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 Smith.
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 [0:37]
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 totally boring.
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
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
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
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
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 you see.
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 pretty simple.
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
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