Adventuring: A grounded theory discovered through the analysis of science teaching and learning

By Katrina M. Maloney, M.Sc., Ed.D.


The grounded theory of adventuring, derived from the substantive
area of science teaching and learning, explains both why scientific
thinking is an evolutionarily important trait and illustrates a common
thread throughout a variety of teaching and learning behaviors. The
core concept of adventuring incorporates the categories of exploring,
mavericking, and acquiring and applying skills that are the hallmarks
of positive science education. Learning science is difficult due to the
higher order cognitive skills required. This study explains how we
could be teaching and learning science in a way for which our brains
are best suited, and in ways that reach all learners, and encourages
the use of adventuring in all classrooms.


The grounded theory of adventuring explains behaviors of teachers
and learners. This study discusses the psychology/sociology of
teachers teaching science and students learning science through a
grounded theory analysis of behaviors, and elucidates the biological
process of thinking by discussing changes over time to the human
brain’s physiology and chemistry. In connecting the behaviors of
science thinkers to the biology of the brain’s hardware, this work
explains how we could be teaching and learning science in a way for
which our brains are best suited.

Adventuring, as a core concept, contains the three categories
of exploring, mavericking and acquiring and applying skills. Ten
dimensions of adventuring are also discussed in this study, identiftying
conditions, strategies, types and consequences of adventuring.
Although the theory of adventuring was discovered through an
exploration of the substantive area of science teaching and learning,
as soon as the theory was shared with others, it became apparent that
adventuring happens in a wide variety of situations and conceptualizes
latent patterns of behavior found in many learning scenarios.

Rationale: Why is Learning Science Difficult?

Studies summarized in Benchmarks for Scientific Literacy (American
Association for the Advancement of Science, 1991) and Shaping our
(National Science Foundation, 1996) state unequivocally that
there is a need to teach science well to promote the type of scientific
literacy necessary in a complex and increasingly global society.
Science is in our everyday space. The imperative to be active decision
makers in our country is a right and, as such, carries responsibility.
If we forfeit that right and deny the importance of science education
for all learners, we do a grave disservice to our communities, to our
country, and to our planet.

The higher level cognitive demands of science courses are very
difficult for a developing mind. Specifically, science courses blend
math skills and linguistic skills, higher order cognition skills of
hypothesis generation, analysis and modification. Science courses
require rote memorization, sequential organization, and sustained
attention to detail. Understanding science texts and participating
in class discussion require sophisticated receptive and expressive
language abilities (Levine, 1987). Troublesome issues for students
identified in college science classrooms by professors include:
use of scientific tools (hardware such as microscopes, centrifuges,
incubators, balances, pipettes, measuring instruments); science
literature (dichotomous keys, graphs/tables/charts, textbooks, journal
articles, popular press items); and the cognitive skills of analytical
thinking such as basic questioning, prediction, the hypothetical-
deductive process itself (proceeding from general concepts to
specific events, or, in other words, identifying the causes of results),
organization of data and concepts, creating and/or reading graphs
and charts, the recursive nature of science inquiry, and the possibility
of change in facts/theories/hypotheses. Students bring various
strengths to their work in the cognitive realm of science, but severe
deficits in background understanding of basic scientific processes are
obvious (personal communications, colleagues at a small liberal arts
college, 1999).

In addition to the list above, a skills-and-inquiry-based text and study
guide (Milani, 1987) identifies the following as “Science Cognition

-describing properties and changes
-using data tables
-inferring from data
-using models to understand ideas
-identifying variables
-making predictions from hypothesis
-interpreting data to test hypothesis
-revising hypotheses
-statistics (use and understanding)
-making graphs–organizing data for
-observing to find evidence for a concept or idea

As is apparent from the observations and teaching experiences of
college professors and literature written for classroom learning, there
is a complexity to the cognitive skills needed for successful scientific
thinking. Other elements involved include development (physical,
social, and intellectually maturity), biology (the health and “wiring” of
the brain/mind itself), psychological, cultural, and emotional aspects.

How we teach science today and to how we could be teaching science
if we understand how our brain/minds have evolved is a complex as
well as complicated issue. This grounded theory investigation of
the social activity of teaching and learning helps support the types
of changes in education imperative to our success as a society of


The grounded theory (GT) method, used in this study, involves a
process of discovery that begins with a broad topic. Investigations in GT
start with a grand tour question, one that is deliberately open-ended so
that participants reveal processes, assumptions, or behaviors that are
important to them, without prejudicing influences from the researcher.
Live interviews, classroom observations, published interviews and
science literature were analyzed and incorporated into the final theory
of adventuring. The open-ended nature of the initial data collection
provided rich sources of material. The constant comparative analysis
methods integral to the GT method were used to analyze all sources
of data in this study.

The GT method is uniquely suited to the study of the complex
social construct of science education, (and indeed, other areas of
education as well) because it is generated from data, not produced
by means of hypothesis verification. Grounded theory inductively
and systematically discovers theory from data. It generates rather
than verifies theory. Constant comparative analysis is employed in
grounded theory analysis to discover variables that might explain
the widest variety of behavior (Glaser, 1992). When an answer
seems imminent, the challenge is to keep asking, ‘How do I know?’
(Personal communication, Odis Simmons & Toni A. Gregory, June
2001). In this manner the analysis is kept honest to the data. The
constant implementation of strict comparison is the prime reason GT
research is rigorous, true to the data, and ultimately effective as a
social research tool (Glaser & Strauss, 1967; Glaser, 1992; Simmons
& Gregory, 2003).

Education is a social pursuit and is both a complicated (made up of
more than two elements) and a complex (interconnected) system.
Grounded theory analysis uses the cognitive skills of comparison,
spiral reasoning (recursiveness) and a systematic, rigorous approach
to data collection and analysis in order to approach and identify
an emergent theory. Data analysis informs theory and vice versa
(Glaser, 1992). To begin a GT study, questions asked include “How
do the parts (data) combine into a whole (theory)?” and, “How do the
everyday behaviors shown through what the interviewee chooses to
talk about indicate a theory to explain why these behaviors happen?”
In contrast, in scientific method research (used by the natural and
physical sciences), an hypothesis is generated after observation, then
tested and verified or modified according to the data (Campbell, 1996;
Kent & Coker, 1992). Inductive and deductive reasoning skills are used
in GT analysis, and are both useful and necessary when considering
complex systems of education. The use of a conceptual theoretical
model, rather than either a qualitative or quantitative tradition alone,
yields a rich, relevant, workable and eventually modifiable theory.

Grounded theory, as a discovery system, is most suited to the study
of the intricate and controversial system of education. Educators and
learners are a widely diverse group, and there are many opinions about
the problems and successes of our education system. GT methods
suit this at times inextricable maze of a system by maintaining the
strict adherence to description and coding of behaviors while holding
at bay preconceptions, to get to the root of the matter: How can we
conceptualize the wide variety of behaviors inherent in teaching
and learning? The theory of adventuring is one explanation for the
behaviors exhibited by science teachers and learners.

The Theory of Adventuring

The three major categories of adventuring are “exploring,”
“mavericking,” and the “acquisition and application of skills.” Any
person who actively seeks out physical or mental challenge in new
ways, proceeds to overcome those challenges in ways that are not
conventional, and then applies the new knowledge to another task
is adventuring. The purpose of adventuring is not to produce an
end product (although certain actions may have an endpoint such
as laboratory experiments). Adventuring behaviors have a deeper
objective than just to get somewhere, do something, or make a mark
on an actual or metaphorical mountain top. The point is the journey,
the challenges that arise during the process, and the knowledge that,
even for an expert in the field, something new is to be learned each
day or from each event. Each new learning impacts others, and the
results or consequences of the present may appear at a later time.

As Nobel laureate Barbara McClintock stated:

People get the idea that your ego gets in the way a lot of time-
-ego in the sense of wanting returns. But you don’t care about
those returns. You have the enormous pleasure of working on
it. The returns are not what you are after.
(Bertsch McGrayne, 1998, p.168)

A professional woman interviewed said that she was not interested
in research: “Something or someone always gets hurt–slugs or
chimps, whatever.” She preferred to practice her science, to read
about clinical trials, but to actually do her job was more rewarding
than seeking answers to hypothetical questions. Her experiences in
“getting my hands dirty” were more important than any lab work she
could have done. Referring to academia, she said: “It is not where you
life is–it’s your work that’s important.”

In the context of teaching and learning science, adventuring occurs
in classrooms on the part of the instructor and the student, in
laboratories, and in the field. Each of these environments holds the
necessary atmosphere for the dimensions, categories and properties
of adventuring. In a dynamic classroom, the instructor and students
each need to explore, have fun, do tasks, and acquire skills to be
used in the next task. Most science courses have some component
of laboratory experimentation, and this is recognized as an important
hands-on teaching and learning technique (NSF, 1996). Most
students like lab activities. The lab serves as an alternative to the less
multimodal aspects of the classroom lecture model.

Field workers (veterinarians, foresters, biological survey workers, etc.)
have the opportunity to adventure in the best setting of all. The natural
world is full of opportunities for adventuring, and indeed is the original
stage for such behaviors. For instance, Jane Goodall pioneered
primate ethnology by conducting observations in the chimp’s own wild
habitat rather than in artificial environments such as zoos in the 1960s
(Montgomery, 1991).

Research laboratory workers, both principal investigators and research
assistants, have opportunities to adventure every day in their work. A
successful research scientist working in a laboratory, who is a leading
figure in her field, talked about her favorite thing is about her job:

Finding out something new that nobody ever knew before.
The whole process of being involved and finding out things
and the excitement of discovery is absolutely tremendous.

Conditions of Adventuring

Having control over one’s own schedule is important to successful
adventuring. Labs, classrooms, the field, and generally nontraditional
environments are conducive to adventuring. The flexible daily schedule
may fit a person’s own circadian rhythm, or creative cycles. Scientists
might put in 14 or more hours a day in the laboratory (Sonnert &
Holton, 1995), college professors may hold classes in the early
morning or evenings. Legend has it that Buckminster Fuller dreamed
of the structure of carbon now called a Bucky-ball, and “Eureka!” was
uttered by Archimedes in his bath. A research scientist remarked:

There are days that I get out in 8 hours and there are days
that I don’t. A lot of times I do more like 10 hours…but there is
flex time as long as you get the work done you can be flexible
about your hours. I don’ t have to be there at 6:30 a.m., but I’m
just much more of a morning person and I live close.

Creative thinking is fostered in adventuring scenarios. Although
nonlinear thinking is not traditionally considered a science cognitive
skill, it is very important that there be freedom from the institutional
structure to utilize creative methods. A worker in a research lab said:

Every once in a while they [drug companies] come up with
something new like now you need to have a [specific product]
which is what I helped develop…They wanted to get it on the
market, so they had three existing [products] that they thought
would work, so they gave them to me and said, “Figure out
how to make this work”, so that’s what I did! It was cool!

Teamwork is an available option in adventuring. Several interviewees
mentioned the social aspect of doing science.

[Science is a] very social endeavor…somehow I’ve done
fairly well with people in my lab in terms of keeping them
happy…because of the fact that they feel that it’s a positive

Group work is often encouraged in science classrooms. Lab partners
are almost always assigned, to build cooperation and teamwork
skills in students, but also because some tasks need two people
to accomplish. In a marine biology class visited, the students were
paired up so that one could take notes while the other observed snails.
Sometimes teamwork is integral to the event, such as teacher-student
dynamics, team product development, physical assistance in the field,
and so on. At other times the scientist is alone, experimenting with
different ways to answer a question, or simply cogitating on the data.
“I enjoy mostly working by myself or with a small number of scientists
and students,” said one participant. Jane Goodall isolated herself from
other humans in order to observe the wild chimpanzees in their natural
environment (Montgomery, 1991). Barbara McClintock developed the
“capacity to be alone” (Fox Keller, 1983, p. 17) from an early age, and
this strength supported her research endeavors throughout her life.

Part of adventuring is the serial completion of tasks. There are things
to do, places to go, people to see, and ideas to contemplate. There are
classes to teach, research to conduct, clients to meet, reports to write.
Each task is time delineated with the beginning, middle, and end as
discrete. The tasks may be related, and a series of tasks comprising a
project is a key component of adventuring. (See below for a complete
description of variable tasking.)

In adventuring, the individual has control over Intellectual
processes and personal motivation
. In adventuring, the day-today
accomplishment of goals is self-regulated, self-directed, and
self-satisfying. For instance- laboratory protocols are designed by
researchers themselves (“With this product, I made the protocol, so
everyone follows the protocol I came up with”); professors design and
implement their courses (“I do a lot of independent studies…I get out
there with curriculum development work, bio majors who want to be
bio teachers, for instance”); and field workers have only themselves
to rely on when confronted with tasks to accomplish or problems to
solve. In adventuring, internal motivation to succeed, grow, use new
skills, and/or relate old knowledge to new challenges is strong.

Adventuring is not about being safe and comfortable, it is about
actively seeking challenge: risk is available. Jobs that are intrinsically
risky are considered fun and desirable: The challenge is the attraction
that maintains high interest and engagement. Risk may be intellectual,
as for this research scientist: “In choosing a subject, there has been
a deliberate and very strong desire to choose something that can be
completely one’s own. And this is clearly true with me, in terms of
what I’ve chosen, even if it is high risk.” And risk can be physical, as in
exploring a relatively inaccessible ecosystem, working in the field with
large animals, or working alone in the woods.

Risk is not necessarily involved in daily survival needs–basic bodily
needs such as food and housing are met, so that one can concentrate
on higher order intellectual activities.

There are three types of freedoms associated with adventuring:

• Mechanical freedom comes about by gaining the knowledge of
tools to DO actions/tasks. A professional scientist learned all the
skills she needed to go out and do her job, and therefore could
go beyond the basics in her everyday work. A college professor
said, “[my graduate experience] is really driving who I’m becoming
as a teacher.” The abilities gained through mastering skills allow
adventuring to be realized.

• Expressive freedom is made available when creativity is
unleashed and allowed, encouraged to flourish, and focused to
use as a tool. Innovation, approaching problems from creative
points of view, and being encouraged to do so is important in
successful adventuring. After students are taught certain skills
(i.e., observation, hypothesis development), then “let loose”
on a project with support for creative approaches, adventuring
happens. Discussing the undergraduate professor for whom
she became a research assistant, Barbara McClintock said, “He
just left me to do anything I wanted to do, just completely free”
(Fox Keller, 1983, p.39). The early trust her supervisor placed in
McClintock fostered her creative abilities and encouraged her to
have faith in her own intelligence.

• After mechanics are learned and creativity unleashed, mental
to use all of the exploring, mavericking, and acquisition
of skills of adventuring at once is possible. After Rosalind Franklin
left Kings College (where she had discovered the structure of the
B form of DNA in 1951), she had a lab at Birkbeck College and a
project to study viruses. At Birkbeck, she had grants, assistants,
space, and the respect of her colleagues. Franklin proceeded to
publish 17 papers on virus structure between 1953 and 1958,
a prolific record (Sayre, 1975). The combined conditions of
Franklin’s extensive background in x-ray technique, the availability
of an interesting and unique problem to which she could apply her
creative skills, and the conditions which allowed her to flourish
and apply all of her skills exemplify the freedoms of adventuring.

Strategies of Adventuring

In order to maintain the adventuring state, scientists take on many
different responsibilities (teaching load, independent student projects,
writing, sitting on committees, presenting at/attending conferences,
projects in a lab). Interacting with colleagues of like mind for mutual
discussion and understanding also occurs. Socializing with peers
is fun, interesting, and synergistic: New knowing can come from
such interactions. A strategy of maintaining the adventuring state
for teachers may be taking a lower paying teaching job rather than
pursing research at a university. Adventuring requires flexibility in
daily schedules as well as broader considerations such as geographic
location or job description. A college professor said:

This is one of the best jobs in the world as far as I’m
concerned, because, if you were at a large research institute
as a professor, you know, I’d have a lot less flexibility…here
if I want to do my scholarship on an organism one year, I can
switch to something different the next year.

Furthering one’s own professional development by attending
conferences, presenting, reading others’ work, and moving to a
geographic location that has the situation desired with all the proper
elements are additional strategies of adventuring. Adventuring
teachers or researchers learn skills from their own education, both
formally in graduate school and informally as they teach in their fields.
The skills thus acquired are vital to the recursive nature of adventuring.
Each skill learned and applied gathers others to it and advances the
spiral loop of exploration and discovery.

Types of Adventuring

In the realm of scientific teaching and learning, there are two main
types of adventuring: (a) teaching, which, as an added result,
prepares others to adventure into science inquiry, and (b) researching
or “doing science.” Both types are active, seek change, and impact
others through the combined behaviors of adventuring. Adventuring
through teaching incorporates action agents– meta-catalysts seeking
out events and acting upon such for change. “Teaching adventuring”
acts after, beyond, behind, along with, and among other people
to bring about new knowledge, and in so doing is strengthened
and changed in preparation for the next event. As a meta-catalyst,
teaching adventuring is not used up during a reaction but grows
stronger and more expert as it travels long the loops of adventuring. A
college professor said:

I’m not producing much science, but I’m helping produce
scientists…so I feel like I have much more impact on my
field in this position than I would if I was a practicing, doing
research, although I try to do some of that, but you know when
students come in and do all these independent projects, you
know it takes away from my getting my research done, but…
through them I get to explore about other new things….so
my motivation [in taking on independent students] is to have
those students go off and do such great things afterwards,
that huge amount of confidence they gain from working one
on one with you… so you get the direct mentoring and also
this opportunity to explore something that’s important to

Researching adventuring may or may not incorporate active teaching.
Laboratory assistants, post- doctoral appointments, or student interns
are sometimes present in laboratories or the field, but for the most
part, researching adventuring is focused on solving problems. Franklin
and McClintock studied DNA to answer specific questions (Fox Keller,
1983; Sayre, 1975); in commercial laboratories researching may be
done to create product; in ecological or field research, observation is
employed for better understanding (Montgomery, 1991). Researching
behaviors relate directly to adventuring by being examples of
exploration, skill application, and creative problem solving. The
mechanics of adventuring include overlapping, recursive, branching,
confluence, compiling, creating, and synthesizing skills, all of which
are deliberately taught.

Consequences of Adventuring

The positive consequences of adventuring include a sense of
fulfillment in experiencing a full life of the mind. Fun and playing are
high interest motivators, and those who adventure seek out situations
wherein fun is a component. When adventuring, a person achieves
satisfaction of doing what s/he is good at, and has a sense of freedom
and control over his or her own intellect and career trajectory. The
integration of skills develops self-confidence, and when choices
are available they are often self-identified: “I love my job!” was said
repeatedly in interviews. The participants felt that it is rewarding to do
something they love, and to do it well.

There are negative consequences of the choice to pursue adventuring.
Long days in the classroom and/or lab, tiredness, burnout, or hyperfocus
can produce an imbalance in the mind/body/spirit realms, stress,
illness. There is a need to protect one’s work from potential plagiarism,
and time management is problematical, “There is never enough time
to do it all”, “It’s hard to balance it all “. For most, there were personal
choices regarding partner relationships, family, geographic locations,
travel, on so on.

Yeah, I had to make choices after [grad] school and it was
hard, it was hard to leave a relationship, but I hated [where
she was living]. I just had to live in the country, so I could have
all this and develop my practice, too.

The Categories of Adventuring

The three main categories of adventuring are exploring, mavericking,
and acquiring/applying new skills and knowledge.


In adventuring, teachers and learners of science explore their
ways into mysteries, and use skills to understand how things
work. Exploring involves questioning. Sir Edmund Hillary, the first
European (and most public figure) to climb Mount Everest and return,
was clearly questioning the formidable mountain environment for
scientific and personal reasons (Morris, 2003). The botanists and
anthropologists who opened the western world to Africa, the secrets
of ancient Egyptians, the evolutionary origins of humans, Armstrong
and his colleagues who stepped on the soil of our moon– these
men and women exemplified exploration in the name of science.
Indeed, the brave, talented, knowledgeable, and well-backed Lewis
and Clark expedition may be the epitome of our cultural icon, The
Explorer (Duncan & Burns, 1997). Ultimately, contribution to scientific
knowledge, and therefore a greater understanding of humanity’s place
in the global system are the goals and objectives of exploring.

A college professor interviewed said: “I still want each student to
find their strengths and to have a well-rounded experience like I had
during my PhD.” Her students had the opportunity to explore a variety
of topics before they chose their senior thesis. “You give them an
opportunity to be involved in some kind of project and they find they
really enjoy that. It’s supposed to be a time of exploration.” In two
high school science classes observed, students actively explored live
organisms. In a marine biology class, students were given live snails
and asked to design an experiment with them; in a biology class,
students were shown cryptogams and asked to observe the structure
and form of the various specimens.

A Shift from Fear to Curiosity: The First Scientific Questions

The hominids Homo habilis, H. erectus, and H. sapiens neanderthalensis
began their extraordinary evolution toward modern Homo sapiens
in a milieu that included rapid climate change and increasing
diversification of all life forms some 1.5 million years ago (Wilson,
1992). The increased use of symbolic language, communication,
social order, representative art (Donald, 1991), and the beginnings of
science adventuring thinking happened simultaneously during the mid
to late Pleistocene epoch. Brain anatomy and function, particularly
the amygdala response to stimuli 1 and the enlarging prefrontal
cortex2, were essential for the development of scientific cognition in
the hominid. Adventuring behaviors probably evolved as questioning,
discriminating, and exploring the environment (rudimentary “scientific
thinking”) became the normal behavior of the hominid. Donald (1991)
described the evolution of the Homo brain by noting three anatomical
markers in the fossil record: (a) the rise of bipedalism at approximately
4 million years ago, (b) a significant enlargement of the skull between
the species Australopithecus and Homo habilis at 2 million years ago,
and (c) a second increase in skull capacity (and therefore a larger
brain) with the change from Homo erectus to archaic Homo sapiens
at 120,000 years ago. It is probable that a shift in the hominid response
to an alien object or event happened due to the animal’s interaction
with an increasingly diverse environment, and resulted in exploration
and the beginnings of adventuring behaviors.

From the “immediate flee” response to the unknown, H. sapiens
developed curiosity and discrimination: “What is
this? Will it help or hurt me? Is it poisonous or eatable?” The animal
now experimented, tested, and explained its surroundings. Ultimately
this shift led to large brains, distinct culture and language, scientific
thought processes based on the possibilities of the unknown rather
than fear of the unknown, and the adventuring behaviors exhibited
today by the large brained, sophisticated Homo sapiens sapiens.


The property of fun includes having interesting and new issues to
work with. Through experimenting, discovering and researching a
variety of issues, interest is kept high, leading to strong motivation to
continue the exploration and sustaining the fun. Sometimes having
fun is solitary, sometimes experienced with teamwork. The freedom to
play, have fun, and the accompanying self-autonomy is an essential
element in exploring.

I love teaching, it’s fun. ……We did some stuff on plants, and the
genes, I liked the genes, it was fun. It was interesting to see the
particular things, vertebrates, phylums, cool, yeah, we dissected
a starfish…before that we did mealworms, but those weren’t very
exciting, those were boring…Oh we did snails, too. I had a snail
friend Larry; we did stuff with them, and wrote a report.


Curiosity is fun. An integral aspect of the cogitative and behavioral
shift from fear to curiosity was the element of fun. From the earliest
mentions of games by the ancient Greek writers to the research
conducted at universities on children’s play development, play theory
has emphasized the presence of curiosity in the playing individual
(Levy, 1978). Levy established three criteria for the definition of
play: intrinsic motivation, suspension of reality, and internal locus of
control. Humans are stimulus seekers, and will distinguish among the
intensity, meaningfulness, and variation of play activities. “Play is the
behavior that maintains optimal flow of stimulation for the individual”
(Levy, 1978, p.132).

Play is spontaneous, free form, can occur with others or with one’s
self, and is creative. Gaming is a zero-sum event (I win, therefore
you lose), is organized or rule based, happens against others, and is
structured. Both playing for the sake of playing, and gaming with rules
occur while exploring in adventuring – playing around, playing with,
messing around, having fun with. One working scientist interviewed
stated that fun is a corporate fundamental value that she was rated on
in her yearly evaluations for promotion. In adventuring, the element of
fun is important for maintaining a high level of interest and therefore is
a motivating factor. Each one of the interviews studied mentioned fun
or the pleasurable nature of work.

Levy’s (1978) first criterion for the definition of play is that the
behavior has intrinsic motivation. Play is not forced, structured, or
bounded by external forces. Play disintegrates into duty if rewarded.
In adventuring behaviors, there is a strong internal drive–a passion
for the work that at times exceeds common sense regarding the
balance of time/effort and direct compensation, financial or otherwise.
In fact, adventuring may put a person in a position of lower financial
compensation, acceptable because of the wish to maintain the
adventuring state. Fulfillment, happiness, the sense of well being, and
tangible contributions to the greater good are attributes of adventuring
that are not externally rewarded. The development of play behaviors
in children is an important precursor to having fun in adventuring
situations later in their academic or professional lives.

Variable Tasking

Variable tasking encompasses behavior that occurs in laboratory
investigation situations. Variable tasking involves doing a number of
different tasks, sometimes simultaneously. It is fun, it has variety, it has
novelty, and each step has rules. It is a game. There are parameters
around each task (rules), steps that must be taken in sequence. There
are time boundaries (an experiment may be timed for reaction/ etc.),
or there are external time pressures (got to get it to market; beat the
other scientists to publish; the class period is only a certain number
of minutes long). There are protocols/processes to follow that are
important for replication and for learning.

Variable tasking also has an end point: There is a result. This result
informs the next task (often, if the variable tasks are a series of
experiments, each builds on the previous). A product, a new hypothesis,
a variation of a theory, a new something is produced. Multi-tasking is
characterized by tasks that are not necessarily connected, whereas
variable tasks are interrelated, sequential and/or recursive. Behaviors
that illustrate variable tasking are those conducted in the laboratory,
such as experimenting, where tasks are serial and orderly. Training
is necessary for the use of instruments (microscopes, cameras,
etc.) and cognitive skills are required, particularly the ability to follow
protocols in a step-wise manner, and the ability to question the fitness
of an event. A research scientist described her day:

I can come in and run a test, organize it, take a break for lunch
then do the assay in the afternoon. If I can finish my assay
early enough when I can get back to my desk for a couple of
hours, and either read a report, write a report, do my data, go
to a meeting.

The teachers observed engaged in variable tasking by having clearly
defined sections during the 45-minute class periods. For instance, in
a chemistry class, the teacher started with the review of a test taken
the previous day, then introduced new material, then had the students
talk in small groups, then reviewed what they had come up with. Each
task had a defined beginning, middle, and end, which was explicitly
identified by the teacher for the students. In a marine biology class,
again, the teacher had clearly defined sections to the class period:
preview of assignments and activities to come, preview of the day’s
activity and the activity itself.

In each class, the tasks had parameters of time (10- to 12-minute
intervals), a clearly defined process for covering the material, and an
end point defined both by the class period allocation but also by the
completion of the task. Each task was related but could stand alone.
Incidentally, this process modeled scientific investigation for the
students by explicitly identifying tasks to accomplish and then carrying
out the tasks.

The following characteristics are found in variable tasking:
organization, interest, skills, flexibility, high energy, patience,
sometimes teamwork, independence, confidence in self, confidence
from peers or supervisor, strong sequential thinking, and creative
thinking. These are similar to the “science cognition” skills identified
by Milani (1987) in a study skill workbook (see introduction). Play also
relates to the exploring nature of variable tasking. The high level of
interest and resulting stimulus, time parameters, and an end result are
similar to the process of playing a game. Many games have strategy,
a linear progression of events, and an eventual outcome that parallel
the experience of a scientist adventuring in a laboratory. For instance,
card games have rules and laboratory experiments follow protocol;
card games can be played solo, in pairs or groups, and an individual
scientist or the research teams work separately or together; card
games have a winner at an end point; laboratory work has results to
be analyzed and reported in a final document.

Playing around with data and ideas in the tangible world or inside
one’s head is not particular to scientists. What makes these behaviors
interesting and adventuring is the nature of the thought process.
The questioning, observation, experimenting, and analyzing of the
exploring dimension is highly creative and risky. The property of
mavericking explains the type of exploring that makes adventuring
applicable to science teaching and learning.


Scientists are curious; they seek adventure and answers to explain
the natural world, the “the other”, “ the unknown”. In ancient times,
this mode of thinking may have been an imperative to survival, but at
a more recent point, it became a luxury. Some cultures today value
this way of thinking so highly that educational institutions are required
to teach children scientific thinking. For example, each public school
child is exposed to a variety of natural sciences in the United States
general curriculum3, and is expected to be scientifically literate by
the end of the legally mandated schooling period (AAAS, 1991; NSF,

The mavericking category of adventuring includes taking a stand
that is independent from others in a group. Accepting challenge,
taking risks, and solving problems creatively are important, but the
distinguishing behavior in mavericking is that exciting and unusual
experiences, either mental or physical, are actively pursued.
Properties of mavericking include actively seeking hard work and
advancing into unknowns (whether it be an hypothesis, a forest, or a
classroom) actively, deliberately, and with preparation.

People think that it must be really horrible in science when
the idea that you have turns out not to be true, but I find the
opposite almost–because when what you thought was going
to happen isn’t true, you’re surprised. And I find that really
great! I love it!

Mavericking may include pursuing a different career path than
expected, or being viewed by others as different.

Other members of my family think I’m sort of weird because I
didn’t get married … the typical type of thing… [growing up on
a farm] it wasn’t the kind of 9 to 5, five days a week existence
that seems to be the general norm now–certainly something
I still can’t do.

When I was in high school, I was not a particularly social
person; I had friends, but they were all slightly odd people
with unusual aspirations.

Challenge is exciting and fun. Speculation is joyous. Thinking about
things from different angles, being open to new ideas, and continually
moving onto the next event are important properties of mavericking.

[in] some areas [of teaching] I feel really confident, and some
areas, I’m like whooooo! what have I got myself into?? So I’m
pretty adventurous as far as that goes, I don’t mind just trying
something else, I try to be as responsible as I can, like the
course [a new class] that I’m teaching right now… it’s not the
typical type of assessment that I’m used to doing, so that’s
what I mean by trying something different, all my tools of the
trade don’t work in a course like that. What do people do when
they teach a course like this? [laughs]…so I’m willing to try
certain things.

Being brave, open, and curious; having self-confidence, drive, energy
and passion for work all distinguish the category of mavericking.

My friend C and I tried to get them [snails in their experiment]
to race…hers against mine, along a ruler to the other end, but
it didn’t work, they were climbing all over the rulers…but we
tried lots of things.

Mavericking presupposes that physical and basic survival needs
are fulfilled (one’s salary covers the rent) and that there are more
important, interesting, and fun tasks with which to fill the days. In
addition, mavericking behaviors are by necessity highly creative. The
type of thinking that characterizes and informs mavericking may be
a byproduct of a personality style, but the behaviors that encompass
mavericking in the adventuring context are supported by deliberate
instruction in skills training. The acquisition and application of specific
cognitive and mechanical skills that are necessary to mavericking are
discussed below.

Acquiring and Applying Skills

A new scientific theory is seldom or never just an increment
to what is already known. Its assimilation requires the
reconstruction or prior theory and the re-evaluation of prior
fact, an intrinsically revolutionary process that is seldom
completed by a single man and never overnight. (Kuhn, 1970,

The category of acquiring and applying skills includes the properties
of tool use (both cognitive and mechanical), absorbing lessons, and
foresight. Acquiring and applying skills is fun, creative, and satisfying.
As a person gets better at a skill, applies it to the task, game, or
adventure, s/he becomes satisfied and challenged at the same time.
S/he wants to do it again, do more, take on the next question, seek
new adventures–strive, conquer, and apply to a new scenario. Each
of the interviews examined for this study exemplified these behaviors
through curiosity, passion, and alternative approaches to discovering
and researching scientific questions.

The recursive nature of acquiring and applying skills requires behaviors
that build upon one another in a constant, spiral, and integrated way.
Combining previously unconnected elements to synthesize and
converge theory is the basic nature of scientific inquiry.
I do think that science, science thinking requires a certain
training of the mind, at least for me it did. I have my science
side that thinks through logically, then I have my other side
that is a release from that way of thinking, so I don’t have to
think that way…a lot of folks don’t understand that it took a lot
of training to do that, and that a lot of our students can’t just
pick up and think like that.

Tool Use

Acquiring and applying skills through tool use happens in both the
cognitive and mechanical realms of behavior:

• Cognitive tool use (language; ability to synthesize, recombine,
and recurse; mathematics).

In order to relate the cognitive skills of Homo sapiens sapiens to
the behaviors of acquiring and applying skills, it is important to
understand the evolutionary development of the hominid brain.
During the Pleistocene epoch, (12-1.5 million years before the
present) earth’s climate was highly varied. In the north, glaciers
came and went; in the south, torrential rains called pluvials stopped
and started, and there was great diversification among species in
response to environmental change (Morgan, 1972; Wilson, 1992).
The early hominid Australopithecus eventually became extinct as
hominid radiation (diversification of the species) increased and
Homo species became dominant.4 The animal evolving into Homo
sapiens neanderthalensis had to develop a toolbox of cognitive
skills to deal with the variety of climatic conditions, rivals, and food
sources. Buss (1999) stated that humans evolved psychological
mechanism (sets of procedures) designed to take in specific
information, transform such information through decision-making
rules (if…then…) into output that solved an adaptive problem
faced by the animal.

For instance, the hominid had to create a question in order to
make a decision about a food source: “If I eat this, will I then be
sick?” The formulation of questions involves a more sophisticated
cognitive relationship with the environment than previously
needed. As problems became more specific, psychological
mechanisms tailored to such events evolved, leading to behavior
which was flexible, adaptive, and extremely complex (Buss,
1999). It was during this time that scientific thinking became
necessary for the long- term survival and ultimate evolution of
the hominid brain into the magnificently complex mind present in
Homo sapiens sapiens. Without the cognitive tool of questioning,
adventuring is not possible, and without language, science is not

Donald (1991) theorized that human language developed in
tandem with human culture. “[Human culture] is [an] integrated
pattern of adaptation, a complete survival strategy. It forms
the larger framework into which various cognitive components
…including language must be fitted” (Donald, 1991, p. 201).
Language started from concrete, environment-bound, and
episodic culture in the early hominid groups. As Homo erectus
developed the larger brain, vocal apparatus, and more complex
social organization (including cooperation in procuring food), a
cultural shift occurred. Thus a mimetic culture utilized gesture to
represent action. As time advanced, the mimetic culture began
to integrate knowledge and develop mythic representations to
“explain” natural events, and to record behaviors (Donald, 1991).

Archaic humans developed linguistic speech as vocal organs
became more complex and skulls modified to provide space for
a tongue, larynx, and pharynx. External storage for memories
(pictures represented things) and theoretical construction began
to emerge at this time (Donald, 1991). Symbolic language, both
written and spoken, are essential cognitive tools for adventuring.
Scientific language is distinct from the jargon used in other
academic disciplines, and is often reported as a significant barrier
to science learning for students (AAAS, 1991; Levine, 1987).

• Mechanical tool use (scientific instruments, computers)

Basic training on methods of using scientific instruments in the
laboratory or field, computers, measuring devises, and so on
are important aspects of acquiring and applying skills specific
to the task at hand. A participant talked about the different
activities she did in class to learn science: experiments with living
organisms, dissections, memorization, crossword puzzles, tests,
quizzes, “hands-on games,” videos, slides, writing reports. Also,
students had pets for which they had the responsibility of feeding,
observing, and experimenting with while keeping them alive.
Other skills taught were graphing, using mathematics, taking
notes from the board, reading scientific language. One student
explained what was covered the year before:

Temperature and time, graphing, seeing how the temperature
rose, how long it took, here’s my lab report: “prove the density
of water”, graphing, yeah, we do that in math, too.

Absorbing lessons

Learning from parents, mentors, teachers, or colleagues and taking
advantage of opportunities and developing foresight are properties of
acquiring and applying skills.

I never had the type of advice that, oh, girls don’t do that sort
of thing. Any kind of biased upbringing just never occurred to
my parents.

My Ph.D. experience was wonderful because I had a great
advisor: Dr. Y– was great, she didn’t throw me to the wolves…
but my postdoc was disastrous due to a witch of an advisor…it
was horrible, she had no patience, was mean.

Childhood experiences impact the development of skills. One
interviewee described “playing” as picking up a volume of the

I remember I would often pick up H because it had horses
in it, but once I was in H, I would read about Hindus, I would
read about what ever….and that somehow fed into getting
interested in more advanced stuff. It’s not that the actual
material I was reading was significant, but it gave me a
sense of connectedness later, with things that really were

Acquiring skills both cognitive and mechanical, and then applying
such skills to science teaching and learning can be placed within
developmental considerations, and should be carefully considered
within educational contexts. Adventuring, both in and out of the
classroom, may hold significant importance to advancing science
education change.


What is “scientific thinking”? What is scientific language? Why do we
distinguish between the language of teaching humanities and teaching
science and mathematics? Our universities are divided into schools of
Humanities or Sciences, and it is rare that a person excels in both
realms. But why do we make these distinctions and what ramifications
does this segregation have to how we teach, and how we learn? The
answer lies in the development of theoretical symbolic and highly
complex language developed by archaic Homo sapiens and refined,
expanded, and perfected by Homo sapiens sapiens.

In our current educational system, according to Donald (1991),
the narrative mode of thinking is represented by the literary arts,
and the analytic mode of thought in science, law, and government.
Narrative and mythic modes of thought attribute significance to
events by modeling and linking by analogy. These processes are
attributed by Donald to the ancestral mimetic culture of the Upper
Paleolithic and Neolithic time periods, and are encompassed by the
more sophisticated analytic thought. Products of analytic thought are
formal argument, systematic taxonomies, inductive and deductive
analysis, verification, differentiation, quantification, idealization, and
formal measurement. Theoretical thought is the highest level product
because it is a system which predicts and explains (Donald, 1991).

Science education to date has focused on mastering content: facts
and vocabulary must be memorized and spit back in laboratory reports
and on examinations (Byrnes 1996; Kuhn, 1970; NSF, 1996; Polloway
& Patton, 1993; Wyckoff, 2001; Shepherd, 1993). The traditional
teaching of science to undergraduates, according to Wyckoff (2001),
is through lecture. Wyckoff maintained that this reliance on a clearly
demonstrated ineffective teaching style is the major limiting factor in
the quality of science education in the United States.

Scientific thinking is characterized by certain reasoning processes:
deduction, induction, inference, interpretation, systematic classification,
recursiveness, receptive and expressive communication, and
mathematical abilities. And science is hard. It takes practice, discipline,
experience, and a level of intellectual maturity to successfully
negotiate scientific thought processes. Understanding and taking
advantage of the adventuring nature of teaching and learning science
can strip away some of those mysterious and intimidating qualities. A
participant in this study said, “You don’t have to be a particular type
of person to do science, or to enjoy science.” That statement may be
true, however, science thinking and learning uses specialized cognitive
processes that can be actively fostered in students by informed,
creative, and adventuresome teaching. If, as Polloway and Patton
(1993) stated, the three main dimensions of science learning and the
associated cognitive skills are information acquisition: observation,
listening, reading, study skills, directed experimentation; information
processing: organization, analysis, classification; and information
integration: synthesis, hypothesis, independent experimentation,
generalization, evaluation; then the theory of adventuring is clearly
relevant to the effective teaching of those skills.

Student success in science courses structured in nontraditional ways
was examined (Allen, Tainter, Pires, & Hoekstra, 2001; Krupa, 2000;
Reiss & Tunnicliffe, 1999; Wyckoff, 2001) and were noted in the NSF
and AAAS studies mentioned above. There is consensus that a shift
from lecture style dissemination to inquiry-based and experiential
modalities, along with the incorporation of multi-sensory approaches
may enhance scientific thinking skill development for students.

Although it is a cognitive tool of scientific discovery, linear thinking may
be the hardest aspect of science literacy to teach students. Adolescent
students are at the cognitive development stage where moving from
concrete ideas about the way the world works and the very nature of
science to the realization that science does not create truth. This is a
stunningly difficult notion. Students must be able to hold contradictory
statements of fact in their minds and, at the same time, draw on what
they know to reach the logical conclusion expected by the teacher
or the task. To teach the notion that science thinking tools include
approaching the data from an altogether different angle–a creative,
nonlinear, and perhaps a spiral approach, indeed a mavericking
approach, would clearly benefit adolescent students.

Adventuring in the Classroom

The best science teaching methods rely on one-on-one attention. In
classrooms observed for this study, laboratory periods were spent
with the teacher directing each student in the way that that particular
student received instruction. Teaching diagnostically was important,
but the challenge to balance skill and content instruction, keeping
student interest high and output rigorous, while also attending to the
particular “science” cognitive tools could be overwhelming.

Teachers observed rose to this challenge in a number of highly
creative and effective ways. Students were subjected to a variety
of multimodal instruction. For instance, a final exam in an anatomy
class included a scavenger hunt all over campus to collect bones to
complete a human skeleton and answer specific concept questions.
Alternative evaluation mechanisms such as multimedia presentations,
posters, kinesthetic representations (via dance) as well as written
papers to show mastery of the material were assigned. Chemistry
laboratory experiences were inquiry based rather than “cookbook
chem labs.” Students were taught to ask questions about chemical
principles, then design their own activities to find the answers.
Faculty also incorporated course worldwide web pages to facilitate
communication; used computer-generated presentations for lectures;
used computer compact disk programs, videos, and other assistive
technology to enhance the multimodal presentations of material. Field
trips and field research on campus were also widely used by science
faculty. A variety of teaching modalities is essential when reaching
adolescent students.

In addition to all the academic requirements of their time and energy,
secondary and college students face the typical adolescent issues
of identity, cognitive readiness for higher order thinking, parental
expectations, stimulating environments away from home, availability
of alcohol, drugs, and sex. Students may or may not be engaged in
their own intellectual growth, no matter what they think their purpose
is at school. Educators can tap into the evolutionary aspects of
challenge and risk, and in so doing, provide a hook on which students
may hang their learning. Adventuring is an effective model for a variety
of teaching situations and is applicable to all learners.

By applying adventuring behaviors to everyday work, teachers and
learners could enhance their experiences and deepen their thinking
skills. It is easy to be critical of education today, but there is a world
of information about how the brain works vis à vis development of
reasoning and higher order cognition. Articles about creative ways
to ensure engagement and inquiry about, in particular, scientific
principles, are published regularly in teaching and research journals.

The National Science Foundation’s year-long review of postsecondary
science, mathematics, engineering and technology (SME&T) teaching,
published as Shaping Our Future in 1996, states that there were
significant advancements in undergraduate teaching methods since
the previous study (the Neal Report of 1986). However, much more
needs to be done to assure that United States students learn science
and that teachers are prepared to teach SME&T. Recommendations
from the 1996 NSF report include specific charges for higher education
faculty, departments, administrators and accrediting agencies as well
as local governments, industry, media, and nearly every echelon of
our society up to the White House. The recommendations relevant to
the current argument include:

SME&T faculty: Believe and affirm that every student can
learn, and model good practices that increase learning; start
with the student’s experience, but have high expectations
within a supportive climate; and build inquiry, a sense of
wonder and the excitement of discovery
, plus communication
and teamwork, critical thinking, and life-long learning skills
into learning experiences. (NSF, 1996, p. 3) (emphasis mine)

The NSF recommendations are all about adventuring. They are
sound, sensible approaches to ensuring that pedagogy, praxis, data
about how the brain works, and classroom experiences are linked
for the best learning environments in science classrooms. There are
ramifications to changing the way our nation educates students in
science and how we train teachers to teach science. If we approach
the adventure of science learning with all of our evolved cognitive
tools and in a manner that honors exploration, mavericking, and
skill acquisition and application, we could better serve the variety
of learners in each classroom. Changing from lecture instruction to
multimodal and experiential learning works. The use of a variety of
instructional techniques is grounded in sound scientific research and
reminds us that student success is at the heart of this debate.

Further Questions

Due to time constrains inherent in doctoral research, additional
theoretical sampling is warranted. For instance, questions emergent
from the study include:

 •  Do men and women adventure differently? Gender research
clearly shows significant differences between men’s and
women’s approaches to the world, both cognitive and
behavioral (Belenky, Clinchy, Goldberger, & Tarule, 1986;
Gilligan, 1982; Shepherd, 1993), and recent comments
by Harvard University President Lawrence Summers
(Bombardieri, 2005) questioning whether there is an “innate”
reason for the paucity of women in upper level science
research begs to be completely and finally answered.

•  What is the underlying neuro-chemistry that creates the
behaviors of adventuring? Brain research is currently
advancing rapidly and new information about how the brain
works is appearing almost daily. How can these discoveries
be used to understand and promote adventuring?

•What are some practical methods of encouraging adventuring
in all classrooms? Curriculum design is important, but the
training of teachers to be systems thinkers, gestalt oriented,
and strong tool users is perhaps more vital to the long- term
success of teaching and learning in our schools. Teacher
education is important to encourage adventuring. What would
a program for teachers include?


The theory of adventuring gives insights into how teachers and
learners of science behave. Adventuring accounts for a variety of
actions and thought processes found in the participants of this study.
The next step is to answer the forgoing questions in relation to the
dimensions and categories of adventuring, and create an education
program that encourages adventuring in teaching and learning.

We use adventuring in our sophisticated, structured, systematic
study of the unknown because we evolved from a newly bipedal,
hairless, episodic-culture-based archaic Homo to the highly complex,
sophisticated, and huge-brained Homo sapiens sapiens we are today.
By tracing the evolution of the behavior, I offer the proposal that by
understanding the origins of our brain/mind as an explanation of
the adventuring behaviors we find in scientists today, we can better
teach and learn scientific constructs so vital to our society, our
planet, and our future. A citizen must not forfeit her right to engage in
government because of ignorance. A citizen must be able to express
his understanding of issues that impact his life.

Science is about questions: The natural world is mysterious. Nature
is the ultimate “other”, and humans have evolved a great brain partly
because of the big questions, the higher cognition required to discuss,
interpret, and answer questions about the essential nature of Nature.
All the evolutionary adaptations we now enjoy were directly influenced
by our environment: climate, landforms, vegetation, and fauna coevolved.
Scientists use their intellectual skills to attempt to understand
and strip away mysteries, to get to the unifying principle. Long before
Aristotle humans have wondered, experimented, thought deeply about
results, and observed natural forces. We are a curious species.

Adventuring in science is ultimately about creating imaginary results
and playing around with tests and materials until that result is realized.
The classroom or lab is a playground for the creative, highly trained,
passionate re– searcher. Approaching teaching and learning from an
adventuring context, as demonstrated by the scientists and learners
researched for this study, would make the cognitive complexity of
science accessible to all learners.

End Notes

1The amygdala is a small organ within the limbic system of the brain
that is responsible for “fight or flight” decisions (Stefanacci, 2003).

2 The area directly behind the eyes in the brain which is responsible
for the processing of concepts such as time, sequencing and
discrimination between two objects (Barkley, 1999).

3 In New England, school children take earth science, physics,
environmental science, and biology introductory courses in middle
school. Each class is revisited in high school as part of general
education requirements.

4 At one time, two species of Australopithecus and two species of
Homo existed simultaneously (Campbell, 1996).


Katrina M. Maloney, M.Sc., Ed.D.400 Old Chesham Road
Marlborough, NH 03455


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