The need to arouse curiosity in students and the importance of scientific thinking

Have you ever given a deeper thought on why objects around you look and behave the way they do? Why does time flow into the “future” and not into the “past”? Where does the sun go at night and why does the moon not show up during days? How many of you know that our sun is an average sized star and that there are billions and billions of sunlike stars high up in the sky?

As a kid I grew up having such wide varieties of intriguing questions to which I never got a sensible answer from anybody all I was told was I would learn them in my school as I grow up. However, I grew up learning that I had more questions with little to no answers but this time I was told that I would learn more when I go to university. I realized this approach was employed by most adults/teachers in my life because they didn’t know how to respond to my curiosity. This approach has primarily got two
main disadvantages:

1) Students lose the motivation to ask questions and think differently.
2) Most often they tend to have the impression that asking such intriguing questions is not welcomed.

So, who is the culprit in this case? It turns out that we all are. Knowingly or unknowingly our way of addressing the curiosities of children is the culprit! Instead, we must realize the fact that each and every question a child poses is scientific in nature. Therefore, avoiding questions from children and rerouting their original way of thinking means suppressing the scientific thought process of children.

For instance, one day I was on a bus back home when I heard a child ask her parents why the color of the road is black and not any other color to which the parents said that things are the way they are! Even though the child kept on questioning her parents, they did not show any enthusiasm to keep the conversation going. This could have been an opportunity to give the child an answer to elicit more questions. In telling the child the material used to make the roads is black could have resulted in the child asking about the material used in making the road.

The scientific answer is that it is because the material absorbs all the light that falls on it and emits none the same reason as to why dark rooms are black. You can see these answers prompts us to ask more questions, like, why then are trees mostly green? Yes, they do have chlorophyll which gives them the green colour, but the most fundamental answer has to do with the fact that leaves absorb all the other colors and emits only green light. The same reasoning could be used to answer why different objects around us have different colors! This is the language of Physics which is based on scientific and logical arguments. Isn’t it interesting?

Building a scientific temper

Little children are not the only ones asking these questions. Albert Einstein, the famed theoretical physicist, once asked “Is there the moon when no one is looking at it”? Though this may sound silly at first, giving it a second thought would simply baffle us! We see something when the light gets reflected of its surface and enters our eye which is then processed by our brain to give us the impression of the object’s visual. If we are not looking at the moon how then could the light from the moon enter our eyes to create the visual of the moon? Does that mean the moon is not there?

Had a child asked this same question, most of us would most likely dismiss it. Have you then wondered how many such intriguing questions of our kids did we simply discard assuming them to be senseless? It is no wonder why there is a common fear of science amongst students, especially in subjects such as Physics. Thankfully, these attitudes and perspectives can change. As Albert Einstein said a century back,

A large part of our attitude toward things is conditioned by opinions and emotions which we unconsciously absorb as children from our environment. In other words, it is traditionbesides inherited aptitudes and qualitieswhich makes us what we are. We but rarely reflect how relatively small as compared with the powerful influence of tradition is the influence of our conscious thought upon our conduct and convictions.

These words still hold true even in this 21st century where traditional way of thinking still plays a dominant role among us, mainly because of the way we were brought up, which in turn greatly influence the way children around us think. Therefore, parents and guardians play a significant role in awakening and supporting the creative expression and knowledge of children doing so will not only help the child to develop a scientific temper but will also help the adults in their lives. Having a scientific temper implies the ability to view the outside world from an entirely new perspective one begins to automatically ask intriguing questions about his/her surroundings and tries
to come up with an answer that is both reasonable and scientific.

Let us build a brighter future by inspiring our kids to be scientifically sound and active by motivating them to ask questions that stem from their curious brains. It does not matter if we do not have answers for everything; what really matters is that little nudge we could give to our children that will keep them going forward with their intriguing thoughts and questions.

Mahith Madhanakumar