A Monster Sized Science Project

So I used to post a lot about science, but lately, I haven’t been.  One of the reasons is that I’ve been working on making a curriculum for elementary science, based in part on all the stuff we’ve done over the last several years.

I have to confess that I feel woefully inadequate and odd doing this.  While I love science, I have exactly zero formal training in it.  However, what I wished we had for science simply didn’t exist (none of the curricula out there were right for us…  trust me, you’re not going to mention something I haven’t seen!).  I would like to create just a piece of that for others if I can.  What I wished for was two part.  First, I wish there was a wonderful, narrative, engagingly written book about science for elementary schoolers.  There’s no way I could create that.  Second, I wish there was an overarching activity guide that lists resources and projects for science.  Well, that I am trying my hand at.

It has turned out to be a larger project than I originally intended.  Since I’m slowly working on it, I thought I’d share some of it here as I go.  Maybe just one section a month until I manage to finish.  I’d love to hear your feedback, whether it’s typos, activities, clarity, organization, or anything else, even “I think this is a waste of your time!”

Eventually, the project will be a guide that covers all of elementary science for kids K-4. Below is just one section from one unit.  The idea is that you use living books with videos and activities, which is basically what we’ve done.  It’s meant to be a pick and choose curriculum.  You don’t do every book and every activity and experiment (that would be way too much), you just do the ones that are right for your family (or the resources you manage to find at your library and the activities you have time for).  The options are there so it can be used by kids in this wide age range, so that you can breeze through some topics and explore others in depth, and so that you can get the books and materials that are easiest for you instead of trying to track down things your library or grocery doesn’t have.

Below is the first section I’m sharing, about the bones and muscles.  I’m playing around with calling it the Monster Science Guide, thus the little monster doodle in the button.  Click on the button to get the pdf.


20 thoughts on “A Monster Sized Science Project

  1. This is AMAZING!!!! But here’s my unsolicited advice. Bones and Muscles should be your sample. Don’t sell the cow for free. (Is that even as saying?)

    When you get the rest of your monster project together, do it as an ebook like Denise did for Let’s Play Math. (I have that book on Kindle btw, and can loan it to you if you ever want.)

    I’m totally swamped right now but I’ll print out and look for typos for you soon. 🙂

    P.S. In your blogroll it still has Teaching My Baby to Read with the .blog.com stuck on it. That pretty much crashed and burned. Now it’s just: http://teachingmybabytoread.com Thanks!

    1. Yeah, I’m definitely going to keep giving samples, but sell the final product. I mean, just the human body part will be a couple hundred pages. Thanks for the praise! I needed a little to spur me on, I think. 🙂

  2. Keep going! This is just the kind of guide that is missing for science. I like flexibility but really take off when I have structure and ideas like these to lead the way!

  3. I love this! I love the activities-they seem simple enough to do at home easily, but thoughtfully chosen to present the concepts in a fun and hands on manner. Oh, I hope this is available by the time my kids hit 1st-it’s almost exactly the type of thing I wanted to do. Thanks for sharing your sample!

  4. This is a great idea!

    One question: What bone(s) did you actually use for the bone dissection? I can imagine this working with chicken bones and a good cleaver, but I wouldn’t have guessed it was possible to slit a mammal bone larger than a rabbit’s in half lengthwise with a knife– and definitely not an entire cow femur. A dremel tool might work (they work on dry bones, anyway), but doing this with a knife sounds really hard!

    1. I’ve cut other beef bones with a meat cleaver before so it didn’t occur to me that it wouldn’t work, but that’s a good point. But we just did a turkey leg and then a chicken leg as well. The turkey you could see the marrow, but not the chicken – it was too small. The idea for the cow bones came from another book and I’d like to try it, but we didn’t get a chance.

      1. Thanks, I will try the turkey leg after Thanksgiving! It probably makes a difference whether the bones are cooked or raw too, cooked ones would be easier to cut. (Not to let one activity take over or anything, but this does seem like one of the potentially cooler ones to me!)

        I agree with Vila down the page that the lack of worksheets/ lab sheets/ formal writing is a plus for some of us. I supplement my kids’ brick-and-mortar school, so worksheets are generally off-putting to me too.

  5. I’m still exploring all that’s in your awesome unit, but just one thing I noticed before it slipped my mind – I couldn’t figure out what the asterisks mean beside some of the entries on the book list? Are those specially recommended titles? Thanks so much; so looking forward to reading this closely! It must have taken a huge amount of work.

    1. Yes – that’s the asterisks – the especially good books and videos. I may at some point add more little symbols for other things, like experiments that are especially fun or quick or something.

  6. Also – I really hope you don’t mind a bunch of notes! I don’t mean it as a barrage of criticism, because I think these activities are awesome! I just wanted to share thoughts before forgetting them, in case they’re at all useful to you – I couldn’t visualize what the models of the gliding and hinge joints were supposed to look like. Maybe add a pic? I’m sure it would also help if I knew what gliding and hinge joints actually are 🙂

    1. No, that’s super useful! Thank you. I have worried about that, but my options for illustration are kind of limited. Either we have to do projects again and include photos. That could be okay, maybe. But I’m not the best photographer. I could outsource drawings, but the cost would make the project unfinishable. Or I could do them myself. I’m okay at drawing, but not amazing. But I may need to just do it anyway. I can illustrate something like that. And I’ve played around with making some “lab book pages” for some of the units. So we’ll see. Thanks!

  7. I *love* that the activities are so simple to set up (thus making it more likely that they’ll actually get done). I love that they use such everyday items, rather than exotic kits with bells and whistles, where the excitement of using new materials will distract from the actual content. And I love how the use of everyday materials (and of the child’s own body) reinforces the connection that these concepts are actually about the child’s own life and experience, rather than an abstract topic that stands alone. And I *love* how the activities could easily be done with kids of a range of different ages, where the younger kid doesn’t need unrealistic amounts of help to get the general idea, but where the older kids can absorb as much extra detail or vocabulary as they’re able for.

    Just a thought for how you might describe the project, when you get to selling it officially? The sample was exactly what you described it as – an activity guide listing resources and projects. But I realized as I read through it that I was expecting to find a section on “how to use these activities” or a “sample lesson plan” or something, and then remembered that you never had said it was a formal “curriculum.” I think was only expecting that out of habit, because that’s usually how this kind of guide is set up, right? And as soon as I had asked myself the question, “but wait, how would I actually teach this?”, I found myself coming up with possible answers. In fact, the lack of step-by-step instructions could even be a very good thing, allowing the moms to incorporate these activities and resources into whatever kind of approach they’re using already. But it did cross my mind that if I had paid money for the guide, I might have been a little startled to find no actual lesson plans in there. So maybe make it quite clear in the description that it’s NOT a curriculum? (I know, you *were* clear! But clear enough to counteract people’s habitual expectations, I mean.) Or else, put in a few sample lesson plans as examples, showing how you might use a couple of these in a unit study, a self-guided learning approach, or a stricter school-at-home environment. Just a thought. I think it’s an awesome product; I’m just wondering aloud about how you might market it.

  8. Ooooh, I also wanted to mention that I think it’s awesome that the activities *don’t* automatically expect that the kids will record their observations in writing, or by filling out a worksheet. I think that for younger kids, having a really engaging oral discussion can be far more meaningful, because they can go deep into the topic without being limited by the challenges of spelling or the mechanics of writing, which can be intimidating for little kids who are still coming to grips with all that. It would be easy for a more workbook-minded mom to add in written components if she thought her kids would love it, but I really liked that the focus was on observing, discovering and discussing, rather than having the science diluted by paperwork.

  9. Yes, there will definitely be a “Ways to Use this Guide” section up front with suggestions. That’s easy. I think, as I said, it could go along with another curriculum to just be extras – extra living book and video suggestions, alternate activities, activities with more depth, etc. Or it can stand on its own. I agree that for us, the paper trail wouldn’t be a necessity at all and we would only occasionally use it. But I want to give options, as many as I feasibly can. And there’s nothing wrong with something like, a premade human body template for drawing on. That’s the kind of thing that I will end up going to find if I didn’t get it.

    Thanks for all the continued encouragement. I’ll put up another section in a week or so.

  10. I would have loved this when my kids were younger. If I was looking at it to purchase, however, I would be concerned about how long all the internet links are going to be current. Enjoy working on this monster!

  11. Yeah, making a fun science thing is somewhere in the back of my head. I just have no *time*. It’s a great idea. (Only mine has monsters and robots. Hehe.)

  12. Although, as you said, you don’t have a science degree, you are awesome at this Farrar – at finding great resources and creating a framework & acitivities to teach kids. Your Science Without a Net postings have been so great, this monster project is the logical next step.

    I don’t think you need to add illutrations or photography, especially if it makes the project arduous. I was not missing it as I read through. I think the value of your monster science project is that you have gathered a bunch of high quality resources (you must be an editor at heart!) that anyone can find & use successfully (also, if you can find some of the books in the library, this is so inexpensive!) You’ve done so much helpful work already, for instance, just narrowing down the key concepts for each topic would take me a while, if I were not following a boxed curriculum. Then looking for good books, videos, activities…you’ve done this. It’s great.

    The pdf is nicely organized, clearly written. Well done! Keep going! I say K-4 this year…middle grades soon after! Happy Holidays!

  13. I found your blog when I was trying to cobble together some science activities for my kids…and I particularly liked the book recommendations. I wanted to buy the “Science book of…” series, but they’re all out of print. I found this book, written by the same author, that I *think* is a compliation of all the Houghton Mifflin ones…still in print, and far cheaper than buying all of the out of print ones seperately. I thought that might be useful information for you or your readers. http://www.amazon.com/Great-Science-Experiments-Neil-Ardley/dp/0756619181

  14. I love this Farrar! I think you definitely have started something exciting. Although your primary focus is science it’s clear that other content areas are addressed as well – math, art, music, literacy work… Thank you for sharing!

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