Children may be completely oblivious to this, but they start experimenting with science way before elementary school. They are inadvertently exploring scientific principles while building contraptions, playing with Legos, blowing bubbles, and exploring a plethora of other ideas stemming from their inquisitive little minds.
Children in elementary school are observant, inquisitive and constantly ask questions. Science education in elementary schools is tailored to their inquisitiveness and enthusiasm. However, I believe a key element in promoting science education is to sustain this enthusiasm and inquisitiveness in the long run.
Here, I will discuss few examples of how we can stimulate young minds to become science enthusiasts.
Most elementary schools have incorporated the exploratory and inquiry based methods to promote science education. These methods are based on exploring topics, devising and testing a hypothesis, followed by interpretation of the results. While, the system is good enough to bring in the essence of science to education, it is imperative to teach children not to be afraid of making mistakes. There are no failed experiments. The results either agree or disagree with what has been hypothesized and either outcome leads to more experiments and learning. A lot can be inferred and discovered through mistakes-it is like scientific serendipity. For example, During the 1950s, Wilson Greatbatch a medical researcher was trying to device an instrument to record the heartbeat. He made a mistake and inserted a wrong resistor in to the circuit while assembling the device. When the device was assembled, it generated an electric pulse that resembled the rhythmic lub-dub noise of the heart. This led to the discovery of implantable pace makers which through their electrical signals make up for the inconsistencies in heart beats. This was indeed a serendipitous discovery which revolutionized modern medicine. Reiterating that failed experiments are not taboo will motivate them to keep going.
Taking a detour and experimenting
My 9 year old once got a brand new Lego Star Wars set. He decided to toss the instruction manual and build some sort of a contraption with the Lego pieces. He didn’t use the pieces how Lego originally designed them to be used, but instead, he applied the principles of kinetic/potential energy and gravity to create a marble roller coaster contraption which he used to roll around tiny marbles. He was ecstatic when I pointed this out to him. Encouraging kids and being supportive when they want to deviate from the norm and test something on their own is a brilliant way to promote the fun aspect of learning science.
Finally, exposing children to a real laboratory setting will give them some perspective on what it feels like to be a scientist. It would be educational and beneficial to provide them with an opportunity to experience firsthand what it’s like to run experiments in a lab. A lot of children fail to sustain their scientific curiosity and inquisitiveness as they grow older. Part of it might be a lack of awareness of where that curiosity will eventually lead them. If we can show children that there is actually a place in the real world where people are nurturing their inquisitiveness by conducting experiments, succeeding, failing and learning from their mistakes and in the process are unraveling the mysteries of science, they may hold on to that curiosity a little longer.
Providing an education that stimulates young minds and sustains their interest will eventually lead to future science enthusiasts.