Last week, during a session with a Gaelic Parent and Toddler group, I had the good fortune and privilege to observe learning in its purest and most distilled form. What never ceases to fascinate me about this process is that the exact same procedure is followed by all learners, be they babies, primates or Nobel-Prize scientists.
In this case, the young scientist was a six month old boy who sat beside his mum surrounded by objects from a treasure basket. He had at his disposal a toothbrush, a shaving brush, a black enamel mug with a plastic ball inside it, a rubber plug with a length of chain, a small basket, a small teddy and a funnel.
He was initially attracted by the feel of the soft, chewy plug and began waving it about in a delighted manner. Eventually, the length of chain on its other end came into contact with the enamel mug and produced a wonderful, loud, brash and yet nuanced clanging sound which drew the little boy inexorably to the path of scientific discovery, using Accepted Standard Scientific Methodology.
- Observe a Natural Phenomenon and Be Intrigued by it
“Whoa! What was that?! All my senses are in uproar! What a noise!”
- Discern an Apparent Pattern
“Ho! There it goes again! That’s the same sensation we had a minute ago!”
- Look More Closely and begin to Formulate a Hypothesis
“Huh. Seems to me it might be something to do with this thing I’m waving about. Am I causing this noise? How am I doing it?? You know, I think it might be something to do with that cup… so, is it the two of them together that are producing this thrill?”
- Investigate and Experiment to Prove or Disprove Said Hypothesis
“Ok now, let’s see. Wave the plug chain beside my left leg – yep, nothing. Wave it over here, near the cup – yes, yes, there it is, that wonderful noise. Try again. Over here – nothing; over there – bingo! Here – nothing. There – hurray! I think I’m right! Oh, look at that sunlight. What a lovely brightness. Now, where were we? Ah yes. Shake it all about and – yes! The cup makes the noise! I’m still right!”
5. Apply the Seemingly Correct Hypothesis under Different Lab Conditions, Changing One or More Variables to Extend Scientific Understanding
“Let’s pick up the toothbrush. Tricky job but – grunt – I’ve got it. Taste it first, lovely, bristly and chewy, beyond doubt a genuine scientific appliance. Now, if I’m right, this should also produce some kind of effect when combined with the cup in the correct way. Oooh, interesting… not exactly the same sound, but just as pleasing. Try it again. Lovely. And again. You know, I like it so much I could listen to this all day. Shaving brush? Not as good. But just as tasty. Teddy bear? Forget it. Throw that away. Let’s get back to that lovely plug chain for a bit. Now get the toothbrush back. Oh. Wait. Hold on now. What’s this you’re giving me? A drum??? Now, this is exciting. I’m holding my breath. Is it just the cup that thrills me so with its magical sound properties or could there be others??? Oho! What a bang! I love it! So, the rule is this…many objects (though not all), when combined with selected other objects in the right way and with the appropriate amount of force, produce thrilling, audible stimuli!”
6. Stand Back with Pride and Satisfaction and be Congratulated by Your Peers (or Your Mummy)
“Wow. I did some really great work today. I’ve really pushed the boundaries of human understanding. I’ve opened up whole new continents of scientific discovery. You like that, eh? You’re smiling. Yes, I must say I’m pretty pleased with myself.”
7. Write Up Your Findings and Submit to Royal Society
“Ok, maybe I’ll wait with this one. Maybe till I can write. Or hold a pencil. There’s no rush… my time will come, of that I’m sure.”
We may don white lab-coats and an air of superiority but underneath the veneer we are all, big and small, wide-eyed creatures fascinated by our environment, trying to make sense of it and to apply it in ways that benefit and delight us.
Lisa MacDonald, CALA Gaelic Parent & Toddler Development Worker