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Science Education for Children

Learning Investigative Skills as a means of developing an interest in science for primary school children

 

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This section is about developing and encouraging curiosity in children so that they learn to ask questions about the world as a prelude to learning the principles of scientific investigation.

Observation and questioning skills are the most essential tools for encouraging pupils to take an interest in science.

Observing the world in which we live and formulating questions about those observations, could be said to be the basis of all scientific discovery.

 

"If you don't start with a good question, then you don't know what you are trying to find out."

William B Curious

 

 

A simple observation of frost on an autumn morning leads to questions about heat and cold, phase changes in water (solid, liquid and vapour states). If wee go on to ask 'why does temperature drop at night?' We then start to learn about the solar system, and of course as the frost has formed on rose hips questions arise about what they are for, and we are learning about life cycles and reproduction.

Once you learn the skills of asking good questions, it is difficult to stop!

 

 

The more interesting the book looks the better - something theatrical will generate more interest

 

 

"The important thing is not to stop questioning. Curiosity has its own reason for existing."
                    Einstein

 

 

Why are slugs and snails slimy? This raises questions about movement (friction and other forces). Experiment by pressing your fingers onto a table and pushing them along, Now wet your fingers and discover how friction is reduced. The slime also makes it more difficult for predators to eat them (life cycles and food chains) and that slime does not taste nice. Anyone want to experiment?

 

 

 

Is the moon made of green cheese and is there a man in it and does a big space giant eat it so that it shrinks and then grows back again?

 

Silly questions are just as useful and more fun, because after we have all laughed and relaxed, we can find out what's really going on each month with the lunar cycle

 

"I can calculate the motions of the heavenly bodies, but not the madness of people."

Isaac Newton

Science Teaching Resources

Getting Children Interested in Science by learning to ask good questions

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Developing Curiosity

A great way to get children to take an interest in science, is not to mention the word science in the first place, and to simply ask children to think of questions about the world.

This idea came as a result of a theatre show for schools based on the science curriculum key stage 1 and 2 called 'Footprints in the Sky'. Despite drawing all its material directly from the science curriculum, the show never mentioned science, and instead followed the adventures of one Will B Curious, who had been given a 'Book of Questions' by none other than Mr Willy Why-what-when -where-how-who.

The 'Book of Questions' is a book of questions and riddles, that children get involved in without ever realising that they are discovering science. After the show children are encouraged to create their own Book of Questions as a class exercise.

The point of getting children to create a book of questions is to let the children express what they want to know, and then for the teacher to direct the investigation towards scientific enquiry, relevant to their stage of education. It is often a good idea to ask them to bring a question the next day about something they saw on the way home from school. This also has another advantage in that it asks pupils to observe, another pre-requisite to science education.

Asking Good Questions

There are a few rules:

Questions should be about the natural world around them.

Questions should begin with words like Why, what, when, where, how, who, what, which, etc.

Questions about human behaviour are not allowed eg Why do people fight wars.

Questions must not be about God. (God is not a subject for science lessons).

The questions can be about anything in the world, and although the natural world works best for some aspects of science, other questions will work just as well.

A Book of Questions

The next thing is to get a book to fill with questions - if it looks like an interesting book, so much the better

Children's questions are then written in the Book of Questions. Anything will do and it doesn't even have to be all that sensible. Let them have free rein on this one.

Questions that children have asked in past sessions include:

'Why are slugs slimy, why do parachutes stop you killing yourself when you jump out of an aeroplane, why do leaves fall off trees in autumn, why do my brothers feet pong, what is frost, and (of course), do boys fart more than girls?'

The more amusing the questions the better, because children find the answers more interesting.

After that it is a simple matter of investigating the question, doing some experiments, asking more questions, and with a bit of skill from the teacher, relating it back to learning science.

It is important for the teacher to ensure that whatever the answer to a question, the answer leads to another question. So if there is a question about why a fish doesn't drown in water, this leads to lots of other questions, not only about how fish breathe, but about the nature of water, the water cycle, solids, liquids and gasses and so on.

It doesn't really matter what the initial question is, as the investigation will take its own course. The important thing is that the initial question came from children.

So what can we learn from parachute jumps?

Let's make it more interesting. Suppose that a pilot of a light aircraft had to bale out over a tropical rainforest in a remote part of the world. The force of gravity pulls him down to Earth, but the drag of the air due to friction, and the buoyancy of the atmosphere slows him down so that he can make a safe landing in a convenient clearing. (lots of work on forces here).

How else did the atmosphere keep him alive?

The same air that kept him alive by slowing him down, also supplied oxygen. We need oxygen to breathe (life processes), and what is the oxygen? Now we can learn about gasses, liquids and solids and the composition of air.

Having landed in the clearing he finds his GPS doesn't work, so how is he going to go in the right direction? He uses as compass of course and now we learn about magnetism.

Being in a rain forest there is a lot to talk about in terms of life processes, food chains, and the environment, and there is a lot of rain too, so we can talk about the water cycle.

As he trecks through the jungle he keeps track of the days by the changing phases of the moon (solar system).  He obtains water by squeezing it from moss (absorbency) and he makes use of other properties of materials such as spring traps from branches to catch small animals, and a hard stone to crush vegetation before eating it. And so his adventure becomes a great opportunity to keep asking questions that lead to other questions, which can relate back to scientific enquiry and learning.

 

Of course it is not essential to take a single question to such lengths, but once you start following questions it is difficult not to. A simple question about rain can only be answered in the context of the atmosphere, the water cycle, phase changes, the sun and solar system, and so on, so it is important to learn not to compartmentalise science topics as ultimately they all interrelate.

 

"It is in fact nothing short of a miracle that the modern methods of instruction have not yet entirely strangled the holy curiosity of inquiry; for what this delicate little plant needs more than anything, besides stimulation, is freedom. It is a very grave mistake to think that the enjoyment of seeing and searching can be promoted by means of coercion and a sense of duty."

Einstein

 

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"I have no special talents. I am only passionately curious."
                   Albert Einstein

 

The Book of Questions that Will takes with him on his travels

 

 

 

 

Why is salad and fresh food good for us and why do slugs like to eat it too, and why is lettuce green and tomatoes are red and why are apples red and green and why are leaves always green and ..?

 

 

“Judge a man by his questions rather than by his answers”

Voltare

 

 

 

 

A simple question about an everyday activity develops into questions about many aspects of science and technology.

 

 

 

How does a pink blossom turn into an apple and why does a tree have to make blossoms first - why can't it just make apples?

 

 

Why does a dandelion look a bit like the moon, or does it look more like frost? Or does it look more like a firework? (I don't know but its an interesting thing to talk about and you never know what might come up

 

Explosions can be fun but we must not lose sight of the fact that science is about observation, asking good questions, and above all, a sense of wonder about the world.