Engaging students with learning science can be challenging. Frequently, people resort to simply reading about scientific principles and showing pictures, however this approach is boring and does not foster a deep understanding of the how and why of scientific ideas.
One of the most effective ways to engage students in learning science is to participate in active, hands-on activities. Activities create interest and inspire questions (the basis of the scientific method!), and tend to be fun. Below you will find a sequence of Earth Science activities that you can build upon at home as well as a walkthrough of the scientific method.
Water Cycle in the Bag!
One of my favorite science activities is creating a model of the water cycle. To accomplish this, you will need:
A gallon zip-top bag
Permanent marker, black
Blue food dye
Tape or a thumbtack
First, print the following picture. You can also have your child draw their own version of a similar picture.
Next, place the image inside of the zip-top bag. Using a black permanent marker, trace the image onto the outside of the bag. This does not have to be perfect or as detailed as the original image, but should have all of the main components and labels.
Remove the paper from the inside of the traced-on bag. Fill the bottom of the bag with about 1-2 inches of water. Add a few drops of blue food dye and mix.
Tape or tack the bag in a warm, sunny area. In about an hour, the heat from the sun will cause the water to evaporate inside the bag (evaporation) and visible condensation will form. Additionally, larger drops of water will begin to drip down the sides of the bag (precipitation) and reaccumulate at the bottom (accumulation).
While you are waiting for the water cycle to occur in the bag, have your child color the paper image. You can also teach them the song below for a performance art connection:
Make connections to what is happening in the bag and the larger world, particularly emphasizing that clouds form because of condensation...which leads us to the next activity!
Types of Clouds Fortune Teller
A simple but fun way to memorize the different types of clouds is to print the following and fold a fortune teller! Instructions are included on the printable.
(From UCAR, which has many other activities and resources! see scied.ucar.edu for more)
The Needs of Plants
Plants in nature often receive their water from rain that falls from the clouds they learned about with the fortune teller above. Most students know that plants need water to grow, however may not know about the other needs of plants. This simple experiment helps children understand these needs.
You will need:
4 small flowerpots, paper cups, or other small vessel for holding soil and seeds
A spoon or small trowel
Several seeds (all of the same type, but let your child choose what kind!)
A zip-top bag
A spray bottle
Using the spoon or trowel, fill 3 of the flowerpots or paper cups with potting soil about 3/4 of the way. Place a few seeds in each vessel about 1/4 inch below the soil line. Label the vessels the following way using tape and a marker:
Plant A: No water
Plant B: No light
Plant C: No air
Plant D: Control
For Plant A, your child never waters the seed and soil, but place it in a sunny area.
For Plant B, your child places the vessel with the seed and soil in a dark place away from any light (a closet might work), but waters it daily using a spray bottle every day.
Have your child place Plant C inside a sealed zip-top bag in a sunny area. Water the plant daily using a spray bottle (you will have to open the bag once a day to water, but try to be quick).
Plant D is your child's "control" plant, meaning it receives water, light, and air.
Have your child observe the plants over the next few weeks and write about their observations. You can use the chart below that documents plant growth and have your child measure each plant at regular intervals. Math connection: have your child find the average weekly growth by dividing Week 6's height by 6 for each plant.
Help your child infer about the needs of plants. They need water, air, and light. You can connect this lesson to a future lesson about photosynthesis.
If Plant D is properly cared for, you may transplant it to a larger pot and enjoy it for years to come!
At-Home Science Fair
Science fairs give students real-life experiences with enacting the scientific method. During the COVID-19 pandemic or if you otherwise homeschool, students can miss out on the pride and joy that comes from completing a science project and presenting their findings to others. Thanks to technology, however, nobody has to miss out on such an experience. Students can complete projects at home and present their experiments online to friends or family members through video conferencing.
The scientific method comprises the following:
Question: students think about a question they might have about how something works or why something works the way it does.
Research: students research the topic of their question. This research can often lead them to finding an experiment that helps them test the possible outcomes of their question. Otherwise, it provides a foundation upon which they build a hypothesis.
Hypothesize: students take an educated guess about what might happen given certain conditions or experiments. It is a statement about what they think experiment outcomes might be.
Experiment: students test their hypothesis. Oftentimes, students gravitate to this step first, which is fine. If they see an experiment somewhere that interests them and they want to recreate it, have them go for it! If that is the case, however, emphasize that they should start with questions they might have about the experiment and then move sequentially through the scientific method.
Analyze outcomes: students record their observations about their experiment and analyze the data to determine outcomes. During this step, it is a good idea to support your child in creating charts and graphs that organize their date.
Conclusion: students decide whether or not their hypothesis was correct. They can write a statement about why or why not their hypothesis was correct, what might have skewed their data, and the implications of their findings.
Once students have completed the scientific method, they can use posterboard to present their findings to an audience. Whether in-person or online, encourage your child to be professional during their presentation. It is often useful for them to rehearse beforehand.
At-home science fairs create a large amount of interest because they allow for choice. Students themselves choose what they are learning about, so there is automatic buy-in.
These are just a few activities and ideas that can help foster an interest in science at home. The internet has a wealth of different experiments and activities that can inspire your children. One of the best things you can do to help interest your child in science is to ask questions and get them curious. In no time you'll be assisting them in designing experiments and guiding yourself on a path of what to teach next.