It turns out liking science isn’t the same as liking science class.
A new report from the AmGen Foundation and Change the Equation, both of which advocate for STEM education, finds that while teenagers are interested in subjects like physics, biology, and engineering, they tend not to enjoy their in-school classes.
The report’s authors argue that this discrepancy means there’s room both in and out of school to dramatically improve STEM education offerings for teens, mostly by making them more hands-on and engaging.
The report is based on an online survey of more than 1,500 teens from around the country.
Some 81 percent of teens said that they were interested in science. Seventy-three percent were interested in biology in particular. But only 37 percent of students said they enjoy their science class, and even fewer—33 percent—liked biology class. That’s less than the 48 percent who said they enjoyed non-science classes.
While many teens find more hands-on experiences like field trips and experiments to be most compelling, most instruction in science class involves either textbooks or in-class discussion:
The survey also examined the relationship between students’ family income and access to and interest in STEM fields. Lower-income students were less likely to know an adult involved in biology and less likely to participate in a science club.
Overall, more than 80 percent of teens reported that they thought knowing adults in their desired field of work might help them advance, but just about a third actually knew adults in that field.
The authors of the AmGen and Change the Equation report argue that schools should adopt more inquiry-based STEM curricula and that teachers should receive training in how to teach it. They also argue for stronger ties between businesses and community members and schools.
STEM often makes news when students create or achieve remarkable things—consider the students at the White House Science Fair, who shared projects related to everything from pollution to artificial intelligence. The subjects are a priority for federal, state, and local policymakers, who often raise concerns about the dearth of young people pursuing degrees and career in STEM. The Every Student Succeeds Act, the successor to No Child Left Behind, includes more flexibility for districts and states looking to create or support STEM programs. But this survey hints at the fact that in many schools, science education is still less-than-inspiring.
A version of this news article first appeared in the Curriculum Matters blog.