Thursday, June 29, 2006
  Every Kid a Scientist

During an online discussion once many years ago, I mentioned that I thought that babies were natural scientists. One person slammed me for that remark, informing me that it was insulting to scientists who had had many years of education. There was no way a baby could be doing the same thing a scientist was doing. That attitude may stem from the competition that naturally arises among scientists, that leads to a sense of exclusivity of the title, but it is an unfortunate one.

Why can't we think of babies as little scientists? It doesn't matter if what they are discovering isn't exactly pushing forward the edge of knowledge. They are still employing the scientific method:

Observe
Hypothesize
Predict
Experiment

Then do it over and over and over again.

Certainly this isn't the only way that babies and young children learn, but it is a key method they utilize. I would say they use it a lot with speech, for instance. They do not know how the sounds of words are made, and must learn for themselves.

This natural way of learning can be thought of as the first steps towards scientific literacy and critical thinking? Can it be developed educationally in the same way that math and reading skills are developed?

I think early critical thinking may already be well integrated into early education. "What is wrong with this picture" types of games, sorting, pattern recognition, put the pictures in order – these are all activities which are the foundation of early critical thinking skills. But often these kinds of activities disappear once reading and arithmetic have been established. Such a curriculum could easily continue to be integrated with reading comprehension as well as science. I was surprised at how poorly my 5th grader's accelerated class understood finding, evaluating, and citing their sources when doing a report on a state. This is basic stuff. Why has it been neglected?

In high school, I think it would be appropriate to have a critical thinking skills course mandatory.

As a parent, I can do something, though. There are plenty of opportunities to help my growing children evaluate the world around them in a more rational manner. I try to ask my kids "Why?", and "How do you know that?" "How did you come to that conclusion?" I ask them this even if I agree with what they've said. We criticize commercials regularly not just for being stupid, but for manipulation and errors. We do the same thing with mail advertisements. We talk about how lab scientists, paleontologists and archeologists, and historians discover things and why or why not those discoveries can be thought of as reliable.

Certainly, I'm not as good as this as I'd like to be. What parent meets their own expectations? But I do try to think of my children as scientists, discovering their way through this world. I hope they never stop trying to discover.
 
Comments:
I absolutely agree. Too many don't even take the time to watch their children. I know that children employ the scientific method and the critical part is teaching them the names of the actual steps as they get older. Somehow it becomes more complicated then, but it is critical to keep those brains thinking...without pushing a button or moving a mouse.
 
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A Mormon housewife who loves truth, science, rational thought, and reasonable action.

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