A leaf or stem or both or neither – are we true scientists to tell?

A leaf or stem or both or neither – are we true scientists to tell?

I was thrilled when asked to be part of a local district’s science and engineering K12 curriculum review this month, and there was one particular incident that stood out from our 3-day review, which entailed:

Day 1 – reviewing the actual curriculum from K through 12. There were just under 10 of us on the committee, so we took the divide and conquer approach and I was psyched to dive into K-5.

Day 2 – best day ever. I observed the outdoors with field journals in Kindergarten. I built circuits in 3rd grade. We tested the conductive properties of various materials in 2nd grade. And finished off with leaf rubbings in 1st grade. I ducked into 6 classrooms all in and it was simply a blast!

Day 3 — wrap up. We had to pull together all of our observations from the classroom visits, parent and teacher meetings, and student interactions…then throw it into a final report to hand back to the district.

Out of those 3 very busy days, my favorite moment was in the 2nd grade on Day 2. Among the committee, we talked a lot about open-ended scientific discovery and how to really encourage students of the district to continue to ask questions about the world around them and feel comfortable developing their own ideas. This was exhibited in many pockets throughout the school, one of which was in the 2nd grade. As I sat down at a table with various types of leaves, I watched as students identified which part of the plant the leaves were – leaf, stem, root, flower, or seed – and why. One of the students was adament that this station was for stems. I asked him why – knowing full well it was intended to be leaves, and a couple of his peers were already writing the explanation for leaves. But this boy wouldn’t budge, and he proceeded to show me how all of the stems extended through the leaves so it must be the stem station. No matter which angle I asked it, he had a very clear explanation on why the station was for stems and didn’t care that everyone else said “leaves” – it was wonderful. We still have untainted minds that can come up with explanations for their observations and be confident enough in the process. Isn’t that what science is all about?