Inspiring Wonder Through Discrepant Events

wonder thought cloud

Recently I was able to attend EF’s Global Leadership Summit in Berlin, Germany with some amazing students from my school. I had a lot of takeaways from this experience but one specifically related to science education.

The opening speaker for the conference was Jason Latimer. Besides being an incredibly entertaining and talented magician, Jason has a deep love for science education and inspiring wonder in students at a young age. I was able to attend a conference session with Jason as well. I had the chance to hear more about his thoughts on engaging students in science.

One thing that stuck out to me from Jason’s talk was the idea that the students we are teaching often forget the simple truth that everything the internet can tell you was discovered by a human asking the right question. Growing up in the age of information, it is easy to forget that all of that information came from somewhere (or rather someone)! This got me wondering about how I can get students to ask questions about things they do not necessarily understand in my class. My mind immediately went to discrepant events.

A discrepant event is simply something that defies our understanding of the world because it doesn’t fit our current model. One of my favorite discrepant events comes from Flinn Scientific’s eLearning video series, the mystery of the wax block. You can read more about it on my personal blog. This activity generates high interest and great questions. My students actually ask me questions about this activity until the last day of school! Inspiring wonder through the wax blocks is one of my favorite days of the school year. As the school year continues and the content piles up, I always seem to forget the simple power of a discrepant event. For this coming school year, I would like to kick off every unit with a discrepant event, and then bring it back at the end of the unit for students to explain with their new model.

I need your help with this!

What discrepant events do you use in your classroom that relate to major topics in chemistry?

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Comments 2

John Yohe | Sat, 09/01/2018 - 23:18

Just a few favorites off the top of my head: hand boiler shows pressure and temperature relationship, Ira remsen demo using a flask of basic water which flows backwards into the tube, choositz decision balls for covalent bonds and cross linking, electroscope can show photoelectric effect, tearing a shopping bag for secondary bonding. There are plenty more out there.

Getting back to the idea of someone discovering it first, I organized several units by scientist rather than by theory.  Especially during the nuclear era there was a lot of competition and interplay that can add interest for students. Leaving scientists out of the picture loses a lot of the story.