Learning About Science v/s Learning to Do Science (or Mathematics, or History, or Philosophy…)

This is from a Grade 6 science textbook, on different pages of the same chapter:

“Mushrooms are fungi.”
“Fungi are microorganisms.”
“You cannot see microorganisms with the naked eye.”

The consequence of putting these statements together would be this - You cannot see mushrooms with the naked eye. 

What would you in this situation? Would you tell your teacher that the textbook is wrong? Is it even possible for the textbook to be wrong? How would your teacher react if you told them that what is given in the textbook is wrong? Without the ability to think critically, would you be able to pick this mistake out from the textbook?

Textbooks as a Source of Information

Most of us use textbooks as a means to learn. Many textbooks are boring- they have loads of text, possibly printed in boring colours that hurt your eyes. There are some textbooks that have bright pictures, colours and activities. You may find these slightly more tolerable. However, a deeper question remains – what are you learning from a textbook?

Let us talk about a science textbook – we have probably read a lot in it about the environment, the plants and animals in it, and how they interact with each other. You may have also read a few things about how the human body works. Or about the laws of motion, or how atoms and molecules interact with each other in different ways.

Given all the information that is packed into textbooks, it’s quite natural to believe that humans know all there is to know about the world. You may also think that to be able to make new discoveries, you need to be a scientist. While that may usually be the case with regards to making a contribution to our collective knowledge, everyone can learn the art and craft of constructing knowledge in various disciplines.

Learning to 'Figure it Out'

What is unique to scientists, mathematicians, philosophers, historians, etc. is their ability to create knowledge.  In textbook activities, a question is asked, and an experiment is often given to you. The results of those experiments are also predicted by writers. Then, an explanation of the result is given to you, which you are expected to remember to write in your exam, or for a project. 

Compare this with a question that you think of when you’re taking a walk in the park – you notice that your shadow is in a different direction from when you went to school in the morning. What if nobody told you why the position of your shadow changes through the day? Would you be able to find the answer out yourself? If yes, how would you do that?

Science allows us to understand the world around us. Thinking like a scientist firstly involves staying curious and asking questions. Once you have a burning question, it requires knowing how to find your own answer to it. Would you need to design an experiment? Or observe things around you carefully? What would you observe and why? Once you have a few answers, take a hard look at them, and question your own findings. Check for contradictions like the one at the top of this page. Your answers might lead you to ask many more interesting questions, and so by doing science, you become a real student of it.

How can Inquire help you?

The ability to actually do science is taught in universities to graduate students. Learning the practices is often a result of osmosis from graduate advisors.
Our goal at Inquire is to develop the ability to do science, along with mathematics, philosophy, and so on, in school students. 

Learning to do science can help you figure out faulty arguments that you come across in the news or advertisements. Learning these methods in school will not only give you an edge in your academic pursuits, but it also contributes to you becoming a more careful and responsible citizen. Inquire is here to help you take a step in that direction.

To find out more about our workshops, visit www.inquire.education/workshops.

This blog post was written by Aditi Ahuja.

Aditi Ahuja is an amateur philosopher, Urdu poetry enthusiast and Bharatnatyam dancer who is motivated to make school education more meaningful. A Sindhi-Punjabi brought up in Chennai, she comes out of her world of ideas only because she has to. She wants to help create communities of bright, young learners who ask questions without inhibitions, have the abilities to find their own answers, and help others cultivate such habits of mind with kindness and compassion. In the final stages of completing her Master’s degree in Elementary Education from TISS Mumbai, through these workshops, Aditi offers to help learners merge their innate curiosity with a love for learning.