Science is … Curiosity!

This week in STEM Science we have been learning about what science is. More than learning, we have been trying to describe what science is and what exactly scientists do. When asked what a scientist does, often the response is something volatile and explosive. Visions of mad scientists working in a labor-a-tory making potions and blowing things up come to mind. My younger scientists are often surprised to learn that scientists are ordinary people just like them who see the world and wonder about it. The students beam with pride when I tell them scientists are curious just like they are. They ask a lot of questions. About everything. Scientists use their senses to observe things. They ask questions about how things work or why things happen the way they do.

A quick look through the Online Etymology Dictionary tells us that science comes from Latin scientia meaning knowledge, from sciens meaning intelligent, skilled, and from scire, a verb, meaning to know. In the 14th century scientists were known for “book learning” and “collective human knowledge”, especially that gained by systematic observation, experiment, and reasoning. A far cry from the common thought of old school alchemists. Systematic observation, experiment, and reasoning – this sounds like the scientific method! And the first part of the scientific method begins with asking questions about something observed. So, scientists are curious. After all, curiosity is defined as a strong desire to know or learn something.

We read a poem about what science is, and then pulled out the descriptive words from the poem about what science is. After discussing it some more, we made a circle map about what they thought science is.
Science is circle map

I like how some of the students included engineers into the map along with solving problems. In STEM, the students are taught that an engineer is a special kind of scientist that uses math and technology to design things that solve problems.

Next, we talked about how scientists observed the natural world using their five senses. The students were able to use hand lenses to explore different items such as fossils, rocks, birds’ nests, cattails, snake skins, feathers, old bee hives, and a cotton blossom. The students talked about the different textures, describing them, as well as the difference it made when using a hand lens to examine the items. They also came up with questions that might help them explore the items more in depth.

Boys looking at cotton blossom in science class

Curiosity at work on cotton blossom during a lesson in the nature of science

When asked what I teach, I often say, “I inspire curiosity.” Children have a natural curiosity about the world around them. This curiosity leads to asking questions, lots of questions, which helps them think like a scientist.

Sally Ride said, “Science is fun. Science is curiosity. We all have natural curiosity. Science is a process of investigating. It’s posing questions and coming up with a method. It’s delving in.”

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