I’ve started to write Beyond Grade Expectations (I’m trying to give our kids a better understanding in science even if it means not scoring full marks) and I’ve been reading my son’s science text books. One of the first lessons kids learn in science, is to distinguish between living and non-living things.
What are some of the characteristics of living things that distinguish them from non-living things? The books go into great detail about how living things can move, respond to external stimulus, grow, reproduce etc.
This is obviously wrong. Crystals are non-living things. They grow. A robotic vacuum cleaner can respond to walls and steps. Unmanned landers on Mars are so sophisticated that they can follow instructions from Earth and carry out a mission. How do we distinguish them from living things?
Be simple but be accurate. Are you really what you eat? Chickens feed on cereal. When you eat chicken meat, are you eating cereal? Obviously not. A P3 student can easily understand that the chicken is able to process the food it has eaten and convert it into its own cells and tissues. Likewise, when you eat chicken, beef or fish, your body is able to convert these food substances into your own body parts.
Following the same principle, though in a very different way, plants convert simple substances in the air and the soil into its own body parts. Mangoes, rambutans, rubber all come from simple substances in the air and soil.
All living things (without exception) are able to process substances they consume and convert them into their own body parts. A copper sulphate crystal can only “grow” in copper suphate solution. It is obviously not the same kind of growth that even our kids can see in plants and animals.
From here, we can lead the inquiring child’s mind into systems in the body.
When we explain just one of the distinguishing characteristics of living things this way, it’s far clearer and more thought-provoking than giving a long list of characteristics which do not touch on biological principles at all. Just a few opening thoughts for my next book.