Asking Questions and Watching Worms

Curiosity. Is that a word you associate with active STEM learning? Have you ever noticed how curious three year olds can be? Do you think most three year olds have the potential to be great scientists? I do. They are good observers, and they ask a lot of questions. It isn’t hard to engage preschoolers in active learning, but it can be another story in middle school. Why is that?

Have you ever noticed that you can tell how patient a parent is with a three year old by how fast they walk together? As a busy Mom, I often found myself hurrying my son along. But when we slowed down and let his curiosity set the pace, we would see the world in a whole new way. A worm crossing the sidewalk was a drama to sit and watch. In the springtime, he would root for the worms and chase those mean robins out of our yard. He was always curious about worms.

So what is it about middle schoolers? Do we need to slow down in order to let them be curious? I think so. Just like busy parents, I think we push middle school students – not to hurry along, but rather we push them to find the right answer. Try switching things around in your middle school program and focus on asking questions rather than finding answers.

What happens if you spend three days focusing on questions? The person with the best question after school gets their snack first. We can play basketball for 10 more minutes if everyone in the group can come up with a unique question about basketballs. What is inside a basketball? Why does it bounce better than a volleyball?

I think after just three days, you will see a difference in your middle school students. They will start sounding like three year olds – asking questions about everything. When this happens, your students will rediscover their curiosity. And just maybe, science afterschool will be fun again, like watching a worm cross the sidewalk. How exactly does a worm move?

Here is an idea – try making glurch or oobleck with middle schoolers, then challenge them to fill up a wall with questions about the substance. Do they need answer the questions? If they want to, but sometimes asking a good question is enough.