By Victoria Metcalf 03/07/2016


We live in Wonderland. Let’s keep ourselves curious and explore it.

Image Source: Flickr Commons uploaded by cea +.
Image Source: Flickr Commons uploaded by cea +.

Recently I took Miss6 to watch the new Alice movie –Through the Looking Glass. I got a special thrill when Alice said “Curiouser and Curiouser”, as this famous line provided inspiration for the name of this blog ‘Curious and Curiouser‘ (Note: it actually appears in Lewis Carroll’s book Alice in Wonderland, rather than Through the Looking Glass).

The film was full of wonder and curiosity, of adventures and findings. It’s a fantastical world, but without hesitation I would say our world we live in is every bit as magical as Wonderland.

By John Tenniel - Alice in Wonderland, Illustrator: Tenniell 1st Russian Edition, Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=629690, curious
By John Tenniel – Alice in Wonderland, Illustrator: Tenniell 1st Russian Edition, Public Domain.

There’s as much to be as curious about here on earth as in the world Alice explores. We may not have Cheshire cats and mad hatters -how exciting we have nudibranchs and Antarctica to be inquisitive about instead.

Alice as a curious experimenting scientist

Alice is a wonderful, strong, determined, female character. She tests things out, experiments and she sees what happens as a result. She dares to do what might seem impossible – to push through the looking glass and see what’s on the other side. Alice forms a hypothesis about what will happen when she goes back into the oceans of time, and then she sees what the outcomes are. She repeats her experiment, altering the conditions (or the variables) each time.

curious
Experimentation and discovery- through the looking glass. Image source: Wikimedia Commons, Tenniel sketch from “Alice through the looking glass” 1871.

In other words, Alice operates much like a scientist. Admittedly, she’s trying to get to a desired outcome. When it doesn’t eventuate though as she anticipated, Alice has to rethink her approach and find another method to try until she gets her answer. Not the answer she first anticipated- something different altogether. And she accepts that outcome when she is satisfied that she has been through a rigorous process of testing.

A scientist might repeat the same experiment several times to ensure the validity of their results and the robustness of their processes. Or alternatively, build in such replicative approaches into their experimental design. Here, Alice wasn’t replicating an identical experiment over and over, because she was changing the conditions each time she travelled back in time. She was, though, going through a thorough investigative process.

This requires critical thinking skills in abundance. That is, the ability to look at a problem, work through a sequence of steps to attempt to solve it and acquire new knowledge in the process.

Curious
Diving into participatory science is like exploring Wonderland for communities and scientists alike. Image source: Flickr Commons, uploaded by **tWo pInK pOSsuMs**.

What’s also noticeable about the movie is that Alice is also determined to do things for the greater good. To aid all, she definitely takes on the ethos of “six impossible things before breakfast”.

Alice is a phenomenal role model for girls (and boys) to pique their interest in science and technology. She rides the Chronosphere – how cool is that? She has amazing experiences well beyond the stereotypes of ‘what girls do’. She uses her thinking skills to achieve things, ‘impossible’ things.  If your preference, however, is for real life New Zealand role models, we have an amazing range of women in STEM and ICT profiled here.

Curious Minds

Alice has no formal training as a scientist. Yet, she’s absolutely extraordinary. In Through the Looking Glass, she helps her Wonderland community safeguard their future.

In the year that I’ve been national coordinator of the Participatory Science Platform, I’ve had the privilege of talking to many people, like Alice. That is, people without formal science training, whom have embraced the possibilities that community science approaches offer. And indeed using their diverse skills to progress locally meaningful projects.

On the flipside, we have scientists who are discovering that partnering up with communities for participatory science approaches is a truly rewarding and enriching experience. And one that may better their science overall.

Much like pushing into another world through the looking glass, these exceptional people (community members, school children, educators and scientists) are collectively redefining how science can be done in our New Zealand Wonderland.

*Featured image source: Flickr Commons, uploaded by mirror of erised. Courtesy of www.michaelkutsche.deviantart.com


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