Does your child drag his feet when it’s time for biology or physics? Join
rocket scientist Aurora Lipper on today’s Homeschool Heartbeat to learn
how you can turn those sluggish steps into eager bounds! Here’s your host, Mike
Mike Smith: I’m joined today by Aurora Lipper.
She’s a rocket scientist and a former university professor. And she’s the
creator of an online science curriculum called Supercharged Science.
Aurora, welcome to the program!
Aurora Lipper: Hi, Mike! Thanks for having me. It’s
really a privilege to be with you here on the show.
A scientific foundation [0:36]
Mike: Well, thank you. Aurora, you clearly have a healthy
respect for science. What makes this such an important subject for students?
Aurora: Well, if you just look at the world around us, science
and technology, I mean, it’s everywhere, you know—the phone in your pocket,
or the rockets that are launching satellites into orbit. Whether you’re looking
at renewable energy sources, or even in the medical field, science is really the
foundation for all of these things.
And not only that, it’s also the foundation for a lot of critical and
analytical thinking, so kids have a true understanding of this amazing world that we
Mike: But not every student will go on to be an engineer or a
chemist. So how will studying science benefit them?
Aurora: Well, even if they’re not planning to go into
science, having an understanding of science helps kids develop (believe it or not) a
more creative thought process. You know, true science involves a great deal of
innovation and creativity, as you can imagine when you look at these great scientists
So even if a child grows up to be an artist or a business-person, this creativity
and innovation that they learn through hands-on science, together with applying the
things in the world around them, will help them do their jobs even better.
I mean, think about Benjamin Franklin. He was a great scientist, but he also was an
amazing political and social innovator. He applied his scientific techniques that he
used with his thinking to solve the social and political problems in his day.
So kids that have a solid science and technology background, they’re also
going to be better equipped to go to college, and will have many more choices once they
get out into the real world.
Fixing the textbook disconnect [2:07]
Mike: Well thanks, Aurora. You’ve said that many
children today are bored by science. Why do you think that’s the case?
Aurora: Well, science is about figuring out how things work.
And unfortunately, most science curriculums, they focus on using a textbook and having
kids remember facts and equations that the kids have no connection with the real world.
It’s like reading a book on how to drive a car, but you never actually get to get
in the car and learn how to drive. So since textbook theory is so disconnected
from what real scientists and engineers do, it’s no surprise that kids find it
However, I’ve found that when kids learn science through hands-on projects and
experiments, 90 percent of the kids who were bored by science before suddenly become
interested, if not totally fascinated by it. And this shift is so huge to watch,
it’s almost unbelievable until you see it.
Now most kids, for example, learn how gasses expand when they are heated. And they
probably get bored and yawn when you tell them that. But if you tell
a kid to put a bar of Ivory soap in the microwave and watch what happens, then come
back and explain why it works to you—I have yet to see a kid who was not
fascinated and curious about why the soap does what it does in the microwave.
And by the way, it does have to be Ivory soap when you do this.
Mike: Well is that kind of dangerous to the microwave,
Aurora: No—you can use the
soap and the microwave when you’re done!
Mike: So how can parents make science exciting for their
Aurora: It’s really two simple steps. First,
you’ve got to get the kids genuinely interested and excited about a topic by
giving them hands-on activities and experiments that make what they’re learning
And then, once a kid does the experiment or the project, they’re naturally
curious about how it works or how to make it better. And this is when you introduce the
academics, strategically, to help them use it as a tool to answer their own
questions. After all, you know how easy it is to teach kids something once they
already want to learn it.
We use this approach not only to teach kids to learn academics more easily, but also
so they understand it on a deeper level and remember it for years.
The building blocks of science [4:01]
Mike: Aurora, you’ve built an online science curriculum
called Supercharged Science. What inspired you to start this program?
Aurora: When I was working on my PhD at Stanford University, I
had a part-time job teaching science at a children’s museum. And after that, I
went on to teach hands-on science in classrooms all over the county. And teachers were
so intrigued by how their kids were excited to learn science when I taught using this
special hands-on approach that we talked about earlier. Word got around quickly.
And I realized, though, that I was really limited in the number of kids that I could
teach and I could reach. So I teamed up with my husband to bring what I was doing in
the classroom online, so I could share it with kids all over the world.
Mike: On your site, you talk about finding science topics that
are appropriate for different grade levels. Can you give us some general principles for
picking science topics that will work for our children?
Aurora: This is such a great question, Mike! It reminds me of
a lady who wrote to me in an email basically shouting the question, “Just
tell me what I should be teaching in science!”
A lot of parents are frustrated by this. But it doesn’t have to be hard. So
let me give you some quick guidance here.
As kids advance through science, what they learn builds on what they studied in the
previous levels. So the goal here is to make sure that they get the right topics in an
order that makes sense. And (for example) in grades 1–3, kids learn about life
science, earth science, physics and motion, light, and the basics of how to do an
experiment. But when they hit grade levels 4 and 5—and by the way, the actual
grade levels for a given topic will vary, depending on the interest and ability of the
kids—the kids should be learning things like electricity, and magnetism, and
energy waves, in addition to more advanced experimentation techniques.
Now, I’ve put together a complete guide that outlines every grade level, and
exactly what kids should be learning and by when. And parents can download it for free
by going to the link in my bio.
The great experiment [5:45]
Mike: What are the key ingredients of a great science
Aurora: First, you want to pick something that doesn’t
work the way you want to, or something that you don’t understand how it
Suppose you’ve got, like, one of those balsa wood glider airplanes, and it
doesn’t fly the way you want it to. Maybe it nose-dives. Well you’ve got to
get curious about why it does that. What happens if you move the wings forward a bit?
Or what if you take off the rudder? The best experiments start with having the kids do
things like this, and having them be curious about why it does what it does.
Science isn’t about what we know; it’s about how we handle what
we don’t know. It’s not a textbook of facts to memorize,
but it’s something you do. Science is when you ask questions about
something that you don’t understand, and you figure out the answers based on what
Mike: Can you give us some fun and easy science experiments
for our listeners to try at home?
Aurora: Oh, sure! This one’s really cool, and it’s
In science fiction movies like Star Trek, they use energy plasma to
power their spaceships. Well, energy plasma, it’s a real type of
energy—it’s actually the fourth state of matter (the first three are solid,
liquid, and gas). And you can actually make some right in your kitchen.
You’re going to take a grape and you slice it in half the long way, but leave
a little thin bit of skin connecting the two halves, so it opens like a book. And you
put it on a plate and microwave it for 10 seconds. You’ll get a colorful plume of
energy rise up from the grape after just a few seconds. And this is energy plasma. (It
does take a few tries to get this right.)
I actually do have a step-by-step video guide on how to do this and more. It’s
available on the link in my bio.
Mike: Normally you’d hear someone say,
“Don’t try this at home.” But these experiments are perfect for young
scientists. So do try them in your home!
Aurora: I had one more. Did you want me to do one more?
Aurora: Most kids have done the baking soda and vinegar experiment.
But what do you think might happen if you put the baking soda in a small container with
a tight-fitting lid, and then put the vinegar in just as you’re closing the lid?
Well, you just made yourself a small rocket.
Mike: It just takes off, huh?
Aurora: It does! They go about 20 or 30 feet, and they work
way better if you use Alka-Seltzer. But most people don’t have that in their
home, so we just say baking soda and vinegar. But anything that you combine that will
make bubbles will work.
Lighting the spark [7:47]
Mike: Many homeschool parents want their kids to excel at
science. But they may not feel equipped to teach it themselves. What advice do you have
for these parents?
Aurora: Great question. The key is to find a program or a
curriculum that really does get kids excited about science. Now, maybe it’s
another parent who’s an engineer or a pilot, who’s passionate about science
and also about homeschooling. Or maybe it’s choosing a hands-on curriculum, like
my e-science curriculum. And honestly, one of the main reasons I created my curriculum
is, it’s put together in a way that lets parents who don’t have a
background, or time to teach it, give their kids a great science education.
However you teach science, the key is that the teacher needs to be excited about it
themselves. Now if your teacher is bored, the kids are going to learn very little. I
mean, think about your own education. Aren’t there a few teachers who really
stand out as being really great? Most often, these are the ones that were really
passionate about teaching.
So science—if it’s not something that you’re excited about
personally, that’s OK. Find a curriculum that is taught by someone who is excited
about science, and who can share that enthusiasm with your kids.
Mike: Well, what are some of the most important things to
remember about teaching science?
Aurora: Well, science is about inspiring curiosity and
excitement about science in kids. It’s not just about cramming a lot of facts and
equations into their heads. If kids are genuinely interested and excited in science,
they will want to learn the academics. And then teaching them these things is
easy. So at this stage, we want kids to be doing a lot of hands-on experiments and
projects to help build that curiosity.
Mike: Well, Aurora, it’s been a real pleasure to have
you on the show this week, and I hope our listeners are encouraged to get out there and
start exploring the world of science. And until next time, I’m Mike Smith.