Discovering Science Through Play

Take a moment to think about how play and science are the same process.  The person playing observes things around him and might mimic what he sees.  He discovers about the world through play.  When rules are added to play, the process becomes a game.

“Uncertainity is celebrated in play,” Beau Lotto, a neuroscientist said in his TED Talk entitled, “Science is for everyone, kids included.”

Lotto drew the conclusion that science and play are parallel processes.  He wanted to test his theory by conducting a science experiment with children.  However, no one would fund his research.   Funders said small children could not make useful contributions to science while teachers feared their students couldn’t do it.

That did not stop Beau from trying.  He teamed up with a local school and more than 25 children scientists, ages 8-10.  He posed questions to the children and asked them to develop their own.  He provided the child scientists with latitude to develop their own experiment.

The children came up with an idea to research bees.  The specific question the children wanted to understand was, “Do human and bees solve complex problems in the same way?”

Amy O’Toole, one of the youngest scientists published, shared about the experiment.   “We wanted to know if bees could also adapt themselves to new situations.”

The kids developed a game/ experiment to determine how bees would respond.

Amy was quick to point out, “No one had done this before, including adults.”

The children conducted observations and recorded data.  Like scientists, they also wrote a report of their findings.  It included the traditional introduction, methods, results and discussion.  However, the results were presented a bit different than a traditional scientific paper.

Lotto said he simply recorded their words.  The children scientists began the report using, “Once upon a time.”  When the answer was unveiled the kids added the words, “duh duh duuuhhhh” into their report.

When the paper was sent for consideration of publication, the results were harsh.  It was rejected numerous times over a two year period.  Finally, Dale Purves from Duke University and a member of the National Academy of Science, read it and commented, “This is the most original scientific paper I have read … and certainly deserves wide exposure.”

The paper was later chosen as the “Editor’s Choice” in Science Magazine and can be downloaded.

“This is what science offers us,”  Lotto explained.  “It offers the possibility to step into uncertainty through the process of play.”

Amy added that the experiment allowed her to see that science was much more than a “boring subject.”

She explained, “A small question can lead to a big discovery.”

© Let’s Talk Kids, 2014