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Science Kids on the Loose

Weekly Topics

Each week, the series features five programs centered on a single scientific concept — these are called program cycles. In parallel with the series, the website is updated each week to present online games, videos, and printable activities also tied to the scientific concept.

Tools & Measurement Overview

Science tools help us observe, describe, and quantify our world. Some of them are actual physical objects, and others are reasoning skills that help us with science. Many science tools, such as magnifying glasses, extend our senses and allow us to observe the world in more detailed ways.

Other science tools, like charts and journals, extend our memories and allow us to communicate. They are records of our observations and ideas that we can reflect on at a later time and that we can share with others. Numerical estimation is a reasoning skill. It builds children’s number sense, which is an informal, but accurate, way of thinking about number and quantities without using standard measurement tools or counting. (Of course, one can check estimates by counting or measuring, just as our characters do on the show.)

Measurement and estimation are complementary. Measurement builds on children’s informal ideas about “more” and “less.” It provides rules and tools to precisely quantify attributes like length, area, volume, and weight. Estimation and precise measurement are used for different purposes and each has a role in children’s growing mathematical understanding and skill.

We don’t expect that preschoolers will understand the full use of these science tools or even that they will be highly skilled in using them. Instead, we provide experience with these tools, that are used in simple but authentic ways, to highlight their functions and their utility. More mature understandings will be built on these early foundations.

Transformation & Change Overview

The National Science Education Standards identify change as a unifying concept in science. The concept of transformation and change cuts across all scientific domains including chemistry, biology, physics and so on. It’s also something that kids care about and notice in the world around them.

“Why are the leaves falling off the trees? Why are my shoes too small? Why is mommy’s belly getting big? How does a caterpillar turn into a butterfly? Where’d my snowman go?” are all questions about change, and they are all questions preschoolers ask. “Sid the Science Kid” includes explorations of this big idea because change is interesting to children, is important in science, and is approachable for preschool learners.

Our investigations focus on observing and describing before-and-after states and identifying the conditions under which change occurs. For example, what has to happen for ice to melt, for bread to turn to toast, for seeds to turn into plants? These experiences set the stage for future formal learning about the details of these processes.

Senses Overview

We build knowledge using our senses. What we know about the world depends on the information we gather through each sensory channel. Many preschoolers can tell you that they see with their eyes or hear with their ears, but this knowledge often seems to be rote.

Our goal is to support deeper understandings of senses by engaging children in experiences that encourage them to focus on the special capabilities of each. We also want them to think of their senses as tools for observation that they carry with them everywhere they go.

In this way, we link typical preschool thematic content (“My Senses”) to the critical science practice of observation. This blending enriches both children’s conceptual understanding of the functions of the sense organs and their ability to observe a range of attributes using all of their senses. Importantly, as children describe observations made with their eyes, their ears, their skin, and their noses, they utilize rich and varied descriptive language.

Health Overview

All kinds of scientists (biologists, chemists, physicists, psychologists, and others) study systems and how they function. The human body provides great examples of parts and systems that work together. It’s also a topic that is accessible to preschool children.

Exploring questions like, “What does washing my hands have to do with my nose running? Why is my heart beating so fast? I was running on my legs, not my heart!” gets us thinking about the ways different parts of our bodies work together so we can think, talk, move, and play.

While we learn about systems and celebrate the amazing things that our bodies do, we’re also finding out that our bodies, like all living things, need special care. New Jersey’s Preschool Teaching and Learning Expectations state that teachers should support children’s learning about the properties of living things by giving them opportunities to discuss and share the responsibility for the care of living things, including themselves.

Our goal isn’t just to tell kids to brush, eat right, exercise and wash their hands. We provide information about the effects of doing these things–or not doing them–so children understand the benefits of certain behaviors. We hope that kids will work on developing these healthy habits because they’ve made an informed decision to do so, not just ’cause Mom and Dad said so.

Simple Machines Overview

Simple machines help people do work. “Work” has a specific definition in physics, but a basic way to think about it is that work is making things move.

For preschoolers, we provide opportunities for them to experience the ways that simple machines make moving things seem easier. We can set up problems that have to be solved, such as moving something very heavy. We ask children to brainstorm ways to move, for example, a basket of heavy toys up into a treehouse or to get a box with one of their classmates in it from one side of the room to another. We try out these ideas and find that it’s not so easy to move heavy things by lifting, pushing, and pulling.

In each episode, a simple machine (wheels, lever, inclined plane, or pulley) is introduced, and children try to do the same moving task using the tool. These experiences provide opportunities for children to engage in scientific thinking. They brainstorm solutions to problems, and they test their ideas. They compare and contrast different methods for solving the problem at hand (children also get valuable experience with technology – the ways that people modify the world and create tools to meet our needs).

Backyard Science Overview

Young children are naturally curious and interested in exploring the world around them. They ask lots (and lots!) of questions and work to find answers. They might not know it, but they are thinking like scientists. As children get older, many of them come to believe that they aren’t good at science or that it is something that other people do. How can we guard against this change in attitude? One way is to reinforce the ideas that each and every one of us is a scientist and that opportunities to explore are all around us. One great place to do science is the backyard. Explore the homes of animals that live there like ants, birds or squirrels and observe their behavior, check out different kinds of leaves, and find out what dirt really is. Bugs, dirt, and flowers are naturally attractive to children, but they are also central to the sciences of entomology, geology, and botany. Spend a little time together exploring the world of science. It’s all right there in your backyard!

Human Body Overview

The human body is an amazing system of parts that work together. In previous episodes, we’ve already learned a lot about our senses and ways to keep our bodies healthy. In this cycle, we add to our growing understanding of the human body as a system with parts that serve special functions. We investigate the functions of muscles, stomach, lungs, and bones and joints. Being able to identify major body parts is sometimes used as an indicator of school readiness. The Sid the Science Kid learning experiences are designed to help children move beyond simple identification to begin to think about the unique contribution of each body part to human life, growth, and survival. Throughout the five episodes, we practice scientific methods such as experiments, models, and demonstrations to explore the way our muscles, stomach, lungs, and joints function.

Weather Overview

“Weather” is a typical preschool science topic. Most classrooms include a weather chart. As part of morning circle time, children describe the day outside .sunny, cloudy, rainy, snowy, and so on. Unfortunately, this is often where discussions stop. We believe observing and describing is just the start in preschool explorations of weather. Observing and thinking about changes due to weather conditions provides opportunities to think about cause and effect. For example, in the wind episode, Sid notices that his nicely raked pile of leaves has scattered everywhere. He ponders the possible causes of this effect. When he figures out that the wind is the cause, he and his friends spend the episode exploring other effects of wind. In the sun episode, the children do an experiment that allows them to explore the damaging effects of sun and protection offered by sunscreen. In their standards or learning expectations for preschool, many U.S. states identify opportunities to explore cause and effect as a critical part of preschool education. Weather explorations can provide rich content for this important kind of reasoning.

Force & Motion Overview

Developmental research reveals that human infants know quite a bit about the physical laws that govern objects and events. Using particular experimental procedures, researchers have shown that babies are surprised when a ball seems to float in space, as if they expect it to fall because it is not supported. Infants also notice when one solid object seems to go through another one, as this is not something that “should” happen. These are just a few examples of what is called naïve physics knowledge.

As they get older, children can talk to us and tell us what they notice and think about the physical objects and events in the world around them. That’s exactly what Sid is doing this week when he and his friends ask, Why can’t I slide in my sneakers? Why won’t my play dough ball bounce? Why did Ignatz keep going when the skateboard he was riding on stopped? Why did my soccer ball go farther than I wanted it to go? Designed with physics education expert Dr. Noel Enyedy, each episode begins with an event that piques Sid’s curiosity. His observations take him, and our viewers, on explorations of friction, elasticity, inertia, and force. Through these episodes we hope to illustrate, for kids and their caregivers, that these concepts help us explain really interesting stuff that happens all around us, every day.

Light & Shadow Overview

In these episodes we explore phenomena related to light. Just what exactly light is has intrigued scientists for centuries. Sid and his friends are intrigued, too. Sid wonders why he can’t grab light and investigates the many sources of light, including the biggest light source of all-the sun. In another episode, we learn that darkness isn’t something to be scared of. It’s just the absence of light. All of this information about light and darkness comes in handy when we explore the science of shadows and find out that shadows happen when light is blocked. That’s a new idea for most preschoolers, but one that developmental research tells us they can begin to understand when given appropriate learning experiences. We also learn that when sunlight shines through water, it can make a beautiful rainbow. Kids love to draw them, now we help them understand the science of rainbows. (Of course, we draw them, too, in our science journals.) Children’s understanding of these concepts will grow and deepen in the years ahead, but in these episodes, we use children’s typical questions, ideas, and even misunderstandings to create learning experiences that illuminate light and darkness.

Produced by: Funding is provided by:
Jim Hensen Corporation logo CPB ViNCi MetLife The Rosehills Foundation S.D. Bechtel Jr. Foundation logo The Arthur Vining Davis Foundations logo

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