I present the scientific method as a cycle, beginning with inquiry and leading to a hypothesis, a test, observation and conclusion. The picture makes sense and so do the examples I offer. The top achieving students take notes with a few of them double-checking their circles to make sure they are accurate.
I don’t expect them to pass the “question me” test. Not yet. At this point in the year, I’m still an anomoly to many students. I joke around, but I ask serious questions. I am relentless about the class procedures but I refuse to use time-outs and detention. Students do less work and more thinking. It’s confusing.
However, a student raises her hand and says, “Are you sure about that?”
“What do you mean?” I ask.
“I mean the cycle. Is it always a cycle? What if inquiry leads to a conclusion that is then questioned? Or what if you start with an observation and it makes you ask a question? I just don’t see it always working like this in real life.” She says “real life” in a way that makes it sound like a fantasy, as if, at any given moment, I will speak elvish or pontificate on the history of middle earth or talk about wood gnomes and dragons.
“So what should it be?” I ask.
“What about a web?” she says and instinctively breaks the class procedure and corrects the picture on the board.
“That’s science, kids. That’s what it’s about. Question your assumptions based upon experience.”
This transitions into the first assignment. “Ask a question about your world.”
The students e-mail me their questions that they develop as partners:
- If food had ugly packaging would people still buy it?
- What makes a fart smell and is there any evolutionary benefit in stinky farts? (like warding off predators)
- Why don’t people on the south pole see things upside-down?
- Is it true that hot water freezes faster than cold water or is that just an urban legend?
- What’s the difference between a moth and a butterfly?
- Is there any scientific difference between race or is it just something people made up?
- Did Adam and Eve have pet dinosaurs?
- Can any element become solid, liquid or gas?
- Is time travel possible?
- Does the vocabulary level or number of words used make a lie more or less believable?
- Is the universe finite or infinite? If it’s finite, what’s beyond it? If it’s infinite, does that make it God?
- How does carbon dating work?
- Does your body burn all calories equally?
- Is it true if you cut a branch from a good lemon tree and cut a branch from a bad lemon tree and you put the good lemon tree branch with the bad lemon tree would it grow better lemon trees on the bad lemon tree?
- Why do water bottles sweat if they aren’t alive? Where is the water coming from?
- Which is stronger: water or wind?
- If lava can melt rocks, why doesn’t it melt the whole volcano?
- What causes a song to affect your mood? Is it the lyrics or the music? And if it’s the music, is it the tempo or the notes?
I’m not sure where they will find the answers, but I don’t want the answer to be Google. I also know that we can’t play Mythbusters either. For now, though, I am just happy that on a late Friday afternoon they had the freedom to ask.
One of the reasons I love teaching is that there is a space for questions. In too many jobs, there are bottom lines and deadlines and all other types of lines that box in the mind so that it can’t wander into “What forms of a cloud?” or “Is the universe expanding?” or “Is time travel possible?” because those aren’t practical and you won’t make a lot of money pursuing them. But at three o’clock on a Friday, there’s a place where those questions can come alive.