The Conversation Monthly
Wonderstruck by Science
“Life is at its best is an adventure, a voyage of discovery. What could be more gratifying than to discover, describe and explain some basic principle that no human being has ever understood before? This is the stuff of true science.”
—Peter Doherty, The Beginner’s Guide to Winning the Nobel Prize
(Leigh Bortins, The Conversation, 109)
The more I study science, the more I am in awe of our Creator. My Challenge B class recently completed our science fair and it was truly remarkable to see the many facets of science come to life. The students’ science presentations included an array of topics such as studies in baseball statistics, guitar pickups, mussel shell pollutants, baking methods, and a Pinocchio’s arm lie-detecting test. It was fascinating to witness the students’ passions connected to their studies in science.
I wish I could have studied science as it is pursued in Challenge classes! In the beginning of the year, our Challenge B class looked at the greats of science history—starting with Hippocrates and working our way through time to learn about Linnaeus, Newton, Curie, Einstein, and more. Now that our science fair is complete, we are diving into the great conversations sparked by the evolution vs. creation debate. Not only are the students learning to think critically through our discussion of the book Defeating Darwinism, but they are learning how to defend their faith too.
My memories of learning science are of getting a giant textbook and never deviating from it for an entire year. Don’t get me wrong, textbooks can be interesting. Right now, my son in Challenge I has been studying the physical science textbook by Apologia. A key difference is that his studies include many chances to have great conversations both at home and in community rather than being lectured at for hours on end as I was. Yesterday, we discussed Newton’s Universal Laws of Gravitation. I have to say, our conversations and the questions they raise sometimes exhaust me. I’m not sure I can fully wrap my mind around how the gravitational force between two masses is inversely proportional to the square of the distance between two objects. Huh? Again, there is a lot to be in awe about in science.
As we walk through Leigh Bortins’ book, The Conversation, it offers a great reminder that we don’t have to have all the answers for tough subjects. In The Conversation Monthly series, we have been using the Five Canons of Rhetoric as our basis for discussion and working through each subject our high school students study. If you need a refresher on the Five Canons, read the previous article called “Drawing Out the Wonder” here.
In Mrs. Bortins’ discussions in Chapter Six on science, she encourages wonder and delight to always be the catalyst behind the rhetorical study of science:
If we do not encourage students to use their imaginations when they study science just as much as they do when they study art, it will be difficult to inspire the next generation of innovative scientists and engineers (The Conversation, 110).
I love thinking about science as art because it truly is! When I look at the structure of a cell, I cannot help but recognize God as the master designer and architect of life. As parents, it can be tempting to feel as if we are inadequate in our ability to study the advanced sciences like chemistry, biology, and physics. But what is required is primarily a willingness to ask good questions and explore ideas together.
Like me, you may find yourself exhausted by questions you struggle to answer, or you may feel like you are swimming in the deep end of the pool for the first time. However, I find that even when we don’t fully understand something, the process of “chewing” on difficult ideas ultimately creates invaluable life skills. My hope is that our children’s generation will be the ones who aren’t afraid of hard questions. They will be the generation to pursue learning with an unquenchable curiosity and a tenacity to search out the truth of an idea. In other words, to never stop being in awe of the wonder of God.
Putting the Five Canons of Rhetoric to Work with Science
Let’s take a look at how we might apply these tools for the investigation of science at home. There are many applications from a science fair project to a research paper. For practical purposes, let’s look at how you might work through the daily science textbook with the Five Canons.
Invention – What interests you?
If you are working through a science textbook weekly, you may want to take turns discussing the big ideas. Which ideas captivate your students? What resources might they need to help them understand these ideas better? What big questions do their studies generate?
Arrangement – How have you organized your ideas?
Your students may be outlining their chapters from the science textbook—this is an excellent way to practice arrangement and develop the ability to discern the most important facts. Are their facts organized in a way that aids understanding and leads them to a sound conclusion? Can they outline the concepts in such a way that makes sense of the big ideas and key insights? Are they following the steps of the scientific method when testing an idea?
Elocution – Are you using precise language to explain your ideas?
Science is a study in precision. Learning to use the specific language to fully explain scientific ideas is important. Also, referencing the stylistic techniques in scientific writings and articles will help students be able to articulate their thinking well. When referencing a science textbook, being able to understand key vocabulary is essential so students are able to use it with confidence in their writing and expression of ideas. What precise scientific language will aid them in understanding?
Memory – What needs to be memorized in order to practice good science?
How are you stocking the storehouses of the mind? In my earlier example of our discussion of Newton’s Law of Universal Gravitation, we needed to first memorize Newton’s Three Laws of Motion before we could understand his Three Laws of Universal Gravitation. From there, we had to fully master them in order to complete the calculations needed to find the distance between two masses. Most studies in science build upon each other, so look for important foundational concepts and challenge your student to commit them to memory.
Delivery – Can you articulate what you have learned?
I think this is the most enjoyable part of studies in science. It can be as simple as asking your student to “explain the idea back” or as formal as a student leading the discussion for a class. It’s fun to take the newly learned ideas and apply them to questions your student comes up with. Yesterday my son ran with the universal gravitation idea and we had a crazy discussion about what would happen if two Mars planets were placed on opposite ends of the earth. This is a super fun “what if” sort of discussion that invites your students to see if they truly understand what they are learning.
Ready to be Wonderstruck
Even though science can be a heady subject, there can be so much adventure in the learning. Don’t miss out on the chance to be in “wonder” with your child.
As parents, if we can set the
tone for joy, our children
will follow suit. Even if they
aren’t in awe of it all, the
memories of days spent
exploring a topic with
someone they love will
never be lost.
Read Along in The Conversation
Read Chapter Six – Science
- Where are you seeing wonder in your science studies?
- What are some good questions that can help your student to see science as art?
- What resources do you need to strengthen your studies in science?
- What people in your midst can you call upon to help inspire a further love of the wonder of science?
- If you are fearful about tackling difficult studies in science, what are some easy things to do to move forward anyway?
- How can you help inspire wonder in your child with science?
Photo courtesy of Kristine Godeaux