Sunday, January 19, 2014

Helping kids learn scientific reasoning

Helping kids learn scientific reasoning

To help a child learn science and scientific reasoning it’s critical to help him when he’s interested in scientific things. So if he wonders why something happens a certain way, then it's important for the parent to help him figure out why it happens.

Beware though that getting interested only works voluntarily. Doing it involuntarily, say where the parent manipulates his child by tricking him into certain discussions, can be expected to lead to hating it (and distrusting the parent).

Now one thing that helps a person spark interest is for him to connect concrete things in his life with the relevant abstract scientific concepts. These concrete things are his problems, things he wants to know. Things he's interested in.

Here’s some discussions between parent and child that you can use as examples.

[After getting in the car to go to McDonalds on a cold winter day.]

Child: Go!

Parent: But we can’t go yet because I can’t see well through the windshield. If we go now then we’ll probably crash.

Child: Ok.

Parent: Do you want to know why we can’t see well though the windshield?

Child: Ya.

Parent: It’s because there is condensation on it.

Child: What's condensation?

Parent: Condensation is water that went from the air to a hard surface, like the windshield.

Child: There’s water in the air?

Parent: Yes. Do you know why clouds and fog are not see-through? It's because there is a lot of water in the air and that makes light not go through it. So then we can’t see the light that’s coming from the other side.

Child: Oh!

Parent: Do you want to know why the water goes from the air to the windshield?

Child: Ya, why does that happen?

Parent: Ok, so there is water in the air, and when the windshield is colder than the air, then water goes from the air to the windshield. 

Parent: Another example of this is a glass of ice water — the water from the air goes onto the glass.

Child: Oh ya!

Parent: Did you know that the opposite thing happens when we boil water to cook eggs?

Child: What do you mean?

Parent: The water in the pot gets hot, and that makes the water from the pot to go into the air.

Child: Cool!

Parent: I can explain this stuff in more detail so it makes more sense, but it requires knowing what air and water and windows are made of. Do you want to learn that?

Child: Yes!

Parent: Everything is made of atoms. Atoms are like the building blocks of everything in the world, like legos are the building blocks of things we build from legos.

Child: What about trees?

Parent: Yes trees, and grass, and animals, and us, and the sun, the moon, water, tables, paper, TVs, and everything else too.

Child: What about a magic hat?

Parent: Well yes the hat is made out of atoms, but magic is not real.

Child: But it is real.

Parent: How is it real?

Child: When the magic hat goes on somebodies head, the head disappears.

Parent: No it doesn't. The guy is just tricking you, the head is still there, and you aren't seeing it. The head is made of atoms. The hat is made of atoms. Those are real things. There is no magic, like there is no Santa, no tooth-fairy, the boogey man, and no Spongebob.

[While watching Bones, season 2 episode 5, there is a scene where flesh was falling off the bones of a human body in a tub full of hydrochloric acid.]

Child: Why is that happening? 

Parent: Are you asking me why the flesh is coming off the bones?

Child: Ya.

Parent: Well, there is acid in the tub, and that acid makes the flesh dissolve.

Child: What’s an acid and why does it make flesh dissolve?

Parent: An acid is a molecule. A molecule is a collection of atoms that are bound together by forces.

Child: What are forces?

Parent: Forces are what pull things together, or push them apart. So there are forces that hold the atoms together to make molecules.

Child: Ok, but I still don’t know why acid makes flesh fall off bones.

Parent: I haven’t gotten there yet. So one example of a molecule is a protein. Proteins are the machines in our bodies that do things.

Child: Machines in our bodies?

Parent: Yes, but they're not made of metal. Their made of other stuff, other atoms.

Parent: One example of a protein is the one that holds our skin to our bodies. If we didn’t have this protein, then our skin would fall off. And actually there is a gene that causes this problem because the gene doesn’t make the protein the right way, and so if you touch the skin, it falls off.

Child: Wow!

Parent: Now, if the acid gets in contact with a protein, the atoms in the acid react with the atoms in the protein. 

Child: What does react mean?

Parent: It kinda means ‘do something.’ So atoms from the acid react with atoms from the protein, making the protein into a different molecule — so the acid changes the protein into a different molecule. So now the new molecule doesn’t do the job that the original protein did. 

Parent: So if the proteins that hold our skin on our bodies get in contact with acid, then the protein will break apart and our skin will fall off.

Child: Ok.

[While looking at family pictures.]

Child: I look like mama. And I look like you too.

Parent: Yep. Do you know why?

Child: Why?

Parent: Because you got your genes from me and from mama, and genes are what make you look certain ways, like your eye color and hair color.

Child: What are genes?

Parent: Genes are things that are in our bodies that control how we look, and how are bodies work. And people get their genes from their parents.

Child: Oh!

Parent: Guess what else genes do besides control how we look?

Child: What else?

Parent: Genes also control our proteins.

Child: What are proteins again?

Parent: Proteins are molecules, and they are machines that do things in the body. And one of the proteins is the one that holds our skin.

Child: Oh ya, and if you put acid on the protein then your skin will fall off.

Parent: For some acids, yes, but not all acids.

Parent: And if you have a certain bad gene, then the protein that holds you're skin doesn't get made right, and so your skin just falls off if somebody touches it a little bit hard.

Child: I'm glad I don't have that gene.


Title: something about basement being colder than upstairs

It's cold.

: put some more clothes on.

why don’t you turn up the heater?

: it’s already on 70 degrees.

feels like 0 degrees.

: it’s probably 60 degrees down here.

: if i turn up the heater to 73 degrees, it’s not going to change downstairs much. mostly just upstairs will get hotter.

that sucks.

: you could put more clothes on. or bring a blanket. or just go upstairs.

i’ll get my blanket.

[goes and comes back]

why is the basement always colder than upstairs?

: it’s because hotter air rises. that also means that colder air goes down, which is because the hotter air is pushing up.

why does that happen?

: ok there’s a bunch of parts to explain why it happens, so bare with me.


: do you remember that when stuff gets hotter it get’s bigger?

oh ya! … but i forgot why.

: i’m getting there. do you remember that everything is made of atoms?


: and do you remember that atoms are always moving around?

ya. [balloon of kid imagining atoms moving around]

: well, when something is hotter, that’s because the atoms in it are moving around faster. the hotter it is, the faster the atoms are going. [balloon of kid imagining two jars of gas with different temperatures, and the hotter one’s atoms are moving faster]

: and the faster they go, the more they bump into each other and spread apart from each other. and the more they bump and push onto the thing it’s in. [show picture of it.]

ok. but why does the hotter stuff go up?

: well, do you remember that the heavier stuff goes down, and the lighter stuff goes up?

oh ya, like when we stand in sand!

: right. when you stand in the sand, you’re heavier than the sand so you are pushing down and the sand is being pushed up.

: and the same thing happens with colder air and hotter air. the colder air is heavier than the hotter air, so the hotter air is pushing down and the colder air is being pushed up.

but wait, why is the colder air heavier than the hotter air?

: it’s because of what I said before about spreading apart. i said that hotter air means that the atoms in it are moving faster, and that means that they are bumping into each other more and spreading apart more. so there’s less stuff in one spot.

oh i get it.


why does my finger get white when i do this? [squeezes finger together]

: because you’re making the blood go somewhere else.

that’s what I thought!

: [smile]


why does my hand feel weird while watching a movie?

: you mean it’s tingling?


: how are you watching? i mean, are you laying on your hand?

i’m doing it like this. [shows propping up head with arm]

: well you’re cutting off the nerve communication to your brain. and that weird feeling is because the communication is not working right.

why is that happening?

: well you’d have to learn about what nerves are, what they are for, and how they work.

so what’s a nerve?

: a nerve is a type of cell in the body. it sends signals between the body and the brain.

what’s a cell?

: our bodies are made of cells.

i thought we’re made of atoms.

: yes we are made of atoms. a bunch of atoms together make a molecule. and a bunch of molecules together make a cell. 


: cells live and die, and they divide and make more of themselves.

like us?

: yes except for a cell is the smallest living thing.


: so back to nerves. a nerve is a cell whose job it is to send signals between the body and the brain.

what’s that for?

: well, like for example, when your skin gets hot, there are sensors in your skin that measure that it’s hot. and then your nerves carry that information to your brain.

oh cool.

: another example is where your brain tells your body part to move away so you’re not touching the hot thing anymore.

: but when you put pressure on those nerves, then it doesn’t work right. that’s why you can’t feel much in that area of your body, and that’s why it’s harder to move it the way you want to. and that’s why it’s tingling.

what’s pressure?

: like, you’re putting your weight on those nerves.

is it bad to do that?

: only if it’s for many hours.

like when i’m sleeping?

: if you don’t move at all? ya it could be bad.

[concerned look]

: but when you sleep you move around some, especially when you’re uncomfortable.

oh ok. [relieved look]


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