How Do You Make Kids Love Science?

Illustration for article titled How Do You Make Kids Love Science?

With the number of British schoolchildren studying physics falling to its lowest number in over a decade, education officials are having to deal with an unexpected problem: How to make science seem cool to teenagers.

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The Independent reports that the UK's Secretary of State for Schools, Ed Balls, is looking to the siren song of experimentation to lure in unsuspecting kids:

Science is one of our country's great strengths and the jobs of the future are increasingly going to be hi-tech and science based. That's why we need all young people getting excited, doing experiments and learning about science in primary schools and going on to study science in more depth at secondary school... Experiments teach children practical methods and skills and also how to test hypotheses, but they are also fun and challenging and make learning come alive.

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While the number of children studying chemistry and biology is on the rise, physics is falling foul of student apathy in British schools. Kathy Sykes, co-director of the Cheltenham Science Festival, which opens this Wednesday, thinks she may know why:

At school, science can be all about learning stuff that is already known... Science is about asking good questions. When I learnt science I thought that it was tedious. When I did science I thought it was great.

Is the problem all in the presentation? If so, I'm all for schools paying for special episodes of Fringe, where Walter Bishop will teach a lesson or two. Who wouldn't want to learn how everything works from that man?


Experiments key to making science cool at school [Independent.co.uk]

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DISCUSSION

Huh. I always found reading more exciting than the experiments we did in science classes at my school. There were plenty of experiments, but they felt silly and pointless to me. I mean, real scientists didn't study physics by playing around with slinkies or building crappy cardboard models of things, so why should I? It's not like we would be doing the kinds of experiments that are done by "real" scientists, after all. And what's the point of taking forty minutes to conduct a faux "experiment" to get a simple lesson out of it, when I could get more information from five minutes of reading? I was outright bored by it, and wanted to get through the experiments as quickly as possible so I could get back to something more useful, like the textbook. And my science education did just fine. Of course, maybe I'm just weird. :P

(And of course doing experiments is important to understand the scientific method... but then the focus should be on actually making experiments somewhat rigorous, not just "yay! we're having fun!" stuff).

More generally, I'm a bit wary of this whole "kids need to DO things to learn!" approach. Yeah, it's part of it, but at the end of the day, if the kid isn't willing to sit down and read for an hour or two, they aren't getting far in the science field, no matter how many things they make explode in their science class. Maybe they're attacking the problem from the wrong end: Instead of accepting that teenage kids don't have the attention spans for physics and need to play around to learn, how about finding a way to improve kids' attention spans, so that they *can* do enough reading to see that science is cool even when it's on a page instead of in a stereotypical glowing green beaker?