“My general impression is one of extreme disappointment,” Gerald Wheeler of the National Science Teachers Association told Education Week after the release this month of a federal study showing that students in urban schools struggled with relatively basic tasks in a test of their science skills. “I can’t imagine these kids surviving in a scientifically literate society.”
Having grown up in a family of scientists (my father, now retired, was a chemistry professor and my older brother is a chemistry professor), I remember the many conversations my father and brother have had over the years about why so few U.S. kids pursue scientific interests. My father and brother bemoan the perceived unwillingness of teenagers to tackle difficult subjects such as chemistry, physics, and biology that take discipline, focus, and commitment to navigate and understand. They point out that schools relying on history or English teachers to teach science were simply wasting their time, because the sciences demanded a teacher with superb subject matter knowledge.
As a self-described science idiot in a science family, I tended to keep my mouth shut when these conversations took place. But not anymore, because I think science is potentially the most fascinating subject you can learn about in school. Most schools and communities simply are not tapping into the potential power of science.
To get kids motivated to learn science--and to hang with it even when the going gets tough--requires a bigger picture approach that involves the whole community, as suggested by Science After School, a blog about science education. The author of the blog argues that generating more motivation to learn science starts with accepting the scientific process as something that children can understand and use to understand the world around them. And those opportunities, he says, must be provided to students who may not get such experiences at home.
Then, as my father and brother argue, make it a priority and find the resources to hire teachers with superb subject matter knowledge. But those teachers also must possess the unique skills necessary to turn that knowledge into relevant lessons about science.
In other words, make science relevant and make it available. And then set teachers and students on a course to rescue us from graduating a generation of scientifically illiterate citizens.
A version of this news article first appeared in the Motivation Matters blog.