Here are my suggestions, in no particular order:
- Join in the fun. There's nothing like modeling the behavior you wish to instill to get kids motivated. This isn't "learning" science from a textbook. This is "doing" science. Get your feet wet or your hands dirty. When I was preparing to go out and draw the caterpillars, my daughter (age 5) couldn't wait to get started. My son (age 8) opted not to participate. That is, until he saw the two of us heading out with our pens, hand-lenses, and colored pencils. "Oh... magnifying glasses!" he said. He quickly changed his mind and joined us. I had to insist he come in when it was dinner time.
- Teach kids how to use the tools properly. Practice this before an investigation is to start. Once the novelty of a hand lens wears off, kids are less likely to hold it up to their eyes and make silly faces. (Though that can be fun, too). In a classroom setting, however, it's best to get the silliness out of the way so the more serious work of science can begin. Let them be silly for a few minutes, then indicate when it's time to work.
- Maintain your sense of wonder. Listen to your children/students talk. Remember what it was like to be a kid, awestruck by natural phenomena. Listen for possible investigations.
- Slow down and pay attention. Instead of rushing from commitment to commitment, take a few minutes to notice your environment. Is the moon out tonight? Are there any flowers still in bloom?
- Spend time in nature. This is an extension of above. You can't pay attention to nature without being outside. City dwellers... paying attention to the nighttime sky is a great way to connect with nature's cycles. Or, how about those plants growing up in the cracks of the pavement? Or maybe the birds on a wire above your head. What can you learn by observing them?
- Share what you're doing with others. Talk about what you've noticed. People are interested in natural phenomena, even if they forget to stop and notice it themselves. Ask if they've noticed the same things as you. Listen to, and learn from, each other.
- Remember that not every question will lead to an investigation. If that were true, we'd never do anything but investigate (for those of us who have young children, anyway. There's a steady stream of questions from young kids). But, saying, "I wonder..." keep kids thinking in this way even after they pass through the early years. I'd even go so far as to say that it helps keep us grown-ups "young."
Have any of you tried doing investigations with your children/students since you read my posts about the caterpillars? Will you try one now? How helpful was this information?