Modern Biology: Help Kids See the Science All Around Them

Chemistry ClassThere is a big push now to incorporate more of the STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Math) concepts into everyday learning, and with good reason.  Having experts in these fields is vital to our future.  For so long, people were intimidated by these “hard” subjects, and perhaps even discouraged from pursuing them.  Now, there are city-wide science festivals (like the one in my home city this very week) extolling the virtues of the STEM disciplines, and showing us that we already experience aspects of them every day.

Perhaps the most accessible aspect of the STEM disciplines is biology – if for no other reason than it is all around us.  Modern biology does not have to take place simply within the confines of a classroom or lab anymore.  It is in your backyard, in your kitchen, and in you.  Kids can begin understanding biology the first time they watch bread rise, or go go apple picking.  Adults can add to their appreciation of modern biology by starting a compost bin, or planting tomatoes.  There is always a place for more science in your life.  Let’s look at a few fun ways we can enjoy it.

Biology in Your Garden

modern biologyEarth Day may have come and gone last week, but the truth is that every time of year is a good time to check out what’s going on in your garden.  Getting outside, and down in the dirt can be an excellent introduction to basic biology for learners of all ages.  When leaves and vegetables are coming in green and new, you can observe and learn about the growing process.  When their season is over, you can try your hand at composting.  There is never a lack of activity in your garden, no matter how deceptively still it may seem.

Some fun activities:

You will be hard pressed to beat the fun and interactivity of planting seeds and watching them sprout.  If the time of year is not quite ideal for outdoor planting, don’t underestimate the value of  an indoor, windowsill garden, or a small DIY greenhouse.  Herbs are a particularly hardy plant, and a good starter for those who think they have a “black thumb”.  As an added bonus, you can have fresh herbs to spice up your cooking.

Already at the end of the growing season?  Maybe try composting.  Composting is basically just a means of helping nature do what it does naturally.  By making a three foot by three foot pile of yard waste like fallen leaves, grass clippings, and pine needles, you already have a great start.  You can add kitchen waste like apple cores, banana peels, coffee grounds (and the filters!) and those leafy strawberry tops. By layering the “brown” ingredients and the “green” ingredients, you create a perfect condition in which the natural decomposition process will heat up the pile, break it down, and turn it into rich, fertile soil for next season.

Biology in Your Kitchen

modern biology2Between your refrigerator, your pantry, and that convenient heat source known as an oven, the kitchen is an excellent spot to get into some scientific learning.  Many of the foods we eat can do amazing things when you try a few fun and safe experiments with them.  These are always great for rainy days!

Some Fun Activities:

Take some of that food coloring that’s been sitting at the back of the pantry for months, and put a few drops into a vase filled with water.  Introduce some cut white flowers such as daisies or carnations, and watch what happens.  As the cut stem of the slower continues to draw water up into the petals, it will also draw the color with it.  This will turn those white flowers brilliant shades of blue, red, yellow, or any combination of the three you can mix up.

Eggs are often a biology class staple, and they make for just as much fun at home.  What happens to an uncooked egg when it is submerged in vinegar, and left in the refrigerator overnight?  The shell dissolves, leaving only the membrane, and the gooey inside.  Try it!  It’s really cool.  Kids love these “alien eggs” that can be gently handled, and explored (after a good rinse off, of course).

Biology in You

modern biologyThere is a whole lot kids can learn about themselves with the help of modern biology activities.  What happens to that scraped knee after a few days?  Why is hand washing so important, and how do you do it properly?  There’s no better subject than yourself, so get kids involved in learning about the amazing instrument called the human body.

Some Fun Activities:

With a stop watch, or a clock with a second hand, time your pulse for 30 seconds.  Write down the number of times you felt your heart beat.  Now, go outside and spend 20 minutes being active.  Some good activities might be jumping rope, riding a bike, playing tag, or having a catch.  After 20 minutes are up, time your pulse again for 30 seconds.  Has it changed?  Why do you think that is?  This is a great introduction to circulation, and the heart – not to mention a good motivator to get some exercise.

Set a variety of tasty snacks out on the table, but don’t let your child peek at them just yet.  While keeping their eyes closed, and holding their nose, let them taste each item (they’ll need a little help), and see if they can identify what they are eating.  Repeat the experiment a second time, but this time, tell them to stop holding their nose. Was it easier to taste the foods the first time, or the second time?  Keep track of their guesses and answers, then let them open their eyes to see for themselves which ones they guessed right.

Udemy has some great biology resources.  Brush up on your own skills, then pass them on to your kids.  Check out the “A+ Research Paper in Biology” for starters.