The intersection of science and play.
We are taught from a young age that authority in any academic realm must be allocated to adults only–or more specifically grey haired men in tweed jackets staring down their noses at us from in front of a chalkboard or behind a cluttered desk. But when we think about the fundamentals of Science, a field that in its research requires constant questioning and experimentation, who better to contribute to its innovation than the naturally curious? In his TED talk above, neuroscientist Beau Lotto tells why children make the best scientists.
Evolution’s solution to uncertainty is play… Play is the only human endeavor where uncertainty is celebrated. When you add rules to play, you have a game. And that’s what an experiment is–a game…
Armed with these two ideas that science is a way of being and experiments are play, we asked, “Can anyone become a scientist?” And who better to ask than twenty-five 8-10 year old children? Because they’re experts in play.
With this idea in mind, Lotto turned to a primary school in Devon, England, to create a program in which children would be given the opportunity to act as scientists. He was granted no funding for this idea, as “scientists said children couldn’t make a strong contribution to science, and teachers said kids couldn’t do it.” Teachers, if you can believe it, had no faith in the capabilities of young people. Lotto went through with it anyway.
His first step in the program was to have the students ask questions. The results?
Five of the questions the students came up with were questions that were the basis of science publication in the last 5-15 years. They were asking questions that were significant to expert scientists.
This gave Lotto and his colleagues the impetus to turn the group of children into full-fledged scientists, an idea that amazingly resulted in the peer-reviewed publication of 10-year old Amy O’Toole’s science paper. She joins Lotto onstage to describe the inspiring journey from early hypothesis to academic acceptance.
I strongly suggest you watch this video, if not to be inspired by the true capabilities of children (despite the misgivings of teachers, scientists, and most adults), then to rethink how good scientific thought requires our embrace of uncertainty.
The ever-curious Brain Pickings yesterday shed light on a fascinating project, “Classroom Portraits.” Since 2004, photographer Julian Germain has captured images of classrooms the world over, progressing from his small corner of North East England to include schools from North and South America, the Middle East, Europe, Africa, and Asia. Collected in a new book, Germain’s photos provide unique insight into childhoods both familiar and foreign, sharing what makes schoolkids around the globe so similar, yet worlds apart.
Each photograph captures the same faces we’ve all seen in the classroom growing up: you have the bored and the enrapt, the angry and the apathetic, the eager and the daydreamers. Germain captures all of these and more in his trans-global portraits.
Yet, just as these photos begin to hark back to one’s own school days, you come across a classroom like the one snapped in Yemen, below. A small room packed with serious-looking men, the only thing belying their young age the dark but faint peach fuzz atop each one’s upper lip.
Flipping past the slightly militaristic uniforms of a class of Peruvian 4th-graders…
to a colorfully Havanan classroom…
and a stark Nigerian one…
you are reminded that this (I’m presuming for most of you) is not the childhood you remember.
But while the environments and languages might not be the same, it’s always easy to spot some common ground: in one image a band of sulky pubescents, in another a mob of sticky-fingered kindergartners, and in all the compulsory child with the mischievous glint in his eye, the one who is certainly up to no good at all.
In each photo Germain has also managed to evoke the gang-like quality found in a room full of students. He positions them with their eyes locked on the camera, staring it down as though ready to pounce at any given moment. Perhaps the one similarity we should be mindful of in every classroom is the courage it takes to stand up in front of a room of these creatures and teach them.
No, in all seriousness “Classroom Portraits” is a joyful reminder of the many fresh young minds out there in the world, and the importance a good education serves in shaping every one of them.
If you were to go back to the old copies of the novels and plays I still rely upon—To Kill a Mockingbird, The Great Gatsby, Hamlet—to do my daily teaching, you would see all sorts of scribbled notes in different colored pens. You would see highlighters in every color imaginable. You would see small pieces of printed material taped to pages. You would see dog-ears and great big rips among the stressed-out bindings of my paperback copies. You would see the small word “Ha!” scrawled next to anything remotely funny.
Well, according to a new Princeton study, if I relied upon a Kindle DX to view these same literary masterpieces, I’d be in quite the pickle, indeed.
I remember a teacher I had long ago preaching to the class about how margin notes reeked of lower intelligence. I can only laugh at her now as I use some of those very notes, some from wise souls as far back as high school, to teach my own classes. Although not for everyone, notes on the side of a page are like gold to me. They always reveal the teacher’s wisdom on the subject: wisdom that I often lacked at the time, . . . and that wisdom is scrawled right next to the exact quote from the work in question.
Thus stands the problem for both students and teachers for the Kindle DX.
According to a recent article from USA Today and follow-up in educationnews.org, the college students at Princeton (although well equipped to embrace the new technology) grew frustrated with a few simple functions that were lacking. Stated simply, the Kindle DX has no ability to highlight, no ability to use different colors to differentiate underlined text, no way to scrawl simple notes in a margin (only typed on a keypad), no easy way to maneuver through the work to underlined text, no way to skim or flip randomly through a work, no way to mark text via “page” number, no way to keep multiple texts open at the same time, and no real system for organizing typed annotation.
In short, although this product is perfect for simple reading, the students at Princeton weren’t convinced it was a good scholarly aid.
This device needs to make things easier, not more frustrating, for students trying to annotate and, further, for students following along in class when the professor simply asks them to “turn to page 154.” Michael Koenig, director of operations at Virginia’s Darden School of Business who also ran a Kindle DX study, said, “It’s just not as flexible or nimble as having your paper notes or your laptop right there, . . . not quite ready for prime time.”
Still, others called it a “first-generation product” with lots of potential. At least 15% of students loved the device, citing perfection for students on-the-go as well as the “green” aspect of using zero paper products.
For me, unless the descendants of the new Kindle come with a stylus and different color options, I think I’ll pass on this technology for everything except the simple reading of a text. However, that isn’t to say that these improvements aren’t already hanging in the balance . . . .