Dragonfly Research, or, Science That Doesn’t Fly Straight

I’m here to report out about the results from our impromptu research project on dragronflies. It started as simply an interesting observation that I made one day last week, an observation that I thought might offer a good way to practice some question-asking protocols developed by The Right Question Institute. I reported on the early stages in this recent post.

Rather than write out this story, I decided to tell it verbally in the manner we told it to ourselves in science class. Using a flowchart that depicts the scientific process, we logged our pathway through what we soon saw as a maze of connections. The story includes moments of seeming failure when it appeared the project would need to be abandoned, to moments of insight. (It also includes a bee sting to the rear end of a certain researcher…)

In the end (pun intended), I think the project helped the children see how science does not proceed in a linear path from question to data gathering to data analysis to presentation. It is much messier. Several times we had to regroup and learn new information in order to figure out where to go next. Sometimes we even thought we’d reached the end of what we could learn.

Finally, since I’m reading Tom Newkirk’s wonderful book, Minds are Made for Stories, (and, like Newkirk, I have puzzled about the implications of David Kahneman’s Thinking Fast and Slow) I’m very happy to present this story as what it was, a story. What caused us to return to this project was the fact that we had developed a “need to know,” to complete the narrative in some way. If not to simply answer our question, at least to arrive at some satisfactory place to rest.

The result is a view of the scientific process that looks a lot like a dragonfly’s flight path, veering purposefully and flexibly from one place to the next.

And here is a short video of the common green darner.

And a video that shows some of the remarkable aerial abilities of dragonflies. I saw some of these stunts in my sit in the prairie.

2 thoughts on “Dragonfly Research, or, Science That Doesn’t Fly Straight

  1. What a great story! I like how you brought this visual to life! Perhaps I’ll share your video with my scientists and we’ll be on the lookout for a question that prompts our own dive into this new way of thinking about the way the scientific process REALLY works.

    And dragonflies that migrate??? Who knew? My final question is the same as one of yours — how do they get from Iowa to Texas as newly-emerged adults?!?!?

    • It was a lot of fun. I wish the kids could have been out there with me (except for the bee sting!) watching and observing. There’s something pretty special about sitting in one place for a 1/2 an hour looking closely at something. But…it was at my place and we only have 43 minutes for science (not 45, not 50…43), which seems very odd to me. How to learn like that? The only way I could think of, at least in this early stage, is to bring some observations to them, to become their field assistant so to speak.

      I loved how the process as outlined by UC-B leaves science open to lots of ways of knowing. For instance, we didn’t create a hypothesis at all through this. Many of the scientists I know do a lot of observational work before they create a hypothesis.

      In the process of doing this I learned a lot, too, which was terrific! Interestingly, because of this project and some ancillary research I did I found out that there was one of these citizen-scientist monitoring projects for dragonfly migrations! Maybe that’s a next spring and fall thing?

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