I came across this interesting article by Marie-Claire Shanahan on her blog describing a panel discussion (and other activities) at LogiCon, a Edmonton science and critical thinking based outreach programme.
The panel discussion involved asking a panel of 10 – 13 year old science enthusiasts for their opinion of science education – what a fantastic idea.
The conversation, as described by Associate Professor Shanahan, is quite revealing. Comments from the young science enthusiasts suggests that it is curiosity and the process of science that appeals and fascinates these students – the ability to ask lots of questions, the powerful pictures of science painted by authors such as Stephen Hawking, and the ability to use science/technology to create (from the LEGO robotics enthusiast. They also put a strong emphasis on the value of allowing students to explore and experiment in science (ahem to that).
What was less appealing to these young advocates of science was when science is taught as a group of facts, divorced from the scientific process, something most scientists would agree with. Also, the students spoke of a general interest in science amongst their classmates, an interest not recognised by most teachers. They described the topics in science that they believe have the potential to engage most students – space and flight, for example, and how schools do not capitalise on these interests until too late in the school syllabus.
One interesting point in the discussion appears to be that of scientific role models. It seems to me that at this early age students do not seem to be looking for scientific role models in the wider community (i.e. scientists). Rather they seem to be looking much closer to home. From the students comments it seems to me that knowledgeable and enthusiastic science teachers have a key role to play in providing students with positive attitudes to science.
The content and presentation of science in schools is a topic that has been debated for centuries. I find this student panel approach both refreshing and informative. Perhaps this approach needs to be taken more often if we wish to engage more students with science.