This year for science we are exploring physics. We’re starting with a unit on electricity and magnetism because David has been asking a lot of questions about batteries and switches and how things work.
A great science resource is the Science Without a Net section at I Capture the Rowhouse. I often go there to look for ideas before starting a new topic. Many of the books and videos mentioned here came from there first.
We enjoyed several books on electricity. Flick a Switch by Barbara Seuling was a very good comprehensive look at the topic for this age group. We also enjoyed The Magic School Bus and the Electric Field Trip and Experiments with Electricity in the True Book series. I especially liked that the latter included a section on scientific hypotheses and on how experiments are done. I also liked Power Up! by Sandra Markle for the excellent suggestions for experiments, however, it wasn’t as appealing as a read-aloud.
We also watched a few videos together on electricty: Bill Nye and an episode of The Way Things Work. After all that reading and watching we were ready to do some hands on science. I combined ideas from I Capture the Rowhouse, the Power Up! book and the Internet.
Using the lights from the boys’ Snap Circuit set we talked about what makes a circuit. I then had them go on a conductor/insulator hunt. They were each supposed to find three things they thought were conductors and three they though were insulators. Then we using the light we tested each item to see if their hypotheses were correct. I think the most interesting to them was that a Diet Coke can did not conduct. Most interesting to me was that a pencil will act as a conductor if you break it and then sharpen each side so the graphite is exposed. After the conductor/insulator test I challenged them to make as long of a circuit as they could using all the conductors.
This week we went on to discuss batteries and how they work. Our best experiment was making a lemon battery. There are many different sources on the Internet for this experiment. The one I ended up following the most was this one. The electrical current generated from a lemon battery is not enough to light up a small lightbulb so to do this experiment you need a voltmeter (relatively inexpensive on Amazon). First, I hooked the voltmeter up to a battery to show the boys that it reads with a current. Then we made our battery and hooked it up. It worked beautifully. We then tried to see if we could make our battery light up the Snap Circuit light but even with four lemons it wasn’t enough power. (It’s enough volts at 2.8 but not enough current. Watt’s Law says that Power=Volts x Amps. I chose not to get into this in detail with the boys but we did talk about how more volts does not necessarily mean more power.)
This year I’m trying to do more science notebooking as well. We do a lot of science but we don’t always do a great job of recording it. An overall goal for John this year is to write more across every subject. I had them start a vocabulary list and for each experiment we kept a written record. As you can see, this doesn’t have to be fancy. I did some of the writing today as it had already been a long day. David drew the picture of our lemon battery and I had John write a sentence at the bottom summarizing the experiment.
Finally, I want to include more biographies of famous scientists this year in our science study. Today we read this picture book biography of Thomas Edison which focused on his childhood. (Including a mention that he was homeschooled. The boys loved that. ) We also read a portion of the Mike Venezia book on Ben Franklin that talked more about Franklin’s experiments with electricity than the typical “key on kite” story. I love Mike Venezia. I have often though that you could design an entire homeschool curriculum based entirely on his books.
Last but not least, I want to make a plug for Snap Circuits (pun totally intended). I had heard of this toy many times but wasn’t really sure what it was or whether we really needed it. I decided to go ahead and order it this summer and the boys have loved it. So far it isn’t something they take out regularly but when we get it out they can play with it for hours. John in particular enjoys making up his own circuits and experimenting with different combinations. When we got the set there was a piece that broke almost immediately. I called the company to ask for a replacement and they said they would send it free. I then asked about buying a student guide I’d seen online. They included it. For free. The Snap Circuit set itself was expensive for a toy but the company pretty much won me over as a customer for life with that kind of customer service.
Next week we move on to magnetism and we’ll also talk a bit about the relationship between electricity and magnetism.