Were you following the newspaper stories that reported the facemask protection experiments conducted by Mrs. Lawler’s third grade class at Ava Elementary School?
The experiment investigated how effective a facemask can be in the prevention of “germ growth”.
When we were reading about the experiment and considering the methodology in terms of the hypothesis, many questions were generated. But the experimental elegance was not the important issue. What was important was the grooming of an entire class of seven- and eight-year-old potential scientists.
All of these kids will remember how effective facemasks were shown to be during their experiments and that may encourage them, and through them perhaps even their families, to wear facemasks and possibly avoid Covid-19 infection. In addition, some of these kids may remember how they went about deciding if facemasks inhibit “germ” transmission.
What these nascent scientists were practicing was one of the secrets of human progress: The Scientific Method. Some say there are seven distinctive steps to the Method; some say there are five. Opinions vary. In reality, and down through the history of our species, we have used the Scientific Method loosely: we saw something that caught our attention and we wondered, “Why is that?”
A lot of the time we just forgot about it, but here and there one of us said, “I wonder if…” and in our limited way tried to explain what we had seen. And then we “fooled around” with the thing, as a teacher once suggested, thinking about it a little, trying some different things, noticing how what we thought and what we did changed what we were seeing. It could be some new hunting technique, eating new things and paying attention to what happened next, using some sounds that communicated meaning to others, and stuff like that.
We noticed or imagined something, thought about it, fooled around with it by changing things around it, and then paid attention to what happened.
There it is that’s the Scientific Method. That’s the investigative technique the munchkin scientists of the third grade used and the technique many of us use every day in a much less formal way.
Even more important than the Scientific Method, in my opinion, another secret of human progress is language. Being able to transmit experiences to others separated by distance and time from the experience itself, including discoveries made by the Method, is just as important as those experiences, those discoveries. Otherwise, they disappear when we do.
Indeed, rapid wide-spread communication over the last two centuries, the written word before that, and then spoken language for twenty thousand years (give or take) before that brought us from living in trees and being afraid of fire to walking on the moon. But that’s fodder for another article.
Here, we congratulate Mrs. Lawler’s leading her class of young scientists to answer one question concerning the wearing of facemasks and by doing so suggesting many other related questions for them to ponder.
This is, as anyone can see, almost always the result of doing any experiment – more questions to be examined.
That’s where the fun lies.