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Education Politics Science

Sputnik Moment Or No, Science Fairs Are Lagging 414

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 CRCulver ( 715279 ) <> 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 []) 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.

  • 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.
  • by icebraining ( 1313345 ) on Saturday February 05, 2011 @11:17AM (#35111266) Homepage

    Any kid who achieves $300000 in damages to a house with a chemist kit deserves a scholarship.

    You're right about being a danger to his health, but that's why you should supervise them; it's your job as a parent.

  • by MoonBuggy ( 611105 ) on Saturday February 05, 2011 @11:23AM (#35111300) Journal

    When you're suddenly facing a $650,000 medical bill because your child splashed acid in his eyes or crushed his genitals with a "supermagnet"

    Medical insurance doesn't cover accidents?

    and then you're facing a further $300,000 in repairs to your neighbor's house and property due to damage that his "science" caused

    If the kid can cause $300k in damage with the basic ingredients from a science set, they deserve a job with the DoD. I guess they could burn the house to the ground, but then you can do that with a box of matches.

    I think you'd see the appeal in launching a lawsuit against the science kit manufacturer

    Sure. And any sensible legal system would then tell the parent to fuck straight off and supervise their kid next time. 'Guns don't kill people, people do' and all that, after all...

    You've got right to the heart of the problem here - that people can pass the buck for their own mistakes and the courts will sometimes uphold that. It's a risk companies can't afford to take. Look at New Zealand's liability laws, and you'll see how it should be done so as not to stifle anything that could be remotely considered risky.

    Incidentally, the one thing I probably wouldn't want to see in a science kit is the 1 watt laser. If your kid doesn't understand the dangers of acid, you leave them to play with it, and they blind themselves, that's your problem; any idiot could've seen that one coming. The chances of them accidentally blowing up a neighbour's house are slim-to-none - if they're crazy enough to deliberately blow up a neighbour's house then you've got all kinds of other problems. If they put on their tinted goggles, turn on the laser, and accidentally knock it so the beam reflects off a car mirror three houses away, that could very easily blind me, and that's something I do care about. I still wouldn't want to see the things banned, but I think 'sensible handling' of high powered lasers is beyond the knowledge of most people, whereas sensible handling of chemicals is generally pretty self-explanatory.

  • by DarkTempes ( 822722 ) on Saturday February 05, 2011 @11:31AM (#35111336)

    Kids can burn down houses playing with matches.

    I know someone who did it...twice.

  • by ortholattice ( 175065 ) on Saturday February 05, 2011 @11:48AM (#35111446)
    Check out The Golden Book of Chemistry Experiments [], 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.

  • 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 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 [] 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. [] 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.

  • by bussdriver ( 620565 ) on Saturday February 05, 2011 @02:11PM (#35112308)

    0) Failure in school is constant and brutal to self-esteem - always evaluated and never taught how to deal with failure. A few meaningless phrases at best which have no follow through. To compensate sometimes people do moronic policies like "never say negative things about failure" when actual TRAINING by child psychologists is needed. Teachers should take a whole 4 credit course on the topic. The child's emotional mindset is the biggest factor above all else; genetics has almost nothing to do with it (sorry ignorant parents but your child isn't "special" unless they are autistic...)

    1) Science fair projects involve TIME and MONEY outside of school. I've gone to inner city schools where half were below the poverty line. One of my friends had to care for the whole family as the oldest boy (his father died in front of him in a camp in Laos.) He turned out well considering how bad his life was. Not all are so lucky. His homework was non-existent and school had to provide his pencils and paper. HE WAS SMART and mature for his age but only a C-B student; not his fault.

    2) Disturbed kids are sometimes born that way, but most the time its their home life; the only thing you can do is fix their parents or move them to another home. A state orphanage would even be better; I've grown up with a few of these kids as well. The schools don't have psychologists and while they should it couldn't fix a large range of environmental problems. Three gradeschool kids I knew are in prison now; it was no surprise they were foobar back then - beyond teacher help, they needed padded rooms or something. Today they'd have been in the criminal system for assaulting teachers before 10 years of age - somehow I don't think that would have helped them; but not doing that in my day didn't help them either.

    3) I have family who've had to live through this movement of our Republicans trying to embrace the education issue making it a partisan political football that used to be just given over to the other side. Since this battle for votes began on the issue its WORSENED education in the USA as ignorant political slogans and ignorant parents herd to whatever sounds good to their ignorant minds. You are not a dental expert because you have been to the dentist anymore than you are an expert at education because you've been educated. Worthless statistics and foolish analogies always become the foundation of politicization of issues. You can't measure a quality education in a quantitative way such that political policies can be debated (leaving aside the fact that there is no civil debate in the USA anymore.) "Juking" the stats is the name of the political game and everybody does it. When you base things on simplistic metrics you encourage hacking of those metrics. Furthermore, the other issue is "cutting edge" crap - the USA was ahead of the world but the world has recovered from WW2 and the 3rd world is improving at FASTER rates than the 1st world ever did. See and learn something about it. You can't be on top when everybody else gets to the summit as well; there isn't much more to climb and even if you reach the peak of human capacity the gap will NOT be as large as it was in the past.

    Lots of issues involved here. Plus a lot of people only see education as JOBs - which warps the whole thing into industry looking for new cogs for the corporate machine and not actual thinkers--- unless you are elite and can afford to send your brat to a private school which teaches management or marketing -- "practical" school is job skills training to way too many people and that is NOT the biggest benefit it has provided but its where we are heading. I expect to see private/charter schools by walmart or mcdonald's within my lifetime with single minded goals (it won't be quite that simple but the influence will become noticeable enough.)

  • Check out (Score:4, Informative)

    by falconwolf ( 725481 ) <> on Saturday February 05, 2011 @02:47PM (#35112570)

    The Golden Book of Chemistry Experiments [] , 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.

    Check out Illustrated Guide to Home Chemistry Experiments []. Also check out Theo Gray's Mad Science: Experiments You Can Do At Home - But Probably Shouldn't [].

    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.

    In high school chemistry the teacher would let some of us do our own experiments in the lab, before school, during lunch, and afterwards. To see if it was there a friend and I went to the library and looked in an encyclopaedia for the nitroglycerin entry and from there we thought we could make some. And we did. When we did we'd fill those small paint jars modelers use, then we'd go out into some woods and throw them around. We only did it a couple of tymes before stopping. The first tyme it was a kick, the second tyme though was "We already did this".


  • 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.

God helps them that themselves. -- Benjamin Franklin, "Poor Richard's Almanac"