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What Can You Do with Science Knowledge?
I send out a questionnaire to my former students and try to find out what they thought was the most valuable part of my class. The information is humbling and insightful. These last few years I have heard back from a variety of students who choose to enter the STEM science fields. I was interested in finding out how they selected science over all the other possible fields. All but one of the students indicated that they had seen or spoken with someone in the field early in their education and that had provided the seed.
I began to think about how many career folks our students have a chance to interact with. The surprising number is quite low. What exactly do scientists do? How do we communicate the excitement and reward of science careers? The ideal is to bring in a scientist who speaks well to kids and let them explain their work.
The web provides a rich resource of scientists who, as part of their job, regularly communicate with classrooms. These individuals do more than just put a face with a job. They can help the teacher understand science content at a deeper level, provide materials and activities for classrooms, answer tough questions and provide a rich “why should I learn this” experience for the students.
I think about the science I use every day outside of teaching. Prior to the latest cold snap I had the furnace repair person come in and check my furnace for leaks and to fine tune the device so it runs more efficiently. This person had a degree from a 2 year university and was fluent in the language of temperature and air flow. They may not have been able to name the physics principles they work with, but it was clear that they understood them. This person was using a lot of physical science in his job.
In the produce isle of my local grocery store a young woman was explaining to me which fruits ripen first and why some sugar rich fruits have to be stored in a certain way to keep the fruit fresher longer. She not only understood the physical principles of food storage, she also knew quite a bit about the biological and some chemical differences in the different fruits and vegetables she sold.
The local fire chief was in our building to do a regular inspection. His stop by the chemistry lab resulted in a rich discussion about what a fire fighter needs to know about science. As it turns out the science of combustion is much more complex than any of my students realized. This led to an annual visit from the local fire crew and some amazing lessons in fire science and safety.
When I last had my haircut my stylist explained to me how the protein that is my hair absorbs different chemicals at different rates. I was asking about covering my gray hair with dye and she understood at a deep chemical level how hair absorbs different kinds of molecules from dyes. She, the produce clerk and my furnace repair person all needed science. That may not be the scientists discovering a cure for cancer but they are rich resources for helping our students understand why science is important and how it is used in any career. Invite some of these folks into your classroom.
The Dow Chemical advertising campaign about “The Human Element” has a rich web site with some engaging (even for middle school students) interviews. Check them out first:
TAMU has more interviews but they are not as engaging. They do have a rich variety of specialists.
Society of Women Engineers has an outreach program in each of their regions. The web site will direct you to contacts who will bring engineers right to your classroom. I have had some terrific women engineers come to my classes from this group.
Scientist in the classroom from several Universities in Tennessee put together a similar program.
PBS has a “Cool Careers in Science” program that is a must view for any science teacher.
Almost every science discipline publishes a list of careers in that field. In Earth science the list can be found with NASA.
The American Physiological Society lists not only careers in life science but links them with web sites for more information.
Lastly, there are some online resources for students to talk with scientists in the field. Online Chats with Scientists from Rutgers University is one of the better sites for that type of interaction.
Whatever your science topic, careers should fit. Telling students what they can do with the knowledge they are building give motivation and purpose to the effort. Putting a human face with the useful knowledge in action is even better.
Shannon C ‘de Baca is a passionate educator who teaches at Iowa Learning Online. Visit her blog at HotChalkScience.com.