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Growing New Scientists
Good science teachers are a curious lot. We are liberal and conservative, all shapes, sizes, ethnic groups and all sort of crazy. But, one thing we all share is a passion for out subject. We eat dream and sleep science and have for quite some time. A recent national study reports that most folks involved in STEM science as a career had that interest ignited at an early age. Nearly 60% of the respondents said they first became interested in science by age 11. That tells me that we should be supporting and expanding elementary science.
There are several groups of engineers that have initiatives that are targeted towards those “tween” girls and boys. They all give a glimpse of the potential and excitement of pursuing a career in engineering. One focuses on the pure joy of loving what you do as work…passion!
The high school version of this same initiative is found close by.
National Engineers week is in February but the contest they run is archived and has lots of potential for classroom contests that might spark that middle school interest.http://www.futurecity.orgFor ideas that involve some exceptional creative and complex thinking the Odyssey of The Mind competition is one of my favorites. Their site has activities practice problems and a great description of how they set up their competition. That is easy to replicate in your school or class.http://www.odysseyofthemind.com/learn_more.phpI know someone will mention the invention convention. There is a national one sponsored by Sears.http://www.nsta.org/programs/craftsman/Now with some ideas in those sites for creating a classroom event where do you start? Most of the better classroom events are actually spontaneous. In my classes there is a time when the kids are ready for something interesting. It may start with a student comment or a twist a lab or activity takes. When the student is ready the teacher appears with an opportunity to ignite that passion for science. One student I had in a class 15 years ago told me that she had kept her milk lab project from a classroom activity where we tried to create a toy using an interesting phenomenon that occurs when you put food coloring and a drop of dish soap in a plate of whole milk. It was not the activity so much as the way the student felt at being successful with a complex problem. The toy this student created was brilliant because she applied the science she had learned earlier in class. She now works for a company that specializes in biochemistry applications for agriculture. That passion was ignited long before she came to my high school class. I simply had the task to not get in her way.It is not so much what we do as teachers as what we require the kids to do as young scientists. Do we let them take an experiment further? Do we structure the class to allow them to take off on an exploration of interest? I know, in this era of accountability based on standards and tests this is difficult. But, kids will do this naturally. As teachers we just need to give them a chance to tell us what they learned, tried, did at home, or found out after the experiment ended. That face time with teachers is part of the key to keeping that passion for science alive.It is the week after Easter and every store shelve will have plastic eggs and egg coloring kits on clearance. I love to pick up the eggs and place science exploration ideas on small strips of paper that the student can do in spare time or at home. The basket will sit at the front of the room ready for any student to pick an egg (the seed of an exploration) and perhaps I can grow a few new scientists.