February 11, 2015

To reach potential scientists, we need to make science more engaging. Credit: Martin Cron / Flickr Creative Commons

Science is really cool. It lets us explore our universe! It helps us cure diseases! Here’s a lecture from Neil DeGrasse Tyson! And look at all these awesome science experiments you can do at home!

But science isn’t just cool experiments and mind-blowing lectures from Neil DeGrasse Tyson; it’s hard work. Work that requires real scientists doing real studies that look nothing like Cosmos: A Spacetime Odyssey . And getting kids interested in the hard work of science can be challenging — but it can be done.

“If we make it relevant, people and students will be more willing to hang in there with the courses that we’re teaching,” says former researcher and current science evangelist Ainissa Ramirez. 

Ramirez argues that we're leaving a whole host of potential scientists, engineers, and mathematicians behind because of the backwards way we teach STEM courses.

When Ramirez goes to schools, she’ll give talks like this one, explaining how nanotechnology might help fight cancer, -- or how, on the atomic level, gold appears red instead of the yellowish hue we see with our naked eye. She hopes that students fall in love with science before they get turned off by the difficult work that underlies the whole field.

However, even when children are motivated to study science, many of them fall by the wayside. “We have a lot of people that want to take STEM classes, and they pretty much get obliterated by these weed-out classes. Some of them are intro science, intro math classes. And we have a long legacy where professors...teach the classes in a way that those who are not that sure of themselves will weed themselves out.” Ramirez says that we need to support rather than tear down, perhaps by having math classes focus less on pure computation (after all, there are computers for that) and more on the reasoning behind the formulas.

After all, the initial rationale for those weed-out classes was that there were only a few openings in STEM fields. Now, that’s definitely not the case; in fact, there’s a considerable shortage. And with science education being a major part of Obama’s proposed 2016 budget, it looks like the way we teach our kids science is going to be a big part of America’s future.

high school, Education, science education, Ainissa Ramirez

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