This is a casual lunch-time conversation between two friends, Riya (R) and Dhruv (D), and an imaginary spirit called Aristotle (A).
R: Hey Dhruv, the lunch bell just rang. Let’s go eat our tiffins, I am very hungry!
D: Alright, just give me a minute. I am finishing my homework for the next class.
R: You should do your homework at home! See, now we have to stay hungry because you were lazy yesterday!
D: I am almost done! Just give me a few seconds.
R waits, trying to perfect a classic Rajnikanth action move. D laughs.
D: You’re never going to master it. Come, let’s eat!
R and D walk to the tree under which they eat lunch every day.
R: Oh, awesome! Mom has packed sambar rice!
D: I have chapati rolls.
R takes a bite and is suddenly upset.
D: What’s wrong with your face?
R: It does not taste like Mom’s sambar! Something seems wrong.
D: Is it because you have a cold?
R: What? I don’t have a cold!
D: Come on, I saw you sneeze 10 times since morning and you are constantly blowing your nose into your handkerchief. Did you not even realise you have a cold?
R has a blank expression on her face.
R: I really don’t think it is because of the cold. Something is wrong with this sambar! Here, you taste it!
D: Why? I am not a big fan of sambar anyway!
R: But you have tasted Mom’s sambar before, so you will know.
D: Know what, Riya? You are blabbering.
R: Look, we both know the original taste of Mom’s sambar. So both of us should be able to tell if this sambar tastes the same as always.
D: Umm.. okay…?
R: You say I have a cold. But you don’t. So you will be able to tell me the answer to my question!
D: Alright, alright! I will taste it.
D tastes the sambar and is trying to think.
D: I think you’re right. It does taste different from usual.
R finishes the rest of the sambar rice and both go back to class.
D: So, did you figure it out?
R: No, I am still trying to practise the move. Rajnikanth is just too good!
D: I am talking about the sambar, silly!
R: Oh that! I forgot to ask mom about it. I’ll do that tonight.
D: What do you think is different though?
R: I don’t know!
D: Hey, didn’t you say your aunt is visiting you?
R: Yeah, Mom’s sister from Thanjavur.
D: Right! Do you think she made your lunch?
R: It’s possible! But both of them learned how to make sambar from their Mom! How could they be different?
D: It is possible that she was trying out something new!
R: Hmm. Maybe a new Sambar powder?
D: Yeah. This is too confusing!
R: Yeah. Never mind.
As R and D open their books and sharpen their pencils, there is a sudden flash of light and a figure appears before them.
R (afraid): Who are you?
A: I am the spirit of Aristotle.
A: Have you not heard of me?
R: Aren’t you the philosopher from ancient Greece, Aristotle?
A: That’s right! I am!
D: Why are you here?
A: I appear with a flash of light every time I find out about children like you giving up after being confused!
R and D cannot believe their ears!
R: WHAT? You know about Mom’s sambar?
A: Yes, I do!
D: Can you help us understand this?
A: That is what I’m here for! Can you explain what is troubling you, once again?
R: Well, yesterday, my Mom’s sambar rice tasted different from usual. Dhruv and I were trying to figure out why this must have happened.
D: I thought it was the cold, but when I tasted the sambar rice, it tasted different to me too.
R: Yes. Then we thought maybe my aunt made my lunch yesterday or it could be that a different sambar powder was used.
A (muttering to himself): That is interesting. You have considered three variables so far. Could there be…
R and D (together): What? What are variables?
A: Riya, what your Mom’s sambar rice tastes like depends on many things, right?
R: Like what?
D: Like the Sambar powder?
A: Exactly! Each of these things is a variable. What this means is that, each variable is like a factor that can change. And when it changes, the final result (in this case, the sambar) changes. In this case, the sambar powder is a variable. When you change from powder A to powder B, the sambar may taste different!
R: I see. How about my cold?
A: Very good. How blocked your nose feels is also a variable. When you are healthy, the sambar tastes a certain way. When you have a cold, it tastes different.
D: But we found out that it was not the cold.
A: I noticed that! You performed a very clever experiment to show that the cold may not be the answer here!
R: An experiment? We didn’t even visit the lab yesterday!
A: A lab? You don’t need a lab to perform experiments! You performed one yesterday. Can you think of what it is?
R: Umm.. I think I understand what you mean now.
D: I don’t get it!
R: Look, we thought that maybe the difference in the taste of the sambar rice was because of my cold. So I asked you to try it, because you don’t have a cold. When both of us thought that the sambar rice tastes different from usual, we concluded it cannot be my cold.
A: Exactly! You looked at three variables- 1) how blocked your nose is; 2) who made the sambar; and 3) the sambar powder used to make the sambar rice. Surely you can think of other variables that can affect how your sambar tastes.
D: Yeah! How hot it is outside, how hot the food is…
R: How long it has been since the food was made, was it kept in a refrigerator or outside…
D: Wow! I wonder how your Mom’s sambar tastes the same every day, even though so many things can affect it!!
A: Indeed! Anyway, my job here is done! Let me go back to the clouds..
R: No, wait! You haven’t given us the answer!
D: Yeah, please stay!
A: My job is not to give you the answers- I cannot help with that!
A: Goodbye, children! I am sure you will figure it out! And if you give up because you’re confused, a flash of light and I will be at your service!
A disappears into the sky, as R and D open their tiffin boxes. R eats her puliogare with great excitement and exclaims!
R: This tastes different too!
This dialogue introduces the concept of variables, an important concept in scientific inquiry. With a little help from Aristotle, Riya and Dhruv unpacked the many variables that could affect the taste of Riya’s sambar. They also began to understand how they can conduct experiments to figure out which variable was at play in this story. The adventures of Riya and Dhruv continue in the next dialogue.
This blog post was written by Rashmi Jejurikar.
Rashmi is an educator, biologist and a crochet enthusiast. Originally from a small town called Aurangabad, her education and research guided her to Pune and then Bangalore. As an educator, Rashmi would like to create a world in which children are not bound by fear of uncertainty or failure, and adults remain children who continue to ask questions and seek answers! In such a world, Rashmi would like to help learners use their minds as playgrounds for nurturing ideas and embracing new experiences.