Thursday, November 11, 2010

For the skeptics...... Child led learning DOES work!!

As I've been touting the virtues of the whole "unschooling" method lately the nagging little voice in the back of my mind pops up now and then. The standard question it asks is, "but how will you KNOW that he's learning or even INTERESTED in learning?" Or, "He'll NEVER learn anything if you don't MAKE him, if you don't sit him down and TEACH him stuff." On Tuesday night, out of the blue, LD asked a question which was a PERFECT way for us to learn something.

We were watching something on Netflix... and now I can't even recall what it was because I got so excited over his spontaneous question!! The question was most definitely NOT related to what we were watching and it was an example that was hard for me to ignore. It showed me in no uncertain terms that no matter how small or seemingly trivial a comment in passing might be, he tucks it away and his brain works on it and suddenly at another time, more often unrelated than not, he'll ask a question that makes us think.

He asked me three things Tuesday and one of them became this science experiment. Though, the other two are definitely worth sharing!! First was why do we have toes? Well..... I know they have something to do with balance and walking... but, it made me wonder, why DO we have individual toes - it's not like we use them to hold a pen and write with like we do our fingers.... This question took us to the internet to search out WHY we have toes. During our looking we talked about why HE thinks we have toes, and what they remind him of - his hands and monkeys! But it also made me think that we could just have easily developed flipper like appendages - not as floppy as those of a sea lion - but you could easily have a solid extension of your foot encased in flesh with the individual toe bones inside it.

The second question was "does carpet begin with car?" We've been talking about the beginning letters of words lately - I get about 10 questions a day like this - if not more. Normally he'll ask if a word begins with a certain letter or sound. This time though he took it a step further. My initial reaction was to say no, it begins with "C" but then I realized... why yes, carpet DOES start with car!! Which made me giggle because I then immediately wondered why, if airport starts with air, but we park airplanes there.....that we don't put carpet under our cars... and then I thought carport .... a carport should be carpeted..... sorry, just the way my mind works.

At any rate, on to the science experiment....He was eating some mini marshmallows (a favorite snack) and asked, "Mom, what happens if you put this in water?"  The old me would have told him. "It will dissolve." Which initially was my response. But that prompted him to ask what dissolve means. So I tried to explain it. And then I realized - here's a learning opportunity!!! Instead of just telling him, I had an opportunity to SHOW him - to let him see the process first hand and to be an active part of it.

So we got up from the couch, and went to the kitchen. In addition to water we also tried vegetable oil and white vinegar. We talked about what we thought MIGHT happen to the marshmallows over time. Even Dad got in on the discussion - taking it a step further to wonder what would happen specifically to the one in oil and if it were placed in the freezer - would the oil "eat" the marshmallow faster? LD's ideas were that the marshmallows would essentially become invisible but he'd still be able to feel them if he tried.

Here he is pouring the assorted liquids into the different cups:

At about 8:30 pm, here's what the samples looked like. From left to right - oil, vinegar, water.

By 9:15 pm there was an OBVIOUS change in the marshmallow that was in the vinegar (center), but none for the others:

By 10pm still more noticeable change in the vinegar dish, and NONE in the others...

By 10pm I'm sleepy so the next observation would have to wait till the morning.

More pictures: 6:44am


And Finally 9:30pm (after LD had gotten his fingers on them!)

Ok, we're a little lax about consistency here - my traditional schooled brain was saying ok, don't forget to check the marshmallows at regular, SET, time intervals so you get predictable results. But, I then relaxed. I reminded myself that we are letting LD guide us. Ocassionally I'd remind him about the marshmallows - asking if he wanted to look at them. Sometimes he said yes, sometimes no.

In the end, these are the "results" we got:

Vinegar - you notice an immediate reaction between the vinegar and marshmallow - as in there is white stuff pooling up under the marshmallow within a few minutes. This process continues until the whole marshmallow is reduced to this powdery stuff, which is a touch gritty, at the bottom and some frothy looking bubbles on top.

Oil - the marshmallow retained it's original shape, size and lost little of it's squishiness. In fact, it actually seemed to become a little hard. Dad speculated that this was because the oil might be drawing out some of the marshmallow's moisture. He went on to say that it should be smaller than when it started its journey. Unfortunately, we didn't measure them first or we'd be able to say if this was the case. When comparing it to a "fresh" one though there wasn't much difference in size than I could see.

Water - this one surprised us. We all figured the water would dissolve the marshmallow within a 24 hour period. However, the only obvious change we noticed (until we touched it) was that it seemed to initially be covered in bubbles and then it started looking a little more translucent and there seemed to be an ever so slight puffing up of the whole marshmallow. However, when LD squished it between his fingers it sort of fell apart - like a VERY fragile sponge.

Of course he got so excited to feel them that I wasn't able to get the final pictures BEFORE he got his fingers on them...

The oil result was probably the most unexpected of all. 

Overall, a really fun thing to watch happen, and it never would have taken place if I had given him my statement of "it'll dissolve" and left it at that. From now on my answers to things like this will be followed with, "should we find out?"

1 comment:

  1. Oh my goodness! How awesome is that?! Perfect examples of unschooling!