What is Science?

What is science? You have probably heard the word and I’m guessing you can probably even picture a scientist: a man or woman in a white lab coat, with steaming vials, and some crazy hair. And you might even know that these scientists form experiments to test things. And that’s a pretty good start! But let’s dig a little bit deeper into the word and really figure out what it means:

Science is really just a way of knowing things! Imagine this: You tried three new types of candies—how wonderful they tasted! Well, they did taste wonderful, at least until you got a stomach ache. Can we know which of the three types of candies gave you a stomach ache? Sure! We can do some science. Tomorrow you can try the first type of candy and see if it makes you sick, the next day you can try the second type, and the day after that you can try the third! If you get sick on the first day you know it’s the first candy; if you get sick on the second day you know it’s the second candy; if you get sick on the third day you know it’s the third candy! No vials or bubbling liquids but it is still science because, like we said earlier, science is just a way of knowing things, and, hey, we now know with some confidence which candy made you sick!

Scientists, of course, look at a bit more exciting things—which medicines work the best, how life started on earth, why flamingos are pink. But they use a method similar to ours above. This method is called the scientific method and it’s a huge part of science! Read more about it here: The Scientific Method

The Scientific Method

Picture this: every day at school you order your lunch and every day you have just enough money left over to get yourself a treat—a yummy, gooey, oh-so-tasty chocolate chip cookie. You take your lunch and still-warm treat back to your lunch table at which your friends Jeff, Brad, and John sit. But you can’t eat your tasty morsel right away. No, no, no. This week you are on the dreaded hall duty for the first ten minutes of lunch. You do your duty and you make your way back to the table. Your stomach is growling; that cookie is calling your name. But—dun, dun, dun—you look down at your tray and the only evidence of the cookie is a pile of crumbs!

“Who at my cookie?” you exclaim.

Everyone—even goody two-shoes Brad—looks down at the table in shame. No one fesses up. But you have a hunch: you think it is the not-so-nice Jeff.

The next day, the same thing happens! Again, just a pile of crumbs. You get angry. You don’t yell, though. You don’t stomp your feet. No! Because you, my friend, know the scientific method, with which you can solve this mystery and catch this baked good bandit.

So you formulate a plan: you will have Mrs. Slogenheimer call two of your three friends to her classroom during your hall duty, leaving behind just one friend. The plan goes off without a hitch. While you are in the hallway, she calls over Jeff and John and they leave the lunchroom. You come back, and guess what? Your cookie is gone, and Brad is sitting there, looking down at the table, embarrassed as ever.

“Brad,” you say, “I would have never have guessed it was you!”

“I’m sorry,” he says, red-faced. “I just really like cookies.”

Woo hoo! The scientific method worked!

You might be thinking, I didn’t use the scientific method. But trust me, you did, and you did so quite flawlessly, if I do say so myself.

To prove it to you, let’s use your plan and match it up with the various parts of the scientific method:

Purpose/question: The first, and arguably, the most important part of the scientific method, is the question. What was our question? Well, it was, simply, Who ate my cookie?

Hypothesis: A hypothesis is basically an educated guess, or, in other words, a guess with a reason behind it. So our guess was that Jeff ate the cookie and our reason behind it was that he was not-so-nice.

Experiment: The experiment is where you prove or disprove your hypothesis. In our case, we disproved our hypothesis by removing everyone but one person from the table and seeing if the cookie still disappeared.

Conclusion: This is where you take a look at your findings. Did you prove your hypothesis? Did you disprove your hypothesis? Did something go wrong in the experiment? Should you try it again? In our case we disproved our hypothesis and found that Brad ate the cookie.

See! You used the scientific method, step-by-step. And now you have the tools to continue to use it in your regular day. It’s a fantastic mystery-solving tool and, most importantly, it can be used to truly prove things!

 

 

For the parents: The steps of the scientific method, with some liberties taken, were borrowed from http://www.sciencebob.com/.

Evolution (And Not the Kind That Pokémon Do)

You might have heard the term evolution thrown around, whether in school, on the news, or maybe even by your parents. It’s a word packed full of meaning and when first hearing it, it can be a little hard to understand. But have no fear! It’s really not so bad! Come with me, and we’ll see if we can untangle this word:

First, you should put on a jacket because we are going on a journey—a cold journey far, far away, to the Arctic…. Ah, we are here. Let’s take a look around. Yes, you’re right, there is a lot snow but don’t say I didn’t warn you. Oh, look! Over there! Do you see that shape, moving in the distance? You don’t? Well, that is not very surprising because that shape is really an arctic fox, much like the fox that’d you see in, say, the United States or England, but with one large difference: it has snow-white fur, perfect for hiding and blending into the Arctic’s cold, snowy winters.  Look again! If you look closely you should be able to see a polar bear. It seems to be heading right for the arctic fox. Run, Mr. Fox! Phew, that was a close one. Our friend, the fox, did get away but not without the help of his white coat. When he saw the polar bear approaching, he simply laid down in the snow and the polar bear walked right past him! Oh gosh, I did not dress warm enough. But we’ve seen what we’ve come to see. Let’s head home and warm up by the fire.

Ah, much better. Now that we’ve warmed up, let’s talk a bit about what we just saw and what it has to do with evolution. We saw our pal, the arctic fox, escape the polar bear by using his white fur to camouflage into his surroundings. Imagine, now, for just a second, what would happen if our more familiar red fox had been in the Arctic, trying to hide from the polar bear. The polar bear would have seen him and eaten him—eek!  But thankfully, our arctic fox evolved. To evolve means to change, over a very long time. So the arctic fox changed slowly from our fox, the red-colored fox, to the white, arctic fox. “But how did this happen? How did it evolve?” you might be asking. Well, let’s work through these questions together. To do this, let’s go on another little adventure to the Arctic; however, this time we will travel many years into the past….

"Fox study 6" by Peter Trimming - Fox Study 6Uploaded by Mariomassone. Licensed under Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 via Wikimedia Commons - http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Fox_study_6.jpg#mediaviewer/File:Fox_study_6.jpg

Wow, not much has changed! There is a ton of snow and it is as cold as ever. You might notice the two foxes directly ahead of us. They should be easier to spot because instead of the white coat, which helps them blend in, they have red fur. We are seeing the artic fox before it evolved. Amazing! Quick, look at the pair trying to creep up on the seabird…. That was close but the seabird got away! It could see the foxes moving towards him because they stuck out like a sore thumb. Let’s fast-forward, just a little bit…. Here we are.

Our two fox friends are still here, but how precious!—it looks like they were more than just hunting partners. Do you see the three baby foxes following close behind them? You only see two? Not surprising—one of their babies is white, just like our first arctic fox. “How did this happen?” you ask. Well, every once in a while, when an animal has a baby, something happens called a mutation, or in other words, a random change. In this case, the red fox just happened to mutate, or randomly change, into a white fox.

Let’s fast-forward again, one last time, to see how our red and white foxes fare…. Hmm, interesting. I don’t see much of, well, anything. One second, let me get out my binoculars. Oh! Take a look through these. Yes, right over there. Through the binoculars you should be able to see a family of white foxes—it looks like our baby white fox grew up and is a daddy! But where are our baby red foxes? That is a much sadder story. Remember, earlier, when we imagined what would happen if our familiar red fox had spent some time in the Arctic. That’s right: they could not hide so they’d be eaten. And, unfortunately, nature is unforgiving and our red foxes met their end. On that sad note, let’s finish our journey and make our way home.

Do you want some hot chocolate? Yes, me too. OK. So what does all of this mean in terms of evolution? Well, let’s think about it. Our red fox mutated into our white fox. Our white fox, because it was white, survived, when the red foxes did not. Because the white fox survived, it was able to have more white fox babies. Its white babies would have more white babies, as the red foxes would continue to die before they could have babies. If this process continued for thousands of years, soon all of the red foxes would die and the white foxes would rule the Arctic. And that, my friends, is evolution in a nutshell. It is now time to say goodbye. But don’t be a stranger! Come back soon and we can go on another—hopefully less cold—scientific adventure!

 

For the parents:

This is a simplification of evolution, meant as an introduction. This is probably not how the evolution of the arctic fox’s white coat actually occurred. (It was probably much more gradual.) This may be something worth mentioning to your child; however, I felt as if it was outside of the scope of this post. Thank you for your support!