On Becoming a Scientist
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Thinking Like a Scientist Activity 1

The most beautiful thing we can experience is the mysterious. It is the source of all true art and science.

--Albert Einstein

Why Ask Why?


Objective

Students will experience the importance of curiosity in science.


About the Activity

One of the most fundamental characteristics of a scientist is curiosity. Most scientists, regardless of discipline, constantly question the world around them--Why is the sky blue? What happens if I mix these two ingredients? How do people move? Will bacteria grow if the air is heated? How can this disease be cured? These types of questions and the search for their answers form the basis of all science.

In this activity, students will learn to ask questions about items that they probably take for granted--pencils, leaves, fingers, hair, light bulbs, and so forth. Then they will use their creative thinking to ask even more questions about the first questions.


Materials

For each group:

  • Familiar object, such as a pencil or pen, a piece of hair, a leaf, light bulb, etc.
  • each student:
  • Pencil or pen
  • Paper


Instructions

 

  1. Divide the class into groups of three or four. Give each group an object to examine.
  2. Ask the students to study the object closely and to think of at least twenty questions about the object. For example, if students are looking at a pencil, possible questions might include "Why does a pencil have six straight sides?", "What is the black material inside the pencil?", "Where does the material come from?", and "How is it placed inside the pencil?" Have each student write his or her questions on a piece of paper. You may want to remind students that there are no "right answers" to this exercise--instead, they should write down any question that comes to mind.
  3. After students have completed their questions, ask the students in each group to compare their lists. Working together, the students should choose one or two questions from the lists that particularly interest the group. Then they should brainstorm to come up with secondary questions that might help them answer the primary question or questions they chose. For example, suppose students choose the question "Why does a pencil have six straight sides?" as their primary question. Secondary questions might include "What would happen if the pencil had five sides or four sides?", "What would happen if a pencil had rounded sides?", "What would happen if the pencil were a cube instead of a cylinder?", or "How would the pencil be sharpened if it were another shape?" Again, encourage students to be as creative as possible with their questions.
  4. Have students brainstorm a possible answer for each secondary question.
  5. Have each group select two or three primary and secondary questions and answers to share with the rest of the class.


Discussion Questions

 

  1. When you compared your list of questions with others in the group, did all the lists have the same types of questions? What could account for the similarities and differences between the lists?
  2. Why do you think you were asked to create two sets of questions? What is the purpose of the secondary questions?
  3. Think about one question from your list that you would like to answer. What steps could you take to answer that question? Do you think there is more than one "right" way in which to find the answer? Why or why not?
  4. The physicist Albert Einstein wrote "The most beautiful thing we can experience is the mysterious. It is the source of all true art and science." What do you think he might have meant?



Activity 2: Under Observation


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