Thursday, December 23, 2010

Do science to learn science?

Sir Ken's talk hits so many issues really well.  The creativity of children.  The "not one right answer."  Collaboration. 

I can't think of a better example of these themes has just come out in Biology Letters.  It's an article published by 25 8- to 10-year-old children.  It's a delightful piece (made open access for the time being) written in the language of the children with hand-drawn figures.  I can't put it better than the abstract, which is downright poetic:


Background Real science has the potential to not only amaze, but also transform the way one thinks of the world and oneself. This is because the process of science is little different from the deeply resonant, natural processes of play. Play enables humans (and other mammals) to discover (and create) relationships and patterns. When one adds rules to play, a game is created. This is science: the process of playing with rules that enables one to reveal previously unseen patterns of relationships that extend our collective understanding of nature and human nature. When thought of in this way, science education becomes a more enlightened and intuitive process of asking questions and devising games to address those questions. But, because the outcome of all game-playing is unpredictable, supporting this ‘messyness’, which is the engine of science, is critical to good science education (and indeed creative education generally). [...]
Principal finding ‘We discovered that bumble-bees can use a combination of colour and spatial relationships in deciding which colour of flower to forage from. We also discovered that science is cool and fun because you get to do stuff that no one has ever done before. (Children from Blackawton)’.
Download the paper, and take a look at the video in the supplement (Royal Society doesn't support embedding).


The paper doesn't cite any scientific literature, which led to its rejection by Science and Nature.  The abstract also gives a persuasive argument about why:

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 curiousity, which for the children was not inspired by the scientific literature, but their own observations of the world. This lack of historical, scientific context does not diminish the resulting data, scientific methodology or merit of the discovery for the scientific and ‘non-scientific’ audience. On the contrary, it reveals science in its truest (most naive) form, and in this way makes explicit the commonality between science, art and indeed all creative activities.

1 comment:

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