The bad news? According to numerous studies, the United States lags behind most other countries in the number of scientists it produces.
But now for some good news. More schools are recognizing, if not the need for and importance of science (and, more broadly, STEM) education, then at least the need to conform to their state science standards. That understanding of the fundamental need for science education—and scientists—is crucial.
But getting kids actually interested in science is crucial as well. So what can we do to inspire kids to become scientists?
1. Tap into kids’ natural instincts.
Children are naturally curious about the world around them, and pretty daring as well. Some love creepy crawly things, some love to blow stuff up or shoot it into the sky, some are just fascinated with animals, plants, rocks, vacuum cleaners …
Use that curiosity in the classroom. Instead of science classes consisting of lectures on what happens, why, and who figured that out, make science education an exploratory game. Let students experiment, ask questions, and try to figure out for themselves what happens and why. And help make science and scientists “cool” by stressing that some of the biggest questions in the universe were answered through curiosity and play.
And be sure to tap into that natural curiosity early! Research shows that by kindergarten, children who have not been exposed to science are already likely to fall behind—and stay behind—in science education throughout their school careers. ExploreLearning Science4Us brings science to life through digital animated lessons, interactive games, and hands-on activities for students in kindergarten through second grade.
Interactive simulations, like ExploreLearning’s Gizmos, give students the opportunity to play, explore, and experience “ah-ha!” moments for themselves. Over 400 math and science Gizmos give every student something to graph, measure, compare, predict, prove … or shoot into space (figuratively).
Using interactive simulations help nurture students’ curiosity and improve student achievement through active engagement and interaction.
2. Don’t make it all about the “right answer,” make it about the process, too.
Don’t let students get discouraged if they try and fail. Instill a growth mindset in your students, so that they enjoy, and are inspired by, the journey. Compliment them for their efforts and when they try different strategies. Tell them about famous discoveries that were the result of trial-and-error (hint, all of them), and of scientist who labored for years for just one small victory.
“I have not failed. I’ve just found 10,000 ways that won’t work.” –Thomas A. Edison
3. Show how scientist have had an impact on the world.
Every day, students are inundated with images and news of sports figures, movie stars, musicians, and people who are famous just for being famous. It’s easy to see why they would emulate them, and think that these are the only truly worthwhile or significant professions. Instead show kids how scientists and engineers have made a difference in the world, from inventing the phones they use and beauty products they wear to developing cures for diseases and saving people from starvation and natural disasters. Show them biographical movies of scientists, engineers, and mathematicians. If they do something great, maybe someday Matt Damon could play them in a movie, too!
4. Promote science as a worthwhile career path.
Even if a big discovery, fame, or fortune never come, a career in the sciences can be rewarding and secure, with a lifetime of opportunities, advancement, and new challenges.
We need children to think big and see that they can follow their dreams and become scientists. There are still diseases to cure, worlds to explore and new species out there to discover. The rewards for all of us is worth a little “out of the box” thinking.