Why is it science exists? How is it that we know what we know about the world around us, the inside of our own heads and the edges of the universe?
It all starts with curiosity and wonder. Curiosity has taken us further in our understanding than any human could have imagined 1,000 years ago. Oh, and that brings us to imagination. Now what did Einstein say about imagination? Something about it being more important than knowledge. “For knowledge is limited to all we now know and understand, while imagination embraces the entire world.”
Curiosity… Imagination… And of course a keen eye for observation, because it is when we observe something intriguing, or experience it with any other one of our senses, that we wonder about it and start to imagine how and why it is what it is. These are the magic ingredients to begin the recipe of scientific endeavor; observation, curiosity, wonder and imagination. And these ingredients are therefore a crucial part of scientific practice yesterday, today and tomorrow.
The Next Generation Science Standards shine a spotlight on scientific practice. The Standards suggest that HOW we teach children science is as important as WHAT we teach them. The eight ‘Science and Engineering Practices’ included in the Standards are considered to be just as important as the content being taught, because it is as vital to emulate scientific practice as it is to learn about current knowledge. I think Einstein would agree.
The first of the eight Science Practices is ‘Asking Questions’, which arise out of the magic ingredients of observation, curiosity, wonder and imagination. This is why the Standards suggest that we begin a science unit with engaging students in observing phenomenon and asking questions about it.
What might this process look like in the classroom? Art gives us a creative way to envision how the practice might unfold.
For example, visual art is wonderful for encouraging students to observe more closely. Bring any phenomenon into the learning environment – be it photos of Earth from space, intriguing films of strange events, or real rocks or animal skeletons – and use visual art as a means to encourage students to look beneath the surface of that phenomenon. Having to engage with the phenomenon over an extended time frame, and creating visual art pieces out of their observations, will lead very naturally to students asking a plethora of questions about it.
Theater can also be artfully employed. After observing a phenomenon and collecting a long list of plausible and implausible questions, students work in groups to script a debate, comedy sketch or science bulletin about which questions are the most important. In this way, not only do the students engage creatively with the questions, but they also practice discernment and objectivity about them.
As a dance and movement artist, I love the opportunity to take questions that students have asked and find creative ways to express these questions through movement. In a previous post, I wrote about a project where we asked questions and wondered curiously about imaginary answers, expressing these ideas through dance.
Art encourages us to take time over something, to stay with it and let it be what it is. Using art to allow time for questions to arise and to not be in such a hurry to answer them (and answer them correctly), takes the pressure off. It allows us to dig more deeply in the wondering, questioning and imagining processes. Once we have harvested the bounty of curiosity and questions, then we can shape that bounty into a learning journey focused on engaging in further scientific practices to find meaningful answers to the questions.