Friday, June 06, 2008

Beginnings of Structure--A Hierarchically Based Science Course for Elementary Students: Part 4

I've read a few chapters from Isaac Asimov's Guide to Science Vol 1 Physical Sciences, Joy Hakim's The Story of Science: Aristotle Leads the Way (teen book), George Gamow's Gravity (includes a refresher on calculus), and Morris Shamos's Great Experiments in Physics: First Hand Accounts from Galileo to Einstein. Which means I've read a couple of chapters in each book. I have yet to complete one! Other books in the queue: George Gamow's The Great Physicists from Galileo to Einstein, Jeanne Bendick's Archimedes and the Door of Science (children's book), Asimov's Breakthroughs in Science, Daniel Boorstin's The Discoverers: A History of Man's Search to Know His World and Himself (from time-keeping to soul-searching), and Joy Hakim's The Story of Science: Newton at the Center (teen book).

Along the way, I've been thinking about what I want the course to include. I believe I should introduce why we study science, what physics is, and how we're going to study it. Of course we need to talk about what came before (myths, terror), trying to understand the bare basics of planting seasons, and using measurement and numbers for commerce, taxation, and navigation. It's probably important to discuss why Greece was different that allowed them to begin to feel nature may involved some rules and be able to do some thinking exercises in that regard. Thales, Pythagoras, Plato and Aristotle are the first to be introduced. We can then discuss why Greeks didn't do experiments and their general opinion of the Earth and the Heavens. The others I think ought to be discussed so far include Aristarchus, Democritus, Hero, and Archimedes. Though that's a pretty tall order.

I still haven't really decided on the overall structure of the course. I'll include machines during our discussion of Hero. Some of the major underneath-it-all concepts I want to be sure the kids have a good feel for will include volume, mass, and density. I'm planning on lecturing and doing experiments.

Perhaps the first month will take up an introduction and Ancient Greece, perhaps including two sessions on simple machines. After that a lecture to discuss the Dark Ages and break into Copernicus (quickly--mostly to introduce the name and conflict) and then concentrate on Galileo. Perhaps stick with a trail that leads to a somewhat modern understanding of magnetism, electricity, light, and energy. I'm conflicted about whether to stick with a purely historical approach which would mix the different branches or whether to go into branches after some baseline work and then go back 'in time' for each branch (each branch would be presented historically).

This will change, of course, once I get out of Ancient Greece in my research and learn more.

What I will not do: surface tension, making slime or goo, mentos soda geysers, tornado spouts between 2-liter plastic bottles, demonstrate Bernoulli's principle, magic snow, cornstarch solutions that behave differently depending on force applied, or chromatography. I won't do these because the underlying concepts are actually quite advanced. They're fun (I recommend the geyser--the kids got a real kick out of that), but won't work in this course.

What I hope we can do: make negative and positive electrical charges and show their attraction and repulsion, measure volume by showing a change in fluid level, understand that volume is the space a body occupies, show that air is something, mass is related to the weight of the object, demonstrate friction, show that air can be compressed, talk about how we know about the current solar system model, demonstrate that a magnet repeatedly points to the north, that a magnet can be demagnetized, that a magnet can be made by leaving it aligned to the north (or by passing over another magnet), make hydrogen, combine hydrogen and oxygen to make water (um, depending on when that happened and whether I think it would still work to use electricity instead of an acid-metal reaction), split light with a prism, recombine light with another prism, shows that temperature goes up even when we can't see the light that causes it, repeat Galileo's ramp experiments, and show that superposition work in our Earthly reference (update: um, maybe next year--this is one of those important, but can be skipped for now items) . Of course, that will all depend on my final outline and whether I run the course for a year or 1/2 a year.

Something surprising that I learned: Some physicists blame Aristotle for the church's reluctance to embrace the sun-centered solar system model and general distaste for this-worldly experimentation. Didn't see that coming (obviously I haven't studied either Aristotle's philosophy or scientific history before).

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