I took a day off work so we could all go to Scitech Discovery Centre in West Perth. It’s a great place for kids to learn about science in a fun, interactive environment. We’ve tried to take the kids there at least once a year so they can have fun and be stimulated. They keep good opening times, the cost is reasonable and it’s fairly easy to get to with City West Railway Station nearby. They have a core display that hardly changes involving various physics experiments and displays, plusanother area for “Feature Exhibitions” which seasonally rotate. In the past they’ve had features on Dinosaurs, on Microscopic Worlds, on Electricity and such.
This season, the feature is “Whodunnit?”, where you play the part of a forensic scientist to solve a murder mystery. It’s a great display, teaching about various forensic science principles like finger printing, chromatography, balistics, DNA, autopsies and even entomology where you determine the age of a corpse by measuring the size of the maggots found. The story goes that a body has been found on the Rhino enclosure at the zoo, and you’ve been called in to work out what happened to the poor soul who happens to be a zoo security guard. This was a great opportunity to get the kids excited about forensics and science. What kid doesn’t love maggots?
So we started out by having a look at the “body” which was a dummy covered with a sheet. There were posters around prompting you to look for clues like foot prints, finger prints, the bruising on the leg, the Mag-Lite torch with a huge dent in it and the broken watch. “The watch is broken. What do you think that might tell us?” I asked. The kids twigged on immediately and said that it might tell us what time he died. We had a little booklet to write clues and information in so they dutifully wrote it down along with other observations they made.
We then looked at a list of suspects and their background stories which might come in useful.
It turns out he’d been shot and the bullet had been recovered. I told the kids that we might be able to tell who’s gun the bullet came from because each gun puts marks on the bullet when it fires, and makes the bullet spin so that it doesn’t fly off in a random direction. They found this interesting so we went and had a look at the Ballistics display. Besides the bullet recovered from the victim (I was throwing these terms around like I was Horatio Caine from CSI: Miami) the police had already got a hold of the guns from each of the suspects and fired test bullets from them. All we had to do was match the pattern on the crime bullet to the pattern on one of the test bullets. Of course, these bullets were all in pristine condition and 20x original size to make things easier for kiddies. After studying the bullets for a few minutes we decided the crime scene bullet came from the gun owned by “Alice” (or whoever), so I asked if we should go and arrest Alice. I was able to teach them about not jumping to conclusions, because even though it was Alice’s gun she might not have been the one to fire it.
So this led onto another display at Alice’s house showing how we can reveal footprints and find fingerprints, which lead to other displays on taking footprint casts and using high tech computers that go beep to instantly find matching finger prints and on and on. Each of these clues worked either for or against each of the suspects until we ultimately found who we thought was involved.
It was a great day and we had a lot of fun. Ashton in particular really wanted to find all the clues and learn all she could. It might have been a bit much for Jett as he’s a bit younger.
But it was also frustrating, in a way, too. All I could see snotnosed kids mashing buttons. They’d walk up to the display, mash the first button they saw and wait for a light to turn on, all without reading the instructions or putting any thought into what they were interacting with. Depending on the display they might get a light to turn on or a dial to move but it’d all be over in seconds and they’d move onto the next button to mash.
And it wasn’t just the kids. The parents simply weren’t getting involved and taking the opportunity to teach their kids. I just wanted to scream at them, “Hey, your kid has the opportunity to learn something valuable here. All he needs is some guidance from you and his life will be enriched!” Whether the parents were taking a back seat because they weren’t comfortable or confident with the principles being taught, or because they were enjoying the convenience of their brat children giving them a moment’s respite from continual pestering is unclear. It just made me sad and angry that such good resources were going to waste when all the kids needed to do was lift their eyes and read the instructions and explanations written above each display.
Parents really need to get involved with their kids learning. They can’t teach themselves. Well, they can after a while but they really need to be taught how to learn. I have a couple books I’ve used which have some good ideas on how to teach and how to learn. There’s a couple by Edward de Bono, and one we’ve been using recently called How to Think Like Einstein: Simple Ways to Break the Rules and Discover Your Hidden Genius.
So, if you’re a parent I can only beg and plead with you. You might not be a teacher, but your kids will learn more from you than from anyone else. You have a great responsibility, but it’s a good one to have.