Please pass the science

I was once a high school science teacher. From there, I found my way back to the lab, and then into graduate school, and now I suppose I’m officially a scientist.  However, seven moves later, I’m still carting around boxes of my old teaching materials.

As they follow me, so too the question: how do we do a better job of educating students in science and math?

The Program for International Student Assessment, or PISA, is a test given every year to 15-year olds around the world.  Students are tested for math, science, and reading competence.  The US is not kicking butt.  In 2009, we ranked 31st in math (below average) and 23rd in science (about average).

Being number one on tests like PISA may come at a cost, such as a more structured and rigorous childhood.  When I was young, I had the freedom to just be a kid.  My childhood involved healthy doses of goofing off, reading, playing, and being bored.  At least that’s how I remember it.

But I was also part of a family that prioritized learning.  As early as first grade, my parents installed a desk in my bedroom, so that I would have a special place to do homework.

I couldn’t wait for my first assignment.

Kids love learning things.  Parents of young children realize this, and take time to teach their kids about the world.  When those same kids go off to school, there is no torch that gets passed from parents to the teachers that relieves parents of the responsibility to educate their children.

So I’d like to throw my two cents into the “how to improve science education” debate: talk about science at home. Let your kids be makers, or scientists in their own right.  You don’t even need to buy a chemistry kit, if that sounds scary and explosive.  Early scientists started out observing the world with basic, if any, equipment.

In case you are about to protest that you are unqualified (perhaps you were die-hard humanities major): you don’t need to be a scientist to encourage science. There is a lot of cool science out there for both kids and adults to love.  Science can have a place in anyone’s home. To that end, I’m going to give a shot at writing a few columns aimed at parents and kids.

In keeping with the blog’s theme, I’ll call it “Family Day at The Beach.”  My hope is that a good post might fuel a family dinner conversation.  My babbling baby is too young a test subject for this idea, and it could be a total flop when he gets to be old enough.  My son will probably be running the dinner show as soon as he can string together a few sentences. I won’t be able to get a non sequitur in edgewise.

How else will I bring up headbutting fish?

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One thought on “Please pass the science

  1. Love this post. It’s so true, education was very important in my family even though my parents only made it through some college level schooling, and we couldn’t afford/find any science kits in the UAE.
    But science is everywhere, I would open little battery-op toys with motors and see how they worked. One time I was wondering if the reverse was true – if you spin the motor, does electricity come out the other side but I had no way of testing for electricity. So I just stuck the wires to my tongue to see if it tingled. It did!
    Fun stuff 🙂 You might be interested to read this article, where a study showed that kids are, in fact, mostly bored at school, and find most of it too easy. Given our low scores on tests like PISA, it’s surprising and sad!
    http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/07/10/school-easy-failing-to-challenge-students_n_1660334.html

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