U.S. Leadership in Science May Depend on 8th-Graders

I found this article in one of my RSS feeds from Live Science earliar today. What struck me the most about the article is that according to this recent study, we need to influence students by the time they get to eigth grade that science is cool, in order to have them become more likely to pursue careers in science and technology.

So you know what that means - go create one, two, three, ten FIRST LEGO League teams in your hometown this summer! What are you waiting for, that means now! :smiley:

Linkage: U.S. Leadership in Science May Depend on 8th-Graders | Live Science

U.S. Leadership in Science May Depend on 8th-Graders
By Sara Goudarzi
LiveScience Staff Writer
posted: 25 May 2006
02:07 pm ET

It’s not your skill at crunching numbers that determines whether you’ll grow up to be a scientist, but how badly you want to be one as a child, new research shows.

The study analyzed surveys from a group of 8th-graders in 1988 that later received their college degrees, finding that early interest goes a long way in career choice.

The finding bears on current shortcomings seen in U.S. science education and professional research.

… [see link for the rest of the article]

I think this article makes a really good general point - I’ll allude to my own case.

When we’re in 8th grade, for the most part, we start making those high school diploma plans. Some people choose a regular diploma, some people go for IB, some people go for Academic Honors, whatever it is in your school.

You start planning for high school. I’ve noticed a trend - the kids I was with in Biology I Honors freshman year, the standard honors level class, have been with me since then and now took Chem AP & Bio Level II/AP with me.

We need to make people WANT to plan science into their high school career, because when they plan it themselves it is a choice they make, not a choice somebody else makes for them, and that can make all the difference.

I think that children are failed even younger.

Remember those days when all the kids wanted to be astronauts?

That is the right time to teach them astronomy, because they have such an interest in it. That is not the time to teach them about plants, because that can come later. But because children are so easily grasped, if you show them what they want to see, then in the beginning of elementary school, even if the teaching is in fact elementary, children should learn about the stars, the galaxies.

It seems that the school leason plans are arbitrary, to what the school finds important. I think that this is one of those things, that you should let the children respond to, not the other way around.

Then, and I believe only then, can American drag, no - sweep, the children back to science and technology, because at an extremely young age, they will have learned to love it, and be more adaptable to learning other types of sciences.

Why wait 'til middle school? Get them early in elementary. I know that’s where my interest in science started, and I’m taking loads of science classes. (I wish I could take all science and math, actually) So, Daisy has a good idea, trying to go after kids who dream of being astronauts wouldn’t be too hard. Many kids go through that phase, so it could be a reliable thing to try. For example, if someone made an animation of stars, planets, and galaxies in 3ds MAX then used two cameras slightly spaced apart instead of one and render from both. Then you could apply a red filter to one feed and a blue to the other to make a 3d movie. That would probably be exciting to little kids. If you could do it with polarized filters and two projectors, that would be even better, but a bit hard. (Since you need a silver screen for good quality) Anyway, whichever method is used, you use a projector and a computer, plus a decent sound getup for the computer, throw in narration and SFX, and get an elementery school to let you show it. (Maybe even a preschool?) Not too difficult. (The school might be a problem, but I would hope not)

Good observation!

The problem is that the only way to teach children about what interests them WHEN they are interested in it is via an independent study program, which at the elementary grades is only feasible with a low pupil:teacher ratio (1:1 is ideal). Our public schools cannot possibly do this for every child.

If you want your own children to learn this way, you’ll probably have to become a homeschooling parent, or else hire tutors. Moreover, you’ll probably favor the educational philosophy known as "Unschooling ".

As for myself, in 4th grade I decided I wanted to be a scientist, but I changed my mind later on. (Perhaps the math was to blame.)

A large school system cannot give its kids all the different sciences, but I think that it can learn how to progress its teachings. Maybe when the kids are really young, you teach them about the unknown things, like astronomy, and you teach them about moon exploration, because these will be the people that they will idolize. They, too, will want to reach the moon (side note: this will probably prevent them from believing in the hoaxers).

Math, too, has become the evil of all evils because it is as if teachers force the kids to hate it (“I know it’s hard…”), and it stops them from trying. I know, for example, that in 6th grade, the kids were learning fractions, something that my parents had taught me way before that.

Then again, not everyone can understand these things, and they must go on to different subjects, because that is where they are talented.

Maybe, the solution, could just be a change of priorities. Instead of children being brainwashed in idolizing celebrities, instead they can be “brainwashed” (;)) in idolizing scientists, writers, historians. If there they cannot succeed, then I guess, they will end up idolizing the others.

I think that the idea of entertainment has the connotation of fun and brainless, when instead, entertaining could be the idea that these briliant, talented individuals have created things like the Segway, shuttles, satelites, etc.

While a 1:1 teacher-to-student ratio might offer the greatest amount of teacher-student interaction, we can’t forget that school is also (supposed to be) a useful social activity—both recreationally and educationally.

More to the point, I’d have to say that it’s more a matter of figuring out what the individual student needs, than arbitrarily setting a class size. The problem: just try to get a school board to fund that on a large scale—right now, it’s limited to the “special needs” students (in every sense of that term).

The problem isn’t getting the local school board to fund individualized instruction; the problem is that the taxpayers aren’t willing to fund education at that level. Here in California, it seems that the more money we pour into public education, the worse the educational system becomes. I also can’t foresee having enough trained teachers available to provide much individualized instruction.

Educators have to make arbitrary decisions in providing mass education; therefore mass education is bound to produce problems. For example, assigning grade levels on the basis of age makes about as much sense as assigning grade levels on the basis of shoe size, according to our school’s founding vice-principal. Many children are ready to read at age 4, but many are not ready until age 8. The state assigned first grade (learning to read) to age 6 when I was little, but a few years later when my sister was in Kindergarten, 5-year-olds were expected to learn to read. And why has California lowered the age for learning algebra to 8th grade, when plenty of otherwise bright 9th graders are not ready for the abstract thinking required for that level of math? I cannot foresee that more students will succeed in math by having it made harder for them!

A workable solution might be to return to the old-fashioned system of assigning grade levels based on mastery of grade-level work. But there is too much stigma to being “held back” a grade, and with all the current emphasis on children’s self-esteem, I doubt this will be implemented anytime soon.

DISCLAMER: I am talking of people generically, not for every case, because obviously there are different ones.

^ I agree with you. There should be testing to place students in correct grade levels. I think children are refusing to be challenged. And I think that parents are at fault. For example, I was working at Girl Scout camp, here in CT, on “Brownie Day,” and we were playing a game that required the kids to memorize ten objects and in someway write it down. This was challenging for some of them, because they were first graders (and oh so cute ;)) and some could not write well.

One of the children raised her hand and asked “Is it going to be hard, because I don’t like hard things.” I told her that she had to try because life was going to always throw her challenges, and she had to learn how to beat them.

And then she tried. Not only did she try, but she was the first one to finish. And instead of being rude, she was respectful. I was proud of her for her effort.

It seemed that no one ever had had that discussion with her. No one had ever told her that she had to do it, and instead let her shy away from problems. Sure, she’s going to whine, and pout, but she is eventually going to do it.

The idea of self - esteem is too focused on what kids can do. What it should be about is how much effort, and diligence, you put into something. In order to save “self-esteem” we have to coddle our children, and say “it’s okay, you don’t have to.” WELL, YOU DO HAVE TO!!! Try it, if it doesn’t work, if you don’t care for something, but at least you tried it, it is worth it.

My little sister is in fourth grade. She was never interested in gears or tools before, but after watching me join the robotics team and seeing how much fun I had, she’s taken an interest. I remember her coming home one day and saying, “Katie, they’re starting a Lego League team at school!” She was so excited, and I am along with her. There are so many other things kids can get involved in - bad things - and I’m so glad my sister is choosing this path. Plus, working with a team might help her overcome her shyness - I know it’s helped me.

Right on the heels of the Live Science article, Wired Magazine has “Don’t Try This At Home”](http://wired.com/wired/archive/14.06/chemistry.html?pg=1&topic=chemistry&topic_set=) which deals with how people are developing a fear of science - chemistry in particular - and how difficult it is becoming to persue this interest without running afoul of liability phobia, regulators and the law.

I have seen this in our school system, where in the middle school, most “interesting” chemistry experiments are now done as demonstrations, if at all. For my part, growing up with a chemical engineer father, it was natural that we’d spend quality time making black powder and sky rockets together. That experience taught me the fundimentals of chemical safety, experimental procedure and the pure joy of things that go “bang”. In one high school chemistry lab, we distilled rum - a thimble-full per person, if you did it right. I’m quite sure anyone trying these experiments in public these days would learn a lot more about the law than about chemistry!

The thing is, both of my examples from my childhood were safe educational experiences which made lasting impressions on me. It certainly helped that I had expert mentors who helped me learn without losing fingers or getting in trouble! I pursued an electrical engineering career rather than one in chemistry, but the lessons in experimentation translated right over to circuit design, quality assurance, and a lot of my current work in process automation.

The Wired article concludes with this clear message: "taking chemicals and lab equipment away from kids who love science is like taking crayons and paints away from a kid who may grow up to be an artist.” While few of our members pursue careers in chemistry, I’m sure we all can appreciate its importance and how sad it is that our system is probably turning young people away from it. And from the wonder of making things that go bang.

NOW I remember why I decided not to become a scientist: I hate explosions.

A green little chemist
On a green little day
Mixed some green little chemicals
In a green little way
The green little grasses
Now tenderly wave
Over the green little chemist’s
Green little grave.

I memorized this ditty and became an English major instead. :slight_smile:

I can back that up. Back in my freshmen year, I wouldn’t have dared get up in front of a group of people. And now look, I’m posting on ChiefDelphi and two months ago I commented on my team’s tour of the PSEG complex in front of the parents… on the fly :ahh: !

Some other countries may pass the United States in technology, but it shouldn’t mean that we no longer care about science and technology. I don’t think this is so much a question of can America stay the “technological superpower” but are we still competitive? Recognizing technology is, I feel, the main goal of FIRST.

Someone on Slashdot pointed out that the Wired article’s Bob Lazar was a person famous for claiming that the United States government had UFO’s in secret. Heh. Not the best person to use as an example in an article in science.

The problem also stems from teachers that are ill equipped or are not knowledgeable to teach their subject. But the biggest impact is the parents. Education starts at home and a great deal of parents have relegated that task expecting schools to do all the teaching.

So the question is why there is such a decline. Is it education system, the mass media, or disinterested parents? I believe that it is all of the above.

From the 1950’s to the 1980’s there was a great deal of TV coverage when it came to science and engineering. You had the cold war, the space race, National Geographic specials, Wild Kingdom and who could forget Mr. Wizard. While we now have TV channels devoted to science, there is not a single show on daytime or primetime (maybe on PBS) devoted to promoting science on any of the major TV networks. You have to subscribe to satellite or cable to get any content related to science. While TV ratings play a role on what is on prime time, the media could do more to promote science in a good light. More people care about who won American Idol, but nobody could care less about the people that invented the technology that made the live coverage of the event possible. We all know who is Kelly Clarkston, but do you know who Peter Goldmark is? He is the inventor of the first successful color TV.

School budgets are tight and expectations for performance from the goverment have increased. In most cases the school year is centered around a standardized test. Teachers are pressured to teach to the test, leaving little or no room for teaching something the students would find fascinating. Teachers often find that the reality of teaching in a classroom is not what they envisioned and opt for work in the private sector.

Studies show that students whose parents are actively involved in their education have better grades are more likely to graduate from college. Parents are the key to education. Until they demand for higher standards in education, then the status quo will continue. Ask yourself this question; when was the last time a congressional or presidential candidate ran (and won) on a platform for better education? [Insert chirping sound here] There has been mention by candidates as a side issue, but usually the economy, social security, etc. tend to be the major plank in the platform.

My .50 cents (have to account for inflation)

What is it about science that makes it so boring?

People make it boring. If you watch the 93 clip of FIRST with Kamen talking, a senator comes along and says that all kids are great scientists, and over the years it wears off. A LOT of people in first have found a love of science again.

So how do we bring science as the new black?

Over the summer, I plan to show kids at a camp how to work with FLL. I also am going to try to make FIRST as part of a curriculum for elementary students. I’m posting it here because it relates to the topic. If anyone would like to know about it or know about something that can help me, please PM me.