IS A SCIENCE TO TEACHING KIDS SCIENCE
Debbie Glasser, Special to The Miami Herald
I was a teenager, my career aspirations ranged from gourmet chef
to Hollywood actress. But my early dreams of caramelizing onions
with Julia Child and sharing the big screen with John Travolta were
dashed somewhere between senior prom and the birth of my first child.
But, according to researchers at the University of Virginia, if
an eighth-grader expresses the desire to become a scientist, there's
a strong likelihood that this professional goal will one day be
who were introduced to sciences early, and developed an interest
early, are much more likely to pursue science-related careers,''
said Robert Tai, lead author of the study and assistant professor
of science education at the Curry School of Education at the University
of Virginia in Charlottesville. "Early exposure matters,''
the United States is experiencing a decline in the number of college
graduates in physical sciences and engineering, this is important
living in a world where science - and decisions about science -
involve us as citizens,'' Tai said.
nuclear power still something we need to worry about? Is Teflon
safe for cooking? What is stem-cell research? "Our world is
more scientifically and technologically based than ever before,''
Tai said. "And we have to ask really good questions when things
get confusing. It's our responsibility to our children and ourselves.''
of the most important ways to meet the challenges of a more complex
world, Tai said, is to nurture our children's curiosity and interest
in science. However, there's a concern that our school system's
current emphasis on standardized tests, especially during the elementary
and middle school years, may diminish children's exposure to science
and dampen their enthusiasm.
"We're plowing kids through textbooks and hoping they'll pass,''
Tai said. "We have a system that doesn't tell us how to teach
our kids, only whether or not they have failed. I'm not saying we
shouldn't test kids or that we shouldn't give standardized tests.
But we need to rethink them.''
worries about the pitfalls of teaching to the test, rather than
encouraging a genuine interest and passion about various subjects.
He hopes parents will get informed about these issues and ask their
lawmakers and other decision makers to support early science education.
educational reform may be a long-term goal, there are things parents
can do today to support children's curiosity and exposure to science:
Don't worry about being right. "Young children are naturally
curious,'' Tai said. "They ask parents questions about the
world all the time.'' But how we answer them, according to Tai,
can make the difference between cutting off a conversation and opening
an exciting dialogue. "Look for opportunities to say things
like: 'That's a great question. What do you think?' Or: 'I'm not
sure why the water makes bubbles when it's hot. Let's look it up
Make it relevant. "Help your children see science in the real
world,'' Tai said. Cook together. Grow a garden. Take care of your
aquarium together. "Science is everywhere,'' he said.
Wonder out loud. "When you turn on a light or talk to someone
on your cellular phone, take the time to wonder in front of your
children about how these items work,'' Tai said. A simple comment
like, "I wonder why . . .?'' can be a great conversation-starter.
Take an interest. "Ask your children to share their textbooks
with you,'' Tai said. "Ask questions and encourage them to
ask questions, too.'' But don't push or pressure them, he said.
"The key is to make the learning process meaningful and fun.''
encourages parents to support their children's inquisitiveness.
``We need to ask, we need to know, and we need to be curious about
the world,'' he said. ``Unless we develop this curiosity early in
our children's lives, it won't happen.''
more information, visit www.nsf.gov, www.sciencebuddies.org, www.sciencenewsforkids.org,
Glasser, Ph.D., is a licensed clinical psychologist and founder
of NewsFor Parents.org, an online newsletter for parents. She can
be reached at debbie@NewsForParents.org.
July 2, 2006
Copyright (c) 2006 The Miami Herald