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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 @10:51AM (#35111188)

    Have you ever dealt with some of the students like those that he's referring to?

    Due to decades of flawed and failed immigration policies, many of the larger Canadian cities have large refugee populations. Although they are the recipients of much social assistance, they've never used these gifts well, and many still live in impoverish situations.

    Now, most sensible people in such a situation would realize that having kids is a bad idea. Well, these people don't. Some of them can barely support themselves, but they'll still have six or seven children anyways. Of course, they can't properly raise these children.

    Many of these children end up falling into the thug lifestyle. They don't care about education. They don't care about getting a job. They don't care about contributing to society. They don't care about science. They don't care about science fair projects. They only attend school and do these projects because it's a condition of the probation that many of them are under after having committed what are often very serious crimes, yet aren't punished properly due to a failed youth criminal justice system.

    There is absolutely no hope for these kids. They are failures in every way possible. Nothing you, or him, or anyone else can do will help them, because they have absolutely no interest in helping themselves.

  • 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.

  • 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.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Saturday February 05, 2011 @01:13PM (#35111960)

    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 the other judges were so impressed by was the effort the kids put into the experiment, which was considerable, but that they actually used the scientific method with control subjects and test variables in the research. More significantly, the kids were willing to "publish" embarrassing results and that most of what the kids learned was what not to be doing if they re-ran the experiment. There were other "flaws" in the experimentation method, but the kids certainly were learning (it was a team of three doing the experiment) from the project and demonstrated an increase of knowledge from performing the experiment.

    If I ever go to another science fair and see a baking soda volcano, I'm going to puke. While there may be some "science demonstration" there, none of that is original or thoughtful. For the life of me, I don't know why those are encouraged or for that matter even permitted. There are some interesting science fair projects, and some real science that can come from them. What is sad is that science isn't being taught even in such a circumstance, and in this regard I sort of agree with the grandparent when you simply have to condemn some projects as simply not even being science at all. While I'm not against a science fair project which is a survey of literature instead of a formal experiment, be up front with that too. Sometimes the presentations simply are just crap and miss the whole point of what the science fair is all about, and certainly confuse science with legendary philosophy.

  • by Yvanhoe (564877) on Saturday February 05, 2011 @01:14PM (#35111968) Journal
    Every kid not spending his week end watching ads on TV is a fucking progress in my book.

    I don't exactly know what so special about these science fairs in US/Canada, so I may be offtopic (and please mod me accordingly), my experience is mainly as a staff member of robotics student challenges. I can tell you that I have seen bad projects, bad designs, blatant flaws in implementation, software, hardware, tactics, even sometimes combined in a single project. I still thought that even the worst competitors were people who deserved praises. They had learned a lot (not enough obviously) and were eager to learn more. They show what the other team made, how they made it, they exchanged tricks, and criticism. The one team that many organizers thought deserved strong criticism is one that usually reach the #1 or #2 rank and that do not share its tricks, do not explain its techniques more than the strict minimum set by the rules and uses tools that frankly have no place in an amateur competition.

    My point is that when you are student, your realizations are less important than your will to learn and to share. It may sound like a pukingly everybody-is-nice slogan, but that is the truth. A good student is good at learning and if s/he is good at sharing his/her knowledge too, that is the kind of student we need more. It is very different from when you arrive in the real arena of science where something that works and that works better than what the others made is what you want. (At least in theory, my experience on this is a lot more cynical)
  • by Anonymous Coward on Saturday February 05, 2011 @01:23PM (#35112014)

    Wrong!!! Water Displacement Agent # 40

  • 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.
  • by FuckingNickName (1362625) on Saturday February 05, 2011 @05:52PM (#35113820) Journal

    Policemen stop the engineers' offices getting ransacked and their partners getting raped. Politicians negotiate between power interests to give engineers the freedom to practice. Lawyers allow everyone access to the law, including engineers. Bankers allocate funds to engineers. Cleaners stop engineers dying of dysentery before you've even graduated.

    And while all these people are needed before you can build a rocket, we could all get along without rockets. Indeed, without a whole society to ensure we make sensible decisions on where they come down [youtube.com], we'd be better off without them.

    Get over yourself. Few people want your technocratic utopia. They have tried, but repeatedly failed, because people prefer freedom.

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