Turtles can walk on clouds and other science

I spent this afternoon with an old friend in her classroom of kindergarten kids running a science session. It was a lot more fun and a lot less daunting than I had anticipated.

It turns out that young children are a lot like academics – very keen to make a 10 minute comment disguised as a question and then be congratulated for their nugget of wisdom.

I ran a session focused on weather and clouds. We learned about reading a weather map, made our own and then dressed the classroom teacher up in a schizophrenic outfit according to the weather symbols we were adding to our map of Australia. Then we discussed how a cloud forms, made a cloud in a bottle and drew a diagram of our experiment.

It was a blast! The kids told me all about where they were born, the time their grandma’s house flooded, and invited me back to play after school.

They were charming and snotty and smart and silly all at the same time. They’d wow me by saying that clouds form from evaporating water and then insist that turtles can walk over clouds, which are actually made out of cotton. At the end, they all decided they wanted to become scientists.

I’ve done a fair chunk of outreach and science communication, ranging from speaking on panels, talking with high school students, writing op-eds and meeting with politicians. But talking to young children about science is uniquely joyful and exhausting!

Kids won’t give up until you’ve explained something properly and then heard their take on it. They are also not afraid to put up their hands just to tell you they’ve forgotten what they wanted to say but that it was pretty great anyway.

Children are also natural scientists – they love learning and they love the world. Spending time with littlies is a great reminder of the spark that ignited a lifelong love of science. Now I just need a few days off to recover from the charming snot and I’ll be ready to get back to academic science.

7 thoughts on “Turtles can walk on clouds and other science

  1. Thank you, Sophie. Maybe you inspired one or more of those kindergardners in a way that will lead to them being scientists as adults and at least increased respect for science in the others. To do that and have fun for everybody is an awesome thing!

  2. “It turns out that young children are a lot like academics – very keen to make a 10 minute comment disguised as a question and then be congratulated for their nugget of wisdom.”

    So you’ve noticed that ever-so-subtle characteristic of certain academics, have you?

  3. Thanks for the turtle line! I did weather talks for pre-Kindergarten kids. A mentor told me you couldn’t do wx talks for pre-Kers. But even they know if you overfill a balloon (my ‘air-container’) with too much pressure it will try to get out (‘pop’). When you attach the balloon to a string using a straw and tape and let it go, the air inside moves out and they can feel the wind. Moving air is wind, wind is made by a change in pressure from high to low. Then on to weather maps….. It was fun to see the light bulbs going off over the heads of 4-year-olds!

  4. This is brilliant! I’ve been wanting to bring more science to my kids and their friends. To inspire them to see the beauty in the world around us and help them understand it. Not only in natural phenomenon like the weather but also in human, organisational, national and international relationships. Hopefully if they see how things are so intertwined, there will be less of the focus on ‘me’ and more on ‘us’ and how ‘us’ have so much in common. Let me know if you are ever in my thick of the woods (mellbourne) – we would love to have you in our scouts group for a talk!

    • Great point about things being intertwined. I went back last month and we did an experiment where we learned how polar bears/whales etc adapt to cold using buckets of ice water and lots of messy little hands in butter and then in the ice. The kids were so switched on, one said “Animals are smarter than us because they are born with butter that keeps them warm, but we need to wear coats”.

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