Young children might think that "data" is their father and a "hypothesis" belongs at a zoo. But don't be fooled. While they may not be well versed in the fancy words, young children are expert scientists. They actively experiment as they play, testing ideas and trying theories, and collecting samples of bugs, rocks, and dirt for later study. And they're always exploring.
Can the latest advances in technology facilitate these natural processes? Absolutely. In fact, as a new-age teacher, you have at your disposal a host of powerful new tools to exploit. Don't worry, though, because you don't need to be a geek to make them work. All you need is a strong dose of curiosity, some persistence, and a clear vision of your classroom as a high tech laboratory for the next generation of young scientists.
Tapping the Power of Search Engines
If you have a laptop and wireless Internet access, you have the answer to any question at your fingertips. Let's say a child finds an interesting leaf, but you don't know what plant it is from. Just type "leaf" -- or more specific terms like "Oak Leaf" or "Maple Leaf," in quotation marks -- into Google Images (www.google.com/images) to try to find a match.
Guess that Sound
Take your classroom tape recorder on a walk around the school and record various sounds. Ask the children for ideas as to what to record. The next day, sharpen their auditory skills by listening to the tape and asking what they think they hear. (Tip: Many shorter "sound bites" followed by a verbal "answer" to confirm the guess work better. Put the tape in your listening center to extend the activity.)
A Search for Life: The Specimen-Bag Field Trip
Give each child (or pair of children) a small, empty plastic bag and take them outside to your play space, a park, or a playground. Ask them to collect any evidence of life that can fit in the bag. Examples might include a butterfly wing, the feather from a bird, a leaf, a lost button or penny, and so on. Return to the classroom and allow children to explore the contents of their bags with magnifying glasses.
Learning About Animal Facts With Animal Genius
Handheld devices, such as the Leapster (www.leapfrog.com) or Nintendo DS (http://www.leapfrog.com/) let children take the computer to the learning, rather than the other way around. Scholastic's Animal Genius is a perfect example. The Nintendo DS version ($30, http://www.animalgeniusds.com/) explores a child's knowledge of 25 animals from around the world by embedding facts in four addictive games. For example, a game called Scratch & See lets you uncover as much of an animal picture as you can before time runs out, and then asks you to take your best guess from four choices. The Leapster version is similarly designed with fast-paced quizzes and sorting games that get harder as the children succeed.
A New Type of Digital Portal: The Nintendo Wii
At $250, the Nintendo Wii can be a practical classroom tool. For example, the Wii's SD memory card slot lets you transfer pictures from your digital camera and store them on the Wii's internal hard drive. Because the Wii has built-in Wi-Fi receivers, it can download the latest news or weather or let you do Internet searches. Software titles like Endless Ocean let children explore a virtual undersea ocean full of 230 types of fish. Software titles like this one are proof that a game console can also double as a tool for scientific exploration.
Of course, none of these devices or software titles can replace the opportunity to explore the real thing. After all, how are you going to digitalize the feeling of sand squishing between your toes or the tickle of a butterfly landing on your finger? Thankfully, some things will never be changed by technology.