Curiosity + Kindergarten Future Scientists: Teaching Inquisitive Young Children How to Ask Good Questions

By Flannagan, Jenny Sue; Rockenbaugh, Liesl | Science and Children, December 2010 | Go to article overview

Curiosity + Kindergarten Future Scientists: Teaching Inquisitive Young Children How to Ask Good Questions


Flannagan, Jenny Sue, Rockenbaugh, Liesl, Science and Children


The anticipation was almost killing them; it was written all over their tiny faces. It had been a long wait for them and the children couldn't contain their excitement and curiosity. They wanted to know what would happen today. What would they observe? How would their object change? Yesterday their teacher had told them they would be exploring how change happens. To begin their study of change, their teacher presented them with an ordinary object that most of the children knew right away. Working like scientists, they made observations using their senses and generated lots of cool words to describe their object. When the lesson ended, their teacher told them they would get to observe another one of the same objects tomorrow, but this time it would be different. In her words, it will have undergone some changes! No matter how many questions they gave her throughout the rest of the day, she would not tell them anything about what they would do in science class tomorrow. Even though they had rushed in this morning, their teacher still made them sit for a long 10 minutes before she told them it was time to work like scientists!

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Curiosity is a powerful force, often driving scientists to spend an entire lifetime searching out the answer to one question. Just as scientists thrive on curiosity, so do children (AAAS 1989). Children come to preschool and kindergarten with lots of questions and although they may lack the formal methodology of seeking answers, they can learn how to think and work like a scientist given the right support and guidance by their teacher. Carefully crafted experiences in the early childhood classroom can create learning opportunities for children that allow one curiosity to lead to another. Learning how to find out answers to fascinating questions is what science is all about. In fact, it can be as simple as learning how an ordinary egg can be changed. For the past year, we have worked together to develop science lessons for kindergarten that would allow us to tap into the natural curiosity of children. Using the 5E model of instruction (Bybee et al. 2006), we developed a unit around everyday objects and experiences based on our local and state standards.

Engage With an Egg

The first lesson in the unit began by having students make observations of a simple raw egg. Before we began, we checked each child's record to see whether anyone was allergic to eggs. We also reminded students that we do not eat or taste anything, even familiar food items, in science class. To start the lesson, we had a discussion with our young scientists to find out what they knew about eggs. Had they ever eaten an egg? Did they know where eggs came from? Next, we put the children into smaller groups and gave each group a raw egg. We told students that scientists use words to describe how objects look, feel, smell, and hear using their senses. Working together, we moved through the senses with the exception of taste and asked students to provide us with words that described the egg. To help students, we started by providing sample questions (e.g., What color is the egg? What shape is it? How does it feel?) to guide their thoughts. We recorded the student's ideas on a graphic organizer (Figure 1) and discussed with them how scientists use their senses to collect data or information about the world around them.

Exploring Eggs

After the children made observations of their egg, we asked them if they had any questions about their egg. Boy did they have questions! Many of them wanted to know where we got our egg. They wanted to know what was inside the egg. One little one even asked what it would look and smell like if we cooked our egg! To satisfy their curiosity, we tried to answer as many of their questions by asking them "how could we find out?" For example, to help students find an answer to the question regarding what was on the inside of the egg, when we asked them how we could find out, several students told us we could crack it open.

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