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The Daily Wildcat

The Daily Wildcat

 

    White House Science Fair shows how science sucks in America

    Everyone knows how science fairs generally unfold; a bunch of kids do the swirling tornado of water, taste test Coke versus Pepsi, or make a volcano while a few overachievers — or kids with overachieving parents — perform complex experiments that earn them the first prize. Not really thrilling stuff. So when President Barack Obama hosted the White House Science Fair on Tuesday, it wasn’t surprising that it didn’t get a ton of national attention.

    The second White House Science Fair served as an attempt by the Obama administration to get children interested in the science, technology, engineering and mathematics fields, making it fairly obvious that Obama has no idea how to get kids interested in math and science.

    However, he did one thing right. He invited Bill Nye the Science Guy.

    There is no one in the country better at getting kids to like science than Nye. With his nerdy bow tie and safety goggles in tow, Nye did an incredible job of making science interesting through his brilliant TV show, which ended in 1998. So when Nye was asked about the best way to get kids interested in science, he tweeted, “Right now, the key seems to be algebra. If we can do a better job teaching algebra, we could engage many more sci kids.”

    The editor in chief of Science magazine, Bruce Alberts, published an editorial with a message similar to Nye. He wrote that through thinking that the best scientific curriculum is the “most rigorous,” we ruin science for children. In forcing memorization rather than understanding, schools suck all the fun out of science, making it, well, suck.

    It’s possible that children are forced to memorize rather than understand science because so few adults really understand science. Many of the articles and news stories posted about scientific progress and discoveries are too complicated and long-winded for most people, leading to a degree of ignorance for the average reader.

    Elementary education majors are only required to fill their general education in science before pursuing their degree. There is also a UA program that allows science majors to get their secondary teaching degrees while earning a bachelor’s of arts in science, avoiding all those unfortunate math courses. These systems destine science education to fail.

    If a science teacher avoided complicated courses in his or her own subject, it’s asinine to expect him or her to thoroughly explain materials to a young, inquisitive mind. When a teacher doesn’t fully understand a subject, how can students be expected to understand it?

    This could be why STEM majors are the most likely to switch majors. A 2008 study found 30 percent of STEM majors switched after their freshman year, 3 percentage points higher than any other field.

    At the UA, a little more than one-third of STEM freshmen graduate in STEM fields, compared to the more than half of non-STEM freshmen who graduate in the field they originally chose, according to Gail Burd, vice provost for academic affairs, in an interview with the Daily Wildcat last semester.

    The lack of proper science education leading up to college leads to a huge shock for STEM students when the expectations are suddenly raised. Students may write science off as boring, but it’s because its complexity makes it hard to format into the current educational structure.

    Bill Nye the Science Guy may be right; our school systems may not do a good job of teaching algebra, but the problem is bigger than that. Until our teachers start showing that science is fun, until we care more about understanding than regurgitating, kids are going to continue being repelled by science, as if science and kids were like charges being repelled due to Coulomb’s Law.

    — Dan Desrochers is a chemistry freshman. He can be reached at letters@wildcat.arizona.edu or on Twitter via @WildcatOpinions.

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