Science. Communication. Community.
Whether or not you’ve taken a stand to boycott today’s Hallmark Holiday, love is on your mind. Since you’re reading this blog, there’s a chance you’re in love. With science.
I was 10 at the time. In front of me was my science textbook, randomly opened to a page, proclaiming “Work = Force x Distance.” That was the moment I fell in love with science.
I’ll rewind the tape for you. I did enjoy science class before this. We alternated between dissecting animals and collecting them in the wild. It was pretty fun, if you had a strong stomach (I do) and got over your fear of snakes (I did, I even adopted one of our captives). But then we shifted from biology to physics. Reading that equation, everything clicked into place.
As scientists (or 10 year-old protoscientists) we’re not just making observations about the things and creatures and memorizing stuff other people have observed, there’s a whole beautiful framework out there.
I wanted to learn about the framework and build more of it.
I was fortunate to have the teachers I had in the ensuing years. They were passionate and knowledgeable about their subjects, and preferred getting their students’ hands dirty, whether it was through in-class experiments, research projects, or challenging problem sets. What they didn’t do was require us to memorize science. Rote memorization may have been easier for everyone involved, but it certainly would have been boring.
I surely would have fallen out of love.
For some time now, this country has pushed greater “scientific literacy” amongst students. But the interpretation of literacy has been too narrow; it has resulted in science classes becoming (bad) history classes. Let’s learn all the things we know. Students are left with little understanding of how we got to know them, how to learn more things, or even why those things are interesting.
So they’re bored, and have little chance to see the science stories in all of the facts. Many students can rattle off trends in the periodic table, but ask them why the trends are that way and they’ll mostly shrug.
And so, this narrow interpretation of science literacy exacerbates our problem of science literacy: while everyone wants to work for NASA when they’re eight, few want to pursue that dream when they’re eighteen.
Projected to arrive in March 2013, the Next Generation Science Standards hope to address these issues. Fundamentally, the Standards recommend shifting to a model that better integrates knowledge and practice, and is comfortable being interdisciplinary. Further the Standards recommend the teaching of several concepts that are universal (i.e. cause and effect) across disciplines. Sounds much more like how we actually do science. They sound pretty great.
But, I have to remain skeptical. How are these standards going to have a fighting chance, given our massive STEM teacher shortage? A good teacher can work around a bad curriculum, but a bad teacher can sabotage a good one.
Personally, I give credit to my teachers and mentors for setting me up with science.
My relationship with science has blossomed. But it’s the same as most of the relationships in my life. We get in fights sometimes. It still surprises me. I never could have predicted the path we took, though I’m sure I thought I could when I was 18.
When did you fall in love with science? Did you ever fall out of love?