Why Rubbish Science is Great Science – Putting simplicity and complexity into Education

The principle behind Rubbish Science is  using rubbish as a resource to create something useful. Then using scientific thinking to improve the outcomes. The materials are discarded bottles and bags, So are mostly free and easy to source . The experiments are outwardly simple – anyone can set them up and achieve successful results. But most have complex outcomes and can provide a very  rich learning experience. Rubbish Science it is totally inclusive. A 10 year old in a slum can have the same opportunities as a top scientist in a research facility for creating a micro garden from a plastic bottle. We would anticipate that the top scientists outcomes would be better but this is not a given. If we could then connect the two then some brilliant learning will take place – If you know how we might do this please join us !

it is important to understand the difference between simple, complicated and complex.

Simple complicated and complex
Simple complicated and complex

Simple things are straightforward and easy to achieve. Much of school science is simple with students following recipe type worksheets to get experimental results or reciting facts. This should be the starting point on the journey to be a scientist. Sadly it is often as far as it goes.

Complicated things involve expertise and multiple steps or problems to be solved. Playing chess at a high level is complicated. So is sending a rocket to the moon. When complicated things are solved , they remain solved. Sending another rocket to the moon could use many of ideas and lessons learned from the first. We can write algorithms that solve complex problems and this is likely to be the strength of Artificial Intelligence. Computers have been beating the best chess players for over 20 years.

Complex problems are never truly solved. They continue to evolve and strategies need to be constantly updated. We can learn from past experiences but we cannot expect the same outcomes by doing the same thing again.

Good science is a combination of these three elements. Most world problems are complex and I worry we don’t give out students enough practice at these. Complex rarely has a look in as our students rarely get the opportunity to do an experiment where they , or we,  know the outcome or best strategy. Complex is very difficult to assess and hence our school exam systems stick to simple and complicated.

An experiment like the plastic bottle fly trap is outwardly simple. What is the best bait, where to put  the trap are fairly simple decisions. How to adapt your trap if it stops catching flies due to changing conditions is complex. A fully differentiated useful experiment that costs nothing  – Result !





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