One day, I was lamenting to my dear friend that I was putting off our physics block because I was daunted by the amount of materials needed, the planning time, and the subject just seemed overwhelming. Since she has a fifth grade son, she offered to come over every day during the block and we would do the lessons together. It worked out very well! We began the week following spring break, so I spent most of spring break doing lesson plans for physics. This block really does take a lot of time to prepare. There are the materials to gather, demonstrations to practice, plus the lesson book work. It was a blessing to have two teachers this month!
I listened to Eugene Schwartz’s lectures, plus he has videos of many of the demonstrations by Roberto Trostli. Those were the basis of our lessons. Roberto Trostli has a book called Physics is Fun, but I haven’t read it yet:
Physics Is Fun
On the first day, we talked about “What is Physics?” The word physics comes from the Greek word, physis, which means ‘nature’. So physics is the study of nature, in order to understand how the universe behaves. I told the children about the larynx, and how we are able to produce many sounds. I placed myself where they could not see me, and I made many ‘mystery’ sounds… lighting a match, pounding blocks together, using scissors, closing a book, etc., and they each took a turn guessing the sound. That was fun! Then we drew the picture above, to be the cover of the main lesson book.
At the end of the first day, my friend presented the first demonstration of the block… ‘Musical Sounds’. Since all of our children are musicians and very familiar with many instruments, she went to a music shop and borrowed a banjo and a cello, plus she purchased an inexpensive slide whistle, so that we would have some instruments that were interesting to them. The acoustics picture above is so beautiful! It took my daughter hours to draw. My friend is a wonderful artist, and my daughter was so inspired that she wanted to create something very beautiful, and she did!
According to Roberto Trostli, Rudolf Steiner cautions against becoming ‘magicians’ instead of teachers. So we are to present these ideas very simply, for the most part. Sometimes the children would complain… “I already know all of this!” But during the review the next day, they would often struggle to put into words what they had experienced the day before. So although many of the demonstrations seem simple, there is a real value in the way physics is presented. But, we still had a few ‘wow’ moments!
During the next lesson we explored pitch, and the children had the opportunity to make a scale with water in glasses.
The pages above represent our study of how sound waves travel. The demonstration, picture, and text was inspired by Live Ed. We also experienced sound traveling through an old-fashioned string-and-cup telephone. It worked beautifully!
We used plastic cups and nylon string. The children punched holes in the bottom of the cups and used beads to keep the string from pulling through. Hold the cups so that the string is nice and tight. You need to experiment to find out how far away to have your mouth when you speak into the cup. We found that it worked best if we spoke with our mouths an inch or two outside of the cups, if that makes sense!
To end the week of acoustics, we experienced the visualization of sound. A fella named Ernst Chladi discovered this method. My friend’s husband took two steel plates (purchased from a home improvement store), and drilled holes into the top, exactly in the center of each plate. Then he secured them each with a thick dowel (maybe 1”) with a screw. The dowels were secured to a stand with a screw (I think). For one of the plates he used an old Christmas tree stand, and the other was a piece of wood. I am sorry that I don’t have a picture of these things from the side! We sprinkled the tops of the plates with salt, and used a cheap cello bow (bought on eBay and heavily rosined) to ‘play’ the plate, dragging the bow along one of the sides. If we placed our thumb in a different place under the plate to steady it, we would get a different tone, and as a result, a different pattern would arise in the salt. We also got different patterns on the two plates because they were different thicknesses. Roberto Trostli demonstrates how to do it in Eugene Schwartz’s videos.
For the study of heat, we began by experiencing several sources of heat, and then the effects of heat of solids, liquids, and gases. Next we demonstrated how heat travels.
I guess this is where I should mention that although many of the items needed could be found around the house (or borrowed) I did buy some supplies, like flasks, prisms, and the like from Home Science Tools. I spent about $100, and it was well worth it! I am sure that I will use most of the supplies again later for physics and chemistry blocks.
On the third week, we studied color and light. We began with the primary colors, and experienced their compliments (ghost colors) by staring at the colors and then looking at a white paper. The children mixed and painted the colors they saw. We also used our newly developed geometry skills to create a color wheel.
We had a demonstration to show why the sky changes colors. On another day, the children looked through prisms at black and white shapes, and drew what they saw into their main lesson books.
We also worked with reflection by using two mirrors taped together to see objects multiplied, and we sent sun signals to each other in the park!
Magnets were a big hit! The children were in awe of the demonstrations that we presented. We gave the them a slew of household objects and they had to put each item in the ‘magnetic’ or ‘non-magnetic’ pile. Then we tested the piles, and talked about what makes something magnetic (iron, nickel, and cobalt). I also had a large selection of black rocks, one of them being magnetite. We waved a strong magnet over all of the rocks, and only the magnetite was magnetic. So, we talked about the history of magnetite (loadstone), and how it’s usefulness for navigation was discovered. The children were given an assignment to write a story involving magnets.
Our homemade compasses.
Two magnets placed under a sheet of paper, with iron filing sprinkled on top to show magnetic fields.
We had several more magnet demonstrations, which were great fun. I also showed them how to run a strong magnet over a wall until it stuck. It was fun to let the children figure out why the magnet stuck to the wall. What is it attracted to? Nails? Once you have found nails, you have found your studs! You can even leave the magnet up on the wall to remind you where the stud is.
And finally, almost every day of the block we spent a little time painting. These paintings take many layers of light colors to create. Eugene Schwartz has a free video to demonstrate the technique.
The first two color wheel paintings are mine, and the last one is my daughter’s. The fifth grade boy that did these lessons with us had a difficult time figuring out where to put the colors, and dealing with this technique at the same time. So we painted the scene below, in which he became more comfortable with the technique, and we created a color wheel with compasses to reinforce where the colors go and why.
The color wheel paintings were inspired by exercises in Colour Dynamics:
Here is my sixth grader’s atmosphere picture. I can’t find mine… I am sure it is in one of these stacks of paper!