I helped Tayler work on her science homework tonight. It was a very eye-opening experience.
The assignment was to read about the rotation of the earth around the sun and to answer a few simple questions. I took it upon myself to try to encourage additional problem-solving skills and asked Tayler to answer a few questions of my own.
"Tayler, if the earth rotates around its axis once every day, and if the moon rotates around the earth once every month, how many times does the earth rotate around the sun every year?" She tried valiantly to make up a number of answers that she thought might fool me. I stuck with it, though, confident that should could figure out the answer based on the information provided to her in the question. I eventually had to explain this last bit to her, and finally after repeating the question several times I saw the light bulb go off in her head. "One!" she exclaimed proudly.
The next portion of her assignment was to describe the solstice and equinox. Both terms were mentioned in the book, but only the equinox was explained as a function of the earth's angle toward the sun. I again challenged her to think beyond the assignment by asking her to explain to me the solstice in relation to the equinox. "Using only the information you know about the equinox, what can you tell me about the solstice?" This was too opaque a question for her to deduce, so I had to rephrase it several times. "If the equinox is caused by the earth having very little angle to the sun, what can you tell me about the cause of the solstice?" We were interrupted by a bout of infectious giggles, which helped a lot to keep Tayler from getting overly frustrated. Eventually, after a lot of repetition, Tayler was finally able to explain that the solstice was when the earth had the most angle to the sun.
I explained to Tayler that I was challenging her on purpose, to help her develop her critical thinking skills. It's important to me that the kids learn how to approach problems with a thoughtful eye, and to evaluate the information available to them as they formulate their answers. It's surprising how much of this I do on my own without thinking about it; and it's extremely challenging to explain it to the kids in a way that makes sense to them.
I need to devise some more kid-friendly scientific processes to help encourage critical thinking in fun, low-stress environments.