From birth, children learn by doing. We don’t learn to walk by watching others or learn to talk solely by listening to others. We learn by trying, failing, and trying again. What makes us experts is thus nothing more than practice.
What fascinates me about children is each and every one of them is a born scientist as they are innately curious about the world around them. They observe, they touch, they ask questions, and when they’re alone, they try to figure things out. When boiled down, scientific inquiry is nothing more than this.
What I think scares people about science is not the curiosity, it’s explaining the implications of that curiosity when the answer is not simple. To answer a complex question requires that an individual has a solid grasp of the problem, understands how to collect data to test that problem, and then how to visualize and analyse those data. This becomes even more difficult when you’re studying the intangible.
As an evolutionary biologist, I often explore the invisible. You don’t see evolution happen, you measure the change in traits in a population over time. You can’t see gravity, you see the effect it has on things. You don’t see protein translation, but you can measure how changes in protein concentrations affect bodily functions. And you’ll never feel gravitational waves and you’ll need complex equipment to measure something happening elsewhere in the universe.
But just like walking and talking, learning how to determine what to look for, what to measure, and how to measure it can only come from practice. But practicing science in the classroom or at home is difficult, and many view it as daunting. Not only do you often have to set up all this equipment, but you have to train students in how to use it, explain how to collect data and which theories these data are exploring. In other words, you have to do all the most boring stuff first.
Imagine how many refrigerators all over the world would be bereft of art if before kids were allowed to finger paint, we explained the history of art, the natural products that were initially used to create different colours, and asked students to make their own paper. Instead we let kids fall in love with art by letting them create and figure things out.
As they age and attend different classes, kids may learn about the history of different art movements, how perspective can be demonstrated, and how emotion can be displayed through colour. We let them create and explore, and then when they’re hooked, we explain the theory. Those that are more interested in art end up choosing a career in it and delve more deeply into theory and explore it from a completely different perspective, sometimes even creating something never before seen.
It’s true that not everyone becomes an artist, but at some level, every adult can appreciate art. For example, every adult understands the different tools and media that can be used to create art. Adults attend museums and may even discuss why they feel strongly about why something is or isn’t art.
Why is it that we can’t do this with science?
What if instead of creating this barrier that consists of learning theoretical concepts and nomenclature, and just like a room full of paints, crayons, and paper, we provide students with the tools they need to explore science? What if we could make the collection and visualization of data less daunting so that it just requires students to play and interact? And what if this interaction and exploration used some of the tools students were most comfortable with – mobile devices.
Would these aspects take the fear out of the scientific process? Would they encourage more discussion because all the difficult steps that often feel paralysing – the planning, the data collection, the maths – are all simplified to social interactions? Would this allow students to appreciate and understand science at a higher level even if they don’t fully grasp the theory?
I am betting that it will. In fact, our team at arludo and all the researchers and teachers that are working with us are betting on it as well.