I spent the holiday weekend at my parent’s house in Richmond, Va., where my Dad raised an interesting (if not harebrained) theory about why students aren’t motivated to study science. The real downfall of science education, he said, are all the safety regulations that prevent kids from “doing anything exciting.” Some of his favorite childhood memories were formed while he was hunkered down over a chemistry set, where he would mix chemicals and perform experiments that sometimes resulted in a spontaneous combustion or a singed eyebrow. If science education were more like that, he argued, kids would be more interested. He went on to explain his favorite experiments, which mostly involved setting things on fire.
My point of view was that although science labs would definitely benefit from some revising and additional funding, safety regulations are in place for good reason, and besides, the burden should not be put on teachers to make lessons more like episodes of MythBusters, but on the students, to approach classes with the understanding that they will have to study concepts that aren’t always flashy and sensational. Truthfully, the answer probably lies somewhere in the middle of those two perspectives.
Nevertheless, I thought of my Dad this morning when I saw this article in the Baltimore Sun called “Classes educate, shock,” which discusses the ways that hands-on and visually exciting experiments can help students understand and appreciate science.
Perhaps my Dad’s suggestions were not as harebrained as I thought.
What do you think? Does science education need a little shock treatment to get kids interested? Or is it already headed in the right direction?
A version of this news article first appeared in the Motivation Matters blog.