My project with my kids this month is to teach them the scientific method. I think that this is perhaps one of the most important things we can teach our kids. They obviously aren’t doing a good enough job of it in the schools. If they did, I wouldn’t have so many bozos say to me “science doesn’t know everything” when trying to justify their irrational belief in Jesus or crystal healing or Mayan predictions of the end of the world. So it’s up to us to teach our kids why the scientific method is the best way that humans have so-far devised to work out what is likely to be true when it comes to working out how the universe works. It’s not just important for sorting out fact from fiction when it comes to things like religion, either. Having a solid evidential view of things is important when politicians tell you things such as “Saddam has WMD – believe me.” As a society we need to start asking “show me the evidence” to our religious, political, military and corporate leaders on a more regular basis.
So on the weekend I set my kids a project to give me a 5 minute presentation on the scientific method before they could turn the XBOX on. They knew nothing about it before they started. So I told them to Google it and to specifically look for sites that explained it in kid-friendly terms (bonus lesson contained within – how to create good search terms in Google). I told them to answer four questions in their presentation:
1. What is it?
2. Why is it important?
3. What is the process?
4. Who invented it and when? (trick question but worth asking so they get some perspective on the history)
They came out after about 30 minutes and presented what they had. It was about one minute long. They basically just wrote down a one line answer to each question which they had copied and pasted from different sites. When I did the Q&A they failed. So I sent them back to expand on it a bit. This process went on about 3 or 4 times until they were finally able to present on it credibly for 5 minutes including a Q&A.
Later that day I re-inforced their understanding and ability to communicate it in the pool when we played “science swim”. This is a variation on a game I often play with them in the pool, the other variants being “spell swim” and “maths swim”. The basic idea is that I ask them both a question. In this case “What’s the first step in the scientific method?”. The first person to answer it correctly gets a pass. The one who either gets it wrong or is too slow, has to swim two laps (bonus lesson contained within – improves their swimming ability).
I’ve kept it up over the last couple of days while walking them to school, asking them to explain, in their own words, why the scientific method is the best way to determine fact from fiction. They are getting pretty good at it. I’ll keep this up for the next few weeks until it’s drilled into them. Then we’ll start on the theory of evolution.