I ask them what makes an object fall faster and they start creating their hypotheses, quickly abandoning them when a t-shirt (heavier) falls slower than the paper clip. We end the first day in confusion, never completely answering the question.
The next day, I invite students to continue the experiment or to move on to their own form of inquiry. The questions are all over the place:
- Why does water suck when there aren't any clouds inside? (Then, in parenthesis, she writes, "I think the word is evaporate")
- Is it true that you can't drink a whole gallon of milk in an hour?
- What makes stuff float?
- What makes paper airplanes fly faster?
- What makes the ripples in water?
- Why does stuff burn when it's together but not when it's apart?
- Why do some chemicals burn green?
- Why does it smoke afterward when you mix vinegar and baking soda together?
- If you kept a species of lizard in a totally yellow container, would the color change after years in that environment, even if there was nothing to force natural selection?
The questions vary in practicality, in understanding of science and in language level. There are certainly questions we can't pursue (burning chemicals or "making lizards evolve") Tomorrow we'll design solar ovens, revise them on Thursday and then test them on Friday. We'll discuss the similarities differences between technology/engineering and science.
It isn't pretty. It's loud. It's messy. I'm not a stickler for the paper and pencil recording of observations. It's fun. Kind-of. Actually, the kids are getting frustrated half the time and then excited the other half. I can't prove it will lead to better test scores. Half the time, I wonder if I'm wasting their time. But I'll say this much: if sixth-graders are anything like my own kids at home, they'll become better scientists in the process.