How To Raise Kids Who Care About STEM

Republished based on article I wrote that originally appeared on 

Where does the light go when the candle is blown out?

 That’s just one of the questions I ask my second-grade daughter, Elyse, every morning before school. I write a single question on a note card and put the card in her backpack. That one got through. She talked about the question at dinner. She asked me about it two weeks later.

I told her the scientific answer, that light is really photons, kind of like particles of light, and that when the candle burns, energy from the candle converts to photons, but that when the candle is blown out, those photons keep traveling until they bounce into something and are absorbed.

But I also told her we really don’t know the answer. Why is there darkness and light? What is darkness? What is light? We still don’t know. It was only two hundred thousand years ago that we climbed out of trees and started walking upright. We still have a lot to learn.

Now we know that stars bend light and that gravity is the curvature of space-time. Yet still, we know almost nothing. Science can’t even say what light is. Even Einstein, who knows the most about light of any member of the homo genus in the last three million years, admitted: “All the fifty years of brooding have brought me no closer to the answer to the question 'What is light?'”

That’s why I ask Elyse hard questions, because maybe one day she’ll figure it out. Kids need to know how much we don’t know. Elyse asked me recently, “How do birds know to change direction at the same time?” I nearly teared up.

I praise her questions, because the question is a lantern. If you can ask a good question, you almost have the answer. Nature reveals itself through questions. Science is the answer to those questions. That these questions have answers that we can understand is the eternal mystery of the world. Good questions are the heart and the art of science, and the questions we don’t ask are the measure of our ignorance.

Each morning, I also write a note card to my fifth-grade daughter, Maddy ... Read the full post at >>