Biology: Ways to Teach the "Yucky" Science
- 2005 23 May
Remember girls shrieking when the rubbery frogs were brought out in biology lab? Yes, most of us do and that is the memory that many home educators have about biology. Biology evokes visions of slimy worms, disgusting smells, and boys chasing girls with the inside parts of a fish. That's only your memory, not real biology.
Biology is, in my opinion, the easiest science to study and teach. It is the study of all living creatures and develops an appreciation for the wonders of creation. Biology is around us daily; we just need to heighten our awareness. In this modern age, people need to even be aware of topics such as genetics to respond appropriately to current political situations.
Biology Around the House
Often the environment around our homes is very sterile. With manicured lawns and neat flower beds, we remove the microcosm of life that our children can observe. Take a corner of the yard and leave it untended, allowing anything and everything to grow without human interference. Throughout the year look closely at the area. Observe the condition of the soil, the insects living in it, the plants growing, even watch for birds and small animals. Compare this section to the neater, well-tended areas. (A reminder: What you call a weed in your garden, is a wild flower in the open meadow.)
You can have a biology pond any where; whether you live in the city or the country. It needn't be large. In our backyard, we took advantage of a dripping faucet. Our little pond is about one foot in diameter and six inches deep. We put sand in the bottom and bricks around the edges to keep weeds down (another by-product of a pond). With the faucet dripping at a steady pace, the pond has a steady flow of water. This is essential to keep down mosquitoes; they like standing water. The slow dripping keeps it at a constant level without it getting out of hand.
A pond attracts all kinds of biological wonders and can be a natural part of your outdoor lab. Small frogs, moss and algae are among the first inhabitants. Sometimes you can catch a squirrel drinking at it or birds bathing. Since animals look for a water source, you will have steady stream of visitors at your pond.
A common question is "Do I have to do a dissection?" No. Court rulings in the past couple decades have stated that students cannot be forced to dissect an animal. There are numerous sources of dissection materials available without capturing and killing frogs and earthworms yourself. Computer programs can teach the various body parts; coloring books and models serve the same purpose. Internet sites have been developed dedicated solely to dissection.
Beef & sheep hearts are available at a butcher counter. Whole fish can be purchased for fish dissection. If you wish to go beyond that, several curriculum companies sell dissection kits that include the necessary equipment and several specimens.
Some Things to Do
All around our house things are growing, from children to plants. Tracking the growth is one of the simplest projects that can be done. Just making marks on the wall to show your preschooler how he's growing is science observation
Experiments can be done relating to the growth of plants. Different conditions, such as large pot, small pot; a lot of water, adequate water, little water; warm, bright sun, moderate sun, no sun, allows for many observations. Filter light with different colors or no light at all. Plants seeds in different conditions -- sand, good soil, cotton, etc. and watch the differences in the development of the plant. Heat and cold can be factors tested in the refrigerator, oven, or outside. For each of the variations, have your student predict the growth outcome.
Molds are easy to grow around the house. A book from the library will help identify the different molds. If you live in a damp area, mold may grow under the sink the in bathroom. Is it different from mold that is grown in the refrigerator? How about mold in the area? Or mold in soil? A study can be made of the good and bad molds. Some molds are grown for the good of mankind. Penicillin and cheese are good molds.
Algae will grow in your pond naturally. It keeps the water fresh by providing oxygen. Some types of moss will take residence on the top of the water. Your pond will also attract some water bugs for observation.
It is easy to watch and observe things. During the course of the year, your student can look at the water in your small pond, observe seasonal patterns, and record the changes. Does colder weather make a difference? What happens when a particular flower doesn't bloom? Are there different birds at the feeder during different seasons?
Watch the inhabitants and guest in your backyard. The birds, bugs, and amphibians will change with the seasons. Different creatures will come at different times of the day. These are cycles of nature that your student can study during a week, month or over the course of the school year. These are same kind of observations that naturalist make to study animals and plants.
Even with an inexpensive microscope you can look at one-celled animals found in pond water or your fish tank. Do blood examinations such as blood typing. Hair from various members of the family can be interesting to see differences and similarities.
Along with a microscope, a magnifying glass is a good science tool for observing bugs, flowers, and fingerprints.
The very act of breathing sets the stage for talks in areas of biology. As your children become more aware of life around them, they will begin to learn and understand the study of life. An understanding of life gives greater appreciation for the Creator. And, you never know if a hobby or career might start to grow.
Susan K. Stewart is the author of Science in the Kitchen, Fearless Science for All Ages. She presents workshops on teaching science at home including high school lab sciences. Susan and her husband Bob began teaching their three children in 1981 graduating all of them from home school. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or visit her web site www.skstewart.com.