Recently I saw an article discussing new ways to attract young people back to science. While I think this is awesome- we totally need to bring youth back to science- it made me think. Why are we pushing them away in the first place? If you will excuse me, I’m going to jump on my science and math soap box.
It all starts with the parents. We all know we can’t tell our kids we hate vegetables or that exercising is the worst and then expect them to willingly partake in them. We can’t tell them reading is the worst and expect them to be eager to pick up a book. So why do we think it is okay to talk about how much we hate or hated math and science? It doesn’t make sense. We as parents are huge influences in our children’s lives, whether we all think so or not. So step one: Stop talking about how much you hate math and science! Just stop. I don’t want to hear Oh, I don’t want to lie to my kids. One, you don’t have to lie, just keep some things to yourself. Two, almost everyone filters the truth to be appropriate for their kids. Do you really tell your kids everything in explicit detail all the time? Do you tell them all about your childhood trouble making? Do you tell them what you and your spouse did last night (wink wink, nudge nudge.) No, you probably don’t. You make sure you are passing on information in an age appropriate way. I’m not saying you have to tell your toddler you love chemistry when you don’t. Just don’t tell them all the reasons you think it’s the worst and still have nightmares about it. You can talk to a teenager about why you didn’t like science class. Sure, that kind of open conversation is fine. But you can’t tell a four year old you hate math and never use it. They just aren’t going to get the difference. So, no saying you hate these things.
Step two: Stop being afraid to not know something. This is a tough one. I think this is where a lot of hatred and fear of math and especially science can come from. No one wants to feel like they are stupid or just plain not in the know. I get that. The thing is, science is all about embracing what we don’t know. It’s kind of the whole point. You look at something and think- I don’t know how that works. But I would like to. And bam, suddenly you are doing science. Or something close to it. Kids are naturally so curious about the world around them. They are questioning everything. Tell them the truth if you don’t know why the sky is blue. Who cares if you don’t know? Your kids certainly don’t. They want to know if you can help them find out the answer. You know the advantage you have as an adult? You have to resources to find that answer. We have this amazing thing called the internet. Look it up with your child! Go to the library and find a book. Find a friend who might know the answer. Heck, email me and I will help and look it up for you. Science is about asking questions and the search for answers, not just the answer itself. Show your child how to look for information. It’s the whole ‘teach a man to fish thing.’ Show them how to find answers for themselves and they will go far. Do not feel bad if you don’t know something you think you should know. I think it is natural to want to avoid looking foolish. But not knowing some facts does not make you unintelligent. I remember taking biology and learning all about the Krebs cycle. I am pretty sure I aced that test. Do I remember any of it now? No. Does that mean I am stupid? Of course not. It just means this is not working knowledge I need to get through my life. Very few people remember every fact they ever learned. There is also the chance you never learned the fact in the first place. Again, if it is not something that you need to function from day to day, why feel bad? It doesn’t mean you are dumb because you didn’t seek out an answer you didn’t need. Our children need to see us admit we don’t know something, but are able to learn something new.
Along with admitting you don’t know something is step three: Stop saying you don’t need math or science in real life. You do and you use them. Every. Single. Day. You use them. Ever cut slices of a cake? You are making equal pieces out of a whole. Guess what? Fractions! Ever scale up or down a recipe? Ratios. Want to decide if a coupon for one product makes it cheaper than another? Percentages. The kitchen alone is huge for science. We mix and combine and chemical processes are taking place. Have a job and pay bills? You are using addition and subtraction. (Probably more subtraction than we would like.) The point is you do need these skills every single day. It would be very hard to get through life without them. So maybe they aren’t your favorite things, but they are necessary to survive. You might not need quantum physics every day, but guess what, you do use gravity. Ever use a ramp or pulley system to aid in moving something? Simple machines-physics. Mixing paints to do an art project? Glue drying and holding something together? Chemistry. You can’t escape science and math, so stop trying. If we admit how much of our lives involve these things they will become less scary, They are not an ‘other’ that needs to be placed in their own category far away from everything else. They are everywhere.
Let’s try to remember STEM can be fun. Read Shakespeare out loud in a monotone even cadence. Pretty boring. See it performed- suddenly it is amazing! A simple recitation of dates and events can get dry. Talk to someone who lived it and hear their real story? History is as alive as ever. Same thing with science and math. We don’t have to make it hard for ourselves. You don’t have to give formal math lessons to your kids, just let the numbers be. They are all around us. Let your kids help you count out silverware as you set the table. Talk about cutting things in half. Let them hear you adding up numbers. You don’t need to be in a lab to do science. Let them look at different leaves as they change colors. Set up a ramp and roll cars down. Take a bath and look at what sinks or floats. Observe birds as the fly around. Just pay attention to the world and let your kids play.
A lot of confusion and uncertainty would disappear if we all stopped being afraid of science and math. It is just life, people. Literally- your bodies are full of biological and chemical processes. So parents, lets all work on this and maybe we won’t turn as many kids away from the STEM fields in the first place. To recap- stop saying you hate STEM. You might, but you aren’t helping your children by telling them this too much. Keep your opinion to yourself. Honestly, maybe if you rediscover these things with your kids you will like them more. Aren’t most things more interesting when we see how much our children enjoy them? Admit you don’t know things. There aren’t any tests here! Who cares what you know or don’t know? STEM is all about not knowing and looking for answers. The journey is as important as the finish line. Seriously, we all want our kids to learn to be problem solvers. See a problem, think of possible reasons why it is happening. Think of ways to solve it. Implement said solution to test it out. Learn and either try again or move on. Sounds a lot like the scientific method to me. If your kids see you eager to learn they will be eager to learn. If they see you question the world they will question it. If they see you not afraid to make a mistake they won’t be afraid to try. You get to teach them how to find good sources and be their own judge of information. (Smart in this day of alternative facts.) Admit that STEM is everywhere. You are not escaping it. It is not just not part of your life. It is your life.
I am not trying to offend anyone with this, even though I know it is kind of a rant. I’m sorry if I did. I just passionately feel that STEM is all around and a part of daily life. It isn’t just for an elite few who work on the super hard problems and cutting edge technology. It is for everyone. I want to do everything I can to help kids and adults embrace math and science. So I am completely serious- if you come across a science or math question you can’t answer for your kids email me at firstname.lastname@example.org. I can’t promise perfection, but I will do everything I can to at least point you in the right direction to find the answer. And remember parents- it is about the process, not just the answer.