I shared this story once before, but it’s well-worth a second. I was teaching a third grade class, wonderful kids, when one boy raised his hand. We were in the middle of talking about planets and other celestial objects, relating the science lesson to our own wonders, and he asked what is space.
Well, since they were only in the third grade (I thought he was asking something more, but I decided to answer simply.), I explained that space is all that emptiness where the stars and planets move. However, the next instance truly surprised me.
He said, “No, that’s not what I meant. I mean, what is space?” I could see the difficulty he was having in trying to phrase his question. But I got it. I kind of got it before, but I’ve never heard such a question from our youth.
So, I turned to look at the rest of the students. I get it. He’s not asking about all those stars and stuff. He wants to know what (and I held up my hands) is this thing called space: this emptiness between two floating in space is. There’s no air up there. No molecules, except random stuff. He smiled. I wondered if he had asked this before but no one got him.
At the time, I explained, from my perspective, there must be something between the two astronauts. It can’t be nothing. It there was nothing between two hands held up in space, the two hands would have to be “stuck” together. Only then, could there be nothing. So, I ventured they consider something fills up all that apparent emptiness above. Perhaps dark matter scientists talk about. Perhaps a kind of energy we can’t detect. Who knows? I think he liked the answer, but was still curious.
Some kids want to start a business. Some kids are interested in animal care. Some kids want to know what makes a heart tick. Others want to dance, perform gymnastics, play sports, work with many others, and so forth. The list is endless. And sometimes, open discussion provides the opportunity for minds to express themselves. And once in a while, we get a really “out of the box” question through which opens the other kids’ minds to curiosity and wonder. What else is there to know? Then, they go to the library, look online, and perhaps ask those in the profession. Wonder about space? Why not send a letter to NASA?
Well, at times, I ask them to wonder, research, and ask those tough questions. Bring them to me, and when there is time, we can share.
Teaching the basics is important. Developing academic skills is necessary. And curiosity, wonder, and thoughtful deliberation brings forth more which might be the direction these kids move towards. One thing leading to another. One never knows. And if the children are allowed and encouraged to consider….