A Pocket LED Microscope Is an Amazing Learning Tool

The Carson LED pocket microscope is, for the money (less than $14), the single-best science tool I’ve purchased (available on Amazon—paid link). After using a clunky old microscope with a mirror, the new microscope is a dream. I popped in a AA battery to power the light and immediately got great results. It “only” offers 120x magnification, but for kid use it’s perfect. Plus it’s cheap enough that I won’t worry about it getting broken, so it will be great for backyard and camping use.

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Fun with Magnets and Electricity

Magnetism and electricity are strange and amazing forces. How can one object act on another object at a distance without any apparent intermediary contact? If I blow a piece of paper, I act on the paper via the breeze I create. But magnets do surprising and nonintuitive things. Although young children are not ready for the full theoretical basis of electromagnetism (I’m not even ready for the full basis), with some basic supplies they can explore how magnets and electricity operate in the world.

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Parasitism in Nature

If you’re looking for a creepy science lesson, check out parasitism in nature.

There’s a type of fungus that takes over an ant and causes the ant to crawl up a branch and latch on, where the fungus grows and spreads. Different types of fungus can attack different animals.

Wikipedia has an entry. The Atlantic and National Geographic also have articles.

National Geographic has a short video about this.

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One-Off Science Videos

Elsewhere I’ve discussed some science video programs that my child and I really like. Here I want to list some fun one-off science videos we’ve found. (I’ll update this page over time.)

Bats and White Nose Syndrome
This article and Ted Ed video discusses a fungus that attacks bats in North America. The video is more general.

How a Piston Works
The piston in a gasoline engine is a wonderful example of the conversion of chemical energy to motion. Good videos on this include those from Toyota of Orlando, Automotive Basics, and Yasha Verma.

The History of Steel
Jason Crawford gives an hour talk on the subject.

How to Make Charcoal
This is a really fun video by Primitive Technology, via Jason Crawford.

Parasitism in Nature
I collected a variety of videos on this.

Great Science Video Series

Like many parents, I have struggled with how much screen time to allow my child. What I’ve settled on is tightly limiting “junk” TV and videos but allowing moderate amounts of quality videos. At this point I do not merely tolerate screen time; I actively welcome it as an important contribution to my child’s education. Here I want to briefly review several high-quality science series that my five-year-old absolutely loves.

Mystery Doug

Mystery Doug is a series of over a hundred science videos produced by Doug Peltz and the team at Mystery Science. The videos are available at no charge through YouTube and Mystery Science’s web site. When viewed through the web site, which (I think) requires free registration, the core videos accompany supplementary materials.

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Core Knowledge Free Materials for Grades 1 to 8

As discussed in my posts on preschool and kindergarten materials, Core Knowledge offers an enormous amount of educational materials for preschool through eighth grade.

I’m going to provide fewer links for the material for grades 1–8 than I did for preschool and kindergarten. I’ll still walk you through the material and link to the student readers that I find valuable.

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Core Knowledge Free Kindergarten Materials

I’m a big fan of Core Knowledge’s dozens of student readers, free as pdf downloads. But the materials are harder to use (at least for homeschoolers) at the preschool and kindergarten levels. Earlier I compiled relevant preschool materials; see my related post. Here I’ll walk you through the kindergarten materials and include relevant links to Core Knowledge. See also my most on materials for grades 1–8.

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Core Knowledge Free Preschool Activities

You may be aware of Core Knowledge, the educational program started by E. D. Hirsch Jr. Various charter schools, for example, base their programs on Core Knowledge (not to be confused with Common Core). And you may be aware that Core Knowledge offers an enormous amount of K-8 learning materials online at no cost to the user.

Last year I started downloading the student readers in pdf form. Volumes cover history (such as Ancient Greece and Rome), science, and literature. These are amazing resources especially for homeschooling families on a budget. I have an old Kindle reader (the kind with the button keyboard) dedicated to such educational books.

What I didn’t realize until recently is that the preschool level offer a lot of great material presented as “activity pages” rather than as “readers.” These offer content for parents to read with their children as well as simple activities.

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Learning about Human Progress

I’m a big fan of Jason Crawford’s work for “The Roots of Progress.” Crawford’s main theme is that people have improved their lot dramatically through science, technology, and the underlying causes of those developments. So why not make more of an effort to teach children about human progress? In a July 27 Interintellect discussion that Crawford hosts, several educators weigh in on the topic.

I agree with Lisa VanDamme, founder of VanDamme Academy and one of the presenters, that the project of teaching children about human progress quickly can run into problems. First, she notes, “progress” is not a primary field unto itself, at least in terms of K-12 education, although aspects of it properly integrate with history and science (which are both major fields of study). Second, the proper aim of education is to enable children to ably pursue their own values and live their own lives, not to convince children to embrace certain conclusions (such as “progress is good”). That said, as VanDamme also notes, well-educated children typically will turn out to be the sort of people who do appreciate human progress (among many other things).

Kyle Steele (one of VanDamme’s associates) adds a great point: Properly, children have lots of room to explore their interests outside of their core education. For example (as several speakers discuss), a child keenly interested in music might want to limit time spent learning core subjects and maximize time spent practicing a musical instrument. Similarly, a student keenly interested in science, technology, or entrepreneurship might want to spend disproportionate time in those areas. So, for example, Crawford organized “Progress Studies for Aspiring Young Scholars.” This fits perfectly well as an extension or special-interest program with the sort of core education that VanDamme has in mind.

The entire discussion is fascinating. (Those interested in learning more about Crawford’s project also can check out my podcast discussion with him.)