Thursday, November 1, 2012

Electricity Unit

fuse experiment
Tomorrow we will be concluding our study of  magnetism and electricity.  This ten week unit was the first of four science units this year.  The boys and I did quite a few hands-on activities including making magnets out of things like hack saw blades and sewing needles, making a compass and an electroscope, wiring series and parallel circuits, making a fuse, an electromagnet, and a generator.  Most of these activities were done with items we had lying around the house.  I love it when it works out that way!

retro Radio Shack
Ages ago, when I was in middle school, I had a cool Radio Shack electronic project kit.  I loved the orderly way you had to wire the components together to create fun little projects.  A couple years back, EM was showing a great deal of interest in electronic devices, so I bought a used one for him on Ebay.  Up until now, we had mostly left it in the closest.  We pulled it off the shelf for this unit and spent time on many of the projects. Radio Shack does make a newer version, the Elenco EP-130 Electronic Playground, but I prefer the retro model from my childhood.

schematics for every project

The boys would carefully follow the instructions, but often ended up making mistakes that resulted in a failed project.  Then they would have to trouble shoot their work.  Persistence was a required virtue.  The best thing about the manual is that schematics are included for every project.  The boys even learned how to design their own simple drawings for circuits they built. 

The first part of our unit relied heavily on one book, The Watts Laboratory Library Experiments in Magnetism and Electricity.  Later on we used Janice VanCleave's Electricity to add to our study.  Both books are wonderful in that they explain what you will do, the results you should see, and the why behind the experiment.

This unit also became the platform for my first endeavor in teaching the boys how to take notes.  At least one day each week, I would present material in lecture format.  While I was speaking, I would discuss how they could know when to write something down in their notes.  For example, when preparing to explain series and parallel circuits, I told them I was about to introduce them to two different kinds of circuits.  I would help them decide how they might put that down on paper.  Perhaps they would like to add a diagram, outline or list of examples of each kind of circuit.  As the unit went on, they started developing their own style in the way they took notes.  Earlier this week, I told them I would be putting together a test for the end of the unit.  I explained that it would include all of the topics I had taught while they took notes.  I showed them how they could study what they had written in preparation for the test.  Tomorrow we will see how that preparation has paid off when they take their tests.

I tend not to give the boys many written exams.  Learning has been more about discovery and discussion in most subjects.  I believe that sometimes too much testing results in incorrect motives for learning.  I don't want them to learn things only so that they can spew them back out on paper at the end of a unit and never think about them again.  Things they have learned should become a part of who they are.  But the rest of the world, including the part of their world that will include college education, involves testing.  So I want to equip them for that future.  Maybe by integrating note taking now, it will be a natural part of their learning process later in life, allowing them to put down on paper the things that are being added to their character.

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