Ask any adult to reflect on their time in grade school and they are sure to mention a science fair. Science, a subject that starts out fascinating and exciting for many turns into a chore as they age through the educational system. According to Carl Sagan, “Every child starts out as a natural born scientist, then we beat it out of them. A few trickle through the system with their wonder and enthusiasm for science still intact”.
Now why is that? Why does science lose its spark? And more importantly, how can this be combatted?
Jonathan Osborne, a professor of science education at Stanford University states the paradigm behind the majority of teacher-student interactions is: “I know and you don’t know, and I’m here to communicate it to you and explain it to you”, which is a model that evidently doesn’t work well. Osborne believes this approach causes students to lose interest, and long term, many negatively impact society.
According to the 2013 report by the US National Science and Technology Council, “current educational pathways are not leading to a sufficiently large and well-trained STEM workforce”. The report also stated the educational system failed to produce a scientifically literate public. In a report by the ACT organization, many students who want to pursue a science education in college aren’t properly prepared by in high school.
Despite this, the demand for science graduates is very high. Joshua Hatch, the assistant managing editor at The Chronicle of Higher Education, one way to combat “enthusiasm burnout” is by focusing on how teachers are trained and how they interact with their students. More specifically, teachers are encouraged to “…feed their curiosity, and deepen their understanding of scientific concepts”.
According to Peter McLaren, the executive director of the non-profit initiative Next Gen Education, a shift from the teacher centred model to one one in which students work through concepts themselves is required. McLaren used a lesson he once taught on gases as an example. He borrowed a bottle of perfume and sprayed it in the front of the classroom. He had his students raise their hands when they smelled something. McLaren recalled that the students were engaged and excited initially and their enthusiasm quickly declines when he started lecturing them.
In hindsight, McLaren stated that rather than lecturing, he should’ve started a discussion with the students and ask them what they think is happening. This would encourage students to use their knowledge and imagination to develop scientific ideas, and instead of “learning” about them, the students had to “figure it out”.
Meredith Portsmore, the director of the Center for Engineering Education and Outreach at Tufts University states that many students don’t find science appealing because they don’t find it creative. If the structure of the classroom was more discussion based, more and more students would find it interesting and creative and innovative scientists would be created.