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Sputnik Moment Or No, Science Fairs Are Lagging 414

Posted by Soulskill
from the joe-vs-the-papier-mache-volcano dept.
An anonymous reader writes "The NY Times is running a story about the response from some high school science teachers to Obama's State of the Union address. It's nice that he wants to celebrate science fair winners, they say, but his obsession with standardized math and reading test scores means they have no time to teach students the fundamentals of how to do science. 'I have so many state standards I have to teach concept-wise, it takes time away from what I find most valuable, which is to have them inquire about the world,' said one teacher."
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Sputnik Moment Or No, Science Fairs Are Lagging

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  • by Anonymous Coward on Saturday February 05, 2011 @10:36AM (#35111116)

    I'm a judge at one of the major Canadian Science Fairs and we've been given direction that we can't criticize and only good comments are allowed. Some of the projects are absolute CRAP for the age level... thrown together overnight... judges should be able to say "Your project is CRAP... prepare for a job at Burger King"

    • by FuckingNickName (1362625) on Saturday February 05, 2011 @11:54AM (#35111494) Journal

      I'm a judge of character, and I want to say.... your interpersonal and motivational skills are CRAP... prepare for an irrelevant job as a minor technical functionary following by a lonely old age ending in a death noticed by none.

      • by malkavian (9512)

        However, his practical skills, and forthrightness are perfect for higher management, where all that really counts are results.
        You can't just the interpersonal skills from that snippet, so that's not even on the table here..
        I'd say your wishful thinking that everything is all solvable by a nicely nicely approach is perfect for a purely political post with lots of fluffy aspects to it and telling people that it's all alright, apart from the nasty people who tell them then have to look after themselves..
        You kn

    • by Z00L00K (682162) on Saturday February 05, 2011 @12:06PM (#35111572) Homepage

      Isn't it better to ask the question: "What did you learn from this project?"

      That may be the critical key - if they can't tell what they did learn then they know that they need to better themselves.

      And when starting a science project it's important to tell the students that failure is an option - it's not the result that is important but the road to the result. So even if the result is a puddle of clay oozing out of a box when it should have been a pot the student shall be able to tell why it was that way. Not being able to understand why is the real failure. Real science is a lot of failures and a few successes.

      As a reminder. WD-40 is the 40th variation of a lubrication able to be used in Wet and Dry circumstances. The previous 39 ones wasn't good enough.

      • Re: (Score:2, Interesting)

        by Anonymous Coward

        I was a science fair judge once upon a time in a former life (meaning in another state a couple of decades ago) and one of the "winning" entries was a science experiment that was mostly a failure. It was done by some kids who did a series of experiments on hamsters where the test subjected inadvertently died. The experiments were all humane, at least would have passed any university live test subject criteria (no deliberate torture), they just made some innocent mistakes where the hamsters died.

        What I and

        • by Belial6 (794905) on Saturday February 05, 2011 @04:03PM (#35113056)
          I see this even in the classroom. My son (6) signed up for a science class. (Outside of school, not part of the school curriculum, but run by an elementary school teacher.) The second project was to make stalagmites and stalactites by draping a piece of yarn between two cups filled with baking soda dissolved in water. The teachers hypothesis was that the water would travel up the string, and as it dripped from the dip in the string between the cups, it would deposit the baking soda in the same spots, creating a stalagmite and a stalactite.

          What ended up happening was that the baking soda deposited in a crystalline structure jutting out in all direction along the length of the string. What baking soda was still in the water when it did make it on to the plate made it's own crystalline structure horizontally as a thin film across the plate. I saw this as an opportunity, and discussed with my son, what he/the teacher expected to happen, what did happen, and what might be the reasons that the experiment didn't go as planned. We took a bunch of pictures, and told him that at the next class, he can ask the instructor, what may have caused the experiment to produce different results from what was predicted.

          What he got at the next class was an explanation that 'it should have worked', a rudimentary explanation of how stalactites and stalagmites are formed, and they moved on to the next project. Unfortunately, that pretty much put an end to that class for us. The 'science teacher' wasn't teaching the kids science. She was teaching them 'appeal to authority', even when the statements are experimentally false. It was the exact opposite of science.
      • Re: (Score:2, Interesting)

        by Anonymous Coward

        Wrong!!! Water Displacement Agent # 40

      • by CodeBuster (516420) on Saturday February 05, 2011 @06:46PM (#35114202)

        WD-40 is the 40th variation of a lubrication able to be used in Wet and Dry circumstances. The previous 39 ones wasn't good enough.

        Not exactly. WD-40 actually stands for "Water Displacement, 40th Attempt" (the previous 39 variations of the formula were presumably unsatisfactory). It was originally created by Norm Larsen, founder of the Rocket Chemical Company of San Diego California to repel water, hence the "Water Displacement" or WD abbreviation, and thus prevent or slow corrosion. WD-40 was first used by Convair to protect the Atlas missile from rust and corrosion before the product became commercially available in 1958. WD-40 was never intended to be a lubricant and it isn't well suited to that purpose. If you want lubrication then purchase a real lubricant, not WD-40.

    • by syousef (465911) on Saturday February 05, 2011 @12:41PM (#35111760) Journal

      I'm a judge at one of the major Canadian Science Fairs and we've been given direction that we can't criticize and only good comments are allowed. Some of the projects are absolute CRAP for the age level... thrown together overnight... judges should be able to say "Your project is CRAP... prepare for a job at Burger King"

      I'm all for constructive criticism, but "prepare for a job at Burger King" is nothing but abuse.

    • You're not doing these kids a service by not criticizing them either.

      Imagine they really slapped it together over night (which is actually likely. I mean, think back on your science week days and how some people handled them). What do they learn if critique is not allowed?

      Those that slap it together over night learn that they can get away with minimal effort, slacking and cheating.
      Those that actually invested time to put together a great project learn that it doesn't matter to work hard and create something

    • by troll -1 (956834)
      How could a science experiment be CRAP? It's a science experiment after all. We know some experiments can be simplistic but still there is an esoteric beauty in any demonstration of how the rules of the universe work even if beauty's benefit is only to invoke further discussion.
    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by mallyn (136041)
      It can also go the other way. Once upon a time, I made an oscilloscope for my junior high school science fair project. I did not get any prizes. An electronics engineer came to me later and told me privately that my project was so well built that the judges did not believe I was the one who built it. Furthermore, even now, when I wear these [allyn.com] in public, some people don't believe me when I tell them that I have made them.
    • The fact that a project is crap doesn't necessarily doom the unfortunate student to a lifetime of super-sizing other peoples' fries. The smarter students are bound to recognize that just about every useful scientific experiment that could have easily been done, start to finish, by one person or even a small group of non-experts, limited in both time and money, has already been repeated ad nauseam. If we agree that the primary goal of any science fair is education, and not the production of any useful new "s

  • by Greyfox (87712) on Saturday February 05, 2011 @10:44AM (#35111156) Homepage Journal
    Back when I was a kid, you could legitimately blow some shit up with your Jr. Scientist kit. Enthusiast experimenting books from Dad's era suggest using hydrogen cyanide kill the bugs for your bug collection. Stop pussifying science, and maybe kids will be interested again! I'm seeking funding for the Greyfox Science Kit, which will include a 2 inch "supermagnet", samples of lithium and sodium metal, a burner you can hook up to your gas line, a 1 watt laser and... what's that? I'm being the first lawsuit has already been filed...
    • by CRCulver (715279) <crculver@christopherculver.com> on Saturday February 05, 2011 @10:59AM (#35111206) Homepage

      Contemporary chemistry sets might not encourage you to kill insects or blow stuff up, but chemistry sets are still around. I just went to Amazon and did a search for "chemistry set" and the very first one (the Thames & Kosmos beginner set [amazon.com]) even guides kids through working with electricity. Indeed, in general this set doesn't look any more tame than what I had growing up in the 1980s.

      If chemistry sets today are less popular, blame parents. But parents who are clued-up and want to introduce their children to the scientific process still have the possibility of buying these sets.

      • even guides kids through working with electricity.

        You can't do a lot of damage with a 9 volt battery, especially if it's not included. I just hope it doesn't promote playing with dihydrogen monoxide.

    • by jgc7 (910200)
      I have fond memories of all kinds of good stuff. I think my favorite was trying to ignite calcium carbide with toilet paper. It didn't work, but when I tried to put it out with water, I sure learned my lesson.
    • by ortholattice (175065) on Saturday February 05, 2011 @11:48AM (#35111446)
      Check out The Golden Book of Chemistry Experiments http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Golden_Book_of_Chemistry_Experiments [wikipedia.org], an amazing book now considered dangerous. The book was apparently removed from most public libraries. I think you can find a pdf via the wiki p links though - it is an amazing book.

      .

      While unfortunately I didn't have this book as a kid, I had some others that were similarly "dangerous", along with a chemistry set with most of the necessary chemicals. I made gunpowder once to prove to myself I could do it. I filled balloons with hydrogen with a simple reaction of aluminum strips and lye in a coke bottle, floated them, and of course applied a match on a long stick to watch them explode with a blue flash. I did a lot of experiments with electrolysis (in the cheapest way possible, directly from 110VAC, through a rectifier and light bulb to limit current; by experience I quickly learned to avoid shocks and do this safely). Eventually I got interested in electronics and left the chemistry behind.

    • What are you talking about? Blowing stuff up and killing the weak are now America's chief exports. The rest is just inertia - give it another quarter century and pan-Asian intellectual property will match American.

    • My daddy mixed up potassium perchlorate and sulfur. He wrapped it up in tin foil (that's hat materiel for you Slashdot folks), and hit it with a sledge hammer. Boom! Wake the neighbors, call the cops! When I was older, I did some experiments in our backyard with aluminum powder and sulfur. It sent up a mushroom cloud, which drifted over to our neighbors house. I skedaddled inside the house and put on a innocent smile on my face. You'd get arrested these days for doing stuff like that.

      Well, at least

    • by Anonymous Coward on Saturday February 05, 2011 @11:55AM (#35111498)

      As a highschool physics and math teacher myself, I can see where she is coming from. However, I have a different perspective to offer. I would like to do all kinds of fun stuff with my kids, but there are two hold ups. The main one, is that kids just aren't that interested in science. They barely pay attention when we have to derive something, they do not know how to study anymore, and if anything resembles hard work to them, they turn away from it. I can remember when I was in high school, I liked physics and math just because of the mental exercise. A side part of this is their maturity. There is a reason people with kids can't have nice things, teenagers break shit. I mean, they have a total disregard for property that is not theirs. I don't know how many meter sticks have been snapped just to do it, and other basic tools that have been broken for the fun of it apparently. I can't trust the lot of them to step foot in a lab, they would end up hurting themselves, or even worse, someone else.

      The second major hold up is funding. It sure as hell is easy to get funding for sports teams, dances, and things that make the parents happy, but ask for money for science equipment? It's almost like asking your parents for a new car when you're 16. There isn't money to be given out in our recent times, maybe somewhere towards the end of this decade when the economy recovers. You can only teach them so much without the proper equipment. Concepts can be shown, but true science is in the data, and you can take data without instruments.

      One last item that I'll add, is that educators (in the states at least) do not make enough money to justify the position. The first year I started teaching (just a few years ago), I brought home about $22,000. For what I have to deal with, and the amount I actually work to teach my students, I figured I was almost making minimum wage. I make less than our gym teacher, who sits on his ass all day, and has for the last 10 years while half our students are overweight. I make less than our "computer stuff" teacher who lets the kids sit on their ass and play on facebook. The stress and frustration from parents isn't worth minimum wage. Thankfully, this is my last year. It's not that I don't like teaching, in fact, I truly enjoy it at times, its just not worth it financially.

      • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

        by Nikkos (544004)
        "I would like to do all kinds of fun stuff with my kids, but there are two hold ups. The main one, is that kids just aren't that interested in science. They barely pay attention when we have to derive something, they do not know how to study anymore, and if anything resembles hard work to them, they turn away from it."

        GIVE THEM HOMEWORK AND LET THEM FAIL. FFS, there's the real problem. Maybe failure will make them realize they have to work and even get the parents motivated too. Instead we make excuses
        • by winwar (114053) on Saturday February 05, 2011 @02:25PM (#35112396)

          "GIVE THEM HOMEWORK AND LET THEM FAIL. FFS, there's the real problem. Maybe failure will make them realize they have to work and even get the parents motivated too. Instead we make excuses and let these kids skate on through."

          Great, someone who doesn't have a clue. Homework is not a panacea. In fact, it is mostly worthless for learning. Failing students mostly fails to motivate them. It generally reinforces the idea that they can't succeed and so why should they bother to try. If you have a student that doesn't want to fail, then they probably aren't a problem.

          "Instead there is this new idea that you have to make it interesting, entertaining, inspiring, etc. Screw that, you're not a dancing clown and you're not a babysitter - give them the material, explain it a couple times on the board, and give them homework. If they can't pry themselves away from the TV or the PS3, THAT'S NOT YOUR PROBLEM."

          Actually, it is your problem as a teacher. There is a reason that people have been calling for teacher evaluations. It is precisely this attitude. If you don't care about the success of your students then you don't have the qualifications to be a teacher. Unfortunately, many teachers care but don't have the tools or willingness to change their teaching style. The teacher seems to fall into this category.

          And he does have a point about equipment. Lab sciences need supplies. Supplies cost money. You can't teach them effectively without the supplies. Concepts get boring when they have no practical application.

          The problem isn't that enough students aren't failing. The problem is that too many are.

    • Heck man, back in the day (15 years old) - I built a 4 foot tall Tesla coil in my bedroom - 8" arcs flying through the air - fluorescent tubes lighting up 20 feet away - ozone levels so high I'd get headaches - jamming channel 2 for a block around my house - All my kids care about is texting on their iPhones and playing video games - I made cubic feet of hydrogen gas and mixed brake fluid and granulated chlorine, you do that stuff today and the FBI shows up at your house and accuses you of making bombs, of

    • Back when I was a kid, you could legitimately blow some shit up with your Jr. Scientist kit. Enthusiast experimenting books from Dad's era suggest using hydrogen cyanide kill the bugs for your bug collection. Stop pussifying science, and maybe kids will be interested again! I'm seeking funding for the Greyfox Science Kit, which will include a 2 inch "supermagnet", samples of lithium and sodium metal, a burner you can hook up to your gas line, a 1 watt laser and... what's that? I'm being the first lawsuit has already been filed...

      You have to look for them but you can still find science kits and books like that. Make zine [makezine.com] is one such place to look. Well, the Maker Shed store [makershed.com] that is but the zine includes some good projects. One of the books the store has is Illustrated Guide to Home Chemistry Experiments [makershed.com] saying how to set up a lab at home. What I noticed last year was that Barnes and Noble Bookstore has started carrying science labs, though basic they can spark interest. For Christmas I wanted to get one for my niece and great

  • by methano (519830) on Saturday February 05, 2011 @11:00AM (#35111212)
    The reason that we're falling behind in science is that we, as a nation, don't value scientists anymore. It's hard to learn science and be good at it. I'm in my mid-50's, worked in the pharmaceutical industry for many years but have been out of work for 3 of the last 6 years. I'd doing a post-doc now. That means about a 1/3 salary. It would sound like whining but I have tons of friends in the same situation. Ivy League PhD's, out of work or "consulting". Good careers for a while, then all the jobs go off to China. The STEM crap is just a ruse to get more people to go to school for 9 years post high school and work for 80K if they're lucky. And then be out of it permanently at 45.

    You can make a lot more money doing something else. You should only do it if you love it. Science is the new Art History.
    • It isn't just scientists that we don't value though... It's the whole concept of curiosity that's on its way out.

      • It isn't just scientists that we don't value though... It's the whole concept of curiosity that's on its way out.

        What do you mean?

    • I believe you are misleading us by not posting your requirements.

      What do you consider a reasonable wage and working hours?
      What working conditions do you require in order to take a job?

      To say you have "been out of work for 3 of the last 6 years" may say as much or more about you than the job marketplace. It's trivially true that, as a science PhD, you could get some job - so you are clearly turning down much of what's on offer.

      All we know so far is that you want to do what you "love", but you seem to complai

    • by jadavis (473492)

      The reason that we're falling behind in science is that we, as a nation, don't value scientists anymore. ... Ivy League PhD's, out of work or "consulting".

      I don't understand your point. The first sentence sounds like a cultural values issue, but then all of your examples are about economic realities. There are many things with a high cultural value and a low economic value -- music, for instance.

      Have science and math ever really been lucrative careers in general? They have been good paths to other lucrative

  • Teach for the test (Score:5, Insightful)

    by br00tus (528477) on Saturday February 05, 2011 @11:00AM (#35111214)
    I went to a public junior high school back in the late 1980s. There was a standard and advanced student program, I was in the advanced program. There were state exams students had to take, the scores of which would affect principals salary and career path. So my science classes were entirely focused not on us learning science, but getting us to pass these exams. In many ways we were like workers, working for free, to benefit the principal.

    I got into the best magnet high schools in my city, but chose to go to the best Catholic high school in the city (which due to an endowment, was free). One reason was we did not have to take state exams. As the school was very selective, and as students scored high on the SATs and got into Ivy league schools, the school felt no need to partake in state tests (the normal Catholic high schools in the city did though). Thus we got a chance to really learn. I know many graduates who say they learned more in our high school then they did in college, and for me this is has often been the case.

    While I am egalitarian, even for those who are less so, it is incredibly wasteful, for US productivity, to have the top 1% of students, which I always was on these state exams, have to do the kind of rote, teach for the test learning that the bottom 1% of students on the test take. We can be self-directed and go on a Deweyite learning curve where we would really be learning, and advancing at our own speed, not going along with everyone else and doing this rote for the test memorization.

    The real truth is the Bolshevik revolution is what made schools in the US great in the 1950s and 1960s for engineering. The Russians engineers I met who came out of the USSR school systems are the sharpest I've ever met. But beyond that, advances like Sputnik scared the US in terms of falling behind the USSR educationally, so US schools had to revamp to make sure they were staying competitive to the USSR. Not that the USSR was a big threat to the US - the US GNP dwarfed Russia's in 1917, and continued to do so. But now that such threats have abided, all of these things - teach-for-the-test, closing schools, these charter schools which will soon be on a profit model and are being pushed for by the US's billionaires and the like can all come about. There are no threats to the US so dumbing down the sheeple and pouring Glenn Beck and fundamentalist religion in their minds is seen as a better course by the elites - or else they might get smart and start causing trouble like in Egypt.

  • Quite the opposite [religiondispatches.org]. Is not just that they don't do enough teaching the right thing, but that in good numbers they teach the wrong one. Before putting teachers to teach science, be sure that they understand it. That would be a sputnik moment.
    • by Artifakt (700173)

      In the past, I've posted to Slashdot half a dozen times with points that criticise some interpretation of the standard Theory of Evolution by Natural Selection. Every single time, someone has challenged me over the part of what I posted that is in exact agreement with the standard theory, as taught at such institutions as MIT or Cornell.
      I haven't been challenged over my unorthodox conclusions, but over the premises that no respectable evolutionary biologist or organic chemist wo

      • by hedwards (940851)

        I think it's pretty clear why you're being treated like a nutter. It's because you're assuming that a one in a million chance that you're right is sufficient to give yourself a basis for making the assertion. If 1 in a million is the best you can do, that alone isn't sufficient to deal with relatively minor background noise in the study. That's not how that works, Einstein wouldn't have been taken seriously even after his contributions to physics if he put forward a notion that was that unlikely.

        Failing to

  • by Proudrooster (580120) on Saturday February 05, 2011 @11:03AM (#35111220) Homepage
    Standardization is the thief of creativity and creativity robs standardization.

    It seems that no one is ever happy. The countries with high graduation rates and high standardization like South Korea have a low dropout rate [usatoday.com]. However the annual standardized test in South Korea always coincides with massstudent suicides. [atimes.com]

    Education is the USA is moving to a point where there is no depth, no love of learning, and no respect for the transormative power of education. Much of this is a direct result of standardized tests and limited teacher autonomy and resources. The weekly cycle of cover the standard: Powerpoint Lecture -> Read the Chapter -> Do your worksheet -> Scantron on Friday. move on to next state standard then rinse and repeat crushes any love of learning.

    I would rather see a USA where we foster a love of learning, go deep on interesting topics then work on them in a meaningful project based way rather than the drive-by, inch-deep mile wide education system that we have become. If we work in a meaningful way the questions about math and science will come and apply to a realworld situation instead of being taught in abstract isolation.

    When the USA can not longer produce innovators with a love for learning and/or attract innovators from foreign countries, we will become the low-cost labor market for those who do innovate. I implore everyone who reads this to help stop this madness. When George W. Bush was in office, he had a plan to take the Perkins-IV funding and shift it away from career and technical learning programs (nursing, welding, computer programming, cad, autobody) and shift that money to fund more standardized testing [ed.gov]. If that would have happened, programs would have ceased to exist and dropout rates would have soared even higher.
    • by timeOday (582209)
      And yet what is driving our fear of inferiority? Largely, global standardized test scores. "USA is #42 in blah blah." Well, those who think low standardized test scores are the problem are likely to feel that higher standardized test scores are the solution.
      • by hedwards (940851)

        And that's the point. The US has for some time been the world leader in creativity and that cannot be measured on a test that you then administer to other cultures. Additonally, the whole notion that you can assess abilities on a global basis is just plain wrong. It's as wrong now as it was back when IQ testing was in vogue. In fact in much of the world they're trying to figure out how to bring an American style education to their countries for the simple reason that you can't innovate if you're only focusi

    • by cetialphav (246516) on Saturday February 05, 2011 @11:37AM (#35111370)

      Standardization is the thief of creativity and creativity robs standardization.

      Every time I hear teachers gripe about having to teach towards a standardized test, I think, "There goes another awful teacher." Good teachers are good at getting students to learn. When students learn a subject, they can absolutely blow away a standardized test with no effort. I had a fantastic teacher in high school for Biology and Chemistry, and she definitely did not teach towards any standardized test as she had all her own materials. After going through her class, the standard science tests were a breeze because they were way easier than anything we ever did in her class.

      It bothers me that little Johnny can pass an algebra class, but can't solve 3x=15 on a standardized test. Passing a class means that the teacher vouches that you have learned something. The standardized tests are busting teachers who are vouching for students who haven't learned anything. And to make it worse, most students learn early on that there is really no way to fail so they can be lazy and coast along.

      What is concerning to me is that passing a standardized test has become a primary goal, which is not what it was intended for. The standardized test should be a way of measuring teaching effectiveness. They make it easy to see who the good teachers/schools/districts are and then you can apply the techniques they use to those that perform lower. The standardized test just represents the lowest common denominator of required learning so by setting that as the goal, we aim for a really low target. If schools aimed for a much higher target, then the standardized test would be a non-issue because everyone would easily pass.

      • by winwar (114053) on Saturday February 05, 2011 @02:53PM (#35112598)

        "Every time I hear teachers gripe about having to teach towards a standardized test, I think, "There goes another awful teacher.""

        And you would be wrong much of the time. And I think it is because you (like most others) are ignorant of the realities of education. Many teachers do not have the freedom to set their curriculum. It is standardized, so if they deviate, they are at risk of punishment. This is a real thing in the world. It is not uncommon. The best teachers use their own materials but not all teachers are allowed.

        "It bothers me that little Johnny can pass an algebra class, but can't solve 3x=15 on a standardized test. Passing a class means that the teacher vouches that you have learned something. The standardized tests are busting teachers who are vouching for students who haven't learned anything. And to make it worse, most students learn early on that there is really no way to fail so they can be lazy and coast along."

        And how does failing a student motivate them? I work with algebra students that have problems. If they can't solve basic problems, it is often because they haven't learned math. That isn't a recent problem. That means many teachers failed to diagnose a problem and attempt to help them. In general, they feel stupid, which causes them to try even less. The threat of failure works for students who are afraid of failure. For those who think they are a failure, it's positive reinforcement.

        Never make the assumption that what motivates you motivates others. The students I help may still fail their class and fail the tests. This means they will have to retake the class. And continue to take math until they pass the tests. And they don't like math. Yet this doesn't motivate them to learn math.

        "What is concerning to me is that passing a standardized test has become a primary goal, which is not what it was intended for."

        Of course that was the primary goal. That was the intention. If it wasn't the goal or the point, they would not implement them. Anyone who believes otherwise is pretty ignorant of how reality works. Once you implement a standard, that becomes the goal. Anything that the standard does not cover is no longer a goal.

    • Education is the USA is moving to a point where there is no depth, no love of learning, and no respect for the transormative power of education.

      I think it depends on where you go to school. I had the pleasure of going to High School in scenic Haddonfield, New Jersey. I had a physics teacher, who drove a Pontiac GTO, and would always mention that, when trying to explain f = ma. My chemistry teach would try to fool us. She would hold up a lit candle below some piece of metal, and described her "Black Crud Theorem", which, of course, was simply the soot from the candle. One of my English teachers was a Princeton grad. It came in helpful when I

  • by digitalsushi (137809) <slashdot@digitalsushi.com> on Saturday February 05, 2011 @11:09AM (#35111238) Journal

    Before our time, when our parents were children, the world was at war with itself. Great technologies were developed with significance so broad, the greatest minds of the planet trembled at the wake of their unfolding. Each and every action performed by the simplest individual was a thread sewn into the fabric of this country. Each forward notion was a declaration of intend for a better tomorrow, a promise they made hand in hand that the world they saw on the brink of annihilation would some day be preserved for their children, and their children's children. There was a pride and a hope, and through this there was no time to consider the derivative effects of how we would factor together as a society. How could they have known what was to be? On the edge of destruction their thoughts were of the present.

    In the future, their progeny yields the shining beacon of their ultimate savior, prolific technology that has changed everyone's life on the planet. But through this ubiquity the change has become a constant. Our grandparent's hopes and dreams are our faded concrete walkways and crumbling bridges. Our pride is worn with the wind and faded with the sun. Our goals no longer are how to stay alive, but now simply how to stay atop the throne the rest of the world approaches. Our goals, our national fate, our fears as a nation of people. A nation so scattered with opinion that it is a raft adrift the sea, each paddle pushing outwards from the center.

    But when you ask the single oarsman how his sons and daughters are, you may find that he has not consigned the fate of his children's knowledge to the government. You may find that he is proud enough to ensure his children learn. The maths, the sciences, the dramas and comedies. The satires so that they too can someday ignore the beating of the drum on a march through the shanty towns of our idyllic past. For this oarsman knows that the success of he and his is not the duty of a corrupt far away bureaucracy, but safe within the confines of the home has has created.

  • by aurispector (530273) on Saturday February 05, 2011 @11:12AM (#35111252)

    In their never ending quest to Make The World A Better Place, the do-gooders continue to dig us into an ever-deeper hole Because It's For The Children.

    One of the biggest problems with big government solutions to everything is the difficulty involved in making changes as needed. Every decision requires congressional approval, every decision becomes political and once the decision is made nobody has a choice. Public education is a classic example of how such a system loses focus on it's primary reason for existence, i.e. educating children. I instead it becomes a vessel for social engineering experiments and and the political interests of the teacher's unions and politicians du jour.. The children themselves have essentially no representation as the various powers that be fight to further their agendas.

    The worst part is that you can't buy or legislate the single biggest predictor of academic success: parental involvement. No amount of money, no law, no program can motivate parents to get more deeply involved in their kid's education. You can not change parents that want to dump their kids and attendant responsibilities onto the school districts.

    • In their never ending quest to Make The World A Better Place, the do-gooders continue to dig us into an ever-deeper hole Because It's For The Children.

      One of the biggest problems with big government solutions to everything is the difficulty involved in making changes as needed. Every decision requires congressional approval, every decision becomes political and once the decision is made nobody has a choice. Public education is a classic example of how such a system loses focus on it's primary reason for existence, i.e. educating children. I instead it becomes a vessel for social engineering experiments and and the political interests of the teacher's unions and politicians du jour.. The children themselves have essentially no representation as the various powers that be fight to further their agendas.

      The worst part is that you can't buy or legislate the single biggest predictor of academic success: parental involvement. No amount of money, no law, no program can motivate parents to get more deeply involved in their kid's education. You can not change parents that want to dump their kids and attendant responsibilities onto the school districts.

      What do gooders are you referring to? I'm pretty sure that liberals and conservatives (instead of the non-descriptive do-gooders title) both have forced their various agendas on to public education. You then go on to blame the parents, and yet, control of their child's education has been removed from them. Fifty years ago, local school boards managed their schools. Yes, they had agendas, but they were local agendas. Not some state or federal system. The local system was not perfect, but to improve it,

  • by digitalhermit (113459) on Saturday February 05, 2011 @11:19AM (#35111284) Homepage

    Back in the day --- which, old as I am, wasn't all that long ago -- the role of the teacher was to explain concepts and teach. The homework, the rote exercises, the role of counselor, the teaching of discipline and social skills, was left to the parent. Add to this that kids have no voices in government, corporations see them as an access valve to parents' money and government sees them not as potential leaders but as a liability, it's no wonder that teachers end up underpaid, overworked, and asked to do much more than is appropriate.

    Politically, there are a few obstacles:

    There is a lot of pressure for the status quo. An easy tactic to maintain the status quo is to counter a request for change by saying that no problem actually exists. If someone says that the richest country in the world is not maintaining a lead or is trailing in education, someone counters that the statistics are skewed or the data is being misinterpreted or that there's nothing wrong with the status quo. Not taking any side, but we see the same with global warming and deficits and gun control and tax reform.

    Education has no quick payoff. Investments in education will pay off in ten years or more. Politicians care about the next election cycle and not the long term benefit to the country. It's thus easier to push money to a new baseball stadium or to build a billion dollar fence or fight the evil file sharers than it is to fund meaningful education. Hell, it's easier to pull money from education than it is to maintain the status quo.

    Children have little voice in Congress. They can't vote. They can't contribute to re-election funds. They usually can't/don't write letters to their representatives. They have little direct spending power.

    If these issues are important to you, maybe the approach is to enlist the teenagers and the twenty-somethings who still remember their primary education to improve the situation. Maybe parents can also be convinced. I don't know if anyone else cares,

    • by drinkypoo (153816)

      Teenagers are pretty much the only people you can get fired up about anything. Unfortunately, they're easily led. Further, any adult attempting to mobilize teens for political goals, however beneficial, is going to quickly be painted as a pedo or something by the opposition.

  • Lame excuse (Score:4, Insightful)

    by camg188 (932324) on Saturday February 05, 2011 @11:20AM (#35111286)

    if we have no time to teach students how to do science

    Concepts about methods of scientific testing can be taught in a couple of lessons. The basic concepts like postulating and testing theories, repeatability, precision vs. accuracy, double blind studies, etc. are not difficult, so to say there's not enough time to teach them is a just lame excuse. The real reason for declining participation in science fairs is given later in the article: "One obvious reason for flagging interest in science fairs is competing demands for high school students' extracurricular attention." Nothing the president or dept of education does will change that.

  • by vsage3 (718267) on Saturday February 05, 2011 @11:31AM (#35111334)
    I have judged my city's (> 500,000 people, South) science fair for the last several years. It has been about 10 years since I graduated from high school, and I had participated every year in my county (~ 1 million people, not culturally Southern) science fair back then. I remember vividly, back then, having kids with amazing projects that were worthy of MS-level theses. One year, for example, someone found a new Group Theory result (with oversight by a college professor), for example. Many others did medical studies, had detailed demonstrations of traffic pattern simulations, and so on.

    Fast forward to me judging the high school science fair here, and I'm appalled at what the "best" these kids could muster is. Most kids couldn't even design a simple experiment. For example, one girl was measuring the conductivity of a solution and varying the temperature, but her "data" consisted of her saying that the conductivity went down as the temperature went down. There was no actual data. The best projects were judged "best" by me by at least having some kind of quantitative data, using proper controls, and having some understanding of the implications of the work. Nothing blew me away, and I had to wonder where the mentor involvement was because it seemed like these kids did everything on their own.
    • I'm going out on a limb here based on one remark you made:

      ~ 1 million people, not culturally Southern

      Would that perhaps be a reference to the Research Triangle? Because if so, you've got the whole point right there. Kids who are the children of successful college professors, researchers, and engineers have opportunities that are orders of magnitude better than those available to average high school students.

      The father of the girl who won the science fair every year at my high school was the chairman of ophthalmology at the local medical school.

  • Pay them more! (Score:4, Insightful)

    by Barrinmw (1791848) on Saturday February 05, 2011 @11:36AM (#35111364)
    The first thing we need to do to fix science education in this country is to pay math and science teachers more than the other teachers. Not only is it harder to get a science or math degree than it is to be a history major, but there are many more job opportunities for science and math majors beyond teaching. They are a more valuable commodity and should be treated as such.
    • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

      by Anonymous Coward

      No that hasn't worked. The obviousanswer are private schools and vouchers. In the world US public schools are absolutely not competitve but private schools are. Failure shouldn't be supported with tax confiscated funds.

      The public school unions must be broken and massively reformed. School is about teaching children, not about employment and ridiculously fat healh and retirement packages.

      • by hedwards (940851)

        I'm going to have to call bullshit there. Private schools have the advantage of primarily dealing with higher income families and being able to selectively provide scholarships to lower income students that they view as increasing the school's reputation. Relatively minor things like the language spoken at home have a huge impact on the results of education.

        Additionally, in precisely what way are the unions responsible for the state of the typical school district's administrative staff? It's really not appr

      • by xero314 (722674)

        The obviousanswer are private schools and vouchers... Failure shouldn't be supported with tax confiscated funds.

        Where do you think the vouchers come from? Unless you are trying to imply that private schools are universally better than public schools you are being hypocritical.

        I live in a state where we have private, public and charter (private organizations paid by the state) schools. This mix has made for some very interesting results, including a great variety in education, including polytechnic, arts and other speciality elementary schools all available at no cost to the student. The local public school system

  • 'I have so many state standards I have to teach concept-wise, it takes time away from what I find most valuable, which is to have them inquire about the world,' said one teacher."

    They're doing it wrong. It should be "How do I teach the students to inquire about the world and still meet the state standards?". When you have a well designed curriculum, that's what happens. A side effect is that the you don't need endless practice tests to pass the state tests, at worst, you just loose a day when the students t

    • The number of days the kids at my son's school spend preparing for standardized tests is... ZERO.

      No, really. The tests are so simple that they are literally considered a time-waster and a free day off by the staff. They cover everything already and more in the course of normal classes. The issue here isn't that the teachers are spending time teaching the wrong stuff, it's that the parents are idiots who aren't teaching anything at home. So what you end up with are two schools: The ones with decent te

    • by hedwards (940851)

      If by they you mean the state, then you've got a point. I remember my mother pointing out that my grade school teachers were complaining about the lack of time to cover the required material. That was roughly 20 years ago, and at that point the teachers had more or less run out of time to cram everything in, even with scaling back the depth of coverage for a given concept.

      But, that's what happens when the tax payers won't pay for support staff, libraries or coordinated training. Stuff like that happens. It'

  • No future.

    While being able to read and count *is* important, if all we do is rehash what we have now, we become stagnant then die.

  • by sticks_us (150624) on Saturday February 05, 2011 @12:17PM (#35111624) Homepage

    Maybe it's because I grew up in another era, but I remember that the zeitgeist here in the US during the 60s/70s was all about Science. Your highest aspirations always involved pursuing some kind of career in Science, and if not that, to at least approach life in a rational, objective, semi-scientific manner.

    Now it seems like it's all about emotions and chest-thumping. Maybe it's just Devlotuion [wikipedia.org] in action. Don't say we weren't warned! [wikipedia.org]

    On a more serious note: I was a science-fair geek, and although I can look back now and see how crappy my work was, it was a very cool and enlightening experience. I remember military recruiters would show up at these fairs, and unless your research had something to do with blowing something up (I wrote computer programs for field biology) they sorta overlooked you.

    Fun times. This article is probably just another signpost on the road to our demise.

  • This sort of problem is one of the reasons I hold the radical view that the federal government should not be involved in education (beyond some basic standards saying what an eighth-grade diploma or high school diploma consists of.) It's too far away from the issue and there's way too much involved; the ONLY way that the feds can get any information is to reduce it to a basic level. Which means "one size (doesn't) fit all" education, and we all know that means rote, rote, rote.

    Here's my idea: Trust the teac

  • I have helped organize and judge science fairs at my kids' school. I've moved on, and my younger son doesn't participate any more, because we do cool stuff instead. Built an arc light. Had a mythbusters-themed birthday party with liquid nitrogen fun and thermite. All the while learning how the stuff worked. We take apart things and try (emphasis on try) to put them back together.

    In elemantary school, when little science is being taught in school, and the scientific method isn't at all, it ends up falli

  • by Animats (122034) on Saturday February 05, 2011 @12:45PM (#35111790) Homepage

    In 1957, a major effort, organized by MIT, was made to revise the teaching of high school physics. This resulted in the PSSC Physics [compadre.org] curriculum. Top physicists were involved, including Hans Bethe and I.I. Rabi, both Nobel prize winners who'd worked on the atomic bomb program.

    That program focused on experiments, collecting data, analyzing it, and comparing it with theory. Here's some of the lab equipment. [sciencekit.com] It's not elaborate; the original equipment was mostly wooden.

    This was acknowledged to be a very good curriculum, but a lot of work for teachers. Schools seemed to have backed away from it by the early 1970s.

    That seems to be where things took a wrong turn.

  • I am a scientist. I can teach a clever kid the math and science he needs when he goes to college. I can not teach a kid who has been through a boring, unrealistic grind to like science!

    The biggest hurdle to be a scientist is wanting to be one.

    Shop classes, fun labs, creative exploration of whatever areas are locally appropriate... I don't care if a physics major comes in having been excited by agriculture science, I want kids who are excited and creative!

    That said, we have a glut of scientists in almost e

  • After a short stint in the field of science education, I've realized that many of the science teachers and most parents I met do not understand science. I believe that this is why our children are falling behind in science. The non-science graduate teacher teaches kids that there are 6 magical steps to the scientific method and that if they follow these steps, no matter how inane the results, then the kids have performed SCIENCE!!!WOW MAGIC!!!!

    When I helped judge science fair projects, I saw that most of

  • by wealthychef (584778) on Saturday February 05, 2011 @01:31PM (#35112058)
    In China or India, if you are an engineer, you are going to be the chick magnet of the party. In the U.S., my experience is that if you tell people you are an engineer, people call you names like "geek" or "nerd." Nobody calls a lawyer or doctor a "geek" or "nerd." Thus, for a kid looking for a career, forget about math and science, it's embarrassing. For a teenager, forget it, girls will not like you. For an adult, forget it, it's hard work for not enough money. This "It's hip to be stupid" thing used to be just the scourge of African Americans, but it has spread into the popular culture and it's going to sink our boat if we don't find a way to honor hard work and intelligence again.
  • by Cliff Stoll (242915) on Saturday February 05, 2011 @02:33PM (#35112450) Homepage

    Two mornings each week, I volunteer to teach physics to local 12 & 13 year old kids.

    They're homeschooled kids; we meet at one of their homes for 4 hours a week. I'm teaching the science class that I wish I'd received when I was in 8th grade.

    3 months of Newtonian physics, then a month on wave mechanics (made a glass wave tank!), we're now finishing thermodynamics and will soon start E&M. Heavy on experiments: bicycle wheel gyroscope, conservation of momentum when throwing a football while standing on a skateboard, entropy & heat of crystallization using Sodium Acetate. We use the physics apparatus that I've collected over the years ... some professional equipment and a lot of homebrew demos. An oscilloscope that cost $25 at a yardsale.

    This past Tuesday, we measured the distance to the sun by comparing the warmth of sunlight on the kids hands to the warmth from a 100 watt incandescent lamp. By adjusting the distance from hand to lamp, they found the distance from the light where it was "just about as warm as sunlight". Then they looked up the solar luminosity and used the inverse square law to deteremine the astronomical unit. Got it to with 30 percent of the canonical value. (of course, Slashdot people will see the circular reasoning here, but letting the kids figure that out is part of the fun).

    No tests - it's immediately apparent when someone doesn't get something, and when to take a different approach. Occasional homework (always an experiment: for instance, determine the vertical distance (in meters) from the sidewalk outside your house to your bed. Knowing your mass in Kg and the gravitational constant, find the amount of work it takes to walk into your house and go to bed. Notice that there's no "right" answer to this question, and it's unlikely that two kids will get the same answer)

    Parents often bring muffins & goodies; the kids are curious, enthusiastic, and motivated. Best part: I take home a broad smile ... it's the high point of my week.

    A friend of mine - a PhD chemical engineer - volunteers at the San Francisco Exploratorium. Another friend works as a docent at a nearby bird sanctuary.

    All of us are busy, yet each of has something to contribute. Mix your interests with enthusiasm, toss in some creativity, then get out there and volunteer. You'll never know how much fun it'll be!

    -Cliff on a sunny Saturday morning in Oakland, California

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