Ask any middle or high school student their favorite class in school, and 9 out of 10 will say gym. Or lunch. Or some may branch out and say history. But how many students would actually say science? Maybe 2-5 in an entire school? And these are probably the students who were pushed by their parents or some external source to do so and were born to end up in science-related fields. So how do we appeal to the other 400 students to at least consider science for their future? The easy answer: liven science class up!
So why is science class so boring? The easy answer would be to point to standardized testing and high school curriculum that put pressure on teachers to develop classes that emphasize facts and laws. But science isn’t about about facts and laws. In fact, most science “laws” that have been developed over the past several centuries have since been altered or even proved incorrect altogether. Do you think any high school students would know this? And why shouldn’t they?
So how can we make kids actually like science? We all know that telling them that science is cool will only make the problem worse. Maybe we should tell them we hate science ourselves, and their rebellion will push them towards science? Well, probably not. But, one feasible way would be to teach not just the theories and facts, but instead put them in historical context. Think about it – how were all of the discoveries that we take for granted actually made? How did Copernicus decide that the sun, not the Earth, is actually at the center of our universe? Was he the only person who thought this way? And what was the response to his theories? Was he widely accepted right away, or did his contemporaries consider him to be crazy? Putting scientific discoveries in an historical context adds a new dimension to the straight facts and laws we are all taught, and allows for students to put a face to these faceless names of science. Putting a face to famous scientists is just one way to liven up science education in our schools.
An even better way of getting science to stick with high school students is to teach it in the way it is actually practiced. Science is the ultimate exploratory class, and should taught as such. Sure, it is important to know the facts before we can further science along, but why can’t students explore science in the way it was learned. Teachers should be setting up their students to make scientific discoveries on their own through innovative experiments. Why not setup Millikan’s famous oil drop experiment to discover what electric charge is instead of learning the formula for it? Well, maybe setting up a uniform electric field might be a bit difficult for cash-strapped public schools, but the idea is the same. Setting up a creative and exploratory environment for science class can only lead to more interest in the subject.
For the United States to maintain its place among the superpowers in education, our educational system needs to adapt. This can only be achieved by the current scientific community reaching out to younger, impressionable students that represent the future of scientific research in this country. I myself am a PhD student in biomedical engineering at the University of Minnesota, and have been tutoring middle school and high school students for the past 5 years. » Read more: Making Science the New Gym Class