Thursday, June 29, 2006

Keep Asking Questions

In addition to worries about sex, drugs, alcohol, strangers, and obesity, parents might reasonably hope to keep their kids alive with wonder in the face of an academic system which tries to pound it out of them. So in light of this, I thought I'd mention a question one of my nieces staying with us this week asked at breakfast:

Why, when I move this way while looking in my cereal bowl, do I see myself move the other way?

I'm paraphrasing (she's only 5.5 years old), and it took me a bit to understand what she was asking. She was eating cereal in a reflective, metal bowl and looking at her reflection on the inside (concave) part. When she moved left, her reflection moved right.

So she had observed this (kids seem infatuated with reflections), fine. But for her to ask this question, she had to know that in a flat mirror, the reflection follows you. I'm not sure how impressed to be, but I am pretty impressed.

I had a tough time explaining it without math, and I don't think she really understands the answer. I just hope she keeps asking questions.

Epilogue: I pulled out a flashlight to try and explain a bit...the kids love playing with it so it might make for a good gift.


Anonymous said...

Thanks for this post. I think young kids are interested in many things, mirrors just one of them. But what an observation.

It made me think of an early curriculum development project known as ess (elementary science study)and their units. I don't recall one on mirrors but there was one on shadows.

The units were developed around 1960 plus/minus in a time when there was less collaboration between scientists and teachers. ess units were characterized by both playfulness (inquiry) as well as aiming at understanding, at least as understood then. One of the developers and guiding voices was physicist Philip Morrison.

In the beginning content as seen through experienced scientists eyes was emphasized but it was later realized that teacher training/education was needed as well as placing an emphasis on classroom management.

In the end teachers were told what age children units best worked with, materials needed, what questions were useful to ask, readings and what goes on.

It was a great project no matter implementation difficulties and a few of the units survive, revised in new units developed at the Smithsonian and known as Science and Technology for Children (SSC).

What a priviliged moment you had and we need to pay great attention to them and also do our best in dealing with them, paying attention to the leads children provide as we explain, listen, and wonder with them.

I like your blog and apologize if I've gone on and on too much.


Anonymous said...

Maybe you could just say that a beam of light gets reflected twice in a concave mirror, but only once in a flat mirror.

Look at the cereal box in the mirror and see how the print is not reversed, but is reversed in a plane mirror.

Angry said...

Edward, you're welcome and thanks for the post.

Anonymous, in this case, there was only one reflection. But I'm more convinced it's a good question if only because it's a tough one to answer and I've been mulling it over a bit.

What I should have said was that, "if you're looking at the bowl, where does the bowl *appear* flat to your eyes? Because, it's the flat part where you'll see yourself. Well, as you move left, the flat part (ie. the part which has a tangent perpendicular to your line of sight) changes and becomes more and more rightward."

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