Nurturing scientific thinking through stories

Sai prashanthi Neelda

Science is the systematic study of nature and natural phenomena with different hypothesis and experimental techniques, observations and analysis. A student studies science from primary school but instead of nurturing the spirit of inquiry in him/her, what the system ends up doing is building up the image of science as a subject only for marks. Scientific thinking is a way of understanding nature and thinking about contents in science. How can a teacher develop this nature in her students? With the older children, one can get them to do experiments and work in the lab, but what about the younger ones?

Storytelling as a tool 

Stories are universal in nature and so are the emotions and feelings they bring their readers/listeners. The art of telling a story using props is an especially immersive experience for little children and therefore makes for a wonderful teaching aid. 

The importance of stories to teach science

We all know the power that stories can commond on their listeners. But now we also have scientific proof that should encourage all teachers to start thinking of this medium as a teaching tool. Neuroscientists have said that our brains respond differently*, they are more alert and active when listening to a story than to recitation of facts or laws. Albert Einstein also pointed out that imagination is more important than knowledge. And what better way to imporve imagination than stories? 

Teachers can use two ways to blend science and storytelling

1. Narrate a story and then explain the scientific concepts in the story.

2. Talk about the scientific concept(s) first and then get the students to find a story to illustrate it.

I share here a couple of examples of how stories can be used to teach science.

Story no.1:

Swami Vivekananda was brave and intelligent even as a young boy. He always had questions about everything and never accepted anything at face value. Little Vivekananda’s favourite place to play was a ground with a huge champak tree. He often went there with his friend to swing from the tree’s branches, climb up and down and jump around in its shade. An old man, who lived near the tree used to get disturbed with the boys’ play. He decided to frighten the boys away. One day he went up to them and said, “Boys! Don’t play on that tree, it is the home of a ferocious rakshasa,,he will swallow you up, if you play here and disturb him.”

Vivekananda’s friend was terrified and the old man was happy thinking the children will never come back to disturb him. But Vivekananda continued to visit the tree and play near it. His friend, who learnt of this, asked him, Hey.. Naren (Vivekananda’s name as a boy), why are you playing near the champak tree again? The rakshasa from the tree will kill you. Vivekananda replied, Friend that old man lied to us. If it was true, the devil would have killed me by now. Do not believe anything blindly. Find out the truth for yourself.

This story is taken from Swami Vivekananda’s biography and it successfully narrates the

importance of questioning. People usually believe whatever is told to them by elders without questioning the reason behind anything. Teachers should present such fine examples to children to help them start questioning just like Swami Vivekananda. There are several such stories of Albert Einstein too. As a child Albert Einstein wasn’t really considered intelligent but he used to question everything and it was his habit of questioning that led him to become a genius in the world of science.

Story no. 2:

This is the very popular story of the thirsty crow. 

There was a crow which became very thristy after flying in the sky for many hours. It began to look for water, but did not find any. After a long time, it found a small pot with very little water right at the bottom. The crow struggled to reach the water at the bottom of the pot. After a few attempts to drink the water, it had an idea. It picked up a few pebbles strewn around the ground and dropped them one by one into the pot. With every pebble dropped, the water rose up a little and finally reached the mouth of the pot. The crow drank the water and flew away happily. 

The teacher can use this story to introduce this species of bird to her students. Tell them how birds evolved from reptiles that could fly. She can awaken the human instincts of her students by showing them how animals and birds also need to eat and drink for survival. She can point out that animals too have brains and that they too use them albeit not of the same size and capacity as human beings. She can discuss the science in the story–of how heavier objects go down and lighter objects come up. She can get her students to start a bird watching activity to learn more about birds and from there move on to the environment and its conservation.

Conclusion:

Through effective narration of stories not only can science be taught but scientific temper can also be nurtured. The teacher only needs to spend some time searching for or even making her own story and practice telling it in such a way that every child in the class is alert and listening. There is no better way to teach.

Why Inspiring Stories Make Us React: The Neuroscience of Narrative (nih.gov)

The author is a student of biology in Osmania university, Hyderabad. She can be reached at [email protected]

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