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19 September, 2002

Sept. 19, 2002

Meeting of the Minds--Questions, Questions, Questions!

Today was an incredible experience as I watched ten scientists at work. This wasn’t the work we picture with scientists in a lab, or in the field, bent over instruments and recording observations. Never-the-less, the scientists’ work together today was extremely valuable. Students often ask, “Where do scientists find their questions?” I got a glimpse of one process today.

As a teacher I was able to observe this process and think about the skills we teach children. It was affirming to see that those skills we have prioritized in our teaching have authentic connections to the real world of science: asking good questions; active listening; cooperative skills, communication and teamwork.

We came together in a conference room at INSTAAR (Institute of Arctic and Alpine Research) inBoulder, Colorado. The scientists flew in from Ohio, Oregon, Illinois, New Hampshire, and Colorado, and all share an interest in the complex eco-system of the Dry Valleys in Antarctica, but each is an expert in a different field. During the morning they presented what is currently known about their field of expertise, including the areas of hydrology (water cycle including streams and lakes), glaciers, nematodes (small, microscopic wormlike creatures that live in the rocks), climate, collecting data, and building models to represent what is known. I was very busy taking notes and trying to understand all the new(for me!) concepts that were being presented.

While I was busy learning, I also sat back and observed these brilliant scientists at work. They each had their own styles of presentation. Several used Power Point slides, and one drew diagrams and charts on the dry erase board. The presentation mode did not matter, because each was powerful. Everyone listened intently, sometimes nodding in agreement, making mental connections to their own research and knowledge. In school we talk a lot about asking good questions. Today I watched a real world application of asking questions. Many, many were asked as the presenters talked about their research. Some questions were to bring clarity and understanding. Some were tp present new ideas and to make connections to other areas of science. Active listening was evident as points were restated to insure understanding. I’m sure that some of the questions asked today will be included in the plans and proposals for the next season of research!

At dinner, we talked about how the day was one filled with questions. One scientist put it simply, “Our job never ends because the first question leads to new questions. We are always looking for the next and better question.”

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