Other Question #294

Miss Allouche, a 24 year old female from Sydney asks on November 23, 2001,

I am a year 5 teacher. I was wondering if it would be ok if I had my students work in pairs to ask you questions on the topic area of 'light'. There may be 30 questions posed in total (Maximum). Is this OK?

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The answer

Barry Shell answered on November 25, 2001

To be honest, not really. Our service sends questions on to busy research scientists who volunteer their time for free. A moderator works for free as well. Here is what we suggest:

You can still let students use the science.ca Ask-A-Scientist service, but they have to follow the rules.

Rule number one: we cannot do homework for kids. That means if the question is "What is light?" or "I need to find out something about light?" your students will get no response because we don't answer general questions. For this we provide the google search box where they can type in "elementary light" or "introductory light physics" or "rainbows and light" or "blue and green light" or something.

Rule number two: Check our existing question and answers first. If the question is: "How can you make a light saber?" or "How does sunscreen stop sunlight from hurting your skin?" etc., these will be ignored and the students will receive no response, since the questions and answers are already on the website. The students must first use our site search by typing in keywords like "light saber" or "sunscreen".

Fundamentally, please invest some time teaching your students how to do keyword searches. This is very important as much can be found without asking a question. Explain what a keyword is and how to use a search engine. How to choose keywords. How to try other slightly different keywords. (light, rainbow, spectrum, prism, diffraction, etc.) My favourite search engines are www.google.com, and for kids www.yahooligans.com is good.

99% of questions from school kids cannot be passed on to the very busy researchers that volunteer for this service because the answers can usually be found in their textbooks or through a search engine and a few keywords.

If finally, after a student spends half an hour searching the Internet, and reads all about light, a very original question might be spawned by their reading, perhaps something like this one: "I have done lots of research on auroras and I understand almost every thing about them. The basic facts are that once the protons/electrons from the solar wind are guided by the current of the magnetic field lines from our magnetosphere to the earth...I was wondering if you know how I could create a solar wind?" This is the sort of question we love to answer.

I hope you understand. We are human beings, not a computers. We have jobs, spouses and children. If our moderator gets 30 questions from your class of the type, "I need to find out about light for a school project," we simply cannot answer these. Questions like: "What is the difference between blue light and green light?" something that is pretty easy to find out on the Internet, *might* be answered, but probably not. A question like "I have discovered that light is made of photons, and that photons are particles with no mass. How is it possible to have a particle with no mass?" Then that one would be sent off to one of the physicists that volunteers to answer questions for science.ca.

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