Saturday, January 1, 2011

Favorite comments of '10: Niels Henrik Abel, Anonymous, Anonymous, ChemProf on science museums and science entertainment

Niels Henrik Abel 

Reminds me of the hands-on "discovery" science museums where kids race from station to station, madly pushing buttons and scarcely waiting for the interactive exhibit to do its thing before running off to the next one. They're not discovering anything; it's all about noisy, flashy exhibits that amuse and entertain rather than educate.

"Science songs"? You've got to be kidding...


Niels comment is right on-I was at the Exploritorium in San Fran and the children did not stop to ponder the significance of what the interactive display was about-but just mindlessly went about each display as fast as possible. 
Your comment about the rigor and hard work of science is so true. Even scientists do not model this hard work when around students. They do the wow! factor too much. I teach Physics and my students ask to watch Bill Nye. I refuse to because as I tell them, he portrays scientists as goofs, and geeks and that science isn't always fun and games. I tell them the story of the medical research who spent 17 years working on a cancer treatment and found out after all the results came back, that it didn't work. What seemed possible initially didn't work when it came to human trials. 
Then, to my amazement, we watch a twenty minute video of Richard Feynman and they asked to see more when it was over! And he didn't mince words! 
DO not be afraid the challenge the kids with hard work!


Children do need exposure to science in order to develop the intention (and the persistence) to pursue it. But over-emphasis on the entertainment approach is a mistake. It's been called "science appreciation," and that's an apt term. What children really need is judicious exposure to the different science disciplines, plus a really solid math grounding, since there is no scientific discipline any more that doesn't depend on advanced math skills.
October 10, 2010 2:54 PM


Plus too much focus on science appreciation can leave even science majors with a strange idea of what scientists do. I have had so many students who, as sophomores or juniors, describe what they want to do, and it is to be a docent. Which is a wonderful thing, but as a volunteer, not a job.

1 comment:

gasstationwithoutpumps said...

The Exploratorium is my favorite museum. It's true that a lot of the kids there just run around, but there are also a lot of kids spending a long time at a single exhibit figuring out what is going on.

Part of the problem is that the exhibits are aimed mainly at 8-16-year-olds, but people bring a lot of 4-8-year olds.

As entertainment, I'll take the Exploratorium over an amusement park any day.

for my most recent trip to the Exploratorium.)