Monday, 22 April 2013

On the quest for science in the real world

Today's post is a post of frustration.  Rephrased in a more positive light, this post is about extreme homeschooling:  the lengths a parent will go to in the quest to secure materials for a science project.

Over the last several days I've come to wonder whether our society really wants kids to learn much about science.  At least in a deep way.  I wonder if it is the fear that knowledge of science can lead to terrible catastrophes (such as people wanting to blow up planes or make bombs).  Or it could be that the governments in the Western world don't want much scientific research or even a general appreciation of science happening because then people might press harder for tougher environmental regulations.  Maybe it's just that it's too messy or costly.  At any rate, here's how I've arrived at this belief.

My son received a microscope for Christmas.  What a great gift!  He hadn't touched it yet, though, until he started growing brine shrimp for his science fair project.  He started making slides and wanted to make some of them permanent.  Lucky for us, the microscope set came with instructions with how to make permanent slides.  "All you need is your specimen and a few drops of gum media or Canada balsam solution."

We soon found out that we would run out of slides.  And so I spent a whole morning searching our city for blank slides and covers.  That's right - a whole morning for just slides!  It appears that toy stores are more than willing to sell microscopes, but none of the accessories needed for a child to discover on their own.  The school supply stores and the science centre didn't have any slides either.  They suggested the local university and technical college.  Other homeschoolers in the area suggested contacting our school board liaison. 

The liaison was able to find a few slides and covers in the school board stores (though he mentioned the slides were scarce items there as well).  And the University had slides too.  But I've struck out everywhere for the gum media.  I was told that the University can't sell any chemicals "because of the way the world has become".  I looked at my three kids, who were not quite understanding what he meant and then back at the man behind the counter with a flabbergasted, "you mean you can do more with this stuff than mount slides?" look.  I get that there are some people who have bad intentions, but I believe they are in the very small minority.  And I wonder how many would bring their kids along to gather the ingredients for weapons of mass destruction.  Certainly some judgment could be afforded.

I've looked at some online stores that were mentioned by those I encountered while searching, and I discovered that shipping of these items is restricted as well, because of their flammable nature.

So, we've resorted to the old-school way of preparing slides (meaning the way I vaguely recall doing it when I was in school).  We're simply using transparent glue to adhere the slide covers to the slides.  It's messy and doesn't finish as nicely, and I fear that the glue will smear over top of our very tiny specimens, but the covers should be sealed and dried by the time tomorrow afternoon rolls around.

I've also done more searching for alternative ways to make permanent slides using less restricted materials.  Very Tiny Things has several easy alternatives that use readily accessible materials (that are also flammable, but available for purchase from any department or drug store).  I found a site for making one's own gum media, although it appears that some of the ingredients are also difficult to find, and that the preparation involves a large investment of time.

And so the quest to learn about things big and small continues in this little house on the prairie.  I guess no one ever said it would be easy.

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