An article was published last month on artofthestem.com that was titled “Five Reasons Why Your Child Won’t Be a Scientist.” As a science nerd myself and someone always interested in raising excitement about science (hence this blog), I thought it would be useful to reflect on the reasons given in this article (which by the way, I agree with wholeheartedly).
The article begins by talking about the decrease in interest in STEM subjects (science, technology, engineering and math). Recent research has found that students are uninterested in STEM subjects despite the increase in STEM jobs available.
So why don’t students like science? What makes them turn away from science and other STEM topics? And why do some of us actually enjoy learning about science? The article proposes five reasons that children find it hard to get excited about science. I’ll add my thoughts to each of their reasons.
1. We have instilled the phrase “I’m not good at math or science” into a new generation.
As the article goes on to explain after its first point, many students who do study science grow up in a household where science discussion is prevalent. This is, in fact, the case for me. My father is a chemist, and I remember seeing his science books and articles all around the house. I’m positive that knowing he would have an answer to a science question took the fear out of science for me. I always had an in-house expert to go to in case of confusion.
So what if kids don’t have an in-house scientist? I think it’s important, then, for parents to be willing to learn science with their kids as the article suggests. This was the case for me with my mother. While she didn’t have a science background, she was always willing to make a baking soda volcano, look up a topic in our encyclopedia with me or come cheer me on at the science fair. Between my dad’s knowledge and my mom’s support and encouragement, science was never a scary topic for me.
2. Science is taught in a way that is opposite to what it truly is.
This statement, while sad, is usually very true. Throughout science classes, students are taught to memorize and write down everything the teacher is saying so that they can later memorize it. This creates an environment in which students learn what they have to learn and then probably forget it once they are tested on it. Not only does this not encourage scientific learning, but it also doesn’t allow students to practice the scientific process. Where is the questioning? Where is the formation of a hypothesis? Where is the testing of a hypothesis? So little of true science exploration is memorization. Instead, let kids experiment and learn through that experimentation.
3. Science has lost the “cool factor” and kids have no “science heroes.”
When I was growing up, I thought Bill Nye the Science Guy was one of the greatest shows on television. He was funny and he knew stuff! Even in the song that opened his show he said, “Science is cool.” So why don’t kids think it is? With so much emphasis on rock stars and celebrities, scientists get lost in the shuffle. We have to make it a point to explain how cool scientists are – after all, without scientists we wouldn’t have mp3 players, vaccines or even pasteurized milk. Maybe kids need a reminder of how many cool things scientists have in fact created!
4. We don’t focus on current issues in the discipline.
The world of science, especially today, is changing at an incredibly high speed. New discoveries and improvements on those discoveries are published every day. Yet students are reading about science out of the same textbooks year after year. It students can’t see science as new and changing, why would they want to study it? Let’s focus on new findings and recent discoveries that actually affect the students and the world around them!
5. Good grades in science will not make you a scientist.
I know about this point firsthand. Throughout high school, and even college, I did decently well in my science classes. However, the rote memorization that allowed me to do well on science exams did little to help me at the bench as I did scientific research. The amount of creative thinking and troubleshooting required at a science bench is not taught in science classes. Nor is the ability to work with others toward a common discovery or the need to ask endless questions and form countless hypotheses. These are the talents that allow scientists to succeed, yet they are not taught in classes. If they had been, I might still be working at the bench. I, however, much prefer reading and writing about science to actually doing it, so as a science research dropout maybe you shouldn’t listen to me anyway!
Regardless of my meandering thoughts on the topic, the truth is that we need to get kids interested in STEM topics again. We need to encourage the next Einstein sitting in a science class right now and wondering when recess is.