First graders learn that science can be fun (even when you are embarrassingly wrong)

“He shouldn't be embarrassed of being wrong. Science is all about being embarrassingly wrong.”

These words provided encouraging feedback from a physics professor to a first grade student who incorrectly answered his teacher’s follow-up question the day after a visit to Kent State University’s Active Learning Laboratory in Smith Hall.   

“Sometimes, I think the most important requirement for being able to do research is to risk to be wrong, but not to lose confidence in yourself,” Dr. Bjorn Lussem, Ph.D., professor of Physics in the College of Arts and Sciences, said.

Lussem wrote this email response to Denise Tonelli, a first grade teacher at Longcoy Elementary School in Kent who brought her class of 20 to the Kent State campus to experience science first-hand, learn how experiments work, and have a little fun.

Tonelli explained to Lussem that the student who spoke up and made the logical, yet incorrect prediction about the properties of sand, used Lussem’s description of the properties of salt from the previous day in his explanation.

“This is a student who is not always focused, so that was a very positive outcome,” Tonelli said. “Although initially embarrassed to admit the prediction was not correct, I saw a very happy face when I mentioned that I loved how he connected the experiments. I wanted all of the students to know that learning takes place throughout the process and they are not supposed to know the answers before we start.”

This was just one of many positive outcomes that the students experienced on their visit to Kent State, which included engaging in a variety small group activities led by Lussem and several Kent State graduate students leaders. Activities included hands-on stations equipped with microscopes for experimenting on salt and sugar, molecular model building, and sketching their results on the marker boards. After the experiments and discussions, the students ate pizza and snacks before getting a chance to stretch their legs and play in the open space behind Henderson Hall.

One aspect of Lussem’s National Science Foundation CAREER grant, titled “The Working Mechanics of Organic Electrochemical Transistors,” includes planning education outreach activities such as this class visit.

“I want to develop education modules to teach the nature of science along with the standard physics that is usually taught in class,” Lussem said. “The hope is that students gain in conceptual understanding and develop a positive attitude toward science if they understand how scientists make progress and develop new knowledge accepted by a majority of researchers.”

“From a broader perspective, I hope the students learned that science is very hands on (and fun); that you do experiments to test your knowledge; and that experiments can challenge things that you thought were true,” Lussem said. “In the end, I would be happy if the kids took home a positive image of a university and the general field of science.”

POSTED: Tuesday, May 22, 2018 03:51 PM
Updated: Saturday, March 25, 2023 10:41 AM
Jim Maxwell