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8 year olds discover science is “cool and fun”

December 24, 2010

The news of a group of 8 year old British school children publishing a scientific paper in the Journal Biology Letters has been making the rounds on the internet.

Data table from scientific paper written by 8 year olds.

The paper itself is also available for reading online, and this work is the product of the Street Science collaboration which has put together a number of public displays in the UK that allows everyday citizens to become active participants in science. You can find detailed descriptions of projects on the site, and they are all quite fascinating. It would be great to learn more about some of these projects and try to bring something similar to our building or campus.

I think the thing I love most about this endeavor is that the kids wrote the paper in their own words, rather than taking on the stuffy language of science that we’re often told belongs in lab reports. The data table above is simply priceless. To me, this is what science should be about—students investigating their world using tools they understand and create, and writing about it in their own words. So how can I make this happen in my classes?

4 Comments leave one →
  1. December 24, 2010 9:09 am

    I think (hope) all good science teachers hope to have this in their classroom. I find the issue in high school is that students have not “done” science before, so it is hard to get them to switch lanes (not just gears). Dr. Robert Ballard often says that if you do not get them excited about science by Middle School, you will have a difficult time getting it later.

    So if you find how to get them excited anew in High School, let us all know.

    • Anna Moore permalink
      December 24, 2010 11:12 am

      Paul, I’m trying something new this year that seems to be engaging at least some of my students in a unique way: we are doing a book club in biology. I am not presenting this as some magic elixir that engages all kids, but I am seeing my students make links and initiate conversations that I don’t think I would have seen otherwise. I teach biology, so the use of The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks was an easy pick for me. I’ve already found one or two other books I might use in the future. Now, this does NOT have my students “doing” science (which is obviously key and why the post above on the bees is so cool), but it’s a start. For kids who aren’t used to traveling in the science lane (to use your idea above), most of them are comfortable with a book club, reading, and sitting around talking about stuff they’ve read. So,I decided to try this approach to engage those very kids you metion, the ones who either don’t “get science” or worse, are already turned off by science. I find that the use of a novel has been an easy way to introduce kids, in a very concrete way, to the fact that politics, culture, etc influence how we conduct science and how we interpret data and draw conclusions. In reading the book, the kids have made these conclusions on their own with gentle direction from me instead of my just “telling them how it’s done.” I’ve had the privilege of watching lots of faces light up with the joy of discovery. The trick, for me, was finding a book with enough “scienctific content” in it that it would reinforce some of the other things I wanted my students to learn, too. But, so far, it’s been an interesting experiment and it accomplishing a lot of what I’d hoped (plus a few things I had not even imagined).

      • December 30, 2010 9:26 am

        Anna,

        I like your book club idea! Here’s a list of possible books for physics:

        http://physicsworld.com/cws/article/news/44623

        “Physics World reviewed more than 60 popular-physics books in 2010. That’s more than most people will read in a lifetime, and, without wanting to sound immodest, we think it’s also enough to lend weight to our opinion of the year’s best. Reviews editor Margaret Harris picks her top 10 for 2010”

      • December 30, 2010 10:42 am

        After I left my former school, the history department created a corse titled Great History Books. Here’s a description:

        In this half-credit course students are introduced to a wide range of historical topics by reading entire books of historical scholarship. The course reflects the belief of Stanford Professor Sam Wineburg, which the department shares, that “the deep examination of the past should change the way we regard the present, and make us more reflective about what it means to be human. Reading a full-length book helps us see this; we need to enter into an author’s world, to submit ourselves to an author’s way of constructing the past.” Students examine not only the content of any given book but also the way in which the author collects and uses evidence to create and sustain a historical argument. Students read four books during the year, each one taught by a different member of the History Department, and with many opportunities for interdisciplinary study. Possible books for study include the following: Drew Gilpin Faust, The Republic of Suffering; Jung Chang, Wild Swans; Christopher Browning, Ordinary Men; Nicholas Lemann, The Big Test; William Cronin, Changes in the Land; Doris Kearns Goodwin, Team of Rivals; John Dower, Embracing Defeat.

        It occurs to me that probably in most science classes, students don’t get to read much in the way of great science books. This is probably because we devote most of our classes to “doing science” and that leaves less room for exploring the history and social aspects of the discipline (this is something that I want to work on in my own classroom).

        I think a “Great Science Books” course might be an excellent elective at many many schools, particularly if it is taught in an interdisciplinary fashion….

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