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.
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