterwards that it had been a fun/ interesting morning!

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