Monday, May 30, 2016

Summer Science - How to Turn An Afternoon in the Park into a Simple, No-Stress Science Lesson

Long time readers will know I love to sneak science lessons into our summer fun. Really it's not so much sneaking in, as it is taking advantage of the teachable moments that present themselves every time we step outside the door. We're outside more in the summer, so it's hard to miss all the science going on around us.

Take for instance this weekend. We jumped back onto the dinosaur trail with another homeschooler family (they're studying Montana history, and by coincidence most of the dinosaur museums not only highlight the prehistoric history of our state, but also have some regional pioneer-ish type history exhibits, as well).

Of course, dinosaur museums are full of scientific information and fodder for future lessons, but the real lesson came when we stopped by a local park, to let the "children" (most of whom are teens) blow off some steam before stuffing them back into the vans for the trip home.

The park wasn't much, but it did have a creek.

It wasn't long before one of our group was in the creek...

...only to discover they weren't alone.

We spent some time watching, and trying (unsuccessfully) to catch (most of us watching from the shore) the little fish in the creek (which at the time we were calling guppies, but on double checking at home, realized were minnows) by hand, and then loaded up and headed home.

On the way home, we (possibly more me, than anyone else) lamented that we hadn't caught any of the fish to take home as pets. Questions arose (from the skeptics in the back of van):
  1. How would you even catch fish so small?
  2. Would they survive in a fish tank?
  3. Is it legal to harvest them?
  4. How big would they grow?
  5. What would you feed them?
And just like that, a science lesson was born.  A few minutes at home with Google, led us from the question of :

"What are the small fish in Montana streams?" (minnows)


"Types of minnows in Montana" (the Montana field guide lists 22)

 Kingdom - Animals - Animalia Phylum - Vertebrates - Craniata Class - Fish - Actinopterygii Order - Minnows / Suckers - Cypriniformes Family - Minnows - Cyprinidae


"How do you catch minnows?" (after a quick check with the department of Fish and Wildlife to check the regulations - there is always a legal side to fieldwork).


"Is there a way to observe an identify minnows without traumatizing or harming them?" (the ethical dilemma of field work - Mary Low's Creek Stopmin' & Gettin' into Nature suggests making an "underwater viewer" by removing both ends from a can, and securing plastic wrap tightly across one end with a rubber band).

And (since we were already searching books anyway) to:

...which we could download for free through Amazon Prime.  It's a very simple book, but does contain a lot of facts about the tiny fish.

Now, all of this "research" was done over the course of about an hour, after we got home.  The lesson was shallow, and introductory at best, but we picked up a couple of follow-up projects to do, and we're armed with that much more information to build on for our next park visit.

So, how do you turn an afternoon in the park into a simple, no-stress science lesson? 
  • Go outside.
  •  Look around.
  •  Be aware of what's catching your child's eye.
  • Share experiences from your past (we used to catch crawdads in our creek when I was girl).
  • Encourage questions.
  • Seek and share the answers - using the Internet and library for free, and quick resources.
  • Don't be afraid of making mistakes, or admitting you might be or were wrong (the little fish were not guppies, after all).
  • Remember if you're going to touch or remove anything, to check the local regulations.


Natalie PlanetSmarty said...

I love how you are following up on your children's quests. I also love how your teenagers are always game for a good old field trip!

Camie said...

Creeks are fun to explore. Great summer science idea.

Ticia said...

Wait, you guys still have metal slides?????? I guess those aren't death traps that cause 2nd degree burns up in Montana, like there are here down in Texas.

My kids would have been right there with yours playing/learning in the water.