Doing science part 3: creating curious teens.

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Teenagers are a jaded lot. They know everything and nothing. They are social creatures, and their primary focus is building raport with peers while learning how to separate from adults and do their own thing. It isn’t that they aren’t interested in anything. It’s that they are unwilling to let on to their parents.

I could make some educated guesses about why this is so, perhaps they are afraid their parents will make too big a deal of the thing (both for and against) when the kid is really not all that sure them self, perhaps they are just wanting privacy to make their own choices and mistakes, or perhaps their parents really haven’t troubled themselves to listen to what the teen is interested in and so the kid has given up. The truth is these are all just guesses and I don’t really know.

I do know, as a teacher in the classroom, I am still trying to master the art of keeping my high school students interested and inspiring curiosity. Based on my own experience I will offer these points of advice:

  1. When the kid asks a question don’t disrespect it. Encourage the teen to explore it and explore it with her. (Be perplexed, act like it is the most interesting thought you have heard that day. It might, in fact, be so.)
  2. Don’t have an answer. Wonder how you could find out, listen to the ideas the teen has, and explore those ideas with her. Let her wander her own rabbit trails.
  3. Listen to your teen’s conversation and be interested. No thought is too trivial, no question too ignorant. Remember, life is new to your teen and the whole world is her oyster.

It isn’t easy opening the door to teenaged curiosity, especially if we have discouraged it in the past. It will take some doing. It takes the adult less obviously knowing it all to do so.

It is important to note that while getting answers is rewarding to scientists, sometimes the most rewarding thing in a research project is the questions it generates. From my observations, it seems that we are a society that wants simple answers. Simple answers are death nell to curiosity; such answers close more doors than they open.  The steps to simple science can be found all over the internet. The key thing to doing science is to be open to the next thing,  the next question, and to find ways to test ideas.

Ideally you raised a curious teen from infancy but, if you have to try and open a closed door, the main thing is to explore questions rather than answer them. If your teen is used to having simple answers, she will, no doubt, resist. Stick with her and when the time comes that her question is pressing and important, she’ll persist.

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