It really isn’t that hard to learn to think scientifically — kids can do it. In a beautiful example of communicating science by doing it, students at Blackawton Primary School designed and executed an experiment in vision and learning by bees, and got it published in Biology Letters, which is making the paper available for free. It’s nicely done, an exercise in training bees to use color or spatial cues to find sugar water, and you can actually see how the kids were thinking, devising new tests to determine which of those two cues the animals were using. They were also quite good at looking at the data from different perspectives, recognizing an aggregate result but also noting that individual bees seemed to be using different algorithms to find the sugar water.
The kids also wrote the paper, sorta. They gathered them together in a pub (ah, Britain!) and had them explain what was going on, while one of the adult coauthors organized the text from their words. The experiment itself isn’t that dramatic, but it’s very cool to see the way the students’ brains are operating to understand the result…so really, the experiment was one of seeing how 8 year old children can process the world scientifically. It’s an awesome piece of work.
You know what we need now? A professional journal of grade school science (down, Elsevier, down — we don’t want you involved) that can get a network of schools and science teachers involved in putting more of these efforts together. Role models are important, and kids seeing that other kids are doing real science would be an incredibly powerful tool for bringing up a new generation of scientists.
Another charming part of this story is that a gang of grade school kids have done something grown-up creationists haven’t: they’ve done good science and gotten it published.