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Developing Scientific Thinking in Children

How often has your child spared a pen by not taking its parts apart? You could say that they do that to pens or any other objects because they do not know what they are actually used for. But then, it is also possible that they know the use of the objects and are curious to learn what is making the objects work the way they do. Either way, the curiosity evidences point to children’s capability to think scientifically.

It is the responsibility of the parents/teachers to hone children’s scientific thinking capability to help them develop a thorough understanding of whatever they deal with. But for that, we need to understand what scientific thinking is. Taking the example of a pen, you could say that scientific thinking is about being able to find the reason behind its working/use. No matter what route you take, you will need to know what a pen is widely used for and how you want to use it. When you know these details and understand the gap between the two, it will be easier for you to come up with other questions that could lead you to understand the feasibility of what you want to achieve. It is important that we lead children into assessing to understand not only science concepts but also those that do not seem “sciency” to them.

An important pre-requisite to develop scientific thinking is to keep an open mind. To make children achieve that, you may provide them with various activities that have the same objectives. This is to make them understand that a result can be achieved through different methods. Only when one is able to accept that can he/she see science in everything. And then, you need to kindle the children’s curiosity to explore the working of the world around them. What can you do for that? Well, you may end your activities with open-ended questions. A repeated exposure to this kind of scenarios is sure to make children think out-of-the-box and even learn by making several mistakes.

Observation skill is also an important pre-requisite to be able to think scientifically. When you introduce a task to children, they might feel excited to plunge and play around with the materials. However, they should develop the tendency to first look closely at objects, by noticing them from different viewpoints. It might not be easy for you to explain it to them and make them follow your instructions. So, what you can do is, before introducing a task, ask leading questions that are built on from their earlier learning and lead to exploring the purpose the following task. You may even lead the children into coming up with questions that they have at the end of a task and design your next activity based on the answer for their question. But then, you must not reveal the answer but make them find the answer from the activity.

A good observation could also entail a detailed comparison between things. However, whenever the children are unable to compare, you need to come up with comparison questions for them to think that way. For example, you could make them compare how a ball point pen is different from an ink pen — in terms of the resources put to use, the way they should be handled and why, etc. This will provide additional cues to children on what aspects they should pay attention to

Another important skill for scientific thinking is to be able to sort and organise things based on their features. Children will be able to do this only after they have a clear understanding of the features of objects, which they gain through observation and comparison. So, once a child learns that an ink pen uses ink and not a refill, the next time ‘ink’ is mentioned to him/her, he/she will picture it in association with an ink pen.

As explained earlier, providing children with open-ended questions will come handy in making them think differently and, thereby, streamline their thought process. To that effect, prediction would also help. Let us first understand what prediction entails. It is the process of speculating based on prior knowledge of an object. So, children are bound to get better at prediction through experience. The next time a child wonders aloud when an ink pen would not work, make him/her indulge in handling a pen to explore the reason. As it is evident, prediction leads into experimentation. You may follow as many ways as you can think of to make children wonder and experiment.

An experiment could have an open-ended result but evaluation, which is the next progression towards scientific thinking, is to find out how a result is true for an experiment. If you make children perform an experiment to find out which angles an ink pen would not work in, evaluating their findings would mean to go deeper into the methods they used. You could evaluate several other factors as well, such as the kind of ink that was used, the surface on which the children tried to write using the pen, etc. The idea is to find out the factors that could have led to the finding of a result.

Once children develop the ability to evaluate their own finding, you could say they are ready to be able to apply their knowledge. You could then encourage them to graduate to play around with other materials, however, by keeping an open mind. You could even introduce them to experiments and evaluations that would help them get a better understanding of their surroundings.