Kids are born scientists

  • #51
jack action
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I must disagree with that kind of speeches that tend towards saying that 'only special people can master science'. The one who fail, apparently just don't work hard enough. In my opinion, you are more describing what is wrong with the current education system that pushes the same curriculum for every child and tends to demotivate children as they grow up.

I really prefer this approach where it is believed that children can learn how to read on their own. I believe this can apply to advance sciences as well. For my part, the key sentences of the text are the following:
As long as kids grow up in a literate society, surrounded by people who read, they will learn to read.
If people read around them, kids will naturally develop an interest in reading. The more people read, the more the need arise to learn how to read. Just like they learn how to talk by themselves because everybody talks around them. There are no courses for that and I never heard of kids not knowing how to speak because nobody taught them. If everybody uses science (and the scientific method) around them, they will want to learn it as well. This is the biggest lack in children environment. One school teacher interested in science cannot be considered an 'environment'.
Motivated children can go from apparent non-reading to fluent reading very quickly.
Children learn to read when reading becomes, to them, a means to some valued end or ends.
These two quotes basically say the same thing and relate to the first one: There must be a need to do something. The worst memories I have from school is related to the fact that I had no clue what I was studying for. Apparently, it would served me later in life, not entirely sure for what though. That is not a motivator at all. There are no needs that relate to me. I want to see and understand the problem and its impact before the solution. I want to see someone resolving the problem in front of me before being excited about how to learn the skill.
 
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I must disagree with that kind of speeches that tend towards saying that 'only special people can master science'.
Who said that?

If people read around them, kids will naturally develop an interest in reading.
I agree, but your analogy to science fails in its premise:

If everybody uses science (and the scientific method) around them, they will want to learn it as well.
Most of what is done around students is not science, and scientific thinking is so uncommon in our general experience that special training seems to be required.
 
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  • #53
jack action
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Who said that?
Yes, most people have the potential to develop ability but far fewer have the patience and tenacity for it
Stating only 'a few have what it takes to develop the ability' is dangerously close to saying 'only special people can master the craft'.
Most of what is done around students is not science, and scientific thinking is so uncommon in our general experience that special training seems to be required.
That is the heart of problem: Science is not used in everyday life. It is considered a waste of time, but it really is not. How can a child ever appreciate it if this is the kind of thinking he or she is surrounded by? This is another post I wrote in another thread that shows how people cope with scientific illiteracy in everyday life.

It is not special training that is needed, it's motivation.
 
  • #54
Dr. Courtney
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Stating only 'a few have what it takes to develop the ability' is dangerously close to saying 'only special people can master the craft'.
In the broader context, I took that statement to mean that only a few students bother to work hard enough to develop the ability, rather than that only a few students will develop the ability among many who do work hard.

The scientific method is straight forward, and it can be mastered by most middle and high school students with adequate effort. I tend to recommend using 25-40% of science classroom and home work time be focused on the scientific method (mostly lab-type experiments). Over a 6 year time span (7th-12th grades in the US system), with the typical 180 class hours per year, that would be a total of 270-430 hours of student effort (excluding homework time). 15-20 complete experiments per class year is a great target. Most of the failure seems to be in how science teachers allocate science class time, and in students squandering whatever laboratory opportunities they do happen to have. It is no different from math, really. If students don't do the work, they will not learn. It's not that they are not capable of learning IF they do the work. But a lot of the US system has empowered students to refuse to do their work more than it has empowered teachers to require it.
 
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  • #55
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Stating only 'a few have what it takes to develop the ability' is dangerously close to saying 'only special people can master the craft'.
You are misinterpreting what I mean. Firstly, as you have quoted me above, I said 'most people' not 'special people' or 'a few' people. And what I really mean is that, barring some type of handicap, everyone can develop a level of mastery in the sciences.

I don't disagree that students often lack motivation and I agree with much of what you said in your linked post. All (good) teachers struggle with how to motivate and there is not a one size fits all approach.

I simply cannot agree with the statement 'all kids are born scientists' for reasons that have been articulated by others above. Including you it seems. (see quote in #54).
 
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  • #56
jack action
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I said 'most people' not 'special people' or 'a few' people.
You said:
Yes, most people have the potential to develop ability but far fewer have the patience and tenacity for it
I understand what you meant, but the words say literally "most people don't have the qualities to develop the ability [even though they have the potential]" and one could jump easily to the conclusion "Therefore most people will never be able to do it because they don't have what it takes." But, again, I understand what you meant.

Because these are statements I hear often: "I'm not made for science and math." "I tried to do it and fail. I will never be able to understand it." "You're lucky, you have a gift for science. I don't." And if you try to teach something to these people, they basically put their fingers in their ears and starts shouting "La!La!La!La!" to not hear what you're telling them. It seems like learning something would be the worst thing that could happen to them! (Actually, it's probably the fear of looking stupid that takes over.)

So anything said that tends to support these claims of 'requiring special talents' to do science and math, kind of push my buttons.
But a lot of the US system has empowered students to refuse to do their work
By saying this you basically put the burden on the students. Actually, we (as a society) failed to show the need for this work to be done. Who can blame them? It is completely insane to do work that doesn't - or you think it doesn't - give you something in return. It's not laziness. It's not lack of tenacity or patience. It's being efficient. And if it is really a 'need', we must being going out of our way to hide it from kids for them not to see it. If science is important, it must be part of everyday life. How can we failed showing that?
 
  • #57
symbolipoint
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By saying this you basically put the burden on the students. Actually, we (as a society) failed to show the need for this work to be done. Who can blame them? It is completely insane to do work that doesn't - or you think it doesn't - give you something in return. It's not laziness. It's not lack of tenacity or patience. It's being efficient. And if it is really a 'need', we must being going out of our way to hide it from kids for them not to see it. If science is important, it must be part of everyday life. How can we failed showing that?
Much of the results of science is throughout modern-day life. Once so well packaged or organized, the consumers or the users hardly give any thought to how the results or parts were understood, developed, and made available.
 
  • #58
Dr. Courtney
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By saying this you basically put the burden on the students.
Not at all. Students should all feel free to drop my course as soon as they fail to see the need to be there. But if they want credit in my course, they need to realize that I (as the teacher) am bound by the representations that have been made to the accrediting agencies and funding sources regarding course content. To award a passing grade without committing fraud, I need to ensure that the students are proficient in the material as promised to the accrediting agency and those paying for the education. To have any chance of including all the promised material in the available class time, the class needs to roll up our sleeves and get to work. Teachers can't waste time justifying every day's work to students who don't want to be there. Students who don't want to be there need to either comply with the program or get out, and the quicker they are removed, the better it will be for the other students who actually want to be there.

You may have your fantasy implemented somewhere, but good luck getting it accredited or getting it funded on any meaningful scale.
 
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  • #59
Svein
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A thought...

We just got a kitten - and I think kittens are natural experimental physicists. Case in point: The kitten pushes something over the edge of a table. Scrutinizing the object carefully, he finds another object and pushes it over the edge of the table. After doing this with about 30 objects and several tables, he stops.

Question: Has he "discovered gravity" or just concluded that pushing something over the edge makes it "move to the floor"?
 
  • #60
symbolipoint
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A thought...

We just got a kitten - and I think kittens are natural experimental physicists. Case in point: The kitten pushes something over the edge of a table. Scrutinizing the object carefully, he finds another object and pushes it over the edge of the table. After doing this with about 30 objects and several tables, he stops.

Question: Has he "discovered gravity" or just concluded that pushing something over the edge makes it "move to the floor"?
Next Question:
Do most adult cats still push things off tables? (and will your kitten grow up in a couple of years or therabout and still push objects off tables?) Then what else do kittens enjoy doing, and do they find more things to do like that when they grow up? Or was their impulse to think creatively stifled at some point?
 
  • #61
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I understand what you meant, but the words say literally "most people don't have the qualities to develop the ability [even though they have the potential]" and one could jump easily to the conclusion "Therefore most people will never be able to do it because they don't have what it takes." But, again, I understand what you meant.
Like the content area skills needed for science, the 'qualities' needed to develop scientific skills are not determined at conception. People can learn to persevere and take care in their work. Once these habits have been fostered one will have an easier time progressing in science. I do not consider perseverance to be an unusual quality in general, but I do think that these qualities must be developed. I can give a personal analogy that can be applied to students learning science: I did not have the patience for learning an instrument when I was 9 (to a skill level that would be remotely considered proficient) and after several lessons decided to quit. Later in life I tried again and I developed both the interest/motivation, perseverance for learning music, and then particular musical skills.

To put things in a way that the words would be more challenging to mince: I believe that all students that put in the effort to learn science can do so.
 
  • #62
jack action
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Not at all. Students should all feel free to drop my course as soon as they fail to see the need to be there. But if they want credit in my course, they need to realize that I (as the teacher) am bound by the representations that have been made to the accrediting agencies and funding sources regarding course content. To award a passing grade without committing fraud, I need to ensure that the students are proficient in the material as promised to the accrediting agency and those paying for the education. To have any chance of including all the promised material in the available class time, the class needs to roll up our sleeves and get to work. Teachers can't waste time justifying every day's work to students who don't want to be there. Students who don't want to be there need to either comply with the program or get out, and the quicker they are removed, the better it will be for the other students who actually want to be there.

You may have your fantasy implemented somewhere, but good luck getting it accredited or getting it funded on any meaningful scale.
I agree with this post 100%. When I was doing my engineering courses, I estimated that 80% of the students didn't care about the material. And they weren't shy about telling it to anyone who wanted to listen. The only reason they were there was for the promise of high paying job. And this had repercussions on teachers who would just assume every student didn't care and taught accordingly.

But, as a society, how is it possible that students don't care about learning how their environment work? You see children in a small remote village somewhere in the third world getting excited to go a school a few kilometers from their home, simply armed with a single pencil. You send a kid from the Western world to school by bus, in a school with gymnasiums, laboratories, video equipment, computers etc. and they feel it's a burden imposed to them. Something is obviously wrong.
 
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  • #63
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I need to ensure that the students are proficient in the material as promised to the accrediting agency and those paying for the education.
I believe your students' future employers would also constitute part of the school's customer base.
 
  • #64
Dr. Courtney
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I believe your students' future employers would also constitute part of the school's customer base.
This view is absolutely right. Some years ago, a colleague and I wrote:

Consequences [of treating students as customers] are potentially disastrous, because the notion that “the customer is always right” can lead to the perceived product (course credit or degree) meeting the desires of the misidentified “customer” (student) rather than the real product (value added to student) meeting the standards of the properly identified customers (future employers and taxpayers).

See: Who Is The Customer in Higher Education? https://arxiv.org/vc/physics/papers/0612/0612117v1.pdf

ABET accreditation in engineering and the ACS approval of degree programs in Chemistry have done a lot to maintain quality in these fields, and employers of engineers and Chemists often require or strongly prefer the accredited/approved degrees. When I interviewed for a position as the founding director of a Forensic Science Program a mid-tier university in the south, I was clear that I wanted the program to be accredited by the accrediting commission of the AAFS (See: http://fepac-edu.org/ ). The university seemed to agree with my view and they hired me. I also began visiting crime labs in the state to speak with this customer base directly and see what they wanted/needed in graduates. They clearly expressed they were in dire need of sound scientific fundamentals rather than lots of job-specific application details. I designed the program accordingly to meet both the FEPAC standards and crime lab needs. But the university's highest goal was really student happiness and retention. They had no real intention of a rigorous Forensic Science Program (or any rigorous science program), and they had my resignation as soon as I realized this. 12 years later, a vanishingly small percentage of program graduates are working as forensic scientists.

The challenge in Physics is twofold: 1) There is no accrediting or approval program through which future employers can express what they would like to see in graduates. 2) Future employers are much more varied for physics graduates than they are for graduates in Chemistry, Forensic Science, or a specific field of Engineering. The stronger programs (meaning more rigorous academically) tend to see graduate school as being the biggest customer of their graduates. (And it probably is.) But the weaker programs both lack a clear vision for the employable skills of their graduates, as well as the required academic rigor to ensure proficiency for graduates in whatever learning objectives they settle on. What good is a well-identified customer and great learning objectives if a degree is not anywhere near an indicator of proficiency?

My view is that a sharp, well-trained mind, an excellent work ethic, and the ability to follow instructions are more important to potential employers of physics graduates than a specific skill set. A degree of sufficient rigor that students really had to work hard 40-60 hours a week for 8 semesters better prepares students to be good employees even if it missed a some topics a specific employer would prefer. Graduates who learned to be diligent can pick up new skills quickly. In contrast, students who managed to pass with only an hour or two effort each week outside of class most weeks are lazy and will not make good employees even if the topical coverage of their curriculum was much more in line with employer needs.

Zooming back out, there are just too many common employment paths for Physics grads to hit the right topics for all of them with the number of credit hours of Math and Physics in most 120-128 credit hour degree programs. But we can teach honest hard work, the ability to follow instructions and turn work in on time, and impart sharp, analytical minds to all our graduates.
 
  • #65
jack action
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Consequences [of treating students as customers] are potentially disastrous, because the notion that “the customer is always right” can lead to the perceived product (course credit or degree) meeting the desires of the misidentified “customer” (student) rather than the real product (value added to student) meeting the standards of the properly identified customers (future employers and taxpayers).
The biggest problem is not a misidentified customer. The problem is that the student is not aware of what is good for him or her. How come the student does not know what will be good for him or her? If he or she was, they would be motivated and learning would be a breeze. It all comes back to show the problem before teaching the solution.

You've thrown another group in there: the taxpayers. But do taxpayers really know what is needed? Do they really understand what they are getting in return for what they are paying? Why does someone who cannot appreciate what trigonometry can be used for, would pay for teaching Taylor series or Laplace transform to the next generation? If that person doesn't want to learn it for himself or herself, why would his or her kid want to learn it? If they would like to learn it but can't stop saying to everyone they don't have the "gift" for it, why would a kid not think the same at the first difficulty he or she encounters? It's even worst when they start saying stuff like: "All that theory is not applicable in the real world and is a waste of time." What kid would be motivated by such statement?
 
  • #66
Dr. Courtney
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You've thrown another group in there: the taxpayers. But do taxpayers really know what is needed? Do they really understand what they are getting in return for what they are paying?
Taxpayers express their will regarding how their taxes get spent through the republican process. Legislators express some of this will through law and educational standards codified in law. In other ways, this will is expressed through Departments of Education and other administrators and bodies that develop curricula. My wife and I had a long, hard look at public education and chose to home school our children. We had a strong inclination that we'd be raising scientists, and all our children turned out to be science majors (Physics and Chemistry). Homeschooling gave us nearly complete freedom to dictate our own curriculum - other than needing to include at least 180 hours each year of science and math, we could do anything we saw fit to prepare our children for their anticipated college choices.

Our core science and math courses had 90+% overlap with public school STEM curricula, and our students have ended up extremely well prepared for college. The problem with public schools is mostly with the quality of teaching and assessment of real learning (academic rigor required to pass) rather than with the topical content. The problem lies with accountability rather than content. In our home school, we fixed the accountability problem, and we succeeded. We didn't spend much time and effort on the motivation side. Since we were trustworthy as parents, "Because I said so" was a good enough answer most of the time. By the time they had graduated from high school (with unaccredited degrees, no less), our students had put together the pieces of why what they were learning is important, but often it is much easier to see the utility of knowing things after you know them than before.

There simply is not sufficient time to zoom out and treat the importance of knowing a specific topic every time a student begins to struggle with that topic. A better approach is to establish integrity in the system so that students trust a more general "this will better prepare you for later challenges in life" rather than daily rabbit trails of why every topic is important. Lots of academic exercises are important for building the strength of the mind for later problem solving, and having a student ask "when I need to know how to balance chemical equations?" is akin to a football player asking when he'll ever squat a certain weight in a football game. It's the strength that's needed, not the exact skill.

When daily hurdles are hit and students lack motivation, my approach is to come along side and break down the challenge into a series of logical steps that the student can manage with their current abilities. This is a productive use of the time that might be wasted by spending too much time on "why this topic is important too." But it depends on the students trusting the teachers that following instructions regarding learning objectives is really going to help them. But on the whole public education has produced too many incompetent teachers and the fraudulent gifting of grades has gone on too long to see a clear path to a remedy for the trust problem in public education. Perhaps it is time to wipe that slate clean and start over.
 
  • #67
jack action
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My wife and I had a long, hard look at public education and chose to home school our children. We had a strong inclination that we'd be raising scientists, and all our children turned out to be science majors (Physics and Chemistry). Homeschooling gave us nearly complete freedom to dictate our own curriculum - other than needing to include at least 180 hours each year of science and math, we could do anything we saw fit to prepare our children for their anticipated college choices.
Are kidding me? This is exactly what I'm talking about. Not only YOU are a scientist and use and value science in your daily life, you went out of your way to make sure your kids had the best tools to succeed. What message do you think they got from that?
We didn't spend much time and effort on the motivation side.
You didn't need too. They already understood how important it was for their parents and that might be all the motivation they needed. I bet you and your wife were talking science often in your daily life in front of your kids, maybe even solve problems with it in your daily routine.
Since we were trustworthy as parents
For all kids, their parents are trustworthy. And if their parents say: «No clue what that is, never used it in my life.» That is a strong motivator to NOT do something. If a teacher enters the life of these kids for, say, 45 hours in their lifetime, and says the opposite ... well this teacher must be damn well convincing to change the kids opinion comparing to their trustworthy parents they've been living with for years.

You told showed your kids their needs without explaining anything to them. You told showed them that you couldn't have the lives you have without having the knowledge you have. They don't need to hear the words and the logic, they can figure it out by themselves intuitively.
 
  • #68
Dr. Courtney
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For all kids, their parents are trustworthy. And if their parents say: «No clue what that is, never used it in my life.» That is a strong motivator to NOT do something.
There is really very little teachers can do in limited class time if trustworthy authorities as the parents are undermining their efforts this strongly. But the premise of this argument is flawed. It is foolish to keep repeating and justifying the false premise as if it needs a direct answer.

The strength of mind brought by academic efforts and learning are more likely to be of value than the actual learning and skill set. Therefore, wise parents (and teachers) will answer more like, "Learning to balance chemical equations will give you a strong mind for solving all kinds of problems in real life even if you never need to balance a chemical equation after you finish school." Somehow everyone understands why general body strength is important for athletes, but many forget how general intellectual dexterity is essential for those who earn our living primarily with our minds rather than with our backs.

The science class is the weight room for the mind. That is _why_ it is important. A parent who may not be educated enough to go into detail might answer (as my mother answered to me, paraphrased), "You need to learn your science and math so you can have an easier life than I have had and not have to work in bars and restaurants" or as my 4th grade math teacher answered (more verbatim), "Do your math homework or you'll be digging ditches."
 
  • #69
jack action
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"You need to learn your science and math so you can have an easier life than I have had and not have to work in bars and restaurants" or as my 4th grade math teacher answered (more verbatim), "Do your math homework or you'll be digging ditches."
What everyone should understand is that science can be extremely helpful when working in bars and restaurants or digging ditches. Unless you aim for a society of elitists (the ones who can) and slaves (the ones who can't). Having a strong mind shouldn't mean you do not have to do manual work. It just means you work smarter.
 
  • #70
nomadreid
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I would be extremely interested to hear an argument that would convince hormone-filled teen-agers that knowing the electron shell structure is going to help them dig ditches or, for that matter, help said adolescent in their future dream professions of being the lead guitarist in a metal/goth/metalcore band or YouTuber.
 
  • #71
jack action
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I would be extremely interested to hear an argument that would convince hormone-filled teen-agers that knowing the electron shell structure is going to help them dig ditches or, for that matter, help said adolescent in their future dream professions of being the lead guitarist in a metal/goth/metalcore band or YouTuber.
The following quotes come from the earlier link I presented. It's about children learning to read, but it applies to humans learning anything.
1. For non-schooled children there is no critical period or best age for learning to read.
2. Motivated children can go from apparent non-reading to fluent reading very quickly.
3. Attempts to push reading can backfire.
4. Children learn to read when reading becomes, to them, a means to some valued end or ends.
It doesn't matter when you learn. It is never too late. One person I knew in high school (age 12-14) was the worst kid in school. Very bad behaviour. I lost contact with him (got expelled) and learn that he fell into the party crowd, involved in drugs and alcohol. After reaching the bottom of the barrel as an alcoholic, he opened his eyes at about 35 y.o., clean himself up and within a few years, he became the mayor of a 70 000 people town, managing a 100 millions $ budget. I think the eye opener for him was being responsible for his new born baby.

The people who don't want to learn, you don't teach them (I still agree with Dr. Courtney's post). Forcing someone to learn something that he or she doesn't see any purpose for it, often creates more problems than it solves.

That being said, it's not normal when a majority of people in a society fail to see what is (should be?) good for them. Especially when they are teens or even adults.

So to answer your question, there are no arguments to convince anyone to learn something. They have to come up with it by themselves.
 
  • #72
WWGD
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Sorry for necropost. One factor, I say, is that the massive and I think interesting infrastru ture underlying most aspects in modern society is hidden from plain sight. You see a piece of cheese nicely packaged in the supermarket so that the combination of logistics, supply chain, etc. needed to produce that piece of cheese is not apparent . So many are detached from the way different aspects of life come together to make modern life possible. I remember a story a friend told me, frustrated because his son would throw out food: "Why do you throw out food, where do you think it comes from?". The kid would reply: "The Supermarket". Basically, a lack of options for tinkering and seeing what's under the hood dulls the intellect and imagination by detaching people from the supporting infrastructure. I would bet many here interested in science have had the chance to tinker with PC s or other electronics or see a relative doing it. That is my take: we lose track of our inborn drive to tinker and figure out our world when we become detached from the wonders of our world.
 
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  • #73
nomadreid
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WWGD: your principle that interconnections are hidden from kids (and the rest of the population) brings up the question as to how important interconnections are for developing scientific interest and/or ability.

[As a side note before going on: electronics are far from the only means to show interconnectivity -- after all, electronics is a recent addition to our reality. I saw one school that emphasized breaking down the compartmentalization of the curriculum as is usually done in schools -- mathematics class is separate from literature class, etc. They had a class make a garden and sell the produce: this ended up requiring mathematics, biology, botany, economics, government (yes, they filled in the necessary forms), and even physics. ]

Many good scientists are extremely narrow in their knowledge -- today's specialization rules out having many polymaths. Did they acquire their scientific interest by looking at interconnections, or by concentrating on the narrow details of one subject of interest? This is a real question, not a rhetorical question, as I do not know the answer -- but I suspect no one else does as well. Hence, while it is obviously desirable to show kids how things interconnect and to uncover all those hidden variables, I am not sure that one can conclude that there is a link between a child's realization that the cheese didn't just come from some laboratory in the back of the supermarket and her subsequent scientific interest.
 
  • #74
WWGD
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WWGD: your principle that interconnections are hidden from kids (and the rest of the population) brings up the question as to how important interconnections are for developing scientific interest and/or ability.

[As a side note before going on: electronics are far from the only means to show interconnectivity -- after all, electronics is a recent addition to our reality. I saw one school that emphasized breaking down the compartmentalization of the curriculum as is usually done in schools -- mathematics class is separate from literature class, etc. They had a class make a garden and sell the produce: this ended up requiring mathematics, biology, botany, economics, government (yes, they filled in the necessary forms), and even physics. ]

Many good scientists are extremely narrow in their knowledge -- today's specialization rules out having many polymaths. Did they acquire their scientific interest by looking at interconnections, or by concentrating on the narrow details of one subject of interest? This is a real question, not a rhetorical question, as I do not know the answer -- but I suspect no one else does as well. Hence, while it is obviously desirable to show kids how things interconnect and to uncover all those hidden variables, I am not sure that one can conclude that there is a link between a child's realization that the cheese didn't just come from some laboratory in the back of the supermarket and her subsequent scientific interest.
You're right, it's more of a sketch of an argument than a well fleshed out thesis. Edit : but it is about more than the interconnections, it is about being able to open up, access the black boxes around us. Too little complexity dulls, too much overwhelms.
 
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