What makes for a good science learning experience? I was thinking about this today and realized that, in my experience, fun isn't a requirement. In fact, some wonderful learning experiences aren't fun at all. When I really understood a scientific concept for the first time, there was usually some pain involved. Here's two examples:
When I was around four, my family went for an easy hike through the redwood forests of California. I saw something yellow against the carpet of pine needles and, thinking that it was a piece of banana, reached down to pick it up and eat it (hey, I was only four). But the banana moved! It wasn't a banana at all, but a banana slug! I was so startled that I probably dropped the poor thing and started to cry. I will never forget the shock of realizing that I nearly ate a slug!
Then in second grade, I got into a fight with a boy in my class. But he wasn't just any boy. He was smart and cute and I really wanted to make a good impression on him. We were talking about the weather (one of my favorite topics) and I said that when it rained, the sun wasn't in the sky. Obviously. There are only clouds up there, duh! And he said, no, you're wrong, the sun is up there, you just can't see it. Well, we argued about this for some time and -- I've blocked this part out of my memory -- somehow, we determined that I was wrong. I will never forget how embarrassed I was. (I told this story to second-grader Kerm recently and, upon learning that the boy won the argument, he just nodded and smiled.)
There are other experiences -- how I never understood my college chemistry labs until I banged my head upon every concept for the entire three hours, the way that identifying flowers in a field guide always meant more after I'd hiked up a mountain to see them, or how I spent my 21st birthday with friends, gorging on cake and cramming for a final exam in ecology class.
For some reason, the hardship involved cemented these memories -- and the concepts that went with them -- into my brain. I learned something new. And now that I'm older, I appreciate those memories for what they were -- good science learning lessons.