Winter Science Project – Making Borax Crystal Snowflakes

Winter is a magical time filled with many holiday traditions and seasonal changes. All of us at Real Science-4-Kids want to share this little wintertime experiment with you and spread the seasonal joy.

Did you know you can grow your own snowflake ornaments using common household materials? If you would like to try it, follow these simple steps. At the end of the directions, we’ll share some of the science behind this experiment.

Supplies List:

How to make the magic happen:

1) With the scissors, snip the pipe cleaner into 3 equal parts. Then, twist 2 of the pipe cleaner segments around each other at their middles to form a cross shape. Add the 3rd piece of pipe cleaner to form a six-pointed snowflake. Bend the top point into a loop for a hanger.

2) In the mixing bowl dissolve 3 tablespoons of Borax into 1 cup of water.

3) Using the Borax solution, fill the bottom of the pie plate. Dip your pipe cleaner snowflake in the solution so that the pipe cleaners are completely dampened.

4) Tie a short piece of string through the top loop. Then, tie the other end of the string around the pencil. Suspend the snowflake inside the jar. Now for the hard part, walk away and leave it untouched!

5) You should start to see crystals forming on your snowflake after 1 to 3 hours and your crystal snowflake should be complete after 24 hours. It seems obvious, but make sure you DO NOT EAT THE SNOWFLAKE.

This process will work for other shapes as well. Get creative. Use food coloring in your solution if you want additional color variations. If you really want to get crazy, try putting glow-in-the-dark paint on the pipe cleaner before dipping it in the borax solution. If you want a more defined snowflake shape, you can also try using a cut sponge instead of the pipe cleaner. We would love to hear about your results!

Learning Real Science: Student Notebooks for Book 5 and Up

 

Some of you have noticed that our study notebooks for books 5 and up are different than the study notebooks for books 1-4. The study notebooks for books 1-4 are full color with activities such as fill-in-the-blank, simple question and answer, and mini-experiments. These study notebooks reinforce the information presented in the student texts and laboratory workbooks and are simply a way for students to review the content they are learning.

The study notebooks for books 5 and up are completely different. They are black and white with very little content. The questions proposed are abstract and open-ended. The student is left struggling, at times, to figure out how to proceed. There is, in fact, very little guidance on what to write down. In the opening pages, the student is instructed to mark out any question they don’t like and write their own.

So why are they so different?

It all goes back to how to teach a student, any student, real science. What is real science? And how can I (Dr. Keller and author of these books) deliver a product that will not only give students the nuts and bolts of real science (the facts), but also develop the passion, curiosity, and tenacity to really learn science?  With these questions in mind, I created a different kind of study notebook for older students.

Although learning the facts (how an atom forms a molecule, what moves a ball forward, what kinds of minerals are found in granite etc.), is important for understanding science, real science is much more than uploading a database of information into a student’s long-term memory. Learning real science is mostly about playing with ideas, tinkering with experiments, and exploring questions that are interesting to the student. I added emphasis to the last part of that sentence because, truthfully, if a student is not interested in a subject they won’t really learn it.

Learning occurs when students are pushed slightly past their comfort zone, into an area of unfamiliarity and discomfort. Students who reach book 5 in the series have been filling in the blanks and answering questions for 4 years with the study notebooks. They are familiar and comfortable with the format but they haven’t yet been challenged to think for themselves. Nor have they been given the freedom to explore what truly interests them. Starting in Book 5, students are given the opportunity to take all that they have learned and play, tinker, explore, question and discover.

The student notebooks starting in Book 5 are not for teachers or parents to grade or review. In fact, I’d highly recommend that parents and teachers hand the notebooks to the students and never look at them again. These notebooks are for students to write down what ignites them, what they are curious about, and to replace with their own questions what they have no interest in exploring.

If you are not comfortable having your students struggle, occasionally complain about being bored, or feeling frustrated, please do not order the study notebooks for Book 5 and up.  However, if you want your student to learn to push past the initial discomfort that occurs with learning anything new and discover real science in a way that will last them a lifetime and if you can support your student without doing all their work for them then the study notebooks for Books 5 and up are perfect and will help develop a student’s passion, curiosity, and tenacity.

The Benefits of Failure

Olivia was an athlete, a successful one. She knew what it felt like to win because she regularly tasted the sweetness of victory.

Orange bits of dyed polyurethane track pressed on fingertips. Stomach muscles knotted into a tight ball of nervousness as the starting gun was about to be raised skyward. Running was in her blood. This was to be the race of all races, the culmination of four years’ sweat and perseverance. She had easily made it to the finals in her division and was favored to finish in the top two. But, second place wasn’t an option. No one of merit ever finished second. That would simply be a defeat. Failure was not something she was accustomed to or prepared to deal with. In her heart, however, Olivia knew the competition in this race matched her own skill. It was to be all or nothing. Her coach and parents certainly wouldn’t cheer on a second place finisher.

Following a fitful and sleepless night, thoughts of failure were inundating her mind, and she quickly became her own toughest competition. With each passing millisecond Olivia grew more certain of her inability to win the race. Fear of defeat insidiously crept into her consciousness, paralyzing mind and body. With the inevitability of the race looming, all doubt vanished. She would lose the race. Her lack of ability to cope with the idea of failure had defeated the undefeated athlete. The deafening crack of a gunshot rang out. Cleated feet around her instantly engaged. Still set in the starting blocks, Olivia numbly stared as the competition rounded the first corner. Failure by default was a bitter pill.

Olivia was an athlete, a much wiser one. She knew what it felt like to win because she had tasted the sweetness of victory, but Olivia was now experienced enough to know what it felt like to lose because she had also tasted the bitterness of defeat. The latter proved to be very valuable over time.

Though the story of Olivia is fictional, it’s a familiar story. Far too often children are frozen into inaction by a deep-seated fear of failure. Wisdom, however, grows with the number of attempts, not merely the number of successes. Scientists have known this pearl of wisdom for ages, as attested to by Thomas Edison when referring to his work with light bulbs:

Scientific history is filled with many eureka moments—from Archimedes’ bath to Newton’s apple—but the scientific process entails many false starts that are essential to the advancement of science. Actually, Newton wound up being wrong about two little things—time and space. They aren’t absolute as he asserted. But, would we ever consider Newton a failure? Newton was essentially and beautifully wrong, and it was his flawed model that led to Einstein’s incredible breakthroughs.

So what are good failures? Are there really such failures at all? Or is it the acceptance of failure as a path toward wisdom that makes it so valuable? Virtually all of science might be considered a failure, because scientific discoveries are constantly being revised. Scientists are able to progress from failure to failure as they move toward success in the interim…understanding there is a propensity to be proven incorrect yet again. There is nothing to be feared in being proven wrong.

Can you imagine making failure a positive outcome to children? What if we created an environment where failure, as a step toward improvement, was merely a challenge to try again? If you really want to give your children the gift of success, teach them how to fail without fear, because they will inevitably fail at something regardless of their attitude toward it.

Scientists are not their failed experiments, though the outcomes of those experiments might be considered as such. They are able to separate their personal worth from scientific outcomes. Shouldn’t children be taught the same principle? Never was this message so succinctly expressed than by the Irish poet Samuel Beckett:

“EVER TRIED. EVER FAILED. NO MATTER. TRY AGAIN. FAIL AGAIN. FAIL BETTER.”

The next time you are faced with defeat, consider dusting yourself off and saying, “Again!” After all, the best way to convey the message of successful failure to your children is through personal demonstration.

WHAT’S ART GOT TO DO WITH IT?

Our central goal at Real Science-4-Kids is to assist youngsters in discovering joy and passion in the wonderful scientific world. The field of science is exciting! It’s growing every day with new breakthroughs and innovations. Careers in the science field are increasing at such a fast pace that there aren’t enough professionals to fill open positions. The education system is scrambling to incorporate an ever-increasing number of STEM programs to fill the demand in the workplace. With all of this focus on science, technology, engineering, and math, art is being relegated to the corner like a worn-out pair of ice skates on a sunny day — irrelevant and unnecessary. But, is art really either of those things?

What’s art got to do with it, anyway?

Is art important to science? As we educate our children and find the hours of the day continuing to be gobbled up by more and more math and science, is it really important to make time for the arts as well? J. H. van ’t Hoft — the first Nobel Prize winner in chemistry— thought so when he proposed that imagination is directly correlated to various creative activities outside science. Was his view isolated, or is there evidence of creativity and art throughout scientific history?

Most people are aware of Leonardo da Vinci, one of the world’s most amazing artists. Not as many people are aware of Leonardo da Vinci, Scientist and Inventor. Contrastingly, the world of science would be much smaller without the mind of Albert Einstein, a scientific genius. But, how many people know Albert Einstein as an accomplished violinist with a love for Mozart? In his mind, art and science worked together as one harmonious element. He was quoted as saying, “I very rarely think in words at all. A thought comes, and I may try to express it in words afterwards.” His quote expresses a habit of thinking in pictures and abstracts rather than words. Art is the foundation for that development of the mind. Einstein’s son Hans said of his father, “Whenever he felt that he had come to the end of the road or into a difficult situation in his work, he would take refuge in music, and that would usually resolve all his difficulties.”

Nature and art work in harmony with one another.

Through art we see the aesthetic beauty of the world around us. Through science we discover how it all works. One is integral to the other, and neither exists alone. Earl Edward George Bulwer-Lytton, the English novelist, once said, “Art and science have their meeting point in method.”

You may be thinking that all these examples are outdated. Times have changed! Is there a fresh voice that’s more relevant to today?

How about Steve Jobs? As recently as 2011 he was quoted as saying, “It’s in Apple’s DNA that technology alone isn’t enough — it’s technology married with liberal arts, married with the humanities, that yields us the results that make our heart sing.” Art has not been forgotten. It is on the minds of those leading the way in today’s technological advancement.

On one hand is science. On the other, art. When we observe the beauty of the artistic world around us through the critical lens of science, an elegant dance ensues as the fingers of those hands lace together harmoniously. As increased science education becomes essential, we need to remember that art and science are both critical parts of the same mechanism — life.

The blogger Vi Hart demonstrates some of the beautiful and natural mathematical elements found in nature. Check out this link as she discusses the discovery of the Fibonacci Sequence in everyday elements of nature.

Science Careers: What Do You Want To Be When You Grow Up?

Children are often asked what they want to be when they grow up. Doctor, lawyer, teacher, firefighter, police officer, or veterinarian are a few of the typical answers one might expect. They excitedly draw pictures of gallant firefighters on ladders rescuing cats from trees, or detail rosy classrooms filled with perfectly behaving children. Pretend playtime is filled with ailing stuffed animals treated for all sorts of maladies —until children learn that the majority of veterinary work involves spaying, neutering, and euthanizing animals. The sparkly glitz of being a veterinarian might fade to a dim shimmer with that realization. Attention could then shift to becoming a police officer, until mom gets pulled over for speeding, that is. That’s when “police officer” gets axed from the ever-shrinking list. What is a child to do?
Such broad-brush responses imply a limited exposure to the vast catalog of available careers. Although the previously mentioned occupations are the perfect fit for some children, they aren’t right for everyone and certainly aren’t the only available choices. Children have many options such as telemarketer, odor tester, or gravedigger (you really don’t want to fall asleep on that job). However, most children don’t actively pursue those options either. With further exposure to the intriguing world of career selection, they may choose to be a cartographer, journeyman, or geoscientist, though.

“What if I don’t want to be an odor tester, Mom?”

Science Careers

The field of science is teeming with fascinating career choices that extend far beyond a lab coat and Petri dish. Unfortunately, most science careers tend to get lumped under the umbrella of “scientist,” and their individualistic natures are lost to young students. Real Science-4-Kids wants to help ignite a passion for all avenues of science in the young minds of today’s students. Use our careers-focused blog posts as resources to aid in the discovery of available science careers and help future scientists find the right fit for themselves. We dive into the wonderful world of science careers and invite you along for the journey. Each of our career posts highlight a different field of science.
One of these posts just might discuss the option your child has been searching for. The same child who isn’t necessarily thrilled about the prospect of treating dogs who have fleas might jump at the chance to observe territorial behaviors of bluebirds in their natural habitat. Such is the life of an ecologist. Does your child want to help people without having to work in a hospital? Perhaps the budding field of genetics is more enticing. If your student likes the idea of being a firefighter but would rather work in the mountains, he or she might want to consider being a conservation scientist who deals with forest fire management and prevention. Upcoming blog editions will dive into careers like neurobiology — the study of the brain and nervous system.
In the meantime, check out this amazing resource: http://coolsciencecareers.rice.edu/ . This program is provided through Rice University and will take your student on an occupational tour that can help find a science career suited to your student’s interests. Have fun engaging with the website and then let us know what you think in the comments section.

BACK TO SCHOOL ESSENTIALS YOU WON’T FIND ON A SHOPPING LIST

If you’re like some, you’ve got both feet firmly planted in summer break — adorned with goggles, water balloons, a good book, and a steadfast denial that school is right around the corner. Or, maybe you’re one of those families that actually loves school and, in fact, has never stopped teaching long enough to notice the ‘break’ in summer break. Regardless of your current summer disposition, it’s a good idea to pause and take stock of your needs for the coming year. It’s the chance to assess what has worked, purge ideas and materials that have proven ineffective or superfluous, and make new goals to help streamline education. It’s also time to start planning your supplies list.

Many school essentials don’t come in wrapped packages with price tag attached. Those essentials can sometimes be set aside or forgotten about while we make itemized lists of pencils, notebooks, glue sticks, and rulers. It’s important to remember the true fundamentals that make up the back to school must-haves.

 

PURGE YOUR CURRICULUM LIBRARY OF UNUSED AND UNNECESSARY MATERIAL

Odds are you have it on your shelf. Most families do. It’s that old textbook you bought three years ago that didn’t work out like you thought it would. Now you’re saving it “just in case” you have the need for some supplemental material someday. Time passes. The stack of material grows and is left unused. The only thing it has managed to do is create clutter and guilt as you watch it gather dust.

Summer is the perfect time to condense and streamline curriculum for the coming year. Find one curriculum for each subject that works for your family and stick to it. Sell or donate items that don’t work for you. Who knows? They might be just the thing another family is looking for. The bottom line when it comes to curriculum is — less is more. You will be more efficient, organized, and stress-free when there are fewer materials being juggled.

 

MAKE EDUCATION CULTIVATE INQUISITIVENESS, IMAGINATION, AND A LOVE FOR LEARNING

Children are born with the same inquisitive nature required of scientists. As infants, they start off

examining and testing the physical properties of the world around them. Their laboratory is found on the kitchen, bathroom, and living room floors as they touch, squeeze, and lick anything within arm’s reach.  They watch a cup fall from the highchair…time and time again…gathering data with each drop.

Children start to make connections and form hypotheses of expected outcomes as they pull the ever-patient dog’s fur, and then decide to move toward the temperamental cat. When the outcomes are different than expected, children are able to adjust their methodology for future recall. Pull the dog’s fur: yes. Pull the cat’s fur: NO! When fostered, these inquisitive childhood moments lead to innovative adult creativity.

Imaginative childhood play should be a part of the curriculum, not a scheduled break from it. The most notable innovators that have changed the world with their ideas were ones that dreamed the imaginary, and then worked to make it real. Unimaginative scientists aren’t at the forefront of technological advancement. The dreamers are. Allow children to make creativity and imagination a part of everyday education.

 

PRAISE STUDENTS FOR THEIR EFFORT AND NOT THEIR INTELLIGENCE

This recommendation may seem contrary to some of the recent advice you’ve heard. Saying someone is smart certainly doesn’t sound negative. It may even sound like a compliment to tell a child they’re smart after a job well done. When children learn to associate intelligence with outcomes, however, they may lose the drive to take on new challenges or persevere in the face of failure. Why take the chance of appearing “dumb” if you should fail?

Consistently telling someone they are smart can also lead children to believe that intelligence is all they need. They write off the importance of effort and hard work. Young children who are routinely told they are smart in the early grades might stop putting forth effort, believing intelligence is enough. Later, when difficult subjects are faced in the middle years, they are not accustomed to the type of effort required to conquer tougher challenges and can conclude they really aren’t intelligent after all.

Developing relationships of encouragement rather than merely praising innate ability is the key to performance. Engage a child’s thought process, encourage his or her ingenuity at problem solving, and praise persistence. When children fail, dust off their knees and help them fine-tune plans for another attempt. Encouragement for continued attempts will garner the results you want in the long run.

 

DON’T TAKE THE BAD DAYS PERSONALLY

Even when you’ve had a great start and things seem to be going well, there will come a time when your attempt fails miserably. It’s important to remember that you are not unique in your failure. Everyone fails at some point. Don’t take it personally. A bad day or two doesn’t make you a poor educator. It makes you human, just like your students.

When you hit a rough patch, perhaps it’s time to switch things up for a day or two. Find an activity in a different setting to help push the reset button. Assess your goals to make sure they are realistic. Most importantly, don’t forget to follow the advice you’re dishing out to your kiddos. Dust off your knees and fine-tune your next attempt.

 

COLLABORATE WITH OTHER PARENTS AND THE ONLINE COMMUNITY

There are so many resources available today. One such is Pinterest. Here are some wonderful Pinterest boards we found that offer educational ideas and parental support.

 

Do you have other back-to-school essentials that weren’t included in this post? Share them with melinda@gravitaspublication.com and we will add them to our list. Real Science 4 Kids loves the collaboration of great ideas.

 

A Word From Dr. Keller

When Dr. Keller began homeschooling her children, she quickly spotted a deficiency in the available curriculum for her professional specialty, science. Some might have viewed the situation with a spirit of resignation. Dr. Keller, however, saw it as a challenge and a call to action. She identified what needed to be improved and then worked to produce a more effective curriculum. Because of her tenacity and logic, thousands of students have reaped the benefit of an intelligent and innovative approach to science. The result of her years-long labor of love is the Real Science-4-Kids program available today.

So, what actually makes the Real Science-4-Kids program so unique and effective? Don’t all science curriculums cover the same material? To answer these questions, and more, I went to the source and spoke with Dr. Keller.

 

What is the overarching logic behind Real Science-4-Kids (RS4K)?

The RS4K series of books is designed to expose kids, especially young kids, to ‘real’ science. When I say ‘real’ science, I’m referring to the mechanisms and terminology actual scientists utilize.

While teaching science to my own kids, I noticed that none of the books written for younger kids even remotely covered the topics found in college texts. And yet, the upper level college texts are the most interesting.  Additionally, none of the younger students’ books addressed ‘real’ science terms and concepts. Processes were simplified to a point where there was no longer a connection with higher level study. These simplified science books were completely lacking in chemistry and physics—the foundations for all science.

I thought, “what if I write a kid’s book that introduces kids to ‘real’ chemistry, ‘real’ physics, ‘real’ biology, and so on. How might this change the way kids learn and grow to love science?” So, that’s what I did. The program started off small, and has grown into the extensive library that it is today.

 

What are some key distinctions between your strategy and the traditional methodology?

My approach to teaching science is the opposite of traditional methods. Most elementary and middle school science books teach science topics, like ‘how plants grow’ or ‘our solar system.’ The ‘real’ science concepts, i.e., those actually used in the science field, aren’t taught until high school.

My strategy is to introduce the ‘real’ science concepts from the beginning at an appropriate pace for each level. Each year the program builds on the initial foundation and additional information is added.  Science topics are classified and taught within their correct area of scientific study. So, ‘how plants grow’ becomes photosynthesis and cell biology. ‘Our solar system’ becomes the chemistry of stars and the physics of planetary orbits.

What makes your teaching techniques and strategies more effective than others?

Having a logical and sequential approach to teaching science really works. We recognize and use this process in language arts all the time. When kids learn to read, we understand that they need the foundations of language before they can master a complicated novel. They first learn the alphabet and then put the letters together to form words. Next, we teach them to use those words to form sentences which are then strung together to form paragraphs. Those paragraphs eventually form a novel. For a child to master reading comprehension, he or she must first master the basics of language.

The same is true for science. For a child to truly understand the science behind how a plant grows, they must first master the basics of science – atoms, molecules, chemical reactions, energy, habitats, biomes, the structure of the earth, astronomical objects, etc.

How does this program address developmental pacing in terms of learning goals?

I set up the program from a reversed viewpoint. I asked, “What would a high school student need to know to master college science? What would a middle school student need to know to master high school science? What would an elementary school student need to know to master middle school science?”

The basic concepts of science are broken down to a fundamental level so that a first grader can master a few key aspects of science. I don’t overload students with material at this stage. It isn’t necessary or beneficial. The program offers just enough to get them interested without making it complicated.  Those initial concepts will be built upon in second grade, and so on. As learning capacity increases, so does the material.

Why do you think this method is more conducive to overall learning and retention?

In a book by the National Academy Press, “How People Learn”, authors Bransford, Brown, and Cocking discovered three essential features that promote learning.

“To develop competence in any area of inquiry, students must: 1) have a deep foundation of factual knowledge, 2) understand facts and ideas in a conceptual framework, and 3) organize knowledge in ways that facilitate retrieval and application.”

I didn’t know about this book when I first started writing Real Science-4-Kids, but it validates everything I was trying to achieve. RS4K works because it’s organized. It presents the facts that are relevant to ‘real’ science within a conceptual framework that systematically builds on concepts as the child progresses.

Can you explain the difference between the two types of courses you offer, Building Blocks and the Focus On Series?

The Focus On Series is a semester-long unit study that encourages kids to focus on one subject at a time. It’s offered for an age range of either elementary or middle school. The Focus On Series is based on a ‘block’ teaching method, where focused learning is condensed to a shorter ‘block’ of time. It was purposed for those parents and teachers who want to sequence their own science program, and for those who want a solid introductory level science course. The Focus On Series is also beneficial for a student with an inherent interest in one particular area of science, since one subject at a time is presented.

The Building Block Series is a year-long program that integrates the 5 core disciplines of science into one book for each grade. It’s based on a nourishing upward-spiral teaching method where disciplines are repeatedly visited and built upon over months and across grades. This method was chosen because it is proven to lead to better long-term mastery of facts and concepts. Spiral learning is effective for all learners, including struggling learners, and is the first research-based recommendation in a practice guide from the U. S. Department of Education’s Institute of Educational Sciences (Pashler et al., 2007).

 

The Building Block Series introduces the foundational concepts starting in first grade, and then builds on those concepts each year. Science is unique because the disciplines are so interlaced. Teaching one subject requires a foundational understanding of another. This program is specifically designed to address the overlapping of disciplines and, as a result, it will increase the depth of student comprehension. Parents and teachers who want a year-long program that has the optimal sequencing outlined for them, with information being introduced according to appropriate spacing guidelines, should choose this option. By the time students have finished 8th grade science, they will have a solid foundation in all of the 5 core science subjects which will make high school science easy for them.

 

How do the experiments in the Laboratory Workbooks help kids learn science?

All the experiments are based on real science inquiry and teach kids how to follow the scientific method. Each experiment delves deeper into one or more concepts covered in the text. Mixing laundry starch and white glue is just a meaningless demonstration until you incorporate the chemistry and physics of polymers. Going on a nature walk becomes more than just an outing. It becomes immensely educational when you can imagine a habitat and how it fits into the ecosystem and the greater biome.

Why is the Real Science-4-Kids curriculum a good choice for schools as well as homeschool families?

This program is designed around students’ educational needs, whether a student is homeschooled or attends a public, private, or charter school. All of the materials, lab workbooks, and teacher’s manuals can be adapted to either a home or school setting.

What is your vision for RS4K?

Every time I see a passion for science ignite in a student using the RS4K program, my vision is realized. This program has the potential to unlock scientific curiosity as kids explore the real world with real experiments at just the right pace.

My ultimate hope and vision is that through learning ‘real’ science, a new generation of problem solvers will emerge. There would be no greater reward than to witness RS4K students move on to solve real-world problems.

As the person behind the Real Science-4-Kids blog, I don’t normally insert myself into the writing. The blog is, after all, a representation of the company. I’ll break from the norm for a moment to share with you the idea that I haven’t always worked for Real Science-4-Kids. I was first a homeschooling parent who happened to discover a product in an online review and fell in love with it— because it really worked. Real Science-4-Kids is a curriculum and a company that is ‘real’ in every way.  The material is thoughtful, comprehensive, and interesting. The methodology is sound and logical. But, the people behind the company name are the ‘real’ gems in my book. With confidence I can report the quality of the company and the product they offer.

Do you have a specific question that wasn’t answered above? Shoot us an email at office@gravitaspublications.com and we would be happy to answer it for you.

Real Science Heroes: Attack of the Killer C. Gattii

Real Science-4-Kids wants to recognize youthful ingenuity in the field of science as part of our Real Science Heroes blog series. Enjoy this celebration of a budding scientist who, through a school science fair project, made a real-world difference. ~

For many days an unsuspecting California resident, let’s call her Shirley, had been suffering from common cold symptoms. The usual cough and congestion started to worsen and symptoms advanced to fever and chest pain. When her neck started aching, she knew it was time to head to the doctor. Shirley was diagnosed with a Cryptococcus gattii infection, a fungal infection that can take months or years to manifest symptoms in patients. That’s one sneaky scoundrel.

This had become an all-too-common story in Southern California. Doctors had been fighting this villainous fungus for over a decade. Sometimes they were unsuccessful and people lost their lives to the nasty fungus. The medical establishment needed to know where C. gattii’s lair was located before it could do more damage to the community.

Deborah Springer, a postdoctoral fellow at Duke University who studies C. gatti, was sure it would be found lurking among the trees. That was the usual hiding place of this nefarious character, but which type of tree? Deborah just didn’t have the time to find out. Who could she call on in her hour of need? Who could stop the villainous fungus in its tracks and save the citizens of California from future infections?

As luck would have it Elan Filler, an entrepreneurial 7th grader with a trailblazing spirit, was in need of a science fair project. She set her sights on finding C. gattii and began working tirelessly to swab countless trees for culture samples. Not the typical scene for superhero work, nevertheless she was undaunted in her efforts.

Eucalyptus trees were the first suspect, since they were found to harbor the fungus in Australia. Apparently, the trees were keeping it on the up and up in California and their samples came out clean. The search would have to be broadened.

Elan continued to send various tree samples to her sidekick, Deborah Springer, for evaluation. One day, POW, three samples tested positive for the exact strain of C. gattii they were searching for. Samples from Canary Island Pine, New Zealand Pohutukawa, and American Sweet Gum matched medical swabs taken from patients as early as 12 years before. Early treatment was now an option for people known to be exposed to the fungus, and controlling the spread of the fungus could be handled appropriately. Thanks to the efforts of this science hero, the citizens of Southern California can now breathe a little easier.

REMEMBER, grown-ups aren’t the only ones that can make a difference in science! Real Science-4-Kids wants to recognize your student for their hard work today. Your budding scientist could be our featured hero. From science fair exhibits and classroom projects to self-run science experiments, we want to hear about them all.  Let us celebrate your successes with you!

Make a submission. Your story matters. Large or small, we want to hear about them all.

Send submissions to melinda@gravitaspublications.com. Include a photo along with your story and we can share your experience on our website.

Real science has Gravitas

Gravitas means “very serious, weighty, and important.” When we think of someone who has gravitas, we think of someone who is serious about what they do and how they command themselves.

I picked the word “gravitas” as the Real Science-4-Kids publishing company name over 15 years ago because I wanted to create a science program that was serious science for the serious student who didn’t want to waste time learning things they didn’t need in ways that didn’t work. I wanted a program that could be the stepping stones for kids who wanted to become tomorrow’s astronauts, pharmacists, botanists, explorers, and even just weekend hobbyists. I believe that it is important for kids to know what science really is, how science really works, and what science can really answer. It is also important to know where our knowledge of science is limited and how our ideas about science both help and hinder our ability to understand the world around us and to work together for a better future.

With this in mind, I started writing the Real Science-4-Kids program. Real Science-4-Kids has gravitas. It is serious, weighty, and important even for a first grader. First graders learn about atoms, molecules, chemical reactions, photosynthesis, force, energy, work, and all kinds of other concepts presented to older students in high school and college.

But I didn’t want my program to be “burdensome” or “boring” so I wrote these books in a way that is playful, engaging, and fun. Real Science has gravitas, but it is also a blast to learn if you have the right information, questions, and hands-on experiments. I think I got pretty close. No program is perfect, but I am happy with the Real Science-4-Kids books. They have just enough gravitas to make a difference in kids’ lives and just enough playful content and illustrations to make them fun.

Dr. Keller

 

 

Real Science is Easy

It’s easy to teach someone real science. In fact, children are already primed to learn real science. Kids are natural explorers and with every step onto green grass, the taste of something sweet, or a piqued interest in a curious sound, they are learning about the world around them.

Real science is not much more than playing with the things around us. Scientific experiments are just more sophisticated ways to play with how things work, what things are made of, and why things do the things they do. Scientific experiments are generally more structured than the play of a 5-year-old, but the starting point is essentially the same – curiosity. A scientist starts by being curious about how a molecule moves or how an airplane flies or why a plant grows, and from there they design experiments to answer their questions. The experiments can seem complex, but to the scientist who has been studying for years, it’s actually really very simple.

It’s easy to teach a child real science if you start with things they are already curious about. For example, if you have a young artist curious about paint or color, you can add physics and chemistry to the lesson and teach them how colors combine to make new colors and how the molecules that make up paint give us the colors we see. It helps to know something about the chemistry and physics of paint and color, but you don’t need to know everything. You need to be curious and have access to either a good set of books or find some reliable internet sites where you can look up what you don’t know.

Give it a try – start with something your child is already curious about and discover just how easy it is to teach real science!