Science Education for Children
Learning Investigative Skills as a means of developing an
interest in science for primary school children
This section is about developing and
encouraging curiosity in children so that they learn to ask questions
about the world as a prelude to learning the principles of scientific
Observation and questioning skills
are the most essential tools for encouraging pupils to take an interest
Observing the world in which we live
and formulating questions about those observations, could be said to be
the basis of all scientific discovery.
"If you don't start
with a good question, then you don't know what you are trying to find
A simple observation of frost on an autumn
morning leads to questions about heat
and cold, phase changes in water (solid,
liquid and vapour states). If wee go on to ask 'why does
temperature drop at night?' We then start to learn about the
solar system, and of course as the
frost has formed on rose hips questions arise about what they are for,
and we are learning about life cycles and
Once you learn the skills of asking good
questions, it is difficult to stop!
The more interesting the
book looks the better - something theatrical will generate more interest
"The important thing is not to stop questioning.
Curiosity has its own reason for existing."
Why are slugs and snails slimy? This raises
questions about movement
other forces). Experiment by
pressing your fingers onto a table and pushing them along, Now wet your
fingers and discover how friction is reduced. The slime also makes it
more difficult for predators to eat them (life
cycles and food chains) and that
slime does not taste nice. Anyone want to experiment?
Is the moon made of green cheese and is
there a man in it and does a big space giant eat it so that it shrinks
and then grows back again?
Silly questions are just as useful and more
fun, because after we have all laughed and relaxed, we can find out
what's really going on each month with the lunar cycle
"I can calculate the motions of the heavenly
bodies, but not the madness of people."
Science Teaching Resources
Getting Children Interested in
Science by learning to ask good questions
A great way to get children to take an interest in science, is not to
mention the word science in the first place, and to simply ask children to
think of questions about the world.
This idea came as a result of a theatre show for schools based on the
science curriculum key stage 1 and 2 called 'Footprints in the Sky'.
Despite drawing all its material directly from the science curriculum, the
show never mentioned science, and instead followed the adventures of one
Will B Curious, who had been given a 'Book of Questions' by none other
than Mr Willy Why-what-when -where-how-who.
The 'Book of Questions' is a book of questions and riddles, that children
get involved in without ever realising that they are discovering science.
After the show children are encouraged to create their own Book of
Questions as a class exercise.
The point of getting children to create a book of questions is to let the
children express what they want to know, and then for the teacher to
direct the investigation towards scientific enquiry, relevant to their
stage of education. It is often a good idea to ask them to bring a
question the next day about something they saw on the way home from
school. This also has another advantage in that it asks pupils to observe,
another pre-requisite to science education.
Asking Good Questions
There are a few rules:
Questions should be about the natural world around them.
Questions should begin with words like Why, what, when, where, how, who,
what, which, etc.
Questions about human behaviour are not allowed eg Why do people fight
Questions must not be about God. (God is not a subject for science
The questions can be about anything in the world, and although the natural
world works best for some aspects of science, other questions will work
just as well.
A Book of Questions
The next thing is to get a book to fill with questions - if it looks like
interesting book, so much the better
Children's questions are then written in the Book of Questions. Anything will
do and it doesn't even have to be all that sensible. Let them have free
rein on this one.
Questions that children have asked in past sessions include:
'Why are slugs slimy, why do parachutes stop you killing yourself when you
jump out of an aeroplane, why do leaves fall off trees in autumn, why do
my brothers feet pong, what is frost, and (of course), do boys fart more
The more amusing the questions the better, because children find the
answers more interesting.
After that it is a simple matter of investigating the question, doing some
experiments, asking more questions, and with a bit of skill from the
teacher, relating it back to learning science.
It is important for the teacher to ensure that whatever the answer to a
question, the answer leads to another question. So if there is a question
about why a fish doesn't drown in water, this leads to lots of other
questions, not only about how fish breathe, but about the nature of water,
the water cycle, solids, liquids and gasses and so on.
It doesn't really matter what the initial question is, as the
investigation will take its own course. The important thing is that the
initial question came from children.
So what can we learn from parachute jumps?
Let's make it more interesting. Suppose that a pilot of a light aircraft
had to bale out over a tropical rainforest in a remote part of the world.
The force of gravity pulls him down to
Earth, but the drag of the air due to
friction, and the
buoyancy of the atmosphere slows him down
so that he can make a safe landing in a convenient clearing.
(lots of work on forces here).
How else did the atmosphere keep him alive?
The same air that kept him alive by slowing him down, also supplied
oxygen. We need oxygen to breathe (life
processes), and what is the oxygen? Now we can learn about
gasses, liquids and solids and the
composition of air.
Having landed in the clearing he finds his GPS doesn't work, so how is he
going to go in the right direction? He uses as compass of course and now
we learn about magnetism.
Being in a rain forest there is a lot to talk about in terms of
life processes, food chains, and the
environment, and there is a lot of
rain too, so we can talk about the water cycle.
As he trecks through the jungle he keeps track of the days by the changing
phases of the moon (solar system).
He obtains water by squeezing it
from moss (absorbency) and he makes
use of other properties of materials
such as spring traps from branches to catch small animals, and a hard
stone to crush vegetation before eating it. And so his adventure becomes a
great opportunity to keep asking questions that lead to other questions,
which can relate back to scientific enquiry and learning.
Of course it is not essential to take a single question to such lengths,
but once you start following questions it is difficult not to. A simple
question about rain can only be answered in the context of the atmosphere,
the water cycle, phase changes, the sun and solar system, and so on, so it
is important to learn not to compartmentalise science topics as ultimately
they all interrelate.
"It is in fact nothing short of a miracle that the modern methods of
instruction have not yet entirely strangled the holy curiosity of inquiry;
for what this delicate little plant needs more than anything, besides
stimulation, is freedom. It is a very grave mistake to think that the
enjoyment of seeing and searching can be promoted by means of coercion and
a sense of duty."
© Copyright M Rawlinson
2012 - All Rights Reserved
Why does a hot air balloon go up in the air?
Resources and ideas for teaching science to primary school children
"I have no special
talents. I am only passionately curious."
The Book of Questions that Will takes with him
on his travels
Why is salad and fresh food good for
us and why do slugs like to eat it too, and why is lettuce green
and tomatoes are red and why are apples red and green and why are
leaves always green and ..?
“Judge a man by his questions rather than by his
A simple question about an everyday
activity develops into questions about many aspects of science and
How does a pink blossom turn into an
apple and why does a tree have to make blossoms first - why can't
it just make apples?
Why does a dandelion look a bit like
the moon, or does it look more like frost? Or does it look more
like a firework? (I don't know but its an interesting thing to talk about
and you never know what might come up
Explosions can be fun but we must not
lose sight of the fact that science is about observation, asking
good questions, and above all, a sense of wonder about the world.