What's going on in there?!?!

By Julianne Dalcanton | May 3, 2007 1:53 am

I spent part of one morning last week talking with one of my kids’ kindergarten class about space. Now, for those of you who have not spent time with the five-to-six year old set, kindergarteners are fascinating. They are clearly emerging as people with well defined personalities and outlooks, and they give the impression that they are at last inhabiting the same rational world in which most adults live. You can reason with them, making them ripe for discussions about scientific topics. For example, while they all had learned that the Sun was a star, and that real stars were “round” like the Sun, they had never really thought about the 3-dimensional shape of the Sun. The class was evenly divided between thinking the Sun was shaped like a ball, or that it was flat like a frisbee. But, after talking with them about how we orbit the Sun, and see it from different directions, they quickly deduced that it had to in fact be spherical. Incredibly gratifying.

But then, the other aspect of kindergarteners is that while they seem to be living in the rational world, they’re not really living there full-time. To wit, here are some of the comments that kids made when they raised their hands in response to various space-related questions:

“Lava monsters could live there.”

“Um…um…um…” < looking down at feet for inspiration > “….shoes are made of metal.”

“And, um, I went camping, and it was dark, and there was stuff, and it was round, and I slept in a tent.”

“Um…yesterday….we saw owls…and one was big, and the other owl was small.”

My kid didn’t care what anyone was saying, as long as she got to sing “The Sun is a mass of incandescent gas” (original version here).

CATEGORIZED UNDER: Academia, Humor
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  • http://www.physmathcentral.com/ Chris Leonard

    Like the last few quotes. Was Ralph Wiggum in the class?

  • http://mollishka.blogspot.com mollishka

    I recently gave a planetarium show to a room full of about two dozen five and six year old girls and their fathers. The hardest question I got was, “which wone is the wishing star?” It took an embarassingly long time to know what the hell she was talking about. The sun was definitely the most popular topic with the kids, while their dads wanted to know about the early universe. “Is the sun made of fire?” “Can we visit the sun?” “Is the sun bigger than this room?”

    And it’s good to see you’re raising your daughter to be a full-fledged nerd before she even realizes it :)

  • http://astrodyke.blogspot.com The AstroDyke

    Question from a kindergartener during a low-budget planetarium show we were giving about black holes:

    “What would happen if you threw your SHOE into a black hole?”

  • DB

    So, mollishka, is the sun made of fire?

  • http://blogs.discovermagazine.com/cosmicvariance/julianne Julianne

    And it’s good to see you’re raising your daughter to be a full-fledged nerd before she even realizes it

    She’s a funny mix of half nerd, half rock star. Diva geek.

    The bit that slayed me was how all those comments came from kids raising their hands so hard they were levitating out of their seats. The off scale eagerness to contribute something that in their minds was highly relevant.
    To them, space=owls=planets=camping=lava monsters.

  • Karen

    One of the best questions from the same planetarium show The Astrodyke was talking about:

    “Are black holes real or are they fairy tales?”

    :)

    I miss those times!

  • http://mollishka.blogspot.com mollishka

    So, mollishka, is the sun made of fire?

    I think the answer I gave at the time was something along the lines of “*stammer* … uh … yes, it’s something like that.” Of course, it’s not, because the canoncical definition of “fire” revolves around a chemical reaction, while the burning in the Sun is nuclear, and certainly not oxidation.

    To them, space=owls=planets=camping=lava monsters.

    This makes total sense to me; it’s a direct corollary of the “all things that I like and are cool are equivalent” theorem.

  • TimG

    “But then, the other aspect of kindergarteners is that while they seem to be living in the rational world, they’re not really living there full-time.”

    And this is different than, say, the average college student? E.g., I remember teaching an intro physics lab and asking,
    “Why might the acceleration due to gravity which you measured be less than 9.8 m/s/s?”

    “Um, because we’re on the moon?”

    “Possibly, be I was going for ‘because we neglected air resistance'”

  • http://thechocolatefish.blogspot.com/ Yvette

    For the older crowd, There May Be Giants did a remake of “Why Does the Sun Shine?” aka The Sun Song. Based on experience, it’s great for moshing if you ever wanted to do such a thing during a song about nuclear reactions and stellar physics. 😉

  • http://detailmuse.blogspot.com MJ

    The bit that slayed me was how all those comments came from kids raising their hands so hard they were levitating out of their seats.

    I love this, it reminds me of Gordon MacKenzie’s (“Orbiting the Giant Hairball”) description of his school visits about creativity. When he requested that any artists in the room please raise their hands:

    The pattern of responses never varied.

    First grade: En mass the children leapt from their chairs, arms waving wildly, eager hands trying to reach the ceiling. Every child was an artist.

    Second grade: About half the kids raised their hands, shoulder high, no higher. The raised hands were still.

    Third Grade: At best, 10 kids out of 30 would raise a hand. Tentatively. Self-consciously.

    And so on up through the grades. … By time I reached sixth grade, no more than one or two did so and then only ever-so-slightly — guardedly — their eyes glancing from side to side uneasily, betraying a fear of being identified by the group as a “closet artist.”

  • Pingback: Kindergarten Science « Michael Daum()

  • spyder

    Lava monsters can be nothing more, nor less, than the layers of solidified crustings over lava tubes, as one walks ever so gingerly across the landscape. You just never know which step could be your last, the monster troll beneath the frail bridge reaching up, grabbing a leg, and sucking you down. Of course, if you are afraid of the monsters you will never venture out to see some of those most amazing landscapes and dynamic evolving earth. Imagine these kids seeing deep-sea lifeforms, or being taken down 300+ meters below the surface, into caves filled with giant crystalline structures. Are they monsters? Is their evil in the dark? We have so much to share with all of them, and to help them understand to not be afraid of the immensity and wonder of all yet to be discovered and experienced. Thanks to those above who have visited classrooms and shared that spark.

  • http://mollishka.blogspot.com mollishka

    I need to get me a pet lava monster.

  • http://predelusional.blogspot.com/ Stephen Uitti

    My fellow conspirator and i showed some advanced 5th graders the Sun the other day. H-alpha, white light fitler, eyepiece projection, and pin hole projection. Hey, we had a sun spot group! But the most outrageous questions had to do with making things catch fire with a magnifiing glass. Mostly the boys. Yet even there, one kid asked, What makes the cardboard catch fire? This fell right into the safety lesson about why we don’t look at the Sun directly.

    “Mostly, in astronomy, we tell you to look at the star. But with the Sun, we tell you to look at your shadow. You can learn alot about the Sun by looking the other way.”

    Some third graders walked by and were instantly hooked. Too bad we couldn’t stay all day and show the whole school.

  • David

    shoes are made of metal

    Which is perfectly true, as any astronomer knows, Julianne… unless you’ve got some neat hydrogen and helium shoes I don’t know about.

  • http://blogs.discovermagazine.com/cosmicvariance/julianne Julianne

    Which is perfectly true, as any astronomer knows, Julianne… unless you’ve got some neat hydrogen and helium shoes I don’t know about.

    I did use the shoe non-sequitur to ask if the students knew where metals came from. Almost the entire class shouted out “GOD!”, except for one little rationalist who said “rocks”. So, I explained that they were made in stars, and that everything in their body had at one time been made inside a star, which elicited a “That’s SO COOL” from a couple of kids. The whole event struck me as demonstrating the roots of Intelligent Design — i.e. if you have no idea how something happened, God did it.

  • Warren

    I’m struck by the same fact – at that age, they can reason, but the reasoning is based on only six years of experience, and is thus subject to the vagaries of this limited basis from which to draw. This struck me in particular when my six year old sun commented on how the moon follows us as we drove. I, of course, explained that the moon was very far away, so far that it’s position with respect to us was essentially unchanged even though we were moving, while horizon objects were close enough to move with respect to us. This gave the moon the appearance of moving with respect to horizon objects and following us. His response, after a moment’s thought – “Dad, the moon can’t be that far away, or it wouldn’t be able to follow us so well.” The logic is beautifully consistent, even if flawed. The depressing thing is that in ten years most of them will stop even noticing that the moon follows them, let alone wondering why. I really am trying to make sure my kids are the exception.

  • HypotheticalGeologist

    So, akhsillom, was there a pebble stuck in the sole of your shoe?

    I think the answer I gave at the time was something along the lines of “*stammer* … uh … yes, it’s something like that.” Of course, it’s not, because the canoncical definition of “pebble” is a particle with a grain size of 4 – 64 mm, while the groves in my shoe are at most 2 mm wide, and certainly couldn’t fit anything larger than a very fine gravel.

    One of the challenges of interdisciplinary collaboration is adapting one’s vocabulary to that of the local community.

  • http://magicdragon.com Jonathan Vos Post

    No, the sun is too hot to be fire.

    I suggest always trying to give a true answer in your reference frame. If it seems weird to them, it can lead to further interesting questions.

  • Lawrence B. Crowell

    The brain is really a set of brains. Dendritic connections are weighted according to past memories or learning experiences. When children learn they are not only weighting dendrites, but they are getting these dendrites and sub-brains (local neural processors) to connect with each other right.

    Kids think and do the funniest things. This continues for years, and as the father of new teenager I can say they continue to think and do crazy things. We then give then the keys to a car — doh! Not there yet, but it is coming.

    Some people never get their neural processors to function quite right, but those who have a sembence of smarts and the right connections go into politics. Some might even become President, but often what they need is not political power, but therapy.

    Lawrence B. Crowell

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