Friday, January 10, 2014

Little children and the work of science

This last summer, I had the great opportunity to work with a bunch of kids, 5 - 8 years old, on "something sciency." What an experience! I wrote up the results in what we call a "document panel," a focused narration of an extended engagement with children. Writing this document showed me again what sophisticated thinkers and workers children can be, if we know how to work with them. Below is the beginning and ending of my "doc panel."
I BELIEVE children have an intellectual curiosity and a native ability to analyze their world to find what is important in a situation, to see abstract patterns in the world, to make models of the world, and to make good, pursuable guesses about how things work. However, they need practice, opportunities, and knowledgable mentors to guide them as they build trustable knowledge about their world. Schooling should provide these things. ...
... I was surprised at how little it bothered me that they fidgeted and squirmed around so. They’re human. They’re kids. They seemed to be listening and interested and they would engage. I needed less and less to direct them. What could I do with this group if I had more weeks? More days in a week? Several opportunities a day? Looking back, it feels like we were just laying the foundations for larger explorations.
The group was just getting an esprit of work, facility with tools, a sense of self-efficacy—the ability to complete tasks and reach goals. What else could this “technical team” tackle?
Timing how things dropped from a roof? Measuring the height of a stairway? Figuring out how fast they can run or the speed of a car? How could I go back to using numbers to compare inertial and forced motion? Can we build on the idea of “arguing with a bowling ball”? WHAT WOULD THEY be interested in trying? I would love to explore the way building teams like this could pan out over time.
What materials did I use? Half-filled ketchup bottles. The automatic door in the building. Paper, pencils, and crayons. A clipboard. An old bowling ball I had. A long hallway. A tape measure and some timers I borrowed from the physics guys here on campus. The biggest resource was time and personnel. I worked for hours at a time with 5 - 8 kids and one assistant. The document panel is really cool, full of great pictures and little moments. It's available in my Downloads section.

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