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A Method For Teaching Science

By Kathleen Julicher

Science is the study of the universe, but you don’t have to study it all at once, or even several parts at once.  Just work on one question, like “How fast can my dog run?”  By using the scientific method and a worksheet like the ones included at the bottom of this post, you can perform an experiment which will give your student a technique to use on later questions.   (Do you need some examples of Questions For Young Scientists to Ask?  Check this blog post!)  By collecting worksheets into a science notebook, you will have a record of your student’s scientific investigations.

Use the worksheets with science activities from other books.  Use different sheets with children of different ability levels when you are teaching an integrated unit study. 

I have broken the scientific method down into outlines for different ages. 
At each age you may expect more from your child.  At each level, they will be able to increase their thinking skills and well as their process skills.  Since the scientific method is both a process and a pattern of thought, you will be giving your child a system for problem solving of any type.

2 – 4 years (pre-writing)

  • Observations dictated to mother
  • Drawings
  • Conclusions – your students will think them, but do not require it.  Just let them think.

Children at this stage do learn a lot of scientific principles, but not because they have been taught from a text.  For example, observe the principles of gravity.  The young child does know that what goes up, must come down.  About the time when he was 12 months old, he used experimental evidence to demonstrate that when he dropped something, it fell.  In this way, your toddler is learning real science.

When you use the scientific method as a guideline, you will add a system to the haphazard learning of a child.  You will also be teaching thinking skills. 

You can ask them to tell what they see or hear or smell.  This is developing their observational skills, a necessary part of the scientific method.  Let them draw, but have them dictate labels to you so that you can write them down.

5 – 7 years (learning to read and write stage)

  • Observing
  • Measuring
  • Drawing
  • How-to skills: planting, building with toys.

These children are ready to start “doing science”.  (As if they could be stopped.)  This is skill-building time.   Some useful skills are drawing, measuring with better accuracy, making lists of(or dictating) observations, planting food plants, and building bridges, cars, etc.  They still will be making conclusions, but you don’t need to require it. 

When you use the scientific method with this age group, you can let them try more on their own.  They can start writing their own labels on the drawings and lists of materials.  If you use a form like the one here, let them dictate it to you if their writing skills are still developing.  Require dates and page number on their reports, though.  Let them copy pictures from a book onto the drawing paper.

8 – 10 years

  • Guessing
  • Learning to predict
  • Measuring
  • Drawing
  • Observing
  • Graphing
  • Drawing conclusions
  • Explaining why
  • More building  (add motorized projects)

This stage is the time to perfect the skills of observing, measuring, building, and drawing.  Now, the children have better coordination for these tasks.  Have them measure everything: temperature, wind speed, number of bounces, weights, volumes, etc.  Have her copy drawings from books: arches, columns, faulting, types of fishes, bird beaks, zones of the Earth, etc.  Label everything.  I would not expect that you have a text for the student yet, but you should have advanced volumes available for you to read to her.  (By advanced volumes, I mean junior high texts or above)

When a young child is studying with the scientific method, it is not necessary to do a whole experiment.  Break the parts down and just have your student draw a diagram, or play with the measuring cups so that he/she can determine how much lunch is on the plate.  (Don’t forget to record the lunch volume in your science notebook.)  Doing only parts of the scientific method is especially good for the really young science students.

Sometimes, you should let your child do an experiment when you are not in the room.  He should then give an oral report telling:  what he did and what happened.  Your job will be to take notes and place them in the science notebook.

By using the scientific method in this way to teach science, you are giving your student a set of tools which can be used in other areas besides science.  In addition, by breaking down the scientific process into small skill-oriented topics, you have made science easier to grasp.

Here is a simple sample writeup below:

Here are the worksheets to print below.  Note that the first page is more advanced than the second in terms of verbage and size of lines.  You may print the one that is suitable for the age of your students as many times as you like to use in your homeschool.  For more pages like this at varying levels, and for ideas for experiments, you may wish to check out Project-Oriented Science, My First Science Notebook for K-3, and/or My Science Notebook 2 for grades 2-8.

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Questions for Young Scientists to Ask

These are great starting points to work on the scientific method with your student.  For elementary students, these are great springboards from which to use the scientific method.   You can develop an experiment to go with each of these questions (and we will post them here in coming weeks).  Complete a worksheet like the ones included at the bottom of this post, and you have just begun your Science Notebook.   Have fun!

  1. At what temperature does water boil?   Freeze?
  2. How could you separate water and sand?
  3. Does a light bulb give off heat?
  4. Does aluminum foil keep in heat?
  5. Can the sun cook food?
  6. Does the soil get warm when the sun shines on it?
  7. How does the ice cream freeze?
  8. How many colors are there in light (sunlight)?
  9. How fast do seeds germinate?  Different kinds of seeds?  At different temperatures?
  10. Can you grow plants from parts of plants?
  11. Do plants need light?
  12. Where does the water go that watered the plants?
  13. What are the parts of a flower?
  14. Does pollution hurt plants?  (Acid rain)
  15. How does gravity work on a plant?
  16. What are the parts of a corn plant?
  17. Does carbon dioxide (CO2) help a plant to grow?

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The Scientific Method

Are you doing science activities or science experiments?  Do you know it isn’t that difficult to turn an activity into an experiment?  An activity leaves out the critical thinking process that is so well formulated in the scientific method.  Use these age-adjusted steps in the scientific method to help you with your science studies by transforming your activities into experiments!

For Your Youngest Child
These questions should be asked orally.  Introduce as much vocabulary and terminology as your child has the attention span for.

What do you think will happen?
What happened?
Draw a picture of what happened and label it (with help)

For Elementary Students
These questions should be asked orally with the answers to the questions dictated by the student and recorded by the parent onto the experiment writeup or observation sheet.  If your student can write, then he should do the writing himself.  Introduce as much vocabulary and terminology as your child has the attention span for.
What do we want to find out?
What do you think (or guess, or hypothesize) will happen?
What do we need in order to find out the answer?
How will we test our guess (or hypothesis)?
What happened? (Use a simple chart or graph as appropriate to record results)
Draw a picture of what happened and label it.
What do you conclude from this experiment?

For High School Students
The college preparatory high school student should be using all the steps in the scientific method and producing a typed or handwritten report for his or her science notebook.  The italicized steps below require more effort and are typically reserved for a science fair project or professionally published report.
Statement of the Problem
Research of the Literature on the Topic
Materials List
Procedure Used
Statistical Analysis
Sources of Error
Possibilities for Future Research