Who Says Science Isn’t Creative?
Creativity isn’t just for the arts and humanities. It requires a great deal of creativity to think like a scientist. In fact, some of the world’s greatest scientists were also accomplished musicians and writers. One of the best ways to encourage a love of the sciences in your children is to foster their innate creativity when it comes to learning science principles. Think about what an engineer goes through as she attempts to design a new package to keep Oreo cookies fresh and unbroken until we get them home. (Did you know this is quite a large industry and pays newly graduated engineers big bucks!) There is a lot of creative thinking that goes into designing and refining the perfect package. And determining where to start and how to tweak things to produce desired results all require creativity. The same can be said for all great scientific advancements. Imagine where we’d be today if Alexander Fleming didn’t think creatively when he found mold growing on his petri dish of bacteria! Cultivating creativity in your home school science curriculum can help improve critical-thinking skills, motivation, and engagement in reluctant learners as well as helping students begin to understand the vital role of creativity in the development of new scientific information.
So, what might this look like? Well, picture the average 8th grader who is studying the concept of motion. He should certainly read about motion and Newton’s laws, but I’m not sure how motivating and engaging that might be. But if you assign him the
project of designing a water rocket that will fly over a specific distance (say 50 meters or more) and then to spark his creativity tell him to study the physical characteristics of a variety of different balls (baseball, tennis ball, football, etc.) as they travel through the air, he just might learn something in spite of himself. (As a note, I do think these types of active learning approaches are great in small groups, so definitely include siblings or a small co-op class and you’ll find even more engagement occurring.)
Make sure your student investigates the relationship between the ball’s physical characteristics (like mass, volume, density, shape, material, whether solid or hollow, etc.) and the distance it travels when thrown. Allow your student to decide how to analyze each relationship and how to control as many variables as possible – this will definitely bring out his creativity! For example – should each ball be thrown in the same manner, bringing the arm back to just the same spot, releasing the ball at just the same spot? how many throws for each ball should there be? how can we figure out where the center of gravity is? – see what I mean?
After the data is collected, it should be analyzed in light of Newton’s laws and momentum and then another creative opportunity arises—designing a water rocket that has similar characteristics as the ball that traveled the farthest. With just a two-liter soda bottle, water, tire pump, and various household items used to modify the shape of the bottle and add ballast, students should be given the task of designing, creating, testing, tweaking (lots of creativity involved in testing and tweaking – how much water to use? ballast or no ballast? etc.), and sharing the ideas that led to their rockets. This, by the way, is the same process that engineers and working scientists use every day. I guarentee that your student will walk away with a better understanding of Newton’s laws of motion—not to mention how to approach and try to solve a problem—when learning through a water rocket experience than without one. And remember, there are no failures with this type of active learning. As Thomas Edison so wisely pointed out, “I have not failed. I’ve just found 10,000 ways that won’t work.” If you’d like a little more background information on building water rockets (but let your student figure things out on their own) check out the websites below.
We can use water rocket (active) learning for all concepts of science. It does take a little more time and it might get a little messy (make sure to launch your water rocket outside), but the payout is so much greater. And isn’t that part of the reason that we home school?
Vicki Dincher has been teaching science to home educated students for 17 years and teaches physical science, biology, and physics for Aim Academy.