Aesop’s Fables, Molecules and Physics
Guest Writer: Amy Delph
Education is not about compartmentalising curricula and subjects as if they were independent of each other. The good thing about homeschooling is the freedom to break down the walls of compartmentalization and integrate learning across curricula. Amy Delph shares how a simple reading and comprehension session with her preschoolers became a lesson about physics and chemistry.
TODAY I THOUGHT WE DO SOME WORK on comprehension and critical discussion of a reading passage with Katelynn. I chose an Aesop fable, “The Crow and the Pitcher”, from Teaching with Aesop’s Fables. It started out innocently enough. I had Katelynn read the fable by herself, but what happened next blew me away.
In the fable the crow is unable to get a drink on a hot day from a pitcher, so he adds stones one by one until the water level rises enough for him drink. We started out talking about the moral, but the discussion quickly moved on to how the crow could get the water to rise.
So it was off to the kitchen to try out what the crow had done. Katelynn and Kaleb added rocks to the water and sure enough, it rose higher. But Katelynn was not satisfied. “How did this happen, Mommy?” she asked. Suddnely our language arts lesson had turned into a physics lesson.
I explained about the concept of displacement. I wrote down the word and began drawing a picture, trying to explain. But still that wasn’t enough. Katelynn looked at me like I was speaking a foreign language and rightly so. All these new vocab words were just like a foreign language.
Then I remembered I had some packing peanuts I had saved. I got an empty box and poured the peanuts in. But then I realized I’d have to explain what these peanuts were. They sure didn’t look like water. Uh-oh, now we were venturing into chemistry. I had to explain what a molecule was and that the peanuts represented molecules of water. Still not quite enough – more quizzical looks. Back to the paper again. I began explaining that water and everything else in the world is made up of tiny, tiny pieces called molecules. We can only see them with the most powerful microscopes – the sort they have at big universities, not the one we have at home.
Then she asked me, “Is that the smallest thing in the world?”
I said, “Not quite. Molecules are made up of atoms” I drew a basic picture of an atom. (So glad I was remembering my chemistry lessons. I really thought I had forgotten them!) “Each water molecule has three atoms. Two hydrogen atoms and one oxygen atom stuck together.” I drew a chemistry-like picture of H2O. Labeling each one. “You know what oxygen is, right? It’s the stuff you breathe in. Hydrogen is another type of atom.”
Nods of understanding. Phew! My goodness! How did we get here? Talking and learning about concepts from secondary school!
Back to the box now filled to the rim with of peanuts. “So all these peanuts are water molecules. That’s what was in the pitcher the crow was drinking from and the glass of water we filled with pebbles in the kitchen. Let’s take this stone and put it in the box. What do you think will happen?”
And so we saw that the stone pushed out the peanuts and Katelynn finally understood displacement and what was happening in the pitcher and the glass of water. We talked further about what happens when she jumps in the pool, and how water usually goes over the side into the drain. How this also happens in the bath tub when she gets in.
I never would have imagined this was going to be our lesson today. Sometimes I can see a lesson veering off in a new direction – an advanced direction. Then I think to myself – uh-oh, off topic. Is this going to an area that will be beyond her understanding? Maybe I should steer it back.
But, I’ve come to realize that the learning that takes place is much more powerful when we explore these tangents. The flexibility of homeschooling allows for this. (I dare say that if classrooms in schools were much smaller this would be possible there too!) Instead of chemistry in abstract terms eight years from now, my girl is learning and understanding it right now. Something I would never have imagined could happen.
About the author:
Amy Delph who resides in Malaysia is mother to two homeschooled kids. She is also the founder and director of EDISON Enterprises, a company that specializes in critical and creative thinking for children, youths and adults.