Brain Blasts in the Science Classroom

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When I was younger, I absolutely adored the show Jimmy Neutron. Every so often during an episode Jimmy would get a brilliant idea of how to solve a problem and would excitedly exclaim “Brain Blast”. His peers were often skeptical of his brain blasts and didn’t think it would actually work, but that didn’t matter to Jimmy because he knew that what he had was a wonderful idea.

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In our world today and in our schools, we are so focused on the right answer that we ignore the wonderful ideas of our students or we shut down their ideas without giving them the chance to explore it. Eleanor Duckworth, however, encourages the development and exploration of wonderful ideas had by students. Even if the idea does not lead to the “right” answer, the process of coming to an answer is more important than the answer itself.

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As science teachers, we can apply the principles suggested by Duckworth by:

  • Encouraging students to view topics from different perspectives
  • Creating a classroom environment that is conducive for inquiry and asking questions
  • Never discouraging any ideas or suggestions presented by students
  • Learning alongside students
  • Providing students with enough knowledge to form questions and wonderful ideas
  • Focusing less on the “right” answer (wrong answers can be very productive!)
  • Raise questions and push the limits

In this Ted Talk, Amy Yurko speaks more about how important wonder and curiosity is to education and how that can be obtained in part through the physical learning environment.

While the environments we learn in can be very important to the creation of wonderful ideas, how information is presented and explored in the classroom is even more important to the kind of education Duckworth describes. So what exactly does a Duckworthian classroom look like?

Putting Theory Into Practice

We have already learned about so many different kinds of teaching strategies that promote inquiry and would be considered Duckworthian including:

  • Teaching in the Margins
  • Techniques that make thinking visible
  • Inquiry based learning
  • Engineering activities

All of these techniques not only help to teach curriculum, but may often involve the exploration of cross cutting concepts and overarching scientific practices, all of which are a part of the three dimensions of science learning presented by NGSS. While not every single lesson is going to be completely Duckworthian, using these strategies and practices will give your classroom a little splash of Duckworth to keep those questions and wonderful ideas rolling.

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Now let’s take a look at a couple lessons that are worthy of the title “Duckworthian”:

Conservation of Matter:

Students can explore conservation of matter using stations that all involve how matter is conserved. Using their prior knowledge on how/if matter is conserved, they can use materials provided to further explore their ideas and what they think will happen. Stations may include:

  • Dissolving an ice cube in water
  • Burning a piece of paper
  • Dissolving a solid in a liquid

Although there should be structure to these stations, students should have the ability to explore, try to support their hypothesis and draw new conclusions, therefore, this should not be a cookie cutter lab that directly asks “What happens to the water level when you dissolve and ice cube in water? What does this mean?” The purpose of an activity such as this is for students to explore, question, and draw their own conclusions.

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Black Box Activities:

Black boxes are a great way to promote many of the major themes described by Duckworth that are important to education including:

  • Asking questions
  • Exploring
  • Developing ideas about how to solve a problem
  • Being curious

In this NSTA lesson, black boxes are used to explore the idea of mapping landscapes and can be connected to the idea of geological mapping.

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Just like Jimmy Neutron, we want our students to have “brain blasts” in the classroom that they are excited to learn about and explore. It is our job as teachers to encourage our students to ask questions, inquire, and come up with wonderful ideas. Kids are naturally curious, so let’s allow them to do their thing!


  1. Hey Emma! Thanks for you comment. When I think about these education theories and practices I really like to connect to my own background knowledge. I guess that will be good practice for connecting class material to student background knowledge in the future.

  2. I think it’s brilliant how you started this post with a connection to Jimmy Neutron! I forgot that show existed honestly but as a kid I was obsessed with it! I think that the activities you chose for your Duckworthian approach are a great way for kids to get hands on experience and watch science in front of them!

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