I am not an educator. I am not a scientist. I'm hardly what you could call an expert in anything. What I know about is being a geek (technology, gaming, obscure references to cult movies), and being a dad, a husband, and an engineer.
And yet, stories like this make me sad and nervous:
Intense pressure to meet accountability goals in mathematics and English is limiting time for science, and teachers and schools do not have the infrastructure support needed to consistently provide students with quality science learning opportunities. Forty percent of elementary teachers say they spend just 60 minutes or less teaching science each week. Just one-third of elementary teachers say they feel prepared to teach science, but 85 percent of teachers say they have not received any professional development in science during the last three years. And while nine in ten principals say science education is very important and should start early, less than half of principals (44%) believe it is likely that a student would receive high-quality science instruction in his or her school.
My wonderful wife is a 5th grade teacher, and I know how much her district has cut back on science. Every science experiment uses "consumables" which, as the name implies, are usually bought and used up, costing significant money for a day's worth of learning. It's easy to see why these are the low-hanging fruit when it comes time to tightening curriculum budgets.
On top of that, many people seem to quarantine science when it comes to education. There's a time for reading, a time for writing, a time for math, and a time for science. Andif you cut out science's time, then the things that the government wants test scores improving on get more focus.
It really sounds like a mistake to me.
One buzzword I hear talks about "integrated curricula" where school work crosses the boundaries between subjects. We all know a bit about that — mathematical word problems are a classic example. And science uses a lot of math, so that crossover is already there. But science also needs good technical writing, and strong critical-thinking skills, all tools that are already part of English/language-arts curricula as well. Why can't there be even more cross-pollination of the subjects, so even without direct lab work, students get exposed to science?
Well, I know it does happen, but it really seems like it doesn't happen enough. And if you can't depend upon schools to give your kids a proper, well-rounded education, what else can you do, but do it yourself.
When I first came at writing up projects for parents and kids to share together, it was simply from the point of view of trying to give families new and interesting ways to play and learn together. But especially having written this newest book, and hearing how many home-schooling parents have picked up on my books as additions to their DIY lessons, I've become more and more aware of how we as parents have to pick up the slack in our kids' educations. Don't get me wrong: I'm a strong supporter of public education, but by its very nature, it doesn't change quickly, and will never satisfy everyones needs or desires.
So my point it this: good parents are active, attentive parents who take part in their kids' educations. As a geeky parent, I think science education is just as important as the "three Rs," and by all accounts the pendulum of educational priorities has swung away from that sentiment when it comes to public schools. So, it comes down to me to make up for it for my kids, and you for yours. Go find a book in the science section here at Powell's and get cracking!
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Ken Denmead is the editor of GeekDad, a blog on Wired magazine's website. A professional civil engineer, he lives near San Francisco with his wife and their two sons, who are both geeks in training. He is the author of three books, including Geek Dad: Awesomely Geeky Projects and Activities for Dads and Kids to Share.
Books mentioned in this post
Ken Denmead is the author of Geek Dad: Awesomely Geeky Projects and Activities for Dads and Kids to Share