Photo credit: @julesdwit.
A not-for-profit media organization supported by people like you.
See a Picture of Brian and Dr. Chameau talking in Aspen.
Why aren't American students more captivated by science? Comment below.
We are doing something about this problem. Check out www.students2science.org
We have too many problems with science education to be covered in a single comment. The others have made all of the valid points.
What are we to do about it all? That we're here is not for lack of effort. It's fair to say that science education has been worked on for the last three decades with billions of dollars spent and not very much to show for the effort -- not zero, but much too little.
Until the greatest asset of our country is allowed to operate on this problem, it will continue to resist change. We've tried new curricula, more professional development, and much more, all to no avail.
The United States is rightly known for its inventiveness, innovation, and entrepreneurship. Just try to get those going for science education!
Because venture capital is bored with education, grant-givers are interested only in non-profits, and the government is only interested in jiggling what has already been done,true innovation has been stifled.
I know that we can make education better and have it cost less at the same time. I've made a small contribution (smartscience.net) at great personal cost. It's time for the moneyed people to recognize the need and to stand behind real innovation, not the same old stuff painted a different color.
As a school administrator, I am continually amazed at the false dichotomies presented in discussions of education. Why must it be pedagogy or content? Test prep or teaching content? Why can't both be done? You can teach children to think logically and organize their thoughts while preparing them for assessments in all disciplines. As an administrator I want a teacher with a solid grasp of content, as well as the teaching skills necessary to communicate ideas to students. It is not a case of either or. It should be both. Teaching methods are as scientifically based as the work done in chemistry labs. Teaching methodology is as research based as drug trials. If people would stop accepting that we have to make a choice between things that are not mutually exclusive,it would advance the discussion of education to where real progress can be made.
My first comment is that teaching to tests and the NCLB legislation led by George W. Bush (a less than stellarly educated man) made education less interesting for our children. We teachers of science have less time to explore scientific phenomena in-depth because the list of topics for standardized testing is more than one can cover superficially in one school year. Secondly, we have had the privilege of living off the fat of the lamb too much in this country. The reason people in this country don't have respect for anything academic is that they were given the ability to have the American Dream without an education thanks to the unions. For too many years it has been possible to graduate high school and do very well pushing a broom in a steel mill. We have lost touch with the fact that great men like Carnegie, Mellon, Rockefeller, Vanderbilt, etc. were well educated individuals and gave back to the community in many ways both for academics and the arts. This is why unemployment is so high in this country. Many workers are not educated and only know how to do a few things.My third point is that any time that you are the teacher in your building who dares to challenge the students, parents complain. It is a sin our schools if what you assign outside of school cuts into a child's time for sports or video games. Until we adjust our attitude to the importance of an education, we have little hope at improving the system. It takes a village to educate a child - not just a teacher.This leads to my fourth and final point. What we have been leaving out in all this conversation is the fact that in countries like India, China, Japan, etc, your teacher is to be respected and revered. A teacher in those countries who challenges the students is respected. A teacher who knows little and entertains well is the one who gets accolades in the U.S.
Hello,You asked comments from people, who had exposure in different countries.I have been educated in Hungary through University and went to Grad School in the US. You have to realize, that the small country of Hungary have produced the largest number of Nobel Laurates per capita. I have to say, that I have not heard, that "girls can not do math" until I came to this country! This is the most outrageous view! Especially when you realize that most (math)teachers are women!While I was at University I was preparing to be a Chemistry and Physics teacher. That curriculum was a thourough science curriculum with some education courses in the last year, plus student teaching. Once I was exposed to the US system, I changed direction, because I did not want to teach out of the textbooks written by English teachers. They are verbouse and miss the point, which is to amaze, captivate and explain principles. Hungarian kids start physics at grade6 and chemistry at grade7. They learn the principles of how the world around them works . The math can come in later and describe the laws at an ever higher level. Science is not about the words!
just from reading the board i guess the lesson is it has to be cool or kids won't learn! how times have changed if i were to get a bad grade and said, but it isn't enough, well that would not have gone over well at all.
Love of learning begins at home and we need to encourage parents to motivate their children to become more engaged in science and math curricula. Also, as a native New Yorker of Greek descent, I recognize the differences in how education is viewed in America and in Greece, and Europe in general. Albeit the vast educational opportunities in the U.S., there is less emphasis placed on education and more on, i.e. material possessions. Science should also be taught as a fun way to discover the world and answer questions we all stumble with. As a start, parents and educators should take their kids/students (aged 6-12) to the NYC's Children's Museum of Manhattan (CMOM) on the UWS, to view a replica reconstruction model of the "world's first computer" - the Greek Antikythera Mechanism. The model is currently on view as part of CMOM's Gods, Myths and Mortals: Discover Ancient Greece exhibition. As CMOM's former PR consultant, I feel honored to have been a part of the Mechanism's introduction here in the U.S. Thanks for another great show!
I grew up in Beirut and finished my studies over there. I am still trying to understand the school system. My children are going into 2nd grade. Last year was an eyeopener to me and a big disappointment, because all the stress was on English and Math readiness for the testing. I rarely got a glimpse on the Science material. One frustrating issue to me was I could not see the books the children are using. Not seeing the book doesn't allow much parental involvement if we do not know the subjects covered that year.Two things I have not seen here which I think affect greatly how you much the students learn in school. One, teachers specialized in their subjects teaching their subject. Two, recess time. They have only one recess during the whole day and most of the years it is indoors. We had two short recesses were we could play and socialize. We had these two recesses until we graduated High School. And we had so much HW after school to finish. Our goal was to get into college and become Doctors, Engineers, and Lawyers. :-) So being a good student did not make other students make fun of us. IT is not the same here. Many parents I meet here who grew up here want their children to have a lot of activities after school rather than have a lot of H.W.
Gotta get more creative than disecting frogs and trips to the planetarium...kids today are writing blogs and know how to write in HTML for goodness sakes!
1. "If you're trying to be a straight A student, if you are then you think too much." - Billy Joel. Commercial TV is sponsor driven and sponsors support programs that kids want to watch, i.e., programs where educated people are ridiculed. This has become an American tradition. Muscles and tattoos are more important than brains.
2. The metric system. It is very hard to learn science when you have to start by learning a whole new way of measuring things. Can you imagine a 3rd grader who doesn't know what inches and feet are? Well, most teenagers don't know what a meter is, let alone a Newton.
My grandsons, aged 2 to 8 years, are growing up in Hong Kong, and I never cease to be amazed at the level of their primary education compared to even the best US schools. For example, the oldest has been going to special science classes every Saturday since he was 5. He recently did a 20page power point presentation for his regular science class, and he has done all sorts of experiments in the Saturday sessions. All the children in his school are expected to be fluent in at least three languages (Mandarin, Cantonese, and English) and it's "cool" to be smart and excel in everything from music and athletics to writing and science. The school day typically begins at 8 a.m. and ends at 4 or 5, depending upon the extracuricular activites. Then they have two or three hours of homework. There's no way our kids, who go to school for only a few hours a day and have the entire summer off, can learn on the level of these children.
I am a NYC high school Physics teacher with degrees in both Physics and Engineering. I agree with the other arguments presented on the show and would like to add this: in our society, it is socially acceptable for students--as well as adults--to openly admit, "I suck at Math," as if it is okay to be compeltely deficient in number manipulation. Imagine an adult openly saying, "I suck at reading?!" That would be emabarrasing, and jtherefore it never happens. It should be just as embarrasing to admit you are bad at math, but why isn't it?
I teach in a school with many English Language Learners. When asking what their most difficult subject is, one might expect them to say, "English is my second language, so I struggle with it the most." The complete opposite is true! They will overwhelmingly vote Math as the worst. The English Regents reserves very little of the grading portion to grammar, which allows a completely incompetent reader and writer to score very well despite not be very good either. Perhaps they are getting a false sense of their abilities with such loose grading in the humanities and are turned off less by the subjects of math and science and more on the concrete grading.
If your science teacher has their degree in education, odds are they will be less proficient than a teacher with a science degree.
There is an old saw in academia. You will find the dumbest people in the education department. After that, English.
Science requires a lot of space, and stuff in the form of both formal and makeshift equipment, as well as the opportunity to work outside the classroom. These represent constraints in many New York City schools due to constraints on financial resources, inadequate facilities, and burdensome rules imposed at the various levels from the school up to the DOE.
After the launch of Sputnik in 1957, the American science education community was energized to change the way science was taught in our secondary schools. The National Science Foundation (NSF) began funding In-Service Institutes in the major science fields. Their purpose was to provide up to date curricula and materials, including new textbooks, for science teachers. One was the Biological Sciences Curriculum Study (BSCS), which came out with 3 textbooks. What became explosive was their treatment of Evolution in Chapter 1 as the unifying theme in biology. That brought out the Right-wing loonies in force, and was the catalyst for a resurgence of creationism and "intelligent design."
Science is taught as a list of facts about the world, rather than a method of discovering things about the world. Kids are naturally curious and creative, but rather than harnessing these qualities, schools quash them. Why? They are difficult to measure on standardized tests, and that's all the schools are concerned with these days.
I also went to school in Ukraine. My son is in college now, but went to school in US. I"ve observed that children are taught to analyze and think a lot more in humanities than in math and physics. I remember helping my son out with a math problem, and he kept insisting on resolving a problem in a particular way. I explained to him that most math problems could be resolved in several different ways. He said he'd have points taken off for doing it differently from how the teacher showed it to the children. When I was in school, we got extra points for resolving problems in our own way. But of course, here the teachers have to teach kids to take tests rather than be creative and understand the material, and it mostly happens in science.
Concurrent with the educational system failing to prepare elementary and high school students, parents are as much to blame. Being shown an example of valuing education at home, from your parents, uncles and aunts, goes a long way in nurturing an appreciation and drive for seeking higher knowledge. Just like any value they pass on to us, this does plays a big part in out 'education' problems. Parents do not need to have PhDs to accomplish this, but set an example for constant self improvement, through reading or any pursuit to dig deeper and develop themselves.
I agree with just about everything you're saying, but do remember that American schools emphasize a well-rounded education. I spent my junior year of high school in Ukraine, and the students there only do academics. Music, arts, and athletics are not a part of school life.
I am a former NYC Chem and science teacher. All the sciences must be taught by people who love and respect them -- that means real science majors.
When I worked in the school system, as part of my responsibilites I observed many science classes taught by others in the junior highs and high schools. It was achingly apparent that nonscience trained teachers generally taught the subject[s] poorly. This type of teacher is typically someone who did not love or care about the subject matter enough to have devoted their full efforts [and heart] to the subject matter. So, in addition to often presenting the material in a mechanical, boring cookbook [out of some curriculum guidebook] manner, they were likely to communicate a subtext of confusion and fear of the very subject they presented.
Im Greek American and when i was in college in physics and chemistry classes i had a few greek students in my class from greece. We became friends and even though they didnt study much and werent geeky in any way they got all the experiments right. When i asked them how they did this they told me they used to do stuff like this in high school and it was easy for them.They had minimal difficulty getting an engineering degree because the high schools in greece prepared them better than the US high schools prepared me. And i went to one of the top 3 NYC high schools.
My stepdaughter was taking high school AP Physics this past semester and there were times when it was clear that her instructor was incorrect in his assertions.
My husband is an engineer with advanced degrees so he was better able to help her understand the concepts and also to correct the instructor's mistakes. The instructor was not well versed enough in the subject and had no real life experience applying the concepts so he was less able to effectively teach the course.
It seems to me that Education should be the minor course of study and the major course of study should be the given field, e.g., Science, Math, etc. I think the President of CalTech is on the right course.
As others have mentioned, American culture is so consumer oriented, is so much about immediate gratification, is so much about glorification of the superficial, and is so much about personal vanity, science and the humanites cannot compete.
Just like incoming Harvard students who are passionate about humanitarian work and end up becoming investment bankers, there is no financhial justification for pursuing science/engineering. An advanced degree is usually required and liability is high. However, unlike doctors, lawyers, and bankers, there isn't compensation for the educational investment, the hours, and liability. I argue that people pursue sciences purely because of their passion for it.
If you look at other nations like India, for example, becoming a doctor or engineer is much more desirable because of job security. People do not pursue professions like law and finance as frequently in developing nations with less stable political and financhial institutions.
Oh, and I fully agree that there is a huge misconception about the amount of creativity involved in the sciences. I'm a structural engineer that collaborates with both architects and artists.
The problem is we have lost the joy of discovery to the mechanics of teaching so our children will pass the never-ending barrage of standardized tests. Curiosity has been replaced with relentless drills.
Until our eduction system and society can let go of our need to quantify and qualify success and return to the natural excitement of learning, things will not improve.
It's not just teachers who are limited in their science techniques. We are a culture that is social in its priority. This kind of culture programs young minds to refuse both detailed cognition and focused discipline, which are required for science application and scientific discovery. Without a foundational frankness that resets priorities we wallow in distractions. The work of disciplined cognition is what children (and adults) must come to value. This is not consistent with a primarily social view of human living. Inquiry with continuous attention isn't an easy pass. Ciao, T
I come from India where Math and science are stressed more from elementary school than middle and high schools. Less time is spent on science than on reading or math. Instead of just spending time or teaching to tests we should spend more time in teaching the language of science and math. Scientific reasoninng and logic are not taughtin school. We don't want our children to learn, but we want our children to be rich not necsserly well educated
When parents stop glamorizing their child's achievements in athletics and start demanding that the schools glamorize science and math, then perhaps we can reach other countries in these fields. The trajectory of a ball, building muscle mass and measuring the distance from point A to point B are all science. Yet the focus is on winning a trophy or gaining acceptance to a group. Combining the theory of science with the fun of sport should be encouraged, not how many goals your child can make.
My high school chemistry teacher "turned me on to" chemistry, and I went on to study chemistry in college and become a chemist.
By the way, I have a BS and MS in engineering, play piano and write for a living. I hated chemistry and calculus in engineering school but passed them both.
Science is so much more interesting when it is problem based. Less vocab and more unique problems that require an application of the learned science.
I wonder if the lack of artistic/athletic courses in our (usa) schools is not letting our students focus because they have these aforementioned energies to deal with...
I went to a fancy and self-important private school in New York. They hired people with advanced degrees in science but little experience in teaching.
I was very interested in science and took all the advanced classes, but when I got to college my education was in no way COMPATIBLE let alone sufficient to allow me to take what was offered there.
The entire school has to understand what is required for their students to be able to continue with higher education.
The educational pipeline is not there, and with science you can't fudge it.
I have a brother and boyfriend who both went through doctorate programs for physics. One dropped out because he was starting to burn out, and the other went through the doctorate program and was so burnt out that he's no longer in science. I think part of the problem is that those who are most passionate and most driven about the subject, and who would make the best teachers, are getting burnt out on it in the doctorate programs. The problem I believe starts in the structure of the higher education, of those who should be continuing on to educate (and excite) kids in science.
I just graduated from HS, and my best teachers were those with science degrees and had previous careers in research or commercial labs.
However, the biggest problem is that science education is not taught in a concept-driven way.They teach you math, they teach you terms, but there is little tying things together.
You know that doing formula X will give you an answer that is called term Y. But what do I do with term Y? What's the point?
I lived in Japan for three years. The Japanese embrace "hard" information fields, i.e. math and science. They require quite a deal of memorization and, well, hard work. Doing well in these subjects require quite a bit of discipline as well as acceptance of what is being taught without being too critical. In other words, trusting the source of information.
These are philisophical aspects that this society mostly eschews.
I think we miss the boat when we require to students to "like" science in order to learn it. If a student does not "like" to read, do we opt them out of reading class? Is that an option. Learning science should be as fundamental as reading, writing and arithmetic. Whether kids enjoy it really shouldn't be part of the discussion. In the old days, the greats were poets, scientists and musicians. We are so far from that here. My seven year old can read and do math. This year I started her on music. And she will know science...whether she likes it or not!
I am very excited to become an Elementary Science teacher (getting a Masters in Education from Brooklyn College) and I think that young students, even young children love Science and nature and its what they have the most wonderings about. It's when we teachers are uncomfortable with science that students start to get scared about the subject.
Definitely teachers should have science backgrounds (I grew up watching my father treat animals as a veterinarian) and originally I went to college to be a botanist. But I do not think that teachers have to have a degree in science to be able to teach it well and inspire a love of science in their students.
I was brought up in Japan & Hong Kong during my primary and secondary education was very rigorous. I remember being inundated with intense math and science (physiology)homework and I also attended evening classes (cram schools). I spend at least 4 hours every night on math and science. My secondary biology teacher in Hong Kong was actually a former microbiologist and his teachings focused a lot in understanding the core concepts and philosophy of science. He not only helped me appreciate how science works and how it is part of our daily life, but also a more critical way of analyzing a problem through numerous experiments and lab exercises.
I am a recent graduate of Stuyvesant High School which is unfortunately well regarded for its science curriculum. I loved science classes at my private elementary and middle school but was immediately turned off science when I started Stuyvesant. My middle school science curriculum was more engaging and focused on concepts. Labs were fun and writing lab reports from scratch was a rigorous and educational experience. At Stuyvesant, science was all about memorizing for the test. Lab reports consisted of filling in the blanks. As an undergraduate psychology major, when I think about research and writing papers, I refer back to my knowledge from middle school. Even when it comes to subjects like geology and physics, I remember more of what I learned in middle school and from the magic school bus than I do from high school. This isn't to say that I didn't have a few good science teachers at Stuyvesant. They stood out because they taught us concepts and were passionate about their subject.
My mother was a scientist and I studied modern dance in college ... Throughout her life she constantly debated with me that both of our endeavors were equally creative. I feel if students could be allowed to approach the theories creatively they would be inclined to grasp the techniques related. Just like in any other fine arts discipline.
It does start with the culture.Science is not cool. Science teachers are boring, kids into science are nerds.
Perhaps there is a need to promote a science teacher or kid into pop start status. A cool. good looking one-shower him with massive meadia coverage.
1) Because we noticed the low quality of science education worldwide, but especially in the United States, we started an international "competition" to encourage the creation of entertaining educational videos that explain the basic, classic "Scientific Method"
Despite the crying need for such an endeavor, and despite the extraordinarily qualified individuals from all areas of science and the arts that support it (see www.HowScienceWorks.org ) it has been exremely difficult to get appropriate support for it beyond the initial sponors which include Popular Science Magazine and DC Comics. We think this indicates the national attitude toward science education.
Only by making "science" as appealing and entertaining as video games will a breakthrough be made on a grass-roots level.
In combination with excellent educators it can start to make a difference.
It is interesting to observe that a great many of the winners of national science competitions at a high school level in the United States are both female and descendants of Asian cultures. This seems to indicate a difference in the cultural perception of the sciences. It is especially telling given the standard "wisdom" that girls do not excel in math and sciences in the US.
Have others noticed how the electronic parts section in every Radio Shack has shrunken over the years? I think this observation correlates with shrinking interest with students and hobbyists interested in science.
I agree that we are losing kids early! All too often, my son's science teachers, especially in junior high, knew almost nothing about science - they were education majors. The number of times that I had to correct his teachers' tests...
We also make science unimaginably boring for our kids, when it is soooo easy to make it fascinating. I spend a lot of time discussing scientific concepts with my son, and going to our excellent local science museums...and now he wants to go to med school! But science classes were *not* what did it...
Since when is science not the liberal arts? Departments of arts and science!
It is not just science for which teachers are being prepared to perform pedagogical tricks instead of focusing on content. Education schools spend far too much time preparing teachers to arrange classrooms and organize group activities and not enough time on the subject matter. Content matters. Content is everything! The absurd focus on pedgogical techniques is part of what made me leave the teaching profession. Until we put an end to this nonsense, no attempt at educational reform will be successful.
What subjects do American kids like? Our culture is anti-intellectual. Anyone interested in academic subjects or the classical arts is considered a nerd.
Teachers are very important in science education. The science teachers I had who had knowledge of the subject and passion for it passed that on. The other teachers passed on boredom and pain. But parents and other adults are important as well. The aerospace industry contracted in the late '70s and engineers lost their jobs en masse. How many of those engineers encouraged their children to pursue an engineering or science career?
The American culture is a Cult of Money and Fame. There are the two 'virtues' most widely recognized in the US. For many, they are the only virtues.
Science isn't fame driven or money driven, so it's not fashionable in the US. Even kids too young to get this are still immersed in it.
And even science is deemed less valuable if it doesn't generate great profits. Compare, say, theoretical physics with today's hot science, genetics.
I studied in France until college and went to Caltech for grad school.
I have to say that up to high school, education in the US is abysmal and in my view due to the teachers unions, refusal to do hard dry theoretical work from all sides, and emphasis on telling stories and writing pointless report (see ).
College education is world class though. Unbeatable right now (at least at Caltech). I feel very lucky to have received education in both countries (in the good order).
You answered the question yesterday when you did a segment on whether it had been worth it go the moon. My generation was capitivated and inspired by the great project of exploring space. (Why do you think that Star Trek is still so popular?) Science should be an adventure that stimulates the imagination. Sure, the devil is in the details -- math, physics, biology and all of that -- but the great scientists have all had a dream.
Let's go to Mars. You'll see kids signing up for science courses, just as we did in the sixties.
In middle school my son had to study dry ice for months! Every anal aspect, including how to write detailed lab reports.
What a way to turn a kid off to science! You don’t start with lab reports. When I would tell him about a science article in the news, he would be interested. YOU TEACH THE WONDERS OF SCIENCE!! Let the lab reports wait till late high school or even college.
Email addresses are required but never displayed.
Brian Lehrer leads the conversation about what matters most now in local and national politics, our own communities and our lives.
Subscribe on iTunes
BL Weekend: Reggie Love, Immunization, SCOTUS Update & That Dress
WNYC 93.9 FM and AM 820 are New York's flagship public radio
stations, broadcasting the finest programs from NPR, PRI and American Public Media, as well as a wide range of award-winning local
programming. WNYC is a division of
New York Public Radio.