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News What can we do to improve Science Education?

  1. May 26, 2006 #1


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    from Why American College Students Hate Science By BRENT STAPLES, NY Times, Opinion - May 25, 2006

    Here's one approach

    Very interesting. Thoughts?
  2. jcsd
  3. May 26, 2006 #2


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    To begin, it is a shame there aren't more science TV programs designed for children. I think PBS is one of the few channels that provides educational programming at all, like Dragonfly TV (a hands-on program). The hands-on type of teaching is very important for engaging the students. Otherwise, kids don't grow up and become science and math teachers, which we are short on.

    The first point about unimaginative teachers -- This was certainly true when I was in High School. In lab our teacher never demonstrated or explained anything. We were given assignments and were to report the results, but I never understood what I was doing and why. This was in a small rural school in which teachers tend to wear more than one hat, with the science teacher also being the football coach, which was his real passion.

    Bush's "No Child Left Behind" program is placing an even greater strain on teacher availability. The requirement for specialization might have improved my science class experience, but it doesn't change financial constraints (i.e., the school needing to get the bang for the buck). And of course teachers are still poorly paid, especially in rural areas. Some schools are now offering bonuses for science and math teachers (out of supply and demand desperation), but it's still peanuts compared to other fields.
  4. May 27, 2006 #3
  5. May 27, 2006 #4


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    I am all for hands on demonstrations of physics principles, however, the teacher in Mill Valley's Tamalpais High School needs to obtain the written permission of the school district superintendent or his designee.
  6. May 27, 2006 #5


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    [An aside] The report card just came in :


  7. May 27, 2006 #6
  8. May 28, 2006 #7
    I've been to two different colleges now: One centered around discussion, during which we dissected the thoughts and practices of scientists: from Aristotle to Pascal, Lavoisier, Harvey and http://www.stjohnscollege.edu/asp/main.aspx?page=6645&parent=1304" [Broken]. We had small classes, about 15 students, where we read and discussed scientific theory. Then, we performed the practices described by the scientists: we tasted diluted acids and bases, we cracked open live chick embryos to examine their circulatory system (a light touch on their tiny hearts is enough to revive it if it stops beating), we dissected cats and gave reports to the class on our chosen systems, where we were also required to give additional theories of our own on the purposes of certain anatomical features - mine was the digestive, we suggested that the villi in the stomach might be tiny teeth that mashed up food (it may be silly, but it encouraged scientific thought).

    Now I attend a state school, whose tuition costs less than half the other school. Classes are lectures in halls that are packed with over a hundred students. We take notes, memorize them, and take tests based on those notes. Our labs have detailed instructions that are not discussed, only clarified so that we may follow them exactly, though we do not know why. Creative thinking is encouraged only to prove the superiority of the scientific method, to find practical solutions rather than simply exploring ideas and exercising our minds. I never attended lecture, which was fine since my grade was based on performance on tests and attendance at lab rather than regular participation in lecture. No papers were required. The other school was based on discussion and written expression through papers: if you didn't speak in class, you were not allowed to re-enroll the next year.

    I suggest that we give the option that Germany and Japan give - vocational schools rather than mandatory education for high schoolers. It seems like everyone is required to get a degree in something, which overburdens the educational system. If we can give viable options in non-educational fields, then the rest that pursue acamedics will have improved conditions such as smaller class size and more money for better teachers and curricula.

    Here's a cross-cultural study comparing education in Germany, Japan, and the U.S.
    Last edited by a moderator: May 2, 2017
  9. Aug 9, 2006 #8
    We can start off by not teaching intelligent design as a competing theory against evolution.
  10. Aug 9, 2006 #9
    You have to wonder whether the participating students aren't...how do I put this delicately...already inclined to pursue disciplines in science (and math and engineering). Meyerhoff isn't exactly promoting promoting interest in science surreptitiously in its recruitment.

    We know very little about the cultural or personal motivations for choosing or rejecting technical study in university. But I'm personally suspicious that such disciplines are culturally less satisfying than alternatives for more social, less insular students.

    A final note. It takes a special bit of arrogance--borderline delusional--to suggest that the ID controversy is somehow driving down interest in science; not simply due to the lack of empirical evidence, but also for the lack of any real body of hinting anecdotes.
    Last edited by a moderator: Aug 9, 2006
  11. Aug 9, 2006 #10
    schooling 8am to 6pm or 8amto8pm
  12. Aug 10, 2006 #11
    Case in point. I know of several people who've stuck through it, including myself, planning or seriously considering changing careers because they can't stand spending several hours a day with this type of coworker. Once again, this is my own view--it's not social science, it's not derived from any body of knowledge in social science (that I know of). Although I doubt we're going to see much of the social science in this thread, I think we'd all do well to attach a disclaimer to personal judgements.
    Last edited by a moderator: Aug 10, 2006
  13. Aug 10, 2006 #12


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    Well gee, there goes athletics, band, cheerleading, clubs, and basically any other extracurricular activity that doesn't take place on weekends. When I was going to high school at Bosco Tech, I had 8 periods (the normal 6 plus one religion and one technical) and three hours of cross-country practice, and I was generally there from 7 to 7 every day. I couldn't even begin to imagine the hell it would be to be there that long with only the regular classes.
  14. Aug 10, 2006 #13
    Seconded. Does anyone have an idea that doesn't boil down to "let's wave our hands and hope the kids turn out more like students inclined to pursue a technical discipline?" If everybody emulated your stereotypical science and math clubs, you could get rid of athletics and other extra-curriculars with a far more social bent.
    Last edited by a moderator: Aug 10, 2006
  15. Aug 10, 2006 #14
    Preserve the joy of learning by not controlling it. Let students do original scientific research at their own pace.
  16. Aug 10, 2006 #15


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    From the OP, one problem I see is that the Meyerhoff program does seem to be cherry-picking bright students, which is one of the criticisms. They offer 100 scholarships, but perhaps more students are enrolled, which are selected from 1900 students, but what about the other 10's of thousands of students?

    I heard recently that in a few decade, 80-90% of the world's scientists will be living in Asia (I presume that means India, China, Korea, Japan, . . . .). North America is apparently falling behind. Now I just need to remember where I heard that statement.

    Anyway, I knew I was interested in Math and Science by Grade 2. Numbers and facts fascinated me. I used to compete with another boy to see who could count to the highest number on a slate board :rolleyes: He always won, because he could write faster.

    By 4th grade, I preferred reading non-fiction, scientific books, particularly about geology and paleontology, and the second edition of the Columbia Encylopedia. In 5th grade, my parents bought me a copy of Van Nostrand's Scientific Encyclopedia, and I would spend hours reading articles on various topics in math and science. Then I got a subscription to Scientific American, which I kept through university. :rolleyes:
  17. Aug 10, 2006 #16
    I hated math and science growing up. All through school, I was bored beyond belief. As the youngest of 5 kids, I'd grab my older siblings math books and read them. By the time I was in 5th grade, I was doing my oldest sister's trigonometry from 12th grade. But my teachers kept trying to teach me the stuff I already knew, so I pretty much zoned out (and still got A's). If they had let me go at my own pace, I wouldn't have waited until I was in my mid 30's to finally finish my degree. It wasn't until I got into the upper division math where I learned why rather than just rote memorization that I finally began to like math and science again. So I think one thing teachers can do is let those students who have the potential to excel learn at their own pace. It shouldn't matter that they will look smarter than the teacher.
  18. Aug 10, 2006 #17
    I believe we need to stop being so easy, and start giving hard work and real material to learn. Kids get away with being lazy far too easily. So if the kids are not willing to do any homework or spend at most half an hour on work a day, then tough for them if they fail. Teachers should be available and ready to answer questions and help when necessary, but man there needs to be some serious discipline. I'm sorry, a butt-kicking is really in order.
  19. Aug 10, 2006 #18
    True, but a surley somone who is self motivated is a greater asset than someone who is artificially, by discipline, motivated?

    We all like a challenge, but easy is a subjective term, which may apply to one and not to another, this kind of blanket education is a detriment to many who could succeed but are excluded.

    Maybe we could ask, "Why do many young students lack self motivation for science?"

    That can be answered by looking, i beleive, at the cognitive biases that develop, the amount of effort and the amount of reward that they gain in learning and immersing themselves in the subject.

    For example, where i was brought up, amongst my group of firends, science was not something that was looked upon as socially acceptable. The classic "geek" & "nerd" type mentallity which stigmatises and effects cognitive bias at a young age can be hard to change by discipline.

    Can you make, or is it even fair, to make a child follow a program that will result in social exclusion?

    Combine that with the fact that many young people have no facillities or out of school activities that involve science and which they can activley apply themselves to. This means the subjects are not used and discussed enough, which is partially what leads to the above in my opinion.
    Perhaps some science education fails to educate for the workplace or "real world" in terms of employabillity and usefullness of techniques and methods, teaching about "classic science" but when very little modern science is perfomed this way.

    Addressing these issues, in my opinion, would be an improvement.
    Last edited: Aug 10, 2006
  20. Aug 10, 2006 #19
    What discipline? Tiyusufaly described a sado-masochist's dream of science education, one that appeals to only a peculiar student demographic. You know, the type that asked for extra homework while his peers were more interested in chillin after school. As far as I can tell, the result of his program would drive more socially adjusted students from scientific careers. That means I can look forward to an even less rewarding career in a field already oversaturated with the "other type" of kid. And that's the last thing I need, yet one more reason to consider a career in science and technology a disasterous choice.

    There you go. Now we're getting somewhere.
    Last edited by a moderator: Aug 10, 2006
  21. Aug 10, 2006 #20
    I'm not saying we have to be cruel and make these kids do nothing but homework all day, but you have to admit, high school today is way too easy and kids can get away with stuff. I'm not a "sado-masochist" lol, I just believe in hard work and discipline. Today kids spend far more time on athletics and activities and out of school stuff than on education itself, which is one of the last priorities. To be fair, this may in part have to do with a lack of good intriguing teachers. So we can start by raising teacher salary and having stricter requirements and making it more competitive to teach, so as to get better educators. But I think stricter policies ARE necessary - but I'm not telling you to subject these kids to Caltech or MIT or Harvey Mudd workload while in 8th grade. Heavens no.
    Last edited: Aug 10, 2006
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