Earlier this week I was perusing the TED.com site and watching a few of the great videos that are to be found there and I came across one that made me take a mental step back. It was a talk given by Jonathan Drori centering on science education. He started his speech with four questions that he had asked a large range of people of all ages and implied that 7 year olds tended to do slightly better than older more educated people. I found this quite a claim, especially after hearing the questions*. So I thought I’d present the questions myself.

1. A little seed weighs next to nothing but a tree weighs a lot. Where does the tree get all the stuff that makes up a wooden desk?

2. Can you light a torch bulb with only a battery and one piece of wire?

3. Why is it hotter in summer than in winter?

4. Could you draw a plan diagram of the solar system showing the shape of the planets’ orbits?

The answers are in short form:

1. The Air.

2. Yes.

3. Because of the Earth’s tilt.

4.

Apparently many people find these answers surprising. Ask the average person why it is warmer in summer and they will (allegedly) reply that it’s because we are closer to the Sun. In fact it is because as the Earth orbits the Sun our tilted axis means that at certain points on the surface the Sun is shining directly down and at others is it shining at an oblique angle. This means that the rays are more spread out and the intensity is lower, winter comes.

Trees obviously get all their food from the ground, that’s why they have roots. But trees essentially make themselves out of Carbon, which they get from the air in the form of CO2.

The orbits of the planets are technically ellipses, but the difference between the Earth’s minimum and maximum distance is only about 4% (146 million km-152 million km). Not enough to make it visually different from a circle.

The light bulb one just mystifies me. It merely requires a circuit be made which can be done in several ways with a single piece of wire, the easiest being to connect one end of the battery to the body of the bulb with the wire and touch the base of the bulb to the other end of the battery.

Common sense is the collection of prejudices acquired by age eighteen.

– Albert Einstein (attributed)

*I actually got the fourth one wrong, I could argue it was a matter of degree not outright ignorance, but wrong is wrong.

Resources

http://www.ted.com/talks

http://www.ted.com/index.php/talks/jonathan_drori_on_what_we_think_we_know.html

http://space.jpl.nasa.gov/ – Awsome site simulating views of the solar sytem, planets and space craft.

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