Nurturing experimental researchers at school and home+ # 50
Quote of the Week
“It doesn't matter how beautiful your theory is, it doesn't matter how smart you are. If it doesn't agree with experiment, it's wrong.”
-Richard P. Feynman, Nobel Prize winning Physicist and Author
Hi, this is the GenWise team- we bring out this newsletter to help parents and educators to complement the work of formal schools and associated systems. We can help our children thrive in these complex times only by exchanging ideas and insights and working together. We are also a founder-member of the Gifted India Network- if you are interested in issues related to gifted education and talent development, an easy way to keep updated about talks, programs and resources is to join the Gifted India Network telegram channel (https://t.me/GiftedIndia).
In this week’s main post ‘I don’t know, but we can find out.’, GenWise mentor, Aniruddh Sastry, talks about how he works with young students to help them go about answering questions they are curious about- through designing and conducting experiments. For those who find this interesting, he is running a 1-week course ‘Experiment Design for Critical Thinkers’ in the upcoming Genesis Summer Program in May 2022 at Manipal University in Manipal, for students currently in grade 7, 8 or 9.
Join this conversation on learning, by commenting on our posts or writing to us.
I don’t know, but we can find out.
I don’t know, but we can find out.
Many advancements in knowledge have come from experiments conducted intelligently and diligently. For example, the young boy ‘Isaac’ (much before he became the famous Newton), wondered why sunlight came out as different colours from a prism… and through experiments showed that these colours were a property of light (before this, people thought that colours were a property of the medium light passed through, like stained glass or a prism). Another example is the ‘Bobo Doll Experiment’ conducted by psychologist, Albert Bandura to study if aggressive behaviour in children is affected by the kind of behaviour they see modelled around them.
Though the skill of designing and conducting experiments is so important, this is rarely taught in schools, or even in colleges. It is common to find students who have done academically well at the Undergraduate and Masters levels, struggle to frame their research questions properly and design experiments logically, when doing research at the doctoral level. If we want the next generation to be ‘creators of knowledge’ and not just passive consumers, experiment design is one of the important skills we need to equip them with. In this post, GenWise mentor, Aniruddh Sastry, shares how he goes about helping students to build this skill. He is also teaching a 1-week course, ‘Experiment Design for Critical Thinkers’, details of which are available in the Upcoming Events section.
“I don’t know, but we can find out.”
This is a sentence that I say the most during my classes. In fact, I have said it so many times that in some classes students have accused me of being a sadist who gets pleasure from withholding information or answers (I am not). This sentence is the beginning of any discovery for us as a group of learners. There has been a wide variety of questions that have led to fruitful, mostly accurate conclusions beginning with this sentence.
One particularly smart boy was disillusioned by school. All his heroes had skipped school or college or dropped out at some point during their formal education. Once a week, we would do an open house in class, where the students could come up with questions that bothered them or that they were curious about, and we would try to find answers together. This week, this boy had the question that all students were interested to find the answer for. His question, “Do I really need to go to school to succeed when I grow up?” Now, clearly this is a loaded question and there is no consensus on this even among academics. But we decided to approach this question quantitatively.
Of course, I began with the now familiar response, “I don’t know, but we can find out.”
The first question I asked the students was how they would define ‘success’. There were various opinions on the matter, and because this was a cohort of students which came from urban, financially stable backgrounds they decided that being one of the top 100 in the field of choice was success.
This is an important process in problem-solving- breaking the problem into smaller parts and being able solve parts of the problem, one at a time.
“Okay. How do we answer this question? Do we know how many people have gone to school and how many have not?”
I ask a simple question to nudge the students into thinking about the problem from a numbers point of view. The nudge was enough. They came up with the sets of numbers they would need.
“The total number of people in school at any given time.”
“The total number of people who could be in school but are not, at any given time.”
“The total number of people who are in the Top 100 of their profession.”
“The number of people in the Top 100 of their profession who went to school.”
“The number of people in the Top 100 of their profession who did not go to school.”
If you look at the evolution of the discussion, the students started with a question, and they progressed to create an experimental design to answer the question. Not a physical experimental setup, but a design which will answer for the students: “Out of all the successful people, how many of them went to school?” A keen mind in the class will also realise soon that only this answer is not enough to fully answer the original question. They will also need to answer the question: “Out of all the people who did not attend school, how many have been successful?”
Without going into the rest of the details, the students did get their answer on which was likelier – being successful if they attended school or not.
The above question did not need a physical experimental setup, but the students did design an experiment to answer the question. Other questions may involve creating an experimental setup to answer the question. Like the one a student who was curious about a sentence in her science textbook posed. She said that the textbook says, “Animals in the Arctic are white so that they can camouflage themselves in the snowy background.”
The student was not convinced. “If we can see these animals in pictures so easily in their snowy white background, how can the reason for the white colour be camouflage?”, she reasoned.
This was an exciting question for the class to answer and they went about creating an experimental design to test if camouflage works and to what extent does it work, answering questions like:
“Does camouflaging work only during certain times of the day?”
“Do arctic animals have the same eyesight as humans?”
The experimental setup involved creating a dark room in which the students could manipulate the ambient light, change the background colour and brightness, simulate an arctic animal in front of the background, and many other fun things!
Cultivating the ability for experimental research is not just something teachers can do at school. Parents too can nurture this at home by investigating questions that came up in daily life, like- Which kind of cheese is best for making Pizza? (defining ‘best would be the first challenge) or Which is the best way to dunk a cookie in hot chocolate? (A detailed investigation into the latter question is shared by Ig Nobel Prize winner, Len Fisher, in his bestselling book, The Science of Everyday Life.).
As a parent or a teacher, you do not need to know the answers yourself, nor do you need to be a skilled experimentalist. All you need is the willingness to learn with the child and say honestly “I don’t know, but we can find out…..”.
Tilings is part of the Kaapi with Kuriosity series from the International Centre for Theoretical Sciences (ICTS) and is scheduled on Sun, Mar 27, from 4 to 530 PM IST (Free online session). Mahuya Datta from the Indian Statistical Institute, Kolkata will be giving the talk. The session blurb says-
Tiling is a way of arranging plane shapes so that they completely cover an area without overlapping. They are very common in our everyday life - we see them on floors, on walkways and also in brick works. Tilings can also be seen in nature. They have also appeared in various artworks since ancient times. The most common tilings use regular polygonal shapes; occasionally we also see tiles with curved edges.
In the first part of the talk we will discuss regular and semi-regular Euclidean tilings which use regular polygonal tiles. While regular tilings use congruent copies of one single tile, the semi-regular tilings (also known as Archimedian tilings) use more than one type of tiles. All these tilings are known for thousands of years. They can be found in ancient Roman structures dating back to the First century. The notion of tiling can be generalised on round spheres in Euclidean spaces. They are intimately related to regular convex polyhedrons, known as Platonic solids. In the second half of the talk, we shall describe their classification using Euler number which is a topological invariant. We will also relate Platonic solids with certain finite subgroups of the Orthogonal group O(3). Links to attend the online session are available here.
Summer Programs from GenWise (Residential)- May 8- May 29 (Paid)
If your child is currently in grade 7, 8 or 9, check out the Genesis Summer Program from May 8-29, 2022, at Manipal University, Manipal. While most students will attend the entire 3-week program, there also exist 1 or 2 week options. View the program brochure here.
The academic enrichment component of the program features 3 courses- one in each week.
May 8-15: Reason like Sherlock Holmes- Become familiar with the reasoning process employed not just by detectives, but also by doctors, lawyers, historians, archaeologists, and virtually every domain where one is trying to piece together the full picture, from available clues. Unpack short stories from Sherlock Holmes (and potentially others, based on student interest) to appreciate the process of reasoning better.
May 15-22: Molecular Gastronomy- Intro to Culinary Science- This course at the intersection of Chemistry and Cooking is a great way to experience the power of science in our daily life experiences. The course emphasizes the role of sciences in cooking and how the world over, it has started to make a difference if the chefs understand the science that goes into it. Sessions at the world-class kitchen of the Welcomgroup School of Hotel Administration will involve working with materials like liquid nitrogen, dry ice and agar gels to create some exceptional dishes through the application of science.
May 22-29: Experiment Design for Critical Thinkers- Appreciate the importance of Experiment Design in exploring answers to relevant questions, whatever the domain (Economics, Engineering, Psychology, Marketing, Materials Science, Medicine, etc.). Often not taught formally at school (or even at College level), learn the vital skills necessary for understanding the role of variables, apples-to-apples comparisons, the role of bias, and how to attempt to overcome bias.
The program is much more than the academic enrichment component represented by the courses listed above and the goal of the program is to help with the development of the whole child- read more about the program experience in this post.
Students of both programs will be participating in common activities together, outside of the academic hours.
Feel free to reach out to our leadership team at the numbers below.
Rajesh @98409 70514; Vishnu @93422 47734; Shrikant @98600 33502; Sowmya @75985 66949
Quest Fest- a contest for students and teachers. The last date for submissions is March 31, 2022.
The purpose of this contest is to celebrate simple, unique observations and questions from both students and teachers. Science often begins with a simple, unique but puzzling observation or a question. Yet, school students as well as teachers are seldom given this opportunity in our schools. The idea behind this contest is to provide them with this enriching opportunity and celebrate the process of science rather than just the results. Prizes are also offered.
To register, fill this form. For any further clarifications, you can reach out to the organizers at firstname.lastname@example.org