Building Blogs of Science

Science lessons from 8 year old children

Posted in Science, Science and Society by kubke on December 22, 2010

[Cross posted from Talking Teaching]

Ed Yong in Not Exactly Rocket science alerted me to an article published in Biological Letters Biology Letters from the Royal Society. I will not discuss the content of the article, Ed Yong has (as usual) done a wonderful job. I would like instead to share the ‘concept’ of the article.

The article reports on some research that shows that bumble-bees use both colour and spatial relationship in their foraging behaviour. But enough about that. What is unique about this article is that the research was conducted by a group of school children. It is also unique in that it is written by a group of school children (in their language). And the icing on the cake are the figures: pencil coloured; no fancy graphic software.

This is, in my opinion, authentic teaching at its best. And authentic learning. And while we are at it, authentic publishing.

So what have I learned from this group of children? That, as they say, science is fun. And that teaching science, whatever the student age group, can be made fun and authentic and can get children motivated.

The background reads:

Although the historical context of any study is of course important, including references in this instance would be disingenuous for two reasons. First, given the way scientific data are naturally reported, the relevant information is simply inaccessible to the literate ability of 8- to 10-year-old children, and second, the true motivation for any scientific study (at least one of integrity) is one’s own curiosity, which for the children was not inspired by the scientific literature, but their own observations of the world.

I could not agree more. I love biology because I ‘played’ with biology as a child. I was fortunate enough to have a father who never answered my question with ‘I don’t know’ without following that up with ‘but lets try to find out’. As a child my father valued my questions and my curiosity, more so about things he didn’t have an answer for. And I will always be grateful to him for that. For my teachers, well, that was a different issue: rather annoying having a pupil in the class that just refused to overcome the ‘why?’ stage.

And these children have been given a great gift by being it let known that their thoughts and ideas have value. And that, once that barriers that have to do with the specific language of the scientific literature are withdrawn, their ideas and thoughts can bring about new knowledge.

These children will also grow up having learned a few fundamental things about science: How an idea is brought into shape, how scientific questions are narrowed, and the hard work and discipline that is needed to see an experiment through. Oh yes, and that no matter how good an idea may be, reviewers may still reject your grant.

None of this they could have learned from a science textbook.

The editors of the Royal Society should also be commended for not requiring that the manuscript adjust to the traditional publishing formats and allowing the authentic voice of the children to come through. This paper should become obligatory reading in science classes. If nothing else, children will recognise their own voices and curiosity in the reading, and, who knows, other groups of children with innovative teachers may teach us (adult scientists) another thing or two.

P. S. Blackawton, S. Airzee, A. Allen, S. Baker, A. Berrow, C. Blair, M. Churchill, J. Coles, R. F.-J. Cumming, L. Fraquelli, C. Hackford, A. Hinton Mellor1, M. Hutchcroft, B. Ireland, D. Jewsbury, A. Littlejohns, G. M. Littlejohns, M. Lotto, J. McKeown, A. O’Toole, H. Richards, L. Robbins-Davey, S. Roblyn, H. Rodwell-Lynn, D. Schenck, J. Springer, A. Wishy, T. Rodwell-Lynn, D. Strudwick and R. B. Lotto (2010) Blackawton bees. Biology Letters DOI:10.1098/rsbl.2010.1056

‘Tis the season…

Posted in Science by kubke on December 19, 2010

…to file my Annual Performance Review.

Nothing makes me shiver as much as the Dean’s email reminding us that it is time to file our Annual Performance Reviews (APRs). This year shivering does not begin to express the feeling I got upon receiving that email.

What have I achieved this year? ‘Nothing’ was the first thing that came to mind. This was followed by a profound state of panic!

But wait, there is more….

This has been probably the most difficult year of my entire life. Those who know me will also know that I have had really difficult years. So this is not a light statement. It has been filled by personal and professional crises, nights with no sleep, anxiety, and the health issues that come with all that. So back to my APR – Nothing. (This does not help my sleep issues)

Or so I thought until I realised I was looking for ‘measures of performance’ in the wrong places. So yes, the papers are still being written and haven’t been submitted, I haven’t attended any ‘scientific meeting’, I haven’t received any new grants. I could go on.

But crises did not just ‘happen’. Mine came about because this has been a year in which my way of thinking and doing things has been challenged to its roots. Deep, deep roots. So perhaps, I have a lack of sense of achievement because I am looking in the wrong places.

Sure. I didn’t go to any ‘scientific meetings’. But this is where I did go to: Science Online 201o, the Linux Conference, KiwiFoo, SciFoo, the Data Matters workshop, the eResearch conference. I also became an Academic Editor for PLoS ONE and became more engaged with the discussions about science on social networks like Twitter and FriendFeed. And I have to say, I learned more about ‘Science’ this year that in my entire career. And I was reminded not just of why I got into science in the first place, but also what kind of scientist I wanted to become.

I also attended couple of workshops and conferences on innovative teaching, I completed my first year in a degree in education, became involved with WikiEducator, and was reminded not only why I got into teaching in the first place, but also what kind of teacher I wanted to become.

I also became engaged with a variety of issues. From Public ACTA, and OpenLabour, to olpc and Creative Commons. And I was reminded of the kind of citizen I thought I was to become.

I guess with great moral crises also comes great change. So I am actually looking forward to next year, when I hope that all the struggle of 2010 will pay off in the form of positive change and positive action.

To all of you out there that gave me the chance to talk to you, who offered your ideas and listened to my ramblings, who helped me organize my thoughts, formulate my goals and provided me with guidance and support, my most sincere Thank You.

As for my APR, it will be hard to fill. Can I just say:

‘This year I learned’?