A Little Tirade About Science Education

I feel the need to rant. And really, what's the point of having a blog space if you can't rant once in a while, right?

I have twins in fifth grade. They have the same teacher my older daughter had two years ago. I remember from then that it was clear this teacher wasn't keen on science education (her passion is history), but I don't recall being quite so frustrated as I've been this year. Perhaps it's the introduction of laptops for fifth graders during the intervening years that has made matters worse.

When my oldest daughter came home from school on the last day of her fifth grade year, she brought with her a set of five or six science workbooks—all in perfect condition, never so much as cracked open. I had been aware throughout the year that the only science education they were getting was the occasional science vocabulary test that required my daughter to simply match up easy definitions with the appropriate word. But actually seeing all those books that we had paid for completely untouched really brought the point home.

And yet this year has been worse. This year the science curriculum is on a laptop (school-issued, but paid for by parents as a “textbook” fee) that the kids are forced to lug back and forth in their backpacks every day, but which they hardly touch. They still don’t do much in the way of science, but now it’s all learned completely through Discovery Education, mainly through videos that they access through the company’s website. And then the teacher throws tests at them every once in a while, without warning. As parents, to make sure the kids are actually learning something, we have to sit down and watch the videos too so that we can have a bit of meaningful dialog with them.

The elementary school that my kids attend has a science lab, but their teacher opts not to make use of it. She even told my wife and me during parent-teacher conferences this year that she LOVES the new online science program because she doesn’t have to teach science anymore (not that she really taught it before). And because of the standardized testing that the state of Indiana (and probably the U.S. as a whole) is so fond of, there’s really no pressure on teachers to put any kind of emphasis on science education, at least at this age, where the standardized tests focus on language and math skills.

Now, granted, this is one teacher in a relatively good school system. Truth be told, I haven’t been all that impressed with her abilities in math and language either (again, it’s just history that she loves). And she piles on homework like no teacher I’ve ever seen before. But she’s part of a bigger system that’s geared toward making sure the kids know how to spit out the “right” answers, and not on tackling problems and exploring innovative solutions.

But part of the issue is this idea that adding a laptop computer to these kids’ already-backbreaking backpacks somehow brings them into a more enlightened technology age. It doesn’t cut it. These kids aren’t really learning anything about technology; they’re only learning to type at an earlier age.

So what’s the point of this long-winded rant? Well, besides just blowing a little hot air and getting this off my chest, I’m really curious to know how this situation compares to the education experiences of others—throughout the country and throughout the world.

Are your kids or grandkids getting the science education that will help them be the inquisitive problem-solvers of tomorrow? Do you have good experiences you can share, or suggestions for how things could improve?

Aaron Hand is the managing editor for Control Design and for Industrial Networking. Email him at ahand@putman.net or check out his Google+ profile.

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  • <p>My son, a junior in high school, attends Harmony Science Academy in Texas. His whole school is heavily involved in STEM activities, and strenuously promotes technology throughout the school system.</p> <p>Harmony competes in 4 levels of FIRST robotics. You are welcome to view the team website or look up FIRST regional Dallas competition; I think you will be floored at how intense the design and engineering competition is.</p> <p>I can't say enough about their tireless efforts, the long hours they put in and the rigor with which they discuss and promote science, especially math, physics and chemistry. They really have a great format, but it is coupled with teachers that want to teach hard subjects to students that want to learn. For a sample, check out the Monkey and Hunter Youtube Video from HSA Waco, an experiment about gravity and velocity the students conducted, filmed, voiced-over and posted online, a great example of technology embedded in every part of a project.</p>


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