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Science is a verb

Shaina Maytum
Special to the Daily/Keystone Science School
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“Oooh! Pink handprints!”

“Look, look! Melon rinds! Maybe the gorilla is a vegetarian?”

“I think the gorilla is Sara. She was acting suspicious during lunch.”

Seventy-two fourth-grade students scour the Keystone Science School campus, searching for any and all clues to help explain the hot pink gorilla some claimed to see as their bus pulled in that afternoon. Was it a Keystone Science School staff member playing a trick? Was it their principal? Is there actually a hot pink gorilla on the loose in Keystone?

Campus is in an uproar: Students spot another gorilla near the golf course and tear off in its direction. Later, reined back in, they follow hand-drawn maps to locate an oversized receipt for a pink gorilla costume, newspaper articles about prior hot pink gorilla sightings, a fur sample, even a grainy YouTube video. An oddly shaped pile of rocks, a tennis ball, an old piece of pink flagging tape: Everything becomes possible evidence.

I spend almost every day with kids, and it’s been a long time since I’ve seen children having this much fun. What these would-be sleuths don’t realize, though, is that their excited quest is actually good science. It might sound silly, using a hot pink gorilla to teach the scientific process, but it works. Students took background information (someone saw a hot pink gorilla from the bus) and formulated a question (is the hot pink gorilla real?). By following and piecing together clues (data collection and analysis), they are able to draw conclusions (the hot pink gorilla is a person in a costume) and ask additional questions (are there more hot pink gorillas?). Kids easily conceptualize the steps, and they develop an understanding: data doesn’t always mean graphs and charts, and questions don’t have to be serious to be scientific. Science can be fun, and we all do it all the time.

Perhaps you’re thinking that your days of Bunsen burners and periodic tables are long past, and you don’t “do” much science anymore. But when was the last time you held your hand over the stove to see if it was still on? Or tracked airfares, waiting for prices to drop? Question: When will airfare be the lowest? Hypothesis: One month before my departure date. Data collection: Fares are going up. Data analysis: Better buy that ticket. Conclusion: I should have bought the ticket earlier. Further questions: What if I buy three months in advance next time? Will there be a last minute fare drop right before the flight? Science is a process intuitive to most of us – even if we aren’t naming the steps every time we seek an answer.

The Merriam-Webster dictionary defines “science” as a noun meaning “the state of knowing.” Here at Keystone Science School, we prefer to talk about science as a verb, as something that is done. A “state of knowing” can only be reached by asking questions and pursuing the evidence that will lead to answers.

Or, more often than not, more questions.

Shaina Maytum is a program instructor for school programs at Keystone Science School. For more information, please visit our website: http://www.keystonescienceschool.org or call (970) 468-2098.


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