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!

Real Science is Fun

We often hear from parents and students that science is boring, dull, and uninteresting.  Many of us have had experiences in school perhaps even falling asleep as a teacher or professor presents what could be interesting information in the most tedious and dull way possible. We sit through the class because we have to, but as soon as the semester is over, we may toss the books and never think about the class again.

It’s no secret that the best way to learn something new is to learn it in a way that is engaging, interesting, and even fun.  The best teachers know how to make any subject “fun.” They also know that the more a student learns the more “fun” it is and the more the student will have “fun” learning the subject on their own. And this is the key to making any subject and especially science, more fun to learn – simply learning more.

Sometimes it’s challenging to learn something new. It can be difficult to learn how to play the piano or ride a bike because it’s all brand new, and it’s easy to give up before it starts to feel like fun. However, we all know that if we can get someone to stick with learning something new long enough, they will eventually enjoy it. They have to get past the first learning bump. And this is true with academic subjects such as math, history, or science. The more someone learns about these subjects the more fun they have learning.

And this is what makes real science fun. A colorful, engaging text helps a child get started, but learning the real terms and concepts and learning how to do real experiments are what makes science fun. Knowing how real science works opens a whole new world of discovery that is fun for anyone, and especially kids, to explore.

 

 

Kids want real science

Kids learn at an astonishing rate, and from the time they are born, they begin to absorb everything around them. Kids are curious about the world they live in, and as soon as they can, they start asking questions. They want to know how plants grow, where butterflies come from, why the sun is warm, and how spiders spin a web.

It isn’t enough to give kids simple or goofy answers. They want real answers. Their questions are serious because they are in the very important stage of learning everything they can about the world around them. They want us to give them real answers to their very real questions, and they know when we aren’t giving them what they want.

But giving real answers for science questions can be difficult for many parents. If science wasn’t your thing in school or if you had a bad experience in a science class or two, learning enough science to satisfy your curious young researcher may be painful.

Real Science-4-Kids makes giving your child real answers easier. You don’t have to have a PhD in science to teach your kids real science and give them real answers to their questions. Real Science-4-Kids helps you give your kids a good foundation, and as the lessons build, one-on-top of the other, your child begins to see a bigger and bigger picture for how things work in the physical and natural world. Real Science-4-Kids is research oriented so you learn science with your child. As you guide the open inquiry questions and help your child look up their own answers, you find out that you too start to understand the bigger picture that is science!

 

Can “real” science wait until high school?

When we are out attending conferences and chatting with parents, teachers, and school administrators, we are often asked if it is better to start teaching “real” science in high school. We believe that the best time to start learning real science is when the child starts asking questions about the world around them; like what is Jell-O made of and why can’t the snowman stay until summer? This is the ideal time to start teaching kids about atoms and molecules, force, energy, and work, how plants grow and why, and what the Earth, planets, and stars are made of and how they move. Young children are primed to explore the world around them, and when they start asking real questions, we should always do our best to give them real answers.

If we wait until high school, we miss the most important time in a child’s life to engage them in a subject they find fascinating, and it is really hard to learn anything if we aren’t engaged. One misconception is that “real” science is too hard to teach to younger students and this simply isn’t true. If real science facts and concepts are presented in an easy-to-follow and logical manner, anyone can learn science – even a first grader. Not convinced? Watch Naomi and decide if this 6-year old has learned a few real science facts and concepts.