As a parent you don't need to be reminded that your child's teacher is overworked. With all of the responsibilities that teachers have, we find it difficult to imagine how they can even survive one hectic day after another. With all of the different subjects teachers are expected to present to their classes, it's no surprise that they really don't have the time to master such topics as physics and astronomy. Even if they were masters (and some are), where are they going to find the time and resources to gather the materials to teach a real "hands on" program? Current educational research indicates that students learn best when given lots of activities which involve the manipulation of equipment. Our purpose on this page is to present basic material to help teachers to understand basic concepts of physics and astronomy and then to make suggestions of assorted "hands on" activities which should help teach these concepts.
In designing materials to be used in the hands on activities, we have made every effort to keep the equipment requirements simple. Where possible the materials are constructed of paper or require ordinary materials that can be obtained in a market or hobby store. Still, with the great demands on the teacher's time together with the occasional need for more elaborate equipment, it still won't be easy for them to obtain the required materials.
Here is how you might help:
1) Read over the suggested activities and if you can see how you might provide some of the required materials for your child's teacher, offer to help. For example, the instructional unit on mass, weight and density requires some special shop work and equipment--could you construct the "Mass Balance Beam" in sufficient quantities to make up a class set?
2) Some of the concepts we are discussing, although very basic, are also conceptually difficult. If you know your child's teacher is using these materials, read over our materials and see if you can help your child to learn the material. Learning basic physics is peculiar--when you know it, it's quite simple but if you don't, it can seem almost impossible. If you know it, you just might be the best tutor for your child.
3) Much of the astronomy material is designed to be used during the day but obviously, most of astronomy is best seen at night. If you can get out with your child on a clear night and point out some of the wonders of the night sky, it would be a great help for everyone involved.
We all know that learning even simple things is a complex process. Those of us at UCLA who decided to initiate this project know almost nothing about the complexity of teaching young children. Many of the remarkable people who work with young people in the classroom do have the magic to connect with kids. We hope that together we can bring more meaningful physics and astronomy instruction to the elementary school classroom.
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