This morning before breakfast, I walked up the hill behind my house with my 11 yr. old to check out her new make-shift ant lab. She walked with notebook and pencil in hand, ahead of me. Still, she turned often to wait while I coaxed the toddler with us to keep the pace. I recognized the ant lab’s layout instantly from a sketch she’d shown me earlier– open roof, six-inch high wood-plank outer walls and cross-walls placed to funnel ants to imported sugar-water.
So, my daughter said and pointed to one corner, that’s where I’ll bury one magnet. And, she pointed at a different corner, that’s where the other magnet will go. I asked her questions, told her the study seemed interesting and we started back home, both satisfied we had done well.
I need to backtrack a bit here.
Last week, a few minutes before we left home to attend classes, this same 11 yr. old asked, Oh, mom. Did you sign my science project proposal? I had not. But she had the paper at hand, ready to sign and a pen to sign it with.
Visually scanning the paper, I asked What’s this?
She said, Oh. We have to turn in our science project topics today. You see, she pointed to the top of the paper I held, there’s the question I will work on. I read, ”Is the direction a plant grows affected by light?” I faced my daughter. She raised her brows.
I started, Darling? but paused to find the right words. I asked how she planned to run her experiment. She explained. Then I let loose, Everyone in the world, including you, knows plants grow towards light. Everyone!
She half-smiled. So, what should I do then? I have to turn this in a few minutes from now and it can’t be late.
I said, Yes. But you can’t turn this in. It isn’t a question a self-respecting scientist would ask. I launched into a mini-lecture on how the scientific process is to catalyze new discoveries, not to serve as an end in itself. She ended up turning in a question she thought interesting– about the possible musicality of pond frogs. We both knew the science teacher would deny this project.
But, I told her, while your teacher is rejecting that question, you buy time to come up with a really great new idea. The science teacher did reject the frog idea. And my daughter did come up with a much better project and re-submitted a question. Neither of us knows the answer to this new question and (as far as we can tell) nobody else (in the entire world) does either. Her new project? ”The effects of increased underground magnetism on red ant colonial patterns.” She’s got six weeks to figure things out and a good plan sketched out. What she does not have, is an answer.
On our walk down the hill this morning, she told me about some of the questions other students had come up with and we talked about those. One student is studying volcanoes ( there’s got to be at least one, right?), another is studying whether fruit floats. But who cares? My daughter knows her question is good and she’s excited she will discover something new— something no one in the world yet knows. Now we’re talking real science– and I couldn’t be happier to see her excited about it!
* Wait. Please stay a little longer: You may have noticed I’ve changed my blog’s look. What do you think about that? Is it better? Worse? In bad-taste? Tantalizing? I’d love to hear your opinion. If you’re new here… I’d still love to hear what you think about my site, creativity…the Universe!