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Mini-Project: "Is That All There Is? (Science as an Exploration of Education and Life as Open Ended

Mattie Davis's picture

Let's Begin.           Some years have passed but I am able to recall being in a high school Science class and being expected to perform an experiment within a group.  We were expected to determine the "correct answers" to the questions at the end of the lesson.  These questions were intended as tests to determine if we properly performed each experiment correctly, according to predetermined written directions.  Some questions were essay and some were multiple choice.                                 

Sometimes we did no get the correct answers. (When our results did not match any of the multiple choice possibilities, we knew that we had a problem.) So what did we do? We repeated the experiment over and over, some times slightly manipulating variables, until we arrived at one of the given answers. The wording pattern of the question, gave clues to desired results.   We desired good grades. We got them.                


Open-ended inquiry states that we were not allowed the opportunity to make new stories. Only one story was allowed: the one given to us. We were expected to fit our observations and stories into the mold given to us. If successful at doing this, then we were thought to have met our goal. All new understandings, observations, and stories were predetermined.   Open ended inquiry assumes just the opposite. It states that one is nether right or wrong. Accordingly, it involves sharing observations and stories which led you to your “new understandings.”


On April 21, 1998, singer Peggy Lee released the following lyrics in her album titled “Miss Peggy Lee” The lyrics to this song is as follows:


Is That All There Is?


I remember when I was a very little girl, our house caught on fire.

I’ll never forget the look on my father’s face as he gathered me up

In his arms and ran through the burning buildings out to the pavement.

I stood there shivering in my pajamas and watched the whole world go up in flames.

And when it was all over, I said to my self,

“Is that all there is to a fire?”


REFRAIN: Is that all there is, is that all there is, Is that all there is my friends?

                    Then let’s keep dancing.

                    Let’s break out the booze and have a ball, if that’s all there is.


And when I was twelve years old,

my father took me to the circus, the greatest show on earth.

There were clowns and elephants and dancing bears.

And a beautiful lady in tights flew far above our heads.

And so I sat there watching, watching the marvelous spectacle.

I had the feeling that something was missing

I didn’t know what, but when it was over,

I said to myself, “Is that all there is to the circus?”




Then I fell in love, head over heels in love with the most wonderful boy in the world.

We would take long walks by the river or just sit for hours, just gazing into each other’s eyes.

We were so very much in love. Then one day he went away,

I thought I would die, but I didn’t. And when I didn’t,

I said to myself, “Is that all there is to love?”




I know what you must be saying to yourselves

“If that’s the way she feels about it , why doesn’t she just end it all?”

“Oh, no, not me. I’m in no hurry for that final disappointment.”

For I know just as well as I’m standing here talking to you

When that final moment comes, and I’m breathing my last breath, I’ll be saying to myself

REFRAIN: Is that all there is, ….

Science is a way of making sense of the world through observations, generating explanations of those observations, testing the explanations by further observations, and repeating this process. This process has infinite possibilities looping between observations and interpretations. The loop cycles between inductive and deductive steps. Regularities in patterns of observations suggest possible general principles (inductive) which are used to generate predictions about observations as yet unmade (deductive). The process of generating and testing predictions yield both new ways of making sense of the world and one’s place in it, and new questions about both. In this sense, science (or education) is not about finding “truth”, but instead is a process of continuing inquiry driven equally by curiosity, skepticism, and imagination.




Inquiry and open-ended approaches suggest that students should be encouraged to “develop skills and sophistication in inquiry as an ongoing process “, rather than to teach content or skills.   Today content is easily accessible and some skills become outdated often. Technology is advancing by leaps and bounds. Today’s demand is that students develop capacities to evaluate information and construct meaningful ways of organizing data/information.

Students must develop inquiry skills while using content as a source to facilitate the development of inquiry skills. Start with inquiry then move to content . The traditional model started with content and moved toward inquiry skills. Exploration and extension skills must be encouraged.   Students should be allowed to create meaning for themselves. Interactions are necessary.   They provide ways of making sense of information and developing individual understandings.



 “Give a man a fish, and he will eat for a day. Teach him to fish, and he will eat for a lifetime.

                                                                                       (Author Unknown)            

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Terry Wallis was in a traffic accident.  He was in a coma (a minimally conscious state).   He recovered his speech and limited movement.  He had amnesia and remained paralyzed.  He retained memories prior to the accident, but could not recall information after the accident.



(These stories are shared with the students.  The explore explanations about what the underlying causes may be.)

Terry suddenly woke up and said he wanted to watch television.

He cried when he saw how much his face was wrinkled.

He had never heard of a personal computer.

Most of his friends were dead.



(The following new stories are added for the group.  Each is written on a slip of paper,  the students take turns interviewing each other and developing new stories.)

Did he take a time machine?   Was he cryogenenically frozen?  Is he a ghost?  Was he on a deserted island?  Did he travel in space?  …..



New stories are discussed and explored.  Record results from exploration, co-constructive dialogue, inquiry, and possible new stories.  Here the students may be told that the story is true and inquire if this will affect their theories.  Each theory is written down.  Continue co-constructive dialogue .



(Students will complete the following.)

I.                     Imagine you had been asleep for more than 25 years and suddenly woke up today.  Many, many things have changed.  What would be most surprising to you?

II.                  1.



       II.         What would be the most surprising technology change?




          III.       What is the most surprising sociological change?




           IV.      What would you do first?