Learning Science Starts at Home

This post is meant for parents, but if you're a science student you might still benefit from reading it. Better yet, bring your science questions to the Science Learning Forum and get answers from your fellow students and our professional science tutors. Learning Science is an important part of academic success, and it helps your child understand many problems and opportunities in today's world.

Learning science through everyday activities

Almost anytime you cook, re-arrange your furniture, buy a pair of shoes or do any number of other ordinary tasks, there is an opportunity to learn about physics, biology, or some other branch of science.

For example, every science tutor will tell you the importance of understanding significant figures. If you know that a room in your house is about 20 feet by 30 feet, you can make a good guess about where to put a couch. But if you were planning to put down a carpet, it's not enough to order six hundred square feet of carpet. Let me explain.

measuring tool for learning science
Learning science includes understanding how and why we measure significant figures.

Your room probably isn't exactly 20 feet wide. It might be 20 feet, 3 inches. It's OK to round this number if you're only planning to move some furniture. But the same rounding error could cause you to purchase an extra 7 or 8 square feet of carpet. This would cost you some money, and create extra work as you cut your carpet to make a good fit.

Worse still, if your rounding error led to an estimate that was too small, you might get stuck with a narrow strip of bare floor running across one or two sides of the room.

Scientist avoid these problems by using "significant figures." Significant figures communicate the precision of a number, and also tell you how important is it to be precise. Understanding significant figures is a big part of learning science.

If a scientist uses 2 significant figures, and says the room is 20 feet wide, she is telling you two things: 1) The room is between 19 feet and 21 feet wide, and 2) for the current activity it is either unnecessary or not possible to provide a more accurate measurement.

If our scientist wanted the more precise measurement, 20 feet 3 inches, she would say 20.25 (because 3 inches is one fourth of a foot or 0.25 feet). Now we know that the width is somewhere between 20.24 and 20.26, and any error will be 0.01 feet or smaller.

Think about significant figures when you measure 1/4 cup of pancake mix, measure  your shoe size, or check the weight of a bag of apples. Learning science can include asking questions about the precision of numbers you see on labels or hear from journalists. Significant figures are just one example of a scientific principal that you can learn in your everyday life.

If you're looking for a science tutor, why not bring your science questions to the Science Learning Forum. You'll get answers from your fellow students and our professional science tutors. Just click here to get started.

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