I wonder ...

Paul Andersen

I discovered something peculiar while drinking a beer on my deck last summer. The bubbles in my beer accelerated as they moved from the bottom of the pint glass to the top. I used my phone to record the bubbles in slow motion and used motion-tracking software to measure the acceleration. Each bubble would start slowly from the bottom of the glass and then accelerate to join the others in the foam at the top.

I wondered why the bubbles in the beer were accelerating.

Resist the temptation to Google the answer to this question. This is an exercise in wondering and looking up answers on the Internet will defeat the purpose. You will also be underwhelmed and confused by the information available online. I want to know what you think, not what the internet thinks. Give yourself time to think about the bubbles. Sketch out your ideas and share them with others. Encourage them to do the same. Work together to come up with a shared explanation for the accelerating bubbles. This works very well using cocktail napkins at your local drinking establishment. Welcome to the wonderful world of scientific modeling. Welcome to wondering.

As a science teacher, I discovered early on that the quickest way to shut down wondering is to explain the phenomenon. Think back on your own science classes. If they were anything like mine, they were nothing but explanation. The source of all knowledge was twofold: teacher and textbook. The labs were foregone conclusions we would follow like steps in a cookbook. Even the walls of the room were covered in scientific models that had been created by someone else.

Explanation is an important part of science education but it should not be the only part of science education. When given first, explanation can shut down curiosity and turn students off to the open-ended wonder of science.Starting with good questions is the easiest way to foster wonder in the science classroom. Questions engage each student’s innate curiosity and lead to meaningful, open-ended laboratory experiences. Good questions also promote internal reflection. Constructing new knowledge requires addressing knowledge already in place. I present groups of students with (non-beer-related) questions like the bubble example above. They take turns sharing their ideas and asking questions for clarity. The goal of this exercise is not to find the one correct explanation but rather to explore all possible explanations. This exercise is then repeated at the class level, and leads to creating a shared model of our understanding. Explanation comes much later.

Paul Andersen is a former science teacher and current educational consultant living in Bozeman, MT. In addition to teaching Paul has created hundreds of science tutorials that can be viewed on his Bozeman Science YouTube channel. When he is not working, Paul enjoys spending time with his family, and skiing and hiking in the mountains around Bozeman.