Making a Scientific Discovery: Learning to Appreciate the Process

Discovery Through Accidents

Some of the best discoveries are “accidents” on the way to something else. Take the Super Supercapacitor for example. In an attempt to create one thing, they discovered something that became something else even more spectacular.

We often get so focused on the end goal that we miss the discoveries and learning opportunities on the way. We develop scientific tunnel vision. But it is vital to nurture in ourselves and in our children, enthusiasm for the quest, not just the discovery. And not just in the domain of science. Encouraging an appreciation for ignorance and inspiring passion for the process carries over into many areas in life. The “new thing” is wonderful and exciting and hopefully improves our lives in some way but it is through the process that we learn and grow and discover more amazing things.

Teaching Through The Process

When it comes to parenting and the education of young children, I am a firm believer in rewarding effort. Yes, solutions are important. Yes, correct answers matter. But a child who can demonstrate perseverance in the process and determination on the quest will grow up to be an adult who knows how to learn, an adult who isn’t afraid to fail – over and over again. An adult who will know when someone else is full of shit.

To become critical thinkers, to remain skeptics, we must allow ourselves to be seduced by ignorance. We must not take the easy path of soothing our discomfort over the unknown.

How To Nurture Kids' Scientific Minds

There are many simple things we can do with children to nurture this hunger for the process. Here are some of my favourites:

  • Ask a question in response to a question.
  • Ask seemingly nonsensical “what if” questions. This encourages “out of the box” type thinking. For example, “what would happen if humans had feathers?”
  • Reward children for effort, not just results. In fact, I like to make a bigger deal out of my child’s C that was hard-earned than her A that came easily.
  • Work together on experiments but allowing them to be the primary guiding force.
  • PLAY! Independent play that is not managed or manipulated by adults has shown to be absolutely vital in the creative development, problem solving and frontal lobe development in children.
  • Let children be the teachers. Buy your child a book about something that interests him, then ask him questions that you don’t know the answer to. Encourage him to teach you about the subject without controlling his process. Ask a lot of questions and reassure him that it’s ok to say, “I don’t know”, then seek the answers together online or in books.
  • And possibly the most important: Practice what you teach. Allow your children to observe your processes - including your failures.
Experiments that Failed

11 Experiments that Failed by Jenny Offill, Nancy Carpenter

Here is a great book for young children that highlights the value of mistakes/accidents in the journey of the scientific method.

Check out the book on Amazon

 

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